Mass Geek

Easy access to detailed information and pro-quality tools means nearly anyone can become expert in nearly anything. The future belongs to these Mass Geeks: global communities joined by obsessive interest, demanding highly tailored experiences.

Last Updated July 21, 2014

A Boy’s Map

All open source and user-generated services have their limits, typically a function of the size of the group collaborating. Not always, though. Boundless, an open source mapping software that relies on its users to fill in business and point of interest locations, illustrates a peculiar case. Boundless’s OpenStreetMap has been developed with the help of a huge base, but the users are overwhelmingly young men. That meant an overabundance of strip clubs and take-out food locations, and no day care centers. Geospatial representations notwithstanding, other gender biases will surely come to light as women around the world continue their embrace of technology.

Fastco has the story.

Clone It Yourself

Access to cutting-edge technology has always been a limiting factor for institutionally-based scientists; for startup businesses and hobbyists, experimenting with world-class equipment was simply an impossibility. Silicon Valley-based Transcriptic is set to change that, offering genotyping, cloning and biobanking for hire at its fully automated robotic laboratory. The online lab means geography is no obstacle, and because equipment runs 24 hours a day, prices are low: a simple cloning experiment costs roughly the same as dinner and a movie. CEO Max Hodak says “Transcriptic frees up researchers to focus on the creative aspects of scientific discovery that drive important medical advances and make critical discoveries possible.”

Re/code has more.

Making China

China is undergoing a maker movement of its own, and things are different there: XinCheJian (New Factory) founder David Li says “...we’re closer to the supply chain,” and “[e]veryone knows someone who works in manufacturing.” That means ramping up from hobbyist to small business owner is faster and easier than anyplace else. This opens the possibility of more Chinese design for China, and everywhere else: the size of China’s population and its unmatched large-scale fabrication and logistics capacities might mean as its makers go, so goes the world. Local governments are already taking note, encouraging hackerspaces and incubators, and Beijing is thus far tolerating large maker-themed gatherings.

Bloomberg Businessweek has the article.

Just a Dude and His GoPros

Startup film company Permagrin has rigged up 15 GoPro cameras into a semi-circular homemade array, and the results are impressive. Founder Marc Donahue manages Matrix-style stop-motion effects on a (comparatively) tiny budget, no green screen or wires required. This brings to mind a certain man and his GoPro and his trombone, or the young lady who slapped hers onto a hula hoop at Burning Man, and points to the endless creative capture possibilities as this technology gets ever-smaller, cheaper and more durable. Rob Walker was – as usual – well ahead of the curve on this, and wrote an illuminating essay in 2012 on why ubiquitous smartphones aren’t going to do in imaging-only devices anytime soon. GoPro, Lytro and the persistence of Polaroid all seem to suggest he’s right.

Youtube has the video.

Coding is Fundamental

Literacy is essential to our understanding of contemporary society. The language of computers is becoming equally indispensable though, and Tasneem Raja, Interactive Editor for Mother Jones, thinks coding will be the new literacy: “[u]pending our notions of what it means to interface with computers could help democratize the biggest engine of wealth since the Industrial Revolution.” This isn’t a new idea necessarily, but one whose time has come, as computing moves further and further away from its open-source, amateur-friendly roots. To paraphrase philanthropist Tatiana Schlossberg, literacy is a tool, not a privilege. Worldwide literacy didn’t reach 84% without tremendous organized effort, and the push to increase fluency in code will take more of the same. Raja cites some encouraging efforts thus far, like Black Girls Code.

Read the whole article (be forewarned, it’s a long one) at Mother Jones.

You Can Hack Our Furniture, But Not Our Name

To DIYers and itinerant designers who delight in subverting the manufactured landscape, ikeahackers.net has been both a delightful resource and a source of community. There’s always been a certain satisfaction in reshaping a LACK end table or BILLY shelf on your own for some unintended use, but knowing that thousands of others were doing the same thing, and codifying the best ways to go about it was comforting and encouraging. IKEA, unfortunately, doesn’t exactly see it that way. Citing trademark infringement, the Swedish fast furniture manufacturer has demanded the site drop any reference to IKEA from its name, and threatened legal action if refused. Ikeahackers quickly capitulated, and will shift domains shortly, but the real victory may be in the fact that a bunch of tinkerers in their garages got one of the world’s most valuable brands to even notice them at all.


FastCoDesign has the article, and ikeahackers.net is still active if you’d like to poke around.

Tools for the Thoroughly Modern Cave Man

Ah, 3D printers. Is there anything they can’t do? Or, put another way, can we resist comment on anything 3D-printed? Case in point, Nike managed to make news this morning with a duffel bag 3D-printed especially for the World Cup, and Designers Ami Drach and Dov Ganchrow have debuted a line of handles for hand axes. Before you yawn, these are no Best Made axe handles. They’re old – like, really old. Or, rather, like really old: the Man Made line actually offers custom printed, purpose-specific handles for newly made versions of Paleolithic knapped flint axes and daggers. What were disposable, all-purpose tools have become rather precious and quite specific, but the results are visually arresting and a genuinely interesting hybrid of ancient and cutting-edge (zing!) technologies.

Read more – and check out the rest of the Man Made line – at Dezeen.

Rosie the Robot Has Finally Arrived and Her Name is Jimmy

At last week’s Code/Conference, Intel announced plans to begin selling a 3D printable robot by the end of 2014. “Jimmy” is a thoroughly contemporary robot, which means he (she? it?) will be easy to make and customize using open-source code, and easy to share via social media. Everything you can’t print–motors, wires, batteries and an Edison processor, which is essentially an entire computer on a board the size of a corn chip–will run around $1,600. Think “smartphone with legs,” said Brian David Johnson, Intel’s resident Futurist. Jimmy dances! Jimmy tweets (@21crobot)! Jimmy delivers beers! Jimmy sounds like fun, in other words: “[t]he grand vision is to lower the barrier of entry to robotics,” Johnson said. Intel hopes to push the price of the kit under $1k within the next five years.

Read more at re/code, or check Jimmy out at Intel’s 21st Century Robot.

ISEE-3 for You and Me

The International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 (ISEE-3) is a space probe with an unusual array of accomplishments. Since launching in 1978, it’s been diverted twice, first to race other probes to make close observations of Halley’s Comet in 1986, and then back toward earth to monitor the solar wind. Today, a group of space enthusiasts want to put this workhorse spacecraft back into service after it was largely abandoned by NASA, but there’s a hitch: the transmitters once used to send it instructions no longer exist. Enter Kickstarter (of course), and a campaign to raise $125,000 to fund the creation of a virtual transmitter that can use modern computers and a radio telescope in Puerto Rico to bring ISEE-3 back online. NASA has officially given this “citizen scientist” project the green light, but those involved only have until mid-June to figure out the details, before ISEE-3 moves too far from Earth to be redirected.

Read the details at Wired.

Putting Online Activism Into Print

The end result of the FCC’s recent vote on Net Neutrality is still entirely up in the air, but one grassroots effort to influence it could foreshadow a powerful political tool of years to come. Alarmed by the possibility of a future where large companies pay for fast-lane web traffic, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian set up a campaign on the crowdfunding website Crowdtilt, raising $21,000 to print and post a series of pro-Neutrality posters around the FCC’s offices in Washington, DC. Politically motivated posters and street art have been around since ancient Rome, but if Ohanian’s (successfully funded) campaign is perceived to be effective, crowdfunded publicity projects could become the petition drives of the 21st century.


Read more details at The Verge, and view the original fundraising page at Crowdtilt.