Category Archives: Hardware

crazy ideas, crackpottery, open-source hardware, and economics

I consort with some interesting people now on the open-source-hardware mailing list.

I suspect this is how my ideas would all end up looking like if I didn’t have some awesome friends who put up with my crazy rants and criticize me and force me to make sense… (function sort of like academic reviewers, but in-person and my friends can unplug me from the internet and force me to go sailing when I get really unhinged)

Full slideshow:

Sensorica has some interesting ideas behind it, but it’s hard to access through a layer of what, for lack of a better term, I must describe as “crackpottery”. maybe genius is just refined crackpottery?

side note/pun: get it? crazy crack-tea pot? heehee

Hennie Meyer | Dancing Teapots

However, the term craze is also used to refer to minute cracks in pottery glaze, again suggesting the metaphorical connection of cracked pots with questionable mental health. (src)

Heck it appears I’m halfway there according to some made-up-indexing method…

1. Cranks insist that their alleged discoveries are urgently important.

2. Cranks love to talk about their own beliefs, often in inappropriate social situations, but they tend to be bad listeners, being uninterested in anyone else’s experience or opinions.



frictionless human blobs

Anyway, my friend’s opinion:

it’s assuming humans are frictionless spheres a bit

but I’m always down for a novel utopia

I think it’d be a terrible way to run an economy or manufacturing chain tho

there doesn’t seem to be any planning for predictability, contract, risk

in that way seems a bit Valve-like, in their ideal of their internal structure

Here’s the valve new employee PDF, which is now on my commute reading list:

Anyway, here’s my own (mostly coherent, but very long) post on the topic of open-source hardware and its relation to economics.

long post is long

I agree that our current economic system (capitalism) has inspired an amazing amount of innovation via the (greed + cash + ego –> innovation) cycle. I would much rather live in 2014 than in 1714.

However, we can definitely say that this incredible innovation / economic system has its downsides — unwillingness to confront global warming, marketing cigarettes to developing countries since advertising is heavily restricted in developed countries [1] [2] [3], marketing baby formula instead of breast milk[5], verizon/comcast [6], these are some obvious examples of how corporate systems have led to evil / “not good”, without even talking about the overall distribution of resources in the world (why does poverty still exist?).

I agree that open & closed ecosystems are not exclusive. But I sometimes wonder if as a society we are kind of like the Hollywood studio execs — “each movie is 500 million dollars, let’s not risk doing anything different like having perse female characters.”

For instance, from what I understand, the Republican point of view is that “our current economic system has led to great advances in technology that has bettered everyone’s life. This system may be unjust and rife with a whole host of issues, income inequality may be set to worsen forever, the planet may become inhospitable to humans, but we should not risk trying anything else.”

There’s actually no way to tell who will be right in the short- or long-term future. However, I strongly do want to encourage or get out of the way of people who want to experiment with these more “peer-based” models of production, where “everything is shared and people benefit from each others’ knowledge and contributions.”

I personally think this is what we should move toward in the future, and these pangs of “open source work / socially conscious work / academic research is not rewarded equivalently in cold, hard, cash” are the result of a transition between the two models, where ultimately we end up in 100% opensource land. But my personal opinion is pretty irrelevant, it’d take hundreds of years to arrive at this sort of scenario, and for all I know a mixture of the systems may be the most stable or ideal state. I recognize the human limitations to my knowledge and personal beliefs. tl;dr I don’t make for a great revolutionary ;P

Getting back to the original point, yea, cool people work for both lots of money and lots of purpose, and although working for lots of money can lead to bad things, working for lots of purpose can lead to bad things too [7] [8], so we shouldn’t unilaterally judge people either way (although, as puny humans, we invariably will stereotype in order to function in life).

Anyway, philosophy hour aside, now I’m going to go back to rabidly supporting opensource just like Apple fanboys support Apple! 😛


[1] News article summarizing recent move to expand market in developing countries

[2] Overview of scientific research

[3] (pictures!) Packaging


[4] check out how many cigarette ads were in the old Tech

FRIDAY, JANUARY 7, 1955: “Your own college-and-class pipe” ?? o___O Thanks, but no thanks.

[5]  UNICEF Formula for Disaster (Nestle, Phillipines)

[6] “it appeared that Verizon learned a valuable lesson: it can flat out lie to governments, promise 100% fiber coverage in exchange for subsidies, then not deliver, and no one will do a damn thing about it” .




other people’s emails on the thread:

“Yes, [x], you’re right.  I recently saw Linus Torvalds in Central begging.  Richard Stallman hit me up for a job washing my windshield.

Just joking of course, people make lots of money off of commons-based production.  Check out some of the economics of “free revealing” of ideas by Eric von Hipple (MIT) or Yochai Benkler (Harvard).  It’s not the zero sum game you represent.  Benkler’s book is affordable, even if you only make 90k”

Review: While some of Benkler’s arguments and examples are fascinating and easily read, they are sandwiched between portions of confusing, thick, often heavily theoretical prose. […] In spite of these attempts to make this book more accessible, it is probably best suited to an academic or technical audience; those with an interest and background in the topics discussed. (src)

“Eric von Hipple’s books are really good, too.”

Review: There is no doubt that the continued lower costs and democratization of the tools and distribution of things previously the realm of pros is reshaping our world. But this book reads like a college textbook. More academia than Malcolm Gladwell or Chris Anderson. Which I guess is good if you’re a true researcher. (src)

Heehee. Guess academics try so hard to distinguish themselves from crackpots that to laypeople they reach another dimension of incomprehensibility.

Update: Just read this thanks to Ned —

relatively flat networks can quickly generate hierarchical structures even without any attempt at a power grab by emergent leaders or by any organizational, coordinated action.

basically, for networks to remain flat, they must be engineered to stay that way, since they’ll strongly tend to un-flatten, especially thanks to social media


boston winter 2015: it snowed a lot.

snopocalypse? snowmaggedon?

Jan 27 2015 snow
Jan 27 2015 snow

Here in Boston, it didn’t snow at all the last few months, and then suddenly it snowed a lot (90” over the last 30 days).

Here are some sweet graphs from Samuel Lillo
Source: Samuel Lillo
Source: Samuel Lillo

On the plus side, I’ve now met my neighbors (since they’re outside shoveling for hours). At this point, we just throw the snow up as high as we can onto piles of snow. There’s nowhere to shovel to snow to…

when the snowbanks are higher than you, where do you shovel snow to?

I’ve also made new friends and spent quality time with my roommates. We all co-work, since everyone is working from home because our city cannot handle the snow. *


* I come from Georgia. My Boston friends were laughing last year about Atlanta shutting down due to a few inches of snow. WHO’S LAUGHING NOW HUH? 😛 My Alaskan friends tell me our Boston snowfall is normal for them, but their cities are built to handle it.

Here is a large icicle.


It later fell and broke the railing/steps on our side-access porch. o__o Apparently, falling icicles do kill people. I’m glad no one died from our icicles.

Here are some more pictures of my poor bike. <3 bike, I will spend $$ and give you a professional tune-up after winter is over.


Biking in boston is a struggle right now. The major streets are passable, but all the bike racks are very buried. For instance, at wework south station, they admonished me for locking to the railing I didn’t need to step in chest-high snow to reach. To add insult to injury, when I got out of work the railing was blocked anyway by trash bags. :/

bike at work on top of bike racks
bike at work on top of bike racks that are buried in snow

Here is my bike after the valentine’s weekend snowstorm. i left it overnight on top of a snowpile in order to lock it to something. When I left, I had a “where did I lock up?” moment. It was well-camouflaged.


here are some pictures from my friends

mt. albany street snow farm

mt. mit, mt. simmons, mt. albany
back when it was “just” 3.5 stories tall.

mt. mit, mt. simmons, mt. albany, mt. cambridge, who knows

view from the top
view from the top


There were some silly snow vehicles: fansled aka meloncraft, ebike-ski, and scooter-ski

For technical details / build reports, see

around the web

our mayor is flummoxed

Walsh: “I don’t know what to say to anybody anymore. Hopefully it will stop eventually”

Turns out the National Weather Service meteorologists are humans and not computers





(i wonder why they have ellipses… AND ALL CAPS… is it for maritime radio, which I’ve now spent hours listening to … for their text-to-speech synthesizer… trivia, maritime radio weather reports have three voices since 2002… here are some voice samples via NOAA “Voice Improvement Processor” … listening to it brings up salty memories for me)

weather is happening

He just appeared on WMBR too. at 24 mins in. If you want your daily dose of Angry Boston Weather Preacher Dude.

train through snow

everyday i’m shovelling

MBTA quick reference map


Note: I dug out some of this from

highway signs with a boston accent

Source: 5wcvb ABS news?
Source: 5wcvb ABS news?

build a snow igloo, then rent it out on airbnb?

Screenshot from 2015-02-17 00:54:51

PSA: Be careful. Turns out collapsing snow caves can kill you by asphyxiation. This happens when snow plows don’t realize it’s a snow cave instead of a snow bank and dump tons of snow on top of your cave. Then you die. So make sure to stick a flag with a picture of a human on top of your snow cave, and don’t make it on the side of the street.

weather forecasts

predicting the future is hard. here are some good websites to help you (great UI, graphs temperature forecast for you and you can hover over it for instance to check out the likelihood it will be raining at 1pm on Tuesday)

Add Media (links to the national weather forecast broadcasts)

Screenshot from 2015-02-16 23:37:42 (comes with webcams! very clean and detailed) (if you like a dose of snarky with your forecast) SNOBLOBS

here is a narwhal on a narwhal

to end on a happier note, here is some cuteness for you

narwhals on narwhals
narwhals on narwhals

I finished a hexapod instructables, get featured, and then mope some more

I finished my second instructables ever! This one was a lot more “successful” than my first one — it was featured on the front page for a day or two. 😀 yay!

This is the instructables for my 18 degree of freedom (18 servo) hexapod:

It probably took slightly less time than my 7 minute video on the design process (which took at least 2 or 3 full days) yet garnered about 10x the views. The little star in the upper right hand corner stands for featured.

All that it means is that your instructables gets put on the front page for a little while. At least it did much better than CNC nyancake. Apparently nyancat is a thing of the past for everyone except me XD;

day 1
day 2

It was featured within hours of posting, crazy moderators.

instructables published jun 24th

It is gratifying to see that at least some of the thousands of people who visited that instructables clicked through to my took-ages-to-make design process of a hexapod video. See spike in traffic at the end of June.
I still don’t know the secret to getting comments though. I want to interact with people virtually! At least for now.
As usual — then I mope about how I focus too much on these sorts of stats instead of going out and “enjoying what I do” or whatever.
But yea, all in all. Four years ago I never would have imagined being on hackaday and having a featured instructables. These were all things I saw the peers I looked up to do, not myself. Yet I find myself qualifying these accomplishments — it was just for a project I basically copied off the internet, it is just for a really derpy hexapod I never really finished, etc. I have an awesome friend who was published in science as an undergraduate, yet she always qualifies her publication, and it’s obvious that she’s missing how amazing this whole thing is. Maybe I am doing that?
Lack of self-confidence is unattractive and can make other people difficult to work / high maintenance with, yet I can’t get rid of this in myself. Grr! At least there is hope for me. I can reasonable list three things every day that I am proud of myself for, unlike some friends of mine. x___x must spread positive energy

Well, that’s life in the first world. I am in an amazing spot for myself currently — working on my own startup with two very good friends who are still my friends so far, assisting with a go-kart class for pay, no financial issues for at least a few months — yet I still feel not-legit, like I haven’t really built anything really cool or robust. I’m not sure what it’ll take, since I certainly won’t catch up anytime soon to people I look up to in the areas they specialize in.

I guess that is just something I will have to get used to. Or I could finish kiwikart

hexacon. well, hexapod jewelry and then someday a post about hexacon

i wanted to make jewelry
i also need prizes for saturday’s hexacon

bought some supplies from, then lasercut some hexapods from a vector SVG file of my hexapod CAD files

I added some lock washers and made them asymmetrical, because I miss the ones that +Hanna Lin made for me a while back that look like this, but prettier and more functional.

lock washer source,
Fatal flaw of acrylic jewelry: it only wants to face one direction, sideways, by default (I twisted it around to take this picture). Ah well. A puntly-hour’s worth of work.