Goals and Resolutions

January is the time of year for setting goals and checking to see how I did on last year’s goals. It’s probably more interesting to hear about things I’ve done or tried and failed to do than to hear about what I plan to do in the future. I’ll stick with the former. We get enough of the latter from our politicians.

I achieved a lot of my minor goals and resolutions last year. I relaunched my blog, made reasonably regular blog posts, and consolidated my online presence under a single name, I got a couple of nice photo essays into Robot magazine, I did two photos shoots with models, got some photos into a museum exhbiit (at their request even!), I repaired and shot usable photos with several vintage cameras, I finally participated in the 24 hour video race!

I also did a few things that weren’t on my ToDo list but were still really cool, like speaking at Pecha Kucha, demonstrating robotic music to an art class in Denton, hearing the Buzzcocks play live, painting highway pillars in Deep Ellum, and meeting lots of cool people.

But the one really big thing from 2010 has to be helping to get a Dallas Hackerspace started. Back in January 2010, Ed and I hatched the plan. Through the first half of the year Ed and I were meeting weekly at Cafe Brazil or where ever we could find free WiFi, planning and organizing, trying keep things rolling. I also got invaluable advice starting out from folks like Sarah Jane Semrad. During the first half of the year, it sometimes felt like Ed and I were pushing a train up a steep hill. I took on way more projects than I could possibly do but somehow managed to get most of them mostly done (thanks to getting lots of help from friends).

Towards the end of 2010, Ed took a job in Pittsburgh but things had gathered so much momentum by then, that instead pushing a train up a hill, at that point it felt like the train had crested the hill and was accelerating down the other side, with me hanging on for dear life. The group gained so many new members that it took on a life of its own. It didn’t quite turn out the way either Ed or I expected but that’s a good thing – it proves the group can survive without me or any one person at this point. I’m looking forward to being just a member of Dallas Makerspace in 2011 and having more free time to devote to other ventures.

There were goals I didn’t meet in 2010. I had set a goal of doing one Noise Boundary performance per month but that fizzled out after April; initially because I was too busy with the hackerspace and later because my partner in noise, Ed, left Dallas. I utterly failed to get the long-awaited libxml2 HTML parser patch into mod_virgule. I did spend time on it and it’s very close with only one annoying bug yet to solve. I also have software patches for Apache and ChucK that didn’t get submitted. Garage renovation plans were thwarted by a series of set backs.

Some of those things will get bumped to my 2011 list along with a lot of new goals and resolutions. Will I get anything done in 2011? Stay tuned to find out. I plan to have fun trying at least.

Random Holiday Updates

It’s nice having a few days off for Thanksgiving! Yesterday we had a nice family Thanksgiving dinner. Afterwards our family tends to break into two parts, those who want to watch sports on TV and those who don’t. I’m the latter group of course. We played a variety of games including a four hour marathon session of Mexican Train dominoes. I lost pretty badly this time (but I expect to make a comeback during the Christmas holidays).

My niece also tried out us old folks on an iPhone app that guesses the names of real or fictional characters by asking a series of questions. The trick is, even if you beat it, the app learns the identity at the end and adds the personality to its growing database, making it harder for the next person to win. Susan tried first with a fictional British spy but it guessed Napoleon Solo pretty quickly.

I had better luck with a fictional character from the 1930 pulps. After asking a zillion questions, it finally gave up, making me the only winner of the evening. Who was my character? Professor Jameson, an Earth scientist who was the first fictional character to be put into a cryosleep-like state after death; awakened millions of years later by a machine race called the Zoromes who placed his brain into a robot body and reactivated it. An obscure character but an important one, inspiring both Asimov’s robot stories and Robert Ettinger, the “father of cryonics” in the real world. Collecting a fairly complete set of Professor Jameson stories is only possible with the help of eBay and a lot of research. But it was kind of cool to point out afterwards that I had authored a fair amount of the Wikipedia article on Neil R. Jones, author of the Professor Jameson stories.

Besides holiday fun, there’s been a quite a lot of activity since my blog post last month. The TEDxSMU project went very well. There’s a nice TEDxSMU recap. with links to photos and video over on the Dallas Makerspace blog. Speaking of Dallas Makerspace, we also pulled off a successful first annual open house. Blog post and video will be up soon. We’re estimating between 150 – 200 people were there; way more than we expected. We also did a small art and technology discussion at Art Bytes, part of the Dallas Museum of Art’s late night program.

The downtime during the holidays has also given me time to ponder my over optimistic list of 2010 New Year’s goals and plans. But it’s not too late and I still hope to check a few more of them off before 2011 rolls around. In fact, I better get to work on that right now…

Pecha Kucha Night 4

Time to catch up on things, starting with Pecha Kucha Night 4. October has been so busy it seems like ancient history but it was only a couple of weeks ago. So what is this Pecha Kucha thing? It’s an evening of short presentations given on a wide variety of subjects. The Pecha Kucha presentation format is 20 images for 20 seconds each. That means each presentation is precisely six minutes and forty seconds long. The images advance automatically so the talk has to be timed to match.

The PKN4 speakers met for a combination pot luck dinner and Pecha Kucha primer at Sarah Jane Semrad’s house the weekend before. I enjoyed the dinner as much as any other part of the event; maybe more. You always hear people talking about who they’d invite to their fantasy dinner – maybe Stephen Hawking, Philip Glass, and Heidi Klum or some other weird combination. Well, that’s exactly what the PKN4 pot luck was. We had an NPR commentator, a well-known chef, a tattoo artist, an architect, an artist, a human rights attorney, a violinist – well, you get the idea. It was an amazing group of people to have dinner with.

Over the next couple of days, I used Open Office Impress to assemble my presentation. You didn’t think I’d use Power Point did you!? With Susan’s help, I went over and over the talk trying to perfect the timing.

The big event happened on Wednesday night, Oct 13. Susan and I got to the Wyly Theater early. I went to the green room to join the other speakers, nervously reading cards or pieces of paper on which we’d scrawled notes. Janice Provost suggested jumping up and down to burn off our extra energy, some of us had wine to calm us down, others had Cokes to keep their energy level up. Nick Ley powered up his electric cigarette. I was so fascinated by Nick’s cyborg cigarette, I talked him into taking it apart so I could see how it worked.

At the pot luck, I had jokingly said I’d go first. I found out in the green room that I really was going first. Doing my first ever Pecha Kucha presentation in front of 300+ people and going before all those talented and interesting speakers – yikes!

Sarah Jane introduced me and I fumbled my way to the stage in the dark. Once I got out to the podium, got the microphone in place, and Brian hit the start button, there was no turning back. For the first 30 seconds or so I was really freaked. I think my hands were shaking. But about a minute or so in I realized it wasn’t any different than practice and everything was cool. In retrospect, I think I could have improved things a lot but overall it turned out ok.

The subject of my presentation was Dallas Makerspace, the first hackerspace in Dallas. I wanted to explain why Dallas needed a hackerspace and give a quick overview of the projects we’ve done in our first year. The gist of it was that we need to make Dallas weird. Dallas is sadly boring, a “cultural wasteland” as someone put it recently.

Halfway through the series of presentations we got the traditional Pecha Kucha beer break. I met up with Susan and we got drinks. I started getting positive feedback from random people almost immediately. Lots of questions about the hackerspace; how could people join, when did we meet, where was it located, that sort of thing. I’ve talked about hackerspaces to dozens of local groups over the last year but I’ve never seen that many people in one place who instantly “got it” before now.

Afterward I was really glad my presentation was first for two reasons: 1) I got to listen to all the others without worrying about mine and 2) the other talks were all so amazing, mine would have seemed pretty crummy if it had come after them. They were all so different it would be hard to pick a favorite.

Cathy Miller’s explanation of the origin and evolution of Cathedonia was hilarious; Bill Holston’s stories of helping people get asylum in the US was amazing, Elizabeth Wattley’s story of a college turning it’s football field into a working organic farm was so cool (if only we could get every school to dump sports programs for something useful and educational!).

Richmond Punch let his violin do the talking, Mark Gunderson gave us an architectural philosophy lesson, Bruce Lee Webb took us on a whirlwind tour of his favorite folk artists, Jessie Zarazaga showed us urban designs that we can hope will influence the way things are done here in Dallas, Buck and Camp explained life in Marfa, Nick Ley showed us amazing tattoos both historical and modern, Janice Provost told us how a chef can make the world a better place, and Rawlins Gilliland closed out the night with tales from his childhood that prove truth is stranger than fiction.

After the talks were finished, Janice invited everyone to Parigi for an after party. Most of the group showed up there. Susan and I had never eaten at Parigi before but we’re definitely going back. The food was wonderful.

So thanks to Sarah Jane and Brian for organizing Pecha Kucha and giving me a chance to do a presentation! And thanks to all the other speakers for a fun and interesting evening!

There wasn’t any video of the event but you can see a few official photos, read a D Magazine review, or a Pegasus News review. StealingKitty also wrote about PKN4. And if you want to know more about Pecha Kucha in general, listen to the recent NPR story.

TEDxSMU and Pecha Kucha

TEDxSMU and Pecha Kucha Dallas are both coming up this week. I’m doing a Pecha Kucha talk at the Wyly about Dallas Makerspace on Wednesday night. There may be a few tickets left if you want to come out and watch me make a fool of myself by pronouncing Pecha Kucha wrong in front of a lot of people. Mostly I’ve been telling people I’m doing a Pokémon talk because that’s easier to say.

Thursday I’m helping Dallas Makerspace set up our interactive art project at the Wyly for the TEDxSMU events on Friday and Saturday. The Dallas Makerspace TEDx team has been working weekends and overtime on this project for the last several weeks trying to get it all finished on time. This past weekend we got to the point of doing the first full-scale hardware testing. It was really cool to see all the parts working together and we’re looking forward to showing off what we’ve got.

Photography Update

I’ve been so busy helping to get a Dallas hackerspace started that I’ve neglected my blog again. But I haven’t been too busy to continue my photography experiments. On the vintage camera front, I’ve acquired a few new items including an Ansco 1065 fixed focus 35mm and a nice postwar Argus C3. I’m hoping to get the Argus C3 cleaned up and functional in time for Argus Camera next week. So far it’s looking to be in much better shape than the prewar Argus C3 I found last year.

I’ve also made some progress on my goal of doing more photography of actual humans instead of just still life and landscapes. In June I got to do a photo shoot in Deep Ellum with Ofa Santos, a beautiful Filipino-Chinese model. In July I did a very colorful shoot with Lolly Five, a model from Alabama who was in town for the ScrewAttack Gaming Convention (SGC).

Speaking of SGC, I shot a few SGC event photos. I also shot photos of many amusing protest signs at several of the Westboro Baptist Church counter protests in Dallas and Arlington. And if protest signs aren’t your thing, how about art clocks? I shot a lot of photos at the 2010 Art Conspiracy SEED auction, where clocks designed by local artists were auctioned for charity. The new Dallas Makerspace built one of the clocks and ours drew one of the highest bids of the auction.

Finally, I got several paying photography gigs during June and July. Looking forward to more of those in the coming months. It would be nice to do enough paid photography work to start paying for new camera gear!

Time to get this blog rolling again

2010 got off to a good start, then I was hit by some unexpected family losses followed by some annoying family weirdness. Between that and a larger than usual assortment of extra-curricular activities, my blog got derailed. It’s time to fix that.

For those who haven’t kept up with my twitter feed or photo stream, here’s the short version of what you missed the last few months: 1) The DPRG is working on starting a Dallas Hackerspace. We’ve decided to call it a Makerspace because Dallas people seem to be easily spooked by the word “hacker”. 2) I’m still playing with vintage cameras and have more in the queue to try out. 3) Still playing with my DSLR too. Got some recent photos into an exhibit Germany. My photos of the Traveling Man Sculpture made into the May/June issue of Robot magazine 4) Still working on the Noise Boundary robotic music project. We did a demo for a class at UNT and I got the opportunity to chat with Pay Metheny about the topic 5) DPRG did some major stuff at All-Con this year and also at Tech-Fest and the FIRST LEGO League regional championship. 6) Lots of other fun stuff, events, people, and places. More to come.