Hacker Trip To China

Hong Kong

That’s Innovation Tower! Looks like a cruise ship from the year 2070, right? Possibly interplanetary space-worthy? It houses the school of design at Hong Kong Polytechnic University and was the first stop of Noisebridge’s Hacker Trip To China 2015.

We toured three separate spaces just today: the workshops at PolyTech, DimSubLabs, and LAB by Dimension+.

Sewing Studio & Ceramic Studio at PolyTech

We met with William of Dim Sum Labs outside our hotel who took us on a tour of the PolyTechnic University, pointing our the tight grouping of the Business School, Design School, and Textiles School. We interrupted a couple of classes, where students were happy to explain what they were working on. I met one guy doing a papercraft mech (you know, those giant flying fighting robots) which he designed in CAD and broke out all kinds of engineering drawings of how to fold this complex origami. A girl was working on a chair made of bamboo and cord, taking advantage of its tension. Always something being cut in two (I think I saw some chiseling going on) and folded into shape.

So it’s a very well equipped university lab, open only to design students. Reminded me that I wish I had access to ceramics wheels again. The thing that attracted my attention the most was the excellent signage! Maybe a boring thing but it’s a topic of constant discussion at CUCFabLab — how to make the signs better, how to make sigs that express rules and expectations and capabilities. So when I saw the wall-sized page-turning displays of materials, I said to myself “Duh!” and when I saw a big poster listing all the tools available at the lab with a key connecting it to its picture, I said to myself, “duh!” There was even a big poster by the laser cutters describing what line weight and file format to use.

So I got organizationally inspired. After concluding our tour, we had a big lunch (I’ve been impressed so far with Hong Kong restaurant’s capacity to cater to a group of 18 people without warning) and headed to Dim Sum Labs, but not before topping off our ‘Octupus Cards’ — which is the tap to pay card for all the public transit systems as well as convenience stores. I forget who it was, but somebody had an app on their phone that could read any NFC chip and dump all of its information on the screen, so with one tap we found out the model # of the microchip and the software version running on these featureless plastic cards. Neat stuff — we joked about editing the information (chiefly, the current balance), but there’s some pretty tight encryption running on those little plastic cards, too.

“Do you think I can edit the balance of this without putting cash on it?”

“Put money on it without paying money? Yeah I’d like to know, too.”

Workshop at Polytech, Dim Sum Labs, and Architecture Model Lab at Polytech

Dim Sum Labs is a one room affair (I think I heard 400 sq ft), which they pay about $1,500 USD/month for. They’ve got some great self-screen-printed tshirts (William is wearing one in the pics) and a great RGB LED lighting system — kind of looks like christmas lights in the picture. One of the members was working on an upgrade: to make the color of the whole room programmable (switching a few amps on and off is a little tougher than blinking one LED).

I was reminded of my dream-classroom for teaching intro to programming: individually addressable LEDs covering the ceiling such that each student in a classroom could start by controlling just the one LED, getting to know how to blink it and effect its color. Then each student could work their way up to controlling larger arrangements: perhaps a row of 5 LEDs, then a grid of 5 x 5 LEDs, until the students’ combined work is creating undulating colors across the whole ceiling.

The benefit of this is twofold:

  1. basic programming is a lot more interesting if you get to control something not on your computer screen (I learned by manipulating strings in a command line, but I see people blinking LEDs are a lot more enthusiastic about a few lines of code.)
  2. As a teacher / mentor, you don’t have to squint and bend down to someone’s screen to see how they’re doing. You can see the progress of the whole class at once. Better yet, the students can see the results of each others work, too, leading to un-plannable “how did you do that?!” learning moments.

So I was going on about how I wanted to build a room like that, and the guy I was talking to (I’ll learn everyone’s names soon enough…) said “Oh, we got a ceiling you could do that with at our hackerspace in Chico (California)”


Then a guy across the table says “What? You live in Chico? I grew up in Chico!” The bigger the city, the smaller the world.

The rooftop at Dim Sum Labs.

After hanging out a Dim Sum Labs for an hour or two, and we connected to an acquaintance that was told “We’d like to visit Dim Subs Labs and other places of Geek Interest” by Mitch so we ended up at a very cool espresso bar / third wave coffee shop (that’s the kind where they roast the beans behind the counter and let you pick out which farm you want to try the flavor of) that had local art for sale, the majority of which was laser cut upstairs.

Laser Cut Stuff + Quick-and-Dirty Ceramic 3D Printer at “Labs by Dimension+”

Again, I was inspired and surprised by dioramas that communicated the capabilities of the space. Just a general feeling of “why didn’t I think of that?” all day. So they’ve got these products they sell, both as little assemble-it-yourself kits like the bud vase and as assembled products which you can inspect all of the parts. I’d love to build some of these at my home FabLab as well, just to get people’s minds going on what you can do with these tools.

Afterwards we wandered an electronics market, tho it was late enough that most booths were closed. A few people were figuring out SIM cards and international power adapters. Mitch was testing the charge rate of different USB cables which is a shocking discovery that merits further investigation: some USB cables charged his phone at a piddling 80mAH and others charged at 10 times that rate. Like, what? It’s four wires, there’s nothing in there, how can one cable charge so much faster than another? Hmm…

Anyway, I need to buy an umbrella. It’s going to be a rainy week.

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