Woman in Progress


As of this month, I’ve been writing this blog for five years! This is the 98th post. I was trying to time it to hit 100, but that’ll come soon enough. :) I’ve been spending a lot of time writing instructables and making videos. There’s been so much to learn, I’ve often felt like I was treading water or not accomplishing anything.

Here’s a hint: If you’re spending upwards of 12 hours in the lab(s), feeling productive, and at the end of the day you feel like you’re not accomplishing anything… you’re probably learning more than you ever have before. In the past few months, I’ve leveled up hard in CAD, website design, programming, electronics, and video editing, plus numerous other things I’ve probably forgotten. And the result is that I feel like I’ve produced very little, because these things are new, and difficult, and I am still slow at them. But it’s a necessary process if you want to get anywhere. And when that feeling hits, just step back a bit and give yourself some credit.

In other news, I stayed up way too late last night working on a song, a ring, and a website.

• song •

No Romo, something I wrote a while back and was never able to record to satisfaction. But after talking with some musician friends, I realized that most published recordings are cobbled together from a potentially massive number of takes. That’s a relief, as I’ve always considered each non-perfect take a “failure” – which suddenly seems odd, as I don’t apply that mentality to anything else. It’s going to take a lot of dedicated time to produce something I’m really comfortable with, so here’s the WIP…

This is still one take. It was recorded in my bedroom, in GarageBand (using the “Female Dance Vocals” effect – the most low-key effect with a slight added resonance). I use a Blue Snowball microphone.

• ring •

I’m focusing my art-related urges on the Aeiu project, lately. Here’s a ring that I plan to get printed (via Ponoko or Shapeways? Haven’t looked into it, but I’d love to hear your suggestions) – or metallize myself via a lost-PLA cast. The prototypes so far have been modeled in Fusion 360 and printed on Autodesk’s Objet 500 3d printers, in Vero Black resin.


Here are a couple of good tutorial sites for Fusion: Autodesk site; YouTube channel

There’ll be a lot more to the ring, but we’ll get there, we’ll get there…

• website •

Likewise, I haven’t really built a website since creating Breadboard Dreams, which runs a customized WordPress template hosted on my own VPS (virtual private server). This time, I’m playing around with Bootstrap, hosted on Github Pages - which means that it’s all public, and anybody can dig right into my terrible, n00by code. Many of the links still redirect back to the original wiki, and sure, it doesn’t look like much yet – although hours have gone into it. But… it’s progress!

I got really into the new gTLDs around tax-refund time, so I bought a few domains that run with the Aeiu theme. Check out the new site here: go.intothe.blue


Luck and Instructables

alexglow fusion360 luck die

I recently printed up my first “real” CAD model! Taylor, Pier 9′s* intrepid Fusion 360 evangelist, gave me a bit of a tutorial.

What’s this thing? I’m not really superstitious, but do seem to have a deep wellspring of stupid luck (though it’s always best to note the influence of social privilege** as well as effort put in). I think it’s possible to pass a on a bit of that luck, if only through the placebo effect. This design also springs from my love for inventing symbol-systems and alphabets. The die represents embracing fortune, and forms my three-dot signature in the middle.

So, here’s a 3D-printable die with which you will always roll sixes. :)

To make your own, take that file and print it on a RepRap, Makerbot, Type A Machine(s), or whatever you have available. There are now dedicated 3D printing shops in Ann Arbor and LA, so the trend seems to be spreading, and you might just be able to send the file to one of them. Pier 9 has Objet Connex500 printers with ridiculously high resolution, so I used those.

alexglow luck die being printed

This printer is using UV light to cure deposited layers of resin. That makes it possible to achieve a glossy finish on the top and sides of your piece. The Objet also lays down a translucent support material, which has the feel of hard Jell-O and keeps pieces from buckling or deforming during printing. If you have “glossy” selected, that can cause unexpected issues because the printer tries to keep it smooth everywhere this material isn’t needed. That’s what happened on the first run of dice…

alexglow luck-die version 1

alexglow luck die grooves

See the grooves along the sides? That’s where the support material was placed to fill in the pips. The next run was done on the matte setting, so the entire die was embedded in support material. And it came out looking fantastically ghostly and weird!

alexglow luck die in support

I’d actually love to find a printer loaded up with two different clear resins, in order to print something permanent that looked like this.

Anyways, since these ones were matte all over, they looked decent, but they still weren’t smooth. I wanted something a bit more refined, so I dabbed gold nail polish into three of the pips (the same stuff I wear), to highlight the three-dot symbol. Then, the sides were sanded down with three grits of sandpaper for a frosted finish: 120, 180, and 400. This also took care of any polish spillover.

alexglow luck die sanded gold

And that’s it! A little, giftable symbol of luck.

The image has a history; here’s the Illustrator version that Sam made last year so I could vinyl-cut it:

alexglow luck die ai

And another representation in my bedroom tapestries:

alexglow tapestries

Along with a few others, this motif has become part of the Aeiu Society - a personal philosophy whose chief precepts are “have adventures” and “try not to be a dick”.


* Note 1. Hold up, though… what’s this Pier 9, eh? It’s the second half of my twofold plan for TOTAL MAKER DOMINATION!!!

pinstructio cropped

Remember this?

I’ve been hanging out lately with Anouk, an international wearables-maker of mystery, and in early March she gave me a tour of the Autodesk offices where she’s an Artist in Residence. We ran into Vanessa, the AiR program coordinator, so I applied, and now I have 24/7 access to – and free classes regarding – their mind-blowing machine shop. The AiRs get to keep everything we make! All they ask is for us to write instructables, since Autodesk, a well-regarded CAD software company, owns Instructables, the maker-tutorials site. My residency lasts until the end of June.

This meshes very well with my Pinoccio gig, which also involves being creative and publishing things… which I already did for fun. I’ve printed up a few enclosures and other related doohickeys. Plus, I get to work alongside an assortment of friends from TechShop who have wandered over (several people teach classes at both locations), in a sunny industrial wonderland with a view of the Bay Bridge. Simply put, this spring is pretty much the perfect storm of marvelous, aside from the occasional apocalyptic nightmare (which may stem from too much late-night Heathers).

Some luck…


** Note 2. SOCIAL PRIVILEGE! BIG SCARY WORDS! POLITICS! For once, we’re gonna talk about these things. I favor the description of “privilege” as living life on easy mode. Most everybody has some kinds of privilege that subtly let them get away with things, or be taken more seriously than others, and some that detract from their social credibility or access. For example, I can be reasonably sure that if I were to lose my job and bank account tomorrow, worst-case scenario, I could crash with some branch of my family while sorting things out. That privilege isn’t universal. So, it’s a lot easier to take risks like working half-time and spending the other half on an unpaid part-time residency, which lead to even more opportunities doing what I love in the future. And that’s a large part of luck: as long as you can keep rolling, you’re likely to to hit a natural 20 someday.

Similarly, I was recommended to work with the crazy, amazing Pinoccio team partly because of this blog. And it only happens because I’ve had time to build things outside of work (no children or extra jobs or night school or crazy commute). I’ve lived near hackerspaces. I’ve usually held jobs that covered basic material costs and didn’t hagfish my energy. I’ve had the excellent education, passionate and literate parents, Internet access, peer encouragement, and (again) free time to write about those projects. I chose not to pursue a developer position at Sauce because I would rather spend extra time making things – and that was reasonable because I don’t yet need to support anyone else financially.

In this case, it all seems to boil down to having time. I am inexpressibly thankful for that priceless treasure. Beyond Maslow, it is the most important thing.

…Anyway, recognizing privilege is one thing. The next step is realizing that it isn’t a zero-sum game: put your privilege to work helping others succeed, and it improves everyone’s lives. This means promoting excellent work by other makers, especially those who aren’t well-known already. It means helping creators make social connections that can benefit everyone. And like any other human, I have a wealth of fairly suspect advice to share. ;) So, reach out!

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life: Pinoccio!

pinstructio cropped

Two months since my last blog post! Two months, and two new gigs. That’s my excuse…

This is gonna be about Pinoccio, where I’m rolling into my third month as Hacker in Residence — a magnificent offer that swept me off my feet and ended my term at Sauce Labs. (Next time’s ramblings will be about a residency with Instructables!)

I still love Sauce dearly, but Sally and Eric held the keys to my little hardware-hacker heart: a half-time gig, working from anywhere (mainly TechShop), making strange things and talking to people and writing docs for an open-source-tastic company. We make a microcontroller that’s compatible with the Arduino DIY project platform, but which comes with its own battery (!!!) and does mesh-networking out of the box. That means that all your bits of hardware can talk to each other, and to the internet, within about five minutes of opening your kit! (This is me doing my best to explain what I do without getting commercial, but SERIOUSLY GUYS this thing is AWESOME and I am SO EXCITED to work on it.)

instructable 1: nose tickler

Photo on 2-25-14 at 4.35 PM #2

 Exclusive glamour shot! Available here only!

One of my first actions with Pinoccio was to give a demo at Rachel Kalmar’s Sensored meetup. In order to demonstrate the board’s ability to tie together smartphones, WiFi, and radio, I built the Sneeze-Ray Remote-Controlled Nose Tickler! It’s the latest in human-computer-interface (short for “humans with computers in, on, or about the face”) technology. :) This little assembly (including glasses, controller pendant, and nose-feather) enables anyone, anywhere, to tickle your nose with the push of an Internet button.

Every time I see “Sneeze-Ray”, Dr. Horrible starts playing in my head…

I think this was much more successful as an instructable than a presentation: although the audience really dug it (and everybody wanted to give it a try), it was pretty tough for them to tell what was going on, since the nose-tickling motion isn’t obvious from a distance.

instructable 2: PONG!

alexglow side scout

Oh, right: this is what a Pinoccio Scout looks like (with a couple of LEDs on it). :)

So, for Nick Pinkston’s Hardware Startup Meetup, I planned something a bit more flashy. It turned into a demonstration of one of my most precious acquired skills: pulling together something cool at the last minute. If you’re pressed for time, you’ve got to push aside any feelings of hopelessness, reassess the situation constantly, consider what minimal investment will get you the maximum effect, and take stock of all materials available to you. Don’t be afraid to discard plans! There’ll be time to build them later.

In this case, we started shipping to our IndieGogo backers the same day I’d been planning to spend building my demo. So, I spent the afternoon polishing documentation and sending updates to our backers and friends, and by the time that was done, I had only an hour or so left to build. The worktable held a number of cheap light-up yo-yos, some clear HexBug packaging spheres, and an array of microcontrollers. 30 minutes later, my grand scheme clearly wasn’t going to happen. I socketed bright white LEDs into a couple of Scouts and packed everything up, resolving to come up with something on the Caltrain down to South San Francisco.

On the train, I modified the Sneeze-Ray’s code slightly to include an extra output pin and pointed the LEDs in different directions. Now, when I typed “blaze” into the console on my computer, a message would be sent via WiFi to one board (“Leonardo”), and relayed via radio from there to another board (“Michelangelo”). This would enable us to live-demo the radio communication range, which is one of the things people ask about most frequently.

A number of things were less than ideal: I’d have to set up WiFi access once I got there, I wouldn’t have a chance to test before running the demo, and dammit, I was tired. But Cédric helped bolster my spirits, and our gracious hosts at Counsyl got me last-minute network access. So, when my turn came, I picked on Drix to help me. When I entered the “blaze” command, I shouted “PING!”, and he moved steadily away from me, shouting “PONG!” when his board lit up. Soon, the whole room was shouting “PONG!” as he held the beacon aloft; when we finally lost the signal, it was certainly near the 100m quoted range for the radio chip, and around a corner. Also, two minutes over the allotted time — Nick had decided to let us go double because of the crowd’s interest.


• ann arbor •

A little background on the Pinoccio linkage: They’re based in Ann Arbor (where I spent 6 years studying languages and getting into hackerspaces), and they were pointed at me by Dug Song, security rockstar / cofounder of Duo Security and a creative polymath. Looking forward to potential collaborations there as well! :D

I took a trip back, this January, to catch up with some old friends. AHA, the local hackerspace, is going stronger than ever. Since the last time I visited, they’ve really opened it up, and they’re still America’s friendliest hackerspace. Larry was running a group for an upcoming Coursera course, and Josh had rigged up a 3D scanning apparatus. I believe they’re using a PrimeSense scanning unit, from the company that was bought by Microsoft to create Kinect. May be wrong there. (Sadly, I’ve lost my photos from that trip — but rest assured, the space looks amazing!)

alexglow 3dscan top

Print your own teeny Merlin!

Also happy to see that Alex, my Norse Biker Fashion Legend friend, is actually creating new jobs (in Michigan!) with his chainmail business, Metal Artisan Studios. And I got to introduce him to Suby, a kickass composer whom I met through a short stint with the neuro-integrated MiND Ensemble at Michigan. (Those two make for one hell of a brunch!) I didn’t get a chance to check in on Maker Works, but from what I hear, they’re still tearing it up.

Continuing the sorta-thread, I think I’mma talk some about 3D modeling next, and then a bit about the Autodesk Artist in Residence thing… Woo!

Sketches now on Tumblr

scribble round 3

This is just a drive-by to say that I’m moving my sketches off of this site and onto a dedicated Tumblr, merlinscribbles. I may still add them here as posts, but it’s much easier to do them as individual Tumblr posts. Plus, I can throw stuff on there directly from my phone! Which means more sketches and more opportunity for others’ embarrassment.

I’m starting with a batch from a Sensored meetup in April 2013, and there’s a backlog of maybe ten events whose sketches have never seen the light of camera. The rest will percolate over from here eventually. And I’ll probably revive the tradition of tweeting ‘em to their unfortunate subjects. :)


Internet Wasteland

big hex party

Sometimes I crash other places on this our Information Superhighway. There’s some links and stuff over there… –>

…which may be useful or amusing to peruse. But you can also find me in a couple of other places, including GitHub! Here are a couple of my current projects over there.

• the aeiu society •

So, for the last eight-odd years, I’ve been pushing some ideas around in my head, and a bunch of them have coalesced into the Aeiu Society. If you’re interested in wandering around in my personal mythology for a little while, mosey over and check it out. There’s lots of pictures!

• cyglow •

I’m also working on a wiki for the Anti-Love Bike Lights, which I’ve developed into a workshop called CyGlow. The first few iterations have been at Noisebridge. Here’s a preview of what I’ve been up to with those lately, which I’ll be building out more on the wiki:




whiteboard diagrams

Remote-control bike lights!

cyglow with controller

That’s all for now. Happy upcoming new year! Be safe and make things!

We like to music music

Heya! Quick shout-out to my buddy Moldover, whose Kickstarter — an album on a USB stick, embedded into his “Voice Crusher” audio filter circuit – wraps up in five days. I would highly recommend picking up one of these things; the circuit is great fun to play with, and it’s built to resemble an old-school cassette tape… and oh, I guess it may also be filled with awesome music. Super cool!

On the subject, here’s a quick-and-dirty video experiment I did with a voice changer last summer. The second half is a lot easier to hear. (Guitar! Mutant Édith Piaf! Terrible sound quality! It’s everything you’ve dreamed of) (and you can do this stuff with the Voice Crusher as well!)


Also, my badass friend Ari – below, with belt sander — helped me over the weekend with a project that’s been on hiatus since January. I’m not allowed to have an acoustic guitar until I finish the Dark Star Carbon (Fiber) Guitar, which grew out of TechShop’s “6 Guitars in 6 Days” workshop. Mine will have a fiber soundboard as well, sandwiched around Nomex honeycomb and maple.

Here’s a beautiful instructable on the process, by the talented Seth! He added many of his own touches and created a really gorgeous instrument.

ari belt sander

It was Ari’s idea to use the belt sander for a much flatter top edge on the body. This is why I assume somebody pays her the big bucks.

merlin angle grinder

There will be more of the actual guitar process in a dedicated post. For now, you really should check out Seth’s instructable!


Don’t put steel strings on a cheap Mahalo ukulele. They’ll pull the bridge off. This started happening with the Punkulele, and I had to epoxy it back on:

epoxy bridge


Lastly, a paisley tie makes a pretty great strap for a mandolin. I’ve been using this strap for about six years now, and it’s never failed me. And I do stupid stuff like playing it while biking (which involves swinging the thing around my body into a playable position).

mando with strap

I hand-sewed this on, in what I thought would be the most durable fashion — basically, a million tiny stitches — and it’s not even showing signs of wear.

toby with strap

Haha, here you can see the scar on my finger from that quadcopter. Good times…

WordPress Themes