In November last year, I abandoned my Twitter account – I set it to private, did not visit, did not interact, ignored any direct messages, etc. It was simply too painful to watch friends and coworkers suddenly and systematically being fired, the company culture destroyed, and the developer communities that I supported for 9 years, finally cut off without support or API access. It has been a heartbreaking time.
Today, I took the last step in going back through my password manager vault and deleting all of my X/Twitter accounts. I’ve watched the shambolic rebranding over the past week, and frankly, I wish it had all happened far sooner – rather than seeing my beloved bird being dragged down, and the brand and memory ruined, piece by piece.
There are a few accounts that I share access to with others (for podcasts, sites or communities) that remain, but over the past hour or so I deleted 15 accounts, four of which had associated Twitter Developer Accounts.
Why so many?
Of course, I had my main account, @andypiper, which was first created after hanging out with my friend Roo Reynolds in his office at IBM Hursley, and hearing about Twitter, just starting to gather buzz from events like SxSW. Created February 21, 2007. The title of the blog entry I wrote that day seems accidentally prophetic (although, in truth, I do not regret it at all).
There were the super-sekrit accounts I had for testing features, such as the original internal test for ten thousand character Tweets (yes, this nearly happened, a long time back), the customisable Tweet Tiles we would have launched at the developer conference that was cancelled at the end of last year, and so on.
Finally, it’s time to say goodbye to my main @andypiper account. Twitter is not Twitter any more, it is X – and I never signed up for X.
In the near future, I’ll upload a searchable archive of my Twitter content, likely using Darius’ Twitter Archive tool. For now, it’s all done. I’m very happy elsewhere (personal sites and links here and here), and I will not be sad that X is out of my life.
… apart from the laptops that they still have not collected!
Back in July 2015, I was in Portland, Oregon, for the O’Reilly Open Source conference, otherwise known as OSCON.
It was my third or fourth OSCON, and sadly it turned out to be my last one (and the event itself came to an end when O’Reilly decided to cancel their in-person events). As an aside, I have very fond memories of OSCON, and was privileged to be able to speak there as well, so it’s a shame that those events have gone away.
My friend Diane Mueller was at OSCON back in 2015, and she had driven down from Canada in her mobile maker lab (a really cool winnebago / trailer kitted out for teaching hardware projects to young people). The next year, she spoke about her GetMakered project at Monkigras – another of my all-time favourite events. At OSCON, the GetMakered team were offering “3D Selfies”, via a combination of the Xbox 360 Kinect sensor hardware, and some Open Source processing software called Skanect.
I decided I definitely needed one of these, and before long I was sitting on a stool, on a rotating wooden board, inside a winnebago / caravan, inside the Portland Convention Center, holding still, while the Kinect scanned my head and shoulders. I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to prove it, but fortunately, I was able to dig around on the Twitter website to find and screenshot the evidence – I don’t trust the ability to embed Tweets now 😞️ oh, and I also found another similar image on Flickr, because that was also still a thing in 2015.
Shortly after the event, I received an email with the STL file attached, along with a warning that only limited cleanup had been done to the file. I was pretty new to 3D modelling and software – and, I still am – so I think I opened it up once in MeshLab or something similar, had a quick look, Tweeted about it (obviously), and then left it alone.
That was eight years ago.
Now, I have a 3D printer (uh, actually, well… three of them… a story for one or more additional posts).
The first thing I needed to do was to figure out whether I could print the file. Not so simple!
Importing the STL file into any 3D printer slicer software, immediately threw up a lot of errors about non-manifold edges and such. It also turned out that the scale was hugely off, the actual scan was effectively a hollow shell (with no closure at the bottom), with some holes (right in the top of my head…!), a few stray, disconnected pixels of data somewhere disconnected from my torso that were breaking the bounding box, and also, everything was at a weird angle.
My first step was to clean all of that up, and close the base of the design so that had a flat, straight base. Don’t ask me to explain the process, I wish I had written it all down so that I could be better prepared if this happens again…
Once I had a refined STL file, I thought it would be fun to “downmix” it into more of a low-poly design (that style is good enough for Pokémon, after all). I’d come across the Low Poly 3D Generator by Andrew Sink (also available in source form on GitHub), and decided to run the model through that. A couple of mesh decimations later, and I had something that looked pretty good.
To check that the model was not going to cause too many complaints from any slicer software, I also opened it in a couple of other tools, including Tinkercad.
Now I have a small model of myself that can sit on the studio shelf. Maybe I should print some as giveaway gifts at meetups…
I put together a little recording of how it all came together. I’m embedding a YouTube version below because WordPress.com will allow that, but it does not support PeerTube embeds; but, if you’re interested in my video content I recommend taking a look at the original video I posted on diode.zone, an instance of PeerTube, a federated alternative to YouTube that I’m using for studio and maker-related content. You can also follow my account there (@firstname.lastname@example.org) by searching for that in your Mastodon (or other Fediverse network) client application.
Last weekend, we visited Liverpool for a few days. I had an ulterior motive for the trip – my friend Caroline Keep and team were running the Makefest 🛠️️ at the Central Library.
[aside: does anyone know whether there’s a good way to stay up-to-date and aware of where and when maker-centric (and adjacent!) events are happening around the UK? I’d love to get to more of them, if I’m able – in this case, I was following various related folks over on Mastodon, spotted that it was happening, and emailed Caroline to check how things were going]
It had been a few years since we were last in Liverpool, and of course it is a city that is always evolving. We caught the train from Euston to Lime Street on the Friday (I got a few bits of Mastodon-related work done on the way), and made our way to the waterfront where we were staying. It seemed as though every hen party, birthday celebration, and wedding was happening in Liverpool at the start of July, plus, there was the big On The Waterfront festival happening just a short throw from our hotel, so the city was really buzzing, even though the weather was sometimes a bit grim!
On Saturday we made our way to the library, and immediately bumped into my good friends Dan Lynch and Les Pounder (both of OggCamp fame, and with ongoing, separate, high reputes!), as well as finally getting the chance to meet Simon Walters in person, after many years of online connection. I’ve been a long-time supporter and volunteer of events like this one, but on this occasion I did skip the opportunity to get directly involved, as I wanted to be able to explore the show – so, here’s what I saw:
The fantastic Neston High School in the Wirral have their own Makerspace, and they were busy recycling plastic into objects that they were selling just outside the library. I’d just been reading about makeshift plastic recycling methods in the latest edition of HackSpace magazine on the train journey up, and the ones on display here seemed pretty sophisticated (it turns out that they have a version of the Precious Plastics recycling system that the teachers operate, to press the plastic sheets). As someone who uses 3D printers, I’m extremely aware of the sustainability questions around the use of the materials, and this was very good to watch in action – it is wonderful that the students have access to their own makerspace at the school, and can learn to use these techniques. A step up from the CDT lessons of my youth!
Inside the venue, Caroline was kind enough to make us honorary Makers for the day, which meant that I got a brilliant badge… maybe next time I can do more than just look around, and exhibit something instead. Remarkable though it may seem, this is the first point in my life that I feel like it might be something I could do.
The Central Library is an amazing space. A friend referred to it as “the most magnificent public reference library in Europe” and it is hard to disagree – a series of galleries spiralling upwards to a glass roof, with some very special reading rooms. A brilliant spot to hold a maker event, and to inspire youngsters.
[WordPress(.com) is unable to embed an image from Pixelfed, so go look HERE]
I’ll skip a booth-by-booth account of of the visit (we were there for most of the day!), but here just a few of things that I was excited about:
the lower level of the library had some fun displays, including Spencer’s RC2014 kits (I really need to build my Pride kit!), Derek from Extreme Electronics with his Pico Cray (also just featured in HackSpace magazine issue 68!) and other gear, and a gentleman “Toy Hacker” who converts and upcycles old toys using electronics – his wife “Creative Stitch” had some absolutely wonderful mixed media pieces on display as well.
ConcreteDog aka Jo Hinchliffe (another one of my primarily-online contacts from the hacking sphere) was launching hot air balloons through the atrium space… [annoyingly, WordPress will not let me embed the video, so you can watch it HERE]
I was very excited to see Tanya Fish, who was busy showing off her NFC-related magic. Tanya is such a great ambassador for technology and a wonderful communicator, I’m a fan! (and I may have picked up a couple of her kits, which you should do as well, so that she can do more events like this!)
In the run-up to the event I’d been looking through the list of makers and saw Electric Flapjack Guitars… I looked up his site and saw the amazing stuff he is doing with 3D printing and traditional methods to create some very cool custom guitar builds. The Älgen did not disappoint: it is a thing of beauty…
There was a strong emphasis on sustainability and recycling, with the Plastic Tactics group also showing their recycled items. Overall, this has inspired us to think a lot more about how we can do more to improve our material usage and footprint.
Finally (just for this round-up, since there was so much more to see and investigate!) SolidMaps had an interesting 3D rendering of the centre of Liverpool, which was very cool. The challenge with this kind of topological modelling is the data for the buildings etc. This was printed using an SLA (resin) technique, which is something that I’ve not yet explored for myself.
Lots more was on offer to explore, and I tried to talk to most of the makers if they were not too busy, although I preferred to give priority to the youngsters who had come along with friends or parents so that they could have their imaginations sparked by all of the cool stuff on offer.
After the show
In the evening, we were fortunate enough to also be able to head along to DoES Liverpool to hang out with some of the makers. Adrian McEwen, yet another old friend and contact from the IoT and MQTT circuit, was one of the founders of this makerspace and co-working club and was gracious enough to give us a full tour – so many useful and exciting gadgets and tools, many of which I was aware existed, but don’t currently have ready access to. Thank you again, Adrian! (we may well be back…!)
A few more images[because WordPress(.com) will not let me embed a Mastodon post… 😠️]
I’ll end with an image taken at the makerspace, as it was a suitably inspiring way to conclude the Saturday.
There’s only one way out of my ongoing writer’s / blogger’s block, and that’s to post stuff. Even if it is all out of sequence. Thus, a post about stuff (3D printing) I haven’t yet written other things about, on this blog.
One of the projects I’ve been quietly observing on GitHub for the past few months is VanDAM, by my old friend James Smith aka floppy. I think I picked up on it by being connected to James on GitHub, and spotting the releases from his repository. James has been a proponent of self-hosting and a more personal ownership of data for a very long time, something that I’ve always admired.
I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole of 3D printing in the past ~8 months, and as a result I have a lot of downloaded models, from sites such as Thingiverse, Cults3D and Printables (among many others!). I mostly try to keep them all together in a network folder, but I have to rely on good habits to organise them, and then inevitably, I forget what I’ve downloaded but not printed, or where the original model came from…
Enter VanDAM – a self-hosted database and UI for organising and managing your 3D model assets.
I’m now running this on my Synology NAS, and using the wonderful Tailscale to access it from wherever I am.
Very briefly, here’s what I needed to do to get things up-and-running.
background: I have DSM 7.2 on my Synology, and I have a space on my storage where I drop model files (STL, FCstd and the like). DSM 7.2 replaces the Docker app with Container Manager, which is broadly very similar in look-and-feel. This needs to be installed from the Synology Package Manager.
Important note – neither the Docker app, nor the Container Manager app, support installing Docker images from GitHub’s binary content repository aka ghcr.io (shaking my head), so you also need SSH access and the ability to run things at the CLI as the superuser / via sudo.
SSH to the Synology and clone the repo: git clone https://github.com/Floppy/van_dam/
Copy docker-compose.example.yml to docker-compose.yml and edit the DB passwords and so forth. Importantly, also edit the line containing library mappings – in my case I needed to map the some storage on volume2, to the /libraries location in the Docker container:
Run sudo docker-compose up -d to cause the container images to be downloaded and initialised.
as an aside, even though Container Manager will not let us install from the GitHub registry, once the container(s) are running, you can control them in the GUI.
We should now have VanDAM ready on port 3214 on the NAS, but we will find that opening a browser window will lead to a login screen requiring an email and password, and we haven’t signed up yet! (note: this may actually be a bug). I used the Rails console (VanDAM is a Ruby on Rails app) to get this sorted out:
$ sudo docker exec -it van_dam-app-1 sh
$ bin/rails console
[then, in console]
Good to go! Now we can login to VanDAM and configure a library. From here, this is an exercise for the reader.
It has been a while since I’ve written a general “what I’m working on” post, so I’m fixing that now. It has been a busy year — I last published a newsletter in March 2021, and I didn’t get back to writing — primarily technical writing– until the start of 2022.
I’ve also diversified my writing between my own site, occasionally Medium, developer-focused posts on DEV, and elsewhere. Truth be told, I’m not completely sure how to manage the spread, whilst also maintaining a consistent way to share with an audience — apart from the fact that I Tweet a lot, of course! In an effort to bring things together, at least from an audience perspective, I plan to cross-post this extended update on a number of those channels, and think about how to continue from there.
One thing I’ve tried to keep at regularly is our podcast, Games at Work dot biz. If you’ve not come across that yet, the show is available via all of the major podcast services, and directly on our website. Each week, my two good friends Michael Martine and Michael Rowe, join me to talk about various tech topics: mostly relating to virtual worlds and gaming (now usually called “the Metaverse”), social web, collaboration, and other fun snippets. We’ve actually been running for over 10 years now, and before that, had another podcast that itself ran for 200 episodes — it has been a lot of fun. The episode we just recorded, as I type this, talked about retail brands exploring the Metaverse, which brought back strong vibes of my days exploring and working in Second Life at IBM in the mid 2000s!
— We’d love to hear what you think of the show; if you like it, please leave a podcast review, and tell a friend.
A personal (and health) update
Last year I took ~5 weeks out, completely disconnected from the online world, for mental health and personal reasons. It was much-needed, and I think it has enabled me to get much better perspective in various parts of my life.
Since the start of 2022 in particular I’ve been thinking of what I’m doing online, in Open Source, and across different communities, as a bit of a reset or “back to my roots”. I’ll come back to mention side projects and interests later in this post, but I felt really energised at the start of the year, and consistently blogged something technical at least once a week though January and February, over on DEV. DEV is a community that I’ve been spending a lot of time in during the past couple of years, and I’m happy to be connected there as a moderator and community helper. I want to get back to writing more frequently.
More recently, in the past month I finally had a procedure to “fix” the heart anomaly that I shared on my blog back in 2013. The pandemic thoroughly messed up the waiting times for this, of course. I’m in complete awe of the medical science that enabled the operation — a keyhole procedure on a day surgery basis, with minimal lasting visible signs of entry, despite the complicated internal navigation involved. I appear to be doing pretty well, although the SVT itself was always a random occurrence, so it’s difficult to know whether the outcome is 100% confirmed, but having read the notes from the operation, I know they performed “regression tests” to check that they did what they intended. Absolutely thankful for our NHS, and for scientific advancement.
Another item on the personal side of this update, is that we had a chance to do a couple of trips away. The first of these was a ~10 day trip down to Italy, where we travelled by train on Eurostar to Paris, and on Trenitalia via a stop in Milan, down to Puglia. On return, we had tickets for Electromagnetic Field (#EMFCamp), a camping festival celebrating all things geek and tech around maker culture, open standards, electronica, and community. It was my first time at EMF, but I’m hoping to be able to go again when it returns in two years’ time.
Speaking gigs, current and future
As the world has started to open back up (for reasons good or bad), I’ve been excited to get back to one of my favourite activities — public speaking. I gave a number of talks over Zoom towards the end of last year, both professionally to our Twitter Developer Communities in different places around the world, and personally where requested to provide my experiences in fields like advocacy and community.
During March, I hosted eight Spaces on Twitter as open community feedback conversations about some new ideas we’re working on for the developer platform — new ways to add content to Tweets, similar to the current “cards” that appear when links are shared but more customisable; and, the ability to have more control over timelines. This is part of an effort to continue to build in the open, and I’m excited to be able to run sessions like this.
In May we held our first in-person @TwitterDev community meetup in 2 years, at the Twitter office in London — that was a huge buzz — it is always a privilege to talk to our developer community. More of these to come! As I mentioned above, next week I’ll be in Dublin (on my own time), giving a talk about MicroPython at the EuroPython conference (I also acted as a content reviewer for the event, and I’m looking forward to it — lots of good stuff on the schedule).
I’m also excited to have been invited to join Isaac Levin as a guest on his excellent Coffee & Open Source show; watch out for that coming up, in the next couple of months. There’s another unconfirmed podcast opportunity on the horizon as well.
I’m open to other podcast guest invitations, and speaking invitations, time and work permitting.
The day job
I touched on a few of the things that I’ve been working on at Twitter in the previous sections, and I expect to be particularly focused on preparing for Chirp, our developer conference, in the months between now and the event itself, in November.
My “outside work” interests recently have covered a whole range of different areas of tinkering, and it has occasionally been difficult to keep up with my own thoughts and excitement. There’s a lot of time-slicing involved…
I started to put a bit more time into my Fediverse presence, particularly around #EMFCamp — you’ll find me @email@example.com if that’s your preference. It’s not completely identical to my Twitter feed, but there is some bridging involved. There’s definitely a new swirl of possibility around federated networks.
MicroPython has led me along a number of different paths — since it runs on a whole variety of different hardware.
In January a tiny ESP32-C3-powered board covered in RGB LEDs caught the attention of the maker community, and I subsequently wrote a small blog series and created a project around it (fivebyfive on GitHub). It also highlighted a few learning opportunities around MicroPython on the ESP32-C3, which have been addressed in the current release. The worldwide chip shortage has meant the RP2040 chips from the Raspberry Pi folks have been more available than some alternatives, so I’ve been playing with a lot of boards based on those, but until about a week ago, connectivity was more of an issue than with the Espressif chips!
On another side of the hardware arena, I’ve long been curious about the RC2014, a Zilog Z80-based homebrew computer with a variety of different options. My friend Chris Swan was able to give me some advice on what pieces I might want to look into, and I ordered an RC2014 Pro kit; I then met the creator, Spencer, at #EMFCamp and put together the smaller RC2014 Micro.
Talking of retro technology, I’ve also continued to enjoy building or customising consoles of a bygone era. The Miyoo Mini v2 is a really nice little handheld with a gorgeous screen, with a number of custom OS options. I also want to get back to my MiSTer setup at some point, to give all of the cores a refresh to their current releases (and to actually get it hooked up to the TV). Apart from the retro stuff, I was also relatively (!) early on in the waves of recipients for the Steam Deck. So, not only am I dividing my attention between a number of side projects, I’m also jumping between gaming devices and platforms and eras… 🤦
There are a number of other gadgets that have arrived in the past 6 months, but one I’ll call out is the ClockworkPi DevTerm, a 1980s TRS-80 lookalike slab portable that is clipped together in parts, and can take a number of different “cores”, or processor boards. I picked mine up with the R01 core, a RISC-V Allwinner D1 chip which is experimental in the context of trying to run a Linux distribution. There are other options available; I have a CM4 adapter on the way. This is another community that I’ve enjoyed interacting with, as we learn new things together, and share our experiences.
Oh, and I picked up a Bluetooth thermal printer, with the face of a cat.
Finally, I connected with a new group, Together, We Open Source, and have been following the meetups there, helping people get comfortable with OSS contributions. It feels like a bit of a full circle experience for me, to revisit my roots and share what I’ve learned.
I don’t plan to broadly expand the various side projects I listed out above, but I’m enjoying the things I’m contributing to. I also have a couple of lists full of the next thing I want to build! Mostly, I want to stay connected with others, and to learn, and share what I’m doing — back to where I started in communities and Open Source.
I’m going to think more about where and how I share my content / ramblings / thoughts. This is intended to be a one-off multi-channel post, but maybe I’ll do something similar again at some point.
I have had… a really strange, very challenging, couple of years. If you’re reading this, and you’ve read this far, it’s probably because you subscribed to my content at some point, which means I’ve been interesting to you at some level.
Thank you for your attention and interest, and your support. I hope I’ve helped you or inspired you somehow, along the way. I’d love to hear what you think, about anything from the stuff I’ve been working on, to our podcast, or just to tell me to [stop / continue / Tweet less often / drink more water] *delete as appropriate
If you’re so inclined, I have a page on Ko-fi, as well, where you can contribute to my habit of buying random dev boards on AliExpress. All (ok, almost all) of my interesting links are here.