All systems go: marathon paves the way for member management changeover

As you know, we are in the process of ripping the guts out of our member management system and replacing it with a commercial system called Wild Apricot. This is going to affect you, and hopefully eventually delight you, but these transitions are always a little complicated.

A brave band gathered recently for a Systems Group Marathon to lay the groundwork for this transition. PS:1 uses software called Active Directory (AD) to manage logins across our disparate systems. AD is what allows you to log into the wiki, the ShopBot, the website, etc., and soon our new learning management system with a single user name and password.

The marathon volunteers upgraded AD and got it working with Wild Apricot. This means that in the future, you will have “only” two passwords to manage: one for your payments to PS:1 and one for everything else. You shouldn’t need to touch payments very often, so this isn’t as hard as it sounds. Also, the new AD allows for self-service password reset, so no more desperate emails required if you get locked out.

Excitingly, Canvas is now up and running. Canvas, our new learning management system, will soon be the foundation for the authorization process at PS:1. We hope with Canvas to make authorizations both more convenient and more consistent.

With these changes and others (new Ansible playbook, new nginx, Let’s Encrypt SSL certs, etc.), we’re now getting very close to the Wild Apricot changeover. Emails will start going out soon to small groups of users. When the process is working smoothly, the entire org will change over.

A huge thanks to Abel, Wayne, Mariano, and our CTO Sky. If you’re tired of sitting on the sidelines and being overshadowed by heroes like these, bring your IT skills to the next systems group marathon. Do it for the accolades. Do it for PS:1. Do it for the pizza.

If you’re interested, Sky is always available on Slack in the #systemsgroup channel. She can also be reached at cto@pumpingstationone.org. Finally, Sky has a frequently updated and public Trello board for all IT systems stuff that you can check out here if you want to know what needs to get done and what is being worked on.

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Upcoming factory tour: Horween Leather

Update: the first tour is happening on June 12 at 11am. The tour is limited to 8 people and already has a waiting list, but Nick Horween has offered to conduct additional tours, so please feel free to add your name to the list.


Based on the enthusiastic response to the idea of factory tours, I have reached out to a number of local businesses. It looks like the first tour is going to be with Horween Leather.

Many of you have probably seen their building at the intersection of Elston and Ashland. Horween was founded in 1905, and continues to blend handmade craftsmanship with modern techniques:

Horween Leather offers an unparalleled blend of quality, consistency, responsiveness, and innovation. Through the years, we have cultivated our experience to offer dynamic lines of leathers. Our products include traditional, old world tannages and techniques, carefully updated with modern applications. Today, our leathers are still made by hand, the same way as generations ago.

Horween’s product lines range from sports leathers (footballs and baseball gloves) to high-end footwear and other applications.

If you are interested in touring Horween, please register here.

Some things to note:

  • We don’t have a time of day, day of week, or date for the tour yet. Of course we will try to arrange a time that works best for the greatest number of people, but no guarantees are possible.
  • The number of people who can attend is limited, and participants will be chosen by random lottery.
  • Reminder: if there are other places you would like to tour — and especially if you have any connections — please get in touch!
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Wanted: help planning PS:1’s future location and, well, future

One of the tricky things in a volunteer-run organization is planning for the long-term. Positions turn over frequently, and it can be a challenge to develop institutional memory or focus on issues that play out over years.

Are you interested in helping to meet that challenge? PS:1’s building is up for sale. Although we have up to eight years left on our lease, most paths forward require action much sooner than that. We need to get our hands around this problem, and we especially need the help of volunteers who are invested in PS:1’s future and excited about making sure PS:1’s second decade is even better than its first.

At the same time, we have an opportunity to prototype a process for doing long-range planning of the kind that, so far, we mostly haven’t had much experience with.

To these ends, we are convening a Planning Working Group. Read more on the concept here.

Better yet, let us know if you are potentially interested in participating. Send an email to board@pumpingstationone.org and write a sentence or two on the following:

  1. Why you are interested in joining the Planning Working Group.
  2. How much time you think you can realistically commit.
  3. Any relevant skills or knowledge you bring (none required, but if you have any, we’d love to hear about it).
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Factory tours! Who’s interested?

On my list of “things to make happen at PS:1” is arranging factory tours to give members an up-close look at how things are made at industrial scale. The maker movement is about putting the tools of production in the hands of individuals, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate or draw inspiration from the pros. Chicagoland has a rich industrial past and present. And a lot of this stuff is just plain cool.

I was reminded of this idea when I took a recent tour of a factory in South Chicago (more on that below). So consider this a call for interest and also a call for ideas. Does anyone know of any businesses, or even types of businesses, they would like to see the inside of? I’m happy to make cold calls, but of course if you have any contacts, all the better. Email me at press@pumpingstationone.org.


And here’s a quick photo essay on my recent tour. I’m not going to identify the company, or even the industry, but suffice to say it’s an old-school family business that has been manufacturing products in America for almost 100 years.

Although the factory mainly relies on CNC machines, vacuum formers, and water jets these days, it also keeps around a 120-year-old sewing machine for certain specialized jobs:

The nail-sized needle can punch through almost anything, and the machine ain’t broke, so…

There are a few other pieces of antique equipment still in use, like this cutter. It’s a little hard to see in the photo, but there are some nice hand-painted designs on the blade (click for a close-up):

This cutter is a little less antique, but no less pretty:

Foam is sold in massive blocks called “buns” because of the way they rise like loaves of bread when formed. Apparently you don’t want to be around to smell this process.

Buns are cut to size on massive vertical and horizontal bandsaws, in a process known as skiving. Skiving is a precision operation that results in thin, even slices:

The roller that feeds the foam into the blade can be replaced by “convoluter” dies, which come in a number of different patterns. Ever wonder how egg crate foam is made? This is how:

The dies squeeze the foam as it passes over the blade, creating the familiar dimpled effect:

Once cut to size, foam can be cut into more specific shapes using a 350-ton press. Notice the razor-edged patterns set into the wooden board. I thought I misheard when the press was described to me. Wouldn’t 350 pounds be about enough for cutting squishy foam? Nope, a clean cut requires a lot of force.

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Replacing the member management system: help wanted

Big news: in the coming weeks PS:1 will move to a new member management system as part of ongoing efforts to revitalize some of our digital systems and infrastructure.

Details below, but here are some of the key points:

  • This will affect everyone, as people will have to move over to a new (better) payment system. Detailed instructions coming soon.
  • The new system will bring a number of advantages, including a more automated onboarding process; access to our new learning management system; an RFID-based  entry system to the building (no more PIN codes); better data security; and a system that is better able to handle future member growth.

We are switching to a new commercial system called Wild Apricot to manage members. At the same we are switching over to a payment processor called Stripe, which is very similar to Paypal except for the part about sucking the life out of anyone who touches it.

On to the details, including ways that you can help (please!).

What are we doing?

We are implementing a completely new Active Directory (AD) infrastructure to support the Windows systems in the space, which effectively requires rebuilding many of the critical systems that power space resources. AD will offer a robust and reliable infrastructure, while retaining the ability to use open source software where applicable for space operations. AD will be the primary source of authentication for almost all services. This includes access to space computers, RFID, the Canvas learning management system, and any future software systems.

How can you help?

We’re looking for members to help build up documentation and assist in overall maintenance of these systems. We’ll also need help with switching computers over to the new system and transferring member data and authorization, which is a manual process.

There are no prerequisites for volunteering to help other than an enthusiasm for computers. We are also looking for fresh ideas and helpful software beyond the list below, so if you have any ideas, please do reach out!

In addition, experience with the following systems would be helpful:

  • Active Directory / Windows Administration
  • Azure Administration
  • ESXi / vCenter
  • WildApricot / Member management systems
  • Database applications
  • Open Source Software (not limited to)
  • NGINX
  • Ansible (& other IT automation infrastructure)
  • MediaWiki
  • WordPress
  • OpenVPN
  • RFID systems

Whether or not you have experience in any of the above, if you are interested in learning more about our systems, feel free to attend systems group meetings. These will be regularly scheduled and posted to the Google Calendar moving forward. These will mostly be weekend sessions devoting a couple of hours to building new infrastructure, brainstorming, and occasioally stabilizing old infrastructure.

We also need help with documentation. Assisting with documentation is an excellent way to become intimately familiar with our systems, and to ensure PS:1’s digital continuity.

Timeline

The upgrade and maintenance process is ongoing (with no end in sight…sad face). We are first going to enable the new system for all new and incoming members. Then we will transfer current memberships to the new system. More details soon.

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Stroll on over to the Northside Mini Maker Faire this Saturday

Schurz High School hosts the seventh annual Northside Mini Maker Faire this weekend just up the street from PS:1.

Up to 1,000 people are expected to attend, making this one of the largest such events in Chicago. The PS:1 Power Racing team will host an exhibit.

The event runs from 10am to 4pm on Saturday, May 5 at 3601 N. Milwaukee Ave (at Addison). Stop by to support the local maker community.

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Speaking of VR, there’s a party in this cat’s mouth

The “Make Video Games” group at PS:1 came into existence about 12 months ago with a credo of “half art, half code.” Each session features a unique workshop, with a priority on demos.

Typically newcomer demos are featured first, followed by a code review of something simple, yet spectacular, in Unity 3D.

Workshops also focus on the creative aspects of game-making, including narrative design and game mechanics. Projects have ranged from pencil-and-paper board games to a storyline for a game that hacked a telephone automation system.

The focus for 2018 will be on hands-on workshops in creation of immersive content to be ported to multiple VR and AR (and XR) platforms, including HTC Vive, Oculus, Windows MR, Galaxy Gear and whatever the group can get its hands on.

Over time, the group has attracted the participation of talented professional game makers and video artists. For example, PS:1 member Mark Creasy 3D scanned his head and the PS:1 kitchen to pop out this psychedelic gem:

Here’s a bit of behind-the-scenes on how Mark scanned the room for the video:

For more of this goodness, of course, show up at the next session of “Make Video Games.”

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CNC round-up: new areas hosts (!) and structure

As the old saying goes, it takes a village to replace Ash Jasani, and accordingly the responsibilities in the CNC area have now been distributed across three people. Thank you to three new area hosts for graciously offering their time:

  • Andrew Sowa is host for the 3D printers
  • Zander Bueno is host for the laser cutters (and vinyl cutter)
  • Hank Peterson is host for machining — the ShopBot, Shapeoko, Tormach, and other devices for making chips

This change reflects a longstanding issue: the number of members and pieces of equipment has ballooned over the years, but the number of people filling operational roles has remained nearly constant. These means an ever-increasing workload for the area hosts, which in turn requires them to focus their energy on only the most pressing issues.

Dividing up responsibilities allows the hosts to focus their energy more narrowly and productively. As a case in point, Andrew Sowa has kicked off his tenure by donating a homemade post-cure station to PS:1.

This fancy Easy-Bake oven will make it easier to use our two Form 1 machines. Says Andrew:

UV resin does not come out of the printer fully cured, so further processing is required.  UV light (405nm) and heat are applied to make sure the print is converted to a solid. This process can drastically change the material properties, and it is important that conditions be reasonably well controlled. My little toaster should offer good enough control of heat and light to dial in the best post-cure for different materials.

Also, it looks cool:

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Vote on a VR headset for PS:1 and sending delegates to NOMCON

Update: both votes passed.

We’ve got two votes scheduled for tomorrow, May 1. You can still vote by proxy if you get your vote in today. Otherwise, show up at tomorrow’s member meeting to weigh on these matters of urgent public concern.

First up: vote to authorize $1,528 for the purchase of a Windows Mixed Reality Headset, controllers, and gaming laptop. Details here.

Pumping Station: One originally touted itself as a place for hackers, programmers, woodworkers and game designers. In 2017, a game design group was formed to re-energize this aspect of our charter.

This new equipment will be:

  • The centerpiece of a 3-month workshop series on immersive environment development.
  • Available for a working group specifically formed to create a demo about PS:1.
  • Available at parties and events, along with special events just for members to try the unit.
  • Available to the CNC area and any other areas that do not currently have adequate video cards or processing power to perform needed tasks.
  • Available for checkout by any member.
  • Secured when not in use.

Next up: vote to spend up to $2,000 (more likely $1,200) to defray the cost of attending the first ever Nation of Makers national conference (NOMCON) for up to two delegates from PS:1. Details here.

Nation of Makers is a national collective of makerspaces “dedicated to helping support America’s maker organizations through advocacy, resource sharing, and the building of community within the maker movement and beyond.” They are holding their first annual conference this year from June 9-10 in Santa Fe, NM. The theme is “intentional inclusion.”

The agenda for the conference covers a lot of topics of relevance to PS:1, and also affords us a great opportunity to forge ties with other mission-aligned organizations.

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Project spotlight: Shou Sugi Ban, or the Japanese art of weatherproofing wood with fire

PS1 member Jonathan Howlette recently completed a project in which he experimented with Shou Sugi Ban (Japanese wood charring) to create some decorative elements for a home office.

Shou Sugi Ban is an eighteenth century technique for preserving wood by burning its exterior, cleaning it, and then finishing it with oil. The process offers several practical benefits-the finished process resists rot, fire, and insects–but the recent popularity of the technique has more to do with the aesthetic qualities of final product. Shou sugi ban is used these days both on exterior finishes and on interior furniture and artwork.

Traditionally cedar was used, but the process works with a variety of woods. Jonathan used 1′ x 12′ pine boards. Here is a before and after:

And here is a close-up of the final product, which shows the textural details revealed by the charring process:

Here are the boards being prepped for installation as wall paneling:

And the final result:

For this project, Jonathan purchased a propane torch, which he donated back to the space so that others can experiment with the technique.

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