5 Minutes of Fame tonight!

Tonight at Noisebridge, our lightning talk event, 5 Minutes of Fame! I’ll be speaking at 5MoF about Bad Inventions, going back over at least 20 years of my own horrible inventions, some of which came to fruition and some which have not (YET).

As if you needed ANY reminder, Five Minutes of Fame is Noisebridge’s ADD
show-and-tell, squashing octets of human awesomeness into an hour like
booleans in a packed byte.

This week’s seasonal supercompression will include, among others, barring ill fortune, but by no means limited to the following:

* The Internet’S IO9.COM’S ANNALEE NEWITZ on how to apocalypse-proof your city
* Roving cartographer and open wireless fiend SCHUYLER ERLE on galactic empire
* The Center for Applied Rationality’s JULIA GALEF
* The Amazing Inventions of LIZ HENRY
* The Battle for OMNIPOTENCE. Who will win? WOOL, MUSHROOMS, or HEMP?

Join us as we untar the future! Pkunzip the past! Huffman decode your mind!

Thurs, Dec 20, 8PM, Noisebridge, 2169 Mission St, SF, CA, Earth Prime

You can submit talks through the wiki page for future events or MAYBE even for tonight’s talks.

Five Minutes of Antichrist

Hackerhive and the laser cutter

Our Feminist Hackers meetups continue!

Last night a bunch of us met at Noisebridge for a lively, chaotic evening clustered around the laser cutter and breathing its toxic fumes. There were around 10 of us coming in and out of the meeting.

Susan and I worked on fixing up some insulation on the bottom of the door on the Turing classroom earlier in the day so that it will be more soundproof.

We gossiped about SHA-3 and Keccak and looked at the code for Keccak. It is over my head, but was interesting.

We did some stuff on the laser cutter. A bunch of us used it for the first time, and it wasn’t that hard but has some quirks of the software and setting up the machine to cut. I think after I left, Susan and others fixed the exhaust fan on the cutter, till very late into the night. Hurrah!!

laser cutter warning sign

We made a draft version of Amy’s sign for the library aka the biblioteca, and I made stencils for R.A.M.P., (Radical Access Motherfucking Project) Zach (who was orbiting our hive a little bit) made a stencil too that had to do with vegan politics.

I learned how to do “ghost” and “enforce” for my registered nick on IRC. I can’t believe I didn’t know that before! Over 20 years on irc! Well. This explains why sometimes I have lizzard_ annoyingly instead of just plain lizzard in irc.

Jordan, Susan, and CC found new giant fluorescent tube bulbs for the overhead lighting fixture at some point, turned off the power at the electrical box, and got the lights working.

Jordan, CC, and Susan got the HP DesignJet 650C plotter working. It is enormous and can print onto giant map-sized pieces of paper. They printed a photo and then some periodic tables in color. I had to leave before they figured out how to make it print really huge. We need to remember to document how to use it!

Kim gave us these awesome seed-embryo-thing stickers which she puts in places all over and which have several layers of meaning to do with growing and development and creativity. The embryo-thing (as she described it) is at the Fish stage before it has gender or species. A general cheer went up at this idea as we carefully transferred the stickers to our laptops.

Someone else in the space told Lydia to come find us. “I’ve been a feminist hacker for forever, before I even knew there was a such a thing as feminist hackers, which was like, 5 minutes ago!” She asked if it is okay to bring her kid to our meetups. Yes it is as long as you don’t mind them hanging out with us amid the junk heaps and fumes.

I love getting to know people at these casual meetups! I think part of our benefit is that we build trust amongst ourselves and we make a good space for people to step up and try things, or simply to speak up and be heard or put forth their ideas. In short we listen to each other and pay attention. It feels like a nice dynamic and I feel more at home in the space than ever before. We are taking these few hours to focus on each other and ourselves and not pay attention to guys; a minor tweak to behavior that has an awesome beneficial effect. (You would be amazed, maybe, at how hard it is to put into practice.) I hope that other hackerspaces will have woman-centered or feminist meetings, hackdays, or groups and that they’ll be in touch with us.

Half a shelf of Perl books

The new version of Intermediate Perl is in the Noisebridge library nestled up against all the other blue animal books.

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Intermediate Perl is a new and expanded version of Perl Objects, References, and Modules. Its new chapters are: Using Modules, Intermediate foundations of Perl, Filehandle references, Regular expression references, and Creating your own Perl distribution. There are expanded and up to date lessons on testing and test harnesses for Perl as well as an introduction to Moose. This book, after you’ve gone through Learning Perl, should give a really good foundation for writing in object-oriented Perl.

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I don’t write regularly in Perl for work any more, but went through some of the book’s chapters and exercises. They were easy to follow and well-written. Moose looks especially useful and cool.

Thanks to O’Reilly for the review copy and the nice addition to round out our languages library at Noisebridge!

We now have two copies of Learning Perl, Intermediate Perl, two versions of Programming Perl, Mastering Perl, Mastering Regular Expressions, Mastering Perl/TK, and the Perl Cookbook. We also have Wicked Cool Perl Scripts, Perl in a Nutshell, Higher-Order Perl, Object Oriented Perl, Automating System Administration with Perl, and last but not least, Win32 Perl AND Perl for Dummies. Enjoy, all you Perlmongers!

Electronics sketches

As I continue helping to teach at Circuit Hacking Monday I have been drawing more for the Noisebridge Coloring Book and making some sketches of basic electronics components. I worked on my drawing of the wheelchair robot (in its old incarnation — it is newly rebuilt and completely different now!)

Here are my little sketches from this afternoon. I will be re-doing them as they came out way too wonky done freehand with pen. Things come out better if I pencil them and ink afterwards.

resistor

potentiometer

There’s a little business-card-sized resistor code cheat sheet taped into the inside of my electronics parts box. Lately I was thinking I may draw my own cheat sheet in color and make it into beautiful nerdy rainbow laptop stickers. My swag empire is going to RULE, y’all.

Cruise control hack on my scooter!

My mobility scooter has a lever which when pressed moves the scooter forward or backward. There aren’t any brakes; I stop by taking my hand off the lever. So in order to keep moving I have to keep pressing this lever. Over time, that hurts my hand and arm. It’s also just tedious! So I wanted to copy what my friend Zach had done and build a switch that would keep the scooter moving. He said it was pretty easy. I took the front casing off my scooter dashboard to see what it looked like in there. Kind of scary, a tangle of wires. If I messed it up, I’d be stuck. I put it back together unwilling to experiment till I talked with someone who knew what they were doing.

scooter wiring

When Zach and I looked at it we took that cover off again and set it aside. The wires were in clusters of three with easily detachable connectors, labelled CN1, CN2, CN3, and so on. CN3’s cluster of wires went to the keyhole, which I could see is very simple. In fact I would bet I could stick an audio jack or some other piece of round metal into the hole and start the scooter. CN2 went to the potentiometer that sits between the levers for forward and back. In other words that lever moves a precision screw that goes into the potentiometer to change the resistance going from the battery to the motor. CN1 went to the forward and reverse lever, and that’s where we wanted to put my switch. We labelled some of the connectors with a Sharpie.

power supply wires

The existing potentiometer was 5k Ohms (it said this on the bottom of the part.) There were three wires going to it; white, yellow, and blue. Yellow went to the forward lever. Blue went to the reverse lever. White was the wire they had in common. Between the white and yellow wire we measured 800 ohms. Between White and blue we measured 4K8 ohms. We would need to duplicate that with the new switch.

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Rummaging around in the hack shelves and bins and tiny drawers in Noisebridge we found two potentiometers with tiny screws that Zach pointed out were very finely adjustable. Precision trimmable potentiometers or trim pots. We ended up using one for the 4K8 and one for the 800 side of our switch.

Here are the tiny drawers and bins we looked through! Imposing, aren’t they?

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And the Pile O’ Junk that overflows from the hack shelves:

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We found several switches, none ideal, and none that looked easily mountable on my scooter’s dashboard. Jake, who is great at electronics stuff and builds robots, immediately found us the right thing, a single throw double pole switch. The switch looks like a little bug with 6 legs — the connectors we soldered wires to — and the flippable part of the switch sticking up from its back. Here it is all wired up, before the hot glue went on.

new switch with potentiometers

We replaced one of the duplicate blue wires with white. (Which I found by rummaging in the hack shelves and bins.)

We realized at some point that the resistance didn’t match up perfectly because we had measured it all while the trimpots and switch was unmounted from the wires but we needed to measure and adjust the trimpot screws while it was connected.

Before we hot glued and mounted everything we put a 2×4 under the center of the scooter to prop it up for testing – so that the wheels could spin without the scooter going anywhere. It worked great when we flipped the switch! Very exciting!

We then dabbed hot glue over the switch and some of the other connections with a glue gun. The glue is kind of rubbery and would peel away easily. It should stop the solder from jolting loose, though.

When we went to mount the switch, we realized it stuck out further back than we had room for in the plastic casing. But it would fit really well in the area for the keyhole mechanism, which was shorter. We ended up drilling a new hole for the key hardware on the lower right of the dashboard, and enlarging the former key area to fit the switch. This took a little bit of adjusting and re-drilling with the dremel while we held the front of the plastic case in place. It was very useful to have four hands. My extremely bright LED flashlight came in handy at this stage.

scooter hacking

Along the way we also replaced and added some washers to hold everything in securely. It was great to have access to all the tiny bits of hardware that Noisebridge has free for the hacking and to all the tools in the shop and electronics lab.

equipment

Thanks so much to Zach for the awesome tutorial on potentiometers and resistance in circuits, and for the hacking help! You can see part of his super slick dashboard here, with cruise control switch, usb port, and other useful charging ports as well as a cute Totoro keychain.

totoro keychain

By installing “cruise control” I basically bypassed a crucial safety mechanism of my scooter. I am trying, each time I flip that switch, to repeat to myself over and over, TO STOP, FLIP THE SWITCH. Three times now in the past few days I have forgotten it is on, pressed the lever automatically with my right hand while cruising; then taken my hand off the forward lever only to be unpleasantly surprised that I don’t stop. (Until I crash into things.) On day 1 I was super careful. On day 2 I was lifting up my backpack while stopped, and the backpack strap caught on the switch. I went barrelling forward to crash into Noisebridge’s media cart and a lot of chairs. Everyone laughed. NOT GOOD. Luckily, only one thumb and my dignity were wounded. Day 3, I had my hand on the forward lever and was stopping on the sidewalk. Except I didn’t stop! I was about to hit both a curb and a knot of pedestrians and all I could do was crash myself into a pole. That worked and I yanked out the key and flipped the switch in a giant panic. So, after that I did a lot more deliberate practice with a “the switch is on” mantra. Any time I am near people, or an intersection, I go back to manual control.

I also plan to build a little shield for the switch from Sugru to prevent accidentally flipping it. It needs labelling as well; when I took my scooter on the airplane yesterday I spent some time explaining DO NOT USE THE SWITCH to the airline cargo laoders at the gate until they were so scared of my “TURBO MODE” that they gave me back the key and carried the scooter onto the plane.

scooter hacking

Next I want to move the keyhole to a spot on top of the dashboard instead of under it, and stick some LEDs and an arduino in there with its usb port sticking out for programming, and some sort of complicated dial so I can make different things happen with blinky lights on the front of the scooter….

Noisebridge circuit hacking

I’ve been helping out lately at Noisebridge during Circuit Hacking Monday. One week, some people showed up expecting the event and no one was there to run it, so I ran it for someone I knew from She’s Geeky, her friend and teenagers, and a couple of extra adults who were here from Norway and Denmark for Google I/O. I had just been pawing through the soldering supplies, organizing them a bit as I searched for what I needed for my project (messing around with a LilyPad Arduino), and had found a little bag of cheap LED light up badges shaped like teddy bears. So we used those tiny kits to make blinking badges. It was chaotic, but fun.

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I talked with Mitch Altman to find out where his kits for sale were and if it was okay for me to sell them while he’s out of town, and then send him the money. I might, though, just order some kits as cheaply as I can find them, and keep them independently to avoid hassle. As I end up giving tours to lots of new people, many of them from out of town or overseas, I could do them a favor by giving them something geeky to do in the space rather than sit and check their email!

The next week things were back to normal as Miloh and Rolf were at Noisebridge to run the class. Before they showed up, a teenage volunteer helped me set up soldering stations. More and more people kept coming in so the situation got quite chaotic again as we were giving them tours of the space and trying to find room. I realized that next time I would approach things differently — clearing the whole area of people who were working, and setting up 20 or more stations ahead of time, so that we weren’t doing setup and giving tours at the same time.

During the event Miloh and Rolf really took over the teaching aspect. I was somewhat trapped with my scooter in a corner because of the number of people, the table arrangement, the many chairs and the backpacks all over the floor. So I also would like to look at making the central area of Noisebridge less cluttered with tables, chairs, and stuff for the future so that I can participate. In my corner, I again hung with some kids and the teenage volunteer, and a guy who couldn’t hear well. The kid didn’t have a computer to look at the instructions for his kit, and needed a lot of one on one help as he was maybe a bit non neurotypical. The guy who hung out with us could not hear well in a situation with background noise. I’m in the same boat — I’m in my 40s and just can’t hear in a loud, chaotic situation. The kid fixed his Mintyboost and then made a tv-b-gone. The other guy made a blinky badge then was hooked and got one of those big name LED badges, I think. He appreciated the How to Solder comic book print out that I happened to have on me because he missed all of Miloh and Rolf’s explanations. I thought it was interesting that, marked out as somewhat different and disabled, I ended up doing more one on one work with people who had particular access needs.

Our volunteer also was super helpful in that capacity and seemed unusually alert to access issues, like that chairs or cables were in the way of my scooter or that it might be hard for me to get up to get supplies on high shelves. After the event when his dad came to pick him up I saw that his dad had one arm and walked with a cane. So growing up with a parent who has some mobility issues he might be more tuned in than others usually are.

I thought both those things were interesting! And figured it is a pretty good role for me at CHM. If you have particular access needs or are going to bring a bunch of 10 year olds to Circuit Hacking Monday (Mondays at 7:30pm) then feel free to email me with questions and see if I can be there & be helpful: lizhenry@gmail.com.

Basic supplies are running low. We have lots of soldering irons, including a bunch that I think Jake, Lilia, and MC Hawking won in a contest, but they’ve seen very heavy use over the last couple of years. So there are a lot of kind of crappy soldering irons and a few decent ones. We might be able to clean them or swap the tips cheaply. We have lots of snippers and wirestrippers. We need solder, weighted holders with alligator clips and lenses, more of those weighted bases with copper wool for cleaning soldering iron tips, and more de-soldering braid. Plus it would be so nice to have a supply of many kinds of coin cell batteries. After I talked with Miloh about that he shared a giant complicated spreadsheet with me. I haven’t read through it yet! But it would be great to get particular donations for restocking our electronics supplies.

We have shelves and shelves of hardware junk, in bins, and a wall of tiny little parts in tiny drawers meticulously labelled!

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Yesterday I spent some nice time in the afternoon doing a Dice Kit with my son. We couldn’t find any decent epoxy or glue, so went to the fabric store on the corner, but ended up getting a big tube of contact cement from the dollar store. I gave a lot of tours and hung out with my friend who came by to fix her headphone wires. We’re both going to help TA at Black Girls Code in San Francisco. She ended up also using the wood shop for another project – modifying wooden artists’ brush handles to make those long tapered sticks so useful for holding up long hair and especially dreadlocks. Claudia aka Geekgirl showed up too and told me about how she is going to Rwanda in September and has a job there teaching IT and computer programming to middle school girls. Nifty! Meanwhile, my son played with MC Hawking and read comic books in the library after he was done with the Dice Kit. Along the way he learned to figure out the values of resistors from the color code chart (and learned it is not hard to just memorize the numbers.) We looked at my LilyPad and he got to the point of comfort with the code to make a scale go up and down again and modify the time of the notes. I gave the world’s worst and briefest explanation of what a function is and what it means to pass it variables, but he caught on with no effort. I’m very spoiled as a teacher when I set out teach him anything! He gets the idea too quickly!

Anyway, I sat up far too long that afternoon, and sadly had to leave before Replicator Wednesday kicked off. It has been nice going out into the world a bit more, this last month, more than just for the grocery store and physical therapy.

One last note: this is what happens if you leave your bike blocking the elevator at Noisebridge!!! It gets put into the E-WASTE bin!

ewaste

3D-printed broccoli

On Caltrain this weekend I shared my wifi with a guy traveling with a huge metal suitcase. As I turned to talk with him he saw my Noisebridge tshirt and said he was from Hacklab.to in Toronto and was going to be at Noisebridge this Wednesday (today!) As we chatted about hackerspaces he started pulling things out of a little black laptop bag. Twisty mathy-looking things but nicer quality than any 3D printed object I’d seen come out of a Makerbot. Some of them he’d sanded and puttied, some were sanded and then he’d made molds of them and casted the objects in what looked like lucite, and all the mathy things had equations penciled on them. “And this is the world’s first open source 3-D printed vacuum cleaner!” Chris said as he reached into the magic bag…. It was basically a tube with a socket for a tiny cheap motor and a place to put a filter. My son was staring with his mouth open at the array of stuff in my lap. “And this is broccoli!”

Yes… 3D printed broccoli. Chris had CAT scanned a piece of broccoli and then printed it. Awesome! I realized from that, I have a CD somewhere with a CAT scan of my brain, and with the right file conversions I could potentially print my brain!

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Chris had a telescope lens he had printed and a paper which I skimmed there on the train about the process & pitfalls of making good quality lenses with a printer.

Come to his talk tonight at Replicator Wednesday, at Noisebridge, 6pm.

Chris will talk a bit about 3D printing and types of printers in general, the software ecosystem around 3D printing, his experience making *lenses* with printers, and his project implicitCAD written in Haskell… (there is some documentation of implicitCAD here at github.

Anyway, it was a truly great random encounter. I love when this sort of thing happens! It turns out Chris is also a finalist for the Thiel Foundation 20 under 20 fellowship — I hope he gets selected!

Monday night at Noisebridge

Last night Oblomovka and I showed up at Noisebridge. I’ve been a supporter of Noisebridge since it started, donating at first and then joining as a dues-paying member. I figured even if I only have time to go by there once a month for some happy co-working on the couches, I want the space to exist and am proud to help pay for it. I also lurk on the Noisebridge-discuss mailing list and follow all the fascinating drama, which while not much different than any other community politics, is interesting as I get to know people’s names, what they’re working on, what they care about, and how they think anarchist politics should go down in a hackerspace.

So last night I went to hang out and to take a look at my Adafruit SpokePOV kit, which is half-finished there on my shelf of tools and stuff. These SpokePOV thingies are LED panels that bolt onto bike or wheelchair spokes, like HokeySpokes, but are programmable. When we first started making the kit, we didn’t have the USB connector parts for the controller that lets you program the spoke lights. Anyway, I happily started soldering away. I love soldering irons. They make me think of all the nice times I spent messing around with stuff from Radio Shack with my dad when i was little.

spoke POV project

I didn’t get very far as I got distracted by Oblomovka and Moxie talking about ideas for ways to improve Noisebridge. I think that Noisebridge would benefit from heavier use and an influx of new people. It’s a very new space. It needs more signs on how to do things, even super-obvious things. Laminated instruction signs on the walls, on cabinets, and so on, are crucial. I’m thinking of making some for self-guided tours. Defining jobs that need to be done is crucial. For example, I could make a sign that explains how to take out the trash and put it above (and on) the trash cans.

As I was talking and soldering, people were coming in for the Monday night Python class. I usually love giving tours to new people, but I was on crutches, not in my wheelchair, so didn’t want to walk around that much. It was nice sitting near the entrance though, to hear how people shyly introduced themselves and asked for tours, and then ended up talking about their own projects and getting into long discussions.

Then I ended up hanging around with the people working on the Noise-bot wheelchair. Jake was taking the battery off and attaching some new connectors to it. I don’t remember all the details. The powerchair has a wireless card duct taped inside a clear plastic soda bottle, attached to the seat back handle. Stylish! In the back above the battery, there’s a laptop, which you can log into remotely to drive the chair by communicating with the joystick controls. I think this is the same chair that Jake and the Puzzlebot people used to make the brain-controlled chair. He explained what he was doing and how the chair works to me, a high school sophomore who was there for the first time, some people from Instructables, and anyone else who came by. We all tried driving the chair, which was quite powerful and fast.

Here’s the back of the chair, with the laptop:

wheelchair robot

And here’s Jake driving the chair.

wheelchair robot at Noisebridge

Jake could use someone to work on the software interface to drive the chair. It’s controlled from the laptop, so any language you want to work in is fine. Currently it works with a continuous keypress, so if you are hitting “j” the chair keeps moving forward. I ducked and ran from this project, even though I love it. Must not say yes to ANY more projects!

I then talked a bunch with Zeph who has been helping out with the chair.

Zeph

She showed me her work with The Beehive Collective, making narrative political posters that are extremely amazing. Where people aren’t going to give you the time of day if you spout a lot of information about, say, coal and energy sources and ecology and pollution and globalization and economics, they’ll get into long opinionated conversations if they look at this poster, The True Cost of Coal.

The True Cost of Coal - Thumbnail

I just ordered one of these posters! Since I live on a boat, I don’t have room for it, but hey! I can put it up on the wall somewhere at Noisebridge!

I showed some of my projects, and the Happiness Hat, and Hypatia’s north hat and Lilypad Arduino resources page, to Zeph and she showed me a video of her weird mechanical project called Twitch. It used tattoo machines and a lot of wires and bits of machines to build feedback loops and create creepy organic-feeling random movement.

We must have talked for an hour before I realized that we had known each other in about 1990 from various feminist communities in San Francisco and from zine-making. We were both using different names then. We had each other’s zines and had some friends in common. Neat!

I kind of want to start a Lilypad Arduino group at Noisebridge. But do I have time? I’d like it to be for women, well, for non-100%-male-identified people, and to be exploratory rather than the Lecture of Experts. Anyone want to learn Arduino stuff with me?

As I was leaving I ran into John Benson who is truly fabulous. We met at Maker Faire, where I was giving a talk on DIY for people with disabilities. At that talk he told me all sorts of stuff about his own work in Berkeley, fixing wheelchairs for the last 20 years or so. He worked for Ed Roberts for a while and he had a workshop in Berkeley working with various nonprofits. I was so happy to see him, as we had lost each other’s contact info! So, it sounds like now, rather than move into the Ed Roberts Campus — the rent being quite high — he has gotten funding from the city and has a workshop space where he repairs donated equipment and gets it to people, and makes stuff for people who are part of Through the Looking Glass – stuff like baby bike seats that attach onto the backs of wheelchairs. At some point I got all fired up and started to rant about people not documenting their skills and their accessibility and mobility hacks. I may have pointed at John dramatically and demanded, “WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DIE!? Your knowledge dies with you!” John held up his camera and said “That’s why I have this!” I totally blushed.