houses (by dmuren)

In the lead-up to the last presidential election in the United States, Tom Brokaw asked Thomas Friedman about what it would take to make real green energy a reality in the united states.

Specifically, Brokaw asked whether we need a "manhattan project, or 100,000 garages", referring to the way the problem might be approached. Well, almost a year later, other problems, like the credit crisis have distracted most governments from the problem of enabling small-scale producers. But that hasn't stopped the folks at Shopbot Tools from launching their 100KGarages Network. Basically, it's very much like Ponoko, or other maker middlemen, except that they connect shops arbitrarily -- you don't have to have specific materials, or tools to participate. The best part about it, though, is that it encourages unusual types of making. If you have a knitting machine, or a Makerbot, or experience using PCR to make custom gene sequences, then you need to get yourself on this D-base asap. Not only will it encourage creative interpretation of what it means to be a fabricator, but it might also open up the way for more creative assemblies of stuff, which is a big part of ensuring that Humblefacture grows flexible.

All this talk about fabricator tools has got me fired up about exploring some fabrication of my own, potentially using a Makerbot, or a send-away service like Shapeways. Though these aren't close to fully humble methods of making, they are useful steps to master on the path to a true humblefactory. As free cad packages go, Google's Sketchup is pretty great. You have decent control over meshes, and you can easily edit dimensional information. However, the limitations of the free version don't allow export to any format but Google Earth's proprietary .KMZ format, which can't be used by 3d printers, or imported by Blender for conversion. Previous recommendations of users involved using the 30 day trial of the "Pro" sketchup, which can export various formats. Amazingly, though, this extra step isn't necessary, because .kmz is just a renamed .zip archive! That's right -- renaming the extension and opening in a Zip extractor will yeild a .dae file, which can be imported by Blender using an included import script. Check out a more in-depth tutorial here. This is a huge boon for modelers looking to share files on Thingiverse, or to looking toward making their first open, humblefactured objects.

farmer_field_humblefacture (by dmuren)
There is a persistent dream (or self delusion) among eco-minded product designers that somehow, manufacturing before the industrial revolution was "better"; Cottage industry was safer, or cleaner, or fairer, or used fewer resources -- or all of the above. Often, this ideal is backed up with anecdotes of textile mills replacing home-spinners, or IKEA replacing cabinet makers. Certainly, these stories of machinery displacing or invalidating jobs (The British still use the mechanistic term "made redundant" to describe layoffs) are true -- but does this mean that a socially sustainable future must involve some return to pre-agricultural cave dwelling? Of course not. But charting a path to such a future requires a re-examination of the human difference between a tool and a machine.

humblefacture_collumn (by dmuren)
It's all well and good to say that making is speech. It is something else entirely to work toward truly "free" making -- a goal made more difficult by the fact that the primary "oppressors" of freedom of making are systemic and economic, rather than individual or governmental. Simply making a law, like we did for speech, won't work. Instead, we need to identify new methods and research directions which will lower the systemic barriers of entry to making. I believe that three primary directions exist for this exploration.