Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Highly Fictional, Future Historical Walking Tour of Hillsboro Oregon

Ever wonder what happens when people from A.D. 2100 want to indulge a nostalgia about the early 21st century? Wonder no longer.  I’ve posted my Highly Fictional, Future Historical Walking Tour of Hillsboro, Oregon, in which a hapless kid trying to fix his cell phone accidentally eavesdrops on the future.

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The Death of Advertising?

Mausoleum hallway
Mausoleum hallway

Yesterday I saw the death of advertising.

Here’s how advertising works today, glossing over a lot of detail:

  1. A web site, like, offers advertising space
  2. You experience the medium, say by browsing to
  3. Part of that experience is an advertisement
  4. The site records the fact that you saw a particular ad
  5. The site charges the advertiser of that ad.

Great, no?  Advertising behaves like it has for ages: a medium gets income by essentially renting out part of the medium.  And for online ads, when you click on an ad, an advertiser pays a lot.

Here is the weakness: if you are only exposed to an ad, but don’t click on it, the advertiser’s value of you, as an individual, seeing that ad is tiny.

Along comes  Flattr Plus’ model is simple: you pay a website directly for the ads you block – and it’s cheap because ads you don’t click aren’t worth much.

Think about that for a minute: the advertiser wants to pay the website to show you ads; you want to pay the website to not show you ads.  Who will win?  Is not seeing an add worth more than seeing one?  If it is, online advertising just died.  Right in front of your eyes.

The uncanny Laughing Sailor automaton

Wookey Hole Laughing Sailor
Wookey Hole’s Laughing Sailor

Thanks to @feraldata I happened to be reading Elizabeth King’s piece on a 16th Century monk automaton.  The article describes the automaton as having “duende”, loosely translated as “soul” – that is, there is something surprisingly profound (or upsetting) about this simple robot.  That observation reminded me of the Laughing Sailor automaton that was popular as a Edwardian seaside amusement: drop in a coin, and the seated sailor in the glass booth would laugh and rock back and forth.

Sounds simple, non-threatening, and maybe even silly, doesn’t it?  Yet when I saw a Laughing Sailor automaton up close, at Wookey Hole, I found it had something uncanny in its behavior: the all-too-real eyes flick malevolently to the left and right; the face is disturbingly half way between a smile and a grimace, and the not-quite-human rocking to and fro suggests the fellow is far too amused by some joke that may turn out to be on you!

A Laughing Sailor of one sort or another has appeared in various movies, always in the form of a malevolent robot whose laughter comments on the macabre situation.  I’m not surprised – the little guy creeps me out.

5 things Project Runway taught me about creative work

Red and white warning sign at Beaumaris Castle

I started watching Project Runway years ago as a guilty pleasure.  My wife had watched it for a while and slowly drew me in because, unlike other reality/survivor shows, it minimized the People Behaving Badly aspect of competition.

As I watched more and more – the show has run more than 17 seasons – I realized that Project Runway is really a show about how to do creative work and live the creative life.  It even won a Peabody Award for using the Reality genre to inform and enlighten.

I encourage you to watch the show with an eye toward these and other lessons about the creative life.

Win by Helping Your Competitors

I started becoming a fan of the show when I saw the contestants helping each other rather than being cutthroats. One contestant put this approach something like this: “I don’t want to win because you tripped.  I want to win because we both did our best work… and mine was better

Your Work Will Tell the Truth…Bad or Good

It’s almost a cliche’ that an artist must tell the truth. Project Runway has shown that your work will always tell the truth whether you want it to or not.

On the one hand, this is a fearful reality of creative work: contestants that resisted the challenge topic (“I don’t do swimwear”), contestants that felt conflicted about their designs, and contestants that distanced their personal lives from the work produced dresses that screamed those hidden truths to the judges.

On the other hand, this is a wonderful opportunity: winning contestants threw themselves into the challenge topic, moved forward with confidence, exposed their innermost selves, and produced work that was exquisite and personal.  For example Mondo Guerra initially struggled then, when he embraced the truth-telling of his work, he began to soar and create amazing work.

Take Every Opportunity to Practice Your Art

In season 14 Swapnil admitted that his strategy was to slack the first few rounds, then throw himself into it for the win.  That didn’t work out.

Swapnil was a more experienced designer than at least 4 contestants, so he felt he could coast through a few rounds. Meanwhile the other contestants – who were also better than those 4 – used those first rounds to practice putting themselves into the work, and became better designers for it, surpassing Swapnil.

Listen to the Critique

I am stunned at the few contestants who have heard the critique from the judges, then immediately defended their work, saying “I hear what you’re saying, but I have to disagree”.  In other words “I’m not listening.”

Critique isn’t an argument; it’s a chance to learn others’ perspectives on your work.  In Project Runway, it’s an opportunity to hear perspectives from the best in the field.

Embrace the Challenge

So many contestants have gone home because they tried to slip by without fully engaging the challenge topic.  For example, one Unconventional Materials challenge was to create a dress from greeting cards. One contestant created a muslin (not card) dress decorated with accents from cards – not in the spirit of the challenge – and he went home in that round.

…and Much More

Project runway illustrates many more lessons with each season: drop the attitude, admit your insecurities, you are your only competition, and remember to breathe, to name a few. I look forward to each season of this free Design Course.

Web services with Maven + Jersey + Tomcat + Eclipse

After several days of banging my head into a wall, I’ve succeeded in building a “Hello World” web service using Maven, Jersey, Tomcat, and Eclipse, and gaining some understanding of why it works.

Initially I found plenty of pages that explain how to use 3 of the 4 things I needed: Jersey + Tomcat + Eclipse, Maven + Jersey + GlassFish, Maven + Jersey + Grizzly, etc.  …or the instructions were for old versions. Also, all of them assumed I knew how to setup each tool independently, so they glossed over things like how to point Maven to the Central Archetype Catalog, or how to set all the proxy information each tool needs.

So, after many visits to Stack Overflow and many false starts, I’ve compiled what I learned into Create a Jersey Web Project Using Maven, Tomcat, and Eclipse. Since it refers to separate instructions for setting up Java, Eclipse, Tomcat, and Maven, I’ve put instructions for each of those tools under the Needhamia How To menu, in the upper right of this page.

Next step: adding MongoDB to the project!

The Tomorrowland movie and Peter Pan

Spoiler Alert: this blog discusses many significant details of the movie plot. If you have not seen Tomorrowland, leave now.



…last chance…


When Linda and I watched the Disney movie Tomorrowland last night, we noticed a remarkable similarity to the story and characters of Peter Pan. It’s amazing how the writers managed to weave so much of Neverland into Tomorrowland.

  • Tomorrowland is Neverland: Each exists in another dimension, reachable only through a magical flight. in Peter Pan, Wendy flies with Peter and Tinkerbell after being christened in pixie dust; in Tomorrowland, Casey flies with Frank and Athena. In preparation for their flight, Casey and Frank swallow dry sugar crystals (Peter’s pixie dust). People don’t age in Neverland; similarly, in Tomorrowland, Governor Nix has remained the same age by drinking a daily technology shake, implying that people don’t need to age in Tomorrowland.
  • Frank Walker is Peter Pan: the boy who won’t grow up. Peter is a boy who flies, and refuses the responsibilities of adulthood; the young, optimistic Frank flies with his jet-pack, and rejects the pessimism of adulthood. Unlike Peter, Frank does leave Tomorrowland (Neverland), becomes disillusioned and grows up, but ultimately returns to his optimism inside Tomorrowland (Neverland).
  • Frank’s house is Peter’s hideout: Frank and Peter each hide in a large, warren-like house; both hideouts have hidden entrances and exits. Peter and the lost boys live in a hideout in Neverland to escape detection by the pirates; Frank hides alone in his house to protect himself from Governor Nix’s murderous robots.
  • Athena is Tinkerbell: Peter’s sidekick, immortal, young, feisty. Athena is an immortal robot; she is (eternally) young; she is miraculously skilled, a formidable fighter, and undaunted by anything. Tinkerbell’s relationship with Peter has overtones of an unfulfilled/impossible romantic relationship. In Peter Pan, Peter is the one who doesn’t reciprocate Tinkerbell’s feelings; in Tomorrowland, it’s Athena who doesn’t reciprocate Frank’s feelings. In Peter Pan, Tinkerbell drinks poison intended for Peter by Captain Hook, and nearly dies; in Tomorrowland, Athena blocks a blast from Governer Nix intended for Frank, killing herself.
  • Casey Newton is Wendy: a girl enchanted by fairy tales, who Peter and Tinkerbell take to Neverland to be the mother of the lost boys. In Tomorrowland, Frank and Athena take Casey to Tomorrowland to heal/rejuvenate that land – that is, to be its mother. In Peter Pan, Wendy is enchanted by Peter’s magical world and wants to learn to fly; in Tomorrowland, Casey is enchanted by the stars and space flight, and wants to be an astronaut – to fly.
  • Casey’s teachers are Nana: In Peter Pan, Nana is a dog-governess who attempts (unsuccessfully) to prevent Wendy from leaving home for Neverland; Casey’s teachers attempt (unsuccessfully) to prevent Casey from pursuing her optimistic dream of a positive future – a Tomorrowland.
  • Nate Newton is Michael: Wendy’s youngest, infant-like brother. Nate is Casey’s young, infant-like brother.  In Peter Pan, Wendy, Michael, and John share a bedroom; in Tomorrowland, Casey and Nate share a bedroom. Unlike Michael, Nate doesn’t travel with Casey.
  • Eddie Newton is John: Wendy’s slightly younger brother who tries to play the father, but always fails. In Tomorrowland, Nate is literally Casey’s father, who is failing in that role. Unlike John, Eddie doesn’t travel with Casey.
  • David Nix is Captain Hook: Hook is a nihilistic adult who wishes to eliminate the Lost Boys and the other inhabitants of Neverland, who Peter battles and eventually kills; Nix is a nihilistic inventor who wishes to eliminate earth’s population, who Frank battles and eventually kills. Captain Hook has a very versatile hook in place of one hand; similarly, Nix wears a very versatile bracelet-control on one wrist.  Nix’s costume later in the movie could be seen as steam-punk, but also refers to Captain Hook’s piratical overcoat.
  • Nix’s robots are the Pirates: The Pirates are Hook’s minions, who carry out his murderous desires without question. Similarly, Nix’s robots carry out his murderous orders without question.
  • The (unseen) other Tomorrowland inventors are the Lost Boys: the Lost Boys come to Neverland when they fall out of their baby carriages – that is, when they don’t fit into the ordinary world.  Similarly, the inventors who populate Tomorrowland are geniuses who don’t fit into the ordinary world.
  • The Monitor is the Crocodile:  In Peter Pan, the crocodile that Peter enticed constantly pursues Hook; it represents Hook’s fear of destruction. In Tomorrowland, the Monitor that Frank created broadcasts the possible future of a dead earth, which Nix fears. The crocodile swallowed a clock, which enables Hook to know when the crocodile is near; the monitor broadcasts a countdown clock, which enables Nix to know how close the earth is to destruction. The crocodile kills Hook by eating him; the monitor kills Nix by falling on him. There’s also a bad pun hiding there: a monitor is a type of reptile, as is a crocodile.

The missing “I do believe in fairies” plot point

In the play of Peter Pan, as Tinkerbell lays dying from poison intended for Peter, Peter exhorts the audience members to save her by asserting “I do believe in fairies”. The audience crying out “I do believe in fairies” revives Tinkerbell. You might be tempted to feel there is no such scene in Tomorrowland: unlike Tinkerbell, Athena dies.

Yet there is an “I do believe in fairies” moment in Tomorrowland: at the end of the movie the audience is explicitly exhorted to believe in a positive future – to believe in the world that Athena (Tinkerbell) believed in, in order to bring that world to life.


The working title for the movie Tomorrowland was “1952”; Disney’s Peter Pan was released in 1953.  Was the working title a reference to the 1952 production work on Disney’s Peter Pan?

How to make a ladder disappear

We’ve had a 12 foot ladder taking up space in the garage for years. We use it about once a year to change lights in the family room. Last week I decided to make it disappear.

A little rummaging around on Amazon turned up a Racor LDL-1B ladder lift. It’s a hook and hoist setup so you can hang your ladder from the garage ceiling. I installed it today.

I’m delighted: the ladder is up out of the way, yet is really easy to lower via a ceiling-mounted pulley. (Um, actually, the picture should be rotated. The ladder is on the ceiling; not a wall)

Racor ladder lift pulley
Racor ladder lift pulley

And here’s what the ladder looks like on the ceiling, with the hook at the left and the pulley at the right.

12 foot ladder on the garage ceiling
12 foot ladder on the garage ceiling

Now I can’t wait to use the newly freed up space for woodworking.

I finally, totally get 3D printing

I’ve been flopping back and forth about what equipment to get/build next, assuming I saved up a few thousand dollars: a CNC router? …a laser cutter? …a 3D printer?

This weekend I totally got what I would do with a 3D printer: print mechanical parts of machines.

In search of stepper motors in old, broken devices, I tore apart an ancient HP Deskjet inkjet printer – something like an 810C – I forget what model exactly. At any rate, disassembling that printer was an education in the mechanical design of moving parts.  It used normal DC motors (no steppers) to drive the printer head and paper, then used stripes on film sensed by photo-interrupters to determine where exactly the print head was and exactly how far the paper had advanced.  Very impressive!

In going over the design of this amazing machine, and in thinking about what parts I could salvage from it, it suddenly struck me: I could reuse many expensive parts if I could print my own mounting and connecting pieces – the application-specific parts that hold, for example, a linear rail or connect a print head to the bearings that ride on the rail, or even a piece that holds a tension spring and the sprocket that it tensions.

So many things in this printer are accomplished by little custom pieces of plastic – the sort of pieces you could print in a 3D printer.

This short video on open-top printing has some nice closeups of the sorts of mechanisms and parts that I’m talking about.

CareSwears – an automatic Swear Jar

For some reason I like this crazy idea: an automatic swear jar that uses web voice-recognition to identify curses, and uses a BitCoin (ugh) API to pay $0.25 to the BitCoin-accepting (?) charity of your choice.

You have to admit, it’s cute. Disregarding the privacy and currency issues, it’s still different. Is it Gamifying behavior change? …or is it re-imagining an old and popular interaction? describes the Hackathon project.

Collaboration is not Part of Making; it’s the Heart of Making

This post is about what I’ve learned about Making through the Robotic Glockenspiel project.

Even at the beginning of the project, I was “standing on the shoulders of giants“:

As I learned things, I’d document them for others:

  • I blogged at major points in the project. I could have blogged more frequently.
  • I tweeted synopses of the blog entries, to point to the blog
  • I made YouTube videos from the very start, of the little soldering projects I built to relearn how to solder
  •  Once the software was (mostly) working, I put as much as I could think of on GitHub:
    • my Glockenspiel Arduino sketch
    • my Midi file reading library
    • my SD-card simple persistent settings library
    • The circuit diagram, in Fritzing format
    • the Bill of Materials (parts list)
    • the public domain MIDI files of the Christmas carols, as well as the Aria Maestosa source files for the carols.

Sharing shaped my thinking and the structure of the project:

  • Blogging made me imagine what someone like me would like to know about robotic instruments and glockenspiel construction.
  • Making YouTube videos made me think about how the project demos well or badly, and pulled me out of the technical bits into the user experience.  Trying to make a video of the glockenspiel playing showed me how unacceptably loud it was.
  • Tweeting made me think about how to get the word out about what I’d done so far, and what media to use to connect with like-minded people.
  • Open-sourcing the project on GitHub seriously changed how I organized the software (I created the libraries and examples of how to use them), and stretched my ideas of what a Git repo was for (e.g., Bill of Materials). It made me think of reusability of the code.

Sharing sends many messages

At work, Jessica and I discussed what Sharing Making says, and came up with these ideas:

  • The foreground message: “how to do what I did”. You’re giving people a recipe, that’s hopefully complete enough to be useful.
  • It’s a resource list: “Here are links to the sources I used to get where I am with this project”. It lets people find more detail and the people who created those details.
  • “I appreciate the work people put into the resources I used” – making a resource list gives kudos back to the authors.
  • “How I got here”. It’s a journal, showing your process of creation. Not just the recipe, but a guide to how to be a chef who creates recipes.  This is the big reason you want to share your project as you go rather than when it’s “finished”.
  • It shows authority: “Now I know how to do this.” “I’ve got chops”
  • Advertising that you’re a resource: “I’ve shared this much; ask me questions about problems you run into”
  • An advertisement for collaboration: “These are areas I’m interested in” “Contact me if you want to work together in an area”
  • Most importantly: if you only share the demo – what you did – you’re only saying “look at how great I am and you can’t be”; if you share how to duplicate the project, you’re saying “I’m nurturing the community”. I’ve seen how when people only post a photo or demo, the first comment on it is “So, where’s the source?”

So far, I’ve only written; I haven’t actually participated in a community

  • I’ve blogged, tweeted, youtubed, and githubbed, but I haven’t heard from anyone who’s used this info, and I haven’t offered changes to anyone else’s Open Source project – yet.
  • Everything I’ve said about “sharing” is just speculation at this point. I look forward to actually collaborating (in some way) with other people who are into music technology.
  • I need to “advertise” the project so people can find it. Once it’s more complete, I can put it up on the Arduino Blog, Sparkfun’s site, etc. I can also do more exercises to make the libraries I’ve created more useful.
  • Life is all about creating long-term, mutually-beneficial relationships. Linda says writing isn’t about one fantastic book; it’s about continually writing  wonderful new books for your growing audience. In the same way, Making isn’t about one cool project; it’s about building relationships to Make stuff that’s so much more wonderful than you can make alone.