Jeff Schmidt, also know as jeff-o, has some very successful projects on instructables! He's a master of electronics, home renovations and entertaining small children. He's also one of the most helpful authors I know of - he's always answering questions regarding his projects! I recently got to ask him a few questions about his time on instructables and got a little peek into just how busy he stays. :D
Your Thingamaplush Robot is one of my favorite instructables - is he still around? Did he survive your then 2 year old daughter?
Thingamaplush is still alive! He's been sitting on a shelf for the past year though. The situation is somewhat reminiscent of Jillian Jiggs and her pigs. I am perhaps a little... overprotective. He lost an "ear" knob at some point, and I also had to open him up to reinforce the potentiometers inside. But apart from that he's still singing a merry tune, as it were.
What inspired you to publish your first instructable?
My memory is a bit foggy. I think I had just acquired a bunch of colour-changing RGB LEDs on eBay, but I'd bought the fast change type by mistake instead of the slow ones. They weren't what I needed for a different project, so I had to decide what to do with them. I thought it would be fun to pack a bunch of them into a small space and see what the result would be. At the same time I had just discovered Instructables and was itching to get something published. I certainly remember being thrown off guard when I won a prize my first time out!
You've had a ton of success with contests on instructables - do you have any advice for users looking to start entering contests?
First off, I only tend to publish the best stuff I create. There are lots of failed and unimpressive projects lying about my workshop that will never be exposed to the critical, unblinking eyes of the Internet. The projects I publish should also appeal to a few demographics - if it's cute or visually appealing, it should also be technically impressive or geeky in some way. And finally, I make sure that I document as much as I can. I want to ensure that others can follow in my footsteps with a minimum of guesswork. That tends to appeal to the judges who usually have the final say when picking winners. For large projects it means sorting through hundreds of pictures (my velomobile project had over 300, and that's just the ones I kept!), but it's worth it.
Of all your projects, do you have a favorite?
That's gotta be the laser guitar. It was a ton of work and a ton of fun as well. For a while it was at the top of the results list when you did a Google search for "laser guitar." It was featured in the Gizmodo Gallery in New York and was (apparently) on G4TV. I've finished a new laser guitar in the mean time but haven't published it yet. The reason? I can't find someone to play it for me! I don't play myself so I'm in a bit of a conundrum at the moment. It's really too bad because it blows the old laser guitar out of the water...
You've done quite a few home improvement instructables - any big jobs in the works now? Anything you've been wanting to do but haven't found the time yet?
Hmmm, does tearing the roof off my house and building a new second story count as big? That was my summer in 2011. With a growing family we needed more space but didn't want to move. So after saving up for 5 or 6 years, we finally had enough money to do it. A contractor did the heavy lifting but I helped through the entire process; from tearing up floor boards to framing to drywall. It was exhausting - I'm glad it's not my day job! I've since built an art room for my wife and built lockers in our mudroom for each member of the family. It's a never ending process, and you should see the list of things that still need to be done...
Is there anyone who has been particularly influential towards your work?
I draw inspiration from wherever I can. I cruise the Internet regularly just looking at stuff that others have done. I take note of ideas that I like, and even begin brainstorming at the same moment. Then I do more searching to see if the idea forming in my head has been done before. If yes, then I change my idea or try to improve on theirs. If not, then I continue brainstorming until I come up with something that I can actually build with the resources I have. Sometimes this results in something that is an homage or almost a copy of something I've seen, and other times I mash together so many ideas that it's original again. So I guess you could say that the Internet itself - or the things going on right now in its twisted web - is the thing influencing me the most.
Your projects fall into a wide range of categories - home improvement, electronics, crafts - is there a certain type you enjoy more than the others? And we will ever see a food instructable from you?
I still enjoy the electronics projects the most. They're the most challenging for me, and the most likely to go spinning out of control. I tend to get a little overzealous sometimes, and if I don't reign in my ambitions then the project is very likely to fail (or never get started in the first place). In my day job I've got managers and bosses doing that for me, but at home my imagination goes wild.
I've actually got two cooking projects nearly ready to publish. But I want to do something amazing to kick things off, and I haven't had my "light bulb moment" just yet. I'm sure it'll come eventually.