I saw more than a few friends share this TED Talk video titled Why some of us don’t have one true calling, and I read the transcripts and (like my friends, many of whom are makers) felt this described me.

I think the question people ask as an adult isn’t “What do you want to be when you grow up?” but instead it’s “So, what do you do?” and I know you’re supposed to answer by describing your job, but many people don’t define themselves by their job. For a while I answered “Whatever it takes!” but while amusing (to me) it’s not a great answer. And then there’s those of us who have two (or three) jobs, or things we do, or organizations we’re involved with, and sometimes they are interrelated, and sometimes they are not.

There’s some people who think my main thing is photography, others think it’s 3D printing, and still others think it’s web development. While I’ve done all those things (and still do, to some degree) none of them encompass all I do.

I know people who are Graphic Designers, and also play music, or shoot photos, but that’s still (to me) a primary thing with some secondary (related) things…

All of this brings me back to a piece Les Orchard wrote back in 2006 titled Serial Enthusiast. The Serial Enthusiast will jump from interest to interest, starting new projects, excited about trying something new, and learning a new skill. They may get really into something, go really deep, do a thing, and then move on.

We often use the term “Skill Collector” at Milwaukee Makerspace, because people tend to join with one thing in mind, like 3D printing, or wood working, or whatever, and then they get into electronics, or sewing, or building weird machines, or whatever.

In related news, I’ve been asked to write a bio for one of my jobs, so I crowdsourced it, and ask my Facebook friends to write it. This is what I got:

Pete Prodoehl is an expert punk who will probably automate the grading of his student’s assignments. His addiction to hammers will probably not affect his performance, although he may place pizza bagels on robots in the name of “art” or something. While pioneering toaster-oven-based HDPE recycling, he has also been known to keep the “makey bits” with Hardware and PHK. Shock. Fro-Gurt. Granola Bars. Probably the “Best colleague ever” who also shows promise at rolling sushi. Besides making a Big Button, he also helped invent (parts) of the Internet. (He also crowdsourced this bio.)

It’s not 100% accurate, but it is amusing.

So… What do you do?

KOS 2016

Mark your calendars! Kenilworth Open Studios is happening Saturday, April 9th, 2016 at UWM’s Kenilworth Square East facility at 1915 East Kenilworth Place in Milwaukee.

Besides being able to check out some of the awesome work done by students and faculty, you can see the Digital Craft Research Lab and you can check out what I call the “Physical Computing Lab”, which is also known as “KSE 516″ or “Room 516 on the 5th floor” which is where I teach Electronics and Sculpture.

I’m hoping some of my students can share projects during the event, and I might even have some things to show. If you’re at all interested in physical computing stuff (Arduino, Raspberry Pi, things that move and light up and make noise) visit 516 and I’ll tell you what I know.

(Are your friends going? Maybe you should go with them, or ask them to go with you! Check out the event on Facebook!)


One of the projects I’m working on for Maker Faire Milwaukee is something I can the “DecaLight” which will (hopefully) consists of a decagon-shaped structure with ten light bulbs that are controlled by a set of relays and can turn on and off in pre-programmed sequences. For those unfamiliar with the Decagon, it’s a 10-sided polygon (sometimes called a “10-gon”) and this specific model is a 9-simplex.


Etched Wood

While I started with building a quick and dirty prototype I also decided to build a scale mode. I used the laser cutter at Brown Dog Gadgets to etch and cut a piece of 3mm Baltic Birch plywood.

LED bulb

While the full-sized version will use light bulbs, the scale model will use 10mm LEDs. I just drilled holes for the LED leads since I never got around to adding holes to the laser cutting file.


Sometimes printmaking techniques come in useful when not making prints. I spray painted the wood and after it dried I rolled on some black ink to make a pure black and white version. For the full size version I’ll be using a CNC router to cut grooves (pockets) and then paint those white while the top surface will be black.


Here’s the bigger prototype I worked on, which just has a piece of plywood with lamp sockets attached. I got the sockets for cheap from ebay, but they’re terrible.


I later spotted some nice ceramic (rather than plastic) lamp sockets at Menards that were just a bit more than the crappy plastic ones, so I’ll probably switch to those.

Hopefully I can get the prototype working in the next week or so. I’ve still got plenty of time to complete the full-scale version, but even with 174 days until Maker Faire Milwaukee, that time will go fast!

A video posted by Pete Prodoehl (@raster) on

Make it Move

I’m pleased to announce that for the second year I’ve had a piece selected for Body and Machine 2016: Kinetic and Interactive Art. This year my piece Click Whir Squee will be on display. (The show runs from April 2nd, 2016 to Aoril 23rd, 2016 at the Northrup King Building 3rd Floor Gallery in Minneapolis, Minnesota.)

Click Whir Squee

Since Click Whir Squee involves abusing a piece of hardware that is close to 20 years old, I can’t guarantee it will keep doing what it’s supposed to be doing for the entire run of the show. That’s part of the excitement of kinetic art… and it’s actually integral to the statement this piece makes.


I may try to dig up a few more of these TR-1 Minicartridges to swap in when the one in the machine gets destroyed. That might be enough to keep it running, but would rely on someone involved with the show doing maintenance. (Which I’m fine with.)


If you’ve already seen the video, you can just enjoy the photo of a cat that has been provided above. (It is called Body and Machine, after all.) Otherwise, here’s a video.

Make it Move


During the holidays my uncle asked me about converting old VHS video tapes to digital versions, and he showed me a converter he had found. Knowing that the specs on such things are usually not very specific, but that I’d find a way to make it work, I told him to order it. (The device is a Werecord BR120 Video & Audio Grabber Box from Digit!Now)

It’s simple to use. You just plug in some RCA cables coming from your VCR or old analog video camera, and press the “record” button on the device. It saves a digital file to an Micro SD card.

AVI Format

Oh, yeah… it’s an AVI file. If you don’t know much about AVI, it’s a ‘container format’, which means it could use any of a long list of encoding schemes, and you may have problems reading the file. Since I’m using Mac OS X in 2016 and AVI was introduced by Microsoft in November 1992, I had some problems.

QuickTime Player 10

The first attempt was to open it using Apple’s QuickTime Player 10. No dice. The “Tell me more” button takes you to a page explaining that QuickTime Player 10 sucks, and you should try QuickTime Player 7.

QuickTime Player 7

QuickTime Player 7 opens the file, but there’s nothing there… at least nothing it can decode properly. (You’ve let me down again, QuickTime Player!)

MPEG StreamClip

That’s enough fun with Apple’s offerings… on to the more powerful Swiss Army knife of transcoding video; MPEG StreamClip. There hasn’t been a new release for over three years, but it still works wonders on changing videos from one format to another.

Well, no better than QuickTime Player 7. Unless you like a white screen better than a black screen. Let’s move on…

Miro Video Converter

Don’t worry, I’m not even half way through my list of the video conversion software I have on my hard drive. (Yes, I have hundreds of applications on my hard drive, not in some damn cloud somewhere!)

Our old pal Miro Video Converter was willing to accept the AVI file and give me an MP4, which is what I want, because it will probably play fine on any device I want to play video on…


Hey, look at that! Miro Video Converter is using FFmpeg under the hood. Excellent… especially since ffmpegX hasn’t been updated in many years.

Raspbian Boot

As for the video, since I didn’t have one of my VCRs handy, I grabbed a old Raspberry Pi with a composite video output and used that for the test. I know, it looks terrible here, partly due to it being a GIF, but mostly due to it being a computer output scaled down to a 640×480 standard definition display. I’m going to assume actual video footage from 25 year old VHS tapes will look much better. (Sort of.)

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