Pawpaws and mushrooms, East and West coasts

I’ve had some great foraging experiences in the past couple weeks — just quickly, below are some pawpaws from the east coast. In some places they are endangered or threatened, although in others they are considered “common” — these were from Maryland, where they are apparently not uncommon.

The PawPaw, aka Asimina triloba:


Best enjoyed on a freshly made waffle (HOW?!?! By the magic of my wonderful hosts, whom I’ll gladly cite if they wish.)


Great trivia about these — they were a fav. dessert of George Washington, the leaves contain a natural pesticide, and they were likely originally propagated by North American megafauna before those were all eaten by humans. Now we eat pawpaws and are likely their primary propagators.

Then, outside Portland Oregon, I (in collaboration with other Public Lab staff) found several large Leccinum Manzanitae (or variants of), which are great when roasted in slices:


…and Boletus Mirabilis, which I did not have an opportunity to actually eat:


All among an array of other interesting discoveries. At bottom are some Bitter Hedgehog mushrooms, which are beautiful if inedible.


Quick antfarm update

First, partial day of Antfarm class at Parts & Crafts today. Much excitement and some bugs found (lol). A queen was quickly suggested and implemented, who spawns new ants, too quickly, then too slowly. New ants won’t change color, unfortunately —

Then, overpopulation quickly became a problem, so we opened issue 5, “ant death”

Screenshot 2015-09-08 at 11.33.46 AM

Good progress for a first day — the entomologists have agreed to come back next week with more ideas and I’ll get a permanent ant farm installed on the windowsill in the meantime.

Draft queen script saved as queen.ant


In prep for a class I’ll be teaching at Part & Crafts, I made this little simulator for “ants” — just like I used to when I was a kid, learning how to program. I’m hoping to get a bunch of kids into refining and building out the simulation to include things like resources, reproduction, sensing, phermones, etc. This was one thing that really motivated me to learn to code as a kid, and is just lots of fun.

Screenshot 2015-08-28 at 9.57.32 AM

This simulator is pretty darn simple, but does include a base canvas upon which the ants leave trails (nod to StarLogo!) The ants have internal states, including a simple event-based user-modifiable script. To edit one, just double click on an ant, and an editor comes up. Nothing is saved after a page refresh, for now! Trail colors, ant properties, and other things are accessible, documented in the wiki.

Open source, of course:

Owen, at Parts & Crafts, already got started; see this video where he made them “eat” yellow phermones and grow (a little too big):

Vectorizing sketches and photos with your smartphone/web browser


Yesterday I wrote VectorCam, building on the excellent excellent imagetracerjs library by András Jankovics. Source AGPLv3 at

This is a pure JavaScript raster-to-vector converter, which takes images (png, jpg, gif?) and traces them into downloadable SVGs (I haven’t tried a conversion to PDF or DXF, but that’d be useful).

With it, you can snap a photo with your phone, and immediately vectorize it for use in print, laser cutting, or desktop paper cutting. I always thought this should exist as a web service, since it can be a pain to open up Inkscape sometimes, and this is supposed to be a pretty well-solved problem.

It works on Android, fastest in Chrome – and only on Safari on iOS, probably due to Apple’s closed-browser strategy.

Here’s a snap of the output from the above image, opened in Inkscape to show the vector lines:


András’ library does a fantastic job; all I did was connect it to a file upload form and ensure the SVG downloads well, and make a nice interface with a settings dialog. This last could be expanded, as well.

Office: minimal JS drum machine interface

I’ve been doing a lot of small projects for fun, and partially to improve my JavaScript coding practices. I wrote this JS-based drum machine, or almost finished it, although it needs some work on the timers and more samples (only the top row of instruments works at the moment). If you know of some sick free samples, I’d love to use them.

Use it directly (designed for smartphone use):

On Github here. Try it here in an iframe:

It’s sort of loosely based on the Pocket Operator, which I got a couple months ago:


Parts & Crafts free scholarships, One Lightsaber Per Child

parts and crafts

Parts and Crafts is a wonderful local Somerville institution, and one which has hosted many Public Lab events! They’re doing a drive to raise money for free scholarships for kids who couldn’t otherwise afford to attend their programs.

DIY culture, and P&C in particular, is such a wonderful thing — PLEASE help to ensure that it reaches those in need. Everyone deserves the opportunity!

Help them out!

I am trying to make them some stickers, too — and since one activity they do SUPER WELL is a “One Lightsaber Per Child” workshop, I wanted to illustrate that:


Arms Akimbo

Don Blair and I needed to know, unambiguously, what “arms akimbo” meant today. There was some uncertainty.


This is not only a great new band name, but also a great opportunity for pseudo history:

Pictured above is Anne Akimbo, the 1967 inventor of the Akimbo posture. All proceeds from the use of the posture at public events go to the Akimbo Foundation, which provides support and education for attitudinally challenged youth.