HackSpace magazine

Meet the maker: 8 Bits and a Byte

By Andrew Gregory. Posted

Bits and a Byte (also known as Dane and Nicole) have been making tremendously terrible tech (their own words) for almost three years now. They keep the ingredients minimal, with usually just a Raspberry Pi, a sensor, and a bit of IoT logic, and film the result for their YouTube channel. What sets them apart from most other YouTube makers is that their builds take input over the internet, meaning you can interact with them from the comfort of your own home. Which makes them the perfect makers for our remote, housebound times.

Dane: For my job, I was prototyping more standard stuff with Raspberry Pis. IoT was a buzzword, so everything had to be IoT. And a Raspberry Pi is an easy thing to start with. The company had its own cloud platform, and of course, they want everything IoT and connected. I don’t know how it happened, but I ended up making these prototypes for customers. I got bored rather quickly, because it seemed like everyone wanted to do the same thing. To cope with the pure frustration of having to do the same use cases over and over and over again, I decided to build something as ridiculous as possible as a kind of coping mechanism. The corporate companion is a good example of that: everything he’s programmed to say, I heard in a meeting.

Ted the talking toaster

Nicole: I started a course called Multimedia and Communication Technology. It’s a long title, but it’s really a bunch of design, a little bit of programming, a bit of 3D – a mix of things. It was during this course that I was introduced to the Arduino, so we started working with that and the laser cutters at school. We decided that we could do so much more with Arduino and Raspberry Pi than the boring work prototypes. And then I had a video editing class, so I could borrow a camera at school. For our first few projects, I borrowed a camera, and everything was filmed in that moment. We thought the videos weren’t that bad, so we decided to upload them. We try to keep the builds not too techy. But apart from that, we just make for ourselves, and other people seem to like it. We have a really broad range of stuff as well. Dane: I don’t know if we come across as having thought things out, but we absolutely have not – we just do what we feel like. We’ve never thought about an audience, but if we enjoy something, it’s quite likely that someone else will as well.

Ada Lovelace is one of the founders of Computer Science

Nicole: We’ve got some really nice comments about the builds over the years on YouTube, for example. People have also started building stuff – I think we had The Goodbye Machine with the waving hand; someone was asking specific questions about certain things because they were building it too, and there’s a second Coronavirus Slapper that someone built. Dane: We’re just chuffed because we haven’t had a death threat yet. So I think our audience is pretty pleased with what we do. That’s the bar we set ourselves, death threats. Nicole: We took the Corporate Companion to a few events, Maker Faires and stuff. We added a big button so that people could press it – the reactions were very mixed. Some people didn’t see the humour in it. You could see with a few people that it hit a bit too close to the bone. We had a few managers in front of me – their wives were laughing at it, but they really weren’t. Dane: What we get a lot of is ‘why didn’t you?’ questions. Why did you use a Raspberry Pi? And the standard answer is that it’s the only thing we’ve got lying around. We have a few Raspberry Pis lying around that we reuse. If you go for a super-specific platform, it gets harder to reuse. We don’t know what we’re going to build, so it’s nice to have options and not be tied down to anything. We’ve always worked on a tight budget. I used a Raspberry Pi in a remote control cow, and I painted it green. A few people have noticed that it keeps popping up in other projects. And we’ve used the same speaker in different projects for the last three years, to keep the budget low. Nicole: It’s also because that’s what we need for the project. We have some hardware lying around that we used once, and then we realised that it was easier to do it in a different way. If something works and it’s easy, we just keep revising it. That’s not thought out – that’s just a desire to budget. Dane: We had some other platforms that we use less that are very specific – some stuff that we won in a contest somewhere, but you need to program it in C. OK, so Raspberry Pi is overpowered maybe – it’s running a whole operating system – but if I can get the job done in 20 minutes compared with programming in C for four hours, then that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Laziness, plain and simple laziness.

The Zippedy Zap: an electric fly swatter that shocks the user – complete with added googly eyes

WHAT NEXT?

Nicole: We’re doing a fun project with some people, an international project, with Hannah Makes, TechnoChic, who’s also on YouTube, and Clarissa of MakeAndFake YouTube fame. It’s a challenge where we send each other stuff from Amazon and Wish and have to make something with it. It’s already gone terribly wrong so far. Someone shipped to the wrong address, so we’re all waiting for a part. That’s going to be fun. Dane: The second thing is, I have a habit of entering contests. Providing contest ideas that I know they don’t want. There was a contest about AI that can read your mood and can enhance it. I thought it would be really funny if there were a little puppet that could read your mood, happy or sad, and it just stabilises your mood. So if you’re happy, it gives you a upsetting fact, like ‘everyone you love will die’; if you’re sad, it will give you a happy fact. I expected that to be filtered out, but they liked it, and now I’ve actually built it. And the other thing is a bubble machine. That’s the next thing that’s in the pipeline.

“It’s a coping mechanism. If you work in corporate all day, you have to do something to reclaim your sanity”

Nicole: My favourite project that we’ve built is Ada. I spent a whole year on a talking artwork for school for my thesis. A lot of work went into that; a lot of research, a lot of writing. It used a Raspberry Pi and a touchscreen – the idea was that you could talk to Ada Lovelace. We bashed apart an old picture frame and resized it to fit the touchscreen. It turns out that taking things apart is a lot easier than putting them back together. Dane: I loved the Moomba because it was really wholesome, and some people left really nice comments under it. Very sweet and touching remarks. At Maker Faires, people loved seeing this little cow driving around. Kids saw it as a real cow and gave it kisses, petted it, which was lovely. Then it’s Ted the Talking Toaster. Because that was a great way to vent from the politicians and elections and everything. I could channel my dissatisfaction into a talking toaster. We now know that there was a talking toaster in the Red Dwarf TV programme, but at the time we didn’t know what Red Dwarf was! It was from the Fallout series of games – there’s an expansion pack where you help a talking toaster to take over the world. The toaster has been killed off now. His evil laugh and his comments got to us after a couple of weeks.

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