Hi all, welcome to Hack Chat. I'm Dan, I'll be moderating today for Leo Fernekes as we talk about "Harnessing Your Creativity."
I know it's late -- or early -- where you are Leo. Are you online yet?
Yes - here and live
Good morning! Thanks for braving the timezone shift to be with us today. Can you perhaps start us off with a little about your background?
I grew up in California
kind of a hippy family
My father would buy me "toys" from the university of cali lab surplus
i fell in love with the mystery of technology
I was a horrible student
kicked out of many schools
but i was always surrounded with mentors- or maybe I gravitated to them?
never finished HS
never bothered to get a GED
started soldering boards for a friend of my father's - he produced bio tech in his Berkeley garage
then I got a job through my commune-mate, he was designing a computer controlled animation stand for a company in mill valley (Korty Films)
he took me on and let me design stuff- I was just a kid,
In one of your videos you mentioned having students -- is that sort of a mentorship arrangement that continues your early experiences?
I made some big messes, but also some great stuff
Yes- teaching others in the same way that I leaned feels right
I only take on bright, passionate sparks
that way it's really rewarding
some people just drink in the knowledge
others- you have to bang them over the head
I think this was the build video I was thinking of:
Yes- this was a year-long deep dive into analog design
2 students built the whole thing
I designed the circuits and explained what and how along the way
a ton of hand work is involved, which is really important
too many people just plug modules together and never learn good build techniques
Apprenticeship is something that is getting lost nowadays.
yes- and that's a terrible loss
I had a junior high chum that was totally obsessed with telephones
we would goto flea markets and buy old office phone hardware
he had a PABX in his house at about 13 years old
What kinds of hand work do you find is the most helpful? I sometimes get lost in the tedium of a project without recognizing how it help learn design. Are you talking lots of through hole and SMD soldering?
My biggest skill is finding others to learn from
So what is your daytime job?
Funny how the "gateway drug" for hardware hacking has always been a moving target. For my vintage, it was the phone system, for an earlier generation it was radio repairs, and now it's Arduinos and such.
leaning how to approach a build, strategically, like how to mount and connect a wide range of parts
I am a consultant, but I only do tech art
I don't think I could even stomach the commercial product design scene these days
Erwin does mostly lighting installation art
but he's blown up the last few year
So you are the brain behind his installations?!
bigger and bigger projects
FYI, there's usually an LED Art chat in this same channel right after Hack Chat wraps up. Just saying.
I do all the EE design for him
One question I see all over the place is people asking the best way to get started. The usual answer is "Just dive in", but I always figured it was better to have an end goal. I started by learning BEAM robotics, and that's what I always recommend. So, if someone were to ask you "Whats the best way to get started?", what do you recommend?
most projects involve designing a custom light fixture or system, I also do a lot of mechanical engineering to suppoer the projects
I recommend obsessing over your passion
that's the only way- for me at least
can you even call it a passion when you don't obsess over it?
that obsession always leads to interesting places
I started first learning electroncs
Wait, you're telling me you can do things in life without obsessing over them?
like, day job?
but soon realized that the stuff i wanted to make always crossed over
so I learned to code, and obsessed over mechanical stuff too
I was always lucky- somebody would always offer me jobs
the only "real job" I got through the paper classifieds was a soul-sucking hellshow
but I never really cared about money that much
it was the challenge and experience I wanted
so I fit into weirdo startups well
sound like a pretty interesting life
YMMV on that count, of course. I had a regular job, worked 23 years for one company, and in the early days, I had to set an alarm on my watch to remember to go home at the end of the day. That's how passionate I was about what I was doing. Of course that honeymoon didn't last, and it became a soul-sucking hellshow for me too. But it was nice while it lasted.
If it's not interesting, I can barely bring myself to do it
In germany, I/we differentiate between 'job' and 'Beruf' (which translates to profession). But the word 'Beruf' stems from vocation...
that's why school was a no-go
when I was 26, I moved to NYC from CA
got into doing motion-control cinematography for TV commercials
lasted a year and a half before the blahhh of advertising got to me
so I started working freelance, doing special effects work for TV and film
I met some amazing makers through this connection
I met my business partner Stefan Rublowsky working at a model/effects house
we clicked and started our own company
Do you think the makerspace movement fills a role in the mentorship arrangements we were talking about earlier? Or are they too -- I don't know, maybe the word is "diffuse"? Because they sort of spread that relationship over too many people?
it evolved into a product development company: Electro-kinetics
sorry what's motion-control cinematography mean? something to do with controlling the movement of cameras, on dolly's maybe?
Maker spaces usually are missing something super important
Robotic camera movers- for matched moves / effect shots
it's hard for a maker space to hold onto key members that really have skills- there is no money there, so it's all a gift
and mostly people are pulled away
i have found maker spaces to be very dissapointing
in my experience it's not hard to find people with skills, they are attracted to makerspaces, but then they never have time to actually come, not to mention actually doing anything
Yeah, that's pretty much what I see. They all seem to start out strong, but then just become a big room full of tools
without a good techer there to guide- tools are ruined and money wasted
Yeah, or a big room of busted tools...
we all know how easy it is to run the lathe into the chuck and blast the tooling into shrapnel
...and nobody has the skills to repair
but people love to fiddle with laser cutters and 3D printers- for their own sake
and that is "buzzworthy"
Speaking of machines, you often use the wild Manhattan style (or dead bug style?) hand cut PCBs, but have you also experimented with other methods (etching, CNC routing)?
I have! but they are all too time consuming
one thing I learned from the movie biz: that attitude that "the show must go on"
and since you need more speed than quantity
I dont stop until it's working
and I begin to hate staring at computer screens
In the defense of CNC routing, I can machine a PCB on our mill (an oldschool Bridgeport EZTrak) in about an hour
so just kind of winging stuff by hand becomes perversely satisfying!
but you still need to design a layout in CAD? right
Can't blame you on the staring at computer screens thing, haha
my circuit is working on the bench before any CAD layout is done
I always have problem with designing for laser cutters or 3d printers, because I think with my hands
I need to hold it to be able to tell if it's right or not
and what needs to be changed
I love designing stuff in Solidworks
I was big into Fusion 360 until I moved to Linux. But I found that making the model almost became more important to me mentally than the project it was in support of. That's seemed like a slippery slope.
here is today's madness
sorry it's a PDF
something high power and protected of the elements
It's a water tank level monitor
I am doing a design exercise video on this
looks like it uses electrodes?
uses 4 khz sound clicks to measure the water level
oh heh, what are the grey things ?
How do you keep tabs on all of your different projects?
the wire probes detect when the level gets into the Blanking Zone
I moved to Thailand 8 years ago- so I could relieve the pressure of life from my back
life in the USA started to freak me out
the economic pressure is rising
So now I can do as I please
Thailand is awesome, I've been down to Petchaburi a handful of times for work
yes - know it well
There are many times on a project where I'm just not getting past the wall. There's some aspect of it that's just eluding me consistently. How do you overcome that problem?
That totally happens to me too
back away, give yourself some perspective, come back and re-think
it's really about thinking "from a different angle"
It's amazing what a nice walk and a snack can do to unclog the pipes. Or a shower.
yeah or just blowing it off for a day (if you can)
Ah, perhaps I wasn't specific enough, the particular problem I have in mind has been kicking my butt for like three weeks now, haha
or try to explain the problem to another person
that really forces mental clarity
alright, i'll bite
what's the problem
And don't discount explaining it to a "civilian". I bounce tech problems off my wife all the time, and having to explain the details to her really helps caltify the problem in my head. Super valuable technique.
yessss! totally agree!!
Haha, don't feel obligated! But, I'm trying to create a reliable ring counter without using silicon (no transistors) and at just 24V. So, the usual neon ring counters are out, as are the transistor style counters like the one you used in the awesome transistor clock you made.
Woah, just looked up and noticed that we're up against the limit of our hour. If you've got to split, Leo, that's cool, or you can stay too and keep the chat going. Either way, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today, I really appreciate it. Looking forward to the new video too, looks like a neat project.
I have a set of mental "Standards" that I apply to all my ideas, this is the first "screening" an idea goes through
Oh, yeah, wow, that hour went fast! Thanks for answering my off the wall questions!
thank all of you for participating
it's time for me to sleeeeeep
As a final note, your transistor clock is one of the coolest clocks I've ever seen!
I wanted to thank you for sharing the details of that with us in your videos and I'm looking forward to more in the future!
So no Hack Chat next week -- it's Thanksgiving here in the states. But we'll be back the week after for a few more chats to wrap up 2020.
Night Leo, thanks a bunch!
Thanks Dan, see you next time
If anyone is staying here a couple more minutes: do any of you guys share the distractability problem - starting on the next project before wrapping up the first one? What are your strategies to manage it?
That's a problem? I thought it was a feature!
Jason, I get that all the time. Between distractability and feature creep, it's a miracle I ever actually build anything
HAHA!!! good one
Besides kicking yourself and doing it? Never figured that one
How much effort do you put into simplifying design so that it can be supported by a junior engineer? I have a design that is totally working, but I am terrified of putting it into production because it is so complex that it would be difficult to maintain and extend.
"kicking yourself and doing it" sounds better than no strategy indeed
I have three projects on my workbench, and one in the kitchen right now!
I consider myself successful if I get to the 80% completion mark on a project. Anything beyond that is gravy
I know simplicity is the hallmark of a beautiful design, but sometimes the problem is very complex
Jason, I sometimes like to alternate on a schedule. This week I'll focus on project A, then next week project B, then the week after back to project A. This lets my subconscious chew on the problem for a bit and keeps it fresh. Sticking to the schedule is paramount though