Making Meaning Matter

The Evergreen State College

Author: boutho05

Tom Bouwer CST week #9

What do we do when we’re sick to death of something we need to keep working on?

“To tell you the truth, I haven’t thought much about your ride or this little town. ” -Doctorow, Makers, 383

Nobody was particularly thrilled to be where we were last week. It seemed like everybody was either tired, or scrambling to get their stuff together. A lot of people were working at trying to get their models printed, which was difficult because of the number of us that were. Everyone else, it seemed, was working on their projects. It didn’t seem to me like anybody, myself included, was having fun with they’re project.

Thomas Bouwer Blue Rabbit Iteration #4 (Actual physical Rubber [plastic] Duck)

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Dimensions: 60.00mm wide, 62.47mm high, 80.07mm deep

I’ve done it. I have modeled and 3-D printed a duck. What does this mean for the incredibly important world of Rubber Ducks? Actually, it doesn’t mean that much.

The question we were given at the start of the quarter was “In a world full of too much stuff, what is worth 3D printing?”. I then took this question and decided to explore Rubber Ducks. Through my research, I have realized that rubber ducks exist pretty much purely for marketing purposes. Side effects of this marketing include a fun way to solve problems¹, and a detrimental effect on the environment². In other words, Rubber Ducks do more harm than good. I mean, it’s not a lot of harm, but the harm exists.

So, they’re pointless. What does that mean about 3D printing? How has it improved Ducks? It hasn’t improved them, as much as it has changed them. Part of the fun of actual Rubber Ducks is that they’re smooth and children can play with them. The design I’ve made is rough, the bill has sharp edges. On the plus side, they aren’t as harmful to the environment. However, their harm is not gone. PLA isn’t completely biodegradable,  which means that printed ducks will still be around for a long time, messing with the world. The only pure improvement with the printed ducks over the regular “traditional” rubber duck is that they aren’t being mass-produced and can’t be marketed as effectively. The printed ducks aren’t better. They’re just different. In some cases, they’re different in subtle ways, and others are drastic.


I was having this quandary before I printed my duck. I didn’t think, based on my research and progress with my model, that 3D printing would affect Rubber Ducks. I remembered, however, that maybe the best thing that Rubber Ducks have going for them is their position as symbols of nostalgia and innocence. They’re funny. They’re cute. The only reason you are reading this, I’d wager, is because you were curious what the hell could possibly come from 3D printing rubber ducks, as did I. Now, having printed a Duck, I have an answer: Nothing. No great revelation has revealed itself to me. No fantastic new utilization has presented itself, for which, Rubber Ducks are perfect. No unfathomable problem is being pondered that could be answered if the person pondering it were to simply look at rubber ducks a little differently. 3D printing has barely changed this at all, simply shifting the environmental destruction from corporations and factories, to people with 3D printers.

“In a world full of too much stuff, what is worth 3D printing?”

I would like to present an answer, though not the answer I expected to give or the answer anybody expect to receive.

Not Rubber Ducks.



¹Rubber Duck debugging, which I have written about several times in other posts.

²I wrote about this in the “Photos” post.


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CST Week #8 Thomas Bouwer

What does one do when they don’t know what to do?

“He (Death) went back to writing…” Makers, Doctorow, 289

Through this quote, I mean that by doing what you need to do, one can find out how to do it. Something I’ve been kicking around in my head for the last couple of weeks is that I see a lot of people not asking for help, but simply trying things out and seeing what works. I think it’s an interesting approach to working things through. It doesn’t always work out, for example, I just threw myself into my duck design and it took my about three weeks to get the beak down. It’s something I see people doing a lot though. I wonder if it’s worked out better for other people.

Tom Bouwer Blue Rabbit Iteration #3 (Rubber Ducks in places one would not normally expect to find them)

Having reached a point where I am satisfied with the research I have done with Rubber Ducks and their place in society, I now seek to call that very thing into question. “Are Rubber Ducks worth what they give us?” I hope to convince people to reconsider Rubber Ducks and whether or not they are worth their impact, through this series of images. I have collected and taken pictures of Rubber Ducks in places that I hope make us reconsider them. Two of these are images I found on the internet. One of them is a picture I manipulated through Photoshop. One is a picture of the design I am working with so far. All the others are pictures I took myself.

(“Washed up Ducks” 2014)

This first image is taken from The Sun. This is meant to speak to the environmental impacts of rubber ducks. Rubber doesn’t decay, so Rubber Ducks will just end up floating in the ocean basically forever. Considering the ever-enlarging effect of plastics in our oceans, and the north pacific garbage patch.

Abandoned rubber duck factory on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio. #abandoned #CLE #ThisisCLE

(“Abandoned” 2014)

This image is taken from the pinterest page of Tim Long. It’s a picture from an abandoned rubber duck factory in Cleaveland, Ohio. I use this image as I think it effectively portrays the environmental effects of rubber ducks. We have so many rubber ducks that they end up breaking down slowly in an abandoned factory. This image is unique as it’s the only image of rubber ducks in a place where one would expect to find them, and abandoned rubber duck factory. What possible benefit does this surplus of bath toys serve?


This is a picture I manipulated of a Rubber Duck in a lava flow for comedic reasons. You certainly wouldn’t expect to find a rubber duck there.


Here is a picture of the current status of the rubber duck model I’m working on in the Tinkercad. I plan to do a test print soon, and hopefully I will improve it before the project ends. Most of the body was simple, as the head was where it was difficult. Because this is designed to be 3D printed, the eyes have to pop out so that they’re visible. The beak was a bit of a nightmare.


Here is the first of many photos I took of  a rubber duck. I took this photo (it is of the bottom of the duck) to point out that rubber ducks do have a part in consumerist culture. Also, I think it  strange that I spent the entire second iteration claiming they are symbols of childhood, innocence, and nostalgia, and yet this duck bears a warning against letting infants of less than 18 months use it. By purchasing this rubber duck, I have directly contributed to consumerism, and to this idea that rubber ducks are worth having. The next several pictures attempting to refute this very idea.


Here is a photo I took of the rubber duck sitting in a trash bin. Rubber ducks must end up either in piles of unused garbage, or in a landfill. The sheer immensity of the number of rubber ducks is bound to have a negative impact. It is unavoidable.


This picture I took while wondering if printing the design I’ve made is actually worth it. Obviously, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time working with rubber ducks and studying them. However, at this point, I’ve more or less decided that rubber ducks are not incredibly important, and by continuing as long as I have, I am just contributing to a pile of trash. I’m struggling at this point, because rubber ducks have pretty much only symbolic value, is that truly worth printing?


I will close with this image. I entered into the world of rubber ducks through a phenomena in the world of coding. Suffice to say, however, a computer or a workspace is still not somewhere that most people would expect to find a rubber duck. Although I began at this point, it seems that I’ve rather strayed from where I set out. I wonder if, by the end of this project, I will have come back around to finish in the world of coding and programming, or if I will end in a flurry of environmentalist rage.



     “Abandoned.” 2014. Pinterest. Accessed November 18.
     “Washed up Ducks.” 2014. The Sun. Accessed November 18.

CST Week 7 Thomas Bouwer

What do we do when things change?

“I don’t know, man.” -Doctorow, Makers, 256

Because of Veteran’s day, this past week was a bit different. We found ourselves thrust into a different situation, A situation where we had to fulfill the roles of embedded journalists and 3D designers simultaneously. To some degree, I think that’s what we were supposed to have been doing, but this allowed us to actually “get it”. However, Monday also appeared confusing. It seemed as though we knew what were supposed to be doing, and that we did not, at the same time. The question is: “What do we do when that happens?” The answer appears to have been “Hell if I know, but we’ll likely get something out of it.”

CST Week #6 Thomas Bouwer

Is optimism always possible or favorable?

“No fucking way”- Doctorow, Makers, 227

I’m not sure when I stopped being an optimist about everything, but I think this class might change that. Certainly, not much in Makers can be seen as optimistic, but this week, while I was still mad about my inability to link the class to the text, I saw people being more optimistic than me. People were having troubles with their designs and seeing it as learning oppurtunities. People would look at misprints and say “I’ll get it at some point soon.”  The class is effectively acting opposite of the text, and it will be interesting to see where it pans out.

CST Week #5

“What happened?”

“Oh Christ. Who knows?” (both from 113, Makers, Doctorow)

It feels like a lot of us are losing control of our thoughts. People are still playing around in TinkerCad, but now that they have an idea of where they’re trying to go, they’ve started trying to get there. The trouble is they don’t know how to do that entirely. I‘ve noticed that due to the increasingly dystopic nature of Makers, many students are having trouble relating the novel to what we’re doing in class, myself included. This leads to many of us not knowing what to ask ourselves or others while doing observations.

Rubber Ducks: A further Analysis (Blue Rabbit iteration #2)

     Why are Rubber Ducks important to people? At first glance, they’re clearly not. Nobody obsesses unnecessarily about rubber ducks. However, if they weren’t important for some reason, we would have stopped making them. There’s something about rubber ducks that captivates people and society. Obviously, I started from their usage in programming. Other people find interest in the way they might float in oceanic currents. Still other make giant sculptures of them, write songs about them for child television shows, or do studies about how the chemicals used in rubber ducks were killing us. In order to learn about rubber ducks, we have to look into them in a broad sense. How are they looked at by other people? Why did they choose rubber ducks?

     On the 1st of May, 2013, Rubber Ducks re-entered popular consciousness when a dutch sculptor name Florentijn Hofman made the world’s largest rubber duck, and put it in the bay of Hong Kong as an art exhibit (Whitehead, Hong Kong’s giant rubber duck). He had made several others before that, but they had not been so popular as the one in Hong Kong. In total, so far, Hofman has put up 22 rubber duck sculptures in various ports around the world, with the most recent being in Shanghai, China. The one in Hong Kong, however, remains the most well-known. Hofman says that he made it for adults, although rubber ducks are traditionally seen as childish. “I see it as an adult thing. It makes you feel young again.” Largely, he hopes the sculptures brighten people’s days by making them nostalgic.

      I will touch briefly on the usage of rubber ducks in The Pragmatic Programmer, as I’ve spoken about it a number of times, but still believe it to be important. The book is about software engineering, and is more or less my gateway into the universe of rubber ducks. It features a story about a programmer who would carry a rubber duck with him while he worked. When he was coding, he would explain the code, line-by-line, to the duck as a means of problem solving. This has since evolved into a common practice among programmers, and in several other instances, with a variety of stand-ins used in placement of a rubber duck. However, the rubber ducks remain the most popular item for usage in this fashion. “Place a rubber duck on your monitor and describe your problems to it. There’s something magical about stating your problems aloud that makes the solution more clear.” The authors have not said why the programmer used a rubber duck.

      The way rubber ducks used to be created involved a number of toxic chemicals. Most rubbers did, and in the heavily pollution-affect age that we live in, it’s difficult to not talk about the chemicals we face all day and every day. In Slow Death By Rubber Duck, Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie talk about this, however, they do not specifically focus on rubber ducks as much, instead using rubber ducks as an example of dangerous chemicals being heavily present in society. They chose rubber ducks because rubber ducks are so present, and so connected to innocence and childhood. Arguing that “the image conjured up by the word ‘pollution’ is just as properly an innocent rubber duck as it is a giant smokestack.”

      Rubber ducks have an effect of drawing people in, I’ve noticed. Perhaps it’s the novelty of rubber ducks, perhaps it’s the nostalgic effect rubber ducks are so famous for conjuring up. “I just wanted to learn what had really happened, where the toys had drifted away and why…I especially loved the part about the rubber duckies crossing the Arctic, going cheerfully where explorers had gone boldly and disastrously before.” This is a short bit from the opening of the book Moby Duck, by Donovan Hohn. Hohn got pulled in by rubber ducks, and found himself traveling the world learning about the story of 28,000 rubber ducks that got pulled from a cargo ship in the middle of the pacific ocean. This brings up a lot of questions about materiality and having too much stuff as well, as many of the ducks certainly ended up in the north pacific garbage patch, which is now twice the size of the state of Texas. The book ended up being about the huge amount of garbage in the pacific ocean. Hohn worked on rubber ducks because it’s where he started from.

     The popularity of Rubber Ducks can be attributed from many things, among them, the famous song from Sesame Street. It is absolutely a hit song, reaching the top 40 in 1970, where it stayed for six weeks, peaking at number 16. This song comes up whenever ducks are mentioned. I heard students talking about the rubber duck song, simply because Sarah mentioned one of my blog posts about it before the CST workshop one day. There isn’t much to say about the song, unfortunately. It was written for children, so it doesn’t make any deep arguments or have any underlying political propaganda. It’s a song for children about a child’s toy. What, however, that’s all the significance it needs?

      “Rubber Duckie”, in a fashion similar to Hofman’s sculptures, is popular because it’s silly, it’s meant to brighten people’s days. Certainly rubber ducks mean different things to different people, to some they symbolize declining environmental sustainability, or the lack of caring over the amount of toxic chemicals presented to us every day. Rubber Ducks are a strange “rabbit hole” of sorts. People like me, or Donovan Hohn get pulled in by silly stories we hear about them, and find questions on top of questions. Even thought they have toxic chemicals in them, and they are contributing to environmental decline, it’s impossible not to think it funny and talk about rubber ducks in anything but a light-hearted fashion. If rubber ducks end up as the symbol of the end of human civilization, we’d still be laughing about to the point of our extinction. There’s a reason for that. I found a website called, it has a page entitled “why we love rubber ducks”. It argues several things about the simplicity in design of the rubber duck, but argues, at the end of the day, that rubber ducks are nostalgic for so many of us. They’re symbols of childhood and innocence. The reason we still talk about rubber ducks, and why we’re drawn to articles about thousands of them being lost at sea, or by books entitled “slow death by rubber duck” is that rubber ducks are symbols of nostalgia itself. I never even played with rubber ducks as a kid, and they’re still nostalgic to me. It’s that widespread nostalgic feeling we get when talking about rubber ducks that makes stories about programmers, and songs about childhood toys become popular and well-known. To sum up, Rubber ducks are important to people, because they make us feel like children again, and because it does that for so many people.


      Hohn, Donovan. 2011. Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them. New York: Viking.

     “Hong Kong’s Giant Rubber Duck.” 2014. CNN. Accessed November 2.

Hunt, Andrew. 2000. The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master. Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley.

Smith, Rick, and Bruce Lourie. 2011. Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things. Reprint edition. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint.

“Why We Love Rubber Ducks!” 2014. Accessed November 2.

CST Week #4

“Can I allow my focus to stray from this?”

This week, I was noticing a tendency for people to be working on things not necessarily related to their design. Certainly, everybody was working on their designs at some point. However, there were also moments when students would stray away from their designs, sometimes for things unrelated, but often for related and important things. Graham, for example, was having troubles getting his designs to save. Michael often had to stray from designing to work with the 3D printers. However we all seemed to come to the conclusion that our designs were bound to get better, and didn’t need focus constantly.

“New Work isn’t going anywhere, Suzanne.”- Doctorow, Makers, 108

Concerning Rubber Ducks

What sort of significance can be found in a rubber duck? Clearly, a question that has been asked by scholars the world over for the past several centuries. Rubber ducks aren’t really important enough to talk about, is what most sensible people would say. I, however, am idiotic and determined.

This idea came to me as a result of my recent obsession (for lack of a better word) with Rubber Ducking (rubber duck debugging, teddy bear debugging, rubber duck problem solving, etc). It’s a process where somebody takes something that is not human, personifies it, and explains their problem, in detail, to that thing. It could be a rubber duck, a teddy bear, a cardboard cutout of a celebrity, it could be anything. I, personally, have a plastic skull named Ichabod. Because, however, I first learned about this with rubber ducks, that’s what the focus is on.

The idea is to make a rubber duck model that people can 3-D print for the purpose of this problem-solving method. It will be designed with a couple of things in mind. Firstly, it needs to be easy to personify. There are some design techniques I can employ to make a plastic monochrome duck easy to personify. Secondly, I am going to design it with size in mind. If it’s too small, a person may as well be talking to the air, and if it’s too large, than there’s no effective way to store it while not in use, and it may become more of a hindrance than a help. I’m thinking around the size of a baseball. Lastly, I will design it with the knowledge that I am designing a plastic rubber duck, and that nobody will take it as seriously as I am. If somebody has access to a 3-D printer, and they need to use this method of problem solving, they can print a duck to which they can explain their problems, once my design is finished.

This is important for a couple of reasons. It’s more about what the duck symbolizes and its function than the duck itself. Sure, it’s a rubber (plastic, I know, but I will continue to say rubber because it sounds better) duck, but it is the ultimate tool for problem solving. It’s because, when we think, we use different parts of our brains than we do when we try to explain or when we try to ask questions. Therefore, explaining to a rubber duck, or asking a question to a rubber duck causes us to think through the problem more logically, and in wider more understandable terms. On top of that, one of the questions we’re working with right now has to do with our relationship to objects, and in a way, this is a different kind of relationship to objects. People don’t try to explain things to their phones, and blind people don’t try to explain things to their sticks.

Now, this is a pretty recent thought. The idea of understanding something better through trying to explain it isn’t new, in 1980, an education method known as “learning by teaching” was developed by a foreign language teacher in Germany by the name of Jean-pol Martin. It’s largely the same idea, that explaining something allows a person to develop deeper understanding of the concept. Using inanimate objects to problem solve, however, is still fairly new, and largely dominated by the field of coding and programming. The first instance I could find of it was in a book called The Pragmatic Programmer by Andrew Hunt and David Thomas, which contained a story about a programmer who would carry around a rubber duck and force himself to explain his code, line-by-line, to it. However, there are stories of the same logical tool being used in other fields. I found a story online, in which a man working with automatic fire sprinklers, stopped by his boss’s office to ask a technical question, and was referred to a dead duck hanging on the wall. Halfway through asking his question, he found the answer. There are also stories of people using teddy bears, and pictures of political figures.

      The real question that stands to be asked, is what will be gained from exploring this concept over the next several weeks? I believe that by exploring this concept and looking deeper into the psychological reasoning behind it, I will be able to find some incredible fact about the way the human mind relates to objects. How can something like a rubber duck become so important that somebody carries it around with them while they’re working?


      “Creating Passionate Users: Rubberducking and Creativity.” 2014. Accessed October 21.

     Hunt, Andrew. 2000. The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master. Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley.

     “Hwrnmnbsol – Ask the Duck.” 2014. Accessed October 21.

     Kernighan, Brian W. 1999. The Practice of Programming. Addison-Wesley Professional Computing Series. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

     “ Re: Not an Awk Question.” 2014. Accessed October 21.

     “Rubber Duck Debugging.” 2014. Accessed October 21.

     “Rubber Ducking.” 2014. Accessed October 21.

     “Rubber Duck Problem Solving.” 2014. Accessed October 21.

     “The Concept „Learning by Teaching“ – Ldl-Engl.pdf.” 2014. Accessed October 21.


CST Week #3

“I have to write about this,” She said to Perry. “It’s part of the story.”

Makers, 81, Doctorow

Why do we tell others about what we’re working on? In the classroom, students would tell other students about their designs. There’s a method of debugging called “rubber ducking” in which a coder explains coding to a rubber duck, because coding is so logical a process that going through it allows the mind to pick up the errors. When we talk to others, explain to others, show our work to others, it’s part of thinking. It’s outsourcing our mental processes, and extending our mind into those we interact with, in order to think more efficiently and effectively.

Week 1

I noticed a number of things as I observed the Blues this Monday. Many of them worked differently. Some of them were intently watching what Arlen was saying, and doing simply what he showed them to do when he told them to. However, many of the students simply worked as he talked, and played around in Tinkercad, trying to get a feel for how it operated. I was unsure of how it would affect me, but it surprisingly made me believe that Tinkercad was more complex than it actually was. I look forward to observing other such things in the future.