Tag Archives: James Dowd

O’Maley 3D Printer Make-a-Thon, An Endurance Event for Nerds

O’Maley 3D Printer Make-a-Thon, An Endurance Event for Nerds

by Jim Dowd

Photos by Martin DelVecchio

Here’s the scene: I’m sitting at a table in my daughter’s middle school with a pile of neatly laid-out parts that look like  IKEA decided to make electronics. I’m surrounded by dear friends and fellow community members along with teachers and administrators. We’ve all visited the elaborate coffee station set up in a corner and have consumed enough caffeine to make our pupils vibrate at the rate of purely theoretical particles. The atmosphere is, to be honest, tense as there are 27 such piles on tables distributed at regular intervals around the library. Our job is to transform them into cutting-edge technology for the students. Also, there are pastries.

Dave Brown oversees our team with understandable concern

The machines everyone is going to try and build are 3D printers, something hardly anyone in the room has ever seen before. It would be like grabbing a random selection of people from the sidewalk bazaar and saying, “Lets go up to O’Maley and build two dozen flying waffle irons!” But besides stacking the bench with a few tech-whiz ringers, School Technology Specialist Dave Brown and Science teacher Amy Donnelly did essentially just that: they put out an open call to the public to build 27 of these babies over the course of a weekend.

No experience necessary.

The parts and instructions are here, take a look. Sound like a risky plan?

There are no printed instructions. On each table there is a laptop. We’re told to click on the videos and do what the narrator says, but it’s loud in the library and the built-in laptop speakers suck. The video narrator/instructor is a dude named “Colin” …How does one say this? He sounds sort of like that guy in high school who could make his own electric guitars, but kinda sorta spent a lot of time in that one bathroom with “Bob Marley Lives!” carved into the door, if you know what I mean.

Colin is not the most concise of fellows and occasionally does essential tasks offscreen and apparently does not know how to edit his videos. Each one is an exceptionally long take of him going, “Uh, OK, that was sort of wrong, so undo that last part…” He’s like your college roommate on Saturday night after you’ve been studying all day and he’s been “hanging out” and now he’s trying to explain Kirkegaard to you. Colin is a genius to be sure and you love the guy, but you and he are on different planes of reality right now.

Maggie and Joe listen to Colin with earned skepticism

We sixty-odd caffeine-buzzing volunteers lean into the laptops and follow as best we can, trying not to screw up, because we’re building the printers for a new lab at the O’Maley Innovation Middle School (motto: Yes, innovation!) and these are notoriously finicky beasts.  The kits were donated by the Gloucester Education Foundation [give them moneyz!]. The assembling was donated by local educators, administrators and community members. Food donated by local restaurants and bakeries. Ironic T-shirts worn by many participants courtesy of the Internet.

Amy and David are the Field Marshals trying to make all this happen and work. They have taken a tremendous risk in the community-build approach and bear an enormous burden as the hours tick too quickly by and we’re all holding up parts going, “What the crap did Colin say about cutting away extraneous plastic on the extruder gear axle assembly?” They dash about, distributing advice and trying to allay fears. But by Saturday afternoon, 11 hours in, only two of the kits are laying down plastic. The rest of us are tangled up in wire harnesses, “Z-axis motor stops” and fretting the tension of our belt drives. Long light starts to shine in through the windows as the sun descends.

WAIT, BACK UP. WHAT THE HELL IS A 3D PRINTER AND WHY SHOULD ANYONE CARE?

As Scruffy McNerdman testifies in the vid, 3D printing is technology overturning the way we make and use things. It will have massive implications as we move from the crude printers of today to cheaper and much higher resolution devices of tomorrow, where it will be possible to print standard objects but also food, medical devices, electronics and even human organs (there are over 100 people today with 3D printed soft tissue organs).

A quick example of how a future version of this technology will impact every one of our lives:

There are things I hate about my minivan. Not just that it makes me look like a khaki-wearing suburban soccer dad who owns a ride-on lawnmower and the Billy Joel boxed set. What I really hate about it is that the interior is clearly designed for the boringest people on Earth. First of all, the beverage holder is designed for a ‘Big Gulp’ sized soda and is thus so vast any normal-sized drink I put in there is bound to spill and create a disgusting crust resembling the interior of the spaceship in the movie Alien. It also has a built-in soda cooler because of course more soda (there should be space for a portable dialysis machine with all the soda infrastructure this car has). It has carpets for people who apparently enjoy lounging around in their car barefoot. It has all of one USB charging port. On long car trips our daughter Rebecca is designated DJ and she has to run a cord from the dashboard to her back seat so she can run the music system from her tablet because the makers of this vehicle assumed the adults in the front are the ones who should be picking the music for a van full of tweens and teens. The people who designed this van are not from this planet.

Our family is not being optimally served by the current setup. The one USB port is a hassle for a family who won’t go the other side of town without enough smartphones, tablets and laptops to run a mid-sized advertising agency. Everything we do seems to involve mud, snow and dirt: beach, soccer, hikes in the woods. We have bikes, boats, a collie who likes to roll around in any disgusting thing she finds and my wife goes to Aprilla Farms weekly and loads the whole interior up with some kind of gourd or beet or root or dirty brown knobby thing that’s supposed to be good for you. We basically need a combination of a Subaru and the US Army 2.5 ton utility truck with its own IT infrastructure.

In not too long (sooner than you think) I will go to the dealer and she will sit me down and I’ll tell her all this and they will build a car to suit for the same cost as a car today. Printing and finishing a custom vehicle will incur no penalty on the manufacturing process all due to the advances being made on crude looking jumbles of wood and wire like the ones now sitting on tables around the 3D printing lab in our very own middle school.

The vid below is some dudes actually doing this and they finally have a proof of concept prototype. I hung around with them at a tech show a couple of years ago and we got drinks. They are really cool save for the fact that they insisted on wearing aviation flight suits everywhere. I was worried we were going to get our asses kicked when we went out, but we wound up at ‘Miracle of Science’ on Mass Ave in Cambridge where the menu is based on the periodic table of elements, so no worries in that department.

3D PRINTING OBJECTIONS, MADE BY IDIOTS

Online I saw a few objections to this technology from people who probably were the same folks who used to leave long, rambling messages on your answering machine back in the day saying things like, “Hello? Hellooo…oh, gracious. I really don’t like talking to a machine. Jimmy? Are you theeeeere? I have to tell you something about Thanksgiving, the address changed. Call me and I’ll tell you [Click].”

  1. “Oh mercy! I saw on the Internet you can make a gun! Right there in school! Won’t someone Pleeese think of the children?” OK, sure, with a much more expensive and higher resolution printer than the ones we have, if you took a month of dedicated time and a variety of tools and some additional highly complex finishing you can make a very, very terrible gun. By the time you finished this gun it would have about the accuracy, quality and effectiveness of a Revolutionary War flintlock pistol but with way less likelihood it would actually fire even once. You can make pretty much the same “gun” from stuff at Ace Hardware.
  1. “Consumer 3D printing is all hype, you can’t make anything useful” As a guy who deals with technology adoption every day, I agree from a current market standpoint. But these machines at O’Maley actually produce something much more useful than little plastic figurines: educated people. Little model Yoda heads are not, in and of themselves, worth anything. However individuals who can go from raw concept to software model to an actual thing are, however, invaluable considering where everything is going.
  1. 3D printing will lead to atomic scale nanofabrication, transcending capitalism and creating a post-scarcity utopia just like in Star Trek The Next Generation. All I have to say is: “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”

3D PRINTING COMES TO GLOUCESTER

The GEF grant could have bought eight pre-assembled printers and a small group of students would have been able to use them on a limited basis. But what we’ve come to understand about technology in schools is that it only works well when everyone has full access. This was the logic behind getting the entire 8th grade Chromebooks, which has been nothing short of transformative.

The better option was getting 30 kits and then assembling them. They take somewhere between 12-20 hours to put together and as I began to explain above the assembly requires, among other skills; soldering, wiring, hooking up a circuit board, installing motors and belt drives, gear assemblies, setting up and correctly installing fragile heat sensors called “thermistors” along with more tiny little screws and nuts than individual cereal bits in a “Family Size” box of Rice Krispies from The Basket.

Science Teacher Amy Donnelly schools Haig on his wiring

So, rejoining our story in the O’Maley library, now it’s 8pm on Saturday and 16 hours have elapsed. I’ve cranked down part of a BLT all day because our laserlike focus has been bringing our machine to life. At my team’s table KT Toomey and Steve Brosnihan and I are surrounded by a low tide of wires, parts, tools and 63 empty tiny little cans of Mountain Dew. We’re sweating it. Even though our build is technically done, things aren’t moving as they should. Our printer is sputtering around as if possessed by unclean spirits.

Besides the two machines brought to life earlier in the day (Props to Joel Favazza and those two engineer/machinist dudes who sneezed out their machines while the rest of us were still giggling every time Colin said “nuttrap.”), nobody is getting any plastic through. At the coffee station secret doubts are expressed. The tone is of a hospital drama in the middle of a mass-casualty triage: “I’m not sure mine’s gonna pull through. We’re doing everything we can. I don’t know how I’m gonna face the family if it doesn’t make it…”

Ours, which we quickly dubbed with the sci-fi robot villain name “SCULPTRON” (All Hail SCULPTRON!) is in critical condition. Every time we power up it makes a loud noise that resembles what I imagine C3PO’s farts would sound like. Servos are flitting around randomly as if to signal, “Help! SCULPTRON has been built by idiots! Why do you let me live like this! I beg you to KILL SCULPTRON in the name of mercy KILL MEEE!!!!”

SCULPTRON sounds and acts nothing like the two smoothly humming machines at the front assembled by students over the summer. These are happily tended by the clever teens and are cheerfully cranking out well-formed plastic doodads at a regular pace. It turns out these teens are the secret weapon of this whole project.

This kid saved our nerdy behinds.

Over the summer they did a week long session with some students and a few of the kits. They were taught how to build, program and use the devices culminating in a huge Mexican feast on the last day. Catch: you could only eat with utensils you had designed and printed. Those kids were undisputed heroes this weekend. They popped around to different tables, helped readjust parts here, gave advice there. They knew how all the wiring worked and could tell you what was wrong. One of them took a sidelong glance at SCULPTRON, who was now lurching around clumsily as if someone had served him the robotic equivalent of a half dozen scorpion bowls.

“Your mechanical parts look fine. Redo all your wiring.”

Huzzah, kid, you were exactly right! We found a mis-wired connection and reinserted one of the control motors on its pins from the motherboard and suddenly SCULPTRON was efficiently zipping around like his robot brethren at the front of the room (and no doubt thirsting for revenge against his human defilers).

Can I tell you the joy I felt when SCULPTRON first laid plastic? It wasn’t holding my kids for the first time (hey ladies, you are 3D printers too!) but it was in that direction. There will be those who claim I cranked up the speakers I’d brought to better hear Colin’s mumbling and danced about the room capering wildly to the 80’s pop hit “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor. That, people, is a lie. It was actually “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves. C’mon, Survivor? Really?

“It’s working! Have you ever seen something so beautiful?”

On Sunday the rest of the kits started to come to life. One by one we spun the tunes as a new table started making objects to the cheers of its builders and suddenly the room was filled with little fish, aliens, plastic cubes, frogs and other test items. An increasing number of kids, most of them elementary schoolers who could no longer be kept away by their parents, showed up and just took over. They instinctively began printing objects as we adults worked on getting the remaining kits up to speed.

How many did we get working you ask? 22, compadres. We got all but 5 printing and even those that weren’t completed are being finished off this week. After the immensely patient custodian finally kicked us out late Sunday night, I crashed on our couch at home, depleted. It took about three minutes for me to start getting texts, emails, IMs and messages from a few folks wondering how the machine they’d put hours into but had to abandon for parental responsibilities turned out. Also were elevated thank-yous, virtual high fives and literally teary well-deserved shout-outs to David and Amy. It really was a community event like no other I’ve ever been a part of. People were deep in this project, way deep. We’re still coming back to reality.

I want to say that I don’t think there a lot of places that could have done this. Where else do you find 600+ hours of competent volunteer time from people who will give up a whole weekend, and who have the DIY chops to throw together a complicated piece of hardware like this? To me it speaks of the best of Gloucester, the stuff that makes it impossible to consider ever living anywhere else. Fanatical devotion to each other, the unrepentant love of a crazy plan, dedicated visionaries to make it all work and a railtanker full of coffee.

Dear God we drank so much coffee.

To see a bunch more pics of the build click here

GloucesterCast With The Clam Creator James Dowd and Host Joey Ciaramitaro Taped 5/17/14

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GloucesterCast With The Clam Creator James Dowd and Host Joey Ciaramitaro Taped 5/17/14

podcasticon

 

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James Dowd And KT From Big Mike’s Bikes Have Started The Clam and Y’all Really Ought To Check It Out-

http://gloucesterclam.wordpress.com/

James Dowd Breaks Down Our "unoffical" just-for-fun completely non-scientific poll (Surprise Our Margin Of Error Was Better Than Gallup)

James writes-

You guys aren’t going to believe this-

But your average margin of error for your “unofficial” just-for-fun completely non-scientific poll was 2.48.

That’s better than Rassmussen

That’s better than Gallup

The only four errors of the poll were, and I predicted two of these:

-undershooting Romero: anybody knows that the Godmother is Queen. A huge portion of her people don’t take online polls.

-overshooting Lundberg- He still did well, but your sample favoured him higher than reality.

-Kimberly was a fluke, possibly due to her association with GMG. Known online but not IRL perhaps

-Favazza fizzled. The surprise of the night. Don’t know what happened there.

BUT OTHERWISE THIS THING WAS SO FUCKING SPOT ON
And the two big errors were easy to spot.

Amazing!!!!

jamesdowd says:

Here is the spreadsheet where I take the raw GMG numbers and compare them on the left to the outcome. On the right, for fun, I took the GMG numbers and then try and “correct” them- I did this the day before the election to see how accurate I could be, if I could improve on the raw. It turns out, if you were betting- GMG came in at a 2.48 margin of error, and my “corrected” numbers at 3.78 in the candidate-based questions. You would have been better off going with the GMG raw even thought it had some obvious errors like the Romero whiff and over-reporting/under-reporting support for some school committee candidates. GMG also loved it some Lundberg more than the rest of Glocuester, but it didn’t matter in the outcome.

My hypotheses as to why this is revolves around the fact that GMG probably accurately reflects the opinions of a large class of “likely voters” and is therefore more likely to push through the noise with it’s large sample size. It’s limits might be that it underepresents SoRo (south of the Rotary) to the favor of Eglo, Magnolia, Wheeler’s and outsiders. But still- 2.48? Amazingly close predictor.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AhVO8clhfCxjdGh5aWRvV2xOdVBjWElyWmxzS1RtcHc&usp=sharing#gid=0

Jim Dowd and The Why Gloucester Is Hipster (and that’s not a bad thing) Rant

Jim Dowd submits-

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I want to talk about an ugly word in the English language that’s come back into common usage. It’s a word that ends in “er” and is thrown around as a blanket descriptor to disparage a specific population of people. Usually it’s spat out of a passing car window or muttered under the breath as it becomes noticeable this group has taken over a favorite café or bar.

You hear it out for a beer with your once-cool uncle, the guy who dropped out of college in the seventies to follow The Grateful Dead. You assume he’s a tolerant dude, but as it turns out, oh no. He leans over to you and snarls through his Sam Adams, “Can you believe all the fukin’ hipsters in this place?”

Yes, I’m taking on the pejorative overuse of the word “hipster” which many of us knew before it got popular. For years it was a way to explain places like Brooklyn, Seattle, even our own Davis Square in Somerville. It described cities with large numbers of young people; places with organic art and music scenes and certain cultural touchstones like independent theatres, small coffee shops and used book and record stores. Those are the things that make a place “hipsterish” or as I call it “worth bothering to live in.”

But increasingly of late I hear more and more people hating on the actual members of this rather large and ill-defined sub-group, the hipsters themselves. They bash the hipsters’ choice of jeans (skinny) hipster’s facial hair (moustaches or beards) and the hipsters’ preferred form of transportation (fixed-gear bikes or “fixies”). It’s kind of relentless and a little bit lame considering many of us participated in the fashion apocalypses of the 70s and 80s. Hypocrisy aside, I’m not suggesting we avoid clowning hipsters because of some dumbass PC thing. The reason we can’t bash hipsters is, as the hipsters say, “Because Gloucester”.

Seriously gang, we are in no position to down hipsters seeing as Gloucester very simply is the most hipster town that’s ever existed on the face of the Earth. We make Portland Oregon look like frigging Wenham. Gloucester is so hipster we should have a giant fedora lowered onto the City Hall tower. So hipster that someone here driving a K-car wearing a silkscreened wolf sweatshirt with giant 80’s glasses ISN’T TRYING TO BE HISPTER. Let’s examine further, shall we?

Dive bars? Check. Thriving arts community? Check. Music scene that’s more than just a bunch of old dudes with ponytails playing three chord cover songs in lame bars? Check. Vintage vinyl outlet, bike shop, Thai food, sushi, indie bookstore, organic grocery, farmers’ market, coffee shops and other key elements of hiprfrastructure ? All check. Unapologetically gritty? Big fat checkity-check-check.

But most importantly the things that hipsters celebrate, the retro-style cultural items of the 70s and 80s never actually went away in Gloucester. Moustaches, for instance. We still got ‘em, unironically huge ones proudly sported by awesome Italian guys. Beat-up old cars and trucks from that era are still “in vogue” here; if “vogue” were translated to mean “I am keeping this POS running one more year, but only as an on-island.” Beyond appearances, for 400 years we’ve been a kind of “anything goes” culture. Everyone has permission to be a little nuts and oddballs of all stripes suffer no consequences. Far from it, being a whack job can be a badge of honor in “America’s Oddest Seaport”

Scroll up and down. A solid chunk of the stuff that gets celebrated on GMG is crazy-totes hipster. Photography, art, food, film, poetry and literature all = hipster. And I shouldn’t even need to point out that adults playing dodgeball in the winter is only slightly less hipster than donning a vest and joining Mumford and Sons as a back-up banjoist. You couldn’t invent a more hipster place if you tried, from historical art colony to ethnic identity to the fact that our key export is fishsticks, unarguably the most ironic food item ever produced.

“But what about the annoying skinny pants and the fixed-gear bikes?” In response to that complaint all I can ask is: Yell at clouds much? Because being vexed at other people’s fashion choices in no way makes you seem like the kind of person who would shout gibberish at the sky while shaking a cane, really.

The next criticism leveled at hipsters stems from the hallmark hipster “sarcastic and ironic attitude”. Look, every conference I go to for work is chock full of top strategists and analysts from business, science and the military. On the first slide of the presentations they give, we attendees are always informed that none of the old rules apply in the 21st century. They tell us that we simply don’t know what the new rules are yet. I won’t go off on a rail here, but young people already know this. They can tell that we, the responsible people who are supposedly running things, in fact have no fucking clue how to solve our problems when we even admit we have them. Irony and sarcasm then would therefore be what are called “emergent” properties.

I would further argue that the distinctly ironic bent to the hipster worldview is an entirely logical response to knowing they are being fed consistently incorrect and skewed information from the culture-at-large. Take a cold, hard look at the outdated assumptions we ask people to accept about everything from government to religion, from finances to the supposed benefits of consumer culture. Then look at the outcomes we’re experiencing. Sort of makes you want to drink cheap beer and listen to Death Cab, right?

But sarcastic or not, Gloucester fans and especially GMG readers should pray for a never-ending supply of Yo La Tengo-listening, four-barrel-espresso drinking tat-sleeved hipsters of the first order. If you love this town and what it represents you should get your ass down to Coolidge Corner and lay a trail of PBR tall boys and packs of American Sprit back here like a secret hobo trail. You know why? Because hipsters actually buy art. They spend seven bucks on coffee. The frequent both microbreweries and dive bars. They’re foodies but at the same time eat from taco trucks. Hipsters rent bikes, go to poetry readings and don’t get all pissy about a bunch of rotting fishing gear piled up on the waterfront. They instead post Instagrams of this gear with the caption “Spending a day at the seaside”.  

For every groovy restaurant that cannot survive on locals alone the answer is some flavor of visiting hipster. Locals can only buy so many objects d’art, can support only so many coffeehouses and will attend only a set number of photo exhibitions. If we want to move toward a creative economy we have no choice but importing cultural consumers. Look at what hipsters have done for the emerging scenes in Salem and Beverly. Both are getting hipper, you can see previously broken down neighborhoods sporting new cafes and shops because instead of going to malls hipsters seek authentic local culture. We can argue about the cod population off the coast, but a land-based resource Gloucester still maintains in huge stocks is persons of authentic indigenous “color”, just read the police notes. We need to start capitalizing on it.

“Isn’t this gentrification?” No. It’s not gentrification. Gentrification is townhouses, Starbucks, lame chain restaurants like “Not Your Average Joe’s” (correction: It is) and dudes in khakis that list the primary attribute they look for in a city as “abundant parking.” Hipsters don’t mind the rough edges and Gloucester has plenty. If you harbor an unreasonable hate for bikes, art-school-dropout-glasses and anachronistic hairstyles, tolerating them will be a small price to pay for visitors who’ll come downtown and spend eighty bucks on coffee, pie and locally made/vintage consumer goods. That money stays in town.

In closing, I’ll relate a discussion I had with my Irish cousin Chris about the then thriving city of Dublin. I was complimenting him about what an amazing job they had done keeping a heavy Victorian feel while so many other European cities were modernist dullscapes of concrete and glass, completely lacking in character of any kind (I used to go to Frankfurt a lot). He looked at me like I was some kind of moron and said, “Well it wasn’t some kind of preservationist council at work, James. We were fekin’ poor.”

Gloucester is not poor, nor rich nor is it anything easily definable. But like Dublin one way or another we held onto our undeniably authentic selves while so many other places became emblanded. Therefore we should heartily embrace those who put the most value on us as we are today, not as how we would be if we…(insert pet project).

So though it’s not a mainstream thing to do, as a start I’m asking you that the next time someone with tattoos from out of town is taking pictures with an instamatic camera of the same kind you threw out of your mother’s attic twenty years ago, don’t sneer and pretend you’re some kind of “normal” person who isn’t “weird”. Instead go up and say, “Thank you”. You probably have more in common with them than you realize.

Because, to somebody, you my friend are a fukin’ hipster.

“Make it look shitty.” James Dowd latest screed on cycling in Gloucester

Here is my latest screed on cycling in Gloucester. I had the Big Mikes folks build me “The Ultimate Gloucester Bike.” 

Hope all is well!

Jim


James Dowd writes-

“Make it look shitty.”

For those of you who have been following my Fifty Shades of Grey-esque relationship with Gloucester cycling, above is the first instruction I gave to the crew over at Big Mike’s Bikes when I tasked them with building me a custom bike from scratch.

“I want even the most hard-up thief to pass it over in favor of fishing pre-scratched lotto tickets out of the trash. I want the bike to give the impression that the owner dug it out of a pile of dredging spoils from a particularly nasty canal.”

“Can it have surface rust?” Mike asked. I think this was just an attempt to gauge my seriousness in this somewhat odd request.

“Can it? CAN it have surface rust? Michael my good man, if it does not have surface rust we’re going to have to ship it to Hollywood in order to have the professional prop distressers who worked on the Statue of Liberty for The Planet of the Apes have a solid go at it, savvy?”

They savvied. Oh, and how did they both savvy. The whole point of the surface rust was a key component in my secret plan to create the Perfect Gloucester Bike™. A bike that would have the following characteristics:

1. It must not present an attractive theft target to the station-zombies who have already sullied two of my nicer-looking locked bikes left there during my work hours up the line.

2. It has to be durable enough to manage the series of shell-craters and trench networks that pass for roads in our beloved burgh. Prospect Street, part of my commute, currently feels like riding from Lens to Ypres somewhere around 1915.

3. At the same time it would have to be fast enough to outrun the enraged pitbulls and their cleaver-wielding owners, maneuverable enough to evade the erratic traffic during prime self-medication hours and must be an overall a good enough ride to make it all worth it.

“No problem,” said Mike and KT. “Really?” I asked. “Really,” they said. “Really really?” I asked…they both stared at me. Conclusion: the Big Mike’s Bikes crew are very sweet, but are not to be trifled with when bikes are the topic.

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And ooh, dawg, were they right. The work of sheer brilliance you see depicted above and dubbed “Professor Farnsworth” is the ultimate stealth bike. It’s a vintage Raleigh Mountain Tour, an 80’s-era hybrid tour/mountain bike back from the day when manufactures weren’t quite so sure that Mountain biking was exactly going to catch on. It’s not surprising, the 80’s were a turbulent time; no one knew what the future was going to hold. The Bell System broke up (people under 40, look it up), Apple launched its Macintosh operating system in order to carve out a small niche for itself against technology titans Wang and Digital and the film Amadeus swept the nation and our hearts, kindling America’s burning passion for classical music and opera that persists to this day.

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[Check out this sweet ad for the bike back from 1984. No helmet? Check. Mork Vest? Check. Cargo panniers full of hair teasing products? Double check.]

But the real magic in this bike is not the vintage frame. The magic is the work done in the secret underground laboratory miles below Big Mike’s World Headquarters on Maplewood (next to MacDonald’s). This is where the rubber really meets the hunks of crumbling sidewalk.

This crappy looking bike defies its outward appearance and sports all upgraded components: shifters, bearings, wheels, tires, fenders, reflectors, integral lighting and gear racks making it a sweet and practical ride for commuting and errands, the bulk of my in-town bicycling. But all put together in a way that doesn’t give off the “this bike cost more than a two year community college degree” vibe that one so frequently gets from some of the bikes you see rolling around the wealthier towns of the North Shore.

This solidly-built customized bike, work included, cost me substantially less than even a bottom-line new one offered at a place like Target . Indulge me for a sec while I tell you what you get when you buy a new “bike” at a discount retailer.

First, think about the quality of the other products you get from those places and how you use them. You get a $25 coffee maker from Target, the handle breaks off, makes a mess of your counter and you clean it up and get a new one. No biggie, you don’t expect much more and Hell, for 25 bucks you could buy a new one every six months. Whatevs. Or you get a beanbag chair for the kids and after a couple of weeks (and having been used in an especially active game called “Invasion of the Giant Space Marshmallow”) it starts leaking those little white Styrofoam balls, you vacuum them up and throw it out. Wasteful? Yes. But not much more of a hassle than that.

Now lets think about the failure event that occurs on a cheap bike. It won’t fail sitting in your garage, oh no. It will fail when you’re trying to pull a Millennium-Falcon-in-the-asteroids maneuver that is the essence of Gloucester cycling. That won’t be a mess that will just clean up with a dust-buster and a sponge…unless you head-on one of those diesel freezer-haulers cranking around the wrong side of the blind corner on East Main. Ironically, in that case those are the exact tools the Fire Department guys will use to get the bulk of your remains into a consolidated container.

The point is we’re at a weird phase in the economy. “New” things at the lower and increasingly middle price points are frequently much, much crappier than older products that have been expertly rehabbed. This is just a fact of how things are made and sold now.

The good news with bikes is that there are a ton of great ones still around just waiting for someone to apply a little TLC and get them back on the road. Unlike mine, most of them don’t look like they spent the past few years locked to the mainmast of the Hesperus. And doing all this, in the end, leaves you with a much better bike for less money. Win, win.

As for me, I also need it to look shitty seeing as the Big Mike’s crew flat-out refused to build and install the first proposal I brought to them: a remote self-destruct mechanism for my nice mountain bike, centered around stuffing enough Czech-made Semtex plastic explosives down into the frame to disintegrate the thief down to purely elemental particles. So, failing that, (“explosives permits” they said. Bah!), this is a pretty solid plan B.

Video clip- Midsummer Nights Dream at East Gloucester Elementary From James Dowd

Most of what I think I do as a father is spend huge amounts of time reminding my kids about obvious things like that they can’t go outside in the rain wearing just socks on their feet. If someone said to me at that moment: "You kid and her class are capable of pulling off a pitch-perfect rendition of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream" I’d laugh out loud.

"You mean the kid outside in the rain with the socks on?"

But this is why we have schools and great teachers, to remind us occasionally that there are deep, deep wells of talent in those kids.  Beyond what we can imagine.

This clip is from East Gloucester Elementary fifth grade play, last night.
Tonight is sold out, but there may still be tix for the Sat matinee at 2.

Midsummer Night’s Dream at the East Gloucester School Photos From James Dowd

Hey Joe, enclosed are some stills from the dress rehearsal of A
Midsummer Night’s Dream at the East Gloucester School.

A couple of fun things to note:

1. As you can tell from the photos, all the costumes and set are
recycled and re-purposed. We used leftovers from home remodeling
projects, bits from other productions, an old fishing net for the
backdrop and the costumes are 100% attic and back-of-closet (Made
AWESOME by the extreme talents of Kelly Montagnino!) In fact, my
daughter Rebecca, the girl in the middle wearing white, is sporting a
rig made from components that includes a dress my wife used to wear
when we were in college. Somehow, it doesn’t seem that long ago.

2. As you probably can’t tell from the photos, a solid number of
adults went irretrievably insane putting this thing together. We had
every imaginable challenge, practically no budget, not a lot of time
and a school built during a period where postwar scarcity meant
exactly zero frills. I swear that the Globe Theater in London where
Shakespeare performed his plays in 1600 was more technically advanced
than EGS (though we have notably fewer plague rats). Remember that
scene in "Shakespeare in Love" when everything goes wrong but the
director says that it will all work out, even though he doesn’t know
how. "It’s a mystery," he says. It’s totally like that. In the end it
turned out way past our wildest expectations. Teamwork, time and crazy
amounts of talent were brought to bear. Incredible. The costumes and
set are almost as cool as the kids.

3. But OMG, the kids. They, on other hand, have been nothing but pure
amazing. The language, the emotion, the physical comedy. They just
picked it up and ran with it. Kids who you thought were quiet
wallflowers are up there belting out 400 year-old lines, calling
people "knaves" and just generally bashing this thing out with pure
style and grace. The play deals humorously with relationships- a
father wants his daughter to marry the guy he favors, but she wants to
be with a "bad boy", there is magic and tricks and every kind of
hilarious mix-up and our Gloucester public school kids just go totally
all-out with it. One kid said to me, "We get it. We totally get it. I
don’t know if our parents will, but we do." Oh those kids with their
hip-hop and their Shakespeare.
Anyway, shows Thursday and Friday at 7pm and the Saturday Matinee at
2. for tix email egsfifthgradeplay@gmail.com

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