Aldon Hynes's blog

Do Not Tweet Gentle Into That Good Night

A week and a half ago, Emma Keller wrote a column for the Guardian entitled, “Forget funeral selfies. What are the ethics of tweeting a terminal illness?” I have not read it. The Guardian took it down before I found out about it. It asks a very important question, which many others are writing about, much better than I can, but I hope to shed a little more light on the subject.

I first came across the column on Howard Rheingold’s Facebook wall where he talked about his experiences blogging about cancer four years ago, and pointing to an article in Gawker, Dear Bill Keller: I Have Cancer. Is That OK?

The author, Robert Kessler is undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and writing about it at Cancer? I Hardly Know Her!. He takes on Emma Keller, and her husband Bill who seem to take offense to people writing about cancer.

Another article posts part of Emma’s column, which is full of important questions. As the only part I have access to, I’ll stay away from attacking Emma, and instead, take these questions at face value.

Should there be boundaries in this kind of experience?
Yes! The patient should chose the boundaries that they are most comfortable with. Several friends have written beautiful cancer blogs and I have grown greatly from reading them. Others have chosen to remain silent about their cancer.

Is there such a thing as TMI?
Yes! This is a judgment call by the reader. What is too much information for one reader is fine for another. If you find you are reading something that goes into too much detail, whether it be a cancer blog or a steamy romance, the wisest thing may simply be to put it down and read something else. As I get older, I find I’m much more choosy about what media I consume. I wish more people were. For me, scripted reality shows are too much false information. Cancer blogs are much more real and valuable.

Are her tweets a grim equivalent of deathbed selfies, one step further than funeral selfies?
I’m not sure I would call them the ‘grim equivalent’, but they are related. My first thought is that in cancer blogging, there remains hope. Perhaps the treatment will be successful. Perhaps the patient will go into remission. Yet as I think more about it, even here there is equivalency. Even the deathbed selfie can contain hope, hope for something greater where there is no more crying or pain and God will wipe away every tear.

Dylan Thomas called us to ‘Go not gentle into that good night’ Cancer blogging and cancer tweeting, to me, are part of a grand tradition from deathbed and funeral selfies to Dylan Thomas’ poetry to so much great writing about all the struggles of life.

Why am I so obsessed?
I can’t say. I love reading great literature. It isn’t an obsession for me. I have the same reaction to people writing about all their life struggles. If Emma’s obsession is causing her problems, I would encourage her to speak with a therapist.

For the rest of us, let’s work together to have a healthier relationship to people’s health. Let’s find constructive ways to address health stigmas, whether it be cancer, mental health, HIV, or many others.

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Getting Started with 3D Printing – Day 2 – Files

After printing a couple samples off the SD card in the new Makerbot Replicator 2 at work, my next step was to download some things off the internet and print them.

Actually, the next thing I had tried was using the Makerbot Digitizer. I downloaded MakerWare for the Digitizer and scanned my Google Glass. The scan didn’t come out all that well, and I started to look around for ways to edit the scan.

This led me to GETTING STARTED WITH 3D DESIGN. The first thing that they suggested was choosing one out of around a dozen different tools. A couple of them I had worked with in the past, including SketchUp and Blender. I downloaded both, as well as a few other tools and looked for a quick start guide. I like SketchUp because it is easy to use. I like Blender because it is powerful. Yet I couldn’t find a good quick start, so I set them aside and started exploring Thingiverse.

Being an Ingress player, I found a nice Ingress Enlightened Faction badge. It seemed like downloading something from Thingiverse and printing it was the next best step to get better acquainted with 3D printing on the Makerbot.

The file I downloaded was in .stl format which stands for stereolithography or Standard Tessellation Language, depending on who you speak with. You can open an .STL file in MakerWare and, if your printer is connected to your computer via a USB cable, print the object on the printer.

When I opened the faction badge, I received a message saying the object was off the platform and asking if I wanted to reposition it. I moved it on to the platform and printed it. Unfortunately, partway through the printing, it hung. It may be that my PC had gone to sleep during the printing, or there may have been some other problem. It also printed an edge around the object that I didn’t want.

When you print, you have a lot of options to choose. Getting going, I took the defaults. One of which was Raft, which creates this edge. It is useful if you have an object that doesn’t quite fit together, but most of the time of no value or downright annoying. Unfortunately, it took me a little while to figure this out.

To get around the issue of my PC going to sleep while printing, I took to saving the image as a X3G file. This is, essentially, the compiled format of the object, ready to be printed. I could then copy it to the SD card for the printer and print from that. This worked much better for me.

Along the way, I also found a few other file formats there are important to the initial understanding of 3D printing on the Makerbot. The STL file is the first, and most important format. You need to get things into STL format, so you can load them into Makerware to either print or save to the SD care. STL format can be Ascii or Binary. So far, I’ve only used the Binary format.

STL files can be combined into a zip file, along with a manifest file. These thing files can be loaded into MakerWare to load several STL files at the same time. The only thing file I’ve worked with so far is the example nut and bolt file.

When you export a file from MakerWare, you can export it in X3G, S3G or gcode. So far, I’ve only used X3G format and will experiment with the others later.

Blender can read and write STL format files. SketchUp needs an addon to do this. In my next blog post, I’ll write about taking existing images and objects in other formats, like JPG, SVG and OBJ and converting them to STL files that can then be loaded in MakerWare and printed.

As always, any thoughts, questions or suggestions are encouraged.

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Getting Started with 3D Printing, the first print

Recently, we got a Makerbot Replicator 2 at work, and I’ve been spending a bit of my free time learning my way around 3D printing.

The initial setup was pretty straight forward. Take it out of the box. Put it on the counter top you are going to use, plug in the power, put the snap the build plate in, connect the tube to the extruder on one end and to the back of the printer on the other end, feed the filament through the tube, and run the startup routine.

The startup routine displays on the little display screen on the printer the steps to start printing your first object, which you select from a few objects stored on an SD card that comes with the printer. Before you start printing, you need to level the build plate. You twist a few adjustment screws on the support below the build plate. It was fairly easy to adjust, much easier than tuning a guitar. We selected a comb to build.

We watched the extruder move back and forth across the build plate, squirting out a thin line of melted plastic. These lines combined, and we ended up with a comb.

This is where we ran into the first problem. The comb stuck to the build plate. After a little experimentation, we discovered that the easiest thing to do is to remove the build plate, by unsnapping it at the back of the printer and lifting it forward. Then, using a sharp knife and a bit of finesse, we finally got the comb off, without much damage to the comb.

The build plate is smooth on one side and frosted on the other. We had the frosted side up. We flipped the build plate over and tried another comb. It also stuck. Apparently the side of the build plate that is up doesn’t seem to matter.

Reading online, I found a lot of people have reported this problem and suggests are all over the place. Some say lowering the build plate a little. Some talk about heating or cooling the build plate, or using a different temperature for doing the build. Others spoke about using painters tape and putting down a piece of paper on the build plate.

I’ve taken to using left over printer paper and taping it on with scotch tape. This works pretty well. For bigger objects, or if I don’t tape well, the paper sometimes lifts up a little adding a little bit of a curve to the object base, but this has been minor.

One of my coworkers later asked how difficult it was to set up. It is probably a little less difficult than setting up a DVD player for your home entertainment system. If you’re comfortable with technology, you should be able to do it easily. If not, you should be able to get a friend to set it up for you.

Of course, setting up a printer, and designing interesting objects are two very different things, and I’ll get into some of that in later blog posts.

Do you have a 3D printer? How’s it been going for you? Have you been thinking about getting one? Do you have any questions about 3D printing?

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3D Printing a Better Healthcare System

Recently, at work, we got a 3D printer. I work at a health care center, serving mostly poor; people on Medicaid, or without insurance. People have asked, what does 3D printing have to do with that? Are you going to print syringes?

As I've been thinking a lot about it, 3D printers, at least in my work space, are about fostering creativity. How do we get people to think more creativity, not only about what they put down on paper or canvas, but how they live their lives and promote health around them? Does learning how to design and print 3D objects help empower people to be more creative? Does it even, simply, get people who should be getting primary health care, in the door?

How do we use having a 3D printer in our innovation center, to encourage people to come forward with creative ideas? Does fostering creativity in one realm, like 3D design, encourage creative thinking in another realm, like public health? These are issues for me to explore.

So far, I've been testing the 3D printer, getting to know what it does and doesn't do, getting to know how to operate it must effectively. So far, I've printed a couple comes and an Ingress Enlightened game insignia. I've started looking at 3D design and exploring different design packages. There are several free ones, like Sketchup and Blender. I've used both in the past, and I'm starting to relearn them to see if I can make some neat objects.

I started thinking about 3D design back when I was active in Second Life, a 3D virtual world. I’ve encouraged people to use 3D virtual games to create animated videos. These days, my youngest daughter plays a lot in Minecraft and related games. I like Minecraft much better than a lot of the other games she plays because it is a game that encourages rudimentary 3D design. Can I use it as a gateway to Sketchup, Blender, and Opensim for her?

I’ll continue to work on my 3D design skills. I’ll try to find others interested in these skills near where I work. It may not lead to a cure for cancer, but if it can provide even a small spark that improves the health of our communities, it will be worth it.

Do you do any 3D design or printing? Are their systems, tutorials, or projects you recommend? Let me know.

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On Motherhood

“Are you my mother?” I read that book to my kids when they were young. It was written back in 1960 about a little bird looking for its mother. It was difficult reading the book to my daughters when my first wife and I separated. They wanted both their parents and I wanted time with them. I’ve thought back on this book since my own mother’s death, and in light of recent images of motherhood.

On the biological level, motherhood is pretty straight forward. It is the social constructs around motherhood that are challenging. The mother is a source of comfort and protection. We talk about things being as American as motherhood and apple pie. Others speak about the motherland and there are books like “Are you my mother?”

Then, there is the traditional black spiritual, “Motherless Child” where the absence of a mother is intermingled with the absence of freedom for slaves.

Yet it is the recent Old Spice commercial for body spray that has prompted my latest thinking about the social construct of motherhood. Friends have described the mothers spying on their sons as they start out on their dating lives as creepy or funny. It provided an interesting opportunity to think more about my relationship to my own mother.

I remember being in seventh grade and going to the Junior High School dance. I was shy and awkward and managed to ask a girl to dance a few times, but mostly stood on the north side of the gym where the guys stood, not managing to build up the courage to cross the dance floor to the south side of the gym where the girls stood with their own shy, awkward nervousness.

Afterwards. my mother picked me up in the old green Chevy pickup truck. She drove out of the parking lot and as we made our way home she asked me how was the dance. I didn’t want to reveal my moments of nervousness, disappointment or elation and simply muttered, “Okay.”

There was silence in the car as she continued to drive home. Finally, her curiosity led her to ask who I danced with. I mentioned a few different names of girls that I knew she was acquainted with and would approve of, but didn’t mention the name of my secret crush.

I was embarrassed and didn’t want to talk about it. But at the same time, I was glad my mother was giving me a ride home, and was interested in what was going on in my life, especially during those awkward years of developing my own identity and growing away from my family.

I remember when my mom got me deodorant. I was embarrassed, but at the same time pleased that she had gotten it. Being an unaware preteen, I didn’t know about such things or my need for them.

Now, forty years later, I look back at those days. I can only imagine what it must be like to be a young boy in the twenty-first century. Yet I imagine those same feelings of embarrassment and gratitude a youth of today must feel when his mother gets him some body spray.

The other day, I noticed on the dining room table a small plastic bracelet loom my wife had picked up for our daughter. It made me think of the looms of my childhood. Some of which were in our garage from when my siblings and I cleaned out my mother’s house after her death. I made a coaster and introduced my daughter to weaving, passing on some of what I learned from my mother.

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