Making stuff

Teachable Moments with Soap: Ingenuity, Stubbornness and the Wrong Tool for the Job

If you’re an oh-so-clever person who is set on making some soap on a rainy Sunday, and you’re between immersion blenders but your corded power drill and paint mixing attachment are right there in the kitchen because…reasons, you might think, “Eh, let’s try it! It worked on that canola-coconut liquid soap and traced in like 20 minutes. How bad could it be?”

The problem is, as a person with enough experience to be cocky but not enough to spot a problem on the horizon, you might also think, “Ooh, I’m going to whip up a 72% olive oil blend, just like Savon de Marseille!” Thank goodness you won’t have the hubris to think you’re actually making the real thing, and no way you’re going to triple mill ANYTHING the way they do in Marseille. But still, you’ll think that with your improvised tools you’ll get something soapy in, like, … Read the rest

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Tech Ed
Tech Juice Cleanse

Git(hub) in 3D with Craft Supplies

I’ve come up with an innovative disruption to the paradigm we use to imagine version control, leveraging tactile user experiences and a lexicon of familiar materials.

Psych! I made a model of Git and Github with pipe cleaners and K’Nex.

Git is an open source program used for version control. That means it’s used to track changes you make in individual files, and even rewind or fast forward to a particular change. It can be useful for writers and artists, but computer programmers are its main users. Github is a website where Git users can share projects, offer changes in improvements to other users, and let those changes be adopted, rejected or modified with a full history of the changes themselves and comments about them.

Git has a relatively low learning curve for simple tasks, but it’s notoriously easy to get deep in the weeds and mess things up … Read the rest

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Tech Ed
Tech Juice Cleanse

A Tech Explainer’s Pledge

I like helping people learn things that they weren’t sure they could understand. In tech culture, there sure is a lot of bluster, buzzwords and hand-waving. This is a pledge that I am making to myself and you to keep myself honest.

  1. I will always define terms using nouns, not verbs.
    1. It’s helpful to say “ is a for-pay website that lets people store and retrieve big files.” It’s not helpful to say “ is a better way to find lentil soup recipes.”
  2. I will never define something as a “solution“, “platform“, or “framework“.
    1. Defining a thing as a  “solution” is the same as defining it with a verb. When you say “ is an enterprise recipe solution”, it’s the same as saying “ solves a recipe problem for enterprises, but I’m going to be coquettish about what recipe problem it solves, on
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Making stuff
Tech Juice Cleanse

Tech Juice Cleanse warm-up: WordPress weeding and identity iteration

I have some free time coming up and I’ll use some of it to work on a little garden plot of personal tech-adjacent projects. I’m calling it a Tech Juice Cleanse. The intent is to:

  1. Exercise my values and motivations through novel–even quirky–teaching perspectives
  2. Learn tools to bring to life some ideas that have been waiting patiently for me to get around to them
  3. Generally re-connect with the fun parts of being a tech worker. NB: There will be sewing.

Step 0 was to update my WordPress theme. The old one was perfectly functional and had banner photos harvested from treasured travel memories, but it was visually clunky.

So out with the old, in with Rikke. It’s nice, right? I’ve done precisely zero CSS wrangling, just some tweaks from the WP dashboard. I increased the number of preview lines, changed the body font and re-arranged the widgets in … Read the rest

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Gender and tech
Tech Culture

The Parable of the Prodigal Meetup Organizer and the Clued-In Community Manager

This is a parable about a local organizer failing to recover from an instance of bad judgment, and an excellent Community Manager coming to his rescue at the request of a Meetup attendee. Let it be a lesson in how to start with a fail and end with a win.

Not long ago in a dimension directly adjacent to ours, there was a popular tool for molding fresh computers into the right shape for your needs. The Good Tool had enthusiastic users across many lands, and it was common to gather and trade tips for wielding it. These were jolly events, with food, ale, and video projectors. One day, into a gathering strode a rustic stranger from the West. She wore a large yellow rucksack and appreciated the tales of the locals.

Suddenly, a speaker uttered a trope so common it felt like reading from the Book of Ages. He … Read the rest

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Changing Modalities of Work Is The New Work; or, Linux Mint Talked Me Down Off A Ledge

“It became work just to refresh and relearn my tools enough to work.”

Amarok 1.4

This is Amarok 1.4, a music application that turns me into Archie Bunker.

Huh, it’s been a while since I marked this bloggy territory. Oh well.

Anywho, those who have seen my computer desktops, or even had the misfortune to inquire about them, have been treated to an earful about how “they’re gonna have to pry Natty Narwhal out of my cold, dead hands!”

(Translation: “I run a particular version of a Linux desktop that was released in two-thousand-freakin’-eleven and refuse to give it up for you kids and your fancy tablet-style touchy-feely huge icon crap, dagnabbit!”)

Listen, I know I’m quickly becoming a greybeard, but now that I’m old and cynical, I can at least explain how it happens.

But first, the TL;DR, which is that I finally dumped Linux Mint onto a laptop. You … Read the rest

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Gender and tech

Trans Technology Symposium at Rutgers next Tuesday, 3/5


My friend Christina Dunbar-Hester and her colleague Bryce Renninger are guest curators of a pretty eclectic and awesome exhibit of gender-subversive art and artifacts which runs through June 3, 2013 at Rutgers University Institute for Women and Art in the Douglass Library.  In their words, “Trans Technology focuses on technological art and artifacts that engage in trans, queer and feminist projects that help to trans (to use the word as a verb: spanning; interrogating; crossing; fusing) conceptions of the heterosexual matrix in technology.” A bunch of the featured creators will be at a symposium this Tuesday, March 5, 2013.

I was asked to contribute a jokey tee shirt with a series of (fallopian) tubes (Senator Stevens, don’t tie our tubes!) that I made back in 2006.  Click here for the back story.  My friend and frequent collaborator, Georgia Guthrie, is showing a piece that she knit from network … Read the rest

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Overclocking, wire tripping, and further adventures with Tor

Yesterday I was at the OTI offices again for a workday. For a chunk of the day I worked with Dan Staples on reviewing some things I’d learned about network settings in Commotion, and testing a Tor-enabled Commotion build. (More on that in a separate post.)

A couple of funny things happened on the way to the Internet. First, running Tor on a Ubiquiti PicoStation wireless node caused the little machine to overheat and reboot within 30 seconds of the process starting! Ha! We niced the process and managed to get it to stay up long enough to properly start up. I’ll do some more troubleshooting to figure out why it’s running so hard and see if there’s a way to (literally) cool it down. But I thought that was a pretty awesome problem.

At the same time, I successfully connected to the Internet through a Buffalo Air Read the rest

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Civics, Society and Activism

I Want a CSA for music.

I was just listening to the Eavesdrop Radio podcast from two of my favorite djs, Junior and Lil Dave and it occurred to me that for as long as I’ve loved and respected their work, I have yet to actually pay money for a release on Junior’s label Recordbreakin.  That’s horrifying…great friend I am!

But then it occurred to me that it would actually be easier for me to just pay Junior a chunk of money every year or month and have him send me download codes for whatever they’ve released in some time interval.  Think of it like a CSA for music.

In a CSA, or community supported agriculture, you “subscribe” to a farm.  You sign up and pay a lump sum to a farm in the winter which entitles you to a share of veggies every week through the growing season.  It ensures that the farmer … Read the rest

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Solidarity with a gap year student

I have a close friend who graduated from high school last spring.  After a lot of thought and negotiation with her parents and the university where she’d been accepted and funded, she decided to take a gap year, that tradition of time off after high school that is common in Europe but often maligned in the US.  I was one of the people who got her thinking about it.

It’s fair to point out that we’ve known each other for a long time and I’ve been there to selectively pass ideas across the table to her:  an introduction to Linux, tours of subversive little urban spaces, genres of music.  So I was in a good position to suggest a gap year to her, and to substantiate the benefits to her parents.

She’s in the middle of it now, and her version of taking it easy is working 2 jobs … Read the rest

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