[00:00:00] Ben: Hello and welcome to the next edition of the Hack the Planet podcast. And we have a very special guest today. You know how normally when I'm explaining how to hack or something to somebody, explaining some technical topic, I often use the expression, "Hey, it's not rocket surgery." Well today, we are, we are joined by an honest to goodness, rocket surgeon, uh, Arko say, hello.
[00:00:34] Arko: Hi, I've never been called a rocket surgeon. Not sure.
[00:00:39] Ben: There's a first time for everything. So, today's topics, might be kind of heavy sledding, as you might expect. We are also joined by our usual panel. We've got Dan. Say hello Dan.
[00:00:51] Dan: Hey, how's it going?
[00:00:53] Ben: Mitchell.
[00:00:55] Mitchell: Hello.
[00:00:56] Ben: Max is back
[00:00:59] Max: Hello.
[00:00:59] Ben: Vyrus.
[00:01:00] Vyrus: Hello.
[00:01:02] Ben: And, Justin.
[00:01:04] Justin: Grateful to see you guys all again, hello.
[00:01:09] Ben: Arko is a robotics engineer who has a number of incredibly interesting published projects, including high altitude balloons with like sensors and batteries. And they have to deal with like space radiation and all this. So I'd definitely like to get into that. He's published an autonomous rover project, and he made a demo of scene unit out of, uh, was it a PIC ?
[00:01:35] Arko: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That's a PIC microcontroller. We'll that.
[00:01:41] Ben: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So I definitely want to get into all of that stuff. I am really curious how you sort of settled into this, you know, collection of activities, uh, or how did you get into, like robots and, specifically like high altitude stuff in the first place?
[00:02:00] Arko: Oh man. Okay. So if I were to trace back, I think, high altitude balloons came closer to like, after I graduated high school and I think I was in, I was in college at the time. But if we're going to go do the whole, like, what was your origin story? I just so happened to be, I would say fortunate enough to grow up around a NASA facility.
And so a lot of my neighbors were NASA employees. we could wind back to the year, I guess, 1997. For those who remember, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory landed the Sojourner Rover and actually the mission was Pathfinder. Sojourner was just a flight demonstration that just so happened to be bolted on to, to the, uh, to the lander.
And so they, they essentially thought of this little Rover thing very last minute, really. And, 1997 happens. A rover lands successfully-- a lander lands successfully, rover gets deployed, rover drives around. It is like a huge media hit. Right. But leading up to the, the landing, one of my neighbors who worked at JPL, came downstairs and I lived in an apartment and, he had snagged a press release of, the thing they hand out to the press that has all the trajectories and all the like avionics, like schematics and stuff.
Like, I shouldn't say schematics, but a lot of the technical details that they then reduce down for the articles. You know, he had snagged and gave one to me. I just remember like opening this thing up and just like looking through it and going like, holy crap, this is amazing. Like, we're going to land something on Mars.
Like, you know, I've read about this in like, you know, kindergarten or whatever in coloring books, like, oh, cool. We're actually going there. You know, the landing happens and all this stuff, and there's this whole, like, I don't know, it, it blows up. I mean, it's all over the news and you're getting these images back from Mars and that was really cool to me.
And I think that in combination with my dad who was very much a tinkerer, like a true hacker at heart, you know, I was encouraged to think, take things apart in the house, um, safely and put them back together. And so all those things in combination kind of led me down the path of at least when I was in middle school and starting to getting into high school, I got interested in joining like robotics clubs and things like that.
And I got encouraged to, to participate in, in these invention challenges that actually JPL was holding. And you know, living not too far away from it, I thought, well, you know, this sounds fun. They have these like random challenges, like throw a jelly bean, you know, five meters and landed in a shock cup.
And the closer you get, the more points you get, or some, you know, random goal like that. And, so in middle school I participated in that and it just so happened to be the year that the Spirit and Opportunity rovers that were headed to Mars the following year, uh, would go. So it was 2002, they launched and landed in '03.
I got to, and very fortunately looking back now, got to see both rovers as a kid before they left. And I just remember being in a, like, there's like a, there's a big clean room at JPL, called high bay one where they built everything. I mean, literally Voyager 1 was built there all up until the most recent spacecraft.
And so I got to go look through the little fishbowl glass at all these little, you know, dudes in bunny suits, uh, building the rover and, and, uh, I was like, I want that job. Like that is like the coolest thing ever. And so I think that was sort of like the inspiring moment where I'm like, I want to build things for the rest of my life and robots are pretty cool.
[00:05:47] Ben: that must've made it seem a lot more accessible. Right? Like
[00:05:51] Arko: A hundred percent.
[00:05:52] Ben: having a neighbor who really did that, and then you, you saw him and he wasn't, he was just some dude. Right. And you're like, oh, I could do that. Right.
[00:06:00] Arko: Yeah, absolutely. And it's sort of like this weird osmosis thing, right? Like you're around enough of this stuff and you get absorbed into it. And actually there, there's a very like distinct memory I have where after this whole, like getting to see the Rover thing. My dad and I, he was working at the time and, and, you know, we drove back to his workplace and we were in the parking lot as we're walking and, he turns to me and he's like, you have no idea how lucky you are.
You like, you have no clue where you just grew up and what you got to see today. Like I hope one day when you grow up, you get to appreciate this. I sincerely remember that, that moment very vividly. So yeah, if you want to talk about origin stories, I think that was, that was sort of the, uh, the beginning of all of this, this chaos.
[00:06:49] Ben: I guess, I guess your, your dad totally called it.
[00:06:52] Arko: Oh yeah, totally called it.
[00:06:54] Vyrus: That's awesome.
[00:06:56] Arko: Yeah.
[00:06:57] Vyrus: How did that, I'm just curious, like, did you, is that the same kind of ethos, the led to kind of meeting? I don't even know what we'll call it, like the "traditional" hacking community, like, because that was the way it is.
[00:07:15] Arko: By like degrees of freedom, it is related. Because of that, I got into, uh, in high school. I was, I was very active in a, in a program called FIRST robotics. I think it's a pretty popular thing. A lot of people know about, um, if you're in high school, a lot of high schools nowadays participate in it.
Essentially you register and you get a little number and you get to participate in a, in a robotics competition. And back in the day, at least when I was participating, it was like a three digit number. And nowadays I think there in like the five digits or something like that, at least, at least four.
[00:07:46] Vyrus: I remember it being a thing. I also remember not being allowed to compete with my grades because my grade's too bad, but.
[00:07:52] Arko: So by the way that that being said, I was not a very good student. When I got into high school, I was actually an awful student, at least in my freshman year. But, aside from that, yeah, no. So, so, you know, I got into the robotics club cause I got into this whole JPL invention challenge thing and.
And through that I met a friend of mine Scape, um, IRC, Brett, you know, him. Um, so we're calling him that, cause I don't, you know, we've grown up and we don't use our handles anymore. Um, and you know, he, you know, at first I wasn't too great friends with them, you know, we kind of butted heads and, and, uh, got to know him and he's like, Hey, you know, there's this like this thing called LA 2600 and they meet up in, you know, this random, you know, uh, restaurant in the middle of downtown LA. And I'm like, all right, fine. I'll join in. This is like around the time when you're in high school and like your friend has a car and he had a car and I'm like, all right, let's go. And I just got to meet these like weirdos.
I mean, like total weirdos, right? Like everyone was just sort of like me, you know, they were tinkering with stuff and someone brought payphones and like someone was giving a talk on like how to hack your DirecTV box and get free DirecTV. And I was like, this is awesome. All right, I'm going to hang out around these people because they're just, they're just screwing around.
And, uh, you know, there's lots of learning here and people in network with.
[00:09:08] Ben: One, one bullet point I forgot to mention in your intro is your involvement with Null Space.
[00:09:15] Arko: Oh yeah. Oh man. God, it feels like a lifetime ago now.
[00:09:18] Vyrus: know
[00:09:19] Arko: Oh my gosh.
[00:09:20] Vyrus: telling me.
[00:09:21] Arko: Yeah. I mean, that's a really good point because eight out of, out of LA 2600 stemmed the Null Space Labs hacker space in downtown, back in 20 10, 11 ish, something like that, uh, more than 10 years ago now, for sure. You know, a lot of us, those, those, uh, those weirdos, we all kind of had this knack to want to tinker and build things and, you know, having a common space, I think hackerspaces were starting to become much more popular in America, um, at that time and in that timeframe.
And so, yeah, Vyrus and MMCA started Null Space Labs and I was like, sweet. I've got all this gear at home that my parents are complaining about and, you know, they don't want it in the house. So like I brought all my stuff over to, to Null Space and ended up getting a membership and eventually a key. So I could just show up whenever I wanted to build and test and I could blare music and no one would care.
So yeah, those were wild times, man. That was
[00:10:17] Vyrus: It was a, it was just a clubhouse there for a minute.
[00:10:20] Arko: It really was, you know, I, growing up, I like after high school, I actually, I went to community college and then eventually went to like a regular ish university, but I never at any point lived in a dorm. And so Null Space was like my dorm, like it was my dorm room.
And, you know, I got, I had my quote unquote roommates and, you know, we'd stay up late and tinker with shit and,
[00:10:44] Vyrus: I mean, it was kind of like a dorm room. Like people got drunk, a lot
[00:10:47] Arko: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh, things happened. Yeah. Yeah. Dude.
[00:10:52] Vyrus: It's the only without the school.
[00:10:54] Arko: Exactly, exactly. Someone would buy like a hundred watt laser and be like, dude, let's get this, let's get a coolant. And you know, like pump it through it and just like burn random stuff and, or, you know, some bought an industrial fog machine.
[00:11:06] Vyrus: I was going to say, speaking of lasers, didn't you entirely like actually like source and find a broken laser and then like
[00:11:14] Arko: That was, to be fair. It was mostly MMCA and Charlie, I was sort of there in the, in the background on that project, but there was always, that was kind of the cool thing about, about the hackerspace was there was always multiple projects going on. And so you could always kind of, um, sort of get like a view into all these projects and how they progressed over time.
Uh, you know, when you're working on your own project sort of isolated, you don't necessarily get exposure to many things. And so it was kind of cool to watch my peers go through the same processes I was going through, uh, with my projects. Cause I think at the time I was building, at least the one that comes off the top of my head was a quad rotor.
And at the time drones were not something you could just buy. Um, you know, you had to design your own flight controllers and, and things and Arm processors were becoming more available. Um, and
[00:12:09] Vyrus: totally forgot about that. I remember that you flying that thing around.
[00:12:12] Arko: Oh, yeah, dude, I crashed, I think in the parking lot, so many times. Oh my gosh. What a time sink and money sink but
I learned a lot. Yeah.
[00:12:19] Ben: Was that one of your first kind of robotics projects? Like a, like a real robot
[00:12:24] Arko: I would say so. Yeah, actually that's, that's a really good point. It probably was my first, like I was still in college at the time and I was still learning a lot about electrical engineering, um, which is the field I pursued. But it was also the first time where I was like, well, you know, I have a little bit of knowledge to be able to do circuit board design.
Um, Charlie, who at Null Space, um, knew Eagle, the, the board design software, um,
[00:12:53] Ben: RIP Eagle since purchased by AutoDesk.
[00:12:56] Arko: Since this was back in the day, when,
when you, when you can, yeah. Oh my God, dude. I don't even want to. Yeah, I'm very much like if I'm doing personal projects very much KiCAD kind of guy now. Um,
[00:13:07] Max: At least KiCAD's good now, right?
[00:13:09] Arko: Oh, dude so good.
[00:13:11] Ben: We're saying KiCAD now, I say (phonetic) key CAD
[00:13:12] Arko: Oh, I don't.
Oh yeah, yeah,
[00:13:14] Ben: I don't know what (phonetic) Kai CAD is.
[00:13:16] Arko: Whole GIF Jif thing. Uh,
[00:13:19] Ben: It's probably, it's probably the right pronunciation, but I, I
[00:13:22] Arko: oh, I haven't, I have no clue. I really don't. Um,
[00:13:26] Ben: Is it a Greek letter or something?
[00:13:29] Arko: oh.
[00:13:30] Max: It's German, whatever it is
[00:13:32] Arko: Oh, is it.
[00:13:32] Ben: it has. I love it.
Once you get over the fact that like, you can never use the mouse buttons, you just have to hover and then hit a button on the keyboard. Like once you get over that, it's the easiest thing in the world.
[00:13:45] Arko: Yeah. Oh, a hundred percent. Um, and, uh, yeah, so, so yeah, so Charlie ended up teaching me Eagle and I designed my first PCB. In fact, my first PCB was, uh, was the breathalyzer badge for DEF CON
[00:13:59] Vyrus: oh, my God, that thing was amazing.
[00:14:02] Arko: it was,
[00:14:03] Mitchell: So I that. So it was, that, that's pretty self-explanatory.
[00:14:07] Arko: yeah, this was, this was like before the whole badge. Is it called badge life now? What was
[00:14:11] Vyrus: Oh, it was way
[00:14:13] Ben: uh,
[00:14:13] Vyrus: way before badge life. But it was like, it was, it was part of, it was part of that transition
[00:14:20] Arko: I wouldn't say the first. Definitely not. It was
[00:14:23] Vyrus: it was like, like, cause like the parties didn't use to have bad badges, right. At
least not at like hacker cons, especially not DEF CON. And then like, you know, like the whole, the world changed the whole community just grew.
And so like some level of access control just kind of became necessary on multiple levels and people tried to make it fun. And so like what, what was originally like a sticker on the back of a conference badge turned into. But it started becoming quote unquote, badge life, and people try to like, oh, I'm going to make like the electronic badge and make it like cool. And I remember there was like, it was like, some parties were starting to do it. It was very low in like low rent. It wasn't like a big deal,
[00:15:00] Ben: well, the ninja party had some really
[00:15:02] Arko: Yeah.
[00:15:03] Ben: badges early on.
[00:15:05] Vyrus: But ninja started as a sticker on the back of a deaf combat. It was, it was a badge of the red ninja and it was a
sticker. It was flipping sticker on the back of a, of a black hat thing. It was like, but
[00:15:15] Dan: And then it escalated to entire standalone and
[00:15:18] Vyrus: Yeah, phones.
[00:15:20] Arko: I did.
[00:15:21] Vyrus: but, but, but this, I remember, like there was a chunk of badges that like weren't attached to a party that like started to be a thing.
There'd be like one or two. And I remember like, it was right around like year one or two have no space. And you were like, I'm gonna make a badge. It's gonna be
[00:15:38] Arko: Yeah, dude,
[00:15:39] Vyrus: we're gonna make a breath. All this.
[00:15:40] Arko: I think, I think it was, I went cause I went to the ninja party where they had the alphanumeric displays. Uh, but I didn't actually get a badge. I just got like a plus one so I could go
and it was.
[00:15:50] Ben: of those.
[00:15:53] Arko: I was, I was slightly salty. I didn't get a badge. And so, and then, and then another part of me was like, I just want to be loved.
I like this community. Like, what can I do to give back and get some, you know, get popularity or whatever I was interested in at that time. And, and, and, and then I'm like, okay, well, what do Def con people like to do? And I'm like, well, they like to drink and get messed up. I'm like, I'm going to totally make a breathalyzer match.
And, you know, spark fund had like a little, you know, uh, alcohol, blood monitor, blower, little sensor. I don't remember how it even worked.
[00:16:23] Vyrus: Well, this was also like, there was like a whole backstory to this, right? Cause like, this is like Tacitus and Kalahari decided they were going to like, it's, they're just, they're taking breathalyzers apart. And, and people had found out that like, oh wait, these things actually are terrible and
like need to be calibrated. And they never are. And
this is like awful. Cause I remember before Def con we had like a party at old space where like Tacitus and Keller era brought a bunch of breathalyzers and you had like the prototype or whatever. Like, it wasn't really a badge yet.
[00:16:51] Arko: yeah. And we were trying to calibrate
[00:16:53] Vyrus: we were like calibrating it by getting hammered and just seeing who
[00:16:57] Arko: Oh yeah,
[00:16:57] Vyrus: look up a reading
[00:17:00] Arko: night led to the disclaimer. I had to give people when I was giving them the badge. I'm like, this is not a calibrated unit. Do not get messed up and think the number, this is going to display as correct. Because I'm like, I'm not going to cause like, I'd get sued. Right? Like someone blows like a 0.0, zero one.
And they're like really a 0.0, whatever, you know, 14. Yeah. And they just look, oh, I could keep drinking. The breathalyzer told me that I could do so
[00:17:25] Ben: where you, where are you able to calibrate it eventually? Or
[00:17:28] Arko: it got close. But what it, the way it works, the way the sensor works. If I remember correctly, this is a really hazy memory. So take this with a grain of salt is you,
[00:17:38] Ben: I
[00:17:39] Arko: yeah. Yeah. There you go. Yeah. I think, I think the way it worked is it had a membrane that it would apply a voltage to. And if alcohol, if ethanol entered the membrane, it would somehow electrolyze it.
And current would P would flow, um,
[00:17:59] Dan: Yeah. Change
[00:18:00] Arko: change in resistance. Yeah. And, and it, but that, that depends on it. It had a lot of like dependencies, which is like the humidity in the air to the air temperature itself to, uh, the, the sensor actually getting saturated. So there was all these like factors that played into it.
So at the end, I was like, there's no way you can, you know, calibrate this thing. And it was in,
[00:18:20] Max: I mean, that's the thing is that like even the professional units there, there's no way you can really
[00:18:24] Vyrus: That's
what I was going to say is I was like
[00:18:26] Ben: It actually. So a couple of friends of the podcast were actually involved in that big news story a year or two ago. That was like actually no breathalyzers work, right?
[00:18:35] Mitchell: Yeah, they had like the centerfold in the New York times.
[00:18:37] Vyrus: That was, that was, that was kind of the big joke is like
it, I remember reading that article and like figuring out that these people went super ham on it in terms of like, trying to understand policy and calibration. And I
was just like, we learned this at a party.
[00:18:51] Dan: Yeah.
[00:18:51] Ben: Well, and like, and like years ago, too. Right. But, uh, uh, uh, uh, well, in fairness though, the, the, the breathalyzer badge did, uh, did make it in wired, right?
Like, why are you
[00:19:02] Arko: did. Oh my God, man. Yeah, that was, I want to say like three or four other badges were a Def that year. And it was kind of like that, that branch away from the, at least the ninja badge. And then obviously at the time Def con was also doing electrical electronic badges. So it was, it was kind of fun to be part of that.
That was, that was such a cool, like experience that I
[00:19:23] Ben: Def con Def con is definitely a venue for what the Germans call combat drinking. Uh, I, uh, I can only, I can only imagine what kind of, uh, competitive, you know, behavior came from,
[00:19:40] Arko: Um,
[00:19:41] Ben: handing out breathalyzers
[00:19:43] Vyrus: also, it's also worth noting that like, like, you know, within the combat drinkers you have your, like, you have your heart and veterans, and then you have your just soldiers of fortune. Right. And I think it's fair to say that our little corner is like way off to.
[00:20:05] Arko: Uh, good times now. Those are good
[00:20:06] Ben: yeah, we were, we were just talking about how none of us can remember meeting each other.
[00:20:11] Dan: Disclaimer, disclaimer, on breathalyzer badges. This is not a scoring system. Please do not attempt to achieve high score.
[00:20:19] Arko: Yeah.
[00:20:19] Max: Absolutely
[00:20:22] Ben: I always, I always wanted to hook up a, uh, a breathalyzer to a computer, like kiosk at a hacking event and have like simple programming challenges. Right. So you'd like, you'd like badge in blown the thing, solve some coding puzzles. And it would just take that as a data point.
[00:20:38] Vyrus: So they kind of did that.
[00:20:40] Dan: You want to cry? You want to crowdsource data to prove the bomber curve.
[00:20:43] Ben: exactly. I wanted to prove or disprove the polymer peak and, and w so it, it actually is annoying to me that breathalyzer don't work very well because that whole project was pointless.
[00:20:55] Vyrus: That's actually, that's actually a thing. Now they call it the crash and compile contest. It's not exactly the same thing, but it's like,
[00:21:01] Ben: that's that's cruxes thing, right? like,
yeah, yeah. Um, I talked to him about this. I actually pitched the bulbar peak idea to him, uh, deaf Potter two ago. Um, but it really, it's just, it's just limited by, uh, breathalyzer technology at this point.
Um, but I, I talked to him about connecting a breathalyzer to crash and compile, uh, specifically, uh, I
still might do it?
It's not a terrible idea.
[00:21:27] Vyrus: Yeah. Get bonus points.
[00:21:29] Max: Yeah, it'd be like the competition fills up every year.
[00:21:36] Ben: So, uh, after the, uh, after the, uh, the, the, the blood alcohol meter badge, uh what'd you w how did you get from, uh, I mean, you must have sobered up at some point.
[00:21:49] Arko: Yeah, I definitely did.
[00:21:51] Ben: Going back to robots.
[00:21:53] Arko: Yeah. I think, I think after that, um, year would have been 2000. Nine ish, 10 ish, somewhere in there anyway. Yeah, something like that. And, uh, I think, I think around that time, I got really interested in doing the, um, into high altitude ballooning. And I don't remember exactly what the article was.
I want to say it was like a Hackaday article where someone had put like, uh, like, uh, you know, one of those like cannon zoom cameras, you know, digital cameras were becoming cheaper and, and they put it in a styrofoam box and a little GPS tracker and launched it on a, on a house tattooed balloon and gone up to like a hundred thousand feet and taking these photos and these photos look like they were from like outer space, right?
Like you were an orbit or something. And now like, this is so rad. I'm like, I want to do this. And I want to make my own wallpaper like, like literally a desktop wallpaper. Th that is the motivation. Like I want to be like, I took that photo remotely, but I took that photo. And so I did a bunch of research and I found like a little, um, little tracker that this company made, um, bionic or something like that.
I forget the name now. And they would build these essentially these ham radio, um, Digital radios that taken a GPS message and, um, packet into apex dot 25, which is a use for APRs, which is like a position tracking system that amateur ham radio folks use all the time.
[00:23:31] Ben: radio format. That's
[00:23:32] Arko: yeah. Yeah, totally. And, and, you know, you put in lat long altitude and you can even put some comments and messages in there as well.
Um, and oh man, this is a whole nother subject, but, uh, I think we want to get to the security
[00:23:48] Vyrus: No, it's not. Cause I remember what happened to the first one.
[00:23:51] Arko: oh God, by the way. Yeah. The first one actually was some of the testing I did. Oh, dammit. Just hit my microphone. Um, some of the testing I did, if you don't set your settings, right. And you say, please repeat this message to other beacon or other towers.
Um, you could really jam up the network, um, which, which is totally what I did. And on top of that, the transmitter I got was 35 Watts, 35 Watts is a, a lot, um, when you're, when you're line of sight, you need like milliwatts and
[00:24:23] Vyrus: like a whole thing where
[00:24:25] Ben: What was your,
[00:24:25] Vyrus: he like, he started this project and there was just this weird styrofoam box, like hanging in the hackerspace
and nobody knew what it was. And then one day there were antennas on it, along with a sign that said, do not touch, be aware of radio burn.
And all of a sudden, everybody got very concerned.
[00:24:41] Ben: w w if you had a 35 watt amplifier, what, how powerful was the signal you were putting into it?
[00:24:49] Arko: I, so the nice thing about this was this was before I really understood like RF design, um, it was a complete campaign system. Like it was like a cots part I bought, um, that you connect to GPS to, and it takes care of everything for you. Um, you know, how do I think, I think I have like a little serial port where you could configure it to do, you know, putting your call sign and put in what you would, the, the settings you want.
Um, but everything else, you know, it, it, it, it handled for you. And so I didn't fully understand it. And it was also before I really had, I think this was like sophomore year or something of, of my, of my college, uh, career. And, and I just remember, like, not having a clue, what, what, like power budgets are.
Right. So I just like hook this thing up to like lipo battery and thought everything's fine. Um, and in between it, between the light bulb battery and the, the radio, I'd like a little like linear voltage regulator, like the dumbest thing you could put between it and a high power system. Um, and, and I tested it a bond.
oh, got hot. Exactly. And, and,
[00:26:02] Ben: slowly building towards something,
[00:26:04] Arko: oh, we are, oh, we absolutely.
[00:26:06] Vyrus: oh,
[00:26:07] Arko: oh,
[00:26:08] Vyrus: Oh, we
[00:26:09] Arko: this thing and I tested it and like it sorta worked and I was like, no, this is good enough. I'll be fine. I'm like, you know what I'm going to do now, I'm going to reach out to all the people on the LA 2,600 and no space lapse list and be like, guys, because I know there's like this like niche, like I shouldn't say niche group is that at the time of pretty large part of the group of like, you know, Jeep, you know, peppery kind of people who have like all this stuff and they want to go out to the desert and do shit.
And I'm like, all right, cool. I'm like, I'm going to tap into those people and be like, guys, I'm gonna launch this thing. I need help. We need to find this thing in the middle of the desert. And everybody, like, everybody put down what they were doing. And like, you know, showed up.
[00:26:44] Vyrus: It was an Armada. It was
[00:26:45] Arko: it really was like there was 20 people out in the middle of 29 palms.
Oh, wow. I didn't even think about that. I remember roughly 20 people showed up, uh, and we were out in the, in the desert 29 palms, like just north of, um, uh, Palm Springs. And I had done all my homework. I knew I had to issue a note them a notice to airmen to be like, Hey, airplanes, watch out. There's a balloon going up.
Um, I had to call nearby airports. One of which was a Marine bay. Uh, and, and I will never forget this phone call. I remember calling them that I remember we all got out there, we dragged like, you know, helium tanks. We, we brought all these people out and they're all ready to go. We filled this thing up and I pull up my phone and I'm like, okay, here's the number I got to call the tower.
I called, uh it's. I cannot remember the name of it now, but it, it, it was a 29 palms, uh, uh, Marine base. And I got ahold of the tower and I'm like, hi, my name is so-and-so and I'm, I'm launching this high altitude balloon. I plan to go to such and such altitude. And before I could even finish my sentence, the guy's like, I don't give a fuck things up on me.
And like, that was it. And I was like, wow. Okay. So that's the government's response to this fine, Michael K. Well, I guess that's,
[00:28:02] Vyrus: Which is poignant because of what happens later.
[00:28:06] Arko: launch it and, and you do your best to not get into military airspace. And I'll, I'll say I'm pretty sure I didn't get into military airspace, but it's really hard to do it when you don't have any control over this balloon.
Um, and I will deny anything else that other people say, um, and the balloon, well, here's the thing that happened. We were sitting at the ground. We let go of the balloon, you know, we had. Thought of everything. And, and our ground systems were showing that telemetry was coming down, you know, lat-long altitude was looking good.
I'm like, okay, that's good enough for me. Let's let this thing go. I release the balloon. And in a minute and a half, it dies like it's gone and it there's no, there's no peeps out of it. And, you know, we're all driving. Like I had done all this ahead of time. I had done all this, like planning of running, um, all the parameters that you put into it, like, you know, how much helium you fill into the balloon, the size of the balloon, the mass of the, of the payload.
I put all that into this like calculator system that Cambridge university came up with. And it gave me a profile of where it thought it would go and, and not having a telemetry meant. I really didn't know where it was going. And I had prearranged all these people to go out into these various areas to try to intercept the, the, the radio signal so we can get a very clean signal on the way down.
So you'd get a very precise location of where it landed and then we can go and recover it. Um, And everybody took off and went to go get to the, where they thought they would be able to hopefully get the signal from, from the, from the payload. And unfortunately that never happened. Um, the payload was lost and is probably somewhere where we think is Kingman, Arizona, um, is where it probably ended up.
But that's what the predictor says, uh, where it actually is. No one knows. And, and I, I remember the drive back that day very well, cause I was upset and, and I was, you know, I'd, I'd actually put maybe a thousand dollars of my own personal money into it. And as a college student, that was a lot. Um,
[00:30:21] Ben: Yeah.
[00:30:21] Arko: and
[00:30:22] Vyrus: we should mention however that, uh, while we are not sure exactly where it went for awhile there, you know, you look at where it is on a map, and then you look at where it is again, on a map before I die, as it makes a lie. And it's like, well, if it keeps going straight, you know, as far as we know it, didn't go into military airspace, but there's always the possibility because the Lord works in mysterious
ways. I will the conversation briefly to remember those messages, but we had programmed in that we thought were low lousy. I F until we wonder, you know, if that message of all messages is going radio over
[00:31:04] Arko: funny thing is, and I told this story to, to someone who, who was in the military, um, years later, and there were like, oh dude, you would have been target practice. They don't care. Like they would have, like, you know, they don't care who you are, you're in their airspace. You should've been worried about your payload, if anything.
Um, but it is so, so that, that, that event, um, you know, re excuse me, wow. That event really, I dunno, in a sense kind of piss me off. I was like, damn, like, I want my hardware back. Like I was, I was supposed to get this thing I wanted. And so it really made me kind of step back and go, like, what did I do wrong?
And what can I do better? And how can I do this again and do it right? And so, you know, this time, the next time around, um, I got very particular about every little aspect of the, of the payload subsystem. So like everything from doing power budgets to ramping up testing, you know, what, what sort of tests can I come up with that will, uh, replicate simple, similar conditions to what it would be like in flight.
Let's do flight duration tests where we run it for several hours and, and really emulate what a, what a whole flight would really be like. Like you, you never know, maybe your software will crash and. You know, do I really need 35 Watts to run this thing? And, you know, after, after thinking through all that I realized I had not only over-engineered the RFN, but I had totally under engineered a lot of the smarts behind it, including like the microcontroller and, and you know, how we were triggering the camera.
And I'm like, okay, let's, you know, blank slate. Let's start again. Let's think through all this. And, and so, um, I think maybe a year went by, I think I got back into school and I was too busy to do it. And then the following summer, um, I went through the, this whole exercise again and had, at that time had taken some electrical engineering courses.
So I knew what I was doing to a certain extent, um, you know, vehicles I R and P vehicles. I V like, I knew that now. And, uh, but, but joking aside, you know, I really did ramp up all the testing. And finally, I, I had confidence this next time around that it would work, um, And so, you know, again, I tapped into the same network.
I was like, Hey guys, remember that last time I've made you guys waste all this money and gas going out in the middle of the desert while I'm doing it again. But I promise this time I've done my homework and I've thought through this. And so we went out to 29 palms again, uh, and, uh, got the right amount of helium.
We actually measured the amount of helium that went into the balloon. We actually measured the weight of, of the payload instead of just kind of guessing it, which is what we did the first time. It was really dumb. Um, and, and this time around, it was a much less powerful transmitter. And I had done a lot of, uh, like de-rating where you don't operate it at the limits of the device, but really, you know, a little bit less.
So you're, you're kind of guaranteed that to an extent thermal problems won't be an issue and you're not going to stress the parts. And I really thought through it. And so we let it go and it, it worked. I mean, it went all the way up. We saw the burst, it came down except it ended up landing in a region of the desert that is extremely difficult to access.
Uh, it was the closest road was 13 miles away that the closest vehicle road was 13 miles away. And this is in, in, in the Northern, like near, near almost I would say nearly Nevada border. Um, and. And, you know, I, uh, at the time viruses person ArcLight, uh, I turned to ArcLight cause he was, he was there and I'm like, dude, this is where it's landed.
Like I think this is roughly where it is, but I'm going to have to go back and do some post-processing of the data. And he's like, all right, just like, we'll, we'll pack it up. We'll come back. You know, there's no way we're getting it today. So went home, um, you know, all the various APRs stations around the area had recorded all the, um, uh, telemetry.
And so I stitched it all together, put into Google earth and built this little, like interpolator that would say, okay, if it continued going down this way, it would have landed here. And so I came up with like a rough landing zone and you know, I'm like, well, this is where it is and how do I get to it? And ArcLight was like, okay, here's what I'm going to do.
I'm part of a search and rescue team. You know, we're going to make this an exercise for our team. It's going to be a loss person. And we're just going to simulate trying to find this person. And I'm like, you are like a God to me right now. And, and so he, he, he put together, like, I want to say like, maybe it was like eight people and they're, they're very experienced search and rescue people.
Um, and, and they went out into the middle of desert on like very hot day, um, fully prepared. And they went out there. Um, you, you could not drive vehicles by the way. Um, it was it's, it's banned by California or something like that. So you could not drive to the location essentially. So they, they hiked the whole way in, um, And, and then did their search grid pattern and worked through it.
And, and lo and behold, it ended up being maybe I think, like 500 meters away from where I thought it landed would no, not five hundred, a hundred fifty, a hundred fifty meters from where, where I thought it landed. So it was really close. Um, and at the time I had the first one, by the way I launched was like gray and, and, and like, uh, dirt colored, uh, this time around bright pink.
and, and so they were able to spot it like a sore thumb in the desert. And, you know, I still remember that night we were at at 23 B the hackerspace in, in Fullerton and,
and ArcLight and his buddies show up with a payload. And I'm like, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme. And you know, here's the
[00:37:10] Vyrus: I mean, he says ArcLight and his buddies, but you got to remember it. These are like, these are the responsible givens.
Right. And this is like their other hobby aside from being goons is
like search and rescue. So they are just like, looking like Delta force,
[00:37:24] Arko: A hundred percent. A hundred percent.
[00:37:26] Ben: What do you were talking about? Like the zombie preparedness people earlier. It's like the, like the search and rescue people are always does. I'll be preparedness
[00:37:36] Arko: Oh yeah. A hundred. Yeah, there. Yeah. The overlap is like 99%
[00:37:40] Vyrus: Well, and like, not the pretend ones, right? There's like the pretend kind of LARPer ones. And then
there's like, no, no, no. Like the real.
[00:37:47] Arko: Yup. Yup. Uh, they, they, they really had it down and yeah, no, I, I, I vividly remember that moment of like cutting the tape around the styrofoam box and popping it open. There's the digital camera. And I'm like, please, for the love of God, tell me the camera, didn't turn off.
And like, you know, pull the SD card out, pop it in my laptop. And there's like all the images from, from launch where we could see ourselves to like the moment before it touched down. And I finally got my desktop out of it. Um, my wallpaper and, uh, I felt good, man. It felt good. And that, that, that kinda got me, got me kicked off to like, at this point I got my pictures.
Right. So now I was like, I want to start designing my own boards. I don't want to just buy boards and how, how, how can I make it smaller and less power hungry and eventually got this thing down to like, Graham's, um, I want to say it was like in the range of like less than 50 grams and I started by the way in, oh gosh, what would it be like 14 kilogram payload.
Like I hope it wouldn't land on someone kind of heavy payload. Um, yeah, no, it was, it was pretty nuts. Um,
[00:38:54] Vyrus: and also the hackerspace, like advanced and its ability
[00:38:58] Arko: oh yeah. Oh yeah,
[00:38:59] Vyrus: So, I mean, that's,
life's worth it too, right? Like, I mean, not
that any of us, I mean, you're basically the peak of that. Like if you can't use wounds, no hope. The rest of us kind
[00:39:08] Arko: dude, we had, we had a PCB CNC where we could like cut our own boards out, which, which at the time, you know, like OSH park didn't exist or it did. And it just was still expensive and getting PCBs made like two layer PCBs was still expensive. Um, and so the fact that I could, you know, cut a board and, and, and put a circuit together was, was, was a huge game changer, um, for the time.
[00:39:34] Max: yeah.
they didn't have any of those small run things like you could only do pretty much large runs or
[00:39:39] Arko: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah, no company would want to even talk to you if you were talking about prototype, you know, quantities and at least for like our kind of hacker folks, um, you know,
[00:39:50] Ben: So for, for, for, uh, for, well, for point of reference, uh, 50 grams is about the weight of, of two AA batteries.
[00:39:59] Arko: yeah, actually it was powered by two AA, uh, Energizer lithium batteries, and then it was the PCB with like a little U blocks, a GPS antenna, a microcontroller, and then a, um, OSI labs radio that operated in the, in the, in the, um, frequency range that APRs is on, um, think like 140 for a two meter band.
[00:40:23] Ben: Did you use the same size balloon when the payload got so
[00:40:26] Arko: No.
And in fact around that time, um, there's a, there's a British, uh, how instituted amateur balloonist, um, Leo Bodner, who had figured out that if you get these party balloons and under fill them, and if you have a light enough payload, you can actually get them to become super pressure balloons. Um, so not only will they go up, but they would float and become buoyant.
And so th he had balloons that were floating around the world, like doing laps and yeah. Yeah. It's and nowadays, by the way, it's a thing, like if you go to hub hub.org, I want to say you just there's balloons that are flying around now that, that you could buy one, one of these modules is trackers
[00:41:08] Vyrus: I'm like, what's his name? The YouTube. He did the like glitter bomb. I forget his name, whatever, like
that guy, mark Rover, like mark
Rover has done a few. Like he, like, he's totally like reviewing high altitude balloon kits and stuff. It's like totally jumped the shark
[00:41:25] Arko: I didn't know that. Yeah. I, funny enough. I have a friend, a very close friend. Who's very close friends with mark Rover, but I still haven't met him. Um, there's uh, I guess I hope I'll tell this story. Um, the glitter bomb YouTube episode, I actually was asked to help, uh, build it. And I remember getting the email.
And, and I was like, they want to do what they want to like booby trap things and, and glitter goes off and people who have stolen things. So these are random people. I'm like my immediate reaction was, I don't know what the liability is here. I'm like, nah, I'm good. And fast forward a few months.
[00:42:05] Max: frickin dangerous.
[00:42:06] Arko: That
[00:42:06] Ben: Yeah.
[00:42:07] Arko: like, who knows what can happen.
Right. And, and so I was like, no, I don't know this guy. He's like a YouTube channel, whatever. Okay. And, and then, uh, a couple of months go by, right. And we're at our friend's house and we've had a bit to drink and we just finished an ice barbecue. And you know, it's like, everyone's hanging around the TV. And so like YouTube comes up and, you know, mark Rover had just posted that video.
The first one he did of this and, and my wife turns to me as we're watching this and she's like, was this the thing you told me about where they were going to do this? I'm like, yeah, yeah, this is it. He's like this, guy's got millions of views. You mean you could have been making YouTube money. And I was just like, oh yeah, I guess
[00:42:49] Max: I mean,
was he going to share that?
[00:42:52] Vyrus: I'll find a
game cell. It goes wrong.
[00:42:54] Arko: well, I mean, I would, I'd be, I genuinely would be surprised if he doesn't, um, to some extent, I mean, I'm sure at these points, like when you're, when you're like that big of a YouTube star, you're, you're paying people probably good money to build you the right thing.
[00:43:09] Ben: Yeah, but not points.
[00:43:11] Arko: not, yeah. But I love his channel.
[00:43:15] Max: The grocer is left in that.
[00:43:19] Vyrus: Oh yeah. He's got a great general. I especially love the, some of the recent content. Cause he's, it's like wildlife base. So he's like
making squirrel, obstacle, obstacle courses and stuff. And
I'm just like, ah, these are things that are relevant to where I live.
[00:43:31] Arko: a hundred percent. I feel like you, like, if I wasn't, so camera shy. Cause I really am an honestly, even doing this podcast is a lot for me. Like it takes a lot out of me to like, I, you know, I have to have like a bit of whiskey to even be able to talk on a microphone
[00:43:44] Ben: the planet by
[00:43:46] Arko: Yeah.
[00:43:47] Dan: Absolutely.
[00:43:49] Vyrus: Yup. We
feel your pain, sir.
[00:43:52] Arko: it's tough. Um, but I, I genuinely envy folks like mark and, um, what's that guy, uh, house stuff, stuff made here, whatever it's, it's unlike former like form labs engineer who like made a few, like really popular videos and got like millions of hits. And now he's like, I'm retiring and just making videos and doing this stuff.
And I'm like, you, you now have tons of money to just do whatever you want,
[00:44:18] Max: Move this stuff right here, guy, but he is an introvert. He just somehow manages to do the
[00:44:22] Arko: somehow. yeah,
[00:44:23] Vyrus: I don't know, like all my favorite YouTube video people are all very clearly shyly, neuro atypical in some way, like possibly even to the point of like some form of disability and also clearly brilliant. Like there's, I cannot remember his name, but there's like a kid who like recently graduated high school with who has a whole channel.
That's doing irresponsible science things, but it's just lasers. That's all he does any, and he does stuff where he's like, I'm going to do blah-blah-blah and hook this crazy power system up to like a key chain laser and try to cut stuff with it. And it totally works.
Totally not. Okay. All amazing videos
[00:45:04] Dan: on the similar vein. There's actually one of the YouTubers that I very much enjoy it. And I've shared it a couple of times with various folks over the past couple of years. Um, it's a kid out of Hawaii. My name is Michael Reeves. Does anybody else.
[00:45:16] Ben: yeah. Oh yeah.
[00:45:17] Dan: His content is premium. I love everything about it is amazing.
It it's, it's just sciency enough to, to, for anyone who's actually, who does this stuff for fun to look at it and like actually get irritated and like troll that the fact that he's doing it either so wrong or someone safely. So like the technologist gets rolled. Yeah. The
non technologists get trolled for the content.
It's amazing. It's
[00:45:46] Max: It's robotics.
[00:45:48] Ben: yeah, he made, he made a robot that, that uses open CV to locate eyeballs and then points a laser point.
[00:46:00] Dan: Modifies a Roomba to swear using like other voices and then tries to learn it or tries to turn, return it to it. Departments. They don't accept it and then just lets it loose in the store and like transactional customer reviews from like random folks in the store. It's amazing. Like
[00:46:19] Vyrus: is this, the Indian guy,
[00:46:21] Dan: know
[00:46:21] Vyrus: guy who does the high, uh, high voltage? Like there's an Indian guy who does like only.
[00:46:26] Dan: Yeah.
[00:46:29] Ben: I, anyway,
[00:46:30] Vyrus: Yeah,
[00:46:31] Ben: did have, I did, I did have a couple of balloon questions. If we could jump back to that, I was
sort of wondering where, where you sourced your balloons for the first two balloons. Did you use like
off the shelf?
[00:46:42] Arko: yeah, They, they were off the shelf weather balloons in that, and I cannot for the life of me now, remember what the manufacturer name is? I'm sure there's many nowadays. I'm sure if you Google, uh, weather balloons, you can buy them. They're much, much easier to buy now.
[00:46:59] Ben: So the new hotness though, is you said party balloons, like those Milo.
[00:47:03] Arko: yeah. Mylar balloons. Yeah. So, so the, the typical weather balloon, which is designed to essentially give you a, a, uh, airspeed profile of the atmosphere as a function of altitude, those are made out of a material called Totex. I want to say, um, like a neighbor of latex, I guess, um, that's specifically engineered to burst at a, at a, at a particular pressure.
Um, so depending on how you fill it up, it'll burst at some target altitude you want. Um, super pressure balloons are designed to essentially do exactly what they are. They, they hold a super pressure, like a very high pressure, um, where, you know, at, at the altitudes you're flying out, which are probably less than a hundred thousand feet.
Um, if you're doing an amateur, uh, super pressure balloons, um,
[00:47:50] Vyrus: like
an atmosphere contained in like the.
[00:47:53] Arko: yeah, it's it's and I wish I, you know, it's been almost a decade now, since I remember the, the, the, the actual figures of how many pascals of pressure are in there. Um, but, but the point being that there they're actually very, um, strong balloons.
And so they don't burst if you under fill them enough. Um, if you overfill them, like if you were to feel like a normal party balloon, to the way it's meant to be filled for parties, it will burst very low to the ground, but if you under fill it, and if you have a very, very light payload attached to it, it'll eventually float up high enough and, and achieve super pressure and, and, and, and stay buoyant.
[00:48:33] Ben: So at what point in here did you decide to build your own vacuum chamber?
[00:48:39] Arko: Oh, wow. You know about that? I, so around that time, I was starting to realize that I want to get into designing avionics for, for space. so in a, in a really amateur sort of way, I decided, Hey, I want to do, you know, thermal vacuum testing. Um, so if I'm going to build a payload, I was designing my own circuits at the time.
I was like, okay, well, if I'm, if I have radios on here about a microcontroller and a GPS, they're generating some sort of heat, um, try to run a linear regulator. Exactly. No 35 loss this time, thankfully. Um, and, uh, you know, these things generate heat and you want to be able to characterize and test how they, how they function in vacuum.
And so I went to home Depot and I bought some PVC pipes and, and, um, off of McMaster, I bought, bought a bunch of like, Oop bought a bunch of like a acrylic glass that was like pre-cut, um, that I could put over, uh, the PVC. So I could actually see the payload and then, uh, emit a light at it. So I could put like a really high intensity, light bulb at it and heat up one side and cool the other side, and essentially do my best to replicate the conditions you would have in, uh, in, in, in a high altitude balloon and, and run it for, uh, in a high state.
Sorry, how how's your balloon? That is, that is floating for many days on end. And so, you know, do extended lifetime testing on these things. Um, and, and that's probably a very over-glorified way of putting it. I mean, this thing was literally just, you know, like. A bunch of dry ice huddled around a PVC pipe with like a vacuum pump that I bought off of like, I don't know, uh, Harbor freight.
And I probably didn't, I I'm pretty sure I didn't hit the, the low pressures. I was hoping I would hit, but it was enough to sort of go through the motions of it and, and, and try. Um, and I got some results out of it. There was definitely a difference between like, you know, one atmosphere and whatever I was able to pull off and, and I got some data, uh, and I, and I got a lot of test time out of it, but, um, it definitely was not, not what I would consider nowadays to be very, a complete system test
[00:50:56] Ben: Uh, so I've, I've done some avionics, uh, like professionally, myself and, um, uh, uh, you know, everything we made had to go through, like the, the shake and bake where they would, they would put it in an oven and then the oven would like vibrate and then they would hit it with lightning
[00:51:15] Arko: Yeah. Yeah. I, the first time I ever ran a, uh, a piece of avionics through shock and vibe, I was genuinely surprised at how dead simple the shock test is. Like they literally get like a pneumatic tube and they put a slug on one end and they just hammer it against a giant piece of metal, which your avionics, that it could be many millions of dollars worth of electronics.
Uh, that's what they bolted onto and they just sign it into it. And, you know, it's sort of, it's sort of a dark art, uh, you know, they'll, they'll calibrate it. Like you put like a mass model there and you like hit it a few times. So you don't over shock your, your expensive stuff. And then once you get close to for like merit, that's all right, let's put the real thing on there and really go for it and they'll smack it and then you get the plots out of it.
And you're like, oh, okay. You know, maybe we'll hit it a little more on this side and okay, we'll do the next axis here. And it's, it's very, uh, it's not as calibrated as a lot of people think at least shock is, but, but thermal and vibe it's, you know, I think, I think a little more, uh, rigorous.
[00:52:26] Ben: I, uh, uh, there was one other, uh, so at some point in here, uh, how I find out about your chamber found a YouTube video of you at what I can only assume is like a British balloon society
[00:52:41] Arko: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh
[00:52:43] Ben: you're, you're giving it, you're giving a conference presentation to what looks like, uh, you know, these, those British baking contests that.
kind of proceeded the bank off
where the hotel, and there's a bunch of like
very dignified people for all.
The experts, it kind of had that vibe to me,
uh, as opposed to like a Def con talk where,
[00:53:03] Arko: no, the,
[00:53:04] Ben: like charge the,
stage and hit their head and
fall over and you have no idea what's going on and you just kind of keep going.
[00:53:09] Arko: yeah, you absolutely would not be doing shots on stage at that conference. Um, it was the UK Haas conference that you, you United Kingdom high-altitude society or something like that. Um, it's been a while. Um, it was actually the first time I went flying internationally, uh, in my life, it was a really cool experience.
Uh, and you know, I talked to all these people on IRC at the time. Um, you know, it was, uh,
[00:53:37] Ben: there's a high altitude balloon, IRC channel.
[00:53:40] Arko: yeah. That's where that's really where I learned all my stuff was, it was on free note. Freenode still around
[00:53:48] Ben: No.
moved to like Berra,
just in case anyone hasn't noticed,
[00:53:53] Arko: Okay. Gotcha.
[00:53:54] Ben: free Freenode got destroyed. And every everyone improved to a
[00:53:59] Arko: some hubbub, the news about it. I'm like, oh yeah. Free note. Oh yeah. IRC.
[00:54:03] Vyrus: Yeah, it got ready to
[00:54:06] Arko: All right. It, uh,
[00:54:08] Vyrus: go. Those are the two forms of social media death, right? For a platform. It either gets redheaded or it gets downloaded.
[00:54:13] Arko: Uh, I got you. Yeah, the, yeah, the so on free, no, there used to be a channel called a high altitude and it was arguably one of the best. It was the best channel for this stuff. Um,
[00:54:25] Ben: you ever get like stoners roll again? Like didn't know what it was about.
[00:54:29] Arko: surprisingly not, you know, it was actually, it, it, it was my first IRC channel. I want to say. Um, in fact it was the first IRC channel I joined even before no space. So like my perception of what IRC is, is, was, uh, so like everyone was so
[00:54:48] Max: amazing.
[00:54:50] Arko: everyone was super nice and supportive
[00:54:51] Vyrus: was the,
second ever IRC channel you ever
[00:54:54] Ben: you, you thought you thought IRC with all just dignified, British balloon,
[00:54:59] Arko: a hundred percent. I was like, wow,
[00:55:01] Max: W w just ASL over and over again.
[00:55:03] Arko: no, no, no, not at all. And like, my exposure was totally warped. And then, you know, I joined the Knoll space IRC, and that was just like a hot
[00:55:13] Vyrus: Yeah, I was going to say, I feel really bad now. There is definitely a like overarching assumption that anybody that made it in their IRC had been around IRC for a
minute. And like,
[00:55:24] Arko: bad. I E you know, I, I look back at those days and I'm like, man, we were so mean to people. And like, I just, that is not who I am at all today, but, um, It was an interesting experience, nonetheless. Uh, I, I definitely have, aside from the null space thing, you know, I have a lot of fond memories of, of talking to people on the house altitude challenge.
In fact, it continued to stay very polite and I don't know where it is nowadays, but you know, it, it, it's still a great, it was at the time, a really great resource to be like, Hey, I'm programming this thing, you know, I'm trying to send out the CPRS packet. It's not working. Right. Like, what do I do? And, you know, people will jump in and help you out.
Like, it really was, uh, you know, like these, like, sir, I'm, I'm, I assume it's a lot like nowadays where we have like discord and there's like these like niche, like pockets where people really do are very helpful and really do care about the thing that you're particularly wanting to talk about there. Um, as opposed to like channels where people probably shit post all day.
[00:56:26] Ben: you know, you got to hide from the sock puppets.
[00:56:29] Vyrus: I'm going to say, I've actually found that it's like all of social and I guess it's not really social media, but just social platforms seem to have kind of shifted where there's like 90% virtual signaling for all definitions of the word virtue. Right. And then. The last 10% is split into like, especially for anything technical, it's like 9% for the nudes. Like we gotta be more friendly to names we gotta have out, like
for the newbs, for the new. And then like 1% of it is like, you know, okay. Like we're not going to be elitist, but we're just going to assume that if you come across a term or concept that you don't understand, you can like Google it first.
And you're like have enough of a predilection of knowledge that like there's a 50, 50 chance that you won't actually have any follow-up questions after reading it. And like, that is just like, so the minority of like every
[00:57:22] Ben: Well, there's still, I mean, there's still a bunch of
IRC channels where people like, you know, like just do their weird, uh, spam anti-art things, uh, and, and call people mean names, you know, and that that's still out there. Uh,
but there are little enclaves where people that are just really passionate about some narrow topic hide and, um, you know, you don't really find your way in there unless somebody. Like
meets, you thinks you're enthusiastic and then
tells you how to get in. Right. And having all these different slacks and discords and IRC and all of these different options just makes it harder for the, you know, random assholes to find you. And it keeps your little enclave, quiet and, and respectable, you
know, and I, I know these still exist because I, I have I'm in, that's basically the only kind of place I hang out, uh, for the most part, uh, because I, I, I actually, I remember the era where everyone was super mean on IRC and, uh, I mainly just avoided IRC cause I was, I was, uh, I, I just was never that good at being mean, I guess, um, like I can be snippy.
I can be cranky, but I can't like, uh, I don't want to bring anyone's mom into it. You
know, I just,
[00:58:36] Arko: Yeah.
[00:58:37] Ben: get, I get, I get really uncomfortable,
really quick. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.
[00:58:40] Vyrus: I mean, I feel like IRC kind of did the same thing where like, there was always the enclave before the real was going on and then there was like the public channel, you know? And you just like,
[00:58:49] Justin: Well, there was like Babbo, you know, go back and
[00:58:54] Vyrus: yeah,
[00:58:54] Ben: like where's in porn and Like that. And then the other 10% of IRC was,
[00:58:59] Vyrus: right.
[00:58:59] Ben: you know, divided up amongst
[00:59:01] Vyrus: Like we said, there's the down that end. I read it in
[00:59:05] Ben: And there you go.
[00:59:05] Vyrus: must apply for its died and we don't need to talk about the definitions for either.
[00:59:13] Ben: I D O U U U. Fuck that actually touched something I remember from working avionics. So I was working, uh, so I never used to have a fear of flying by the way, until I worked on some systems for commercial aircraft. And I won't, I won't name any names. I won't name any names. Uh, but it's, it's been a long time now, so I'm sure all these, these planes have already crashed, but, um, the, uh,
I was working on a particular, on a particular plane for a particular carrier. And, uh, they, they, the, the people had made the board, they had, they had decided against using error correcting ramp. and, and we came up.
with a pretty interesting measurement, which was that, uh, we found that with non ECC Ram, uh, flying at 30,000 feet, you could expect about two bit flips a minute from beta radiation. It wouldn't, it would not crash your board. It would not destroy your board. It wouldn't cause a reset, but every once in a while, some numbers would just change.
[01:00:16] Arko: We just got like a single diner.
[01:00:20] Ben: Um, and so we kind of had to, uh, fix that in software, uh, among several other things we fixed in software, um, which is honestly, that's like what plays in my head when I board a plane even now is like the list of things we fixed in software,
[01:00:38] Max: This
[01:00:38] Ben: but, uh,
[01:00:39] Max: going to just have a three of them running side by side. And, uh, like
[01:00:42] Dan: Yeah, redundancy.
[01:00:43] Max: the best two.
[01:00:45] Ben: Uh, you're, you're, you're surprisingly close to what the ultimate solution ended up being. Uh, but the, um, yeah, so, uh, but you had comment in that talk, I saw where you were like, oh, this talk is amazing, right? You're talking about the extreme temperature and that the temperature difference that can happen inside your unit.
Right? Cause like at night, one phase, one side is facing the cold sky and the other side is facing the warm earth, you know? And I thought all of that, the temperature differential stuff was really interesting. But one comment you had in there was that you didn't really have to, you know, you had done some math and you decided you didn't have to worry about reading.
[01:01:25] Arko: Oh, yeah, no radiation is, it's really not a problem, especially if, so, if you're not going to be outside the van Allen belt, um, a long period of time to, to an extent, uh, it's not an issue. And if you're in low earth orbit, it is an issue to some degree, but it's not that bad for high altitude balloons.
It's like a, truly a non-problem. I mean, if the probability of a bit flip happening that will lead to a mission, failure is really slim. And on top of that, If you have a watchdog timer, um, that's sort of looking for, uh, the, the routine to end or however you configure it. Um, you could be, you could just leverage that and, and, and get away with all sorts of problems that could, that could sprout up.
Um, so I stopped caring about radiation for, for high-altitude balloons.
[01:02:26] Max: I mean, the good thing is you don't really have a control system to deal with.
[01:02:31] Arko: yeah, exactly. And in like worst case, what happens is the board resets and comes back up and gets GPS lock again, and then it spits out messages. I mean, you're not like actively controlling and there's people on board and lives matter here. And
[01:02:45] Ben: Uh, I get it.
Yeah. With commercial aircraft, you can't
reset a critical control system
unless you're on the ground.
[01:02:52] Arko: exactly.
[01:02:53] Ben: weight on wheels has to be high or, well, they won't let you reset, so, okay. So that's, that's why you didn't have to worry. Cause I was kind of like I get it.
[01:03:03] Arko: was just too short to make a difference.
[01:03:06] Ben: so D so after, um, are you still into balloons?
[01:03:10] Arko: You know, it, after I got my job doing big boy robotics, if you will. Um, I, I didn't, I kind of got out of it. And then, um, I want to say maybe 2017 ish, I got back into it. Um, I had this idea and I, and I scoped out everything here. I had this idea. I'm like, I'm going to build the lightest balloon ever made.
And I did the math and I have this gigantic Excel sheet that like calculated the mass down to like the, the mass of the solder joints. Like how much solder do you want to add? Because the solder actually mattered. Um, and, and, you know, instead of using a battery, I was going to, uh, had a supercapacitor, so it would use solar light to charge the super cap and then, um, build up enough energy.
And I calculated the amount of Juul required to turn the GPS on, grab lock at a cold start, you know, uh,
[01:04:09] Vyrus: You were going to like full DIY, like the Facebook, like internet forever, like planes slash never landing apparatus.
[01:04:19] Arko: Yeah, I guess it's, it was well over engineered and I designed the development board actually, how I still have, I actually found it yesterday. Um, there's a little development board I built that has the GPS and all the little like tidbits and the super cap and all the little circuitry I had in there to, to handle the power management.
Cause it's a, it's a big power management, um, challenge.
[01:04:42] Ben: Uh, you, you eventually found out about Supercab.
[01:04:46] Arko: yeah. But.
[01:04:47] Ben: big turning point in
[01:04:49] Arko: worse. It gets so much worse than this. So around this, I wrote it in, I wrote the code in C and I had like a little rough, you know, program going in and it worked and I was like, I can launch this.
What I need to do next is just take this design, reduce it down and do what I had in mind, which was like a flex board and all this stuff that I planned out. And then a friend of mine sort of almost like one of those like drug dealers, who's like, yo man, you know, take one hit of this was like, yo, have you heard of rust?
And I'm like,
[01:05:19] Ben: Oh No.
[01:05:21] Arko: yeah, yeah. You know where this is going. He's
[01:05:23] Ben: all, we all know someone like that. The
[01:05:26] Arko: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
[01:05:28] Ben: to rewriting it and rust
[01:05:29] Arko: Yeah. Well that's exactly what happened, my friend. so
[01:05:32] Ben: U R U R is the abbreviation
for re rewrite in re actually it's a rewrite in rust.
It's like a new IRC.
[01:05:44] Arko: of course it is. Um, yeah, so obviously, you know, you know where this story's going. I was like, oh Russ. I'm like, well, that's a cool language.
[01:05:52] Ben: told them to fuck off, right?
[01:05:54] Arko: no, I was not that smart. Um, what I said was
[01:05:58] Ben: Just say no,
[01:05:59] Arko: oh yeah, see,
[01:06:00] Vyrus: It's okay. I'll do it again. What about writing it in V?
[01:06:04] Max: you, you, you, you will have any memory
[01:06:06] Arko: you were going to speak. Go. I think you're gonna say, go for a second.
[01:06:09] Max: basically did.
[01:06:11] Arko: the, the story, the story here is that, that it, it was a new language or new enough language at the time where it was like, oh, Hey, we're able to get this to work on like an STM 32 for a family microcontroller. And we're running rusts on embedded. I'm like, well, that's actually kind of cool. And I was looking at Russell like, Hey, this has a lot of characteristics that flight software folks are interested in.
Like say software safety is really important. Speed's important. And I was like, you know what? Like, let's, let's kinda, let's take a little detour on this project. I'm the one driving, right. well,
[01:06:47] Ben: Not even once.
[01:06:48] Arko: yeah. Well, what ended up happening was I ended up writing a whole, like how library for this, um, that, that took up like a year, but it ended up sprouting into a big project.
Like today, if you go to STM 32 dash R S the L zero family, the, the low power family is, it was originally the project. I kind of branched off from this and this huge community just showed up out of nowhere. Like I laid out enough of the groundwork. I did, honestly, I did a lot of like the annoying work that no one wants to do, which is like all the register maps and how you get the writing in the hooks to flip all the bits in the registers and.
And I wrote really simple, like ATC GPIO I squared C libraries and things like that. Like bare minimum to make it work. And then it just like took off, like people started using it and like, I was getting pull requests and all this stuff. And at some point I was like, okay, I got to step away from this. I'm like, I handed it over to the people who are contributing the most.
I'm like, you guys got this, this is yours. And till this day it's still growing. But, um, needless to say that project actually never ended up going anywhere. The high altitude balloon, like I wrote a lot of the code. Um, but I never, I never ended up taking the code and reducing down the, the actual hardware and flying it.
[01:08:06] Ben: Russ Russ does have some nice features. Uh, but it also has, OCaml like syntax, which is the
big, the big downside for me.
But it is, it does kind of come off more like a messianic religion than a programming language. Um, cause like these people will come proselytizing trying to get you to, to, to join the, you know, the, the.
[01:08:27] Arko: yeah.
[01:08:27] Ben: uh, and they, they have all these like
perfect for real-time operating systems and yada, yada, yada, and then you get in there and you discover you're going to have to write all of the base components from scratch. Uh, and then
It's getting better, Like, so there's this prophecy, there's this prophecy, right?
That one day, one day you will be able to pick up a project, start a project and rust, and you will find all of the dependencies
already written for you one day, maybe next year in Jerusalem,
[01:08:57] Max: And it also sounds like, it sounds like our go, might've been doing it early enough that like, in the beginning of Russ, there was not really a good way to like declare, uh, uh, uh, memory on the heap and then pass it
to something that
might need it.
[01:09:13] Arko: actually, yeah.
[01:09:14] Max: Yeah. Yeah. I, remember that. I,
[01:09:16] Arko: I I, I literally had to write a, uh, I called it like nano format or nano FMT because formatting strings required using heap memory. And, and I had to end up doing some sort of like static allocation. I don't remember now you you've brought back a horrible memory.
[01:09:34] Vyrus: Yeah.
[01:09:34] Ben: actually,
[01:09:36] Arko: and,
[01:09:37] Max: I'm glad I could help.
[01:09:38] Arko: and, and
[01:09:40] Ben: oh, I was going to say that's a common feature in embedded compilers. Like the Kyle compiler has its own version of print F that has different format
strings, but also is like, okay. To run on tiny chip.
[01:09:50] Arko: The problem was exactly, exactly that we're a tiny chips at the time. At least the L zero had like, uh, I think it's still, I mean, still has like eight kilobytes of flash memory or whatever. And so, you know, importing, uh, print F even was like, you're out of memory immediately. And so you had to resort to dumb things like what I was trying to do and.
Yeah. Cause I think the GPS strings that GPS would send, you could vary in length and S and then to try to parse through it and send things out. Just didn't make sense. And I had to write this dumb little library for it, and I'm sure it's gotten better nowadays, but, um,
[01:10:29] Ben: one, to me it was the same.
[01:10:31] Arko: It was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed being part of like this thing that was kind of growing it.
Didn't, I don't know. I don't regret it. Russ, maybe once. How about that?
[01:10:43] Ben: No, I actually, I, I have a lot of friends who are very enthusiastic about rust
and, uh, I'm just, I've, I've taken it upon myself to just never give them an inch. So they, they stay, they stay wound up.
So I, I don't at me. I'm sorry,
[01:11:02] Max: at this point, you're pretty heavily invested in go at this point, though.
[01:11:06] Ben: uh, I'm actually probably going to move off, go pretty shortly, but that'll be a, that'll be a topic for a future,
[01:11:14] Dan: Uh,
[01:11:15] Ben: B virus or giving other knowing grins. Right?
[01:11:18] Vyrus: Yeah. Yeah. there's there's
[01:11:21] Dan: talk, talk about process proselytizing. I think virus has found a new convert.
[01:11:27] Ben: Oh, I, yeah, he didn't have to sell it hard. I was like, well, so, um, uh, do you guys want to take a break?
[01:11:41] Dan: Yeah, but I do want to do one, one callback, which was, uh, there was the, the commentary around theology and rust in the beginning, in the beginning six years in seven enterprise backed software projects later rust is usable now.
[01:11:59] Max: Yeah,
[01:12:01] Ben: Oh man. I had, when you were like, ah, all these people showed up out of nowhere. I, I had to fight really hard not to say with their kids and their Kool-Aid.
[01:12:13] Vyrus: I mean, I was, I actually wasn't the here to the, the latest iteration of the balloon project. And now that I know how close you got all I'm thinking is. Well, yeah, but can I run, rattle that off? I mean, I made the joke about the whole like, oh, you're, you're going to DIY Facebook's plan to like, make its own internet, but like, yeah, I'm kinda down, bro.
[01:12:43] Max: might have to write rewrite a retina and rest, but.
[01:12:46] Dan: Something something's survivalist network, something, something.
[01:12:51] Vyrus: I mean, I'm already talking about rewriting it and B
[01:12:57] Ben: uh, I, my, my favorite, my favorite part about these, this story so far is, is how there's this, like, there's this definite arc to, uh, having a very public failure in the desert, surrounded by 20 of your closest friends like the most careful engineer ever, careful enough to put something in space. You know,
I think, I think there's, it's like, yeah.
[01:13:21] Arko: we all grow, right? We all go through these experiences. We have these, I call them battle wounds. I mean, you really do go through these battle wounds that you carry with you to the next thing. Um, even in my professional career, I've had, you know, projects and missions I've worked on where things failed.
Um, and, and the whole thing ended. I mean, we never went to, you know, space or whatever, um, because we made some really bad decisions along the way, and you definitely learn those and you don't repeat those
[01:13:53] Vyrus: or you made good decisions and you just. It
just didn't work. you just didn't.
have the data or whatever. Like, you know, it's science
sometimes you just don't know shit.
[01:14:01] Arko: And sometimes luck is against you, man. Like luck. Definitely. It's not tight cirrhotics. That's how you get rocket insurance, dude.
It's a real thing. It's totally a real thing.
[01:14:15] Ben: I told you we were going to get into rocket surgery.
[01:14:18] Arko: Oh boy.
[01:14:20] Dan: here's a rocket insurance policy, the equivalent of a, like a coin that's just gets flipped.
[01:14:25] Arko: I, I would love, I would love to meet and I've always wanted to meet one. I haven't actually met one a rocket underwriter. Like how do you actually, how do you actually assess the
[01:14:36] Dan: What are the variables?
[01:14:37] Arko: vehicle?
[01:14:38] Max: probably is a huge rocket nerd.
[01:14:41] Ben: gotta be, that's gotta be like the world's richest gambling addict.
[01:14:48] Vyrus: think the closest I've ever come to meeting somebody that does that as those people, that like I have other friends who work on space things, and one who incessantly talks about the engineers at a company that's around the nameless who walked around on their fueling station with orange jumpsuits, with white words on the back in like four or five different languages that say, if you sit, if you smell fish, find a place to deposit your courts because they work on hydrazine all day.
[01:15:16] Arko: yeah, dude. I, I actually know someone who knows someone who tasted hydrazine.
[01:15:24] Vyrus: We. We might know the same person like that knows the person.
[01:15:28] Arko: Okay.
[01:15:29] Vyrus: a
good, we might
[01:15:31] Arko: It, well, I don't, I don't know. Cause this guy is like from the UK and from like, like war era worked on rockets and shit and. Th there is a legendary story that I will do. I can't even remember now, but my friend tells it so well. Um, but, and, and he works at this row. He works at this Rocky company in the UK.
And like this guy who, I don't even want to say allegedly, because like, I believe him when he says that he tasted hydrazine, you know, this, this old man came with the place when they got it. Like, you know what I mean? Like it's like one of those places, um,
[01:16:08] Vyrus: and
[01:16:09] Ben: So this is like a chemical of all chemicals, other than like fluoride compounds. Maybe
it is the chemical you most, you most do not want in your mouth,
[01:16:18] Arko: Yeah. A hundred
[01:16:19] Ben: right?
[01:16:20] Arko: A hundred percent. And this, this
[01:16:21] Ben: I would rather gargle benzene.
[01:16:23] Arko: oh
[01:16:24] Vyrus: flow. I think Florian chemicals was a very apt comparison.
[01:16:27] Ben: Yeah. So I, I have so many questions about, I mean, did he do it on purpose or was it an
[01:16:35] Arko: No, no, it was, it was an accident. I, the worst part is I will never do this story justice, but like, it truly wasn't accident. And like, the guy is like, he's like the British rocket STIG. Like you just you're legends of this man and things he's done.
[01:16:51] Ben: What does it taste like?
[01:16:53] Arko: I,
[01:16:55] Ben: Uh,
[01:16:55] Arko: is that really what people say? I don't, I should have asked that question.
That's a good question.
[01:17:00] Ben: You know, it's, it's one of those things where it's like, um, you know, this is an old saying from a hippie in the seventies, but people have been passing it around recently on Twitter. Like, if you look around the room, you know what, everything you see tastes like, cause at some point you spent several years crawling around looking everything, right.
And that's still in your head somewhere, you know? But hydro hydrazine, no idea.
I have no,
idea what that tastes like.
[01:17:24] Vyrus: Yeah.
[01:17:25] Arko: I don't want to find out. I'll
[01:17:26] Ben: yeah,
no, I don't want you to tell me. I don't want to, I don't want to learn it experientially, but
all right, with that, uh, we're going to take a quick break and we will be back with Arco after these myths. And we're back with Arco. Uh, so I want to change gears a little bit. We spent a long time on balloons, but I am actually really interested in your autonomous Rover. Uh, could you tell us a little bit about, uh, how you kinda got into that and how it went?
[01:19:14] Arko: my gosh. I'm trying to remember what Chatani this Rover?
[01:19:18] Ben: Oh, well, I only saw, I only saw one, but how many.
[01:19:24] Arko: Um, professionally probably a lot more,
[01:19:27] Vyrus: Oh, yeah.
[01:19:28] Arko: amateur wise. So the, the one I ended up documenting on, um, I want to say hackaday.io. We called it bullseye. Um, that was sort of like my last, uh, I want to say actually it might've been my senior year project, uh, in, in college. Um, at the time, at least it was, it was sort of this, uh, you know, four wheel Rover that, that, that had a raspberry PI and would run various like image processing algorithms, which mind you at the time were very hard to do for the reasonable power budget.
Um, and anyway, it was capable of like detecting objects. And so I had quite a lot of experience learning, um, how to train, um, machine, uh, AI models and like how to like, recognize things like a cinder block or, uh, what is grass, what is road, things like that, um, in. You know, nowadays I look back at it, it was so primitive and so simple.
Um, and, and what you can do today with like the hardware that's available, like say like the Jetson nanos that you can buy, you know, off of spark fund and whatnot
[01:20:43] Vyrus: Jetsons are
[01:20:46] Arko: Yeah. I mean, we were, we were, at the time we had bought the latest raspberry PI and that was barely struggling to give us a solution of what is in the scene at like one, like at a Hertz, like one once a second, it would tell us what was going on.
And we were, we were pushing that raspberry PI and nowadays I'm sure if you were to run the same algorithms through it, it would just like crank them out at probably like 30 FPS. No problem. Let's just say 30 FPS. Isn't the right terminology Hertz, but you know, every image it takes, you could probably crank that through, um, pretty quickly.
Um, I think at the time that that the autonomous robot project was mostly just approve to understand, um, localization, whereas a robot, um, it's surprisingly a tough problem. Uh, and, and, and it plays into like, I'll give a challenge to anyone who wants to try this. That's listening, build a robot that will drive straight.
That's a little robot that it's really hard. It's not as easy as it sounds. And like, you can be like, oh, put an IMU on there. And it's like, well, I am used to. Um, you know, nowadays I think at least at the times, this is the year would've been 2014 or 2015. Um, and you can use optical flow and, and do some pretty clever stuff, uh, to make a drive straight.
But it's, it's, it's not as easy as it sounds without vision systems and vision systems sort of make this a lot easier nowadays. Um,
[01:22:22] Ben: Well, I
remember there was that DARPA grand challenge, right. Where they were like make a fully autonomous vehicle.
And they did it for several years. And the first year they did it, I don't think any of the vehicles actually made it to the end of the course.
[01:22:33] Arko: that's right. Yeah.
[01:22:35] Ben: Most of them ran into the first obstacle and then stayed there.
[01:22:38] Arko: Yup. Yup. Yeah. And then what I ended up putting was the Stanley team out of Stanford and then Carnegie Mellon, I think came in second.
[01:22:46] Max: And now we have robot dogs that can hear.
[01:22:49] Arko: Yeah. And a lot of those, I mean, it, it's funny, you mentioned the DARPA robotics challenge or the DARPA grand challenge, uh, which was the autonomous vehicle challenge.
[01:22:58] Ben: Well,
it wasn't that grand initially
[01:23:00] Arko: No, it wasn't a grant at all in the beginnings. And so I ended up, uh, I have like PBS or whatever, uh, subscription. And, and I had, uh, uh, had, I was going through like the 42 seasons of Nova that exist on there. And I was like, I remember they did one on this. I remember watching it at the time. It was like, I was in high school, like 2005 or six.
They, they, they premiered it and I found it and I was like, oh man, this is great. And like, you know, I'm a robotics engineer. Now I want to watch this. And you turn, you watch this documentary from and there are all these, like really now famous black robotics engineers. Like the, the people who started the company Velodyne, which a lot of people are probably familiar with.
They, they build like the, the lidars that go on autonomous cars. They're arguably the most popular, uh, lighter company in, in the world now. Um, at least commercially and. You know, they're, they're interviewing the CEO and like the, the one other employee who like, they just came up with this idea on the back of their, you know, in, in their garage and bolted it onto like a Toyota Tundra and drove it around and prove that it worked or whatever.
And, you know, it, it, it was super interesting to see where these people were and where they are now. And like, I kind of, I'll be honest. I LinkedIn stalked a lot of these people and they're all at like, you know, Waymo or, or Zoucks, or what have you, um, you know, that industry exploded. I mean,
[01:24:30] Ben: I know, I know at
one point Uber hired up like almost the whole DARPA, uh, challenge team from CMU.
[01:24:37] Arko: Oh yeah, yeah. Actually in fact, um, the, my, my current employer right before I joined, uh, was, was participating in, in the DARPA robotics challenge, which was 2015. And, and around then, you know, the CEO of Uber was out there at those challenges, like recruiting people. Um, and they're, they're pulling all these people from like CMU.
And what have you, um, to do autonomous cars? Cause at the time it hadn't really blown up to what it is today. And I still would argue, it's not as big as, as, as it is. Like, you don't see autonomous cars outside right now. Right. Um, you might see them in
[01:25:15] Vyrus: on what state Ariel.
[01:25:17] Arko: Depending on what? Okay, fair. That's fair point.
It's not, it's it. I don't think the market has really grown to what its potential is. Um,
[01:25:26] Vyrus: no, no, no.
I mean, that's a pretty that's a pretty bullying thing though. Right? It's it's literally like, once society decides to accept robot mistakes over human mistakes, because there are fewer of them and like
that switches just over
and all of a sudden they're everywhere. Right.
And until that happens, it's basically all the laws will prevent that from happening because it's not what society wants.
basically like a Boolean.
[01:25:48] Arko: it's sort of it. And I think there, I think that there's a way I want to say that it is somewhat bullying, but it's also somewhat of a blurry line, right? Like you have like Tesla, for example, who's was pushing out like autopilot code that is gaining capability, but it's also a pretty risky thing to be doing.
[01:26:08] Vyrus: Oh yeah. Oh, I have a three. I'm very
aware of the mistakes then the
[01:26:11] Arko: yeah, yeah. Um, I have my opinions. I have a lot of opinions on that, but there's also other companies. Um, the one I threw out earlier was Zoucks um, where their approach to all this is let's, geo-fence the vehicle. The vehicle has no steering wheel and it's like an autonomous taxi that you like Hale shows up.
He jumped in, it takes you to your location. You jump out, it goes off and gets the next people. Um, and, and, and, and the, the operating area that it works in is really well known. Well mapped, well understood. And it, they have thousands. And if the hundreds of thousands of hours of, of, um, telemetry that they've gathered over time and can have the confidence to say, yeah, it'll operate fine in these conditions.
So, you know, I see those as sort of the, roughly the two ends of the spectrum here. And I think in the future, maybe five, 10 years from now, we'll be talking about, you know, it's going to be pretty normal to have an autonomous vehicle pick you up, um, and take you Pitt will take you places.
[01:27:11] Vyrus: it's definitely, it's definitely a win.
[01:27:13] Arko: yeah, it's, it's it?
I think, I think you hit the nail on the head earlier here, whereas like society having to accept the risk. I think
[01:27:23] Vyrus: Yeah. Cause, cause
[01:27:24] Arko: Cause
[01:27:24] Vyrus: I mean, I guess you would be a
person per yeah, I was going to say I'm like, I guess he would be a perfect person to pose this assumption. Like my fundamental belief, I got a license, I believe, but like my takeaway from the current, I don't know, state of autonomous vehicle discussion is that it's really about, it's not really about the capability, right? Because like, I mean, airplanes fall out of the sky and we don't ban those. Right. Like, and it's not because of the way people fly them. Right. So it was a really like the barrier to entry is not whether or not bad things can and do happen because they can and they will
period. The question is whether or not we feel better about more of those incidents happening, but those being each attributable to a human at some level, whether it's who built the machine or who was driving the machine or whatever it means, or whether or not we as a society prefer for there to be fewer accidents.
But when those accidents happen and they may be more horrific because they happen without humans. Right. But B they just, they don't involve humans. Right. They they're essentially cold,
you know, accidents. And, I think just,
[01:28:32] Arko: actually liable in
[01:28:33] Vyrus: well, right. And that's what I mean, is that like, is that like everything inside of that is really just a degree of, of failure, et cetera.
[01:28:41] Arko: Yeah, exactly.
[01:28:42] Vyrus: just what, uh, we consider to be an acceptable failure degree
beyond that. It's just a matter of liability,
[01:28:48] Ben: the fundamental problem with this whole train of thought is that you're assuming people are rational
[01:28:53] Vyrus: Oh no, I'm not.
[01:28:54] Ben: rationally and make decisions about accepting risk rationally.
[01:28:58] Vyrus: Oh, no, I'm not. I'm not saying it'll be a rational choice. I'm saying it's a choice. Whether they're conscious of it or not. In fact, it probably is unconscious. Right. But I'm saying unconsciously, like society moves in directions all the time and we accept things as normal that we didn't used to. Right. And so like,
[01:29:14] Arko: Yeah, you just, you got to bring that, that probability of issues or problems down way, way down enough where, you know, every time you're boarding a plane, in fact, we're talking about this earlier. It's like, you know, I personally having gone through designing and building avionics, you know, know, like turning my cell phone on, in the middle of a flight, isn't going to bring the plane down.
Cause someone did the EMI susceptibility and emissions testing and like qualified all this stuff. And there's margins on top of that down to even the avionics that are doing all the voting on, on various data streams coming in. It's not to say that it's not going to happen. And then you also have this airplanes are a little weird too, because there's a human involved, uh, we're fully autonomous systems.
You can sort of test against them in a different way, and you don't have humans that can make mistakes, uh, in involved in that. But, uh, not to divert too much here, but I think, I think autonomous vehicles. W as with any, even with airplanes in any sort of vehicle in general are always going to have some risks.
There's always going to be corner cases. You miss. There's always going to be really bizarre, uh, scenarios that are extremely hard to code for. Um, th there's a really great Michigan university professor who I think is not a professor there anymore, and he's working for some autonomous car company. He gave a great talk.
That was just like all about coroner cases like this. All he talked about in, in autonomous vehicles. Um, and it was any covered, really interesting little tidbits. Like one of them was like, you're driving in snow and you, you know, where the actual road is, but you see ruts where previous cars had driven, which do you drive in?
Do you take the ruts where other cars drove or do you go based on like your well-known GPS location of where the real road is and how do you assess that risk robots in general or awful? AI is awful at context. Humans are really good at context, you know, you're, you're in, um, Boston and there's, uh, what's the thing where everybody drinks a lot and there's green stuff.
[01:31:27] Ben: St Patrick's day.
[01:31:28] Arko: in Patrick's day, And, and, you know, wild parties going on right. Or Thursday. Um, and, and, you know, there's people in the streets and there's cops around and you're trying to navigate through if you're an autonomous vehicle in this scenario, and you're trying to do crowd control, right. There's chaos going on around you and there's, and there's unpredictable chaos, right?
Like drunk people can do dumb things, like jump out in the middle of the road. Now there's a cop in the middle of the street trying to direct you. How do you recognize the cop? Okay. Well, someone in uniform, well, what's stopping a teenager from putting on uniform and jumping in front of an autonomous vehicle and directing it to go into a wall.
Like, how do you, how do you understand the context of what is authority and how do you react to it? So there's like, what's that?
[01:32:16] Justin: you have to scan their microphone.
[01:32:18] Arko: Yeah. But, and, but then that becomes part of infrastructure. Right. So we design and build.
[01:32:25] Vyrus: point, right? Cause like, I mean, you're, you're more cyber minded than most by definition. Like, I'm pretty sure we wouldn't, like, I don't have to, I don't have to explain to you all the risks of being on the internet.
[01:32:41] Arko: Oh, of course. And
[01:32:42] Vyrus: you, you still buy stuff on Amazon.
[01:32:44] Arko: oh yeah, of course I
[01:32:44] Vyrus: Right? So this is what I'm saying. It's like it, like, it's just, it's a, it's an acceptance thing. It's a, at some point like, you
know what the risks are.
[01:32:53] Ben: I can tell you, I can tell you the moment where I will. I think autonomous cars are a good idea. It is the moment where one can take me to a bar and then back home. And I, I think that's probably the same bar for almost everybody, right?
[01:33:11] Vyrus: Yeah,
[01:33:11] Ben: like ultimately
[01:33:13] Arko: standards though, are going to be lowered on the way back.
[01:33:16] Vyrus: but that's, but that's also the
[01:33:17] Ben: no, what what's you're going to want is an interior that can be easily hosed off. So no one gets mad at you,
[01:33:24] Arko: It's like cop
[01:33:25] Vyrus: also very much the point, right? Because like, like you said, yeah, it's Boolean, but it's not well you're right. It's not, but the reason it's not is kind of part of the Boolean, right? no no individual two humans have ever agreed on anything all the
way ever. And that definitely includes the risk models.
Right. But that's the point is like, that doesn't mean that we don't make choices based on a risk model, whether or
not it's subjectively rational or not. No, but.
[01:33:49] Ben: so, so, so let me pick up that thread. Cause actually I, we mentioned LIDAR and now we're talking about autonomous car risk models. And one thing I've noticed, so at one point they were like, Ooh, LIDAR, it's going to be great for all, you know, autonomous vehicles. Uh, but they had a lot of trouble, um, making it so you couldn't just spoof it, right? uh, it was pretty easy to fool LIDAR into thinking there was an opposite point of view and making stop and as it turned and, and it's pretty hard to prevent someone from doing that maliciously. And as it turns out that is. Um, I mean, I grew up in a city that actually had a lot of carjack, uh, uh, and they would try to carjack cars.
They couldn't even drive, you know, and then they would just like steal your water or whatever, but like, uh, uh, I always thought it was funny that more carjackers, didn't learn how to drive stick. Uh, but it turns out that's actually a really good, uh, safety feature. Uh, if you have one, um, but.
what I've noticed is that, uh, more and more people working in autonomous vehicles that I talk to are like, oh Yeah, we're taking the LIDAR LIDAR out entirely. Right.
[01:34:56] Arko: Yeah, I, the people I know, I know, I know Tesla's model very much is like take the lighter out, like active measurements are just too much. And it's probably from a cost perspective is my guess. Um, the one thing I learned when, when I first got into robotics is a very simple principle, which is sensors always lie to you.
It's a, it's a question of how much they lie to you. And so this is why a lot of robotics, uh, folks in the robotics field are so interested in, in, in field, in. Subjects like sensor fusion, where you take different sensors and how the probabilities of how accurate they are and infuse them together. And so you need a lot of agreement amongst many sensors to give you, um, confidence in the measurements that you're trying to make.
[01:35:50] Ben: It's all common filters, doll,
[01:35:53] Arko: challenge filters are part of it. It's very much part of it. Um, it,
[01:35:58] Dan: The more, the more points, the more data points, you know, the more content in your point cloud the left, a lower probability that any individual failure case will result in an incorrect reading.
[01:36:09] Arko: yeah. Yeah. And, and, and, you know, there's, there's a lot of, um,
[01:36:15] Max: Yeah.
[01:36:15] Arko: I guess there's a lot of nuance in there too, cause it's like, how do you, let's say you had a fleet of autonomous vehicles running, like how do you prevent lighters from interfering with one another? You know, how did one, one LIDAR beam not inter not be received by an another vehicle.
And I mean, that there's ways to come around to like a lot of these problems. Um, and, and to, um,
[01:36:39] Vyrus: Or like Ben said, I mean, the more, if you base your design on the principle, that the bigger, the more data points in your average, the more you trust your average.
Well, well, let's say that means I now programmatically know how to lie to you better.
[01:36:56] Arko: Yeah. And, and I, I think there's also something to be said about malicious intent. I mean, what is the like, odds that people are really going to go out there and try to, like, I don't know, hold up some weird patterns, checkerboard that will crash the computer that's on,
[01:37:13] Ben: 100% and you know
[01:37:15] Vyrus: Oh
[01:37:16] Ben: you, you literally, you literally know the
[01:37:20] Vyrus: yeah.
You literally know the people with it. I mean, the example I always give to people like, yeah. You know, given your bar example of like, when I'll know, autonomous autonomous vehicles already, for me, it's, what's more grotesque. It's very much like I'll know that that autonomous vehicles are around the corner from a societal perspective when we are no longer having the conversation of convenience or direct safety.
And we are, instead of having the conversation of, but if right to repair as a thing, what happens when I can use ride to repair as an excuse to explicitly program my car, to be a missile when I want it to,
[01:37:58] Ben: Uh,
[01:37:59] Vyrus: is it, is it,
is every vehicle, a weapon now or like, is the ATF going to come take my
car because I've modified it.
[01:38:07] Max: What's what's what's stopping you from doing right now. You can totally do that now. What is
[01:38:12] Vyrus: I can do that now.
[01:38:14] Arko: think, you know what my metric is now, my metric now is going to be, when I see people at Def con taking them to go to the bar. How about that?
[01:38:24] Dan: Yeah. I
[01:38:25] Ben: I
would do that in two seconds. I'm
there. It's like,
that's all I want out of this whole thing.
[01:38:30] Arko: risk assessment is like combined with like the cool factor. Right? Like I just look at the top of this car to the ninja
[01:38:36] Dan: definitely in the camp that the success criteria is the autonomous vehicle is the equivalent of a teleportation system from where you are to the bar with extra steps.
[01:38:46] Arko: Yeah. Pretty much
[01:38:47] Dan: That's the success criteria for
[01:38:49] Vyrus: I'm in the only reason I keep commenting is because I basically have that now, and I'll be honest. I never use, I literally never used the autonomous function in the
[01:39:01] Arko: I mean, let me ask you this, actually, I'm curious. Why do you not use it
it's too risky
[01:39:07] Vyrus: no, it's not a risk thing. I mean, yeah.
[01:39:10] Arko: or, or, or is it, is it risk combined with like, it doesn't have enough features to justify using it?
[01:39:16] Vyrus: I just don't find driving to be that much of a chore. That it's something that I need to trust to convenience yet. Especially since knowing the fledgling amount of like, I mean, okay. I'm I don't work at Tesla and I don't work on autonomous vehicles, but like I'm a tech minded person. Feel the adjacent. I know it'd be a lot of people who have worked and do work at Tesla.
I know a thing or two about the way they entered to work
and having the car for the last three years. Like, oh no, I can definitely feel sometimes when it's making mistake. Exactly. Which mistake is making.
Like I can, I can tell. And so I just say to myself, like, is, is, the potentiality of that mistake worth me really Murphy extra five brain cycles of relaxing right now.
And I just driving doesn't bother me enough
yet for Me to need to trust that to a machine.
[01:40:09] Max: There's this there's
[01:40:10] Ben: actually, you're actually like a, like an autonomous vehicle will pessimist really? So it's like you yourself, haven't crossed over the,
threshold of like accepting the risk.
[01:40:20] Vyrus: I mean, except that I'm not an old guy yelling at the cloud saying it's never
going to happen. Right. Like.
[01:40:25] Max: well, we, we, we, we, we w we do currently have like the problem of the Portland market street signs. And I live in Seattle and Seattle has some of the worst street sides I've seen where like, there's like an on-ramp, uh, where, like there's four different, uh, lanes it's underneath the bridge. And there's a two signs, uh, and like, it's not clear which one is like an on-ramp or an off-ramp and you pick the wrong one and you get into an accident, like,
[01:40:54] Vyrus: So, so you're not wrong, but also I, in the case of most people, I do not respect this argument. And the reason I don't respect that is because I live in an area that is, objectionally harder to find than any of you. Like, I live up a mountain, there are no street signs and I'm sure Arco will tell you how much worse those sensors are.
Once you add the gradient by about 10 degrees, like, oh, that sensor immediately goes for trash because they're all crowdsourced. Like at least all the Teslas, they're all built from crowdsource data. Right? In
fact, when you get your car, you have to drive it for a little bit
so that your version of the
AI can kind of train a
little bit and they do that so that they can source their training data.
And almost all of that data is sourced at a certain gradient. As soon as you tilt, like even the sensors that tell you when something's getting close to your car all day, mercilessly, fuck up. Like just when I leave my driveway, cause I'm in a mountain and like a weird canyon road, like no it's garbage. And even here, just to, just to, just to do it, as soon as they flipped off the rule that says you can't use driving with no one in the car in California, as soon as they said, like, okay, it's still illegal, but we're going to like flip the switch so that you're allowed to do it on private land. I stood at the bottom of the hill just once and I summoned my car. And it was terrifying watching it, do that. Cause like the way it did it was like, I'll never do that again, but he made it to the bottom of the heart, admitted to the bottom of the hill and it
[01:42:20] Arko: I would not want to know what the insurance claim would look like, or like, how did it crashed? Like I was not in the car and I saw on the bit.
[01:42:27] Vyrus: I'm just saying
[01:42:28] Arko: Yeah.
[01:42:29] Ben: You're lucky that didn't turn into an epic failure that
[01:42:32] Arko: Yeah.
[01:42:32] Ben: a roboticist.
[01:42:37] Max: Please tell me you're at least recording it so you can make a little bit of YouTube money if a,
[01:42:41] Vyrus: I just haven't published it. Cause then it's like an exact video montage of where I live
and I have enough
[01:42:47] Dan: Now I want to
[01:42:49] Arko: You know,
[01:42:50] Dan: I want to be part of the branch reality where there's a YouTube channel, where virus is like, let's see if my Tesla makes it down this time. It's
just monetizing it. Just like just ripping through model your Teslas every year.
[01:43:05] Max: definitely like a Mr. B's thing. Like.
[01:43:12] Vyrus: will it
[01:43:13] Arko: there's one thing I do want to circle back to here. That was that that really, um, caught my attention, which is, which is like your perception of, you know, changing, like, will I accept or will I not accept autonomous cars? And, and the, and this brought up the thought of the future and, and what, you know, your people's kids and future generations will experience when it comes to autonomous vehicles.
You know, all of us here grew up in, or have, are growing up in a world where you learn how to drive, right. And at the moment in this present moment, we are faced with this world of you can take over and the car is going to be autonomous, but there's as time moves on, it's going to, it's good. That line is going to blur, you know,
[01:44:04] Vyrus: Multiple times. I have had the conversation with my significant other where she laments and says, you know, part of me is really sad. Our oldest is never going to learn to drive a stick. And I look at her and I say, baby, our child is going to learn to drive on a car that can literally drive itself.
[01:44:20] Arko: right. And there, and the children's children. Yeah. And the, and the children's children will probably never learn how to draw.
[01:44:27] Vyrus: right,
[01:44:27] Arko: Right. And so, so
[01:44:29] Vyrus: is right up there
with people who are like, oh, when we were kids, it was tapes. And now it's CDs. And
I'm like, no, our kids are going to be like, what do
you mean? It takes a disk.
What is physical media?
[01:44:38] Arko: there's there's there's a line here that one needs to recognize, which is at some point it's too dangerous to learn how to drive, right?
Because, because if you're relying on many, many hours, tens of hours, if not hundreds of hours of the vehicle doing its thing, and then you, someone who has maybe had significantly less hours of driving is now told, Hey, I don't th the, you know, the, the cars, computers, like, I don't know what I'm doing, something's going wrong.
You take over you're human, you know, better. And now you have to gain situational awareness. You needed to figure out what was actually going on in that reaction time. You're just not going to be able to respond to what's happening
[01:45:17] Vyrus: all of that is assuming that autonomous cars don't actually get objectively better at doing this than humans. We don't
solve a lot of the problems that we're trying to solve
brings my favorite classes, argument up, which is what happens when society doesn't want people driving on roads because it's a safety hazard.
And so if you can't afford an autonomous car,
you can't afford to drive,
[01:45:39] Mitchell: That'll be a
[01:45:40] Arko: you hit, you hit like one of my favorite points, which I don't think
[01:45:45] Vyrus: when you clean houses in Los Angeles
and you literally can't afford to own a vehicle that
you can legally drive to.
[01:45:52] Arko: The virus, you hit like a point that I think very few people think about is, is that point in, in society when we're like, no, you're not allowed to drive you. You suck at this. Like maybe in like a private land and a lot where you drive a little go-karts but on the streets.
No, no, no, no, no. That's where the autonomous cars
[01:46:11] Ben: in terms of actual risk, since we're talking about risk, if you look at like the us mortality index, uh, the number one cause foreign away of, of death, uh, that is not cancer or heart disease or natural causes, quote unquote is, uh, automotive like cars, car accidents.
[01:46:31] Vyrus: Yep.
[01:46:32] Ben: It is, it is, it is, uh, you know, people go on about gun control, but, uh, there's like what?
It's like 180,000 automotive deaths or something. And like, you know, it's usually like under 10,000, you know, firearm deaths. So it's like an order of magnitude difference, cars, cars kill so many people. Um, and we just,
we just, we just pretend it's okay because we have to drive every day.
[01:46:59] Arko: I was going to say to be fair, a lot of people drive. Right. Very relatively speaking. Very few people use firearms.
[01:47:06] Vyrus: but now, now we've come full circle to why. Yeah. But now we've come full circle to why I made the original statement that I made, which is. While I would agree as Ben pointed out that this is largely an unconscious choice for most people, because most people don't think about risk in terms of metrics, the way that we do professional and for multiple
[01:47:23] Ben: Oh, no, it's worse than that. When you drive by an accident on a highway, like you take
a quick look at it and then you look away and you pretend it didn't happen. Cause you still have to go half an hour to work or whatever.
[01:47:33] Vyrus: Right. But this is what I mean.
[01:47:34] Ben: you're blocking it out.
[01:47:36] Vyrus: well, but I mean, in terms of, of like in terms of personalizing the risk, right.
[01:47:42] Ben: Yeah.
[01:47:43] Vyrus: I think the way that people block it out. And I think there's data to show that this is exactly how it works is that it's okay because humans make mistakes. And so as long as it's a human mistake, we S we accept it.
There's a societal acceptance that says people die. And if people die from the, from the result of humans trying their best and failing that's okay. But if people die, as a result of a machine was put in charge, we don't have societal context for that decision. Not equaling negligence, even if it's not even if it measurably kills fewer people,
[01:48:20] Ben: on the highway by your house, do you see people trying their best?
the remarkably charitable, uh,
[01:48:31] Vyrus: it is, it is.
I'm being sure I'm being terrible on purpose because
[01:48:35] Ben: saw by your house. I saw somebody literally paint their toenails while, while driving
you people, I've seen people full on, read a newspaper,
[01:48:45] Vyrus: yeah. Obviously that that's totally isn't that,
[01:48:47] Mitchell: I would say,
[01:48:49] Dan: sorry. Good.
[01:48:50] Mitchell: oh, it was two things. One, there's a lot of people in like urban and circles. I know we're like virtually very big about traffic deaths, even with existing technology and drivers and are big on like road design. And a big part of that, you know, speed limits. Um, and then you think about, you know, one big cause of death is, you know, high rates of speed, you know, you know, more kinetic energy in your car, um, harder to control, et cetera, but Montana, you know, there's still lots of places where there's no speed limits, uh, either the facto or, you know, like actually no speed limits. Whereas I guess my point is that, uh, I think there's going to be like a state-by-state thing where I can't imagine California and Montana are gonna make the decision about, uh, you know, when it's unacceptable to drive with autonomous cars at the same time, that'd be an
[01:49:37] Vyrus: well, there already is, right. Like you can, there are autonomous Uber's in Arizona. They're still technically illegal in California.
[01:49:43] Mitchell: But I mean, in terms of the decision about when is it acceptable for you not to,
[01:49:46] Max: It'll it'll it'll, it'll be like a state state drinking ages is like Montana didn't want to go on with them, but they needed highway money eventually. Uh, it would be some like a public action group. Like, oh no, my children died because somebody is terrible at driving. Uh, cause they were terrible at driving.
[01:50:04] Vyrus: Yeah, I agree. It's going to be a state-by-state thing. I guess my, my previous comments were meant in the most macros of scans, right there meant that like the collective unconscious at the end of the day has learned in my opinion, slash understanding that, um, you know, we accept accidents by accepting that as long as they happen from a human, then we're going to assume that the fault is, you know, malleable.
But as soon as it's a machine, we start crying mental models.
[01:50:32] Max: I mean, it's, it's, it's also just has to do with our, uh, our, our, the way liability is structured in this country. Like just, it is according to the laws, the liability of the person who makes the program as opposed to the person who's driving at that point.
[01:50:46] Ben: Seriously though, the first year that we can have a fully autonomous cab from Def con to a bar is going to be a story for future generations,
[01:50:56] Dan: that,
[01:50:57] Ben: Mostly because of what they're going to do to it, you know?
[01:50:59] Dan: yeah, exactly. I was about to say, I was like, whatever that taxi is, whatever that company is, it's brave enough to attempt that as a market demographic is going to be the most battle tested autonomous vehicle
[01:51:11] Ben: Yup.
[01:51:12] Dan: the market, hands down.
[01:51:14] Max: Speaking
of which we have, w w we, we ever really brought it up. The, one of the cool parts about a, when, when everything's going to be all autonomous driving, is that, you know, that the hackers will be able to modify their car and then just completely just drive like an asshole on the roads and all the other cars are going to get out of the way.
[01:51:30] Ben: well, it depends. It depends how, uh, how far they get with like at a station.
You know, if we can like cryptographically prove that you avoided, you're buying the firmware and it's like locked down with this and care element and it'll be a, it'll be a fascinating field of law.
[01:51:46] Max: I'll just
[01:51:46] Arko: wait for that black
[01:51:47] Max: in my pocket.
[01:51:48] Justin: I'd like to add that
we're, we're probably, we're probably less than a hundred years away from having this same discussion around autonomous flying V uh, personal flying vehicles.
[01:51:58] Ben: Oh, we're never
[01:52:00] Arko: man. You ever never
[01:52:01] Dan: no, no
[01:52:02] Arko: Sorry.
[01:52:02] Justin: never, we never thought we'd get autonomous vehicles either. You know,
[01:52:05] Ben: Well, then we, still haven't. we
were supposed to have
[01:52:07] Arko: We can't, we can't be trusted with that third dimension.
[01:52:10] Max: we do have, no,
we, we do have a ton of flying vehicles. Like
[01:52:15] Arko: It's called airplanes.
[01:52:16] Max: we,
yeah, we absolutely have. We have absolutely. We have fully autonomous, like jets can fly fully autonomously from takeoff to landing. Like we have that capability now. It's because it's a highly regulated market, like industry and
[01:52:33] Ben: All right. We got, uh, we, we, we, we have to change gears.
Uh, Dan has one last thing.
[01:52:39] Dan: I just, the one capstone line I wanted to throw in here was is, is the basic theme here that autonomous vehicles will be to manual vehicles with the grocery store was to personal gun ownership. Is that the, that the argument you're going for
[01:52:54] Ben: Uh,
[01:52:56] Vyrus: Oh, uh, uh,
[01:53:00] Dan: seen.
[01:53:02] Ben: all right. So, uh, w uh, I, I know we are, we are quickly running through our time, and these are incredible topics, but we have to get to, uh, your demo scene board, uh, for
layer one, we have to, we
have to, because I've been, I've been asked by several people to, uh, thank you for keeping the north American demo scene alive.
[01:53:26] Dan: Yes,
[01:53:27] Arko: Single handedly
[01:53:28] Ben: Yeah, well, helping, helping anyway.
[01:53:32] Arko: Yeah, no
[01:53:33] Ben: but, uh,
I mean, it is. Uh, so for those of you not familiar with the demo scene, it, it, uh, I first became aware of it. And the early nineties, it was really big in like the Netherlands. There was like, uh, something called assemblage, which was a big meeting every year.
And there were these contests where people would see, uh, who could make the most amazing graphics with the least amount of code. Right. And it's just gotten
[01:53:59] Vyrus: Out of
[01:54:00] Ben: since then out of hand, right? Like, uh, once you start searching for demos and stuff, you can see some truly, truly amazing stuff. Uh, I remember one of the NATA cons I went to in 2006, 2007, they were trying to bring back a demo parties that were trying to have a U S demo party kind of like assemblage. Um, and they brought in some of the old anti-art, uh, people from the bulletin board days and, uh, and you know, Jason, Scott was there. Uh, and, um, I think it was his idea probably. Uh, and, uh, um, and I remember there were still, I was surprised at the time that there were so like demo groups that were actually actively doing stuff.
I remember what I was really impressed with was called the Northern dragons. Um, but all of this is just to set up, uh, uh, uh, so, so you made a, you did a demo scene project. Uh, how did you get into that?
[01:54:50] Arko: Yeah. Oh my God. So this, I actually remember this moment of all of all moments. Um, it was actually a Knoll space, uh, at the hackerspace in downtown LA. We had, and I, I remember, uh, Oh, my gosh, I'm forgetting their handle. Now, Frank too was, was the
[01:55:09] Ben: Oh, yeah.
[01:55:11] Arko: Um, and on the, we had this giant projector on the projector, uh, was playing a demo party.
Like it had gotten late in the night and everyone was kind of just like throwing things on the projector and we're just playing random stuff. And, and there was a demo of a Commodore 64 that was doing like audio manipulation in real time on a, on a, yeah, on the Commodore 64. And you know, it, I could hear the audience.
I didn't know what demo scene was at all. Right? Like this clip is playing and you see a little like screen that has like these bars and then the bars would automatically shift left and right word, like change the pitch and to like, you know, change compression or whatever. And, and you hear a crowd, like losing their mind in the background.
And I was like, what are they cheering about? I'm like, whatever, dude, you're just changing like audio on this. And then, you know, uh, uh, Frank two turns, he's like, oh, you have no idea. You could do this on the hardware, like, blah, blah, blah. And like
goes on and on and on pop lists. And I was like, what do you mean?
Like, and I was like, okay. I was like Googling. I'm like, oh, okay. Okay. So the Harvard is like super limited. And the
[01:56:19] Vyrus: the way there's a whole shadow backstory to that, about how she found, uh, info files from like the wears days and ASCII art as like the most interesting thing. And that was how her, she like found the demo scene. That's like a whole nother thing.
[01:56:35] Ben: That's how we all got into it back
[01:56:36] Arko: yeah,
[01:56:37] Ben: uh, they, they used to, Um,
uh, back in the nineties and the bulletin board days, uh, people, I mean the, the reason, you know, it took, uh, I remember the first music file I downloaded was 30 seconds of a sad, but true. The Metallica song in wave format.
And it took me the better part of a day.
Right. Cause it was like, it was like relatively huge. So being able to pass around small files that gave you these like incredible graphics experiences was actually like the only way you could see cool graphics in the, in the early to mid nineties. Um, and I remember, I remember finally, like I still have some of those stuck in my head.
Like I have every frame memorized. There was a group I was obsessed with called noon
with an extra. Oh. And you want to
remember that one? Bring your family, bring your beauty noon.
[01:57:23] Arko: Yeah. And
[01:57:24] Ben: have that file kicking around somewhere.
[01:57:25] Arko: Yeah. And there's like key Jen's right. Like he gen music, you know, music became a thing. Not only was the graphics, but it was like the music that you could compress into it and like generate the music. And then there was like trackers that wouldn't like generate like.
A demo party, but it was more corporate-y it was not like your traditional, like proper,
[01:58:42] Vyrus: they make one to show off. They make one to show off their own products, but
there's also a.
[01:58:46] Arko: and to recruit it was all, it was a huge recruiting
[01:58:49] Vyrus: But there's also a pretty big following that remains in Germany, um,
that is like fractured into a few smaller places. And
then, um, then Nintendo era gaming combined with like Chinese hardware culture has actually made it since that, like in certain parts of Southeast Asia and like certain parts of Indonesia, certain parts of Japan, um, they're nowhere near as big, but like very devout and it
[01:59:14] Arko: Yup.
[01:59:15] Vyrus: this
[01:59:15] Ben: so what's interesting about this kind of like new wave of demos and stuff is that, uh, they're not doing it on people's full computers anymore, Right.
[01:59:25] Arko: Well, they are, they are.
[01:59:27] Ben: Well, they, they are, but there's
[01:59:29] Vyrus: have their own Nemo scene.
[01:59:31] Ben: Oh,
[01:59:32] Vyrus: They so do
like the graphics coming out of like some of these web GL demos.
[01:59:38] Arko: Yeah. The, they use the stock,
[01:59:41] Ben: web, you said web kids. I thought you said
Webkinz and I was, I don't know what that is. And I'm afraid to
[01:59:46] Arko: no, they like the challenge. The challenge that the virus is talking about is like, like demo scene folks who you leverage, like the existing, like open GL web GL, like libraries and they make these insane demos that are like kilobytes of space. Um, and, but like they load up textures and they have like these, like they would the end up doing w which this data that I'm about to give you might be a little stale, is they develop their own tools to do all this work in, to develop all these demos.
And then it does all the compression and whatnot and all the hackery and trickery they do. Um,
[02:00:23] Ben: even, even in that example right there, they're doing it on a real computer, doing it in a really constrained environment. It's like a sub environment inside your browser
somewhere. And the other one I've been really impressed with is, uh, I think like the one you did where, or they're just doing it on some tiny
[02:00:40] Arko: Microcontroller. Yep.
[02:00:41] Ben: a
microcontroller, not a full PC. Yeah.
[02:00:44] Arko: And so when this would have been a couple of years, several years ago now, um, I guess, I guess it always keeps coming back to 20 15, 20 15 was a busy year for me. Um, uh, I, I wanted to, uh, you know, after realizing I'm not going to go to Boston to go do a demo party, um, I was like, okay, well there's layer one, the hacker conference where a lot of us are familiar with.
And I was like, okay, you know what I'm gonna do. I'm going to design a board, um, with a microcontroller. That's like a pic processor. And I, I'm not a fan of the pic architecture. Um, in fact, I'm pick marker controllers tend to be kind of crappy and in a lot of ways, but this,
[02:01:23] Ben: for me.
[02:01:23] Arko: I know it, I, everyone is like religious about their favorite, uh, icy,
[02:01:31] Ben: not my favorite, but it has really good behavior when the, when it loses power. Right. So it it's one magic, magical ability is to be a, a good, like low power fallback processor.
[02:01:42] Arko: not a bad point. Okay. I'll take that. I'll
[02:01:44] Ben: Otherwise I don't know what it's for. Yeah. That's the one thing it's
[02:01:48] Arko: This. Yeah. But, but I, through a friend, I found a very interesting microcontroller that had built into it to a graphics processing sub unit within the Silicon and, and a, um, and video memory. And so what I see and, and, and it had, it had the harder module to actually, uh, send out RGB, uh, through a parallel interface.
And, and what you could do is
[02:02:16] Ben: the only person that purchased this chip?
[02:02:18] Arko: no, no. It's actually surprisingly, do you remember the Google yo-yo boards, IOIO boards?
These had them, this is the same general notes,
[02:02:27] Vyrus: I didn't know that,
like I have one of your books. I have both of the iterations of your bulbs.
Cause there's two iterations, but I didn't know they were on the yellow.
[02:02:34] Arko: Yeah, it was, it was sort of a nice surprise, but I was, I was surprised that the yo-yos didn't use this feature, which is, it has a TFT output display that you can then hook up to a resistor network that generates an analog voltage for RG and B. And so you could do VGA video output. And then, um, and then I mapped us, uh, uh, register an IO register, uh, through the GPIO to, uh, another resistor network that would create the audio.
So you had eight audio you had, um,
I want to say 24 bit or not 24 bit color. Oh, you had 24 bit color. Um, but you didn't have all the, the, the, the memory to store a full 24 bit color, uh, image, uh, But it had like color palettes. So you could like set up a color palette and shift color pallets around. Um, and so when I originally designed this board, I was like, ah, people are going to come up with some like, dumb, like, you know, Tetris color kind of graphics and no one's ever getting people to do 3d at all.
And then of course, like, you know, DG and JK, John King, who are alike, a datagram and John King who are like wizards at the sort of stuff, just push the limits. I mean, they were doing 3d rendering, uh, right out the gate. And each year we would host this party and they would always, they would always win obviously.
Cause like they read the documentation, they
[02:04:03] Vyrus: but it was one of those
parties where it wasn't about who won. Like it was one of the, it was one of the few events where like most of the people that would show up weren't playing, they just wanted to get hammered and
watch awesome demos.
[02:04:14] Arko: yeah,
[02:04:15] Ben: Well, yeah,
[02:04:16] Arko: Yeah. And that's what it's.
[02:04:17] Ben: when I get out of it.
[02:04:18] Arko: Yeah. And, and, and to be fair, a lot of people actually did really interesting and really cool demos, but what was, what I enjoyed the most, which I, which I found the most surprising, um, was just the crowd reaction. I really enjoy people losing their minds when someone pulls off something like, how did you do that?
And, and inevitably after the demo party would wrap and, you know, would it be the evening roll at the bar? It would be like, okay, come on, tell me how you did this, like one scene and, you know, they would trawl and troll and troll then, you know, datagram, and, and Jacob would never tell me, um, until I had enough drinks in them.
And then they'd finally spilled the beans. Uh, but it was a lot of fun. I really enjoy that aspect of it. It's just like give people constraints and, and see what they could do with those. And, uh,
[02:05:04] Max: you just, can
[02:05:05] Arko: the dinner party.
[02:05:06] Max: confirm, confirm, something to me? They are literal wizards.
[02:05:09] Arko: Oh, the a hundred percent.
[02:05:12] Max: They haven't got the code. I guess that's a magician's good
[02:05:15] Ben: So it really is about the constraints, right? Like
that's, that's the thing that makes
[02:05:20] Arko: That's what makes it so
[02:05:21] Ben: challenging and impressive. yeah,
But it is like, uh, I've seen people do stuff in like 4k that I couldn't do,
[02:05:31] Arko: yeah.
[02:05:31] Ben: you know, with like, I don't know, Maya 3d and like blender and like, uh, you know,
[02:05:39] Max: I've I've
[02:05:40] Ben: time.
[02:05:40] Max: shit. I've
[02:05:41] Dan: artificial refinements. Uh, also I guess, along the same vein of like, Really long aged, like the course, right? Like you're like liquors, like it's like this, this system was never really designed to operate in these ways, but you're finding new and novel methods of applying it like that. There's a deeper appreciation.
The more technical, the deeper, your technical understanding and knowledge of what's happening
the engagement is like in and of itself, like,
[02:06:09] Arko: You totally nailed it.
[02:06:11] Ben: then the other thing though, is like there's enough, like flying through trippy, glowing tunnel.
[02:06:17] Dan: Right.
Even if you know nothing, you're just like, this is fun.
[02:06:20] Vyrus: I mean, I that's, that's been a great nexus for me. I mean, grab it, you know, we're all kind of old enough to remember when demo sing was a thing and kind of, at least I've been in bold, but it, or touched it a little bit. If it wasn't like a core thing, but the, the web incantation of it and the way that it's starting to manifest, it just continues to blow it up, to blow things completely away from me.
And it's like, just make an array of stuff here and then it'll visualize it. And I do it. And it's just this beautiful, crazy. And I'm like, it was three lines of code, like, all right,
[02:07:09] Arko: Right. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. There's, there's, there's a, there's a sweet, uh, Twitter bot. I follow called like BBC micro.
And you can tweet at it. You guys probably know about this. Like you could tweet at it like a line, like a whole tweet. That's like the code itself and it'll do the rendering and whatever. And then just like, you know, tweet the rent, whatever it renders.
It's like, sometimes you see these amazing ones. They're like, okay, I got to see the source for this. And it's just like a garbled mess of like, you know, nested parentheses and multiple cations and signed functions. You're like, how does, who came up with this? How did you do that? It makes no sense.
[02:07:47] Ben: someone paid attention.
[02:07:49] Max: what, one of my favorite tricks that a, a lot of the, like, especially color palette, limited systems would use just that they have the, uh, like they would switch between colors like meta Scanline
[02:08:02] Arko: Yup.
[02:08:03] Max: or even
[02:08:03] Arko: how you were colors out of it. Yeah.
And, and, and in fact, the, the demo board I made datagram and, and, and John King made, uh, figured out how to do that. It wasn't even. It wasn't even a documented way to do something like this. Like the documentation mentioned nothing about it and they figured out like D you had to write it in assembly and you had to do some cleverness that I can't remember now because they told me the secrets while I was drunk at a bar.
But, um, it just,
[02:08:31] Ben: As all
good magicians do.
[02:08:32] Arko: as all good magicians do, and that gave me the, like, I felt so, like not V I guess maybe vindicated, I don't know. It felt like the whole effort to make this happen in the U S again, um, was, was well worth it. Like, I don't know.
[02:08:50] Dan: Personal
[02:08:50] Arko: I, I got my kick out of
[02:08:51] Mitchell: So there are already still ongoing demo parties. Yeah.
[02:08:54] Arko: so that's a good question. In fact, I, and I, and I, I shit, you not, I literally got a text today from data Graham going like, Hey, are we doing demo party for layer one this year? And unfortunately, because it's remote, um, it's going to be, it'd be difficult to do. Um, and everybody's got things going on and there's, there's a whole, I
[02:09:14] Dan: uh, legend speakable web DL version of, you know, being able to stream demo scene.
[02:09:22] Vyrus: Actually WebAssembly
could be interesting. We
could build an emulator of the board entirely in website.
[02:09:31] Arko: so one thing, one issue we ran into, and this is a real issue is different projectors would interpret the VGA signal differently. So, so, so for instance, um, uh, and I remember the very last demo scene we had in person datagram literally brought his own projector because he's like, I can't trust the one that you have because we tried this on three other projectors, and this is the only one that let us do this one hack that we thought of.
And, and, and Alice, and normally,
[02:10:01] Dan: yeah, that's too deep.
[02:10:02] Arko: normally I would be like, no, no, no, no, no, that's not okay. But I was like, you guys have clearly put way more effort than anyone here. can, you can have this one, like, I'll let you use your own projector. And they did. And I, it totally blew everyone's mind, like they were doing like doom level, like 3d rendering.
And it was just,
[02:10:24] Vyrus: if you could have something where people just submit the code and you just have a unit and
then hook it up to a video capture card and just release the standards before
and say, this,
this capture card is your projector,
[02:10:36] Arko: yeah. That's what we thought about. W w we found a few that would do
[02:10:39] Max: thing, run
[02:10:40] Arko: It supper, surprisingly spice model, actually not a bad idea. Um, you know, we, we found a few capture cards, but we also found variations in the way the capture cards would,
[02:10:54] Vyrus: Oh yeah.
[02:10:55] Arko: handle the signal and then.
[02:10:57] Vyrus: very familiar with that.
[02:10:58] Arko: Yeah. And then there was another layer on top of this, which was, we were using like w VGA, which was like a super small, like three 20 by four.
Yeah, three 20 by two 40 like format, um, or a resolution rather. And, and then the color space, or the, the bit depth was a little different too. And so not every capture card would support that. And yeah, it turned into a hot mess and we were like, whatever, we'll just, there's the projector. And, and we, by the way, I should mention this folks who wrote demos had access to the projector for the, the first day of the conference so that the demo party would be the following day.
Um, so you could test your stuff out and make sure it still worked. Um,
[02:11:43] Vyrus: Folks on the pro V space actually have there's a device colloquially known as a candy bar that is typically it's usually orange. So you can find it in the middle of the arch. And that's usually about the size of a cell phone. And the whole thing is just with one big, uh, poly format adapter. And it's usually got VGA and DVI, two DVI ports on, on the side and a VGA on one side and then like one BNC on the other.
And then, uh HTMI and they never have display for it, but it's usually ACMI and a bunch of dips switches on it. And all it does is it's just a format standard convert. For variations within the different video formats from one thing
to another. So it's like frame rate and I, you know,
10, the, I versus 10 at
AP versus PW versus pal versus WCGI, VGA, VGA, L like all, like,
that's all it does.
And there's like two or three companies that make it. Um, and then the, basically like, it's, it's one of those things where like, they're everywhere, but they're never branded, uh, because they're super illegal because the only way you can make something like that, just to basically just take all the rules and keys and stuff that you're supposed to use on these formats and just throw it out the window.
And so the companies that I'll make them are all the companies in China that build all
the licensing stuff. And this is like, they take all that IP and they make their die, but they basically can't legally sell anywhere
[02:13:08] Arko: That's dope,
[02:13:09] Vyrus: and like,
[02:13:10] Ben: it also strips off all copy protection,
[02:13:13] Vyrus: oh, well, yeah.
[02:13:14] Ben: HTMI keys
like the old, uh, like the old thing they
[02:13:18] Vyrus: but that's, uh, but that's a now and you can buy chips that do that.
I'll do that, like on the so-called black market, like 11
[02:13:22] Ben: And they're surprisingly affordable. I.
[02:13:25] Vyrus: well, because the market is flooded because the pro Ave seen. There has never been a provided industry solution for HDCP. When you want to take a video that is D that is HD protected, or that you're playing from HTMI source. And you want to decontextualize it through an image pro two and play it on 40 different screens at once at a rave.
Like there's no a way to do that. So at some point, DHCP is getting magically ripped off. Um, but anyway, I just meant like you were talking about the lower constraint VGA and like projector issues. And like,
[02:13:59] Arko: I did.
[02:14:00] Vyrus: I may or may not have a few and like they're, they're, they're everywhere. It's the thing. They're usually orange.
They called candy bars, like these big, crazy dongle looking ridiculous. This is, they usually have about three or four video interfaces on them and just a bunch of dips, which it's.
[02:14:12] Arko: That's rad. Yeah. W w we'll come back like D like layer one demo part is going to come back. Like it's very much a, a live demo scene thing. Like just, it's all about the crowd and the reaction. And, um, it's going to be hard to do that virtually, but, um, I don't know.
[02:14:30] Ben: All right. Well, you heard it here
[02:14:32] Arko: yeah. Yeah.
[02:14:34] Ben: have been dead
[02:14:35] Arko: was made.
[02:14:36] Ben: demo seeds, Not dead yet.
[02:14:38] Arko: Not yet. At least not in the U S
[02:14:42] Ben: Not in the us. Awesome. All right. Well, um, yeah, I was going to ask how I, how I can get one of those boards because I, uh,
[02:14:53] Arko: they don't. So it's funny. I've every now and then I still get like an E a random email out of nowhere. Like, where do I get a demo board? I'm like, oh man, we haven't made those in years. Um,
[02:15:05] Ben: shortage.
[02:15:06] Arko: Yeah. Plus the semiconductor shooters. I don't even want to know what that, what that whole like hot mess is going to be for this chip, um,
[02:15:13] Vyrus: have one,
I'll send it to you.
[02:15:14] Arko: Yeah.
I think at this point, I think at this point what's going to happen. This is my, this is my rough guess. It's not a, what is going to be, uh, in the future is we'll maintain the original demo scene board category. And then we'll probably design a new board with a processor that's easier to source, um, unless we can get the old ones because people are still pushing the limits of it.
Um, and, and we'll probably make a new board as well and, and, and create a new category for that. And, you know, if we're gonna make both boards great, uh, it'd be, I I've, I've definitely wanted to re revisit that project in general. Um, so we'll see. And it's what was really cool by the way about this is it's one of those projects where you've, you just have to do the hardware work and then lay out enough of the software groundwork where people can pick up from it and do their demos stuff.
But there really isn't a whole lot of like firmware development you need to do. Um, so it's mostly a hardware project, which, you know, it's pretty easy.
[02:16:17] Ben: I'm still stuck on like, like, like graphics on a pick seems like lipstick on a pig, it's just like, why,
[02:16:26] Arko: Yeah. It's fun.
[02:16:28] Ben: why it's so it's so absurd. It's perfect for, you know,
[02:16:32] Arko: Exactly.
[02:16:34] Ben: awesome. Well, Can we get, uh, uh, uh, shift gears into the denomination. Uh, so, uh, I know you said before we started talking that you didn't think of yourself as a hacker, but, uh, I hope you figured out somewhere along reciting all of your numerous projects, uh, that might not be entirely true, but I am sort of curious, like what you've gotten up to recently, uh, any new, interesting hobbies.
[02:17:05] Arko: Uh, this is a really good point. I think, you know, I, oh gosh, I've recently gotten back into RF. Um, I was really into digital signal processing before I, before I graduated and got a, you know, a big job in and started doing robotics professionally. Um, but as of recently, I've sort of fallen back in love with, with, with RF and, and designing, um, circus that, you know, I originally started off kind of messing around with software defined radios, but quickly got into the transmitting side of things and, um, understanding filtering and modulation schemes again, you know, cracking open old textbooks, buying old textbooks that I couldn't afford at the time.
Um, and that sort of led me down this path of, of, you know, with the whole pandemic stuff happening, um, being indoors all the time. I was kind of fed up with being inside and I, I w at the time this would have been 20. Well, early 20, 21. Um, I decided to get into like this weird sport called summits on the air, uh, which is ham radio enthusiasts who climb very specific summits mountains that are worth various points depending on their altitude.
And you get up there and you, all you need to do is make four contacts and you get the points for that summit. Um, my wife likes to describe it as like Pokemon go for nerd, like radio nerds. Um, it really is. I mean, it's totally, you know, it's arbitrary nerd points. Um, but what's cool is it has like a, like a, aspect of it.
Cause you, these mountains, aren't always very easy to just like, they're not mountains, you can drive up. Um, so they, they require a little bit of a little bit of effort most of the time. Um, and then it also means having to do one of my favorite things, which is a mass optimization. So like your backpack right, is, is you're not going to lug up a hundred watt radio with like a giant battery.
You might be crazy enough to do it, but it's, it's going to suck if you do it a lot. Um, so it's like pushed me down into, uh, radios that are very low power, um, typically under five Watts. And, um, and, and so
[02:19:19] Max: also a cross. It is also does, is also a crossover with like the ultra light thing. Are you trying to like, keep your pack weight other than the radios down or you just like, is that almost irrelevant? The point of the width radios?
[02:19:33] Arko: You know it, I think at some point it gets so light that it doesn't matter, but, but there's this like drive and desire in you to just keep going. Cause you're crazy.
[02:19:46] Max: So, so you are cutting toothbrushes.
[02:19:49] Arko: Oh dude. I, I, I shaved down mass down in grams sometimes just cause like, I want to be able to say, you know, like my latest pack, uh, my latest radio pack. Oh, by the way. Okay. So yeah, actually let me finish my thought and I'll, I'll, I'll say the next thing. My latest pack is like under half a kilogram, which is, you know, I can contact people around the world with less than half a kilogram now.
[02:20:12] Max: no way.
[02:20:13] Arko: but, but, but it, you know, there's a precursor to this, which is even crazier, which is when I first got into the sport, I bought like a little 10 watt radio and I bought a little battery in this thing weighed, you know, several pounds, right. Um, or several kilograms, whatever unit you choose. And, and, uh, uh, I was doing voice, right.
Like I was talking and I was like making contacts with this and it, I was like screaming into the microphone and sometimes it was not even possible to make contacts on HF frequencies that propagate, you know, hundreds of miles out. Um, just because the power was so low or the solar cycle conditions weren't low or good.
And, and then, you know, I joined these like summits on the air groups and folks were like, oh yeah, a lot of us just learn Morse code. I'm like, well, why is that? And it became really obvious once they said it, which is, you know, voices is pretty broad band, relatively speaking to Morse code. You know, it's like three killer Hertz is roughly the, sort of the minimum bandwidth, maybe two kilohertz is the minimum bandwidth.
You can get information, voice information across to another person. Um, you know, in, in high fidelity audio, like what you're listening to now, it's many kilo Hertz, like 20 kilo Hertz or whatever. Um, but the minimum is like two to three. Um, maybe even less than that, but CW or Morse code is like 150 to 50 Hertz of bandwidth.
And so if you have five Watts of power and you're distributed across, you know, three K, it's not going to go as far as if you bring that down to four 50 Hertz. Um, and so I spent like three months learning Morse code. Um, and, and, and
[02:21:54] Max: you're not only minimizing, like pack weight, but you're minimizing, like bandwidth, everything that
[02:22:00] Mitchell: information and all sorts of density.
[02:22:02] Arko: Yeah, it's become an information theory problem now. And it's like, if I, if I can just get the code in my head, then it means less mass in my backpack. And, and so, you know, it, it, it's tons of fun. Like, it I'll say this and I'm sure a lot of your listeners might have ham radio licenses. Um, when I got my ham radio license, uh, they had just dropped the Morse code from, uh, as a requirement to get the license.
And so I was like, oh, okay. I don't want to learn more. So that's stupid. Um, and it wasn't until I started getting into this hobby, I was like, okay, fine. Now I have to learn this. Cause like, I want to keep mass optimizing and going to crazier summits. And as I started learning, I realized like it's a really fun mode.
Like it sucks when you first learn it. You're going to hate it. You're going to want to give up. But if you stick through it, holy shit. Is it amazing to, to make a contact with someone doing Morse code?
[02:23:00] Vyrus: More scope is actually the first language I learned
[02:23:02] Arko: do you still know it by the way?
[02:23:04] Vyrus: a little bit. I mean, it's one of those things where, like I learned when I was so young,
[02:23:08] Arko: Yeah, yeah, yeah,
[02:23:08] Vyrus: I don't know at a whole lot, but then I hear it and
I can kind of translate them ahead. Now my, my grandfather wasn't radio engineering. So when I was five and a half years old, he would put me on his 80, 88 with a simulated program.
And that's one of the things he would give me to do during the summers when I was with him. Cause he teach me, keep
[02:23:26] Arko: Virus. This is so cool, man. I had no idea.
[02:23:30] Vyrus: yeah.
[02:23:30] Ben: You know, what's weird is I actually
discovered this, this hobby years ago entirely by accident, uh, because I'm, I'm a, I'm a bit of a hiker. Uh,
so I'll, you know, go hike up a mountain, basically every, any weekend.
And um, every once in a while, I'd get to the top of the mountain and there would just be like a small army of amateur radio people. And you'd be like, these are not the sort of people you don't really see on a mountain at all. Right. And they'd all be sitting there with theirs. They'd all be wearing, um, bizarre rain hats, for some
reason you have giant antennas,
you know? And, uh,
I, I, I realized what, yeah, yeah,
I know. You're I know you guys, I know what happens. They're like you
get to the top of the mountain. You'd be like, no, and then you're surrounded by all these, like, you know, ham radios, mostly older people. So it'd be like mostly older folks and silly hats with giant and Pennys. And you're just like, this is unexpected and
[02:24:28] Arko: very much does tend to be older folks, but what I, what I found and this, what kind of pushed me away from a lot of local ham radio clubs in where, where I live, um, you know, I joined at the time cause like I was, it was quarantined times and I just want to talk to people, I guess. I don't know. And it was a lot of older folks and they kind of had their, like, this is the net.
Hello, Bob, how are you doing? I was doing good, blah, blah, blah. And I was like, this is fine. And they're, they're having a great time and I'm not gonna, you know, bust in and, and try to like screw up their, their, their flow here. But when I discovered someone's on the error, I realize a lot of the folks who are closer to my age and were sort of like they had this addiction about doing all these summits.
I'm like, oh yeah. I went to, he sent her the other day and then I went up to like Baldy the next. And like,
[02:25:16] Ben: Yeah.
Gets you out of the house.
[02:25:18] Arko: Yeah. It gets you out of the house. And it was,
[02:25:20] Max: pretty awesome. Cause
[02:25:21] Arko: there was
[02:25:22] Max: not what I find with the rest of the M communities.
[02:25:24] Ben: You haven't through a pretty cool, right? Like I would like an excuse to go up the mountain. I do have a
[02:25:29] Arko: hundred percent, a hundred
[02:25:30] Ben: Yeah, absolutely. I actually, so w w w tell you about your radio, like what's in your pack?
[02:25:35] Arko: my gosh, which pack? Um,
[02:25:37] Ben: Um,
[02:25:39] Arko: Well, I have, I have, uh, I have an Elecraft KX two, uh, which is like my baby. Uh, it is a wonderful us company that builds arguably the nicest radios in the world. Um, in my opinion, um, they also build some of the smallest radios that have the most functionality built-in, um, have a bunch of kit radios, like a QC X mini that I use.
It's a, it's a pure Morse code, uh, radio. Um, I got the big boys, like I got like a little , uh, HF radio, um, that I use for like digital mode stuff. But, um, I, I have on occasion taken it up a mountain. I've done, I've done slow scan television on a mountain. Um, it does mean reading up a big battery with you. Um, but like once you, once you start carrying the light stuff and you start doing all these like summits and you, oh, by the way, actually, I didn't even mention this when I was describing how I got into this.
My, my big aha moment was when I was walking upstairs to my house, um, maybe a year into the pandemic and I was huffing and puffing by the time I got to the top and that's like maybe 15 to 20 steps or whatever, and I never had that problem. Before, and I realized I'm like, something's going wrong here.
Like, I'm just letting my body deteriorate. And, and this is not a commentary on like, you know, uh, uh, society and all the safety stuff that happened around it. But it was more like I needed to do something about this. I need to get outside. I need to exercise at the very least, um, cause where I worked and were, I would normally spend my time.
I would be walking around quite a lot and I had some, some semblance of, of, of physical shape. And, and so when I, when I had that, I was like, okay, it's time to at least get some exercise. And, and then that's how I, through a friend, I ended up discovering summits on the air. But yeah. So anyway, uh, as I gained more shape, you know, being able to carry heavier loads, like a giant, a hundred watt radio, isn't such a big deal, but it's not, it's not exactly what you go after either.
[02:27:51] Ben: Well, I, and I think I've done a fair amount of backpacking and. That you kinda, uh, I really liked your phrase, like mass optimization, because that literally is the main thing that, that people enjoy about backpack. Like you're outside. But the other thing that people really get into is the mass optimization.
Like how light can I make my pack? Right. So I'm really familiar with that and I
do have a ham license, so I'm kind of like
[02:28:18] Arko: They're like backpacks and like they're just, just shaving brands.
[02:28:22] Vyrus: And that's when the rat net devs decided to start, trying to figure out how to make it work. Henri
[02:28:28] Ben: well,
[02:28:29] Arko: Yeah.
[02:28:30] Ben: I mean, you, you, they say nice things about people on mountain tops. Like there was or something, right.
[02:28:34] Arko: Right. Or a little crazy it's.
[02:28:37] Ben: we'll learn something up there.
[02:28:39] Arko: W what's funny is you mentioned how you ran across people up there on multiple occasions. Now, now that I've been doing this for over a year now, uh,
[02:28:47] Ben: You've astonished hikers.
We like pop out of the clearing onto the summit and they're and
[02:28:52] Arko: I, I sometimes I'm actually, I would say I'm, I'm, uh, I'm a reasonable ambassador to two summits on the air.
I actually, I go out of my way to like, tell people what I'm doing and try to say good things. But every now and then the troll inside me, that's, that's hopefully slowly dying, um, comes out and, you know, like one time I was on a mountain and, and if there's no one around and I don't expect people to come around, um, I will take my headphones off and I'll just unplug the headphones.
And there's a speaker in the radio. So you could hear the Morse code. And I just don't like wearing the headphones anyway. So, you know, it's making the tones and normally if there's people around, I don't want to disturb their, you know, enjoyment of a summit. Like no one wants to show up to a summit or listen to people, blaring music or
[02:29:35] Max: T T T T
[02:29:37] Arko: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Right. It's super annoying. And so like, I opened it up one time and this, this couple showed up and, and they're like, is that more code? And I'm like, yeah, yeah. It is like, what are they saying? I'm like, hold on, wait, what, what is that? Oh my God, the 10, the Titanic is sinking. And like, I was just trying to mess with them, like saying send help or whatever, you know, like, uh, and you know, I got a little mean, but it, I, I, you know, obviously after a mess with them, I told them what I'm doing and what it is.
And they're like, whoa, that's so cool. And like, what's really interesting to me is people's reaction to, to learning about HF propagation or high-frequency propagation. Uh, a lot of people don't know that radio waves can, can propagate off the ionosphere and
[02:30:23] Ben: Oh, yeah.
[02:30:23] Arko: literally travel around the world.
[02:30:26] Ben: Thermal D thermal ducting is my favorite thing to bring up with people that aren't familiar with radio,
[02:30:31] Arko: yeah. For
[02:30:32] Ben: It is.
[02:30:32] Arko: Yeah, definitely. It's super neat. And there's, it's given me a whole new appreciation for all the bands we have access to and what, and each one has its own properties has its quirks, which is like, I, you know, when I first got into ham radio, it was all about like two meter, you know, I guess nowadays it's the bowel things or whatever, but it was all about just like VHF and voice.
And, and I didn't really mess around with HF nor do I mess around with it microwave. And nowadays I've been slowly getting into microwave design as I'm slowly. Learning HF and moving my way up in the frequency bands.
[02:31:10] Ben: Very cool. Well, if you ever, and this second, well it's, we have a, a million mountains up here.
[02:31:16] Mitchell: been thinking like I'm all for the hiking aspect, but if I could fit this in like a backpack, like on a ski lift, maybe.
[02:31:23] Arko: Yeah. And
I'll say this, I originally got into this, uh, only doing mostly drive ups. They call them drive up summits. There are summits. So the summits are, are pre-calculated based on some parameters, which is like the prominence, which is between the dip between, uh, various peaks. Um, and so if you go to a website, there's a couple of websites.
So, uh, S O T L dot a S SoTellUs uh, or, or if you just Google summits on the air, um, you'll find maps of what your nearby summits are. Um, and I found a bunch of them that were like drive ups or easy hikes, like really easy hikes, like less than a mile, not a whole lot of gain. Um, and then, you know, I, I picked a very nearby summit to me as like my quote unquote Everest, which was like a 3000 foot gain mountain that was like maybe seven miles longer.
So, uh, and I was like, one day, I'll get to that. And, and, you know, months after getting back in shape and, and, and getting into all this, I finally made it to the top of that and the way. Felt amazing. Like it was like the coolest feeling of like finally achieving something.
[02:32:34] Mitchell: Oh, wow. It has V the map is very dense. I'm on
[02:32:37] Arko: Oh yeah. It's very dense.
[02:32:38] Vyrus: I just went, I just went to one of those database things and that link, like, there's like a database and like I'm inside. Like my house is inside one of these bubbles,
[02:32:49] Arko: are you kidding?
[02:32:50] Vyrus: just my house. Cause I'm high enough up on the mountain.
[02:32:53] Arko: You
[02:32:53] Ben: Oh, you, you could visit him in score points.
[02:32:56] Vyrus: It's true.
you can just come over.
[02:32:58] Arko: every day and just crush it. So there's in the sport. There's something called summit to summit points. So if you're on one summit and you find someone else who's on another summit and you make contact, you get a special set of points for that. Oh, by the way, I should mention.
So there's activators and chasers and someone's on the air. So the activators are the ones who go up the mountain and activate the summit and there's the chases on the ground. And so everybody can participate, right? Like if you don't want to climb a mountain and you got a rig at home, you can just chase people all day long
[02:33:25] Ben: This is just like egress.
[02:33:27] Arko: Yeah, yeah, yeah,
[02:33:28] Dan: Yeah, that's actually exactly what I was saying.
[02:33:30] Arko: yeah. A hundred percent. Um, except it's just like, you get points for the summit, you chase or you get points for the summit you activated. Um, and then there's like the ultimate goal for, for chasers or for activators getting a thousand activation points is like mountain goat status or whatever, you know, it's arbitrary.
Right. But it takes, I'm maybe at like 200 something odd points right now. And I'm working my way to a thousand. It's going to probably take me four years to do, but. I don't know, it gets me outside and I've, I've gained this new appreciation for nature. Like I never had before. I hated hiking. By the way you asked me a little over a year ago, I would've said hiking is the worst thing and I, I would never go normally, like ever, so I don't know.
[02:34:17] Ben: And I mean, I used to really, really like my house and like staying in my house, it might be my like anti-authoritarian streak. But like, if someone's like
you have to stay in your house, all of a
sudden I'm like,
[02:34:30] Arko: yeah.
[02:34:31] Ben: screw that.
[02:34:31] Arko: I'm going to go
[02:34:32] Ben: Yeah. Yeah. But, uh, no, I, I always, I always, I always liked to run around in the woods,
but in fairness though, we, you know, we did, we did give some crap to the, uh, the rust pushers.
I should point out that there's the same stereotypes exist about the HF pushers.
Uh, H H F is, is a much more expensive hobby, uh, typically,
uh, than rust programming. So, yeah.
[02:35:01] Arko: requires, so actually funny enough, um, it also broke, not only is it expensive, but it tends to require a much larger space. So a lot of people who set up a Steph antennas have like backyards. Right. And
[02:35:13] Ben: Oh yeah.
[02:35:14] Arko: and I don't have a backyard. And so, you know, I, I, when I first wanted to get into HF, I realized I'm like, We're then where the hell do I set up?
And my buddy's like, oh, you should look at some it's on the air. Or there's also something called parks on the air, but there's not a whole lot of parks around me. And I was like, oh, okay. All right. So I can go up to the top of mountain and set up an antenna and I'll get my fix of making contacts. And when you're on top of the summit, there's actually some relatively special properties that, that you can leverage for, for a HF, uh, propagation.
Um, just, there's just cause you're so high up. Um, and you have line of sight to the horizon. Plus the fact that on a summit, you, you know, near the summit, the, the ground rolls off. And so you have these really low takeoff angles that can get further out. Um, so, you know, I, uh, on multiple occasions on five Watts, I've contacted France from the west coast of the U S like no problem, you know, less power than it requires to contact to charge your iPhone.
I can talk to France.
[02:36:25] Ben: Well, I, I I've had a ham license for years, but I mainly just pack it. Um, and, uh, uh, you know, I've gotten on four 40 and two meter and like talked to the old folks and I used to go to, I used to go to that were held in an old folks home.
Uh, and I was, and they were all like, oh God, you're so young, you know? Uh, but there, they were really cool. And like, I learned a lot from
those folks, but obviously like none of their knees worked, so they weren't, they were climbing mountains. Um,
uh, I am, I have always sort of wondered, and I also got my license after the code requirement because the, you know, that was, that
was a while ago. Um, and what I have always sort of wondered, like what, what do you talk about when you do, uh, uh, Morse code contact? Is it
just like, Hey, I'm here. Give me.
[02:37:11] Arko: yeah. Yeah, it's, it's really, it's really structured for summits. So it depends on what, so some it's on the other is like, quote unquote, an awards program. You do a thing and you get an award, technically speaking. Um, and then there's contests where each of these things, all the, they all have their own exchanges.
And then there's, so the spectrum starts at rag chewing. They call it, which is just like 9:00 AM. I remember when he was rambling on, um, so on Morse code, he might send, Hey, this is so-and-so. Hi, Bob, how you doing the weather here is sunny 64 degrees, blah, blah, blah, blah. You know, how's your son or whatever, and you'd have a conversation.
So that's like rag chewing in summits on the air. Um, there's a very fixed format as to what the exchanges. So you'll be, you'll send, you know, uh, CQ, CQ, such and such call sign, and then someone will come back to you. You copy their call, sign, you write down the time or you log the time and the call sign, you send back your signal report, um, which is, uh, uh, three numbers that represent, uh, the readability, the signal strength and the purity of the S the S the sign wave tone of the Morse code.
And then they'll send you back there, um, single report, and then that's it. And you say like, thank you, goodbye, essentially. Um, So that it's a really simple, short exchange. You're not having conversations in summits on the air. Um, so you can like crank out like tens and tens. Like if you're really dedicated, maybe a hundred or more contacts in a day.
Um, but it's not, it's not what you would normally have in like a two meter, like repeater system where you're like, Hey Bob, how are you doing? Oh, I'm good. You know, building in my internet today or whatever
[02:38:56] Ben: I'm enough of an introvert that that's actually a selling point for me. Like I
don't have to come up with small talk.
[02:39:01] Arko: Yay. Yeah. And, and I'm, I'm, I'm actually kind of there with you. In fact, I'm when I first joined summits on the air, I hadn't learned Morse code. I didn't even have an HF radio. It was just my little handheld. And I had a lot of like microphone fright, uh, where I just didn't want to talk. Like, and even the verbal exchange is really simple.
Like so-and-so call, sign. Your signal is five, nine. You're a five nine as well. Thank you. Seven, three, goodbye, whatever. And there's like a little like code that you exchanged with one another and like, that's it. Um, but sometimes people might want to get chatty and whatnot. And I wasn't so into that, but, um, Morse code sort of offered this whole, like no one really hears my voice and you know, and we just send a little tones to each other and you, you slowly start to learn who's who.
Like people will chase you. Like, you'll get the same people over and over again. And, and so you learn people's names and you might say like GM for good morning, you know, Gary, you know, your signal is blah, blah, blah,
[02:40:02] Ben: Are you, uh, are you, are you talking, are you talking to like random ham operators? it like an event? Hey, Is
it an event day where you're talking to other people that are doing the same
[02:40:12] Arko: Some of us on the air is running all the time. So anybody could just chime in at any point. In fact, there's probably some going on. I mean, I'm sure there's some going on right now and it's, and it's worldwide. It's huge in Japan. It's, it's huge here in the U S um, it's big. I think it started in Europe.
I want to say in England, um, where they don't really have many mountains, but
[02:40:31] Ben: it must, it must be, it must have been going on for awhile. Uh
[02:40:34] Arko: to say 2012 is when it started.
[02:40:36] Ben: huh.
[02:40:37] Arko: Yeah. Oh my God. I feel like I've been rambling about this a lot. I don't know why I'm so
[02:40:41] Mitchell: Oh, I'm fascinated.
[02:40:43] Ben: Yeah,
[02:40:43] Dan: Yeah, this sounds awesome.
[02:40:45] Ben: I
may, I may, I may start doing this,
but it's just, I, I, I'm a guy that's like every time I hear about expensive hobby, I'm like, oh, I'm
[02:40:54] Arko: dude, get rid of the deck to your pockets, my
[02:40:56] Max: Yes, I was just putting
together backpacking gear. It sounds like an amazing addition.
[02:40:59] Ben: yeah, I was just thinking I have too much money.
[02:41:03] Arko: and do you have a list. And to the listeners, there's also parks on the air, uh, pota as I call it. Um, that's sort of the alternate. Um, I originally actually wanted to do podo cause I was like, oh, I'll just drive somewhere and set up my intent because I can't set up at home, but, uh, at least where I live, there's almost maybe like three Poteau sites and they all take 20 minutes to get to roughly speaking.
Um, and, and then I looked at the soda sites and I'm like, wow, there's way more of those where I am. Um, so I kinda got into it that way, but, um, you know, there's, there's a lot of ways to get on the air outdoors and, and I, I definitely encourage it. um,
[02:41:44] Ben: You know what I was just thinking that no, no. One's actually called me young in a long time and I should go back to a ham radio meeting.
[02:41:51] Arko: oh man. Yeah, if you want to feel good. it's, it's good though. I think, I think it w what I've noticed, at least with parks on the air and summits on the air is it's a mixed bag. Like you really do get a more diverse group of folks than you would on a repeater system. And surprisingly, at least with summits on the air and thank God, it's this way, because I really don't care to talk politics.
There's no politics talk. Um, you
[02:42:17] Max: Oh,
[02:42:17] Arko: it
[02:42:18] Ben: that is the
risk you run with old folks.
[02:42:20] Arko: oh yeah, a hundred. And it was just hand folks in general. It doesn't, it's not necessarily an age thing. Um, with soda it's, it feels like an escape from the world. Um, and, and I hope that continues and I hope folks. You know, um, spoil it too much. Cause it's just nice to like get in contact with people.
Hey Joe, how you doing? You
[02:42:41] Ben: Well, I, I mean, I
[02:42:43] Arko: and blah, blah, blah.
[02:42:44] Ben: I remember from talking to him And
people that like a lot of them had radically political ideas than I did, but it almost never came up because we spent almost our whole time talking about antennas.
[02:42:55] Arko: exactly, exactly.
[02:42:56] Ben: you can talk about antennas
[02:42:58] Arko: can give you, you'll never shut up. Trust me. I don't give you even started it. It, it,
[02:43:03] Ben: yeah.
[02:43:04] Arko: it yeah, I did.
[02:43:05] Vyrus: yeah, I did that once years ago, even before he was doing this, I asked him an antenna question every once in a while, I still get pieces of the answer.
[02:43:15] Ben: Well, this was the first half of the show. The second half of the show is going to be all about antennas and tend to talk the next three hours. Uh, all right.
[02:43:29] Arko: dude, how long have you been going? This has
[02:43:31] Ben: I, I,
[02:43:32] Arko: crazy.
[02:43:34] Ben: I think uh, I
[02:43:36] Vyrus: that question is the sound of our blood cigarettes.
[02:43:39] Ben: exactly everyone suddenly realized,
[02:43:43] Arko: This has been so much fun. Seriously. I, I did not expect it to be this school. And you know, you guys have been so much fun to talk to.
[02:43:51] Ben: well, thank you so much for coming on. Yeah, you're all of your stories are so fascinating and your, I mean, your project selection is just like absolutely incredible. Um, and we're going to link to all of this stuff, uh, on the, on the podcast, post down in the comments, uh, or the description and, um, uh, so, you know, everyone will be able to.
uh, uh, check out all of the things we just talked about. Um, but, uh, yeah, this was just absolutely incredible. Uh, and just thank you for sharing, uh, you know, your, your knowledge and wisdom.
[02:44:27] Arko: man. Yeah, I think you guys, this is like a nice evening.
[02:44:32] Ben: yeah.
And, and thanks again for, uh, saving the north American demo scene.
[02:44:39] Dan: Yes. In Arco, we trust
[02:44:42] Arko: Oh,
[02:44:44] Ben: well, um, and with that, we've come to the end of another episode, which means I have to struggle to remember how to, ah, yes. And remember hacking is not just a crime.
[02:44:59] Mitchell: It's a survival.
[02:45:03] Ben: all right.
[02:45:06] Max: Well, it's
[02:45:06] Ben: Thank you so much. I know, but we're locked in.
[02:45:10] Max: are.
[02:45:10] Dan: We're we're in, we're committed. That's not, that's never going to.