Thistle Sailing Nationals

Last week I flew to Ohio. Thistle Nationals were being held on Lake Erie, at the port town of Sandusky. No, Thistle Nationals is not a Scottish Dancing Competition or the highland games. A thistle is a seventeen foot sailboat, sailed by three people. You can read more about it here. They are light, fast, and tippy. On our three person team at nationals I was in charge of the bow, which means that I have to move around a lot and I frequently knock myself on various parts of the boat that stick out. My crewmate Dave was in charge of the middle of the boat. My skipper Wayne is the one who made the boat go.

Being from the East Coast, it seemed odd for Ohio to be my "vacation" destination, but I was drawn by the allure of competing in anything called "nationals." I've always wanted to compete at the national level at a sport, any sport.

Making a Thistle move through the water at seven knots (about the speed of a fast jog) is an art form that involves quite a bit of cursing. As everyone knows, the louder you curse, the faster the boat moves.

"Take down the F$@@#!ing spinnaker pole!"

"I'm taking down the m#%$!!F*^#@ing spinnaker pole!"

And the boat glides on, so fast that it creates an unseen wake.

Wayne's license plate on his van is in a frame that says "Thistle Sailing. Faster than fast." Oh, also his license plate reads "Thistle." Did I mention he is a little obsessed? This year he also happened to be Vice President of the Thistle Fleet. Unfortunately, that meant that he was in charge of 53 trophies. It seemed strange that there were 110 boats at nationals and 53 trophies. There are trophies for various categories: "highest finish for a skipper from west of the Mississippi", "highest finish for a skipper over 60", "highest finish for a woman skipper." I assume that by creating so many trophies, the Thistle class meant to be inclusive and make sure that everyone who raced hard got a trophy. What it meant for Wayne is that he had to keep track of the placement of each skipper in each category. What it meant for me, as Wayne's crew, was that I had to polish an awful lot of silver.

Thankfully I had help. Rather than polishing the trophies in the back room, we took them out into the clubhouse after dinner and polished them in front of everybody. We were awarded with free beers and appreciation.

Speaking of beers, at the same time that Thistle Nationals was going on, the self-proclaimed Flip Cup Nationals was also going on. I did not partake, but at night we could hear the cheers of the participants from our tents. "Why are they all yelling 'USA'?" My tent neighbor, Tracy Jean, wondered. "Aren't we all from the USA?" This question was never answered.

On the racecourse though, many of my questions about sailing were answered. For instance, I learned how to pee off the side of a dinghy when you're out sailing for 8 hours at a time. I also learned to read the sailing instructions very carefully, and that the finish line is almost always restricted.

Although we did not get a trophy, I did have the pleasure of getting dressed up and handing out the trophies to the deserving winners. I thought that I knew which trophies were which, but when I arrived at the banquet at the yacht club and saw 53 gleaming perpetual trophies, as well as over 100 smaller trophies for the winners to keep, I freaked. I may have handed out a few wrong trophies, but everyone seemed fairly content with their extra shiny silver cups.

We didn't do so poorly either though. We were 44th out of 110 boats. Sailing Thistles is hard, and the competition is tremendous. I couldn't believe the skill of some of the other crews. There is so much to think about, between wind angle, keeping clear of other boats, getting room around a mark, preventing the boat from heeling too much, and a million other things. The smallest mistake can cost you 10 boat lengths, and you can never sail a perfect race.


White River 50 Mile

Admittedly, it was a terrible idea. I signed up for the race in May because my running partner, Brad, pressured me into signing up. "If you can run 20 miles on back to back days, you can totally do 50." For some reason, I thought he meant 50K, even though 50 miles is in the name of the race. But, details. Another detail I missed was the part about climbing 8,900ft. There is almost 18,000ft total elevation change over the course of the race, which climbs parts of Crystal Mountain and has views of Mount Rainier. If I had known about that, I might have practiced. My coworker Dawn asked if I was going to run on Friday. "No, I'm tapering," I told her.

"Ah, how long have you been tapering?"

"About 6 months."

Speaking of unprepared, I hadn't realized that we wouldn't have phone service in the shadow of Crystal Mountain. Brad and I planned on Friday to meet at a campground, since I was leaving Seattle later than him. But by the time I got there, at 10:30pm, it was too dark to find him, especially since I had no idea what his car looked like. Also, the campsite was full. The only place to sleep was on the concrete floor of the picnic pavilion. Also, my sleeping bag is currently on its way to Sandusky, Ohio, where I will be camping next weekend for Thistle Nationals. So all I had to sleep on were 2 ponchos. I slept fitfully, and woke at 5am. We had to be at the start line by 6 and my stomach felt like it was in knots.

Thankfully, at the start line I had one bar of service, and was able to get a call from Brad's brother, who also had service. I was so relieved to see Brad. I knew that I couldn't do this race without him. For one thing, he is a constant source of entertainment.

"Let's start at the front of the pack," he said. "That way, only 398 runners will have to pass us."

We didn't though - instead we started at the back of the pack, well behind the elites, as we intended to finish in the bottom 10%, if at all. Brad confided that he hadn't practiced either. Neither of us had run more than 14 miles in the past six months.

The first part of the race is a 15 mile climb that goes up 4,000 feet or so. I didn't even feel them. I was too busy laughing at Brad's hilariously inappropriate stories. I could tell other runners were trying to run closer to us just to hear his stories. At the top of the mountain there were spectacular views. I felt like I was in The Sound of Music with the alpine peaks all around me. The third aid station was right there. Brad and I had a dropbag that we had sent up. He had put an extra pair of shoes and some pitas in his bag. I had added a Four Loko and some extra socks. The Four Loko was more of a joke than anything else - I had mentioned on the way down that I had never tried one, so Tony suggested that I get one at the next gas station, and I did.

Brad and I spread out for a full on picnic at the aid station. We attempted to drink the Four Loko but it was too disgusting to get down. We probably sat there picnicking for 15 minutes. Brad announced that he was dropping out. His calves were cramping up and he couldn't run any further. "You'll do great," he encouraged me. "Just make sure you make it before the last aid stations close down, or you're screwed."

I took off, feeling amazing. I put my headphones in since Brad was no longer there to entertain me. I had a playlist that consisted of only four songs, since I'd forgotten to download music for the run.

I passed everyone who had passed us at the aid station. The pack had thinned out and I was no longer following anyone. Good thing the course was well marked. I got to a part where the trail split, and there was a big arrow pointing the way on the ground. Great. I was running at a good pace now. There was a photographer on the trail. I gave him a thumbs up. About a mile later I saw an aid station. And then I realized - this was the aid station I had just been at. I was running backwards. The volunteers realized it too, as they took down my number. " were already here weren't you?"

"Don't worry, you only have to run about 2 miles back that way and you'll find the course."

"Thanks," I said, and took off again. I was crestfallen. This pretty much ruined any chance I had of doing well. Thankfully, the next 15 miles were downhill. I am a great downhill runner. Years of skiing and cycling have strengthened my quads and made me fearless on the downhill. I'm basically a mountain goat. I only face-planted once.

At the next aid station I took my shirt off and threw it away. A volunteer told me that it smelled like a locker room. He dumped a bottle of water over my arms, legs and face to clean the dust off. I pinned my number to my sports bra.

At the next aid station the volunteers all tilted their heads when I arrived. It turns out that I had pinned my number on upside down. Tony was waiting for me at the aid station at the bottom of the mountain. "You are a mess," he told me. "But you're right on track to finishing in 10 or 11 hours."

"I feel great," I said. But actually my stomach was feeling weird. I couldn't eat anything, so I kept running. After what Brad had said, I was afraid of the aid stations closing down before I arrived, and this was starting to feel a bit less like a casual stroll. Unfortunately, the next 10 miles were uphill again, and it was hot by now. The miles between 27 and 37 were by far the hardest. My butt was hurting from so much hill running. Also, my arms were starting to chafe. That is how you know your arms are too fat - when they chafe as you run. Other than the pain, I felt amazing. I usually use my running time to think, but I had outrun the thinking part. I was unable to think about anything useful. In fact, I don't think I was thinking at all.

After the 37 mile point there were six miles of downhill running. I bombed down them, passing lots of people. I wasn't feeling great, but I wasn't feeling awful. I thought about throwing up, but I couldn't. I thought about dropping out, but dropping out isn't allowed after the seventh aid station. Besides, I was so close. Finally, the bottom of the hill was right there. At the last aid station, I took my shoes off and realized that my new socks were completely coated in dust and sweat. I was amazed to not have any blisters however.

Did I mention that I was wearing new shoes? I should have broken them in first. Oh well, they are broken in now. Also, I doubt I will be getting my 30 day money back guarantee after this race.

There were only about seven miles of slightly uphill technical terrain to go. I looked at my phone. It was 5pm. I decided to run 20 minutes and walk 5 for the last bit. I looked at my phone after I thought I had been running for about 20 minutes. It was 5:05. The problem was that my quads were all stiff from sprinting down the hill. I tried skipping to shake them out. Wrong decision. My knee suddenly experienced a shooting pain. I tried jogging on it and realized that there was no way I could run. I had to keep my knee straight just to be able to walk on it. Only five miles to go to the finish, and I was injured. I felt incredibly frustrated. If I hadn't gotten lost I would certainly be finishing by now.

I walked with a weird limp through the rest of the beautiful forest. Lots of old people passed me. But old people had been passing me all day so that was really nothing new. That's the problem with these really tough endurance races - old people are always passing you. I didn't really mind though - my brain was on a different planet. I was euphoric. I really wanted to just stop and lie down. I wanted to cry too. I was happy, but I really wanted to cry. Also, why was there a person watching me from the top of that tree? Oh, it wasn't a person, just a branch. Then I saw another person wearing a black robe. I thought maybe it was a witch. Or a bear. But it was just a root. Almost there. I started singing so that I wouldn't feel my knee anymore.

I managed to make it to the road where the finish was. Somehow I was able to run the last half mile.

And there I was, jogging through the finish after 13 hours of "running." I had been dreaming of putting my legs in the river for about 4 hours. After the finish, Tony helped me down the hill I sat down in the river, still wearing my shorts. It was everything I had dreamed it would be. My sore feet felt all tingly. I wanted to just stay there and sleep, but Tony made me get out. Then he gave me a piggy back ride to the tent where they were giving out t-shirts and socks.

I put on my t-shirt and socks right away. It felt good to be wearing something that didn't smell like a locker room.

And that was it. That was what running a 50 miler feels like. Next time I run a 50 mile race I will practice first. Also, I won't wear new shoes. And I will make a playlist that includes more than four songs.

But whatever - at least it was good exercise.

Startup Weekend Maker Edition: Organizer's Perspective

This weekend is my first Startup Weekend as an organizer. I've attended 3 previously as a participant, and I've had my mind blown by the intensity of the weekend and the projects and teams that were created. Behind the scenes is a whole different level of intensity. When I contacted Tawnee, operations manager at Startup Weekend HQ, in January, begging her to do a Startup Weekend for Makers, I didn't really expect her to get back to me. A few days later she sent me some names of other people who might also be interested in organizing a Startup Weekend focused on hardware.  Apparently, people who wanted a Startup Weekend for makers had reached a critical mass, and when Makerhaus agreed to host the event it was a done deal. The task of putting together an organizing team was put into my (inexperienced) hands. I reached out to some friends and was lucky to have a team of twelve rockstars join me. Since March we've been hustling for sponsorships, making lists of necessary materials, and reaching out to maker groups to find talented participants.

It wasn't until June that it sunk in that Startup Weekend Maker Edition was going to be fundamentally different from any previous Startup Weekend. For one thing, it takes a lot more planning. We have to provide all the materials to make 10 successful hardware startups in one weekend. Also, it takes a lot more sponsorships, since materials cost money. Thankfully, sponsors like Madrona, Impinj, Amazon, 10AK, Blackedge, PHC International, Coca Cola, and several more stepped in to cover our costs.

Somewhere along the line in the planning, we did something right. That became clear tonight as soon as the participants started to arrive. They had the eager look of passionate people - people who really wanted to be there and were going to make this an amazing event. Unlike other tech events in Seattle, where people tend to avoid eye contact and stare at their feet, the people at this event talking, laughing and sketching their ideas on napkins. They seemed excited to have found an entire room full of people who shared their passion for making things.

Another difference between this event and a normal Startup Weekend was the energy of the coaches and judges. Usually Startup Weekend coaches are too busy doing their own thing to be there for the whole event. But most of our coaches showed up on Friday night and were there to give the teams tips right from the start. We had coaches even offering to help carry food and set up tables and chairs.

Some things were, of course, the same. There was a rousing speech by our facilitator John Morefield at 7pm. There were pitches from 7:30-8pm - and what an amazing bunch of pitches they were! An autonomous greenhouse...a simple piece of hardware to tell you if you have a sleep disorder...a gadget that will project your cell phone screen onto the ceiling...

We took votes, and the 30+ great pitches were narrowed down to 10 excellent pitches. Teams formed. Sticky notes and note pads were passed out, and everyone went into planning mode.

My task for tomorrow morning is to get the teams the materials they need. Each team filled out a materials spreadsheet, and we've compiled these to a master spreadsheet that contains everything from sheets of acrylic to urethane and silicon for casting, to hot glue guns and grommets. Getting these materials reminds me of a science fair project for adults. I'm excited to wake up early tomorrow and go on a scavenger hunt for parts. And I'm even more excited to see what the teams make with these parts. Let the fun begin!

My First Swiftsure

Saturdy May 25th - Day One of the Race

The 70th annual Swiftsure Regatta began on Saturday, May 25th, 2013 in Victoria, Canada. Boat call was 6:30am but I got there a little early to put breakfast in the oven. I'm not a very good sailor so I try to make myself useful in other ways. I sail on a 40.7 Benneteau named Bravo Zulu. Her crew is usually between 8 and 12 people. For this race we had 11 - our skipper Denny, Steve, the navigator and tactician, Christa and Erica who do bow, Brenda, who is both a trimmer and our boat's M.D., Shayne, Wayne, Kerry and Leif who are usually in the cockpit either trimming or grinding (and sometimes skippering), and Taylor, a new addition to the crew who can do everything well. Then there is myself - resident rail meat and squirrel extraordinaire. 

I had come up on Thursday on a 53ft boat named Artemis after missing the Bravo Zulu delivery and had spent the past day and a half hanging out in Victoria Harbor, checking out the other boats, including the HMCS Oriole, a beautiful wooden Canadian Navy ship with twin tree trunks for masts that was going to do the in shore course.

At 8am an alarm sounded. All of the glistening boats untied and motored out into the harbor, flags flying. We drifted out with them. Hundreds of boats - over 200 - made a magnificent parade through Victoria Harbor. The sailors on the Oriole were listening to rap and they had a pretty amazing sound system. "You didn't know we were the party boat, did you?" One of their sailors yelled. We had our music on also, and the Bravo Zulu battle flags were flapping in the wind.

9:20am was our race start. Low winds had been predicted but our sails were full. Denny had invested in a new number 2 genoa and it was crisp. I put my face to it to smell the new sail smell before we raised it. The cannon on the committee boat blasted a blank into the air to signal the race start. The shores were crowded people watching and they waved as we started off.

Our crew had been divided into two watches - Bravo watch and Zulu watch. At noon, Bravo watch was off and I went below to make lunch and take a nap. Four hours later when Bravo watch started again we were still ahead of our fleet but the tides were changing. The wind had changed as well, and it was no longer pushing us - it was merely serving as a wind anchor. Our boat speed was less than a knot. By the time it got dark, several of the boats ahead of us had already given up on the race and they passed us, motoring back.

Watching the peaks of land on the American shore slide behind us was slower than watching paint dry. The only comfort was that everyone was stuck in the same light air. As it grew dark, the lights on the Canadian vessel that served as the mark grew slowly brighter, and the lights on the triangular shadows that were nearby sailboats did also.

The mark was finally upon us. As we drifted slowly nearer to the mark we realized that the current was carrying us sideways faster than the wind was carrying us forward. I was hiking with all my might and I prepared to fend off the vessel by kicking it with my feet if necessary. I could see the boat operators coming outside to see if we would crash. Even in the dark I was close enough to see the whites of their eyes. Thankfully, Denny expertly tacked the boat when we were about 9 feet away. It lost us some efficiency but it also saved us from a crash.

We got a chuckle as another boat prepared to round the mark and reported over the radio: "We are about 400 feet away from the mark. We should be there sometime within the next 4 hours."

After rounding the mark at Cape Flattery we headed North back to the Canadian coast to try our luck there.

Sunday May 26th - Day Two of the Race

Bravo watch took over again at 4am. Apparently Taylor had had some sort of run in with the boom during the wee hours of the morning and suffered a concussion. As a doctor, Brenda was upset that we weren't motoring back, but Taylor seemed to be doing ok. Erica wanted to motor back also, as she had plans to leave on the Victoria Clipper that afternoon and was eager to join the majority of sailors who had already quit the race. We weren't doing that though. In fact, there was a rumor running around that we didn't have enough fuel to motor back if we tried.

The day also promised to be as beautiful, if as windless, as the previous day. Bravo watch was still in good cheer and uninjured, although we had used up all of our dirty jokes and didn't have much left to talk about. There was one boat ahead of us that was worrying everyone. "Could that be Red Heather?" Red Heather was a boat from Victoria in our class and they were leagues ahead of us. We weren't close enough to make out their sail numbers yet, but the coloration and size indicated that it was them. We had crossed to the Canadian side and were getting better winds. We seemed to be gaining on them. I was finally able to make out their numbers with the binoculars. "9...6...0...9...6...Yup, that's them alright!" To win we had to beat them by at least ten minutes, and we were currently about ten minutes behind. We tried several strategies to get ahead, but each time they managed to pull ahead. Clearly they knew the tides and winds here better than we did.

Although we were still moving as slow as mud, Denny suggested we suffix everything with "And we're winning." As in "The current is going to start carrying us backwards in one hour. And we're winning!" Or, "We have one knot of boat speed. And we're winning!" Despite the optimism, the strain of racing (and little sleep) was clearly wearing everyone a bit thin. I was happy to be relieved by Zulu watch, and the only thing that I was doing was helping to move the jib around on the roll tacks. I can't imagine what it would be like to drive the boat for the entire race, or to be in charge of something as delicate as trimming a sail for days on end. Also, I'm thankful that I sleep so well on boats.

By the time I woke up four hours later we'd passed Race Rocks and were out of the worst of the tide. Also, Red Heather had somehow fallen off and was now receding into a line of distant boats. Perhaps our joking optimism had carried us through and we were winning! We hadn't planned to be out for dinner so I scavenged some cans of tuna and olives and made make-shift wraps for everyone.

We were in sight of Victoria Harbor when the currents switched. We noticed first by the line of water off the back of some crab pots. Then it started to carry us backward. The wind seeker wasn't working anymore, so we raised a spinnaker and Taylor held out the edge of the sail with a boat hook. Our boat speed was zero. We cheered as the wind started to fill the sail and the knot meter rose to 0.1 knots. As we waited for the boat to move, darkness fell. Every boat that we could see was far behind us, and we knew that none of the boats had finished the Cape Flattery course yet. We might be both first in our division and first overall. Hell, we might even be the only boat to finish the Cape Flattery Course! The time passed quickly for me as I concentrated on the wind and my excitement. Several more boats who had quit motored past us. Buoyed by Christa's remarks that we might be the only boat left in our class, we hung in and sailed the boat.

The instruments on the mast began to blink. We were losing battery power. Steve tried to start the engine in neutral to recharge the battery but there wasn't even enough battery for that. We quickly scrounged some bow and stern lights so that we wouldn't be disqualified after our 30+ hours of racing. We also remembered to put on our safety gear as another precaution against disqualification.

Two hours passed like this. Then four. We were in sight of the finish line - a red strobe on one side of the harbor entrance and a blinking yellow light on the other. Then a whistle blew. Or was it a horn? It didn't matter. We were finally back.

They gave us hot chicken soup and champagne at the inspection dock and took our photographs. I didn't realize that I was hungry until I ate the soup. There were handshakes and congratulations. Everyone was smiling, especially Denny.

I headed back to the hotel with Kerry, Wayne and Shayne. On the way back I ran through the sprinklers on the lawn of a fancy looking building covered in Christmas lights. A guard on the lawn noticed me so I sprinted back. "What was that building?" I asked Shayne. "That's the capitol building. Victoria is the capitol of B.C." "Ahhhh." I looked behind me nervously, but thankfully the guard wasn't following. Back at the hotel, we were almost too tired to fall asleep, and ended up giggling for an hour like high school girls at a slumber party. "My boyfriend just texted me that he thinks The Flying Italian got first," Kerry reported. "But he doesn't know much about ratings in sailing, so I doubt that's right."

Monday May 27th - Delivery Home

Just in case I got bored on the delivery home, I'd brought a book to read. It wasn't needed.

The wind blew like no other wind I have ever seen. It was like it was making up for the past two days of windlessness.

We ran out of fuel motoring against the current on the way to drop Kerry off in Port Townsend, so we put a reef in the mainsail and raised it as the rain pelted us and waves sloshed over the bow. The wind was blowing 45 knots and we were making 9 knots of boat speed with just a reefed main. Denny was sick in his berth, and Leif was throwing up over the rail. I managed to get soaked as the water coming over the sides of the boat came up my foulies. I changed my wet socks and shirt twice. Even though I wanted to stay out and watch the weather I was finally shivering so uncontrollably that I had to go below and wrap up in a blanket. Steve and a friend, Tim, who was helping out with the delivery, were driving and they did an amazing job, depositing us safely at Customs in Port Townsend. Denny lent me some of his dry clothes and we had a late lunch at a tiny fish and chips joint, before refueling and heading back to Seattle. Here we learned that we had taken second overall in the race, and first in our division. The Flying Italian was the overall winner, having corrected over us by less than a minute. It was disappointing to learn that we weren't overall winner, but it was still exciting to have finished at all. We were all too exhausted or seasick from the delivery down to smile, but it had been a race well sailed.

Stop Thinking About Doing Things. Do Things.

I've been thinking about updating my website for a while. I haven't touched it since last year and it looks childish (I think) and doesn't represent my work. Every time I send it to someone I have to include a disclaimer about how outdated it is. So I decided to upgrade. With enough free time, enough motivation, and enough caffeine that seems like a simple task. But somehow, three months have passed and nothing has happened. Why haven't I gotten anything done?

I realized that it came down to the fact that I was thinking about it too much. These are some samples of actual thoughts:

  • "I need to sit down and sketch out every interaction before I write a line of code because this is going to be the best damn vanity site in the whole world."
  • "Even though updating my website is important for my career, other things might be a priority right now so I should make a list of priorities before I start it to make sure that it's really a priority."
  • "I have to read every book on UI Design ever before I can make a website that's good enough."

But the more I plan my site, the less I actually want to make it. If it's taken me six months to just think about upgrading it, how long will it take to actually do it?

There are a lot of things like my website that I never finish, or even start, because of over-thinking.

For instance:

  • "I should probably go running, but there might be a more efficient way to get fit, so I'm going to browse the internet until I figure out what it is."
  • "I want to go on a two week bike trip, but what if there is a really great opportunity that I miss because I was away biking?"
  • "I should use twitter to market myself, but I don't know what message I want to send about myself so I'm going to go to the library and get  out 15 books on personal branding and read each of them halfway through and do five of the self help exercises and learn nothing."
  • "I really like so and so. I should go out with him because it would be fun. But what if he falls in love and I don't like him and we have to break up and...? I think I'll stay in tonight and look at pictures of cats on the internet."

My draft box is filled with emails I never sent because I spent so long trying to word them perfectly that I gave up. Before I do things I think about the consequences 5 years in the future. I worry that I'll invest effort in something and not have the reward that I expected. What if I do it and it's not perfect? What if there's a more efficient way to do it?

There are four things that get me out my over-thinking rut:

  1. Desperation - I do it because I have nothing left to lose
  2. Competition - I do it because I want to one-up you (this can backfire if I spend too much time thinking about how to be perfect)
  3. Curiosity - I do it because I want to know what happens if I do it

And sometimes, like today, I just get sick of not getting anything done and the new smell of spring inspires me to do something, like write a blog post.

It's hard, but it's worth it. I find that I'm a lot happier when I stop thinking about things and just do them. It doesn't matter that I can't do everything as long as I can do something. It doesn't matter that I can't do something perfectly as long as I can do it at all.

So I'm going to stop re-reading this, I'm not going to scour the internet to make sure that this exact same post hasn't been written before (I'm sure it has but who cares), I'm going to stop editing this and I'm going to press "Publish."

And then I'm going to update my website.

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!