Jan 29, 2013

Guns, Geek Communities and Mental Health

If I’ve seemed distracted these past few weeks; it’s because the thoughts in this post were rattling around in my brain.  Hopefully, with it written down, they will stop haunting me a bit.

Next week, we will be talking about the role firearms should play in my local hackerspace.  It’s the end of a long series of friction-building incidents and I hope we can come away with something clear cut that lets everyone relax a little.

It’s come to a head partly because of Sandy Hook, and partly because of some antisocial behavior from an admittedly small number of people.  Not just gun-related things like heaping abuse upon Stratasys for cancelling their contract with Defense Distributed; but also general bad behavior like making vague threats, leaving their stuff lying around and trying to shout down people who disagree with them.

It’s giving some people the impression that our space is, as a group, pro-gun and anti-Obama.  They get tripped up when that turns out not to be true.  (Like most hackerspaces, we have no political affiliation and don’t do issue advocacy.)

I’ve spoken to many members who are unnerved by the presence of a dedicated table for reloading shells, and by the fact that people have brought their AR-15s into the building.  But the more disturbing conversations have been with generally anti-gun members who said they want to get their concealed handgun license (CHL) – both to fit in, and to protect themselves against other space members.

In a way, I can understand that.  Our building is open to the public many nights, and open 24/7 to anyone who pays their first $50 of monthly dues. With over 100 members, we’re one of the largest spaces in the nation; so big that some of us may never even meet each other.  Our space is also in a warehouse district, and I suppose if you could thwart a robbery with your concealed weapon, that would be a nice bonus.  But obviously, if our members are afraid of one another, we are doing something wrong.

What really unnerves me, though, is that some members seem to think that everyone at the space should have a CHL. I’ve heard it suggested that members who don’t like guns should take a mandatory gun class.  Our president personally asked me to attend a class on the AR-15, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that I’ve made it pretty clear I have no interest in that hobby whatsoever. I’ve even had one of our particularly uncivil members tell me that if he had his way, only the gun owners would have a voice in our organization.  This is a problem, and not just because I’m being pressured to do something I don’t want to, sometimes in insulting ways.  It’s a problem because I should not have a gun.

I have depression.  It’s undiagnosed (because I’m too poor to afford a diagnosis) and treated only with the best self-care I can muster.  At this time, I am proud to say that I’m a fairly happy depressed person.  I haven’t had a major incident in over a year or so.  By the standards of my brain, that’s pretty excellent.  Even given that, I stay away from guns, because they might, in a moment of pain, offer a clear path to fatal self-harm.  Naturally, I don’t want to be part of a social group that constantly tempts me to go down that road.

This is the thing that gets lost in all our debates about gun control.  We talk ceaselessly about how things would play out in a confrontation, about robberies, about home invasions.  What we neglect to acknowledge is that of all U.S. gun fatalities, 57 percent are suicides, including half of the mass shootings that spur on our perennial discussions about the role of guns in our society.  This means that gun users are more likely to take their own lives than the life of another person.*  This is the cold, heavy truth in the pit of this issue: that no matter how we deal with interpersonal confrontations, guns cannot fix this.  More CHLs cannot fix this.  Safe laws cannot fix this.  Teaching children to shoot definitely cannot fix this.

I live in Coppell, Texas – a tiny, affluent suburb where you’re more likely to get busted for pot than threatened with a weapon.**  This incident happened a quarter mile from my home: the mayor of the city killed her 19-year-old daughter, and then herself.  She was under financial stress after the loss of her husband to cancer years before.  She had borrowed the weapon from another mayor, telling him she wanted it to use for her CHL class.  She didn’t have to go through a waiting period, or a background check; she didn’t even need to use the gun show loophole.  He insisted on teaching her to use it first.

I’m willing to bet that in our hackerspace, a self-selected community of geeks, we have an incidence of depression that’s higher than the general population.  But even if it wasn’t, introducing pressure to own a gun into an unrelated interest group isn’t responsible or prudent.  We know better than that – or at least, we should.

The last time we talked about this in a meeting, all that happened was the pro-gun president saying, “Show of hands; who has a problem with us having weapons here?”  This time I’m hopeful for a less intimidating approach that lets everyone have their say, and leaves us all feeling comfortable in the space we joined.


* In fact, FAR more likely, because unlike homicides, the shooter-to-victim ratio in a suicide is always 1:1.

** Based on my recollection from reading the police report for many years, in any given week I see one to six marijuana arrests, and I see a weapons related offense every two to four months.

Want to talk?  Tweet or Facebook me, folks.

Oct 25, 2012

Laser Lace Launching

After six months of constant prototyping, intense planning and caffeine-fueled story development, my new project, Laser Lace Letters, is finally going up on Kickstarter today. It’s a unique project with elements of handcrafting, fragmented storytelling, and design. Also, it brings together two of my favorite things: steampunk, and lasers.

(If for some reason you LIKE reading press releases, you can also get that here.)

Laser Lace Letters is a line of laser-cut felt cameo pins that I designed and prototyped at Dallas Makerspace.  I’ll be making for everyone who pledges for them during the Kickstarter. They’re designed to be worn like a button or a badge: on a lapel, a backpack, a purse, or even on a hat.

If you’re familiar with laser cutting, you know that most things made on a laser are made from sheets of material, which means they’re usually quite flat; but that’s where Laser Lace will surprise you. The cameos sit in the center of a special doily, which is cut flat, but designed to be woven into itself to create a wreath of twisted color around the image in the center.

But inside the beautiful packaging for each cameo – a laser cut envelope tied with twine and sealed with wax – is a little story world for you to dig into. There are seven cameos in the line, and each represents a character living in an alternate version of Victorian London, where an all-woman airship corps keeps the peace, tiny robots ferry messages to secret lovers, and the rich build extravagant country homes in the sky.

Their stories are told through items like:

  • A charlatan’s pamphlet about the appearance of aethereal cities in bolts of lightning.
  • The letter a young socialite left for her family, the night she ran away.
  • A help wanted advertisement, calling for door-to-door sales girls to hawk pocket robots.
  • Plans for a machine designed to evaluate people’s souls – and act accordingly.
  • The report of a police officer who saw his partner vanish right in front of his eyes.

If funded, I’m going to release the stories two ways: as tangible stories that include their respective cameo pins, and as a digital book that you can read anywhere.  On the Kickstarter you can buy either one, so whether you like the crafting side of the series more, or the storytelling side, you can get what suits you.

I’ve also been working on some online supplements – or teasers, if you will – that will give you an idea of what to expect from each story before you decide which cameo to buy.  The characters have distinctive stories – from Sarah, the aviatrix who left her lover for a chance to fly one of Her Majesty’s airships; to Linnaeus, the mad scientist looking for a way to cross over into the other universe to find his missing son; to Lucy, an assassin who uses a fleet of tiny robots as her weapon of choice.

When Yomi Ayeni launched his project Clockwork Watch, I knew immediately that we shared a perspective on steampunk that would make for a good collaboration. So for the past several months, I’ve been working with Yomi to mesh our two stories. Our stories both take place in the world, and bits of Laser Lace are already scattered across the Clockwork Watch in-game blog, the London Gazette.  Most of the voices in the above video are also from members of the Clockwork Watch team who beamed their recording across the ocean to bring life to the characters.

Inspiration for Laser Lace was drawn from Jordan Weisman’s artifact-laden book projects – with Sean Stewart on “Cathy’s Book” and with J.C. Hutchins on “Personal Effects: Dark Art.”  Laser Lace stories are like miniature versions of those books.  As far as I know, no indie creator has attempted something like this before – and I can see why.  It’s calling on all the tools in my mental Swiss army knife, and I’ve even had to hack together some new ones.  It’s been a long, big, complicated road to get this project to the point where money is the most needed resource.

Here’s what that money is going to buy: a small hobby laser cutter, around $7,000 in printing services, and supplies ranging from felt to card stock to sealing wax. Once I have the laser cut parts, the cameos will be finished by hand here in Texas. I hope to be able to do all of the handwork myself, so everyone gets something I created from start to finish.  It will be a rare auteur project in a world of big teams.

I’m absolutely abuzz with excitement today!  Let’s come together and make this happen!  You bring the beer, and I’ll bring the party.

Sep 11, 2012

Wax Seals From A Laser Cutter – With Instructions!


The other day, I was fiddling with the packaging for Laser Lace Letters, and nothing quite seemed right.  It’s a victorian steampunk project, with stories told through letters and other documents, so I started asking my friends what they thought of when they heard the words “Victorian mail.”

Wax seals!” they all said.
But didn’t wax seals go out of fashion with the rise of the postal service, around before the Victorian period?” I said.
Doesn’t your story involve tiny robot swarms, evil laser cutters and Aether travel?” they said.
Oh,” I said.

There are a few places online where you can order custom made brass matrices (the part that makes the impression in the wax is called a matrix), but ever the DIYer, I wanted to see if I could make a serviceable acrylic matrix on the laser cutter at the Dallas Makerspace.  It turns out that making a custom wax seal is rather simple.  If you have access to a laser cutter or can drop a few dollars at Ponoko, you can make a completely customized acrylic stamp for under $20.

Check out the whole process at Instructables, or just marvel at these photos.


Aug 22, 2012

The Laser Lace Letters

If you’re been following the blog, you’ve seen the story of Sarah the airship recruit capturing that thief at the Department for the Advancement of Sciences.  You may have also visited the magician The Great Ralpholio and helped him with his branding problem.  Now it’s time to unveil the big picture – despite previous attempts by impetuous doilies and scurrilous mail to cover it up.

This is part of The Laser Lace Letters.  What is that, you ask?  Well, it started as a craft project, but now it’s much more.  It’s a steampunk accessory line!  It’s an epistolary novel! It’s an artifact extravaganza!  It’s an official spinoff of Clockwork Watch! It will light your pipe, sir, and polish your monocle!  It’s a hole in the fabric of space and time, inviting you to fall through.

There are seven cameo pins in the Laser Lace Letters line, depicting seven people, putting an exclamation point on each of seven stories.  Each figure in the Laser Lace Letters is strange – a unicorn horn here, rabbit ears there, a diving suit, an improbable Victorian mohawk. Are they revelers from some steam age masquerade ball, or is something more sinister afoot?

Each story will present itself in the form of a packet of letters that comes with your cameo.  The packet contains their own words, their possessions, and testimony from witnesses, both human and not. (The artifacts will also be collected in an Ebook, for those who are more interested in the story.)

Here are some shots of a very early prototype of the Laser Lace package.

The cameo pins themselves are laser cut (like it says on the tin) and assembled by hand, using a design and technique I invented while tinkering at the Dallas Makerspace. They are made from recycled synthetic fleece, which holds its shape beautifully.

The project will officially launch and we’ll start taking orders through a KS campaign in October (hence, the reward spreadsheet of doom), but until then I will be posting some online fiction for each character so you can get to know them, interact with them, and maybe even step into their shoes. Much of this will take place on Clockwork Watch’s site, but a good deal of it will be scattered across many different platforms. You can find each character’s online presence compiled at laserlaceletters.com.

If you want to follow the production of Laser Lace, I’ll be posting new developments on this blog and on the Laser Lace site. You can subscribe to only Laser Lace related posts using this RSS feed. For up to the minute updates, follow @laser_lace on Twitter. For questions, comments or condemnations, email me! I’m toemoore on a popular Google related email site.

Jun 25, 2012

An Experiment in Object Turnaround Photography

A spinning barware set, built from photos taken with a time lapse feature in CHDK. Click left and right to rotate.

Learn how to make a spinnable “object” like this one at Instructables.

Jun 9, 2012

Things I Want to Talk About At The Hackerspace:

  • Robots.
    Fuck yes!
  • An awesome thing some guy in Ukraine built that you saw on YouTube.
  • Lasers.
    Pyoo pyoo!
  • 3D printers.
    Hell. Fucking. Yes.
  • Tools of pretty much any sort, actually.
    Everything that makes is fascinating.
  • Your projects.
    That’s a sweet quadcopter you’ve got there. What’s your startup all about?
  • Ideas for stuff you want to make.
  • What you do (or did, or want to do) for a living.
    Actually, why didn’t this come up earlier?
  • Movies, books, TV, music, and websites you dig.
    I love Doctor Who too!  You saw that movie, huh; what’s it like?
  • Hackerspace business.
    Serious business.

Things I Do Not Want to Talk About at the Hackerspace:

  • Books, movies, TV, music and websites you don’t like.
    It’s not everyone else’s job to convince you to like Ursula LeGuin or whatever.  Wait for the conversation to come around to something you like, or find a way to politely interject with a new topic.  Feel free to be negative if someone asks your opinion, but realize that’s different; they asked.
  • Your stupid prejudices and why you think they’re ok to have.
    I’m not going to commiserate with your racist, sexist, anti-gay, or otherwise intolerant point of view, no matter what stupid justification you’ve come up with for it.  Really, this is not the place to seek that kind of acceptance; it’s a club for people who build stuff. 
  • Why your ex is a bitch / asshole.
    I barely know you!  Why should I have to help you deal with your breakup?  Negative bonus points if the breakup happened years ago.
  • Your politics.
    There are clubs you can join for that.  This is not one of them.
  • What you find attractive in a woman / man.
     Again, I barely know you, so I don’t care.  If this was an attempt to flirt with me, it has failed phenomenally.
  • Why you think I shouldn’t drink soda / watch The Office / drive a sedan / whatever trivial thing you want to sneer about.
    Yeah, well – fuck you too, I guess.  What else can I say to that?
  • An anecdote where you were mean to someone you don’t like.
    Is this supposed to impress me? Now I think you’re a bully.
  • Why we should keep talking about the thing I said I don’t want to talk about.
    I don’t want to have this conversation.  Please respect that.  I’m not saying you can’t talk about this; you just can’t talk about it with me.
May 15, 2012

New Laser Pendants

Four new designs coming soon to a laser cutter near you me. To follow up this one, which I did last week and sold out of before I could get it up on Etsy.

Restocking and putting out new ones this week.


A little canary on a lighthouse. It’s filibustering, vigilantly.
This one will need some hardware, but I think it would make a good little necklace.

Nov 9, 2011

As seen on north Texas public media

The people at KERA’s Art and Seek were nice enough to come out and shoot a video of me demoing some things at the Dallas Makerspace open house last weekend.

The real agenda is to promote Art Conspiracy, a fundraising event where I’ll be making some art LIVE! to benefit a local organization that teaches piano to hospitalized children.

Oddly enough, one of the hospitals it benefits is also a Child’s Play member hospital, so between this event and Desert Bus, those kids should be swimming in video games and music lessons!

Oct 26, 2011

Assembly Step 3: ??? Step 4: Profit, for Charity

Ladies and Gentlemen, my Majora’s Mask laptop bag….is complete.

And damn if it isn’t beautiful.  Let’s talk features.

The front is a hand-assembled fabric mosaic, made from around 200 pieces of laser cut felt and fleece, hand edged and stitched together.  I cut all the pieces on the laser at the Dallas Makerspace.  Then I assembled them into smaller mosaics, which fit together like puzzle.

The bag itself is made from cotton, felt, fleece, and heavyweight interfacing, and features the following awesome pockets:

  • 1 14″ zippered laptop compartment
  • 1 tablet pocket
  • 1 smartphone pocket
  • 1 pen pocket

The front flap snaps down with a pair of magnetic clasps.

So, do you want this bag?  Damn skippy you do.

The Desert Bus for Hope live stream starts on November 18, and as part of that live stream, this bag will be auctioned live! Check out Desertbus.org and follow @DesertBus on Twitter for up to the minute updates.

I know they also have a bunch of other colossally beautiful items for auction, including some amazeballs Cooking Mama aprons by my good friend Julisana, and they’ll be taking requests and giving out prizes, entertaining celebrity guests, and doing more Disney singalongs than any of them will care to admit come December.

In addition, your donations will condemn a team of poor gamers to an ever-lengthening hell marathon of the worst video game ever made. And all the proceeds go to buy toys and games for very sick kids. It’s sadism for a good cause!

Photos by the lovely and talented Nicole Greeley.  The dude is our hackerspace president Andrew.  The peeping girl, is me.

Sep 23, 2011

Twisting Acrylic

At last night’s Makerspace meeting, me and Doug played around with twisting acrylic that’s been engraved with the laser cutter.  We’re using a standing heat gun to provide enough heat to soften the plastic, and then twisting it by hand.

This piece had been engraved and then thrown into the scrap box.  Heating the plastic to twisting temperature doesn’t melt it enough to erase the engraving.  This is DEFINITELY going to get used in some later projects.

This piece didn’t come out quite as I was hoping, so I decided to bend the ends up,  and make it into an acrylic mustache.

Eat your heart out, MakerBot owners!