in Plano, TX

wfdseries2-9.featureMy time in Dallas was professionally productive, in no small measure due to my participation with The group caught my eye almost immediately when I set out; their focus on computer networks, in addition to the other trappings of the makerverse, is an interesting angle, and the group was certainly more intimate than the gigantic Dallas Makerspace in Carrollton. These are real nerds, to be sure; their logo is based on a glider pattern from The Game of Life. It’s an exciting time to stop by; the Hoverboard is a viable means of transportation here, and just weeks ago, several teams from the space participated in a massive Trebuchet competition in Plano, launching pumpkins and squids to improbable distances.

The genesis of was in Meetups, many at the (sadly, defunct) Alan Wicker’s Bar in Plano. In August, TheLab officially moved into its space, sandwiched between three restaurants and a coffee bar in a strip mall. Inside, you’re greeted by a small room home to the space’s two identical MakerBot-clone 3D printers, dual-extruder units with acrylic cabinets that work well with ABS. The resident print czar has already retrofitted them with Raspberry Pis, webcams on $8 IKEA desk lamp arms to take full advantage of Octoprint. Calibration is almost there, with the first attempt to print an RPi case demonstrating that the printer is just a little bit off dimensionally (Getting the right model to print off of Thingiverse, that’s another story entirely!)

These units have a lot of flexibility; they can print two identical objects at once (if the print is thinner than the extruders are set apart), or layer two colours of plastic in a single build (like a VLCesque traffic cone), or the traditional pathway, where one material provides support whilst the other remains in the final product. It’s all customizable, whereas many dual-extruder printers only let you run the support material option. Another custom mod is the glass sheets covering the print stage; the units ship with polymer stages that feel like sheets of painter’s tape, which have great adhesion but typically last just 50 or so prints. The glass sheets are much more durable, even if shattering is a worry. Another advantage of moving to removable stages? No more poking at the bottom with a metal spatula to get your plastic, just pop your completed print in the freezer, it’ll detach in moments. Just ignore the popping sound the glass makes as it shrinks – sure, breakage might still be a worry with the cheapest window glass from the hardware store, but decently strong potash or borosilicate glass is certainly an option down the line, now that the concept is proven.

thelabms-one-25Past the printers is the doorway to the main hall, leading left to Classroom One, the main hangout for the coders and remote-workers, rigged with dual screens and dual cameras for teleconferencing and presentations, or head right to the Common room, host to the refrigerator, browning convection microwave, network equipment, soldering stations. This is the main space for member meetings, and there’s a comfy recliner sofa along with sets of deployable stacking chairs. Farther down the hall is Classroom Two, presently set up as a boardroom, and behind that, the storeroom that will eventually be a Recording Studio. At the end of the hall is a restroom, complementing another just off the Common room.

They’re still rounding the corner on infrastructure development; By mid-December, in addition to renovating and painting the entire place, they had succeeded in running cameras and Ethernet cable everywhere, with the help of spiffy 3D-Printed mounting clamps. Things like a laser and woodworking gear are planned for down the line; in the near-term, a second space for a “dirty” workshop for wood and metalworking, as their member base and interests expand. In the “clean” space the next item on the list is professional recording equipment, to get together a nice soundbooth for podcasting and more! Also, each classroom is getting a nice USB condenser mic hung from the ceiling, which will make for better conferencing and recording compared with the pickups on the cameras.

thelabms-one-10The membership consists of a plurality of web designers, with a smattering of hardware and network engineers, plus bloggers and other technical types. During my visit, another passing blogger hangs a television on the wall, and gives a half-decent talk to the members; more on him soon. The network engineers are very interested in getting the network hyper-secure, RADIUS on the WiFi and everything, but are also among the most busy of the members, so the work is taking a little longer than planned. I get seconded to terminate a dozen or so network ports they’re still deploying to the rooms. When I plugged them into the router, they “worked” electrically, but data was blocked by router configuration. Such is the nature of Infosec. Another frustration they have is being surrounded by optical fibre, yet their building didn’t have it put in. There are always ways to jumper bandwidth over a modest distance – though for now, a business-class Cable Modem will do.

Food of choice here? Marinara Pizza next door – amazingly good, New York Style, $5 for a drink and a slice. TheLab’s fridge is filled with 50-cent Soda, so it seems I have managed to cross that line, though by all accounts this may be partially due to the place being full of northern ex-pats. This is also a beer-drinking club! The fridge is usually full of a serviceable microbrew, and every month, there’s a brewmaster meetup, you can even rent $30 worth of equipment if you don’t have it, to enjoy 5 gallons of home-grown beer.

wfdseries2-3.jpgtlThe newest and coolest tradition is WoFLFri (Work From the Lab Fridays) – an opportunity for work-from-home types to get-it-done at TheLab for a nice change of pace and lunch at Plano’s dizzying array of mealtime choices. And naturally, there are the monthly Open Houses, on the Second Saturday of the month. Going into Year Two at their own space, TheLab is starting to save up a few nickels to think about getting shop equipment – new members are coming in at $30 a month, still totally reasonable as far as spaces go.

TheLab has yet more ambitious ideas, as far-flung as Optical Networking and Costa Rica. It isn’t hard to stay in touch with the group, in addition to the standby events page, their website is going through a redesign soon, and they have both IRC and SLACK! I did make a donation as a member for the month of December, and the crew was very excited to host me. In addition to providing me one of their old-school Conceptual Intercourse T-Shirts, TheLab let me hold onto one of their Red RFID keyfobs – one of the first issued, as it happens – and their first dual-extruded kickstand-key, suitable for propping up non-phablet sized phones for easy video watching! I’ll be sure to put it to good use on my next anime night.

Getting started with Let’s Encrypt (without sudo)

What do you do if you want a Let’s Encrypt free certificate, but don’t have root access to your server?

One pitfall I found through searching too fast:  Don’t go out and use the old diafygi script on GitHub, its features are already in the latest Let’s Encrypt code.

If your webhost has Python, you might even be able to run Let’s Encrypt right on the server.  Mine isn’t set up right, though, so a fresh copy of an ubuntu LiveCD or USB Stick will do to begin. Once you’ve got your LiveCD system up and running, download Let’s Encrypt and extract it where convenient, your choice of:

git clone


unzip master

You will need to enable Universe software to install Let’s Encrypt.  In ubuntu 15.10, the Universe repository is not enabled by default.  the easy way is to select the “Software & Updates” module from the ubuntu menu to select the Universe repository.

Once that hurdle is cleared, fire up Let’s Encrypt in manual mode.

./letsencrypt-auto certonly -a manual -d

After installing support software, LE automatically does everything in the background to get a secure certificate set up for a request to the LE servers. At this point, you’ll be instructed to post public URLs on your site for verification.

These challenges are composed of two parts, separated by a period. The specific domain is tied to the first part, and the second part is the same for each domain. The filename the LE servers are looking for is just the first part, and inside the file all the server wants to see is the whole-two part challenge.

Go to the top-level folder for your particular domain name(s) and run

mkdir .wellknown/acme-challenge
cd .wellknown/acme-challenge
nano (or your favourite text editor) [challengeheader]
[paste or enter entire challenge response line]

The challenge for the certificate must remain there until you have your certificate in hand, so don’t delete any challenges prematurely. You’ll need to repeat this in various combinations if your site has multiple folders and/or multiple domains.

If you have more than one domain/subdomain you are registering with the same certificate, you must have all of the files present before hitting ENTER the last time, which is when LE actually contacts your site to look for the challenge requests. So don’t tap through too fast.

When successful, you will get a set of files that together allow for SSL to your website. Configuring that is another story (I’ll let you know when I’m done!)

Rose State College Fab Lab

okc-66On Tuesday, the sun began to shine again over a rain-soaked Oklahoma City, just the thing to bring out the bright colours of the Rose State College Health and Environmental Sciences Building.  Its blue and gold veneer faces Interstate 40 just off Tinker Air Force Base.  A column past the grand carport holds up a glowing marquee inviting passersby to register for Spring Classes at this “military friendly” community college.

okc-89Veering off I-40 presciently before this display, or perhaps backtracking circuitously from Southeast 15th Street, where Google and the campus newspaper say Rose State is, one may find this building’s parking lot, sunk into the ground just out of sight from the cross street.  You’ll have to drive through a couple other lots to find the large banner strung across the rear entrance of “HES” announcing the location of the FAB LAB at Rose State College.  Entering in the automatic double-doors, you find the foundry just to the left, announced by bright acrylic panels stuck to the wall, its double doors angled to face both the entryway and the passing hall.  The computer lab ahead is also part of the space and the restrooms are just to the left down the hall.

okc-5As soon as you enter, you see the entire World to your left, brought here via webcam and a big-screen TV.  (Europe isn’t awake right now.)  You can pantomime, draw, or fiddle with the remote until the microphone works, and trade questions with the other FabLabs – “Do you speak Portuguese?”   Moving clockwise,  the Laser Cutter, the Mill, the Moulding station, the vinyl cutter, the T-Shirt press, the Makerbots, and the in-house design lab.  At each step, my host shares insights into how the membership has been uses each to benefit students and the community.

okc-46For laser-cutting, the materials of choice here are cardboard – in vast supply, donated from a restaurant – and acrylic, which holds a sharp edge without mess or fumes.  Various cardboard structures are placed upon the space’s Christmas Tree, topped with a star-like ball made of 30 well-styled sigmoid curves.  Tour groups of schoolkids get to build their own papercraft butterflies and pterodactyls, just like the ones flying under the tile ceiling.  Starting with the files from Thingiverse, taking them through 1-2-3D Make, and finishing with laser-cutting and assembly.

okc-18Another cornerstone of the lab’s toolbox is cast moulding, the simple joy of being able to copy objects!  Imagine having a precious family heirloom, like Grandma’s ceramic turtle.  A layer of silicone, a layer of rubber, then set in some liquid plastic, and now all the aunts have a copy!  Or cross the streams – combine a lasercut acrylic or 3D printed master, and cast as many decorative chain links or Commander Shepard Paragon Points as you like, no need to do them one at a time on the slower machines.

okc-27Of course, the 3D Printer can build parts that cannot otherwise be cast or cut – for example, the NASA socket wrench recently designed to replace a part on the International Space Station!  Not satisfied with bland squares and hexes inside these 3D parts, the lab has a certain fondness for changing their infill pattern.  One build is filled with tessellated cats, another with sharks!  It’s showy – when you print in an opaque plastic, you’ll only see the pattern until it’s sealed off.  But who needs practicality when you have fun?

When it comes to building or refining concepts, the staff is very eager to assist area makers; Community entrepreneurs have prototyped a few inventions at the space, and there is also a fair bit of academic interest in the facility, especially from a medical perspective (handy being in a health building!).  Along that line, it’s being used to build prosthetic arms and there’s an edgy project to model tumours inside brain tissue, there’s all those sticking points with data ethics and privacy of MRI scans.  More practical is the service the FabLab provides the local facilities staff, replicating hard-to-find or out-of-production replacement parts, things like window clips or ceiling light mounts.  And as a bit of fun, the lab has made Oscar-like statuettes for awards events, it is Oscar Rose State College, after all!

okc-31They feed the MakerBots with PLA and the uPrint with Stratasys ABS and support material.  in the eternal back-and-forth between Painter’s Tape and Kapton, there is no contest here.  50mm rolls of Blue Painters’ Tape does it all!  Rolls of it sit everywhere in the facility.  Use it on the 3D Printers for a stick-free build, use it to cover the seam of a casting, and naturally you can even use it as tape!  They try to keep food out of the lab, it’s not exactly the sort of place tor heavy collaboration over lunch or dinner.  Still, every now and again, the go-to crowdpleaser is Hot-and-Ready Little Caesar’s Pizza, fetched as carryout from the nearby location.

There’s nothing in the way of woodworking, though there are other campus shop spaces where that’s possible.  This Lab is in a Health Science / Environmental Science building, and a bunch of sawdust everywhere would be hard to manage.  The space is safer and more accessible with a clean room design.

okc-43In Tulsa, I had mentioned that FabLabs are often limited in their reach.  Yet here is an academic institution getting it right, in my book, by being open to the community as a whole, and certainly not shy of doing a tour on short notice.  They’re working on getting the space integrated into more of the engineering and technology coursework, to help familiarize people with what they can do here, and get more Rose State students excited and invested into the space.  It’s definitely worth the hike from the middle of campus, or from anywhere in Central Oklahoma!

OKC’s ProtoTek

prototek-29December has dawned in Oklahoma City, it’s 7pm and the trendy Midtown neighbourhood is lightly abuzz with holiday shoppers filtering between geodesic domes of seasonal fare. The domes are white-strutted, sized between jungle gym and toolshed, just about what you’d want for a pop-up stall. Some have clear panelling, you can see the tinkling and faux-fire lights, holly, and pine wreathes within. Others are covered in buff vinyl, their yuletide offerings a mystery as I walk down Northwest Tenth Street.

A pile of pickup trucks surround two sides of a uniformly beige building. Two steel columns come down from a high, flat roof to an island, cutting an accessway off from the street. Two giant garage doors facing this drive give the space every outward appearance of being a former service station. In the bay window facing the end of the turnaround, an LED matrix is hung, blaring makership to the otherwise unknowing external surface. The brasshandled door, guarded by a green loop of circuitry, says “ProtoTek” across the window. The line of grey vinyl-on-particle-board tables just past the threshold are lined with members, each facing into their respective laptops. I try the door; it’s not open house night, so the fob loop frowns red, and it stays put. My knock causes a minor shock, but presently, the head honcho comes to greet me.

prototek-0Meeting rooms lay deep off ahead and to the left. The electronics workshop is in the corner, sandwiched between an office and a photography studio. The right wall is covered with a huge eight-segment projection HDTV, like you might expect from NASA Mission Control. As a backup, they still have a decent projector and a massive screen ready to be pulled down for the odd presentation or pizza party.

prototek-6That’s just the lobby! My vision of this fairly new space, ProtoTek’s second and current home, continues into the cavernous shop floor, ready with a modest amount of donated machinery. At a glance, it looks bigger than The Hack Factory, and certainly more open. All that’s being built at this moment is some tabletops, just being sanded and stained, nothing that would mandate safety goggles just yet. Brand new to the space is the TIG Welder, and a mighty industrial unit it is. Weld cables are strewn about the floor, someone must be half-done running it through the paces. Despite being offered apologies for the mess, to my eye the floor is empty and clean, for a Makerspace anyway.

prototek-8The well-loved machines have a certain appeal, one might even say a dieselpunk quality. Each mill and drill was donated, and generally speaking, older than you’d find in a factory setting. It’s all sui generis, no cookie-cutter FabLab template applies; this is a plus in my book, the more DIY you are, the better. They have a secondhand metalworking CNC with integrated bubble-button keypad and CRT display, and an in-progress custom woodworking CNC, which works fine but the finishing touch will be rigging it into a handsome blue enclosure, scavenged from some inoperative equipment.

prototek-17By this point I’m facing the inside of those giant bay doors, and lo and behold, they still have extra panels to match the Mission Control screen, and there’s two big robot arms, only one of which has been gotten to dance around (the other’s ROM leaked out, meaning the thing will likely need to be tuned from the ground up). The orange one is gigantic, taller than me, and it must tilt scales north of a tonne; yet its balance is such that it can be turned and spun by hand, if necessary. As a last curiousity, a dead tree is hung lengthwise across the ceiling, part of a member’s sculpture set (the rest of it isn’t immediately around).

The garage doors beg the question – Do people work on cars in here? Sadly not. Once this building served as the automotive lab for a high-powered lawyer, expert in suing the car companies over manufacturing defects. Buried somewhere in the back, there’s still a pre-safety era car lift, without any secondary stop or lock system, sure to mangle limbs if put too hastily back into service. If it were fixed or removed, and finagling were approved in a later lease, only then might a grease monkey have a chance to bring in “MAH TRUQ”.

prototek-27Back in the lobby, my brief foray into the electronics laboratory gets me caught on to the new PIC programmer soon to get installed; Arduino is nice, but to the coders of ProtoTek it’s just a starter set. Given the perpetually just-out-of-reach price of FPGAs, Microchip-brand MCUs are a reasonably sophisticated next step. Yet my time is cut short by the discovery that the building is leaking, the rainfall patterns having been changed recently with the new development built next door. They’re hardly strangers to of hydrological issues here. At one point, something like 900 tons of water – “TWO MILLION pounds!!” was sitting atop the flat-roofed structure; clogged gutters had caused the meter-high lip of the flat roof to get more than half full. As a result, the gutters now get cleaned out periodically by the landlord. It’s reassuring, given the bland or too-hands-off landowners I’ve heard about so far.

prototek-18If I were to sum up the space, well it’s the kind where everyone has a job, a truck, and a laptop. My stop is all too brief to be treated to the full spirit, but the little things assure me, this is still my kind of place. It comes as a bit of a surprise to me that ProtoTek is actually a business, as its rates are in line with community-owned spaces, and the doors are gladly open to monthly visits from a wall-filling list of learn-to-code focus groups. So I have to doubly admire the ethos, the way they look at the maker movement, right down to the phraseology. My guide to this space is a self-described “smash-it-with-a-hammer” maker. I’m more of a “blinky lights” type.


tulsafablab-20rFabLabTulsa is set up in a fair bit of retail space on South Lewis, a bit hard to spot at first with its sign bolted flat on its slanted façade, facing the street. Promptly at 3 on an off-Saturday, I’m greeted by their paid part-time electrical engineer, who promptly ferries the dozen or so rubberneckers through the various stations. Our host, one of FabLabTulsa’s master technicians and notable 3D printer aficionado, has at his home, a custom H-frame printer capable of doing nearly life-size statues in ABS. And naturally, the first thing you see at the space is a rotating-platform 3D scanner (custom built with a Kinect and motorized tracks) where you can pose for such a casting.

To your left at the entry, facing the street, is the big table, equally suited to potluck or group project. The Lab’s half-kitchen loaded with red plastic cups and coffee is a quick walk around the whiteboard, and the restrooms behind, in the corner. To your right at the entryway is a greeting desk, and then the main business, the design and machine shop!

tulsafablab-2We trace along the back wall, lined with well-defined workstations, each labelled by a CNCed hanging sign. There’s a small, precision machine mill, great for casting molds for plastic or silicone parts, or cutting circuit boards. There’s a 40-Watt laser cutter, which of course is in constant use, and then we pass through the airlock into the wood shop, complete with a band saw and a 1.2×2.4 meter ShopBot CNC. There’s also a decent set of hand tools, a drill press, and plenty of vacuums, brooms, and other dust removal equipment for cleaning up. Back out in the main space, we see the 3D Printing space, anchored by two MakerBot Replicators, mainly printing ABS today, and of course, all the fun things you can do with them, like Klein Bottles and the like in a dozen colours.

Thoughtfully included alongside the machining control computers, are dedicated design computers, which keeps the machines online and running G-Code, instead of being busied by users constantly tweaking models. SolidWorks has its own dedicated workstation, and also runs on a bank of design-dedicated laptops set up on an island in the centre of the workzone.

tulsafablab-8What makes it a FabLab, and not just a Makerspace, is an adherence to the tooling picked out by the MIT master fabbers. They all have the same CNC, and the same Laser Cutter, and the same Mill. Using the same types of tools in the same way, one gains the network effect of being able to develop a process, and then exactly recreate it at any other FabLab. Collectively, they create a mountain inside an isotechnological curve; you can set a new Thing on the peak and watch it snowball downhill, all over the world.

Still, in the US a FabLab has a tremendous propensity to be closed to the public. Call it a curse of academia: ideas spread like wildfire, but the execution is limited to whatever silo the grant-writer starts from. They get all this equipment, and then it sits in the corner of a Community College or Public School until the next 8am-4pm, 182 days a year. This makes it all the more special that FabLabTulsa is completely open, with more than 500 members. Funded mostly with foundation support, the space focuses on being an independent technology accelerator, home or cradle to many a startup, and being an educational resource on the frontier of this new technology.


Laptops are prepped for lab deployment

To this end, they have a mobile lab filled with tech goodies that gets carted off to local schools. Deployable with or without the van, are additional lab carts filled with laptops, topped with things like mini laser cutters or 3D Printers, and they’ll just be parked at the school for use, weeks or months on end. These rigs even have their own cellular routers, just in case the school network isn’t up to snuff getting printables to and from Thingiverse. FabLabTulsa’s remote units are in constant demand, but it shifts as new schools buy in and get their own computerized manufacturing systems. The viral effect of the FabLab rolls on – a job well done, I’d say!

There is another space in development, RawSpace Tulsa, working to spend city “Vision 2025” dollars on a place intended to be The Largest Makerspace [Arty pause] in the World! The plan is to renovate an abandoned factory with public dollars (providing a good use for part of an extended 0.6% city sales tax in the process), establish a semi-public NPO that operates the facility, then rent out sections of the floor of the giant facility by the square, kind of like the Million Dollar Homepage.

Now a global product! - Accelerated at FabLabTulsa

Now a global product! – Accelerated at FabLabTulsa

Ultimately, this new space would bring together businesspeople with varied skills, equipment, and goals, but able to share ideas and experience.  The folks behind this made a presentation to the city council recently – astoundingly, when warned at 10pm about the 10am meeting the next day, our multi-talented tour guide completed the design and multiple versions of 3D printing of both a problem (unreachable bolt) and a tool to solve it (a specially designed wrench). This was then ready in time to be printed by the RawSpacers right in front of the City Council, the stepper motors loudly singing in plastic, even as the Airport Authority came to ask for another $90 million.

Correctly spelled

Correctly spelled

Wacky hijinks have never been a stranger to Tulsa. I can’t end out my writeup without mentioning how I was regaled with the tales of locals and their interactions with Weird Al Yankovic, who filmed UHF in the city back in 1988. About two years ago, at the UHF 25th Anniversary, One FabLabber presented Al with a machined diorama of the Emo Phillips scene (the one where the shop teacher can neither identify nor use a table saw – gold!) Another FabLabber had the fun of being in high school at the same time the film was shot, and offered one or two stories of silliness from way back when.

From the reputation of most FabLabs, I was expecting something way more insular. Instead, I found a lively, active, welcoming workshop. I don’t know how else to sum this up; one could say I’m fablabbergasted.

MakeICT, Wichita’s Makerspace

makeict-4I attend a mid-November open makers night, and promptly set up my RepRap vaguely close to the rest of the 3D Printing. My Rube-Goldberg toolchain takes 90 minutes to set up, and my frame is out of alignment from being jostled too much on the road. What really does it all in is a WiFi crash; my printer halts immediately, though only the smell of something burning causes me to check on it. It is, in fact, the smell of burning coffee from the custom roaster another maker has set up, but my print head is also stalled, so good catch?

The network issue doesn’t take too long to resolve, but by then I’m knee-deep into being told all the details of the coffee project. I check in on the other 3D Printers; I don’t think anyone ends up making a complete print that night. The Ultimaker lost adhesion and only made a short piece of its intended bicycle model. A giant gear printing out on the Rostock just never quite takes, despite several tries. The laser is busier, to the amusement of its users. The Foam Cutter is much discussed, with the numerous tongue-and-groove sculptures set all about, but ultimately stays idle.

makeict-0I get a broader tour of the space, the metal shop has a brand-new TORMAC CNC, very nice; the welding tools include a dispenser full of Slim Jims and fruit snacks. The wood shop has a ShopBot CNC, 4×8, very decent size, with a big router as the cutting head, as well as a SawStop table saw, a slightly type that mangles itself in a slightly different way than the one I saw in Minneapolis.

About 30 or 40 people made it to the open house, though far fewer avail themselves of the fajita bar. There’s a definite social structure to navigate; it’s a challenging place to be an introvert. Fatefully, I manage to miss which ones, if any, were on the board of directors, which met shortly before the open house. I also miss the studio artist, that would have been a fascinating chat, I’m sure.

makeict-12As the people making things fade away to discussions, one member darts in and out, doing Uber runs between sips of coffee. A lot of chatter is dismissive of the smell of roasted coffee, disinterested in its tech or creativity, or perhaps, already sick of this shtick, guaranteed to return December 12 for a full-day class. Perhaps it will be better ventilated then?

The older folks are more ecumenical; one is torn between a passion for iron pouring and the need to go to the steampunk con, only on this weekend. This being Kansas, of course it is called the Emerald City Steampunk Expo. (Not to be confused with the Comicon in Seattle). Another member has decent expertise with electronics and a fair bit of medical insight as well. Still other older makers manage shop areas at the space, but also work at Wichita State, and have an early bedtime.

There is almost no beer; what little there was disappears with the early departures. No one is drinking pop; at 3 for a dollar it’s cheap, but there’s no change (tuck whole dollars only into an envelope). The Coffee Roasters are sipping, sampling, and poking fingers covered with wet, fresh-pressed coffee grounds, into their brew water, and pouring liquids between each other’s cups at temperatures perilously below 60 C. The drinking water supply here is a few litres left at the bottom of a stand-up water cooler, no cups resting next to it. The sole source of tap water is the bathroom sink; the kitchen might get one in the remodel.

makeict-23MakeICT has a particular kind of artistic flair not seen in the industrialist shops I’ve visited. Prior to getting its current glass studiofront on Douglas Avenue, it was based out of an artist collective. Its upgrade to its current digs, just this past April, was facilitated by the patronage of foundations that you’d see listed on the handbill for the orchestra concert. Mind you, there is not much of a sign of musical nexus – there is no fancy sound system, no one’s hands shot up when a member put out an emergency call for an iPod to test some charger gizmo. There’s no pop-up recording booth done in pink foam. For what it’s worth, there is an old electric organ sitting in the corner off in the games room. The art at MakeICT is mainly visual. There are paintings (one artist sells spacey prints for $10 a pop), crafts and clothing design, as the studio artist seems keen on, kitschy signage, and sculpture, mainly foam, though there is plenty of talk of PLA Lost Wax Casting. One wall is done up in empty frames, a tandem bike leaned against the wall, suggesting an unfinished, collaborative project. The all-glass storefront for the space is punctuated by dozens of Post-It Note pixels forming the name MakeICT.

You might expect some bohemian laxity in welcoming new participants, but in practical terms, it is not easy to get started here..

One of the main pages on the website invites you to visit events at the space. I try going to a laser cutting class. Turns out, you need to register. But also, to use the laser, you need to be a member. Now if this is a members-only event, why wasn’t this mentioned on the site? Looking again, carefully – on first inspection one may not note how the public events have PUBLIC typed in the event title. Just read between the lines about the others.

Nominally, membership is $25 a month. The website is set up to be very efficient in getting your cash fast. It’s vague on the important details of actually using this membership. Accessing the space depends on others being there already [if any are there at all today], or you getting your key. Keys are only handed out once a month, a big production where half of the board members show up to personally meet you, sign off, and then you physically grind a key out. If it happens to be the middle of the month when you start the process, you will be out at least $50 before you actually get to use the space, and woe betides you if you are otherwise engaged that lone and critical Monday night.

A system like this does not arise by accident, of course. Clearly, my problems are meant to be a feature, not a bug. There is more than one type of space; there exists a continuum of philosophies running from the wide-open, freewheeling Noisebridges, to the plainly functional co-working spaces for fully-vetted community members, like NYC Resistor. MakeICT doesn’t advertise it’s in the latter camp, but a few changes to its website would ease the confusion.

makeict-22MakeICT is a boon for the curious and creative, uniquely strong among spaces in food, drink, art, and sculpture. Floating on a wave of public attention and funding, the space has been making ambitious development goals. Buoyed by grants and a deep membership bench of about 150, it does not want for funds as much as it recently did, but it is still rather time-poor; even on a Friday night when its Uptown neighbourhood bustles, it lays empty and silent, awaiting a bit more volunteering to square away little things like how the welding area needs a curtain. But the artist spaces have been freshly cleaned, and two of the three are still waiting to be used.  There is plenty of room to grow.

Three w00ts for C3KC!

C3KC in Kansas City has a 3D Printer and electronics gear.  That’s about it for tooling, but they also do Ham Radio and Programming.  Definitely more in the development/design side.  So, no full “survey” per se for C3KC.

Since when is a reputable HackSpace run out of a DeVry? But believe it, it’s true.  A little bit of promo here and there, and super cheap rent can be had.  I caught up with one member outside of the school, during a promised Friday Meetup.  The building was locked and dim, but I hazard to wait around for the 7pm moment.  It would have ended there, but there were some big plans afoot to do a community event at a local high school, and C3KC’s leader was elsewhere, so it came down to just one person to extricate bins of soldering kits and jugs of Orange Juice from the shuttered building.

We wait for the security guard, a very talkative, friendly guy, for whom it’s a bit past his bedtime.  I snag as many photos as I can of the space for the blog, and help cart out some of the goods.  I happen to mention I’ll be in Shawnee for the British Faire.  Suddenly I’m also invited to the event, which is also out there in Johnson County, early the following morning.  Naturally, I get lost, but manage to saunter over at 10am, with the trays still full of breakfast confections and the jugs full of Orange Juice.  I take a danish-ish morsel and a few chunks of pineapple before the mass devouring ensues, some photos of cool things hanging from the ceiling.

About a dozen kids packed into the school’s robotics lab – ah, these kids these days with their iPads and their in-school robot labs – and the same trooper of a maker was there, showing the kids how to solder. First, a Colin Cunningham video about soldering, then a hands-on, step-by-step demonstration of the blinkenlichten kit, shaped like the Make Magazine robot, and a few too many soldering stations and a few too few wire clippers to go around.  One by one, they finish, no burns to worry about today, phew! – each proudly sporting red robot lapel pin with crazy blinking LED eyes.  The new generation of makers is soon ready to get going on the advanced soldering kits at full speed – launched by a modern school shop program and Cowtown Computer Congress Kansas City.  They’re such good sports, they even toss me a kit to throw together.

C3KC might not have the same size of membership, or the same level of financing or organization as the big space across town, but they’ve got enough to get by, and they’re using their powers for good.

MakeICT Survey

1500 East Douglas Ave
Wichita, Kansas 67214

Community Open House:    Every Other Monday 7pm [16 Nov 2015, 30 Nov 2015]
Regular Meetup 1:        DevICT, opposite Mondays 7pm [23 Nov 2015, 7 Dec 2015]

Member-owned, Volunteer-driven, No Paid Staff
Standard $25 per calendar month
No standard member open hours
Key process involves 4 board members – not for introverts

$5/mo Locker, School-type, cut your own key
Labelling system: Masking tape + sharpie

Hand Tools
Most Wood Tools
Basic CNC (Wood/Aluminium)
Nintendo Wii

Many tools are limited access by area leaders, and occasionally by tool owner.

3D Printers        (owner checkoff)
Advanced CNC    (owner checkoff)
Table Saw        (shop manager checkoff)
Laser Cutter        (class required)
Metal Shop        (class required)

Featured Equipment Spaces
Game and Music Lounge
Artist Spaces
Textile Space
Ceramics Lab
Electronics Lab
Wood Shop
Metal Shop

3D Printer (by mass)
Classes (Free or Paid, depending on instructor)
Pop (called pop) 3 for $1

By the numbers
Bathrooms    : 1 (!)
Kitchens    : Almost Full [no sink in kitchen- yet]
Largest 3DP    : Rostock Delta
ABS or PLA    : ABS
Largest Laser    : Epilog Rabbit
Largest CNC    : 4x8ftx1ft, router-based
Food Option    : Open Maker Night Fajita Bar!

Open House at MakeICT

Fun night Monday! Plus Fajitas. More to come.

Alternate Reality Time

What if the Dakotas had been partitioned like the Oregon Country?  Our flag might have ended up like this:


Minot, British Dacotah has a certain ring to it.

Perfectly anacronistic, of course. North Dakota’s Coat of Arms was designed by the US Army in the 1950s. I imagine a completely British-synthesized Version would have stoic animals floating over Prairie Rose bushes or some nonsense.

Here’s the SVG. CC-BY-SA