Free speech: It was a good idea. (A political interlude from your friendly local electronics lab warden.)

In the electronics lab at i3 Detroit, we have a Saleae Logic8 logic analyzer. Anyone working with digital signals should have some sort of logic analyzer, and this is a good one — the software is what makes it special. And yes, that means the hardware is pretty simple, so someone cloned it. Buyers of the cloned board are expected to use the official Saleae software with it, in violation of its license, but also in breach of the trust placed in users by the Saleae designers, who obviously put tremendous effort into making a product that’s really a delight to use.

But that’s not what’s interesting. You see, the clone also emulates two other cool products, all of which are based around the same chip as the Logic8. Look closely at how the clone works, and you can learn a fair bit about all three products, about USB device IDs, about reverse-engineering and firmware loading and serial EEPROMs. You can also have quite a heated discussion about the morals of such cloning! Without even buying the thing, it’s a whole electronics lesson and more.

But that’s not what’s interesting, either. What’s interesting is that because I linked to counterfeit products sold overseas, this very blog post will soon become illegal. Working their way through Congress right now are a pair of similar, and similarly-misguided, bills aimed at protecting American interests. (Which they won’t do.) They House version is SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) and the Senate version is PIPA (the PROTECT IP Act), which expands to the tragically hilarious “Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act”.

And I wouldn’t be talking about them if I didn’t think they might pass. The entertainment industry has a lot of money to buy more rope with which to hang themselves, by which I mean, legislation to imprison their customers. That doesn’t affect me; I gave up caring about movies years ago; but I do very much enjoy the freedom to talk about any intellectual pursuit that interests me, including the ingenuity of Chinese electronics counterfeiters.

What’s really insidious is that it wouldn’t just be illegal to link to counterfeit goods, or the shoot-first-ask-questions-later manner in which websites accused of doing so would be summarily zorched from the internet. Nor the guilty-until-proven-innocent way in which the burden of restoring the good name of one’s site falls on the zorchee. Both of those are bad, and would surely leave many nonprofit sites without the resources to defend themselves, but no, what makes my skin crawl is that the very act of providing information about how to get around the censorship, would itself become criminal.

Now, I don’t know about you, but as a self-described hacker, I enjoy circumventing limitations. It’s the single characteristic that I cite when asked to explain the outside-the-box problem solving skills of which my employer is so fond. Hackers like clever solutions to tricky problems (that’s how inventions get invented, after all), and most of us like to share the things we learn. That’s the sort of creativity our government should be encouraging.

So why are these two horrible bills before Congress right now? Because our elected representatives don’t understand the internet. They listen to whoever talks to them, and mostly, that’s lobbyists for big-business interests. You can change that situation right now, by educating yourself and then by getting in touch with the well-intentioned but tragically misguided folks in Washington. If these bills go away in their present form, they’ll be back when the heat dies down, so please stay informed and help preserve the freedom that makes us who we are.

Thank you.

Instrument & Jam Night – 1/27 @ 8p

There are thousands of different instruments out there in the world and it’s a terrible idea to play them all at once…therefore i3 Detroit will play them all at once.

Join us for a night of fun with instruments from the common to the wacky.  Bring your instrument(s) to the event to play or share.  Or just bring your curiosity.

We will have an instrument show and tell followed by a petting zoo (try all sorts of instruments around the shop) and then we will have a jam session with all the instruments together.  The basics of a blues scale will be taught and some very basic jazz concepts.  Event starts at 8p.  No fee to partake but donations welcome to keep the lights on.

Arduino Meetup Tonight 1/12/12

Got a microcontroller project that is gathering dust?  Why not bring it by the electronics room at i3Detroit tonight (7pm-10pm).  Bring any Arduino or microcontroller projects for a round of show and tell and some brain storming.  I will be bringing my Arduino projects from the 2011 Detriot Maker Faire that I want to revise.  The Microhelicopter Race Track and Audio Game Ring have been sitting idle for too long! Hope to see you there.  -SWiT

Upcoming events at i3 Detroit: Gaming, Programming, Feast Your Eyes, Arduino…

Have you looked at that Google Calendar sidebar lately? It’s packed! Here’s a rundown of the next few days:

Thursday 1/5: Tabletop gaming. If games like Settlers and Dominion are your cup of tea, pull up a chair and dive in!

Friday 1/6: Programming class, second session. Registration filled right up, but this will be repeated, so if you want to learn Python, stay tuned.

Saturday 1/7: Book release party! How often do you hear about a hackerspace hosting such a thing? Circus performers, sooo excited! Public most welcome.

Sunday 1/8: Programming class, third session.

Thursday 1/12: Arduino meetup. Open to newbies and experienced users alike, bring toys! SWiT’s gonna be showing off a few projects this month.


Book release party January 7th: Feast Your Eyes, An Illustrated Collection of Detroit’s Circus Performers

The circus comes to a coffee table near you! On January 7th, i3 Detroit will host the release party and show for member Cheryl Willard‘s new book, Feast Your Eyes, An Illustrated Collection of Detroit’s Circus Performers. The DIY workshop will be converted into a venue for some of those very performers, while members and guests alike enjoy refreshments and a show. Framed prints and a limited number of books will be available for sale. 6-9pm, public welcome, no cover.

About the book:

Cheryl Willard, known locally as Spilt Sugar, has been involved with Detroit’s circus community for over 3 years, as both an aerial performer and a photographer. In Feast Your Eyes‘s 100 pages, she presents striking costumes and vivid settings, paired with intimate portraits, offering a rare behind-the-scenes peek at the individuals who make up this unique and wondrous world. Cheryl first came to i3 Detroit in 2010 seeking a place to practice her aerial routines, and joined as a member in early 2011.

About the venue:

i3 Detroit is metro Detroit’s first hackerspace, a member-run collective of do-it-yourselfers. Founded in 2009, the group maintains an 8000 sq ft workshop in Ferndale, which supports a wide variety of activities and member-run classes. Frequent activities include electronics, metalworking, podcasting, and acrobatics. Past classes have included lockpicking, welding, and circuit board design. Members have 24/7 access to the facility and the tools within, and are free to work as individuals or collaborate on almost any project. “i3″ stands for “Imagine, Innovate, and Inspire”. i3 Detroit is located at 1481 Wordsworth, Ferndale, MI 48220.