At a recent HacDC get-together, Tim Collins displays his latest toy to a visitor. It’s a microcontroller, a $6 mini-computer on a chip smaller than his thumb. “This has more computing capacity than my first computer, which cost thousands of dollars,” he observes.
Microcontrollers are the glue that holds the consumer electronics world together, used in everything from kitchen appliances to cars. These days, the parts are cheap enough so that tech enthusiasts like Collins can afford to play with them as a hobby, but they’re also still complex enough that you might need help if you want to use one to build, say, your own personal robot. And that’s where having access to the collective brains of the HacDC membership comes in handy.
HacDC, based out of a church in Columbia Heights, is a sort of a co-op space for tinkerers, with about 25 members paying monthly dues of $50 to rent out the 600-square-foot space. For the money, members get round-the-clock access to the space and its collection of donated tools. Non-members are also welcome to hang out.
These guys are hackers, perhaps, but not in the bad, steal-your-passwords meaning of the word. Hacking, in the HacDC sense, refers to the act of tearing into the latest technology to build or do something not originally intended by a device’s creators. A couple of years ago, I wrote about a guy who’d figured out how to wirelessly control his Roomba vacuum cleaner with a Nintendo DS. That’s the sort of activity we’re talking about here. Read more…
SAN FRANCISCO — R. Miloh Alexander and Seth Schoen are hunched over an old pay phone whose innards are being grafted onto the guts of a Walmart telephone and a voice-over-IP modem.
Right now, the Frankensteinish hybrid looks like a pile of tangled wires. Somewhere in the mess, an alligator clip has popped loose. Schoen frowns.
“We really need to solder these down,” he says.
The two are working on a recent Monday evening at Noisebridge, a collectively operated hacker space in San Francisco. Across the table, Noisebridge member Molly Boynoff is typing on a sticker-covered MacBook, learning to program in Python. Next to her, Noisebridge co-founder Mitch Altman is showing two newcomers how to solder resistors and LEDs onto a circuit board.
“There are zillions of people around the world doing this,” says Altman, referring to the swell of interest in do-it-yourself projects and hacking. “It’s a worldwide community.”
At the center of this community are hacker spaces like Noisebridge, where like-minded geeks gather to work on personal projects, learn from each other and hang out in a nerd-friendly atmosphere. Like artist collectives in the ’60s and ’70s, hacker spaces are springing up all over.
There are now 96 known active hacker spaces worldwide, with 29 in the United States, according to Hackerspaces.org. Another 27 U.S. spaces are in the planning or building stage.
Located in rented studios, lofts or semi-commercial spaces, hacker spaces tend to be loosely organized, governed by consensus, and infused with an almost utopian spirit of cooperation and sharing.
“It’s almost a Fight Club for nerds,” says Nick Bilton of his hacker space, NYC Resistor in Brooklyn, New York. Bilton is an editor in The New York Times R&D lab and a board member of NYC Resistor. Bilton says NYC Resistor has attracted “a pretty wide variety of people, but definitely all geeks. Not Dungeons & Dragons–type geeks, but more professional, working-type geeks.”
For many members, the spaces have become a major focus of their evening and weekend social lives.
Since it was formed last November, Noisebridge has attracted 56 members, who each pay $80 per month (or $40 per month on the “starving hacker rate”) to cover the space’s rent and insurance. In return, they have a place to work on whatever they’re interested in, from vests with embedded sonar proximity sensors to web-optimized database software.
Altman wears a black Dorkbot T-shirt, a black zip-up hoody and olive khakis with large side pockets. His long gray hair features vibrant blue and red stripes, and he’s nearly always smiling. His enthusiasm for hacker spaces is infectious.
“In our society there’s a real dearth of community,” Altman says. “The internet is a way for people to key in to that need, but it’s so inadequate. [At hacker spaces], people get a little taste of that community and they just want more.”
I can most warmly recommend you to read the whole article here!
Congratulations to all parties involved.
And btw: As for today, we know of 101 active hackerspaces, plus 18 uncategorized; besides this, 64 hackerspaces are planned or (17 out of which) currently in building process.
And every time I see a post like this come up, a talk being held, a paper mentioning one of these spaces – every one of these times, more people get interested, and the long list of planned hackerspaces grows a little more.
And this is what makes me so very happy about Dylan Tweney’s article.
Build! Unite! Multiply!
As for 02:50 PM EST today, our good old Apache crashed due to the WIRED article’s appearence on the front page of digg.com; shortly after temporarily fixing load issues, the database was brought to its knees.
So, first off: W00T!!!1!!eleven
Secondly: We’re working on it. For the next couple of hours, however, only static html pages generated from the wiki will be served (besides this blog) – until we finalized the wiki optimization.
Again, thanks for all the interest. You people rock.
Next year I think we need to have a proper battle, maybe MC Frontalot? Just saying, it’s an idea. Anyway, I personally thank everyone that came on behalf of HacDC, ShmooCon, and ToorCamp for hosting such an amazing party. In the process of the night we helped raise a lot of money, somewhere North of $2000. I think someone is still counting the singles. That money will help HacDC furnish out their new FabLab they are building plus get some other goodies. I can’t wait to see what gets built next.
Also the hosts of the venue where we held the event, seemed to be happy with how everything turned out and it looks like we may get another shot next year.
Those of you that were on the conference call last Sunday were the first to be made aware that I’ve been working incognito for the last two months scheming, planning, plotting with fellow members of HacDC to pull off a really cool event.
So how does HacDC play into this? Well, some short background:
HacDC didn’t exist when ShmooCon was around last year, it was only spoken about in hushed tones till after the conference. Now we’ve been around for almost a full year with lots of stories to speak of.
Now at this ShmooCon we’re very loud and very proud of how far we have come and we’d like to say thanks to everyone by hosting the official ShmooCon Friday night party.
The details are forth coming but the basics are:
Location: HacDC Sanctuary (4 meters from the Altar)
1525 Newton St NW, Washington DC 20010 USA
(near corner of 16th and Newton NW) Google Map
Time: 10pm till past 3ish.
How/Who: If you’re a member of a hackerspace or an attendee of ShmooCon, just show up for the festivities.
This is where the action happens.
What to expect:
DJ Just Joshin
DJ Keith Myers
Plus a number of fun projects that hackers from other hackerspaces are bringing in to show off.
Due to our worries about missing a lot of hackerspace updates by doing the conference call on Thu, Feb. 05th as planned (since quite a couple of you hackers might be trapped on a plane on your way to ShmooCon), we decided to reschedule the next call-in to
Sunday, Feb. 01st at 02 pm PST / 05 pm EST / 10 pm UTC / 11 pm CET
Please RSVP by adding your hackerspaces name + handle to the schedule if you are planning to call in & give an update!
As usual, all technical information can be found here.
However, our dinner plans on the night before ShmooCon – Thu, Feb 05th, that is – remain unchanged;
please make sure to RSVP via over9000(at)hackerspaces.org or add your name to the referring wikipage, so we save a hackerspaces dinner seat for you.
We hope to be able to update the wiki with more info about events happening at and around ShmooCon shortly – stay tuned ^^
Were the words spoken by over two dozen people who made it to the Feuerwerkskörperkontrollkästchen Party for New Years at c-base. Where a salvo of fireworks just screeched up into the sky celebrating the new year to everyone and welcoming a new year of collaboration in hackerspaces everywhere!
Rewind back to less than 24 hours previously a metal box with buttons lay on a table with no innards. A very sad sight to see when a project has been left on the table. It was originally destined to set off a salvo of fireworks at the c-base reconstruction crew’s location in Berlin, but when push came to shove and a few hackers from two continents came together at two in the morning magic started happening, and who was to mess with destiny?
With soldering guns in hand and three members of different hackerspaces (Astera of Metalab.at, Ash of Hacdc.org, and Jeedi of c-base.org) leading the charge plans started to take shape. A double dead man switch, with a bank of 16 Ethernet ports broken down to two 8 port jacks with 5 blocked off for disuse and 1 for power allowing for 40 individual rockets to be fired. When wired correctly you could either kill a bank of Ethernet switch right quick or as for the intended purposes set off a salvo of fireworks.
Hackerspaces.org staffers have preliminary agreements to turn the Flashy-Ammunition-Ignition-Lighter-over-Ethernet (FAILoE) intellectual property over to a certain sillicon valley network hardware provider. All the proceeds will be donated to charities that benefit destitute arms manufacturers.