Personal Cloud Storage with Syncthing and a Tiny Raspberry Pi Zero W Computer

Raspberry Pi Zero W v1.1

I like Syncthing, the continuous file synchronization program. Syncthing helps me pickup and continue my work regardless of the device I happen to be using, because it synchronizes my files across all devices. Think Dropbox but on my own hardware.

Also, I like tiny, low-power computers, like the Raspberry Pi 2. The Raspberry Pi and other lightweight computers demonstrate how even small computers are powerful enough for servers and desktop computing.

When Dropbox became more bloated with the new app design and refusing to offer a lower cost tier for those of us with modestly lower file synchronization needs, I began using Syncthing to create a folder of files synchronized between my desktop computer (at home) and my Surface Go (laptop used at work). I’ve been wanting to add a third node in my personal cloud storage solution, in part as an exercise in Linux and tiny computing and in part as another safe repository of my files. So, it made sense to combine my use of Syncthing with my enthusiasm for tiny computing by adding a third node to my Syncthing setup with a $10 Raspberry Pi Zero W (RPi0).

Raspberry Pi Micro USB Power Supply, Raspberry Pi Zero W, and C4 Labs Zebra Zero Black Ice Case

I picked up a RPi0 version 1.1, a C4 Labs Zebra Zero Black Ice Case with heatsink from Microcenter using their curbside pickup, which cost about $26 total.

I setup the RPi0 as a headless computer, meaning that it doesn’t have a monitor or keyboard attached. I will configure and control it remotely over my LAN.

Before turning to the software and preparing the microSD card for the RPi, I assembled the case and installed the heatsink on the CPU. A case for the RPi0 wasn’t necessary, but I thought it prudent to get one for two reasons: 1) I have a cat and a small thing with a wire sticking out might be enticing, and 2) I plan to leave it on all the time, so a heatsink like the one included in this case kit will help dissipate heat produced by the RPi0’s CPU.

Before powering up the RPi0, I downloaded Raspbian Lite (a lean version of the Linux-based Raspbian OS for the RPi), balena Etcher (to burn the installer image to my microSD card), PuTTY (to SSH into the RPi0 to configure, administer, and install software), and Apple’s Bonjour network printer software (to easily connect to the .local hostname of the RPi0).

Then, I followed Mitch Allen’s excellent directions for setting up a headless RPi0.

Next, I followed these detailed directions for installing and configuring Syncthing to launch and load automatically when the RPi0 is powered up.

Since I installed Apple’s Bonjour software as part of Mitch Allen’s instructions above, I was able to easily connect to the RPi0’s Syncthing web admin page by going to “raspberrypi.local:8384” on my desktop’s web browser.

Before setting up Syncthing to sync files, I wanted to lockdown the web admin page by going to Actions > Settings > GUI where I checked “Use HTTPS for GUI” and added a “GUI Authentication User” and “GUI Authentication Password”.

As a test, I rebooted the RPi0 and confirmed that Syncthing launched automatically at bootup and confirmed that authentication was required to access the web admin page remotely.

Also, I made sure that I had Syncthing running on the desktop computer and the RPi0. Due to some initial problems with syncing, I unlinked my desktop and Surface Go from syncing, and moved the files and folders out of my default sync folder so that the sync folder is empty to begin with.

Then, I added a remote device to Syncthing on my desktop PC and on the RPi0 (both installations of Syncthing have to have the other device added).

On each Syncthing web admin page click “Add Remote Device” to add the other computers that you want to sync

First, on each computer (in my case, the desktop PC and the RPi0), click “Add Remote Device” on the Syncthing web admin page.

Enter the Device ID generated by Syncthing on the other computer. On my local network, it auto-suggested the ID of the desktop PC on the RPi0 and vice versa.

Second, on the “Add Device” screen that appears, type in the Device ID of the other computer. In my case, Syncthing auto-suggested the Device ID of the desktop PC when I was configuring the RPi0 and vice versa since these devices are on the same local area network.

On the Sharing tab, check all three boxes

Third, click on the “Sharing” tab on the “Add Device” screen, and check all three boxes: Introducer tells connected devices to add devices from the other synced devices, Default Folder is what folder is being shared, and Auto Accept will automatically include new folders created or shared within the default shared path. Finally, click “Save.”

After adding each other device on each Syncthing installation, they should begin syncing the default folder. I added one file back on my desktop PC to test this. After that file synced on both devices, I added my files back and they began syncing with the RPi0.

The final step in my setup was to add the Surface Go as another remote device. After starting Syncthing on the Surface Go, I added it to the desktop PC and I added the desktop PC to the Surface Go’s Syncthing configuration. While the Surface Go began copying files, the RPi0 added the Surface Go as a remote device automatically. Now, all three devices sync my files.

A better configuration would be to have the RPi0 off-site so that my files would be protected from burglary or fire. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend Syncthing as a foolproof backup solution that gives you the same sense of security as off-site storage unless you can arrange to have your files off-site (then, I would recommend going further than what I did and have your RPi0’s drive encrypted to protect your files should the off-site device be compromised).

For my purposes, using Syncthing on two work-focused devices and one tiny RPi0 computer server gives me some peace of mind through an additional layer of redundancy.

Now, I want to explore what else I can have this RPi0 do as a headless server!

Reflections for the Open Pedagogy Event on Access Beyond the ADA, Thursday, 9/19/19

Jason Ellis' Boy Scouts Merit Badge sash with 40 badges, including Handicap Awareness.
Jason Ellis’ Boy Scouts Merit Badge sash with 40 badges, including Handicap Awareness.

On Thursday, 9/19/19, the OpenLab, which I joined as a Co-Director this academic year, is hosting an Open Pedagogy event on “Beyond the ADA” at City Tech in the Faculty Commons at 4:30pm. We will lead a discussion about issues of access, including those related to disabilities, while looking beyond compliance to dynamic, inclusive, and supportive pedagogies that enrich learning for all students. OpenLab’s theme for this academic year is “Access.”

While reading through the suggested texts informing the background of our discussion, I reflected on my personal, workplace, and classroom experiences relating to access.

My first memory of disabilities relates to my Uncle Pat. After returning from Vietnam, he started a family in Walnut Grove, Alabama and worked for the railroad. While at work cutting an in-service rail, another truck accidentally bumped his truck, which ran over him and left him a quadriplegic. On visits, I saw first hand how he overcame him disability through mobility with a puffer-controlled electric wheelchair, but the constraints of 24-hour nursing care and accessible buildings were also obviously apparent. Nevertheless, he always trounced me at chess–I just had to setup the board and move the pieces.

In my hometown, Emory Dawson was another quadriplegic that I knew through Boy Scouts. His injury originated from the Vietnam War and he had some shoulder mobility, which enabled him to drive his own van with the aid of a suicide knob and special controls for brake, throttle, and shifting. In addition to Scouts, Mr. Dawson was involved in many social groups and charities, and he led an active life to support them. I don’t know if it was *the* factor in its construction, but a fellow Scout took on the building of a concrete wheel chair ramp for a rank-level project at Troop 224’s hut in the back of Lakeside United Methodist Church on 341 Highway and Mr. Dawson visited our meetings on occasion.

It was during that time that I earned my Handicap Awareness merit badge on Feb. 5, 1990, which you can see on the seventh row of the image above of my Boy Scout merit badge sash with the International Symbol of Access surrounded by a green circle. The requirements of the merit badge focused on learning about disabilities and gaining an empathetic awareness of disabilities through simulated impairments of hearing, sight, manual, and mobility. Less visible disabilities were outside the scope of that component of the merit badge’s requirements, but they could be reintroduced through the learning and outreach components (but this was not, as I remember, something that I was cognizant of at that time).

I wondered how the merit badge might have changed since I earned it, and I’m glad to report that it had changed for the better, I think. In 1993, the merit badge was renamed as Disabilities Awareness, and its requirements shifted from personal simulation of physical impairments to learning first hand from others’ lived experience, identifying accessibility issues in the community, and performing advocacy for better accessibility. There was an advocacy element to Handicap Awareness (publicly sharing what you’ve learned with others), but Disabilities Awareness foregrounds this in a more integrated fashion. It would be interesting to read the merit badge series handbooks for the former and latter versions of this merit badge, but I only have access to the requirements while writing this blog post.

When I worked in Technical Support at Mindspring Internet in Atlanta, Georgia, I was tasked with working with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing via a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD). With a single line of LCD text and a running paper tape, I communicated with deaf customers to solve their technical support issues. Unfortunately, many customers had their TDD in a different room, different floor, different part of the house, than their computer. This introduced a tremendous lag between what I wrote questioning or instructing and their response following a result. Also, I was given this extra task to supplement my lower-than-expected phone support numbers (It’s my understanding that Mike McQuary pushed raw number of support calls over the quality of calls and successful resolution of customer issues–valuing quantitative measures over the qualitative effects of those measures on customers and employees). So, I was on the phone with one customer and on the TDD with another customer. Over time, I got better at switching my attention between customers, but more often than not, the customers on the TDD got the short end of the stick as my phone call numbers were given priority by management (QA Brian: “You’ve got to take more calls or you’ll get fired.”). It was an unfair situation for the deaf and hard of hearing customers.

When I began teaching, I worked with a student on the autistic spectrum. This was a challenging situation for the student as the reported accommodations couldn’t support their success in the classroom, and I took it on myself to provide additional support to help the student progress in the course. I was advised that there was only so much that I could do to support the student, and I should have, in retrospect, dialed back my professional involvement. Nevertheless, this student did help me recognize another side of student needs and the impediments to access that students on the spectrum encounter. I have adjusted my syllabi to be more accommodating to students–self-reporting or not–through multiple activities and assignment adjustments on a one-by-one basis (as long as course learning outcomes are always met).

Another student had a severe vision impairment and had reported accommodations, including a phone with magnifying app for reading text and a student volunteer note-taker. While the classroom and supporting material could be adjusted to support the student when present, outside life prevented the student from attending some classes. This led to testy encounters between myself and the note taker, who felt their time being wasted, and follow-up conversations between myself and the student to facilitate peace between the student and note taker so that support would be maintained. Of course, life outside of school was creating a different kind of access problem for this student–getting to campus was a hurdle in part due to the student’s vision problem and the issues that can come up in one’s personal life that lead to problems, such as not having someone to help you navigate from home to campus.

I’ve come to realize that there are things that I can do to help as an instructor–those things that I have control over, such as pedagogy, syllabi, assignments, activities, and one-on-one support, and there are many other things outside the classroom that I don’t have control over. Also, the Open Pedagogy event conversation and the work that we can do together to increase access and lower barriers–in the classroom, online, on campus, and in our lived world–for students and faculty with disabilities is something that we must endeavor to accomplish.

In addition to the informative readings OpenLab Digital Pedagogy Fellow Jesse Rice-Evans assembled for the Open Pedagogy event, I found these additional readings useful for my thinking:

Adams, Rachel, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin. “Disability.” Keywords for Disability Studies, edited by Rachel Adams, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin, NYU Press, 2015, 5-12.

Campbell, Kumari. “Ability.” Keywords for Disability Studies, edited by Rachel Adams, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin, NYU Press, 2015, 12-14.

Mullaney, Clare. “Disability Studies: Foundations & Key Concepts.” JSTOR Daily, 13 April 2019, https://daily.jstor.org/reading-list-disability-studies/. Accessed 18 Sept. 2019.

Williamson, Bess. “Access.” Keywords for Disability Studies, edited by Rachel Adams, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin, NYU Press, 2015, 14-16.

Talking Science Fiction with Neil deGrasse Tyson on StarTalk Radio

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Jason Ellis in Dr. Tyson’s Office at the AMNH Planetarium.

I had the distinct honor to join the conversation about science fiction and society on Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk Radio Show on May 30, 2019 (season 10, episode 22). The episode is about Creating Science Fiction, with Gale Anne Hurd, the producer of The Terminator and The Walking Dead. I shared some thoughts on Hugo Gernsback’s formula for “scientifiction,” H.G. Wells and Sir Ernest Swinton’s legal fight over the modern battle tank, the power of SF to engage social issues and debate, and my personal, lifelong relationship to SF. You can listen to the episode here or embedded below:

About the episode from the StarTalk website:

The Terminator, The Walking Dead, Aliens, and a lot more. Those are just some of the producing credits for this week’s main guest on StarTalk Radio. Neil deGrasse Tyson sits down with producer-extraordinaire Gale Anne Hurd to explore what it takes to bring great science fiction to life. Neil is joined by comic co-host Chuck Nice, science fiction expert Jason Ellis, PhD, and volcanologist Janine Krippner, PhD.

Because science fiction comes in many different forms and through many different avenues, there are many ways to get into it. You’ll learn how Gale’s childhood love of Marvel comic books and science fiction novels translated into a career “making what she likes to see.” She tells us how she served as a science fiction consultant to her local library to make sure their stock was up to date. Jason shares why not being able to see Star Wars in the theater sparked a rebellious love for science fiction.

You’ll hear about the history of science fiction and how it combines the STEM fields and the humanities. We debate if science fiction informs the future of every technological invention. You’ll find out about a lawsuit H.G Wells brought upon military figureheads because he claimed they stole his idea from one of his science fiction stories. Explore using science fiction as social commentary. Discover more about the famous kiss between Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura, and how William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols purposely flubbed takes to make sure it stayed in the episode.

We take a deep dive into Dante’s Peak as volcanologist Janine Krippner stops by to share her take on the film. She explains why she thinks it’s still the best volcano movie even with its flaws. Gale gives us a behind-the-scenes look on how she fought for even more scientific realism to be in the film but encountered pushback from the studio. Neil also confronts Gale on the famous scientific inaccuracies of Armageddon. Chuck shares his love for The Expanse, we discuss Interstellar, and Neil tells us about his involvement in The Europa Report.

Lastly, you’ll also find out the differences between creating science fiction for television and film. According to Hugo Gernsback, the father of science fiction, sci-fi should be 75% romance and 25% science – is that still the goal? All that, plus, Jason caps it off with a story on how he was criticizing the film Sunshine right in front of director Danny Boyle’s family.

“Creating Science Fiction, with Gale Anne Hurd.” StarTalk Radio, 30 May 2019, https://www.startalkradio.net/show/creating-science-fiction-with-gale-anne-hurd/.

Remembering Aunt Lettie Ann (1942-2019) and Uncle William “Doc” Cook (1941-2015)

Uncle Doc (William Cook) and Aunt Lettie Ann at their home in 2009.

My Aunt Lettie Ann Cook passed away on May 17, 2019. I flew to my hometown to fulfill her request that I speak at her funeral and serve as a pallbearer. Her husband of 54 years, William Cook, who I knew as Uncle Doc, had preceded her in death in 2015.

They were both good people, who I and many others miss. I am reminded of fun-filled childhood pool parties at their house–one being particularly memorable during which I used a snorkel face mask for the first time and I played with my cousin Mark’s bad-ass Boba Fett action figure. That was probably around 1981. Or, learning from Aunt Lettie Ann how she made ceramic sculptures. Or, learning from Uncle Doc how to melt lead for my pinewood derby racer, use a scroll saw and drill press, and work with wood to make storage chests and other things. Or, enjoying cookouts featuring Aunt Lettie Ann’s great home cooking at their house after they moved from Brunswick to Hortense. And above all, reveling in their open door hospitality.

Uncle Doc died suddenly in 2015, and I was regrettably unable to return for his funeral. Before Aunt Lettie Ann died, she asked my dad to help me fly down and speak at her funeral as I had done for my Granny Ellis in 2012. The week before last, I said these words for her:

Remembering Aunt Lettie Ann

My dad tells me that my Aunt Lettie Ann had asked him while she was still lucid that I speak at her funeral. I’m saddened that it’s on this occasion that I am speaking with you today, but I consider it an honor to do this small thing for her.

I wanted to begin by sharing with you a seemingly mundane yet meaningful dream that I had three weeks ago, the night after I learned Aunt Lettie Ann was back in the hospital. To be honest with you, I don’t put much truck in dream visitations or other forms of clairvoyance, but this dream’s timing and content unnerved me.

The dream begins with me standing in the foyer of Aunt Lettie Ann’s fine house on Baker Hill Road. I see her descending the steep stairs slowly and carefully with her hands clutching the railing, but her face is beaming, and she says that she’s so glad to see me. After sharing a big hug, she tells me that I need to eat. Leaving me to sit at the extended dining room table with low sunlight entering the windows, she fusses in the kitchen to quickly prepare something for me. Then, while plying me with her delicious home cooking, she asks, how are you doing, how’s my sweet pea—that’s Yufang, my wife, what are you both up to? Answering her questions, I never got to ask how she was before I was suddenly awake.

That dream lingered in my mind throughout her ordeal. I hoped that it was more like a good memory than a kind of goodbye. I can say that it brought back many happy memories of Aunt Lettie Ann showing her unconditional love and care, such as birthdays and Christmases, visits to see her when I was at home from school or work, and times that she hosted me when Uncle Doc, who you might have known as Bill or Wilbur or grandpa or dad—helped me on Scouting projects. And, it reminded me how she demonstrated her love and care in other ways, such as wanting to know how you are and what you’re up to—listening equally about your triumphs and failures, your good health and bad, and even your daily trifles—before sharing her own, in which she emphasized the positive over the negative and made light of her own troubles; needing to take care of you and make sure that you’re comfortable and well fed; giving deeply personal gifts—in fact, thinking to get Christmas presents for our cats Miao Miao and Mose who she didn’t even have a chance to meet; and above all else striving to make you feel loved and special. However, Yufang told me that it is more than that—the feeling of being loved by Aunt Lettie Ann remains with you even after you say goodbye and you carry her love with you wherever you might go next. I think she’s absolutely right.

I share with you all a tremendous sadness that Aunt Lettie Ann is no longer here to love and care for us. I know we will all miss her great big hugs, her delicious cooking and get-togethers, and her looking out for us. However, I am deeply heartened to know that her love is still all around us, because we each carry it in our hearts and memories. I encourage you to cherish Aunt Lettie Ann’s love as a celebration of her life, an enduring remembrance of who she was, and a reminder of the kind of person who we should all strive to be.

Reprint of My Article, “Decoding the Origins of H. G. Wells’s ‘The Land Ironclads’ and Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton’s Tank” Now Available in Short Story Criticism, Vol. 264

British_Mark_I_male_tank_Somme_25_September_1916
British Mark I Tank. This is photograph Q 2486 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 1900-09).

My article on the public debate between H. G. Wells and Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton about who originated the idea of a motorized, armored weapons platform or tank, which first appeared in The Wellsian: The Journal of the H. G. Wells Society (no. 33, 2010, pp. 42-57) is now available as a reprint in Short Story Criticism, Volume 264 (edited by Catherine C. DiMercurio, Prod. Layman Poupard. Gale, Cengage, 2018, pp. 256-265).

N.B.: Gale’s Short Story Criticism series is an excellent resource for scholars and students to easily and quickly learn the discourse on a particular author’s short story oeuvre. These volumes collate scholarship from a wide variety of academic journals on the works of a particular author. For example, Short Story Criticism, Volume 264 includes three sections of collected articles for these writers: Mary Caponegro, Mahasweta Devi, and H. G. Wells. I believe that the series is a good addition to libraries serving the needs of English departments and literature programs, because it provides a wide array of research on its selected authors for convenient access to scholarship.

LEGO Skateboarding Vert Ramp and Street Skating MOC, and Exploring Connections Between Skateboarding and Making

img_20190103_223812
My Skateboarding Vert Ramp and Street Skating Model

I began this new LEGO MOC (my own creation) project while reading Michael Brooke’s The Concrete Wave: The History of Skateboarding (1999) and after assembling my Mike McGill re-issued skateboard.

Some ideas from skateboarding culture inspired this project. First, there’s the tension between Thrasher’s “Skate and Destroy” and Transworld Skateboarding’s “Skate and Create.” The former appearing in the December 1982 issue and the latter appearing in response in its first issue in May/June 1983. When I first skated, I didn’t know about this difference of ethos, but I can say that I was drawn to reading Transworld Skateboarding more so than ThrasherTransworld’s ethos of making something from the act of skateboarding fits well with my own attitude of doing good in the world through teaching and making (as opposed to wrapping the act of destruction into an aggressive skating attitude–understanding, of course, there is a certain amount of hyperbole in this motto and more back story worth investigating–see the interview by Adam Creagan with Craig Stecyk in Thrasher March 2010, pp. 80-81, and Konstatin Butz’s Grinding California, pp. 73).

Second, many skaters talk about riding as an act of self-expression, creativity, and doing. While the act of skating is ephemeral, skaters build analogies between the sport and other creative endeavors such as writing, playing, painting, expression, and language. For example: Rodney Mullen writes, “[Skateboarding] has been the arena where I could stake my claim, the play where I would contribute my verse, and even the pen with which I write” (qtd. in Brookle 11).  Chris Long writes, “‘How glad I am that I skateboard’ . . . finding my own lines and creating my own ways of playing” (qtd. in Brooke 173). Darrel Delgado writes, “Skateboarding in a pool is like being a painter, and every new pool is a blank canvas and you are the artist. Every artist has a different approach and every pool is different, which keeps the intrigue alive. You can go wherever your mind and the transitions will let you go” (qtd. in Brooke 135). Mike Valleley writes about finding skateboarding, “I got an identity and something productive. It was creative, physical activity and I used my entire being to do it” (qtd. in Brooke 137). Tony Alva writes, “Just do something that’s in tune with an individual type of expression. I think that’s what’s so important about skateboarding” (qtd. in Brooke 175). Dave Hackett writes, “Pure and simple, [skateboarding is] a healthy, radical art form. . . . Skateboarding utilizes the every-expanding environment of steel, concrete, plaster, or wood as its canvas. . . . The skater becomes one with his board, while the board in turn translates the language of the terrain” (qtd. in Brooke 176). On these points, I think skateboarding and LEGO building overlap–in both cases, skateboarding and making, the fulfilling goal is creative and imaginative expression through a given medium–the former being the assemblage of body, skateboard, and terrain, and the latter being the assemblage of builder and brick.

I wanted to combine different aspects of skateboarding into a single model. I grew up with street skating, because there weren’t any local skate parks (though, I have discovered in my research that there was a skate park in Brunswick in the late-1970s called Nova Skate Park–more on that in a future post). But, I always wanted to skate vert and pipes, so I thought about combining what I knew with what I wanted to learn.

I got the idea for the ramp’s vert and transition design from LEGO 60200 Capital City set, which has one component that is a combined skateboard ramp/wall climb/basketball court. It uses dark grey inverted arches for the transition, which I agreed was the best choice of brick–albeit in tan color to emulate the color of wood–for the ramp that I had in mind.

img_20190104_172507
Brainstorming and calculating dimensions in studs. 

The next consideration was how large a model to make. I knew that I would have to purchase the inverted arch bricks for the ramp, so I looked for a seller with a good price and selection of elements that would help me realize the idea crystalizing in my mind. Alphabrix, a seller with great feedback had 20 tan, inverted arch bricks, which would let me build a 10-stud wide ramp. I figured that its length should be at least double its width, if not more. Ultimately, I settled on a 10-stud wide ramp with a 28 stud length including both tables. This allowed two studs on either side of the ramp for stairs if I went with an overall length of 32 studs for the model. Since I opted for a 32 stud length, I figured that a 16 stud width for the overall model would be enough to add a street skating scene in the model’s foreground.

After receiving the Bricklink parts and sorting out some necessary elements from my collection, I built the vert ramp first. Even though this would occupy the rear part of the model, it would dominate the model and be its focus. I wanted to get it right. I thought about how I would build a real one. I wanted a steel foundation that would be elevated off the ground. The ramp and tables would be made out of wood. As a new ramp, I wanted to give it a little bit of style with alternating color–light and dark tan tiles emulating different sheets of plywood. On the right side, I wanted a sloping launch that divided two drops on the front and back–this was a ramp design that I saw many years ago that gave the skaters a divided coping for new trick opportunities.

With the vert ramp complete, I turned my attention to the base and its foregrounded street skating area comprising 6 studs by 32 studs. The bottom of the base are dark grey plates supporting a circumference of Technic bricks and filled in with 2 x 4 bricks. I covered the surface mostly with tan 4 x 6 plates. I built up a curb with 1 x 4 and 1 x 6 bright yellow plates covered with the same colored tiles. Within that area, I filled in with a single layer of light grey tiles–some with single studs and the rest without to allow placement of obstacles like barrels and trash cans, which can be skated around or ollied over. Finally, I put concrete cones down to support the ramp behind the street skate area.

Finally, I combined the vert ramp with the base and its street skate area. I used yellow, dark blue, and orange tiles to skirt the Technic bricks around the base. The vert ramp’s coping permits posing of skaters doing hand plants. In the foreground, I added a stereo (probably playing an eclectic mix of They Might Be Giants, The Beastie Boys, and Technotronic) and snacks including pizza and cookies (shredding fuel).

Usually, it takes me several days to weeks to complete a build like this, which I have chronicled on other blog posts. However, I built this model in a single evening. I think my mind had been working on the project while I waited for the needed bricks to arrive in the mail. Even though I wasn’t haptically manipulating the bricks in my hands, I was daydreaming and imagining how to put the model together at odd times between placing the brick order and receiving them in the mail.

While imagining myself shredding on my completed LEGO skateboarding model and thinking about picking up my McGill deck to hit the streets with, I’m reminded of the Kevin J. Thatcher’s first editorial in the January 1981 issue of Thrasher: “The average individual was never properly exposed to the unlimited possibilities of a platform with four wheels under it–a simple basic mechanical device which serves as an energy-efficient mode of transportation, a basis for a valid sporting activity, and as a vehicle for aggressive expression. . . . Thrashing is finding something and taking it to the ultimate limit–not dwelling on it, but using it to the fullest and moving on. Skateboarding has not yet reached its maximum potential, and who can say what the limits are? To find out–Grab that board!” (6). Grab that board, grab that LEGO brick, grab that camera, grab whatever it is that you can express yourself with, because that is the thing with which you can leave your mark on the world.

Works Cited

Brooke, Michael. The Concrete Wave: The History of Skateboarding. Warrick Publishing, 1999.

Butz, Konstatin. Grinding California: Culture and Corporeality in American Skate Punk. Transcript Verlag, 2012.

Creagan, Adam. “Skate and Destroy: The Stecyk Scrawl Lives On.” Thrasher, March 2010, pp. 80-81.

Lowboy. “Skate and Destroy, or Multiple Choices (Something to Offend Everyone).” Thrasher, December 1982, pp. 24-29.

Thatcher, Kevin J. “Talking Ed.” Thrasher, January 1981, pp. 6.

Tracker Peggy (Peggy Cozens). “Skate and Create.” Transworld Skateboarding, May/June 1983, pp. 13-15.

Miao Miao (2005-2018)

IMG_5118
Miao Miao taking a nap in 2012.

Our little cat Miao Miao passed away on December 26, 2018 after a battle with cancer. She was 13 years and 8 months old. Y rescued Miao after her mother had abandoned her when she was only a few weeks old in 2005. She was sick and small, but Y nursed her back to health and adopted her as part of her family.  I came to know Miao beginning in 2008, after I met Y at Kent State. Soon, I became a part of the family, too. Miao was strong willed but also very loving. When we had guests over, she was an enthusiastic host. She brightened our days, which now seem diminished without her around. Even though Miao never really took to our younger cat Mose, we can tell that he grieves in his own way for her, too. She will be dearly missed.

Memories of Skateboarding and Nostalgic Assembly of a Re-Issued Mike McGill Powell-Peralta Skull & Snake Skateboard

complete-mcgill-skateboard-top-and-bottom.jpg
My Mike McGill Pro Model “Skull and Snake” Re-Issue Series 5 by Powell-Peralta, Complete with Gullwing Pro III Trucks and Sector Nine Nineballs Wheels.

This is a long read that combines autobiography, nostalgia, memory, and instructions. Visitors here might find it interesting and informative. My students might use it as a model for some of their own multimodal writing about memory, processes, instructions, and reflection.

While it has been over 25 years since I last rode a skateboard with my hometown friends, I recently felt drawn to the 7-ply deck once again and decided to assemble a board similar to my second skateboard–a 1990 Powell-Peralta Mike McGill pro board with VCJ’s Skull & Snake graphics, fish shape, nose and tail kicks, natural wood grain with Gullwing Pro III trucks (red), and Powell-Peralta Rat Bones wheels (neon green).

Before I got my original McGill deck, I learned to skateboard on a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles complete skateboard that my grandparents–Wilma and Papa Gerald–bought for me from the Wal-Mart on Altama Avenue in Brunswick, Georgia (since replaced by a Supercenter about a mile away, and then the original site re-built as a Neighborhood Market a few years ago).

With the TMNT skateboard, I learned how to balance, turn, and ride on my grandparent’s back car port. At first, I held on to a broom handle to steady myself until I felt confident enough to ride without this support. I don’t think I had a helmet, but I did have pads and wrist guards–the former store bought neon green plastic over black, and the latter used, red, gifted or traded for–I can’t remember.

I rode and shared the TMNT skateboard with my friends who I paled around with when I stayed at my grandparents. However, I wanted to learn how to ollie and do tricks, but I found this to be next to impossible on the heavy, tank-like TMNT board. This is what began my search for a better board, relying heavily on the photo stories and advertising in magazines such as Transworld Skateboarding and Thrasher, and eventually led to me mail ordering the McGill deck and new hardware (was this a Christmas gift from my grandparents or my folks–again, my memory falters).

With the new McGill, I continued skating through the beginning of high school, but I drifted away from the sport when I got more interested in books (physics first, science fiction second), computers (Amiga, IBM-compatible PCs, and eventually, Macintosh), and cars (my first being a 1965 Ford Mustang, but always having a soft spot for the small Toyota pickup trucks that I used to deliver auto parts from my family’s business).

I don’t remember what became of my McGill. I suspect that I gave it to a friend before going to college where I really got into Rollerblading, but my memory fails completely on this point. I hope that I can remember what happened to my old McGill skateboard, not because I want it back, but instead simply to recall that moment in my life’s narrative. Related to this is the fact that I don’t seem to have any photos of me with my skateboard (though I do have a photo of me holding my Rat Bones wheels on Christmas Day). It’s an odd omission in the photographic record of my life of something I considered important to me at that early time in my life.

hackers-the-plague-mcgill-skateboard.png
In the film Hackers (1995), The Plague (Fisher Stevens) rides into the NOC on a McGill skateboard while Hal (Penn Jillette) studies the situation.

My re-interest in skateboarding began when I was watching the film Hackers (1995) in HD. I don’t think it registered with me when I first saw it when it was originally released that the film’s villain, The Plague (Fisher Stevens), rides into his company’s NOC (network operations center) on a McGill skateboard (see above).

Then, I caught up with my oldest best friend Bert over the phone. He lives in Seattle now, but back in the day, we used to skateboard in his neighborhood. Bert was a much better skater than me. Our conversation drifted back to skateboarding, including the time that he and I were stopped by a cop on our way back from a Hampton Inn construction site. The obese, good ol’ boy police officer asked us questions about what we had been doing and he stopped when he pointed his flashlight on our boards. Bert skated Vision, and I skated Powell-Peralta. The cop took a breath through his teeth and said, “now boys, I’ve done heard things about that POW-ell Per-AL-ta. They’s devil worshipers!” Bert and I smiled and nodded until he let us go on our way back to his house, but it’s a strange encounter that’s stuck with me.

Our phone conversation encouraged me to begin searching the web for information about my old skateboard. This led me to the Bones Brigade video The Search for Animal Chin (1987), which I shared with Bert via text message. By this point, I was thinking and spending more free time learning more about skating history and its evolution after I had left the sport.

While I was already burdened by a big research project on computers in science fiction from 1975-1995, which I’m continuing to work on, and the Third Annual City Tech Science Fiction Symposium, which I was organizing, I wanted to give myself something on the horizon to look forward to as a reward for this work. I decided to get the parts to build a new, complete skateboard similar to one that I had to before without breaking the bank, so I turned to eBay after striking out with the major skateboard online retailers and local shops, such as Uncle Funky’s Boards.

mcgill-skateboard-top-and-bottom.jpg

While I couldn’t find my original McGill with a natural finish, I did find this brand new, black dipped, Series #5 re-issue on offer by a seller in Puerto Rico. We negotiated a best offer price, and I received it before anything else.

IMG_20181208_154036.jpg

I picked up a Gullwing Pro III trucks, wheels, bearings, risers, hardware combo from Raptorunner in Riverside, CA, and I ordered a Powell Peralta Tailbone and Jessup grip tape (and a helmet and pads) from TGM Skateboards in Mount Clemens, MI.

IMG_20181208_154142.jpg

My original Gullwing Pro III trucks were cherry red and stood out well against the natural grain of the board. I liked these new 9″, 155mm neon green ones, because they stand out against the black background on the new, black McGill deck. Also, my re-issued McGill deck uses the old truck bolt pattern, so I chose between these (note that the base plate has six bolt holes instead of four–to accommodate both old and new bolt patterns) and Independent Stage 11 169mm trucks. Ultimately, I opted for the Gullwings since I skated with them before.

IMG_20181208_154216.jpg

Raptorunner had several different truck, wheel, and hardware bundles. I chose this one, because it had these Sector Nine Nineballs wheels. They aren’t too big (I would have preferred 56mm) and they are real soft (78a), which will be good for the street crusing that I intend to use the skateboard for.

IMG_20181208_155501.jpg

To begin my skateboard’s assembly, I began with the Tailbone before applying the grip tape. I clamped the tail guard to the bottom of the deck’s tail and measured to ensure it was centered.

IMG_20181208_160002.jpg

Then, I used a small drill bit to lightly mark where I should drill the larger holes for the wood screws that will go through the top of the board into the Tailbone.

IMG_20181208_160143.jpg

I used the grip tape shipping tube to support the deck while I was drilling.

IMG_20181208_160631.jpg

Powell-Peralta’s instructions for the Tailbone call for a 7/32″ drill bit. Unfortunately, I didn’t have one in this size. I didn’t want to go with a larger hole (1/4″), so I tried the 3/16″ bit. Luckily, this was more than enough room for the wood screws to pass through the board without biting and then go into the Tailbone.

IMG_20181208_160345.jpg

Using my earlier marks, I drilled three holes through the deck’s tail. These will be used later for mounting the Tailbone.

IMG_20181208_160857.jpg

Before mounting the Tailbone, I applied the Jessup grip tape. I bought 10″ wide grip tape, which is just barely wide enough to give some room for error with the front of the deck. If I had to do over again, I would have opted for the 11″ wide grip tape.

I wanted the Bones Brigade logo to appear on the top of the deck, so I needed to apply two sections of grip tape–one above it towards the nose and one below it towards the tail. I measured these lengths twice and cut the length of grip tape into two sections allowing some room for error in terms of length. I used the pre-cut edges as the beginning of application above or below the Bones Brigade logo. I slowly lowered and pressed the grip tape to the deck so as to avoid any air bubbles under the tape.

IMG_20181208_162618.jpg

With the tape applied, I used the barrel’s edge of a screw driver to draw a scoring line around the edge of the skateboard deck.

IMG_20181208_162653.jpg

Then, I used a razor blade held from underneath the board to follow the edge of the board and cut the excess grip tape off along the scoring line.

IMG_20181208_162821.jpg

Next, I pressed the grip tape down around the edges of the deck.

IMG_20181208_162828.jpg

I ran a rolled up piece of excess grip tape around the edge of the deck to give the grip tape a clean edge all away around.

IMG_20181208_162906.jpg

With the grip tape applied, I used a screw driver to punch through all of the holes in the deck for the trucks and Tailbone.

IMG_20181208_163309.jpg

Next, I installed the tailbone by pushing through wood screws and matching them to the holes in the Tailbone.

IMG_20181208_163305.jpg

While I had a cordless drill on-hand, I preferred to install these screws by hand. I was afraid of over torquing the screws and losing grip in the Tailbone’s plastic. Installing the screws by hand allows me to feel them dig into the plastic and maintain a secure hold on the Tailbone through the deck without stripping out plastic.

IMG_20181208_163456.jpg

The final stage of the assembly involves the trucks, wheels, bearings, and 1/4″ risers. I laid all of these parts out to make the assembly quicker. For some of the assembly, I used the cordless drill with a Philips head driver, and I had my 1/4″ drive tall sockets in 3/8″ (for the truck mounting bolts) and 1/2″ (for the truck’s axle bolts).

IMG_20181208_163849.jpg

The first task was to install bearings and spacers in each wheel. I placed an Owlsome Precision ABEC 7 bearing assembly into the back of a wheel.

IMG_20181208_163904.jpg

Then, I used one of the trucks to help me press the bearing completely into the wheel so that it is flush with the wheel.

IMG_20181208_163930.jpg

Turning the wheel over, I dropped a spacer on top of the inserted bearing.

IMG_20181208_163942.jpg

Then, I placed another bearing into the front of the front of the wheel over the spacer, and again, used the trucks to help me press the bearing assembly completely into the wheel.

IMG_20181208_163736.jpg

Then, I pulled the wheel off, placed a washer on the axle, followed by the wheel with the front facing outward, another washer, and then the axle nut. I tightened the axle nut by hand with the 1/2″ socket. I left a very slight bit of play for the wheel on the axle.

IMG_20181208_164820.jpg

With all of the wheels assembled with bearings and spacers and these installed on the trucks, I was ready to complete assembly of the skateboard by mounting the risers and trucks to the skateboard deck.

IMG_20181208_164921.jpg

First, I pushed the 1 1/4″ truck mounting bolts through the skateboard deck.

IMG_20181208_164940.jpg

Then, I mounted the 1/4″ riser through the bolts on the underside of the skateboard deck.

IMG_20181208_164957.jpg

Next, I turned the skateboard on its side and mounted the trucks.

IMG_20181208_165031.jpg

I hand threaded the four hardware nuts on each mounting bolt for each truck.

IMG_20181208_165218.jpg

After confirming each nut was threaded correctly, I used the cordless drill to snug each bolt down to the nut and then hand tightened each bolt in an X-pattern until I was confident in each truck’s mounting to the skateboard deck.

IMG_20181209_135235.jpg

With the trucks mounted, I have a complete skateboard ready to take out and hit the streets with. The soft, larger wheels should be great for riding in my neighborhood. However, I have been looking at Powell-Peralta’s G-Slides, which I might get later.

IMG_20181209_135251.jpg

I opted to cover the “Bones Brigade” name beneath the logo, because I wanted a little more grip on the tail section of the deck.

IMG_20181209_135344.jpg

My original McGill had a nose kick while this late-80s re-issue does not. Nevertheless, I think this will be a fun skateboard to ride. Y asked me to wait until she returned from her trip to see her parents before I rode it in case I hurt myself. She’s back, but the weather isn’t superb, so I might content myself with daydreaming about riding my new skateboard until we can take it out together.

In all honesty, I have to remind myself that I can’t necessarily do the things I did when I was younger, or put another way, I can try to do the things that I used to do, but there will likely be more serious consequences. C’est la vie!

Call for Papers: 200 Years of Interdisciplinarity Beginning with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: The Third Annual City Tech Symposium on Science Fiction

frankenstein-frontispiece-1831

200 Years of Interdisciplinarity Beginning with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: The Third Annual City Tech Symposium on Science Fiction

Date and Time: Tuesday, November 27, 2018. 9:00am-5:00pm

Location: New York City College of Technology, 300 Jay St., Namm N119, Brooklyn, NY

“So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein—more, far more, will I achieve; treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.”

–Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1831 edition)

“Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

–Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), Jurassic Park (1993)

Ian Malcolm’s admonition above is as much a rebuke to the lasting echo of Victor Frankenstein’s ambition to accomplish “more, far more” as it is to park owner John Hammond’s explaining, “Our scientists have done things no one could ever do before.” Films like Jurassic Park and the kind of literature that came to be known as Science Fiction (SF) owe a tremendous debt to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818). In addition to being an (if not the) inaugural work of SF, Mary Shelley builds her cautionary tale around interdisciplinary approaches to science, and she takes this innovation further by applying the humanities to question the nature of being in the world, the effects of science on society, and the ethical responsibilities of scientists. These are only some of Frankenstein’s groundbreaking insights, which as Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove observe in Trillion Year Spree (1986), “is marvellously good and inexhaustible in its interest” (20). The many dimensions of interdisciplinarity in Frankenstein and the SF that followed are the focus of the Third Annual City Tech Science Fiction Symposium.

In this special anniversary year of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, join us for a one-day symposium discussing interdisciplinarity and SF. Continuing conversations began in the earlier symposia, we seek to investigate SF’s power as an extrapolating art form with interdisciplinarity at its core, including interdisciplinarity within STEM fields and the interdisciplinary synergy of STEM and the humanities.

We invite presentations of 15-20 minutes on SF and interdisciplinarity. Papers on or connected to Frankenstein are particularly encouraged. Possible presentation topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and interdisciplinarity (focusing on research questions or teaching approaches)
  • Explorations of interdisciplinary ideas, approaches, and themes in SF (or what disciplinary boundaries does SF bridge)
  • SF as an interdisciplinary teaching tool (or what SF have you used or want to use in your classes to achieve interdisciplinary outcomes)
  • SF’s interdisciplinary imaginative functions (or Gedankenexperiment, considering ethical issues, unintended consequences, or unexpected breakthroughs)
  • Studying SF through an interdisciplinary lens (or combining otherwise discipline-bound approaches to uncover new meanings)
  • Bridging STEM and the humanities via SF (or SF as an interdisciplinary cultural work that embraces STEAM—Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics)
  • SF and identity (or how interdisciplinarity in SF reveals, supports, or explores issues of identity, culture, sex, gender, and race)
  • SF and place (or how SF’s settings are interdisciplinary, or where it is written fosters its interdisciplinarity)
  • Interdisciplinarity and archival work in SF collections (or making the City Tech Science Fiction Collection work for faculty, students, and researchers across disciplines)

Please send your abstract (no more than 250 words), brief bio, and contact information to Jason Ellis (jellis at citytech.cuny.edu) by Oct. 31, 2018.

The program will be announced by Nov. 12, 2018 on the Science Fiction at City Tech website here: https://openlab.citytech.cuny.edu/sciencefictionatcitytech/.

Hosted by the School of Arts and Sciences at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY.

The Annual City Tech Symposium on Science Fiction is held in celebration of the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, an archival holding of over 600-linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and scholarship. It is located in the Archives and Special Collections of the Ursula C. Schwerin Library (Library Building, L543C, New York City College of Technology, 300 Jay Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201). More information about the collection and how to access it is available here: https://openlab.citytech.cuny.edu/sciencefictionatcitytech/librarycollection/.