Zack Aman

13 Mar 2015

How to Make (Almost) Anything

How to Make (Almost) Anything is a class at the MIT Media Lab that focuses on machine fabrication. They worked together to build a modular CNC machine kit out of cardboard that basically provides several axes of movement as well as hold points that can hold items such as pencils.

There are two things in particular I like about this project: that it exposes something relatively opaque, and it’s potential for creating new projects. It makes it very clear how CNC routing happens — the individual components that control motion and contact are easy to understand on their own through the modular design of the kit. Regarding the utility of tool, I loved seeing them work on cardboard and styrofoam. These are materials that we all get in abundance in packaging and then have to figure out to dispose of. I’d love the ability to take packaging that is otherwise bound for the trash or recycling and have the ability to easily repurpose it as a creative material.

I’m drawn into the project because of it’s apparent simplicity. The machine looks like something I could assemble. It heavily reminds me of the PrinterBot kits, which are similar in concept (though for 3d printing); however, I watched my colleagues spend way more time trying to assemble the PrinterBot kits with no small amount of frustration. One thing that I would like to see is a clear on-boarding process that makes it easy for people to assemble the kit, which I think would be in line with the democratizing drive of simple, cheap fabrication methods. The question they need to answer effectively is: “Is the money I save with a kit worth the potential frustration of self-assembly?”


Satelliten is a project that maps the paths of satellites in a low-earth orbit onto an actual atlas map by using a set up similar to the CNC router in the project above.

The single thing that draws me into this project the most is the juxtaposition between automation and the old school, decidedly analog book the paths are drawn onto. There’s something about that and the way it’s documented that just feels right, as if the book is somehow being updated to reflect our newer, digital world.

Beyond that, it’s a pretty simple concept with straightforward execution. I enjoyed watching the square get darker and darker with time, which made me wonder if darkness would be a reliable (and explicit) way to look at satellite traffic across the world if the drawable area were bigger. I’d like to see more some more variation, perhaps if the color could change over time or if different colors were used for different types of satellites. It may also be worth conveying altitude or speed to show how different kinds of satellites fly.

This work is reminiscent of weather patterns, and in fact bears a lot of similarity with Epic’s hurricane visualization. The Quadrature folks explicitly state that they are interested in outer space, so it makes sense that they would visualize satellites, an item that are beyond our normal thoughts and perception and yet clutter our atmosphere and have an increasing impact on our daily lives.