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 talked about the past and future of Open Hardware. I liked his declaration that "If we don't build it, it won't serve us." I struggle to articulate my reasons for caring about Open Hardware / FLOSS in ways that imply benefits to people who don't (want to) tinker with their tools as much as I do. Sometimes I hear that Open Hardware / Software has more features and is less expensive, or needs to be so before more people will use it. I think this promises too much and too little; Moglen's formulation is much closer to FLOSS as I know it.
Moglen also made explicit the critique of capitalism inherent in Open production, and tied it back to the 100-year history of such criticism. I don't understand why I don't hear this more often. My inspirations & intellectual heritage clearly include anarchist and labor critiques of capitalism, and hippie & punk DIY ethos, all echoed in contemporary manifestos around open hardware & software. Are FLOSS advocates unaware of this history? Unaware that non-engineers might have ideas to contribute? Unwilling to learn from 150 years of experience in non-hierarchical organization? Moglen at least is aware & giving credit.
I've been following the Lasersaur project for a while; today's talk makes it sound more ready for new users than the last update I read; very exciting. I had not heard of the DropBot before, and it's not at all useful for anything I do. But the demos were so cool, I almost want to do something with microfluidics anyway!
The gist of the Export Controls talk was that some things cannot legally be distributed as Open Hardware in the USA. Following Moglen's talk, I expected either advice that we change these laws, or disregard them, as we did for crypto export controls. At least, I hoped for advice on compartmentalizing the design so most parts were sharable, or partnering with developers outside the USA. Unfortunately, I got none of that, and I can't muster the warm community feelings I have for Open Hardware for a project to develop space for US citizens only.
Several of the afternoon talks on Innovation & Revolution were explicitly about closed hardware, or in one case not about hardware at all.
Paulo Blikstein gave a great talk on design requirements for education---incidentally the topic of my poster. He mostly said things that I don't want to hear, and that I complain about when other folks say them. In particular, that what I perceive as transparency and flexibility of design are deterrents to new users; that hardware for education should simplify, limiting can be done. I liked that he presented this as a temporary concealment for pedagogical purposes, not a permanent abstraction barrier. I'm familiar with the rotationally-invariant Lego electrical connector, and it's great---I get Blikstein's point here. I'm glad I learned Logo before learning C, and I like how scratch eliminates most syntax errors. I'm hope to see such beginner-friendly designs that also help the user who is ready to graduate to less polished systems.