Thursday, January 18, 2018

More Than Just Hacking

Kagan Conrad
The Hack Shack has faced difficulty in attracting new customers recently. I think, in part, this is due to its name. In most people's minds, the word Hack has a heavy connotation with computers and technology. While this isn't exactly wrong, I feel that, in the Hack Shack’s case, it doesn't do the space justice. To the uninformed, this room appears the be only for activities like 3D printing, coding, and Raspberry Pis. Because of this, I find many of those who don't consider themselves “computer people,” to be turned away from the Hack Shack, thinking there is nothing here for them. This is what I feel prevents the Hack Shack future success. Public misconceptions about people think the Hack Shack is meant for have led to it reaching a smaller demographic. This results in fewer returning customers as well as fewer new customers. Without something about this situation changing, I don't think the Hack Shack will be able to continue. 
I have wanted to find a way to address this problem for some time. I wanted to find a way to make it clearer to the student body that the Hack Shack has more to offer than just hacking. Though I think using the Cricut for sticker making was a step in the right direction, more could be done. Making stickers still required a certain amount of “Hacking” knowledge, and there is a learning curve in using the design tool that turns some kids away. Sophie and Mrs. Stetson’s idea to bring mitten making and sewing into the Hack Shack is exactly the type of thing the Hack Shack needs to begin fixing this problem. It defies the “Hack” stereotype and generates interest from people who would not typically visit the Hack Shack otherwise. During the mitten making workshop the week before vacation, numerous students who had never even stepped foot in the Hack Shack, decided to visit in order to take part. What I think makes this activity so great is how it reaches new customers while still sticking to the ideals of the Hack Shack. While not a typical “hack” related activity, the sewing workshop still teaches students to use a new tool and create something for themselves in the process. It's a perfect example of how the Hack Shack can branch out while still keeping with the values of a makerspace.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Xbox One X -- Is it time to upgrade?

Jonty Norling

Two colors of the Xbox One X 
Before getting the Xbox One X, I had very little experience with consoles at all. Until two years ago, I had been an avid PC gamer. I had never owned a console, and all my gaming experience was on a PC. I had no intentions of switching, because not only was PC gaming more affordable, it provided better graphics, faster load times and overall better performance. However, I came to the painful conclusion that none of that mattered, because I had no one to play with. All of my friends played on either Xbox or PlayStation, and I realized that mattered more to me than graphics. I decided then to cash out on an original Xbox One; something I really enjoyed playing on, up until an electrical storm took it out (along with my tv, stereo, and speakers). I got back into PC gaming for a bit, but that ended up breaking also (bad luck I guess). After that, I never got back into console gaming - or gaming in general - until now.

The first thing I noticed about the Xbox One X was its size. I still had my broken original Xbox One for comparison and was astounded by how much smaller it had become. In my hands, it felt a lot more dense and sturdy than the original had. As I unwrapped the box, I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of an external power brick; something the previous generation had. Another thing I liked was the aesthetics; the console was much sleeker than the original and was generally better looking.

Xbox One X Interface
When I went to turn on the Xbox, I immediately noticed that the capacitive touch sensors on the original model had been replaced with tactile switches. This solved a problem I had run into with the previous generation, which would turn off when something touched the power button even slightly. With the new physical switches, it’s a lot harder to accidentally press the power button, and also gives the console a much more quality feel. It took me around 20 minutes to set up the Xbox to play, and another hour more to get my first game downloaded. A downside I quickly realized with the improved graphics was that downloading games took much more space than the previous gen, and therefore took more time. My house’s wifi is far from ideal, so downloads took a lot longer than they used too. While downloads were noticeably slower in the new Xbox, everything else was considerably faster. Boot Up times were a lot faster. Disks read and launched much faster. Almost everything, I came to realize, was a lot faster. Other than that, not much had changed on the interface side of the Xbox.

When I launched Call of Duty WW2, I was impressed by just how much better the graphics had gotten from the previous generation. Lines were a lot sharper, colors more vibrant, and the environment was more immersive. Everything from special effects to player models looked better on the new console. Although I didn’t notice it, Microsoft claims a huge jump in framerate from the previous generation. I don’t know if it was my tv, or if it just wasn’t a noticeable enough improvement, but I did not notice any frame rate improvements from the last gen.
Activision’s Call of Duty WWII

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to utilize one of the biggest improvements from the previous gen, that being 4k (UHD) output. The Xbox One X introduced the ability to play 4k media on your tv, but since I don’t currently own a 4k TV, I wasn’t able to experience this improvement.

Do I think the Xbox One X worth it over the previous generation? Yes, and no. I think that if you already own the previous generation of Xbox, and don’t own a 4k tv, it’s not worth it. The older generation costs half as much, and while it doesn’t pack quite as much punch, it does the job. However, if you’re looking for a new console, or if you own a 4k tv, I would say it’s worth it.

Images Cited

Bennett, Matthew. "Xbox One to Have 300 Gamerpics Available at Launch." Google Search. Google, n.d. Web. 16 Jan. 2018.

"Call of Duty®: WWII." Call of Duty. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Jan. 2018.

"Xbox One X: Microsoft Releases Official Pictures, Specs, Size and Weight Compared with Xbox One S." DualShockers. N.p., 12 June 2017. Web. 16 Jan. 2018.

Mirrorless Cameras

By Cole Brisson

You may have heard of the new camera called a mirrorless camera. But do you know what that means or what it means for the DSLR world as a whole? In this article, I will help you better understand the differences between the two and what makes the mirrorless camera a game changer. 
So the biggest difference between the two types of cameras is in the name itself. The mirrorless design is a camera that does not have mirrors. Mirrors are used in a DSLR to help capture an image and deliver it to the sensor which develops the image and saves a digital copy onto your SD card. With the mirrorless camera, this system is taken away and replaced by a completely digital solution. This allows the user to take much faster photos as well as cut back on how much the camera weighs. The biggest problem with DSLRs is their speed. Most of the time the rule is by the time you see it in your viewfinder it is already too late, this is due to the mirrors inside the system which mechanically work at a very fast speed. However to the human eye work very slow, so when you see the picture in your viewfinder it is a slower reflection of what has already past. To negate this, people will buy much larger cameras such as the Canon 5D which will take faster photos but sacrifice portability which can be a problem when both your back your hands hurt from the weight of the camera and the lens. 

With a Mirrorless camera however you can get the best of both worlds. With the removal of the mirror system, you are able to take photos in a much faster fashion. Take the Sony A6000 for example, you are able to take 11 photos per second with 172 autofocus points making your images non-blurry even while you move. Compare that with a mid-range Nikon D5300 which can take 3 pictures per second with 9 autofocus points and you have a clear winner who costs much less and weighs that much little in comparison. 

To find out more about mirrorless cameras I would recommend reading these articles em-camera-2013-the-best-models-reviewed-960832

Picture links

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Hack Shack on the Decline?

By Kagan C

Recently, I have heard talk of the decline of the Oyster River Hack Shack. Apparently, in prior years, the Hack Shack was a bustling makerspace. It was constantly in use with tens of customers coming in on a daily basis. Their enthusiasm for the space was so great, they required quieting down frequently. This is in stark contrast to what the Hack Shack is now, a barren, desolate place with few customers. Though my descriptions are largely exaggerated and my experience with the Hack Shack is limited, I still wonder what changed?
A quiet moment in the Hack Shack. Where is everybody?
Between the previous school year and this one, there was a sharp drop in attendance at the Hack Shack, but what caused this? This is a question I have found myself thinking about quite often, and I have found that there are a variety of possible explanations. Perhaps the current students in the class aren't putting in the same level of work as students of the past did, maybe the students who visited so often last year have graduated, or maybe maker spaces no longer hold the same appeal they once did with students. It is possible that as the types of technology seen in the Hack Shack progressed, they lost their mystique that once drew students in. The decline could easily be attributed to anyone, and likely a combination, of these reasons, however, since my time here has been so short, I do not have the experience to determine responsibility with any sort of authority.
There is another reason, however, that I do think I have the authority to so speak on: the high barrier to entry. I have spoken with numerous students about the Hack Shack, and while a majority express interest in visiting, a common issue is that many have trouble finding the time.
Some of the most exciting tools in the Hack Shack require large time commitments before students can begin seeing results. A perfect example of this is the 3D printer. It is Hack Shack policy that students can only print models that they themselves have designed, therefore, if a student wishes to 3D print something, they have to learn how to use a 3D design tool along with the 3D printer itself. These design tools range in difficulty to use. While the basics of some, such as Google Sketchup, can be learned in a little under an hour, the more powerful and comprehensive tools, such as Blendr, can be studied for weeks while barely scratching the surface. This level of commitment can be incredibly intimidating to students who may only have a passing interest in the Hack Shacks facilities. I have seen that this large investment can often turns students away from the Hack Shack. I find this disheartening as many of the great benefits of this place are being obscured by this fact, however, I find it hard to blame the students. If it were not for my enrollment in this class, it would be unlikely that I visit the Hack Shack often or take the time to learn about what it has to offer. With so much going on in a student's typical day, it can't be seen as a huge surprise that they don't want to spend their short period of free time each day mentally exerting themselves.

This is not a problem I can see being solved overnight, and furthermore, it is not one that I see going away anytime soon. If nothing within the Hack Shack changes, I would not be surprised to see this downward trend continue. As things change, the Hack Shack must adapt to change with them, and I hope that if it does so, it will begin to see success in the near future.

**Editor's note: While we have anecdotally seen a difference between this semester and last, we do not have the attendance data to support the idea of a big decline.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Virtual Reality Just Got a Whole Lot Sharper

By Stephen Heirtzler

Credit to

Since the initial release of the Oculus Rift DK1 in March of 2013, virtual reality has experienced something of a revolution. With the ever improving capabilities of modern PCs, companies can finally explore its true potential.  However, new VR headsets have been slow to release, and the high end headset market is largely controlled by just three companies: HTC, Facebook, and Sony.

This may change soon, though.  Because, as of this month, a new player seems ready to enter the headset making game: Pimax Technology Co.

Pimax had previously released a 4k resolution headset to relatively minimal fanfare, but their new headset seems to go and above and beyond their own standards along with the industry standards. The headset is called The Pimax 8K and it is a game changer.

To understand why, we have to look at the two major limitations of virtual reality right now. The first limitation being field of view, and the second being resolution.

Credit to Oculus Rift
A headset’s field of view is dictated by the size of its lenses and the diameter of its display. The current generation of headsets have a field of view of about 110 degrees. Since the field of view of the human eye is about 210 degrees, that means that the experience of wearing a current generation headset is akin to wearing a skiing mask; large portions of your peripheral vision are obscured. This can have a negative impact on your immersion. You don’t feel quite as much like you’re “in the world” because of your limited field of view.
Arguably the most critical aspect of a VR headset’s immersiveness is its resolution. If a headset has fewer pixels to work with, the image will look noticeably jagged and blurry, dampening the illusion of looking into another world. Current generation headsets have a resolution of 1080 pixels by 1200 pixels per eye (about 2.6 million pixels). This means that small text and subtle details in a virtual environment are unreadable without getting closer. This also means that these headset suffer from something called “The Screen Door Effect” where, because of the separations between pixels, the          
image appears to be being viewed through the mesh of a screen door.

Credit to Youtube
What makes the Pimax 8k such a game changer is it sports both a 200 degree field of view (almost equal to that of the human eye) and a staggering resolution of 3840 by 2160 pixels per eye (about 16.6 million pixels). This means that there is no screen door effect, and that the virtual world fills your visual field.

The Pimax 8k is set to ship out in January of next year, and when it does, it will provide the most immersive virtual reality experiences to date.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Six Steps to Learning to Program With Python

Jack Donaldson

Have you ever wanted to learn how to program but it just seems like there is way too much to learn? There are websites that try to make it easier to learn how to code such as but they are far too simple and are aimed at kids in either middle school or younger. What if I told you that you could learn how to write a program in under five minutes? This is easily accomplished by using a more simple programming language, and the one I am going to show you is called Python. Python is known for its simplicity, however this means it is far less powerful than more complicated languages like C++ and Java.
For your first program I'm going to show you how make a program that asks for the user's name and then says “”Hi” to the user using their name.

Step One:
Open Python and you should come to a screen that looks like this. This is known as the shell and this is where your program will run. Press file and then new file to open up a new program.

Step 2:
A screen like this should pop up. This is where you will be writing the actual code.

Step 3:
Use hashtags to write comments. Comments are not read by the computer and are only read by other people who read the program. Comments are important because they allow others who read your program to know what you were trying to write with your code.

Step Four:
Create a variable that stores the user's name. In this case the variable is called “name” and the words in the quotes are the words that the user sees.

Step 5:
Create a print statement that uses the user's name using the variable created previously.

Step 6:
Create an input statement that stops the program. Without this the program will continue to run until you close Python. After you have done this press the run button and run the program!

Once you have run the program it will ask for your name. Type your name and then press enter.

Then the print statement will pop up on the screen and it will prompt you to press enter to exit. Congratulations you have just finished your first program!!!


Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Hack Shack and all the Little Bits that have improved over my time with it

Coleman Moore
Hack Shack Supervisor
The Hack Shack and all the Little Bits that have improved over my time with it

Throughout my time as a student at Oyster River High School, the Hack Shack has changed a lot from its creation in my sophomore year to a bustling and overall more well put together setting now during my senior year. At the beginning of its existence it had no reputation nor did anyone know about it.  From its creation to now, it's grown a lot and so has the class that manages the space.
When I came to the high school as a freshman there was no Hack Shack so I won't talk about this year too much but I still feel it's very important to the overall story. Back when there was no Hack Shack a lot of students had very few options if they were interested in technology other than the two programming classes and the robotics team. Many teachers either had to send a workorder to IT or search out Mrs. Pearce or Mrs Stetson, Our librarian and computer Science teacher respectively, if they had a teach related problem a problem the Hack Shack greatly fixed.
At the beginning of my sophomore year Mrs. Carr and Mrs. Pearce opened the Hack Shack as our high school's very own Makerspace. Word of the new makerspace spread fast through the school newspaper, Mouth Of the River, and other websites and publications such as NHSTE. During my sophomore year, not many people completely understood what the Hack Shack was for, including the staff that ran it. At this point we depended a lot on the librarians to tell students who were having tech problems to go see the Hack Shack to solve them. Throughout the year the staff got into much more of a flow and were able to help those who came in successfully more often.
When it came time for my Junior year I was no longer part of staff but I still came in often to check up on what was going on. Some of the most incredible 3D prints were made during that year.

It was also during this year that the Hack Shack began to be used more often for projects for classes than it had in the past and to build a real reputation for itself and why it was there.
Now we have entered the 3rd year of the Hack Shack and my senior year. This year rather than being a normal staff member, I instead supervise the staff, helping them with their workshops and how to go about working in the Hack Shack. My duties also include getting information from the staff to Mrs. Pearce and Mrs. Stetson and working on a special project for the semester. At the beginning of this year, Mrs. Stetson bought a new computerized cutter called the Cricut which has been a huge upgrade to the former one, the Silhouette cutter. Because of its simplicity and more easily understandable UI, more people have been able to create designs and print them then before. The format of the work done by normal staff has also greatly changed this year increasing the transparency between the staff, me, Mrs Pearce and Mrs. Stetson.
20170928_074422.jpgAll in all I think the Oyster River Makerspace Hack Shack has made a lot of progress and will continue to improve and grow to become even more embedded in the school culture. I hope it will continue to become someplace that everyone goes to to use the technology, learn new thing or just to enjoy themselves in a supportive place.