Archive for June, 2016

I would claim that this is proof of FREE WILL in Vehicle 12. For I know of only one way of denying the power of decision to a creature — and that is to predict at any moment what it will do in the future.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

My near space balloon parts came in (the plates were just on the table.) We’ll be launching in a week or two.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Hardware Design Basics Workshop

Check this course out if you’re a student at DePaul (or not, and just want to take a cool new class!) I’ll be teaching it starting this Fall.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Chicago Southland Mini Maker Faire: Year 3


Most of you know by now that I’ve been co-managing a yearly Maker Faire event in the Chicago Suburbs for the past three years, but for those of you just tuning in: come check it out! Here’s the press release, and, more importantly if you’re a creator, you can sign up here!

Come show off your art, your work, and your passions with us.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

A successful new theoretical idea typically alters and extends the existing body of theory to allow for observational facts that could not previously be understood or incorporated. It also makes possible new predictions that can some day be tested. Almost always, the novel idea includes a negative insight, the recognition that some previously accepted principle is wrong and must be discarded. (Often an earlier correct idea was accompanied, for historical reasons, by unnecessary intellectual baggage that is now essential to jettison.) In any event, it is only by breaking away from the excessively restrictive received idea that progress can be made.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Physical Technology and Play



The Oculus Rift reminds me why I took a break from traditional video games to focus on experimental systems. More specifically, it reminds me how starved the video game space is for something different — not because the Oculus is different — but because of how same it is, and yet, how much attention it gets.

For those who missed some of Oculus’ recent announcements, a few key ones are:

  • Oculus will be shipping with an Xbox: One controller
  • Highlights included playing standard video games on a larger virtual screen



Computer games, more than any other artistic medium, are bound by their delivery mechanisms. Think of the last five games you’ve played, and how you’ve interacted with them. Quite likely, your experience went something like this: your hands engaged with a standard control interface (keyboard, controller, touch), that control interface was tethered to a machine where the game resides (console or PC), which was in turn attached to a monitor for output (TV, computer monitor, hell, even Oculus Rift). The feedback loop being player -> controller -> machine -> A/V output -> player.

This of course ignores newer output and input options like haptic feedback, the nuances of touchpad games, etc, but the basic components largely hold true no matter where we look.

Examining game technology further, we can look at other standardizations enforced by console manufacturers and, as an extension, game platforms. These standardizations include the controls available to a game developer (i.e. A, B, Select, Start, WASD), the technical parameters that a video game must work within (hardware limitations), and video and sound output considerations.

As developers and players we, by default, accept these things. Of course a controller has buttons, and joysticks, and triggers: when has it ever been any other way? Yet these are some of the most important factors when it comes to the game experience because, by their very nature, they are key affordances through which we play.

Current computer game hardware can be looked at as an arbitrary bottleneck, then, because it all operates under a limited set of controlled affordances.

Much of my work lately is based around the use of open source hardware to develop alternative reality games (ARG), communal games, and alternative game interfaces. These games explore the breakdown of our standard feedback loop. What happens when we challenge commonly held game constructs? How do players engage with games when you introduce them to non-standard feedback loops?

One project, an epidemic simulator, turned attendees at a professional conference into disease carriers, and used the conference as a setting for an outbreak. Another, an alternative controller that averaged player inputs, allows players to play single player games as multiplayer, changing the intended experience dramatically. Both projects utilize new forms of hardware and different forms of signal transmission.

I’m not offering these games up as a solution to the problem, but rather as an exploration of the possible. Cheap, open source hardware has made it easy to create computer games differently. Things like the Makey Makey have opened up the possibility space that game makers can begin to explore. Taken further, devices like Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Leap Motion, and more make it very easy to explore augmenting computer game hardware.

What happens when we start undermining a console manufacturers’ and game designers’ intent? What happens when the hardware to hack these things becomes so ubiquitous that it’s as easy as creating an indie game?

We often say that art is what happens between the player and the work. But what if we’re able to swap out the window that people look at that art through?

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Near Space Balloon with the Chicago Housing Authority

An image taken by 757 Labs for the first Hackerspaces in Space

An image taken by 757 Labs for the first Hackerspaces in Space

Several years ago I started a competition called Hackerspaces in Space that invited makerspaces and groups all throughout the world to compete in a launch and retrieval of a weather balloon. Since ending the event the Global Space Balloon Challenge has picked up the mantle and carried it well, inspiring tons of other people to explore the edges where our planet meets space at low cost. In a way, the inspiring thing about this whole endeavor is, after all, the realization that touching the heavens is more attainable than we think.

This summer I’ll be co-leading a workshop for Chicago Housing Authority high school-aged students that encourages them to join the Maker movement in the learning of fundamental fabrication and physical design skills. But in structuring the workshop, I kept on coming back to the problem of needing something inspiring for the students to work on. Learning by Making is more about the process than the end result (to quote Mythbusters, “failure is always an option”), and we needed something that was exciting to build up to, even if it failed.

We needed something that we could fail beautifully at.

And so I revisited the idea of launching near space balloons — the end result of the workshop being that students will join together in teams to build their own vehicles and vessels, and launch them.

In preparation for that, I’m also performing my own test launch with parts based off of a list provided by the Global Space Balloon Challenge. I’ll keep this blog updated with progress over the next couple weeks as we build and inevitably launch this monster into the stratosphere, but until then, here’s the beginning list. Feel free to use as you see fit to build your own near space balloon, and I’ll try to keep this updated with revisions as we inevitably find flaws during the build:

* 1 weather balloon inflator
* 1 weather balloons
* 1 near space parachutes
* 1 paracord line
* 1 gps tracker
* 1 epoxy
* 1 packs of foam board
* 1 hand warmers pack
* 1 cameras
* 1 altimeter modules
* helium (should be purchased toward end of program)
* 1 radar reflectors

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Good List of Hacker & Tinkerer Conferences

Since joining DePaul, I’ve been looking for a good list of conferences that I can go to. We’re encouraged to expand our horizons at the University, as well as share what we’re learning (as one is at most academic institutions), and so I set out to find the best hacker events around. Luckily, someone made a list!

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus