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concatlab year in review

concatlab logo with crumpled paper background

raspberry pi with cnc machine in background

animated picture of mulit-colored coasters featuring the phrase more cowbell

laser cut bamboo coasters with voronoi pattern

concatlab logo on grey thresholded landscape photo

resin cast coasters and game pieces

closeup of freshly made beef jerky

While it seems a bit cliche, I thought it would be good to look back on the past year and reflect upon how I ended up here. Here are some of the highlights that made 2015 one for the books.

My 2015 Story

If I had to sum up 2015 in one word it would be: transformation. I have always striven to better myself and continually evolve, but during this year I took some leaps of faith and put myself out there in ways that I never dreamed I would. One thing has led to another and small thoughts have snowballed into big ideas for the future.

I'm somewhat of a storyteller, so here's my best attempt at describing those leaps and thoughts, the new titles they have applied to my life, and where they are leading me today.

CNC Machinist

I kicked off 2015 with a vengeance. On Day #1 I finally decided that enough was enough and I was going to order/build a Shapeoko2 CNC router from Inventables. Things were going to start changing. They most definitely did.

My kit showed up about a month or so later and it was off to the races trying to assemble it. The task seemed a bit daunting at times but, with a couple of free weekends and some solid playlists, I finally brought it together and the thing actually worked! This was a huge confidence booster and I was mesmerized beyond comprehension at this magical, moving thing that I had assembled myself.

From there came the ideas. Tons of them. I experimented all through the spring and it hasn't let up yet. I made gifts for my friends and family, designed parts for my Shapeoko, broke some bits, trashed some materials, and had a lot of fun. I am still tweaking and improving my machine every day, and I have a feeling that 2016 will be a big year for it...pun intended!

All this fun got me thinking about better ways to run my Shapeoko. Namely, to avoid dragging my sad, old laptop to its imminent death. So, after some research, I decided to run it over my Wi-Fi network using a Raspberry Pi. Enter the next chapter.

Instructables Author

In March I submitted my first Instructable. It described the process by which I had turned my Shapeoko2 into a network device and was entered into the CNC Challenge. Much to my surprise it got featured, made the home page, made the finals, and I won a runner-up prize! Talk about a game changer. I began thinking about what to write next and what other opportunities I could find on the internet.

In May I submitted my second and third Instructables, covering how to make beef jerky and a string art map. Both were featured and the jerky went on to win prizes in multiple contests (UPDATE: Jerky was featured on the best of 2015 Instructables newsletter as an Editor's Pick!!!). By this point, I was really beginning to believe in myself as a content creator, and felt that I was starting to find my voice in the wide online world.

Blogger

The success at Instructables got me thinking about what should come next and the answer was, more or less, this blog. I began researching platforms, e-commerce sites, SEO, affiliate programs, social media marketing, analytics, and you name it with the vision of building a brand online.

Of course, the successor to all of this study was implementation. I went to work brainstorming ideas, names, drawing logos, learning enough HTML and CSS to get the look I wanted, and testing, testing, testing. Finally, in early November, it was ready. Ready enough to at least release it into the wild. Concatlab was live!

And there has been the challenge of generating content. I began writing posts when the blog went live and have spent many hours dreaming up new ideas, formats, and themes since then. Being transparent regarding my DIY endeavors and finding the time to document them is a skill I am still trying to master, but I am confident that I will get better and find an audience with these efforts.

Freakin' Lasers! AKA Ponoko Fan

Running in a parallel path with all of my online and CNC endeavors was my introduction to laser cutting, specifically Ponoko. I became familiar with the service from another blog and had developed enough Inkscape skills from my CNC experiments to be able to design some parts. Plus, Ponoko offered a $25 making credit on your first order so I felt I had nothing to lose by trying it out. 

Around mid-July I received my first P1 sheet of laser cut bamboo weiner dogs. Let's be honest, they were kind of lame, but those weiner dogs opened my eyes to the precision the a laser cutter offered in comparison to my CNC machine. Light bulbs started going off. After a couple more increasingly lame designs, I finally hit gold with my Voronoi coasters.

Since then I've made several more designs and orders, and receiving that "Yippee!" labeled Ponoko package in the mail still feels like Christmas every time.

Breaking The Mold

Somewhere amidst the hot summer months, I decided that my CNC router was too slow. I needed to speed up production if I wanted to get anywhere fast. My idea: Resin Casting.

I had a nice, thick piece of acrylic laying around, and with it I cut out my first casting blank, the "More Cowbell" coaster. With a sampler casting kit from Hobby Lobby I molded and cast the first coaster with orange body and white inlay. My mind was blown. I thought it was one of the coolest things I had ever made. A new addiction took hold.

In the following months I cast more and more things, designed new blanks, and bought every color of resin dye that the local Hobby Lobby carried. I couldn't stop, and watching each cast (and every blend of colors) come to life was just too much fun.

I'm still loving casting my own parts today and don't see that letting up anytime soon.

Software Connoisseur

I would be willing to bet that I have downloaded more new software in 2015 than ever before. Most of it has been tools to generate G-code for CNC projects, but there have been countless others as well.

Downloading it is always the easy part, but learning how to use it is another story. This year I have become very capable with Inkscape, have started to have fun with GIMP, and have generated some cool CNC projects using Halftoner among many other things.

And I have failed to even mention all the online tools I have found/tried. Code is cool! 

Maker

I have always considered myself a DIY person, but this year I really took it to another level. The amount of homemade stuff laying around the house now is staggering and I've taken a lot of joy in bringing some of my many ideas to life.

My creativity has just exploded and I've added a number of new skills to my repertoire that I am certain will cause the number of projects I take on to grow exponentially. And, most importantly, I've finally come to the realization that there is a vibrant community out that I can be a part of and learn from.

Wrapping It Up

I could go on and on and on and on. It's been an eventful year and I have a lot of thoughts on it, but I have pretty well hit all the key points by now. Most of these things are not labels and/or skills that I envisioned having a year ago and gaining them has given me a ton of confidence headed into 2016.

I am very thankful for the many people and resources that have made this type of transformation possible and hope to give back in a way that will inspire others along their own personal journeys. 

My 2016 Goals

I have very high hopes for 2016! Mostly they involve continued learning, creating more and better content, getting active on more channels, and building more cool stuff.

Here are some cheesy (but serious!) top 10 goals for 2016:

1. Create a YouTube channel featuring project videos
2. Gain over 100 followers on each of my social channels
3. Write at least two quality posts per month
4. Upgrade to X-Carve and expand the work area of my CNC machine
5. Contribute at least 5 new Instructables
6. Open an online shop to sell some of my creations
7. Collaborate with other makers on some joint projects
8. Build a tools and software page on the site to showcase my favorite gear
9. Give some stuff away
10. Keep innovating and having fun 

Stick with me and we'll see how far I get! Have a Happy New Year!!!!

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