FAB, Personal Fabrication

July 19, 2006 at 10:46 pm Leave a comment

Some notes from FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop, Neil Gershenfeld

p.4 instead of shopping and ordering, you will download the plans and supply the fabricator with raw materials.

How to make (almost) anything” a course at MIT Center of Bits and Atoms.

“The universe is literally as well as metaphorically a computer. Atoms, molecules, bacteria, and billiard balls can all store and transform information…using the discrete language of computers rather than the continuous equations of calculus to describe the behavior of physical systems is…leading to insights into the nature of the universe itself. If the world is a computer, than the science of computing is really the science of science (or A New Kind of Science? This is basically Wolfram‘s thesis as well.)

p.7 inventing a new physical notion of literacy….The common understanding of literacy has narrowed down to reading and writing, but when the term emerged in the renaissance it had a much broader meaning, as a mastery of the available means of expression. But the ability to make things was relegated to the artes illiberales – the illiberal arts. The liberal arts, in the sense of liberation are the quadrivium: geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, music, and the trivium: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. These are the seven liberal arts.

Machiavelli’s The Prince…how to win friends ….manipulate people. The practical importance of language and reason, a familiarity with liberal arts emerged as a modern notion of literacy. these skills become an expectation of any active participant in civil society..

p.41 Literacy, if anything, has regressed over time to the most minimal meaning of reading and writing words, rather than grown to encompass the expressive tools that have come along since the renaissance. We’re still living with the historical division of the liberal from the illiberal arts with the belief that the only reasons to study fabrication are for pure art of profane commerce rather than as a fundamental aspect of personal liberation.

p.123 [throughout the text Gershenfeld does a great job of explaining complex concepts like TCP/IP, analog vs. digital signals] Bitmaps are representations of an image as an array of data bits, a pixel – PICture ELement. Once these dots are drawn they no longer know they are part of a whole. Vector-based drawing saves what you DO. Stores a line by recording the location of endpoints. You can move objects by changing reference points, you won’t lose resolution on zoom. Vector drawings are made of lines and curves not dots.

p.134 random words to throw at Google: brain perceptrons LISP Seymour LOGO

“When things start to think”

p.198 RS-232 = Recommended Standard no. 232, used for serial communication. Bits are sent in sequence down a wire as opposed to parallel that uses many different wires at the same time. USB = Universal Serial Bus, is still a point to point connection. Electronic monogamy has its limits though, the value of most any kind of device generally goes up with the number of things it can talk to (sounds like Metcalfe’s law)…the world of networks.

Discussion of packets, Internet protocol (IP), UDP = user datagram protocol, port numbers for packets. Alternative is TCP = transmission control protocol. Used for reliability not speed. The Internet is built on an end to end principle. What the Internet does depends on the things connected to it, rather the being fixed by design of the network itself.

p.236 Von Neuman and automata. No mention of Wolfram here? Hmm.

p.246 Eric Drexler “Engines of Creation.”  nanotechnology.

Discussion of analog vs. digital transfer of information and how digital means can allow an imperfect communications system to send a message perfectly, and can allow imperfect circuits to calculate perfect answers. The ribosome demonstrates that digital coding allows imperfect molecules to build perfect proteins. “The role of error correction in fabrication is a close to anything I know the secret of life.”

p.258 “The physics of information technology” “The nature of mathematical modeling” online stuff: fab.cba.mit.edu/fab “The Internet of Things” Gershenfeld.  The latter…how did I get the Scientific American stuff before…yet this looks interesting.

Reading the book is at first, a so-what experience…I have a table saw, I already make stuff.  But then consider swapping fab files like mp3s.  A fab file to make that new universal remote you’ve wanted….  Consider communities building their own tools….  Improving on other’s designs.  Pretty heady stuff.  The ideas play a role in many of the books I’ve read too.  From Accelerando, to Rainbows End, to The Singularity is Near, to A New Kind of Science…but here, he’s actually doing something.  This is real.   But then my enthusiasm is tempered when I realize I don’t have a laser cutter, and my table saw won’t do a great job cutting sheet metal…  One of the things I really liked about the book was the way he clearly and concisely described the technology – or at least defined it.  Everyone deals with USB, for example, but here it’s described.

And I’m completely on board with his description of literacy as the mastery of tools of expression…expanding on the Renaissance meaning and folding in fabrication as well!


Entry filed under: feed my pet brain, information literacy.

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