Snowflake Hat

This winter has been the longest and darkest in Berlin since 1951, so last month I paid another visit to Fabienne Serrière (FBZ) who you might recall from my earlier video as a hardware hacker and machine knitter extraordinaire. This time I had something of my own I wanted to knit. Inspired by Fabienne and Becky Stern and everybody else involved in hacking these machines, who built upon the work of others and then put their own improvements into the commons, I decided to draw on the commons to create an open source hat.

One of the best places to explore our cultural commons is of course the Public Domain Review, where I found just the right images to fit both my hat and the Berlin weather. Check out the video above to see how the hat came together!

One of many images from Snowflakes: a Chapter from the Book of Nature (1863) on the Public Domain Review

These images are certainly beautiful, but that was 1863, we’ve moved on a bit since then. Now, thanks to the aid of modern technology, we can finally present these snowflakes as the artist would have envisioned them, in glorious 1-bit duocolor:

So they may have lost a little subtlety, but hey, they’re on a hat.


You can see (and download) many more of these great snowflake drawings from the Public Domain Review. And while you’re there, have a look around, their collection is a fascinating, expertly curated look into our cultural history. Check out images of the Krakatoa Sunsets from 1883 (good name for a surf band, that). Cheseldon’s osteographical images of lively skeletons, and read the back story of the Brothers Grimm. Public domain content belongs to all of us – so you can browse the collection for inspiration, and feel free to re-use and remix. Why not screenprint your favourite Kamekichi Tsunajima woodcut on a t-shirt?

my choice: WILD HOG!

Need some material for your surrealist erotica? Look no further than the toothy vaginas of Emanuel Swedeborg’s erotic dreams. Dive into the back catalogue of the Elvis of the early 1900s, Enrico Caruso and you just might find inspiration for something truly marvellous:

What I really love about browsing the public domain or other free cultural works (such as those under Creative Commons Attribution or Attribution-ShareAlike licenses) is that there is always the possibility to just grab something and experiment. You don’t have to ask, you don’t have to explain yourself, or decide whether you may end up using something commercially, you can just go ahead and play. You already have permission to use these works for whatever you like.

You also have permission to make, alter, improve or sell this hat, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license.

The Adafruit tutorial on machine knitting with hacked Brother machines: http://learn.adafruit.com/electroknit/overview

The instructions for machine knitting this hat: snowflake hat instructions.txt (also written up here)

My GIMP file: snowflake hat.xcf (The GNU Image Manipulation Program is an excellent free software program that is similar to Photoshop. Highly recommended, once you get used to the shortcuts being different! Also runs on MacOS X and Windows)

Building the RepRap Prusa i3 3D printer


A couple of weeks ago I attended Open 3D Engineering‘s first ‘Build Your Own 3D Printer’ workshop at Fab Lab Berlin to find out a little more about the process of 3D printing in general and the RepRap project in particular. I didn’t have the money nor the need to actually make my own printer, but there are a handful of things I would like to 3D print, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn more. While the 11 participants were untangling cables and programming microcontrollers, I was sticking a camera in their faces and asking stupid questions, mostly along the lines of ‘what does this button do?’ or ‘is that meant to snap in two like that?’

Occasionally I did actually get some hands-on experience, wielding big dangerous tools like hex keys or tweezers, but mostly I was there to watch and learn. I am currently building a machine of my very own though. As I said, personally I don’t have much interest in owning my own 3D printer just yet, but something slightly more suited to my lifestyle is a programmable open hardware camera slider. There’s also only one axis to worry about…

So I’m starting to put it together and 3D printing the custom parts with Bram, I’ll keep you posted – hopefully there will be some nice fluid time-lapse / stop motion / motion-controlled video footage in the next few months.

just waiting on a few more parts…

 

In the meantime, here are a few thoughts, theories and questions on the RepRap project:

To me, and many others, what is truly fascinating about RepRap is not just the sci-fi nature of converting bits to atoms. It’s not even the decentralised open source collaboration of the project. It’s the process of evolution in action and the exponential growth which can only come from a self-replicating machine.

To understand the thoughts behind the project, read Adrian Bowyer’s ‘Wealth Without Money‘, a short manifesto of sorts originally published in 2004, which lead to Bowyer creating the first RepRap printer in 2008.

In addition to founding RepRap, Adrian Bowyer’s other great life achievement has been making it into the 2013 Open Source Swimsuit Calendar

 

Further reading on a different aspect of the RepRap project: developer Erik De Bruijn’s Master’s thesis “On the viability of the open source development model for the design of physical objects – Lessons learned from the RepRap project“[pdf]

You might wonder how anyone has time to develop 3D printers and earn a living at the same time – contributors aren’t paid to improve RepRap machines, and as the designs are open source, nobody can claim a commerical monopoly on their designs. So how do they make a buck? Is Adrian Bowyer flipping burgers part-time?

There’s no commercial company pulling the strings behind RepRap, although many of the people deeply invoved in the project have ended up using their expertise to start their own companies or otherwise work professionally around the project, providing an interesting look at the business models which arise without a commercial monopoly.

Adrian Bowyer’s company RepRap Pro, for example, makes and sells RepRap kits and provides training in 3D printing, benefiting from his experience and status within the RepRap community. Josef Prusa, designer and namesake of the Prusa i3 we were building, has written a book called  ‘Getting Started with RepRap‘ in addition to running workshops and offering 3D printing consulting. Erik De Bruijn’s commercial project, the Ultimaker 3D printer, is one of the most popular domestic 3D printers and was recently rated ‘Most Accurate’, ‘Fastest’, and ‘Best Open Hardware’ in Make Magazine’s in-depth test of 15 3D printers. There’s also a growing ecosystem of parts, electronics and filament supply specialists around the project.

One interesting point in de Bruijn’s paper is that the RepRap community is doubling in size every 6 months (or was, in 2010 – have any further surveys been made?). It made me wonder about the diversity of people getting involved. In his survey de Bruijn looked into demographics based on education, age and background, but one thing you may notice from the workshop video is that all participants were male. I’ve tried to find information on the level of participation by women in RepRap or 3D printing, but haven’t come across much. RepRap is basically at the intersection of two very male-dominated fields, mechanical engineering and free software, so perhaps it’s not surprising that (to an outsider, anyway) there isn’t much visibility of women in the project. Are there many high-profile women in this area? Has there been much discussion of the subject? Got any links to articles?

Meet New People! Learn to Code! Eat Snacks!

 


As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve started attending OpenTechSchool workshops to get a better understanding of computers, and to meet other people starting out in this field. It has been wonderful and I’d recommend anyone else to give it a go as well. Check out the video above to find out some more about the workshops and how OTS operates.

 

My experience with OpenTechSchool also got me thinking. Could their techniques work in other subject areas? Why not OpenScienceSchool or OpenMusicSchool, for example?

It doesn’t appear immediately plausible. Programming seems uniquely ideal for this kind of environment- the programming tradition stems from self-taught programmers offering their advice and experience (and occasionally their brutal smackdowns) to newbies who are also learning through books, websites, forums, and good old-fashioned ‘trying things out’.

CC-BY toolmantim on Flickr

On the other hand it seems to me that OpenTechSchool works, not because of its subject matter, but because it makes the best use out of both technology and people. There’s less pressure on a single teacher to create their own materials, and there’s no need for expensive textbooks. The curriculum is developed collaboratively and shared online. Once the initial core curriculum is written, coaches can spend more time focusing on the learner. Online version control means it’s easy to collaborate, adapt and improve the material, and the open license (CC-BY-SA) means it can be used by anyone, anywhere, sparing redundant creation of similar material.

 

Allowing each student to choose their own pace also seems an important aspect to this approach. In a traditional teaching environment, the teacher’s pace may be just right for some students, but others may be bored, confused or lost. With OpenTechSchool, the learner sets the pace and the coaches are proactive in offering support where needed.

Surely for any subject area, it would be worthwhile getting as much one-on-one teaching contact as possible, for the student’s confidence and comprehension and for the teacher to get a better understanding of each student’s progress and the effectiveness of the material.

 

The first prospective subject to enter my mind was language learning- my parents were both English language teachers and they speak multiple languages, so growing up, my house was always full of dictionaries and languages, and I’ve picked up some along the way. My Spanish is rusty, but I’ve hacked away at German for long enough that it will finally behave. What high school French I have left sounds like an offensive impression of a Frenchman choking on a baguette. My language abilities are nothing compared to a real European, but by now I’ve at least got a good feel for the learning process, and I think an OpenLanguageSchool could definitely work.

 

The social environment of these workshops is a great advantage for learning programming languages, and it’s also an absolute necessity for spoken languages. You can’t learn a language in isolation. Like programming, it’s through practical application (SPEAKING) that you really learn – the theory is good for filling in gaps, improving technique and expanding your understanding.

I told you there were snacks. CC-BY toolmantim on Flickr

It’s already common for people to meet up in the real world to learn and teach languages together, via language exchange or tandems. Mostly this is an entirely offline activity (though sometimes facilitated through online sites).

Where I see an opportunity is in the enhancement of this offline community by working together with online tools and activities, by using open educational resources like video, audio, texts, lessons or software together.

 

There are certainly many people who would be interested in such an idea, and there is a huge wealth of language-learning resources online already. The real work and the real opportunity is in curating and managing such resources, and building a structure for this kind of learning. Organisations like P2PU and Wikiotics or the Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning are all interesting initiatives to watch for the future, or better yet, get involved with now. As the number of language learning resources grows, and the organisation of these resources improves, the opportunity for more effective mixing of on- and offline learning becomes greater.

 

Language learning is just one of many areas where this approach could be effective. It would be wonderful to see the OpenTechSchool-style learning environment ‘go mainstream’ and become a regular part of the learning experience in many different fields. Not as something that replaces schools, university or independent study, but a way to enhance the learning experience and provide support and encouragement to learners of all backgrounds, income and interests.

Having no cost or barrier to entry makes it as easy as possible for people to join in. It brings education to people who would never normally have sought out or signed up for an evening class or traditional course. And it encourages people to continue educating themselves throughout their lives, not just for their career’s sake but for their own enjoyment and empowerment.

 

On that topic, If you want to improve your language learning with useful online tools and free software, check out this intro to Learning With Texts and Anki, or contribute to the Tatoeba translation project. Or if you want to help out the free and open source software community, you can contribute translations with Zanata.

My first play with the Arduino

[Video] I’m learning electronics and programming, one stupid mistake at a time


This is just a quick little look at my first play with the Arduino starter kit – I’ll follow up soon with more on open hardware, my development with the open source microcontroller and how this kind of tool can fit into my Year of Open Source.

If you want to try the projects yourself or find out more, check out the 10 new video tutorials with Arduino founder Massimo Banzi.

I doubt I’ll have use for a fire-breathing animatronic pony,  but there’s the possibility of using it for motion control to make time-lapse or stop-motion videos, it could become a internet-connected automatic printer, help me monitor my electricity usage, or control an automated greenhouse,
But right now, I have to go do my homework – in the meantime, check out my post on using open tools to learn programming and electronics.

The Wonderful, Wooly World of Hacked Knitting Machines

[Video] Check out what Fabienne Serrière (and others) are creating on their ’80s knitting machines


Once upon a time, there was a warm, fuzzy hack. It was 2010 – Becky Stern and Lada Ada (Limor Fried) built on Steve Conklin’s disk emulator and knitting machine resources to allow their modern computers to work with the ancient microcontroller of a 1980s knitting machine. This meant that they could now knit designs made with modern tools, too complex or tedious to easily knit by hand. They shared their work with the world and since then, following an open hardware model, they and many others have contributed hardware and software improvements, smoothed the workflow, and allowed other models of knitting machine to be hacked. I went for a beautiful autumnal bike ride over to Wedding and caught up with Fabienne Serrière (FBZ), who has contributed a number of improvements to the original hack and has the wonderful woolens to show for it. We talked about the history of knitting machines, this hack, open hardware and Fabienne’s various projects, and started plotting to make an open source sweater to keep me warm in the winter months. We covered so many different things that I can only show you a brief introduction to her projects now, but there will be more to come!

EDIT: as promised, a second video: we made a hat!

There’s also an open source knitting machine in the works, thanks to Varvara Guljajeva & Mar Canet – it’s called Knitic.

Info related to the Brother knitting machine hacks can be found here. Check out Lady Ada & Becky Stern’s original tutorial, here’s the video:

Andrew Salomone is an artist who does amazing things with this technology, an infinite Cosby sweater, a drum’n’bass loop scarf…

At the Open Knowledge Festival in Helsinki I saw a talk on knitting machines and personal fabrication by Estonian artist Varvara Guljajeva – (from the Knitic project – she was in fact the one who put me in touch with Fabienne). Varvara makes wonderful things with knitting machines (spam poetry, anyone?) and during her talk she showed this little gem from 1988: a charming lady showing how she programs her knitting on a commodore 64.

 

I don’t think it’s open source, but while we’re on the subject…

So, suggestions for open source sweaters are very much welcome, and if you’re in town, come say hi to me and Fabienne at the summit, tomorrow and Friday! This is not the last you shall hear of knitting machines…

Speaking at the Summit of Newthinking, 15th November

[Video] Checking in with Claudia and Andreas to see how the summit preparations are going

Next Thursday the Summit of Newthinking kicks off, and I’m going to be giving a talk about my first 100 days of trying to live open source – some of the successes and struggles, and my plan for the rest of the year. It’s also a great opportunity to tell some of the stories which I have experienced but haven’t had a chance to publish yet. I’ll be discussing the various different ways in which free / libre / open ideas are spreading into different areas, and some inspiring projects, some bizarre ideas, and some unusual approaches I’ve come across. Come by and say hi!

Newthinking has been around in the Berlin open source scene for almost 10 years, so over the last few months Andreas and Claudia have been introducing me to people with cool projects – and they’ve been extremely busy organising the summit as well! I went down to Newthinking HQ to talk to them about how all the preparations have been going and what to expect from the event next week.

There will be plenty of presentations, in both English and German. Check out the full schedule and speaker list here, and hopefully see you at the summit!

A GitHub for physical things: Knowable

[Video] Simon and Emanuel from Knowable talk about documenting DIY & open hardware projects

Claudia and Anna-Lena from newthinking are helping me get to know the Berlin scene of open source, makers, and hackers, and last week they got me in touch with Simon Höher and Emanuel Schwarz from Knowable.org, a new website which aims to facilitate documentation of projects, teaching new skills, providing space for feedback and catalysing collaboration. I went down to my local maker/hackerspace, Open Design City to chat to them:

Have a play on knowable.org, and you can also find out more about Jerry, the DIY open source server.

The beta schedule for the SUMMIT OF NEWTHINKING is online now, there’s only a couple more weeks to go, already there’s plenty to get excited about. This week I’ve been to visit Fabienne and her textile workshop, there’ll be a video soon – if you’re in Berlin on the 15th & 16th, check out her talk on open hardware!

Others I’m looking forward to are RepRap legend Josef Prusa‘s talk on 3d printing and decentralized development, and Phillip Marr’s look at open energy data approaches, “How much energy is needed to toast a slice of bread?” Keep an eye on the schedule, there’s more to come!

Meta Mate Mier is a very fine beer

This week has been a Mate-soaked, highly caffeinated one – not only do I have an Uruguayan friend visiting, but I visited Fabricio do Canto, a Brazilian living in Berlin, who runs the MetaMate bar. He and his friend Malte, both members of the Pirate Party, told me the story of Mier’s development and the interesting results of making their recipe public and their branding available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike-Non Commercial License (not a free culture license but more open and permissive than traditional copyright).

(it’s a bit of a multi-lingual mess – turn on captions for english subs)

Correction: it is not Fabricio’s Pirate Cave but a communal Pirate Cave put together by many different people, particularly the Hedy Lamarr Pirate Crew!

Well, actually Mier is a very fine ‘alcohol-containing beverage’ according to the German Purity Law of 1516,  a document even more highly revered than the constitution. The law says that real beer contains only malted barley, hops and water. (they didn’t know about yeast in 1516)

For more information, check out the links to:

Mier

Liquid Democracy

Creative Commons

German Pirate Party (wikipedia)

 

Technical Stuff or, How I’m Getting My Ass Handed to Me by a New Video Workflow:

Kdenlive has edged ahead in the Open Source NLE stakes… it is more forgiving of different codecs, though due to its crashy tendencies I have now developed a nervous tic – even when making dinner I reach instinctively for the ‘save’ shortcut after slicing each vegetable. Just in case my salad crashes.

You will have noticed that this time the video’s on YouTube. not ideal, but Gobblin.se doesn’t seem to accept my videos, Vimeo doesn’t do captions, so that makes shooting anything in Europe basically impossible. I’m working on a solution with JWPlayer – it’s open source, allows captions, and I can upload in WebM, an open format. But it’s not quite working for me yet.

In other pathetic struggles, I spent a good hour fumbling around working out how to export a screenshot, before good old VLC came to the rescue! It’s a piece of free software that everyone should have, whatever operating system they use. So much more than just a media player.