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Berkman Fellow

I am thrilled to be able to announce that I have been invited to be a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University for the 2015-2016 academic year. While there, I will be working to explore communities’ engagement with open, inexpensive hyperlocal digital networks, with special emphasis on bridging inequality of information access…for example, studying how LibraryBox and systems like it are used in areas with limited or no infrastructure. From my initial statement of research for Berkman:

My research plan would include communication with the creators and users of these networks initially through conversational inquiry, and then eventually through a formal survey instrument designed to analyze technical skills and reasons for use of these hyperlocal micronetworks….I believe that this research has the potential to be important as we move into the next 5-10 years of technological development. Moore’s and Koomey’s Laws will continue to drive hardware into ever-more-capable and cheaper packages. It will never be more expensive or more difficult to create these networks than it is right now in this moment; for every passing day, it gets less difficult and less expensive. There will be a point in the not-so-distant future where this sort of ad-hoc networking and hyperlocal server use will be trivial and potentially omnipresent. What changes will that create for the broader Internet? What happens when individuals can carry their own private piece of cyberspace with them anywhere they go?

I will be doing a partial residency in Cambridge during the Fellowship, for several months in the Fall and again in the Spring semester. Betsy and Eliza cannot do so with me, and I will be going back and forth every 2-3 weeks to spend time with them.

There are challenges ahead, the central one being that while the Berkman Center is a world-renown research center, they do not provide funding for Fellows. The residency requirement and travel combined with being self-employed is going to make for some very interesting financial times over the next year…if you are interested in bringing me to speak for your library group, now is a good time to ask. Or even better, if you are or know of a group that is interested in sponsoring this type of scholarship and open source/open hardware work, please do get in touch. I will be actively blogging while at Berkman, producing videos about my research, and I would be happy to talk with the right group about sponsorship of that work.

I am very excited about working with the other 2015-2016 Fellows. There are some terrific projects in the mix, and I cannot wait to have the chance to work with them. The list of faculty associates and affiliates, both new and returning, are a smorgasbord of talent. I am humbled to be included in their ranks, and I look forward to working with each and every one of them. I am equally excited about the potential for putting library concerns front and center during discussions, in being a bridge for the library world to the larger Berkman ecosystem.

I have lots to say about this opportunity, more than is appropriate for this post. I would be remiss if I didn’t say thank you to everyone who helped to bring me to the point in my career where this is possible, and of course thanks to my family, Betsy and Eliza, for sacrificing to make this work.

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Yep. I’m going to be a Fellow at Harvard.

OMFG.

Flags & Speech & Hate & Fear

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about identity, specifically about Southern identity, and even more specifically about my own identity as a Southerner. As I’ve blogged about previously, I’m originally from Eastern Kentucky (Olive Hill, in Carter County to be precise), spent the majority of my 20s in Chapel Hill, NC, and since then have been living in rural Tennessee. I have effectively never lived outside the South, except for a brief period during a failed PhD bid at the University of Maryland at College Park.

For those of you that know me as a librarian, you’ve probably seen me speak at one of the dozen or so talks I do a year…at state conferences, consortial gatherings, national and international conferences. Keynotes. Invited talks about technology and change and the near future of libraries; these are the mainstays of my career as someone who stands on a stage and entertains and educates. Sometimes before these talks, or sometimes after, the organizing committee will very kindly take me to lunch or dinner, and we’ll talk about the job and technology and the future. Almost without fail, if this talk is not in The South, I will get asked “Where are you from?”, meaning, usually, where I was born. When I say Kentucky, I normally expand to say what I said above…then NC, then mostly TN. Always The South, always Dixie. Invariably this provokes the response “Oh! Well, you don’t sound Southern…”

This is a code, a way of telling me what their expectations of the South are…backwards, uneducated, unsophisticated. I have a fairly neutral accent for the South, not a slow drawl, nor the mumbled vowels of some. The biggest tell in my accent is that I lengthen the long I’s in my speech, and if you are expecting Foghorn Leghorn, you may be disappointed. Every time someone says it, I realize a bit more the way the rest of the country views the South.

And now there is the Flag. The Flag that has mattered in the South for 150 years, paraded across media screens. The flag that once hung in my teenage bedroom, not because of pride or race or considered speech, but just because it was an object that belonged to my Uncle, who died too soon and I idolized as a ghost. When the Flag hung in my bedroom I wasn’t thinking about its history, the legacy of hate and violence, the considered hatred for others that it was coded to communicate. It was an omnipresent object, as benign as a Starbucks sign, and through its overwhelming numbers we were numbed to it. The privilege of the poor white South, to have a totem.

Today I sat in a restaurant with my wife and daughter, and through the window I could see a truck pull to a stop across the way, in another parking lot. Mounted on the bumper of this truck were two 8 foot poles, one flying the Confederate Flag and the other the Gadsden Flag. As I watched, the boys in the truck (not men, not yet, but soon to be) parked and got out, standing proudly beside their banners. Then there were two, then three trucks, all with a single pole, all with the Flag announcing their arrival. Then four. Then five, gathered in a neat circle on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the parking lot of a strip mall. I looked around, and there we sat, among the 5 or 6 other families enjoying their meal. Every other face in the restaurant was Black. I couldn’t explain to my daughter why I was watching outside, what I was looking for, why I was suddenly not listening to her story. I cannot imagine, simply cannot, what those other fathers and mothers must have been thinking. The boys drove away, off to practice their braggadocio in another place. Nothing happened. Except it did.

Tonight I am sad, and angry. At the stupid boys, yes, playing at understanding and “heritage” and culture. But mostly I am sad and angry at my past self, who came to understand the hate and racism of my South much later in life than I should have. It is the definition of racial privilege that I was able to be a white man in the South, and not have the Flag be a slap to my face every time I saw it. I am ashamed of the teenage me, who was unaware of the hidden, coded speech of having the Flag in my bedroom. That was almost 30 years ago, and I am ashamed of the ignorance and privilege. Long after I took the flag down,  I came to realize that those that held it up as a symbol were, almost without exception, horrible human beings. But I still refused to see it as a symbol of the South, refused to accept what it symbolized and indicated to the non-privileged.

Because that is not my South. My South is sweet tea & juleps, fried chicken & barbecue, honeysuckle & wild blackberries, banjo & mountain dulcimer. Hot summer days with feet in the creek, and my great-uncles at the kitchen counter burning off their moonshine jars to see whose is the best. Boiling sorghum and skimming the foam to taste, like the Earth’s own cotton candy.

But my South is a lie.

It’s a fiction that I’ve told myself, and it’s a fiction that is built upon the foundation of the privilege that I have too long accepted. It’s a lie that I can’t tell myself anymore, and a lie that I can’t tell to my daughter. The hidden costs of this lie, of my privilege, are a history of pain and horror that I get to avoid because of the color of my skin. I can’t lie to myself any longer about my South. What I can do is say true things about the history of racial hatred, fear, and segregation that built this land where we live to myself, to my daughter, and to others. I can say true things about this place that I love, and I can ask others who want a better place than the one we inherited to do the same.

It is time for the South to get past this totem, to throw away their banner. The flag of the confederacy is a symbol that no one should glorify, because its history is one of bigotry and terror. To those that are flying it now out of fear and hate, you will lose. It will fade, history has turned and will continue to turn, and hate will die out as more and more voices rise to say that we will not accept it. The Confederate Flag should fade into history, just as the slow march of the present into history is grinding away at inequalities that seemed as if they might last forever. No State should fly it, no government should have it as a part of their flag, it needs to be removed as a totem of racism, slavery, and terror.

My South may be a lie that privilege has told me, but I refuse to let those that hate continue to tell those lies. Instead I will read and talk about the truth of our history, and I will hope that you do the same.

ALA Annual Conference 2015

At the end of this week, myself and about 20,000 of my librarian and library-adjacent colleagues will be jetting off to lovely San Francisco for the American Library Association Annual Conference. The conference is always a highlight of my year, and this summer is a particularly busy one for me. There are a bunch of responsibilities as a part of my Knight News Challenge project, Measure the Future, as well as my last set of Board meetings with LITA as Chair of Bylaws and Parliamentarian.

If you want to schedule some time at ALA to talk to me about an upcoming technology consulting or speaking/workshop/presentation need, I’m all ears. Use the Contact Form over at Evenly Distributed or drop me an email or tweet and we’ll find some time to talk about how I might be able to help.

If you’re interested in just saying hello, here are the places that you can find me at ALA Annual 2015!


 

Friday, June 26

LITA Open House – 3-4pm – Moscone Center 2005 (W)

Saturday, June 27

LITA Joint Chairs Meeting – 8:30-10am – Hilton San Francisco Union Square Continental 4
LITA All Committees Meeting – 10:30-11:30am – Hilton San Francisco Union Square Continental 4
LITA Board Meeting – 1:30-4:30pm – Moscone Center 276 (S)
Crowdfunding for Libraries: How to use Kickstarter to Build Your Community – 3-4pm – Moscone Center 2009 (W)

Sunday, June 28

Measure the Future Demo/Informational – 11am-12pm – South Exhibit Hall, Moscone Convention Center, Booth #3731
This is the first time that I will, if everything goes well, have a sensor demo for people to see regarding Measure the Future. I’ll be there to answer questions about the project, and talk about our goals and plans.

Top Technology Trends – 1-2pm – Moscone Center 3014-3016 (W)
LITA President’s Program – 3-4pm – Moscone Center 3014-3016 (W)
LITA Happy Hour – 5:30-8pm – DaDa Bar, 86 2nd Street, San Francisco, CA 94105

Monday, June 29

LITA Board Meeting – 1:30-4:30pm – Moscone Center 220 (S)

Tuesday, June 30

Everything Tor! – Digital Rights in LibrariesThe Library Freedom Project – 3:30-4:30pm – Noisebridge Hackerspace
I’m doing a one hour session at the 2 day library privacy and security event being run by the Library Freedom Project all about Tor, and how libraries and patrons can use it to protect themselves. The entire event is going to be bonkers good, so I’ll be there all day on Tuesday soaking it in. But if you wanna hear me talk about Onions for an hour, come see me.


 

Aside from all of that, I’ve got a variety of meetings, gatherings, and shindigs I’ll be attending. If you poke around the available wifi SSIDs, I’m betting you’ll see my LibraryBox v2.1 beta unit wandering around Moscone…I’ll have a bunch of stuff on there for people to grab, including the vast majority of my writing from the last 5 or so years. Keep an eye out.

I’m very excited about ALA Annual, and I hope you are as well. See everyone in San Francisco!

Library Technology: Problems, Futures, and Directions

This is a keynote that I delivered at the MOBIUS Consortium conference in Columbia, Missouri on June 2, 2015. I talk about why library technology is terrible, why technology is a unique thing, the speed of change, what technological futures are near, and the broad strokes of how I think libraries need to respond in order to suck less at tech. It’s a fun time for everyone.

There’s one little technical glitch in the middle where Keynote decided to crash, but otherwise I’m pleased with the way this came together.

Just a few hours after I gave my presentation, in which I talk about the rise of voice interfaces to machine learning algorithms that act as personal assistants (a la Siri, Cortana and others), SoundHound drops this bombshell of a demo on the web:

That is ridiculous stuff, right there. But at least it shows I’m not wrong to be paying attention.

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LibraryBox v2.1 Public Beta

I’m thrilled to finally have the ability to announce that the v2.1 release for LibraryBox is now available as a Public Beta. What does that mean? It means that while we think we have all the bugs ironed out, we can’t be sure, and we need some brave souls that are willing to help us make sure. The benefits of the v2.1 release are many:

  • CSS styled directory listings that are fully responsive
  • The addition of the Mozilla l10n translation engine that allows for multi-language support for theLibraryBox interface. In the initial v2.1 release, we have 10 languages supported:
    • German
    • English
    • French
    • Spanish
    • Croatian
    • Swedish
    • Italian
    • Korean
    • Norwegian
    • Kiswahili

    If you would like to add a language, please let us know.

  • LibraryBox now has a built in miniDLNA server for media playback on DLNA clients
  • There is now an automated updater built-in to LibraryBox that will allow for future updates to be a matter of copying a file onto the USB key and rebooting…no SSH necessary.
  • Even more hardware choices that you can use to build your own.

This is a release that sets us up for even more work to be done. The auto-updater will allow for much, much easier updates to be delivered, and means that we can iterate even faster on our releases. The language support is easily updated to new languages, so if you don’t see one that you speak, use the link above to send me an email and we can make sure that your language is included in the v2.1 official release. DLNA means that you can now use your LibraryBox to stream videos to any compatible DLNA client, including smart TVs, Blu-Ray players, game consoles, and much more.

I’m very pleased with this release, and I hope that you are too. If you have any questions or issues, please use the contact form to drop us a line.  I expect that we will have an official v2.1 release in the next few weeks, after we get feedback on the Public Beta.

Apple Watch Sport Band Flip Trick

So here’s a tiny hack for the Apple Watch that I found really useful. In all of the promo shots, Apple shows the Sport Band attached to the Watch with the Pin side at the top of the Watch, and the holed-side attached at the bottom.

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I was having a terrible time actually putting the Watch on, because one-handed, I found that holding the Pin down and trying to pull the strap upwards to it was very awkward.

The solution? Flip the bands.

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The band halves are completely reversible, and having the Pin on the lower part means that I can hold it in place with my thumb and pull the other band down towards it. Much easier for me, and you can’t tell at all once the Watch is on your wrist.

If you’ve got a Sport Band on your Apple Watch, give it a try and see if you think it’s easier.

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10 Days with the Apple Watch

I was one of the lucky few that received their Apple Watch order on April 24th, the day the  Watch was released to the public. Here’s the story of my first 10 days to try to give you some idea about the technology (and aesthetics) behind the newest Apple product.

Order

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First up, what I ordered. My order was time stamped at 12:02am Pacific Time on April 10, the day that the Watch went on sale to the public, so I literally ordered mine within the first 120 seconds of availability. From the time the Watch was announced, I had been coveting the Stainless Steel with Milanese loop band. It was, to my eye, a wonderful throwback mid-century modern look that I love. When it came time to order, I decided that since it’s likely I’m wearing this thing every single day for the next 2+ years, I should just get the one I really liked rather than “settling” for the less expensive Sport version in aluminum.

That decision-making process illustrates one of the huge differences in this particular product. Every other Apple product that I’ve purchased (and I’ve purchased plenty at this point, a decade plus into my obsession with the company and its products) was purchased on the strength of the abilities of the technology. Apple isn’t a stranger to using design as a differentiator among their products…the classic iMac is the textbook example of style selling a technology. But over the last few years they have primarily used their design sense and engineering skills to differentiate themselves from other manufacturers, and not within a line of their own products.

The stainless steel Apple Watch functions literally identically to the less expensive aluminum Apple Watch Sport (and, of course, also identically to the much, much more expensive Apple Watch Edition). So the fact that they convinced me to pay for a purely aesthetic choice shows just how different this particular market is from Apple’s normal business. But they did convince me, and thus at just after midnight on April 10th, I placed my order.

Arrival

IMG_8569On April 24th, my Watch arrived. The package that was delivered was surprisingly heavy, almost shockingly so, and that is entirely due to the incredible packaging for the Watch. It is not hyperbole to say that I believe that Apple spent more time in R&D on the box for the Watch than some companies do on devices themselves. The retail box is a heavy, thick white plastic that feels as if it could be used for home construction…it’s that solid. On the inside the Watch was cradled in suede covered custom cutouts, isolated in the middle of a box that was at least 3 times larger than it needed to be purely to protect the device inside. Again, this is Apple’s aesthetics impinging upon a technology experience. “This is not a gadget”, is what this packages says “this is a piece of jewelry.”

My first impressions are of the Watch as Object: This is a gorgeous piece of design. Some have criticized the look of the Watch for its rounded rectangleness, or for being “bulbous.” I will say that on my wrist it is a great size, not heavy at all, and feels entirely like an analog watch would feel. Slimmer and lighter even than some men’s watches, which are enormous at times. I think it’s beautiful work, and shows Apple’s unparalleled heights of manufacturing. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that no other company on the planet could make something this nice at this scale.

Use

Beyond the aesthetics, however, there are definitely issues. The primary function of the watch is clearly to tell the time, and Apple provides about 10 different faces to choose from, each with some level of customizability. Through the selection of detail, color, and complications, it’s possible to really focus the main interface of the watch on the information that you want at a glance: the time, your calendar, the date, the weather, and more. I find myself wishing that third-party apps had access to these complication areas, instead of being limited to just Apple’s first-party apps. For instance, a complication from Dark Sky telling me when it was going to start raining would be amazing, and I’m certain that there are lots of other really useful apps for the main face of the Watch. I’m hoping that’s one of the first bits of usability exposed during the next software update.

The other central concepts in using the Watch are Notifications, Glances, and Apps. Notifications are just what they sound like, and display as either a pop-over style update or in a list after pulling down from the top of the initial Watch screen. Aside from telling the time, Notifications have been the most game changing piece of the Watch in my life. It really is the case, as reported by lots of other reviewers, that I am looking at my phone a lot, lot less than I did prior to wearing the Apple Watch. Notifications on my wrist allows me to glance and decide whether any individual thing needs the escalation of “Deal With Now” or if I can just…not. As just one example, I wore the Watch at Computers in Libraries the day after receiving it, and realized after a few meals that I hadn’t taken my phone out of my pocket at all during lunch or dinner. I don’t remember the last time I didn’t take my phone out and put it on the table beside my plate…it’s nearly an automatic gesture from everyone I hang out with. With the Watch, I avoided the psychological habit of needing to be “connected” with the phone. It was shockingly liberating.

Glances are mini-apps, accessible by swiping up from the bottom of the main watch face. They are displayed as a linear row of full-screen windows that are swiped through, left or right, that are single-screen displays of an app’s information. For instance, going back to my favorite weather app, Dark Sky, the “glance” is just the weather in your current location, whereas the full application contains multiple screens of information. Glances can be useful, but since the only way to navigate is literally by paging through them one after the other, if you have more than 5-8 Glances active, finding the one you want becomes an exercise in futility. Luckily you can control which apps allow Glances and which don’t, as well as the order left-to-right of your glances, from the Apple Watch app on your iPhone.

Finally, we have what is the least useful bit of the current incarnation of the Apple Watch…the Apps. This is surprising, given that it was the app store and 3rd party app development that really ignited the iPhone as a mobile platform. However, the current status of Apps on the Watch as second or third class citizens makes them very difficult to use effectively. Currently, third-party apps don’t run on the watch natively, the run on the tethered iPhone and push display items to the watch when called. This means that the process of opening an App on the Watch is roughly: Press the digital crown in once, tap an App icon from the screen, and wait as the Watch tells the app on your iPhone what it wants, the app on the iPhone spins up and calls out for network resources if needed, the network traffic comes back, the iPhone app builds the view for the Watch, and finally the view is sent back to the watch over Bluetooth. This is roughly like sending an email to tell your neighbor to order a pizza, then having it delivered to her house and having her walk it over to you. It does end with you getting pizza, but there’s clearly a better way to accomplish this task.

When you launch a third-party app, pretty much any of them, there’s a 3-10 second delay while it does its little dance from the watch to the phone to the network and back again. This isn’t to say that the apps aren’t usable….many are, and some are very well designed and thought out. A few stand outs are Transit, Dark Sky, Workflow, and Lastpass. But for apps to really be usable, they have to be on-Watch, and not dancing between the two devices. The good news is that Apple has already announced that “this year” there will be an SDK for third-party native Watch apps…the only mystery is whether that will be an announcement at WWDC in June, or are they going to take “this year” literally and push that ability well into the Fall or Winter.

Two other Watch abilities that I haven’t yet mentioned are the Digital Touch haptic communication and Apple Pay. Haptics between Watches include the ability to “tap” someone else on the wrist to get their attention to communicate something, or to send them your heartbeat via the built in heartrate sensor. These are both interesting, and the taptic engine is a marvel of possibility, but until it’s opened up to third parties it strikes me as a parlor trick.

Apple Pay, on the other hand, is a revelation. With Apple Pay active on the Watch, you can double-press the side button and pay for something faster than you could even pull your iPhone from your pocket, and in the best sort of Apple way, it Just Works. It’s so easy and useful that I can see preferentially choosing to go to one store over another based on the fact that their payment system is compatible…it’s that good.

There are dozens of other services that the Apple Watch throws at you: activity measurement, maps, Siri on your wrist, taking a phone call from your wrist, music controls, remotes for your music or Keynote presentation. All of these are well done, and fine reasons to use the Watch. But if I have to boil my use case down using just the first 10 days, notifications, apple pay, and the fact that it is…well….a really nice watch are the things that keep me using it. It’s clearly going to be an ongoing platform for Apple, and they have a very, very good track record for incremental improvement of experience. I’m very bullish on the Watch overall, even if my recommendation for most people right now is to wait for version 2 or 3.

Libraries

Apple Watch So what’s the library play for Apple Watch? Given the existing capabilities, I would say that using some of the older, proven tech in Apple’s stack gets much better with the Watch. Passbook for your patron’s library card is a no brainer, and a fantastic use, and Apple Pay for fines/fees is going to be interesting as adoption of that service continues to grow. Also, Apple Pay is among the most secure and private mechanisms available for the use of a debit/credit card, which I think is a huge patron privacy benefit.

If your library already supports an iOS app, adding Watch functionality now is probably not really worth it. At the very least, waiting until WWDC in June and seeing what they announce (or don’t) for the next version of WatchKit is warranted. It’s interesting to consider what a library Watch app might do…it isn’t possible to do text entry other than via Siri and voice transcription, so actually searching a catalog in the traditional manner isn’t really going to work. On the other hand, a Watch app that displayed a patron’s “cart” of interested books with the call numbers would be really handy while browsing in the stacks.

Conclusion

I said aboveapple watch closeup that I am recommending that the average technology consumer wait on the Apple Watch until v2 or v3. This will give Apple time to work out the issues with some of the biggest hardware flaws (no on-board GPS, and like all Apple devices it will get thinner and lighter). It will also give the ecosystem time to evolve, 3rd party apps to run natively on the Watch, and for the price to drop a small amount. By version 3 the low end of the line will be under $300, the design will be slightly improved, and there will be more and better app experiences that enrich the experience of wearing the Watch. Until then, I’m going to keep mine, because even with its flaws it’s an absolutely incredible piece of tech engineering that has already shown that it can improve my relationship with my information ecosystem. And I think it will get better and better at doing just that, allowing me to deal with the information flows in my life. That, turns out, might just be worth the cost of the Apple Watch.

Formal Speaking

Spring & Summer Speaking schedule

Spring and Summer are bringing another round of speaking appearances, all of which I am very excited to be doing. I’m heading to some great conferences and am really excited to meet awesome librarians across the country.  If you are going to be attending any of the following, please say hello!

If you are planning a conference in the Fall or Winter and are looking for someone to talk libraries, technology, the failures of the present and the promise of the future, or the promise of the present and the failures of the future, get in touch. I would love to speak for your libraries and librarians.

Photo credit: Cindi Blyberg

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Measure the Future and Privacy

If you are curious about the Measure the Future project (using simple and inexpensive sensors that can collect data about building usage to make strategic decisions that create more efficient and effective experiences for patrons) and how that might overlap with library patron privacy concerns, I posted a lengthy outline of the ideas and concepts on that front over on the Measure the Future blog.

An excerpt:

The thing that I’ve gotten the most comments and emails about is the degree to which Measure the Future is “creepy.” There is both and implicit and explicit expectation of privacy in information seeking in a library, and when someone says they are thinking about putting cameras in and watching patron behavior…well, I totally see why some people would characterize that as creepy.

So here’s why what I am planning isn’t creepy. At least, I don’t think so.

Go and read the rest if you’re interested.

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Carbon3D Printer Analysis

This morning, a new 3D printing company (Carbon3D) won the marketing lottery, by appearing in a story in the Washington Post, and then being featured pretty much everywhere possible online. They were tweeted hundreds of times.

While I trust that they really are doing something different, the overall technology isn’t new…it is a variation on stereolithography,  which predates fused deposition modeling (what most library 3d printers are using) as a technology. It’s not even the first consumer level stereolithographic printer! The Form 1 (http://formlabs.com/products/form-1-plus/) has been out for a couple of years now, and at least one library (Darien) has one in operation.

In order to figure out what it was that they were doing differently, I had to read their paper that was published yesterday in Science. Unsurprisingly, WaPo got a lot of the tech wrong, or at the very least wrote it in such a way that it is very confused. Take this section:

“To create an object, CLIP projects specific bursts of light and oxygen. Light hardens the resin, and oxygen keeps it from hardening. By controlling light and oxygen exposure in tandem, intricate shapes and latices can be made in one piece instead of the many layers of material that usually make up a 3D printed object.”

“Bursts of oxygen”? You can’t “project” oxygen into a liquid like you can a laser. And “instead of the many layers” is also raising red flags. There may not be distinct layers in the same way as FDM printing, but there must be some form of progressive building.

What is actually going on is that they are, indeed, using a UV projector to selectively harden a photosensitive resin. What is different about their approach is that they are projecting through a membrane that is selectively oxygen permeable, which allows for a “dead zone” of resin that can’t harden (due to the oxygen level), above which the UV sensitivity kicks in and the resin hardens. They call this process “continuous liquid interface production technology” or CLIP.

The paper doesn’t say it outright, but knowing the technology, I’m guessing that their hardening process is a continuous build. Rather than a laser-based traditional resin printer, they are using a projector, which I can imagine is more like a video, continuously painting the surface to be hardened. It would be more like pulling sugar, where the liquid becomes solid as you lengthen it, and there would be no layers per se, but more of a crystalline lattice. This would account for the smoothness of the prints. It is also, to be fair, a complete guess on my part.

This change in the traditional stereolithography process apparently gives them a huge increase in speed, which is the key differentiator here. They appear to be able to print objects very, very fast. It also looks like they have the cash to research and develop it commercially, with both Silver Lake and Sequoia as backers.

So what does this mean for libraries? Honestly, not much for the moment. This particular technology could be very inexpensive to make…or, given the proprietary nature of the membrane and resin, it could be ridiculously expensive. The company hasn’t announced any pricing or even availability, so we really have no idea when it might be available. When it is, I’ll revisit and see what I think for libraries. For now, this is interesting, but just a news item.