This maker spotlight was brought to us through Maker Faire Rome.  You’ll be able to find them and many more creative and exciting makers at Maker Faire Rome: The European Edition on October 18-20. Get your tickets now!


who are you?

My name is Manolis Kiagias, I am an electronic engineer and computer scientist, I have been playing around with computers and electronics since the early 80s and have always been fascinated by both hardware and programming. I’m the kind of split personality that spends hours designing and debugging analog and digital circuits on the scope and then the best parts of many afternoons writing code for our projects!

 

where are you located?

I live in Greece, in Chania, Crete. I’ve lived here for most of my life although I spent about a year and a half as a student in the University of Sheffield, UK. Chania is a lovely city and a tourist attraction but obviously – at least in the past – left a lot to be desired for aspiring electronic engineers. It does however have a higher (technological) education institute for electronic engineering where I was a student many years ago!


what is your day job?

I have been working as a high school teacher for many years. I taught computing related subjects, which actually included some real programming in languages like Pascal(!) and Python. I’ve also taught other technical subjects like computer networking and hardware basics. It is sad that the current curriculum of technical high schools here actually fails to inspire students. I’ve always thought of programming as a fun and creative experience but for the most part the students fail to engage. It is actually quite difficult to write an interesting program (one that uses graphics, sound etc) in a modern language / operating environment. Text based programs look dated and quite unimpressive to kids who are accustomed to colorful screens for ages.

 

what makerspace/hackerspace/fablab do you attend if any?

A few years ago, some colleagues and me decided that we can actually do something more interesting in our spare time. We started exploring the idea of forming a hackerspace as a school project, that would use the facilities of a school outside normal teaching hours. It would allow us a lot of freedom in what we teach and experiment with and would be free for any student wishing to attend. We called it SchoolSpace, the school hackerspace and is currently kindly hosted in the 2nd Junior High School of Chania. We meet once a week for a few hours and have tutorial sessions for beginners as well as more advanced projects for our senior members. These advanced projects are most of the time used in local exhibitions and also in Makerfaires. We are attending Makerfaire Rome for the fourth consecutive year!  

 

What kinds of stuff do you make?

We are making mostly electronic stuff that combine microcontrollers (Arduino, MSP430) and analog electronics. Sometimes we go wild and design everything from scratch: One of our advanced projects, the Rainbow Project is a reconstruction of an 80s computer using components from that era: we are designing, building, and programming (in assembly, no less) a Z80 based machine from scratch. You’ll have a chance to see it running in all its glory in Makerfaire Rome this year (please pay us a visit!)

How did you get started making stuff?

As a kid I was always very interested in how things worked. Most of my toys had very short life spans as I would tear them apart and use the parts to create other stuff. As a teenager I found out about early computing through magazines and bought my first computer, a TI-99/4A, in 1984. I taught myself programming and would literally spend days on end creating games and interesting programs in BASIC. Soon enough I combined both electronics and programming (my knowledge of electronics advanced greatly as a student, at these early days with no Internet, the sources of information were very limited) and started designing more complex stuff. Creating stuff gives me a lot of joy and I try to pass this enthusiasm to my SchoolSpace students.

 

What is something you’ve made that really stands out, that you’re proud of?

 

We’ve made a lot of stuff that I’m really proud of. Some of our most complex projects are:

  • The Aiolos Project, a FreeBSD based beowulf (compute) cluster that was exhibited locally.
  • The Enigma Project, an electronic recreation of the Enigma cipher machine used by the Germans in the second world war
  • The Rainbow Project, a Z80 based educational computer designed and built from scratch.
  • The Relativity Project, using electronics to teach Einstein’s special theory of relativity.

Some of my personal projects also include two books, one on Python Game Programming, in the spirit of the good old home computer programming but using a modern language, and a networking guide that is used as a substitute textbook for entry exams by thousands of students in Greece. Both are distributed as PDF files free of charge.  (You can check them out along with other projects in my github, https://github.com/sonic2000gr/

 

What do you have on your horizon?

We’d like to expand our hackerspace to cover topics that we haven’t touched yet and also if possible to run for more hours during the week, although this will prove difficult. We are always trying to inspire young people (and we also get inspired by them) and look for even more interesting projects in the future!

what is something you’d like to work with but haven’t yet?

We haven’t yet touched real robotics or IoT stuff and we’d definitely like to get into these. Some Android programming also. 

Any advice for people reading this?

For anyone reading this: If you are programming and creating stuff, do it for the fun of it.  It is not some kind of chore that you want to get over with quickly. The difficult parts, the problems that will keep you awake at night, that will force you to think outside of the box, is what makes all this worth it. It’s the rush of adrenaline when you get to the solution, when you see you circuit working, your program running. Computing is not about using ready made applications, spending your time on social networks or typing documents into a word processor. Explore programming, explore electronics, you’ll be amazed at the possibilities!