Friday, January 18, 2013

A Year After SOPA

An odium for internet culture among the general public can seem justified when headlines show the dangerously large sums of money spent acquiring businesses without profit, when its martyrs blur the line between libertarianism and terrorism, and when its largest community is described in pop culture as being “fueled by envy and lost innocence”
Standing in juxtaposition to the general public, digital natives, who were born into an online world, can also claim justification in their skepticism of traditional systems. They were forced to stand by and watch in the closing hours of 2012 as a divided House adjourned while the United States proceeded to hurl itself over the fiscal cliff, and while a known global warming skeptic and author of the SOPA bill was named the Congressional Chairmen of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee. A year ago these two worlds collided when the passing of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) came to a head on January 18, 2012.
Today marks one year since the unprecedented showing of internet activism that was the SOPA Blackout, where an astounding 75,000 registered websites, 25,000 WordPress blogs and countless other web affiliates blacked out in protest of the proposed legislation that attempted to completely overhaul the architecture of the Internet. 
This leaves us with the question: Where are we now?
As a refresher, SOPA, and it’s sister act in the Senate, PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act), were proposed bills that sought to address copyright infringement by enabling direct legal action against Internet Service Providers (ISPs) here in the United States. It proposed to allow the United States Attorney General, at the request of a copyright holder, to file legal action against websites that host or facilitate copyright infringing content by requiring American ISPs to block access to those webpages. Once notified, ISPs would have to act within five business days or face legal action. While copyright infringement is an issue and conversation we all need to address, the major problem with SOPA was in the largely open-ended nature of the act that would provide sweeping jurisdiction, and therefore immense power, to the US Attorney General to shut down or fundamentally alter webpages without the need for judges, juries or other due process. In essence, a complaint could become an immediate legal action without a court proceeding.
Since the blackout a year ago, there have been interesting developments on both sides of the discussion and some action around online sharing. Most notably, in 2012, we saw the U.S. Government illegally raid and shut down one of the most widely used file-hosting web services in a showing worthy of a Christopher Nolan film. Equally as deserving of place in a Nolan film, on the pro-internet side of the argument we saw the formation of the Internet Defense League with their ambiguous mission to “protect the open web” against “entrenched institutions and monopolies”. 
What is evident in these developments since SOPA is a distinct clash in culture between government and large corporations, with large and complex bureaucracies that struggle to match the pace of the rapidly growing online world, and the “Internet Community”, which has developed a fear of regulation that they see as serving antiquated systems which favor big money interests. This fear is somewhat understandable when you consider the way alleged copyright infringements are treated like acts of terror, enforced by armed FBI agents in a scene eerily reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984.  It would seem the struggle over governance of the Internet has started to resemble the streets of Gotham, riddled with fear and questionable actions on both sides, and without much hope of resolution.
Where do we go from here? Given my comparison to Gotham City, the natural train of thought would be to look for a masked vigilante to swoop in and serve swift justice to the bad guys. The problem with the current situation is, in my opinion, there aren’t “good guys” or “bad guys”. The real issue in this debate is that both parties are missing a critical piece of the equation: education. 
We as the creators, suppliers, users and natives of the Internet need to do our part to help educate others and facilitate understanding about how, why and in what ways the Internet is used. It is important that we take the time and give evidence when we claim that the repurposing of copyrighted content in the form of GIFs, YouTube videos and memes isn’t infringement or piracy but the nature of creativity and learning. We demand transparency and yet we need to be more transparent ourselves. It’s easy to get frustrated with mom or dad when trying to explain “social media”, but until we take the time and map it out in ways familiar and understandable to them, we are only perpetuating the same fears and misconceptions that threaten to repress our freedoms in the first place. 
As we open this dialogue, we need our representatives, the elected officials who are quite literally deciding the future of American growth and competitiveness, to show an equal effort. Our legislators must commit the time to learning and truly understanding what is at stake — not just monied interests, but American interests — and advocate on behalf of the Internet and their digital constituents who represent a big part of our nation’s economic future. From Congress we need transparency in lawmaking,  as well as well-defined, intelligent policies that enable and empower the enrichment of the Internet and its vast potential. All of this starts with education. 
We fear what we do not understand, and right now we sit across the table from each other confused, skeptical and fearful. This will continue as long as we lack knowledge about each other and our intentions. Very soon, the Internet will fuel the exchange of more than just media content, with movements like open hardware and desktop fabrication that will soon deliver things — digital objects and other atom-based items — we can send, copy and produce in our own homes. This is already happening globally, and from here it’s only a matter of time before we are sharing more complex files over the web like biomaterials and even DNA sequences. It’s time we have this conversation, and in order to do so we need to take the time and educate one another. 
So I challenge you in 2013, a year after SOPA, to take the time to learn and truly understand that which you do not. No matter which side of this issue you find yourself on, help others from other generations, fields, and industries to do the same. Where will be a year from now? Will we still be asking where do we go from here? Or will our education of self and others dictate a direction in which we can all proceed with confidence? You decide.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Reflection on Lance Armstrong

For 8 years, ever since I first fell in love with the sport of Cycling, I have proudly worn a Livestrong bracelet on my left wrist. There is a full shelf in my book collection that is chocked full of yellow spines and bold yellow letting filled with information on the ins and outs of the sport of Cycling and more specifically, Lance Armstrong.

As media outlets do so well these days, when I woke up this morning on virtually every news outlet the titles screamed of Lance Armstrong's confession to Oprah. The reporting ranged from purely factual to that reminiscent of an angry mob demanding Lance's head on a platter, and I do not begrudge anyone on either end of the discussion of their opinions or feelings. The fact of the matter is Lance Armstrong systematically lied, cheated, and ostracized others all while reaping the benefit and avoiding the consequences of his actions.

In the past when people asked me "Do you think he doped?", I often responded with "I don't know. It doesn't really matter to me, the seven wins aren't what interest me about Lance". As someone who grew up idolizing the great inventors of years past, what I admired about Lance Armstrong during the era in which he competed for the seven Tour De France titles was not his athletic ability, but rather his wherewithal to examine, engineer and improve upon the commonly accepted fundamentals of the sport and the detail and level of execution to which he was able to do so.

Before Lance Armstrong arrived on the podium in France, the world of cycling was still fairly crude. The majority of teams were still riding aluminum bikes, with descent mechanical components, and virtually no helmets. A lot of the norms for fitness, maintenance, and understanding of how to win was based on the historical status quo and traditions of a competitive sport that was well over a hundred years in age. When Lance Armstrong returned from his battle with cancer he took a detail oriented approach to examining every aspect of the sport.

With his teams at Nike and Trek they developed wind suits with dimples like a golf ball to reduce drag during time trials, they were some of the first to look at not just weight reduction with carbon fiber bikes but how the carbon fiber was laid up so it was stiffer, more compliant and allowed for a greater transfer of power then any other material on the planet. They recorded, analyzed and reproduced the most common wind scenarios for the various stages of the Tour de France within wind tunnels so they could test, refine and develop the fastest racing technology on the market. He and his team were meticulous about the power data, caloric intake and some of the first to implore the use of compression recovery techniques. The Lance Armstrong team helped launch the technology and science of cycling into the world it is today where we are measuring bike frames in grams instead of pounds, where amateur cyclists can intelligently and accurately discuss power-to-weight ratios because of affordable power meters, and where training regimens and recovery cycles are hotly debated topics on forums everywhere. Much of this being trickle-down benefits of the work that Armstrong and his support team did. This is the part of Lance Armstrong I have always admired.

The fact remains though that Lance Armstrong committed a number of wrong-doings which he did not own up to nor face the consequences for, all while perpetuating a state of fear for those who did speak the truth, and that is not a person I admire.

This leaves me with a decision: do I continue to wear the bracelet that for me has represented the ingenuity of an American mind to challenge and fundamentally change an entire industry, or do I remove it because as it turns out that same harrowing attention to detail, ability to methodically analyze circumstances and commitment to building the fastest human racing machine on the planet is the very same one that chose to dope and in the process lie to and deceive the many people who believed in him? This will take some consideration.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Generational Wows

My Mother often told my brothers and I as we grew up, the story about the first time her great grandfather and great grandmother who were straight off the boat from Italy, Nunna and Tuddi as she and her siblings knew them, saw an airport.

Like many of our Ancestors, they had come across the Atlantic Ocean on a boat through Ellis Island and unfortunately they lived some of the very real horrors that those trips entailed, death and disease. Their youngest child fell ill on the journey and for fear of being sent back, they had to bury the child at sea as to avoid suspicion and be denied entrance in to this land of opportunity. The sacrifice they made to come to America was certainly paid in more then just dollars and cents, but they made it here and did so the only way they could given the technology of the time.

Let's fast forward a half century, in 1951 construction that had begun a few years earlier on the Broome County Airport was completed and it opened to the public. It was a few years later, when my mother's father, my grandfather, took his grandparents to that airport so they could see for themselves this marvel of modern technology. As my Mother explains it, when they got there the two of them stood there looking out the windows at the planes landing and taking flight, they stood there holding hands with tears streaming down their cheeks. Not out of sadness, but out of true amazement and wonder. In their lifetime they had seen and been apart of the migration to America in what was the technological revolution of their age, the transatlantic freight liner; and yet here they were, witnessing regular Americans, purchasing tickets and boarding flights which would take them all over the globe in a matter of hours. This perhaps was the greatest moment of disbelief and wonder they ever experienced.

Let's fast forward another half century, to Thanksgiving 2012. There I stood in my parents basement next to a plywood structure, with a footprint no bigger then 9" x 5", that was whirling away squirting hot plastic in a preprogramed and computerized pattern producing a plastic bracelet. My grandparents watched in simultaneous disbelief and wonder as they peppered me with questions about how it worked, what it could do, where it could go! After about 10 minutes, it beeped and let me know it was done. I popped off the bracelet and handed it to my grandfather, who turned it over in his hands in amazement before sharing it with my grandmother. When my Grandmother asked "Someday, could it print a kidney?" and my response was "Yes, someday it will", I saw tears well up in her eyes as she thought about the potential of the little miracle that sat between us.

About a week ago, I visited the elementary school where my Mom is the librarian to share and talk about 3D printing with a group of 5th and 6th graders. I had been anticipating maybe a group of 10-15 students who didn't mind skipping recess to learn about a new technology. Much to my surprise, over a hundred students gave up their Recess and packed the library story steps past full to standing room only. They fired off a hundred questions: "Could it print jewelry?" - "Body parts?" - "Robots?" - "Cars?" - "Food?" - "Cheese blocks!?" As I answered their questions and watched as their eyes as their imaginations ran, these kids didn't question it. This was the future, they saw it how it existed and where it would go, but this was not a wow moment for them.

They are used to technology wowing them, they are used to the things that generations past see as magic as being explainable and comprehensible. This is the generation who came out of the womb with the iPod already dominating the market, for them this is the natural progression of their tools. Born into the internet age, these types of tools are expected and understood by this generation. For them it is but an extension of their skills and ability to actualize their imaginations.

My great-great grandparents lived from a day and age where a transatlantic steamliner was the only means to travel from continent to continent to a world where it was a matter of purchasing a ticket and sitting in a seat in the sky for a couple of hours; now, today's generation comes to school and is exposed to additive fabrication on their desktops. So I leave you with a thought to ponder: imagine what amazing and unfathomable technological accomplishments this generation will see, that will some day bring them to tears, as the tools of today have for generations past.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Tips for Successful Prints with the Makerbot Replicator 2

Bucket of Failed Prints or Makerbot Spagetti!
I've spent a number of hours working with my Replicator 2 and have logged the better part of a thousand hours printing in the past couple years since assembling my first printer a Makergear Mosaic. After finding a lot of people having the same issues with their Rep2's that I have been wrestling with such as curling, the extruder stopping extruding, and funky starts to prints I figured I would share a few tips that I have found help lead to successful prints. 

Tips for Better Prints:

1. Purchase some Thermal Paste and apply it between where the heater block and the heat sink meet.

A significant portion of the extrusion issues people are having are related to excess heat seeping up the PLA during retraction of the filament as part of ooze prevention. Ooze causes the little pimple looking dots of plastic between layers, so the software very gently will pull the filament back up to prevent that if the filament is too soft then it will warp and the extruder gear wont be able to grab on to it and continue to extrude. The thermal paste helps the heat sink absorb and dispers a much larger amount of heat helping the extruder to it's job.

Here is the paste I ordered, it also comes with cleaner which is super helpful as well:

2. To help with leveling I would recommend buying a feeler gauge. These are staples in any Machinists toolbox, use the 1.00mm feeler gauge instead of a business card or sheet of paper while running the leveling sequence. You want it to just have an ever so slight bit of friction at each of the leveling points. Here's the one I ordered from Amazon, it's been doing a great job:

For further accuracy when leveling, I also recommend using this interactive leveling object from whpthomas on Thingiverse to help with leveling:

3. To help prevent curling, some operators will recommend using rubbing alcohol on the build platform. I do not recommend this as it will be a serious challenge to remove any of your objects from the build platform once they are finished. The rubbing alcohol certainly helps with adhesion so much so that it makes it near impossible to remove the object after it has finished printing.

Replicator 2 purring away
Instead I recommend a light coating of Vegetable Oil applied with a paper towel. It helps significantly with adhesion therefore helps prevent curling while still allowing you to remove your print when it's finished.

4. Before starting a print, I always run the 'Load Filament' script from the 'Change Filament' menu under Utilities on your bot. This helps get the old and saturated filament in the nozzle out and get fresh stuff in there which helps with both adhesion and the quality of the first couple layers resulting in a nicer print.

Although, it's easy to get frustrated when the printer acts up, ultimately, the work that early 3d Printer operators are doing and sharing day-in and day-out is equally as important, if not more so, to pioneering and exploring this young field as the companies producing them!

I'll continue posting my findings, tips, tricks and musings here. Namaste.