A big thanks go out to everyone who encouraged me to document the creation of the Etherwiki — our in-house combination of Etherpad-lite and Dokuwiki! I wrote up a quick how-to tonight. Please send comments if anything needs fixing:
This may be a low-brow metaphor, but the more I think about it, the more I feel that the way one uses one’s time is like getting a tattoo: The effects are completely indelible; also they tend to reflect who you’ve been spending your time with.
Your choices about time spent also stick with you and affect all the future versions of you in turn, and you wear them forever, no turning back — because you can’t escape time. Every little thing — the music you listened to, what you ate — adds a little detail to the mark. Nothing is irrelevant.
I find I really like the imperative consideration I feel when I ask — What kind of tattoo did I get from my day? If today were marked on my skin, what would it look like? Am I happy with it?
(Note: I currently have no physical tattoos nor current inclinations to get any, so it may be that I overestimate the weight and gravity of such a choice, and it’s possible that I think it’s more serious a decision than it actually would be for someone who does go on to get one. Or maybe it’s just as serious as I imagine. I don’t really know.)
Some of my favorite poetry on this subject follows after the jump..
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
- from Flander’s Fields by John McCrae
‘Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and DaysWhere Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays.
The Ball no Question makes of Ayes and Noes,
But Right or Left, as strikes the Player goes;
And he that toss’d Thee down into the Field,
He knows about it all — He knows — HE knows!
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
For let Philosopher and Doctor preach
Of what they will, and what they will not — each
Is but one Link in an eternal Chain
That none can slip, nor break, nor over-reach.
And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop’t we live and die,
Lift not thy hands to it for help — for It
Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.
While in Shenzhen, I’ve seen some cool human-powered manufacturing processes that I wouldn’t otherwise have stumbled across. These are short youtube videos of some interesting and noteworthy new insight on how stuff gets made:
This is how rhinestone appliqués get made — if you’ve ever seen a bag, tshirt, or hoodie with shiny plastic gemstones on it, it probably started like this. Later someone will press the sheet onto some fabric with a heat sealer, and bam! it’s bedazzled. What’s noteworthy about this is the tool he’s using, which looks like a sponge covered in corduroy — I think the shape of the grooves somehow corrals the rhinestones so that they’re always the same-way-down. Everyone at the fabric market on the whole floor of rhinestone appliqué makers was using something similar.
We bought some grocery store knives and they were super dull. Fortunately, there’s a local knife sharpener on every block. This guy was particularly awesome. I’d say he was in his seventies or eighties, and smiled a bright smile while he was talking to us. He had this cool rig — a hand-cranked knife sharpening grinding wheel built into a bench that he could heft on his own. We met him in the park but came back later, to his house (where he usually does business) and filmed this.
This is me getting my boots repaired. In addition to a local knife sharpener, there’s a cobbler on nearly every block. The waterproof military surplus leather boots I picked up in Seattle had started to develop a hole, so I brought them to this guy who had them fixed up in a jiffy. Check out the awesome hand-cranked cast iron sewing machine he uses!
Another shot of the machine. This thing is probably as efficient as it can get, and you could set it up just anywhere.
Finally the finishing steps of boot repair — wire-like thread used to sew the new leather patch down. He first cut a slit in the sole for the stitches to hug deep into, without getting exposed to the pavement I now walk on, then went to town with the awl.
One of my favorite things about Canidu is that we’re a highly nimble multinational team, and much of what we’ve been able to accomplish so far while working from, at one time, up to three different countries (that was Hong Kong, the US, and Taiwan) — would be totally impossible without the internet.
We have a few internal tools that enable us to do this. One of the first things I did to enable us to work together was build up this hybrid wiki-etherpad tool, example screenshot shown below:
Why would we build our own collaboration tools? Google Docs is blocked in China, one of the places we work from, and while we do have our own fancy VPN workaround that would let us access that part of the internet if we wanted to, it’s frequently prohibitively slow. So we wanted an alternative, something like etherpad, or a wiki, for writing documents.
Wikis have some major downsides — they’re slow to navigate through, you have to go through at least two refreshes in any given edit-modify-update cycle, you have problems if two people are trying to edit the same page, and other endless hassles. And the problem with Etherpad is that you end up with a pile of links and it’s hard to keep track of all the different pages you’re managing.
But, etherpad really rocks for group editing, and a wiki is actually totally great as an index for keeping track of and organizing etherpad pages.
So I installed DokuWiki and Etherpad-Lite on our server (A note on etherpad: don’t install the non-lite version, it’s awful and difficult and bloated), and merged them with a little iframe-tesseract as shown above.
Now you click on the name of a document on the left, and it loads on the right. You can switch between documents and add data all over the place without ever hitting “save”, because etherpad saves everything you type, automatically. It’s fast. I can edit documents with Jason or Hendrick from across the room, or across the world.
As a side note, the example doesn’t show very many links, because I curated what we would publicly show here. But I visit this page easily a hundred times a day to add little notes and updates. I edit it from the couch, and from my phone while I’m on the subway. We refer to it constantly, and it’s become a core productivity tool for us at Canidu.
So in the hope that sharing the idea is useful, that is how we do.
Our mission is to build a play set for learning about electronics, with a radical new design to make electronics easier to learn about and accessible for anyone, even as young as 6 years old.
I’ve been interested in making this a reality for some time now, and I’m glad that the right time and people have to come together to make it possible. Sign up on our website if you’d like to keep informed of our developments!
If you’ve talked about going to China, you’ve talked about the Great Firewall. I talk and think about it so often — every day when I need to connect to the internet — that I can’t even remember how much of the cultural consciousness it occupies in the US. But I remember wondering what it was like to be behind it.
If you’re in the US, you’ll hear something about all these different familiar websites that are blocked — twitter, youtube, facebook, google docs.. as an American, you think you would be outraged. But what you don’t hear, is that unless you’re an expat, nobody on the ground even notices the “missing” services.
Think about that. Think for a minute about several billion people for whom Google Maps is just not a thing. (According to Peter Hessler’s “Country Driving”, maps themselves never really were). A nation who have never seen the Double Rainbow video. None of the cute cat videos you’ve come to know and love. For whom the facebook IPO meant pretty much nothing.
Another fascinating side-effect of this, is the flourishing of Chinese websites which do exactly the same thing as popular US websites:
http://demohour.com is the successful kickstarter clone you’ve never heard of (look at it!). Weibo (== twitter). Youku (== youtube). QQ (== we don’t have an analogue, but maybe like gmail without any limits and no encryption — where gigabytes of product CAD or copies of SolidWorks get slung). Renren (== facebook). Taobao (== eBay but same-day or next-day delivery, and mostly sourcing from manufacturers).
There’s a whole other internet out here.
Well and how do you get by in China? Every traveler I’ve met has either a VPN subscription, runs their own VPN service, or uses an SSH tunnel SOCKS proxy. If you visit, come equipped with at least one. And there’s the onion router, which China works to actively keep from working locally. Expect horrible connectivity everywhere you go — even if you have a good line, connections out of the country are usually throttled in addition to being subject to transpacific lag, which serves to make the .cn equivalent seem that much more utile, and the US version seem sluggish.
How much fun is this stuff to care about? Like this:
I’m sure Whitman meant a different East, but it seemed appropriate anyway while I read this today in Taipei.
A PROMISE to California,
Also to the great Pastoral Plains, and for Oregon:
Sojourning east a while longer, soon I travel toward you, to remain,
to teach robust American love;
For I know very well that I and robust love belong among you, inland,
and along the Western Sea;
For These States tend inland, and toward the Western Sea–and I will also.
Last October I left California for China, of which I knew basically nothing at the time, to start a project with a good friend. There are three of us now, and we’ve been working really hard. I’m looking forward to announcing more about that here soon.
I still consider San Francisco my home, but China has its draws and we have our reasons for being here, which we will be until at least mid-June. I am looking forward to my next return to the States.
taken somewhere over the Pacific, flying Shanghai to San Francisco
Welcome to the world of Whitelabel goods. What’s that, you ask? Well, have you ever noticed how every hip California startup has a branded steel water bottle, without having had to go design a steel water bottle and figure out how to get someone to produce it, someone to supply the steel, someone to check the quality (and on and on)?
That’s because someone else has figured all of that stuff out, leaving only the selection of What Particular Things for the carrier or distributor – or whomever is going to slap a brand on and resell it.
I got to tour a whitelabel gallery (can’t say when, can’t say where) while out and about in China, and it’s positively creepy. Everything is incredibly.. familiar. And thus you realize that everything you’ve known and loved that formed the background and setting of your life was made in one place, waited here for someone to strike a deal and order in volume, then sent to the four corners of the earth for you to keep in your home. It’s also doubly disturbing to not find a brand anywhere — and to realize you are reflexively looking for them. Here’s a short video:
Continuing the series! Today we examine sartorial and electronic China —
China is a giant skunkworks for a variety of industries. Basically every corner has several independent clothing makers, so there’s a lot of competition and a lot of innovation.
This cape-coat is one of my favorites:
Truly, good for alllllll occasions.
This dress was highly fascinating to me, because it could have been made on a laser cutter. I generally like expressions of high technology in clothing, and that usually only happens near where the machines are, where people know the language of industry. Anyway, I’m a fan of this dress.
as well as this coat. Zipperless/fastener-less women’s clothing seemed to be just the thing this winter in Shanghai.
Though, never fear! If you like zippers, there are all manner of zippers to be had. This happens to be the biggest zipper I have ever seen. My bike handlebar is about half a meter away from the display wall, for scale. Next stop is making the parts out of carbon fiber so it doesn’t weight a pound per foot. (seen in Guangzhou near the textiles markets — in what seemed to be a fasteners and rope weaving subdistrict).
Later in Shanghai I considered impulse-buying some bearings. Wasn’t sure I had room in my luggage. Found my bearings anyway, and I could find ‘em again in case anyone else is looking.
Back in Guangzhou — this is a shot from one of the many shops at the medical devices/lab equipment markets, in another part of town. Again, the scale of what’s available for purchase today is impressive, even if it’s not necessarily clean glassware. This is the hallmark of thriving industry in a country where practically nobody buys anything online.
And finally, a shot of arcade and video game buttons from one of my favorite dealers at the Shanghai electronics markets. She cuts a good deal on a nice tactile switch. Such an enjoyable experience while prototyping.
Just spent the last 3 months traveling in the People’s Republic of China, which was a fascinating break after the last more or less 4 years in the People’s Republik of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Some of my friends have asked me in person “What’s China like?” Those people, I just feed a few Szichuan peppercorns that I keep stashed on hand for the purpose. It’s really the most compact form of the experience I can give (a single molecule!).
But over here on the internet, we are spared such luxuries. So instead, I bring you photos. There will be a few main themes to this pictures in this post and the next few: 1) bicycles, especially the ones that make an argument against ever owning an SUV 2) copycat electronics 3) sartorial China 4) things I saw made on the streets, hacks, and general way-of-living DIY tricks I observed.
This is the my favorite example of the load-carrying capacity of a standard bicycle — I don’t think I know many people who own cars that could fit this volume of cargo.
This is a bicycle carrying live fish. Yeah.
This image — an ad for some bank – was the first that greeted me off the plane in Hong Kong. I feel like it belongs in some deeper survey of sociological images.
Anyway, it’s the first time I’d seen “Made in China” sloganized in a positive light, and really captures the sense of power through manufacturing that you feel in that region of south China. Which is only slightly weird given that Hong Kong is mostly a banking center. Sorry to Paris.
Hey, it’s a MacBook Air! Except — no it isn’t.
Look, it has Windows keys! Wow! Seen in Little Africa, Guangzhou.
The same vendor also had these cool “iFones” on hand. The skin job is really convincing, but don’t be fooled — it’s just Android.
Shown here in Arabic, but was demonstrated in English as well. It would have been a lot cooler if (any of) the apps had run without crashing.