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Late Notice: Contemporary Art Design and Theory Talk this afternoon.

I’ll be speaking at MSUM in Bridges 265 from 1:45-3:00PM today. I’ll be going over my artwork and the DIY Book Scanner project, framing up the whole in terms of the broader implications of modern camera technology.

Hope to see you there. Thanks for the invite, Dr. Cantieri.

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Daniel and Dário’s Third Generation Book Scanner Pre-Release.

The original book scanner plans took the grand prize in the Instructables/Epilog Grand Challenge. The grand prize was a laser cutter — and the moment I got the laser cutter I started using it to make more book scanners. In a future ostensibly full of such rapid prototyping machines, we should be able to simply “print” a book scanner from wood or plastic. This scanner design is more or less a tech demo showing it can be done.

I promised I’d release the artwork to produce one of these scanners last October, but haven’t had the time. That’s where Dário de Moura comes in. He had been working on a 3D model of the folding scanner from the photographs I’d shared. I sent him all the original artwork to work from, as well. We have been working on a GPL release of the so-called “3rd Generation” laser-cut book scanner for some months now. Dário has done the lion’s share of the work, having sorted through the mess of Corel artwork, created perfect Sketchup models and a bunch of documentation.

This is only a preview of the scanner. Do not use this artwork to produce anything just yet. Do not post it on another website just yet. We have some details to work out (file naming, proper credits, alternate formats) and we have some GPL licensing issues to work out as well. That said, as promised, you can download these files now and see the work we’ve been doing. Over the next few weeks, we will be releasing a beta of the scanner with more complete licensing information, credits, etc. It will be Free, in any case.

The Parts List (neatly shows the placement of each part)

The Manual (Describes each section/view of the scanner)

The Sketchup Artwork:

The Electronics Package:

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Subway Bombing in Moscow.

There’s been a dual suicide bombing in the center of the Moscow subway system.

Having been right outisde a market bombing in Moscow, I know how intense and deeply unsettling these things can be. Here’s hoping you are safe, here’s hoping you are well.

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Late Notice: The Why in DIY Book Scanning

Guest: Daniel Reetz, founder and steward of the DIY Book Scanner community
Where: MIT Media Lab E14-240
When: Wednesday March 24, 2010 14:00-15:30

Hope to see you there. Special thanks: Mako.

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Final Flood Photos.

I’m on the road, now — heading out of Fargo. But I wanted to share these few remaining flood photos before I go. Basically, these photos show you the lake behind my home.

hee hee

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Black Pants, Our Friends In Canada, Fundraising For You Are Not Dead On Stage.

I’m proud as punch — You Are Not Dead is being brought to the stage in Vancouver, CAN by Black Pants Theater.

I’ve been waiting for the right moment to announce this in a big way — but I’m in the middle of it, and the right moment never seems to come. The time is now — before I’m dead, duplicitous, plane-crashed or burned out.

Krista Eide just wrote a great article about the project. I hope you’ll take a moment to check it out, and possibly donate — we need a bit more cash to realize it in the best possible way.

My job right now is making the images for the play — and I suspect I’m going to be at it for the next month or more. I just can’t tell you how totally awesome this thing is gonna be. You’ll see. Wish us all luck — myself, Danielle Marleau, Meg Holle, and the actors and dramaturgs polishing and preparing this thing for the next stage.

Posted in Fake Electronics and Music, Oversight | 1 Comment

Upcoming Talk At Harvard’s Berkman Center, Hope To See You There.

I’m totally excited about my upcoming speaking engagement at Harvard’s Berkman Center. So excited, in fact, that I’m going to use the opportunity to announce the release of a few new, exciting projects from the forums here. It’s going to be an exciting talk and I can hardly wait to engage with people in Cambridge.


Tuesday, March 23, 12:30 pm
Berkman Center, 23 Everett Street, second floor
RSVP required for those attending in person (
This event will be webcast live at 12:30 pm ET and archived on our site shortly after.

The official announcement is here.

If you want to meet up, get in touch.

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DIY Book Scanner Visits St. Anne’s School.

My nephew asked me to be his show-and-tell a few weeks ago. I finally made time to visit him today. The visit was a total success. I presented the DIY Book Scanner project to kindergarteners, 4th graders, and 5th graders.

I kept the scanner in its bag, and asked the class for help unpacking it.

The response was pretty enthusiastic. 😉

Every student got to scan a page from a book. This was Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are.

The 4th graders were super-attentive. They got the idea of book freedom and scanner utility immediately. They asked great questions, including my favorite (“Have you ever made any stuff that was a mistake or didn’t work?”) — I answered, explaining that I was actually showing them the three or four successes I’ve had among hundreds of failures. They got it, immediately.

More. Look at those smiles.

The best thing was having them help handle and assemble the machine. They were totally fascinated with the laser-cut wood, understood that the camera control was something special, and were able to operate the scanner immediately.

Hands-on. The only way to show the scanner.

And Ben in front of the scanner. Thanks for inviting me, Ben. I had a great time. Can’t wait to go to Surplus with you this afternoon.

And thanks to Sarah, for having me, and for taking these pictures.

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Red River Rising.

This is probably the last day that I can update this animation, since the flood waters are now running under the giant mud iceberg I stand on to take them.

I was stopped by a cop on my way back from taking the last picture. I thought I might have been in trouble for being in a potentially prohibited area (last year, there were markers saying that the areas behind clay dikes were off-limits), but he thought I was somehow involved with some nearby incident that he wouldn’t explain to me. Whatever, cops.

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Yesterday and Today

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The Red Giveth, And The Red Beateth Your Ass.

Last year, the Red River very nearly destroyed Fargo. I covered it in an extensive series of photographs and videos. I’ll be doing the same this year, as the oncoming flood looks at least as bad.

Some advice: Don’t live here. Don’t attend school here. Don’t believe the USGS flood predictions or the national news coverage.

Near Oak Grove and next to the Red River is the site where all the snow from downtown Fargo goes. This image was taken from the top of the pile.

Last year, I searched the site and found, among other things, a bunch of money. In the resulting blog post, I said “Fargo Giveth, and Fargo Taketh Away”. This year, I searched the same site, and found a tire iron. So this year’s motto is the following: The Red Giveth, And The Red Beateth Your Ass.

The river has already outgrown its banks.

Index of last year’s posts:

Rinsing Fargo From The Map.
Pictures Containing Trees.
Fargo Flood Frolick 2009.
Signs Of Flooding In Your Area.
Shoot That Shit Skyward And We’ll Make Ads From It.
More Information, More Pictures.
Appropriate Imagery.
Snowblower Sump Pump.
Red River Flooding March 31st.
New Hardware.
Fargo: Flat, But Cold.
Big Pictures.

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Late notice; speaking at UND

Sorry for the late notice — again, personal issues — but I’m speaking at UND tomorrow, 4PM, Merrifield 300. I’m going to talk about the DIY Book Scanner project generally, some of our newest, most exciting developments, and furthermore, I hope to engage the audience in a longer discussion about the real issues — which is to say, what this all means in a long-term sense.

Though UND doesn’t have a huge online presence with respect to this series, I did find mention here and UND’s official post courtesy Rebecca Weaver-Hightower here. There’s also an announcement on Facebook, though, since I’m not on Facebook, I can’t really share it with you.

Hope to see you there, it’s going to be an exciting talk.

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Uniden BCD396XT non-standard “USB” cable and a source of connectors.

I’ve been modifying radios, scanners, and mobile phones for years. I’ve learned from experience that these industries are total bastards when it comes to connectors and pinouts. More often than not, the connector on any mobile device, including phones, is some proprietary one-off thing, even when the protocol is almost invariably serial. This goes double for scanners, communications receivers, and pagers. Hell, even GPS units have bizarro connectors. Connectors so badly designed and outrageously expensive that most people just made their own.

These are the sorts of things that are only justifiable to businessmen — Yes! make a one-of-a-kind undocumented connector, and then charge loads of money for cables and connectors, because we’re the only source! You can almost hear them laughing all the way to the bank extinction.

I recently acquired a Uniden Bearcat BCD396XT, which is a remarkable radio. The most salient feature of this radio is its ability to decode APCO25-standard broadcasts, which now comprise the majority of public service frequencies like police, fire, etc. But this radio goes a step further, allowing connection to a GPS (for “location based scanning”, a funny thing for a radio device, when radio was invented to overcome problems of distance) or to a computer for complete control. Problem is, the connector of interest is wacky.

This connector, though it kinda resembles USB connectors, does not transport a USB signal. It is a plain old serial connection. Why they chose to use this connector is beyond me. However, as a hacker, I want access to those pins. I could just open the radio and solder to the board, but it’s more elegant and flexible to find the connectors themselves. After taking some detailed photographs, and searching around a bit, I was able to find a replacement.

Detailed photographs:

Items on eBay — they can be had for about a dollar each, with shipping — a hell of a lot cheaper than the $20 asking price for the standard serial cable. The magic search words turned out to be “4 pin mini USB cable” (most are 5 pin, these 4 pin models appear on a few odd digital cameras and MP3 players).

Please note, these cables are only good for the connectors on the end. Plugging the radio into a USB port without a proper USB adapter is asking for pain.

Posted in Fake Electronics and Music, Oversight | 36 Comments

Pfaff 130 Rebuild

Last year, I had the good fortune of finding a Pfaff 130 on the curb. These machines are famous for their power and durability. By this, I mean that they are just as comfortable sewing through five layers of canvas as they are all five of your fingers. This is what it looks like — sorry for the crap-tography.

The machine hadn’t been loved or used in many years. Tonight, I took it apart completely, cleaned and lubricated everything, repaired the wiring, scuffed all contacts and the motor armature clean, and clamped, glued, and screwed the bottom of the case back together. Incredibly enough it almost worked when I finished putting it back together. The remaining problem was adjusting the tension of the upper and lower mechanisms.

What I’d never fully appreciated before was that the stitches you get from a maladjusted machine are plainly diagnostic. Just look at the image below, from the Pfaff 130 service manual (taken from the Yahoo Group linked at the bottom of this post, BTW).

If the top thread is piercing through the fabric, but not pulling the bottom thread in, the bobbin tension is too high.
If the bottom thread is piercing through the fabric, but not pulling the top thread in, the top tension is too high.
If both penetrate the fabric equally, the tension is correct. Awesome!
(also remember that these things can be conceptualized the other way — if one is never high enough tension, the other probably needs to have its tension reduced)

Once I got that done, which took almost two whole hours of adjusting and re-adjusting (but will be a cinch now that I have done it a few times), I loaded it up with a needle and thread and tried to sew some neoprene. After quite a number of frustrating attempts to sew this thin neoprene, I realized that the hold in the needle was too small for the Consew Heavy Duty nylon thread I was using. The symptom that tipped me off was the thread sort of unwinding itself at the eye of the needle. After loading the machine with a “leather” needle, which is heavier gauge and has a larger hole, I was able to sew this little N900 pouch with almost no effort or trouble.

Spending an evening refurbishing this machine reminded me, again, that I am a builder, fixer, maker, artist. Nothing soothes like keeping these idle hands busy.

It’s probably obvious that I love this machine. I’m not the only one, there’s a Yahoo Group that has manuals and some discussion, and of course, there’s always the mass of people chatting all over the web.

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DIY Book Scanner Community Progress.

The DIY Book Scanner community has been crazy-active lately. Seems like a new scanner build happens almost daily (though I’m sure it’s less than that).

First and Second builds by Alumrich.

Possum’s simple and awesome build (lots of neat ideas).

ThatTallGuy’s ENORMOUS scanner for very tall people.

Cratylus’ Beta Build (check out the incredible pipe-based sliders. This guy makes PVC look awesome!

RogerMaris has some serious out-of-the-box thinking, imagining and testing a scanner that’s designed to also hold a book up for reading. Great work.

Darryl Smith posted two builds and a build log, one from aluminum tubes — very cool.

Tulane’s Ben Varadi has essentially completed his excellent build. Documented with dozens of pictures full of awesomeness. Some truly unique ideas in there.

Can’t remember if I’ve posted Antoha-SPB’s single-camera build, but it’s inspired a lot of other builds.

The DIY Book Scanner project as a whole continues to gain academic cred — it’s been cited in several papers, shown at 26C3, and spoken about at several universities, including NYLS. Next week, I’ll be speaking at UND in Grand Forks, North Dakota (details forthcoming). March 23rd I’ll be speaking at Harvard’s Berkman Center, and user Misty De Meo just presented her work with DIY Book Scanner technology at the OLA conference. More on Misty and the projects she works on.

I am so honored to be a part of this community. It’s incredible what people have done with this basic technology.

Sorry for the silence here lately; have been dealing with some personal issues.

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DIY Book Scanner Project Featured in Fargo Forum

Amy Dalrymple put together a really nice article about the DIY Book Scanner project, appearing in today’s Fargo Forum.

Super-cool that it coincides neatly with my appearance in DC for World’s Fair Use Day.

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Moondogs of a Blue Moon on New Years.

As Tox pointed out below, our NYE celebration occurred under odd celestial circumstances: a blue moon, which created the most gorgeous winter halo and moondogs. This is his picture:

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Santa Tox Torches The Christmas Tree.

Tox and I have a tradition: we bring in the New Year by torching the Christmas tree. This year was no exception; it was exceptional. See:

See also:

Couldn’t have had a better birthday party. Thanks. 2010 and 28 begin, on fire.

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Time Lapsed 2009. 2010 I Turn 28.

The year began on fire.

I rocked the Winter Carnivale.

Built a book scanner.

And another.

Baked bread.

Studied math in the early hours.


Made music.

Made machines. That make machines.


Saved books from drowning in Valley City.


Revived You Are Not Dead with Black Pants Theater, soon to be a play in Vancouver, BC.

Entered the book scanner in a contest.

Won a laser cutter.

Used the laser cutter to make a book scanner.

Tooth infection gone bad.

Lost my apartment.




Spoke in New York at NYLS. (image courtesy and copyright NYLS, used without permission)

Won a Kindle in a contest for laser-etched art.

Featured in Wired.

With Matti, built a light field camera.

Watched my building collapse and my hopes of easy progress with it.

Got a birthday gift I’ll never forget.

Got rear-ended about ten minutes ago. This year won’t die without a fight, but I’m a chin-up fighter.

Ups were up. Downs were way down. The balance is even, rising.

In a few hours I’ll have aged. Twenty eight, over ten thousand days and a third of the way there.

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