Why I am kind-of a Maker

Deb Chachra has a great article ‘Why I am not a Maker’ If you bother to read this site, I suggest you all go read it now, since this post is a continuation of that conversation. It’s a good and fast read, bit a bit scatter-shot. Done? Good!

My first take at adding to the discussion was mostly a list of sections of her article I disagreed with. But that was pretty crappy to read, and a crappy thing to do. Especially given how much of her general idea that I agree with, even if I disagree with the details.

My second take was to outline where I agree and/or disagree, or just don’t know where I stand yet. That was very long and tired and kind of hair-splitty for my taste. Really, just a bunch of overly complicated footnotes to the article.

This here is my third take at contributing to the discussion, and I’m going at it in a totally new (to me) way. I’m going to assume for the rest of this article that Deb is 100% correct, and is a perfect reliable witness. Take that, mix it with my own political/social point of view, and what conclusions would I then draw? I come up with 3 idea:

  1. Maker culture is deep into the late cycle of co-option by market system(s).
  2. Maker culture is American sub-culture, and by trying to be ‘apolitical’ is just generic./li>
  3. Maker culture is has become a self-aggrandizing big-tent Evangelical culture.

Co-Option: Put a ‘Maker’ on it !

The ‘Maker’ culture is being ‘green’ed. By ‘Greened’ I mean, it’s reach the point where it’s meaningless in it’s generality, and is just glued onto crap by people trying to sound like they have a clue. Glued into job posting, events. Stores cough Radio Shack cough using it to sell crap, it’s flavor of the month, like weird eggplants a few years ago, and the ‘Green’ label that is slapped on anything and everything. Thank you marketing and the desire for social/cultural capital for sucking the meaning out of a once useful term!

Politically: Generic American Flavorless.

Look, we live in a country with less female representation in congress (19%) than Saudia Arabia. We are the only ‘1st world industrialized’ country without paid paternal leave. For whatever reason, despite a pretty radical ‘left meets right, had some drinks, and fights, and then makes out behind the bar’ hacker community, ‘Maker’ community is politically and socially just a crappy rusted mirror of general American society. So like the US overall, it’s a great concept that got off to a good enough start that in success, it’s forgotten as it started core, and it’s weirdo’s and screw-ups that created it in the first place.

Evangelical : YOU MUST LOVE JESUSCODE

I love the section on the forced embrace of ‘I make BLAH’ nametags. It reminds me of the you-must-hug-us greeters at a lot of Evangelical churches growing up. It’s imagined as an attempted to be welcoming. It turns into a giant awkward turn-off, and in reality provides more comfort the hugger than the victim. Everyone must Code. Everyone must love Jesus. Democracy Will Work For You, Or We Shoot!

 
 
In reality, I don’t agree with a lot of what Deb said. I think a lot of her specifics are wrong, and that she mashes maker culture into startup culture. But for all the details I disagree on, don’t want to invalidate her overall point, or to undermine her experience, both of which I agree are spot-on. (And her awesome advice-to-younger-self is also spot on).

The Maker movement has shifted away from it’s scrappy rebellion stage, and large sections of it are building Start Destroyers, or just too busy buying TARDIS trinkets at Barnes and Noble to notice as the local mom&pop PC store is bulldozed over.

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Why don’t we Americans value education anymore?

I think the US has stopped valuing education to a large extent. Sure, we still ask for a degree on all kinds of paperwork and jobs. But in reality we don’t value those credentials much. How did we get to this point? I have a (untested) theory.

When looking to hire people, I see a lot of resume’s and almost all of them have some kind of degree. And really, the degree’s don’t matter. Except for a few key schools, candidate without degrees are actually more interesting, since they are taking (or took) a risk to get into the pool.

I can imagine at some point in the past a B.S. or M.S. on a resume indicated a certain level of skill, and some assumptions about what a person would know, or could do. But not anymore. I know many college freshman (as interns or hires) who know or do better than people with 3-4 years more experience than regular interviewee’s with C.S. degrees. Not to name names, but knowing someone went through Drexel’s Co-Op system (which is an amazing system) is a much better indication of young success than a degree from most other colleges. Most degrees don’t indicate any level of skill, or do well to predict workplace success.

The lions share of blame falls to the college/university system themselves. In a hunt for money to build better buildings universities have taken a lot of crap, and put out a lot of crap. It has happened since most colleges are lusting after lucre to become real-estate moguls, by leveraged on sub-market credit of student loans. Teachers don’t get raises, but old buildings get razed then rebuilt. But I digress.

In order to grow, much of higher education have dropped the bar so low, it’s a tripping hazard. In the universal conflict between ‘excellent’ and ‘big’ they chose big, and lowered their standards. Lowering their standards for a short term boost is dragging themselves down, and undermining the trust they use to have in American culture. I think most modern unions suffer from the same problem. The same dynamic has killed consumer product companies, and it can kill whole sectors by destroying trust.

We don’t value higher education, because it has stopped valuing itself.

edited for clarity 2015-01-18

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A bit dusty around here

Ahem. cough cough Wow. It’s a bit dusty around here.

I was pretty amazed when I came by to check my own site, and discovered I’d not posted since this summer. With a toddler (herein referred to as Chestnut), a lot of work, and house problems, keeping a website up to date has been a non-priority. Almost a negative priority. For about a years, I’ve gotten my to-do list reminders ‘Update your website’ and ignored them. Which, in hindsight, it and was the right answer given priorities.

It’s a new year, and as per convention, I’m going to throw down some resolutions:

  • Underpromise and Overdeliver
  • Get in a weekly rhythm
  • Re-engage in community/social life
  • Fire-up some side projects
  • Dom soem self-maintaince/improvement

I have a more detailed list personally, but I’m not going to post all of the gory details here.

Happy 2014 everyone, and have a merry and wonderful 2015.

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4th of July thoughts, 2014

What does the 4th of July mean to me.

I try to pay attention to the meaning of holiday. I know for a lot of folks Memorial Day, 4th of July, and a lot of our holiday’s are just another day off. One more chance to sleep late, maybe
watch or play with some fireworks, and enjoy friends, family, and food. Sure I’m being a curmudgeon, and maybe people aren’t really like that. I want to take some time during the day to think and talk about what it’s all about. For a workaholic nation, what makes something important enough to stop work?

The 4th of July is celebration of our Declaration of Independence. The fledgling united State of America had already be at war with Britin for about a year, when the continental congress drew up and approved a resolution stating *why* we had gone to war. The document is a pretty nice mix of international law, Natural Philosophy, and outright PR. You should read it, it’s a pretty good read.

So what does that mean, to me, in 2014?

I think a lot of it speaks to me of the history of high ideals of the USA, as well as our consistant inability to live up to them, and our blindness to stew of ironic contradictions that we live in.

– Our Declaration of Independence was written by a slave owner. And even then, sections of *his* anti-slavery text were removed to make the document more palatable.

– As we sit here, and celebrate the 4th of July, we are also discovering that NSA ‘targeted Surveillance’ means ‘Anyone that searched for Linux, TOR, Tails is having all of their web traffic logged by the NSA’

– Despite our ideals that all people are created equal, we bomb wedding parties, families, and houses overseas, and hid our manslaughter of fellow humans under euphemisms like ‘Collateral Damage’.

– We speak of ideas of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. But as a culture and a nation our true values are driven by money, celebrity, and money.

– We talk about democracy, and self-governance. But we have propped up, and continue to create or support, dictators and despots when it suits our needs.

– Despite our talk of self-reliance, the oil that is the lifeblood of our country, and so much of our consumer goods come from overseas.

– We have allowed money to infect our political system to the point where the only people that can run, are those that can suck up to huge diners to fund their campaign.

– Our original sins as a country, slavery of millions and genocide of the civilizations that were already on this contentent, and seldom acknowledged or discussed, even though their fallout is still felt by americans today.

The United States is a great country, and I love it to death. But it’s a flawed country, right to it’s roots. I grew up hearing a lot of rhetoric about “Hate the sin, but Love the sinner”. I know, I’m ranting a bit here. I’m being a curmudgeon and a downer, I’ll knock it off.

Enjoy the 4th. Celebrate all we have done, and celebrate the high ideas we espoused as we as a country took our first steps on the world stage. But as you’re watching the fireworks and celebrating the great things we have done as a country, don’t let that drive you to mistakes we have make as well.

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Writing in 2014

I often get stuck writing essay’s, since I come up with counter-arguments as I go. I’ve always admired Darwin’s writing style, in that he builds a nearly airtight case from bottom to top, all the while making it clear where is is estimating, where he is fudging detail (and willing to admit or discuss it) or where he is generalizing, and *why* that generalization is a good place to start.

In the last year, I’ve written a lot less than I’d like to. I have in my task-tracker to write a weblog post twice a week, but between the new job, a young kid, and life I’ve really not had the time. Which is to say, I’ve had time to write, but not time to go back, and re-edit articles to be as airtight as I want (which is still, well, not so air-tight).

In 2014, I’m going to get back on the train to write more often. I’ll be leaving wikipedia style superscript[1] notations where I’ve skipped detail, or where I have to admit some details need refining. Maybe I’ll get back to those articles to edit and refactor, maybe I won’t. But at least I will get the ideas out there, and into the world.

[1] you know. These footnote thigies

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Hardware is Hard, haven’t we learned that yet?

There is a great post on the website The Street with Peter Semmelhack of Bug Labs, on why hardware is hard. I’ll wait here while you go read it…. Disclaimer: I worked for Bug Labs on ’09-’10. I dig Peter’s vision and experience.

Bug Labs Hardware Engineering an adventure for 2013 that played out around 2007 to 2011, part of which I was there for the last two years of. At the time, their software system was growing well and with the industry, while the Hardware/Firmware development was, frankly, a black-hole of engineering time suck.

For the time I was there, things were a bit rocky, and the realization the hardware vision was nigh impossible was a tough vision change to make. Pluggable complex engineering is absurdly hard, for engineering reasons I’ll get into below. Peter did a great job of herding the company onto a new path, It’s great to see Bug has pivoted to a place where it vision is technically possible, and is having great success.

Given that, It was a surprise to me this month to read about Project Aria and PhoneBlox. Two admirable projects that sound great as YouTube videos, but projects that are none the less destine to a die via death-by-a-million-solder-burns. It was pretty sad to see that hubris (Motorola) and lack of domain knowledge (PhoneBlox) leading well intentioned people down a rocky road.

A road to a black-hole that other companies, like Bug Labs and Open Moko, had already mapped out with giant warning signs and ‘Black Hole Ahead’ articles sharing their traumatic experience.

I could write a whole detailed post on each of the red-flags on these projects, and how it overlaps with the insurmountable challenges of Bug Labs Hardware. but I’m going to stick to bullet-points unless I get some reader-request to elaborate on some of these.

  • To ‘plug together’ a device of phone complexity, you need decades of engineering, or 2-4 years of education. These won’t be accessible outside of trained engineers, or a huge engineering NRE.
  • Ruggidizing core components while maintaining speed is impossible.The faster, hotter, and smarter you make electronics, the more finicky they are.
  • If you do ruggidize them, you need slower plug-friendly protocols which are 2 orders of magnitude too slow for modern expectations.
  • Delay: The open phone tech will always be 6 to 24 months behind the advertised *buy now, we ship next month* phones.
  • People pay a lot *not* to assemble their own PC’s. DIY PC kits and purchases are a niche of a niche, even amoung nerds and hackers. Seriously, people want to change their wallpaper and font-defaults, not their RAM or front-side-bus.

We’ve been down this road, in projects by Open Moko. Bug Labs, and more. The ‘fully configurable’ system is going to be crash-tastic. It’s great PR, it’s shit engineering.
Imagine the phone as a car-level complexity devices. Changing out the dashboard, or some plastics. or adding a spoiler to a car? Sure, a great idea. Changing out the engine, or suspension, or powertrain really takes a mechanic, or a car so de-tuned it’s worthless on a highway (which is why I loved my Vespa ET3). A few hours of thinking would make it clear the fully-pluggable system is a daydream.

I have more hope for Jolla, built by thoughtful engineers. The ‘plugable’ modules are nice-to-have add-ons and external to the core system. They are a bit isolated, and they are not core components of operation. It’s much more likely to succeed, and they can use isolation circuits and ‘firewall’ the plug-system to a few external pins/ports, rather than ruggidizing a lot of internal connections and parts.

If you want me to expand on any bullet-points, just drop a note in the comments, and I’d be glad to rant on in detail why those are such problems.

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OHS 2013, and how to get the best submissions

I’ve been helping a bit in the background of Open Hardware Summit this year, aka OHS 2013. Like many Open Source projects, OHS tends to lean on people who self-select for expertise, and people who don’t have the best balance of work-life (aka, people’s who’s hobby is their life is their job, etc. OHS also takes self-nominees, I.E. you just submit your own talk.

This system tends to skew the talks submissions in a few ways. It skews towards people who are self-confident in their abilities, which to be honest often does not map to the most skilled person. It also tends to skew talks to people that have pre-made talks, or who have given talks before. Even submitting a talk to a conference is a bit of a skill set and gained knowledge, and can really be a time sink for someone doing it the first few times.

Which leaves me with a good question I don’t have an answer for. How does a community event do outreach and find speakers, but still skew towards most genuine knowledge, instead of most self-reported knowledge? How to get the shy knowledgeable people to apply, not just the gregarious or self-assured people?

Tough question, and I really have no answer for it.

Philly PUG talk last week

Last Tuesday I was lucky enough to be invited by Philly PUG to give a co-talk with Spencer Russell. Spencer and I each have some experience in making an easy to use command line console (Spencer) and posting a project to Python Package Index (PyPI).

It was a great talk to a packed house. More than 70 people showed up, with Bu Logics, where Spencer and I work, footing the bill for some snacks during the break.

We also shared our projects on GitHub, if you missed the talk check out Spencer’s talk Repo, or my talk repo for a quick review of what you missed!

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Gender and Tech: Here’s a suggestion Get Data or GTFO.

Warning: I mostly don’t swear on this website, but this post is full of it. If you don’t like crude language, sorry.

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Goodbye Gmail!

Last week with some help at The Hacktory project night (Thursdays) I setup my own email server for the first time in about 12 years. It was pretty awesome to get my data back in my hands, where it won’t be inspected, poked, and sniffed.

I’ve getting wary Google for q while. It started google was spying on web data using street view vehicles. Since then Google has gotten worse. They are unifying tracking data. Google has become as bad as Microsoft at the ‘copy and drown a competitor’ game, with knock off’s galore like Bit.ly (Goo.gl), Yelp (Google Places), Groupon (Google Offers) and Evernote (Google Keep).

From what I have seen they are moving towards competing with Facebook on the ‘stalking out users and selling them as cattle.’ behavior. Google has also started treating anyone with a successful web company as a target for ‘imitate and destroy’ tactics. Not the kind of behavior that fits the ‘organize information’ vision, and pretty evil.

Back when Google’s mission was ‘Organize the worlds information’ and ‘do no evil’ I had some trust that they would defend the open web, and treat their users with respect. As they kill unpopular (but useful) services, it’s clear they are focused on profits, not organizing the worlds info.

I’m revoking my trust, shutting down my Google mail and mailing lists, and getting my data flow back in my own hands. Far@FarMcKon.net is the best place to reach me these days. But don’t worry about using my old email. My Gmail account won’t disappear overnight.

I think this ties into a bigger discussion about how the web is no longer peer to peer (and becoming less p2p daily) but that is a topic for another post.