Category: technology

The UMF MakerSpace

I realized yesterday that we opened our MakerSpace with a soft launch last semester, and we haven’t really spread the word much just yet. I could have sworn I blogged about it, but . . . it was a crazy semester. So I was reminded yesterday that people might not know what I’m talking about when I mention a MakerSpace. Allow me to rectify that, at least in terms of what my MakerSpace is.

Basically, it’s a spot on campus, open to the public, where people can come to get access to a variety of higher end creative devices that might be beyond their individual budgets. It costs to use the machines (just like it costs to make photocopies or print), but we’re trying to keep those costs down to a minimum. What sort of equipment do we have?

  • Ultimaker 3D Printers: These are your typical 3D printing machines. They take plastic filament and print it into pretty much any shape you want. These printers handle water soluble filament, which means you can print supports that will dissolve in water, letting you print some objects that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
  • Resin Printer: This uses liquid resin to 3D print smaller items with much greater detail. It can take longer, but the end product looks like something you’d buy in the store, as opposed to something that was clearly 3D printed. It’s pretty cool.
  • Vinyl Printer: This will print out stickers, banners, window clings, and more. Basically anything made out of vinyl, which I guess is pretty apparent. Full color, great resolution. You can make really professional looking things with that.
  • Embroidery Machine: Likewise, think about all the things you buy with stitching on them. From personalized merchandise to logos to cartoon characters and more. This will do all of that. It can handle fairly large jobs as well. Tomas used it to personalize a bunch of fleece blankets the cross country team gave out. It can do any color thread you want to load into it, so they sky’s the limit.
  • Laser Cutter: This will cut through or engrave plastic and wood. You can add pictures, make puzzles, carve out shapes, and more. I made some Groundhog Day ornaments with it yesterday.
  • Engraver: This does the same thing as the laser cutter, except it uses a blade instead of a laser, so it’s essentially carving the wood or etching the metal. Still figuring this one out.
  • Poster Printer: Think of a glossy, high quality poster you’d buy in the store. Now make whatever one you want, and have it look however you want.
  • Sticker Printer: This churns out small stickers like you’d find in a kid’s activity book. Not necessarily long lasting, but quick and easy.
  • Jewelry Maker: The MakerSpace club bought this last semester. It makes metal jewelry of some sort, but I haven’t used it yet, and I don’t know how it works. More to come.
  • Mug Maker: Buy a blank coffee mug, and make it into whatever kind of mug you want.
  • Hat Maker: Print onto baseball caps. What a world we live in!

Beyond that, we have computers with the full Adobe suite on them, so you can pretty much do whatever you want to do, if you have the patience to teach yourself how to do it. (Right now I’m working on beefing up my Illustrator chops.)

Basically, we want to be there to let people prototype products and figure out how to do or make whatever they want. We’re not set up to have people run their business out of our place, so it’s not really designed for mass production, but someone could definitely figure out how to go into business with what we have to offer.

Anyway. That’s one of my big projects this semester: getting this all up and running. If you’re local, and any of this sounds interesting, reach out to me and we can talk about what we can do to help you.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

How Effective are Zoom Meetings?

As I sat with a few minutes between a flurry of Zoom meetings the other day, I was reflecting on just how far things have come in terms of remote meetings since the pandemic began. Back in the halcyon days of February 2020, I would do just about anything to avoid attending a meeting remotely. I always felt like I got more out of the meeting if I was physically present in the room, and that the meeting got more out of me, as well. I was more of a full participant, while the people on the screen often seemed to fade into the wallpaper. They were there, but rarely consulted.

Of course, now I’ve done so many Zoom meetings, it’s depressing to think about. And after all that experience, I thought back to see if I still have the same opinion of remote meetings as I did before.

I don’t.

These days, I really feel like you can get as much out of a Zoom meeting as you can out of an in-person meeting, if it’s done right. That isn’t to say it’s always done right, of course. Here are the elements I think are vital to have effective Zoom sessions:

  • A fast internet connection. This is an absolute must. I upgraded my internet as soon as the quarantine began, mainly because I saw all my meetings through some sort of strobe effect. Having a bad picture or (even worse) bad audio makes it so that you can’t hear anything, and no one can hear you. I realize that’s not always possible in Maine. If I didn’t have a solid connection, I would probably drive somewhere I did. A college campus. Public library. Somewhere. Anywhere. I think I’d rather not attend a meeting than attend with a scattered connection.
  • A general group proficiency with the platform. You want everyone participating, and that means people know how to mute (and unmute) themselves easily. It means you have someone in charge of the meeting who also knows how to mute people when the need arises. (Such as, say, when you hear someone flush a toilet in the background . . .) Most of the Zoom meetings I attend these days, I run, so that solves that problem, but it’s still an issue in some of the other ones. (And I really want to have a “mute” button available.)
  • Have a small number of people. You can handle a group up to around 12 without too much of a problem, assuming everyone on the call knows what they’re doing. But even then, you’ll have some people who are participating much more than other. (But let’s be honest: that happens with in-person meetings as well.) Once you get too many people on, it can sometimes turn into this awkward thing where everyone seems to assume someone else will speak. And so you all sit around waiting for someone to speak, and no one does. This isn’t something I’ve seen happen in real world meetings. I will say that if the person running the meeting is up to it, it’s possible to keep things rolling even through those awkward pauses. But it involves literally calling on people to keep the conversation going.
  • Have cameras on. This is another big one. If my camera is off, I’m much more likely to get distracted and do something else in the name of multi-tasking. This means I won’t be nearly as involved in the meeting as I should be. With a camera on, I pay better attention. I also can pick up on visual cues from people as they’re talking. I get that some people’s connection is slow enough that having a picture makes it even worse, but refer to my number one item in those cases.

Other than that, I think most elements are the same in Zoom or in person. Have an agenda. Start on time. End on time. And that comes down to just effective meetings in general. The one area where Zoom is still weak is for building relationships among a group. You can’t have a side conversation in Zoom. You can’t have chit chat with one or two people before or after the meeting. You can’t talk over lunch about non-work things. So building a rapport is much more difficult.

In the end, I think I’d probably do a mixture of Zoom and in-person with a group I intended to work with a lot. Start out in person at least once, and then switch to Zoom every other, or maybe even most of the time. It depends on the group dynamic. I’ve been in a ton of very awkward Zooms, and in lots of ones that were completely natural. Talking one on one to a person over Zoom feels almost like being in the room with them at this point, and I didn’t think I’d ever feel that.

How about you? What’s your current take on remote meetings?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Suing Google

That’s right, people. I finally decided to take on The Man. Back in 2018, Google came under fire for having had some flaws in their Google Plus platform that allowed app developers access to personal information that they shouldn’t have had access to. A class action lawsuit was brought forward, and ultimately succeeded. When I heard about it, I realized, “Hey! I had a Google Plus account, too!” So I joined up with the suit, because justice.

In 2020, Google was found liable. Not only that, but I was awarded $7.5 million in damages! That’s a 7.5 with six zeros at the end. Think of the wonderful things I could do with all that money. First, I would build a Scrooge McDuck sized vault to keep it in. Then I’d go swimming every morning for at least ten laps. Not being one to make hasty decisions, however, I decided against quitting my day job until that juicy paycheck arrived in my bank account. True, I had to split the $7.5 million with the rest of the class action peoples, but surely that much money would still get me something good, right?

Today, I’m pleased to announce that my ship has finally come in. Google actually paid up, and I got a PayPal credit of $2.15. True, it’s a bit lower than I was initially hoping for, but at the time, my other options were to either opt out of the lawsuit, object to the settlement amount, or do nothing. Think about what would have happened if I had just done nothing! I wouldn’t be able to buy that Snickers bar I’ve had my eye on for the last couple of years. And anyway, it’s really just missing those 6 zeros, and when you think about it, zeros mean nothing, so it isn’t missing anything at all, right?

I’m still not entirely certain how I’m going to spend my windfall. I need to make sure I get the most out of it, after all. It’s not every day that a big company sends you money to apologize for their misdeeds. I’m open to suggestions. I suppose I could give it all to charity. Or I could buy chocolate pudding. Or put a downpayment on a Hotwheels.

Decisions, decisions . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

How to Handle Facebook

More and more, it’s becoming clear to me that the free social media platforms we use ubiquitously come with a much higher cost than we initially realize. On the one hand, they do a great job of keeping me connected with people I don’t see that often. I have used Facebook and Twitter heavily for years. It’s the place where most people come across my blog articles, and I check it multiple times a day. But Facebook and Twitter are constantly making changes to the services they provide and what they choose to show you (or keep back from you). I’m more of a Facebook user than a Twitter-phile, so I’m going to focus on Facebook today.

Back in the day, Facebook seemed much simpler. You friended people you knew, and then you got to see their status updates throughout the day. Facebook, it seemed, existed primarily to connect people. These days, Facebook exists to make money, plain and simple. Judging simply from my blog statistics, the number of people seeing my blog each day has, on the whole, gone down on average, despite the fact that my friends have gone up on my primary delivery mechanism.

Granted, there are many different potential reasons for that. People could just not like what I write anymore. I’ve written my share of posts that have rubbed some people the wrong way, and it’s inevitable some readers finally decided enough was enough. It’s also possible that more people are just walking away from Facebook. I know I’ve seen a number of friends say this, so that’s definitely a number greater than zero.

But I also know a significant reason for this dip in readers is that Facebook makes sure people can’t just reach their friends easily. If someone could garner a following of loyal readers for free on Facebook, then why in the world would companies want to pay Facebook for ads? Instead, the company has a tendency to just limit the number of people who get exposed to your content, plain and simple. How do I know this? By talking to friends and family who want to stay up to date on my blog, and get frustrated that Facebook just doesn’t show them the entries. They’ve tried to favorite me. It just doesn’t work. I imagine this is because I share things so regularly.

By itself, this is annoying. What Facebook professes to do is the same as what I want it to do: let me see what my friends are saying. But what it actually does is show me stuff it thinks I’m going to like, which also happen to be stuff that’s in its best interest to show me. If that were the only problem, it would be more of an irritation than anything else. But it isn’t.

Where Facebook makes its real money is in developing profiles of its users. Hyper-targeted profiles it can then turn around and use to market things directly to you. If it knows you’ve got a thing for Magic the Gathering, then if another vendor comes along who wants to target Magic players, then Facebook can guarantee that. Add that to the ability to sell political “ads” that turn out to be nothing more than political gasoline designed to make people angry or afraid, and this place that’s supposed to be about friendship not only doesn’t deliver on showing you your friends, it has a tendency to make your friends your enemies.

So what to do about it?

Personally, I don’t think I can completely drop it. As I said, I’ve still been able to hash out some real relationships on Facebook, and I’m not interested in giving those up. Not to mention the communities I’m involved in on there. I’ll continue to post blog entries there, because I don’t think it’s realistic of me to expect people to just abandon their social media of choice in order to keep track of what I’m doing. (Though there’s a lovely technology out there that I highly recommend: feed readers. The one I use is Feedly, and basically what you do is tell it what sites you want to follow. They can be news sites, blogs you like, or anything else. You subscribe to those by entering in their website, and then it funnels all new stories to you as they come up. (For example, to subscribe to my blog, you’d enter this: http://brycemoore.com/blog/ ) With Feedly, I’m able to stay caught up on library news, tech news, movies news, my writing friends, personal friends and more. There are occasional ads stuck in there, but they’re identified as such, and they’re easy to ignore. And it pulls everything. It’s then up to me what I read and what I don’t. It’s lovely, and I highly recommend it over even simply subscribing for email deliveries of blogs.)

So there are ways out there to stay up to date on people and news in your life, as long as they actively post stuff to an independent page. For cases where you know people who don’t, then you can still use some Facebook for that. But as I’ve said before on my blog, I am quite selective about who I actually end up following on Facebook. I’ll friend anyone I know, especially if they’ve asked to be my friend. But I unfollow most people, based on a couple of criteria:

  1. Do I know this person well enough that I really want to know their thoughts and feelings about everything under the sun? Often I’ll give people the benefit of the doubt at first, but if after a while I find them posting a lot, and it’s content that’s just not relevant to me? Unfollow.
  2. Do the interactions I’m having on Facebook with this person help or hinder my relationship with them? If all the contact I have with an old friend is Facebook, and they’re constantly writing about things that do nothing but make me start to get judgey, then I unfollow them. I’d rather maintain what relationship I have with them off Facebook than let it devolve into a failed friendship. In other words, if what I see from them on Facebook is hurting our relationship, I unfollow. Yes, I suppose that means I’m still friends with people in real life who very much disagree with me on a bunch of issues. But . . . isn’t that a good thing?

And my final Facebook approach is to try to fact check anything I see on there, and not to rely on it as my one source of news. The reality you see on Facebook is a cultivated one, fed to you by a company who’s much more interested in making money off you than in actually informing you. Stay too long in Facebook, and you start to believe anyone either believes exactly what you do, or else they’re a blithering idiot. Neither one of those is true in most cases. If you see a news story that really gets your goat, consider the source, fact check it, and look into it on a different news site.

Anyway. For those of you leaving Facebook, I totally understand. I hope you still swing by now and then to see what I’m up to, but I wish you well in your future endeavors!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Paying for Quality Information

For the first long while of the internet, the push for everything seemed to be toward making everything free. Companies were happy just to have their pages used, so the content there was free. Bloggers popped up by the thousands overnight, with all of them happy to push out their own content, gratis. File sharing was enormously popular, with platforms like Napster letting users swap music files back and forth, much to the consternation of media conglomerates.

After those first wild west years were behind us, everything seemed to shift from “free” to “monetized.” Google was happy to let you use its service for free, as long as it could embed ads in its search results. Facebook did the same. YouTube has followed suit, and it’s fairly ubiquitous at this point. The saying went, “If you’re not paying for the product, you’re the product,” and that’s still largely true.

But what I’m beginning to see is a swing in a new direction. A swing back to paying for content, because it’s worth it. There are a ton of free books out there right now you could buy. Amazon has gobs of them on Kindle. But people are still ready and willing to pay for books. Why? Because they’ve seen a difference in quality. There are great free books out there, sure. But finding them, sifting through the tons of other books, is a real slog. It’s worth it to pay some money for a book that someone else has done that effort for you.

Likewise, there’s a whole ton of free information out there. Many, many people are ready and willing to tell you just about anything you want to hear, when it comes to the news. Yes, much of the free stuff is biased (and so is much of the paid stuff), but for the last long while, that hasn’t seemed to matter. Free beat out quality.

These days, I’m thinking quality beats out free, and that’s why news organizations have been able to start charging for subscriptions. The Washington Post. The New York Times. The Atlantic. Places with trained editors and paid staff. Because you can get much better information when people do something professionally, by and large. (We can have a different conversation around organizational bias by different institutions, but that’s not for today’s discussion.)

I expect to see this trend continue for the next few years at least, as we finally begin to reach a sort of balancing point between what people are willing to pay for quality information. The problem is, because quality information will continue to cost more than nothing, there will be an uphill battle persuading people who don’t pay for information that the things they’ve been reading might not be as accurate or informed. In other words, taken to its extreme, free and abundant shoddy information is a big threat.

What can we do about it? I’m honestly not sure. On the one hand, you could get around it by having a state-sponsored information channel, but that makes me skittish for clear and obvious reasons. It’s all fine and good while the state is trustworthy, but what if that stops being the case? I suppose you could somehow enact some kind of legal protections around that subsidized information source, but again, those are only as useful as the enforcement behind them.

You could argue information should just be free, period. But that’s not how it’s been able to work in our society. Reporters need to eat, and they need time to really investigate different issues. They should be compensated for the time they spend on investigating, so that they can eat. The better compensation they get, the more likely we are to get quality information in return.

I’m not sure I have a conclusion here. Just the general observation of a problem, and the statement that, while I used to be obsessed with getting everything for free, I’m believing more and more there are some things that are just worth paying for. Information is one of those.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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