Up, not North

Belated New Year’s Resolution: Engage More with the Maker Community

January 31st, 2014 § 0

I love the maker community, both online and off. I love reading about other people’s projects, and having them read about mine. Perhaps most of all, I love meeting people at Maker Faires and hackerspaces whose work I recognize, or who recognize mine. So when I read David Weinberger’s article about blogging (and Suw Charman-Anderson’s comment on it), it struck me that, despite the fact that I love it when people comment on and post about my projects, I rarely leave my feed reader to comment on other makers’ projects. It’s still (barely) January, so consider this a belated New Year’s resolution: I aim to bookmark and follow more individual makers, and to tweet about and comment on more projects.
This raises the question of where to find cool projects. The Make blog used to be my favourite source, but they seem to be focussing less on individual projects. My current favourite is the Adafruit blog, which has a great mix of engineering, art, and design. I also like Hack A Day, although its focus is firmly on the engineering side. While not specifically a maker blog, cool projects often show up on Boing Boing, too.
I know the regular readership of this blog is pretty tiny, but I’d still love to hear where you read about (and post about) cool projects, so feel free to add your two cents in the comments!

Pac-Woman and Mr. Pac-Woman ROM hacks

January 6th, 2014 § 9

Screen shot Mr Pac-Woman cutscene

Often, male is assumed to be the “default” gender for fictional characters. For example, while trying to ensure gender balance in the geeky alphabet blocks I made for my son, I came across the fact that there is apparently official confirmation that R2-D2 has “masculine programming.” (Seriously, why does R2-D2 need to have a gender at all?!)

In her  “Ms. Male Character” video, Anita Sarkeesian examines this tendency as it applies to video games. She points out that while Pac-Man is assumed to be male without any special indicia, Ms. Pac-Man is marked as female with stereotypically feminine features. This Tumblr post illustrates the point by reversing the situation, making Pac-Woman the default and giving Mr. Pac-Woman the gender-specific features.

Inspired by this, as a little project on New Year’s Day, I modified the original Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man arcade ROMs to create playable versions of Pac-Woman and Mr. Pac-Woman. 

This is the only place in the original Pac-Man where the name appears.

The Pac-Man to Pac-Woman hack is simple: this is the only place where the name appears!

I can’t make the full ROMs available for legal reasons, but here are patches for your own legally-obtained ROMs (patching instructions included). If you know of an easier/better way to let others play these, please let me know! Also, if any artists out there want to make Pac-Woman and/or Mr. Pac-Woman cabinet art, get in touch and I’d seriously consider building physical cabinets for these.

Keep reading for screenshots and information on how I made the changes.

» Read the rest of this entry «

Laser-engraved alphabet blocks

September 20th, 2013 § 3

Shortly before my son was born I started making a set of alphabet blocks decorated with things that his mother and I were looking forward to sharing with him. Then he was born. Apparently, shop time is hard to come by when you’re caring for an infant. Who knew? Now, coming up on his first birthday, I’ve finally finished them.

Pile of blocks

There are 36 blocks — the English alphabet and ten digits — showing 134 images of people, animals, monsters, robots, vehicles, organizations, devices, tools, and objects from some of our favourite movies, TV shows, books, comics, video games, poems, and sculptures, as well as a few from the real world for good measure (and a couple not-so-favourites for comic relief/alphabetical exigency; I’m looking at you, Zardoz). The only real rule I followed in choosing subjects was trying to maintain an even gender balance.

For more information (including the full list of images) visit the project page. For close-ups of the individual blocks please visit this Flickr set or download the contact sheet (6.1MB JPEG).

3D printed Spoon! rest

August 21st, 2013 § 0

Since becoming a full-time stay-at-home dad I haven’t really had much time to go to the shop, and I don’t yet have a home workspace that’s safe from tiny hands. So, my recent projects have been limited to things that are purely digital. Since coding requires a little more focus than my sleep-deprived brain can muster, I’ve mostly worked on small 3D printing projects. Here’s one: a ceramic spoon rest printed by Shapeways.

Spoon! Rest

(If that doesn’t make any sense, I recommend reading this and watching this.)

I’m a little embarrassed by how happy it makes me to not have to put a dirty spoon on a clean countertop. I guess this is middle age.

Pianocade post-mortem: lessons learned starting a maker business

March 6th, 2013 § 20

Six months ago I launched my first commercial project: the Pianocade synthesizer. Several months behind schedule and significantly above budget, I’ve finally managed to ship all the preorders. Needless to say, things did not go as planned.

If you’d asked me a few weeks ago whether I would ever do this again, I’d have laughed (and then maybe cried a little). But as I finished off the last few units, I started thinking about how much I’d learned from the experience. I was surprised to find myself getting excited about giving it another try and seeing if I could make things run more smoothly. I’ve even, heaven help me, started designing a completely new product!

In the meantime, I hope others can also benefit from some lessons I learned while turning my hobby into a business (or at least have a laugh at my expense). » Read the rest of this entry «

Introducing The Pianocade: an Open Source Chiptunes Synthesizer

August 21st, 2012 § 0

It’s been a long time coming, but I can finally unveil the product I’ve been working on for months: the Pianocade, my first foray into the world of commercial Making! Inspired by my experience working on the Nuit Blanche Chiptunes concert last fall, the Pianocade is a programmable synthesizer and MIDI controller made to look, feel, and sound like vintage arcade games.

Photo by Jay Shuster

I would’ve loved to have run a Kickstarter campaign to sell the Pianocade, but unfortunately Kickstarter restricts it’s projects to those based in the United States. There are international alternatives, but I decided instead to do it the old-fashioned way, so I’m taking preorders myself. Order one now, and tell all your friends!

The Pianocade is 100% open source hardware, firmware, and software. All the code, schematics, and PCB files will be released when the product ships (if not before). In the meantime, I’m happy to answer any questions either here or via email at info@pianocade.com.

Interview on The Agenda With Steve Paikin

July 8th, 2012 § 0

It’s been a long time since I’ve written, but rest assured it’s because I’ve got a big project in the works that will be properly unveiled soon.

In the meantime, I was interviewed about the “maker movement” recently on The Agenda With Steve Paikin. As always with interviews, there are things I wish I had said or said differently, but overall I think it went well. (I don’t know for sure, because I refuse to watch myself on video.)

About the experience: Steve Paikin is incredibly affable, his staff are all lovely, and the day after the piece aired a stranger on the street said “Hey, you were on The Agenda last night! Good job!” which was pretty neat.