The Things are coming…

Recently, I attended #offcamp – a barcamp style discussion around open data which was organised by @bcs_isleofman and free to attend.

The morning sessions were OK and it was good to see that some thought is being given to making data open and available, especially data that has been collected by governments and already paid for by the public.

However, what really caught my attention was the crowd sourcing of data using sensors and the Internet of Things. I hadn’t realised that the problem of expensive telecoms links for remote IoT devices is beginning to be solved by new RF chipsets based on spread spectrum techniques similar to those used in QRP amateur radio experiments.

Sadly most of these RF technologies are proprietary, but that doesn’t mean that the infrastructure built with them has to be. A group of people from Amsterdam have built The Things Network which is an open movement with the aim of providing free and open communications for IoT devices around the world.

Given my interest in radio and electronics, together with the open philosophy of building something free for community use, I knew that I wanted to get involved with this. So, I’ve established an Isle of Man community with the aim of getting our very own Things Network established here.

Guerrilla Wifi?

This week, I tried some different firmware on the ESP8266 modules that I have. I flashed a version of NodeMCU which allows Lua scripts (and other files) to be uploaded.

By using this software: I was able to turn the ESP8266 into a wifi access point which serves a static site, regardless of what web address the end user tries to reach.

Given the small size and modest power requirements, this would be great for announcing things to a wide audience by placing an ESP8266 in a busy area, and choosing an ‘inviting’ SSID for people to connect to.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether to use this for marketing, advertising or political activism…

A Hackspace for the Isle of Man?

I’ve discussed the need for a hackspace on the island over the years with members of the Isle of Man Linux User group, work colleagues in education, people in the pub, family and friends and they’ve all said what a great idea it would be.

Today while out walking the dogs, I noticed this building is up for sale:


This building was originally a small church, but has since been used as a workshop recently. It has loads of potential as a community hackspace to benefit the people of the Isle of Man.

 Wouldn’t it be great if the community could come together to secure this as resource for everyone?

‘Isle of Man PLC’ is always spinning stories in the media about how hi-tech it is, and how space and engineering are growing sectors for the island. There’s always talk of investing in education too, and providing opportunities for people to better themselves and learn new skills. Couple that with the island’s strong sense of community, and it’s hard to see why we don’t have a hackspace already!

 Wouldn’t it be great if the community could come together to secure this as resource for everyone?

You may be wondering why, and just what is a hackspace anyway? Well, firstly let’s make sure that we don’t mix up that term ‘hacker’ with the negative way that it gets used in the media. RFC 1392 defines a hacker as:

“A person who delights in having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system, computers and computer networks in particular.”

Hacking has nothing to do with breaking things, or gaining unauthorised access to computer systems. (The correct term for that is ‘cracking’ – media please note!!)

A hackspace then, is a place where like-minded individuals can meet up to share and swap ideas, build things, test things, improve things and share in a learning culture. Having a basic set of tools, soldering irons, test gear and computers is almost a prerequisite for a useful and productive hackspace. If you’ve the time, this video will give you a good idea of the benefits of hackspaces.

Wouldn’t it be great if the community could come together to secure this as resource for everyone?

This is the point where I’m stuck.

How can we make this happen? How can we rally the troops? How can we find the money needed to secure this hackspace? Who can support us? Who knows about grants and pots of money? Who knows about crowdfunding like Kickstarter or Indiegogo? Can our MHKs assist us?