Clutter, pt 1


For me, part of the problem with clutter is that it gives me too many choices and then I spend endless time and mental effort worrying if I’ve made the right choice, or if I should have used something different or tried something a different way. When I was poor as shit and had one jacket, I never worried if I was wearing the right jacket – if it was cold I wore my jacket. If it was really, really cold I wore my sweatshirt too. End of story. I wasn’t stressing all day that I’d worn the wrong jacket.  Many years of busting ass and creating opportunities and a life for myself I have several jackets. One is heavier, one lis lighter, one is waterproof, one is water resistant, one is wind proof, etc… the marketing that causes this situation is obvious, but the result is no matter what I wear, I’m worried that I wore the wrong thing – I took the light jacket and I’m still cold, I took the heavy jacket and I’m too worm, it started to rain and my water proof jacket is at home, and so on. For me, having more options rarely works out to my mental benefit, which is in part why I spend so much time thinking about what the perfect single solution is and then limiting myself to only that.

Having less money to play with made that easier, because I could only buy one thing, and if I bought the wrong thing I had to sell it to buy the right thing. Having more money to play with means I can try other things without getting rid of previous things – or get two things to try and the same time and see which is best. But it never ends up that cut and dry, and as the years pile on so does the closet and drawers fill with choices. But really they aren’t choices, they are clutter. Physical and mental, because even if I don’t use them they are in the back of my mind and I either feel guilty that I’m not using them or disappointed that I haven’t gotten around to getting rid of them yet. When I simplify to one option – that I actually use – all that stress goes away. I’ve learned that about myself, which is helpful.

We’ve been in our new place for a year now and it’s time to deal with things that might still be in boxes from the move, or things that I thought I lost in the move and replaced and while going through old moving boxes found, and now I have choices. And clutter. When it’s a little bit it’s easy to push aside, but the more it grows the bigger it weighs on me and the more I realize I need to address it and deal with it, so I’m putting time aside this month to think about and address just that.

This isn’t only a physical, I end up with digital clutter too. I have 5 writing apps on my ipad & 3 note taking apps. Some sync with Google, some with Dropbox, some with a native desktop app that I have on my laptop and or phone. Some don’t sync with anything but the user interface and experience is really nice. So when I need to write something down I need to decide is this just a quick note to myself, or something I’m going to expand on later in longer form. What if it’s a note to myself by *might* become something longer? What if I’ve already got some similarly themed notes, now I need to remember which app, which system, which process I used to take those notes before. Once I’m past that I need to think if this is writing that is just for me, or is it something I’m going to want to share with my team for collaborative editing? Or what if it’s something I want to just share with my wife, like a grocery list, which apps is she using? Or what if it’s something I’m just writing for myself but will later want to do something else with? If I’m going to post it to my blog I need to keep that in mind because the ipad doesn’t copy and paste text with links very well (at all) so maybe I need to write it in a blogging app instead of a writing app. Or what if I’m going to send it to an editor, which app are they using? It gets chaotic pretty quickly. It’c clutter. So in part of this I need to look at what workflow works for me, and streamline around that, get that nailed and then later consider how others might interact with it, but if I have an idea I want to just write it down, and to spend no time at all thinking about how and where to write it down.

Part of this is admitting that there is no perfect solution for everyone, there’s what works for me and I should more often trust my gut and less often worry about conflicting recommendations or reviews. That applies to all of this. If my jacket works and I like it, why do I find myself looking at jackets in the store? It goes back to trusting myself and the choices I’ve made, and accepting that I certainly did the research and made those choices for a reason – there’s no value in second guessing myself after the fact.

In future posts over the next days, weeks, I’ll dig into the nitty gritty of which apps I have and which I’m choosing to keep and why. Why this pocket knife is more practical than that one. Why these shoes work and those ones don’t. Why of the 5 water bottles I have in the kitchen, I always use this one and the others shouldn’t be even there in the first place.

Maybe some of this thought process will help you sort through some of your own clutter. Maybe not.


Unreasonable Search

Can someone double check my logic here because the math I’m doing is freaking me out and I need someone to tell me I’m reading something wrong. This is where I’m at:

A. Yesterday a Federal court ruled that no suspicion is needed to search electronics at the US border. According to the ACLU press release, this“allows the government to conduct intrusive searches of Americans’ laptops and other electronics at the border without any suspicion that those devices contain evidence of wrongdoing”

This is of course in relation to the Border Search Exception which “allows searches and seizures at international borders and their functional equivalent without a warrant or probable cause” – The ACLU hard argued this violated the Fourth Amendment which guards against unreasonable search and seizures. The court decided that it did not.

So there’s that, but what are we talking about when we say “border” exactly?

B. According to this piece from 2008, the Government considers a 100 mile zone from any international border or coastline to be “the border” even if that coastline isn’t butting up against another country. Drawing a border like this designates the entirety of the states of Florida and Hawaii as “border” as well as most major cities in the US – All of NYC, LA, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, etc.. all considered to be “border.”

Which leads me to think about A + B, do the combination of these rulings suggest that the government can decide my house, located in Los Angeles and within 100 miles of the coastline, is on the border, and thus available to be searched without probable cause? Can govt agents show up at my doorstep and demand I hand over my computers for them to inspect? The piece seems to talk about checkpoints rather than door to door searches, but is one so far from the other? But even if it’s checkpoints, could these be set up all over Los Angeles and all laptops carried by people be subject to seizure? I think that’s what this means – that it would be legal at least.

Wired wrote a piece about the newest ruling and causally mentions the 100 mile zone issue but glosses past it – seems to me like this should be THE major issue at hand.

Someone please tell me I’m misunderstanding this…

I did stuff in 2013

It’s easy to look back on a year and write it off as good or bad based on a quick feeling, and I’m certainly no one to argue against gut judgements – but sometimes when you stop and take stock things are a little different than you remembered. I came face to face with that realization the first time I did my year in photos review back in 2007 (will get this years together soon) and since then I’ve tried to make an effort to break things down a little more before throwing everything in the same bucket. 2013 was weird for sure, a lot of people have a lot of negative things to say about things that happened and I’ll let them do that as much as they want, but I wanted to take note of a few things I did this year that I’ve never done before:

  • Wrote and published a original fiction book
  • Contributed text to a non-fiction book authored and published by someone else.
  • Recorded and released an EP with my art collective/project
  • Rode Space Mountain with my son Ripley when he was finally tall enough
  • Went to Costa Rica* (furthest south I’ve ever been in the Americas)
  • Went to Hawaii* (which, if you count a layover in Anchorage once as I do, completes a visit to all 50 US states)
  • (*related) Vacationed in beachy paradise like locations with my family
  • Started a personal mailing list (which, from a zero starting point, now has over 300 subscribers)
  • Started a podcast (and told some great stories with friends)
  • Went to the Bujinkan Honbu dojo and trained directly with Hatsumi Soke
  • Took Pilaties class (for 2 months)
  • Along with Tara, was the Hacker(s) In Residence at Sparkfun in Boulder, CO – the first invited for their newly launched HiR program

I’m sure there are more, but those immediately jump out in my head as milestones -many of them full on bucket list items. And if, with no real effort I can think of 12 things that I did – one a month for the entire year – that I’m proud of and will look fondly on and remember for the rest of my life, well, that’s hard to complain about. Even better is that at least half of them I had no plans or intention to do this time last year. I don’t yet know what 2014 will bring, but I can’t wait to find out.

Behavior Modification

If you’ve been following me online for a while you probably know that I often use the end/beginning of the year to assess some habit or practice, and challenge myself to make an improvement. My Year Of Less was one of the more popular ones. These aren’t really New Year’s resolutions so to speak, the new year just makes it easy to remember when I started it. Or something, maybe I just say that to make myself feel better.

Over the last month a few people have asked me what my plans are for 2014, perhaps looking for some inspiration of their own. I’ve been thinking about it a lot actually, largely because I didn’t have as clear of an idea as I’ve had in the past. But I’ve had a few discussions this year about what it means to try and improve yourself. How can you make yourself a better person, why would you try, and what does that even mean? After all, who even defines what a good person is?

For me, at the end of the day, I want to feel good about the things I’ve said and done. I want to be proud of my actions, and sleep well at night knowing I did what I could. I want to be happy with how I’ve spent my time, at least as much of it as I have a say in. And if I can make little changes here and there to improve these things, then all the better. And sometimes just talking about them, getting them out in the open makes you more aware of them, and thus easier to tweak. So, this year I’m looking at a handful of minor behavior modifications.

• No white lies

I feel like this deserves a whole post of it’s own as it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot, for a long time. The people I truly respect, whose opinions I value above all others are the ones that I know will be honest with me even when that means telling me something I don’t want to hear. I’m lucky enough to have a few friends like this and I’ve often aspired to be as direct and authentic as they are. When I need the truth, these are the people I turn to. I wouldn’t consider myself a liar by any stretch, but I’m certainly guilty of excessive simplification to get though uncomfortable situations from time to time, and I’d be lying (see what I did there) if I said I’ve never told a friend what I knew they wanted to to hear so as not to upset them. I recently read “Lying” by Sam Harris which helped me refine some of what I’d been chewing on already — namely that these tiny little white lies “to avoid awkwardness” or “to keep things simple” don’t actually accomplish that, but instead make it easier to ignore the truth and broadcast to everyone around you that you likely can’t be trusted, and might be lying at anytime. I know for certain I don’t ever want a friend to “tell me what I want to hear” so why would I do that to them? And having a kid now makes me think about this even more, I don’t want to set the example that the truth only matters sometimes. It’s important, or it isn’t. And I’m going to take the stance that it is. This requires listening better (I’ll get to that in a second) and being more thoughtful with what I say in response, but again, I think those are worthwhile efforts to make.

The flip side of this for everyone else — don’t ask me something unless you really want to know what I’m thinking.

• Listen better

A few times this year I’ve caught myself in conversations with people, just waiting for them to finish talking so I can say what I want to. I felt as if their ongoing verbage is just standing in the way of my obviously brilliant thought. Maybe I’ve done this longer than I realized, but the times when I noticed myself doing it this year I felt like shit. What kind of an asshole talks to someone and spends the whole time just waiting for them to shut up? This kind of asshole aparently, and I don’t want to be that kind of asshole. If what someone has to say isn’t interesting to me, I shouldn’t be wasting my time or theirs talking to them, and if it is interesting I should grant them the courtesy and respect of listing to what they have to say. I’d certainly want that same philosophy applied to me. So that one is obvious, going forward I’m going to actively try and be a better listener and not think about what I might have to say myself until after whoever I’m talking to has finished their thought.

• Write some fiction, every day

I’ve struggled with writing fiction for a long time —  I’ve written about that before. But I realize that what I consider my “problem” is more likely just the normal steps people need to go through that I’ve somehow convinced myself I get to skip. And perhaps I don’t actually get to do that. I think it boils down to this: As much as I want to write fiction I don’t because I’m not confident that I can do it, which stems from my personal compultion to publish everything I write, so I end up not writing fiction because I don’t think what I’d write would be publishable at this point. So I keep magically hoping I’ll just wake up one day and be good at it. Which maybe isn’t be best course of action to depend on. So this year I’m purposefully giving myself permission to write fiction and not publish it. Hell, maybe I will publish some of it, but I’m allowing myself not to, which is a big move for me. And to further spur this along and eliminate another crutch, I’m going to write something everyday. That way I can’t argue with myself that something is too big to start or too involved to work on right now. These stories can be as short as they need to be, but everyday I need to write one of them.

• Blog

And while we’re on the topic of arguing with myself, I’m making a commitment that I wont let me talk myself out of blogging. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of blog posts since I began blogging regularly back in ‘98 or so. The vast majority of those were written and posted prior to 2010. I’ve been quiet the last few years, quieter than I had previously been anyway and quieter than I’d like. This has largely been due to me convincing myself that whatever I have to write about everyone else already knows about so I’d be wasting their time by writing more about it. Or worse and more likely, no one cares in the first place. And I make a convincing argument. But on a semi-regular basis I get a comment on a post I wrote 5+ years ago, or I get an email from someone about one of those old posts. And then I have to completely reconsider my “no one gives a shit” theory, but I can usally supress that. But I don’t want to, and I want to blog again more. So I’m going to stop assuming no one cares, and stop assuming everyone’s already heard it. That doesn’t mean I’ll be blogging every day, but it does mean I want to average more than one post a month.

So that’s what I’m looking at for 2014. If I can move myself a few steps in a direction I’m happy about for all of them, that’ll be a success. It’s about habits and behavior modification, but I feel like these things are worth the effort and I’ll be happier if I can push through them. What do you think? What habits could you create that would make you a better person?



As I get older I’ve started to think about what I’m putting into my body. Granted as a vegan for over 20 years now this isn’t an entirely new subject for me, but I’ve been thinking about it much more recently than I had previously if only because as I get older I can actually see the impact of some of those things right in front of me. Things that perhaps in my spry youth might have gone a bit more undetected. That said, my interest in what I’m putting in gets hindered by how much time I’m willing to spend researching, which isn’t much. I find topics with endless wealths of data and info available to be completely intimidating and prefer to spent time researching things that in a foreseeable timeframe I can comfortably master. Supplements are bonkers. For years anytime I would look around I would find just as many for as against arguments for anything leading me to the conclusion that placebos are really powerful. So I’d take a handful of things here and there with the understanding that it might be total bullshit, but I wasn’t very diligent and who knows what the results were.

Thanks in no small part to the Information Is Beautiful “Snake Oil” chart I’ve been able to compare and contrast those for/against arguments much better recently and for the last year or so I’ve been trying out a much more regular combo of things that I think have worked out pretty well. A few of my also getting older friends have asked what if anything I take – specifically if I know about vegan options (a lot of vitamins have geletin or other non-vegan ingredients) – so I thought I’d make a list of what I’m using both for their and my own future reference. Right now, daily, I take one each of these:

On top of that, I make smoothies all the time, and I add Organic Raw Maca Powder & Vega Sport Performance Protein to them on occasion. I haven’t quite figured out the optimal time to take the protein – again as far as I can tell just as many people say take before a workout as after a workout, and still others say just taking it in the same day as a workout is good, so who knows. The Maca power DEFINITELY works. I’ve also dabbled in trying out STS Creatine 5000 which I think I saw some real results from but it’s a serious headache to try and take 6 pills 2 times a day. I don’t know why they can’t compress that into something simpler to take. At the moment I’ve lapsed on that one.

I also given Rips a Vegan Kids Multiple every day. I remember taking Flintstones vitamins as a kid and figure it can’t hurt for a growing guy to have a regular dose of this stuff.

Anyway, hope this helps. Are you taking anything? Seen any worthwhile results?

on ass kickings

I don’t talk much about martial arts publicly for a number of reasons but it’s been a very important part of my life. Without question they have shaped who I am today, and helped me work through personal issues in the way that only blood, sweat and tears can.

Early on, scattered and unfocused I tried lots of different schools and arts until I discovered Bujinkan and poured myself into it. I spent the following the years training 2-3 times a week for hours on end, in part because I loved it and everything about it and in part because the training was incredibly convenient to where I was at the time. Later, as the convenience fell away so did my training. I felt bad, embarrassed even that I’d let that happen– which on some level only made it worse. If I didn’t go back I didn’t have to admit that I’d been gone. And more importantly, I didn’t have to face up to the fact that much of my training wasn’t, well, quite as sharp as it once had been. When you are training all the time you don’t think about if you are good or bad, because you understand it and it’s just a part of you. I knew it wasn’t a part of me anymore but I didn’t want to admit that.

Probably some similarities to going to the dentist – you can ignore things but they don’t get better on their own. Excuses and justifications are easy to come by, but you can only fool yourself for so long.

Many years ago I bailed on a trip to Japan to train at the source, with some of the best instructors in the world because I was afraid. I was afraid I didn’t have enough money saved up to take full advantage of the trip, so I cancelled it. I put objects over experience. It was a mistake, one of the larger ones I’ve ever made.  For many years after that other people I trained with made the journey and when they returned I knew much I’d messed up.


I’ve been traveling to Japan regularly now since 2007, but I’ve never gone to train. It’s been in the back of my head, sometimes front and center, but I’ve decided against because I was afraid. I was afraid I’d forgotten things, that my form and balance would be off. I was afraid I wouldn’t know anyone, and wouldn’t know what to do. I was afraid I’d look, and feel like an idiot. Every trip to Japan I’ve considered going to the dojo, and decided against. And pushed it out of my head so I didn’t have to be disappointed in myself.

A few weeks ago I decided I couldn’t do that anymore and reached out to some old friends who welcomed me and encouraged me.

Last night I took a train across Tokyo as the early winds of Typhoon Wipha began to lash out and drench the city, and went to class. At the source. The storm outside was fitting.

I fumbled my way around and acted like I knew what I was doing. I’d forgotten things. My form and balance were off. I didn’t know anyone, and didn’t know what to do. I looked, and felt like an idiot.

It was everything I hoped it would be. It was awesome, and humbling, in a way only coming face to face with your fears can be. There’s something about being afraid, facing it only to find it’s just as scary as you thought it would be – worse even. But that you can still get through it. And then be able to face it again the next day, and the one following. It was everything I hoped it would be.

I got my ass kicked, physically and mentally. I knew I would– that’s why I went.

I found this on wikipedia and was fitting:
“The modern budō has no external enemy, only the internal enemy, one’s ego that must be fought.” 

I can’t wait to go back.

What are we so afraid of?

Why are we so sure we know, and why do we care what everyone else thinks of us?

Road Closed


I’ve been noticing this come up again and again recently. It’s entirely possible it’s been a common topic before I noticed it but since I started paying attention, I see it everywhere. Last January I wrote a blog post/confession coming clean to the notion that I assume everyone around me has it all figured out and by some stroke of chance no one has realized that I’m just making it all up as I go. Yet. And the subtle back of your mind stress that goes along with such a thing. I number of people reached out to me and thanked me saying they were so happy they weren’t the only ones who felt that way. These were all people I respected and looked up to in ways, and people I knew had it all figured out— something didn’t add up.

Some people told me to look up impostor syndrome which I’d never heard of before but haven’t gone a day without hearing about it since. Remember in 2007 or whenever when every single person you met claimed to have ADD and that was the excuse for some weird personality fluke of theirs? I feel like impostor syndrome is the ADD of 2013.It keeps coming up in conversations, conferences, podcasts and blog posts. Everyone is an impostor it seems, or are they?

There is a terrific episode of WTF with Marc Maron where he’s chatting with Dan Savage, and they discuss that— at least in the US— only in-the-closet gay guys and straight dudes are constantly worried what other people think about their sexuality. Constantly worried that some action, some comment or some ill perceived glance will make everyone around them think they are gay. (Or in the case of the closeted ones, something will give away their secret) He added that women don’t generally have this concern because society is largely cool with a little girl/girl action without any assumption that either girl must be a lesbian for this to happen. And similarly no gay guys are worried about being accused of being straight, regardless of wether they ever had a straight sexual/romantic relationship. A gay guy can admit to dating women in college and not have their sexuality questioned, yet some straight guys are worried if they sit too close to another dude everyone will assume they are gay.

Tara just wrote a heartfelt post here on Medium about being afraid of turning 40. About thinking her age somehow reflects her usefulness, and the assumption that people are constantly judging her because of it. She points out that she never considers other peoples age, but is sure everyone is thinking about hers and afraid that they will assume she’s too old and thus must be out of touch. Of course she’s amazing and talented and has a line of people fighting for her time and attention. That’s not something that will suddenly change when she has one more candle to blow out on her birthday cake — but that doesn’t play into her fears.

I think with all of these examples, what it boils down to insecurity, but why are we as a society so insecure? Why do we care what anyone else thinks? It’s as if we can’t be comfortable with ourselves without someone else’s approval? Do we really think that lowly of ourselves?

I like to think that heavy doses of punk rock growing up was something of a don’t-give-a-fuck vaccination and I now have a healthy immunity to a lot of this. And I also feel fortunate to be able to quickly suss out what I can control and what I can’t, and then not stress much about things that are outside of my hands— what someone else thinks of me is planted firmly in the latter category. But even then I occasionally find myself wondering what people actually think of me. And I’d be lying to suggest I wouldn’t prefer that those opinions are positive, but I’m also not willing to compromise myself in hope of that. Perhaps that’s a different conversation but it took me many years to be comfortable in my own skin, as a kid I certainly wasn’t. I wish I could point to a single thing that helped me turn that corner but I can’t really put my finger on it. I don’t know what advice to give people, I don’t know what advice I would want to hear. Or would listen to now or then.

I think the main the thing is— we have to be comfortable with who we are. If we like ourselves then it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks because we know we have value, we know we’re worthy. If we don’t like ourselves, we’ve been listening to the wrong people and need to tell those people to GTFO of our lives. Or change the channel. For me, I think I’m just going to try and be more vocal about telling my friends and people I care about that I like them, not what they can do, or what they can do for me. Maybe I can’t change the world, but I can start with my circle of friends.

(cross posted to Medium too)

Sparkfun Hackers In Residence, Part 1

[ Tara and I are currently in Boulder, CO at Sparkfun. This is the first post looking at what we’re working on.]


We’ve been thinking about personal drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) a lot recently. Both in the context of how these devices could be useful around a house or neighborhood, as well as how they can help with volunteer projects like Safecast – and if these use cases might apply elsewhere. When Sparkfun invited us to help kick off their new ‘Hacker In Residence’ program exploring this drone question a bit more seemed like the ideal project to work on. There are a number of personal drone options available on the market, but for the most part they are either difficult to work with or limited in functionality. Weight restrictions and limited flight time is a big issue with most commercial options. We wanted to see if we could easily hack an out of the box platform like the Parrot AR Drone to add extra functionality or if it made more sense to approach this problem from another direction entirely.

Mary Meeker announced in her recent Internet Trends report that we are entering a third computing cycle of ‘Wearables/Drivables/Flyables/Scannables.’ As founders of member-driven community spaces, Crash Space and LA Makerspace, we see these technologies being used first-hand and hacked on by both hobbyists and experienced hardware engineers. The scope of where they are headed is infinite.

In the days leading up to our arrival we had to seriously think about the use cases. Sparkfun carries a wide variety of environmental sensors (temperature, humidity, barometric pressure), Safecast has high quality compact radiation sensors… but would this appeal to a less scientific or less niche group of people? And what about the device itself – do we want something with extreme maneuverability? Or something with autopilot? The options were really unlimited.

We decided that the focus for our two weeks of prototyping should be to add a much better downward facing camera to a device that could remain airborne for a period of time well beyond the normal battery life. This would enable high-res event documentation from a previously unreachable aerial view or new avenues for personal security surveillance. We thought if we could solve this first use case, then it would be easy to swap out the camera for any number of other sensors.


We received a wonderful welcome when we arrived in Boulder. In addition to providing us with a place to sleep while in town, Sparkfun gave us a dedicated room to work from at their offices. Upon arrival we got the full tour of the building – from Engineering to Shipping – everyone was super welcoming and it was awesome to see where all the red box magic happens.

The team at Sparkfun have been incredibly friendly, helpful and accommodating every step of the way, especially considering we’re pretty much making this up as we go. They also provided us with everything from a shopping list we gave them filled with parts from their catalog as well as bits and pieces from all over the web. We’d like to give an extra special shout-out to Sparkfun’s Director of Education, Lindsay Levkoff for setting this whole gig up!



Two weeks isn’t a terribly long time to solve a problem like this from scratch, so it’s lucky that we’re not starting entirely from scratch having messed around with some of these devices before and relying on some already ready to go solutions like Dropcam which we hoped would save us some time, rather than spending a week (or months) reinventing the wheel.

In anticipation of things not working out exactly perfect the very first time we decided that a two pronged approach would keep things moving in the event that we ran into any major hurdles. The breakout looks like this:

PRÖNG 1\\\

Quadcopter as platform.

We are using a Parrot AR Drone as the base because it just works right out of the box with no tinkering and is something that pretty much anyone with $300 to blow can get ahold of. Having spent time with several other brands of quad and hex copters, we knew that not having to spend a week calibrating and fine tuning balance was crucial to making this work in our 2 week window.

We hypothesized that removing the battery and adding a tether for power might give us more weight to play with as well as extended flight time. For the camera we decided on using a Dropcam because of similar out of the box instant functionality and the bonus of live video over wifi. Combining the power source for both of these devices which have different requirements would be the main trick. For very specific movement control, this plan definitely comes out ahead.

The Parrot works great as is, but is perfectly balanced for it’s own weight, and we want to add more to that. By stripping off the top hull entirely we save some weight, and luckily the Dropcam that we’re adding is fairly light on it’s own. There’s also a good bit of space between the circuit board and the plastic bottom of the Parrot, so by cutting out a small circle and sliding the Dropcam behind it we were able to attach the camera without any additional materials.

After we confirmed that the Parrot was able to lift the Dropcam and it’s own battery, we quickly moved onto attaching the power cord so we could extend the time in the air (battery life maxes out at about 15 mins). After stripping wires, soldering, hot glue gunning and zip tying, we got the power cord split into 11v (Parrot) and 5v (Dropcam) and were ready to test.

The Parrot turned on and we heard the sweet sound of the initialization tones, then the propellers started going and we thought we’d see lift. Unfortunately after it draws power and goes into lift mode a brownout occurred. We’re currently attaching things to a scope to see what is going wrong.


Balloon as platform.

Quadcopters are cool for sure, but they require effort to actually fly. We wondered if removing that concern entirely might be a successful approach. Using the hardware from a microblimp as the drive controls and a weather balloon filled with helium for the lift, we thought perhaps this would just stay up on it’s own, allowing us to spend all the time on perfecting the payload. We decided to mount a Hack HD camera to the bottom for our improved visuals, though logged to a card rather than live (a problem we’d need to address later). As a bonus, both the camera and motors run off 3.7v which we hoped would simplify things. While the balloon approach lacks the fine tuned movement of a quadcopter, it completely solves the “how do we keep this up in the air for a long time” problem without even trying.

HackHD – 1080p Camera Module Test:


We’ve been trying to use components that anyone can get their hands-on so we bought some helium used for party balloons but quickly found out that it’s not even close to being pure and the tank we got didn’t come close to filling the 5 ft in diameter, 100g weather balloon. The weather balloon barely floated and thus the cardboard case with the HackHD Camera and Microblimp didn’t lift off the ground. We spoke to a company that sells helium and they said that they would sell some to us if we were using it for scientific purposes and it would cost about $100 to fill our balloon. At this point we are reconsidering the balloon platform and how to fill it without having to purchase a gas. Maybe hot air?…of course that will lead to a whole other set of tests.


We have 6 working days left at Sparkfun and we will continue to hack away at our prototypes. We already have some possible solutions in the works but would love to get any feedback or ideas from the Interwebz on how to solve our issues!

To be continued…



Sean Bonner @seanbonner

In 2010 Sean co-founded the first hackerspace in Los Angeles, Crash Space. Sean is co-founder and director of Safecast, a nonprofit environmental monitoring company. They have been prototyping a number of drones for Safecast that will carry radiation and air quality sensors to hard to reach locations.


Tara Tiger Brown @tara

Tara is co-founder and Chief Encouragement Officer at LA Makerspace, a family friendly hackerspace in Los Angeles, and co-created Represent.LA to connect and promote the Los Angeles tech startup community. Tara has been working with youth on DIY skill building and following their passionate interests through the LA Makerspace and MacArthur funded Digital Media Learning Research Hub. She is a Forbes Contributor where she writes about Women in Technology and other tech tidbits.