Charcoal Briquette Maker

Give someone a bag of briquettes and they can grill for a week or two, but if you teach them how to make briquettes … well, then they need to acquire biomass, a 55-gallon drum, and some metal parts, but once they have those ….

All kidding aside, this is *wayyy* cool. [The MIT D-Lab site also has instructions on how to build and use your own corn sheller][mit]. By the way, MIT people, not everyone has access to welding equipment, but the design could easily be modified so that the tamper and the ejector are bolted together.


Small Spaces

I have always enjoyed the idea of small spaces, especially elaborate small spaces like these [apartments in Jessica Mason’s list][jm]. I’ve seen the Hong Kong apartment with movable walls before, but I had no idea that “tiny apartment” was a video genre. (But then what isn’t a video genre these days?) Design milk has a similar list of [backyard offices][dm], which are altogether better designed and better made. (That is, they seem to be like the HK apartment, the product of an architectural design process.)

Backyard office

What all these small spaces hold is purpose. At least in their representations, they are all about functionality and bypass cruft. You need a table: here is a table. You have room for two people: here are two chairs, two glasses, two plates, etc.

My own space is approaching these in its purposefulness, but since it is a living space, it also has a fair amount of cruft. Also, it is not as customized as I might like, if only because I don’t yet feel comfortable making too many modifications to the house itself.

If you are interested in the HK apartment, here it is:


[Card reader]( made with Legos, Arduino, a hacked Canon camera, and Python. It images the old 80-column cards, turns the images into ASCII, and then you can take it from there. Link to Youtube video of the whole thing in action.

Why I Like Kickstarter

I have invested in at least two Kickstarter projects that were about manufacturing something here in the United States. Both were successful — successful beyond their wildest imagination, I would conjecture — and both are in the process of making and shipping product, and discovering just how complicated that process is. Both projects also had great video “pitches” or profiles. Today I would like to share the one from Flint and Tinder. It’s only two minutes long; give it a view:

[Making and learning are moving towards a merger][ml]. I don’t know who the person behind the Getting Smart website is, but the post is a useful synthesis of a number of recent efforts, or at least impulses, in this direction. While I wholeheartedly agree that education should be more facilitative, rather than instructional, than it currently is, I do wonder if all these advocates have considered the costs involved: facilitation requires a much higher number of teachers to work with smaller groups of students, so that the needs of each student, and their diverse groups, can be addressed individually and collectively. Personally, I’m all for it, and it’s the kind of teaching I enjoy the most, but I do wonder about the viability given the current economic landscape to cut education budgets, to impose more and more standardization, and, thus, to remove the teacher from any kind of interactive and/or proactive role in education.


[The Machines That Made the Jet Age.]( I had decided that after the boat book I was going to get out of the making scene — all the attention in the academy stays focused on language — but I keep coming across articles like this and, honestly, I really enjoy reading them.

The Re-Emergence of a Craft-Based Economy

In an article in the *New York Times*, Adam Davidson synthesizes a number of recent events into a larger phenomenon that he calls a “craft-based economy.” He points to Sam Adams beer, Starbucks, Apple, and the various products offered on Etsy as facets of what is apparently called “happiness economics”, which argues that “once people reach some level of comfort, they are willing — even eager — to trade in potential earnings at a lucrative but uninspiring job for less (but comfortable) pay at more satisfying work.” Another dimension of this view is that other individuals within this economy, and presumably enough of the middle class to matter, are willing to be price insensitive on certain consumables.

That is, even in these tight economic times, some individuals are leaving good jobs for jobs that pay them less well, and often require more work, but make them happier, and some consumers are choosing not the commodity version of an item but the one that satisfies some other dimension. Davidson, and I guess happiness economists too, ignores the fact that there are other quantifiable dimensions of a product than its price: e.g., organic produce.

But the larger point is an interesting one, and I like that Davidson included in his examples a micro-manufacturer who saw a niche for precisely-milled metal alloy parts and now has contracts with Boeing and General Electric. There is, as Davidson points out, always the danger that a bigger player will decide that the niche is large enough to be profitable and to displace the smaller player, but this is something of which smaller players, like the fabricators that I study, have long been aware.


The 3D printing revolution is here and it looks like consumers, or rather *makers*, are going to lead the way and industry is going to play catch-up. Remember the idea of print books on demand at your local book store? Never happened. Now it’s print *anything* on demand. (Okay, anything plastic, but with printed concrete houses under consideration, I think the possibility for other media is open for the time being.)

A young Brooklyn couple loved the Pilot Hi-Tec pens so much that they decided to create a stainless steel housing for them. They decided to try to get [funding for their effort from Kickstarter][ks]. They had a modest goal of $2500. They ended up with $281,989. And now I wish I was one of their investors, who at $50 got a pen, because now they are [selling them for $99][shop]. Too rich for my blood, but oh so lovely in stainless steel.

I must remember to browse Kickstarter more often. It’s so lovely to see people designing and making things.


I Think I’m in the Right Place

I just purchased Mark Frauenfelder’s [Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World][mbh] and once I completed my purchase, Amazon showed me a set of books in which I might also be interested. There’s Crawford’s _Shop Class as Soulcraft_ and Richard Sennett’s _The Craftsman_, both of which appear in my own book. Frauenfelder, by the way, is a regular contributor to BoingBoing. I am so in the right place right now.



It’s a great idea: take the beloved Mason jar and turn it into a coffee cup — one sees an entire secondary market in convenient sleeves cropping up — but [Cuppow][] is only available through its own website. It’s price of $7.99 is not bad: this is obviously meant to target a particular market which is willing to pay for its green-ness and/or cleverness. (Hey, I’m in that market, so I can write that.) But the shipping of $5 means your total cost is $13. Too much. Get back to me, Cuppow, when you have gotten your costs for one or the other down.


LED Throwies

Because sometimes you really do have a bunch of cheap LEDs lying around. And sometimes this is exactly what your daughter wants to do with them. And sometimes being a parent really is a way to have a second childhood. [Directions are at Instructables.](