This is our family, and this is how we roll...

How to visit a national park that’s bicycle friendly – bicycle obsessed, in fact – with a service dog and a kid who’s averse to the tippiness of regular bikes? In the Netherlands this isn’t a problem: a cargo bike for Ethan the dog, a tricycle with lounge seating out front for Oliver.

Our Family On Our Bikes

The dedication to cycling accessibility in this part is truly something behold. We had a great day out on the trail, rambling about in the reconstructed wilderness of De Hoge Veluwe National Park.

Careful readers will see that I’ve entered the On Golden Pond phase of my life.

In the Field

Every summer when we were kids my father would go “in the field.” We assumed, I think, that every father did this, so it didn’t seem unusual: for him it meant going to a different spot on one of the Great Lakes every summer to do field work for his job as a near shore sedimentologist. Often we got to go along for at least part of the summer; indeed we watched the Moon landing on a tiny black and white television set in a VW microbus on the shore of some lake or another.

As I type I am sitting aside my own VW microbus. My “own” in the sense that we’ve rented it for 2 weeks for a tour of the Netherlands

De Hoge Veluwe National Park

I too am in the field, but in this case simply because I actually am sitting in a field, in campsite “Natuurcamping De Hoge Veluwe” that’s part of the De Hoge Veluwe National Park in the middle of the country. The view from my chair looks like this:

De Hoge Veluwe National Park

That the “sanitary station” you see in the distance, an ecologically-designed place to shower and wash dishes and ablute. It has a green roof. And a free lending library. Oh, and there’s wifi, provided as part of the site rental along with electricity.

We arrived here late this afternoon after spending a pleasant day slightly to the north in the town of Meppel. Last night we camped between a highway and a canal; we cooked breakfast and then headed into town for a lunch with Bill Whelan and Michelle Coutreau, Islanders who, as it happens, are also touring the Netherlands by VW microbus this June (this required, as you might imagine, a rendezvous: how could we not!).

We spent the afternoon at the Drukkerijmuseum Meppel, the nicest little printing museum you ever did see. Where Oliver was taken under the wing of a kindly Dutch printer who guided him through the process of making paper, setting type, and printing:

Kindly Dutch Printer with Oliver

We even got a demonstration of an Intertype machine (cousin of the Linotype), the most marvelous of marvelous machines:

Seeing the Intertype

Oliver has a slug of “Oliver Rukavina” burning a hole in his pocket, which is sure to attract the eye of airport security, or at least public health, as we make our way home.

Hoge Veluwe seems like a truly magical place: the campground is more wildernessy that others we’ve stayed at (something that Catherine, who has seen real wilderness, would dispute if she was reading over my shoulder, and that the presence of wifi would seem to contradict). There is a fleet of freely-borrowable white bicycles at the entrance and visitors are encouraged to leave their cars at the gate and bicycle about. Our plan for tomorrow is to borrow a tandem bike for Catherine and Oliver, and a cargo bike for Ethan and I, and do our own tour about.

Oh, and did I mention that in addition to all the wilderness, there’s also a museum on the grounds filled with works by Seurat, Picasso, Leger, Mondrian and others? So maybe it’s not wilderness at all.

We’ll likely stay another night so as to be able to take advantage of the twilight “Wandelen of fietsen naar een wildobservatieplaats” after supper.

And then it’s on to… not sure yet. One of the great things about being in the field – at least this one – is that there are no plans.

Making Dog Poop Bag Dispensers That Matter

We made our way from Düsseldorf to Enschede, just across the Dutch-German border, on Thursday and settled in at Stadscamping de Twentse Es, which turned out to be a friendly campground with lots of bandwidth and a lot of rabbits.

A lot of rabbits.

For Ethan this proved a frustrating novelty, at least for the first few hours. Rabbit! Oh, rabbit! Rabbit! Then the novelty wore off, and now he hardly notices the rabbits at all.

With our bones still tired, and the scheduled start time of Make Stuff that Matters (our nominal reason for being here) set for 9:00 a.m., we decided to cook dinner, then get to bed early.

We did not do that.

Well, we cooked dinner – Catherine make a nice salad with fresh strawberries – but then I recalled that Oliver and I were due to deliver a talk on Printcraft, that “make stuff in Minecraft, print out on a 3D printer” technology that’s simply delightful. So we rallied, came up with a practical need – a dispenser for the rolls of blue dog poop bags that were unravelling around the camper – and set to work on a design. Without a ruler, we were left to use a ruled notebook as a proxy: we measured things out, figured out where the bags would come out and how we could make a slotted lid. We ended up with this:

Poop Bag Holder Handwritten Plan

We then set to work building our model inside the Printcraft world, staying up far too late for our own good. When bedtime was finally upon us, we had this:

Printcraft Screen Shot

The basic idea was to build a box that was “roll of poop bag”-sized, with a slot in the top for a sliding lid, and an outlet on the side where a single poop bag could be extracted. Oliver “walked” over to the Printcraft control panel, and hit it:

Print Button in Printcraft

This generated an STL file – the lingua franca of 3D printing. We were ready for analog.

The next morning at Make Stuff that Matters at Ton and Elmine’s house, with Elmine pointing the way, we installed Cura, the app from Ultimaker (the brand of 3D printers in the house for the weekend) and converted this STL file into a G-code file required by the printer. We immediately realized that to print the box full-size was going to not only hog a 3D printer for much too long – 2 hours and 41 minutes was the estimate – but that were we to do so we’d not have the object in-hand for our demo in the afternoon. So we shrunk things down in Cura to 30% of full size, which took the print time estimate down to 19 minutes.

We put the G-code file on an SD card, put the SD card into the printer, selected the file and hit the “do it” button. Eighteen minutes later, we had a tiny poop bag box:

Poo Bag Dispenser Prototype

Truth be told, to allow the lid of the box to slide into the box required 10 minutes work of post-printing finessing with sandpaper and a pair of scissors (photo by Elmine Wijnia):

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But it worked!

A few minutes later, Oliver and I were “on stage” in Elmine and Ton’s living room telling the story of the poop bag to a diverse group of interested people (photo by Elmine Wijnia):

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Among those people listening was a young lad named Floris, a Minecraft savant: our little presentation was enough to enable Floris to make an very detailed castle in Printcraft; on the screen it looked like this:

Floris's Castle in Printcraft

Once the castle was printed, it was just amazing (photo by Ton Zijlstra):

Minecraft design, 3d printed

The level of detail was a testament to the painstaking effort Floris took in Printcraft, dropping each block where it needed to go.

The opening salvo in Ton’s scene-setting for Make Stuff that Matters was a suggestion that we come to look at “making” not as a solitary digital act commited behind a screen, but as a participatory act of community. The exercises that Ton and Elmine designed to nudge us to that point got us in that direction, but to really get Oliver and I there all it took was a few “all you need to do is to stick it on an SD card” answers for Floris and his dad – the free sharing of otherwise mystical incantations.

In the months leading up to this event I’ve been thinking a lot about what “matters,” parsed out of “stuff that matters.” As there is a lot of evidence to suggest that most of what comes out of 3D printers is little more that tchotchkes 3d-waste, I wondered whether you could truly create something that “mattered” in a setting like this.

What I came to realize – or, really, simply have reinforced – is that the “stuff that matters” is the process, not the product.

If, as a community of consumers, we can collaborate to understand more about our consumption, and more about the production of what we consume, and more about how we can effect, control, or drive that production, what we will have achieved is far more substantial than whatever comes out of a 3D printer. 

But the great thing about 3D printers is that, in spanning the digital and the physical, offering the possibility of on-demand fabrication, and simply being something we can all stand around as magic appears to happen within, they can catalyze conversations about stuff that (actually) matters.

So we made a tiny poop bag box.

And made some new friends.

And had some revelations.

And passed on some knowledge.

And learned a lot more.

And had some fun.

That matters.