The plan this week had been to get on with some of the remaining work on the My Baby's Got LED board: applying for the open-source hardware certification, and mapping some of the supply chain.
However, some hiccups with the second batch of Museum in a Box put paid to that.
As George details on the Museum in a Box blog, 84% of the batch of RFID readers I soldered up last week didn't work. I'd tested a random sample of boards, which all worked, and we've not had anywhere near that failure rate in the past, so it was something of a surprise to say the least.
There was also a problem with the batch of custom, assembled PCBs from European Circuits. They did an excellent job of fixing the mistake, turning the fix round in a day (plus postage time, but as they're in Glasgow that was only a day either side too. Local supply chains FTW!). It was still a pretty stressful process of remote debugging and helping to resolve things.
We got a new batch of RFID readers delivered to me to replace the duff ones. So that was another day of soldering and testing them all before shipping them down to Museum in a Box HQ. We had a 33% failure rate on those too, which is still too high but the focus was on getting working boards down for the rest of the box production. I'll come back to all the broken ones and investigate further over the coming weeks.
It was also Thingscon this week. Sadly I didn't make it along because I was too busy soldering RFID readers. Matt Webb has written up his talk: The hard work of imagining, ThingsCon 2020. If you think imagining utopias is hard work, just wait till you try implementing them.
I get, and broadly agree with, what Matt is saying. I'm a big fan of the Saint-Exupéry quote "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea." Yet reading it also frustrates me.
Looking up the quote just now to ensure I got it right, I noticed the second half of it, that I don't remember so much: "As for the future, your task is not to forsee it, but to enable it."
I think that gets at my frustration. I see lots of my peers, people whom I respect, writing essays and policy papers, producing manifestos and giving talks imploring the world to build more ethical, more sustainable, more humane tech. And none of it has any impact because the capitalists and big tech can happily ignore it all.
It might even help ossify the status quo. It makes it look like our concerns over surveillance capitalism are being taken seriously, but does nothing to increase the choices avaialble to us. Leading to no improvement in Matt's observation that "it feels like I don’t get to choose, we don’t get to choose, those futures".
What we need are more people building possible better new futures. People working through the myriad implementation details that get glossed over in some design fiction but which first tread the new paths for Matt's marketers, retailers, supply chain experts, risk assessors, the MBAs, and policy-makers to follow.
We need to support and shout about those of us who are exploring these new and better approaches.
MCQN Ltd isn't going to provide an alternative to Alexa today, but last month we released a device to control your Christmas (and any other) lights from your phone, with open schematics for repair and future support if MCQN Ltd goes away; no data gathering or phoning home to our cloud, without losing any of the ease-of-use; open-source software so that advanced users can put it to other uses... Plus it's designed to reuse old PC power supplies to save them from becoming e-waste.
Our products are far from perfect and I don't have all the answers, but heading in this direction feels like a better route to look for them.
P.S. In the spirit of supporting people moving tech in better directions, I've just ordered a Precursor. There are a couple of days left on the crowd-funder if anyone else wants one...