Back To Basics Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, July 15 at noon Pacific for the Back to Basics Hack Chat with Simplifier!

Stay in the technology business long enough and eventually you’ll have to face an uncomfortable question: “Have I built anything permanent?” Chances are good that most of us will have to answer in the negative. For all the flash and zazzle we put into our projects, and for all the craftsmanship we try to apply to our systems, all of it is built on a very fragile foundation of silicon that will be obsolete within a decade, held together by slender threads of code in a language that may or may not be in fashion in a year’s time, and doesn’t even really exist in anything more tangible than a series of magnetic domains on a hard drive somewhere.

Realizing you’ve built nothing permanent is the engineer’s equivalent of a midlife crisis, and for many of us it sets off a search for an outlet for our creativity that we can use to make things that will outlast us. One hacker, known only as “Simplifier”, turned his search for meaningful expression into a quest to make technology better by making it more accessible and understandable. His website, itself a model of simplicity, catalogs his quest for useful materials and methods and his efforts to employ them. He has built everything from homebrew vacuum tubes to DIY solar cells, with recent forays into telecom tech with his carbon rod microphone and magnetostrictive earphone.

In this Hack Chat, Simplifier will answer your questions about how turning back the technology clock can teach us about where we’re going. Join us as we explore what it takes to build the infrastructure we all take so much for granted, and find out if there’s a way to live simply while still enjoying a technologically rich life.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, July 15 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.


24 thoughts on “Back To Basics Hack Chat

  1. This is why I almost always try to make my projects look as good as they function, avoid depending on third-party cloud services and never use lead-free solder.

    I want my great great grandchildren to still be holding on to at least some of my stuff, still working, still looking good and for them to feel way to guilty to carry through with it any time they even think of throwing it away.

    If I could I would take over a Pyramid and make it my workshop leaving my descendants instructions to just leave my body at the workbench and dynamite the entrance when I pass on.

  2. “Realizing you’ve built nothing permanent is the engineer’s equivalent of a midlife crisis, and for many of us it sets off a search for an outlet for our creativity that we can use to make things that will outlast us.”

    Build Telstar, people will remember you for decades.

  3. Nobody has built anything permanent. The difference between a creation of electrons and a creation using the rest of the particles of matter is barely significant. It’s fun to work with your hands, though. Builds character.

    1. It all depends on your time frame. I once needed to build a woodshed. Nothing fancy, just something to protect three cords of wood near enough to the house to make winter chores easier. I could have bought one of those tarp and pipe enclosures, which would have done the job for a year. Or I could have thrown something together out of 2x4s and plywood, and that would have been good for maybe 6-7 years. But I decided to make a timber-frame structure out of 6x6s, pegged mortise and tenon joints and ship-lap siding with a cedar shingle roof. It’s been nearly 15 years and it’s still there in daily use by the current owners of the house, and I expect it’ll be there for another 20 years or more, unless a tree falls on it. And even then, it might stand up to a small enough tree.

      OTOH, at the same time I was building that shed I was also creating a data capture system at work. That stayed in service for a remarkably long time before being replaced – poorly and just barely – by a COTS package. My app is actually still running at this point, but once they pull the plug, that’s it – the sole remaining accomplishment of a 23 year career will disappear forever. Granted, so too will the woodshed someday, but that day is far enough in the future as to be forever. And that was my intention – to build something that outlasts me.

  4. Is it the greatest achievement or the greatest sin? On the one hand, you break the disposables cycle you make something useful for many years, displacing many potential replacements. On the other hand, you might create something as technologically short sighted as a Trabant, with it’s durable bodyshell that can’t be recycled or burnt, causing problems to retire them in a responsible manner, much like glass fiber boat hulls in North America.

    1. Wow, this is the first time I have seen someone complain that a car’s bodywork is “too durable!” I get your point about the recycling though.

      Also the Trabant is on my “must own one day” list, along with the Citroen 2CV and the original Mini.

      1. It popped into my head as I’d recently seen it in an episode of James May’s cars of the People on Prime. Maybe a better known example as it has been mentioned several times on here is composite wind turbine blades.

    1. Build something that is
      * higher value in its whole state than in parts
      * worth preserving
      * a perfect principle but an imperfect physical object
      * only in your head and never materializes

  5. I work to create at least a single mechanical watch that will by design last for 10,000 years before I die. It can be done. Laugh if you want, but the Long Now was just an inspiration. It can be done, but it helps noone. In a world quickly going towards mass extinction due to stupidity, if its all futile- might as well leave something behind for the next evolved species to find.

    And yeah- really am working on that. Special alloys..Gotta do something with my time in hell, eh?

    1. Something that durable would probably have uses in medical implants, aerospace, maybe hard drives, and a lot of other things. It would be a pretty amazing discovery!

      Probably even harder than a similarly long lived electronic device if you actually want it to be usable continually that long.

      Making something store-able for that period doesn’t sound too hard though, you could pressurize with argon and make corrosion almost impossible, then I guess the concern is any bizzare aging effect that happens to springs, if such a thing exists.

  6. I see him doing pottery, if anyone is interested the best source of information is Bernard Leach “A potter’s book” its like bible. I find pottery very therapeutic its like my zen.

  7. This is why we need an archival programming environment. Some kind of virtual machine that includes display, sound, and IO, with a foundation that tries to make sure that anything you write for this machine will still run without maintenance indefinitely.

    But if we are going to make physical things, I think zero-tech has a lot more value than low tech. I’d rather have a smart alarm clock than actual bother using a delicate vacuum tube radio, but a framed oil painting is even simpler, and I’d rather paint something than build something with tubes and wires and electrolytic rectifiers.

    A lot of the worst environmental damage isn’t really from silicon chips, it’s basic things like mining, concrete, cutting down trees, hydro dams, coal plants, etc. Still tech, but lower tech than a solar cell fab or a GPS satellite.

    The highest level of modern tech is awesome, and people will probably always be attracted to natural things, and to history, but industrial revolution era tech isn’t as harmless and reliable as it seems.

    Even a wood stove makes plenty of pollution, probaby way more than the fancy IR coating on a passive solar home.

    We should never forget our history, and we should never let tech replace those things that will always have value, but some things should probably go to a museum in most cases.

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