Sparkfun gave everyone at the Open Hardware Summit a SHOVEL (spork). I'm glad any time somewhat asserts or hopes that open hardware is more than just microcontrollers, and of course I'm happy to add to my titanium spork collection. I was dubious of the other end of the tool, however until last night. I've discovered that the SHOVEL is ideally suited to removing the seeds from squash. Grapefruit spoons are also good for this, but I don't own one.
I spent the day at the Open Hardware Summit. Actually, I'm still here. talia_et_alia and I are presenting a poster on Teaching with Open Boxes, which will be the subject of a future post. But I want to write promptly with some highlights of the rest of the day.( Eben Moglen )
( Cool Hardware )( Negative Stuff ) ( Design for Education )
Today I'm writing code in the worst programming language I've ever seen. Evidently the function parameters of built-in functions must be constants, not variables. This doesn't work:
Builtin(MyVar)but this does:
if MyVar == 1: Builtin(1) if MyVar == 2: Builtin(2)
My boss writes "I gave Campbell a rough tine about this when CRbasic first came out. I had forgotten how frustrated I was that they forced me to do something so obviously inelegant." So at least I'm in good company.
I've been to several really good meetings this week, and several frustrating ones. When the group is large, and new people join all the time, the structure of the meeting matters a lot more than it does at housemeetings I've been at. Structures that I never found that useful suddenly seem necessary:
- Having a neutral facilitator. Not all the time, but certainly when the debate gets heated.
- Having an agenda. Meetings go so well when we agree which problems we're trying to solve, and don't bring up other issues. Someday maybe we'll announce agendas ahead of time so that people can decide how important it is to attend---but I suspect that's an advanced skill.
- Separating brainstorming from debate. This is the flip side of the last point. I always found this kind of brainstorming a bit annoying, because I think it's the discussion of ideas that inspires new ideas. But if we're going to have time that's closed to new ideas, it probably makes sense to have time that is open for anyone to bring ideas and not be shot down.
Working on winterization, the tension between inclusivity and sharing my expertise is really interesting. Preliminary evidence suggests I'm not doing a good job at resolving these. Debating everything in big groups and never delegating obviously agravates the problem, as does the tight deadline of cold weather.
Two days ago this time I was sitting in General Assembly in Dewey Sq. A couple of hours later I was linking arms with friends and strangers, waiting for the police to arrive. The police were coming to remove us from the Greenway, a small piece of park half a block from the one occupied by tents for the last week and a half.
It was never clear whether we were to be removed from both spaces or only from the Greenway. We divided ourselves evenly between the two spaces, about 200 people to each. I ended up in the older encampment, which in the end the police left alone.
The was a hectic hour between the GA consensus to stay on the Greenway and non-violently accept arrest, and organized into lines. I moved tents, and yelled at people, and passed out my sharpies to get the National Lawyers Guild number onto as many arms as possible. After that, things got very quiet.
Waiting for the cops is a strange feeling. It's a little like being in a car crash, the moment when I realize that I'm not in control anymore, and I just need to hold on until I stop moving, and then take stock. Only Monday night, it went on for three hours.
Around 3 the police vehicles left, with 141 of our number, although we didn't get that count until they were all released. The garbage trucks drove off, with the tents, signs, and assorted belongings of the folks camped on the Greenway. As people spending the night settled into groups to debrief, we collected some trash and headed back to Somerville.
I'll be back in Dewey Square tomorrow to participate in the Logistics Commitee, and to attend the GA. I'll be writing more about what I'm doing and why in the coming days. If you're local, and you haven't been down; if you're waiting for someone to show you around, or you have questions, drop me a line.
talia_et_alia and I drove up to Montreal for the conference, and stayed a few days after. This was our first long ride on our motorcycle, and also the test run for the panniers and luggage rack that we built. I've been meaning to write about the latter, but maybe I'll wait until mark 2, which will be substantially more robust.
I was particularly intrigued by the explanation one physicist gave of the importance of experiment. The intro physics classes I've taken have covered subject matter that we've understood for at least a century. In that context, it's very hard to maintain a critical stance towards accepted physical models ('laws'). So it's great to hear a professor talking about the difference between using science and doing science. The student who asserted that physics is superior (to engineering) because it deals with the universal, without the encumberment of humanity, was also fabulous---I know physicists think this, but they so rarely come out and say it.
Turkle's description of the attitudes towards CAD in the 80's helped me to understand the rhetoric and departmental politics that I witnessed during my undergrad. The second ethnogrophy overlapped my time at MIT, and closely matched what I experienced.
As with several other ethnographies that I have picked up recently, I found Turkle's heavy filtering of evidence to support her thesis frustrating. (Unlike the other two, I actually finished this one.) It's obvious that she believes we have embraced new technology too readily, with too little regard for what is lost. (I gather her latest book is even more explicit in this regard.) Strangely, she seems to believe that the reader has not heard any of these criticisms of simulations. Every professor I had at MIT, and every experienced engineer I've worked with since, has expressed strong reservations about the use of computer models. Every one has encouraged me to draw by hand, or use back of the envelope calculations, either instead of or to supplement simulation.
I am disappointed that Simulation did not record any advice from practitioners on deciding whether simulation is useful, and how to combine it with other scientific methods. These are decisions I make constantly, and I'd much rather learn from others' mistakes than from my own. More on that in my next post.
The supervisor on one of my work projects has decided that we should present our data as a collection of isopleth maps. This is doubly challenging, because we need to invent isopleths from the dataset, which only covers 215 cities around the country. Another researcher (at LBNL?) did this with ArcGIS, so my boss is talking about buying a copy and having me learn to do this.
I'm concerned with how long it will take me to learn ArcGIS, especially since I'm not likely to use this skill with any frequency. Any estimates? Is this a week of work? More? As hard as learning photoshop, or as hard as learning your first programming language? Is the task at hand particularly difficult? Is this all a terrible idea?
Extra bonus: If you can do this for less time/money than I can, send me email. I may be able to contract this out.
I'm coteaching a class on Tuesday nights in which we're going to build smart power strips to monitor and control electrical loads. We'll be teaching soldering, a bit of arduino programming, and the perenial favorite, "how big is a kWh?" Starts 4 May. Please forward widely.
Also, Sprouts is a cool place in Davis Sq. Come by for the shop tools, or the radical educational philosophy, or check out the other classes about to start.
Here's the course website and the official description:
ecomodding your home :: creating strategies to conserve electricity is a two month seminar focused on identifying and implementing simple strategies to reduce electricity consumption. In this seminar, we'll use a special power strip developed at sprout. This power strip enables you to see how & when your appliances use electricity and ensure they only use electricity when you want them to.whether that means automatically turning off your TV's standby mode while you're at work or dimming your lamp when its sunny outside.
Coordinated by Eric Smith, Gideon Weisz, and Daniel Bergey (the designers of the smartstrip), this seminar costs $280 (and participants will keep their power strip). Other tools and materials will be made available at sprout's studios, where the seminar is being held each Tuesday evening. For more information, check out the seminar site, or if you're ready to sign up, head over to the eventbrite page.
As we're all putting our computers away and getting ready to leave, one of the instructors chips in with some advice about where to get dinner: "It's just men in the room now, right? Two nights ago, we went to [restaurant]. It was pretty much total eye candy. All the waitresses are 22 and in short black skirts." At this point there's some quiet tittering, while I start frowning and stepping back from the conversation. He goes on: "Of course, the waiters are also 22 and in short skirts." I actually crack a smile, being very much in favor of equal-opportunity eye-candy. I start to lick my lips appreciatively, until I hear the end of the sentence. "You've got to watch out for that." What the hell am I doing in a room full of men who are groaning at the horror of seeing other men's legs?
I've been debating ever since getting this job how strong a boundary I want between my professional identity and aspects of myself that might not go over well with some of the people I work with. Recently, I've been spending more time among queers, and I've been feeling OK about presenting one way to people who appreciate skirts and earings and pretty hair, and another way at work. On the other hand, I think I've been at this job long enough that my coworkers and bosses know what I can do, and are unlikely to forget that on account of my nail polish. I've been feeling pretty good about my niche, and then I get reminded that people will commit as much asshattery as they think they can get away with. Now I want to push back, like prodding a sore tooth, to find out how much I can get away with.