quinoa and yacon

I’m happy to say that I’ve finally managed to grow a crop of Quinoa – 3rd time lucky!  The first attempt I planted in too shady a spot, second time the summer was too wet, but this time round was perfect… well, almost.  I was waiting until the first frost to harvest, but we had a few days of rain which almost turned the whole lot into a pile of mould.  I caught it just in time, and after winnowing (and spreading half the grain over the allotment in the process), I now have a whole half kilo!  Apparantly I still need to rinse the saponins off (whizzing it in a blender with water umpteen times), but I’m sure I’ll appreciate every single grain!

I’m also pretty excited about a new veg for me – yacon.  Looks like a potato, crunchy like a water chestnut, sweet like a pear… a strange thing, but I’m looking forward to making sweet and savoury recipes – or perhaps I’ll boil it all up and make some syrup…

quinoa graingiant quinoaquinoa dryingyacon tuberstasty yacon


aims and objectives

digital rural square

I’m currently working on clarifying the aims and objectives of my PhD.  Trying to develop a clear focus is not an easy process for me, as it seems the longer I work on it, the more questions arise…

I’m primarily using the term personal fabrication when speaking of digital / custom / distributed || manufacturing / making / hacking etc.  The reason I’ve chosen this term is that personal represents the connection to people’s lived experiences, personal interests, challenges and hobbies.  It’s community based rather than commercial (although the commercial is not strictly excluded).  Fabrication from fabrica or ‘something skilfully produced’ points to a process of making that involves thought, attention and skill.

So within the overarching aim of investigating the creative potential of personal fabrication within a rural context, I am trying to understand the following:

•    What role can personal fabrication play in advancing a thoughtful, sustainable relationship with the manufactured world?
•    What are the particular qualities of personal fabrication that are useful in a rural context?
•    What are effective models for enabling a wide section of society to engage with personal fabrication (so that localised manufacture may directly benefit community members)?
•    What implications does the adoption of personal fabrication have on the social structure of a rural locale – can it enable new networks, skill sharing, opportunities for learning etc.

Objectives and methods (still kind of rough)

To evaluate the field of personal fabrication, analysing current practice, applications and models of participation [in order to understand the key qualities of relevance to a rural environment and to increasing engagement with a diverse audience].  To develop an understanding of the relationship between people, objects and creativity.  Positioning the research within regard to issues of material culture, sustainability, resource use and localisation.

– Literature and contextual review
– Case studies
– Qualitative survey of models of engagement

To develop methods of exploring both the opportunities and issues surrounding personal fabrication (with a diverse audience and within a rural context).

– Iterative process of engagement and workshops
– Development of visualisation and communication skills
– Design and production of objects around which to base a conversation

To generate data about the relevance and implications of personal fabrication for rural communities.
– Through a series of public ‘workshops’ in rural locales

To analyse the process involved in engaging with the tools of personal fabrication, especially for those with no prior experience.

– Through developing a personal fabrication practice
– The acquisition of an Ultimaker (3D printer) and analysis of subsequent learning process involved.
– Interviews with, and observation of lead users, interested amateurs
– Public workshops

If you have any thoughts about these aims and objectives, I’d be really interested to hear them.

lessons from nature

I went to a lovely talk by Seaton Baxter last night: A Faith Full Nature, part of Interfaith week.

The thread running through was happiness – from Meredith Thring’s graph showing the relationship between happiness and materialism to Krishnamurti’s advice “The moment you follow someone, you cease to follow truth.”

What can nature teach us?


I wonder how these qualities could relate to my research?
Do some of these speak to the project more than others?  What would the inclusion of ‘slow’ look like?  Of salutogenisis? Especially relating to the rural context?

Seaton also talked about wabi sabi and the principles of impermanence, imperfection and incompleteness.  It made me think ‘what do we expect from digitally crafted objects?’  Are we talking of the opposite here?  Or at the very least speed, intricacy, perfection.

How do we assign value to things?  Meredith Thring’s diagrams showed the relationship between what we have and how we feel – that (as has been proven many times over)  having more doesn’t lead to greater happiness.  This line of though brings to mind two recent 3D printed projects – firstly a celebration of the imperfect and unique, a project by Claire Warnier and Dries Verbruggen, which shows that even with the same cad files, there is room for originality and flaw.  In contrast these pieces by Atelier Ted Noten represent both the desire for perfection, and are themselves incredibly clean, stark and ‘pure’.

the guru

The other day I had the fantastic opportunity to hear about fab labs from the man himself, Neil Gershenfeld. He was visiting Glasgow to receive an honorary professorship from Strathclyde University and found the time to host a Fab Lab network meeting and give a public talk.
Some points of note were:
1. The traditional model of patenting products that you then manufacture is not best suited to distributed manufacture. The value is to be found in the design, or in the transformational impact when lab users learn new skills that enable them to make something that matters to them.
2. Just as the labs offer a distributed manufacture system, The Fab Academy is a complementary distributed education system – where e:learning is likened to timeshare and university education is the mainframe (or mothership).
3. Value is measured in many ways – social impact is as important as economic impact (and can be just as vital in attracting revenue)
4. The similarities are more noticeable than the differences: each lab may have a different flavour, but creative people are more similar then they are different – this also goes for any distinction between rural or urban labs, yes, they may be designing herding systems, but the skills and methods are transferrable across a whole host of situations.
5. The network, in addition to offering support and a forum for knowledge exchange, enables larger funding streams to be accessed.
6. The cost of the standard lab has remained fairly stable (around $90k). As the network has evolved, potentially reduced costs have been balanced by the ever increasing ambition of lab users.
7. Fab Labs are not 3D printers! “You use the 3D printer when nothing else works.”

a dot of research



It’s a hard task to try and classify things sometimes.  EMF camp was like a giant show and tell, and nearly everything I saw could have falen into a number of categories – whether it was this (art / transport) or this (game / raft / art).  Intersting that no-one regarded themselves as making models, while so many were functional… I’m guessing this is closely related to the audience: in comparison to this study, which has a much broader and bigger net.  The most popular digital methods were electronics and coding which are buried underneath all the sticky dots.  Wondering what the ‘others’ were – any suggestions?

hacker, maker, artist, gamer

Following on from my last post, here are some more of the results from the visual survey I conducted at EMF hacker camp – of course I don’t know how many people described themselves with one dot or many, but it gives a flavour or the event.  The age choices included 18-30 and 31-45, which became hidden under all the dots, as did the ‘full-time’ option.  More to follow…

field work

The weekend before last I went down to Electromagnetic Field, or EMF camp, just beside sunny Milton Keynes (it was sunny, and being a Scot it was a nice surprise to discover it was still summer somewhere).  It was the most amazing weekend, full of strange contraptions, talks which gave glimpses into worlds I never knew existed and most of all very friendly bunch of people.  I was lucky enough to receive funding from the IDEAS research institute at RGU to attend, and I spent a lot of time talking to attendees: about interests, reasons for being there and also about my own area of research.  I took my faithful tea trolley – I had no idea when I first made her (it has become her over the years), that she would be so invaluable – not only is a tea trolley a great way to start a conversation, but it turns out to be a really useful piece of camping furniture too.

So I met a lot of interesting, passionate makers and thinkers – from the guy who teaches people to pick locks (for fun) to the person who had moved on from building his 3d printer, to putting together a laser cutter.  I had brought along some EMF camping-themed kits, which had given me my first opportunity to use the laser cutter, and with one of them being a port-a-loo, this prompted interesting discussions about the benefits of composting loos, amongst other toilet related matters.  I had also brought along a few visual questionnaires, asking some simple questions such as what type of things people make and how they go about it.  I’m still in the process of transcribing the recorded conversations, and together with the dot-surveys will hopefully be able to make some sense of the (quite literally!) ‘field’ work.