Thoughts on UberAssist

Yesterday I found out that UberAssist was available in San Francisco. Since both my manual wheelchair (a Quickie Ti rigid frame) and my mobility scooter (a TravelScoot Jr.) can fold and fit easily into the trunk of any car, I have used Uber and other taxi-esque programes since they were first available to me. I understand UberAssist as follows:

* Drivers can opt in to take a training class (online) and a test in how to assist disabled and elderly passengers in a polite and helpful way.

* The training was developed by some outside consultant.

* The training is free for drivers.

* UberAssist rides cost the same for passengers as UberX rides, and the drivers get the same payment rate.

While I may use this service, I am dismayed and worried. This is simply the behavior which all Uber, Lyft, and taxi drivers should follow: being polite and helpful to their customers, and not discriminating or behaving in a rude or bigoted way.

Are “regular” Uber drivers going to now refuse to pick me and my wheelchair up, and tell me to instead call UberAssist? That seems a likely outcome. When that happens, I will complain to the fullest possible extent not just against the individual driver but against the company, which should, and obviously can, require all its drivers to pass anti-discrimination training.

To top this BS off, Uber is offering the inspiration porn-like option for riders to be charged a higher fee for their ride, out of which a dollar will be donated to the Special Olympics, a button labelled “INSPIRE”. Yes… Inspire. Soooo, which disabled taxi users did they ask what they thought of that name and that option? This is Uber’s response to facing a $7.3 Million fine in California? Or the ADA lawsuits gearing up?

liz with a wheelchair wheel in a taxi

So, meanwhile, I needed to get downtown to the Independent Living Resource Center and I was feeling too exhausted and in pain to take the bus for 40 minutes plus. I tried the UberAssist option. Enough drivers must have taken the training and signed up for the program in San Francisco to give a reasonable density of drivers. Response time to get to my house was 3 minutes for UberX, and 17 minutes for UberAssist. Not great but not unworkable for me. The driver who responded explained to me that I was his 2nd Assist rider, and he signed up for the program because he loves helping people. I told him that I also love helping people. (It did not seem to be part of his thinking that a disabled person might help people.) We conversed pleasantly. I think he was a bit disappointed he did not get to Help me a bit more. He also complimented me on my “positive approach towards life”. Fellow crips will know how “happy” that made me. However, I can fake it to be polite.

On my way back, I had a super helpful and nice driver who said we were her first Assist customers. I appreciated her helping me and my son load my folding scooter into her car trunk. It felt like a normal human interaction. It was not really any different from most other times I have taken cabs. Most drivers get out and offer help. If they don’t, I can usually lift the 30 lb scooter into a trunk on my own. If I can’t do it on my own I most likely have planned to have someone with me….

Also feel I should mention, I don’t always take extra time to get into a cab. Sometimes I’m a bit clumsy or unprepared or I ask for help. It is a matter of an extra minute or maybe two. Not any more than someone with a suitcase would need.

For an example of how some drivers think about disabled and elderly people (bigotedly), have a look at this discussion forum for drivers. It was so horrible that I could not get completely through the multi-page thread. These drivers seem convinced they can and should refuse wheelchair using and elderly passengers, and, that if they don’t, Uber should pay them more for driving them. This is just heinous.

And yet, over the years I have only had one driver behave badly (very badly) to me and one driver cancel after I mentioned my folding wheelchair in a text.

Will I really wait 10 or 15 extra minutes for a cab routinely, for the sake of possibly increasing my chance of being treated with normal consideration?

We’ll see if UberAssist backfires or not. Maybe it will become routine for more drivers to take the training.

And maybe, able bodied and non-elderly people will use it. That might have an interesting effect on the outcome and politics of this social experiment.

If you’re in New York City, here’s a protest happening tomorrow: Krips Occupy Wall Street (OWS Disability Caucus). Do come out and support the protest!

“As you may know, Uber now has 18,000 vehicles in New York City — but not one wheelchair-accessible vehicle. We’re throwing up a protest line — we call it a roll-in — at the Uber offices on 26th Street next week on THURSDAY, JULY 30 at NOON. If you’re around, it’d be great if you could be there. Can you come by? Can you bring anyone? Thanks.”

None of this takes away from the important fact that we should be fighting to make buses better for everyone, and for taxi drivers of all stripes to have better employment rights and protection.

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Wheelchair and Scooter Hack Day

The Hackability group met up at Noisebridge this weekend to work on modifying, maintaining, and otherwise hacking our scooters and wheelchairs. This first meetup was just 4 of us, Ian, Zach, Susan, and me. Ian and I talked first about projects we would like to do for his powerchair and my scooter. Susan is an engineer, inventor, and hacker who has some great ideas about improving power and making a regenerative braking system for my scooter. Zach came prepared to give us a really great talk which I’ll try to describe from my notes.

Zach made the point right at the outset that we can think of scooter hacking as falling under two categories. The first is for comfort and repair; things that are necessary. The second category is mods and upgrades; in other words, extra fun stuff. About comfort and repair: He talked about how long it took him to really listen to his body and pain levels and know what was irritating about his mobility devices, rather than accepting what he was given as “just how it is”.

For him, stability is an important factor. Parts wiggling on his scooter caused more pain for his back and legs, while rattling was distracting and annoying. He then took the seat off his scooter and I demonstrated my seating as well, to show how you can stabilize the seat housing pole. Mine was vastly improved simply by wrapping in a few layers of duct tape. Now, on the bus, my seat doesn’t wobble back and forth forcing me to use my low back muscles to cope with the sway of the bus plus the erratic seat motion. Many of Zach’s other mods were done with cheap and easy to find, objects like zip ties, heat shrink tubing, and blocks of styrofoam. He is a genius of finding free or cheap things to hack! His repairs look sturdy, neat, and durable. (Unlike my cardboard and duct tape repairs which are such a hot mess.)

Scooter batteries

He had recently put a bigger motor into his scooter frame. The motor heats up and has a fan to the side next to one wheel. Jacket sleeves, backpack straps, and other stuff was getting caught and tangled in it. Zach ended up replacing the fan with a blade from a computer’s cooling fan, and making a curved metal guard for it out of what looked like a thin plate of metal from a hard drive casing.

fan guard for scooter motor

We digressed for a while into talk about batteries, their expense, how many amp-hours our batteries have, ideas about bolting extra batteries onto the side of my scooter and wiring them into the existing removable battery case. The lack of cheap smart chargers means that most people with mobility scooters have ineffective chargers which shorten the batteries’ life and effectiveness. My batteries, new in March, are already dropping in voltage output capacity even when fully charged, so my scooter is laboring going up hills or for any significant distance. Susan has plans to design an affordable smart charger. We’ll see how that goes! For more on batteries and charging, read up on Battery University.

MOving on to our second category of mobility device hacks: The fun extras. Zach showed us some of the cool stuff on his mobility scooter, like how his wire mesh basket is stabilized with a flat metal plate with screw holes and some hot glue. I suggested black latex paint might be a good alternative to hot glue, and may try that for my own basket, which squeaks annoyingly against its brackets. We talked about alternate handles for scooter grips and controls then admired Zach’s fancy lights. On the more simple DIY side of things, he has a small battery operated LED light meant for a bike, velcroed onto the side of his scooter dashboard. Advice: use the real Velcro not the dollar store kind! As a quite complex lighting hack, he has strips of LED lights which are wired into his scooter’s main power supply and through a homemade circuit board which steps down the power.

Another complicated hack we discussed was in building our cruise control switches and stabilizing the forward and reverse levers which make the scooter go. These levers on most mobility scooters use a non-precision potentiometer. The screw on these things goes out of whack, which can be very annoying.

I have to digress for a minute to explain scooters, or at least the scooters I’ve used and seen. They have levers on the handlebars which connect to a trim pot and the main power supply from the battery. The power also obviously goes to the motor. There are no brakes. There is a solenoid of some kind which stops the motor. There is no neutral gear so if the motor stops, the scooter stops. But there is also a printed circuit board in the mix which has “safety features” programmed in. In practical terms this means if there is any interruption or big fluctuation in the power supply, or you hit a huge bump in the sidewalk, or I don’t even know what else, the motor cuts off. When you start your scooter and the centering of the levers controlled by the potentiometer is just a little bit off, the motor won’t start. To adjust and fix the potentiometer’s screw, you have to take the entire plastic housing off of the scooter’s controls.

Anyway, Zach’s approach to this problem, from advice from our friend Jake who is a fabulous hardware/electronics hacker, was to add a 50K trim pot in parallel with the existing one. He placed it so that its screw faced outwards, and drilled a hole in the plastic casing so that he can adjust it with a screwdriver without taking apart the scooter. Brilliant!

His other mods include a USB charging port on the dashboard and a scooter-charging port also on the dashboard rather than low on the scooter frame. We ended up discussing charging a lot more, and what gauge of wire is necessary, but I don’t have good notes on that.

At that point we looked at Ian’s powerchair and discussed some of its features and problems. It is a much more complicated beast than a scooter, and a couple of orders of magnitude more expensive to buy and get repaired. Powerchairs have two motors controlling the wheels so that they can turn in place, while scooters tend to just have one motor, with forward and reverse. Powerchairs seem to have much more powerful batteries and have more complicated control boards hooking up the joystick or other single-hand control with the power supply and motor. Ian’s chair has a fancy color screen hooked up to the joystick control but it seems unhackable. Or at least not without risking ruining the chair’s software. It seems a shame that it is not easier to to software or firmware mods that we could experiment with and roll back the changes if the experiments don’t work out.

The thing we worked on was a power plug in the back of Ian’s chair. It is an Anderson connector and didn’t work, maybe from being shorted out, or maybe because it is wired wrong. We thought about cutting the wire and replacing the plug connector or reversing how it was wired. We took off the back plate of the scooter housing to see if there was anything obvious to do that wouldn’t mean we had to take apart the entire chair. Hooray, there was a fuse between the plug and the battery, and it was blown. Zach found us a new fuse from the many tiny parts bins in the Noisebridge hack shelves. Ian replaced the fuse and put everything back together. It tested out okay with the multimeter this time! But the plug that he wanted to use with it, which is a DC/DC power converter from an electric bike company, wasn’t wired the same way. We concluded it would be best to either buy a new part ($50) or cut apart the bike part to reverse its wiring to the connectors.

Thanks very much to the role playing game group in the other classroom who moved most of the tables out of the room for me before our meetup!

scooter hacks

It was a great meeting with a mix of lecture, discussion, theory, and hands on practical demos and work. If you would like to join our mailing list, here’s the link: Hackability mailing list, for DIY hacking, modifying, and fixing existing wheelchairs, scooters, powerchairs, and other mobility or accessibility devices. If you’d like to come to our meetups in San Francisco, you are very welcome. Please join the list and let us know!

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Monday night at Noisebridge

Last night Oblomovka and I showed up at Noisebridge. I’ve been a supporter of Noisebridge since it started, donating at first and then joining as a dues-paying member. I figured even if I only have time to go by there once a month for some happy co-working on the couches, I want the space to exist and am proud to help pay for it. I also lurk on the Noisebridge-discuss mailing list and follow all the fascinating drama, which while not much different than any other community politics, is interesting as I get to know people’s names, what they’re working on, what they care about, and how they think anarchist politics should go down in a hackerspace.

So last night I went to hang out and to take a look at my Adafruit SpokePOV kit, which is half-finished there on my shelf of tools and stuff. These SpokePOV thingies are LED panels that bolt onto bike or wheelchair spokes, like HokeySpokes, but are programmable. When we first started making the kit, we didn’t have the USB connector parts for the controller that lets you program the spoke lights. Anyway, I happily started soldering away. I love soldering irons. They make me think of all the nice times I spent messing around with stuff from Radio Shack with my dad when i was little.

spoke POV project

I didn’t get very far as I got distracted by Oblomovka and Moxie talking about ideas for ways to improve Noisebridge. I think that Noisebridge would benefit from heavier use and an influx of new people. It’s a very new space. It needs more signs on how to do things, even super-obvious things. Laminated instruction signs on the walls, on cabinets, and so on, are crucial. I’m thinking of making some for self-guided tours. Defining jobs that need to be done is crucial. For example, I could make a sign that explains how to take out the trash and put it above (and on) the trash cans.

As I was talking and soldering, people were coming in for the Monday night Python class. I usually love giving tours to new people, but I was on crutches, not in my wheelchair, so didn’t want to walk around that much. It was nice sitting near the entrance though, to hear how people shyly introduced themselves and asked for tours, and then ended up talking about their own projects and getting into long discussions.

Then I ended up hanging around with the people working on the Noise-bot wheelchair. Jake was taking the battery off and attaching some new connectors to it. I don’t remember all the details. The powerchair has a wireless card duct taped inside a clear plastic soda bottle, attached to the seat back handle. Stylish! In the back above the battery, there’s a laptop, which you can log into remotely to drive the chair by communicating with the joystick controls. I think this is the same chair that Jake and the Puzzlebot people used to make the brain-controlled chair. He explained what he was doing and how the chair works to me, a high school sophomore who was there for the first time, some people from Instructables, and anyone else who came by. We all tried driving the chair, which was quite powerful and fast.

Here’s the back of the chair, with the laptop:

wheelchair robot

And here’s Jake driving the chair.

wheelchair robot at Noisebridge

Jake could use someone to work on the software interface to drive the chair. It’s controlled from the laptop, so any language you want to work in is fine. Currently it works with a continuous keypress, so if you are hitting “j” the chair keeps moving forward. I ducked and ran from this project, even though I love it. Must not say yes to ANY more projects!

I then talked a bunch with Zeph who has been helping out with the chair.

Zeph

She showed me her work with The Beehive Collective, making narrative political posters that are extremely amazing. Where people aren’t going to give you the time of day if you spout a lot of information about, say, coal and energy sources and ecology and pollution and globalization and economics, they’ll get into long opinionated conversations if they look at this poster, The True Cost of Coal.

The True Cost of Coal - Thumbnail

I just ordered one of these posters! Since I live on a boat, I don’t have room for it, but hey! I can put it up on the wall somewhere at Noisebridge!

I showed some of my projects, and the Happiness Hat, and Hypatia’s north hat and Lilypad Arduino resources page, to Zeph and she showed me a video of her weird mechanical project called Twitch. It used tattoo machines and a lot of wires and bits of machines to build feedback loops and create creepy organic-feeling random movement.

We must have talked for an hour before I realized that we had known each other in about 1990 from various feminist communities in San Francisco and from zine-making. We were both using different names then. We had each other’s zines and had some friends in common. Neat!

I kind of want to start a Lilypad Arduino group at Noisebridge. But do I have time? I’d like it to be for women, well, for non-100%-male-identified people, and to be exploratory rather than the Lecture of Experts. Anyone want to learn Arduino stuff with me?

As I was leaving I ran into John Benson who is truly fabulous. We met at Maker Faire, where I was giving a talk on DIY for people with disabilities. At that talk he told me all sorts of stuff about his own work in Berkeley, fixing wheelchairs for the last 20 years or so. He worked for Ed Roberts for a while and he had a workshop in Berkeley working with various nonprofits. I was so happy to see him, as we had lost each other’s contact info! So, it sounds like now, rather than move into the Ed Roberts Campus — the rent being quite high — he has gotten funding from the city and has a workshop space where he repairs donated equipment and gets it to people, and makes stuff for people who are part of Through the Looking Glass – stuff like baby bike seats that attach onto the backs of wheelchairs. At some point I got all fired up and started to rant about people not documenting their skills and their accessibility and mobility hacks. I may have pointed at John dramatically and demanded, “WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DIE!? Your knowledge dies with you!” John held up his camera and said “That’s why I have this!” I totally blushed.

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No Sweat: a startup idea

Today I was looking at my pajama pants and thinking about how they were produced. I’ve seen my sister sew fleece pajama pants and it doesn’t look very difficult. So, to make these, someone or some clothing label company decided to product pajamas, they would have the label “Coffee Time” and be distributed through Mervyn’s, and they lined up some factory in China to produce the pants. I haven’t the foggiest idea how that industry works.

However, I have watched from the sidelines as Etsy people got popular and started outsourcing their “DIY” craft work to other crafters and then overseas. I got to thinking suddenly about Ravelry and other social software for crafters. They are extremely robust. Many people have small independent businesses based on DIY web tools.

As I thought of all this I also thought of Kevin Carson’s book The Homebrew Industrial Revolution and his conviction that we can use tech to reinvent mass production.

I do think there is a startup idea in here. Write something like Ravelry that would have a component that allows people to associate themselves in cooperatives to produce stuff. That way there could be some help with buying materials, people could share out the work and fulfill orders, but retain their individual identity as crafters and artists with a particular style and following. But if 1000 people suddenly want to buy crocheted meerkat Doctor Who dolls for christmas presents, and only 2 people are making them, a bunch of other crocheters might temporarily associate to make some money and make a bunch of people happy. It could work well. Not as “mechanical” as Amazon Mechanical Turk, but with a sort of DIY Flash Mob Capitalism vibe – and without the sweatshop. People shouldn’t have to incorporate to work together.

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How to bind an inside-out book

After looking at David Merritt’s little hand-bound recycled books I started trying various ways to make my own. Tollbooth Press books have ranged from xeroxed and stapled booklets to printed perfect-bound books to hand-sewn books with stiff textured Tibetan lokti tree paper covers and transparent inner leaves. This year I’ve made all Tollbooth’s books with recycled book covers in my experiments with cheap, no-fuss bookbinding.

I will explain below at length how to recycle and re-bind a book. But here’s the short version: Rip the cover off an old book, turn it inside out, and staple the new book inside it. It’s very easy!

You will need some hardback books that deserve a merciful end. Self-help books from 1982, old business textbooks, third-rate airport novels, and tattered, foxed library discard reference books are excellent candidates for recycling. I get mine from the ends of garage sales, from the free shelves in my marina’s laundry room, from books being thrown out at Noisebridge, and from the free box outside Red Hill Books in Bernal Heights. As I often liberate books into the world by putting them into cafes and other free shelves, the net effect is more and better books in the free book ecosystem. It freaks some people out to think of destroying a book. But if you go to the dump or recycling center, you’ll find dumpsters filling up every day. How much better to give an unwanted book new life!

Anyway, to start binding a book, you must first cut up the old one.

cutting up a book

Here’s the much more detailed how-to.

Take off the dust jacket if there is one, and open the book. Take a look at the hinge. You need to cut through the thick end paper which anchors the block of the book — its pages — to the boards, hinge, and spine, which form the book cover. The hinge will be hard to cut through, as it is probably backed with some of the net or mull that goes over the book’s spine, which you’ll see as a sort of cheesecloth fabric or little bits of threads. The trick here is to cut the block of paper out of the covers without cutting through the spine. If the book is tightly bound, it will help to widen and try to tear the endpaper’s connection to the boards.

the inside of a book's spine

Now you have the boards and spine and hinge as the sort of shell or husk, separate from the block of pages. Tear the end papers off the block and tear out or clip anything else interesting in the book. You might want to use them later for new endpapers or decoration.

Turn the book cover inside out. Work on the spine to make it flexible, by creasing it in all its parts in its new direction. I like for the new book’s spine to be rounded and flexible, not pointy and cracked. The papery inside bits of the inside-out spine may tear and flake off. That’s okay. The entire aesthetic of the book can be messy.

You will need to make your own block of paper now. For a blank book, this is super easy. Get some paper and trim it to a size to fit inside the inside-out book cover. The paper should fit fairly snugly up into the new inside-out spine. You may want the edges of the paper to be perfectly trim with the book, or to protrude outside it like lacy petticoats peeking out of a dress, but in the traditional way to bind a book you’d trim the pages to be shorter than the covers all around, so that they fit inside without showing. It’s up to you. Trim the paper, and then staple the left edge together in two or three places, with about a 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch margin. If your book is thick, you can use a heavy-duty stapler. A normal stapler binds about 20 – 25 sheets of paper. If you don’t have a heavy duty stapler, then staple around 20 pages together, then lay the next 20 pages on top and staple again in a slightly different place in the margin. Repeat as necessary and stagger the vertical placement of your stapler. Now you have a book block!

If you have your own text to bind, you’ll need to lay it out nicely. The most important things in your layout are the margins. You need the text to fit on the page, and it’s especially nice to plan for a wide inside margin so that the text doesn’t unreadably run into the binding of the book. Since you will have a fairly random assortment of book cover sizes, it’s hard to make your layout precise. But there are two standard sizes I encounter. The bigger size is 9 1/4 x 6 1/4. The medium size is 8 1/2 x 5 3/4. The very large, very small covers and the ones wider than they are tall, it’s best to save for blank books or one-off projects. If you lay out your books for the big and medium standard sizes, with generous margins, that will work well. Trim the pages to the size you need, book by book, with scissors, exacto knife, or a paper cutter. Or take them to a copy shop and ask for them to trim a giant block of pages all at once. This is usually inexpensive.

Tall, thin children’s books or coffee table art book covers make great drawing pad blank books for kids. You can make one in a minute or two before you go on a trip or to anywhere you might need to entertain some children and keep them quiet. I’ve spent hours drawing and telling stories with various children in blank books.

To make really nice feeling books, buy special paper. I love to go to Kelly Paper and browse around. Check your local paper store and its shelves of discontinued paper if you’re looking for a discount – you can get a $30 ream of paper for $5 if you’re lucky. Bond is smooth and the most basic bond paper is what you usually put into a printer or copier. Laid paper has some texture to it with ribbed lines. Wove is smooth, but has more of a square weave pattern than bond. Vellum is usually smooth too but has a bit of translucency. Linen basically looks how it sounds – like fine cloth you might use for sheets, with some tooth (finger-detectable rough texture) to it. I like linen or laid in a hand-bound book, and think that vellum makes great semi-transparent title pages or fly leaves.

You now have a block and a cover (inside-out). Hold the block tightly inside the cover and staple the hinge with the book facing up. A line of three staples down the book’s spine is probably enough. Flip the book over. Did the staples go all the way through? If so make sure the points of the staples are not protruding too sharply – fold them over with a screwdriver or a butter knife. If the staples didn’t make it all the way through the block and back cover, then put in another three staples from the back side.

Note that the spine has a hinge and, before the stiff boards start, an indentation called the gutter. You can staple close to the boards, right in the gutter, but I like to staple just a bit behind the gutter so the book cover lies nice and flat.

You can also wedge the book block tightly or more loosely into the spine before stapling. A tight fit works well for thin books but for thicker books, leave some room for the spine to curve and lie flat when the book is open. Here you can see a detail of the stapled inside-out spine of the new book. The torn edges of the original endpaper and bits of mull stick out in a pleasing feathery way. The

detail of edge of inside-out book

You may want some front matter on the inside cover of the book rather than bound into the pages. Right now I’m gluing printed paper into the front inside cover with the name of the press, an ISBN, and the date of publication. I think that standard stickers would work well for this, better than glue, with a blank spot for the month and year to be stamped or written in.

inside front cover of a book

For some books, I glue fancy endpapers from the book cover’s inside to the first (blank) page of the text block. This can look really nice but is a bit laborious. It is important to use nice, archival-quality, acid-free glue if you’re going to do this, or the book will yellow and rot in a few years.

For the front cover, you can print labels and glue them, handwrite, use stickers, or print with rubber stamps and ink. You can custom order rubber stamps with a title from most office supply stores, very cheaply. I’m copying David Merritt here, in part, by using alphabet block rubber stamps for the front cover. But the title of the poem here was too long to stamp out, so it’s a printed label.

front cover of an inside-out book

My alphabet rubber stamps were about $15 at an art supply store that had a scrapbooking section. They came in a neat metal box with a small ink pad. You can also get them at craft and sewing stores or order them online in various fonts. The metal box doesn’t absorb the extra ink from the stamps, so I’m going to look for a wooden box or a thin wooden shim to put under the stamps. While I don’t mind getting inky in the process of bookbinding, the metal box is out of control! The box is super handy, though. I keep an exacto knife in it for help in cutting up book covers. I’ve also thought it might be interesting to modify a small, thin briefcase or some cigar boxes to hold alphabet stamps neatly like a printer’s type drawer.

Here are some examples of experiments with flyleaf paper in books with a single poem.

Thin, stiff, translucent striped paper:
bookbinding

Rumpled, hand-torn yellow legal paper:
bookbinding

Flyleaf of rumpled yellow legal paper with a coffee mug stain:

bookbinding

Finally, here is an afternoon’s book binding result. I can do a batch of about 10 or 15 books from start to finish in a couple of hours. I generally give them away to people but am not above taking a dollar or five from people who want to donate.

bookbinding

Once I print out some texts and put them in folders, the whole “small press” is portable. The folders of papers, extra end papers and blank sheets, stapler(s), glue, scissors, exacto knife, rubber stamps, and ripped-off book covers, all fit neatly into a backpack. At home, I have a saddle-stitch stapler and a heavy-duty stapler for big projects. For the portable press-in-a-backpack, a tiny stapler works fine.

Enjoy your bookbinding projects! I hope you create marvelous and satisfying books!

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The joy of PVC pipe: Marshmallow guns!

We made another Howtoons DIY project: Marshmallow Shooters out of bits of PVC pipe. It was so amazingly easy!

Marshmallow shooters

First Moomin and I made a list of the PVC parts we’d need. At the hardware store, we got a few 3 foot lengths of pipe, which was extremely cheap. We also bought enough slip connectors to build 2 guns, and as an experiment, I bought all the pieces to try making a threaded pipe gun as well. It takes a while browsing all the bins of parts to pick out the right sizes, in this case 1/2 inch pipe and connectors, and to make sure all the joints are slip joints, not threaded!

We bought a small, racheting, pvc pipe cutter for about 15 bucks.

When we got home we laid out the plans and started marking 3 inch lengths of pipe to cut. The pipe cutter was *definitely* easier than using a hacksaw!

The best bit of this was: I didn’t have to do anything but provide materials. All of the cutting and assembly was easily done by all the kids who made the shooters, from 5 years old up.

Then, Iz came over with a bag of mini marshmallows. She made a gun too. Onward to the great marshmallow shooting!

Marshmallow shooters from pvc pipe

Then our next door neighbor came over too. I had to give up my gun! While the threaded pipe made a decent gun, the parts were more expensive, so I’d just stick with slip joints in future.

Everyone wanted to modify their guns and make new things. So we went to the *other* hardware store, the local tiny one, to get more pipe and connectors and ice cream on the way… Pipe was a dollar for 5 feet so I bought 10 feet of pipe and another 10 bucks worth of various connecting bits!

We ended up making guns for all our neighbor’s small cousins too. So, if you do this project, I recommend you just buy about 20 feet of pipe and way more connectors than you think you’ll need! Everyone will want one! They shoot marshmallows all the way across our backyard, over the fence, and into the driveway over the cars. There were marshmallows all over the roof. It was epic! The only down side was, with the 90 degree weather we had a lot of melty splodges on the cars and sidewalk. Luckily the kids picked up most of the solid marshmallows, and our baby raccoons and probably some rats and possums took care of the rest by the next day!

I think next we may buy a lot more big lengths of pipe to make a huge “marble drop”.

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