MakerSpaces: Leveling the creative playing field

Leave a comment

Has anyone out there heard of Makerspaces before?  If you have already heard of them, you could probably just skip the rest of this, because I don’t really have any deep insight on them.  I just happened to hear about this movement one day, and I happen to think it is absolutely an amazing phenomenon, and it’s one that would never have been possible even just a few short years ago.

Maker workshops are springing up all across the country.  I was even excited to see one in my old home town of Pittsburgh, but their website was beyond terrible, so add that to the list of cool things Pittsburgh almost has.  A better example of what one looks like is this one, which is the Maker Works, located in Ann Arbor, MI.  You can also check out Make Magazine for some cool stuff about the Makers too.


So what is a Maker Space?

A maker space is a large workshop containing many of the newest cutting edge manufacturing and fabrication technologies.  The exact selection varies by workshop, but you could find a plasma cutter, injection molder, 3D modeler, vinyl cutter, etc.  Basically, large, awesome, expensive fabrication machines that your average guy isn’t going to be able to afford or know how to use at home.

They charge a membership fee to have access to the equipment, and they offer classes on how to use the machines.  After that, you can go in and use the equipment as often as you need.  If you don’t know how to do something, odds are good they can show you how to do it right there, if not, sign up for a class.  At the end of the day, for a small fee, you have access to the exact same type of manufacturing equipment as the big corporations do.

How does that help?

Well think about it.  You have an idea for a great product.  You know that by getting this product built, you could sell them at a handsome profit.  Yet in order to built it, you have to go secure funding by either getting an investor, or taking a bank loan.  Then you have to prototype it.  Then you have to order 1000s of them to get the economy of scale going for you.  Then you have to try to sell them, all while being stressed out and drowning in debt.


Go down to your local maker space.  Learn how to build it.  Build it.  Sell it.  If it doesn’t work, you are out a lot less than the start-up guy.  If it does work, you have a business model now.  You can map out your product on the 3D molder.  Create a prototype on the injection molder.  You can even mass produce things there.

Why this is amazing?

We always talk about how nothing is made in America anymore.  Well here is our chance to change that.  How many good ideas are floating around out there inside the skulls of American’s everywhere?  Who know where the next world changing idea will come from.  How many great ideas have died a slow death because no one was willing to give them a shot?  Now you don’t have to convince anyone.  The ability to proof something is in your own hands.

When the internet was created, it changed society because it broke down the controls to information.  No longer could our knowledge be dictated by others.  I see things like this having the same effect, but on products.  I doubt GE will be selling solar power garden waterers anytime soon, but if you want one, now you can make one.  We homesteaders stand to benefit from this the most.  If we see a need, we can fill it.  We can solve more of our own problems, and create a business at the same time.


Dealing with Negative Nancy


Good Morning everyone.  Short post today as I spent too much time rental hunting when I should have been working.  The internet has never allowed me to be more and less productive at the same time.

So yesterday marked a milestone in our writing career, and it’s a milestone that all of us will handle in some form in our chosen homesteading endeavours.  We got our first Negative Nancy one star review on our book on Amazon.  No, literally, her name is Nancy.  Now I am not upset by this, as I knew it was only a matter of time.  I also know that the book is good, because people who I know, and whose opinions I actually value have told me that they like it.  If there was some form of actual feedback that I could use to make my product better, I would even welcome the poor review.

There wasn’t.  The comments involved too many typos (which is true) and misused words (which isn’t true).  That’s it.  All of the information in my book was magically invalidated because of some minor errors.  Because in this person’s mind, polish is more important than substance.  On the plus side, I was the first review she ever wrote on Amazon.  So from a new media perspective, my writings caused an action.  That counts as a win.

Now those first two paragraphs sound self serving, but they aren’t meant to be.  We all run into this person, no matter what field we are in.  If you have a blog, someone has said it’s boring.  If you wrote a book, someone has written a negative review.  If you made a cool youtube video about gardening, someone complained about the camera work.  We have all hit this mark at some point.  If you haven’t, it’s because you are new.  What’s is important, is learning how to handle it in the appropriate manner.

The first step, is to have the opinions of people you trust.  Every crazy wingnut on the internet isn’t going to like your stuff, but do people you respect like it.  If you don’t have people you respect looking at your work, find some.  In my case, I interact with The Tribal Future community on Facebook, and if something was bad, it would be pointed out to me.  If it keeps my fans entertained, then I am doing a good job.

The second step, is to see if you can make improvements to your product.  Did you make typos?  Can you do better camera work?  Can you post more often?  If you can make improvements, then you can consider them.  If you can’t, then don’t worry about them.  You can only control so much, there is no point in worrying about things you can’t control.

Lastly, what has your critic ever done?  If they are critiquing your blog, where is there’s?  If they hate your book, what have they written?  If they don’t like your Youtube video, how many have they put up?  While everyone is entitled to their opinion, I will take the literary advice of a best selling author over someone who has never written a book any day.  It is easy for people to criticize when they have never produced.  Don’t tell me, show me.

In the end, if you are selling a product, the marketplace will tell you if you are doing a good job.  Bad work never sells.  If you are producing a product for free, who cares what others think?  Relegate negative Nancy to her place.

Nancy, on the off chance you ever read this.  Thanks for the 1 star.  I didn’t know what to write about today, and you gave me a great topic to share with my friends.  There are probably typos in it to.  Each one is just a little signal to how irrelevant you are, unless you can show me how to do it better.

Knowledge is the commodity

1 Comment

I once had the great misfortune to work for Best Buy for nearly 5 years.  In fact, I left exactly two months before my five year mark.  Hilariously, I will be leaving my current employer exactly THREE months before my five year mark.  Almost to the day.  Yet I digress, that has nothing to do with anything.

When I first started working for them, they were an electronics retailer and very little else, they were just starting their big expansion run.  At some point during our big growthsplosion, our CEO made the following announcement “Right now, we are an electronics company that sells services.  In five years, we want to be a services company that sells electronics.”  Interesting thought, and certainly a departure from the typical mold of the electronics world.  Now, I don’t work there anymore, but I would say given the free fall of their stock price, and the fact that their website features primarily electronic products, I am thinking they failed.

Yet for all of Best Buy’s ham fisted handling of, well, everything they ever touch.  They did have a point.  What was going to keep them relevant in a world where every product they sell could be purchased cheaper elsewhere?  Service wasn’t their key, since an entire store run by 21yo and under is going to have horrible service.  Selling a $99 warranty on a $99 product won’t last long.  So what then?  Selling the processes that make the item itself possible, and selling the knowledge and accessibility to create the confidence to use that knowledge.

So what do the trials and tribulations of an electronics realtor have to do with the homesteading world?  Everything.

As I talked about yesterday, there is no long term viable market for commodity products.  No matter how neat and nifty your aquaponics lettuce is, you cannot sell enough of it to make a living off of.  Your chicken eggs are awesome, but what they aren’t, is profitable.  So you need to branch out to better products if you are staying in the product business, or you need to get into the services business.

I have only been deeply immersed in this homesteading community for since I got my chickens in June.  That’s less than a year.  In that time, it is very easy to forget how much we know that the average person doesn’t.  That knowledge is valuable, and it can be converted to money.

Don’t sell aquaponics lettuce, sell classes where you show how to build and maintain an aquaponics system.  Offer tours of your garden for a small fee, talk about how you grow what you grow, show them how you do it.  Then send them home with some produce to inspire them.  Don’t sell chicken eggs.  Sell a class covering how to incubate eggs, care for chicks and provide proper chicken care.  If you do meat birds, sell a class where you slaughter a chicken.  I’ll tell you what, if I wanted to get into meat production, that’s a class even I would take.  Heck, give em the chicken for free if they do it right. Worst case scenario, you just figured out how to sell a pastured chicken for $70 instead of for $20.  Sounds like a good way to go for me.

No matter what it is you know in the homesteading world, there are thousands of people out there who don’t know how to do it.  That is your market.  Reach out to them.  Everyone in our area wants to do for themselves, but most of these skills have been lost.  We all need people to teach us, so become a passionate ambassador about what it is you know and teach it to others.  Once you figure this out, you will be playing chess, while everyone else will be staring at a checker-board.  How easy is it to win a game only you are playing?

Making a Market

1 Comment

Last night, as I was watching TV, I remembered how much fun I used to have poking around on Craigslist looking at the Farm and Garden stuff that’s for sale.  I am at least passingly familiar with the overall small scale farming market here in Tucson through doing that for a long period of time.  So I decided to start poking around in the Spokane market, and see if I could get a good feeling for what’s being sold up there.  As I clicked through, it was like angel’s started singing, and some bright white light shot out of my phone.  To my Tucson farming friends, pack it up, move it out, and get the hell out of here.  We are in the wrong place my friends.

I did see the usual assortment of things for sale that you would see anywhere, goats, chicks, horses, etc.  I did also see a heck of a lot more people selling hay, which has nothing to do with anything, other than it was awesome to see how cheap it was.  The other thing I saw, was a whole bunch of people selling organic chicken eggs.  Which is also good, except I have my own.  I saw about 6 different vendors, just from Sunday, selling eggs between $3 and $5 a dozen.  They all were basically selling the same product.  Some were blue, some were brown.  Some were a buck cheaper.  Why would I buy from one over the other?

This is a trap that many people fall into, but seems to be extra rampant in the homesteading community.  We all desire to do and grow things for ourselves.  We also often have a great desire to unplug from the whole job situation.  I understand all that, believe me, that is a goal of ours as well.  Yet a typical business plan looks a lot like this.

Business Plan:

Step 1.  Grow lots of lettuce

Step 2.  Sell it at the Farmer’s Market

Step 3. Profit

Here is the problem with that.  Look at this picture.


See all that lettuce growing?  It’s easy to grow, it grows almost anywhere, and you can grow a crap ton of it in a small space.  Also, people aren’t afraid of growing it.  There is very little advantage to having you grow it for me, versus growing it myself.  So if this is something I can do myself, or buy cheap in the store, why would I pay you enough to profit from it?

Then we have the chicken business plan.  I want hens.  So I will buy some and sell the eggs to make some extra money.  Not a terrible plan, per se.  I love hens.  They lay eggs basically without you doing anything.  They need food, so why not sell eggs to make money to buy their food?  Because most people who care about that stuff already have hens.  Those who don’t, will be getting the $1.99 eggs from the store, not the $5 eggs from you.

As I talked about a couple weeks ago, you need to sell a want, not a need.

How do you know what people want?  Well, you probably don’t, because you haven’t told them yet.  You need to get out there and make a market.  Find something that people don’t have available to them yet, and tell them why they want it.

How does that work?  Well, lets use the egg thing, and see if I can illustrate it.

Obviously I have chickens, and I love having chickens.  Spoiled things are coming with us to Spokane in style.  Yet, as I mentioned, there are already a bunch of players in the egg market up there.  So what am I to do?  How can I combine my love of poultry animals, with a side business.

ducksHow about some ducks?

Ducks are hardier and more self sufficient than chickens.  They can forage for almost all of their own food, if given sufficient plants and space.  They can be loosed right in your garden, as they don’t scratch, and they make excellent pest control.  They don’t really need a pond, just a small stock tank, which could actually be hooked to an irrigation system and used to send liquid fertilizer to all of your growing plants.

So how about the eggs?  Well, the average Khaki Campbell duck lays 300 eggs a year, which is higher than most breeds of chicken.  Ducks eggs are larger than chicken eggs too, so you get a significant volume increase over the chickens.  On top of that, ducks eggs are not only better for you, they are richer, and thus make excellent baking eggs.

I haven’t seen a single person selling duck eggs in Spokane yet.  I am sure they are there.  Yet, it is mainly an untapped market.  That allows you to set the price, and the terms.  You don’t have to cater to the ordinary.  You can cater to the extraordinary.  High end bakeries.  Health nuts.  Fancy restaurants.  You can approach them with a high end local product not found anywhere else.  You have the perfect scenario.  You have a product that people now WANT, and you are the only one who has it.

That’s much better than standing behind a booth trying to convince someone why your lettuce is better than his lettuce.

The things I learned about people from working retail

Leave a comment

It’s Saturday today, which means that it is both my favorite and least favorite day all rolled into one.  I enjoy it, because at the end of the day I get my weekend, and I can relax with my wife for two days.  I hate it, because everyone else started their weekend today, which means we will be busier.  Being busy is good for business, but it also brings out the hordes of draggers.  In order to prepare for the day, I figured I would go ahead and catalogue the lessons I have learned from working in retail, and share my “wisdom” with those of us that share the same burden.

People aren’t snow flakes, but man they wish they were –

Every question we get from customers tends to cluster.  One day we will get questions on docking an iPhone 5.  One day we will get questions on wireless speakers.  One day we will get questions on radio reception.  For a store that sees about 100 people a day, you would expect to see some kind of variety in the questions, but nope.  I would say at least 60% of the questions in a day will be on the same thing.  I have no idea how that happens, but it does.

Boys always get left in the toy store –

When I was a kid, shopping with my mom.  I obviously had no interest in her clothing selections.  I would always want to run to the toy store or the bookstore, and when I got older I would go to Gamestop.  See the thing about that is that I was 16 or less.  I get literal 40-70 year old men left in my store when their wives are shopping.  They don’t want to look at anything.  They are afraid to go into our theater show, because they might miss their dog whistle.  They won’t spend any money because their wife has their wallet.  When their wife comes back, they drop everything they are doing, and fall into step behind her.  Just like a kid.  Stop embarrassing my gender.

People want to think small obstacles are insurmountable –

You are interested in a product I sell.  You come into my store because you have questions on MY specific product.  This tells me you acknowledge my expertise on the product.  I find out what you want, I make a recommendation to you based on that expertise, telling you all of the reasons it will be perfect for you.  You then proceed on a 5 minute lecture on why that product won’t work for you, based on information you have already given me.  It is my job to know, and as long as you thought I was going to agree with you, you were ok with it.  Thus I determine, you didn’t really want either the product or the solution, you wanted to feel good about NOT having it, because then it would be someone’s fault.

People can’t handle new information if it contradicts what they want to hear –

I get at least one person a day.  “Is this the Apple store?”.  “No, It’s 5 doors down to the left”.  “Oh, they must have moved it”.  No they didn’t. We have been in the same place for 7 years.  All that happened is last time you came in the other entrance, and it was right in front of you.  This time you walked to the same relative spot, and couldn’t figure out what changed.  We also get people walking from the left of our store, as where something is, find out they missed it, and keep on walking to the right.  Dude, if you weren’t going to change direction, why did you ask?

So while I could write a whole book on lessons I have learned in retail, I will let it go here for today.  My brothers and sisters of the name tag, get out there and kick butt today.

Why Tucson can’t sell it’s houses

Leave a comment

So yesterday I wrote a well thought out and researched article on why owning a home is not an investment.  You can and should read this if you are considering buying or selling your house.  The downside of doing this though, is that not only do I have housing on the brain, but I really feel like being snarky.  So I decided to illustrate something my wife and I have noticed about Tucson.

When we moved here from Pittsburgh 5 years ago, we had a great realtor on that end.  He was professional, dependable, and knew what the hell he was doing.  It seems that none of those skills have translated here to Tucson.  Tucson has a problem selling it’s houses, and I know what that problem is.  No one taught these poor realtors how to take a picture that will actually sell a house.

A picture is worth 1ooo words, so lets try to take picture that don’t make our houses sound like that were howling at the moon for 10 minutes.  The pictures below were taken from a random sampling of homes over a 5 minute period using the TARMLS site.  I didn’t take more than one pic from each house, and I probably grabbed a pic from 75% of the houses I looked at.  This is our competition here.  The only pic I couldn’t find was one of dirty dishes in the sink, which I have actually seen before.  Think of the below as Mystery Science Theater 3000, but for homes on sale in Tucson.



Any realtor worth his salt will tell you to pic good, safe, neutral colours to put on your walls to appeal to the most buyers.  Apparently in this person’s word that means going for the mouldy zebra look.


Tone it down is a phrase that really should get used more around here.  Since teal and disgusting olive go together so well in the average home.


In addition to sleeping 75, this small field sized bed in this tiny room can be used as emergency helipad space.  (Camera perspective is everything)


What are your showing here?  You like to read?  You can screw rickety shelves into brick?  Your reading chair is a 5 dollar plastic lumbar liquidator?  Pack that crap up.


Ok, showing off built in shelves.  Good, packed up all his personal books.  Bad, left everything in a trash sack under the desk.  Dude?  You are making yourself look like a hoarder with poor planning skills.


I know some people like an exercise room at an apartment complex, but I think this is missing the boat.  Everyone hate’s home gyms because they get in the way.  Thanks for proving it.


This is the one area of the house where the baby can live in the heat.  Notice the play thing DIRECTLY in front of the AC, as well as the willingness to sacrifice light to prevent heat in this sweat lodge.


And when you are done with breakfast, you can load the dishwasher without even getting up.


Here is our formal dining area, It’s so formal we don’t even use it.  We put the chairs in, and never had space to pull them out.  It’s for dinner parties.


Don’t get me wrong, I totally respect a chicken coop and a shed, but when they look like they were lifted directly from the spare set of Deliverance, you should probably not include them.


This one comes with it’s own complete unabomber bench, which saves so much time when being an angry gremlin that builds things.

That’s is how Tucson sells a house.  I think the lesson here is just because the MLS lets you use 30 photos doesn’t mean you should, and owning a camera, doesn’t make you a photographer.

Selling your greatest expense

1 Comment

I don’t usually feel the need to clarify, but once again, this blog is meant to be my opinion only, and a perspective on how I plan to live.  I have laid out my case for why, but if you choose another path, more power to you. 

As you all know, we are in the process of selling our house.  A time of great stress and change in our lives to be sure.  It has also led to me re-examining some things about the very basis of home ownership.  My wife and I got married very young, and of course, one of the things we did was rush out and buy a house.  A townhouse in Pennsylvania to be exact.  We lived there for a few years, and we sold it.  Then when we got to Tucson, we rented for a few months, but again, we ran out and bought a house.  It’s what people are supposed to do right?  After all, aren’t we told our entire lives, your home is your greatest asset.  Right?

Not if you do the math on it.  I was playing with these examples this morning, and I will include links to the calculators I used.  These are two fairly static examples in a field that could use literally hundreds of variables.  So I am in no way saying these case studies represent the summation of America.  Nor am I saying I am either a financial nor economic expert.  These are illustrative examples only.

So the two most common mortgages used today are 30 year and 15 year mortgages, and for the sake of example, we are going to say both of these homes pay off this month.  Thus one home was bought in 1983 (oh god, I am almost 30) and one bought in 1997.

1983 House:

Median Home price according to US census in 1983: 72,800

Interest rate in 1983: 12.8%

Total Interest Paid: 215,065

Total Investment: 287,865

So in order to break even on your 1983 investment, just in terms of the principle and interest, no even counting the things you would have to put into the house to ensure it would sell for this price, you would have to sell it for 287,865.  Just on paper.  More on that in a minute.

Lets run the 15 year example now.

1997 House:

Median Home price according to US census in 1997: $148,000

Interest Rate in 1997: 7.9%

Total Interest Paid: $105,050

Total Investment: $253,050

So it’s clearly a better deal, at least on paper with the newer house, yet its still a big chunk of change.  The US census lists the most recent median price in America at $212,000, which was the newest information from the same source as the rest.  Which is the best way to keep the numbers consistent.  The only other problem, is our money isn’t worth the same as it was when you bought your house.  Inflation has been happening, and it has been making your money worth less and less.

So using an inflation calculator, we find the inflation adjusted total costs of the above houses.

1983 House: $380,267

1997 House: $315,303

Does anyone really think you can sell an average house that’s that old, for that much in most parts of the country?

I am not saying to never own a house, obviously.  We are moving up to Idaho so that we can find a piece of property to live on, hopefully for the rest of our lives.  We are looking for a place to start our family.  That is certainly a worthwhile use of money.

What I am saying is that we need to change how we look at housing.  It’s not an investment.  It’s an expense.  It isn’t worth sacrificing everything you have to get a big mortgage and work on paying it off.  You will never get the REAL cost of your money back out of it.  You wouldn’t go get a big loan to invest in the stock market or to buy gold with (hopefully).  Yes, houses do appreciate over time, but they appreciate at not a lot above the inflation rate.  At best, its a safe place to park your money to hope it keeps its value over time.  This is NOT where you save for retirement.

So what should you do?

Never buy a home with debt.  Yes, that means renting longer and saving up money.  Trust me, owning is not cheaper than renting.  Whoever said that was huffing glue.  Debt takes what is already a risky proposition and makes it downright suicidal.  With the numbers used above, if there had been no mortgage interest, the scenarios would have played out much better. 

The other thing paying cash forces you to do, is slow down.  We buy houses assuming when we get bored with them in 4 years, we can sell it at a profit.  That idea was at best a rarity, and will soon be a downright pipe dream for the majority of people and areas.  Slow down and rent for awhile when you save money.  A home should be a purchase made when you plan on living there for a good long time, maybe forever.  If you rush into something, you don’t have time to let that sink in.  Taking the time to ensure you are making the right choice, keeps from backing you into a corner when life changes.

I wish I had learned this 5 years ago, but at least I have learned it young.  Debt has never been a blessing to anyone, why wuld you want it to curse your home?

Older Entries