Photo by Joe Pankow Oh ye gods! Crazy, nutty, insane. The past few days have been among the strangest of my life. I think I’ve had my 15 minutes of fame and then some. First there was the article about BMOW 1 on Wired.com, then the story got picked up by CNet, Digg, Slashdot, Engadget, Gizmodo, Reddit, and many others, all over the web. My inbox overflowed with people asking about the project. Then came the Maker Faire, where a few thousand people came through the BMOW booth over a two-day period. People were amazingly enthusiastic, and quite a few people told me they came to the Maker Faire specifically to see BMOW! In the Wired article about “What to do at the Maker Faire“, BMOW was even the featured attraction for the entire event. In the end, it won an editor’s choice award for the show, and I talked myself hoarse.
While I appreciate all the attention this project has suddenly received, I have to admit I feel like a fraud. For one thing, Bill Buzbee’s fabulous Magic-1 homebrew computer was also at the Maker Faire, and it’s twice as cool as BMOW, but didn’t get nearly the press coverage. I also think that most of the people talking about BMOW thought it was something it’s not. A lot of people seemed to have the idea that I’d built a CPU entirely out of wires, as if wires themselves could perform computations. Or they thought I’d built some kind of giant machine the size of a refrigerator. When they saw a rather ordinary-looking 12 x 8 inch board at the show, they looked disappointed. Many people also seemed to have the idea that I’d built a CPU out of thousands of individual transistors. Nope. BMOW is made from sixty-five chips including 7400-series parts, 22v10 PALs, ROMs, SRAM, a video DAC, and an AY audio chip.
It was an incredible time at the Maker Faire. Setup began on Friday, so I was able to get in before the show opened to the public, and chat with some of the other Makers before the crowds arrived. The show is sprawling, massive: two giant expo halls, plus all the grounds between and around them, and half of an enormous parking lot. It was really too much to experience in a single day.
One downside of being a Maker presenting BMOW is that I didn’t get much chance to visit the other exhibits. Fortunately, I did have a chance to talk with a few amazingly brilliant people. I spoke to Jeri Ellsworth, creator of the C-One reconfigurable retro-computer (who was demoing DIY transistors), Limor “Lady Ada” Fried, inventor of all manner of Arduino and other electronic projects, and evilmadscientist.com’s Windell Oskay, who was demonstrating the Candy Fab 6000 sugar-based 3D printer. There were also many other amazing and creative people I spoke to, not all of whose names I caught, but it was great to get wrapped up in an aura of geeky achievements with them all.
Thanks to everyone who came by the BMOW booth at the Faire, and to my friends Kevin and Eric for helping out as BMOW crew members for the weekend. The booth was packed almost non-stop from open to close, both days. If I’d had the foresight to make extras, I could have sold a ton of books and T-shirts, and lots of people asked about them. Some people even asked about buying kits. I can only assume they had a spare year with no particular plans, and were looking to fill it. A few people came by the booth and gave me free stuff! A guy from Parallax gave me a Propeller development board. I’ll definitely have to play around with that.
A few questions about BMOW came up again and again:
- “What’s the operating system?” When I answered “there isn’t one”, this seemed to blow people’s minds. How could you have a computer without an OS? For BMOW the hardware is so simple, the programs themselves essentially *are* the OS.
- “What compiler did you use to write programs?” Some people seemed genuinely astounded that it’s possible for a human to write programs in assembly language. Whether they’re too young to remember when that was the norm, or have just spent too much time coding in Python or something, I don’t know. Yes, it’s all BMOW assembly language, which is mostly identical to 6502 assembly. I tinkered with retargeting a C compiler for BMOW, but never went very far with it.
- “Where are the wires?” Ah yeah. I supposed it’s false advertising to have a project called “Big Mess o’ Wires”, and not have a giant hairball of wiring hanging out somewhere. There wires are all hidden on the underside of the system board. Sorry.
In the end, BMOW won a Maker Faire Editor’s Choice award. In fact, it won one twice. I’m not really sure what happened there, but when the second editor came by with Lady Ada to give me the award, and heard that someone else had already given me one, he seemed pretty ticked. I’m guessing maybe different editors were supposed to give awards in different categories, and two different editors claimed BMOW in their category. Regardless, I’m thrilled and excited to be recognized by Make.
To the guy I talked with who’s got some unused wire-wrap boards, please send me an email, and I promise to give them a good home. To the guy who turned out to live down the street from me in Belmont, email me, and maybe we can hook-up for some neighborhood nerd projects. For anyone else who emailed me already, if I didn’t reply, try me again.
Last but not least, I’m taking orders for SWAG. If you’d like a few BMOW stickers, send me a SASE or $0.50 by PayPal, and I’ll get you some. I’ll also be placing another order for BMOW T-shirts in a week, on June 7. If you’re in the USA, send me $28 by PayPal before the 7th, along with your shirt size, and you’ll get a shirt in a couple of weeks. If you’re outside the USA, email me to ask about shipping costs. Sorry, but 5-color silkscreened T-shirts for small run orders aren’t cheap. I’m not making any profit off these.
Whew! It’s been an amazing couple of days, but I’ve had enough. Time to go crack open a beer.
Meeting Bill Buzbee, creator of the Magic-1:
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