Train Training – A Tumblr of People Running from Trains

For about the last year I’ve Instagrammed the bizarre phenomena of people running from the train. After a friend of mine mentioned that the recordings resembled some of the ones you’d find on a weird niche blog, I decided to spin up a Tumblr where people could find all the posts in one place. I call it Train Training.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Long-Term Goals

A while ago I realized that I had a pretty significant blind spot: developing long-term goals. Short and medium-term goals — the decisions that are a day, a month, or even several months out — were no problem. But sifting through sets of complex information to decide a way forward that might affect me a year or more out eluded me. I sat in the proverbial waiting space from “Oh the Places You’ll Go,” and just… waited.

Setting long-term goals can be easy if they’re lofty, like: make more money, or exercise more, or learn to cook. But these aren’t necessarily achievable (in that they aren’t quantifiable), and they don’t prescribe a way forward that addresses the complex nature of the problem. Why aren’t you exercising, what’s preventing you from earning more, etc.?

And so I set about to devise support systems that would help me identify root causes to issues that I faced, and chart a path forward to their solution. Not too much time has passed since I’ve done that, but I figured it might be interesting to share some of the things I came up with in case it could help anyone else.

  1. Find objective mentors in positions you’d like to be in. This doesn’t just mean professional mentors, but people who you look up to in life, play, and family. After you’ve developed that list, set up a regular meeting with them to lay out where you are at, what you’re having problems with, and what opportunities you see going forward. Having a group of outside mentors helps you bring in a more diverse array of information that may lay out paths you’d never considered. These might be paths you could follow, or paths you want to avoid.
  2. Ask yourself worst-case scenario questions. Your mentor might provide insight into where you need to go, or what you need to avoid, but they aren’t you. Only you know what the worst-case scenario is for any potential decision: could you lose your house, or your job, or something even more valuable? Asking yourself “what is the worst thing that could happen?” helps identify potential pitfalls that you force out of your mind. Even more, it forces you to think through why that thing might happen.
  3. Lay out multiple potential paths. There is no one correct way forward, and best options are subjective and time-based. For me, then, it’s important to lay out multiple potential paths and mentally map their potential convergences and divergences. How can these objectives complement each other? By doing this, you prevent yourself from putting blinders on and chasing after one goal when, in fact, another potential opportunity could overlap and complement it.

Using this short methodology, I’ve been able to identify three long-term objectives that I’d like to work on. Then I’ve started breaking those larger goals into shorter, more achievable tasks with milestones. More importantly, I feel like I finally have a productive path forward that is leading me toward what I want to do.

I’ll let you know how it goes in a year.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

This Should Work Session 5 – Changing Kids Edu Toys, Building Museum Exhibits, and Making with Rachel Hellenga

I really enjoyed talking with Rachel. She has deep experience in designing spaces, experiences, and exercise that advance STEAM learning and making, and deeply cares about approaching education for kids the right way. Hope you enjoy.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

6 Tools That I Use to Manage My Work


Everything in my workflow inevitably finds its way to Omnifocus. It’s my secret weapon. In addition to the baked-in features that allow you to track to-do items based on context (i.e. home, work) and projects, Omnifocus offers plugins that allow you to add items to it through a browser plugin, or through your email client. Here’s how I use it:

  • Email: If something enters my email inbox, and I can’t reply to it immediately, I right click and “Send to Omnifocus.” This allows me to archive the email in my inbox, and set a date for when I should definitively respond to the item. The email then appears in Omnifocus as its Subject Line, with a link in the notes that opens the email in my inbox.
  • Browser: We’ve all had a browser tab problem at one time or another. I’ve solved this problem, in part, by using Omnifocus. If something’s in my browser and is important enough to warrant a to-do item, I click on the Omnifocus plugin, set a date when I want to come back to the website, and hit Save.

In addition to these two primary uses, I do a few other things in Omnifocus to keep me honest, including:

  • Thank You: I have a weekly recurring item that encourages me to send a “thank you” to someone who I appreciate.
  • Divergent Thought: I have another weekly recurring item to reach out to someone (from a large list that I’ve built) to see if they’re available to grab a coffee in the next week.
  • Write: T,W,Th of every week, I have an item reminding me to write.
  • Hustle: Every weekday, I have an item that reminds me to push some business or otherwise new endeavor forward.
  • Updates: At the end of the work week on Friday, I have a note to send a group of relevant individuals updates on what I did during the week.


My chosen email client. I use Airmail to centralize my email inboxes, and also to keep track of the day-to-day things that I need to do. This one is a little less in-depth than Omnifocus, because I actually employ the Inbox Zero strategy that you can read all about over here.


Over the years I’ve come to define a creative process that works well for me, and Evernote is an integral part of that process. In short, my process is:

  • Divergence, or Hunting
  • Narrowing
  • Action

Evernote fits really well into the divergence phase, where (in part) I need to collect information from multiple disparate sources. Evernote allows me to take pictures of my notes and make them text-searchable with OCR. It also gives me the ability to save other pictures, voice notes, websites, text notes, music, and any other form of media into buckets.

My buckets are defined, loosely, by the general directions I’m hunting in. If I’m working on a new hardware badge, it might get a bucket that begins to collect other related (or seemingly unrelated) things I notice on the Internet, hurried voice notes after a thought occurs to me, or anything else. Once the bucket gains direction, I begin to shift out of Evernote and into something like Basecamp (which you can read all about how to use here).


Pinboard is a pretty simple tool, so this won’t take too long. Honestly, to fight my hoarding tendencies, I use Pinboard to save websites and other information I might want to (but rarely ever do) come back to. It’s a way to get things off of my mind and off of my browser to clear mind space up for other things, but while also satisfying that little part of me that wants to hold onto everything.


I love Instapaper! In contrast to Pinboard, where I stash things that I suspect I’m holding onto for no good reason, Instapaper is where I save articles, journal pieces, short stories, and longer-form media that I’m interested in reading. I’ve built in a habit where every night, before going to bed, I flip through my Instapaper reads and make sure (after reading it) to either archive the piece, send to Omnifocus for some action item, or send to Evernote to inform a project that I’m working on..


Most people don’t use RSS readers any more, but I think they’re still relevant and important tools for those of us seeking to exit the echo chamber of “news that bubbles up” through social media. Reeder is my app of choice, and I read it once in the morning, and once after work to catch up on possible relevant news. In Reeder, I’ve organized my news thusly:

  • Business
  • Design
  • Family
  • Games
  • Hacking
  • Higher Ed
  • Making
  • Outdoors
  • Politics
  • Science
  • Technology

And for those interested, some of my favorite places for news are:

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Chicago Makers Resources

I started to compile a list of different makerspaces, links, books, and other community resources for makers in Chicago (inspired by Chicago Makes Games). If you have any additional information that’s missing (of which I’m sure there’s a lot!) please reach out, and I’ll make sure to get it added on.

You can check out the list of resources here.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

This Should Work Session 4 – “And They Learned Things, So That Was Good”

Really enjoyed this interview with my old friend Andrew Morrison. Andrew is a physicist, maker, and community leader. His work with steelpan drums and the physics of music are absolutely fascinating, and his passion for the maker community is clear to anyone listening. Enjoy.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Idea Realization Lab Summer Updates

With Summer officially over at the IRL, it’s time to review what we’ve done, where we’re headed, and the status of the space and our community. Here’s the IRL Summer Report.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Technology Can’t Fix Education

Improving Tech Education Doesn’t Start with Tech

Technology might not, this time, be the main source of disruption. This is because education, which is arguably one of our society’s most important industries, might be different: It’s about working with people.

The implicit shock in the first sentence of this quote is astounding, as if it’s saying “wait, technology can’t solve everything?” As a husband to an educator — a real one, who went to get her degree in education, then onto her Master’s, and so on — it’s always surprised me how tech people and, well, everybody really, assumes they can do better than a person who’s been trained to teach.

But this doesn’t just apply to education, does it? There are a lot of fields out there that deal with “working with people,” yet we presume technology can disrupt them, or that a technologist untrained in the field can somehow bring better ideas to the table. Look no further than the bevy of useless STEM and STEAM toys, kits, and curricula which purport to educate when in fact they do nothing of the sort.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

ASTC 2018 Speaking Engagement

I’ll be speaking at the Association of Science – Technology Centers in early October. Reach out and let me know if you’ll be there, too! Here’s a preview:

Making Makerspaces: Developing a Positive Community, Culture, and Traditions

Makerspaces are not about the tools within them; they’re the community of people within them and the hands-on learning that they foster. This session will discuss the development of makerspaces within larger institutions from the standpoint of community, inclusiveness, and encouraging self-efficacy.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Makerspaces in Higher Education

Here’s an event I’ll be speaking at that anyone’s invited to come out and enjoy:

Join the staff and class of LSP 111: The Maker Movement in Chicago for a talk and discussion with Prof. Jay Margalus on the topic of Makerspaces in Higher Education.

Jay is a computer scientist and designer with a focus in emerging tech. He is the Faculty Director at DePaul University’s Idea Realization Lab, and teaches in DePaul’s School of Design. He has been making makerspaces for over a decade in and around Chicago, and literally wrote the certification on making for Caterpillar, Inc. He makes the custom hardware games Thotcon 0x9Thotcon 0x8, and Big Data Outbreak. You can read about him in the Chicago Tribune or see see his recent talks and keynotes for Crowdsupply’s: Teardown, the American Medical Association and Chicago Public Schools.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus