Urban Spelunking: A Beginner’s Guide

Urban spelunking, urban exploration, or building hacking (whatever you prefer) is absurdly fun, intensely rewarding, and just a shade dangerous. It’s simply finding isolated, unexplored, or abandoned places, and taking a look. I don’t think the adventure is complete without taking photos to share what you’ve discovered, but it isn’t essential to the process. I’d like to take a moment to try and convince you of the incredible potential of actually stepping inside that abandoned insane asylum you pass on the highway every day going to work. I’m also going to give you a primer on how to get in to these spots, what to do once you’re there, how to keep yourself safe, and the kind of tech you’ll want to bring along if you’re intent on gathering some fantastic photos.

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How to be Seen

Early on in my days as a maker, I really struggled with documenting and publishing projects. Almost everything I make starts life as something I wanted to build, something I wanted the experience of playing with. Most often I build because building things is gratifying in and of itself, and the other aspects (recognition, money, internet fame) are ancillary. However, only ever being beholden to myself made for some pretty shoddy documentation. I have few if any photographs of my projects from college and my record of things before that is more or less nonexistent. Over time I’ve discovered that a huge motivating factor for me getting things well documented, taking time out to photograph a project in progress, and updating my records, is having other eyes on me. Having other people witness my work validates it, gives it context, and creates a network of fascinating relationships and interactions that help fuel the next piece.

I don’t think I need to emphasize how important documentation is. Objects have a nasty habit of being pretty solid and aren’t often seen hurtling through cables at the speed of information. I know, Thingiverse is neat, but if you truly want to convey the awesomeness of something to another human, it’s infinitely more likely that they’ll extrapolate the fact from a picture than take the time to print and assemble your design. So, if you want the world to feel the impact of your handmade steam powered arduino based self balancing stainless steel unicycle junkbot, you’re going to have to show them… by force if necessary.

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Ceramic Knuckles

Ceramic 3d printing exists. Every so often I’m reminded that I live in the future and that it is AWESOME. It needs some work, but egads is it great. As an experiment I printed a recent design, the foundation for some organ themed knuckle dusters, in Shapeways’ ceramic. It was remarkably light and very pretty but a bit on the flimsy side. My dad took a shine to them when I was showing them off around the workshop and he, meaning to look like a fifties gangser, donned them and then brought his knuckles into his palm. Cue crunchy noises and falling bits. Alas.

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Cultivating Style

I sit here, one of three folks all crammed on a futon, laptops steadily warming our laps, headphones plugged in, all persistently writing. To my right is designer, business owner, and furiously talented metal fabricator Danielle Hills. To my left is arch art director and wig stylist supreme Numidas Prasarn. The three of us collaborated to bring you these photos from Danielle’s most recent show, in which she exposed her brand new fashion line (The Executioner) to the world for the very first time.

You may recognize Danielle’s work from her previous collection, The Surgeon. She brings a unique, organic texture to her objects, while maintaining fairly simple geometries. The closest comparison I can think of offhand is Nervous System, but seen from a handcrafting perspective. You can view the whole series of shots I took of the event over on Flickr. There’s also some more coverage of the night here and here.

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How They do That: The Sapporo Can

Many of you will be familiar with the tall, elegant Sapporo steel Sapporo can pictured on the right.  It’s a lovely tapered pint glass shape, with subtle creases every half inch along its surface. You might be curious as to why cans are almost never this shape, how the standard beer can is made, and what sets this one apart from a manufacturing perspective. In this post, I’m going to hunt through the clues left on the can itself to diagnose how this thing was made, and how the manufacturing process elegantly dictates the product’s final form.

The story of the standard aluminum can is fascinating. It goes from a simple disc of aluminum metal to a fully formed can in a scant few steps. How It’s Made has done a very complete diagnosis of the process, and The Engineer Guy has a brilliant video describing the function of the pull tab. However, the process for making one of them has almost nothing to do with the construction of one of Sapporo’s steel cans.

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Depression Part 2: The Road Back to Normal

Continuing on from last week’s post, I’m here to bum you out, go on about how strange brains are, and hopefully offer some insight on how to start solving the divisive disease that is depression. The same caveats apply as before.

So, I find the pattern of punctuated equilibrium cropping up again and again. In brief, it is a way of thinking about the speed at which things change. Specifically, some things will spend a long time in a stable state, not changing much at all, and then suddenly leap forward in a giant generational shift. It can be a little bit of deviation creating a huge watershed, or a little energy added into the system bumping things out of their stable rut. You can observe the phenomena in everything from evolutionary biology to organic pathfinding.

It might help to think of this in terms of a game. In game theory, systems can stay stable for long periods of time before taking a wild shift to a different stable mode. In the classic game Hawks vs Doves [mildly technical video] you have two groups: the hawks will never back down from a fight even if it costs them a lot, and the doves will always back down but will split winnings evenly. If you start with two even populations of doves and hawks, you have random fights between everybody, and you kick out the biggest losers, you will eventually have a fairly stable ratio between the two groups.

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Depression Part 1: How Chemistry and Memes can turn your Brain into Soup

What follows is a piece I started during BreakFast over at CCC. It’s my attempt to reconcile what I know about neurobiology, neurochemistry, and depression with some ideas on how to treat what is an incredibly complex and devious disease. Being a person who every so often gets trapped in a downward spiral, and having experienced so many brilliant, capable, utterly valuable people go hurtling down into a deep dark hole I want to share my thoughts and see if I can shed any light on the situation.

I’m an active reader of neurobiology. I’ve had an intense interest in it for nearly ten years, now, but am in no way a neurobiologist or practicing scientist. I’m an armchair reader trying to piece this together, share what I know, and spread my love of science. If you’re an expert in the field and find fault in my logic or terminology, please let me know. I’m always eager to hone my understanding of the meat that makes us think.

You can find part 2 of this article here.

So, here are two entirely unfortunate facts. Depression, serious clinical depression, is the most common disability in the United States [1, 2] and stress related disease (heart attack, chronic high blood pressure, hypertension, anxiety disorder) accounts for much of the remainder.

Stress, depression, and disease have a pervasive and infuriatingly close relationship. They are horsemen of the apocalypse, if the apocalypse included spending several weeks in your bathrobe, sitting on top of a pile of unfolded laundry, watching the Princess Bride for the twelfth time.

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DIY Guy Fawkes Bandana Remix Fun Pack!

The good folks at Coilhouse were kind enough to release something I’ve been working on for a bit: The DIY Guy Fawkes Bandana Remix Fun Pack Genuine Revolutionary Occupy Experience Machine!

The general idea is that I’d like people to be anonymous, wearing protection, projecting a captivating image, employing creative disruption, and in possession of crucial data whether protesting or no. I also believe in opening up the source as much as humanly possible/ethical/feasible on all of my projects.

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A Tide of Woe: The PayPal Story

Early on in the sudden rise to fame of the OWS Bandanas, my business had a bit of an existential hiccup. You see, Paypal, patron of the meek and downtrodden, decided to suspend my account after the second week of bandana sales. They did this without warning and without explanation. I found out when I went to pay some bills and discovered that the numbers in my Paypal account were fake numbers, to be used only as a sadistic tease to my impoverished state of being.

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