Memories of my Dad

My father and I when I was a boy

My father died Saturday, 9 January at the VA center in Bonham, TX after the long decline typical of Alzheimer’s Disease. Over the last few days, I’ve been contemplating some of my best early memories of my father, most of which are from a two or three year span of time just before I entered first grade.

During those years, I remember my Dad constantly out in the garage building things out of wood. For the most part, I have no idea now what he was building. What I do remember is being impressed by the noisy circular saw and by how easily he could put things together with a hammer and a few nails. There’s an image in my mind of sparks flying off the nails as he hit them with the hammer. Whether that’s a real memory or just an artifact of a child’s imagination, I’m not sure.

He taught me to use a hammer, gave me some scraps of wood, and I built a crude box that I thought was a bird house. It was no thing of beauty and had a rough rectangular entrance since I didn’t know how to use a drill. My dad got out the ladder and somehow attached my birdhouse to a wooden utility pole in our backyard. I used to stare up at it during that long summer and wonder if any birds had built a nest there.

My dad had grown up in the rural community of Okla Union, TX and considered growing a few fruits and vegetables in the backyard to be a requirement even in our suburban neighborhood. He grew mostly tomatoes and okra but, I think because I told him watermelons were my favorite food, he set me up with small garden of my own and helped me grow my own watermelons. I think what I learned from some of these experiences was that almost anyone could do things for themselves if they wanted to.

Me with a watermelon from the garden my father helped me plant

My Dad gave me my first bicycle that year and taught me how to ride it. I remember getting up one morning and looking out my bedroom window to see my Dad putting a bicycle together on the front lawn. He saw me in the window, waved, and shouted to come to down and see my new bicycle. He’d put training wheels on it but by the end of the day had convinced me to take them off. Without the training wheels, he ran along behind me helping me to balance until, as some point, I realized he was just watching and I was doing it all myself.

My Dad worked for the Boy Scouts in those days and made frequent trips to scout camps as part of his job. During one of those summers before first grade, he took me with him to a scout camp. That trip was one of the coolest things I’d experienced up to that point in my life. On the way there, we stopped at a grocery store in a small town and picked up some things we needed for our stay at the camp, including the very first Pop Tarts I’d ever seen. They were strawberry with binky-covered white frosting (incidentally, that suggests this particular memory is from 1967 or 1968 based on the release date of Kellog’s frosted Pop Tarts).

After arriving at the scout camp, my Dad took me along to see everything and meet people. He also did something no one had ever done for me before – he gave me complete freedom to do what I wanted most of the day. He had to spend a lot of time in meetings. So he laid down some minimal rules on where I could and couldn’t go; I could wander anywhere along several dirt roads between the mess hall and a couple of other camp buildings; I couldn’t go swimming or even near the lake by myself and couldn’t go off the trails. That was really the first time I’d been free of adult control for any significant amount of time and it gave me a taste for freedom that I never forgot and never fully experienced again until I was old enough move out and live on my own.

One of the old scout camps my Dad frequented (but probably not the one I remember)

I remember being allowed to drink an unusually large number of grape sodas and Mountain Dews; glass bottles of course. Those were the old Mountain Dew bottles with artwork that consisted of a hillbilly drinking from a jug and the slogan “it’ll tickle your innards!” For several days, I wandered dirt roads, drank sodas, ate Pop Tarts, and did whatever I wanted. I spent a large portion of my time out behind the camp mess hall. There I discovered empty wire milk crates left by mess hall workers. The milk crates became my LEGO blocks. I stacked them up into spaceship cockpits and climbed inside. One of men who worked in the mess hall warned me to be careful because “getting hit on the noggin by a metal milk crate is no fun”. It seemed a risk well worth taking to me.

In the evenings, my Dad took me to camp events in the outdoor amphitheater. The seating was made from cut logs. Nothing in those night time meetings made much sense to me at that age, it was all mysterious adult stuff with lots of old scout leaders saying meaningless scout things. But I was fascinated by the big fire.

At one of those evening meetings, as I sat beside my dad, I felt a strange tickle and looked down to see a daddy long legs spider crawling up my chest. For a young kiddo who’d never seen a spider like that and happened to be arachnophobic anyway, this was an apocalyptic-level emergency. I was so scared I couldn’t even speak. All I could do was grab my Dad’s hand and look terrified. He laughed and reached down with his other hand, grabbing the spider and putting it down on the grass where it could walk away. I don’t think I ever thanked him but it burned into my memory the fact that I had a father who could laugh in the face of unimaginable danger and protect me from certain death. It was hard to worry about things much after that, knowing Dad was around to take care of me.

My father at a Boy Scout camp in late 1960s with a wild bird on his finger

Rebooting my blog

I’m bringing in the new year at home, sleeping off a bad cold. Really, it’s a 2009 cold and with it will go the last remnants of that year and the last decade. It’s 2010 and time for some major changes around here. I’ve been compiling a lengthy list of New Year’s resolutions, life goals, and To Do lists. I won’t bore you with them but, if you’re reading this, one resolution is well on the way to being met.

My blog was neglected for the last half of 2009. I haven’t been totally offline. I’ve continued posting regularly to my photo blog and twitter (which feeds my Facebook, Myspace, and LinkedIn accounts) as well as making daily posts to But my personal website has fallen into disrepair. It’s time to reboot things. First off, you may notice I’ve moved my blog to its own domain,, from its old home on my business website.

Over the last few years, I’ve consolidated my online presence from lots of different user names to just one: steevithak. It’s hard to spell, nobody knows how to pronounce it, but it’s uniquely me and gives me a user name that’s always available. Don’t worry, only machines refer to me as steevithak. If you’re human, keep on calling me Steve in person.

Back to my blog; I started blogging 1999 before it was commonly called blogging. I wrote my own set of PERL scripts to manage the process. So in rebooting my blog, I was faced with a 10 year blog archive in a one-of-a-kind format. The earliest blogs lacked titles and none of them were tagged with keywords, so I decided to manually convert them one at a time, adding the missing elements. Over a period of time, I reconstructed my entire blog archive using Pivot.

As the end of 2009 neared, Pivot 2.x was released, so I converted everything to that format. In December of 2009, I made a last minute decision to switch again to Word Press, which offered several features Pivot lacked. Pivot 2.x also proved to be mind-bogglingly slow, perhaps because it couldn’t deal with a 10 year archive stored in a flat file database! The conversion from Pivot to Word Press initially looked difficult but I found a script that was able to move the entries and titles. I modified it to also preserve the keywords I’d spent so much time adding.

So the new website integrates my blog, my photostream, and my twitter feed in one location. The blog will continue to be syndicated to my and profiles, manually for the moment but I think a Word Press plugin supporting the mod_virgule XML-RPC protocol may be forthcoming.

Now all I have to do is make life in 2010 interesting enough to blog about! I’m not worried. Something tells me we’re in for a good year.

Establishing a Dallas Maker Space


I wrote up this summary of the work Ed Paradis and I have been doing to boot up a Dallas hackerspace for the DPRG website but posting here too.

The Dallas Personal Robotics Group (DPRG) had access to a warehouse in Garland for seven years, from 2002 through 2009 thanks to Mike Dodson, who allowed us to use one of his warehouse buildings and patiently put up with all our geeky shenanigans for almost a decade. In 2009, Mike retired and the building we were in changed hands, so we lost our long time home. After looking at several options for finding a new and permanent space for working on projects, we settled on the hackerspace model (aka makerspace or a shared community workshop). This idea has been used by groups in the US and other parts of the world with great success so it seemed likely we should be able to do it too.

The theory is that you get a number of people together who are willing to pay a monthly membership fee in order to obtain 24/7 access to a shared workshop. The members also share in maintenance and renovation work. The membership fees are used to cover the costs of the space and to buy new tools and equipment. If you ever visited our old workspace in Garland, you have an idea already of what we’re talking about. You can see some photos of our old space in the DPRG Warehouse photo gallery.

Most important of all, please take a look at “how you can help” section at the bottom of the page. For this idea to succeed and grow, we need everyone’s help.

Getting Started

Ed started by looking at existing hackerspaces. Many have extensive documentation on their structure and funding schemes. He also contacted several of the hackerspaces, sending a list of questions concerning their membership structure, their business models, the problems they ran into and the solutions they found. So far, he has corresponded with these groups:

Other hackerspace groups were studied in less detail. Many of those can be found on the Hackerspace List

Steve began by collecting ideas for a list of desired qualities the new space should have. In part these were based on the DPRG’s experience with the previous location and in part on suggestions provided by members and other hackerspaces. Like the classic “good – fast – cheap” triangle, it’s unlikely any space could meet all these specifications, so we’ll have to trade off for the best combination we can find. Some of the ideal qualities for a Dallas Hackerspace are:

  • In Dallas County
  • Area that’s reasonable safe after dark
  • Near major North-South and East-West highways
  • Within walking distance of a DART rail station
  • Area where Verizon FIOS or other highspeed internet is available
  • Area zoned for use of noisy tools such as welding equipment and saws
  • Rooms suitable for meetings, lectures, and classes
  • Warehouse-like work area for larger power tools
  • Garage doors and area suitable for working on vehicle inside
  • Smaller, private meeting rooms
  • Two restrooms (men, women)
  • Kitchen and social areas
  • Heating and cooling
  • Sufficient parking
  • 220V and/or 480V power for large tools and welders

Resources We’d Like to Offer

The next step was thinking about what sort of things we’d like to have available in the ideal hackerspace. Like our list of ideal qualities, the list at this point is just a wish list of everything we think local hackers might possibly enjoy playing with. Ideas suggested so far include:

  • CNC Plasma cutter
  • CNC Laser cutter
  • CNC milling machine
  • CNC wood routing system
  • Drill press
  • Sheet metal brake
  • Metal lathe
  • Hot air SMT rework station
  • Electronic test station (e.g., scopes, meters)
  • gas welding equipment
  • arc welding equipment
  • MIG welding equipment
  • TIG welding equipment
  • Vacuforming station
  • Highspeed Internet dedicated hosting rack
  • Radio tower for Ham, repeater gear
  • Injection molding station
  • Film processing/darkroom
  • Photography studio area
  • Audio/Video recording area
  • Kiln, ceramic working tools
  • Automotive bay with tools
  • Painting room, painting or powder coating hardware

Note: we’re intentionally leaving out hardware related to crafts and fashion (e.g. industrial sewing equipment, fabric silkscreening equipment) since those are already covered by our friends at the Dallas Make Shop in the Bishop Arts District. We hope to work together with the Dallas Make Shop and other local community workshops to avoid unnecessary overlap and cooperate when possible on larger scale projects.

Funding Model

In general terms, the funding of hackerspaces is fairly well understood. The space itself has associated monthly expenses (e.g. rent, insurance, net access, expendables, utilities, etc.) and there are expenses associated with the acquisition of new tools and equipment. Income is generated from membership fees, grants, and donations. The size of the income determines the size and growth rate of the hackerspace. Within that general framework are lots of minor variations and an exact model hasn’t been determined for the DPRG hackerspace yet.

The Search for Space

One of the first steps in our process is searching for space. See the section below, “How You Can Help” to find out how to help us find our space. So far, we are talking to everyone we know about the idea and asking them to talk to everyone they know. In additional general networking, we are also contacting local real estate professionals and representatives of the local Dallas non-profit community. Some of us are also engaging in manual search-by-looking-around activities in our spare time, driving through random parts of town, looking for likely clusters of unoccupied buildings and contacting building owners. We’ve also tried posting ads to local community forums.

We’re also looking into the possibility of space offerings in parts of town that have revitalization initiatives with heavily discounted lease rates, tax abatements, or other incentives. If you know of any areas like this, please let us know.

How You Can Help

There are several things you can help us with if you want to see this happen. Here are a few:

  • We need 1-time donations to give us working capital for the initial setup, which will cost several thousand dollars. It’s easy to make a donation through Paypal. Any amount will help: $1, $10, $100, or whatever you’re willing to contribute. All donations are 100% tax deductible
  • We need people who will commit to being full-time members. This will help us determine our budget and calculate what kind of space we can start with. Join our Dallas Hackerspace Interest Group and let us know that you’re willing to become a monthly member.
  • Help us find space. Mention our plans to your friends. Ask if they or anyone they know would be willing to donate a building outright, or offer a free or low-cost lease to a non-profit. Dallas is a big place and we know there are opportunities out there if we can network with enough people fast enough to find them!

Find Out More on the DPRG Website

I’m posting this to the DPRG website too and will include a donation link and additional info for those who want to meet up and help out. We’ll also be posting regular updates so get over the DPRG website now!