Maker Journey - Lifelong Curiousity
My Maker Journey is similar to many others. I have always been creative in one way or another. I have always been curious. As long as I can remember I have wanted to understand how and why things work. This definitely was influenced by my father. He never finished high school, but he became a computer analyst by always learning. Of course, as he was growing up, his family was not wealthy so they always had to solve problems with whatever resources they had available. He learned electronics back in the day of vacuum tubes through a correspondence course, the closest thing to a YouTube education you could get then. From there he learned how to fix televisions and radios and we always had a collection of TVs rescued from the roadside.
So I learned a very little about electronics, enough to solder, and understand the basics of how things work. I learned a bunch more about computer hardware, and computer programming by being involved in the early days of personal computers from Radio Shack models, through the first IBM PCs and PC clones. We would go the the local computer fair and buy various discounted parts and put together machines, so I was never afraid to break something to try some new software.
We always had to fix things around our older house, and take care of our used cars. I learned how to do basic, and some more complicated repairs around the house and to take care of cars in a way. I was interested in all of these things for a while, but eventually when I could afford a better car, I would let a professional take care of the job, even if I knew how to do it. I didn’t have a great set of tools or a garage to work in. As you get older, you realize it is not that fun changing brakes in the middle of winter in Upstate New York.
Besides all of this, I was also interested in art and drawing, and music. After I got a part time job as a teenager I, of course, bought an electric guitar. I spent a long time learning a little about it, and I can still sort of play the guitar, and music is an important part of my life. Our school district had (and still has) basic shop classes in 7th and 8th grade. They teach basic wood and metal. This is where I learned about the band saw, and it is still my favorite tool in the shop.
After high school and community college, where I did not pursue anything I was actually interested in, I got a bunch of disappointing jobs.
Along the way I decided to go back to school at night for graphic design. This was a great experience, and I learned a lot. Since I had all the general education requirements transferred from my previous college, I only had to take the art classes. Here I discovered I loved printmaking. Unfortunately, when I finished school, there was not a great demand for entry level graphic designers in my area, and I was not prepared to move to a new city to start a new career.
Eventually I found a job where I could solve problems using the computer. I hadn’t ever explored becoming a professional programmer, but I understood how to figure things out. I was never afraid to try something, and to keep trying, and improving until I had learned how it worked. I built some databases for work, even though they had an I.T. department. I.T. was not interested in solving these smaller problems so I was able to do it myself. After a few years the opportunity for advancement was unlikely and I moved to a slightly better paying position, still in a boring place.
At this next job, it was 1999 and they were trying to migrate their datbaase from the 1980s to something Y2K compatible. They hired a consulting firm for around $100,000. They sent an unqualified, but extremely nice person to do this work in Microsoft Access. He did not understand how to program and built a system that did not work. While he was there I borrowed the reference book he had and read through it to learn Visual Basic. I spent the next year fixing it and learned MS Access and Visual Basic are no fun to work with. While I was there, I was able to use my graphic design skills to work on their newsletter. Having a wide range of interests and skills always comes in handy.
At the same time, my wife and I had a side business selling CDR drives and blank CDRs at computer fairs. This was not super successful. While doing this I decided to learn how to build a web site. This was a big change in my life. I became involved in the Open Source software community. This was the start of learning about online communities. As it happens I stumbled into the online community that built software for online communities. In fact one of the first open source projects to support building online communities.
So while I was learning about Linux, the world wide web, and online communities as a hobby, I was building a MS Access application in my day job. Luckily one day, my contributions to the open source software got the attention of some folks, and I got a job writing open source software. This lead to a couple of more side jobs, and a part time job consulting. After a couple of years this turned into a full time consulting job and I was self-employed.
This lasted for 10 years until eventually, the owner of the computer I consulted for decided it was time to move on, and the economy was not supporting these type of small companies. I still do part-time consulting for some of the same customers, even today. I got another part-time job and that’s when I am today. Working two or more jobs, with at least some control over my schedule still. Being self-employed is hard work, but being in some control of your work is cool.
The open source software community has overlap with the computer enthusiast/builder community, and the hobby electronics community. O’Reilly Media noticed this and created Make Magazine to go along with their more work-related programming books. I subscribed from the start and discovered people who also had great curiosity and desire to solve problems. Computer programming is solving problems. Troubleshooting hardware and software is problem solving. Graphic design and engineering are problem solving. There is a common theme.
I read all the magazine and thought they were cool, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to make or what problems I wanted to solve. This was also around the time of Mythbusters popularity. One fateful day, I was watching YouTube and a Make Magazine video of a drawknife restoration was suggested. I watched this and that was be beginning of it all. Of course the restorer was Jimmy Diresta. After the drawknife, I clicked on a video of Jimmy making an aluminum hatchet. He carved the handle on a band saw. This was the most amazing and wonderful thing I have ever seen. At the time my friend was collecting and restoring axes, and making knifes in his shed so this type of content was perfect!
Soon I learned about other YouTube makers, found the maker podcasts and spent my time looking for used tools on Craigslist.
I learned that there was a community of makers who liked making videos and sharing what they know. This is the most encouraging, and supportive online community I have ever encountered. I even though I might make some videos. My favorite is probably the No Lathe Pen Challenge video I made by encasing a chili pepper in epoxy, drilling a hole in it, and adding the guts of a ball point pen. Fun and useless.
These days, with limited time to build new things in the workshop, I mostly post photography and sketches on Instragram. With the constant inspiration from fellow artists and makers in the community keep me motivated to keep learning, and I know when I have time, I’ll be back in the workshop.