Staff manual

Introduction

This document is an attempt to write down the expectations that we have for the staff at Nolop. It’s mostly stuff that Brandon repeats over and over again; sometimes the written word can help make sure that everyone gets the message.

Overall goal

Nolop is about building and maintaining a welcoming community of people who want to support each other building stuff. We have some 3D printers and a laser cutter, but those are not really the point.

Some fraction of the people who visit Nolop don’t need the staff at all. They know what tools they need to use, or they are confident enough to figure it out on their own. We want to provide them with a clean and usable workspace, but not much else.

There’s another group of people for whom Nolop is intimidating or challenging– maybe they’re new to Tufts, or new to building stuff, or worried that someone like them doesn’t belong here. Our job is to convince them that they do belong here, and help them feel comfortable building whatever they’re planning to build.

Safety

As Nolop has grown in popularity, it has become impossible to run Nolop as a police state. Instead of having a small group of staff members who enforce a certain set of rules, we try to encourage everyone to guide each other. As an individual, you should want people to tell you when it looks like you’re doing something dangerous.

But there are rules

We do still have a few basic safety rules.

  1. In the red zone or when using dangerous tools, wear safety glasses. Make sure you have no jewelry or dangling hair or hoodie strings that could get caught in a tool.
  2. The red zone is open when Brandon Stafford is in Nolop. Otherwise, it is closed, and you cannot use the power tools within.
  3. When the red zone is open, you can only use the power tools if Brandon has trained you on the tool you plan to use.
  4. There are a few tools stored in the red zone that you can use at any time: the sheet metal brake, the jump shear, the ironworker.

The Nolop store

The store is the cabinet at the front of Nolop that is filled with materials and components for building stuff. The basic business model is that Brandon places bulk orders of useful stuff and then resells the stuff to Nolop users at the bulk prices. The store generally operates on an honor system, in that we do not have a system of logging every purchase or issuing receipts, but we do ask that people ask a staff member to approve every purchase. This is mostly so that there’s no confusion about prices or what each thing is suitable for; it also helps to keep people honest.

We also have a pile of clipboards with store tabs for different classes, labs, and clubs. For these, people just write down what they’re buying, and then Brandon settles up with the relevant department at the end of the year. Brandon is the only one who can start a tab; it also requires the pre-approval of the professor who will eventually be charged for the expenses.

If we ever have students who need materials that they cannot afford, we have a few ways to help. Brandon has a pile of extra materials in his office that are free for anyone who can’t afford to pay. We also can get classes to start tabs if they haven’t already. If nothing else works, send them to Brandon, and we can figure something out; under no circumstances should someone’s education suffer because they can’t afford project materials.

Storage

Cubbies and shelves are first-come, first-serve. Please use them to store projects that are in-progress, rather than long-term storage for your belongings. Please label your stuff with your name and the date you started storing it. If you still need storage a month later, please update your label.

Every week, we sift through the stored stuff and dump stuff with expired labels in the lost and found. (This is a new plan.)

At the end of every semester, we throw away everything on the shelves and in the cubbies, unless it is explicitly labeled “<YOUR NAME> SAVE FOR <NEXT SEMESTER>.”

A few things you should not store: food, drinks, things that leak, and explosives like rocket engines. We do have a small flammables cabinet we can store some stuff in if needed.

Nolop staff can also store stuff on the shelves in the back of the red zone. We just make this staff storage because staff have card access to the room; other than that, there’s nothing special about it.

Lost and found: the limbo bins

Every morning, we sweep the detritus left around the tables into the upper limbo bin. Every Friday, we trash the lower bin. Then, we label the upper bin “To be thrown away <date 1 week from today>” and swap it with the bottom bin. This insures that unwanted stuff is continuously purged, but also people have a chance to recover lost valuables.

The secret closet

We have a secret storage closet. It’s not really secret; it’s just behind a door in a little-used hallway. It’s used for long-term storage of large stuff we don’t use very often (like the extra chop saws) as well as consumables like paper towels and printer filament. Nolop staff are welcome to replenish our stock at any time, but please let Brandon know if we are running low on anything. If you put out our last filament, but don’t tell Brandon, we’ll probably be out of filament for a day or two while we wait for more filament to be shipped, which is bad.

Non-staff shouldn’t take stuff from the secret closet.

Brandon’s office

Nolop staff always have access to Brandon’s office through the red zone. In general, you can use or take anything you want in there, within reason. Don’t give away my backpack or my desk, but pretty much everything else is just waiting for a good use to come along. Ask me if you’re unsure.

Nolop staff can also always feel free to use my office for meetings or whatever, as long as I’m not using it myself.

Sweatshirts

Every staff member gets a free Nolop sweatshirt. You don’t absolutely have to wear them, but it makes for an easy way for people identify who’s working. If we collectively decide that we hate sweatshirts, we can get something else instead (hats, forehead tattoos, whatever works).

We do also sell sweatshirts to the general public, but with one rule: if you wear a Nolop sweatshirt, and someone asks you for help with, for example, the laser cutter, you have to help them, just as if you were a staff member.

Holidays

We want Nolop to be open as much as possible, especially on weekends and holidays, because that’s when people have time to work on projects. Still, staff deserve a break too, so if your shift is on a holiday, you can take the day off. Please post a note in #nolop-staff to let the rest of us know, and to see if anyone can cover for you– usually, there are people willing to take an extra shift anyway.

On days when Tufts switches its schedule, like “Substitute Friday’s schedule on Tuesday,” we switch our shifts too. In this example, if you had a Nolop shift normally on Friday, you would work Tuesday instead.

Missing a shift

If you have to miss a shift, please ask in the #nolop-staff channel if someone can cover for you. In general, you are all welcome to swap shifts and cover for each other however you like. If you’re sick and and can’t get someone to cover for you, no problem– you should always prioritize your health, both physical and mental, over school and work.

Staying late

You are welcome to keep Nolop open late after your shift ends, but you won’t get paid. Basically, I will not pay you to stay up all night, because it’s healthier to sleep regularly, but I understand that sometimes you just want to keep going. If you do keep Nolop open, you have to keep doing your job; you can’t just turn Nolop into your private engineering clubhouse.

Student groups

Some groups, like Tufts Robotics and Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, have cabinets for storage. They should try to contain their stuff to the cabinets.

Officers of student groups with storage can get card access to Nolop and keep the place open late for a meeting if they wish.

Tools of last resort

“Some people, when confronted with a problem, think ‘I know, I’ll use regular expressions.’ Now they have two problems.” –Jamie Zawinski

There are a few tools that we have at Nolop that I keep sequestered in my office. They are referred to as “tools of last resort.” At present, they are:

  • Random orbit sander
  • Dremel rotary tool
  • Vice grip pliers
  • Wood burner

These tools are sequestered because they tend to lure the inexperienced toward bad solutions. For example, if we make the sander widely accessible, people will use it to shape wood. This is slower than using, for example, a band saw or scroll saw, it’s loud, and it makes a huge mess. There are exceptions, but generally edged tools should be used for shaping materials, and sanding should be used for smoothing the surface of materials.

Similarly, people often think of the Dremel as the inverse of a 3D printer, i.e. a 3D eraser. If the slot on your 3D print came out a little too small, hey, just use the 3D eraser to grind it open! Most of the time, this does not work at all. 3D prints have thin walls, and it’s hard to grind uniformly in 3D with a freehand tool. The correct answer is usually to fix your design.

Still, there are times when these tools are the right solution, so we do have them available.

Community and stewardship

We want to build an inclusive community of stewards– people from all backgrounds who take care of the place they’re in.

In practice, this means that we’re friendly. If we see someone building something interesting, we ask them about it. If we see someone looking confused, we introduce ourselves and ask if they need help getting their bearings. If we see private jokes written on the whiteboards, we erase them, even if we think they are funny. We try to make the operating principles of the place obvious, so that everyone knows what we’re trying to do. We are biased in favor of open source software and hardware.

Alumni

We like alumni, but they’re generally not allowed to use Nolop after they graduate. We’re not strict about this, but if someone asks, the policy is no.

What to do during a shift

Put your hexagon magnets on the whiteboard up front. Try to look available, or help people proactively. Clean stuff up. Organize stuff.

Log your hours worked on the whiteboard by the front desk. Brandon submits hours every second Monday; you get paid every second Thursday or Friday. If you forget to log hours, you can add them in the next pay period, but don’t do that regularly.

More to come…

Useful phrases

“We don’t do that here.” This is a simple way to tell someone that their behavior is inappropriate for Nolop without getting into a big argument with them. For example, when someone says, “Girls don’t use tools,” you say, “We don’t do that here.” It doesn’t challenge their right to hold their belief, but it does set the standard that our community is welcoming to everybody. (For pop culture reference, google “we don’t do that here black panther”.

“That’s not what that’s for.” This is a way of encouraging someone to stop misusing a tool without implying that they are foolish. It assumes good intent and is less confrontational than, “Stop that! You’re doing something bad!” For example, if you see someone using a chisel as a screwdriver, you say, “That’s not what that’s for.” (“Here, try this screwdriver,” would be a good follow-up.)

Over here at Nolop, we’re doing good stuff. This phrase is the stock response when someone complains to you about some other fabrication facility on campus. For example, if someone says, “[The SMFA, Bray, various other labs] sucks! They won’t let me stick this bizarre material in their 3D printers!”, you say, “Over here at Nolop, we’re doing good stuff.” We don’t throw our colleagues under the bus, and we don’t engage in complainfests. It’s reasonable for different spaces to have different policies; our job is to stay focused on making Nolop great.