This One May Come as a Shock to Some

[Chris] seems to have commandeered a decent portion of the wife’s sewing room for his electronic adventures. As it is still her claim, she made it clear that his area needed some organization and a new desk. Dissatisfied with the look and feel of the replacement IKEA desk-like substance they acquired, he took it upon himself to ratchet up both the style and value by adding a copper laminate.

His decision is not purely based in aesthetic. If you’re following along, this means that his new electronics work surface is conductive. And yeah, it’s connected to ground at the wall. Although he doesn’t care for the stank of of anti-static mats or their susceptibility to fading and cracking, he does intend to use a tiny patch of it to keep his silicon happy.

[Chris] used a 20-gauge copper sheet that he cut and scored down to fit his Swedish sandwich wood base with enough margin for overhang. After scratching up one side of the copper sheet and one of the receiving base, he squidged down some adhesive nasty enough to require the rubber glove protocol and clamped it all together for several hours. Stay put the copper did, but stay flat it did not. After hammering down the overhang, [Chris] hand-burnished the copper in small swirls with a Scotch Brite pad to visually break up the slightly wavy surface. Instructional and hilarious play-by-play after the break.

Filed under: how-to, tool hacks

This One May Come as a Shock to Some

[Chris] seems to have commandeered a decent portion of the wife’s sewing room for his electronic adventures. As it is still her claim, she made it clear that his area needed some organization and a new desk. Dissatisfied with the look and feel of the replacement IKEA desk-like substance they acquired, he took it upon himself to ratchet up both the style and value by adding a copper laminate.

His decision is not purely based in aesthetic. If you’re following along, this means that his new electronics work surface is conductive. And yeah, it’s connected to ground at the wall. Although he doesn’t care for the stank of of anti-static mats or their susceptibility to fading and cracking, he does intend to use a tiny patch of it to keep his silicon happy.

[Chris] used a 20-gauge copper sheet that he cut and scored down to fit his Swedish sandwich wood base with enough margin for overhang. After scratching up one side of the copper sheet and one of the receiving base, he squidged down some adhesive nasty enough to require the rubber glove protocol and clamped it all together for several hours. Stay put the copper did, but stay flat it did not. After hammering down the overhang, [Chris] hand-burnished the copper in small swirls with a Scotch Brite pad to visually break up the slightly wavy surface. Instructional and hilarious play-by-play after the break.

Filed under: how-to, tool hacks

Hacking Education; Project-Based Learning Trumps the Ivory Tower

Project-based learning, hackathons, and final projects for college courses are fulfilling a demand for hands-on technical learning that had previously fallen by the wayside during the internet/multi-media computer euphoria of the late 90’s. By getting back to building actual hardware yourself, Hackers are influencing the direction of education. In this post we will review some of this progress and seek your input for where we go next.

Hackathons to solve the world’s problems

Hackathons are now being run to solve many of the world’s problems. Recent examples include MIT Media Lab ‘make the breast pump not suck,’ and Yale’s ‘hacking heath’. Both of these hackathons were one-weekend sprints with the goal of developing rapid proof-of-concept prototype solutions.

In the case of Yale’s hackathon, the outcome was a 5 minute pitch for a new startup company. According to Hacking Health’s organizer, [Chris Loose], “the event generated extraordinary energy and a number of impressive product concepts. Many of the teams continue to drive their ideas ahead and are pursuing grant funding…”

Hacking Health @ Yale.
Hacking Health @ Yale.

Recently, [Tony Kim] ran MIT’s 6.002 Circuits and Electronics course as an EdX program in Mongolia. After learning the background theory students built many of the analog and digital circuits labs, created their own circuits and systems, and even built a coffee can radar which I’ve been told was on Mongolian National Television. One of the students from this effort became known as the Boy Genius of Ulan Bator.

Project-based learning

Project based learning is making a come back. Whether it is requiring a final project or basing a course entirely around a project.

Senior design or capstone courses have carried the torch on project-based learning for decades, in this every EE student (or ME or physics, or etc) completes a working prototype by the end of the semester. These courses are typically the very last thing you would take in your undergraduate program.

Electromagnetics was made more interesting by the MIT Coffee can radar course that I created with my fellow MIT Lincoln Laboratory colleagues. This course continues to be extremely popular, with numerous spin-offs and professional education (open enrollment to anyone) variants also including build a phased array and a search and track radar. This course has been used at Northrup Grumman Inc., internal to MITRE corp, MIT Lincoln Labs, and many
others. It has also been used as a capstone project at numerous EE programs across the world. UC Davis has created a full semester course based on this work. For those more interested in radar experimentation than building the radar itself, a fully assembled kit is now being offered. This was the top-ranked MIT Professional Education course in 2011, demonstrating the demand for project-based learning in electromagnetics and radar.

IMG_0571
The ubiquitous coffee can radar is making the subject of Electromagnetics interesting to a new generation.
system_small

Michigan State University’s undergraduate antennas course ECE405 offers a final project where students design then build antennas for an end-of-semester design challenge ranging from a fox hunt (.PPT warning) hidden transmitter, communicating with an amateur satellite, to maximizing the distance on a wi-fi link (.PPT warning).

Recently, the final project has been to develop a full communications system, including a phased array transmitter and an envelope detector receiver, where the group achieving the greatest power transfer across the communications link wins. This project is broken up into four phases:

  1. Characterize the microwave substrate using a transmission line resonator printed on the substrate,
  2. Design an envelope detector circuit
  3. Design a single patch antenna
  4. Design an antenna array

ECE405 is a project based antennas course, where a microwave communications link is constructed using a phased array of antennas.
ECE405_Final Project_Fall_2014

According to [Prof. Prem Chahal], “the projects make the lecture material much more interesting and the students are able to realize the importance of the material being covered.” Project-based learning can be more work for the prof, but not in this case according to [Prof. Chahal], “the instructor time is recovered during lecture hours (because) the lecture material becomes much more interesting and simpler to explain, and students actively participate during the lecture hour.”

students
Student groups in ECE405 each build their own microwave communications link, where the link with the best power transfer wins.
projects from last semester

Similarly, Harvard’s Introduction to Electrical Engineering ES 50 is providing an exciting experience for all involved where small groups of students make anything from a tri-corder to a Rubic’s cub solver as the final project.

This is just the beginning. In the near future I believe that final projects will be transforming what would otherwise be difficult or uninteresting courses.  Who else is challenging students with final projects? Tell us about your school’s program in the comments below.

The transition between undergrad and your professional career

For those of us who did not have the chance to build much hardware during the undergrad EE experience, [Chris Gammel] offers an alternative option in the form of the short-course, Contextual Electronics. It involves just about everything needed to take small integrated products from idea, through circuit design, to PCB. The basic idea behind Contextual Electronics is that anyone can design and build electronics systems as long as they have the resources to fill knowledge gaps between a typical heavy-in-theory undergraduate electrical engineering degree and what you will actually be doing in your career. According to [Chris]:

This idea came from my own struggles. I learned so much ‘on the job’, even after going through a 4 year college curriculum at a top school.

He goes on to point out that the biggest issue with undergraduate programs today,

is that they are designed for making everyone into professors, starting everyone from first principles and solely focusing on the rigor in the mathematical side of learning. This is a completely unrealistic way of preparing most engineers for their career.

Contextual Electronics fills the knowledge gab between your undergraduate EE degree and the real world.
LED Driver Assembly
Resistor Assembly
MCP3901

With over 300 members and growing fast, Contextual Electronics is proving that there is a strong demand for practical engineering education.

The value proposition

Project based learning is your path to becoming involved in high value startup companies. In hardware-based startups you must develop proof-of-concept fast therefore having the ability to create, design, fabricate, then actually make work your idea is extremely valuable. Experience from project-based learning is the basis for this skill set.

An example is the incubator 4catalyzer founded by [Jonathan Rothberg]. Almost all startup companies coming out of 4catalyzer are hardware based. One of these, Butterfly Network Inc., is developing a new approach to ultrasound imaging and has raised $100M in funding.

Lead by Example

We must act to make a change. Think of your most difficult and least-liked undergraduate course. How would you make it more interesting with a good project?

For Faculty

Consider a final project instead of a final exam. Less work for you and more value for your students. Nobody likes the final exam. Everyone will remember the final project.

For Students

Not finding many opportunities for projects in your college? Seek out independent study credit for your own projects. Independent study credit in one form or another is available at most universities, but only if you ask. Everyone in the Hackaday community is making something (or should be), go get credit for it. If you knock on enough doors you will likely find a Professor who will sign-off on independent study credit for your project. Seven of my 128 undergraduate credits were from independent study.

Technical Clubs and Organizations

Align yourself with the closest or most applicable undergraduate course. Your activities should receive some degree of course credit for club members. For example, why not provide some extra credit for everyone who earns an amateur radio license and makes 20 QSO’s (two-way contacts), then reports on why and how the ionosphere enabled those QSO’s?

Lead the discussion. Come up with an idea, keep it in the back of your head, ready to pitch at the next alumni dinner, faculty event, or recruiting fair. Together we can hack away at education.


Author bio

gregory-charvat-bioGregory L. Charvat, is an advocate for project based learning, the author of Small and Short-Range Radar Systems, co-founder of Hyperfine Research Inc., Butterfly Network Inc. (both of which are 4combinator companies), visiting research scientist at Camera Culture Group Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, editor of the Gregory L. Charvat Series on Practical Approaches to Electrical Engineering, and guest commentator on CNN, CBS, Sky News, and others. He was a technical staff member at MIT Lincoln Laboratory where his work on through-wall radar won best paper at the 2010 MSS Tri-Services Radar Symposium and is an MIT Office of the Provost 2011 research highlight. He has taught short radar courses at MIT where his Build a Small Radar course was the top-ranked MIT professional education course in 2011 and has become widely adopted by other universities, laboratories, and private organizations. Starting at an Early Age, Greg developed numerous radar systems, rail SAR imaging sensors, phased array radar systems; holds several patents; and has developed many other sensors and radio and audio equipment. He has authored numerous publications and has received press for his work. Greg
earned a Ph.D in electrical engineering in 2007, MSEE in 2003, and BSEE in 2002 from Michigan State University, and is a senior member of the IEEE where he served on the steering committee for the 2010, 2013, and 2016 IEEE International Symposium on Phased Array Systems and Technology and chaired the IEEE AP-S Boston Chapter from 2010-2011.

Filed under: Featured, slider

Small, Detailed Nixie Clock Build

Nixie tubes, while built during the vacuum tube era of the mid-20th century, still exist in a niche among hackers. It’s quite the task to get them up and running due to a number of quirks, so getting an entire clock to work with Nixie tubes is a badge of honor for those who attempt the project. For anyone thinking about trying, [Tomasz] has written an extremely detailed write-up of his Nixie clock which should be able to help.

There is a lot of in-depth theory behind Nixie tubes on [Tomasz]’s page that he covers in the course of describing his clock. As far as the actual project is concerned, this is a simplified design which uses one board for the entire clock, including circuits for the lamps, drivers, microcontroller, power supply, and DC/DC conversion. This accomplishes his goal of making this project as small as possible. The Nixies he chose were IN-12 which are popular in his Eastern European home, but could be sourced from eBay and shipped anywhere in the world.

There is a lot of documentation on the project site, including schematics, microcontroller code, PCB design, and even screenshots of the oscilloscope for various points in the circuit. While this might not be the simplest Nixie clock ever, it is certainly close, more easily readable, and the most detailed build we’ve seen in a while!

Filed under: clock hacks

Small, Detailed Nixie Clock Build

Nixie tubes, while built during the vacuum tube era of the mid-20th century, still exist in a niche among hackers. It’s quite the task to get them up and running due to a number of quirks, so getting an entire clock to work with Nixie tubes is a badge of honor for those who attempt the project. For anyone thinking about trying, [Tomasz] has written an extremely detailed write-up of his Nixie clock which should be able to help.

There is a lot of in-depth theory behind Nixie tubes on [Tomasz]’s page that he covers in the course of describing his clock. As far as the actual project is concerned, this is a simplified design which uses one board for the entire clock, including circuits for the lamps, drivers, microcontroller, power supply, and DC/DC conversion. This accomplishes his goal of making this project as small as possible. The Nixies he chose were IN-12 which are popular in his Eastern European home, but could be sourced from eBay and shipped anywhere in the world.

There is a lot of documentation on the project site, including schematics, microcontroller code, PCB design, and even screenshots of the oscilloscope for various points in the circuit. While this might not be the simplest Nixie clock ever, it is certainly close, more easily readable, and the most detailed build we’ve seen in a while!

Filed under: clock hacks

How Android beat iOS in 2014, and vice versa

Android instead of iOS


There’s no single way to declare a winner between Android and iOS. They may be direct competitors, but Google and Apple have very different strategies for their mobile platforms.

Nonetheless, a lot happened in 2014, and on the last day of the year, it’s time to take a closer look. The Android-iOS duopoly went uncontested, but which of the two won?

Shipments and market share

Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat: the term “market share” refers to the current state of the market, which means devices purchased today as well as those many years ago (as long as they are still in use).

In terms of market share, Android has been winning for many years now in smartphones,
while for tablets that trend is more recent. The latest quarterly shipments show the story hasn’t changed. We don’t have Q4 2014 data yet, but we can look at the other three quarters in the year.

For smartphones, IDC numbers are as follows: Android at 81.1 percent and iOS at 15.2 percent in Q1, Android at 84.7 percent and iOS at 11.7 percent in Q2, Android at 84.4 percent and iOS at 11.7 percent in Q3.

IDC doesn’t break down tablet shipments by operating system (only by manufacturer), but last month it did release an estimate for the year based on the data it has so far: IDC expects Android to be first with 67.7 percent of the year’s tablet shipments and iOS second with 27.5 percent. This is quite the gap if you remember it was only in 2013 that Android beat iOS for the first time in the tablet market.

No matter how you slice it, Android outperformed iOS in this
area this year, both in smartphones and tablets.

Enterprise

Again, we don’t yet have Q4 2014 data yet, but the last three quarters tell the same story as in previous quarters: Apple has a very strong hold on the enterprise, leaving Google in distant second.

Good Technology estimates are as follows: iOS at 72 percent and Android at 27 percent in Q1, iOS at 67 percent and Android at 32 percent in Q2, iOS at 69 percent and Android at 29 percent in Q3.

This requires the same disclosure as previous “market share” figures: These numbers are for activations in the specific quarters, as opposed to total devices actually in use. That said, iOS has been dominating in this space for many years, so Android would need to win multiple sequential quarters in activations before it
can capture actual market share as older devices are replaced in the enterprise.

Apps

In terms of total apps, Google Play has been growing faster than Apple’s App Store. It was last year that Google Play passed 1 million apps (in July 2013), just a month after Apple announced its App Store had passed 900,000 apps (in June 2013).

This year, both stores are around the 1.3 million app mark. Apple’s number is official as of September 2014, while estimates say that Google passed the same figure sometime earlier. Without anything official from Google (unofficial estimates put it closer to 1.5 million), it’s difficult to say which store is bigger at the end of the year. We’d wager Google Play beat Apple’s App Store this year, though that’s simply because it
has been growing faster.

In terms of app downloads, Google Play is also likely gaining on Apple’s App Store, though we didn’t see it overtake its competitor this year. Apple has seen 85 billion downloads as of October 2014. The latest Google Play figure we have is still from July 2013, when it passed the 50 billion app download mark, a milestone Apple passed in May 2013. We expect Google may simply be waiting to announce the 100 billion milestone.

Developers

While the platforms that developers chose largely depend on the app ecosystem we outlined above, the amount of money made from these apps is also key. Unfortunately, Google has yet to disclose any specific numbers.

The latest figure from Apple came in July 2014, at which point its App Store had paid out $20 billion to developers, with “nearly half” coming from the 12 months prior. Google has kept quiet as its number is likely to be lower, which is naturally reflected in
per-app estimates as well.

Final thoughts

In most areas, Google is already beating Apple, or at least catching up to it. Yet Apple still has a stranglehold in specific areas, ones that aren’t easy to break, including the enterprise as well as the hearts of independent developers and startups.

Looking forward to 2015, we don’t expect the landscape to change significantly, though competition will likely get fiercer. Google will continue to make headway in most areas, simply because its strategy is much broader: more shipments, more devices, and more markets. Apple, meanwhile, will naturally continue to focus on its area of expertise: more revenue.


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How Android beat iOS in 2014, and vice versa

Android instead of iOS


There’s no single way to declare a winner between Android and iOS. They may be direct competitors, but Google and Apple have very different strategies for their mobile platforms.

Nonetheless, a lot happened in 2014, and on the last day of the year, it’s time to take a closer look. The Android-iOS duopoly went uncontested, but which of the two won?

Shipments and market share

Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat: the term “market share” refers to the current state of the market, which means devices purchased today as well as those many years ago (as long as they are still in use).

In terms of market share, Android has been winning for many years now in smartphones,
while for tablets that trend is more recent. The latest quarterly shipments show the story hasn’t changed. We don’t have Q4 2014 data yet, but we can look at the other three quarters in the year.

For smartphones, IDC numbers are as follows: Android at 81.1 percent and iOS at 15.2 percent in Q1, Android at 84.7 percent and iOS at 11.7 percent in Q2, Android at 84.4 percent and iOS at 11.7 percent in Q3.

IDC doesn’t break down tablet shipments by operating system (only by manufacturer), but last month it did release an estimate for the year based on the data it has so far: IDC expects Android to be first with 67.7 percent of the year’s tablet shipments and iOS second with 27.5 percent. This is quite the gap if you remember it was only in 2013 that Android beat iOS for the first time in the tablet market.

No matter how you slice it, Android outperformed iOS in this
area this year, both in smartphones and tablets.

Enterprise

Again, we don’t yet have Q4 2014 data yet, but the last three quarters tell the same story as in previous quarters: Apple has a very strong hold on the enterprise, leaving Google in distant second.

Good Technology estimates are as follows: iOS at 72 percent and Android at 27 percent in Q1, iOS at 67 percent and Android at 32 percent in Q2, iOS at 69 percent and Android at 29 percent in Q3.

This requires the same disclosure as previous “market share” figures: These numbers are for activations in the specific quarters, as opposed to total devices actually in use. That said, iOS has been dominating in this space for many years, so Android would need to win multiple sequential quarters in activations before it
can capture actual market share as older devices are replaced in the enterprise.

Apps

In terms of total apps, Google Play has been growing faster than Apple’s App Store. It was last year that Google Play passed 1 million apps (in July 2013), just a month after Apple announced its App Store had passed 900,000 apps (in June 2013).

This year, both stores are around the 1.3 million app mark. Apple’s number is official as of September 2014, while estimates say that Google passed the same figure sometime earlier. Without anything official from Google (unofficial estimates put it closer to 1.5 million), it’s difficult to say which store is bigger at the end of the year. We’d wager Google Play beat Apple’s App Store this year, though that’s simply because it
has been growing faster.

In terms of app downloads, Google Play is also likely gaining on Apple’s App Store, though we didn’t see it overtake its competitor this year. Apple has seen 85 billion downloads as of October 2014. The latest Google Play figure we have is still from July 2013, when it passed the 50 billion app download mark, a milestone Apple passed in May 2013. We expect Google may simply be waiting to announce the 100 billion milestone.

Developers

While the platforms that developers chose largely depend on the app ecosystem we outlined above, the amount of money made from these apps is also key. Unfortunately, Google has yet to disclose any specific numbers.

The latest figure from Apple came in July 2014, at which point its App Store had paid out $20 billion to developers, with “nearly half” coming from the 12 months prior. Google has kept quiet as its number is likely to be lower, which is naturally reflected in
per-app estimates as well.

Final thoughts

In most areas, Google is already beating Apple, or at least catching up to it. Yet Apple still has a stranglehold in specific areas, ones that aren’t easy to break, including the enterprise as well as the hearts of independent developers and startups.

Looking forward to 2015, we don’t expect the landscape to change significantly, though competition will likely get fiercer. Google will continue to make headway in most areas, simply because its strategy is much broader: more shipments, more devices, and more markets. Apple, meanwhile, will naturally continue to focus on its area of expertise: more revenue.


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NativeX and Loot partner to pay you $1M to promote brands, games on mobile

treasure chest


Nativex might bill itself as the leading ad tech vendor for mobile games, but the big nugget coming to the fast-growing mobile advertising space is brandvertising, and the company knows it. That’s one of the reasons why the company has partnered with social engagement engine for brands Loot.

Or, as the company styles it, Loot!

Loot helps brands get social exposure by paying people like you and me to promote them. That might mean sharing a message, creating a meme, or passing along a recommendation to a game or service. When you do that, you get cash. Or, in the company’s vernacular, Loot.

Via the new partnership, Loot plans to give away $1 million in 2015.


We studied 300M
downloads and $600M in annual revenue
to learn how successful game developers monetize.


I asked the company’s new head of sales and marketing, Dana Severson, how it works.

“Users mostly earn cash for completing tasks,” he said. “We’re very similar to Mechanical Turk in that way, except we’re focused on social tasks. We’ve just introduced Lootcred, which we’re really excited about. For certain campaigns, users earn points, which allow them to level up. The more points they earn, the more money they can make.”

Loot charges advertisers on a cost per action basis, and Severson says campaigns can fit any budget size, “from startup to Fortune 500.” He also claims that dollar-for-dollar, this kind of social currency is much better than advertising on Twitter or
Facebook.

“There is no better advocate than your own users/customers. By engaging our users with tasks, we bring them into the advertisers world/product. At that point, they’re capable of creating extremely impactful native pictures/messages/actions. That’s the magic formula for any advertiser.”

The 7-person company has about 50,000 users right now and has raised about $1 million in funding. Severson came into the company via a partnership with Chasm.io, which was originally Wahooly: another social-focused company that allowed users to earn equity in startups by helping them go viral. That didn’t quite pan out as expected, but clearly the models are similar, and paying users to promote brands has a more obvious monetization path to it.

NativeX founder Rob Web agrees.

“The mobile ad market is the hottest it has ever been,” he said in a statement. “We love the creativity of the team at Loot to creatively
engage their users with brands. It’s a great fit for our high-performing native ad campaigns.”

The partnership will allow Nativex to offer this kind of paid social promotion to its stable of clients, while Loot will be able to offer native advertising services from Nativex to its clients.


We’re studying conversion rate optimization. Take our quick survey and we’ll share the results with you.



NativeX and Loot partner to pay you $1M to promote brands, games on mobile

treasure chest


Nativex might bill itself as the leading ad tech vendor for mobile games, but the big nugget coming to the fast-growing mobile advertising space is brandvertising, and the company knows it. That’s one of the reasons why the company has partnered with social engagement engine for brands Loot.

Or, as the company styles it, Loot!

Loot helps brands get social exposure by paying people like you and me to promote them. That might mean sharing a message, creating a meme, or passing along a recommendation to a game or service. When you do that, you get cash. Or, in the company’s vernacular, Loot.

Via the new partnership, Loot plans to give away $1 million in 2015.


We studied 300M
downloads and $600M in annual revenue
to learn how successful game developers monetize.


I asked the company’s new head of sales and marketing, Dana Severson, how it works.

“Users mostly earn cash for completing tasks,” he said. “We’re very similar to Mechanical Turk in that way, except we’re focused on social tasks. We’ve just introduced Lootcred, which we’re really excited about. For certain campaigns, users earn points, which allow them to level up. The more points they earn, the more money they can make.”

Loot charges advertisers on a cost per action basis, and Severson says campaigns can fit any budget size, “from startup to Fortune 500.” He also claims that dollar-for-dollar, this kind of social currency is much better than advertising on Twitter or
Facebook.

“There is no better advocate than your own users/customers. By engaging our users with tasks, we bring them into the advertisers world/product. At that point, they’re capable of creating extremely impactful native pictures/messages/actions. That’s the magic formula for any advertiser.”

The 7-person company has about 50,000 users right now and has raised about $1 million in funding. Severson came into the company via a partnership with Chasm.io, which was originally Wahooly: another social-focused company that allowed users to earn equity in startups by helping them go viral. That didn’t quite pan out as expected, but clearly the models are similar, and paying users to promote brands has a more obvious monetization path to it.

NativeX founder Rob Web agrees.

“The mobile ad market is the hottest it has ever been,” he said in a statement. “We love the creativity of the team at Loot to creatively
engage their users with brands. It’s a great fit for our high-performing native ad campaigns.”

The partnership will allow Nativex to offer this kind of paid social promotion to its stable of clients, while Loot will be able to offer native advertising services from Nativex to its clients.


We’re studying conversion rate optimization. Take our quick survey and we’ll share the results with you.



League of Legends’ servers are not over capacity

League of Legends is hugely popular, but the company's servers can handle the load.


North American League of Legends players are reporting some latency, and many are demanding that developer Riot add more servers. But that probably won’t solve the problem.

Gamers on the League of Legends subforum on the Internet aggregation website Reddit are reporting high pings when playing Riot’s multiplayer online arena battler. A ping is a measure of how long it takes for data to get from your computer to a game server. The lower the number, the better the performance you’ll see online. Many people are finding
that they have pings of more than 100 milliseconds in League of Legends while other games are significantly lower. Naturally, this has dedicated League players pointing the finger to Riot’s insufficient servers, but the problem is more likely with the backbone of the Internet.

Riot’s North American servers are located near Portland, and many people having issues are in the Eastern time zone. If you’re in Florida, that’s nearly 3,000 miles away. But the distance isn’t necessarily what is causing the lag — although it doesn’t help. Instead, the real issue is how traffic is routed over the Internet. When you send data from a home in the East to a server in the West, that data jumps across a number of other servers controlled by giant Internet companies like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast. The more times that data bounces from one server to another, the longer it takes to get to its final destination. And over the last few years, the
people who control these Internet highways have added more stops along the way.

I’m in Denver, and my ping is in the 50-to-60 range, but a trace route of Riot’s North American server bounces me through more than seven different nodes — one of which is in Seattle. The solution for too many hops probably seems obvious: build a server closer to people in the East. But a great distance is not a problem for many people in North America pinging League of Legends servers located in Latin America.

Some people in cities as far away as Toronto in Canada are finding that they get far better pings for servers in Chile than they do for the one in the United States. This isn’t because of just bandwidth or server capacity, it’s because of the way Internet companies in the U.S. route traffic.

Need some evidence? Just
look to Netflix, the video-streaming service that consumes more bandwidth than just about anything else. Netflix is paying extra to get a direct connection to the primary servers of the Internet, which is something that makes a lot more money for the big Internet Service Providers.

Over the last year or two, Netflix realized that it didn’t matter how many servers it built, it was coming up against a hard wall when it came to delivering high-definition video without lag or latency. That wall is Verizon, Comcast, and other ISPs.

Now, Riot is dealing with the same thing — only it hasn’t caved yet. Netflix has made deals with Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T while at the same time blasting all three for essentially shaking down Internet companies.

While investigating this story, Riot told GamesBeat that it is trying to do
everything within its power to improve connections. But it isn’t sure if that includes paying the extra fee to ISPs or what. In the meantime, the company realizes how upset its fans are, and it feels pretty helpless since it has little control over how Verizon and Comcast treat its traffic.


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