Category Archives: Uncategorized

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 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

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)
  • 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.


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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What’s cooking in: CNC–plus new area host needed!

PS1 is looking for a new host for the CNC area. Becoming an area host is a great way to deepen your expertise and help determine the direction of the organization. In the words of outgoing host Ash Anjani:

Being area host is a very rewarding experience. Not only do you get to be at the forefront of helping members with new technologies that they aren’t familiar with, but you get build on your own knowledge of understanding how the equipment operates and best practices. The best student is a teacher, and I am walking away from area host a much better individual and a more adept maker.

The specific responsibilities of area host include:

  • Maintaining and organizing the area
  • Overseeing training and authorization
  • Working with the Board of Directors to address the long-term needs of the area
  • Acting as an ambassador for the area, and promoting its use and projects.

Applications are due this Sunday, April 15. If you are interested, please send a note to describing why you are a good fit for the position and outlining your plans for the area.

CNC is one of the most dynamic areas at PS1. Here’s a round-up of recent happenings and equipment updates.

Epson 9800 wide-format printer

This is not quite ready for general use. We still need to set up restrictions so that only authorized users can make prints. The machine also needs a fitted cover.

FormLabs Form 1+ SLA 3D Printer

This printer requires a proprietary resin, and although it is more difficult to use than other 3D printers, it can also generate prints with potentially desirable features, such as translucency, high resolution, smooth surfaces, and suitability for us in metal casting.

We ordered three liters of resin (castable, ceramic, and clear), which should arrive in May. Here is the Kickstarter campaign where you can buy your own resin, if interested (

Update: the Kickstarter failed. So we ordered 4 250-ml bottles of monoprice resin for testing. Apparently cheaper resins (like those described in the Kickstarter campaign, are becoming available from Chinese manufacturers.

We also ordered four Z-Vat glass trays ( that last considerably longer and have much less distortion than the FormLabs trays.

Update: These were briefly out of stock, but are now available. Next week we should be getting three trays and two slip covers.

FDM Printers

Thanks to Zack Sasnow for helping to finish the plywood enclosure for the printers. We still need to buy a vinyl curtain to cover the front and provide insulation. Other needs include a replace SD card and an extension cord for the fancy lights.

Epilog Mini Laser

We will soon be ordering a replacement motherboard so that we can get this machine back in service. We still need an airline hook-up.

ShopBot CNC router

We recently took the ShopBot down for a day to perform a tune-up. Some more involved fixes in the works include:

  • New pinion gears. Some ShopBot owners have upgraded their motors to 7.2:1 for more torque and higher resolution. This requires a controller upgrade, though. We are getting pricing information.
  • New motor driver. Currently we are using the fourth axis driver, so the fourth axis is out of commission.

Tormach CNC mill

As mentioned in the last newsletter, Tucker was able to get us ten free training sessions with Tormach, which means that part of the training budget will go to lodging and meals, and most of it will be saved. The first four trainees will hopefully attend classes in April, schedule permitting.

The electrician should be setting up power for the Tormach within the next few weeks.

New authorizers

We now have four CNC volunteer authorizers who have been doing a bang-up job: Joe J., Joe M., Deanna, and Jeff. Many thanks to them for all their help.

Everything else

  • We ordered a shop filter that needs to be mounted the ceiling.
  • We also got a floor mop and Ash spent a few hours mopping. He reports that the floor is now less nasty than before.
  • A 6″ to 4″ splitter and tee were purchased to handle exhaust from the Universal laser. It still needs to be hooked up.
  • And we need to move the 6″ x 6″ x 4″ tee over to the Epilog.
  • And we need to install an air hose with compressed air for clean-up.


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We have a photo stream–and you can post to it

We included a poll in the last newsletter to determine which photo sharing sites are most popular among PS1 users. The runaway favorite is Instagram, which is more than three times as popular as the runner-up, Youtube, which also happens to not be a photo-sharing site.

So here’s the deal: if you post photos or videos to your Instagram account and tag it #madeatps1, it will show up on the PS1 website. It will also show up in our Slack workspace. And in the future it might get pushed out to other places as well, like Twitter or Facebook or the Russian dark web.

The most recent handful of images from the Instagram feed shows up on most pages of the PS1 website. And you can browse the entire set of photos here:


Check it out, here’s Grant Wagner’s custom tabletop arcade console, including authentic buttons and joysticks imported from Japan:

Machining custom copper bolts for a six-way motion sensor:

#madeatps1 machining custom copper bolts

A post shared by Pumping Station: One (@pumpingstationone) on

Stained glass!

Folks, I’m not a huge social media guy, but I’ve been wandering around PS1 snapping and posting pictures of people lately, and I’m here to tell you that this is easy and fun. This Instagram thing might just have a future.

“Look at this thing I made”

Try it out! Of course we love people to write up blog posts that dive into the details of their work, but if you’re pressed for time and just want to show the world this thing you made, take a picture and tag it #madeatps1. There is an astonishing diversity of projects underway at any given time at PS1. Publicizing your work serves as inspiration to others and helps likeminded people connect.

What if I don’t have an Instagram account?

Well, you could always shell out the $0.00 required to set one up and start snapping away. But if you don’t want to do that, we still have you covered. Just email your pictures or video, plus any relevant caption, to We will take it from there.

Can I geotag/use Flickr/post daguerrotypes instead?

Not at the moment, no. It has been suggested that we expand the feed to include pics that have been geotagged at PS1, or that mention the @pumpingstationone Instagram account, etc. These are all good ideas, but the plugins we are using don’t do this out of the box. (You can however tag your photos with #madeatpsone instead, if you like typing extra letters on your phone.)

What else can I do?

I’m glad I pretended you asked. You can follow the PS1 Instagram account @pumpingstationone.

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