Micro Controller Library

Oh man, I’m getting excited just writing about this. So, last week I got a grant from the Awesome Foundation to make a Micro Controller Library and it’s finally coming together. What the hell is a Micro Controller Library? It’s basically a giant package of awesome that turns ordinary people into gods of technology.

Library might be a misleading term, since there aren’t any books involved (although I’m currently trying to figure out licensing so that I can make some ebooks about physical computing available to you on your computer or kindle). What makes it a library is that it’s free (except for a $5 startup fee when we process you into the member database) and you can check electronics out and bring them home for up to two weeks. It’s based on the West Seattle Tool Library’s make-your-own tool library kit. Local Tools even got me set up with an inventory site so I can track tools and members and you can see what’s available for checkout and reserve items. The library will have a home in the Maker Space Jigsaw Renaissance located at 821 Seattle Boulevard South.

So far I’ve ordered eight Arduino Unos, a pair of Arduino Megas, and a Raspberry Pi. I’ve also ordered 6 different starter kits, which come with a ton of different sensors, power sources, breadboards, jumper cables, and various shields to connect different components to.

Have you ever wanted to build an autonomous wheeled robot? I ordered a chassis and sensors so you can build one using a micro controller. And if you want your autonomous wheeled robot to take photos and upload them to you Facebook, I’ve also ordered a couple of Wi-Fi shields. Do you want to prototype a self-watering plant? There’s a soil moisture sensor that plugs directly into an Arduino.

You can even make your own interactive, digital games using buttons, LED screens and joysticks that plug into a breadboard.

So how do you become a library member? You don’t have to wait until the library is set up. Stop by Jigsaw Renaissance or the Seattle Arduino Meetup at The Easy next week. Bring an ID and $5 (or $10 if you want to help sponsor membership for a low income geek. Technology access for everyone!) Be prepared to spend about 20 minutes since you’ll have to read a short article about safety and not blowing things up and whatnot. Then I add your name to the database and you’re a member!

If you have any electronics sitting around that might make a good addition to the library, please let me know! Also, donations of money and time are more than welcome. As the packages start coming in I’m going to need people to help with sorting, labeling and inventorying parts. Plus, you’ll get to be first to play with all the new electronics!

The Hippie Hacker

Chris McClimans is tall but soft-spoken and his hair cascades over his shoulder in a tangle of thick, dirty-blond dreadlocks. He wears sandals he made himself from a piece of rubber and twine, and he carries a bulging backpack at all times. It’s not hard to believe that this man once lived in a green Volkswagon van in Austin and Boulder, or that he spent the past several years travelling around New Zealand with his now wife. It wouldn’t be hard to believe, either, that he is couchsurfing around Seattle at the moment, living out of said backpack as he looks for work.

What’s remarkable is what he has in his backpack. I had the odd coincidence of running into him three days in a row at three separate technology events. Monday I ran into him at Ruby on Rails Meetup at the Racer Café. Tuesday he was at the monthly Hacker News Meetup, where I convinced him to come to my arduino meetup the following night. That’s when I finally got to see what exactly he carried with him in his bag.

After the meetup we gathered round as Chris pulled several pieces of magic out of the mysterious black backpack. Item number one was an ergonomic keyboard that he typed on in Dvorak. He is clearly a man who uses his keyboard a lot and loves comfort and efficiency.

Items two, three and four were laptops, each one covered in some of the coolest coder stickers I’ve ever seen.  You can’t always judge a man by the stickers on his laptop (for example, my laptop proudly wears a GitHub sticker while my GitHub account remains sadly barren) but I think it’s safe to believe that every sticker on Chris’s machines represented a part of his deep knowledge of computers.

Item number five was a small USB stick.

This stick of memory was the magic wand from which Chris could deploy his own creation, Instant Infrastructure (:ii), to the whole world. He demonstrated for us on his laptop. After plugging in his USB stick he ‘factory reset’ the operating system from the stick itself. The purple background blossomed on his computer, followed by the familiar Ubuntu icons.

Now, he explained to us, he could use Ubuntu ‘out of box experience’ (OOBE) to image his computer with the selection of open source software that he needed. For instance, if he were a doctor he could simply select the ‘doctor’ software package and it would automatically image his computer with all the tools he needed. Or if he were a teacher he could similarly image his computer with tools for teaching. Of course, the stick depends on the availability of free software that can be deployed on the computer. Chris has already demonstrated his idea to people at Dell who are coming up with a tool to share software via a Git Repositor (if you don’t know what that is, it’s basically ‘the cloud’) called 'Sputnik.' More than anything, Chris said, he needed developers willing to volunteer their time to create free software.

I invited Chris to couchsurf on my boat that weekend. Although I was in and out, dancing all night Friday at a Kaskade concert and then dancing in the viral video We’re Nasa and We Know It on Sunday, Chris and I got a brief chance to talk Saturday morning. We were munching on blueberries he brought home from the farmer’s market and sunning ourselves on the deck of my boat. I asked him how he’d come up with the idea for Instant Infrastructure and he told me about Cambodia. He spends about 60% of his time volunteering for charity and 40% working to make money.

He spent 6 months in Battambang, Cambodia, where he taught local youth about computers. He realized that the kids there wanted to be like him. They wanted to have his fancy macbook pro and use the expensive software packages that he did. He also realized that they would probably never be able to afford to do this. Determined to bridge the technology gap, he developed Instant Infrastructure to be deployed on the cheap Windows machines in the local internet cafes. Using Ubuntu , the kids were able to master computer skills, and have even developed a site in their own language, Kmer, titled ‘Humanity to Everyone.’

Chris’s passion and his giving spirit were evident as he talked about the kids he’d taught.  I feel honored to have had a chance to host the ‘Hippie Hacker’ in his travels in the Northwest.