Scancation - Scanning the Standing Stones of the Outer Hebrides

I just came back from a vacation where Kio and I went and visited most of the megalithic monuments on the islands of the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. Stone circles are all over the place on these islands and the biggest one is the Callanish Stone Circle. One of the cool things about these places is that there is very little history known about them and so all you can know about them is from your experience of being around them. Most of them all taller than me and you get the sense that these places were the sacred spaces of 5000 years ago.

One of the things I say a lot at MakerBot is that they really make the most sense when you connect your MakerBot to your passion. Since I'm into rocks. I scanned a few of my favorite stones and ran them through 123D Catch which makes a 3D model from up to 70 photos of the object. It’s pretty cool to think that yesterday I was walking among these stones and today I’m printing them out on the MakerBots in my office. 

It’s interesting to note that this feels a lot like the old days of vacation film photography. The process of processing the photos into a 3D model feels a lot like when I used to develop celluloid film after a vacation.

Someday, printing 3D models will be normal for everyone, for now, it’s just normal for all the MakerBot operators in the world.

If you decide to go on your own scanning vacation, aka scancation, here’s my process and tips for acquiring models. I use a Canon S110 camera and then upload my photos later to the 123D Catch site and then upload all the models and a zip file of all the photos to Thingiverse because the photogrammetry software will get better someday and I want to have an archive of the photos so I can make better models later.


  • Lighting conditions matter. A cloudy sky is much better than a sunny one so that you can get all the details of your subject. 
  • Fill the frame, but make sure to leave some area around the object in the picture. 123D Catch uses reference points in the object to make everything fit together. 
  • Use all 70 pictures allowed by the software. The more pictures, the better the scan. 
  • Scan weird things. Sometimes the most iconic stuff of a location isn’t the most obvious. Some friends of mine scanned all of Canal St. in NYC and said the interesting parts were the giant piles of trash bags which are one of the local overlooked pieces of landscape art.
  • Don’t forget the top view. If you are capturing a subject that is tall, do your best to get above it and take a picture. A quadcopter could be handy for that
  • Fix it up with Netfabb. After I upload the photos into the 123D Catch online portal, then I use Netfabb basic to slice off all the weird parts and cut a flat bottom onto the object.
  • Make sure to upload your scans to Thingiverse. We can all make models of your SCANCATION. 


Do you have any other scanning tips for those that would like to experiment with vacation scanning? Leave them in the comments!


HackerSpaces: The Beginning (The Book)

Repost of my post on In December of 2008, a group of hackers was sitting on the floor with faces aglow with laptop light cruising the internet and skyping friends in and listening to death metal. It was 12 days before 25c3. Astera and I had a conversation that went something like this:

B: There should be a book.

A: Yes, there should.

B: We have 12 days.

A: We can do it.

The twelve days we had was until CCC started. We figured we would have it done by then. We contacted all the hackers we knew around the world and put the word out. We expected to get about a half a page of writing from each space. We reckoned that it would be a 25 page pamphlet. We also reckoned that it be easy for folks to write up a little summary within a few days of what it was like to get their hackerspace started and get back to us.

Within a week we had been scorched by a flame war, gotten a lot of both written and photographic material submitted and it seemed likely that the book would happen. Then the submissions kept coming… and coming. The hackerspaces around the world told each other about the project and many groups sent some writing in describing the beginning of their hackerspace. Word had even gotten round to groups that didn't have a space yet and they were sending us descriptions of their pre-beginnings too! The 12 days came and went and still the submissions kept coming.

After a few months submissions had trailed off and Astera came to NYC and began designing the book. She's a pro and it shows. This book looks beautiful because she took the material and somehow made it fit together aesthetically, not a trivial task. Jens Ohlig jumped into the process last year to help push the editing process forward. Remember, in our minds it was going to be a project that would take less than two weeks and it turned into something epic. It's been a long wait and I hope you'll think that it's worth it.

Download HackerSpaces: The Beginning!

This book documents where the hackerspace movement was in December of 2008. In that way it's a bit of a time capsule. It's not an exhaustive book, but we hope there are enough stories in here to show that all your excuses for not starting up a hackerspace are invalid. Each group faced down their own dragons to bring their hackerspace into existence including floods, rats, and drama. If they can do it, so can you.

We did this because we wanted it to exist and so it is a reward in itself. If you feel moved and want to support hackerspaces, we suggest contributing to the Wau Holland fund which helps make awesome things happen for hackerspaces. We would also like to thank everyone who submitted photographs and writing, this is your book.

After these years, the book is finally free in the world as a pdf. Download it, read it, and share it. We're open to the idea of making it into a real physical book and if you're interested in making that happen, let us know.

Build, Unite, Multiply!


Survival Guide to a Hospital NICU

On July 8th, Kio Stark and I had a baby named Nika Stark Pettis at a hospital. We had been camped out there since Kio was on bedrest for about 6 weeks before the birth and Kio had the baby about 7 weeks early which is pretty early. Then the baby spent 6 weeks in the NICU. (Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit) It's a total relief to have her home. I'm not very impressed with the state of hospitals and health care. If there is one thing that could be improved, it would be redundancy in the transfer of patient data from one shift to the next and from one doctor to the next and from one nurse to the next.

I learned a lot about being in the NICU by being an obsessive dad at the NICU and so I figured I'd share some tips and tricks for surviving the NICU here for others. This is going to sound pretty intense. NICU's are intense places!

Here are my rules for being an obsessive dad in the NICU:

1. Always have an advocate with you at the hospital. This isn't really a tip just for the NICU, it's for everyone. Hospitals are stressful places. This experience taught me that every one who goes to a hospital should have an advocate with them that takes notes, helps figure out what doctors and nurses mean, checks on medicine side effects, and can remind nurses and doctors of the plans for the patient including the times medicine is given and just to keep everything in line.

2. Professional patient advocates are there to help when things aren't right. If something is not right, you've got to be the advocate and get your baby the help they need. Don't assume that someone else is looking after your baby. If something isn't right and does not get addressed, there are patient advocates to help you make sure the issue is addressed. Ask for directions to the patient advocate office, it may not be easy to find or in an obvious place in the hospital.

On the second day that Nika was in the NICU, I arrived after a shift change to find the monitor flatlined. I quickly checked her breathing and pulse and found that the baby had been unplugged and there was no one in the room with her or the room outside. From the datasheet, she'd been unplugged for over an hour and even with the backup systems including remote monitors, nobody had noticed. I blew a gasket when the nurse made excuses about how busy she was, how the technology isn't reliable, and how they were understaffed. I went to a supervisor, who didn't actually have time to get to the bottom of the situation and then the managing doctor who didn't get back to me after saying he would look into it. At that point I went to the patient advocate office and a patient advocate helped make the issue real and made sure it didn't get swept under the rug. Every hospital has a patient advocate office. The patient advocate made sure everyone knew that a mistake had been made and it wasn't going to just get swept under the rug. I had already learned from the pregnancy that hospitals are horrible at data transfer across shifts, but it was pretty stressful to realize that all the technology in the world can't be a redundant life support network if humans are neglectful. If I couldn't depend on the NICU to be a redundant life support system, it meant that I had to be there all the time.

3. Be there as much as possible. After that experience, I made sure to be there as much as possible. We figured that if me or Kio or Grandma was there, there will be at least one person there to make sure the baby is breathing and her heart is breathing. NICUs are very busy places, and after spending a lot of time there, I can say that they never have enough people and the technology isn't failsafe. Alarms go off so often because leads become disconnected that there can be a long time between an alarm going off and anyone responding. If you're there, you can take your baby's pulse or feel her breathing and apply cpr if there is a problem. (Never had to do this thankfully!) Get trained to do this. It's easy. 30 chest compressions, 2 puffs of breath. Kio and I are super lucky and Grandma was able to be at the hospital a lot which was a huge blessing. Huge win for us and huge win for Nika to have someone with her a lot of the time that she was at the hospital. We also ended up staying at a friend's place and then after that we used craigslist to find a sublet across the street from the hospital so that we didn't have to spend hours a day communiting from home during the time Nika was in the NICU and therefore we could spend more time with the baby.

4. Take notes on everything the nurses and doctors say. Hospitals haven't set up a reliable and redundant data network to transfer information from one shift to the next, so you have to be the data network and tell each nurse and doctor all the details of what's going on, what medications are involved and how often they need to be given. Find out when rounds are and be there for them. Rounds are when they come around and talk about your baby and make decisions about when things happen. Nurses end up carrying a lot of weight here. Pretty much the doctor says, "what should we do?" and the nurse decides. Very often, the nurse has only been around the baby for an hour or two and makes decisions. Often times, you'll have to remind them about things that are scheduled to happen. I had many times where I had to ask them to stick to their own timeline. While taking notes, ask for last names when you write their names down. Taking full names gave them notice that they were accountable and was the most helpful thing I did in making sure that Nika got good care. Ask for timelines and checkpoints and rules. They kept saying that when she gets to 4 pounds she'd go home, but the reality is when she got to 4 pounds she has to have a sleep test and a number of other tests.

5. There are no rules. Nurses and doctor said absolutely conflicting things about when and why things happen. This is actually kinda disturbing because it means that the internet might be more reliable for information about many things relating to the health of your child! We went home one night after being told that it would be days before she'd transition from an isollete incubator to an open bassinet. Then the next morning, the morning doctor had her decided to put her in a bassinet.

6. Transition times are dangerous. At the hospital I was not allowed to be there from 8-9 am and pm. There were a few times where they would ask me to leave at 8 for the transition and I had to basically say to the nurse, "you're about to go home and the next person isn't here to take over from you, I'm staying until I can transfer the data since you still don't know who the next nurse is and you're leaving."  To they're credit, they figured out that I'm a bit of a stickler for this and that I also am a source of some random chocolate, cookies and overall friendliness, so unless it's a nurses first time with me, they know my routine. If I could go back in time, I would have brought more cookies. 95% of the nurses and doctors we dealt are top notch human beings full of caring and love for all babies and these folks deserve as much chocolate as they can eat.

Don't accept things that aren't right. I had one nurse who was not very awake and I think she was on some sort of heavy medication. I caught her touching the baby and then touching the garbage can lid with her hands instead of using the foot pedal and then not using purell and touching the baby with dirty hands. after she did it a 3rd time, I finally confronted her and later pulled the managing doctor aside to say, "This woman is not very awake and every time she's my baby's nurse, I have to watch over her like a hawk to make sure she doesn't do things that put my babies life in danger." After that conversation, the nurse took a month long vacation. Again, remember there is a patient advocate that can help if you don't feel your issue is being adressed.

8. Make friends with the other parents at the NICU and exchange phone numbers. You can be there for each other and let each other know that something is wrong faster than the staff.

9. Ask for a tour of the place. We found out a month into being there that there was a room for parents that had it's own bathroom that was cleaner than the public toilet on the floor. We also found out at the end of our time there that there were showers and towels and a computer with a printer and scanner for parents who were there all the time and it would have been great to have known those things from the beginning.

I feel so thankful that Nika is doing great now. She's been a fighter since day 1 and now she's 7 weeks old and is growing more than an ounce a day. She came out at about 2.6 pounds and is now 4.8 pounds.  She's beautiful, I love her so much and am filled with happy daddy vibes a lot. Photos at


Apps for the Appocolypse

With my prediction that the internet has would go down in 2011 coming true in Egypt and Obama looking to get it set up so he can shut down the internet in times of emergency, it makes you wonder what we'd do if some shit went down locally. First they shut down facebook and twitter and then they shut down the cell networks and it sounds like they are jamming ham radio freqs as well.

How would you contact the ones you love if the cell/internet networks went down? How would you get the news out to the greater worldwide community if there were things you were seeing that the world needed to see?

There are a million game apps and a million calorie counting apps and those are cool, but I'd like to propose something that I'd like to see built in preparation for national or political or military disasters.

It's very possible that these kind of ideas are naive/already been done or just plain stupid. That's the point of brainstorming, to get them out. Feel free to come up with better ideas or improve ideas in the comments. Even better... make something happen!!!

Local wifi IRC: I want an app that creates a localized IRC channel that anyone within wifi range can join. The idea here is that wifi can't be jammed locally, so it would be nice to set up a localized network to chat with your neighbors without leaving the house. Bonus points if it can act as a node. This may already be possible, but it's definately not easy. I'd like to just open my phone, turn on wifi, run the app and see IRC chat rooms within wifi range of my device. Bonus points for being able to make the nodes into a network. Extra bonus points for sending a message chained via wifi devices accross a continent.

What other apps do you want for the appocolypse? What can you make that will be useful to the rest of the world in times of trouble? The time to make these things is before you need them! Go!


Digital Designs in iTunes?

When Mark Frauenfelder was asked to think of an imaginary future Apple product, he came up with a 3D printer in full Apple style, glossy and sleek.

I've always imagined that someday soon, everyone will have a 3D printer at home. Mark's vision of the Apple-y future really shook me up and made me think about how designs circulate. In the future Mark posits, designs could be like songs, or iPhone apps in iTunes.

"To create a product, you visit the iTunes Store to choose from among tens of thousands of product designs--prices range from free to $9.99--purchasing one just as you would a song, video, or app. The 3D data is sent to the iMake, which builds the parts, layer by layer, out of high-quality plastic. The iMake will also make the circuit boards. Then, all you do is snap the pieces together! After purchasing a 3D model from the iTunes Store, it takes about 15 minutes to print a 3D part."

Imagining a digital design branch of iTunes unsettled me, because one of the main focuses of the current DIY 3D printing movement is to be open source--and focus on sharing ideas and designs freely. The collective goal is to build out a large library of digital objects that anyone can download, modify, customize and share.

Should designs be free? It's really a provocative question. Would designers be more motivated to create designs if they could make money off of them?

I'm really curious to hear what you think about this in the comments! And, thanks to Mark for the thought-provoking vision of the future!