Monday, January 30, 2017

4. Blog post: class and reading reflections


First, I absolutely loved getting to tour the library and meet some of the staff. It's an incredible collection, and I enjoyed hearing how it is assembled and cared for. I also gained an incredible amount of respect for library staff that I already knew to be talented, but now even more so.

Second, I enjoyed the flashlight activity, though found it challenging to be creative out of so many raw materials. I believe strongly in the power of constraint, both in my own work and that of others. When I took a few materials at random and limited myself to finding art in those, rather than coming up with a larger vision and finding the materials to execute it, it became much easier to create. I still felt that my creation was too derivative of the initial project, but there's no shame in building off of a good idea.

Finally, my biggest takeaway from the discussion was how close we all are to both the topics and the people involved in our studies. The discussion of Dougherty's work became a little more contentious than I had expected because I underestimated the personal connections he had to people in the room. While I think our conversation remained appropriate (critiquing methods, not people) I can see how it might have felt that way to some. I will endeavor to maintain my critical lens while also keeping the personal nature of the topic in mind.


“It’s not so much the dollar amount,” she said of the borrowed sewing machine. “It’s about the value of opportunity.”1
My takeaway theme from this week's reading is that makerspaces, makers, and the tools for making are largely concerned with access at the present moment. Arduino's genesis was all about creating easy access to tools that let students design and iterate (and hopefully learn) faster. Libraries provide valuable tools for the community. Many of the makers profiled by Dougherty, like Mister Jalopy, are involved in making the community more accessible or making items with an undercurrent of accessibility (like printing your own doll, which allows kids to make toys that look like them).

In addition, Dougherty did his best job so far getting me excited about making. As much as I have critiqued his approach, I became incredibly excited to go make something while reading the book. In fact, I came up with a new use for Amazon boxes (textured brown art surfaces for use with charcoal/crayons) and had to repeatedly stop reading to go organize electronics components and spec out some projects. It is obvious to me why Dougherty makes a good figurehead for the movement, and I was glad that he included a segment about gender and toys (as well as finally discussing Stallman, albeit briefly).

I didn't get a whole lot of useful content out of the Arduino videos and articles, but mostly because I'm already familiar with Arduino-style computers and projects. The most interesting example for me was the Ardusat, which I absolutely wanted to build myself. I placed an order today for some ESP8266 sensors and peripherals that I'm looking forward to using in some procrastination projects soon.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Some YouTube videos on hacking

I'm a huge, huge fan of Andrew "bunnie" Huang. Though I don't think I've ever actually carried through on one of his reverse engineering projects, he and his work have been a major inspiration to me for years. He recently did an "ASK an ENGINEER" segment with Limor "ladyada" Fried of Adafruit that is well worth a watch.

Samy Kamkar created the MySpace worm "Samy" and was raided in a manner not unlike Dade from the epic film Hackers. He does excellent security research and consulting for the public good now, and his YouTube channel has a lot of informative videos.

The CHIP was a $9 computer project on Kickstarter. I bought 2 of them, and the project actually delivered. It's one of the rare electronics projects I haven't regretted funding. I run one connected to my TV at home, and it's surprisingly good. With a wireless combo keyboard/trackpad, it's very convenient. You can use one to run PirateBox - if you're interested in dissemination of information, the PirateBox is a really neat project to look into.

Monday, January 23, 2017

3. Blog post: class and reading reflections


I really enjoyed last week's warmup (toy takeapart). It was fun to pair up with someone I hadn't worked with before, and I had a great time digging into the Furby. They truly are great candidates for disassembly. There was something a little creepy about disassembling something with a face, but knolling all the pieces was extremely satisfying. I found myself wanting to start experimenting with a mostly intact one by hooking up to its brain and hacking it, but also not being sure where to start.

The Chevrolet film about American makers was equally interesting. I thought we had a really excellent discussion following it, particularly around the nationalism and labor aspects of the film. They're something I'm excited to follow throughout the rest of the semester, and it's a lens I'd like to reuse.


I found this week's readings to be pretty interesting. I seem to be taking on a pretty critical (as in negative) stance on a lot of the readings, and while I still found room for criticism, the readings from this week reminded me overwhelmingly of the joy and benefits to making and play.

First, criticisms (mostly for Dougherty and Hatch, Squishy Circuits was a pure joy). I noticed that failure is an oft-mentioned theme in maker circles, but most of the readings so far rarely, if ever, mention failure. Most of the stories shared in Free to Make, for instance, have rough patches but are ultimately tales of triumph. With such a focus on Kickstarter tales, it's hard for me to forget some of the projects I've backed that took years to fulfill orders, or projects similar to Printrbot that never made it to production and ended in legal fisticuffs.

A lot of makers and entrepreneurs are fond of saying that you should "fail early, fail often", but few stories of failure are shared as anything other than intermediate steps on the road to glory. While it is important to help cast failure as something that can be overcome, it is equally important to honestly evaluate the challenges involved in a field that can be very risky. As shown by Drumm and Printrbot, there can be very real economic and social costs to failure (temporary or otherwise). Hatch is just as guilty here as Dougherty.

Additionally, a lot of Dougherty's writing, like Hatch's, feels like a sales pitch. As a reader, I feel like I'm being told that I too can buy into this remunerative community. That erodes the real sense of community that I might otherwise feel, actually, since it can seem like everyone's just trying to make a buck (this is from a user perspective, rather than an academic one). The online hacking communities I'm a part of ( have been around for ages and built their user base from the ground up through hard work, and that feels different than the sense I sometimes get from Dougherty.

And now for praise. As much as I've just critiqued Dougherty's approach, I think there's real value to it. Movements are built on excitement, and Dougherty is exceptionally good at channeling excitement. His success with Make: and Maker Faire really speak to that.

Many of Dougherty's examples showcase passion. Passion can be a fickle beast, but before achieving economic success each of his makers first achieved personal fulfillment. And it's important to remember that making really can be a lifechanging tool for self-empowerment, even if it can feel co-opted or commercialized and times. Dougherty did a pretty good job (though it could be better) at seeking out some diverse perspectives so the examples aren't just white salaried men supplementing their better-than-living wage.

I think the Squishy Circuits piece fits really well here. The presentation and rationale were spot-on for children and adults, and made making both playful and educational. It demystifies some of the basics of electronics in modern life, which can be helpful in so many ways even if it doesn't lead to the next big thing on Kickstarter.

One other moment that really stood out to me from Dougherty was when he wrote about Bunnie Huang's tour through the Shenzhen markets. It reminded me of a series I watched earlier this year from Wired about Shenzhen, mostly starring Bunnie Huang but also including Hax (which you may recall from the Nomiku sous vide device). If you haven't seen the series before, I highly recommend making time to watch it. It has some really great insights.

Finally, I made a couple notes while reading about Dougherty's use and discussion of what constitutes a project. I'm curious to see if it resurfaces later - I felt like it was important for context about the makerspaces he discussed, but could have been developed further. I found it intriguing (how do makers think about projects? how do they relate to projects in the corporate sense? how do makers present projects to each other?) but not yet fully formed.

Overall, another excellent week of reading. For all my critiques, Dougherty really reminds me of what I love about making, and Squishy Circuits reminded me to start a new project on applying those principles.

Monday, January 16, 2017

DIY Brainstorming

A list of projects I'd like to try:

  • Make a pinhole camera
  • Make a zine of pinhole camera photos
  • Knit a scarf (in progress)
  • Make a wifi-connected recycling scale to measure household waste production
    • Probably using an ESP8266
  • Refurbish a dot matrix printer
  • Make a Darth Vader candy holder into a randomized Darth Vader soundboard with self-contained power and speaker
  • Make a Raspberry Pi junk mail sorter
    • Insert mail into the slot, each piece runs past a camera and visual recognition runs against the bar code and text to determine if it's junk mail
    • Could publish to a web database but my privacy may be compromised as result
  • Build an accelerometer/Arduino system to give dancers force feedback while learning how to spot

2. Blog post: class and reading reflections

Reflection on the first class

Making a board game

As far as introductions to a class go, making a board game is one of the more enjoyable. I'm an avid board game player, so it was fun to try my hand at making one. It was certainly a fun way to get to know my classmates. I think we were each able to bring a bit of ourselves to the activity. For instance, I like writing silly haikus and we ended up making a haiku a win condition in our game. I liked that the stakes for the activity were pretty low, which helped me feel the freedom to be creative (rather than constraining myself to an assignment).

With that said, I think we could have learned more about each other in the specific context of making and makerspaces. While we did share a bit about ourselves in our down time, I don't feel that I had a particular introduction to why my classmates are drawn to the class. I don't yet know how essential that's going to be, but in any situation involving group work I really like to know why each of us is invested in the material.


I really enjoyed the reading recaps. I like seeing what each person decided to read (as a way to see inside their motivations for the class) and hearing about their takeaways. Library and information science (LIS) is clearly going to be a big topic, and since it's not one of my areas of focus I'm really curious to keep learning from my classmates going forward. Overall, we seem to be a class of critical readers (critiques of the Maker Manifesto in particular) and I look forward to learning together.

This week's readings

This week's readings (and video) are generally centered around the maker identity, and who that includes. Notably, none of them really address who is not included in their definitions. Dale Dougherty features twice, including his TED Talk in Detroit, and we also read a piece from Barnes & Noble about what making is and who is a maker.

I found the Barnes & Noble post to be very interesting, though not necessarily for its content. While Dougherty went into significantly greater depth, one of the aspects of making that interests me most is its place in and outside of capitalism/commercialism. That the last remaining major bookseller in the US would feature makers (and even sell 3D printers, as seen on my last visit in December 2016) speaks to how mainstream making has become (or always was?). I docn't think I learned anything I didn't know from the piece's content, but I was interested to see how Barnes & Noble positioned making within their commercial context.

The Dougherty readings were much more interesting in their content. The video and Free to Make had a lot of overlap, which I found interesting given the time between the two publications. Popular authors like Dougherty who are building a movement benefit from a relatively stable definition (note to self: research this in the future) so it makes sense that he'd be consistent, but it does provoke my curiosity about who his definition leaves out.

Throughout his writing/speaking, Dougherty positions making as play. Of hackerspaces, he says they are a place where makers are "playing with technology". Its an association he makes explicit at multiple points. I think this is a wise observation, since for many (white, male, American, middle-class) children making begins with playing. On the other hand, as discussed last week in class making is often an act of necessity or simply the best and cheapest way to get something you want.

At the same time as I was critiquing Dougherty, I really felt that I could relate to Dougherty's makers. I'm writing this blog post on a Chromebook Pixel that I "hacked" (quotes because all I really did was run a script) with the help of an online community of enthusiasts. It now runs GalliumOS, a GNU/Linux OS based on Xubuntu, which is itself based on Debian. The trackpad sensitivity annoys me, in part because Linux trackpad drivers and firmware have historically suffered, so if I wanted to I could rewrite the driver with better palm detection and publish it back out to the community (after I learn how to do that, with even more help from the community).

Obligatory proof with bonus cat

Speaking of my laptop's OS, one thing that stuck out to me was the absence of GNU/Linux (cue pedantic Richard Stallman email/soundbite). Dougherty mentions MIT, Woz and Jobs, and the computer hackers without bringing up Stallman, Torvalds, or the place of DIY operating systems in building today's maker culture. By most metrics, Linux is the most common OS in the world, thanks in no small part to its use in Internet of Things (IoT) devices and the Android operating system, yet it hasn't even been named.

On the other hand, I was happy that punks and zines got a mention. I think punk activities (particularly zine-making) present a great entry point into making as a practice, and I'm really interested in the lens of making as resistance.

Wrapping Up

Dale Dougherty has done impressive work with making and maker culture in the United States. As much as I've critiqued some of his limitations, I found his TED talk and book introduction inspiring. I found myself going off on tangents throughout my reading and writing, thinking about projects I'd like to try and searching for resources on different topics. I also found ample opportunities for critical engagement, and I'm looking forward to diving deeper into makers, makerspaces, and all the stuff outside anyone's definition.

Interesting Guides And Tutorials

I intend to update this list throughout the semester as I dig up new and interesting resources. If I try any of them out myself, I'll link to a separate blog post.


  • Raspberry Pi touchscreen photo booth (video by Make:):
  • Raspberry Pi photo booth (tutorial by Adafruit):
  • Dirkon card stock pinhole camera:
  • DSLR pinhole lens:


  • Quick perspective aid with a paperclip and piece of string:


  • Increasing the range of an ESP8266 with a duct tape dish:

Monday, January 9, 2017

1. Book Review: DIY Citizenship


DIY Citizenship: Critical Making and Social Media investigates "DIY" in its many facets through essays in four parts. Each part centers around a relevant theme in DIY: activism, making, design, and media. Importantly, the editors begin with a nuanced discussion of both DIY and citizenship, terms carrying a great deal of (exclusionary) context. For instance, citizenship is often a loaded term implying an in-group and an out-group, emphasizing rights granted by a state. DIY has often belonged to white masculinity. But the editors make a compelling case for the use of these terms and frame the critical perspective their contributors take.

The contributors to DIY Citizenship come from a variety of backgrounds and provide a critical analysis of ways DIY citizenship is enacted. Some, like media/fan scholar Henry Jenkins, discuss the successes of fan-led movements translating into global activism. Others investigate the limitations of ubiquitous technology in enacting social change, such as social media platforms, and the problems presented by fake news (very timely).

Overall, the idea of "DIY" is examined through many lenses. Some argue that the term "makers" has become mainstream, while craftivists, zine makers, and hackers are given equal space. DIY isn't restricted to the highly skilled or professionals repurposing their skills for volunteerism. Some of the groups discussed, like the Pandora radio collective, specifically privilege participation over experience.

DIY Citizenship is a broad look at a specific cultural moment, but even with the number of contributions it still cannot cover all angles. Although it's only two years old, the book in some ways feels dated already - though that is partially due to some contributions from long-time DIYers providing a retrospective. Thoroughly recommended.

The book's merits for SI 636

I would absolutely recommend DIY Citizenship to other students of 636. While the "citizenship" aspect is quite prominent in some parts, the book serves as a good introduction into several facets of DIY/making, and I think speaks well to the "-spaces" part of makerspaces (in that communities are front-and-center, and I think they become inextricable from the physical spaces in many contexts). It feels more academic than the punk origins of many of the movements featured, but it succeeds in using that positioning well to provide deliberate study.

The book's perspective

DIY Citizenship is very obviously an academic essay collection. The editors themselves have been involved in DIY and activism from an academic perspective for years, and their contributors have an incredible range of experiences and training. That can make it feel scattered or distant at times, but the personal involvement comes through in some contributions.

Tools/materials/products for makers

This book includes so many things! It's almost impossible to narrow down to a reasonable length for this review. Some examples include printable vinyl stickies to redact information from driver's licenses, gardening, radio transmitters, soldering, knitting, social media, and user studies.

Kinds of makers

The kinds of makers included are, as with tools above, extremely broad. One group featured in the first part is the Pandora radio collective: former radio pirates, they helped teach basic electronics in communities while setting up low-power FM (LPFM) radio stations. Others, like the license plate stickes or the GrowBot, come from an academic context. Henry Jenkins profiles Harry Potter fans and their social justice campaigns, which doesn't address making related to those campaigns but rather in the general fan community.

Making defined

DIY Citizenship doesn't settle on a single definition of making, which I think is a good stance to take. They succeed in capturing the nuances of the term pretty well (which is a big challenge). They acknowledge many different pedigrees for the term, from the "weekend warrior" to the punk zine maker. The most important specific point they make is that the Y in DIY is often plural: do it yourselves. Making is rarely done in a vacuum, and certainly through the lens of activism it is a necessarily communal activity.