Sunday, July 29, 2012 - 00:15Toorcamp with Noisebridge
Toorcamp is a hacker/maker conference and camp, the next one is coming up August 8th through the 12th and takes place on the Northern Washington coast in Neah Bay. Hacker camps generally consist of talks and workshops, plus the fine tomfoolery that hackers can come up with when faced with the great out doors.
Just like last year, Noisebridge is planning a camp, The People's Republic of Nosebridge. Within PR0N we'll be hosting the Welcome Pavilion, Light Tower of Consenso, Occubus, Drama Cafe, and a vomitorium.
Interested in going to Toorcamp? Want to possibly camp with PR0N? Are you an excellent human being? Great! Get on our mailing list and ask how now!
Friday, July 27, 2012 - 03:24Mitch Altman is no longer welcome in Canada?
Ever been kicked out of a country before? Well, it sucks.
I’m in the middle of my Hackers On A Train Workshop Tour, giving my popular Learn-to-Solder and Arduino-For-Total-Newbies workshops at 22 hackerspaces near Amtrak stations, and going to 4 conferences, over a 53 days. All by Amtrak. That was the plan, anyhow.
I was scheduled to give a talk about the hackerspace movement at the WorldFuture 2012 conference this Saturday. While there I was going to stay with my (academy award winning) friend Chris. It was going to be a really wonderful 5 days in Toronto.
To give the workshops, I’m traveling with a rucksack full of clothing and toiletries, my laptop, camera, and two huge suitcases, 50 pounds each, full of workshop stuff, including kits for teaching.
The train to Toronto from Syracuse, NY, stops at the Canadian border for customs and immigration. Everyone has to get out of the train with all their stuff. The line moves rather quickly, and when it was my turn, the Canadian Border Patrol wanted to have a look at my huge bags. After much polite discussion, there was no way that I could assure the CBP that I wasn’t going to sell the kits in Canada.
The CBP folks politely offered a suggestion that I could leave the workshop stuff in the US, and then come back to the border. When I asked where to leave the workshop suitcases, they had no info to offer. When I asked about my train to Toronto, I was told I’d have to call Amtrak. Then they gave me and a Japanese woman a free van ride to the US side of the border in Niagra Falls, NY. As we were getting in the van, one of the CBP people politely told me that in order to get into Canada, I’d need court records for my arrest when I was a young teenager.
Flashback: I’m 13 years old, hanging out with a friend in suburbia. My friend has the idea to grab his remote control for his garage door, and see if it works on any other garage doors in the neighborhood. Wouldn’t you know it — it did! In the hour that we walked around his suburban ‘hood, we came across 5 garage doors that would open. Damn. On the last one, we hid behind a bush, and opened and closed and opened and closed the garage door to see what would happen. The people who lived there came out, scratched their heads, and went back inside. As we were walking home, the police stopped us, assuming we were the people wanting to break into someone’s garage. Oddly (naively), it never even occurred to us that anyone would think we were trying to steal anything.
After meeting with a lawyer friend of my dad’s, he told me that after I did some community service, I should never tell anyone about this, since the record would be expunged.
It turns out, however, that the record was not expunged. After all these decades, it’s the CBP that (politely) told me this. They also (politely) told me that in order to get into Canada, I’ll need the court records for this case, otherwise they’ll assume that the case is still open. Since I was never given any records (from my parents or anyone), and I have no idea how to get any court records, this may mean that I may never be welcome to Canada ever again.
Scratch the WorldFuture 2012 conference in Toronto and the workshop at Vancouver Hack Space.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - 20:56A State of Depression
This is part three in my series on depression (Part 1 here, Part 2 here). In the last post I focused mostly on my general history with depression, and in this one I will focus mostly on what depression is like for me. Depression can last anywhere from a few days, to a lifetime for some people. Regardless, it always takes many times that to recover most of the things you may have lost, or to just pick up the pieces of things you’ve let go.
I think that it’s important to go into what being depressed is like for me, because it could be important for someone to understand a friend/family member/loved one/etc who is also suffering from depression. That being said though, depression is a highly personal thing. The things that someone may be depressed about may seem mundane to you, but there’s usually a ton of stuff going on around the “main” issue. On the other hand, sometimes you just don’t know what the fuck is going on, or why you feel so bad, and that makes you feel bad. Also, the way depression affects people can be different. I am going to share my experience with depression, which I cannot claim to be how it effects everyone. I can only speak for myself.
When things are going well, I’m super productive. I’m usually on the move and fairly high energy. I’m able to tackle complex tasks with relative ease, and I actively want to be social. I also pick up new skills quickly, and love to learn and teach new things. At the best of times, I’ll only have a down day every couple weeks, or maybe a down week every couple of months. Eventually things can build up though, and then I’m in a serious depression that lasts multiple weeks or months.
An analogy for that moment things go wrong for me is pickles. One time I came home from work, and just wanted a pickle. I walked over to the fridge, and there inside the pickle jar sat. The problem was that it was empty. That’s a rather crappy thing, to put an empty pickle jar back in the fridge. I would have been angry at my roommate, but at the time I lived alone. While standing there with the fridge door open, I just stared at that empty pickle jar, the pickle juice still inside. Why the hell would I do that? When did I eat the last pickle? I don’t remember doing that. Why the fuck would I put an EMPTY pickle jar back in the fridge? Was I trying to save the juice? Why would I do that, that’s stupid!? Seriously though, what kind of person would eat the last pickle, and then just put the jar back in the fridge? Well, I clearly did it, what the fuck is wrong with me? On and on it went, and the depression spiral started.
Almost all of my depressions start in an equally mundane way. It’s not actually about the pickles, or that specific event. It could be having a flat tire, a bounced check/overdraft, the wrong thing said by a friend, or any number of things that would normally upset me for only a short period of time. Lots of people think it’s always the big events that cause depression, which can mostly certainly be true, but for myself I’ve found that it’s a small thing that sets the spiral off. I simply fail to let the small things go.
Unfortunately, I’ve had a number of legitimate crises in my life. The death of close family members, nearly dying myself, spending lots of time in a hospital and having to deal with physical therapy, financial problems, car accidents, friends and family members committing suicide, and any number of other major events that can cause severe depressions. All of those things contributed to, and were ultimately the major point of many depressions. However, during a crisis I handle myself extremely well. When I’m in an accident, I understand what shock is, and treat myself appropriately. When people die, I’m able to calm people down and take care of important things that have to be done. I’m able to handle the actual crisis, but it’s after things have started to settle down that I “run out of pickles”.
Once the spiral has started, it’s very hard to break out of. I start to beat myself up over silly things, and I start to ignore major tasks I need to do. I feel guilty about not doing the major things, and I stop doing the small things as well. I feel bad that I’ve not even started on the big thing, so why am I wasting time on this little stuff? The big thing is right there! Why am I not doing it!?
Eventually I stop doing things I love to do, because I feel anxieties about not doing one thing or another. At some point I escape into some anime, TV show, video game, book series, etc. Luckily enough, I’ve got an allergy to pot, and I don’t like to get drunk. So at least I’m not perpetuating things with substance abuse, but I know that it’s a huge problem for some of my friends. Escapism is my drug of choice.
At some point, people start to notice that I’ve dropped off the social scenes I’m part of. I stop going to events (even ones I started), I stop using social media, checking email, or doing anything that involves other people. For a while I’ll still manage to go out and get food with people occasionally, but I’m not generally inviting people over for dinner at that point. I’ll sometimes reach out to a close friend I feel comfortable with in talking about things, but at some point even that stops. Eventually I get to the point that I’m doing little more than consuming some form of media, cooking/eating, and sleeping. If I can manage it, I’ll not leave the house for weeks at a time. I’ve gotten really good at using the barest of things in my cupboard, and I can make a really good onion soup.
In most cases, I just let myself crash. I feel bad for a few days or weeks, and then I pop back up again. That’s mostly been my cycle for a long time. Knowing what my cycle is has helped me be productive. By letting myself crash, I’m able to get back into things with a renewed vigor. Life seems important again, and I pick up things that have dropped. I start going out again, and things get made.
I see my cycle as having two parts, consuming and producing. For a while I’m productive, but I get tapped out and have to re-charge. There are certain things that set these off 100% of the time. Anytime I’m at a major event like a hacker conference, Makerfaire, or hackerspace tour, I’ll have a post-event crash. It’s understandable, and perfectly healthy that I need a bit of personal time and space to deal with all that I have experienced. Eventually I process it, and feel amazing and hugely inspired.
The problem with my latest depression started a couple years ago, when I started to let these crash times go on for longer than needed. Instead of using that renewed energy to make something, I would use it to do something like play a difficult video game. Then I would feel bad that I had wasted some of my inspiration on something that didn’t yield a more permanent thing, and then I would fall back down into another consumption slump. Eventually I would get out of it, but I kept spending more and more time in that smaller cycle, never really getting out of it. At some point that became my default at-home state.
I started to procrastinate more and more when ordering parts for kits, and leaving things for the last possible moment. I went from having things done weeks in advance, to getting things shipped to the event and finishing stuff up the day of. I was putting kits together for the next day after a full day at a conference had ended, and ended up working 2x as hard at events that I was already putting a ton of time into. That lead to me not getting any personal time during events, so it made the crashes back at home that much harder.
When I gave up my apartment, it was my hope that I could break this cycle. I was forcing myself to do the work that needed to be done. The problem was that every time I was left alone, I would hard-crash again. It got harder and harder to just deal with the daily stuff, and I eventually stopped. I fell woefully behind on emails, parts and inventory, managing order fulfillment, and all forms of basic communication that I basically live from. Every time I would try to do even the most basic and simple thing, I would run into this huge wall of anxiety, which would push me down further, and then I would just stop doing much of anything that required effort.
Eventually I got to Berlin, and spent the first couple weeks doing very little indeed. I was staying with the amazing Fabienne and SkyT, well past my welcome. Eventually I managed to find a room with another hacker. I was still a bit “on” as the Chaos Communications Congress was about to start, and especially as friends started to pour into town. I was able to prop myself up and get some of the stuff done in time for congress, but I had stopped doing the major things at that point. I had stopped working on the book I was writing for O’Reilly, and had started to ignore the “where are my kits” emails I was getting daily. Everything was weighing down on me, but I had to be social with people. I legitimately enjoy such events, and get a total high from all the amazing people and things involved. Even in my most depressed states, I can usually do quite well in conferences.
When CCC ended, friends were around for a few weeks afterwards, but I had already started to crash. Ultimately the last ones left, and when I was finally alone, I crashed hard. My roommate left for a month, and I didn’t leave the house for that duration. I generally have a well stocked kitchen, and I used every last stock in it. I left a couple times to go to the shop downstairs for things like rice and lentils, but by then it was after a full three weeks of being alone.
Eventually my roommate got back, and we started to talk about depression. When we realized we were just watching shows and playing games alone in our room, we started to hang out in the kitchen and do those things together. It was the first time I had been in such a deep depression alongside another in a similar state. It allowed us both to talk about things freely and openly. It helped a great deal in learning more about what was causing my depression. Everything from environment, things that had built up, and my own behaviors. Despite all the negatives, you really get a chance to think about things during a depression. It’s basically all I do, when I’m not trying to escape into something else entirely.
In the worst of it I will stop even getting out of bed. I stop eating or drinking, so that I don’t have to get up to use the bathroom. At some point all I’m doing is lying there inside of my own head. Often times in a fantasy world of my own creation. I’ve lived whole lifetimes just lying there in the dark, and upon reflections later, my fantasies are often just light veils covering the real issues I’m trying to deal with. I’ve gained a ton of insight from such things, but at great cost.
I’ve only been truly to the point of suicide just once, but once was all it took for me. The last stop for me is a complete and total apathy. I go completely numb emotionally, and just focus on logic. It’s in this state that nearly anything is possible. The first time I went to that dark abyss was the worst. I had decided that it was more logical that I end the pain before it started again. I was unhappy, and couldn’t see a way out of it. I woke up that morning, had a Dr. Pepper, and decided to end my own life. I was only 16.
Suicide Trigger Warning: The next two paragraphs go into the emotional detail of contemplating suicide. If that is a problem for you, then please skip the following two paragraphs.
We had a number of guns around the house, and I knew how to use them (growing up in a family that hunted). I decided that would be the quickest way, and since I was going to be alone for a while, the most sure way of ending things. I was sitting on the floor of my grandfather’s room, gun loaded, with the barrel in my mouth. I was practicing trying to pull the trigger twice before I lost motor function, hopefully two shots being more likely to kill instead of maim. I’m not sure how long I was there like that, but I heard my mother honk her horn, which was an indication that I should come outside and help her bring something in.
In that moment I had a rather profound realization, one that has permanently sealed off suicide as an answer for me. I realized that if my mother had heard the shot, she would have come in and seen what had happened. Being a nurse, she would have tried to revive me, and failing that, she would have most likely taken her own life shortly after mine. My sister would have been the next person to come in and discover us, probably both dead. This would have scarred her for life, and would have sent ripples of pain through the whole of my family and friends. I also realized at that moment how many people my own life affected, and how much damage I would have done to everyone else by taking my own life.
I have now known a few people who have taken their own life, and even more who have attempted, some of whom I was very close to. Having been there myself, I know it to be a truly selfish thing. I don’t really think it’s inherently a bad thing to be selfish, you have to be to live. I also think that people should be able to make their own decision as to whether they want to live or not, but I would really like people to think carefully about something so permanent. You have one life, don’t waste it. It gets better, it really does. When you are that far down, you only have one direction left to go.
When I finally get to the point of apathy, I’m able to do anything, but now instead of contemplating suicide, I go and get help. I’ll go to a crisis center, call a friend, anything to get away from there. There’s no anxiety in the way, so I can get myself to leave the house, or make a phone call. At that point I’m past being able to help myself, and once I was able to learn that I can lean on others, I’ve found that my friends are always there for me. At that point I go on medication, and just leave everything behind till I’ve dealt with myself. It can be freeing in so many ways to finally let go of all the anxiety and guilt and let it out to someone. Medication has been a huge help in my life. While it doesn’t fix the problems, it allows me to better deal with things. It takes the sharp edges off, and can allow me to climb over that wall of anxiety.
In this most recent major depression, I never quite got there. I touched it a few times, but I was able to turn back on my own. In my next blog post I’ll cover the ways I’ve found are most useful for me in getting out of depression, and how I got out of this most recent one.
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 - 23:50A History of Depression
My last post was a sort of coming back to the internet post. It took a ton of effort just to get past that artificial hurdle I had given myself. My goal is to hopefully finish up a series of posts to provide a bit more information about my experiences with depression. It’s my hope that it may inspire someone else out there to go get the help they need, or maybe to just reach out for help. The communities I’m a part of have been amazingly supportive, and some of us are working on getting some better resources online for people to find others to talk to about things. Privately, and anonymously if they wish.
I’ve had so many friends in the hacker/maker communities suffer from depression. People that you wouldn’t initially suspect. My blog posts are directly influenced by a number of them who have already spoken out about such things; Mitch Altman, Matthew Borgatti, and Schyler Towne have all posted things online. Matt did a great two part (part 1, part2) writeup for his blog, and Schyler is actually keeping a blog to record his own recovery. It was inspiring to me, so hopefully this can further that trend of sharing. Mitch has posted some great stuff to the Noisebridge wiki, but I had difficulty finding them, I’ll update this once I do.
The rest of this post is rather long, so I’ll post it after the break. Please click on to read more about my history with depression.
I’ve suffered from bouts of depression since I was a teenager. Mostly it was due to some extreme external things that happened to me. Needless to say, I was a miserable teen. I even had a suicide attempt, but was luckily caught by my mother. I spent a number of years in therapy and on various medications. All of that helped, and I eventually made my way off the meds.
Things got better in college, but once again a number of things happened and I just wasn’t able to deal. Ultimately it led to me failing out of college, getting back in, and then dropping out after 5 years (with no degree). I was broke, broken, and couldn’t handle those external pressures. I went back into therapy and back onto the meds. Ultimately I sold everything I owned, and moved to Brazil for six months to do volunteer work. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life, and it helped me get away from those external pressures and re-find myself. I eventually got off the meds again. That was 2005.
I’ve done fairly well at managing my depression for the past 7 years without meds. Once I understood my natural cycle and worked with it, I was able to be extremely productive. I paid off all of my student loans, had a well paying job, and a ton of hobbies. I got into the budding hackerspace explosion in 2007, and helped get a hackerspace started before most other cities. Willoughby and Baltic (now gone, but lives on through Artisan’s Asylum) was exactly what I needed. There I found my true passion, teaching others how to make things.
I also met Mitch Altman around this time, as well as a number of Make employees. I had been invited down to AS220 to visit their new hackerspace and meet Mitch while he was doing his artist residence. They basically talked me into something I was already trying to talk myself into, which was to quit my job and make things full time. I was already starting to make my hobby pay for itself with my first kit being successful and a number of classes I had started to teach. It was all just a matter of application after that.
After going to the 25th Chaos Communications Congress in Berlin, I made a decision to quit my job as soon as it was possible. I managed to do that in only nine months, and I saved up enough money to get some kits going and live on for a full six months after that. I wasn’t going to make much money, but I knew I could live on it. I’ve managed to do exactly that for nearly three years now.
When my third kit came out (the LoL Shield), I started to gain a bit of internet celebrity. It was a very complicated project, and I had a blast getting it done. However, it turns out I’m not very good with being even the small-level celebrity that I had become. For the most part I’m an introvert, but I love being around people when I’m not doing work. Most people don’t expect me to be an introvert, or depressed, but most people have met me at conferences and events. I’m honestly a bit dissociated from myself at such events, so you generally are meeting my louder personality.
Ultimately as things kept going better for me, I started getting more depressed. I was spending more and more time on things like email and support, but I was selling hundreds of kits per month, so it was understandable. I would have to be “on” during conferences for days at a time, and would put in 20+ hour days. So whenever I got home I would crash. Hard. I learned to deal with that, and would allow myself to spend a few days watching some TV show or anime in its entirety, or I would play through a very long game all in one sitting. Slowly that started to last for longer and longer periods. Then I started doing such things when I was waiting around for parts to arrive, instead of working on new projects. This led to me feeling more depressed ultimately, but in the short term I felt better.
The problem was also that every time I went away on these escapist sessions, I would have to work harder at getting back on top of things. I would fall behind by weeks, and then months, and spend 2-3 times that getting back to where I was. As long as I stayed on top of kits, it almost ran itself. I only really needed to do a couple hours of email per day to keep things running, but if I stopped, everything else would. Getting it all started again takes much more money and energy.
Around a year ago I made a decision to go ahead and give up my physical apartment. I barely spent half of my time there, and it was costing a fortune to keep it. So I let it go, and once again got rid of most of my stuff. I still think it was the correct decision, despite that being a significant cause of my long depression. Not having a solid place to land gets rather draining, and I wasn’t able to let myself crash anymore. That was one of my main points for doing it though, as I was trying to force myself to deal with the issues. Instead it created a huge ball of anxiety in me, because I couldn’t retreat into myself to recharge.
On the other hand, things at the time couldn’t have been going any better. My kits were selling extremely well. I was selling through all the major open hardware resellers, and I even had a book deal with O’Reilly for a “Maker’s Guide to EagleCAD”. I was even on top of the book deal for a while, but after I spent a month in Japan, I fell behind, and just never picked it up again. I would feel bad about not doing things, but felt really bad about the book. I would then try to work on the book, but I couldn’t get past the anxiety, so I wouldn’t, and then I just stopped doing much of anything.
This all culminated in this latest bout of depression, which went on for at least a full six months. Nearly all of that was spent in Berlin. After this past Chaos Communications Congress, I crashed hard, falling deep into that spiral of depression and anxiety. I had found a cheap apartment with a fellow hacker, and stopped doing anything of use to just about anyone. He had a similar style of depression, and we had a repeating cycle of sitting around while watching shows, or playing games. It ended up working out really well in the end though, because I could be bluntly honest about how I was feeling. When I was up for leaving the house, I would go around taking photos. Some of which have been peppered through this blog post.
While depression has caused a number of issues in my life, I can’t say that everything has been bad about it. Sure I’ve wasted tons of time and money, but I learn extremely important things every time I come back up. That’s the thing with depression, you spend so much time thinking things over, that once you are done, you have a highly polished idea. Despite spending six months doing little more than lying in bed, reading, taking pictures, playing video games, and watching TV, I managed to learn a great deal about myself and how I work.
In the past three months I’ve started to pick up the pieces. The hacker/maker community is amazing, and has done so much for me. People had started to recognize my pattern, and I had started to open up about being so depressed. The community reached out to me and held out their hand, and I took it. I’m not sure where I would be without that.
I seriously love every fucking one of you.
I have had an incredible life. I’ve had so many beautiful moments, and met so many amazing people in such a short period of time. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, not even to get rid of the depression. What I can do is share my experience, hold out my own hand, and hope that I can help someone else.
I’ve largely been out of the depression for at least three months now, but I’ve still had a few smaller bouts during that time. It was a combination of having people there for me with so many offers of help, meeting an amazing girl in Berlin (whom I am still dating), and even having to leave Germany for overstaying my visa (which forced me into action). I also banned myself from playing video games or watching anything while alone, which helped significantly.
FYI, if you are an American and you overstay your 90-day visa, you can basically go to the government office before you try to leave, admit you were wrong, and they let you leave peacefully. You even get to come back 90 days later, but you can’t do it again.
When I got back to the states I came where I knew the most people, the Boston area. While here, I’ve stayed with some of the most amazing people I know, Aaron Waychoff and his husband Cameron Dixon. Aaron knew about my depression, and understood why I spent the first couple of weeks basically watching Star Trek TNG, and then DS9 (this is before I had banned it). He also let me work out of his space at Artisan’s Asylum on the days I felt like leaving the house. I basically ignored everything but making things, and I started to feel better.
Finally I made the final push, and quit watching anything by myself. With continuing support from my friends, I started to poke at more and more of the 8+ months of backlogs. I started with small, easy tasks, and would do one or two a day. Eventually I started working on larger tasks. Running out of money really kicked me into gear towards getting around to billing people as well. Nothing like not being able to buy food to convince you to do something about it.
For the past month I’ve spent most days at Artisan’s. I’ve managed to stick to a rigorous workout schedule, and even started doing things like flossing twice a day. It seems small, but actually managing to keep up with these tasks was far more than I had been willing to do for a long time. I still try to do a few tasks every day, and things aren’t giving me nearly as much anxiety as before. I’ve had amazingly supportive people helping me out, and I’ve seen a number of my friends also reaching out.
As of now, I have some kits in stock. I’m going to be getting all the outstanding orders fulfilled in the next week or so. I’ll be heading out to HOPE to talk about depression. It’s the first conference that I’ve not really had anything new for, but honestly I’ve been just dealing with my depression, so it fits that the panel is the only thing I have solid plans for. I plan on joining Hackers on a Train after that, so I’ll be travelling again. I really love to travel and meet new people and see new places, and I’m finally in a place to do that once again.
My next post will work on more specifics about what my depressions are like.
Monday, July 9, 2012 - 16:58On Depression
You may have noticed, but I’ve not really been on the internet much since last year. I haven’t updated my blog since last February, and have barely posted to twitter in the past 8 months. Many people have been worried about me and reached out. It has been appreciated. Long story short, I went through one of the longest periods of depression I’ve had in my adult life.
I’ve had extreme anxieties in coming back online and starting up my business again, but I’m finally getting around to poking my head up online, billing people, and generally getting kits back in stock. I had a friend doing order fulfillment for me, but I didn’t keep her in stock to do it, so orders have gone unfulfilled. This has caused me far more anguish than I can easily express in words.
To everyone I have let down, frustrated, or worried; I am extremely sorry. Apologizing can’t really make it better, but know that I’m working hard every day to get things back on track. It’s slow work going through the better part of a year’s worth of stuff.
If you have ordered something from me, you will get it. Not only will you get the kits you ordered, but something extra for it. If you cancelled your order and were generally frustrated about my lack of communication, then I am sorry. I will send you something as well. I know I’ve caused a ton of frustrations by simply not communicating. It’s a ton of work climbing out of this hole I’ve dug, but I’m working on it. I’m sorry if it takes a while to get everything done, but I’m working on it. I’ve even got help.
That’s it for the short answer. I was depressed, stopped doing anything, and stopped communicating. Everyone will get what they paid for. I’m not here to rip anyone off. If you would like to hear the longer version, then I’m willing to share. I plan on posting a few additional blog posts to share my experience with depression and failure. I will also be speaking at HOPE 9 about it on the Geeks and Depression panel.
Friday, May 18, 2012 - 20:32Stop by Noisebridge after Maker Faire!
Friday, May 4, 2012 - 10:22Hacker Trip To China #2
I got home today from a month-long trip to China that I organized <https://www.noisebridge.net/wiki/NoisebridgeChinaTrip2>. 10 of us traveled around, visiting all of the hackerspaces currently in China, exhibiting at the Shenzhen Mini Maker Faire and giving talks and workshops and exhibiting at the big Maker Carnival China 2012 in Beijing. We also visited my manufacturer in Shanghai, where my TV-B-Gone remote controls are made.
Lots of photos:
This was my 10th trip to China. I was there with my mom in 1998, and then every year since I started making TV-B-Gone remotes there in 2004. It has been very interesting to get a snapshot impression of how China has changed through the years.
Though not very accurate, it is possible to have a sense of some very real change happening in China.
In 1998, there was capitalism visible in China, including KFCs everywhere, but it still felt like a 3rd-world version. Also, the Cultural Revolution was not all that long gone in ’98, and my sense was that people were still realing from it. Police were all over, and they had guns. And people seemed to be a bit wary of them.
On my trip in 2008, just before the Olympics, there must have been some heavy propaganda happening on Chinese media, ’cause lots and lots and lots of people I met all asked me what I thought about protestors in London and San Francisco. And before I could answer, they all said the same thing: “CNN is all lies.” I’d probably mostly agree, but probably for different reasons. There were also many inconvenient, seemingly random, restrictions imposed by the Chinese government (such as not allowing anything to be shipped with a battery installed). When asked why, most Chinese people I asked, answered with a straight face that it must be done because otherwise the Dali Lama would blow things up at airports.
By the time of the first Hacker Trip To China that I organized in 2009, things were very different. A gigantic, ugly statue of Mao was surrounded by a perimeter of stores selling everything imaginable. A huge department store had a mongo pile of a newly released American board game that they were pushing hard: Monopoly! There were still no hackerspaces in China, though. I still had the sense that officials were very official, and you didn’t want to cross them.
When I went there on my own last year, things were somehow way more open than it felt before. People I met were openly criticizing the government. There were two hackerspaces, XinCheJian in Shanghai, and FlamingoEDA in Beijing. Lots and lots of people, including those with positions in Chinese bureaucracy, were expressing the opinion that Chinese culture needs to change to encourage people to be creative and innovative — without this, they said, China would not have an economic future.
When I mentioned hackerspaces, people agreed with me that this was one means of implementing this change; and there was a lot of interest in me sharing my experiences in how to start a hackerspace. And there was also a lot of interest by people in organizing a Maker Faire for the same reason.
One year later, this year, there were not one, but two faires in China: a Mini Maker Faire in Shenzhen, and a big Maker Carnival in Beijing. And there are 7 hackerspaces in China, with talk of lots more. There may very well be 100 more soon, as the top 100 universities may be mandating that they each have one. And an elementary school in Shanghai is slated to have one soon. The hackerspaces in schools and universities are being called “Toyhouse” .
Everywhere I went, the Chinese media was interviewing me about how hackerspaces can change China in positive ways.
The Chinese government still openly censors the internet (though there are free online services that easily circumvent this). And the bureaucracy is still huge and centralized (though so big and out of control that many actually call it “anarchy”), and people in power can, seemingly on a whim, make decisions that adversly affect projects (such as the last-minute venue change for the Shenzhen Mini Maker Faire and the last minute date change at Maker Carnival — both because some bureaucrat said he needed the venue for a meeting — no apology — it’s just the way things are.
How will the changes in China play out? I don’t know. We will get to see.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011 - 21:58Einhorn. That’s Unicorn in German.
Our lovely build platforms for Noisebridge’s RepRaps George and Gracie have been completed. Each one was made using a piece of poorly cut 3/8″ acrylic, and two layers of 1/8″ Plywood, laser cut to size. The holes for all three parts of each platform were also laser cut. For vitamins, I used four M3x16 Socket Cap bolts, and three M3 Nuts per bolt separating each part of the platform.
Hey laser cutting people: I have discovered excellent settings for laser cutting 1/8″ plywood. Regulate the current to just a pinch under 15mA and use the following settings:
3 Passes / 18.75% Speed / 100% power.
The reduced speed (25% to 18.75% – a 25% reduction) seems to account for the needed power, while the reduced number of passes (also a 25% and thus proportional reduction) reduces the excess char that is produced by the laser.
I’m going to be borrowing one of our Cupcake CNC’s over thanksgiving weekend to make a ton of prints. If all goes well, I’ll bring it back on Sunday with at least two sets of Prusa RPs printed, along with some spools and other goodies if time and materials permit. Awesomeness shall ensue.
Also, feast your eyes on two new Replicators to this world! one of them, currently just a concept/in early stages of design and development could be the successor to the Prusa Mendel, and the other could be the first real “RepRap for the rest of us” type thing.
Gobble Gobble! Go forth and replicate!
Monday, November 21, 2011 - 22:03Geeks & Depression meetup (in San Francisco)
Geeks & Depression meetup
Tuesday, 6-December, 7:30pm
No Starch Press, 38 Ringold Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
(near Civic Center BART Station)
Let’s have a meetup where geeks can talk about depression and suicide. You are not alone. Share your story, if you like. Share a friend’s story. Or just hang out and listen. Let’s make it OK to talk about these things so that we don’t feel so alone with our feelings of being alone and depressed or suicidal.
This is not a support group — none of us are trained professionals, but we can get together in a safe, confidential space to talk about depression and suicide — an important part of life for so many of us geeks.
If others elsewhere in the world feel like creating their own meetups, please do.
Saturday, November 19, 2011 - 21:33Please reach out
For folks who don’t know, Ilya Zhitomirskiy, one of the founders of Diaspora, committed suicide recently. He was 22 years old.
Ilya hung out at Noisebridge, and also led workshops and hackathons for Diaspora at our space. Most people who met him were quickly taken in by his enthusiasm and do-ocratic charisma. I became instant friends with him the first day he showed up at Noisebridge shortly after he moved to San Francisco last year.
Hardly anyone had even a clue that Ilya was depressed, let alone suicidal. He was bubbly, cheerful, excited about all the way cool projects he was implementing, as well as the ones he had thought, and would think of.
Last night was his memorial in San Francisco, followed a party in his backyard in the Mission. This party was typical of the epic parties Ilya threw in his backyard over the past many months, bringing together so many wonderful people — incredible opportunities to have fun meeting and connecting with each other. The only thing atypical last night was that Ilya was not there.
Both the memorial and the party were full of people who knew and loved Ilya, and who Ilya knew and loved. Ilya could have reached out to any one of us — any time of day or night. He could have reached out. But he didn’t.
For Ilya to have held in and hid his pain so well that all of these people, including myself, had no clue — Ilya must have felt *so* alone, *so* isolated, exacerbating his pain too greatly. If he had reached out, maybe — maybe — he could have lived another day. But he didn’t.
I lived the first half of my life in total and utter depression. No joy, just shame, just self-loathing, dread and anxiety and fear of other people — total depression. I know what it is like to be depressed. I know what it is like to live for one’s whole life knowing and believing that the best life might have to offer is the ability for me to endure the pain till I eventually died. That was the best possibility. As with Ilya, I hid all of this from the world as best as I could. And most people had no clue I was depressed.
Yet, I learned, through making choices for myself, and learning from the consequences of my choices, and with help and support of others, over a period of many years, making more choices, learning, growing, crashing, burning, making more choices, more support. . . — I eventually learned to live a life I love. I love the life I live! If I could learn to live a life I love, then, certainly, it is possible for anyone to do this!
It is more than possible — it is way worthwhile, way rewarding, way wonderful to go through the experiences of our life — through the ups and the downs, through the all-arounds, and all the pain and suffering and joy and love and excitement — and come to a place where you know that the pain, regardless of its intensity, is yet another (perhaps seemingly unendurable) experience, which gives way to more of what makes life even more worthwhile.
Depression is an important part of life. Everyone experiences it to some extent. But to those of us who know chronic depression, it is our own unique hell.
Unique as it is to each of us, we all share a lot.
And we all have a lot to share with each other. Through the ups, and the downs, the all-arounds.
For someone who has no experience reaching out, it can seem to be the scariest thing possible. But it is possible.
It is very possible. Ilya is dead. But you — you are still alive. If you are contemplating suicide, please know that you are not alone. You are part of a community of others, many of whom know what it is like to be hopelessly depressed. Many of whom are more than open for you to reach out to (if you only knew!).
You *can* choose to kill yourself. But it will be your last choice. If you are ready to kill yourself, why not try out one choice first? What do you have to lose? I know it is scary, and perhaps way shameful, and maybe too awful, and extremely difficult — but, really, what do you have to lose? Please know that you *can* choose to reach out to someone. Please, know that you can. Please, pick someone and reach out.
Why wait till your pain is so unendurable? You can reach out now. (Really, you can.)
Saturday, November 12, 2011 - 22:30Hackupy.org – Hack Nights for the Occupy Movement
The Occupy Movement is an international protest movement which is primarily directed against social and economic inequality. Currently near by to us there are Occupy encampments in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley.
Noisebridge as always is open to those looking for a space to work on projects, and resources to make those projects a reality. We've been seeing more and more groups coming through seeking aid for things related to the Occupancy. Together we've built out interesting ways to recharge car and cell phone batteries, provided internet at camp, had meetings about web presence, document GA minutes and more.
We want to let participants of the Occupy Movement know that we're here and open to them. We've also started a site called hackupy.org. Hackupy are open hack nights at hackerspaces for Occupy related projects, and the site gives a listing of spaces which provide such nights. So far hackupy has been happening at NYC: Resistor and almost 24/7 at Noisebridge, and we look forward to seeing more hackerspaces jump in and provide time to those wanting to hack for excellence!
Friday, February 11, 2011 - 23:49Quick 555 PCB for bending
I started working on a schematic for the 555 looping circuit, and I ended up doing a PCB for it as well. You can download the files here. My plan was to hopefully etch and test out the board today, but those plans got delayed. I’ll probably give that a shot tomorrow. I’ve gone ahead and uploaded the PCB files I’ve been working on. It’s only at v0.5 till I test the board out. I’m also going to play around with the silk screen, but the layout probably won’t change, as I can’t see anywhere to reduce it further and still keep it single sided.
The PCB measures 1″ x 0.7″ and is single sided to allow for home fabbing. I could make this smaller with SMD parts, but it wouldn’t be single sided any longer. One position on each pot isn’t used, but I left them in there, as they could be used for strain relief instead. The diode is completely optional, as that causes the 555′s duty cycle to stop being 50%.
What that means, is that sometimes you want to press a button for a very short burst between longer pauses. Or have the button press for a long time between short pauses. Sometimes it doesn’t really matter, and you just want a square wave. In any case, you can change the configuration with this design. The diode also runs through a switch position, so that you can have an external control for it.
I also left a spot for an external trigger. That would allow you to hook this up to some kind of external circuit, like a sequencer or midi board. You’ll need to cut a trace for that, and the trigger voltage will have to be at least the same as the reference (which is currently tied to VCC). The trace you’ll cut is the one from TR to the 10uF cap. I’ll probably do a run of these if it works out, in which case I’ll make the side that needs to be cut.
I’m currently using two 100k pots to modulate the time. R2 is actually the left one (I should probably label them), and R1 is the right pot. If you want a simple oscillator, then just use a standard 10k resistor for R1. You can change both pots as well. Larger pots will give you slower rates, and smaller pots will give you quicker rates. You can also change out the 10uF cap to change timing as well. These are the values I found good for triggering simple toys.
I also did a quick PNG file for etching. You can either get it from Flickr, or from the PCB files. It’s high res, but should only be 1″ x 0.7″. If it isn’t then you’ll need to re-size it as well. The file has been mirrored, so this is actually the bottom layer as etched from a single sided PCB. Please let me know how yours turns out and what you do with it.
Friday, February 11, 2011 - 03:15Triggering the Sing-A-Ma-Jig with a 555
Wow, just wow. The 555 worked like a charm. I didn’t even need a transistor for it, which I mentioned in the previous post. I used a simple 555 timer to get it to loop. Turns out that Btn1 just need to be dropped to ground, and then it signals a button press. Luckily, the 555 output was designed to either sink or source current, so it can be used directly without a transistor.
This thing is so fun. You can even listen to me playing with it. Seriously, this thing is going to be great.
I’m using a TLC555CP from TI, which starts with a voltage as low as only 2v! What that means is that I can power this off of my 3v toy. My favorite page for basic 555 information is located here. I’m using the astable configuration with a greater than 50% duty cycle.
I’m going to do a proper post on this later to fully explain what all this is doing, and how to use it with other toys. For now I’m having fun playing with it. I’ve also done three blog posts today, in short succession. I’m going to go and grab some food now, then I’ll probably do up a proper schematic in Eagle. I will probably do a PCB for this as well, since it’s extremely useful. I’ll actually submit that for the 555 contest.
Friday, February 11, 2011 - 02:43Sing-A-Ma-Jig is a creepy toy!
Holy crap, I can’t believe they make this thing for kids! Even without the molestache(which I printed out), it’s still creepy. It’s also quite ripe for bending. The thing is called a Sing-A-Ma-Jig, and I got mine at target while in NYC a few weeks back. I even opened it up that night and just used my fingers to see if it was bendable, and it is indeed.
This post is something that should have been posted yesterday, but I sort of started hanging out with my roommates. Then beers got involved, and then motivation was thoroughly lost. The previous two days was a combination of sleep deprivation, workshop preparation, visiting of friends, and travel. Seriously, I didn’t do anything creative for those two days, and I was running on only a few hours of sleep a night. That really tends to sap my creative energy. I’ll post a few projects after the month is over to make up for it.
This post is about the exploration of the toy, and how I go about finding fun points to bend. I made a quick video, and I also uploaded a bunch of pics to my Flickr. Behold, the first video:
This thing is fun right away. Really sensitive to touch, which means that it will be easy to bend.
This was actually fairly easy to take apart, but you do have to snip the threads at the top of the battery compartment. Behind the head you’ll find the two screws you’ll need to remove the electronics:
This is my note page filled with info. At the time of the video, only things above “Bends” were really written down. Then the second half has the info for bend point one.
I found that bend point one responded really well with a 1Meg pot. Point1 is connected to the middle position of the pot, with +3V going to the left position, and GND going to the right position. I also found that it responded well with a photo-resistor, and I used a 2k-2M one. I generally tune my toys as well, which is what the 22k resistors are about.
What I mean by tuning, is that I try and find both the high and low end that the toy crashes. I start with a large pot (like 1 Meg), and find that spot. I then remove the pot and measure it with a multimeter. Then I lower to an appropriate pot and continue to fine tune it. If the crash value is 10k, I’m not going to use a 500k, but a 100k or 50k. In this case I got +57k and -39k, so I used a 100k pot. Then I found the value of +-24k. The closest resistor value I had was 22k, so 22k it was.
I’ll put touch contacts in behind the 22k resistors, as going below that doesn’t help at all. I’ll also get up the next post fairly shortly, as I’ve already completed it. Like I said, this should have been posted last night.
Friday, February 11, 2011 - 00:45Open Source Hardware Definition 1.0
The Open Source Hardware definition has reached v1.0! I’m proud to say that all of my kits fully comply with the definition, and will continue to do so in the future. I feel very strongly about the free culture movement, and believe that it is the best way of going about things. Knowledge and digital resources should be free.
I actually learned electronics through exploring things online. If people would not have posted their projects and code for me to learn with, then I would probably still be doing systems administration. I would have still bought kits and soldered them together, but I would not have progressed as quickly as I did if the resources had not been available online, open source, and free.
That is why I’ve allowed for commercial use in my licensing from the start, and I’m glad that it’s in the OSHW definition. Basically, hardware costs money. If you can’t at least make the money back for your project, you are far less likely to move beyond a small production run. That means that anyone can also download my source, and create kits that directly compete with me. However, they are then held to the same license, and must release the modified source as well.
That allows for a project to progress very quickly. I’ll admit it, I get board of things if they aren’t new or interesting, so it’s good for others to keep me on my toes, and it keeps me creating instead of just sitting on my laurels. It also means, that if someone moves into my space with an improved kit, that I can incorporate the improvements into the main project and then sell a better product myself. This is a market where first-seller has a distinct advantage.
The most common question I get asked is about larger kit makers taking my design and selling it. I’ve been approached by some of them, and they actually just buy the kits from me instead of kitting it up themselves. Theoretically if I’m doing my job and meeting market demand, then even large sellers are going to have a hard time getting into the market at the same volumes, and volume is how I make money with my kits. I’m just a small seller, but I’m making enough to live on and travel around the world.
In short, I make a living giving away my intellectual property, and I make enough money to live on plus travel around the world. I don’t make nearly as much as I did as a systems administrator, but I can honestly say that I love what I’m doing. I’m also constantly inspired by the others who are involved in the movement, and I’m extremely happy that I’m able to continue doing this.
Monday, February 7, 2011 - 03:51Modular Dice Tower
I totally failed to get a post up today by 7pm (that’s what I get for taking a “nap” at 5pm). I also failed to finish anything substantial, as I was hanging out with a good friend all day, and only spent about an hour in sketchup before taking my “nap”. I did come up with the idea of having a Makerbot printable modular dice tower design though. This is the base section of it. It’s three inches wide, with a wall width of 1.5mm.
Here you can see the slanted module. I only really completed the template piece and this one. I had started on the bottom one, but wasn’t even close when I decided to “nap”. The slope of it should print just fine without support, so I can print it hollow. I’m much better at judging printable designs as opposed to laser cut-able ones.
Most of my creative efforts were daydreaming today, but I’m honestly inspired to finish up some more of these and print them when I get home. I’ll post the full set to Thingiverse before that though. I enjoy traveling around to different hackerspaces, but I can’t wait till I get home and have access to my tools and parts. I prefer physically making things more than digitally designing. A mix of the two is nice, but at the moment all I have with me is my laptop and LoL Shields.
Saturday, February 5, 2011 - 23:51Dice Tower
I didn’t want to do another LoL Shield project today, mostly because my whole front page is nothing but LoL Shield posts. So I decided to do something I’ve been wanting to design for some time, a dice tower. I have thrown it up on Thingiverse. The image above is just a quick render in sketchup, the actual file is an SVG that you will laser cut out of an 1/8″ material. I won’t get a chance to cut this out for a while, so if you do, please let me know how well it goes. I hope to add some art and flourishes (turrets, etc). I also can’t wait to try it out with a game that uses tons of dice!
Saturday, February 5, 2011 - 00:56Ten Second LED Belt Buckle
The Diavolino from Evil Made Science is hands down my favorite Arduino clone. It’s the only one I sell at workshops, and it works extremely well with the LoL Shield. So much so, that it is my official recommendation as THE Arduino to use with the LoL Shield.
Why do I love it so much? It’s cheap, so you can dedicate the Arduino to the LoL Shield or other project. Since you build it yourself, you can simply choose to leave out the pin 13 LED, which gets rid of the ghosting. It also has a really low profile, so it works great as a belt buckle. Which I usually wear around at conferences.
I ran a workshop last night at Unallocated space, and one of the members flat out bought one of my pre-soldered examples (white one with the Diavolino). No-one has ever done that before, but next time I’m charging more than $110. So that basically made my project today re-building the kit I show off at workshops. Since I had to re-build a Diavolino, I decided to do a quick instructional page for the slight modification as well. The instructional page is much closer to my project than this post, but I’m combining them, as I spent most of my non-travel time today building the white shield again.
Here it is playing a very interesting video. On my belt.
Thursday, February 3, 2011 - 22:38Updated LoL Shield Video
Since it’s been a while since I updated my LoL Shield stuff, here is a new video explaining it a bit. It’s mostly for the official LoL Shield page. Basically, my project for the day is doing stuff I should have done quite a while ago. Kind of lame for a project, but it’s something that needed to be done, and I didn’t have much time today between traveling and setting up for a workshop.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - 22:57Base 12 Clock
So I couldn’t let the whole clock thing be after my perceived failure yesterday. This time I went with a conceptual clock that I would write the display myself. What I came up with is a fairly good indicator of time at a glance, but takes a bit to get the exact time down. The time in the photo above is 2:34:58.
I really like when the time changes over to a new hour.
Since I have 14 columns to play with, I came up with a system that uses 12 dots with two spaces (hence the base 12). The first two rows are the hours, and it starts all the way to the left. That allows for a full 24 hour clock. At a glance you can tell what quarter of the day you are in, and you really only need to count a few individual dots to get the hour.
The middle five rows are for the minutes. Since 60 divides by 5 so nicely, it gave me 12 dots to work with as well. So I had the minutes shift over one column to separate it from the hour. I really like how the minutes fill up over an hour, the design really allows you to get an idea of the time at a glance. It’s a bit more counting to get the exact time, but I’m getting much better with my base12 math because of it.
The last two rows I left for seconds. I didn’t want to represent all of them like the minutes, plus I didn’t have room. Since I had been using the 12×5 method already, I decided to let each of the 12 dots on row 8 represent 5 seconds each. I also wanted something to count individual seconds, so I had row 9 represent a single second, but only showed 10 at a time (yes, I know that isn’t even sort of base12). That means that for every 5 dots on row 9, a single dot advances on row 8. This one hasn’t been the easiest to get used to during the day, as I just don’t have a feel for it just yet. It still accomplishes the progress bar I was looking for.
I have no idea why this video is sideways. It plays on both my phone and laptop correct. Flickr flipped it, and I’m not sure how to rotate it.
Overall I’m quite happy with how it looks. The only problem is that the Diavolino I’m using has a 4.5v battery pack and the DS1307 requires 5v to start up. So it currently only runs when connected to my computer. I’ll have to pick up a 4xAAA pack and a voltage regulator to get the DS1307 to run properly on battery power.
I’ve thrown up the source code in the google code project. You’ll still need a DS1307. The breakout is directly soldered to pins 16-19 on the LoL Shield. I’ll definately be doing more clocks this month. Also, with the traveling I’m fairly limited. It will at least be LoL Shield projects for the week, as that’s all I got with me. This also showed me that there is something screwy with the font library, so I’ll probably try to take a stab at that as well.