The Factr team connected with member, Timothy Weber, on his most recent endeavor, a Halloween project centered around the creation of a skull whose eyes followed movement. We asked questions regarding his project and the role Factr played in bringing it to fruition. This conversation took place approximately midway through the project which has since been completed, successfully spooking unknowing trick-or-treaters on Halloween!

Q: Why did you decide to back Factr on Kickstarter?

A: Factr initially caught my eye on Kickstarter because I’ve been thinking critically about social media for several years now, and more particularly since I worked at a computer security company. The political, social, and cultural effects of the current crop of popular platforms and apps seem substantially negative to me. So I was already asking “What would an ethical social media site look like?” And I’d already come to the same preliminary conclusion that I saw in Factr’s Kickstarter--that a free service, paid for by advertising, has inherent limitations, and charging a small fee is a more ethical and practical model that focuses the platform on valuing your attention instead of on commoditizing it.

What I didn’t know was how Factr envisioned their product working. When I saw the beta, I liked the design--it seemed easy to use and the concept set was clear, and I could easily see how to use it. But I wasn’t sure why I wanted to use it. It seemed clearly useful to people who need to collect a lot of links about a topic, but I don’t often do that.

So, I wanted to get to know Factr in more depth and to do that I’d have to really use it for something. I was about to start a new spare-time electronics project, a skull with glowing eyes for Halloween, and I realized that I do collect links to reference data about such projects, which I usually keep in a bunch of browser tabs while I’m working on them. That’s pretty awkward and makes switching to a different computer a bit hard! So, I figured I’d store the links in a Factr stream, so I could look at them from there when I needed them. Then I realized I could make the stream public and use it as a Work In Progress blog as well.

Q: Where are you at with your skull project?

A: As I’m writing, I’m waiting for a ten-hour 3D print to finish. The print contains the skull’s eyes and nose--where all the action happens. The electronics are functional, and I’m generally working on the physical portions now--3D printing, building up the parts and figuring out how to make it hang together as seamlessly as possible (literally and figuratively). I’m getting nervous about the looming deadline!

10+ hour 3D printing process for the skull

Q: Has using Factr altered or had an impact on your workflow?

A: Since I made the stream public, I fell into a goal of posting something every time I had a chance to work on my project. I’ve rarely done that for past projects. I think Factr’s informal “the whole stream could be just links” design, plus its solid visual design (making all the content types look good together), felt freeing, like I could post something short or long, visual or textual, and it would all be OK.

Committing to that frequent-posting goal, in turn, has made me focus a bit more on visualization and documentation--I’ve taken more videos and done more detailed 3D renderings. In some sense, that’s a distraction; I don’t need cool animated GIFs to make a prototype. But it’s also possible that I’m learning from that pre-visualization. For instance, after doing a slick-looking 3D rendering with good light simulation, I realized that the glowing eyes would light the eye sockets, and they, in turn, would reflect off of the front surfaces of the LCD displays. Knowing about that potential problem earlier helps me think about ways to solve it.

Q: Can you share the process of your project (beginning-middle-end)?

A: That kind of iterative problem-solving is central to designing a new electronic gadget. There are always new discoveries and unanticipated consequences of combining things in a certain way. That’s why I generally try to tackle the riskiest things first. In this case, I wasn’t sure the thermal camera would really be usable to direct the eyes; would it be too slow? Too narrow? Not sensitive enough? There were plenty of things that could go wrong. So, I got that working before anything else. My next big question is, will it work well outside at night? That’s why my next step is to get the whole physical object ready to test, as simply as possible.

Q: What have you enjoyed most about using Factr?

A: I’ve enjoyed the way that Factr seems to get out of the way during this process. I can easily post something at the end of a work session, even though my brain is mostly fried by that point. Then I can share the stream with someone else, and they don’t need to make an account or learn any terminology or even be aware that they’re using a new social media site. And when I’m telling friends what I’m working on, I can easily bring the stream up on my phone and show the latest images.

In that past, I’ve wondered about publicly documenting these kinds of personal projects. On the one hand, it brings some feedback and some enjoyable attention. On the other, it takes time. Sometimes it seems like it takes as long to document a project as to do it--which means if I didn’t share my projects publicly, I could do twice as many!

But this time, with Factr, I don’t feel like it’s cost me a huge amount of time to do that documentation. And it’s been fun and rewarding to post more detailed progress to Factr. So maybe Factr is improving my whole process!

Ask me again, though, after Halloween, when we see how much I was able to finish in time--and wish me luck! Five hundred trick-or-treaters constitute a very hard deadline.

Final skull and eyes