Karl Polanyi’s “The Great Transformation”

Here’s a great article on Karl Polanyi, titled “Karl Polanyi Explains It All”.

If you’re trying to understand how the financial sector has become parasitic, why politicians have been bought, and how public debate has bcome so impoverised, then you won’t go wrong starting with Polanyi’s book “The Great Transformation”. It was written in 1943 and made the case for balancing the Market with the State. It laid out the reasons for the balanced social market economies that made the second half of the Twentieth Century into the best time to be alive, in all of human history.

If you want to understand why that has all turned around, then you’ll want to read Thomas Piketty’s update. As for what to do about the political imbalance between the rampant Market and the supine State, that’s harder. I asked that question in 2008, I’m still asking.

Further tidying and sorting out

The bag on the right is a Timbuk2 Classic messenger bag. I’ve had it for fifteen years and I’ve used it just about much every day. It has done pretty well but is starting to die.

The bag on the left is the replacement, also a Timbuk2 Classic messenger bag. I expect it to last a while.

Winter, therefore tidying up

Winter’s kicked in, so I’ve switched modes into finishing things off, tidying up, and getting generally tatted down and squared away.

So, the Too Bright Hat needed a new cable. 3-pin mini-XLRs seem to be the right balance of durable, small, and able to handle 8 Amps, but finding connectors with decent cable clamps took a while. The Hat is on my head and the driver is on my belt, so there’s plenty of flex and tension on the cable. Without clamps, that stress results in:

Ended up with the REAN Neutrik ones. Of course, no-one in NZ stocks them, which is a shame as they’re good and solid.

The Hat driver had a LiPo with just a fuze for protection, along with low Voltage cut-out handled by the Teensy, which is a bit shit. Charging the battery required taking the battery out of the box because it’s also kind of crowded in there and there’s no room for a charging port:

That yellow connector is an XT-60, good for sixty Amps, making it ten times as big as needed, and that black fuze is bloody huge too. So I swapped that all out for some EC3s and a proper PCM board, freeing up lots of space. Of course, I filled it right up with banana sockets for the charge and balance connections so I can charge the battery in place.

If I can do what I want to do with the Mitochondrion Mark 5, then it’ll be pulling peaks of 50 Amps. Inside a one inch tube. Fitting all that in is going to be fun…

Wellington on a good day

Three-up thigh shoulder stand thing

I saw a two-person version in that video that everyone watched this week and thought to myself, more looks feasible.

I have no idea what this move is called. It’s not in the three person sports acro list. I’m going to call it “Andrea & Wendy doing shoulder hand-stands on my thighs”.

It’s actually cake for the base but surprisingly bent for flyers.

Testing level shifters for running Adafruit NeoPixel strips from a 3.3 Volt Teensy

If you’re running NeoPixel LED strips off a Teensy 3, maybe because you want to put 180 LEDs on a hat, then you need a level shifter. But which one? The NeoPixel data protocol is high speed and pretty harsh on timing requirements and I’ve had a bugger of a time getting reliable data from the Teensy to these strips. Hence I’ve tested a bunch of shifters. I tried a TXS-0102, TXB-0108, 74HCT245, PCA9306, and a MOSFET based shifter.

The Teensy outputs data at 3.3 Volt, the strips expect 5 Volts. Or rather, the strips might see 3.3 Volts as a digital 1 or they might not. If you want some reliability, then you’re better off shifting the Voltage level up to 5.

Each LED reads the data it needs and passes on the rest, regenerating the signal to nice square pulses, so there is no decline in signal quality along the strip. Well, that’s the theory. In reality, all sorts of weird failure modes can happen.

Anyway, short conclusion from this testing is: use a TXS-0102 shifter if you’re tight on space and running one or two strips, use a 74HCT245 if you’re not or you are running three to eight strips. The 74HCT245 was the only shifter to give perfect performance, everything else had some kind of problem.

Test results and scope pics

180 LED Hat for Kiwiburn

Here’s details on my Kiwiburn project – a hat with 180 LEDs, all individually controlled… but to be honest, this was my project for Circulation, back in November. Getting it built was easy, getting it to work took quite some time, but I learnt a great deal. So here’s my design for a portable driver for the NeoPixel LED strips.

Why do this? Before making the next Mitochondrion, it was time to learn some new technologies.

The Mitochondrion Mark 4 (my glowstaff) is not too bad – 88 LEDs controlled by an Arduino Nano. However, it might be pretty but it isn’t responsive or interactive. It just splatters photons everywhere, generating randomly-chosen patterns.

I want more than just random brightly coloured lights. I want emotion, narrative depth, and engagement. That requires a far gruntier microcontroller than an 8-bit Arduino. Something like a Teensy 3.0 – ARM Cortex, 32 bit, about fifty times faster, lots more memory, and only 18 mm wide. And LED technology marches ever on, with Adafruit’s Neopixel strips being a big step up. And all of that is pushing me to use lithium batteries, even if they take more looking after than NiMH.

Thus it’s time to step up my technological game for the Mitochondrion Mark 5. The Hat seemed like a simple project that I could use for learning these new technologies – how to use them and what to use them for. Now that the Hat is working, I’m glad I took this step, because trying to get all this to work for the first time in the Mark 5 would be a bugger. Continue reading 180 LED Hat for Kiwiburn

Making firewood easier

We can grow maybe a third of the firewood we need on the land we have. Which is nice.

Obviously, the supply for each year depends upon which trees we’ll be trimming or felling. This spring, we got Joe in to trim back the big pohutukawa as it was overhanging the house and blocking the sun. That gave us a year’s worth of wood all by itself.

That’s a lot of bucking and splitting and stacking to do, maybe three cubes? I’m in favour of making this easier and safer, hence my three recommendations for firewood processing: the old car tyre, the bucking stand, and the maul handle protector. Continue reading Making firewood easier

Best Kiwiburn Ever!


Picture by Peter Jennings

Very brief summary:

  • Returning to Kiwiburn, with my closest people, who’ve also been away.
  • Helping to build and light the Effigy. The Effigy crew. The resulting meat blanket.
  • New site, oh yes.
  • Finally getting the Hat Band working and out in public. Ooo… it’s shiny. It lasted three days before an expected hardware failure.
  • Being really glad I’d put a dim mode on the Hat. Otherwise no-one could look at me, coz 180 LEDs. I’m not that anti-social. Well, not always.
  • All the smiles.
  • Poking nature with a stick.
  • Cuddle piles with all the fluff.
  • Being happy enough with the durability of the Mitochondrion that I can just give it to anyone, no matter how munted.
  • Realising that I’m very happy with my life.
  • No FOMO, but a bad case of FOMP – Fear Of Missing People. I didn’t see enough of far too many people, in some cases I didn’t see them at all, but as Wendy says we were “focused on deepening connections with people I already know rather than forming a whole bunch of new ones”

There’ll be a proper write-up of the Hat Band hardware, when I’m less shattered. And some pics and video.

Lord Weston’s windy crack was very windy


That sign does indeed say “Lord Weston’s windy crack”. Yeah, I dunno. It was certainly howling a gale up there. Further along was a proper shed. Cut for sheddie pics

One-handed back balance on tissu

Finally! I’ve been working on this for years. If you’ve a good back bend, then it’s easy – your weight ends up rolling back into the tissu and stabilising this position. I have a crap back bend, so my weight is far forward from the tissu, hence it looks like hard work.

Also, I’m told my facial expression is “consterned”.

A couple of pics from Circulation 2013

Courtesy of Camera von Theuns. More at his site.

Four thousand LEDs

This is possibly the most relaxed video I’ve ever put together.

Squidsoup were kind enough to let me have a play with Volume 4,096 – a sculpture of four thousand LEDs, in a 16x16x16 cube that hangs in the foyer of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

These patterns are all Perlin noise in HSV-space, with varying rates of change and scaling. And yes, the patterns were generated with Processing and more Toxiclibs.

Filming by Patrick Herd. Music by Christian Dittmann – Planeta rojo. Best viewed at 1080p.

Not quite laser-cut heat shield for the snug

Our snug is, well, snug. That’s kind of the point. But it does mean that the wood burner is worryingly close to the hi-fi amplifier and the shelves. Hence I thought to myself, I’ll make a heat shield out of aluminium sheet. And to make it look pretty, I’ll write some code to generate a pattern and get that pattern laser-cut into the aluminium and it’ll look a lot like every other algorithmically-generated laser-cut pattern, except it’ll be uniquely mine and a project I can take right through from writing the code to screwing it all together.

It didn’t quite happen like that. But we’ll get to that bit.

Everyone and their dog is using Voronoi patterns, coz computational design is the flared trousers of this decade. The patterns are vaguely natural and there’s a wonderfull Processing library called Toxiclibs that makes this easy. Some messing about tweaking parameters gave me this design, which is just as flowingly organic as I wanted, i.e. not much by most people’s standards, daringly lacking in rectangularity by my standards:

I sent that design off to Ponoko for a quote. And then I fell over, coz US$60 for the aluminium sheet, US$50 for the laser cutting, and US$100 for the shipping, coz they don’t cut metal in NZ. I asked some more local cutters and they said a worse price. Errr… no. Instead, I just had some long showers and pondered, until I came up with another way to do it.
Print out the design full scale, glue the design to a sheet of aluminium from the pile in the workshop, and use that design as a guide to drill some holes free-hand:

Round the corners, deburr, run an orbital sander over the surface, tidy up, and it’s done:

Things I’ve learnt from this project:
1) Laser cutting metal is still really expensive.
2) Absolute positional accuracy is still really expensive. If you can design it away, then do so.
3) Per dollar, laser printers are astoundingly accurate pieces of kit.
4) Brushed finishes on aluminium hide a multitude of sins. Orbital sanders FTW!

The Mitochondrion at Circulation

Circulation is one of New Zealand’s finest little circus festivals. I got back from there last night, still covered in bruises and glitter, but I finally managed to get some video of the Mitochondrion in its native setting, helped by Nicholas Leland, Tama Bw of The Fire Bugs, Reece Dunn of Dragon Flow, Josh Smythe & myself for the spinning, JD for the dome and filming, and Ryan Walker at Spiral Technica for the live motion-tracking projection mapping. No idea where the mirrors came from, but cheers.

Tune is Will Marshall vs Youthful Implants – Use of Weapons, available at Soundcloud under a Creative Commons licence.

And thanks especially to everyone who helped put Circulation together.

The last six years of climate change research, summed up in one graph

The IPCC summarises climate change research. The first of their three reports, on the physical science of climate change, is out now. It covers the research since the IPCC’s last report, in 2007. After reviewing about 10,000 papers, the message is very simple:

IPCC WGI AR5 Figure SPM.10

The more fossil carbon we burn, the hotter it will get. It doesn’t really matter how fast we burn it, but if we dig it up and burn it, then we commit the planet to warming.

And that’s that. You can read the rest of the report if you like, but the single key message is right there.

(Figure SPM.10 from the Summary for Policymakers)

Policy wonk humour

Mitochondrion Mark 5 progress

Mitochondrion Mark 4 code is now running on the Mark 5 chip. Teensy 3.0 – an ARM Cortex M4 on an 18 mm wide board. Consider me pleased. Have yet to time the code, but should be faster. Much faster. Which is required, as it might be possible to replace the Mark 4′s 88 LEDs with 800.

Still a long way to go for the Mark 5, but changing the chip from Arduino to Teensy is probably the biggest step.

Also, Eclipse is still a royal pain in the arse, but does actually work for compiling, building, and programming. No debugger and it doesn’t play nicely with the serial port, but it does the job.

(Oh, and the Teensy has an on-chip temperature sensor. This may be needed, as preliminary thermal modeling suggests that full-whack may make the whole thing melt. Coz, you know, EIGHT HUNDRED LEDS.)

Under the Spinfluence

Reese Dunn in the renegade show at Under the Spinfluence with the Mitochondrion, Mark 4.2.4.

Pic by Charlie Whiteley.

The Mitochondrion Mark 5 begins…

That tiny thing is a Teensy 3.0. ARM Cortex M4.

It’s a serious step up in performance from the Arduino Nano that runs the Mark 4. Four times the program memory, eight times the variable memory, four times the clock speed and 32 bit not 8, so quite substantially more grunty.

Which is somewhat handy, as it’ll will have to look after somewhere between three and eight times as many LEDs.