Al Billings bio photo

Al Billings

Former @openbuddha, Tabletop RPG Geek, Buddhist, Security Program Manager, Director at Ace Monster Toys (@AMT), an Oakland Hackerspace.

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Short Update

A short update of a list of things I’ve been doing lately…

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Drones aka multi-rotor copters

I built a tricopter with my Kang’s help (a friend of mine from Mozilla and formerly a teammate on secass). I managed to almost make it fly before I crapped it out. I’m still trying to debug why it likes to flip over instead of fly but, hey, I learned how to assemble a copter from scratch, flash open source firmware on my speed controllers, and find something useful to do with my craptastic soldering skills. It is fun. I also have a hexacopter, which is quite a beast when it flies and the kind of thing that makes you involtunarily take a step back when you turn it on. I’m going to be re-building an old quadcopter when I get the gumption to bother.

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3D Printers

I’m still working on 3D printers. My Printrbot Jr. has been modified a bit with more to come. For such a cheap little machine, it is a pretty good workhorse. I’ve got at least two other printers (a small Delta style and the foldarap from early this year) partially assembled and waiting to be finished. I don’t really need more than one working printer so the motivation is always a little lacking but I work on them slowly. The process of building printers several times is what finally teached me how the mechanical and electrical parts work. With one of my buddies, Atom, from Ace Monster Toys, there is a plan to do a simple through-hole solder 3D printer controller as an all in one unit but done cheaply for under $50. That ought to be interesting.

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Bitcoin Mining

While I’ve had friends doing it for a while, on a lark I picked up a couple of ASIC-based bitcoin miners as dedicated hardware a while ago. I managed to get them, along with buying a few bitcoins directly, before the massive recent increase in prices. I look on it as an experiment and one that I don’t take very seriously. “Never gamble money you can’t afford to lose” is a good motto. If I lost everything that I put in, I would call it a lesson learned but so far I’m actually looking to break even on the cost of the gear in about two months (including the costs of power). My main complaint with it so far is that the miners are in my home office because they need decent network connectivity and I also work in there. It is kind of like working next to a pair of hairdryers that you never turn off (on a plus note, I’m not cold). I’ve had to find various places for doing my videoconferencing as the noise can be a bit burdensome. I’m quite interested in where bitcoin may wind up going but I really don’t have any expectations.

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Tabletop Role-Playing Games

The short explanation is always “You remember Dungeons and Dragons? Well, it is like that except we don’t play D&D.” Right now there is a renaissance of independent role-playing games going on (for most of a decade now but really kicked up further by things like kickstarter). I was in an RPG group that met once a month, then twice a month, and now we have a weekly pickup game with people who feel like playing along with two Sundays a month of regular sessions. The weekly games have been used as an opportunity for us to play one or two-off games that are either interesting concept pieces or just intriguing without any kind of commitment to regular play. I and two of the cohort have plotted out an extended scenario/game, using the very simple Lady Blackbird rules as a basis, involving the shift from Pulp Era Heroes (think “The Shadow”) to Golden Age Superheroes (think “Superman”). We’re going to do some design work on this and playtest it with our group before releasing it under some kinf of Creative Commons license.

Beyond all of this, I’m on the board once again of my local hackerspace, the aforementioned Ace Monster Toys, and it continues to thrive. I may also be going to Japan for a week or two in March on matters Buddhist related but nothing has been set in stone as of yet. My work is still focused on being a program manager for security over at Mozilla (though I largely focus on Firefox efforts).