Tag Archives: maker

Repair Cafe

This is a great idea:

At Amsterdam’s first Repair Cafe, an event originally held in a theater’s foyer, then in a rented room in a former hotel and now in a community center a couple of times a month, people can bring in whatever they want to have repaired, at no cost, by volunteers who just like to fix things.

Conceived of as a way to help people reduce waste, the Repair Cafe concept has taken off since its debut two and a half years ago. The Repair Cafe Foundation has raised about $525,000 through a grant from the Dutch government, support from foundations and small donations, all of which pay for staffing, marketing and even a Repair Cafe bus.

Thirty groups have started Repair Cafes across the Netherlands, where neighbors pool their skills and labor for a few hours a month to mend holey clothing and revivify old coffee makers, broken lamps, vacuum cleaners and toasters, as well as at least one electric organ, a washing machine and an orange juice press.

Just imagine these cropping up all over the US landscape. What a wonderful way to build both community and sustainability.

The Future of Libraries

The metafilter comment that’s been circling about what the massive cut to library funding in California really means:

Every day at my job I helped people just barely survive. Forget trying to form grass roots political activism by creating a society of computer users, forget trying to be the ‘people’s university’ and create a body of well informed citizens. Instead I helped people navigate through the degrading hoops of modern online society, fighting for scraps from the plate, and then kicking back afterwards by pretending to have a farm on Facebook (well, that is if they had any of their 2 hours left when they were done). What were we doing during the nineties? What were we doing during the boom that we’ve been left so ill served during the bust? No one seems to know. They come in to our classes and ask us if we have any ideas, and I do, but those ideas take money, and political will, and guts, and the closer I get to graduation the less and less I suspect that any of those things exist.

I’m a big supporter of libraries. We give annually to our local library (both financially and books and DVDs). I think Librarians are some of the few folks that really get what Copyright should be, and are very reliable advocates for sane copyright policy.

But at the same time I’ve got substantial frustration with parts of our libraries. I’m involved with multiple organizations that create really high quality educational content (MHLVUG and the Mid-Hudson Astronomical Association being the topic examples). For 9 years we used the Mid-Hudson Library System space (for a fee) with MHVLUG. It was a great space, but there was a huge missed opportunity, as our relationship with MHLS was always just that of a tenant. At the end, MHLS cutbacks meant we had to find another space, where we moved to Vassar College.

Contrast this with the Astronomy events I’ve led at Vassar College’s Farm Preserve. Not only were we given space, but we were wrapped into their series of events on the Farm Preserve, with joint advertising by the College. That led to huge turn out, and lots of positive feedback for both the College and our group.

The Library could be this kind of thing. And if it was, it would have the Hubble effect, where the citizenry were so invested in the organization that they wouldn’t let it get cut. There are some libraries that are thinking about, and embracing these kinds of ideas. The Fayetteville Free Library is doing some amazing things with setting up a Fab Lab. Lauren Smedley is an inspiration to what the future library could be, and lots of kudos to FFL for hiring her to try to make this happen.

I’m hopeful by nature, and I think our libraries will transform, eventually. But I do think it’s going to take a new generation of librarians to think past just books, and think about community at a broader level.

Building an El Wire Sign

After both of our Astronomy outreach events at Vassar I’ve gotten comments from folks that we should have a sign out at the main street to direct people into the event (which also might bring in folks that didn’t know about it.) This struck me as a great chance to look into using EL Wire.

EL Wire is what they used in the new Tron movie to make the distinctive look on people’s clothing. In the old tron the glow was post processing, in the new one it was actually there. EL Wire only glows blue/green, but through the use of colored sheaths you can get different hues. EL Wire runs at 100 Volts, 1000 Hhz, though with such little amperage that you can make an inverter that supports about 3m of wire that will run off 2 AA batteries.

So I bought some EL Wire in “red” to see about making a sign. I got 2 9 ft lengths (which turned out to be a good guess on length) that already had inverters on them. With some scotch and electrical tape I did a quick test to see if I could write out STAR PARTY with an arrow.


I considered the test successful, so I decided the next step was to paint the plywood black, and instead of using masking, actually drill through the plywood to make the lines.

It turns out that there is enough friction to hold the straight lines without any worries, but the loops on the Rs, P, and S need some help, so scotch tape to the rescue there just to hold it in place.

The final result with the lights off an illuminated:

It’s not so much red as orange, but as an indicator sign this should work out well for our events. It also made for a great little weekend project.

Maker Culture on Commonwealth Club

There is a great piece up on the Common Wealth Club’s podcast feed on How to DIY (no page yet, so the link is directly to the mp3). It’s hosted by Adam Savage of MythBusters fame, and has the editors of Make Magazine on it. A big part of their inspiration was Popular Science and Popular Mechanics from the 1920s and 1930s, when those magazines were largely about making your own stuff in many different contexts.

It also let me find out that the World Maker Faire is coming to NYC in September, which I’ll need to check out. There is also one in Detroit at the end of July, which I consider an inspired choice.