Rick Green with Mobile Makerspace

Rick Green with Mobile Makerspace

In this episode of The Mobile Alabama Business Podcast, we sit down with Rick Green with Mobile Makerspace. Listen in as we discuss how the Mobile Makerspace came into existence and what you can create as a member of Mobile Makerspace!

Produced by Blue Fish


Rick Green: My name is Ricky Green. I'm the founder of Mobile Makerspace.

Marcus Neto: Awesome Ricky. Well, it's great having you on the podcast. I know we've been talking about this for quite some time and thank you for coming out. To get started, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself? Tell us the story of how you got to where you're at. So tell us where you're from, where did you go to high school? I know we just talked about your I guess extended college experience, so maybe touch on that a little bit. And then are you married? You know, anything that you feel might lend to your backstory.

Rick Green: Okay. Well, for backstory, I got into electronics at a very young age, started holding a soldering iron at age seven. My grandfather on my mother's side, he was into computers so I got into computers with that. We learned how to program computers that way. And then I'm originally from Ypsilanti, Michigan. We moved away from there in about '82 to Colorado. I spent a few years over in Colorado and ending in Alabama military. I went to seven high schools in three states.

Marcus Neto: Gosh, are you kidding me?

Rick Green: No, we moved around a lot and then I went to the military and I moved around even more. Met my wife over in Germany. She was from Mobile and she's military as well. She was EMT. I was a nuclear missile operator.

Marcus Neto: Oh wow.

Rick Green: In Germany. So yeah, we got married in Germany and then came to the states, got married right around the time of the first Gulf war.

Marcus Neto: Wow.

Rick Green: Raised a couple girls and a few foster kids over 10 years. Since I was in IT, did a lot of IT work, computer work, just running into a lot of the glass ceiling. You could only go so far without a college degree and I got laid off a lot and it was really a bad time to have a family, talking early 90s, mid 90s.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Rick Green: So I said, I'm going to go back and get my degree. So I did. Didn't do so well the first time and then got laid off in the middle of it so I had to take a little sabbatical and came back in 2002 and did really, really well, but going part-time to school. And seven years later, I had my bachelor's and one of my instructors while I was there says you know you're really good at this, you need to come here and teach. So a couple years later after that, I went back and got my master's degree and started teaching.

Marcus Neto: Very cool. In IT?

Rick Green: In information technology. I teach at University of South Alabama. I teach cybersecurity networking type courses. And now working on a PhD since now I'm faculty there you can go to school for free.

Marcus Neto: Nice. What's your PhD going to be in?

Rick Green: It's going to be in computing. It's all-encompassing. It covers computer science, information technology, information systems, all of it.

Marcus Neto: Wow.

Rick Green: Yeah. It's very rigorous too.

Marcus Neto: So I got a question for you because I don't know how old you are, but I would guess that we're probably similar in age, but do you remember what your first computer was?

Rick Green: Yes, it was a TRS-80 color computer 1.

Marcus Neto: Okay.

Rick Green: 16 K of Ram, cassette drive.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. Mine was a Commodore Vic 20, so yeah.

Rick Green: Same area.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. Same kind of thing. It was interesting because most people don't remember, but those computers actually had a cassette player that read the program into the computer. And so to even load Pong, it would take-

Rick Green: Minutes.

Marcus Neto: Five minutes or something like that. You had to put the cassette in and play it and then the computer would come and tell you that it was loaded and stuff like that.

Rick Green: I was looking around the other day, I found one of my old cassettes from that TRS-80.

Marcus Neto: Seriously?

Rick Green: Seriously.

Marcus Neto: And I'm betting that there's not a TRS-80 available to read the damn thing.

Rick Green: I've been on eBay and you can find some and they also make emulators now. And so I can convert that cassette into a wave file and then be able to read it in on an emulator.

Marcus Neto: That's insane.

Rick Green: Yeah. And this is code that I wrote when I was like 12.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. That's too funny.

Rick Green: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: Well, tell us about your first job. I mean, did you go straight into... You said you tried college for a bit, didn't do so good, and then went into the military?

Rick Green: No, I went into the military right out of high school.

Marcus Neto: Okay. So I mean, I guess that wouldn't be your first job. I'm talking about your first, first job, like flipping hamburgers, busing tables.

Rick Green: Oh my goodness. I was throwing newspapers, the Colorado Springs Sun.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Rick Green: In January of 1985, it was 30 degrees below zero.

Marcus Neto: That sounds like a lot of fun.

Rick Green: Yeah and the papers were huge, right? They weighed like 10 pounds a piece.

Marcus Neto: Sunday papers are the worst.

Rick Green: Yes.

Marcus Neto: For those of you that aren't old enough to remember, Sunday papers were always the biggest because they had the coupons in them, they had like extra sections, but they also had like color cartoons.

Rick Green: Yes.

Marcus Neto: And you know, all kinds of stuff. Are there any lessons that you remember from that first job that still stick with you today?

Rick Green: Oh, that hard work is always going to be the best way to get things done. Most people don't have a paper route anymore.

Marcus Neto: Right.

Rick Green: But you had to get up at three o'clock in the morning to get your papers. You had to roll them and sometimes stuff them if it was raining. And then you stuffed them in this big carrier and you walked with about a hundred pounds of newspaper on you, throwing them in people's yards. Sometimes you had to make multiple trips. And that was all before you had to get ready to go to school.

Marcus Neto: Yep.

Rick Green: It was hard work, but then when you got that first paycheck, back in, this was '85 or whatever, and you get like $50 for a week. That was a lot of money for someone that was 14, 15 years old in the mid 80s.

Marcus Neto: Yep.

Rick Green: And then from there you just kept going. You could get bigger paper routes if you put in more work. You got paid by how many you threw. And of course the tips for-

Marcus Neto: When You collected the money.

Rick Green: Doing things correctly or during the holidays. So the other thing was making people happy. So the happier they were, the more they would give you a tip.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. It's customer service at its best. So now tell us a little bit about Mobile Makerspace and then tell us how this started.

Rick Green: There's a good story.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Rick Green: I'm going to have to give you the short, short story. If it's the long story, it can be long.

Marcus Neto: Sure.

Rick Green: I was disappointed when one of my favorite barbecue places left Mobile. And you're like, "Why would barbecue be in this?" Of course it's got to be in this.

Marcus Neto: Okay.

Rick Green: So after I graduated from college, I went and got me a little smoker and I was going to perfect making those ribs that I loved so much from that place. And it took me a year, but I finally perfected them but then that little cheap smoker wouldn't keep temperature really well anymore. It was just a little charcoal $60 Brinkman. And so I went online to find out what people were doing to try to make it work a little better. They were drilling holes and putting in all kinds of stuff and I didn't want to make that kind of modification.

At the time, I was working at a manufacturing plant in the IT department and I got to work closely with PLC engineers and I understood how process control works. And so I says, "Well, what can I do that's a little more active?" And I found this little device called an Arduino. It's a little micro controller, cost just about $10 to $15, depending on the brand you got. Got that and I got a CPU blower fan for a Pentium 4, and couple of those replacement thermometer probes for digital thermometers and a breadboard and wiring and all the other stuff I had to put together. And in a couple of weekends, I built me a temperature controller for that charcoal smoker, and it worked.

And I was like, "What else can I do with this thing?" So they make add-on boards for it. One was an ethernet controller, so I plugged that ethernet controller in, programmed it, and went on Google Spreadsheet and created a form so that it can collect all the data and I programed that Arduino every 30 seconds to send the temperature of all three probes and the output going to that fan up to that spreadsheet and turned Google Spreadsheet into a data logger. And then from my smartphone, and by the way, this was over 10 years ago.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Rick Green: So on my smartphone, the Nexus 1 back then, I could watch in real time what's going on in my smoker from anywhere in the world.

Marcus Neto: This was before that was commonplace.

Rick Green: This was before this was commonplace. This was like the really intro stuff of the internet of things, as what we now know as internet of things. And I was like, this is the coolest thing I've ever seen. It didn't take me hardly any time really to learn how to do this. And I said, I got to show other people how to do this. And so I called up some of my friends from college and other people around and said, I'm going to start this thing called a Makerspace and it's going to be based around this Arduino. We had our first meeting in November of 2010.

Marcus Neto: Wow. So it's been... I mean, I didn't realize it'd been around that long.

Rick Green: Yeah, we got our first Makerspace place in, I think it was 2012, 2013, around that timeframe. We incorporated in 2012.

Marcus Neto: Okay.

Rick Green: And then we got our 501C3 in 2015, and we moved to our bigger spot almost three years ago.

Marcus Neto: Nice. Well, normally I would ask, do you remember the first time that you did X that made you think that there might be something to this. But I mean, I guess there's still kind of an epiphany moment with this as well. It's a labor of love. It's not really something that you're looking to make money off of. I mean, as a matter of fact, I know you've generously put a lot of money into this just to have an outlet for a lot of people. So, I mean, do you remember maybe the first meeting or the first interaction that you had with somebody where they did something that maybe they never thought they'd be able to do and you were like, "Okay, this makes me happy. This is a good place to be."

Rick Green: That happens every week.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Rick Green: Every week there's somebody coming in that's new. They come in for say the woodworking shop. I want to do woodworking. And they look over and they see this 3D printing. They didn't even know this existed or if they did, it was like, so outside of their realm of expertise or whatever, they're like, "Oh, I would never learn how to do this." And when I show them how it's done, they're like, "Oh, well that's not nearly as hard as I thought it was going to be."

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Rick Green: And then, "Oh, what's this? Laser cutting? What does that do?" And then that's even easier. And then CNC? Oh yeah, that's pretty neat too. And all it really is showing them for a few minutes how to design something on a computer and you push a button and you set things up and this thing does it.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Rick Green: So it's not nearly as hard as people think it is and I encourage people that once they learn how to do it that first time, they become an expert and now they can show somebody else.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Rick Green: And just to see the look on their face when they finally do something for the first time ever and the confidence they get from it, that makes everything worth it.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. It's so cool. I mean, for those of us, because I think you're much bent on the teaching side of things.

Rick Green: Yes.

Marcus Neto: Like you really enjoy, and I find myself in that same mindset I guess, I don't know the word to use, but when I think of my role here, my role is educator, right? Whether it's educating my employees and the people that work for me or whether it's educating the outside world and why they should work with us or educating our clients and why we're going to do things a certain way and taking the care and all that stuff. So, I mean, I don't know. I mean, I just kind of relate to you in that respect because I love that moment that you share with somebody where you've imparted some sort of knowledge and helped them come to an understanding. I mean, it's just an extremely powerful thing in the world to teach somebody and help them get along.

Rick Green: The neat thing about the Makerspace is that all I have to do is I just have to show them how the machine works and then I let them use their creativity that they already have to make it their own, because they're going to do something in there that I never would've thought of. So it's really all about them and what they bring to the table. All I'm doing is showing them how to use the equipment to bring out what's already inside of them.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. You show them the mechanics of it and they can actually go through with it.

Rick Green: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: Well, and you kind of touched on it, but tell us about Mobile Makerspace. What exactly is it and what can you do there?

Rick Green: Well, it's a public workshop and laboratory for people that like to tinker and build stuff. That's the way I like to coin it. It is membership driven, so it's kind like getting a gym membership, but instead of paying to work on workout equipment, you get to use tools. And almost all of the tools that are there belong to the members. Some of them do belong to Makerspace, but most of them belong to the members. We each maintain the equipment. So if something does break, whoever broke it usually helps chip in to get the parts to repair it and maybe even chips in to help repair it. But usually we have experts that go in there and know how to repair this stuff. I'm one of the people that does a lot of repair work, but unfortunately, people get in there and they don't know everything so we have stuff break a lot, especially the delicate stuff like 3D printers.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Rick Green: And that's how it works. People come in, they pay a membership fee of, I think it's usually about $50 a month, they come in and they have access while somebody is there. So we have hosts there every night of the week from 6:00 to 9:00 PM and some on the weekends as well, as well as we communicate online through Slack, which everybody gets an account to, and we'll post in there when we're there so anyone else that can come in at the next business meeting, which we have every month, people will vouch for those new members, we'll vote them in, and they get their own key and then they can come in anytime and even be hosts.

Marcus Neto: Oh, very cool. Yeah. It's funny because it wasn't the same, but in DC before I moved down here in 2004, so even early 2000s, there were wood working-

Rick Green: Like a guild?

Marcus Neto: Yeah, where you could go and they had planers and table saws and things like that you wouldn't necessarily have laying around your garage. But I always thought it was really interesting and the fun thing is that they had a shop tied to that club and the shop was again open to the public and they specialized in carrying different species of woods and glues and tools that need to be replaced and stuff like that. So it was just kind of fed on itself because the shop generated income, but also provided a service and helped feed the club if you will.

But I never had a chance to join that place and I'd always thought that it was a really cool idea. So it's nice to see that there's something here in Mobile for people that are kind of so inclined.

Rick Green: Makerspace is not anything that's like local here to Mobile. They're everywhere.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Rick Green: So I would've considered that shop to be a Makerspace.

Marcus Neto: Yeah, very much so, but probably before it's time, because this was like-

Rick Green: Well, Makerspaces were built out of the old user groups and even before that... Oh what were those electronic clubs that would get together and build computers back in the day?

Marcus Neto: Yeah. I can't think of them. Yeah. Anyway. Well next question, so if you were talking to someone that wanted to get started in running their own organization, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?

Rick Green: Oh. That people are unpredictable. That, and there's a lot of paperwork that you have to go through and all the legalities, especially the insurance. Insurance was one of the hardest things.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Rick Green: Getting incorporated, getting your 501C3, really I thought that was going to be the hardest part. It wasn't. That was easy. That was just putting out money, filling out forms, sending it in and waiting for it to come back in.

Marcus Neto: Really?

Rick Green: Yeah, that was the easy part. But we still have not perfected things like going out and getting grants or getting funding outside of this. Usually we just have people come to us and say, "Hey, I think this is neat. Is there something we can do?" And go, "Yeah, here, we can do this." But finding those people that actually want to get involved in the politics of running a Makerspace is the hardest part and it usually comes down to one or two people.

Marcus Neto: And those people, it's usually who drew the short straw as to who gets to run it.

Rick Green: And that also means that burnout is very real.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. Unfortunately. Yeah, most people just want to go and enjoy it and don't want to have to worry about all the complexities of it. So yeah. Are there any books, podcasts, people, or organizations that have been helpful in moving you forward?

Rick Green: Books or people or podcasts? Not really that I'm aware of because unfortunately I don't listen to a whole lot of podcasts. I do a lot of reading, but not necessarily with maker stuff. But there are definitely some really good websites out there that help, like Pinterest. Pinterest is a big one.

Marcus Neto: Really?

Rick Green: Yeah, when I go out to Art Walk and I talk to people about this, I say, "Look, one of the things you can do is if you are big into Pinterest and you say hey that looks pretty neat, but I don't have a way of making one, well come to Makerspace and you got all the tools and materials that you can bring in and you can make it, anything you see on Pinterest." "You want to get involved and sell stuff on Etsy? Hey, come on in. You can do that." Yeah. So those kind of sites are good. Instructables is a good site because they give you step-by-step instructions on how to build things. Those are probably the two best ones. That and the 3D printing ones like, what's the other one? There's Inventables for the CNC. There's the Prusa site for getting 3D models.

Marcus Neto: Nice. So what's your favorite toy?

Rick Green: My favorite toy. Oh my goodness.

Marcus Neto: Your favorite tool that you guys have at the Makerspace? Because I mean-

Rick Green: It keeps changing.

Marcus Neto: Like 3D printing has always been kind of like, "Ooh, that's cool," because it's always been new.

Rick Green: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: But man, when you start seeing like CNC machines and laser cutters and stuff like that, like that's a completely different-

Rick Green: It is.

Marcus Neto: That's cool stuff.

Rick Green: It is. And laser cutters are so expensive that they're outside the realm of a lot of people, but when you have access to one, it's like man, this is great.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Rick Green: So the laser cutter is up there and the 3D printers are way up there too. I do like 3D printing. But those are my favorites.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Rick Green: I'm not into the woodworking side so much and I have yet to get into our metal working area yet.

Marcus Neto: How big is the new space?

Rick Green: Our new space is 2500 square feet and it's all air conditioned.

Marcus Neto: That's nice.

Rick Green: Yeah, it's nice.

Marcus Neto: That's real nice.

Rick Green: But even now after three years we've filled it up so much, we're busting at the seams. We're ready for something bigger.

Marcus Neto: Well, if anybody out there has some space that they would like to donate to the Mobile Makerspace, preferably what, 4000 square feet or greater?

Rick Green: Or greater, yeah that would be nice, and air conditioned. And we will maintain it and we'll actually help you get it fixed up. Because what we do is we get members that are in their field. We get electricians, we get plumbers, people that just do this stuff in their own business in a professional way, but they have this hobby on the side.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. No, that's really cool. Now what is the most important thing that you've learned about running an organization?

Rick Green: That you can't please everybody all the time.

Marcus Neto: Yep.

Rick Green: That's the most important thing.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. It is and especially for those of us that are bent towards teaching, it's something that we would like to see everybody have that epiphany moment.

Rick Green: Yes.

Marcus Neto: But oftentimes they just-

Rick Green: And personalities clash. Because you get a lot of creative types together and they're set in their ways and want to do things certain way, or if they don't have access to something because it's broken, there's a lot of personalities you deal with.

Marcus Neto: And how do you like to unwind?

Rick Green: Unwind. I go down to Makerspace is one, and I sing in a church choir.

Marcus Neto: Oh, very cool.

Rick Green: So between those two, that's how I unwind.

Marcus Neto: Tenor, baritone, bass?

Rick Green: Yes.

Marcus Neto: Okay.

Rick Green: Mostly tenor, but I can get pretty low as well. It just depends on the song and the part.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. No I know because if the song's too high or too low.

Rick Green: Well too high, I can wing it sometimes, but low, I can get pretty low now. I've been practicing.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. Just start growling or grumbling.

Rick Green: Yeah, I also sing solos.

Marcus Neto: Do you mind me asking where do you go to church?

Rick Green: Oh yeah. First Baptist, Tillman's Corner. We have a nice choir there.

Marcus Neto: Very good. Yeah. Well, tell people where they can find you.

Rick Green: All right. Mobile Makerspace is downtown Mobile. It's 805 Church Street, which does not help anybody that I tell that. So if you know where the corner of South Bayou and Church street is, it's right there next to the Church Street Cemetery.

Marcus Neto: Okay.

Rick Green: Out front is Azelia Healthcare, as I'm sure they will use the little kudos there, but it's like a two-story block building and then there's a gate to the left. You go in that gate and you'll see a long building with roll up doors. We're the last two roll up doors down there.

Marcus Neto: Okay. And website, social media?

Rick Green: We're on Facebook. We have a Facebook page and group. It's just called Mobile Makerspace on Facebook. Our website is makerspacemobile.org and we're also on Pinterest and Twitter.

Marcus Neto: Okay. Very good. And let's see, was I going to say anything else now? What can people expect when they first come to the Makerspace?

Rick Green: First time, you're going to see some people there that are going to give you a tour. They're going to show you all the equipment in both rooms. We have a clean room and a dirty room. Of course, the dirty room is wood working and metal working. And we usually start with the clean room because that's where everybody likes to see the 3D printers. That's the ooh and ah stuff. And then they go to the woodworking shop and yeah, this is cool. I can hang here. And then if they're ready right then, we have them fill out the form to sign up. They can pay their dues right then and they get their welcome letter. They're ready to go. They can start working on anything at that point.

Marcus Neto: Yeah. Very cool. Well, I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast. To wrap up, any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?

Rick Green: Well, it's been nice meeting you. I know we've been meaning to do this for some time. It's been like a year I think that we've talked about this.

Marcus Neto: It has been and we took a little hiatus because of the whole pandemic thing. I do apologize to you as well as to the audience because it's been a little bit slow getting started.

Rick Green: Yeah, the pandemic really did hurt us too. Our membership really dropped and that was right after we moved too, so all the money I put into it went into just paying the overhead for a long time. But we did do some good. We 3D printed a bunch of face shields, like 3800, and we distributed those to rural areas between here and Montgomery.

Marcus Neto: Very cool. Yeah. Well people can find you also at the Art Walk.

Rick Green: Yes. We're there every Art Walk. I'm usually the one that's manning it, but unfortunately I'm out of town this week.

Marcus Neto: Well, this won't go live before then anyway.

Rick Green: Okay. Yeah. But every Art Walk we're down there. We have a table. Since we're nonprofit, we get it for free. We go down there and we just talk to people and then try to recruit and we do get a lot of good membership out of Art Walk.

Marcus Neto: Very cool. Well, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey. I mean, you are a business owner. It's a nonprofit, but it is a business. It was great talking with you.

Rick Green: All right. Thanks.

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