"makers" entries

Investigating the growth and influence of professional Makers

We're exploring the Maker movement's role in manufacturing, business and the economy.

The growth of the Maker movement has been nothing if not amazing. We’ve had more than 100,000 people at Maker Faire in San Francisco, and more than 50,000 at the New York event, with mini-Maker Faires in many other cities. Arduino is almost a household word, along with Raspberry Pi. Now that O’Reilly has spun out Maker Media as an independent company, we look forward to the continued success of these events; they’re signs of an important cultural shift, a rejection of a prefabricated, shrink-and bubble-wrap economy that hasn’t served us well. The Make movement has proven that there are many people who want the joy of creating, whether it’s a crystal radio, a custom head for a Pez dispenser, or glowing e coli.

But the Maker movement is not just about hobbyists. We’ve seen a lot in print about the re-shoring of American manufacturing, the return of the manufacturing jobs that had been exported to China and the Far East over the past few decades. One of the questions we’re asking at O’Reilly is what the Maker movement has to do with the return of manufacturing. If the return of manufacturing just means lots of low-level industrial jobs, paying barely more than minimum wage and under near-slavery conditions, that doesn’t sound desirable. That also doesn’t sound possible, at least to me: whatever else one might say about the cost of doing business in the U.S., North America just doesn’t have the sheer concentrations of people needed to make a Foxconn.

Of course, many of the writers who’ve noted the return of manufacturing have also noted that it’s returning in a highly automated way: instead of people running around a warehouse, you’ll have Kiva robots doing the running. Instead of skilled machinists operating milling machines, you’ll have highly automated computer controlled machines with a small number of humans to test the parts and make sure they’re operating properly. This vision is more plausible — even likely — but while it promises continued employment for the engineers who make the robots, it certainly doesn’t solve any problems in the labor market.

But just as small business has long been the cornerstone of the U.S. economy, one wonders whether or not small manufacturing, driven by “professional Makers,” could be the foundation for the resurgence of manufacturing in the U.S. Read more…

Comments: 5

Masking the complexity of the machine

The industrial Internet will bring abstraction and modularity to the physical world.

The Internet has thrived on abstraction and modularity. Web services hide their complexity behind APIs and standardized protocols, and these clean interfaces make it easy to turn them into modules of larger systems that can take advantage of the most intelligent solution to each of many problems.

The Internet revolutionized the software-software interface; the industrial Internet will revolutionize the software-machine interface and, in doing so, will make machines more accessible. I’m using “access” very broadly here — interfaces will make machines accessible to innovators who aren’t necessarily experts in physical machinery, in the same way that the Google Maps API makes interactive mapping an accessible feature to developers who aren’t expert cartographers and front-end developers. And better access for people who write software means wider applications for those machines.

I’ve recently encountered a couple of widely different examples that illustrate this idea. These come from very different places — an aerospace manufacturer that has built strong linkages between airplanes and software, and an advanced enthusiast who has built new controllers for a pair of industrial robots — but they both involve the development of interfaces that make machines accessible. Read more…

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Four short links: 4 February 2013

Four short links: 4 February 2013

Enlightened Tinkering, In-Browser Tor Proxy, Dark Patterns, and Subjective Data

  1. Hands on Learning (HuffPo) — Unfortunately, engaged and enlightened tinkering is disappearing from contemporary American childhood. (via BoingBoing)
  2. FlashProxy (Stanford) — a miniature proxy that runs in a web browser. It checks for clients that need access, then conveys data between them and a Tor relay. […] If your browser runs JavaScript and has support for WebSockets then while you are viewing this page your browser is a potential proxy available to help censored Internet users.
  3. Dark Patterns (Slideshare) — User interfaces to trick people. (via Beta Knowledge)
  4. Bill Gates is Naive: Data Are Not Objective (Math Babe) — examples at the end of biased models/data should be on the wall of everyone analyzing data. (via Karl Fisch)
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Culture transmission is bi-directional

Makers: don't worry about what DARPA will do to you. Think about what you can do to DARPA.

I read this piece in the New York Times the other day and have read it two or three more times since then. It dives into the controversy around DARPA’s involvement in hacker space funding. But frankly, every time I come across this controversy, I’m baffled.

I usually associate this sort of government distrust with Tea Party-led Republicans. The left, and even many of us in the middle, generally have more faith in government institutions. We’re more likely to view government as a tool to implement the collective will of the people. Lots of us figure that government is necessary, or at least useful, to accomplish things that are too big or hairy for any other group of citizens to achieve (in fact, a careful reading of Hayek will show even he thought so – commence comment flame war in 3 ..2 ..1 …).

So, to summarize, the right dislikes big government and typically the left embraces it. At least, right up until the moment the military is involved. Then the right worships big government (largely at the temple of the History Channel) and the left despises it.

Of course, I don’t know anything about the politics of the people criticizing this DARPA funding, just that they are worried that defense money will be a corrupting influence on the maker movement. Which would imply that they think Defense Department values are corrupting. And they might be right to have some concerns. While the U.S. military services are probably the single most competent piece of our entire government, the defense industrial complex that equips them is pretty damned awful. It’s inefficient, spends more time on political than actual engineering, and is where most of the world’s bad suits go to get rumpled. And there is no doubt that money is a vector along which culture and values will readily travel, so I suppose it’s reasonable to fear that the maker movement could be changed by it.

But what everyone seems to be missing is that this isn’t a one-way process and the military, via DARPA, is essentially saying “we want to absorb not just your technology but the culture of openness by which you create it.” That’s an amazing opportunity and shouldn’t be ignored. The money is one vector, but the interactions, magical projects, and collaboration are another, perhaps more powerful vector, along which the values of the maker movement can be swabbed directly into one of the most influential elements of our society. This is opportunity! Read more…

Comments: 2
Top Stories: May 14-18, 2012

Top Stories: May 14-18, 2012

A coding judge, big data's enterprise conundrum, DIY education is on the move.

This week on O'Reilly: Coding is tied to cultural competence, not just a profession; Jim Stogdill wondered if solution vendors are waiting for broad Hadoop adoption before jumping in; and we learned how Schoolers, Edupunks and Makers are reshaping education.

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DIY learning: Schoolers, Edupunks, and Makers challenge education as we know it

DIY learning: Schoolers, Edupunks, and Makers challenge education as we know it

We're on a path toward personalized learning.

Schoolers, Edupunks and Makers are showing us what's possible when learners, not institutions, own the education that will define their lives.

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Four short links: 27 March 2012

Four short links: 27 March 2012

Healthcare Ain't Silicon Valley, Math for Makers, Open Source Musician Tools, and Learn to Make Languages

  1. Five Tough Lessons I Had To Learn About Healthcare (Andy Oram) — I don’t normally link to things from Radar but this gels 110% with my limited experience with the healthcare industry.
  2. Makematics: Math for MakersI want the hardware hackers who are building the next generation of DIY 3D printers to be able to turn topological algorithms and concepts into open source tool path generation software that creates more efficient gcode and enables the fabrication of previously impossible physical forms. I don’t know the best way to go about this, but this site is intended to act as home for my experiments.
  3. CASH Music — they build open source tools for musicians and labels to make money. What WordPress did for bloggers, we’re doing for musicians. (via New York Times)
  4. PL101: Create Your Own Programming Language — you’ll build it in Javascript as you learn how programming languages and compilers work. It’ll run on AppEngine and be hosted on GitHub.
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Makers and hackers: The Where Conference is looking for you

Makers and hackers: The Where Conference is looking for you

Visualizations, RFID installs and a Mini Maker Faire will be featured at Where 2012.

The 2012 Where Conference is looking for makers, hackers, developers and do-it-yourselfers who are working in the geolocation and mapping spaces.

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Four short links: 7 November 2011

Four short links: 7 November 2011

City Finances, Low-Power Computers, Future History, and Learner's Mindset

  1. California and Bust (Vanity Fair) — Michael Lewis digs into city and state finances, and the news ain’t good.
  2. Tonido Plug 2 — with only watts a day, you could have your own low-cost compute farm that runs off a car battery and a cheap solar panel.
  3. William Gibson Interview (The Paris Review) — It’s harder to imagine the past that went away than it is to imagine the future. What we were prior to our latest batch of technology is, in a way, unknowable. It would be harder to accurately imagine what New York City was like the day before the advent of broadcast television than to imagine what it will be like after life-size broadcast holography comes online. But actually the New York without the television is more mysterious, because we’ve already been there and nobody paid any attention. That world is gone.
  4. Zen and the Art of Making (Phil Torrone) — thoughts on the difference between beginners and experts, and why the beginner’s mindset is intoxicating and addictive.
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Looking for the future? Watch the "crackpots"

Looking for the future? Watch the "crackpots"

Tim O'Reilly and Charlie Rose discuss the drivers of new technology: enthusiasts.

The future of technology will be shaped by the passion of enthusiasts — this was a central point in a recent discussion between Tim O’Reilly and Charlie Rose.

Comment: 1