Rob Vincent dot net

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May 29, 2015

I’m painting hacker luminaries. Want one?

Rob @ 9:14 AM

Commodore PET

It's fundraising time at WBAI, the listener-sponsored station my colleagues and I do Off the Hook at. This week, I committed to paint some portraits of hacker luminaries as thank-you gifts for supporters.

You can listen to the 5/27/15 episode for more info. Short version: pledge at least $50 and you'll get a 5x7" acrylic-on-stretched-canvas painting of someone who made an impact on the hacker world as it is today; whose portrait you get will be a surprise. You'll also get a classy placard explaining more about the painting's subject.

I donated a limited amount of these. As of this writing there are some still available but once they're gone they're gone, so if you'd like to get some hacker-centric original art from me while supporting the work we do on OTH, this is how you can do it. (It's also, since I'm not accepting general commissions or selling other paintings just now, the only way presently that you can even get a painting of mine.)

You can pledge for a painting, if there are any left, at this link. You can alternately call 1-212-209-2950 and ask for the "Luminaries of the Hacker World painting."

You can check out past paintings and other artwork of mine riiight about here.

May 27, 2015

On repackaged counterculture

Rob @ 5:13 PM

A post to reddit's /r/cyberpunk from a few months back got me thinking, and I've occasionally returned to it since. It eventually prompted me to ramble here a little.

The poster tells a good story of their own journey through cyberpunk culture. I saw some facets that made me sad I barely missed the poster's era, and others which could have mirrored my own path exactly. In the comment threads, some interesting discussions emerged. A commenter called tso wrote:

I think corporate marketing is pushing very hard to turn it into a fashion, as then they can "de-fang" and package it for retail stores.

That's always the way. The mainstream advertising world has become very good at deciphering what the "kids these days" are doing to express their natural rebelliousness, knocking the teeth out of it, repackaging it, making it "safe," and selling it back to those rebellious kids. Once you've hit your 20s or so, you've already seen it turn over on a grand scale at least a few times.

Disaffected 90s kids rebelled against the 80s preppie fashions of immaculate clothes and designer labels by wearing faded old jeans with holes ripped in them. What to do if you're a jeans company? Boom, the department store shelves are now full of pre-faded, pre-ripped jeans.

The millennials aren't buying your new trendy t-shirts, instead they're digging through cheap thrift-store bins for a 70s-fit t-shirt with a crackling old decal? Boom, the new t-shirts on the racks at Walmart are now all printed with pre-crackled designs referring to long-cancelled TV shows and vintage films. Closer inspection will reveal that each shirt has the exact same silk-screened, mass-produced crackles.

The kids these days, they're retreating from the mass-media-approved world of sitcoms and buddy-cop flicks and sports entertainment and diving voraciously into "nerdy" pastimes like gaming, comic books, gaming, and scifi? Great! Let's make comic and scifi conventions, once the domain of outcasts looking for a rare shred of community available to them, into a massive mainstream industry, with heavy presences and sponsorships by every major movie studio. Superheroes aren't an escape from the mainstream anymore, they themselves are the mainstream blockbusters! You can play your tabletop pencil-and-paper RPGs where the gameplay is an act of collective creativity and imagination, but wouldn't it be better if you were playing this other fantasy game which requires frequent purchases of expensive figurines or rare cards or virtual currency?

The kids aren't buying as many copies of your latest bleeding-edge resource-gobbling 3D video game because they're content using inspired software and community-ripped ROM libraries to emulate retro consoles and dive into old jagged-pixelled 8-bit and 16-bit games? Hey, that's a fashion now! You can make your own new games intentionally jagged and pixelly, and you can work out ways to sell those emulated ROMs over authorized links to the current consoles. What's more, you can also sell them crackly-looking T-shirts with Mario Mushrooms and blocky pixel-esque sunglasses and backpacks with Koopa shells; force the meme until it's a fad suitable for shopping malls!

The kids aren't buying your Billboard top-40 pop music anymore, they're going to dive clubs to listen to punk music - a product born of anger, rebellion, and frustration? Hey, now your multinational record label signs those punks to exploitative contracts and, even better, makes their own pop-punk boy-bands to order to revitalize their own charts.

I remember getting way into mashup tracks and bastard pop in the early 2000s, a scene which had been born of a truly cyberpunk attitude; bored kids at their computers deciding that the best response to a stale and uninspiring media environment was to use newly-ubiquitous tools to twist and turn its own content against it, expressing themselves in new ways and creating something truly special with the old guard as merely fodder waiting to be remixed. I began work on my own mashup album around the same time MTV muscled in on that action, playing record-label-authorized mashups on their channel and even producing their own legal, safe mashup CD/DVD set with chart sensations Jay-Z and Linkin Park, in both "explicit lyrics" and sanitized versions, all available on store shelves.

Adbusters once wrote: "Capitalism is a master of recuperation. What first shakes it, soon motivates it, later strengthens it." Hippie protest songs born of sadness and hope find their ways into TV commercials for dog food a generation later. Your childhood favorite stories of innocence and gentleness will get remade into big-budget CGI blockbusters with sassy celebrity cameos. The Lorax himself will sell you a fucking SUV to drive down that road someone paved through his forest.

As with other cultures, what's meaningful about cyberpunk to cyberpunks is never just the trappings, the outward accessories and blinky lights, the rollerblades and techno music and PVC pants. These things have their place and it's fine to enjoy them if you do, they just happen to be the bits and pieces easy for the mainstream to sanitize and duplicate and market to the next batch of rebellious kids looking for a direction. The truly important facet of cyberpunk is the hacker mindset of figuring out and exploring what's next, both through your own methods, knowledge, and ingenuity and those shared by your fellow explorers, without care for any artificial limitations placed upon you by culture or circumstance or common sense. It's not about filling in a standard checklist and spectating; it's about taking only the useful bits, if any, of the standard checklist, throwing away the rest, imagining your own replacement, and investigating from there.

The cyberpunk spirit led someone to broadcast those mysterious modem tones to the reddit poster, as well as the spirit that act inspired in those who received the messages within. The mainstream might try to recapture some of that when they use that sort of action to inspire artificial viral-marketing stunts. Commercial interests can repackage the trappings all they like, but the true root behind those trappings is much harder to turn into a commercial product.

The genuine hacker spirit which tells those of us inclined to listen that reality is actually a lot weirder, more bendable, and more educational than anything Hollywood can come up with, though, is ultimately a far more rewarding pursuit than any shopping-mall-based accessorizing experience.

April 7, 2015

Success and such!

Rob @ 1:36 PM

Rob T Firefly: light drinker
Call off the searchlights, reel in the nets, send out the clowns, take in the hemlines. I've landed that new main gig I've been searching for, and it's a gem!

I'm now part of the social media team at Hackaday, a site I've often encountered and enjoyed in my journeys through cool tech news. Right now my job is mainly to help get the word out about the Hackaday Prize contest as well as, the collaboration site on which the contest takes place. (This personal blog post isn't being written on the clock, so consider this personal sharing rather than advertising, but I still think it's a damn cool contest.) I'm really proud and excited to be joining a great bunch of folks in work I think is genuinely interesting and important.

In side-gig news, I recently voiced a main character in a series of educational cartoons which are being shown to college students in an anti-smoking curriculum. It was a fun little project, cleverly written and produced, and I enjoyed doing it. (This personal blog post isn't being written on the clock, so consider this personal sharing rather than compensated performance, but I still think you probably shouldn't smoke.) It hasn't been posted publicly, but if you'd like to see the whole thing email me and I'll share you the non-published links. I'll also have some clips from it in my next performance reel.

In other side-gig news, production of the latest season of The Media Show is going at full steam. I was a bit worried about that to be honest, as my creative partner and I stopped being real-life partners, but we still work well together on creative and professional levels and the work still feels fun, important, and pleasant to do. Our puppets still get along, we have a wonderful team of collaborators and a great lineup of guests in store, and I think out of all seven years of the show's production this season is truly our best work yet. (This personal blog post isn't being written on the clock, so consider this personal sharing rather than professional self-promotion, but I still think puppets probably shouldn't have a smoking contest.) We'll start posting new episodes to our Youtube soon, and you can catch us on cable in Manhattan or webcast wherever Friday nights at 9PM on MNN's Culture Channel.

I can never thank the brilliant folks, online and off, who've been sticking by me through a rough patch, dispensing aid, advice, and signal-boosting, and reminding me that even when a bunch of stuff goes down at once - a long job search, a breakup, a shift in living situation, the loss of my favorite headphones - there are still folks on my side, and they are the best damn bunch of co-conspirators a fellow could ever ask for. I'm grateful, and proud to know you.

March 16, 2015

Things I can do

Rob @ 1:41 PM

I realized since my previous post about my job search that, while pointing people toward my resume and LinkedIn is all well and good, it's also a bit vague. So, here's a human-readable list of examples of specific types of work I've done and enjoyed in the past, and which I'd love to take up again for you.

Public Engagement

I'm an avid community organizer. I'm passionate about engaging folks around ideas, causes, and projects in which I believe. This has manifested in social-media work, community outreach, crowdfunding campaigns, and other forms of public-facing fundraising, and community support.

I'm also experienced in being a public face of things. I have professionally represented associated organizations to the public, press, politicians, and social web. I've engaged in various forms of public speaking. I've maintained public contact as part of mailing lists and user groups. I've done copywriting and blogging. I've been a point-of-contact for real-world meetups.

I am also intimately familiar with an often-overlooked end of public-engagement work, and that's sharing ideas and thoughts of the community back with the parent organization. Two-way communication is vital for any product, and an org which listens to its community as much as they wish the community to listen to them is truly doing it right. I can help you do that.

Another relevant talent I unearthed in the course of my work has been my flair for competitive intelligence. I have found myself adept at researching and analyzing what others in my employers' fields are doing, and sharing that information with my colleagues.

My other work as a performer, live broadcaster, and comedian has helped me be ready for all public-facing situations. Additionally, my work in the field of media literacy (which you'll read about below) has honed my knowledge of what works, why it works, and how to use it constructively for the greatest good.


I'm a lifelong tinkerer and hardware geek. I scratch-build my own computers, and have done so for others. I have built and maintained personal and professional networks. I've provided tech support and consulting services. I've assembled, tested, operated, and maintained 3D printers, arcade machines, and other specialized equipment. I've run torture tests and other experiments on hardware in a testing facility, gathered performance metrics, and analyzed the results. I've trained others in these types of work, including including individuals brand-new to it.

I have a knack for learning specialized software, and supporting it for others. I also have a deep understanding of the Open Source world, in all its applications.

3D Printing

Speaking of 3D printing, that's a skill I have in spades. Not everyone needs a 3D printing person yet, as in the public sphere the technology is still pretty much Scifi Magic from the Future, but more people and organizations are becoming curious about the field every day.

I learned from the best at startup-era MakerBot, where the field of personal 3D printing was basically created from scratch, and my skills and interest in the field grew. At MakerBot I worked in the "BotFarm," which in its beginnings was a set of workbenches right in a storefront. There I built 3D printers, both from consumer kits and as part of a production line of retail-ready units. I operated and maintained a "BotFarm" of 3D printers numbering a few dozen at first, but eventually several hundred. I used these to make a constant supply of printed parts, as well as run torture tests, research what we could get them to do, and try out new modifications and hacks.

The BotFarm was, for most of my time there, entirely public-facing work. As noted above, I spoke with press, politicians, celebrities, and other visitors as well as curious members of the general public about the company, its field, open-source, and related subjects. I assisted with demonstrations of 3D printing technology at schools and other events, and took part in user groups and public projects. I also used what I learned to serve as resident 3D printing expert in my other educational and journalism work, which you'll read about below.

When the company brought on a team of 3D designers who had honed their skills in graphics and animation fields, I trained them in the specifics of designing for print. I worked with artists-in-residence to help them use the tech to realize their ideas. I began developing my own 3D design skills as well.


I have experience in a variety of traditional office work.

I was a temp for many years, during which I developed a well-rounded set of corporate skills. Two long-term assignments in particular gave me a particularly close looks at the commercial baking industry and the insurance business.

I did everything from mailroom and receptionist duties to heavy filing and file-tracking, data entry, supply-ordering, and accounts-payable.

I've also maintained all necessary books and records as manager of a retail establishment, and still do the same for myself as a freelancing sole-proprietor.

Education and Journalism

I work on an award-winning independent video series which educates its viewers about media literacy, a subject which has always been close to my heart. The Media Show seeks to demystify subjects like how advertising works on you, how mysterious aspects of the Internet and online culture work, and other subjects surrounding the media environment we all share. Serving as a writer, researcher, and producer of the series has massively built upon my skills and knowledge in the field, and granted me powers I wish to use for good.

I also work in radio journalism, being a longtime panelist and producer of long-running talk-radio program Off the Hook. I can be heard on weekly live radio (WBAI NY, 99.5 FM) as a panelist, discussing technopolitical issues with my colleagues in a way meant to be interesting for the tech-literate, while remaining understandable to the newbie. In the course of this show I've interviewed a wide range of guests from all walks of tech and hacker life, both prerecorded and live in-studio. Behind the scenes I work with my colleagues to aggregate and research news and other items of interest to the program, arrange interviews and other special features, and do other work which goes into creating the program.

I have also guested on other radio shows, on WBAI and elsewhere, as an expert on tech discussing how it relates to their own subjects.

Audiovisual production

I am a strong audio and video producer. I've worked in audiobook post-production for a nonprofit library, converting a collection of tape-based audiobooks for the blind, visually impaired, and reading-disabled to get those converted to modern digital formats, cleaning up and performing other post-production on the recordings, adding metadata and marking things like chapter breaks, and publishing them to digital audio.

On The Media Show I've long been a camera and sound operator in a variety of environments, from a converted closet to a pro-grade modern studio and everything in between. By way of training courses at Manhattan Neighborhood Network, where the show is now filmed, I'm certified in the various aspects of in-studio production on modern, pro-grade equipment, and I most often serve as technical director and switcher on our current production cycle.

I have picked up the talent for live broadcast engineering, both in my radio work (where I regularly serve as a backup engineer) and in my video work (where I am certified to control live TV.)

I am also an accomplished audio editor and producer, fluent in Audacity and related software, and I'm a serviceable video editor as well. Experience at all levels of professional A/V production has given me the ability to get the most out of whatever hardware available, from junky pocket cameras and sound recorders to HD video and studio-quality microphones of all types.

Creative services

My online portfolio is a bit sparse at the moment, as I have much more I need to extract from old files and get added to it over the next couple of weeks. Suffice it to say I draw, paint, sculpt, build, design, illustrate, act, perform, puppeteer, prop design, and much more.

I'm primarily searching for work in addition to the art I do, rather than work solely within the art field; as I mentioned a little bit in my previous post I'm happiest when I can balance out my own work and that I do for others. But, even if artsy work doesn't apply to what you've got to offer, know that there is real value in hiring on someone with a provably creative outlook. Have you ever had office procedures arranged with the help of an artist's eye? Have you ever had what seemed like insurmountable problems solved by a creative solution to which standard thought processes would never have led? Have you had your blog posts written by someone well-versed in telling all sorts of compelling stories? Have you ever wanted to have a colleague who brought in the coolest desk toys? Get hold of me, and you can.

There's an old stereotype about hiring a "frustrated artist;" it suggests a flakey individual with their mind in the clouds instead of on the work, wishing they could be doing their art instead. Let me assure you that this is not the case with me; I am already doing my art in my own time, and I am specifically looking for a chance to put down my art supplies and focus on other work on a regular basis. Your work would not be coming second to an art career; as with everything I do your work would get everything I've got to give it. You would get all the benefits of hiring someone with my talents, and none of the supposed drawbacks.

So, that's a brief (yes, brief; I can go into any of these subjects for ages if you let me!) discussion of the sorts of work of which I am capable. I would be happy to hear from anyone looking for someone to do these sorts of things!

Get in touch.

March 15, 2015

A call for help

Rob @ 2:35 AM

It's been a while!

Since I last wrote here I have succeeded at some things, failed at others, and am still plugging away at yet others. On the creative side things have been going well, with multiple projects chugging along nicely, but this post isn't about that. Right now I've a more pressing issue, and that is my search for a full-time job.

I began my current job search over a year ago, soon after parting ways with MakerBot in late 2013, and the clock is still ticking. Though I'm scraping together a certain amount of freelance work, it's just not paying the bills. I need to once again set my sights outward, and find a solid position with an organization where I can use my talents as part of a team to do something good.

I'm not abandoning the creative work and side-projects you may know me for; those have always been very important to me and will continue to be so. However, I've always been happiest when I could balance out my own original work with a steady gig in a professional environment in collaboration with others, giving my best to both sides in different ways and making the most of each. I crave that equilibrium.

There are a great many things at which I know I'm damn good. My job history is a bit of a mishmash, I've had the pleasure of doing a variety of different things for a living over the course of my life; this has left me with an eclectic professional life which is seen by some as a hindrance, but I prefer to think of it as a strength. I adapt to what's in front of me. I learn new things. I've proven my ability to do so time and again, and I've grown in each experience.

Over the years I've found my professional self working on many different things, in many different contexts. My resume isn't a single document; it's something I've had to break down into a handful of specialized remixes for prospective employers in different fields. I haven't taken such a loopy road due to boredom, flakiness, or inability to stick with something; each one of these varied gigs was something I devoted a significant amount of my life seeing through to wherever it took me. Each got my full attention, and each got everything I had to give it. Some of them are even things I'm still doing. I want to do more. Importantly, I want to find somewhere I can work for the long haul. I want to find a workplace as good a fit for me as I am for it.

This post is not a cover-letter or an achievement-unlocked board, though. What I need most to write here is more important than that; it is a call for help.

Though I've long believed in the value of playing certain cards close to my chest ever since this whole weird personal-online-presence deal evolved, it's time for me to choke back a little pride and admit that after banging away on a constant job search for such a long stretch of time, after following more leads and going through more interviews than I can count, after getting to a point where the job ads all start running together at the edges, I could use some help.

The people I've connected with over the years, in work and in play, online and off, are the brightest, greatest, and most brilliant bunch of diverse folks anyone could ask to have in their life, and I'm honored by them all. If you're reading this, that probably includes you. You know me, either through real life, online connection, or happening upon my work, and you therefore know about at least some of what I can do. I'm asking you to take this look at where I am in my hour of need, and see if there's a way you could give me a hand in finding my way past where I am. Any weird way you think you might help is of value! For example, my friend Nick Farr just started the hashtag #GetRobAJob over on Twitter for my job search, and it's already been taken up by a few others helping to spread the word. I'm deeply touched by that show of support, and it gave me the final boost I needed to write this post.

I'm not asking to be handed a job. (Though, if you've got one lying around...) I'm certainly not asking for any sort of handout or charity. I'm asking for your help cutting through the incredible amount of noise and static out there and getting where I need to be; it's well-known that job-hunting is a more deeply-draining task the longer you do it, and it becomes steadily more difficult to find a way out every day. It's the curse of a job-search that the only way to really know whether you're doing it right is for it to lead to a state of events where can stop doing it. So, if you have or know of a listing that you think might fit me, I ask that you let me know about it so I can apply! If someone you know needs help you think I can give, point them my way! If you or someone you know might have some valuable advice or assistance for me, I'd love to hear it! If you can't help me specifically land a gig but you're good with resumes in general, I'd love your advice on how I might tweak my own! If you have recently been on a grueling job-hunt of your own and would like to share your insights on what worked for you, let's compare notes! If you can repost, retweet, or otherwise help me spread the word to what might be that recipient who ends up hiring me, hit that button! If you can help me and my next full-time pursuit find one another in any way, shape, or form, please do get in touch!

When it comes to a job search, my vital statistics are as follows:

  • I live in New York City, and I wish to remain here.
  • I'm great at dealing with humans, hardware, multimedia, and the various interactions among and between them.
  • I am a lifelong autodidact with a strong ability to acquire and develop skills as-needed.
  • I am, if I do say so myself, creative and artistic as all heck. If that's of value to you as an employer, great! If not, never fear; I do enough creative work outside of what I'd be doing for you that the stereotypical drawbacks of hiring an artist into a non-artsy field are not a concern. Still, you might be pleasantly surprised at how a developed sense of creativity can apply to any gig in subtle, useful ways.
  • I'm a 3D-printing expert. 3D-printing is, in the general sphere of things, still a wacky geek toy from the future which amusingly befuddles TV personalities, but if you are among the growing ranks of those with real interest in the field I'd be happy to help.
  • I've a constantly-updated headful of what's going on in the intersecting fields of society and technology, and how it applies to all I do.
  • I'm always a professional representative of my employers and colleagues, on and off the clock.
  • I'm not afraid of being challenged. I'm afraid of not being challenged.

I have online resumes, for those who like online resumes. I have a LinkedIn profile, for those who like online resumes in a social-networking-flavored environment. Most importantly, I have a lot to give an employer.

Get in touch.

EDIT: I've followed this up with a post about specific types of work I've done, in a more human-readable format than a resume.

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