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2013 August 5

Santa Cruz startup culture

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 14:30
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Wade Roush, in his xconomy newsletter, has just finished a 3-part series on startup culture in Santa Cruz: Santa Cruz, the City Over the Hill, Builds Its Own Startup Culture

While it’s close enough to exist in Silicon Valley’s shadow—serving as a bedroom community for thousands of people who commute to the Valley for work—it also has a unique and fiercely defended identity, and aspirations to stand alone as a business and technology hub. The dilemma for entrepreneurs and city leaders in Santa Cruz is that they would like to emulate Silicon Valley’s growth and success without giving up what’s special about their community—things like its culture of outdoor recreation and lefty individualism.

The 3 articles mention several of the historical successes of Santa Cruz (Seagate, Borland, SCO, Odwalla, Plantronics, …), many of which moved out of the County for either cheaper places (Odwalla) or more connected places (mainly to Silicon Valley).  Plantronics is the only biggie he mentions that has remained loyal to its roots.

He does talk about UCSC as a driver for technology and a highly educated workforce, but only mentions one UCSC spinoff (FiveThree Genomics, started by grad students from my department). I thought that several small game companies had been started by UCSC grads, but perhaps they are staying quiet (or have already run out of funds).

He focuses more on the co-working spaces (NextSpace and CruzioWorks) downtown, which are serving as incubators for several small startups.  He does mention Makers Factory, which is pushing 3D printing to jumpstart local teach innovation, though I believe that Makers Factory has been more successful with their children’s classes than in signing up adult members.

Personally, I think that Santa Cruz is an excellent place to start an information-based business (like a computer game publisher, software publisher, or electronics design company), but a lousy place to start a company involved in the large-scale movement of physical goods (manufacturing or shipping), because of the rather limited access for trucks.  The agricultural shipping from the county is already saturating the available freight capacity. Of course, a lot of businesses nowadays rely on outsourcing their manufacturing (often to China) and their distribution (often to Amazon), so the limited physical shipping capability should not be a major limitation for a Santa-Cruz-based company.


2012 July 6

Making is coming to MAH

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:18
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Making is coming to the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.  I pointed Nina Simon to my previous post about the SparkTruck, and she responded

Very cool. I’ll talk to Chris about it at the Makers Factory. It might be a little tight for us to coordinate and advertise in late July when they are in the area, but hopefully they are coming back to the region in the fall too.

Also—not sure if you saw this, but making is coming to MAH in a (not so) serious way this winter:

Maybe that’s the time for a tie-in.

Here is the video she referred to:

It looks like it could be a fun project for the museum.  If you have ideas for the museum or what to help out is some way, you can email to   Nina Simon has really turned MAH around, from being one of the most boring museums around to a place where exciting things are happening.

I should probably become a member of the museum (membership is pretty cheap—my whole family could join for $60, either as a family membership or as 3 student/educator memberships).  I wouldn’t save money by being a member (I don’t go to MAH that often), but it now looks like an institution worth supporting.

There—family membership purchased, and I feel good about having done a good deed for the day (before the sun has set even!).

SparkTruck, a mobile Maker space

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:33
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Some of the students from Stanford’s had a good idea: put a bunch of maker tools in a truck and tour the country, providing hands-on workshops for kids: SparkTruck.  Although they probably have less in their truck than the local Makers’ Factory, their workshops are cheap, and a one-time event draws more people than a class that one can take whenever.

It is a somewhat paradoxical phenomenon that it is easier to schedule time to go to a one-time event than to get to an on-going exhibition or frequently offered class.  With long-running exhibits or frequently offered classes, there is no use-it-or-lose-it urgency–you can always go later. The result, of course, is that I often don’t get to exhibits at galleries or museums that I intend to see.  There was some discussion of this phenomenon on the Museum 2.0 blog.

Incidentally, that blog, by Nina Simon, is a very interesting reflection on how to get people involved in culture (particularly art museums).  Nina has been a museum consultant for years and is currently leading the Museum of Art and History in downtown Santa Cruz.  Under her leadership community awareness of and participation in the museum has skyrocketed.

One of the questions that Nina struggles with is how to convert one-time visitors at museum events to on-going participants in the museum—and whether that is even necessary, or whether the museum can fulfill its mission by running a series of events (they now do two a month: First Friday and Third Friday).

I see a similar problem with the SparkTruck: it sounds like a cool things for kids to do for an afternoon, but how often will that one-time experience be life-changing?  How often will kids be changed from consumers to makers?  And how can that transition (which I believe is a goal for the SparkTruck organizers) be supported in each community they visit?

Locally, I think it would be good for the Makers’ Factory to support a visit by the SparkTruck.  The Makers’ Factory can provide some of the on-going support for kids to make the transition to makers, and the SparkTruck can provide the one-time event spark needed to get them started.  (Perhaps the Museum of Art and History could participate in a SparkTruck event also.)  It would have to be soon, though as the SparkTruck is in San Francisco in late July and in Las Vegas on Aug 4.

2012 February 7

Personalized medicine

Filed under: Makers' Factory,Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 18:42
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One of the best examples I’ve seen of personalized medicine is in an article by BBC News: Transplant jaw made by 3D printer claimed as first.  A replacement lower jaw was designed and 3D printed (using titanium powder and a laser sintering process) then coated with a bio-compatible ceramic.

There is a local company trying to push 3D printing (Makers’ Factory), which I’ve blogged about already (Makers Factory in Santa Cruz, Makers Factory Meetup), but they don’t have anything as sophisticated as laser sintering (they have a couple of powder printers, which currently do plastic, but which they are planning to convert to using much cheaper cement instead).  They also have 2 or 3 very cheap extrusion printers (2 working, one assembled and not fully debugged as of last Friday), a laser cutter, a vinyl cutter (a digital knife—it can cut other thin materials also), and a high-quality ink jet printer.

Maker’s Factory is doing some cool stuff for kids, like their Makers Camp:

We will work as a group to design and create a self-powered walking robot using 2D lasercut and 3D plastic printed parts. Then, we’ll duplicate this for each camper.

2011 August 14

Makers Factory Meetup report

Filed under: Makers' Factory,Printed Circuit Boards — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 18:46
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I went to the  Santa Cruz New Tech Meetup on Friday 12 Aug 2011 to find out more about the Makers Factory that is starting in Santa Cruz in November.  (I blogged about the Makers Factory already.)  Details about the event are on the meetup web page.

At the meetup they confirmed that they will not be getting the sort of expensive shop equipment that places like TechShop (over the hill) have.  The initial setup will be suitable for mechatronics work, similar to what Gabriel Elkaim teaches in the Mechatronics class at UCSC.  Gabriel was the fifth of five speakers at the MeetUp and provided a nice overview of the Mechatronics class.

What the Makers Factory will have are low-cost 3D printing machines (which I suspect will not be useful for much, but are fun toys), a laser cutter, a vinyl cutter, and some electronics equipment (soldering stations and some oscilloscopes, I guess).  They’ll probably also get some board shears.  I think I talked them out of trying to do their own PC board fabrication, in favor of ordering boards from some place like  You can probably do a class full of small boards as one $145 order from (even without a .edu address) and give each person 4 copies of their board.  The 2-week turnaround time is fine for a class. It would probably take longer than that to make your own using low-cost tools in a classroom setting with only a few hours of class time a week, and the quality would be much worse.  I’d also hate to be the one in charge of getting rid of the hazardous waste produced by PC board etching.

I brought my HexMotor board with me to the MeetUp and showed it off to a few people, including Gabriel Elkaim, who was properly polite about it.  He also told me about the new PC boards he had just sent out for fab—they are redoing the electronic cockroaches that are used for the first lab in Mechatronics, since the old ones have started acquiring too much damage.  The problem is that students were much more inventive in discovering ways to damage the boards than originally expected, so the new design has a lot more protection circuitry.

I did get a chance to talk with Chris Yonge, who will be running Makers Factory.  It sounds like he is interested in having me teach an Arduino programming class and PC board design using free tools. I recommended Eagle for PC board design, even though it is not open-source, because it is fairly mature, the free version is enough for classes and hobbyists, it runs on both PCs and Macs, it has an adequate auto-router, and the licensed version is still fairly cheap.

There are open-source projects for PCB design, like FreePCB, which runs only on Windows and has no auto-router, KICAD which runs under Linux and Windows (but not Mac OS X, I believe), and many others.  There is a good list at  The general consensus of the hobbyist community seems to be that currently Eagle is most fully featured and robust free PCB editor, and that none of the open-source projects comes close yet.  Since I need Mac OS X software, and most of the open-source software is for Linux, my choices are more restricted still.  I don’t know what sort of computers Makers Factory is planning to get for classes—but they should choose software as much as possible that is platform independent.



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