Hack Chat Transcript, Part 1

A event log for Harnessing Your Creativity Hack Chat

Don't forget to add "creativity" to your BOM

dan-maloneyDan Maloney 11/18/2020 at 21:120 Comments

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?

Leo Fernekes12:00 PM
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?

Leo Fernekes12:01 PM

Leo Fernekes12:01 PM
I grew up in California

Leo Fernekes12:01 PM
kind of a hippy family

Jon joined the room.12:02 PM

Leo Fernekes12:02 PM
My father would buy me "toys" from the university of cali lab surplus

Leo Fernekes12:02 PM
i fell in love with the mystery of technology

Leo Fernekes12:03 PM
I was a horrible student

Leo Fernekes12:03 PM
kicked out of many schools

Leo Fernekes12:03 PM
but i was always surrounded with mentors- or maybe I gravitated to them?

Leo Fernekes12:04 PM
never finished HS

Leo Fernekes12:04 PM
never bothered to get a GED

Andrew Klein joined the room.12:05 PM

Leo Fernekes12:05 PM
started soldering boards for a friend of my father's - he produced bio tech in his Berkeley garage

Leo Fernekes12:06 PM
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)

Leo Fernekes12:07 PM
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?

Leo Fernekes12:07 PM
I made some big messes, but also some great stuff

Leo Fernekes12:08 PM
Yes- teaching others in the same way that I leaned feels right

Leo Fernekes12:08 PM

Leo Fernekes12:08 PM
I only take on bright, passionate sparks

Leo Fernekes12:09 PM
that way it's really rewarding

Leo Fernekes12:09 PM
some people just drink in the knowledge

Leo Fernekes12:09 PM
others- you have to bang them over the head

I think this was the build video I was thinking of:

YouTube Leo's Bag of Tricks

Leo Fernekes12:10 PM
Yes- this was a year-long deep dive into analog design

Leo Fernekes12:10 PM
2 students built the whole thing

Leo Fernekes12:11 PM
I designed the circuits and explained what and how along the way

Leo Fernekes12:11 PM
a ton of hand work is involved, which is really important

Leo Fernekes12:12 PM
too many people just plug modules together and never learn good build techniques

Nicolas Tremblay12:12 PM
Apprenticeship is something that is getting lost nowadays.

Leo Fernekes12:12 PM
yes- and that's a terrible loss

Leo Fernekes12:13 PM
I had a junior high chum that was totally obsessed with telephones

Leo Fernekes12:14 PM
we would goto flea markets and buy old office phone hardware

Leo Fernekes12:14 PM
he had a PABX in his house at about 13 years old

Leo Fernekes12:14 PM
amazing guy

Jon12:15 PM
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?

Leo Fernekes12:15 PM
My biggest skill is finding others to learn from

data12:15 PM
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.

Leo Fernekes12:16 PM
leaning how to approach a build, strategically, like how to mount and connect a wide range of parts

Leo Fernekes12:17 PM
I am a consultant, but I only do tech art

Leo Fernekes12:18 PM
I don't think I could even stomach the commercial product design scene these days

Leo Fernekes12:19 PM
My main client these days is the LED artist Erwin Redl

Leo Fernekes12:19 PM
Erwin does mostly lighting installation art

Leo Fernekes12:19 PM
but he's blown up the last few year

data12:19 PM
So you are the brain behind his installations?!

Leo Fernekes12:19 PM
bigger and bigger projects

FYI, there's usually an LED Art chat in this same channel right after Hack Chat wraps up. Just saying.

Leo Fernekes12:20 PM
I do all the EE design for him

Usagi Electric (David)12:20 PM
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?

Leo Fernekes12:21 PM
most projects involve designing a custom light fixture or system, I also do a lot of mechanical engineering to suppoer the projects

Leo Fernekes12:21 PM
I recommend obsessing over your passion

Leo Fernekes12:21 PM
that's the only way- for me at least

deʃhipu12:22 PM
can you even call it a passion when you don't obsess over it?

Leo Fernekes12:22 PM
that obsession always leads to interesting places

Leo Fernekes12:22 PM
haha nope

Leo Fernekes12:23 PM
I started first learning electroncs

Usagi Electric (David)12:23 PM
Wait, you're telling me you can do things in life without obsessing over them?

deʃhipu12:23 PM
like, day job?

Leo Fernekes12:23 PM
but soon realized that the stuff i wanted to make always crossed over

Leo Fernekes12:24 PM
so I learned to code, and obsessed over mechanical stuff too

Leo Fernekes12:25 PM
I was always lucky- somebody would always offer me jobs

Leo Fernekes12:26 PM
the only "real job" I got through the paper classifieds was a soul-sucking hellshow

Leo Fernekes12:26 PM
but I never really cared about money that much

Leo Fernekes12:27 PM
it was the challenge and experience I wanted

Leo Fernekes12:27 PM
so I fit into weirdo startups well

Nicolas Tremblay12:28 PM
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.

Leo Fernekes12:29 PM
If it's not interesting, I can barely bring myself to do it

data12:29 PM
In germany, I/we differentiate between 'job' and 'Beruf' (which translates to profession). But the word 'Beruf' stems from vocation...

Leo Fernekes12:29 PM
that's why school was a no-go

Leo Fernekes12:30 PM
when I was 26, I moved to NYC from CA

Leo Fernekes12:31 PM
got into doing motion-control cinematography for TV commercials

Leo Fernekes12:31 PM
lasted a year and a half before the blahhh of advertising got to me

Leo Fernekes12:32 PM
so I started working freelance, doing special effects work for TV and film

Leo Fernekes12:33 PM
I met some amazing makers through this connection

Leo Fernekes12:34 PM
I met my business partner Stefan Rublowsky working at a model/effects house

Leo Fernekes12:34 PM
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?

Leo Fernekes12:35 PM
it evolved into a product development company: Electro-kinetics

anfractuosity12:35 PM
sorry what's motion-control cinematography mean? something to do with controlling the movement of cameras, on dolly's maybe?

Leo Fernekes12:35 PM
Maker spaces usually are missing something super important

Leo Fernekes12:36 PM
Robotic camera movers- for matched moves / effect shots

anfractuosity12:36 PM
oh interesting

Leo Fernekes12:37 PM
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

Leo Fernekes12:37 PM
and mostly people are pulled away

Leo Fernekes12:38 PM
i have found maker spaces to be very dissapointing

jakem12:38 PM

data12:38 PM
Is anyone here involved in a coder-dojo?

deʃhipu12:38 PM
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

Leo Fernekes12:39 PM
without a good techer there to guide- tools are ruined and money wasted

Yeah, or a big room of busted tools...

Leo Fernekes12:39 PM
we all know how easy it is to run the lathe into the chuck and blast the tooling into shrapnel

Leo Fernekes12:40 PM
...and nobody has the skills to repair

Leo Fernekes12:41 PM
but people love to fiddle with laser cutters and 3D printers- for their own sake

Leo Fernekes12:41 PM
and that is "buzzworthy"

Usagi Electric (David)12:42 PM
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)?

Leo Fernekes12:42 PM
I have! but they are all too time consuming

Leo Fernekes12:43 PM
one thing I learned from the movie biz: that attitude that "the show must go on"

Nicolas Tremblay12:43 PM
and since you need more speed than quantity

Leo Fernekes12:43 PM
I dont stop until it's working

data12:44 PM
that's passion

Leo Fernekes12:44 PM
and I begin to hate staring at computer screens

Usagi Electric (David)12:44 PM
In the defense of CNC routing, I can machine a PCB on our mill (an oldschool Bridgeport EZTrak) in about an hour

Leo Fernekes12:45 PM
so just kind of winging stuff by hand becomes perversely satisfying!

Leo Fernekes12:45 PM
but you still need to design a layout in CAD? right

Usagi Electric (David)12:45 PM
Can't blame you on the staring at computer screens thing, haha

Leo Fernekes12:46 PM
my circuit is working on the bench before any CAD layout is done

deʃhipu12:46 PM
I always have problem with designing for laser cutters or 3d printers, because I think with my hands

deʃhipu12:46 PM
I need to hold it to be able to tell if it's right or not

deʃhipu12:46 PM
and what needs to be changed

Leo Fernekes12:46 PM
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.

Leo Fernekes12:48 PM

104 KB

Download File

Leo Fernekes12:49 PM
here is today's madness

Leo Fernekes12:49 PM
sorry it's a PDF

Nicolas Tremblay12:49 PM
something high power and protected of the elements

Leo Fernekes12:50 PM
It's a water tank level monitor


Leo Fernekes12:50 PM
I am doing a design exercise video on this

anfractuosity12:50 PM
looks like it uses electrodes?

Leo Fernekes12:51 PM
uses 4 khz sound clicks to measure the water level

anfractuosity12:51 PM
oh heh, what are the grey things ?

jakem12:51 PM
How do you keep tabs on all of your different projects?

Leo Fernekes12:51 PM
the wire probes detect when the level gets into the Blanking Zone

Leo Fernekes12:52 PM
connectors- waterproof

Leo Fernekes12:53 PM
I moved to Thailand 8 years ago- so I could relieve the pressure of life from my back

Leo Fernekes12:54 PM
life in the USA started to freak me out

Leo Fernekes12:54 PM
the economic pressure is rising

Leo Fernekes12:54 PM
So now I can do as I please

Usagi Electric (David)12:54 PM
Thailand is awesome, I've been down to Petchaburi a handful of times for work

Leo Fernekes12:55 PM
yes - know it well

Usagi Electric (David)12:58 PM
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?

Leo Fernekes12:58 PM
That totally happens to me too

Leo Fernekes12:59 PM
back away, give yourself some perspective, come back and re-think

Leo Fernekes1:00 PM
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.

Leo Fernekes1:00 PM
yeah or just blowing it off for a day (if you can)

Usagi Electric (David)1:01 PM
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

Leo Fernekes1:01 PM
or try to explain the problem to another person

Leo Fernekes1:01 PM
that really forces mental clarity

Leo Fernekes1:01 PM
alright, i'll bite

Leo Fernekes1:02 PM
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.

Leo Fernekes1:03 PM
yessss! totally agree!!

Usagi Electric (David)1:03 PM
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.

Leo Fernekes1:04 PM
I have a set of mental "Standards" that I apply to all my ideas, this is the first "screening" an idea goes through

Nicolas Tremblay1:04 PM
Thanks Leo!

Usagi Electric (David)1:05 PM
Oh, yeah, wow, that hour went fast! Thanks for answering my off the wall questions!

Leo Fernekes1:05 PM
thank all of you for participating

Leo Fernekes1:05 PM
it's time for me to sleeeeeep

Usagi Electric (David)1:06 PM
As a final note, your transistor clock is one of the coolest clocks I've ever seen!

Usagi Electric (David)1:06 PM
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!

Nicolas Tremblay1:07 PM
Thanks Dan, see you next time

Jason Cho1:07 PM
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!

Usagi Electric (David)1:08 PM
Jason, I get that all the time. Between distractability and feature creep, it's a miracle I ever actually build anything

Jason Cho1:08 PM
HAHA!!! good one

Nicolas Tremblay1:08 PM
Besides kicking yourself and doing it? Never figured that one

Jon1:09 PM
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.

Jason Cho1:09 PM
"kicking yourself and doing it" sounds better than no strategy indeed

Audi McAvoy1:09 PM
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

Jon1:10 PM
I know simplicity is the hallmark of a beautiful design, but sometimes the problem is very complex

Usagi Electric (David)1:11 PM
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