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Spacelab

My home away from home. The place where I go to work and think, and have been doing so for over seven years. I’ve built everything from tables, to games, to electronic toys in this space. The dream has always been that anyone who becomes a member can feel the same creative energy that I do whenever I walk in the door.

Memberships go on discount in a few days. You can apply now for the discount rate over at our website.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Book Survey

My old pal and co-collaborator Dave Wolinsky and I are working on a book tentatively entitled “HOW TO MAKE ANYTHING,” a book about getting un-stuck when you’re stuck, and making awesome things. If you have a second, we’re circulating a survey that we’d love to have you fill out to help us understand the lay of the land a little more.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Industrial Design – Finally


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Connections and Space

We’ve been moving things around at Spacelab this past week, and in the process, we created a textiles room and a digital fabrication room.

Giving clearer context to where things can be found is important for navigation. Drawing lines that are too strong can be problematic, too, as you end up creating silos that prevent seeing clear connections between things.

The first computer program written, by many accounts, was for a loom.

There are advantages to having an area where textiles things happen, and an area where digital things happen, but hopefully people will see the hidden connections between the two, even though they’re in separate spaces.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Session 25 – Amanda Hudgins, Thosuand Button Project, Unwinnable, and More!

Another fun episode of This Should Work*! This time with Amanda Hudgins. Description:

Amanda Hudgins is a game designer and the creator of the Thousand Button Project, many other awesome alternative controllers, and is the managing editor of Unwinnable. Amanda’s game projects have been featured at events like Bit Bash and at many other events — I had a really fun time with this interview! Enjoy.

For more on Amanda’s work, check out http://amandathrows.rocks/
Visit Amanda on Twitter @ barelyconcealed

Other Notes from the show:

  • Thousand Button Project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eN1zWjLXeo8&list=PLi_Qv13BlyFKa_tkxXMa-FkvcC51ee8yh&index=9&t=0s
  • Amanda Hudgins Assembles an Alternative Controller: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbXhyDn7wr4

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Encoding Self

Over the summer, as Faculty Director of makerspaces at DePaul, I wrote a process document for anyone who might wind up in my position some day in the future. The practice was spurred on by some internal changes that we were making as we grew, but in the process of writing the document I turned it into an exercise in understanding which parts of the things I do — which parts of me — I wanted to leave encoded into these spaces I’d spent so much time on.

It strikes me that just about every plan that we write — every business document, yearly plans, strategic directions — is an exercise in encoding individual or collective values into a process. A plan should be an extension of you and how you contextualize the world around you. If they don’t do that, then they’re useless.

At best, this means you’re creating a legacy. Some part of you that lives beyond your own individual, everyday exertions. You are creating an entity that lives as an extension of you, but beyond you.

At worst, this means that you’re encoding your biases, negative experiences, and fears into processes that exert influence over others. You are creating an entity that causes harm through its very existence.

Plans are ways to exert control over uncertain circumstances by assigning our best procedural thinking to the task. As a result of implementation, we need to think less, and can act more. Thinking less can be a good thing, but just like with everyday decisions, we should learn to question why we’re able to think less.

Be very careful about the plans you make.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

5 Favorite Tools and Gear of 2019

For the people who know me, it goes without saying that I’m a tools-and-gear-thing person. Physical, digital, even digital-physical things… there’s something about having the right object that can help you take stuff apart, make quick repairs, make new things, make life easier, or just help manage resources.

Given that I spend so much time thinking about these kinds of things, I thought it’d be useful to share with you the five pieces of gear I picked up in 2019 that have made a huge difference. Here they are.

1. Sawstop
This wasn’t a personal purchase, but instead, something we bought at the Idea Realization Lab. When I give tours of the space, I often say that safety is about respect — not fear. I also tell folks that the table saw is likely the most dangerous thing inside the space.

When we owned our old job site table saw, I used to spend sleepless nights worrying about what might happen if it were used improperly. The Sawstop, with its ability to stop the blade on a dime if it feels skin touching it, helps me go to bed a lot easier. And while having a piece of equipment like the Sawstop doesn’t mean that everything is *fine and perfectly safe*, it does make the space a lot safer.

2. MSR Hubba NX 1-Person Tent
We own an MSR Hubba Hubba two person tent for when Sarah and I go out backpacking together, but seeing as how we have three (going on four) children at home now, getting out to backpack together has become difficult. I brought along our two person tent to a few backpacking trips last year, and felt like I could reduce the weight I was carrying and footprint I took up at campsites.

The Hubba NX was a perfect piece of gear to achieve those ends. In a recent trip to Isle Royale, I was able to cut precious pounds off my pack weight while also fitting into tighter spots at campsites. Also noteworthy: on the second day of the Isle Royale trip it poured buckets — to the point where I felt like I was swimming in my own clothes. When we got to the campsite, I was a little worried that the tent wouldn’t withstand the rain. To my delight, the Hubba NX kept dry and set up so fast that it barely got wet inside before I could get the rain fly on.

3. Full Focus Planner
Based on a recommendation from a friend earlier this year, I bought a book by Michael Hyatt a while back called Free to Focus. I’m not a consistent self-help book reader, but F2F really connected with me, and helped me get out of a treadmill-like funk that I’d been in.

So, after finishing the book, I went right out and bought a Full Focus Planner (also by Hyatt) — it’s made a huge difference in my long-term strategic thinking. The planner takes a bit of time to set up, but that’s because it’s asking you to think about things like your quarterly professional/personal goals, your roadmap to achieving those goals, and the reasons you want to achieve them. It then has you revisit those goals weekly and daily to plan out your schedule — something I’d been missing in the past. While that might seem like a lot of planning, I’ve always subscribed to the Eisenhower principle that while plans are useless, planning is indispensable.

4. Jabra Elite Active wireless earbuds
Yard work is more or less my duty around the house, and that’s fine because I really enjoy it. One of the things I started doing a few years ago was listening to podcasts while I mowed the lawn — it seemed like a productive thing to be doing while taking care of an otherwise singular activity. But, dumb-dumb that I am, I was blasting the podcasts on my cheap headphones and, eventually, it occurred to me that this was bad for my hearing. And really, in general, even the noise of a traditional lawnmower is bad for hearing.

So after some careful research, I landed on these wireless earbuds that would cancel lawnmower noise and also be good for things like jogging, filtering out noise on the train, and other similar situations. I have not been disappointed. These headphones have a cool feature that allows you to turn on/off outside noise so you can hear what’s going on, take phone calls using their built-in microphone, and switch seamlessly between two devices simultaneously over Bluetooth. Best headphones I’ve owned.

5. Pilot FriXion Clicker
A good pen is invaluable, and for me, this is now my device of choice. I am a big (as Willy Wonka would say) “strike that, reverse it” kind of thinker, and that thinking is often reflected in my writing. What that typically means is a lot of scratch-outs and write-overs.

Call me a newb, but I had no idea that there was such a thing as an erasable pen. But this last year I learned (through the same aforementioned Hyatt book) that such things existed and, in fact, were quite useful. I buy these pens on a quarterly basis now because I find myself giving them to folks to try out, and burning through them with my constant note taking.


That’s the end of my list! I hope you enjoyed it. If you have any things that you’ve found have helped you in some way, feel free to drop them in the comments/replies.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

True North

When facing tough challenges, I often ask “what is my true north?” What are my core values and how can I stay true to them?

But values can move — they aren’t static things.

The north pole, on the surface, remains in the same place. But the magnetic north pole is constantly shifting and moving consistently.

Similarly, on the surface we may remain the same thing, but underneath our values can shift. These changes may not be drastic, but fundamentally, are enough to represent drastic differences.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

This Should Work – Maya Bird-Murphy Interview

I found out about Maya’s work by happenstance, and am really glad that I did. Maya is a really interesting person who’s been working on a mobile makerspace program for kids in Chicago, and she has a unique vision on making that a reality through her background as an architect. This is a really special one. Check out the episode.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

This Should Work – Paul Valente Interview

Paul is a former teacher, now administrator at Chicago Public Schools, and he has been a friend of mine for a while now. I love talking with Paul because he gives me perspective on my thinking that I would have never gained on my own. He’s a really clever guy like that, and I hope you find the insights in this podcast as interesting as I do.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus