Category Archives: Making

On Agency: Summary and My Manifesto

Now that I’ve formulated my overall perspective on Agency (part 1 on distributedness, part 2 on defining networked agency, part 3 on technology needs), this is a summary of the key points and their consequences. Half of these are general insights, condensed from what I’ve been exposed to and absorbed in the past 10-15 years or so. These points are why it matters. The novel combinations I think I contribute (marked in bold) provide the ‘how’ to that ‘why’ by delivering the agency towards increasing our agency. These points form my manifesto to act upon.

The key points in summary are:

  1. The agency deficit and potential.
    There are many issues where many people recognize they need or should find different solutions, because existing structures are failing, but do not see a viable path towards action for themselves. This is the current agency deficit. At the same time many existing tools and instruments are underused because of barriers to entry or the form in which they are currently available. This is the agency potential.
  2. The potential of distributedness.
    Distributed digital networks are similarly structured to human networks. Hierarchies and hubs superimposed on a distributed network are rigid edge cases that don’t fully use the flexibility distributed networks can provide. Human networks can more successfully use technology when the same type of flexibility and fluidity is present in the technology used. This is the path to agency.
  3. The relevant unit of agency is a person plus related group in context
    The unit of agency to consider is not the individual on her own, nor a general ‘target’ group, but the combination of a person and the subset of meaningful relationships for a real and given context. Agency is networked. That way both the individual’s capabilities and perspectives as well as those of the relationships involved can be leveraged. This means that to discuss agency it needs to be done for specific contexts, and with knowledge of the relationships involved. No generic answers are possible, although examples are.
  4. Networked agency is the sum of striking power, resilience and agility
    Because your context does not exist in a vacuum but in a global network of other contexts and connections, agency is not merely about what you can do in your context (striking power), but also how you can mitigate (resilience) or leverage (agility) the consequences of things propagating to you from outside of it
  5. ‘Hard’ and ‘soft’ technology need to be always used in combination
    Methods and processes that take human networks as a given in how we act, organize and learn (community building, networking, complexity management etc), in combination with distributed hard technology / science is the relevant scope of technology to consider. Not just ‘real’ tech. This combination is how you create the needed bridge and conduit between the digital and us humans, out of the combinations agency emerges.
  6. Technologies need to be ‘smaller‘ than us, barriers lowered
    We need to seek out, recombine, or create expressions of that technology that allows the context specific user group involved to deploy, alter, and trust or control it, without barriers to entry based on money, expert knowledge, or time consumption. This often means making the technology truly distributed, such that local expressions of it are independently possible in an interdependent global network. There is a range of promising technologies on this path that however need an extra push.
  7. Reasoning from a desired specific impact, not from technology features
    It is necessary to reason from the desired impact. Issues that cannot be solved by a single individual, nor on a general level by a group or mass, but only with the active involvement of the group of people it concerns are the ones to focus on. Issues are context specific, so is impact.
  8. Making it specific creates a design aid
    Putting a (list of) specific contexts (person plus meaningful relations) at one end, and a (list of possibly) desired impact on a specific issue at the other, with the lists of potential hard and soft technologies in between, such as in the image below, can be used as thinking aid and design aid.
    It allows you to explore possibilities based on selecting varying combinations of certain technologies, or specific combinations of technologies already available in the involved context, to see how to provide agency to contexts/groups towards desired impacts. This provides agency towards creating agency.

Agency by Ton Zylstra

On Agency Pt 3: Technology Needs for Increased Agency

This is the last of three postings about how I see agency in our networked era.
In part 1 I discussed how embracing the distributedness that is the core design feature of the internet needs to be an engine for agency. In part 2 I discussed how agency in the networked era is about both the individual and the immediate group she’s part of in the various contexts those groups exist, and consists of striking power, resilience and agility. In this third part I will discuss what we need to demand from our technology.

My perception of agency more or less provides the design brief for the technology that can support it.

Agency as the design brief for technology
If distributed networks are the leading metaphor for agency, then technology needs to be like that too.

If agency is located in both the individual and the social context of an immediate group the individual is functioning in for a given purpose, then technology needs to be able to support both the individual and group level, and must be trustworthy at that level.

If agency consists of local striking power, resilience, and agility, then technology must be able to take in global knowledge and perspective, but also be independently usable, and locally deployable, as well as socially replicable.

If technology isn’t really distributed, than at least it should be easy to avoid it becoming a single point of failure for your and your groups use case.

Two types of tech to consider
This applies to two forms of technology. The ‘hard’ technology, hardware and software, the stuff we usually call technology. But also the ‘soft’ technology, the way we organize ourselves, the methods we use, the attitudes we adopt.

Technology should be ‘smaller’ than us
My mental shorthand for this is that the technology must be smaller than us, if it is to provide us with agency that isn’t ultimately depending on the benevolence of some central point of authority or circumstances we cannot influence. In 2002 I described the power of social media (blogs, wiki’s etc.), when they emerged and became the backbone for me and my peer network, in exactly those terms: publishing, sharing and connecting between publishers became ‘smaller’ than us, so we could all be publishers. We could run our own outlet, and have distributed conversations over it. Over time our blog or rather our writing was supplanted, by larger blogging platforms, and by the likes of Facebook. This makes social media ‘bigger than us’ again. We don’t decide what FB shows us, breaking out of your own bubble (vital in healthy networks) becomes harder because sharing is based on pre-existing ‘friendships’ and discoverability has been removed. The erosion has been slow, but very visible, not only if you were disconnected from it for 6 years.

  • Smaller than us means it is easy enough to understand how to use the technology and has the possibility to tinker with it.
  • Smaller than us means it is cheap (in terms of time, money and effort) to deploy and to replace.
  • Smaller than us means it is as much within the scope of control/sphere of trust of the user group as possible (either you control your tools, or your node and participation in a much wider distributed whole).
  • Smaller than us means it can be deployed limited to the user group, while tapping into the global network if/when needed or valuable.

Striking power comes from the ease of understanding how to use technology in your group, the ability to tinker with it, to cheaply deploy it, and to trust or control it.
Resilience comes from being able to deploy it limited to the user group, even if the wider whole falls down temporarily, and easily replace the technology when it fails you, as well as from knowing the exact scope of your trust or control and reducing dependancy based on that.
Agility comes from being able to use the technology to keep in touch with the global network, and easily alter (tinker), replace or upgrade your technology.

Technology needs an upgrade
Most of the technology that could provide us with new agency however falls short of those demands, so currently doesn’t.

It is mostly not distributed but often centralized, or at best ‘hubs and spokes’ in nature, which introduces trust and control issues and single points of failure. Bitcoins ultimate centralization of the needed computing power in Chinese clusters is one, Facebooks full control over what it shows you is another.

It is often not easy to use or deploy, requiring strong skill sets even when it is cheap to buy or even freely available. To use Liquid Feedback decision making software for instance, you need unix admin skills to run it. To use cheap computing and sensing/actuating hardware like Arduino, you need both software and electronics skills. Technology might also still be expensive to many.

Technologies are often currently deployed either as a global thing (Facebook), or as a local thing (your local school’s activity board), where for agency local with the ability to tap into the global is key (this is part of true distributedness), as well as the ability to build the global out of the many local instances (like mesh networks, or The Things Network). Mimicking the local inside the centralized global is not good enough (your local school’s closed page on FB). We also need much more ability to make distinctions between local and global in the social sense, between social contexts.

There are many promising technologies out there, but we have to improve on them. Things need to be truly distributed whenever possible, allowing local independence inside global interdependence. Deploying something for a given individual/group and a given use needs to be plug and play, and packaging it like that will allow new demographics to adopt it.

The types of technology I apply this to
Like I said I apply this to both ‘hard’ tech, and ‘soft’ tech. But all are technologies that are currently not accessible enough and underused, but could provide agency on a much wider scale with some tweaks. Together they can provide the agency that broad swathes of people seem to crave, if only they could see what is possible just beyond their fingertips.

The ‘hard’ technologies where barriers need to come further down I am thinking about are:

  • Low cost open source hardware
  • Digital making
  • Low cost computing (devices or hosted)
  • (open) data and data-analysis
  • IoT (sensors and actuators)
  • Mesh networking
  • Algorithms
  • Machine learning
  • Blockchain
  • Energy production
  • Agrotech
  • Biotech

The ‘soft’ technologies where barriers need to come further down I am thinking about are:

  • Peer organizing, organisational structures
  • Peer sourcing
  • Open knowledge
  • Iterative processes and probing design
  • Social media / media production
  • Community building practices
  • Networked (mental) models
  • Workflow and decision making tools
  • Community currencies / exchanges
  • Hacking ethics
  • Ethics by design / Individual rights

Putting it all together gives us the design challenge
Putting the list of social contexts (Agency pt 2) alongside the lists of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ techs, and the areas of impact these techs create agency towards, and taking distributedness (Agency pt 1) and reduced barriers as prerequisites, gives us a menu from which we can select combinations to work on.
If we take a specific combination of individuals in a social context, and we combine one or more ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ technologies while bringing barriers down, what specific impact can the group in that context create for themselves? This is the design challenge we can now give ourselves.

In the coming months, as an experiment, with a provincial library and a local FabLab, we will explore putting this into practice. With groups of neighbours in a selected city we will collect specific issues they want to address but don’t currently see the means to (using a bare bones form of participatory narrative inquiry). Together we will work to lower the barriers to technology that allows the group to act on an issue they select from that collection. A separate experiment doing the same with a primary school class is planned as well.

Agency by Ton ZylstraAgency map, click to enlarge

On Agency pt. 2: The Elements of Networked Agency

Earlier this year I wrote a 1st posting of 3 about Agency, and I started with describing how a key affordance is the distributedness that internet and digitisation brings. A key affordance we don’t really fully use or realize yet.
I am convinced that embracing distributed technology and distributed methods and processes allows for an enormous increase in agency. A slightly different agency though: networked agency.

Lack of agency as poverty and powerlesness
Many people currently feel deprived of agency or even powerless in the face of the fall-out of issues originating in systems or institutions over which they have no influence. Things like the financial system and pensions, climate change impact, affordable urban housing, technology pushing the less skilled out of jobs etc. Many vaguely feel there are many things wrong or close to failing, but without an apparant personal path of action in the face of it.

In response to this feeling of being powerless or without any options to act, there is fertile ground for reactionary and populist movements, that promise a lot but are as always incapable of delivering at best and a downright con or powerplay at worst. Lashing out that way at least brings a temporary emotional relief, but beyond that is only making things worse.

In that sense creating agency is the primary radical political standpoint one can take.
Lack of agency I view as a form of poverty. It has never been easier to create contacts outside of your regular environment, it has never been easier to tap into knowledge from elsewhere. There are all kinds of technologies, initiatives and emerging groups that can provide new agency, based on those new connections and knowledge resources. But they’re often invisible, have a barrier to entry, or don’t know how to scale. It means that many suffering from agency poverty actually have a variety of options at their fingertips, but without realizing it, or without the resources (albeit time, tools, or money) to embrace it. That makes us poor, and poor people make poor choices, because other pathways are unattainable. We’re thirsty for agency, and luckily that agency is within our grasp.

Agency in the networked age is different in two ways
The agency within our grasp is however slightly different in two ways from what I think agency looked like before.

Different in what the relevant unit of agency is
The first way in which it is different is what the relevant unit of agency is.
Agency in our networked age, enabling us to confront the complexity of the issues we face, isn’t just individual agency, nor does it mean mass political mobilisation to change our institutions. Agency in a distributed and networked complex world comes from the combination of individuals and the social contexts and groupings they are part of, their meaningful relations in a context.

It sees both groups and small scale networks as well as each individual that is a node in them as the relevant units to look at. Individuals can’t address complexity, mass movements can’t address it either. But you and I within the context of our meaningful relationships around us can. Not: how can I improve my quality of life? Not: how can I change city government to improve my neighborhood? But: what can I do with my neighbours to improve my neighborhood, and through that my own quality of life?
There are many contexts imaginable where this notion of me & my relevant group simultaneously as the appropiate unit of scale to look at agency exists:

  • Me and my colleagues, me and my team
  • Me and my remote colleagues
  • Me on my street, on my block
  • Me in my part of town
  • Me and the association I am a member of
  • Me and the local exchange trading group
  • Me and my production coop
  • Me and my trading or buying coop
  • Me and my peer network(s)
  • Me and my coworking space
  • Me in an event space
  • Me and my home
  • Me in my car on the road
  • Me traveling multi-modal
  • Me and my communities of interest
  • Me and my nuclear family
  • Me and my extended (geographically distributed) family
  • Me and my dearest
  • Me and my closest friends

agency comes from both the individual and immediate group level (photo JD Hancock, CC-BY)

For each of these social contexts you can think about which impact on which issues is of value, what can be done to create that impact in a way that is ‘local’ to you and the specific social context concerned.

Different in how agency is constituted based on type of impact
Impact can come in different shades and varieties, and that is the second way in which my working definition of agency is different. Impact can be the result of striking power, where you and your social context create something constructively. Impact can take the form of resilience, where you and your social context find ways to mitigate the fall-out of events or emergencies propagating from beyond that social context. Impact can be agility, where you and your social context are able to detect, assess and anticipate emerging change and respond to it.

So agency becomes the aggregate of striking power, resilience and agility that you and your social context individually and collectively can deliver to yourself, by making use of the potential that distributedness and being networked creates.
Whether that is to strengthen local community, acting locally on global concerns, increasing resilience, leverage and share group assets, cooperatively create infrastructure, create mutual support structures, scaffold new systems, shield against broken or failing systems, in short build your own distributed and networked living.

Designing for agency
For each of those contexts and desired impacts you can think about and design the (virtual and real) spaces you need to create, the value you seek, the levels of engagement you can/should accommodate, the balancing of safety and excitement you desire, the balance you need between local network density and long distance connections for exposure to other knowledge and perspectives, the ways you want to increase the likelihood of serendipity or make space for multiple parallel experimenting, the way you deal with evolution in the social context concerned, and the rhythms you keep and facilitate.

The tools that enable agency
To be able to organize and mobilise for this, we need to tap into two types of enabling technology, that help us embrace the distributedness and connectedness I described in part 1. The ‘techie’ technology, which is comprised of hard- and software tools, and the ‘soft’ technology which consists of social processes, methods and attitudes.
What types of technologies fit that description, and what those technologies need to be like to have low enough adoption thresholds to be conducive to increased agency, is the topic of part 3.

Midsummer A Year Ago: Make Stuff That Matters Unconference and BBQ

Today is midsummer. The heating system came on this morning, and it has been raining since then. Quite a contrast with last year, when over 40 of you came to brighten our home for the Make Stuff That Matters unconference birthday party, and double that for the BBQ the day after it.

#mstm14 crowd
#MSTM14 crowd during my opening remarks, by Paolo

To me it is still a great source of energy to think back to the atmosphere and spirit of MSTM14, and the joy of seeing so many of our colleagues, peers, friends, family and clients interact, having travelled from all over the country, from all over Europe, and even from Canada and spanning 6 decades of age differences. As a bit of sunlight on this day that feels like autumn, some impressions from last year.

We used an introduction game and process, designed with Peter Troxler, to get everyone involved in making something.

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MSTM14 IMG_7080

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Designing together

We had the Frysklab mobile FabLab parked in front of our home for two days, staffed by Jeroen, Aan, Marleen and Jappie of the incredible Frysklab team. Next to their equipment (multiple 3d-printers, a laser cutter, a CNC mill), we had our own 3D printer and four more on loan through the kind collaboration of Ultimaker. This allowed everyone to get their hands on the machines, guided by the Frysklab team and Elmine.

Frysklab in da house! IMAG4153
Frysklab, and the line-up in our living room

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Klaas ‘borrowing’ our printer 😉 & at work in the Frysklab truck

People started out creating objects with Doodle3d, and then after encountering its limitations, by themselves moved on to more capable but also more complicated software tools. Guiding each other, searching for tips & tricks online, and through trial and error. The 3D-printers kept going for over 2 days, until the last guests left for the airport! Seeing how well everything went, and how our process delivered above our own expectations, made Elmine’s “Maker Moment“. I remember standing in the Frysklab truck towards the end of the first day, with everyone around me excitedly talking, working and making, and I just felt happy seeing the energy all round me. We set out to show ‘making’ as a communal process, and seeing it succeed is joyous.

MSTM14 IMG_7024
Peter and Oliver explaining 3d printing from Minecraft, Tjores proudly writing his name in 3D

MSTM14 Minecraft design, 3d printed
Amarens printed a 3d-hug, after a scan of herself. A castle made in Minecraft printed by Floris

The second day was all about the bbq, bringing about double the number of people together compared to the unconference day. And people kept on making, neighbourhood kids got busy in the Frysklab truck, and unconference participants showed newcomers how the machines worked. Fine food, fine wines, and many helping hands, such as Ray’s, in the kitchen, kept everyone around for conversations, making and fun.

MSTM14 Day 2 IMG_7179
Ray and Harold making food, Martin and Paolo making music

And even after the event, the ripples kept spreading outward. New connections were made, with friends opening their own home for other participants to stay in during the summer for instance. Elmine and I used a visit to Copenhagen to bring the MSTM experience to our friends Henriette and Thomas, and their sparkling daughter Penny, where we shared what we ourselves had learned from Peter and his son Oliver. My colleague Frank took that same lesson from Peter and Oliver to a whole new level, involving dozens of neighbourhood kids in a 3D-printing event where he lives.

Now a year later, the energy is still palpable to me. On this rainy day a year later I am grateful for the inspiration and friendship of last year. And although it will be hard to top, I am slowly starting to think about what we could do in 2016 for a new edition.
If you are entertaining the thought of doing something similar yourself, do read the e-book we wrote after a previous edition (download the PDF), where we describe the basic steps of hosting your very own birthday unconference and bbq. If you do and we’re invited, I promise Elmine and I will try our best to make it possible for us to attend.

The 2014 Tadaa! List

Another year is coming to a close, so keeping up with my tradition of the last few years (since 2010, see last year’s edition) I am writing down the things in the past 12 months that gave me a sense of accomplishment or joy. It is often easy to focus on things not achieved, or left unfinished, as those are the things demanding attention. Often I find that in my daily routines I focus on what’s next, and I tend to forget a lot of what I actually did do. Obviously any year also has its hard moments, disappointments and failures. So to remind myself that this year was a full year where things happened that I loved doing or enjoyed (sticking to mostly business related, some personal), here’s the ‘Tadaa!-list’ of 2014

  • With Marc, Paul and Frank, I formally incorporated The Green Land and had our first (temporary) employee
  • Got to work with the supreme audit authority on the Dutch first national ‘Trend report Open Data’, and now working on the next edition
  • Did an open data workshop with the Dutch and British supreme audit authorities with an audience of all European audit authorities, as well as a study day with the Belgian and Dutch audit authorities. Impressed with their dedication and professional attitude. (It does of course help clarity, if your mission statement is in the constitution)
  • Worked for the Flemish Chancellary on open data scenario’s for their consolidated database of laws and regulations
  • Explored internet security and privacy in more detail, geeking out on running my own cloud in a Swiss datacenter
  • Spent a week and a half in Berlin with Elmine exploring and learning, visiting conferences like Things Con and Re:Publica, while also spending time just hanging out with fun people locally

    Out of comfortzone behind a sewing machine
  • Got to (finally!) visit Gabriela and Ray in Limerick where Elmine and I both presented at 3D Camp at the University of Limerick
    @ the beach
    With Gabriela, Ray and Elmine on an Irish beach
  • Presenting with Ernst and Elmine at Sia’s retirement farewell party, and feeling the lasting impact, emotion, and energy of our work together in Rotterdam 2007-2009, reconnecting to several team members. It is a rare treat to get to see the ripples of a (personal) change process years on like that. I was honored by your invitation, Sia.
    L1020751
    Cocreated Sia’s Lifehack Calendar with party participants
  • Stepped out of a large tendering process that could have provided for 3 years because it felt all wrong, realizing I can’t stomach the opportunists who aren’t really interested in delivering value, just feeding at the trough
  • Quit working on a company I was helping establish, even though it has loads of potential (realistically more than my other activities even), because I needed to free up thinking time and shed energy sinks
  • Worked in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Kazachstan, and Kyrgyzstan, enjoying the differences in stories, experiences, perspectives and outlooks that it provides
    In Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
    Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, against mountains
  • Spent a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing summer week in a gem of an apartment in Copenhagen with Elmine, just enjoying each other, the sun and the city
  • Organized the Make Stuff That Matters Unconference & BBQ, at our home, bringing friends, clients, peers, family, and strangers together for two exciting days of inspiration, with the outstanding help of the Frysklab team and their mobile FabLab
  • Got to be there with and for friends in good and bad times, which is the definition of being alive and human
  • Taking more time with Elmine to explore exhibits, festivals, such as Gogbot, Dutch Design Week, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, 3D Print Canal House, Reina Sofia Museum, Smart New World in Düsseldorf, Ai WeiWei in Berlin etc.
    Ai Wei Wei
    Worked on seeing, noticing more
  • Better balanced long term goals and dreams with actions across quarters of the year, yielding improved results.
  • Worked for the World Bank as a senior consultant / external expert on open data readiness
    At GEGF2014 in Astan
    Presenting in Kazachstan at Global e-Gov Forum
  • Got to celebrate the 3 year existence of the local Enschede FabLab which I helped start, still going strong and having yielded a wide variety of amazing projects
  • Knowing we’ve touched people, and made it possible for others to inspire people, with MSTM, based on the beautiful feedback we got, and seeing the ripples propagate in Denmark, Netherlands and Canada
  • Ending the year with a final dinner at a great Swiss restaurant that is closing, in the excellent company of dear friends

My absolute highlight in 2014 was our third birthday unconference in June, Making Stuff That Matters. Not only because of the energy and joy we got from getting to host such an amazing bunch of people at our home, but also because of the things Elmine and I did in the run up to prepare (in Berlin and Limerick e.g.), the help we got doing that (thanks @trox!), the connections we’ve seen grow from it amongst those we invited, and how it is still creating impact months later where participants have taken their own additional steps around making. It was wonderful to create the place and circumstances in which that could happen. We can’t thank all who attended enough for the gift of their participation.


Created with flickr slideshow.
Schermafbeelding 2014-10-25 om 12.56.07

40 Kids on Minecraft for 3D Printing

Today 40 kids are gathering in the coworking place Zpot in Utrecht, to build in Minecraft and then print their creations with 3D printers.

The event is organized by my colleague Frank (also initiator of the coworking space itself). He and his son Floris participated in our Make Stuff That Matters unconference & bbq where Peter and Oliver Rukavina demo’d how to 3D print from Minecraft. Floris used it right then to print a castle he built. Earlier Frank already had hosted a Minecraft party for kids in the neighbourhood. His son’s continued enthusiasm for printcrafting, in combination with the earlier event has turned into “Meet2Minecraft” today.

Minecraft / Printcraft Minecraft / Printcraft
Minecraft lan party!

Seven 3D printers (including our own trusty Ultimaker Classic, and 6 Felix printers) are lined up to print the creations of 40 children today. Pizza, soda, Minecraft and 3D printers == Perfect Saturday!

Minecraft / Printcraft Minecraft / Printcraft
Prepping 7 3D-printers for printing Minecraft designs

Minecraft / Printcraft Minecraft / Printcraft
More printcrafting kids

[update]
Comparing some of the printed results

Minecraft 3D Printing Minecraft 3D Printing

See more pictures

Making Makers, Danish Edition

Our friends Henriette and Thomas who live in Denmark, could not make it to MSTM14. So when we decided to head up to Copenhagen for a few days, we resolved to bring Make Stuff That Matters to their home. We added our 3D-printer to our luggage and set out to Denmark.

Last Friday we spent the afternoon and evening with Henriette, Thomas and their 10yr old daughter Penny. Coffee and home made (by Penny) chocolate cupcakes on their sunny deck, hanging out in the harbour / beach of Elsinore, and eating pizza and calamares was mixed with some fun 3D-printing.

We started with the Doodle3D.com add-on to the printer, as it is a fast way to quickly get a feeling for what you can do. Doodle3d.com provides a drawing tool in your browser, and hitting the print button makes it send your drawing to the 3d-printer directly. That way doodles, and word-art are immediately turned into tangible objects. A name tag for the door to your room for instance:

Having demonstrated the basics, it was time to print some more. Penny already had an orange Ultimaker-robot, from when Henriette us and Siert (Ultimaker’s founder) met-up at SHiFT Relays in Dusseldorf last fall. Her favourite color is blue, and we brought some, so logically a blue robot needed to be printed. And then later a red one. Hitting the select and print button on the printer was a bit scary at first, but every new printed plastic layer was greeted with a widening smile and fascination.

We showed some pictures from the event, and talked about Peter and Oliver Rukavina’s work in using Printcraft to 3d-print designs that were built in Minecraft. Showing Peter’s blog post with the Minecraft screenshot and the resulting 3d printed castle (that my colleague Frank’s son made after being shown Printcraft by Oliver and Peter) drew a direct response from Penny “Wow!”. Immediately the laptop and a mouse were brought out, and Thomas pointed her machine to the Minecraft server run by Printcraft. Penny constructed a pyramid that we then downloaded to our printer. Layer by layer her creation materialized in front of us.

The design was shared by Penny at the Printcraft site immediately.
As Peter said when we posted some pics to Facebook from Henriette’s living room it is beautiful to see the knowledge and inspiration spread. From Oliver, to our living room, to Frank’s son Floris, to Elmine and me, to a Danish living room, to Penny, and being turned into a pyramid.

Making Makers – The Process

We look back on a great event, our ‘Make Stuff that Matters’ unconference and bbq. Bringing together some 45 people from around our various networks to our home for a day of making. Most never had done anything like it before, most had never met each other before. So how do you guide a group like that through the day, in a way that they actually have made something together by the end? How do you make makers out of all of us? Here’s a quick run-down of the process we designed.

Turning introductions into an overview of skills and experience
We started with a quick intro-game. Each participant was given a blank card with the instructions to:

  1. write their name on the card
  2. find a stranger in the room
  3. introduce yourself, your skills and experiences
  4. let the other person draw on your card what she thinks stands out
  5. then have the other take their turn for the same
  6. stick the resulting cards on the wall to serve as reference for the day

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Introductions and making the cards / Inspecting the skill cards on the wall

Aan Klaas
Examples of cards

Printing new humans as a way to decide what to make
After these introductions it was time to start the real process. We created groups of 5 or 6. Then the group members created a series of drawings of humans. The first, invisible to their neighbour, drew a head, the second a body, the third legs. Doing that in a circle created 5 or 6 drawings per round. After a first round to warm up, the second round we asked to add more character, expression or indications of background or profession.

From the resulting drawings, the group then discussed and selected their favourite one and constructed a story around them. The story would explain character, backgrounds, origins, and things like age and their name. Stories were mailed to Elmine who printed them out.

The resulting figures and their stories were put on a big flipover sheet and then stuck to the walls.

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Drawing humans in groups, and a resulting drawing

Individually all participants then added post-its to the ‘new humans’ with items these people might use, want, need or care about. Then individually people picked one or more of these items to make during the rest of the day, and helped eachother to do that.

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Drawn humans on the wall with their story, adding post-its with ideas for things to make for them

Rationale behind the process
We wanted to make sure that all had the same starting point. Otherwise someone who had more experience or an idea up front might dominate a group simply because others had less well formed ideas, even though the others might not really be interested in realizing that idea. We wanted to make sure that everyone could pick something that was of interest to themselves, which triggered enough intrinsic motivation to see it through. By putting all through creating a ‘new human’ and specify their material needs, we created both a specific and neutral context in which an object was to be used, as well as enough diversity in ideas for all to choose from.

Origins of the process
Given our rationale of wanting to pick people up where they were, and offer enough ideas neutrally, we needed to come up with a process. Originally the ‘drawing people’ idea was suggested by Peter Troxler as an introduction game, but discussing it we realized it could be the starting point of the making process. We then thought some more about how to introduce people and repurposed a similar intro-game from last time (there one person wrote on a card how the other person was connected to us, which we turned into a network map), refocusing it on skills and experiences. Drawing was added to get people’s creative juices flowing. Elmine then put it all together in a instruction manual for all to use, embedding the process in a story that made the steps follow each other logically.

MidSummer UnConference MSTM in 4 Weeks!

In just 4 weeks our MidSummer Unconference and BBQ “Make Stuff that Matters” will take place in our home. We’re hugely looking forward to it!

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This third unconference in our home will bring some 40 people together on Friday 20 June, and double that on Saturday 21 June for the BBQ. Haven’t rsvp’d yet for either or both days? Please do so by 6 June!

What will we be up to at the unconference?
We’ll make things together!

We have more opportunity than ever to act and make things ourselves, while connected to and embedded in globally connected networks and globally accessible knowledge. Our world is however a closed system with restraints in terms of resources, with only our creativity in true abundance. So we better learn how to act, prototype, design and make well. Whether it is a product, a system, a structure or a new routine. So we better make stuff that really solves something for you or others, that makes something important possible. So we better Make Stuff That Matters.

With all participants we will explore making. To do that we are not just bringing great people together from many countries and backgrounds, but also a number of cool machines:

  • I am working to get my open source laser cutter working in time for the event
  • We have arranged to have the very cool mobile FabLab Frysklab, operated by the Provincial Library of Fryslan, parked in front of our home for 2 days.
  • Ultimaker, the great 3D printer company from right here in the Netherlands, is lending us a number of their 3D printers. (Together with our own printer, and the mobile FabLab, we will have 7 3D printers for the two days)
  • bus1 klein
    The Frysklab truck will be at our event

    Next to that we have brought together a wide range of cool guides, and electronics (Sparkcore, Arduino, Rapsberry Pi) to add to the mix. Our visits to ThingsCon in Berlin and 3D Camp in Limerick have added quite a few things to our arsenal of material.

    ultlimaker2
    Ultimaker is lending us some of their great 3D printers

    Laos open source laser cutter
    I am busy getting my open source laser cutter to work

    Elmine and I have designed a process, with the help of others such as Peter Troxler, and we have a program set out for the day.

    During the Unconference we will work in teams on making things that are meaningful to us. In between we will have up to 6 speakers giving presentations on stories they want to share.

    Two sessions we already have planned:

  • Keith Andrews, a professor at Graz University of Technology, will speak about data visualization (and we’ll have various great books by Edward Tufte to get inspired by as well).
  • Oliver Rukavina (13), the son of Canadian friends of ours, will do a session about 3D printing straight from Minecraft. (Minecraft is a kind of virtual Lego world, and e.g. the whole of Denmark has been recreated in it using open data)
  • I may want to do a session myself as well, but need to think about it. If you are participating on Friday and have a story you really want to share, do let us know and we will aim to fit you in the program.

    Saturday, the day after the conference, all machines and all output of the conference will still be available to work with. We will open up the mobile FabLab to the neighbourhood as well that day. And of course all other BBQ guests will get to play with the 3D printers as well!

    Join the MSTM Facebook group to already meet the rest of the guests, or blog / tweet / share things yourself by using the #mstm14 tag! Do get in touch if you have questions, or like to rsvp.

    Looking back on 3D Camp

    We had two beautiful sunny days in Ireland this week. One spent touring the country side and the coast with our kind hosts Gabriela and Ray, and Adrian McEwan (one of the other speakers, active in IoT and running a makerspace in Liverpool). And one spent at the event we were here for: 3D Camp.

    It was the 7th edition, and it’s not a full barcamp, in the sense that the program is set beforehand, although all sessions are still volunteered by participants.

    As I was speaking right after the opening key-note, I had the rest of the day to listen, learn and have conversations. Some random take-aways from the day:

    CoderDojo
    A great concept where children get to play by coding up stuff is CoderDojo. A room full of kids with one or both parents working together: the CoderDojo Limerick was in session. Groups are active in over 20 countries. These types of things can be life changing. I still remember getting my hands on my first computer when I was 12, and learning to code BASIC on it. I was immediately fascinated by the technology. Still am. What if my teacher hadn’t gone through the trouble of arranging a few machines for us to experiment with? I would probably have encountered my first computer only upon entering university. A very different stage in life to have your eyes opened to a range of new possibilities.

    3Dcamp 2014
    CoderDojo Limerick at work

    Cortechs
    Aine Behan of Cortechs shared with us some of the current things going on in measuring brainwaves and using it to control things, like games. Very interesting to hear about games that reward and give feedback on the amount of focus and calmness your brainwaves convey. It is being used to e.g. condition ADHD children towards better focus skills. Reminded me of the brain wave controlled helicopter I encountered at TEDxTallinn last year.

    Makey Makey
    Definitely the most funky stuff present at the event. Build upon Arduino you use Makey Makey to turn everything into a key. Like bananas to play music on. Intended for kids, but fun for anyone really.

    PiPhone
    Heaps of Rapsberry Pi goodness was the demo of the PiPhone by David Hunt. A phone built from Raspberry Pi and other components. A bit clunky, but it works. And while the question whether this is something that will take on the major mobile phone companies isn’t of much relevance, it does mean you can build your own without them, without needing an engineering degree. Another case in point of disruptive tech creating new affordances for individuals.

    Oculus Rift
    James Corbett, with Gabriela the organizer of 3D Camp, demoed the Oculus Rift. It’s a somewhat disorienting experience to wear it. As what your eyes perceive is different from what all other senses, including your entire body, are telling you. Although the visual quality isn’t all that good (pixelated), the sense of being in a 3d environment is complete and convincing. When I was standing on a balcony, I automatically tried to grab the railing to better look over the edge. My hands were surprised to not find anything where my eyes were telling me the railing was. Luckily there was a table edge I could grab, which then reinforced the reality of being in an experience with just one of my senses, but otherwise still in the event venue, as it was thinner than the railing. Looking down you are surprised to not see your feet (I didn’t have an avatar in the demo). Because of that disconnect between your various senses, it is a very different experience from e.g. being in a VR cave. In a cave you are more fully immersed, with both sound and sight, and you have your body with you. On the other hand, in a VR cave I never forgot that I was in a room with projections around me. With a VR headset like Oculus Rift I was more convinced to be someplace else, as my eyes were telling me only that, but you’re not completely there at the same time. Adding a ‚cochlear rift’ with surround sound will likely make the experience even stronger/stranger.

    FabLab Cloughjordan
    Anthony Kelly of the Cloughjordan sustainable village project talked about the FabLab called WeCreate they have started there. He talked a little bit about how to make it financially feasible to operate a lab. The FabLab is part of the village co-working space and business center, which makes a lot of sense. Adrian McEwan of the Liverpool Maker Space told me they’re doing the same thing. The co-working space is a main source of income, and at the same time it is a good pool of people from which new makers emerge. A stand alone makerspace will more easily end up with a fixed group of users, where the point of course is to expose more people to the possibilities of digital making. WeCreate has an interesting event lined up for September, OpenEverything (no link yet)

    3Dcamp 2014 3Dcamp 2014

    I had pleasant conversations throughout the day, on open data, internet of things, fablabs,
    talking to the Coder Dojo dads, etc. Elmine rounded off the day with sharing the ‘How to Unconference Your Birthday’ story, and the upcoming ‘Make Stuff that Matters‘ event (Facebook group). She called upon all to actively spread making literacy, and that an event like ours may help. At least two people seemed to have caught the bug.

    Thanks to Gabriela for inviting us over, and to her and Ray for being such great hosts to us. We’ve seen quite a lot in just two days in Limerick!