D-I-Why Not repair technology

Bricky and Friends

Bricky and friends.

You’ve already met ‘Bricky’, my smart-enough flip phone with the tiny touch screen. Update: It is everything I hoped it would be. It also closes with an endlessly satisfying k’thunk. Which makes it easier for me to literally close that world away, and go look instead at plants and bugs and books and such.

I bought Bricky because I needed a working phone-phone, but I didn’t get rid of its predecessor, a Moto g6. (Even though we never bonded, and my favourite thing about it is still the mushroom sticker I put on the back.) I also didn’t get rid of the phone before that, an Asus Zenfone.

I’ve tended each of these phones so they still work and have a job here. Together, these three kinda-shoddy phones add up to exactly what I want from my technology. It’s like if Voltron was made up of cracked screens and weak motors, but also told you great stories, always had the best recipes, and didn’t bother you while you were trying to sleep.

Sleep is the bailiwick of my Zenfone, on the left there. After several years of hard use, its charging port stopped working. I couldn’t be without a phone at the time, so I replaced it. But a few months and a new part later, I was able to pry the Zenfone open and solder it back to life.

Since the Zenfone is too old and SIM-card-less to cause trouble, it gets a pass on the no-phones-in-the-bedroom rule and lives there. Where it’s still fast enough to play meditation prompts, guide stretches, or play a chill inspiring video or two when the noise and worries of the day are a bit too loud.

The moto g6, right, is the Zenfone’s successor. Because it was in stock, unlocked, inexpensive, and ran Android. But after a few years, the screen cracked, charging and audio got flaky, and eventually it stopped ringing. It held all my calls, whether I wanted it to or not.

The g6 is designed to be unrepairable (boo). BUT I don’t need to repair it for its new job in charge of once-a-week Instagramming, morning YouTube-ing, recipe googling, app testing, and quick camera…ing.

Right-to-repair can’t keep up with planned obsolescence, and the new-new is always calling. But sometimes old+old+old might equal something better. 💚

D-I-Why Not homeMADE technology

Automata: The Scrappy Flying Machine

The scrappy flying machine! 🐦🛠️

🛠️💔: I first posted about this automata in August. When, after months of 5 mins here and half an hour there, it was nearly complete. All I had left to do was glue the handle to the axle… And then the handle broke, along with the axle.

And I asked myself the question that makes or breaks many projects: “Am I looking for an excuse to stop, or a way to keep going?”

🤕♥️: I gathered up the broken pieces — of both me and the automata — and got to work on it again the next day. Because my heart wanted so bad to build this beautiful little frankenbird…

🐦⏳: I still needed to fit this project into the corners of my day, so in one 5 minute block, I cut off the broken handle. In another, I drilled out the broken axel. In another, I started shaving down a replacement… etc etc until a week or so later I glued the new handle onto the new axel onto the old gear and… LIFT OFF!

🐦♻️: It’s the details of this automata I’m most proud of. Because it is scrappy in materials as well as spirit (I like to think it takes after its mom…). It’s made from buckthorn branches, and broken cedar coathangers, and a glue-damaged board, and offcuts, and offcuts of offcuts. The gears are handcut. I bought the screws and washers, but everything else is found, foraged, and upcycled.

🐦✈️: I’ve been wanting to share it in motion for awhile now. It’s got quite the wingspan though, and I couldn’t work out how to film it. But when I came in from chores today I realized the stepladder I was carrying might be a serviceable tripod, if I propped my phone against my hat, and cleared the sunscreen and chicken treats off the front hall table… Success 🙂

🐦💪: I’m super proud of how these scraps of time and wood alchemized into more than the sum of their parts, and built the stuff my dreams are made of.

🐦💡: So I guess my lesson to myself is don’t give up on your dreams when they break. You never know… in the end, they might still fly.

Have a great one folks!
Automata design and instruction by Eduardo Salzane.



A smart-enough phone

This is my new “smart-enough” phone.

I have noticed that the “smarter” my phone, the less content I am.

I don’t want the New Newness. What I want is… enough.

I want things I can repair. Things that don’t take too much from the earth, that don’t need to be replaced too often.

So when my smartphone screen smashed, after drop 13,478, I looked for something else. The screen was as broken as my relationship with my phone, and it was time to fix it.

I’ve tried digital wellbeing hacks, and while they help, I always felt I was on the edge of a slippery slope, ready to slide me right back to where I didn’t want to be.

The world of endless mindless consumption says friction is the enemy. And, well, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Friction interrupts the scroll. Friction prevents binge-watching and binge-buying. The rash reply and thoughtless comment. Friction gives me a moment to think, to decide.

So I’ve added back a little friction, to see where it takes me. When I have to take a little longer to write a text, I think more about what I’m saying. When I can’t just snap a quick photo to look at later, I look harder now.

Having a somewhat-smart phone adds to my life. I mean, we /develop apps/. And I enjoy using apps. To identify birds by song, and ID plants that aren’t in my books. To get my GPS status, and swap photos and ideas with friends. To e-transfer to local farmers, and chat with my mother-in-law about the weather.

But I don’t like carrying an open-faced glass sandwich that I drop 2-100x a day. I don’t like it to beep at me, advertise at me, cajole me, and doom-scroll me. I don’t like a form-factor that screams at my eyes to stare at it more, and the world less.

So this is my new phone. It cost $115 and is unlocked and ruggedized. But it also has a small touchscreen, so I can still use whatever apps I want, including the ones I make myself 😀. I’m not endorsing this particular phone exactly. But the idea that we have the choice to choose something else, when the status-driven status quo isn’t for us… Well that, that I’ll endorse all day every day. 👍

Have a great week folks! May all your devices work just poorly enough to bring you joy.

D-I-Why Not homeMADE homestead technology

Hot enough to cook an egg… in a cardboard box?

Solar oven — made from a cardboard box! Is it hot enough to cook an egg out there??

Solar oven side quest: Before work on our new chicken coop one day, I decided to try making a solar oven from our recycling. The heart wants what it wants.

✂️📦: Wired has a tutorial on making a solar oven from a cardboard box, insulating material (like styrofoam), duct tape, tin foil, and some cling film. I have those things!

👷‍♀️💭: I modified the Wired design a bit, making the front panel more easily removable (bungee handles), and punching holes and lacing string through the outside flaps, to help direct the sun.

☀️🌡️: After a bit of time outside, the oven temperature got up to a whopping 200F! Okay maybe not “whopping”, but… consistent! A slow-and-steady 200F! The black cast iron pot inside the oven got scorching hot. Too hot for bare hands.

🍆☁️: My first “dish” was half a squash. Which was… ambitious. I have to adjust the box to track the sun (cardboard can only do so much), and we had to go out that day. The shade drifted over and absorbed the oven while we were gone. The squash got sun-kissed, but not cooked through.

📦🍳: Yesterday I tried round two, this time with an egg. Once again, the oven stayed right around 200F.

And success! After about an hour the egg was cooked through. I didn’t think to check the internal temperature until the egg had been out of the oven for ~10 minutes. By then it registered around 128F. Safe temperature for eggs is 160F, so I’ll make this a “twice-cooked” egg (heating it up inside) before putting it in my face hole.

🍫🤢: Why mess around with a raw egg instead of just making s’mores you (and Neil) might be asking? You both make a good point, but here we are. Also I wanted to see what would happen. (To the egg, not my GI tract.)

Do you have any suggestions for (very) low-and-slow cooking? I make our granola at 225F, so maybe that is worth a go…?

🌳☀️: Here in the woods, our days of strong overhead sun are only just beginning. Let’s see how toasty I can get this ol’ pile of packaging!

Have a great day folks! ☀️



There was a bug in the network

Back online! Guys… Don’t get too excited yet, but I think I may have developed a super power. It’s reeeaally specific though…

My super power is this: If I’ve been reading about a critter, it nests in our internet connection and breaks it.

Last time I was reading about rodents, we lost our internet due to mice making their home in the utility box. Lately, I’ve been reading up on insect identification, and we just lost our internet for a week because of ants.


*cracks open a book about mountain lions and waits*

Have a wonderful week folks! So much exciting creating and upcycling and maker-ing has been happening. Posts coming soon!*

*… unless mountain lions.

100% of credit for “There was a bug in the network” goes to the excellent Peter Wills of Word and Data.


gardening technology thinking big

In Seeds As In Software

Some of Maker’s Dozen’s work is in technology. Open source software development. And in open source, you share your source code.

It’s like sharing your recipe. Here, we made you this cake, and here’s how we did it.

It acknowledges the work of the people who came before us, and contributes our work back to the commons, so others can build on it too.

In the early days of computers, this was pretty normal. Most programmers were pretty open about sharing their work with others — so everyone could get the most value from these newfangled machines. But the cancer of proprietary everything has spread so far, that many people don’t even realize the locked in, closed source ideas of technology weren’t always considered normal. Or that open source never went away, and is in fact thriving. (If you are looking at this on an Android phone, you are using open source technology.) That there is a choice. Another way of doing things.

I think about this while I’m in the garden, planting our plants. It’s the ol’ “pull on one thing and find they’re all connected” deal.

Many of our vegetables this year are grown from seeds I saved out of last year’s garden. I love to save and share seeds, to be part of that essential cycle of self-sustenance. But we are miles and miles away from total self-sufficiency, and it’s not really our goal. We can’t grow and save the seeds for everything we plant and eat, even if we wanted to. We don’t have the right conditions here, don’t have the room to isolate plants properly etc etc.

We need others to carry the seeds too. To share back with us. So that there is diversity and abundance and resilience and growth. Plant it, grow it, share it with others. Be a good ancestor.

“Seeds, especially of food and other useful plants, should be taken care of by the people. They are too precious for all of them to be placed under the exclusive control of the few. The more hands that hold them, the safer they will be.”

~Jude and Michel Fanton (Seed Saver’s Network Australia)

Happy Friday folks! Have a great weekend. 🐁🖱️


homestead technology

No power, but not powerless

We lose grid power a lot here. So we’ve learned how to be less powerless about it. The squirrels are all like “hey do you think you have enough dry goods stashed lady?” And I’m like “quit sassing me squirrel! …Are you going to eat that acorn?”

The headlamps are always hung on the hooks with care here… But we also do some things now whenever we know storms, or even high winds, are coming.

Here’s a few of them, in the hopes they might be useful to you too.

  • 💦 Stash water. For drinking and for flushing. My newest trick is to also fill the sink with hot soapy water. Being able to wash a dish during a power outage is wonderful.
  • 🐤 Look after the animals. Baton hatches, fill backup waterers, work out alternate heating solutions. We have options, they don’t.
  • ❄️ Fill a small cooler. Pull essentials we might want out of the fridge and into a cooler with an ice pack.
  • 🧼 Wash dishes — and ourselves if we have time. For dishes, pans that can go on the BBQ or fire especially.
  • 👔 Tie the fridge shut as soon as the power goes. Or put a chair in front of it. Habits are *powerful*! A fridge or freezer can stay cold and foodsafe for ages if left closed. But you throw that under the bus when you go to grab the milk before your brain kicks in…
  • 🔋Charge phones.
  • 🗄️Tidy up. We might be walking around with less or no light. Tripping over that laundry basket you forgot was there is going to suuuck.
  • ☀️Do things that need light while there’s daylight. If the outage was unexpected, that might mean prepping for when it gets dark. But it might be recreation if everything is squared away. Read books while the sun shines.
  • ☕Boil water and put it in a good thermos. There is nothing a cup of tea can’t make a little better.

📝And for next time — make a list of what you’re missing/wish you’d done or have during the outage. You won’t think about how that bathroom has no natural light and could really use a battery powered lamp in it while the power is on, but boy howdy it’ll be top of mind when it’s off.

We hope everyone came through this weekend’s storms and outages safe and sound.


technology thinking big

Leggy plants… and planters

“Leggy is a very special succulent planter that could walk away at any time, but as long as he has light and enough water, he will stay with you forever”

~p4Zr, Leggy’s designer on Thingiverse

3D printed this little guy the other day for a succulent who needs a new home and more love.

3D printing has a lot of potential. What if we could use compostable materials to print, at home, only what we need, when we need it? No gas-guzzling shipping halfway around the world. And what if when it was done being one thing, we could chip it, melt it, extrude it, and turn it into something else?

It’s an exciting idea for a smaller footprint. But we do need to point out too when the Tech Emperor has no clothes. And that dude is naked a lot of the time.

Machine learning, AI, 3D printing… Sprinkle in the words “deep” or “neural” or “cloud” to add another zero to your funding. “We use soft robotics to neural our blockchain to the cloud…4.0”. All aboard the hype train, next stop, Quick Fixes.

The reality is complicated. Each one of these can be wonderful tools. And like all tools they work best when we first learn how they work, how to use them, what they’re best for. We don’t try to cut wood with a hammer.

3D printing is both great and has a ways yet to go. PLA requires an industrial facility to be properly composted, and end-to-end residential re-use solutions are expensive and rare.

There’s great possibility to use tech in creative and planet-friendly ways. But deep understanding is in its early days.

I figure while we squeak closer to better systems, the best quick fix for now, and probably for always, is using less.

…And I don’t mean only printing pint-sized planters 😉 Although how flipping cute is this guy.

Happy Earth Day folks! Have a great weekend.


technology thinking big

Being the Bear

There is a bear at Stanford who sits on top of a filing cabinet. It’s a stuffed toy bear, and it belongs to one of the professors. When the professor’s students get stuck on a problem, and want to ask for his help, they first have to go and explain their problem to the bear.

Most of the time, the bear is able to solve the problem.

Or rather, the students are able to solve their own problems, by talking them through “with the bear”.

I can’t find the right combination of search terms to dig up the origin of this story again. And who knows how much truth has merged with fiction. But whether this teddy bear-tactic professor ever really existed or not, this story is true at our house.

We don’t literally leave a stuffed bear around. And anyways my only stuffed animal options are an alligator, a puffin, a monster dressed as a ninja, and a flying squirrel. As stuffed animals go, they’re solid. Though I don’t know if any of them are good listeners.

But Neil and I are often “the bear” for each other. We work on projects together and alone. If one of us is stuck on a problem, the other person might understand enough about what we’re doing to offer a helpful suggestion, a fresh perspective, or a different tactic. But even when the stuck person is working way outside our expertise, we can still “be the bear” for each other. We simply sit and listen, while the other person explains their problem to us.

Talking to the bear lets you untangle your own thoughts. Brains can be messy, and that’s okay. But sometimes, when we leave a problem in there too long, our thoughts simply pull the existing knots tighter and tighter.

Our minds are capable of holding contradictory or “gappy” ideas. But the plot holes and conflicts often become apparent once we start teasing our thoughts apart into sentences. As we start to untangle our ideas, because we’re trying to communicate them to someone else — even if that someone else is a stuffed bear — we can often uncover the crux. And find our way out of the tangle, all “on our own”. It might even seem incredibly obvious as soon as we begin speaking aloud. A handful of sentences spoken aloud to the bear uncovers the root of, and solution to, a problem you’ve been rolling around in your mind for an hour.

At our house, if we notice the other person is stuck on a problem, we will say “do you need me to be the bear?” and come sit in their office for a bit while they figure it out. Or we might seek the other person out, saying “can you be the bear for me?” And occasionally, when Neil has drifted into explaining a complex coding problem to me that he’s stuck on, I will tuck my arms in to my sides and slowly raise them to a 90 degree angle. Sometimes it helps to get into character.

Anyone can “be the bear”. So often we just need someone to sit still with us, and listen.


fauna homestead technology

Silent Night

We’ve had no internet for about a week now. The Bell technician who came out today traced the problem to its source – a mouse nest in the cable box. This is not the first time a mouse has made its house somewhere unfortunate. Last year our mechanic made a similar discovery under the hood of our car. Shelter is shelter.

As a little girl, one of my favourite Christmas stories was about a wee churchmouse, retconned into the story of Silent Night. The tale imagined that Silent Night was composed by Franz Gruber on guitar because the organ was broken – its leathers chewed by the hungry mouse.

Mouse nests are part of the texture of our world now, living nestled in the woods. It’s a fluffy ephemeral texture. The nests we find are lightweight and constructed from all sorts of different materials, yet somehow always distinctly mouse-house-ish.

Stacks of firewood make particularly good places to build mouse houses. My winter fuel is your habitat. I can see it. Neatly stacked wood is not so different from my log cabin. I imagine a jumble of telephone wires looks similarly suitable. It’s usually halfway there after all. Even before it’s been rearranged to suit a rodent, we humans call a tangle of wires a “nest”. Its mousey potential is that evident.

It’s inevitable that mice will get into the nooks and crannies of the human-constructed world. Mice are small and they are multiple. But I wouldn’t want to be in a universe without them. They may nibble cables and carry Lyme disease, but mice are also good food for fox. We’ve yet to have a fox try to get into our hen house, but there is lots of evidence that they regularly help themselves to the abundant local mouse population. The mice are welcome here too in their own role as predator, a natural check on LDD (“gypsy”) moth populations — mice enjoy feasting on LDD pupae.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

~John Muir

Living as we do, thick in the 21st century, most of our work is done online. And despite our extensive and ever-growing book-based library, many of our references are online as well. So having no internet is pretty inconvenient. But in our case it is not life threatening, and even pleasant from time to time. I am no different from the rest of my species: it’s too easy for me to spend too much time scurrying around the web. I can fall down an internet or social media rabbithole with the best of them, and it doesn’t always bring out the best in me. A pause is welcome. I may or may not spend the time composing songs on guitar, but I am happy to have a few silent nights.