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Archive for the ‘Culture jamming’ Category

postheadericon Billboards Converted To Swingsets

Yes, please. All of them.

From Paris architect Didier Faustino. [via Dude Craft]

postheadericon Jeri Ellsworth vs Talking buses #Trimet

“I hate to tell you this but; you have set back the progress of women 100 years” this is a quote from “peterbartek” on Jeri Ellsworth’s video in which she shows Trimet (Portland buses) how to save $4590 with their new bus audible turn warning system.

When people ask me (or my partner, a female engineer) why we don’t see as many women posting their projects, or participating as much online in the engineering community, we usually give specific examples instead of speculating “why?” Here’s a good example that really got us upset (TriMet’s talking buses, YouTube, sexism, online imposters: It’s complicated By Joseph Rose, The Oregonian).

Jeri created a video showing an alternative way to make a noise-making device and strategy for TriMet’s new audible warning system for pedestrians. Jeri has also has made a low cost body scanner, transistors, how-to videos, many engineering projects and she’s one of the best engineers I know!. Jeri lives in Portland, OR and the bus system there is trying out a warning system, like any good engineer, Jeri thought about other ways to do it, and shared it.

After posting her video “peterbartek” posted the comment “I hate to tell you this but; you have set back the progress of women 100 years”… It seems odd to have such harsh words for a video like this, but Joseph Rose of The Oregonian found some clues:

[Click the user’s name] and it led web surfers to the YouTube channel of Peter Bartek, director of technology for ProTran1. ProTran1 manufactures the audible pedestrian warning devices currently being tested on 10 TriMet buses. But when Hard Drive called Bartek on his cell phone to ask him about the online exchange with Ellsworth, he said he didn’t post the comment or the ones that followed in an ensuing exchange. “I’ve been getting e-mails,” he said, “but I have no clue about what’s going on. I don’t know what to tell you. It’s not me.” When told that the comments were linked to his YouTube channel, Bartek reiterated, “I didn’t make those comments.” Minutes after the phone conversation, Bartek’s channel was “no longer available.” Gone. So, was his account hacked? Bartek said he didn’t know.

But wait, there’s more.

Of course, “peterbartek” tried to balance his initial comment by mentioning that the warning system was developed for TriMet “by a woman after careful research and development.”

… To that, “peterbartek” responded: “Perhaps you should do your homework on mitigating devices? and see the results from the studies on risk analysis. Look at the different vehicles offering different types of mitigating devices. They offer these devices to help save lives and bring down insurance awards. Perhaps you would have a different opinion with the right facts. I have no opinion regarding your personal life ‘kitchen and man.’ I don’t know you well enough. tx.

For an imposter, the person behind the posts is pretty knowledgeable about the product being discussed.

I asked Jeri how she felt about all this, here is her response:

I feel very strongly about this behavior in engineering, because I’ve lived with it since my racing days. Guys would question my ability to build cars until I beat them on the track. Then it often turned to childish behavior like Mr. Bartek’s. Computer stores, almost the same thing. This type of behavior has occurred much less in the engineering field, but it still happens. I don’t know if society has come a long way in 20 years or if engineers are brighter than the knuckleheads at the track. I suspect the latter.

The commenters quickly condemned @peterbartek’s comments and twitter saw some action too (above).

“Someone hacked my account” is a fairly common excuse, believe it or not, my partner (female engineer) has experienced this first-hand, dozens of times — after getting similar comments, the commenter usually does not realize their words were linked to their account on YouTube. Also, a notable, public example of “hacked accounts” happened to another well known female in the tech world, Kathy Sierra…

A contributor using the moniker “Rev Ed” was responsible for two of the most controversial posts on, including one with a doctored image of Maryam Scoble (wife of tech blogger Robert Scoble) and a second post with a doctored image of Sierra. It is the second image that Sierra found particularly threatening; she posted a copy of this to her own blog but the image has since been removed. (It showed Sierra’s face covered by lacy red women’s underwear…)

The nickname “Rev Ed” belonged to contributor Alan Herrell, a Phoenix, Arizona-based computer and networking consultant, or someone posing as him. In an email published after the Sierra affair broke, Herrell claimed his computer had been hacked and his identity stolen –

I emailed and called Peter & ProTran1 for comment. Peter said he was “in a bad area and cannot talk” and then hung up, he has not responded to my emails for comment or voicemails. However, another representative from ProTran1 confirmed that Peter is claiming his personal YouTube account was “hacked” and these comments were made by “the hackers.” I also asked if Peter filed a police report and reported these “hackers” to YouTube who hacked his personal account, then made these specific comments, and then deleted the account with his personal videos after Peter was asked about the comments from “PeterBartek” – Peter did not respond to this either.

Lastly, I called and emailed Trimet’s PR office, they were very helpful – Protran1 is an independent contractor so they cannot comment on this, but they have all the information and will look in to it.

If any new information comes in I’ll update this post.

postheadericon Is It Time to Rebuild & Retool Public Libraries and Make “TechShops”?

To me, public libraries — the availability of free education for all — represent the collective commitment of a community to their future. They symbolize what is most important, a commitment to educating the next generation. The role of a public library should also adapt over time, and that time is finally here. It’s time to plan how we’re going to build the future and what place public libraries have, should have, or won’t have. The goal of this article is to get everyone talking about one of our great resources, the public library, and its future.

If you’re reading this, you’re likely not reading it in a public library. Computers are cheap, and internet access is pretty good for most people. The majority of people do not get their online news from terminals at the public library. At one time the library was “the living internet” — you went there to look up something hard to find, to do research — now it’s all at our fingertips through search engines, Wikipedia, and the web.

So where does this leave libraries? Last week I walked by the Borders on Broadway in NYC — it’s going out of business. There are many reasons, but I think most people will agree giant collections of books in giant buildings do not make as much sense (or cents!) any longer. Not commercially, and likely not publicly, such as in a library setting. So where does this leave the library? Maybe they’ll move more and more to eBooks with some weird library-DRM, collections of DVDs, and other media outside of books. But again, it’s usually better online, and available in our homes.

Let’s explore what could be ahead for public libraries and how we could collectively transform them into “factories” — not factories that make things, but factories that help make people who want to learn and make things. Will libraries go away? Will they become hackerspaces, TechShops, tool-lending libraries, and Fab Labs, or have these new, almost-public spaces displaced a new role for libraries? For many of us, books themselves are tools. In the sense that books are tools of knowledge, the library is a repository for tools, so will we add “real tools” for the 21st century?

Before we dive into the future, let’s take a look at the current public library scene now. Feel free to skip this part. I think it’s pretty interesting though.

First up:

How are public libraries used in the USA?

Nationwide, visits to public libraries totaled 1.50 billion, or 5.1 library visits per capita. There were 2.28 billion circulations of library materials (7.7 per capita), and 1.21 uses of Internet PCs per capita during fiscal year 2008.

Source: Public Libraries in the United States: Fiscal Year 2008

How many public libraries are there in the USA?

If you add up public libraries and public school libraries, it’s about 100,000, but if you just look at public libraries (ones that are not part of a school), it’s about 9,000.

Source: Number of Libraries in the United States, ALA Library Fact Sheet

To put a 9,000 locations number into perspective:

There are currently (in the US) 650 Golds Gym locations, 1,750 Target locations, 2,300 Home Depot locations, 4,500 RadioShack locations, 10,000 Curves International Fitness locations, 17,000 Starbucks locations, and 32,000 McDonald’s locations.

How many people are paid/employed in libraries? These include part-time positions.


Other Paid Staff:

Total Paid Staff (Public Libraries):

Source: Number Employed in Libraries, ALA Library Fact Sheet

How much does it cost to run these 9,000 public libraries?

Total operating expenditures in public libraries steadily rose during the study period, going from $8.29 billion in FY1999 to $10.72 billion in FY2008 (figures are in constant 2008 dollars), an absolute increase of $2.43 billion and a percentage increase of 29.4 percent… Per capita operating expenditures increased during the period as well. Per capita operating expenditures increased from $31.56 in FY1999 to $36.36 in FY2008, an absolute increase of $4.80 per person and a percentage increase of 15.2 percent…

Source: Library Operating Expenditures: A Selected Annotated Bibliography

Let’s say it costs about $10 billion to run about 9,000 public libraries, that’s an average of about $1 million per year, per library. That’s not accurate, of course, but let’s deal in averages. In the same report(s), 24% of public libraries had operating expenditures of less than $50,000; 42% expended $50,000 to $399,999; and 34% expended $400,000 or more.

Where does the money come from?

Total operating revenue of public libraries and percentage distribution of revenue, by source of revenue and state: Fiscal year 2008, which reports that an estimated 83 percent of public libraries’ total operating revenue of $11.4 billion came from local sources; 9 percent from state sources; 0.4 percent from federal sources; and 8 percent from other sources, such as monetary gifts and donations, interest, library fines, fees, and grants.

OK, so for the most part it’s a local effort, paid for by each community.

Source: Library Operating Expenditures: A Selected Annotated Bibliography

And lastly:

Where does the money go (not including staff)?

…69 percent was expended for print materials; 11 percent was expended for electronic materials, such as e-books, e-serials (including journals), government documents, databases (including locally mounted, full text or not), electronic files, reference tools, scores, maps, or pictures in electronic or digital format, including materials digitized by the library, which can be distributed on magnetic tape, diskettes, computer software, CD-ROM, or other portable digital carrier, and can be accessed via a computer, via access to the Internet, or by using an e-book reader, and includes expenditures for materials held locally and for remote electronic materials for which permanent or temporary access rights have been acquired, and also includes expenditures for database licenses; and 19 percent for “Other materials,” such as microform, audio, video, DVD, and materials in new formats.

Mostly print books. That makes sense — they’re libraries. This will likely change over time, but it’s unclear how eBooks will be managed at this time. At least when a physical book is purchased it can last years, but DRM systems for eBooks have always seemed problematic to me, more so with multiple users, devices, and “lenders.”

Source: Library Operating Expenditures: A Selected Annotated Bibliography

Another bit of history that’s interesting is “The Carnegie Library”. More than half are still around, and 31 of the 39 in New York are still in use.

A Carnegie library is a library built with money donated by Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. 2,509 Carnegie libraries were built between 1883 and 1929, including some belonging to public and university library systems. 1,689 were built in the United States… When the last grant was made in 1919, there were 3,500 libraries in the United States, nearly half of them built with construction grants paid by Carnegie.

Carnegie believed in giving to the “industrious and ambitious; not those who need everything done for them, but those who, being most anxious and able to help themselves, deserve and will be benefited by help from others.”

The design of the Carnegie libraries has been given credit for encouraging communication with the librarian. It also created an opportunity for people to browse and discover books on their own. “The Carnegie libraries were important because they had open stacks which encouraged people to browse….People could choose for themselves what books they wanted to read,” according to Walter E. Langsam, an architectural historian and teacher at the University of Cincinnati. Before Carnegie, patrons had to ask a clerk to retrieve books from closed stacks.

Source: Wikipedia. To get funding, the formula was simple, demonstrate the need for a public library, provide the building site, annually provide 10% of the cost of the library’s construction to support its operation, and provide free service to all.

There are modern-day “Carnegies”: “Historically, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has been the largest single private foundation granting source for libraries. While the Gates Foundation led in 2000 and 2001″. Chart above, source: Worldwide education and library spending

I have a favorite story about someone who visited a library. It’s not exactly upbeat, but I think you’ll understand why it’s a good one, even more so on the 25th anniversary of the Challenger explosion.

The boy walked to the counter of the Lake City Public Library through a gantlet of stares in 1959. Ronald E. McNair, then 9, wanted to check out books on advanced science and calculus, but the librarian wouldn’t release them. “We don’t circulate books to Negroes,” she told him.

Library patrons laughed at McNair’s behavior, and the librarian threatened to call the police — and his mother, Pearl.

McNair didn’t budge.

Instead, he hoisted himself onto the counter, his spindly legs dangling, and waited, because he wasn’t leaving without the books. After two police officers determined that McNair wasn’t causing a public disturbance, and when Pearl said she would pay for the books if McNair didn’t bring them back, the librarian acquiesced.

“Thank you, ma’am,” McNair, prompted by his mother, said before he walked out of the library. McNair, always a precocious student, would become an astronaut and a hometown hero…

Then, 26 years later, Ronald McNair, the second African-American in space, died at age 35 in the Challenger explosion on Jan. 28, 1986. What an amazing story and what amazing changes happened in one person’s short but spectacular life. Obviously the public library was a big part of Ronald’s life. It’s interesting to think about the 9-year-old kids now who want to build or learn something — where will they go? Who will they ask and what will they become in 26 years given the right “tools”?

One more note (since it will be mentioned in the comments): tool-lending libraries. There are about 25 or so in the USA, and this is an excellent start.

…tool-lending libraries allow library patrons to borrow tools, equipment and “how-to” instructional materials, usually free of charge. A tool-lending library was started in Columbus, OH in 1976. Originally run by the City, the Tool Library is now operated by Rebuilding Together Central Ohio, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization that works to preserve and revitalize homes and communities in Central Ohio. The RTCO Tool Library makes available over 4,500 tools free of charge to both individuals and non-profit organizations. One of the first tool libraries was the Berkeley Tool Lending Library, which started in 1979 with a $30,000 community block grant.

I know the fellow who runs a tool-lending spot in NYC — I should try it out. As far as public libraries go, I live in NYC, and there are 2-3 public libraries within a 15 minute walk. I really tried to use them, but the online interface wasn’t that great — most of the things I wanted to checked out were always taken, and it’s hard to beat “instant” since I have a computer and web connection. After the Kindle and Kindle apps came out, I haven’t visited the library. I realize not everyone has a device that read eBooks, but I think most of us will agree that’s where it’s heading. There are even predictions that eBook readers will be free and books will ultimately be 99 cents. That’s less than a fine, and I was always late with physical books.

So, if you’ve made it this far you have a rough idea of the public library landscape. I think for a lot of people, we visited the public library as kids or students, and later not as much. I work with younger folks, and from what they tell me, it’s rare for them to have ever used a public library. Internet access and cheaper computers have replaced a lot of that, and the libraries they have been to recently were at schools, not public ones. The are a handful of tool-lending libraries, but it certainly isn’t a national effort (yet).

But, looking back, where have I visited in the last few years that’s a “public-like” space for learning? Hackerspaces, FabLabs, and TechShops. If you’re a MAKE reader, you’re familiar with these, but let’s quickly talk about each one.


Image: “DIY Freaks Flock to ‘Hacker Spaces’ Worldwide,”

A hackerspace is usually a membership-based location featuring workshops, tools, and people who generally like to make things.

A hackerspace or hackspace (also referred to as a hacklab, makerspace or creative space) is a location where people with common interests, usually in computers, technology, science or digital or electronic art can meet, socialize and/or collaborate. A hackerspace can be viewed as an open community labs incorporating elements of machine shops, workshops and/or studios where hackers can come together to share resources and knowledge to build and make things. Many hackerspaces participate in the use and development of free software and alternative media and can be found in infoshops or social centers.

There are hundreds of hackerspaces that have appeared, almost overnight, around the world. From my recollection over the last decade, the ones in Europe were really appealing, many makers were traveling around the world (Mitch Altman, for example), and eventually word spread. Now, just about every state in the USA has one, and most large cities have hackerspaces.

Hackerspaces usually revolve around everyone paying the rent (part of the membership, the largest cost of a space) and shared costs. It’s not really possible to estimate the average cost to get one started, but it’s usually whatever the rent is for a year in your local area for a pretty good-sized location.

Fab Labs

Image: “Fabrication labs let student and adult inventors create products, solve problems,”

Next up, FabLabs. As of July 2010, there were 45 labs in 16 countries. Similar to a hackerspace, but Fab Labs were started before the hackerspaces really took off, and Fab Labs generally are associated with MIT, so it was more of a sponsored/academic effort and not a self-forming organic one like the hackerspaces. One of the things I really like about Fab Labs is they’re all similar in terms of the equipment they promote and use. This standardization of laser cutters, CNCs, and computers is a good base to work from if you’re going to do something in one area of the world and want others to be able to do it somewhere else, all using the same tools.

A Fab Lab (fabrication laboratory) is a small-scale workshop with an array of flexible computer controlled tools that cover several different length scales and various materials, with the aim to make “almost anything”. This includes technology-enabled products generally perceived as limited to mass production.

While Fab Labs have yet to compete with mass production and its associated economies of scale in fabricating widely distributed products, they have already shown the potential to empower individuals to create smart devices for themselves. These devices can be tailored to local or personal needs in ways that are not practical or economical using mass production.

Getting a Fab Lab started can be as low as $25,000, but realistically it’s likely a few hundred thousand.


“A TechShop Snapshot, Much inventive thinking takes place during a typical day at this community workshop.” IEEE

And finally, TechShop. A TechShop is a commercial venture that’s almost a combination of a hackerspace and a Fab Lab. A TechShop is membership-based, has pretty much all the equipment you need to make anything, and there are workshops, classes, etc.

TechShop is a membership-based workshop that provides members with access to tools and equipment, instruction, and a community of creative and supportive people so they can build the things they have always wanted to make. You can think of TechShop like a fitness club, but with tools and equipment instead of exercise equipment. It is sort of like a Kinko’s for makers, or a Xerox PARC for the rest of us. TechShop is designed for everyone, regardless of their skill level. TechShop is perfect for inventors, makers, hackers, tinkerers, artists, roboteers, families, entrepreneurs, youth groups, FIRST robotic teams, arts and crafts enthusiasts, and anyone else who wants to be able to make things that they dream up but don’t have the tools, space or skills.

There are currently three locations (Menlo Park Calif., Raleigh NC, and San Francisco). They have over 1,500 members between the 3 open locations and a few already committed to San Jose. TechShop also had over 200 people signed up for SF before opening. They are working on San Jose, Calif., right now (lease signed, interior demo, and construction underway). After that, New York and Detroit are locations to follow after San Jose opens. TechShop hopes to have 100 locations in five years. Across all the locations they have about 50 people working for them.

I asked the TechShop folks how much it cost to get a TechShop started, and they said between $1.5 and $2.5 million, depending on the market. That’s not too much above the average yearly cost to keep a public library going.

Can libraries be TechShops?

And here we are, the part where I propose we think about what role the public library can or should have. I’m really interested in what everyone thinks, so please post in the comments. I have more questions than answers, but my “gut” says we’re not going to see public libraries as the centers of learning state-to-state that they once were.

If the only public space where 3D printers, laser cutters, and learning electronics happens is in fee/memberships-based spaces (TechShops, hackerspaces), that will leave out a segment of the population, who will never have access. FabLabs often are geared towards under-served communities, so perhaps it will be a combination of FabLabs and hackerspaces.

What if we were to convert just 1% or even 10% of the 9,000 public libraries in the USA to TechShops? I say TechShop because I think they could get it done with the right amount of funding, or at least coordinate the effort. Since 1% of the USA’s public libraries is about 90, that’s close to the TechShop goal in 5 years; 10% would be 900 locations — not a bad goal.

But why does it matter? Some of you will likely say that hackerspaces and TechShops are filling the void where a public library could have evolved to — that’s probably true. I think public libraries are one of those “use it or lose” it things we have in a society. Given the current state of budgets all over the USA, I think unless they’re seen as the future, we might just lose them.

  • How can we encourage American innovation?
  • How can we get kids access to laser cutters, CAD, 3D printers, and tools to design and build?
  • How can we train each other for the jobs and skills needed in the 21st century?
  • How can we spark the creativity and imagination of kids?
  • How can America be a world leader in design and engineering?

I think many of these things could be helped by the re-tooling of one of our greatest resources, the public library. It wouldn’t be easy, but that’s the point — it would be a challenge and worth doing. We can wait and hope every state thinks about this, or that a hackerspace can support something like this (and allow kids to be part of it). But why wait? I think libraries and librarians are underutilized for skill-building. It’s not fun to talk about, but that’s the impression I get from everyone I talk to: they love their town to have one, but they never use it. They have the space, they have net connections, they’re in great locations — why not evolve? If space/rent is always a challenge for hackerspaces, perhaps libraries can provide this space as books go digital.

It’s scary — laser cutters, CAD stations, CNC, 3D printers. Training needed, equipment purchases, a safety class, workshops — I’m sure there are lots of reasons it could never work out, but there are also many reasons it could. Besides, how often do you hear people talking about lining up outside the local library because the new 3D printer has arrived and they want to use it?

I certainly do not know what the public library will be like in 10 years or 20 years, but I think the conversations we all have here may help shape some of the thinking. Post up in the comments: what do you think the public library should be in the 21st century?

postheadericon Sony wants hackers – PlayStation Move SDK coming…

Sony is jumping into the SDK world and going after all the Kinect hackers out there. After Microsoft’s release of the Kinect, thousands of makers started tinkering on open source drivers/data dumps were released (disclosure, I worked on this with Limor Fried & Johnny Lee). Weeks later, Microsoft announced it would also have an SDK (non-commercial use, commercial use later). Sony has a competing product called the Move and they’re looking to get people hacking with them now (coming soon page). I think it’s unlikely we’ll see much happen with Sony’s efforts, definitely not as much as we’re seeing with the Kinect hacks — Sony is extremely busy suing legitimate makers and innovators. See our previous article(s) – “Sony’s War on Makers, Hackers, and Innovators” & “Meet the DIY iPod Case Sony Killed: The RetroPod…”

Who is for? is designed for academic researchers, university instructors, college students, programming hobbyists, and HCI developers. Show us how you can take the PS Move beyond traditional gaming and into areas such as:

– Games and tools that support kids’ physical fitness and nutrition.
– Kid-friendly programming interfaces for computer/technology classes or individual learning.
– Physical therapy and rehabilitation.
– Sports physiology or fitness training.
– Music and the creative arts.

In my opinion, this list has many of the people Sony completely alienated. Here’s a bold power move for Sony, drop the lawsuit(s) against George Hotz and hire the kid to help cook up an amazing SDK just like Microsoft is going to do for the Kinect. This act alone would likely repair a lot of damage out there and something I think everyone would welcome. We can announce it on stage at Maker Faire in May with someone from Sony and George. They can both give a talk about Sony embracing user innovations — it will be wonderful. Think about it 🙂

Sony, call me. We’ll do this up right: 707-827-7311.

postheadericon Two Cells Enter! One Cell Leaves! Blood Wars!

White blood cells pitted against each other in ‘Blood Wars’ @ Wired UK

Blood Wars is an art-science installation that will pit white blood cells from two different people against each other in a “tournament” that aims to see which person has the strongest immune system.

The piece — by artist Kathy High — forms part of a new experimental exhibition between research laboratory SymbioticA and Dublin’s Science Gallery, called Visceral. Visceral explores the boundaries between art and living systems, bringing together more than a decade of work developed through SymbioticA’s art-science residency programme at The University of Western Australia. The aim is to show the tension between art and science and the cultural, economic and ethical implications of biosciences today.