Laser Cut Settlers of Catan Board = Best Christmas Gift Ever

[JoshBaker] wanted to make something special for his brother this past Christmas.  He decided on making a wooden game board version of the Settlers of Catan game. [Josh] used CorelDraw to construct the vector images needed for the board. Then, he set out cutting the base, engraving and cutting out the many wooden pieces with a laser cutter. All the pieces were stained and then sealed with polyurethane. He assembled the base so that the removable hex tiles, ports, and resource numbers sit nicely in the recessed parts and don’t shift during gameplay. He complemented the board with tokens and game pieces that he hand-painted. [Josh] also created a new set of cards to fit with the board’s aesthetic.

The board is done incredibly well, not to mention beautiful to look at. The hex tiles’ designs are very detailed. The stained and engraved wood really adds to the atmosphere of the game. We featured a coffee table that would be perfect to play it on. [Josh] has listed all of the vector files for the version he gave his brother, as well as additional ones for the Cities and Knights Expansion. We wish we could have seen the look on his brother’s face when he got such an awesome Christmas gift!

[via Instructables]

Filed under: cnc hacks, Holiday Hacks

Beating Super Hexagon with OpenCV and DLL Injection

Every few months a game comes along which is so addictive, players can’t seem to put it down – no matter how frustrating it may get. Last year one of those games was Super Hexagon. After fighting his way through several levels, [Val] decided that designing a bot to beat the game would be more efficient than doing it himself. Having played a few rounds of Super Hexagon ourselves, we can’t fault him on that front!

At its core, Super Hexagon is a simple game. Walls move from the screen edges toward a ship located near the center of the screen. The player uses the arrow keys to “orbit” the ship around a central shape. Avoid getting crushed by the walls, and you’re golden. However, the entire game board is constantly spinning, expanding, contracting, flashing, and generally doing things to disorient the player while ever more complex wall patterns move in to kill you. In short, Super Hexagaon makes Touhou bullet hell games look like a cakewalk.

The first step in beating the game is to capture the screen. [Val] tried Fraps and VLC, but lags of 2 seconds or more were not going to work. Then [Val] turned to DLL Injection. Super Hexagon calls the OpenGL function glutSwapBuffers() to implement double buffering. Every frame of the game is rendered in the background. Once rendering is complete glutSwapBuffers() is called to swap the buffers, and the process starts over again. [Val] changed the game code such that his own frame capture function would be called instead of glutSwapBuffers(). Once he was done capturing the game’s video buffer, [Val] then called the real glutSwapBuffers() function. It worked perfectly.

Now that he had an image, [Val] used OpenCV to process it. Although game is graphically very noisy, there are only a few colors used at any one time. It didn’t take much work to come up with an algorithm which would create a binary image of the walls and the ship itself.

step5[Val] cast rays from the center of each wall through the center of the screen. The ray which was longest before intersecting another wall would be the best escape route. This simple solution worked, but only for about 40 seconds. At that point, Super Hexagon would start throwing more complex patterns, and the AI would fail. The final solution was to create an accessibility condition which also took into account how much space was available between the various approaching walls. This new version of the AI was able to beat the game.

So was this a more efficient method than grinding through Super Hexagon manually? Since [Val] now knows all about DLL injection and OpenCV, we sure think it was!

Click past the break to see the [Val’s] bot in action!

Filed under: video hacks

Walk Like A Xenomorph

[James Bruton] is busy working on his latest project, a “scrap metal sculpture”-inspired Alien Xenomorph suit.  However, he wanted to get a boost in height as well as a digitigrade stance. To that end, [James] 3D-printed a pair of customized stilts. Each stilt consisted of a lifter with several parts laminated together using acetone. He bolted an old pair of shoes onto the stilts, adding straps across the toes to keep the shoes from lifting up.

While the stilts worked very well, [James] wanted to add soles to them to give him some traction as he walked – falling while in a Xenomorph costume composed of sharp plastic sounds painful enough! He decided to hybrid print the soles using ABS and Ninjaflex. The ABS part of the sole was then acetone-welded to the bottom of the stilts.

[James] hopes to add some claws for effect, so long as they don’t impede his walking too much. He has already completed a good amount of the 3D-printed suit. We know the finished project is going to be amazing: [James] has created everything from Daleks to Iron Man!

[via Adafruit]

Filed under: 3d Printer hacks, wearable hacks

Former RadiumOne CEO making amends

Gurbaksh Chahal

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Former RadiumOne CEO Gurbaksh Chahal made a scheduled court appearance in San Francisco superior court on Friday where a judge commended his “very good” progress completing classes related to domestic violence and battery charges he pled guilty to last year.

RadiumOne runs an automated platform for online and mobile ads.

Chahal was fired from RadiumOne last year after refusing to resign amid allegations he had beaten his girlfriend.

In a blog post last year, Chahal said he pled guilty to two misdemeanors because he didn’t want to endure a lengthy trial.

“While I had full intentions of getting fully exonerated of these charges, that would require me to go through trial and waste another one year of my life,” he said.

He’s since started a new ad tech venture called Gravity4.
He’s also reportedly made moves to buy his old company back.

In a regularly scheduled court appearance, city prosecutors said Chahal had completed 43 classes — ostensibly related to domestic violence — and was compliant with his sentencing.

“This is a very good report Mr. Chahal,” said Judge Tracie Brown.

Chahal was ordered to reappear in court on April 3.

This story originally appeared on Business Insider.

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The two women behind the viral dress want to turn it into something positive for girls

Sarah Weichel (top) and Caitlin McNeill

Sarah Weichel and Caitlin McNeill, the two women behind the dress photo that rocked the Internet on Thursday, have a plan to turn their fifteen seconds of viral fame into a win for young girls.

Weichel reached out to Business Insider late Friday and announced the pair have teamed up to sell “Team #BlackandBlue” and “Team #WhiteandGold” t-shirts with the proceeds benefiting the Princess Project, an organization that provides free prom dresses to high school girls
who can’t afford them.

The shirts commemorate the fact that the dress in the infamous photo appeared to some people to be white and gold while others saw it as blue and black.

McNeill put the picture on a Tumblr fan page she runs for Weichel, who works with YouTube stars. The picture was originally taken by the mother of one of McNeill’s friends. McNeill told Business Insider the mother took a photo of the dress because she wore it to her daughter’s wedding. When McNeill saw her friends debating the photo on Facebook, she decided to share it on Tumblr and Internet history was made.

The t-shirts are selling for $14.99 on and allow the wearer to declare which colors they saw. As of this writing, the site says over 600 t-shirts have been sold and almost twice as many people have chosen “Team #WhiteandGold.”

out the shirts below:

blue black white gold dress

This story originally appeared on Business Insider.

Retail could do to health care what Uber has done to taxis

A Target-branded clinic

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Uber, the poster child of the sharing economy, came out of nowhere and managed to overhaul the traditional taxi business in just a few short years. It now has a valuation of approximately $41 billion.

Now Wall Street is searching for the next industry that
can be Uber-fied. There are rooms full of analysts in search of the next “sharing economy” juggernaut. And I’ll bet they’re not looking at health care — an industry that’s proven one of the most difficult to drag into the tech age.

But they could be missing something big. Recent movement from the U.S.’s biggest retailers into the primary care business indicates that health care might finally be in for some big disruption.

Take Wal-Mart, for example. As health insurance has become more accessible through ObamaCare Insurance Exchanges, millions of consumers are accessing the Primary Care system for the first time. Wal-Mart is seeking to capitalize on this by opening a half-dozen Primary Care Clinics located within their larger stores. The company already has over 100 Retail clinics, in partnership with QuadMed. Wal-Mart is branding these new, company-owned clinics as “one-stop shops” for Primary Care. They will be open 12 hours a day during the week
and eight hours a day on weekends, as the newly insured seek new, convenient sources of care.

As a business model, Wal-Mart has always focused on disruption, efficiency, and cost management as its core competencies — three things healthcare has never been able to master. But Wal-Mart isn’t the only big retailer moving into this space. Target has introduced a new partnership with Kaiser-Permanente to bring convenient, high quality health solutions to Target customers. And Walgreens is not only quietly transforming the traditional “drug store” with its MinuteClinics, it also announced a partnership with innovative lab service provider Theranos. The partnership will introduce lightning-fast CLIA-certified lab services in Walgreens.

Just this week, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey announced his ambitious plans to join the circus. Enter the Whole Foods health clinic, where employees and customers could walk in and consult
practitioners about minor health ailments or chronic conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol, and metabolic syndrome. Whole Foods’ strategy would be to attract the kind of consumers who are deeply health conscious but skeptical of mainstream medicine’s heavy use of pharmaceutical products for lifestyle-related diseases — some of which can be prevented or treated with exercise and dietary changes.

So how does all of this relate to Uber? Consider that Uber has a $41 billion valuation and doesn’t own a single vehicle or employ a single driver. It does this by connecting consumer demand with market supply. It is an ecosystem that is brand agnostic. If the driver shows up, the car is clean, and he doesn’t get lost, I am generally going to give him five stars for performance. I don’t care which car service employs the driver. For the most part, Healthcare is also a brand agnostic purchasing decision unless you are seeking very specialized services.

retail’s move into health care comes of age, there is likely to be excess capacity, but I believe retailers will win when that happens and traditional health service providers will lose. Why?  Because the nation’s largest retailers understand customer loyalty. A recent study at Johns Hopkins found that 23 percent of patients see three or more primary-care physicians in a 24-month period, indicating that, currently, patient loyalty to their health care providers is low.  By contrast, a recent report published by market research company Nielsen found that, of nearly 30,000 people worldwide, 74% indicated that they were loyal to the supermarkets, retailers, and grocery stores they frequent. Maybe that’s why Wal-Mart, Target, and Walgreens are charging aggressively into the healthcare space. If the goal is to drive new customer traffic through the front door, health care just becomes another conduit for gaining loyal customers.

There is no doubt that retail is making a
big bet on health care. If it succeeds, the payoff will be enormous. But just as Uber is at war with the taxi industry, retailers will soon be at war with the large, publicly-traded health care chains. The nation’s largest health care chains will not sit idly by and watch their marketshare erode. In order to win the loyalty war, the nation’s retailers will have to embrace an Uber-like ecosystem that places a premium on convenience, availability, and access.

Tom Greene is a healthcare consultant with Alliant and works with Fortune 500 companies. He is also an evangelical Digital Health thinker and Board member at Mana Health, Amendia and Vivex Biologics. You can follow him on Twitter @greene_tom.


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Driving adoption: Why mobile video is critical to Lyft

A screenshot from Lyft's video ad.

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“I see no reason why video with mobile isn’t one of the most explosive forms of media over the next 12-36 months.”

That’s Kira Wampler, CMO of the popular ride-sharing service Lyft, at this week’s VB Mobile Summit in San Francisco.
Wampler joined Zain Jaffer, CEO of video ad platform Vungle, on stage for a chat about video’s role in brand advertising.

The two companies have teamed up this year to deliver Lyft ads to mobile app users who might be in need of a ride.

“Your mobile device is always on you,” says Wampler. “[Video] can be relevant to where you’re standing. It can be social, something shared with you. As more tools come out that allow you to better discover, we’ll continue to see more people consume.”

Advertising that bridges education, awareness, and performance

For Lyft, running video ads on mobile was an obvious choice to attract new riders and educate the market on ridesharing. While ‘catching a Lyft’ may be commonplace in the company’s hometown of San Francisco, the average American isn’t sold on the concept.

Part of Lyft’s strategy is to change this public perception.

“When I grew up, getting in a car with a
stranger was something your parents told you not to do,” said Wampler. “We have to educate people on what ridesharing is. But, at the same time we have to measure performance overall…With video, we buy on a performance basis and will continue, but we see video as hybrid tool of awareness and performance.”

Jaffer says that’s precisely mobile video’s sweet spot.

“For performance advertisers, it’s about driving installs and ROI. Getting your brand across in 15 or 30 seconds, that’s where video has power over pictures.”

Helping to lead mobile for consumer brands

Today, mobile advertising is mainly composed of gaming apps, says Jaffer. The entrance of companies like Lyft will diversify inventory and by doing so, ratchet up the consumer experience.

“Let’s say you’re playing Sega’s Sonic Dash,” he explains. “You hit an obstacle and the game gives players an option to watch an ad to revive the user. That’s a
great opportunity to show people a brand ad – they’re going to be more engaged because they’ve chosen to watch it.”

The transition in ad dollars, however, is slow to come. While many brands have embraced online advertising, only 34% of advertisers polled in 2014 planned to move money from TV to mobile.

This makes Lyft’s innovative approach all the more important. “Advertising is big industry, but when you get advertisers like Lyft it changes the dynamic and you get a much bigger market size.”

The mobile industry in progress: An opportunity for experimentation

“We wanted to run Lyft ads during peak hours when people were riding it,” said Jaffer. What we found is, people don’t download and use the app immediately. The phone has so much potential, so much data we can tap into, and get more intelligent with campaigns.”

For Wampler, this experimentation is just part of the process.

“As a marketer, you
should be using a blend of art and science. The art is about deeply understanding consumers, drawing insights out and using insights to build hypothesis around which you test. When you test, you’re using A/B, you’re using science to understand what’s performing and for whom….The key message for marketers is blending these two together.”

Next on the horizon

All of this data, experimentation, and the shift in mobile consumption is changing the future of advertising, says Jaffer.

“With performance advertisers, it’s about driving installs and ROI. We’ll soon be living in a world where everything is measurable. Advertisers will buy because they want ROI and that’s how ads should be.”

Kira Sparks is Content Marketing Manager at Vungle. Kira works to communicate the value of the start-up’s breakthrough video ad-serving technology as well as provide education and insight to its community of mobile app publishers and


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Looking East: The Western advance on China’s burgeoning

Smartphone penetration is running at 47 percent in China and mobile gaming is on the rise.

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Taking your mobile game to China is tough, but it might just be worth the effort.

Mobile gaming in China was worth $4.4 billion in 2014 — a significant part of
an $18.5 billion gaming market — and it’s unsurprising that Western developers want a piece of the action. But taking your game to China isn’t an easy task. Effective localization means more than just translating some text, and developers and publishers also have to deal with an incredibly fragmented Android marketplace, which is split across more than 200 different stores.

Walking around Casual Connect Europe earlier this month, I was intrigued by the growing number of stands devoted to publishing in China and the rest of Asia. Speaking to some of these companies revealed a Chinese market brimming with potential but needing a wildly different approach to find success.

China is the world's fastest growing economy, with a gaming industry worth $18.5 billion in 2014.

Above: China is the world’s fastest growing economy, with a gaming industry worth $18.5 billion in 2014.

First-time gamers

It seems somewhat contrived to discuss an entire nation of gamers as one, but China’s recent history is unique compared to other major markets.

The Chinese government’s thirteen-year ban on foreign consoles just recently ended, and buying a personal computer is still prohibitively expensive for many Chinese families. There is a massive PC gaming market in China that centers mainly around gaming cafes, but for a lot of people, their first ever experience
of gaming is on their smartphones.

“In China, a lot of people — their first electronic hardware is their mobile phone,” said Johnny Lo, account executive at Japanese Internet advertising company Septini. “They can’t afford a console, and they may not have been able to afford a TV back in the old days. PC was too expensive for them. So now the country is more developed — people are making more money — [and] the smartphone is their first gaming item.”

This new exposure to gaming, coupled with relatively short commutes to work in urban areas, results in gamers that play in a very different way to the West. And translating your game to that market is about more than just language.

“Localization is key,” said Lo. “Not just text localization but the culture. The graphics, the whole game scheme has to be adjusted.”

Smartphone use is on the rise in China.

Above: Smartphone use is on the rise in China.

Omri Halamish of Ironsource told me a similar story. The digital distribution company — which raised $85 million in a recent funding round — opened a Beijing office six months ago. While Ironsource’s business there is more about helping Chinese developers succeed in the West, Halamish helped explain the importance of
smart localization for the Chinese market.

“Most people think when I tell them they need to localize their game: ‘OK, I need to translate it.’ Not at all,” he said.

“You need to rewrite the story sometimes. You need to change the game flow [to] shorter sessions. Also, in-app purchases and monetization [need to be] much more aggressive and noisy. You have so much noise that you need to get over there.”

Halamish shared an interesting analogy for badly localized Western games: “I heard someone say it’s like watching a Bruce Lee film with subtitles that are very bad,” he said. “This is how your game is going to play.”

“That’s kind of the challenge. What Western game developers need to understand is that they need to rewire their game if they go to China. That’s the bottom line.”

A fragmented marketplace

Even if you have a game that suits the Chinese market, getting it published is tricky. Less so on iOS
— where Apple controls most of the distribution for its phones and tablets — but with no single, unified store for the more dominant Android devices (accounting for 78.5 percent of the smartphone market), it’s a minefield, and you’ll likely need some help.

SkyMobi is one company helping Western developers publish in the Chinese market. It’s already got six games on the Chinese Android marketplaces — including Pele: King of Football and Beach Buggy Racing — and has another two currently undergoing localization.

It’s only taking around two games each month because localization isn’t easy, and it wants to hand-pick games it believes can actually succeed.

“To publish in China you need to work with tens if not hundreds of different channels,”
explained William Heathershaw, the head of international marketing at SkyMobi. “At the end of the day a publisher only has so many resources, so we’re going to focus on the top maybe 50 channels, which will really give you access to 95-plus percent of the market.”

And each of those channels needs a unique copy of the game. “It’s not as simple as it is in the West,” said Heathershaw. “You have to create a clone copy of your game for each of the different app stores. Some of the larger app stores might [also] have certain requirements that you have to tweak for the game. It does require a lot of time on the publishing side for that to happen.”

SkyMobi's Pele: King of Football

SkyMobi’s Pele: King of Football

Image Credit: SkyMobi

SkyMobi takes the source code directly from the developer and handles everything from there, including sending payments.

“As we’re a NASDAQ-listed company, we have the ability to give our developers money more quickly than other local Chinese publishers are,” said Heathershaw. “Some developers [elsewhere] have to wait maybe three months to collect what they made.”

But is it worth the effort?

“We’ve had a nice success with Beach Buggy Racing,” said Heathershaw. “In the first month, it’s done a few million downloads in just one market — China. It’s pretty impressive to think that a game can have a decent percentage of its overall downloads from one market.”

In the West, developers give 30 percent of their revenue to the platform holders — Apple and Google. In China, things are a lot more complicated. Payments are generally
handled by a third party, as people don’t tend to have credit cards.

So you end up in a situation where you’re giving 30 percent to the platform holder and 30 percent to the payment provider. That leaves 40 percent of your total revenue, which you then need to split with your publisher.

“It always comes down to, ‘Do you want access to the Chinese market or not?’” said Heathershaw. “If you do, that’s just how it goes.”

Continue Reading …

Raspberry Pi GSM Hat

The Spark Electron was released a few days ago, giving anyone with the Arduino IDE the ability to send data out over a GSM network. Of course, the Electron is just a GSM module tied to a microcontroller, and you can do the same thing with a Pi, some components, and a bit of wire.

The build is fairly basic – just an Adafruit Fona, a 2000 mah LiPo battery, a charge controller, and a fancy Hackaday Perma-Proto Hat, although a piece of perf board would work just as well in the case of the perma-proto board. Connections were as simple as power, ground, TX and RX. With a few libraries, you can access a Pi over the Internet anywhere that has cell service, or send data from the Pi without a WiFi connection.

If you decide to replicate this project, be aware you have an option of soldering the Fona module right side up or upside down. The former gives you pretty blinking LEDs, while the latter allows you to access the SIM. Tough choices, indeed.

Filed under: Raspberry Pi

Adam Savage’s First Order of Retrievability Tool Boxes

Let’s face it, we’re all a bit obsessed with tools. Whether it’s an oscilloscope or a screwdriver, having just the right tool can be the difference between loving what you are doing, or dreading it. But oddly enough, not much is talked about tool organization. We tend to think that how you organize your tools is just as import as the tools themselves.

[Adam Savage] of Mythbusters fame might just be the king of tool organization. In this thread on the Replica Props Forum, [Adam] shares the design and construction of two sets of mobile tool boxes he built while working at Industrial Light and Magic. The idea is simple: First Order Retrievability. That is, you should never have to move one tool to get to another. That in turn affords the fastest, most efficient way of working.

The evolution of this idea started with medical bags (the kind doctors would use, back in the day when doctors still made house calls), but as [Adam’s] tool collection grew, the leather was no match for 50 pounds of tools. So, he stepped up to two aluminum tool boxes. Adding wheels and a scissor lift allowed for a moveable set, at just the right height, that are always in reach. Perfect for model making, where being able to move to different parts of a model, and taking your tools with you is key. If you’re looking for a list of what’s inside [Adam]’s box of wonder, here you go.

What are some of your favorite ways of organizing your tools? What tips or tricks do you have? Post a picture or description in the comments.  I’m sure we all could learn a bit from one another.

Filed under: tool hacks