Small Streams


Pollock’s Toy Museum
January 26, 2014, 5:45 am
Filed under: art, education, eutechnics, technology, thinking, Tourism, toys | Tags:

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Pollock’s toy museum has been a destination for us since we moved to London. How things make us think has been a hobby horse of mine for the past couple of years. So I was happy that Liz and I could take a short excursion to Central London and walk amidst the toys.

The museum is housed in, well, a house, or at least an “up and down” with not too many conversions. The downstairs holds the toy shop and the lobby, and the staircases and the upper floors display the dolls, dollhouses, games, etc.

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Some of my fascinations are construction toys …

20140126-105510.jpg viewing toys and …

20140126-105634.jpg mathematical instruments.

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I also found the war games interesting. Never too early to build a distaste for the kaiser.

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Of course, the reason for Pollock’s being is the toy theatre. There must have been a hundred of them.

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They also had some interesting specimen boxes.

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If you ever want to get the imaginative juices flowing or at least cop some ideas for your doll house, I highly suggest it.



Maker Remaketh
October 31, 2013, 4:06 am
Filed under: business, eutechnics, technology | Tags:

This article in Technology Review, “The Difference Between Making and Manufacturing” takes Chris Anderson to task for his enthusiasms but can also be seen as the play book for the coming years.

First I’d like to say that the author sets up a false dichotomy between making and manufacturing. Large manufacturers have always brought techniques from the kitchen or barnyard, and makers have always hacked ready mades. We’re only talking about a matter of scale. Leaving aside the Marxian perspective that quantity begets quality, the cat is already out of the bag.

David Rotman says makers, or let’s say, those people without standing in the manufacturing community, the unannointed, the macroeconomic non-entities, can do a lot, but they’re not making a revolution.

Many types of manufacturing require a sophisticated series of steps and processes to be done in precise sequence. Selecting the right materials and technologies is key to high-quality, low-cost results. If designers don’t understand the manufacturing processes and materials that are practical, they will never come up with the most advanced and compelling new products. It’s a lesson that has been repeatedly learned over the last decade in the development of new clean-energy technologies. Innovators may create smart designs for technologies such as solar panels, but ignoring the costs and practical details of manufacturing the new products is a sure path to failure.

Things need to be sophisticated, precise, and probably require the capital that hackers like you don’t have. Shift your perspective a bit, though, and you can see that Rotman provides the rubric for makers subverting manufacturers. Get sophisticated enough, get precise enough, and learn materials and processes, but do it cheaply and do it in such a way that encourages continuous practice.

Rotman is right, though, ignoring the cost and practical details of manufacturing is a sure path to failure. It’s just that I don’t believe the failure to be perpetual.

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The British Library
October 26, 2013, 3:24 am
Filed under: drawing, eutechnics, math, observer, technology, Tourism | Tags: , ,

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Yesterday I visited The British Library.



My Other Vehicle Serves Data
January 1, 2012, 9:35 am
Filed under: education, eutechnics, research, technology, thinking | Tags:

The hula hoop is not a meme. . . [it’s] a meme vehicle. — James Gleick, The Information

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If things make us think, the Digicomp is an infectious way to get us to think about numbers and computing.

Boingboing just posted a story on the Digicomp emulator. I hope to check it out soon.



Coroplast Scale
December 4, 2011, 12:40 pm
Filed under: awareness, education, eutechnics | Tags:

I’m almost where I want to be conceptually with this scale. The only materials necessary are the plastic rivets and the coroplast. The coroplast, as you can see, has been recycled. It took me a while to figure out that making slots in the platform would work. The two bottom rivets are actually unnecessary.

I will measure the next iteration more carefully to insure its sensitivity (decrease its tolerance?). I’m also going to see if I can make a coroplast bowl, and how to make a better bearing than just a plain old rivet.

20111204-122755.jpgThe other thing I want to look at is a $2 handheld Chinese scale, which is somewhat similar to my postage scale.

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Binary Adding Machine
August 7, 2011, 9:20 am
Filed under: education, eutechnics, maps, math, media, mind, technology, thinking | Tags: , ,

Matthias Wandel, an engineer who works in wood, created a binary adding machine, a wonderful thing, a thing that makes you think. I’ve seen a similar adder created with K’nex, but it wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing.

The K’nex binary adding machine uses hinged rods that work like logic gates. Xiaoji Chen created much better looking gates with wooden slats and rivets. She’s modeled the adder in Processing.



Change Happens
April 24, 2011, 8:32 am
Filed under: business, eutechnics, Our Country | Tags:

This article in a reusable bag company publication chronicles the reduction of plastic bag use in California. Some supermarkets say that plastic bag use is down about 25% over three years. The rest of the country is probably not far behind.

Habits change and incremental change can save us.



The Continuing Adventures of Agrobots
December 31, 2009, 8:09 am
Filed under: ecology, eutechnics, Pittsburgh, research, technology | Tags: ,

The Economist has a summary of what servo-control devices are doing on farms. It seems mostly they’re doing a lot of speculative, expensive work. Robots, though, will invade our countryside soon enough.

I’m hoping that robots won’t look sophisticated. I think that farms will be best served by small and cheap cultivators and sensors, hundreds of little spidery devices that will weed and prune and detect insects or blights. This machinery as opposed to the current six figure tractors that are air-conditioned, Internet-enabled enclosures 10 feet off the ground might provide a greater appreciation of the health of the soil.

Also in the article is the continued fetish of increasing production and reducing labor. I’m reminded of Wendell Berry’s constant harping on the need to increase farm labor. Although few of us really want to work on the farm.

The best line in the article comes from a Pittsburgh robotics engineer:

“It is actually not hard to pick an orange, but it is very hard to pick an orange cost effectively,” says Tony Stentz of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.



World’s Deepest Rubbish Bin
October 30, 2009, 7:31 am
Filed under: awareness, ecology, education, eutechnics, mind, research, technology | Tags: , ,

Volkswagen started as the people’s car company. During the ’60s they embodied an ethos of do-it-yourself auto-maintenance and tongue-in- cheek subversiveness. A generation later I believe they’re at it again. Their fun theory initiative is part Candid Camera, part Big. Yes, it’s about branding, but it’s about the joy of using things and making things and not accepting the status quo.

Here’s a fun way to throw away the trash.



Another Pittsburgh Diaspora
September 7, 2009, 9:05 am
Filed under: business, community, education, eutechnics, railbelt, walking | Tags: , ,

We are wealthy in direct proportion to the ability we have to act on our dreams, to make what we only imagine.

Recently, our city has lost the capacity to make a million barrels of beer — not that the Iron City Brewery has made that much beer in a while. Sales have been below 200,000 barrels for years. Much of that capacity was used to make crappy beer, malt liquor and light beers. I for one found myself a lone defender of Iron City beer, though it could give you both a headache and a stomach ache after two beers (which probably had to do with how much adjunct grains they used).

The big loss is not the beer. There is no lack of beer. The loss of the skills, talents, and connections that were part of the workforce of the brewery, the nearly hundred workers who knew how to run a boiler, create a valve, maintain the flow of thousands of gallons of water, or fill thousand of cans a minute will be lost. A shop full of artisans is a hard thing to create, but in deciding to close shop, the owners of the brewery have undone what had taken years to do.

The oldest parts of the brewery buildings will remain, maintained perhaps by the mechanisms of preservation law. What mechanisms do we have to preserve the artisanal and craft abilities of a hundred workers?