If you have ever spent any time browsing through the projects on Instructables, then chances are you have seen a project or comment posted by one of our most prolific authors, Caitlinsdad. He hawkishly watches over the site and swoops down to remind us all when we are doing something silly with judicious fatherly wisdom and a delightfully wry sense of humor. Like many of our other prolific authors, his projects are all over the map. He has posted recipes, costumes, instruments, stuffed animals, organizers and a vast cornucopia of over-sized novelty items. I sat down with him recently to find out what the driving force is behind the man - and living legend - that we all know as Caitlinsdad.
How did you first discover Instructables and what led you to post your first one?
Every year Caitlin's elementary school would have a halloween parade and she had outgrown her spotted white/black cow hoodie costume. I had lastly added a sock tail with a yarn pom-pom but the legs and arms got too short. So we came up with the idea of the dentist outfit and kids could be armed with a prop. Thus the search for a giant toothbrush. Any time you put "make" or "build" in a search, you get an instructable or two in the list. Once you click on one, you get hooked. Related ibles lead to more interesting related ibles. Thermite was a popular topic then. Oh yeah, I was looking for a giant toothbrush. Needless to say, the cost of a fabricated giant toothbrush is costly. And the one site that has it is out of stock. There was a question out in some forum that a person desperately needed to find a giant toothbrush. Good, I wasn't the only one that needed a giant toothbrush. So I built one. I also sewed Caitlin's lab jacket based on her wintercoat because I wasn't going to buy some shoddy costume. Three years ago, Caitlin's mom, my dear wife of a dozen years, had passed away from cancer. There was a need to return to some sense of normalcy. I had always built, repaired and fixed up things around the house. I had accumulated lots of tools to renovate our's and the in-laws old houses. My wife had always teased me about my hobbies and interests (model railroading, rocketry, keyboards, Star Trek, tools, etc.) and the giant things a kid should not have. I thought that documenting something I made for Caitlin would bring a smile in Heaven. I could have picked some other cool sounding username but I knew at that point my importance as Caitlin's dad. We all had a scheduled dentist appointment near Christmas so that gave me the idea to make giant toothbrushes for our long-time dentist and the staff, (we always get free toothpaste samples and brushes) and would be perfect to document in an instructable (didn't have pictures of the first build). It did make it easier to go back with someone missing from the family. And the rest is history.
You are a member with an eclectic mix of projects. What is your background in and how has this affected the things you make?
I had art and industrial design in junior high and high school. I took mechanical engineering in college thinking it would round out my aesthetic and functional knowledge. Out of college, I ended up as a combat engineer officer in the Army blowing up stuff. After that, I entered the corporate world as a computer programmer when desktop PCs were just getting rolled out. From there, it was a wild ride to the dot com days in desktop, network and server support. I also did some volunteer work as a builder for Habitat for Humanity. I am the first generation from immigrant parents who ran a Chinese Hand Laundry. My mother also worked as a seamstress in the clothing factory "sweatshops". They did not speak much English. I have that sense of frugality instilled in me and a "pack-rat" mentality so it makes for a super ability to be resourceful and adapt. I am a Brooklyn, NY native which may explain other stuff. All of these experiences gave me the opportunity to learn life skills and technical skills. I really don't have a wild imagination but I can reason out ways of accomplishing things. It also helps to have a positive can-do attitude.
So, I have always wanted to ask, what does Caitlin think of your Instructables?
Caitlin says, "Meh, how come I am not in the pictures anymore?" and "Why did you drag me to the Maker Faire with all of these strange people?" and "Thanks for the sets of fabric paint to bribe me to go onstage for the e-textile fashion show." Wisdom from a nooby 12-year old.
Of all the Instructables that you have published, which one are you most proud of?
It would be the giant toothbrush, the first one I put up after I created an account. I think I had published it and a few hours later it was featured. I still have a screencapture of the homepage somewhere, I think. I thought it was the coolest thing to be featured and watch the viewcount go up. That made me want to put up another one.
Do you care to finally disclose the mystery meat in the Kentucky Fried WTF?
It was pork tenderloin. Certainly not kosher, but then again, what would be?
What inspired you to start doing The Bot Side? Any chance of any new cartoons any time soon?
Everywhere I've been, I've left a trail of cartoon litter. There is something that people just say or do that inspires me to satirize or immortalize fittingly in a cartoon. I'm not bad, I just see them that way. Besides, the Far Side cartoons are like humor/humour open source. They are hackable and universally applicable to most situations. If you browse through the forums, there is a likely chance you will run into a new Robot cartoon somewhere, or a Kiteman, NachoMahma, kelseymh, etc... They write their own material themselves every time they comment. I would like to put together an ible for drawing instructables cartoon characters though. Note to ya'll - have a good avatar that you don't change too often. I don't want to be known as the ibles cartoon laureate, I made that up, heehee. There's gotta be other creative artists out there wanting to use a reply-with-cartoon button.
You often feature other members in your projects. Is there anyone who you have not featured yet that you would like to?
I thought I saw a review of Instructables somewhere and it mentioned the liberal use of puns, no republican or democrat. I lurked around the forums a bit before actually commenting and happened upon a thread with a Goodhart comment. Use of puns seems to be intellectual bubblegum and has developed into an art form of some sorts to weave someone or someone's username into the instructable. Featuring in my instructables cannot be bought, sold or coerced. They just happen as the opportunity presents itself. I do not have a predetermined target list.
Do you have any big projects on the horizon?
Always think BIG. I dunno. Contests are always fun to design something for or some need will pop up requiring me to build something. I still have to finish up renovating the house but Instructables contests get in the way. Also, big projects don't necessarily require a laser cutter, 3-d printer, or expensive power tools, it's just better if you have them, which I don't.
If you could one bit of advice to someone about to post their first Instructable, what would it be?
Just do it. Wait, that's someone else's advice. If you didn't have fun making it or didn't learn something in the process, it wasn't worth doing. Don't apologize that you didn't make a perfect instructable nor did it not turn out as well as you had hoped. There is always room for improvement and a different way you could have done things. Take a chance and make it. Do your research beforehand to make your builds safer and easier. If you get raked through the coals by the comments, learn from it. Don't take negative criticism personally, others may just need improvement on their social skillz. It is the interwebs.
What is your all-time favorite comic strip or cartoon?
There are so many to choose, depending on your point of view. Growing up it was watching The Flintstones or reading Hagar the Horrible in the paper. The Far Side kinda stuck with me as I developed and fine tuned my warped sense of humor. I don't follow any of the webcomics, although I did in one sitting read through all of XKCD.