You have been a member of Instructables almost since the site's beginning. How did you discover the site and what inspired you to start posting projects?
I first learned about Instructables when I read an article about the "fab lab" revolution and Squid Labs in the September 2005 issue of Wired Magazine. I had just read Neil Gershenfeld's book "FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop--From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication" and I thought this is the way things should be- it was very empowering. In the article Saul Griffith was documenting the build of this cool electric hybrid chopper bicycle and the article spoke of Squid Labs launching Instructables.com - a place where people could share their documented projects and ideas. Of course I was instantly hooked. This was around the same time that MAKE Magazine was taking off and I saw this as a sort of cultural shift that I really wanted to be a part of.
Of all the projects that you have posted, which is your most favorite?
I'd probably say "How to make a cardboard costume helmet." I don't think it's necessarily my best project in terms of documentation but I was floored by the response. This project was done before the Pepakura costume explosion in recent years and making a costume prop like this using traditional molding and casting methods was too expensive, difficult and time consuming for most people. It really made me happy when people immediately took the idea and applied it to their own costumes.
You have posted a modest 16 projects, yet you have accumulated well over 2 million page views. This is an amount that surpasses some of our most prolific authors. How do you manage to consistently post projects which become immensely popular?
You got me! I feel like I've been really slacking lately in terms of posting projects -but that will soon change! It probably has something to do with Halloween being a huge draw for makers and that's where my primary focus has been. I try to post projects that I think are neat and that other people will enjoy and have fun building, modifying and making their own.
If you could give one piece of advice to all of the other authors on Instructables, what would it be?
Make your project as accessible as possible. Take good clear photos, draw diagrams and explain things as simply as possible. I've learned that you have to realize that you are essentially writing an instruction manual and you can't leave out steps or explanations. Answer people's questions- if people are interested enough in your project to ask a question about it then take the time to write them a response. Good communication is everything. You can learn a lot about how to improve your projects from that interaction. Not everyone will have the necessary tools or skills to complete your project but you can discover a lot by trying to work with those people to come up with alternate solutions.
It is apparent that you take your Halloween costumes pretty seriously. Is there any costume that you've made that stands out above all others?
Definitely the Ghostbusters costume. It's just the best Halloween costume ever- I think I wore it four years in a row and people always went nuts for it. It's so instantly recognizable. Unfortunately I made the costume long before I joined Instructables and I really didn't take many pictures of the construction process. Maybe someday I'll remake it but there are so many other costumes I want to do...
Are there any big plans for Halloween this year?
Oh yes! This year I'm doing something a bit different- I'm writing another animatronics tutorial but this time using the Arduino platform. I'll show people how to add some really cool effects to take their own costumes to the next level and the information that will be presented pretty much forms the foundation for my future costumes in terms of the direction I'm headed. The people that have seen what I'm working on have been very excited about it. As much as I like creating costumes I think I have just as much if not more fun helping people figure out how to make their creations come to life. I'd like to do a new costume this year but this current project has been so time consuming and with three little boys to occupy my time at home it isn't likely to happen- but you never know! I may just be able to pull off a little something extra...
Who is your favorite superhero?
Noooo- it's an impossible question! On one hand you have Iron Man who is the ultimate engineer. Tony Stark made himself a superhero- he's not an alien or a mutant or someone who achieved super human abilities by a freak accident involving a radioactive substance or an experiment gone wrong. On the other hand you have Green Lantern- a Guardian of the Universe whose power is limited only by his will. So I choose....the Silver Surfer! An astronomer who sacrificed himself to protect his home world and later turned on his creator to protect the human race- he has the Power Cosmic, rides through the cosmos on a surfboard and is all but invulnerable. Of course I could be saying that because I miss surfing but let's face it- the Surfer is made of awesome.
Your projects encompass a wide range of skills like mechanical drafting, electronic design and costumery. How did you become proficient in so many skill sets?
I guess I'm just one of those jack of all trade types. I'm a very visual person and I learn best by doing- I'm almost entirely self taught but I've been fortunate enough to have worked with some very talented people. I've been drawing for as long as I can remember and I tend to think three dimensionally. In high school I took drafting classes, electronics and wood shop. In college I started out in aerospace engineering but eventually ended up in the art department! Right after high school I got into cycling in a big way and got a job at a bike shop and soon started building my own frames simply because I couldn't afford the high-end European frames at the time. I spent the next twelve years working in the bicycle industry all the way from shop mechanic to eventually becoming a part owner in a bicycle components manufacturing company and it was the best experience I ever could have hoped for. I spent most of my time as a designer in R&D- I learned how to use machine tools and how to weld and build prototypes. I learned about materials technology, mass production manufacturing, packaging, marketing- you name it I did it. This was also during the mountain bike explosion and the suspension revolution so it was an extremely exciting time to be in that industry. I became very interested in suspension design so I read every single book I could find on race car and motorcycle design and construction and I amassed a pretty large library in the process. It's been said by a few former race car designers that suspension mountain bikes are so hard to design that F1 cars are almost easy by comparison. At the time there was almost no information available so there was a tremendous amount of trial and error. I built quite a few experimental frames and learned an awful lot in the process. I've probably filled at least ten large sketchbooks with hundreds of designs and out of all that I think I have maybe three or four good ones! During my time in the bike business I also painted a lot- I think I had six gallery openings in one year while I lived in L.A. After I left the bike business I kind of got back into art. Since I had taken metalsmithing in college (which I really loved) I started making jewelry and selling in a small gallery. At the time I was working with very basic tools- an old propane torch, a few files and such and a low book case to serve as a work bench. A friend that was a professional jeweler saw my work and was amazed at what I had done with the crude tools I had and got me a job at the store where he worked. Nearly thirteen years later I'm still there. It really is a wonderful job and I'm very fortunate. Plus I get to play with fire and dangerous chemicals! I'm one of those people that learns through necessity. If I want to build something then I figure I'm just going to have to take the time to learn the necessary processes to do it. I usually can't afford to pay other people to do the work for me- I have to learn to do it myself. And I enjoy it because I want to learn and I enjoy the challenge. I have learned that you can have all the brains and talent in the world but sheer determination is what makes thing happen.
Is there anyone who has been particularly influential towards your work?
There are several people. In regards to the costumes it's got to be people like Stan Winston- the practical effects wizards of the film industry. They are geniuses one and all. These guys have to know everything from mechanics and electronics to hydraulics and pneumatics. They do machining, molding, casting, sculpting, painting and are also amazing conceptual artists. Stan was one in a million and will be greatly missed. CG effects are great and all but these guys have to go and actually build the real the items that you see on the screen. They usually get one chance to get it right. When I built bicycles I was really impressed by race car engineers- guys like Trevor Harris. A brilliant engineer that could design a car from scratch and then go build it with his own two hands. Colin Chapman was another that really pushed a lot of boundaries. I have to say nowadays I'm most impressed by the individuals that are leading the open source hardware revolution. These are some unbelievably smart people that have given a tremendous amount to the maker community in terms of inspiration, knowledge, creativity and the sharing of ideas that leads to innovation. It makes me really happy that their businesses are successful and growing. They are the reason I got back into hobby electronics. Without their help I couldn't do half the projects I'm working on right now.
Have you made anything recently using your CNC machine?
Nope- because I started building a new machine! I should have an instructable up for the new machine before the end of the year. It's going to be light years better than the old machine as it is designed to do both 3D printing as well as machining.
What is the name of the dog in your profile picture?
That's my dog Roxy. She's nine years old. She's a 60 lb. German Black/Lab/Pit Bull mix and she's the best dog I've ever known. She super friendly and loves everyone- except squirrels. The current score is Roxy- 22, squirrels- 0. She's pretty fast and can really jump. I just wish she and my two cats could get along...