Conversations about life & privacy in the digital age

Building Stuff From Kits

I grew up with the idea of making things. Homer Price building radios; old science fiction guys building space drives in their basements. The feeling expressed in Cory Doctorow’s Makers.

I’ve never built much myself. We didn’t have Legos when I grew up. I sucked at model airplanes. When I was ten or eleven, I begged the parental units to get me these kits. It was a fiasco.

My vocation is software. I build abstract structures in my mind and attempt to transfer them to machines. That’s what I wanted to do since I first heard about computers.

Over the years, I drifted away from the idea of making things. I’m strongly in favor of the Maker movement (as I am of free and open source software). But I haven’t seen myself as a part of the movement.

Then something changed. My friend Izzy gave me a Lego kit as a joke.

I work at home writing code for SpiderOak. I ended up building the kit in bits and pieces while working. Taking a break from coding, I would fit a few Lego pieces together.

The Lego kit worked really well for me. For one thing, instructions written for an eight year old are about right for me. But the real change is that I didn’t care how long it took to build the kit. When I was a kid, I would sit down, try to build something in one session, get frustrated and give up.

I discovered that it was really satisfying to me to build something with my hands.

I quickly tired of Lego kits. On feeds associated with the Maker movement, like O’Reilly and BoingBoing, I saw the Monochron Clock. This looked like more than I could handle. But when I saw the detailed instructions it began to seem doable.

So I gradually accumulated the equipment. Then I built some simpler kits to practice soldering and small muscle coordination.

Then I built the clock. It took several weeks, maybe more than a month. I was in no hurry. I would take a break from coding, solder in one little piece exactly right, then back to coding. I wasn’t trying to finish. I enjoy the process. I think it helps my coding too.

Here’s Sylvia building the same clock.

One day, there was nothing left to do. Now I have a clock and it works!

I built another clock (this one was much harder). And a watch. And a multimeter [Unfortunately this one didn't work. :-( You can't win them all.]

So something new has been added to my life, quite unexpectedly. A serious maker would create new things, or hack these kits into something unexpected. I’m not at that level yet. I’m just looking for another kit to build.

Any suggestions?

SpiderOak DIY: A space efficient key/value store for arbitrarily large values. Now in beta.

Update: SpiderOak DIY service has been discontinued, and is being replaced by the our new Nimbus.io storage service which is a new work based on everything we learned from DIY and our previous internal storage projects. It is also open source, with a fancy new ZeroMQ based architecture. Please visit nimbus.io for more information and to request an invite to use that service. The information below is provided for historical purposes only.

We alpha launched DIY a few months ago to allow SpiderOak customers to directly store data on the SpiderOak storage network via https. It’s similar to Amazon S3, but tuned for large backup and archival class data, and thus much less expensive. It’s also open source, on both the server and client side.

Today DIY is now in beta, and we’ve been using it ourselves to implement new features for some time.

Basically, if you’re already using S3 as a backup storage, switching to DIY will save you a great deal. You could also use the DIY code to run your own space efficient, redundant storage clusters for large data.

One of the things we’re pleased with is how comprehensible the DIY implementation is. It turns out that focusing on space efficiency and high throughput (instead of low latency for each request) allows a number of design simplifications compared to other scalable storage systems.

This is a project you can easily jump in and make progress in quickly. It’s built using zfec for parity striping, Python, gevent, and RabbitMQ, with a framework we created for quickly building small message oriented processes.

Feed back from users and developers is much appreciated.

Announcement: We’re now selling storage à la carte via HTTPS

Update: SpiderOak DIY service has been discontinued, and is being replaced by the our new Nimbus.io storage service which is a new work based on everything we learned from DIY and our previous internal storage projects. It is also open source, with a fancy new ZeroMQ based architecture. Please visit nimbus.io for more information and to request an invite to use that service. The information below is provided for historical purposes only.

This is an alpha release for the SpiderOak Do-It-Yourself API for storing and accessing data directly on the SpiderOak storage network. This is similar to Amazon’s S3 and other cloud storage services, but designed specifically for the needs of long term data archival.

We’re happy that this service is open source, top to bottom (including the code we run on the storgae servers.) It’s also offered at the same very affordable prices as regular SpiderOak storage.

During the alpha, this is only available to SpiderOak customers. Every SpiderOak customer can retrieve an API key and get started immediately if they wish. At the beta release (which will be soon) we’ll enable general signup, and we’ll move out of beta shortly after that.

For details on the implementation, architecture, API, the git repositories for server and client code, please visit the DIY API Project Homepage for more
information.

Update 1: Several people have asked why they don’t see a DIY API key option on their billing page. This is because the DIY API is a paid service, so it’s not available with a 2gb free SpiderOak account. Since the storage is so conveniently accessible over HTTPS, we think it likely to be abused if anyone can easily create 2gb free accounts. However, we’ve setup a $1 upgrade you can use to test DIY when you don’t already have a paid account. Just email support and we’ll give you the upgrade code to use.