who are you?
We are Lenore Edman and Windell Oskay. Together we run Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories in Sunnyvale, California.
How did you get started making stuff?
We’ve both been making things all of our lives. Whether it is making costumes, bicycle gear, toys, furniture, scientific instruments, or even food, making has always been something we’ve done.
how long have you been operating as a business?
We started Evil Mad Scientist in 2007, a little over a year after the first Maker Faire. We have participated in all of the Bay Area and New York Maker Faires and then some. That first faire started us down the path to making it possible for other people to try out our projects through kits.
how would you describe your making?
Most of the things that we make at Evil Mad Scientist fall into a few categories: soldering kits, drawing machines, and retrotechnological objects. Outside of the business, we do a lot of different types of making, including cooking, woodworking, sewing, and jewelry making.
How has your business evolved?
We started Evil Mad Scientist as a way to further our hobbies and as a hobby in itself. We were both working full time and making kits on the side for fun. As we grew, we moved toward doing it full time, adding employees, and adding more types of manufacturing and assembly in-house. We’ve learned a lot as we’ve gradually grown, and as our project focuses have changed. We’ve also added tools, starting with a laser cutter, and adding vinyl cutter, CNC router and most recently CNC mill to our capabilities.
What difficulties in running a maker business have you found to be the most challenging?
Over the years, some of the things we have struggled with have changed, but some stay difficult. There are challenges like sourcing parts for a reasonable price, in the amount of time that you need and in the quantity that you need. These things change with the scope of the project, so there are always new things to learn about sourcing. Managing people is hard, too. We want to provide a good work environment, and there are so many variables that go into that.
what is a favorite thing you’ve made?
There are so many! Our Digi-Comp II is a recreation of a 1960’s educational computer that uses rolling balls to do calculations. Using it and demonstrating it provides insight into how computers work as well as giving practice for things like binary to decimal conversions.
Also, we both grew up watching rolling ball machines like the Gravitram by Shab Levy at OMSI in Portland, so this feels like we got to bring a little bit of our childhood to life. We got to make a large one for MIT, and it is installed in the computer science building there. We also got to bring one to Google for a summer camp for young people learning to code. It was a blast to walk them through the most basic functions. We find it particularly amusing to be taking our computer to places like Google and MIT.
What do you have on your horizon?
We have a couple of soldering kits coming out this year, but we’re saving those details for later! We’re also constantly working on AxiDraw software and hardware. AxiDraw is a drawing machine we make that gets used for a wide variety of purposes, including art, science, fundraising, marketing and education. As we learn more about how people use it, we come up with new ways to improve it.
How do you interact with makerspaces?
We aren’t members of a particular space. We have a lot of tools of our own that you might find at a makerspace. Both Maker Nexus and BioCurious are very close to us, and we have friends at both of them as well as at makerspaces and hackerspaces all over the world. It is awesome to be welcomed into these spaces when we travel. Our kits sometimes get used in makerspaces for classes or workshops, and AxiDraw and our other drawing machines are used both as for teaching about digital fabrication and also as tools for creating art and other projects.
What product have people really responded to?
We’ve had amazing responses to several of our products. Most recently, AxiDraw has grown a community of plotter artists who are sharing tools and methods and ideas with each other.
Have you been surprised by any responses to your work?
Absolutely! One of the best feelings is when someone sees something you have done, and builds on it, and shares it. Whether it is people publishing programs to create art for AxiDraw or sending us things that they have made with our products, the generosity of our customers, friends and community is truly wonderful.
What project are you excited about?
The MOnSter 6502 is one of my favorite projects. It is a transistor scale recreation of the famous MOS 6502 — the CPU in the Apple II amongst other things — with LEDs added so that you can watch the program running on the processor. It hits a nostalgic spot for a lot of people who started their experience with computers with that chip. In addition to nostalgia it is great for explaining computing and learning about chip manufacturing processes.
What makers or maker businesses do you admire or have you learned from?
We worked with a great group of makers for this year’s Maker Faire project where we explained everything going on in a vintage IC.
Ken Shirriff’s blog is an amazing resource, and collaborating with him as been great. Similarly, John McMaster is generous with his skills and knowledge and does absolutely insane projects. We’ve been collaborating with Eric Schlaepfer for several years now, and his twitter stream is full of explanations of all kinds of interesting stuff. We’ve also been connecting with young makers, who are the new generation of making. The projects that makers like Allie Weber, Becky Button, and Julie Sage are putting out there are full of awesome.
Any advice for people reading this?
Ask questions! There are people who may be able to help you with a project or be there when you get stuck, and you may be able to help them. People have so much knowledge, and most of them are willing to share it when they see that others need it too. Even if the people you ask don’t have answers, asking and talking about the questions can lead to new understanding.