Visiting the Kodama office

Let’s start with some context: I’m a Kickstarter backer for the Kodama Obsidian 3D printer. The thing is long overdue, as so often happens for hardware crowdfunding campaigns. The backer communication was spotty at best, but two weeks ago, CEO Michael Husmann started posting video updates where he gave an apology for all the delays and promised more regular updates for the future. So far, that promise holds, and I also had an opportunity to do a quick visit of the Kodama office in Berlin.

The office is as tiny as the Kickstarter Update video shows: One room in a coworking space, crammed full with four desks and a shelf holding 3D‐printers and parts. There are printers on the desks too!

me (on the right) and the Kodama Berlin team

So, right from the outset: Kodama is definitely an existing company, and I do believe they are working hard on finishing and delivering a 3D printer.

The Furling situation clearly doesn’t sit easy with the Kodama team, and I can’t say how things exactly broke down, and right now, I also don’t care.

In the end, the situation is as it is: Kodama had to transition from „marketing, product management & fulfilment company with a trusted partner to develop and oversee production“ to „do everything on your own and from scratch“. That is a major pivot with a very steep learning curve.

So yes, they did burn more money than planned when calculating the Kickstarter, but Chris and Michael reassured me that they do have the funds to finish production and ship everything. There’s still revenue from the Trinus coming in for example, and they are also releasing a new Trinus version soonish.

Having to switch their sourcing agent in China didn’t help the schedule either, but the new agent seems a lot more helpful and active.

The Obsidian without housing, but with the penultimate version of the PCB. The build bed is a BuildTak metal sheet (covered in blue tape here) that is magnetically attached to the platform.

Nonetheless: I saw a working printer prototype, and the team obviously understands the machine down to every detail. They know exactly which parts will end up in the production model, and are in the process of reviewing all the sourcing offers for them.

A thing that I didn’t exactly realize until today was that they won’t use the standard nozzle/heatbreak system that you for example find at Ender type of printers. Instead the nozzle will be in a proprietary form‐factor and being held by a quick‐release system, so you can exchange it quite easily. Might be old information to some, but I didn’t know :)

I also quite like the quick‐clamp mechanism on the bowden feeder. My current printer is a CR‐10S, and the one on the Obsidian looks&feels a lot more finger‐friendly!

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The printer in action

The PCB has iterated a few times and as of Tuesday, they were eagerly waiting for the courier service to deliver the latest version. The one before had minor electrical noise, easily fixed. If that one tests out fine, they’ll have the golden sample and the PCB can go into production.

But other things are in a bit of flux: The LCD UI isn’t done yet, the app is still being worked on, and most of the parts that comprise the Plus and Deluxe versions are not final yet either.

When I asked for status on the sourcing, I got an exhaustive run‐on‐sentence answer on how they do it, what kind of things are on the desk right now, and that things are progressing, and so on. What I wanted to see though was a simple burndown chart: We need X parts, have sourced Y, which leaves us with Z. Once we have everything, we need to do steps A. B, and C.

They obviously do know what they need to do and what the status of all these things is. But they don’t have them in a simple list where they can cross them off. Because no one has the time to make that list.

It’s something I recognize as similar to what I’ve seen as an consultant when I was visiting overworked IT departments: They know they have a ton of work ahead of it, and so many people feeling let down and being impatient, they just hunker down and get crunching, pulling ever‐longer hours and digging down ever‐deeper, never actually getting the breathing room to implement the things that make work easier or faster.

So, when I mentioned that burndown chart, I think I accidentally broke through the fog: Michael immediately understood what I meant, and why it is obviously something they need, so we should hopefully see that in the next Kickstarter update.

To summarize: Those are passionate folks who really want to deliver what was promised. They are fighting an uphill battle. This is partly due to things that happened outside their control, and partly because there were probably some overly optimistic assumptions when starting the Kickstarter campaign.

But they seem to have all the things they need to finish this. As to the when — I am no hardware production person, so I can’t comment on that. But I also understand Michaels reluctance to give any sort of specific timeline after having overpromised one time too many.

Still, I’m pretty positive that I will have my own Obsidian Deluxe eventually. To say it with 3D Realms iconic words: „When it’s done!“

Disclosure: This post would have included ramifications on an idea that a few backers voiced on the Obsidian Creatives Facebook group. Everyone at Kodama seemed pretty excited about it, as it would help avoid delivery delays for a portion of backers. Alas, that idea might very well not work due to technical restrictions, and Chris and Michael asked me to not get anyone’s hopes up, until at least they’ve cleared the unknowns on this. I think that is fair enough, so I leave that part out.

Darth Poppins, here we come…

Last year, on a whim, I backed the Rainsaber on Kickstarter:

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Then, while waiting through the inevitable Kickstarter Project delivery delay, we watched Mary Poppins Returns — a movie that is sort of ok, but Emily Blunt ain’t Julie Andrews, sorry.

Anyway, while watching the movie, we riffed around the title, and ended up saying that it being the second movie, it should’ve been called „Mary Poppins Strikes Back“. And then I mentioned off‐handedly that we’re getting a lightsaber umbrella kinda soon…

Your parents lied to you… I am your nanny!

Darth Poppins

So, with Nordcon coming up in June, and the saber hopefully arriving before that, we’re working on a Darth Poppins Cosplay. It’ll revolve around the umbrella, and of course it’ll need the correct pommel.

Thankfully, Ben was game and sent me the 3D file for the pommel cap:

And with some 3D builder magic, this emerged from my printer:

Spit Spot, this death star won’t built itself you know!

The parrot head was a bit more challenging though. The first try came out WAY too big:

(yes, that is 14cm width. Basically impossible to hold comfortably.)

I tinkered a bit more, and now got it down to a comfortable size, it just needs painting and, of course, the actual saber. In the meantime, the girlfriend needs to do the sewing for the actual costume, but that’s not my department anymore.. :D

Use the force, choke them, the lads.
choke them, choke them, choke them, the lads.

Small‐scale pods as moderation advantage

Yesterday, I had a lengthy discussion with a proponent of big centralised social media platforms. Not because they have a particular love for big companies, but because moderation is actually one of these issues that are hard to do right.

The numbers I could find say that about 20% of all content posted in social media needs to get removed from moderation. Most of this is probably automated spam and similar, but there is also a fair amount of graphic violence, outright porn and, because humans are terrible, abuse and hate.

Moderators who have to sift through all this have the worst life, not few of them have to get counseling after a while.

So if you do moderation, you have to have the infrastructure in place to deal with large volume of content, the wellbeing of your staff, all the hassle of dealing with complaints about your moderation plus whatever regulatory requirements are needed.

Typically, this calls for a large scale operation.

Now, one of the reasons this happens is because people behave differently in a large‐scale corporate environment than within their smaller circle of friends and acquaintances. If your social media pod is run by someone closer to you, you tend not to shit the bed so to speak. Because you know that your behaviour will possibly reflect poorly on your host.

If you federate the system, good moderation will still be needed, but it is entirely possible that one won’t have to deal with that many bad things, especially if there is an option to cut off whole pods from the federation if they behave too badly.

Of course, that last bit needs to be very carefully tuned, lest it results in censorship.

Online Interaction types — what is there, what do I look for?

While going through the Spreadsheet I created as a tool after writing the last blogpost here, I realized that what was completely obvious to me, isn’t necessarily to others. Mostly because the whole argument about the details was mostly in my head.

So, let’s write it down:

To start, and to have a common vocabulary, we should set down a few basic communication model parameters:

  • Realtime versus Asynchronous.
  • One to one vs One to Many or even Many to Many
  • Closed vs Open
Realtime is the discussion we have at the breakfast table, or when we trashtalk our opponents inside a videogame, in a meeting, over the phone or even text or video chats. The key element is that it happens in real time, attendance is perceived and people generally consider it rude if you make them wait for an answer too long.Asynchronous communication is much more robust in regard to time constraints. In olden times, we simply knew that the messenger pigeon will take a while to deliver that missive to the King, so we waited. Letters took their time, and it was acknowledged that the recipient will then need time and effort to compose a proper answer.
One to One is a discussion with just two participants. That can be realtime (a phone call) or asynchronous (a letter).One to Many used to be the prerogative of official proclamations, public speeches and, later, newspapers and radio or tv broadcasts.
Many to Many is something that we have quite a lot today on the Internet. A group of people communicating within itself, or with another group of people. Sometimes in there, you have a few separate one‐to‐one conversations. Sometimes everyone is listening to just one person, sometimes everyone is broadcasting at once while no one listens.
Closed communications strive to be private — no one outside the elected circle may listen in — or they may listen in, but they are not allowed to participate.Open on the other hand is there for all to see, hear and join.

And on top of those models, we have the selectors by which people decide which communications they want to see or even participate in:

  • Serendipitous discovery
  • by topic
  • by curator

Serendipitous discovery of new topics, persons and discussions is something that is, in my mind, incredibly important these days. We need to be exposed to ideas and persons we wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. We often don’t know that we were missing an idea or something before we actually found it. I cannot search for unknown unknowns.

What I can look for are topics: Show me articles about that car I plan to buy. Or I’m looking for a place to discuss my new favorite game. Systems that make it easy for me to find those topics are helpful — but they tend to keep me in that bubble, I don’t often learn about things outside that topic.

Human Curators of content are incredibly important. Malcolm Gladwell calls them "Mavens" — a group of people that hunt out information about things and then strive to educate people about those. These curators are often very similar to a discovery by topic, because they usually have a theme, a thing that they are mostly interested in. But not exclusively so. Everyone has side hobbies, interests that are not obvious, and these make their way into the communication stream of a curator too.

Finally, we need to look at the different bits of communication and who owns them: This is less interesting in a face to face conversation in a room, without any technical tools, but gets really important very fast if you do things over the Internet.

Take this blog article here. It is written by me, posted on my Blog. I wholly own and control it — I can delete it if I want to, I can edit and revise it.

I also control the comments that are submitted on this Blog. If you have something to say about this and want to correct me, you can submit a comment here, that everyone will then be able to read.

But I will still own the comment in some sense — I will be able to hide it, delete it, even completely ban you from ever commenting again. Heck, WordPress even allows me to edit the comment, putting words into your mouths that you have never intended to write!

(I could have a variety of reasons to do so: I found what was written offensive. Or deemed it to be just not helpful for the discussion I wanted to have. Or I just don’t like the commentator. Some of these reasons can be completely legitimate, some are somewhat to very hostile)

If you want to assure ownership of your writing, you will have to do so on your own Blogpage. You could write an article of your own, pointing at mine and say whatever you want to say and I could not immediately delete it.

Different communication systems handle this ownership differently — Twitter, Mastodon and similar systems don’t know any post‐comment separation. Everything is a post, and every post fully belongs to the person who made it. That has upsides (as no one can maliciously remove your contribution) but also downsides (no one can easily take stewardship of a discussion, not even with the noblest of intents)

Lastly, there are some concerns about safety: Sadly, there will always be people who use communication systems to harass others. They could use technology to stalk people, flood their screens with hateful messages or simply spread rumors and lies about them. A good system will need a few tools to address that:

  • mute a person (prevent them from talking to you. They can still see your content, but are unable to show up on your screen)
  • block a person (same as muting, but they will also be unable to see your content)
  • throw someone out of the whole communication network (they cannot interact with anyone on this system anymore, at all.)

Not all of these tools should be in everyone’s hands (I should be able to decide that someone cannot see my things anymore, but a complete ban needs a higher and accountable authority), and not all of these need to be applied for a lifetime — sometimes it is sufficient to mute someone on just this one conversation, or for just a month. Sometimes people learn after a ban and come back as a better person.

So, having set down some definitions and ideas, how does all that relate to what I expect from a system that allows me to interact with others on a daily basis?

  • In case you haven’t noticed — I love the serendipity aspect of the Internet. It is a machine that keeps showing me new and exciting things and people.
  • I also am more interested in persons than topics — so I have a greater need to follow those, instead of just subscribing to car‐news and roleplaying games.
  • Even if everyone comes with the very best intentions — moderation of a discussion is important. And I prefer if those moderation powers come in very small packages, limiting the scope of the moderation to just certain parts. If not, this can quickly sour a whole community if things go wrong.
  • I believe in ambient findability. That means that it should always be easy to see the whole discussion, and where they branch off. Threaded views are key for this.
  • Text — I love memes. Really. Communicating ideas and feelings with bits of moving pictures is a great thing. And I love gorgeous photography or a well‐made video. But to convey complex ideas, Text is still the best carrier. Sure, make it illustrated and hyperlinked text, where you can look up related information. But due to so many restrictions (screen size, disabilities, can’t have audio on because I’m in a quiet place, I just don’t have the bandwith because #Neuland)
  • Lastly, and this has nothing to do with the things I outlined above, whatever system we use to build our social media stream with, it should be as open, portable and vendor‐lockin‐free as possible. Because we learned the hard way what happens otherwise…