Recently, my Dad backed the Printrbot Kickstarter. Our printer has arrived, and it is amazing to play with. I had seen a few 3D printers, and I knew them to be very cool, but I did not quite get it. This is ironic since I had actually made money from 3D printing with this Tesla Valve. Even though I benefited from a 3D printing service, I still did not understand the allure of having your own 3D printer. NOW I DO.

We’re at this point with 3D printers equivalent to the mini-computer kit period. There is something amazing to assembling your own machine and struggling with all of its idiosyncrasies. It is actually a disheartening and difficult experience, at the beginning. Breathing life into something is no easy task. However, when you hold your first part in your hand all memory of painful labor falls by the wayside. You become a maker.

A 3D printed Creeper from Minecraft, sitting on the Printrbot

This guy is from Minecraft. My cousin found him. Here’s the page, if you want to print him out. This is a good example of the cosmetic side of 3D printing. If you want to print out toys and familiar things, there are plenty of models out there. They don’t really do anything, but look neat.

A first pass at a clip to hold my safety belt buckle

A while ago, my belt buckle in my car broke. A piece of plastic, that prevented the buckle from sliding all the way down the belt, cracked and fell off. Now my buckle slides down beside my seat. And each time I drive, I have to reach down and get it. This is mighty annoying, but it has never been bothersome enough to go to a junkyard to try and find replacement plastic.

One of the first clips. Blobbling ruined this one. It was too thin.

3D printing changes the way your mind works, by altering the space of possibility. Now I knew I could make a better buckle clip. I could just print one out. I designed one up in my CAD program, and started printing out copies. The first one was not that great. It didn’t have enough clearance, and it suffered from some blobbiness on one end. I had to cull some plastic with a hobby knife. I knew I could do better.

A working clip. Thickened and with better tolerances.

I improved the clip and tried again. This time the results were excellent. It was my first practical model. It is a small thing to make, but not a small thing to improve one’s life.

3D printed clip successfully holding up buckle

I think 3D printing will have a bright future. In that regard, I’m thinking of starting a space in the South Bay where people can commune over 3D printing, as well as a shop to sell 3D printer parts and supplies. If anyone is interested, email me at primevector at gmail dot com. I can sure use the help.

Elliot ran through the garden of his parent’s home, thrummers flying through the air above him. There was always some air traffic, so quiet you forgot it was there. When he heard a thrummer land in the front yard he knew his Companion had arrived.

Elliot was turning ten today. The Commision thrummer opened its doors like a flower blossom, and out stepped two men. One of them was dressed in the blue of the Commision. The other was dressed in normal clothing. A black tunic with white shoes. The man moved similarly to Elliot.

The boy stopped at the side of the house, and watched as his mother walked out of the front door to welcome the men inside. They followed after her. The black tunic man in the rear, turned to Elliot’s hiding spot on the end of the house and smiled. Elliot smiled back. It was a disturbing connection.

Elliot ran to the back of the house and looked through the kitchen window. The three adults sat for tea. Conversation was polite and boring. Elliot didn’t dare come into the house. The Companion was too scary to him. A person almost exactly like him. How did the computers know the black tunic man was like Elliot. What if they were wrong.

He slammed through the back door, rushed past the adults, and into his bedroom. His mother shouted after him, appalled at his impoliteness. The Companion turned to the flustered woman and whispered something into her ear. It did the trick somehow. She sat and offered the Commision Agent another cup of tea.

The Companion slowly walked up the stairs to Elliot’s room. He remembered when he was ten, how he was so similarly scared. Yet so filled with excitement. Unable to convert his energies as he wished.

Elliot leaned against his door, hearing the footsteps of the man. A gate similar to his, yet magnified in amplitude. The companion knocked, and Elliot muttered something back.

The man was very patient, he said, “Your parents have told you all about the Companion Program.”

No answer.

“Did they tell you how we died,” the companion asked.
“No,” Elliot chirped, transformed out of his consternation by the man’s question.

The man said, “My name is Elom. And people like you and I were alcoholics until the Program started.”

“What’s an alcoholic,” asked Elliot.

Elom offered to tell, if the boy would accompany him to the backyard. Elom lived in a drought ravaged zone. He had to sit in that verdant garden.

Elliot’s mother was delighted Elom extracted Elliot from his room. She went to fuss about the kitchen, but another word from Elom caused her to calm once again. Elliot saw how Elom did it, and he marked it down in his mind. It was much better than the fights he would normally have with his parents. He began to understand the importance of his Companion.

Elliot watched the Companion put his feet in the pond.

“You said you would tell me what an alcoholic is,” Elliot queried, “Is it someone who makes wine?”

Elom explained, “It is someone who is dangerously addicted to alcoholic drinks like wine. People used to die of drinking too much of those drinks. Now it is very very rare.”

Elliot’s mother Juda did not have the opportunity to be Companioned. She and the Commision Agent watched Elliot and Elom through the window. If the twosome’s motions were eerily similar beforehand, they were now even worse. As they talked, each loosened up, and their gesture’s synchronized.

As a refugee from a drought zone, Juda was born and raised without Companion assistance. She didn’t know what it was like to have a person who was exactly like you in every important behavior. She had doubted algorithms and personality tests could find someone that is a perfect match behaviorally for her son. If Juda had known more about computers she would know the match was not actually perfect. Yet there the two were, sitting in the backyard in total harmony.

They threw rocks into the pond in a temporary silence. Elliot contemplated what Elom had said. In twelve years, if he was similar to the average for the person he was, he would have found alcohol to be incredibly interesting, or some other dangerous drug. It would have eventually wrecked his life and killed him. Yet, Elom said alcohol and a great many other things posed no risk to him if Elliot continued with the Companion Program.
Elom didn’t have any children yet. He wondered now if the rapport he had with Elliot would damage his relationship with his future children. It was not quite like having a child. Elliot and Elom were exactly twenty years apart. In many ways the relationship was a mixture of child and brother.

The Commission Agent tapped on the glass door and called out to the two. It was time for Elom to go. Optimal first visits of a Companion were roughly forty five minutes long. The Companions would be able to write each other whenever they wished, but physio-virtual contact would be limited until Elliot was twenty. Otherwise, the relationship would become damaging.

Elliot waved to Elom as the thrummer petals closed, and the pod lifted into the air. Elom could see the boy’s face change into something more optimistic. Into something less obsessed. He remembered how he felt when he met his own Companion, so long ago. Saved.

Story Meditation, Good Posture

September 18, 2011

The theme of this story is, “I have good posture.”

A traveler and and old man of the village conversed. The traveler asked the old man why he called himself Father Ramrod, while he was a slouchy and frail person. The old man replied that it was the name he and the villagers had always used. The traveler told the man that to his face the villagers used the name Father Ramrod, but when he was not around, they called him Father Slouchy. The old man was shocked and laughed a great deal at this duplicity.

The next time the old man was in the village, he told the villagers to call him Father Slouchy. The villagers grew visibly ashamed. However, he did not call them out on their mockery, and they agreed to call him Father Slouchy. Then behind his back, they began calling him Father Ramrod. The next time they saw him, he was standing perfectly straight and moving about like a younger man. They insisted on calling him Father Ramrod and they continued to do so while he was not there.

I’ve been thinking a lot about resilient communities, societies where people prosper in good times and bad times.

One thing that is considered in discussions of such enclaves is the Dunbar Number, where a group of primates peaks at some specific population size before breaking into another group. For humans, that number is often described as about 150 people.

I was thinking, “If I started a resilient community of some sort, where I wanted to gather a group of people to survive and prosper together, who would I pick?” Having democratic sensibilities, I didn’t think I would pick all 150 people. And I didn’t think about required skills either. I mainly thought about who would I really like to be around me.

I have a few friends who have lived in communal homes, where a large house is rented and people sign up for rooms. It is kind of like a dormitory at a college, but with people that you are previously socially connected to. Turnover is interesting to watch. And disputes are also very interesting. A necessary requirement is usually that an external housekeeper be hired from time to time, or sanitation breaks down. Communal houses that don’t have this rule get dirty quick. These are the closest social constructs I have for imagining a Resilient Community.

After picking friends and family, I thought, “No one would live in my community unless they could pick people as well.” So I searched for the number of people that I could pick, where the people I picked could also pick that same amount of people, and still remain at Dunbar’s 150 optimal community size.

The formula for picking a community comes out to:

(y * y) + y = approx. 150.

So if you pick 12 people. And they pick 12, you get:

(12 * 12) + 12 = 156

Or for 11

(11 * 11) + 11 = 123

So you end up being a little over or under a Dunbar no. of 150. In reality, a group taken from an initially chosen seed of people would have some overlap, so a larger number might be able to be used.

Who would you put in your community? Who is already in your current community, whether virtual or physical? Snacks for thought.

For context: Story Meditation is a meditation I created where a person sits and creates a story (a personal myth) based on a theme, where the theme is anything a person wishes to deal with. And then the person interprets this story in relation to themselves and the theme. I use it to solve emotional, intellectual, and physical problems.

Here was my learning problem that I solved with a story. For a long time I strove to cope with understanding in an almost purely intuitive sense. I avoided many quantitative tools for understanding. This was a compulsive behavior. I would look at the summaries of the concepts, and avoid the formulas compulsively. My brain would do a sort of switching off, and become exceedingly avoidant. My intuitive faculties became hyper-tuned, an I would often surprise people with understanding that they expected necessitated quantitative tools. But I also held myself back because I wasn’t developing other tools for learning. I was suspending my ability to observe the beauty of mathematical relationships. A mix of exceedingly bad teachers, the limitations of institutional teaching, and myself had put me in this situation.

For the past six months, I have been working on a new type of jet engine of my own invention. I have made incredible leaps and just this morning I hit a milestone that makes me certain I will soon have a self-sustaining engine. Simultaneously, my intellectual development in regard to jet engines has run in parallel. I know I finally have to get into the math of things. Nato Saichek loaned me a book called Aerodynamics for Engineers, and I started to read it. I realized I needed a story to reorganize my approach to learning.

Here is the story I imagined, based on the theme Understanding the Book Aerodynamics for Engineers.

A man wrote a formula on a chalkboard. It was a new equation of his own invention. He looked at it and was amazed. He ran home and told his life partner about it and she took it in stride. She was already aware of his genius, even before there was ‘proof.’ The next day, the man returned to his equation with worries he had accumulated in the night. He checked it against empirical data again. It seemed to work out just like yesterday. Suddenly, he was suffused with a euphoric glow and the certain knowledge that his equation was correct. He showed it to his colleagues and they marveled at its simplicity. They knew this was momentous. He showed it to his most liked student and his student said, now they could take out a quarter of the aerodynamics book. They hugged at the wonder of it all. The student was pridefully aware of his affiliation with human discovery. Sometime later, the man accepted an award for his scientific development. He glowed with pride and gave an inspiring speech about the necessity of the cultivation of virtue in all endeavors, even those that do not appear to necessitate it.

Though this story is very short and simple, it moved me deeply. I found myself reading the textbook with an entirely different sensibility. And when I felt myself not understanding and falling back on lousy behaviors that restrained my intellect, I was able to overcome them by remembering the story. In the story, I am the professor, the partner, the student, the colleagues. I am standing on a podium, and writing on a chalkboard. And each of those components of the story remind me that I can learn from the text I am endeavoring to understand. Not just concepts, but the exact way of speaking that the math describes.

When I learn, it has always been in the context of creating revolutionary new artifacts. When I used to learn math, I never brought that sense of myself to the learning experience. Now that I understand the story I wrote, the way I learn math and physics has changed. It is a simple thing.

I recently started a company called Limitless Industries, and these are the attributes I think will help make it a success. I put them here because a friend asked me if I had a list, and because I thought they might be useful to you, the reader.

Have performance reviews not only for employees, but also for managers, and have these affect whether you keep your job. This is important because many companies have an asymmetry between employees and their managers when it comes to reviewing performance. Traditionally, information and advice come from managers in the form of a performance review, but they don’t usually go from employee to boss. Performance reviews in each direction, with the weight of reward and firing are essential for effective information flow. People should be able to fire their bosses, as well as be fired by their bosses because that creates an impetus for each of them to take feedback seriously. It also eliminates the moral hit that comes with tyrannical bosses because employees have a mechanism to curb tyranny and incompetence.

Another trick is all decisions should come with their reasons. The reason for this is context allows a worker to adapt to changing conditions and to widen the domain space for making decisions. Here is a military example I took from this excellent video series by Paul Van Riper (audio does not match video), his interesting work appeared in the Malcolm Gladwell book, Blink.

The story he illustrates later in this series is that of giving a command for a group of soldiers to take a hill. The group may take the hill, but totally avoid stopping military forces that have changed their mind and gone around the hill. Devoid of context, the soldiers remain on the hill and don’t stop the enemy, but if they are given the command: take that hill because you need to stop enemy forces from moving through the valley, now they have reason to get off the hill and attack the enemy. Their wider context increased their adaptability. Meaning removes simple mechanistic behavior and replaces it with dynamic and hopefully effective autonomy.

Another is a democratic work environment. Peter Drucker constantly said that modern workers are the best judges of their needs, and managers who now are often less informed then their teams, have to become facilitators. Autocracy is prone to myopia. Democracy better suits peoples needs because employees are central factors in the definition and administration of their needs and solutions. Better-matched resources and needs result in better company health (financial and social).

Another great trick is arbitration by experiment. This is where hard and debated paths, are solved by creating an experiment between conflicting parties. The experiment clarifies the argument-space and opens up new possibilities for the company, and better understanding for all parties. I have done this unconsciously in the past, but now that it is an explicit thing in my mind, I want it to be something that I institutionalize (that is, if this particular experiment in experimenting works.)

A trick that takes advantage of new viewpoints is to interview already hired new employees to find flaws and good things about the company. New employees have an objective eye when they arrive. They aren’t yet bogged down by working. When they get to work, find out what they observe. Do they notice the company has a fear of marketing itself? Do they think the CEO shouts too much? Is something about the team’s engineering methods weak? New eyes can offer new viewpoints if interviewed within a context of safety and trust.

Having a workplace filled with virtue is something important to me. I have experienced workplaces bogged down in day-to-day operations. It’s hard to get your head above the water because swimming looks so important. Still, I find this all so absolutely necessary to start thinking about from day one. If you are not taking steps to control the long term health of your company, you may still be successful, but you won’t be the roaring success you could have been. I will make my company a success. To me that means happy employees, profit, and a positive social impact.

It strikes me how words are so important in the assurance of message delivery. We are all different, with different suffering, love, and achievement. Levels of maturity cross the range of human experience. Life makes us all unique islands, united by incredible bridges of common hardship and striving. So a word to one person travels differently in the mind in other person.

If I ask you, can you work on something with constant diligence, that the work itself will energize and drive you, you may not be able to answer because I used the incorrect words. Perhaps I should have used the word love? Can you love this with all you heart, that you will connect intimately with this something on a enduring basis? Were those the write words? In the first, there was an appeal to diligence, in the second, love. What about bravery, oft confused with immature fearlessness and imprudence. Can you be terrified and persist?

What are the words you need to be you in your maximum capacity? That every calorie you consume, develops into that uniqueness that is you. If you’re just like everyone else you’ve achieved nothing. I refuse to be a copy. Teamwork, society, civilization, governance, music, sex, engineering, and conversations can happen with the unique you, strongly expressed and loving every minute of it. It’s okay to be great. I wish you knew me more, so you could hear me when I say, “I strongly recommend being great.” Terrifying to many, I know you can handle it.