How to UnMake a Makerspace build thread: Why I make things, Part 2 My Biggest Influence.

Full disclosure, I work often 7 days a week.  I scheduled this post to happen on fathers day so I could let my dad know how important what he did with me when I was younger.  Turns out that is next Sunday, but it is still on the schedule for publication.  Happy father day Bob Masek, you are a pretty great father!

I have a lot of influences in my early life.  I could go on for hours about so many memories from the early morning Saturday morning infomercial tool guy to my excitement at the sears wish book every year.

Let me give you some back ground on the legend that is Bob Masek.  He is a stubborn man.   I think he may have gotten it from his mom.  Grandma would get an idea, and you could either be on board, or be on board.  How stubborn you ask?  His CB handle was the plow.  He got it while working at Boyscout camp in upper Wisconsin. He would plow through tasks with a force that I have not ever seen paralleled.  They built things, drank beer and enjoyed the woods.  It is not that dissimilar to what happens at most maker spaces.  He went to college for mechanical engineering and took a job in Peoria IL at Caterpillar where he met my Mom at a ski club.  He worked as a young engineer until they realized that Bob Masek was a talker.  He ended up as some type of fleet sales engineer.  I never fully understood his job when I was younger.  They ended up in NH and made three little kids.  My sisters all own drills, and can change a tire so they were not ignored.  I however loved turning wrenches.  

On Saturday mornings we would go down to his workshop.  He had a workbench made of an old hollow core door with a 1/4 inch sheet of Masonite on top of it.  It had a few coats of shellac and a Craftsman machinist vice with bend handles from using cheaters on them.  It wasn't just a work holding device.  It was an anvil.  It was a bearing press.  It was a sheet metal brake.  It was a flattening die.  It seamed like every thing we did involved that vice.  a 13 inch black and white tv sat on a shelf and it played this old house, the New Yankee Workshop and American Bandstand.  Dad would always try and show how cool he was by knowing the hip music.  This system would involve messing with the antennas and adjusting v hold, h hold, ans some other knobs that I can't recall.  

I don't know if we even owned safety glasses.  When things didn't fit, we had a wide assortment of hammers, pry bars, cheaters, brass punches, and other implements of destruction.  Under the bench we had boxes of "the good chemicals you can't buy anymore," power cables, extension cords, masonry tools, paint, and other things you might file under hoarding.  Then there was his craftsman tool chest.  It had a silver frame with red drawers.  Every drawer was overloaded.  and the slides required constant maintenance.  Each tool had been hand engraved with RBM his initials.  All of my tools are initialed with RJM, just like my grandfather.  5-piece Offset (45°) Box End  was my favorite set of wrenches to use. Anytime we would run into a metric bolt it was a "communist conspiracy".  

I vividly recall going to Hammer Hardware and Osgoods Hardware.  We would go and look for the one bolt we needed.  We would go to all of the specialty shops to get car parts, vacuum parts, springs for the dishwasher at the Maytag place.  This was not a time of Amazon Prime.  It was a time of a file cabinet with every manual to everything we bought.  Parts diagrams were not a searchable document.  It required phone calls, filling out hand written order forms with checks and waiting weeks for parts to show up.  Many a time we had to give up and fabricate the replacement part or modify something to work.  As time has gone on it was no longer affordable to replace the windings on a motor in the Shop Vac, it is cheaper to replace the entire unit than to buy just the part.

I was brought as a Bohemian.  I didn't realize it at the time, but the statement was actually a slightly raciest commentary on how cheap the Czechs were.  In order to be cheap, we had to be resourceful and efficient.  I want to give a few examples of working with my dad and how he came up with creative solutions to complex or non existent problems.  

CAD- Cardboard Aided Design

We used to cut up file folders for everything.  Before I could manipulate things on a computer in Solidworks, I learned to visualize it.  We would build a scale model of each room and all the furniture.  If we wanted to rearrange the room, we would take out all of the little scale footprints and move them around by hand.  As kids, this taught us spacial reasoning and an understanding of not just the size of things, but how to think about the human factors of floor plans.

Calibrated extension cords.

My dad was stubborn and would not hook into the city sewer.  He made a scaled drawing of where the opening was but we did not own a tape measure that was long enough to measure it.  He had two extension cords that were marked off with the proper lengths.  He could have done it with string, but knew that the value of an extension cord meant it would not disappear anytime soon.

Labeled Light Switches

In my house as a child, we had a bunch of switches.  They all did something.  Every switch was labeled with an embossed brown plastic strip.  

The List

Every Saturday morning we would get a and written list with check boxes on a little yellow notepad.  Steps would be detailed, order would be based on scarcity and work center limitations.  Each kid would get one and have to complete it by the time we would go get hot dogs from the hot dog lady for lunch.  Now we all make lists when we need to get things done.  

I don't think he thought about giving me something extra when growing up.  I think he firmly believes that being able to fix things was a necessary life skill.  This is something that everyone needs, they need exposure to making.  My father gave me experience with many different vocations from breaking the cheapest taps available to stripping slotted screws and a dash rounded bolt head for flavor.  We didn't just fix the house, we built rockets.  We changed oil, rebuilt carburetors, and soldered circuit boards.  I never heard my dad say he couldn't do something.  I got my willing  ignorance of what I can do, and do it anyways from him.  He got it from his father.  

When he needed to learn something he did it with books, I have Google and YouTube. He let me break his tools, and then was nice enough to let me bring them to sears for a replacement.  He let me make mistakes.  He let me fail when I needed to.  But at the end he helped me finish the project.  From all of those many memories I get to have him looking over my shoulder shaking his head with befuddled look on every project from memories. (He isn't dead, he just lives just north of the middle of nowhere IL and can't use Skype)  I don't think it had to be my dad, it could have been my mom, a neighbor, or a teacher.  It could have been you.  If you don't have a kid, find one who needs an adult and show up.  They need someone to tell them they can do it.  If you do have a kid, teach them to change a tire, wire a lamp, and use basic power tools.  It is more important than this weeks Real Housewives of the OC or the big game.  


How to UnMake a Makerspace build thread: Why I make things, Part 1 Emotional Needs.

You know they sell that at Walmart for like 20 dollars right? 

I do, but thanks for letting me know.  I could for sure buy something close to what I want for a very small amount of money mass manufactured in china that is very similar to what I am making.  But I want it to have the USB port able to continuously deliver 2 amps and dissipate the heat. Why would I computer model, 3D print, make a custom PCB for greater cost than the off the shelf solution that takes 16 hours to do?

Because I can!

I may actually have some deeper emotional needs than just "Because I can".  In life I can't control much.  It gives me anxiety when things are out of my control.  I put great effort into understanding the world around me.  Issac Newton, the father of modern day science, watched as the entirety of human knowledge became greater than anyone man could understand as he ushered out the age of alchemy.  Since I likely won't be able to understand all of recorded human knowledge I need to grab what I can.  We all have different learning styles, my strongest tendency is towards kinesthetic learning. Specifically project based learning.

By doing a project, I retain a greater portion of the subject matter.  The hands on creates emotional connection to the parts of the project and the lessons learned.  For anyone who questions this, take a look at a broken tap or stripped screw and tell me you don't have an emotional response.  I know I do, I can still picture exactly the first tap I broke in a fighting robot.  I can remember every tap I have broken.  Each time I can also go back to the point where I had to reflect on the failure.  Did I repeat a dumb mistake, or did I fail in a new and different way?

Making satisfies some of the Human-Givens approach list of ten required emotional nourishment.

1.  Sense of competence and achievement

By finishing a project, I get a high.  It is similar to the high I get while at the gym pressing atlas stones or dead lifting.  A raw guttural response and an explosion of energy.  I have a physical manifestation of what I have learned and put into practice.   

2. Meaning and purpose — which come from being stretched in what we do and think.

It may for a short period of time, but I have a purpose, make a thing.  When I choose a project, I choose it based on pushing limits of what I have done in the past.  

3.  Privacy — opportunity to reflect and consolidate experience

I reflect on what I do as I step through the learning process.  This is an internal process usually focusing mistakes or as Gui calls them "opportunities."  The only way to avoid screwing things up is to not do anything.  My projects often have a lot of opportunities for learning.

And that about covers it for working in my basement alone.  That leaves me with a gaping opening with the rest of the list.  For most people they need a third place.  After home and work, they go to church, bowling, or a bar.  It usually will knock out the most of this list.  But I don't fit at most of these places.  I got this from Fighting robots and Crossfit.  I was working as a 3D printer Application Engineer when a friend and co worker pointed out an article in the Nashua Telegraph. Earlier in 2011 I met my wife and after our first date it was like that was how my life was always supposed to be.  To a far less degree but with the same conviction I knew what I had walked into when I entered MakeIt Labs.  I could check off some more boxes on the list.

4.  Security — safe territory and an environment which allows us to develop fully

The space was accepting of failure.  Just like at CrossfitTuff, everyone cheers you on when you are trying. They give you ideas and share experience.  They give you the one piece you need or lend you a tool.  When you say "hold my beer and watch this," more than one person offers and they film it for "Science."

5.  Attention (to give and receive it) — a form of nutrition

Kevin Smith says that one of the basic human needs is to be heard.  In order to have someone listen you need to say something.  I can tell stories of things I have done in the past, but as time goes by the minds eye's focus starts to become less clear.  Did I get pulled over at 107 or 117 MPH?  I can very clearly however tell you about the Unified Chart of Accounts for Non Profits and how it is designed to fill out the 990 tax form.  My audience may not car so much about the content every time, but they hear my passion.  On the flip side, I enjoy hearing about other peoples projects and learning.  I have a lot of experience, sometimes people become apologetic as they explain what they assume is a mundane task to me.  It never is, I am always excited to see the passion in peoples eyes as they get that eureka moment

6.  Sense of autonomy and control — having volition to make responsible choice.

Lets be serious.  Doing things is dangerous.  Walking down the street you could get hit by a 16 ton anvil falling from the sky.  The chance is remote, but it could happen.  Walking into a room with power tools is going to increase that danger by an exponential factor.  Every tool is designed to deliver energy in some type high discharge function.  A trained cyclist can output 400 watts at peak for short amounts of time.  The Plasma cutter can output 11,000 watts of power continuously for 45 minutes.  10 milliamps at 100 volts can kill a human.    That tool can kill you 110,000 times over in 5 seconds.  Ever used a bandsaw? No better tool exists to cut meat and bones in a butcher shop.  You know what we are made of? Mostly meat, some bones.  The shop is a direct representation a humans need for making good decisions.  Every injury I deal with begins with some version of the statement "I didn't think."  

On the flip side what you do also effects others.  By leaving the shop better than you found it, you are setting up the next user for success.  By leaving a mess, broken tools, or an unsafe condition, you are being selfish.  You can receive gratification by leaving things better than you found them.  

7.  Emotional intimacy — to know that at least one other person accepts us totally for who we are, “warts 'n' all”

I don't think I deal with this much at the space, Paul generally grunts and drinks beers.  That may be as good as we get.Experiences may vary on this one.

8.  Feeling part of a wider community

When I walk in, I say hello to a bunch of people.  They all know my name.  I can often go for weeks at a time and only see my wife, Dunkin Donuts employees, and Inmates.  How many of you can say that everyone at your work, customers and co workers, want for the place to do well and be better?  I may not always agree with the path, but we want the place to be better just the same.  It gives us a reason to work past our differences.  All you have to do is try not to be a jerk.  To be fair, we like them to. 

9.  Sense of status within social groupings

Maker spaces become a Meritocracy.  We have co authored a term Do-ocracy as a community.  The doers actions become louder than the "experts".   How much do I weigh your input?  How good does your R4-D5 unit replicate the original?  

I am not comfortable with excepting the world around me.  I need to make it better.  I need to know that when I am gone, what I did will be looked upon as a net positive on the balance sheet of life.

I leave you with Adam Savages talk on Why We Make.


How to UnMake a Makerspace build thread: "What do you make?"

"What do you make?"  

The TARDIS door at MPR2.
This is the first question I get asked by most people when they encounter me incidentally at work.  I meet new people on tours, or at Tag's Hardware, or just walking down the street.  My answer varies from robots to rally cars at the beginning.  I have said all kinds of answers but most of them were a lie at the time and described something I had done in the past.  One day a sweet old woman was on a tour I was giving asked me this question.  I was doing the tour in between working on some sort of infrastructure improvement.  I explained the specific project and she responded with a very succinct  "So you Make Makerspaces?"

Now when people ask me that question I have a very specific answer canned and a few sentences.  "I make Makerspaces!  I work as the facilities manager.  I make sure tools work, people are safe and things make sense".  That was true.  For a while at least.

At the end of last year I put in a bunch of orders and nothing was ordered.  It turns out we ran into a cash crunch as an organization.  I will go into this deeper in a future post and how we are fixing it.  From this with no resources to do my job, I turned my attention to why I did not have the resources to do my job.  As time progressed, I used my extra time to understand the business of Making a Makerspace.  This system can best be described like my pants and waist since I stopped working out at Crossfit.  My waste grew and I lied to myself saying that my pants still fit.  Then one day you go to buy a suit and the tailor measuring you says 53 when you are expecting 38.  It's not like I didn't have a mirror, I just didn't have enough perspective to see the change and notice the issues.

Let me make one thing very clear.  Being a not for profit does not mean running with no surplus.  It means that you are tax exempt and can't distribute dividends or profit.

We ran with greater than 90% earned income.  If we had an unexpected expense or drop in revenue for even a brief period, we would have issues weathering it.  In a December of 2013 we had both a drop in revenue, and an unexpected expense. I didn't know what was going on.

I have developed a system for when I don't know something.

Step one: Buy a book on the subject.
Step two: Read it and become an expert.
Step three: Make stuff.

I then went on a buying spree on amazon since I didn't know why we were where we were.  If the money did not make sense, lets look at that Nonprofit Bookkeeping & Accounting For Dummies This started to give me a better picture of the intricacies of Not for Profit accounting.  All of my experience was based on Cost accounting, or Throughput accounting as applied in a lean manufacturing environment.  In either case, I would use quantifiable data to make decisions to either maximize profits or reduce bottlenecks in a manufacturing process.  With a not for profit organization we start to add some additional data points.  As a not for profit, profit was not the goal, programs are the deliverable.  This was a much more qualitative measurement.  But how does this fit onto a balance sheet?

The next book I bought was The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management.  I poured over it to understand the differences between a not for profit and a for profit.  I started to look deeper at the numbers and we were running with a very low margin of revenue and social capital.

Working for Artisan's Asylum as an organization has been very hard, emotionally and mentally.  I ended up taking a position of Operations manager (Transitional Manager) after our Interim executive director stepped down.  I figured that I could just find a book that talked about how to do this. How To Do Everything had some great tips but I was in the same position as my predecessors, no one ever did the thing we were doing.  Lots of not for profits exist.  Lots of shared shop space exist.  Lots of Makerspaces exist, some with more people, some with more tools, some with more space.   None at the level Artisan's Asylum is.  Every time we do something for the first time, it is the first time it has been done to the level that we need to do it.  Gui gave three levels of projects he does, awesome, ridiculous and ludicrous.  Being that that is how we plan projects, it has been hard to translate this to GAAP.

The first thing we had to do was stop and admit we had problems.  Our staff, our board, and members took on our biggest community project to date.  We were going to fix OUR Makerspace.  One of my favorite parts of Battlebots competitions was the open build threads where people gave detailed build reports as a story.  Not much was held back.  Our story has just begun.  I want to start to chronicle some of our failures and successes for not just the Artisan's Asylum members, but for all other community workshops to learn from.  This will be a build thread and a place to document for me what has happened.

Please leave specific questions in the comments for future blog posts on topics you would like to see covered.  This is not an Asylum project and only reflects my personal views and experiences.