How DIYers just might revive American innovation

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Wired’s Clive Thompson has a piece about how makers might revive American innovation (with a MAKE mention) he writes –

What a mess. I’m sitting on the floor of my apartment, surrounded by electronic parts, a cigar box, a soldering gun, and stray bits of wire. I’m trying to build my own steampunk-style clock — hacking a couple of volt meter dials to display hours and minutes. It’ll look awesome when it’s done.

If it ever gets done — I keep botching the soldering. A well-soldered joint is supposed to look like a small, shiny volcano. My attempts look like mashed insects, and they crack when I try to assemble the device.

Why am I so inept? I used to do projects like this all the time when I was a kid. But in high school, I was carefully diverted from shop class when the administration decided I was college-bound. I stopped working with my hands and have barely touched a tool since.

As it turns out, this isn’t a problem just for me — it’s a problem for America. We’ve lost our Everyman ability to build, maintain, and repair the devices we rely on every day. And that’s making it harder to solve the country’s nastiest problems, like oil dependence, climate change, and global competitiveness.

How DIYers just might revive American innovation Link.

What do you think makers?

Oh, pictured here David Cole’s work – the exhibit who appeared in CRAFT volume 01 he knitted a huge American flag with 20 foot knitting needles. More in Handmade from CRAFT 01 – Link.

28 thoughts on “How DIYers just might revive American innovation

  1. I don’t think soldering is a good metric for measuring ineptitude. A large portion of the result bears directly on using quality tools and adequate preparation, and that’s not directly linked to the soldering skills of the operator.

    Now if you want to talk about inept, let’s talk about “highly regarded” universities here in the US that graduate EE students that have never been required to solder a dang thing in any of their courses. I have been working with a group of senior EE’s that have never built anything in a lab that had to survive longer than it took the teaching assistant to grade their project. We need to get away from the educational industry barely preparing individuals for entry-level positions, and give them the tools they need to think, and design for themselves.

  2. Yes, this is a problem. America has become a nation of paper pushers. Filing and typing and pushing money around. The educational industry needs to go back to hands-on/do-it-yourself and less hand holding and ‘think of the children’ limp wristedness. I’ve had a few university instructors that were awesome do-it-yourself people. Every last one of them had to cut most of their hands on classes. Universities are more about making money and less about graduating informed and independent individuals.

  3. I’m an academic at one of the most highly regarded engineering campuses in the country (not MIT or Stanford) and have observed PhD students in electrical engineering who cannot use a voltmeter and do not understand Ohm’s law. They can pass tests with great alacrity and generate some great statistics and that’s about it.

    That said, the other 99.314159% of them are amazing — building things-that-as-yet-have-no-name and driving the future of technology in ways that we’re going to have to run hard just to keep up with.

    Observer-publications such as Wired and Make are most often the ones who lack any sort of breadth of vision, knowledge of geography and real technical skill. If they could verge past the confines of Boston, Manhattan and San Jose, they’d find a vast sea of inventive, capable people of all ages who have an extraordinary mastery of arcane bits of technology. Knitting needles optional.

  4. @ObserverPilot – do you subscribe to make and read this site? i can’t speak for wired, but make is just about the only magazine that has detailed how-tos, primers, skill building, events in areas like austin – we travel around the world to places others don’t know about to share what makers are doing.

  5. @ObserverPilot – It’s true, Make and Wired cater too much to the general public to be able to allow any sort of depth in instruction. Then again, it’s all about motivating people to learn more by themselves after getting their interest sparked by the hands-on project, isn’t it?

    Though yes, those knitting needles are a tad bit oversized..

  6. @jake – what are you talking about — how can you even compare wired to make? they’re different in just about every way possible. wired doesn’t do “depth in instruction” – but make does.

  7. @ObserverPilot – I’ve seen quite a number of engineering students produce what amounted to kindergarten science projects.

    Students today know how to study. If enough of them don’t know how to study, the instructor will switch to teaching the test by giving them, not a practice exam, but the exam itself.

    America is a throw away consumer society. Nothing needs to go through thorough testing because it will be replaced with a new SKU in 6 months.

    That said, what are these amazing things? What do they do? Will they accelerate the growth common cancers? Will they flip the magnetic poles of the Earth? Can they toast bread without the use of wires or make plants grow at the same rate they would get under sunlight? What amazing and nameless things are being made?

  8. http://howto.wired.com/wiki/Main_Page

    I stand corrected. What better expresses what I meant to say is that while Make offers projects with explicit instructions, the process and explanation of how the project works is dumbed down. That is, while the projects might give people a ‘hands on’ experience, it is unlikely that they will be able to independently create anything similar based on sound principles, for they had learnt none. Instead, the process is reduced to ‘tinkering’, while an admirable processs, not the best of options.

  9. Witness the decline of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics, granted less tech oriented than some of today’s offerings, none the less at the time had every type of project imaginable , from tube amps to hovercraft….Todays version is a joke. Go to the library and see if they have some 40’s and 50’s era copies and see for yourself…..pay particular attention to the classified ads.

    DIY is alive and well, but it’s mostly alive with the last wave of the baby boom of which I’m a member. I ask my neighbors if they know a Valve amp tech in town…..universal WTF from those under 30, and knowing smile from Senors….and peers.

    Maybe just maybe the coming oil bubble will shake up the West from it’s throw away consumerism and reawaken it’s innovation with the urge towards things of value, real value that last more than 1 year. I have a beer fridge from 1952, still going strong, never needed any freon,servicing other than a new seal around the door. Makes things to last, make high quality things again, too much time spent relaxing and taking it easy, partying etc…Damn pop culture IS the culture ….has to change or were doomed to a very nasty depression that will make the 30’s seem like a picnic.

    An I’m considered an optimist :)

    Annonymouse…

  10. Why do boomers congratulate themselves as being the last great Americans, when they are the reason under-30s are supposedly so ignorant? When you point that finger at the kids remember the other fingers aiming back at you. It’s you folks who have been running and ruining the country. Our baby boomer President George Bush is prime example number one.

  11. American innovation doesnt exist, most if not all the greatest inventiors and inovators where european, even your space program was dependant on x nazi scientists

  12. People uses valve amplifiers because they believe that $1000-$10000 tube amp is for audiophiles. It’s for people with too much money and too little sense! A smart person would listen to both or learn how to read the specs. Valve(tube) amps STILL are on sale as of 9 21 08 from several places for only $1000 or more.

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