We’ve been trying to think up ten things Makers should resolve to do in the new year and so we asked our columnists and technical advisory board to each send one or more of their resolutions to share with our readers. We got a lot more than ten, but they’re all worthy of adding to your list; if we all followed even some of them, the world would be a better place. What could be a more makerly way to start the year?
If you have a resolution you want to share, we’d love to hear it!
1. Learn something new from a child or teenager, especially in your area of greatest expertise. I find the perspective of innocent novices to be most refreshing and enlightening.
2. Revisit an old science book you read growing up and see how your (and society’s) perspective on things have changed.
3. Find someone you’ve always admired and tried to emulate, and thank them for being such an excellent role model, and ask them about some good stories about the “way things used to be done”.
4. Find an important social topic and dig as deep as you can; follow up and look for citations, references, and raw data. For example, I learned that some theorists dispute the carbon-reduction ability of certain hydroelectric technologies, because the dams flood large regions causing them to decay, releasing methane (20x more potent greenhouse gas than CO2) into the atmosphere. Global warming appears to be a very richly textured topic with lots of unintended consequences just being realized. Unfortunately, a lot of important issues are summarized with a few “talking points” by the press and political groups. As technologists, I think we have the responsibility to always question our assumptions, and to listen to both sides of the story, and to make sure that we are moving deliberately and cautiously as a society.
5. Learn a new tool. Maybe that means picking up a new programming language, or perhaps it means learning how to use a new kind of CAD software. Or maybe it means learning a new kind of calculus or statistics, or perhaps getting into the shop and using the mill you always meant to use. Putting aside your well-worn and efficient tools is often hard to do, but it’s also hard to grow when your tools limit your abilities. My new tools for the year are Solidworks and a laser cutter–I have little mechanical engineering background, and I’m hoping that learning tools like these will expand my understanding of the world and my capabilities.
I’m going to (re)resolve something I’ve tried before. That is to encourage myself to only make things of a quality that I will be proud of when they still exist in 100 years. Basically to become a maker of heirloom quality things, not just things.
For me, I want to get back to actually making a few things instead of making examples. And to see to it that the things I make can be easier taken apart when needed, to be recycled. Sort of the opposite of Saul’s idea, but I think two ends of the same useful spectrum. If it isn’t kept for a long time, it should be able to re-enter the biocycle or technocycle fully.
Also, learn to use an ammeter.
I’ve seen (and taught) a lot of people in the post-BASIC Stamp era who can build plenty of simple circuits but who never learned to use an ammeter, and therefore can’t say how much energy their circuits consume. Once you do learn, you start to look for ways to reduce power consumption all over the place. It’s a tiny thing, but it’s a very practical step that enables you to act on the more abstract but important act of reducing energy use.
While we’re on it:
Play around with solar cells and super capacitors
Use only rechargeable batteries
I resolve to stop buying things at the dollar store–those things that I see and say “Boy, I could mod that into a really cool device”–until I empty my already-full box of dollar store devices. First project? Modding those $1 TV remote controls so I can control my TiVo (which lives in the Living Room) when I’m sitting in my office.
I resolve to find a time and opportunity to work one on one with a younger people to make something physical, tangible and most of all, cool. Something like a go cart, a catapult, a spud gun, etc.
Here are mine (as of today, subject to change, no warranty, implicit or otherwise, is assumed, send in coupon for rebate):
1) Try to learn more skills outside of my comfort zone and experiment/build with components or parts that I’ve never used before. Things like machining, welding, more analog electronics, motor control, sensor interfacing, etc. Being in the embedded/digital electronics world for so long, I want to branch out to expand my toolkit of skills for future projects. It’s just too easy to rely on skills and materials you’re so used to using. But, having just built an automonous, thermal tracking robot with sophisticated machine vision and ridiculous mechanical interfacing with a few guys in a short amount of time (less than 2 weeks from start to finish), it was an eye opening experience to branch out from my comfortable skill set (with some expected failures along the way :).
2) One pleasure of being an inventor, entrepreneur, and self-described “professional hobbyist” is the freedom to create new products and get them to the masses, whether for sale, released for free, whatever. This resolution is to build at least one new product this year that will benefit the hobbyist/electronics community. Probably using some new piece of technology and creating a simple, easy-to-use interface to control it (like my previous GPS, RFID, Emic text-to-speech modules, etc.) It’s a great feeling to see others using things I’ve created to make *better* things. My pieces are just stepping stones or building blocks to some really amazing projects that other folks are working on. It makes the pain, heartache, and suffering of development and debug all worth it.
3) A non-technical one … Trying to keep a balanced life (for me: eating, sleeping, working, running, swimming, cycling, hanging out with Keely) is difficult, but absolutely necessary. Being at a funeral the day before Christmas this year reminded me that there is more to life than what takes place behind the computer (or soldering iron, milling machine, etc.)
I don’t typically make resolutions. I simply don’t have the resolve. With that being said: this year I resolve to learn threadcraft well enough to develop and tailor a late-1940s style box-cut loop-collar-type sport shirt of the kind that I admire but can no longer find at reasonable prices. If that works out. I will make some pants as well.
My New Year’s Resolution is to learn more about electronics and robotics. People think that because I write on these subjects I’m an expert, in some omnipotent sense. I’m not an electrical engineer. I’m not any sort of engineer. I’m a technology writer first and foremost, and an enthusiastic student of hands-on high technology. I think this perpetual student status is what makes me good at explaining complex tech subjects to others — I always feel like I’m not too many steps beyond the person I’m explaining things to. But I want to go deeper, to understand more of the theory behind the work, and to be able to go beyond building kits and following how-tos to forging some paths of my own.
I also want to spend more time passing on what I know. In this vein, I’ve just posted a “Thumbnail Guide to Soldering” on Street Tech. It has illustrations by Mark Frauenfelder, taken from my Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots book. I plan on putting up more of these Thumbnail Guides on Street Tech, based on common hardware hacking questions we get at ST. So, I guess that would be another resolution.
Create more order. I find that once you have order, maintaining it isn’t that hard. Apply this in practice to my garage.
Learn a new language. Probably will be Ruby; Spanish will come next if I can reach a comfortable level with Ruby.
Respond to or otherwise deal with every piece of email sent to me within 1 week or as soon as possible. Maintain an inbox that fits comfortably on one screen without scrolling.
Say “good morning” with a smile, and mean it — start each of my personal interactions out on a positive note every day.
Try to have either a lower mass or lower volume of possessions by the end of the year. Get rid of things I don’t use and probably will never use; don’t buy anything that might fit this description.
Happy New Year, everyone!