Posts by Al Billings

LittleRP Build

Al Billings

LittleRP Frame

I’ve spent a good part of this weekend working on finishing my build of a LittleRP resin 3D printer. There was a kickstarter for kits and assembled printers from its creator but he’s also been on IRC in #dlp3dprinting on Freenode for quite a while. The design is CC-licensed right now, not true open source, but he’s been sharing his bill of materials and plans for the lasercut and 3d printed parts with anyone who wants to build one. I assembled parts mostly in August but then had to go to three security conferences and a week long trip away for work in the course of six weeks so I got derailed from assembly. In the meantime, he’s started documenting things a bit for assembly so the wait was probably a good thing. This is probably about $400 or $500 in parts plus an HD projector that costs $300-400 (I got it for the low end because a refurbished one was fine).

You can see a gallery of sample prints from the creator, which are of a much finer level of detail (and much smaller) than what you get from FDM printers like your printrbots or mendels. Another guy who has finished building his using the same process as me is Shane Graber and he’s got a pretty good gallery of his machine and sample prints on Flickr.


My plan, other than just having an interest in playing with this technology, is to use the printer for tabletop RPG and other gaming pieces or parts. The level of detail is so high for the small sizes of the prints that games are a great application of this, assuming one is into game playing and design.

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Moving Blogging Here

Al Billings

I just announced over on that I’m effectively closing that blog. I’ve also changed my twitter username from openbuddha to makehacklearn as part of doing so. I’m moving my blog focus here to blog about more hackerish things, whi… Continue reading

Cal’s Dreambox

Al Billings

A few weeks ago, it was announced that there was now a 3D printing vending machine over at UC, Berkeley (aka “Cal”) now. This is the creation of Dreambox, some startup or somesuch doing 3D printing vending machines. Without a lot of data, I sent… Continue reading

Visiting Metrix

Al Billings

Last week I was up in my old home of Seattle for a few days to see family and friends (my daughter just turned 17).

While there, I dropped by Metrix Create:Space on and off as I was staying a 10 minute walk away and the owner, Matt, is a friend… Continue reading

TrustyCon Videos Available

Al Billings

TrustyCon 2014 (maybe the only one ever) happened the other week as a competitor to the RSA convention because of perceived RSA collaboration with the NSA and all of the kerfuffle around the NSA and surveillance this last year. As they say on their site, “We welcome all security researchers, practitioners and citizens who are interested in discussing the technical, legal and ethical underpinnings of a stronger social contract between users and technology.”

The event sold out quickly so I was unable to attend. Helpfully, it was livestreamed, making it available to everyone and the resulting video was put up on youtube. Unfortunately, this video is one, ginormous, seven hour video. I don’t know about you but I like my viewing in smaller chunks. I also tend to listen to talks and presentations, especially when there is no strong visual component, by saving the audio portion of it to my huffduffer account and listening to the resulting feed as a podcast.

I took it on myself to do a quick and dirty slice and dice on the seven plus hour video. It isn’t perfect (I’m a program manager, not a video editor!) but it works. I’ve uploaded the resulting videos to my youtube channel in order to not destroy any servers I own. You can find the playlist of them all here but I’ve also included the videos embedded below.

Additionally, I extracted the audio from each of these files and put an audio collection up on the Internet Archive, for people like me who just want to listen to them.

TrustyCon 2014 – Opening Remarks

TrustyCon 2014 – The Talk I Was Going to Give at RSA

TrustyCon 2014 – The Laws and Ethics of Trustworthy Technology

TrustyCon 2014 – Joseph Menn Interviews Bruce Schneier

TrustyCon 2014 – Securing SecureDrop

TrustyCon 2014 – New Frontiers in Cryptography

TrustyCon 2014 – Trusted Computing Tech and Government Implants

TrustyCon 2014 – Community Immunity

TrustyCon 2014 – Redesigning NSA Programs to Protect Privacy

TrustyCon 2014 – Thank You and Goodbye

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Short Update

Al Billings

A short update of a list of things I’ve been doing lately…


Drones aka multi-rotor copters

I built a tricopter with my Kang’s help (a friend of mine from Mozilla and formerly a teammate on secass). I managed to almost make it fly before I crapped it out. I’m still trying to debug why it likes to flip over instead of fly but, hey, I learned how to assemble a copter from scratch, flash open source firmware on my speed controllers, and find something useful to do with my craptastic soldering skills. It is fun. I also have a hexacopter, which is quite a beast when it flies and the kind of thing that makes you involtunarily take a step back when you turn it on. I’m going to be re-building an old quadcopter when I get the gumption to bother.


3D Printers

I’m still working on 3D printers. My Printrbot Jr. has been modified a bit with more to come. For such a cheap little machine, it is a pretty good workhorse. I’ve got at least two other printers (a small Delta style and the foldarap from early this year) partially assembled and waiting to be finished. I don’t really need more than one working printer so the motivation is always a little lacking but I work on them slowly. The process of building printers several times is what finally teached me how the mechanical and electrical parts work. With one of my buddies, Atom, from Ace Monster Toys, there is a plan to do a simple through-hole solder 3D printer controller as an all in one unit but done cheaply for under $50. That ought to be interesting.


Bitcoin Mining

While I’ve had friends doing it for a while, on a lark I picked up a couple of ASIC-based bitcoin miners as dedicated hardware a while ago. I managed to get them, along with buying a few bitcoins directly, before the massive recent increase in prices. I look on it as an experiment and one that I don’t take very seriously. “Never gamble money you can’t afford to lose” is a good motto. If I lost everything that I put in, I would call it a lesson learned but so far I’m actually looking to break even on the cost of the gear in about two months (including the costs of power). My main complaint with it so far is that the miners are in my home office because they need decent network connectivity and I also work in there. It is kind of like working next to a pair of hairdryers that you never turn off (on a plus note, I’m not cold). I’ve had to find various places for doing my videoconferencing as the noise can be a bit burdensome. I’m quite interested in where bitcoin may wind up going but I really don’t have any expectations.


Tabletop Role-Playing Games

The short explanation is always “You remember Dungeons and Dragons? Well, it is like that except we don’t play D&D.” Right now there is a renaissance of independent role-playing games going on (for most of a decade now but really kicked up further by things like kickstarter). I was in an RPG group that met once a month, then twice a month, and now we have a weekly pickup game with people who feel like playing along with two Sundays a month of regular sessions. The weekly games have been used as an opportunity for us to play one or two-off games that are either interesting concept pieces or just intriguing without any kind of commitment to regular play. I and two of the cohort have plotted out an extended scenario/game, using the very simple Lady Blackbird rules as a basis, involving the shift from Pulp Era Heroes (think “The Shadow”) to Golden Age Superheroes (think “Superman”). We’re going to do some design work on this and playtest it with our group before releasing it under some kinf of Creative Commons license.

Beyond all of this, I’m on the board once again of my local hackerspace, the aforementioned Ace Monster Toys, and it continues to thrive. I may also be going to Japan for a week or two in March on matters Buddhist related but nothing has been set in stone as of yet. My work is still focused on being a program manager for security over at Mozilla (though I largely focus on Firefox efforts).

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Boing Boing Ingenuity was great

Al Billings


I managed to go to Boing Boing: Ingenuity this weekend. This was a one day hackathon followed by “vaudeville for geeks” set of presentations and performances yesterday. I actually missed the hackathon on the first day because I wound up having my birthday BBQ for my 42nd birthday (which is today) on Saturday and I’m kind of a crappy coder anyway. This was an invitation event but a free one (sponsored by Ford but it was a low-key sponsorship). I wasn’t sure what to expect before I arrived.

Yesterday’s event was very cool but also very odd, in a way. I kept trying to figure out the demographics of the group there (as one does…) because it was this mix of hackerspace people that I knew, makers, inventors, artists of various sorts, and happy mutants of the cacophony society sort. I ran into fellow hackerspace founders, including the BioCurious folks, embedded systems programers (who were also musicians), authors, designers, and artists.

The events included presentations by designers, musical performances, talks about SETI, a mentalist, the founding of BioCurious and a variety of other things.

I would say that I most enjoyed two particular presentations.

One was near the beginning and that was Chris Noessel presenting on user interfaces in science fiction (specifically movies) drawing from his work for Make It So, the book he co-wrote on the topic and documented on his website for it. Chris is a friend of a friend and I last saw him debating over beer after the most recent Batman movie about how certain things made no sense (!!) in the movie. I’ve heard him mention his work on science fiction but hadn’t actually seen any of it so it was cool (and pretty amusing) to see him present.

The last session of the day is the other that I really enjoyed. This was by Mythbusters’ Adam Savage (and now on being a maker. A couple of the anecdoates in it I’d heard before, probably when he spoke at Defcon, but I enjoyed his voice over of his ten rules for success. I find these rather inspirational even if I’ve never managed to follow all of them!

They are:

  1. Get good at something.

    Really good. Get good at as many things as you can. Being good at one thing makes it easier to get good at other things.

  2. Getting good at stuff takes practice.

    Lots and lots of practice.

  3. Get OBSESSED.

    Everyone at the top of their field is obsessed with what they’re doing.

  4. Doing something well and thoroughly is its OWN reward.

  5. Show and Tell.

    If you do something well and you’re happy with it, for FSM’s sake, tell EVERYONE.

  6. If you want something, ASK.

    If something piques your interest, tell someone. If you want to learn something, ask someone, like your BOSS. As an employer, I can tell you, people who want to learn new skills are people I want to keep employed.

  7. Have GOALS.

    Make up goals. Set goals. Regularly assess where you are and where you want to be in terms of them. This is a kind of prayer that works, and works well. Allow for the fact that things will NEVER turn out like you think they will, and you must be prepared to end up miles from where you intended.

  8. Be nice. To EVERYONE.

    Life is way too short to be an asshole. If you are an asshole, apologize.

  9. FAIL.

    You will fail. It’s one of our jobs in life. Keep failing. When you fail, admit it. When you don’t, don’t get cocky. ‘Cause you’re just about to fail again.


    Work like your life depends on it…

As someone who spends a lot of his life at a hackerspace, thinking about hackerspaces, and actually trying to make things (and my professional life in kind of a related context), this was both useful and a lot of fun. I think younger makers, especially, could really learn a lot by following these rules.

I’m not sure if Boing Boing: Ingenuity was a one-off event or the eventual building to more events but I’m very glad that I was invited to attend and got to experience it. I think that there are only a few places in the world where you could get this particular mix of mutants together and it was cool to be a part of it.

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Moving Blogging Here

Al Billings

I just announced over on that I’m effectively closing that blog. I’ve also changed my twitter username from openbuddha to makehacklearn as part of doing so. I’m moving my blog focus here to blog about more hackerish things, which have been more my public interest for some time and less about talking in public about spirituality, which was effectively the focus of the site. I figured that I’d mention it here as well since I did change twitter usernames. I still figure that my blogging will be somewhat irregular!

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Cal’s Dreambox

Al Billings

A few weeks ago, it was announced that there was now a 3D printing vending machine over at UC, Berkeley (aka “Cal”) now. This is the creation of Dreambox, some startup or somesuch doing 3D printing vending machines. Without a lot of data, I sent my trusty minion (I mean “friend”), Zed Lopez, over to take a look at it for me. He took a few photos with his phone and I put them up as a flickr set.


As you can see, the Dreambox basically consists of a Replicator 1 from Makerbot Industries (I mean Stratasys) in a box that dumps prints into the drawers beneath it. Dreambox has put up a video which helpfully shows their process:

While I’m happy to see more exposure to 3D printing for the public, this whole thing seems like a bit of a bad idea. Printers like this that print in plastic are notoriously finicky things, with prints often coming out badly if conditions aren’t right or if the printer is simply not maintained and cleaned well. I don’t know how an unattended Replicator 1 sitting in a box is going to do well with printing materials on a reliably basis. I certainly wouldn’t want to own this Dreambox and have to maintain it on a regular basis.

There is some hope that the machine will be upgraded or better though. I got a note from Dreambox this morning (where I had made an account) mentioning that the whole machine was going offline at the end of this week while they upgraded it. I assume they are going to make some changes to make it more reliably, maybe upgrading the printer to a new model.

If anyone makes any prints on this machine, I’d love to hear more about how the process was for you as a normal user.

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