DIY or Maker?

Zen Digest

  • Be a Maker – focus on creation, collaboration, and the process of making.
  • Listen, interact, and give back to the maker community.

The Whole Picture

The use of DIY (Do It Yourself) started as early as 1910s and was commonplace in the 1950s.  It is associated with many things, from home improvement projects, crafts, and technology.  It has centered around making yourself the primary doer – the one who buys the parts, puts them together, and does the work without the aid of a professional or expert.  Lately, there has been another movement in a similar jest called the maker movement.  While communities have been created around the DIY space, the maker movement has been built and centered around communities which aids creativity, education, and success.

Back in 1995, I discovered something called BBSes (Bulletin Board Systems).  It was something like a pre-internet internet.  You would use your computer to dial in to another computer from which you could send email, play games, write messages on a message board, and if the BBS had multiple lines (which few did) – chat.  It was here that I met a bunch of individuals who were the DIY types with computers – they built their own machines, wrote their own software, etc.

What always struck me as funny, is that while it was called Do It Yourself so many people were there as a support group.  You were never alone in a project, and learning was a collaboration.  You would write a bit of code, post it, others would comment or post changes, and you’d learn from that.  It was like collectively solving a puzzle, where working together cut the time-to-solve ten-fold.

DIY is like looking at history and giving Thomas Edison credit for every patent he put his name on and not crediting the hundreds of workers in his lab.  Additionally, by assuming you have to do something alone (be it a new project, or learning a new skill) is a terribly limiting thing.  The internet has enabled millions of different communities to exist on any and all topics.  Use those communities to bolster your skillset and give back to those communities.



Zen Digest

  • Every month or two, have a checkpoint to reassess priorities, schedule, and habits
  • Haven’t had a checkpoint in a while (or ever?), do it today!

The Whole Picture

By nature, I’m a pretty scatterbrained person.  If thrown off my schedule, priorities, etc, I’d end up only doing the most important few things, and letting other things fall.  Beyond that, after a day of working on the most critical item, chances are I would have lots of difficulty finding motivation getting anything else done.  Oddly, I’d be perfectly contented being that way (in fact, it’s in my nature).  I wouldn’t be very productive, and that would also put a pretty big burden on those around me.  Despite this chaos, I actually perform very well with a schedule.  If I have a regular sleep time, wake time, meal times, etc, I tend to sleep better, feel better, and am ultimately more productive…  But, no matter how good of a schedule I get on, life always has a way of throwing that out the window.

In comes the reset button.  In highschool, a friend of mine used to tell me that when she was upset, she would sit down and press her reset button (when recounting the lesson, she would point to her nose).  Once she was reset, she could start from square one and figure out where to go.  I’ve always used that advice whenever I was feeling unmotivated.

I recently had to do this as my schedule got thrown off for a bunch of reasons.  I started with the basic – I set an alarm so I wake up at the same time every day (a little early) and with the weather getting nicer, I’ve decided to take a walk every morning to get some exercise.  Additionally my list of things to remember/do at work as well as at home was getting long (again, making it hard for me to get motivated to get it all done) so I’m currently going through an exercise to create a paper list of everything I need to do, and prioritizing and giving myself goals of eliminating a few tasks every day.

I’ll scramble for a few days, and often that leads to super-productivity until I get into a good rhythm and things will be smooth sailing.  But, one day, things will get crazy again, but, I will just reset and that is ok.


Check the Obvious

Zen Digest:

  • When diagnosing a problem, let go of assumptions.
  • Check things that would make you say “I can’t believe it was that!”

The Whole Picture:

Growing up, my family had a tradition of putting up Christmas lights.  We were hardly the Griswolds but we had enough lights and surface area to cover to require an entire day of untangling clusters of lights, determining a pattern, and getting everything working.  This was many years ago, and we bought the budget lights, so if one bulb went out, the entire string didn’t work.  With my father’s desire to fix things that are broken, if a cluster of lights went out, he was determined to find the bulb that was broken (or fuse that was blown) and replace it.

Most years went smoothly with only a small amount of clusters out, but one year was exceptionally bad.  It was a year where my sister and I were a bit more grown up, so the excitement of putting up lights began to wane.  My father, determined to keep the spirit up (and/or driven by my mother asking him to put up the lights), decided to start putting the lights up in the front of the house.  An hour or so after untangling and laying out the lights, my father came inside and hunted for every spare bulb and fuse he could find.  He went back outside to find the illusive burnt-out bulb.  More time passed and he came back inside to grab the car keys – he was off to the store.  He came back with $40 worth of spare parts.  Mind you – he probably could have bought a whole new set of lights for the front for that price – but he was determined to solve the problem at hand.

At this point I was awake (or had come back from whatever activity I was doing that morning) and he asked for my help.  Whenever I was around he tried to set a good example, so normal corner-cutting (measure-once cut-twice, taking small risks, etc) got sidelined.  For him, rule #1 when working with anything that plugs in is to unplug it.  We go outside with the spare parts and he gave me instruction #1: “Go unplug the lights.”  I walked over to the plug and noticed the lights were already unplugged.  “Hey dad.  They are already unplugged.”  I stared at the plug and placed it in the outlet.  The lights magically turned on.  My father had set everything up and simply forgotten to plug them in.

We get wrapped up in our tasks, and frustration can often blind us to possible solutions.  “The last time this happened, X was the solution,” leads us to try X, then when X doesn’t work, we look for more obscure of difficult problem/solutions – because we assume the simple solutions were covered.  In programming, forgetting a period or semi-colon can cause an entire application to crash or behave incorrectly – such a simple thing.  Ever leave your keys in the lock?  Always check the obvious.