Bankrupt Maker Faire revives, reduced to Make Community

Maker Faire and Maker Media are getting a second chance after suddenly going bankrupt, but they’ll return in a weakened capacity. Sadly, their flagship crafting festivals remain in jeopardy, and it’s unclear how long the reformed company can survive.

Maker Media suddenly laid off all 22 employees and shut down last month, as first reported by TechCrunch. Now its founder and CEO Dale Dougherty tells me he’s bought back the brands, domains, and content from creditors and rehired 15 of 22 laid off staffers with his own money. Next week, he’ll announce the relaunch of the company with the new name “Make Community“.

Read our story about how Maker Faire fell apart

The company is already working on a new issue of Make Magazine that it will hope to publish quarterly (down from six times per year) and the online archives of its do-it-yourself project guides will remain available. I hopes to keep publishing books. And it will continue to license the Maker Faire name to event organizers who’ve thrown over 200 of the festivals full of science-art and workshops in 40 countries. But Dougherty doesn’t have the funding to commit to producing the company-owned flagship Bay Area and New York Maker Faires any more.

Maker Faire Layoffs

“We’ve succeeded in just getting the transition to happen and getting Community set up” Dougherty tells me. But sounding shaky, he asks “Can I devise a better model to do what we’ve been doing the past 15 years? I don’t know if I have the answer yet.” Print publishing proved tougher and tougher recently. Combined with declining corporate sponsorships of the main events, Maker Media was losing too much money to stay afloat last time.

On June 3rd, we basically stopped doing business. And, you know, the bank froze our accounts” Dougherty said at a meetup he held in Oakland to take feedback on his plan, according a recording made by attendee Brian Benchoff. Grasping for a way to make the numbers work, he told the small crowd gathered “I’d be happy if someone wanted to take this off my hands.”

Maker Faire

Maker Faire [Image via Maker Faire Instagram]

For now, Dougherty is financing the revival himself “with the goal that we can get back up to speed as a business, and start generating revenue and a magazine again. This is where the community support needs to come in because I can’t fund it for very long.”

Dale 1

Maker Faire founder and Make Community CEO Dale Dougherty

The immediate plan is to announce a new membership model next week at Make.co where hobbyists and craft-lovers can pay a monthly or annual fee to become patrons of Make Community. Dougherty was cagey about what they’ll get in return beyond a sense of keeping alive the organization that’s held the maker community together since 2005. He does hope to get the next Make Magazine issue out by the end of summer or early fall, and existing subscribers should get it in the mail.

The company is still determining whether to move forward as a non-profit or co-op instead of as a venture-backed for-profit as before. “The one thing i don’t like about non-profit is that you end up working for the source you got the money from. You dance to their tune to get their funding” he told the meetup.

Last time, he burned through $10 million in venture funding from Obvious Ventures, Raine Ventures, and Floodgate. That could make VCs weary of putting more cash into a questionable business model. But if enough of the 80,000 remaining Make Magazine subscribers, 1 million YouTube followers, and millions who’ve attended Maker Faire events step up, pehaps the company can find surer footing.

“I hope this is actually an opportunity not just to revive what we do but maybe take it to a new level” Dougherty tells me. After all, plenty of today’s budding inventors and engineers grew up reading Make Magazine and being awestruck by the massive animatronic creations featured at its festivals.

Audibly peturbed, the founder exclaimed at his community meetup “It frustrates the heck out of me thinking that I’m the one backing up Maker Faire when there’s all these billionaires in the valley.”

Maker Faire lives

The Raspberry Pi Foundation unveils the Raspberry Pi 4

The Raspberry Pi 4 is here — and it’s an awesome upgrade. Earlier rumors said that it would take a while before a major Raspberry Pi upgrade, but it’s available starting today.

When it comes to physical design, the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B looks a lot like the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+, the previous flagship model. It’s a single-board computer with a lot of connectors that is the size of a deck of cards.

But everything has been updated. It starts with a faster system-on-a-chip. The processor now uses the Cortex-A72 architecture (quad-core 64-bit ARMv8 at 1.5GHz). It supports H.265 hardware video decoding for instance.

The Raspberry Pi has been stuck at 512MB or 1GB of RAM for years. For the first time, you can buy models with more memory if you want more memory. The base model still starts with 1GB of RAM. But you can optionally buy a model with 2GB RAM or even 4GB of RAM.

In addition to raw memory capacity, memory transfer speeds should be faster as the foundation is switching from LPDDR2 to LPDDR4.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation has already sent me a Raspberry Pi 4 and I plan to run some benchmarks and share the results. I’m just waiting for the Raspbian update as the existing release doesn’t run on the new architecture — I realized that after formatting the microSD card to replace the pre-installed NOOBS operating system with Raspbian Lite (oopsie).

When it come to connectivity, the two big changes are that you now get true Gigabit Ethernet (instead of Ethernet over USB 2.0). It should open up a ton of potential use cases for servers and headless Raspberry Pi devices.

There are now two USB 3.0 ports and two USB 2.0 ports. And you now get a USB-C port for the power brick. Bluetooth is also getting an update from Bluetooth 4.2 to Bluetooth 5.0.

The final big hardware change is that the full-size HDMI port is gone. You now get two micro-HDMI ports, which let you plug two 4K displays at 60 frames per second using one Raspberry Pi. I haven’t tested that setup yet. I’m sure it would be fine to run two statics dashboards in your office for instance, but I wouldn’t expect crazy dual-screen performances.

The rest of the specifications should look familiar to anybody who has used a Raspberry Pi in the past. There’s a microSD card slot so that you can put the operating system and user data on a memory card. There’s a 40-pin GPIO header that should be compatible with existing add-on boards.

The product is launching today through authorized Raspberry Pi retailers. The base model still costs $35, while the 2GB RAM model costs $45 and the 4GB RAM model costs $55.

While the Raspberry Pi first started as a simple computer designed to teach kids how to code, it has become a versatile device with many different use cases. I’ve been using a few for the past couple of years and I learned a lot about programming, system administration, Docker containers and networking. And it looks like today’s update will be a hit for kids, parents and makers.

Now on Kickstarter, Tech DIY uses sewing to teach kids how to build electronics

Tech DIY takes a soft touch toward teaching electronics—literally. Now on Kickstarter, the kit uses sewing to teach kids and adult beginners about electronic and electric circuits by sewing dolls, soft figures and bracelets that light up, move and make noises.

Tech DIY was created by Ji Sun Lee and Jaymes Dec, the authors of “Tech DIY, Easy Electronics Projects for Parents and Kids,” published in 2016 by Maker Media. While working on her master’s thesis and thinking of ways to close the gender gap in technology, Lee began exploring the idea of using textile crafts to teach electronics for her master’s thesis.

Dec is a fab lab teacher at a girls’ private school, while Lee is a professor at a women’s college in Korea. “I also worked in the IT industry for many years, where it had very few women employees. Although both of us teach technology, we feel that the educational content created for female users is minimal and marginalized,” Lee said.

Lee and Dec decided to use sewing for their projects since many women and girls are already familiar with textile crafts. There are already kits that combine electronics with textiles, like Lily Pad and Adafruit’s Flora, which both use Arduino, but the programming required for their micro-controllers is too complicated for most novices, Lee said. Tech DIY’s kits are designed for elementary and middle school students, as well as adult beginners. They can be built with basic sewing skills and the projects increase in complexity, allowing new makers to level up.

Tech DIY's Nightlight Cat Bracelet project

Tech DIY’s Nightlight Cat Bracelet project

Two kits are available for Kickstarter backers. The Joy Kit contains five projects, including an embroidery sampler called My Happy House that teaches about electricity, circuits and basic electronic components, and the Purring Elephant, a pillow that uses a motor to move and vibrate. The Awesome Kit is for more experienced makers and includes components for projects like the Nightlight Cat Bracelet, which uses a light sensor and transistor to light up in the dark, and the Solar Sun Project, powered with solar panels instead of batteries. (If you want to see how the projects are put together, check out the instructions for A Silly Ghost, the Nightlight Cat Bracelet and Purring Elephant Bracelet, which are all available for free online.)

The kits include all necessary components for the projects, thick, high-quality felt and what Lee and Dec describe as the “best conductive thread on the planet.”

As of this post, the Kickstarter campaign has reached more than $18,300 of its $30,000 goal, with less than two days left. After the campaign, Lee and Dec plan to make kits available for sale through Etsy. While Maker Media, the publisher of “Tech DIY, Easy Electronics Projects for Parents and Kids,” recently paused operations due to financial issues, the book is still available for purchase as a PDF through Maker Shed or as a Kindle edition or paperback on Amazon.

How-to video maker Jumprope launches to leapfrog YouTube

Sick of pausing and rewinding YouTube tutorials to replay that tricky part? Jumprope is a new instructional social network offering a powerful how-to video slideshow creation tool. Jumprope helps people make step-by-step guides to cooking, beauty, crafts, parenting and more using voice-overed looping GIFs for each phase. And creators can export their whole lesson for sharing on Instagram, YouTube, or wherever.

Jumprope officially launches its iOS app today with plenty of how-tos for making chocolate chip bars, Easter eggs, flower boxes, or fierce eyebrows. “By switching from free-form linear video to something much more structured, we can make it much easier for people to share their knowledge and hacks” says Jumprope co-founder and CEO Jake Poses.

The rise of Snapchat Stories and Pinterest have made people comfortable jumping on camera and showing off their niche interests. By building a new medium, Jumprope could become the home for rapid-fire learning. And since viewers will have tons of purchase intent for the makeup, art supplies, or equipment they’ll need to follow along, Jumprope could make serious cash off of ads or affiliate commerce.

The opportunity to bring instruction manuals into the mobile video era has attracted a $4.5 million seed round led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and joined by strategic angels like Adobe Chief Product Officer Scott Belsky and Thumbtack co-founders Marco Zappacosta and Jonathan Swanson. People are already devouring casual education content on HGTV and the Food Network, but Jumprope democratizes its creation.

Jumprope co-founders (from left): CTO Travis Johnson and CEO Jake Poses

The idea came from a deeply personal place for Poses. “My brother has pretty severe learning differences, and so growing up with him gave me this appreciation for figuring out how to break things down and explain them to people” Poses reveals. “I think that attached me to this problem of ‘how do you organize information so its simple and easy to understand?’. Lots and lots of people have this information trapped in their heads because there isn’t an a way to easily share that.”

Poses was formerly the VP of product at Thumbtack where he helped grow the company from 8 to 500 people and a $1.25 billion valuation. He teamed up with AppNexus’ VP of engineering Travis Johnson, who’d been leading a 50-person team of coders. “The product takes people who have knowledge and passion but not the skill to make video [and gives them] guard rails that make it easy to communicate” Poses explains.

Disrupting incumbents like YouTube’s grip on viewers might take years, but Jumprope sees its guide creation and export tool as a way to infiltrate and steal their users. That strategy mirrors how TikTok’s watermarked exports colonized the web

How To Make A Jumprope.

Jumprope lays out everything you’ll need to upload, including a cover image, introduction video, supplies list, and all your steps. For each, you’ll record a video that you can then enhance with voice over, increased speed, music, and filters.

Creators are free to suggest their own products or enter affiliate links to monetize their videos. Once it has enough viewers, Jumprope plans to introduce advertising, but it could also add tipping, subscriptions, paid how-tos, or brand sponsorship options down the line. Creators can export their lessons with five different border themes and seven different aspect ratios for posting to Instagram’s feed, IGTV, Snapchat Stories, YouTube, or embedding on their blog.

“Like with Stories, you basically tap through at your own pace” Poses says of the viewing experience. Jumprope offers some rudimentary discovery through categories, themed collections, or what’s new and popular. The startup has done extensive legwork to sign up featured creators in all its top categories. That means Jumprope’s catalog is already extensive, with food guides ranging from cinnabuns to pot roasts to how to perfectly chop an onion. 

“You’re not constantly dealing with the frustration of cooking something and trying to start and stop the video with greasy hands. And if you don’t want all the details, you can tap through it much faster” than trying to skim a YouTube video or blog post, Poses tells me. Next the company wants to build a commenting feature where you can leave notes, substitution suggestions, and more on each step of a guide.

Poses claims there’s no one building a direct competitor to its mobile video how-to editor. But he admits it will be an uphill climb to displace viewership on Instagram and YouTube. One challenge facing Jumprope is that most people aren’t hunting down how-to videos every day. The app will have to work to remind users it exists and that they shouldn’t just go with the lazy default of letting Google recommend the videos it hosts.

The internet has gathered communities around every conceivable interest. But greater access to creation and consumption necessitates better tools for production and curation. As we move from a material to an experiential culture, people crave skills that will help them forge memories and contribute to the world around them. Jumprope makes it a lot less work to leap into the life of a guru.

These antique phones are precious, private Alexa vessels

Amazon’s Alexa may be in ten thousand different devices now, but they all have one other thing in common: they’re new. So for those of us that prefer old things but still want to be able to set timers and do metric-imperial conversions without pulling out our phones, Grain Design is retrofitting these fabulous old telephones to provide Alexa access with no other hints of modernity. There’s even a privacy angle!

The phones themselves (spotted by a BoingBoing tipster) are genuine antiques, and not even the mass-produced Bell sets you see so often. I personally love the copper-plated model, though I certainly wouldn’t say no to the candlestick.

Dick Whitney, who runs the company, modifies the hardware to make room for an Echo Dot inside. Pick up the phone and speak, and Alexa answers, just like the operators of yore! Except you can ask Alexa anything and it won’t be irritated. Some of the Alexaphones, as he calls them, will include the original audio hardware so you can experience the cognitive dissonance of talking to a virtual assistant and having them answer using a century-old speaker. (I bet it sounds terrible and brilliant.)

I’m also delighted to say that the microphone physically disconnects when the phone is on the hook, though — so Amazon won’t be listening in to your conversations and emailing them to random people.

“The Echo microphones have their connections severed or are removed completely, and the microphone in the handset is connected via the original switches in the base, so it’s only in contact when the handset is picked up,” explained Whitney in an email.

The modifications to the phones don’t end there: in the rear of each will be a 1/8″ audio port so you can plug in a real speaker. No one wants to sit at their telephone table (remember those?) and listen to a few songs in mono through vintage hardware. Although having written that sentence I do have to say I’d try it once. Right now all the audio would have to go out that way, but Whitney says he may have a trick to switch it back and forth in the future (you can always just unplug the audio for privacy).

There’s also an LED hidden on the front so you have that basic feedback of whether the device is on, listening and such. The rotary dial isn’t used, unfortunately, though more because it’s hard to apply its principles to a voice-operated device.

“It’s funny,” he wrote when I asked about the latter, “I’d actually built an installation for Android at MWC [Mobile World Congress] a few years ago that used a rotary dialer, so I know how to do it and have the hardware around (it’s very simple), but both couldn’t figure out a function that seemed interesting enough (dial 1 to increase the volume? Certainly open to suggestions) and didn’t want to add more complexity inside the telephones. Maybe in the future!”

No soldering or weird old tech stuff required on your part — the device will run on USB power and set up just like any other Alexa gadget. Of course, these things also cost $1,500. Yeah, kind of out of my price range, too. Still, they’re lovely and a great subversion of the “smart home” idea.

Make your own phone with MakerPhone (some soldering required)

There’s no shortage of interesting electronics kits out there to occupy an idle Sunday, but with this one you get a phone out of the bargain. The MakerPhone is a kit looking for funds on Kickstarter that lets you assemble a working mobile phone from a number of boards and pieces, and the end result looks about as wild as you’d expect.

For about a hundred bucks, you get a mainboard, casing, LCD, wireless module, processor, and all the other pieces you need to make a basic smartphone. You’re not going to be browsing Instagram on this thing, but you can make calls, send texts, and play Snake. Remember when that was enough?

This is purpose-built hardware, of course — you won’t be putting it together cap by cap — but it’s not exactly plug and play, either. You’ll need a soldering iron, snippers, and some Python chops. (Not delicious python meat — Python the programming language.)

The MakerPhone microcontroller is Arduino-compatible, so you can tweak and extend it, too. But the creators (who previously shipped a similarly DIY handheld gaming machine) say you don’t need any experience to do this. It takes you through the absolute basics and there are pledge tiers that get you all the tools you’ll need, too.

I love the chunky UI, too. I like big pixels and I cannot lie.

Sure, this probably won’t be your everyday device (it’s huge) but it’s a fun project and maybe you could make it your weird home messaging machine. I don’t know. Be creative.

The MakerPhone is already well past its $15,000 goal, most of which was people snapping up the early bird $89 deal. But there are plenty available at $94, and it comes with a toolkit at $119.

This MIDI-powered robotic music box is the good news I needed this week

It’s been a bit of a tumultuous week, to put it lightly, but one must always remember that no matter how dire things look on the global stage, there are always makers working obsessively to create something beautiful and useless — like this MIDI-driven, robotic music box.

Tinkerer and music box aficionado Mitxela (via Hackaday) was pleased by this music box that takes punch cards or rolls as input, rather than having a metal drum with the notes sticking out of it. But who wants to punch cards all day to make a music box go? These things are supposed to be simple!

Mitxela first made a script that takes a MIDI file and outputs an image compatible with his laser cutter, allowing cards or paper strips to be created more or less automatically. But then there’s the question of wear and tear, storing the strips, taping them together for long pieces… why not just have the MIDI controller drive the music box directly?

It clearly took some elbow grease, but he managed to create a lovely little machine that does just that. The MIDI pattern maps to a set of small servos, each of which is attached to a rigid brass wire and plastic tip. When the servo activates, the tip pushes the corresponding little cylinder in the music box, producing a note.

Now MIDI files (single-instrument ones, anyway) can be played directly. But there’s more! Mitxela’s efforts to lower the power draw and simplify the mechanisms had the incidental side effect of lowering the latency so much that you can even play the music box in real time using a MIDI keyboard. How delightful!

The video has quite a few breaks to listen to video game themes, so if you’re just interested in the device, you can skip through to the (relatively) technical parts. But hearing the Mario theme tinkling through a neat little gadget like this isn’t the worst way to spend a Friday afternoon after a week like this one.

You can check out the rest of Mitxela’s little hardware projects at his website.

Create the unholy DIY union of Alexa and Furby this weekend

 As we approach the End Times there will be great signs and portents. They say the dead will rise and walk the earth. Great fire will come from the sky and burn the wicked and the good alike. A Furby will speak in the voice of Alexa. The Turtle of the Universe will cough up her young to pass judgement on our collective consciousness. At least one of those things has just come true. In this… Read More

HoloKit is like Google Cardboard for augmented reality

 The revelation behind Google Cardboard was that if you put your phone close enough to your eyes, it’s basically a VR headset — but it’s not quite that simple for mixed reality setups like Microsoft’s HoloLens. Or is it? HoloKit is an extremely clever DIY solution for a quick and dirty augmented reality experience with a bare minimum of equipment. Read More