An interview with syn₂cat

nhitze | Posted 2009.10.04 at 12:47 pm | Perma

syn2cat logo

First of all, please introduce yourself – who is behind syn₂cat and what do you do for a living?

While syn₂cat began as a two men project in August 2008, it has by now developed into a fully fledged non-profit organisation, featuring 4 administrative members and 4 additional officers. The initial founders, Steve and David are a freelance IT consultant and a political science student respectively.

Of the additional people that soon stocked up the syn₂cat office, macfreak109 is a school teacher in information science, xx5y is a microelectronics engineer, Bartek a post-grad physics student, Gunstick a sysadmin and Michel is a student in secondary school. We only now got reinforced by an 8th crew member.

So how did you come up with the idea to found a hackerspace?

The idea of a hackerspace was born out of desperation ;)
David felt that, should he ever have to return to Luxembourg after university, there’d have to be a hackerspace. Visiting the Metalab in Vienna, though only for a short hour and without much going on, was a key moment in filing that decision.

Though the idea of building a hackerspace was initially scheduled for after David’s graduation, we spontaneously decided to do it “right there and now”. Since then, the project has been steadily growing like an open source project, with its “developers” learning by doing how to run such a show.

What are your future plans for the hackerspace?

Bootstrapping the space is still the near future and once we accomplished that, attracting more people and launching projects will be our focus. One group will focus on youth projects to get more young people into thinking outside the box and begin seeing solutions instead of problems.

Another future task is to constantly shift the responsibility of the actual space to other, maybe younger, people. Although we talked about an “administrative” board, we are far from paper tigers and want to keep the complexity as flat as possible.

Why do you think is the movement spreading so fast right now?

It gained a lot of momentum by the Hackers on a Plane project and the incredible amount of hackerspaces growing in the US. The sudden US movement had its spark from some German hackerspace visits so I guess it was the Germans again ;)

Interestingly enough this amalgamate of people starting open spaces backlashed to Europe again to give rise to a new iteration of hacker- or open spaces. The movement is nothing new but currently it sees fit in the hacker culture which sees an imminent uprise. To get to the point: People saw peers doing cool things in cool spaces and thought – “us too!” – and started doing it too.

Another factor might be the rise of social networks which allow ideas to spread quickly, especially amongst technically minded people. Hackerspaces take the connections made online and map them into the physical world.

Are there any fixed dates for events at syn₂cat?

There’s a list of fixed dates on our website. As we use Semantic Media Wiki (SMW) quite extensively, it is even available as an RSS feed.

The next big things will be our OpenWeekend where we show the space to the general public and keep it open for 36h straight. Further, we are also planning regular Python classes and electronics (soldering) sessions, with another focus on attracting other peer-groups such as user groups , the Chaos Computer Club, miniature railway hackers etc…

And the last question, where can we find some pictures?

There are photos on our website – but be ready to be rocked by the upcoming “after syn₂cat” pictures!

syn2cat meeting

The Situation at Abbenay Hackerspace

Nick Farr | Posted 2009.09.29 at 5:54 pm | Perma

The one-month old Abbenay hacklab has put out a call for support from the Hackerspace community. In the spirit of ASCII and PUSCII, they opened up operations in a squat in downtown Stockholm. While squats are unusual in Sweden, this particular space has been able to stay open for a month.

We are however facing an imminent eviction threat and police pressure has been significantly increasing lately – with civil cops coming very often to take pictures of the house and sirens waking us up early in the morning. This call is asking you to contact the landlord to show support to the hacklab and the squat…

Herein lies a rather unique opportunity. While you may not agree with the politics behind squatting, Abbenay’s call for support is asking for an open dialogue with the building’s landlord, advocating on behalf of Hackerspaces and asking for reasonable accommodation. Here is an opportunity to purposefully advocate for a fellow Hackerspace, not by necessarily aligning yourself with the politics of the situation but by appealing to a property owner why it’s in his community’s best interest to allow Abbenay to continue.

Hellekin’s very reasoned and well-argued letter is a great example of how you can voice your support:

Although their methods are questionable, please consider what benefits you and your fellow citizens could enjoy from having such a dedicated team of goofy researchers in your capital city. Beyond the obvious press coverage…you would be surprised … how productive and ingenious these people can be, and how shaking and beneficial such an endeavor can be for the local community.

Those of you who have started hackerspaces know how difficult the bootstrapping process is, as well as how beneficial these spaces are to the technically creative and curious where you live. While your hackerspace probably took a different route in coming to be, consider that every Hackerspace confronts its own forming and operating challenges differently. Consider how you give and receive help at your hackerspace and consider that what Abbenay is asking for isn’t that much different.

While this post is a bit of a departure from my theoretical musings of late, I believe this is a fascinating situation with a good working solution that shows promise. Even if Abbenay is ultimately evicted, the mere process of reaching out to a property owner in another part of the world can help you frame your own thoughts about your Hackerspace and how the magic and struggles in your space relate to those in spaces throughout the world.

If you do decide to contact Fredrik Winberg, be sure to post what you said or wrote to the Hackerspaces Discuss list. His contact information can be found in the initial call for support. There is also a Facebook group you can join as well!

Categories : blog  hackers  hackerspace  organization
Tags :

Hackerspaces and Money: Five Approaches

Nick Farr | Posted 2009.09.13 at 7:04 am | Perma

You got hackers. They want a fixed space. Now what?

The next question probably comes down to money.  The biggest hurdles to bootstrapping and maintaining a Hackerspace involve the management of resources that have actual value.  Physical places, even ones which are “free”, require the payment of rent somewhere along the line.

A recent post on the Hackerspaces Discussion list points to the need for the right structure for organizing and managing the finances and resources of a Hackerspace.  It’s a question each Hackerspace effort needs to consider carefully and resolve for itself.  An organizational structure needs to accomodate each space’s unique culture and reconcile it to the various laws and conditions in play at the time of formation.

The five approaches I outline should be a good starting point for a discussion on the theory of Hackerspace organization.  When I look at how Hackerspaces have functioned in the past and how they function today, this framework of five categories seems to make the most sense to me.  That being said, odds are good that many spaces will not fit “cleanly” into any of these five categories.  Categories are clean, nature is messy.  We have to start somewhere.

So, the Five Types of Hackerspace Finance:

  1. Anarchy
  2. The Angels
  3. The Owner
  4. The Board
  5. The Membership

Anarchy

A few spaces have functioned quite well without an explicitly organized system for managing money.  Anarchy, as I use it, doesn’t mean the absence of order or even the absence of money.  In this context, I’m describing spaces where needs were met on an ad-hoc basis by those involved.  There may not be official dues, but a clear expectation that everyone involved needs to contribute something to make the effort work.  Certain Hackerspaces in squats, temporary spaces, basements and other places that can be had for “the taking” are the most common.  These efforts tend to prefer completely voluntary contributions and eschew explicit expectations.  Some spaces that are officially organized on paper prefer to operate as close to Anarchy as possible, preferring overarching concepts (i.e. “Be Excellent to Each Other”) to specific policies.

It is possible to run a very good hackerspace without any kind of official organization.  Were it not for legal matters, liability and a need for explicit order and hierarchies, it might be the preferred choice.

However, lots of reasons make Anarchy very difficult and unwieldy.  Often, when dealing with lots of different hackers who have lots of different ways of doing (especially hackers who prefer structure and order) Anarchy just can’t work.  There’s also the matter of accommodating new folks who may not share the viewpoints and collectivist spirit that otherwise make this style a possibility.

It’s worth noting that spaces in this category tend to have a strong political nature to them.  While this is not an inherently bad thing, spaces that are intensely political tend to alienate or divide people who “just want to hack”.

The Angels

For me, this is the most difficult category.  Angel spaces are ones that rely on outside sources, those that aren’t direct participants, for the vast majority of their support.  Hackerspaces in Universities, sponsored by Governments or ones that operate in other businesses without an explicit lease tend fall in this category.  Other spaces that may have their own facilities, but could not pay their bills without outside “Angels” fall under this heading.

The natural advantage of an Angel space is that they allow Hackers more time to hack and less time layering on and cutting through red tape.  In a perfect world, we’d all be able to rely on Angels to find spaces for us and stock them with all the parts and tools we need to make really cool projects. Of course, we aren’t living in a perfect world.

To be clear, I believe every space should attempt to seek some outside support, either through donated materials, equipment, special project grants, etc.  Most spaces do this, but only a handful I know of rely on Angels for ongoing support.  As a boostrapping step, calling on Angels is great idea.  Recruiting members is often difficult unless you have a space they can see and get excited about, and sometimes you need some help from above to get going.

However, relying on Angels can tend to make groups lazy about their finances, collecting dues or taking other steps to ensure continuity if the Angels pull their funding.  Spaces subsidized by Governments or Foundations tend not to plan for crises like what we’ve recently experienced and end up scrambling to survive when the funding comes to an abrupt end.  For example, what would have happened to a space funded by a Foundation that fully vested in Bernie Madoff?

The other big problem is that Angel spaces are almost always more constrained in their activities than truly independent ones.  Spaces in Universities in the US, for example, are often unable to host parties with Alcohol or make an effort to recruit those who aren’t students or somehow officially affiliated with the host University.  There’s also the matter of spaces constraining themselves and their activities so they do not anger or alienate the Angels that support them.

Because my theoretical focus is on continuity and inclusiveness, I’m naturally going to be more critical of Angel spaces.  If you’re part of an Angel space and see nothing wrong with it, speak up and say why it’s an ideal situation!

The Owner

Spaces of old like New Hack City and the Walnut Factory and current spaces like Hackerbot Labs fall under this category.  This category might also be called “Single Center of Gravity” because matters of signing the lease, collecting money for the rent and being accountable for liability concerns generally rest on one person’s shoulders. They usually have help and receive funds from those involved, but the money and legal recourse ultimately flows through them.  Otherwise, the advantages and disadvantages of spaces run by “The Owner” are largely the same as those for Angel spaces, except the owner is involved and generally the recognized leader of the Hackerspace.

Owners tend to be the de-facto financiers of the space by virtue of being the landlord, responsible for improvements and manager of any activities to raise money.  The first Hackerspaces in the US were traditionally founded and managed by one strong personality who probably found it easier to “just do it” than make an effort to start a separate organization and go through the requisite motions to keep it going.

Explicitly for-profit spaces, ones designed to make a profit, are also often started and financed by single entrepreneurs who are ultimately responsible for their operation.  These business owners that self-identify their shop as Hackerspaces and make an effort to cultivate community (as opposed to purely customers) are a relatively new thing that warrants close examination.

As far as traditional, non-profit Owner spaces go, the continued success of Hackerbot Labs speaks to the viability of the model.  I used to be a much harsher critic of these kinds of spaces, having seen owners get frustrated, give up and call people like me in to help clean up and wind down their space.

However, we need to look at all the models that work.  It may just be that your local crew of hackers needs a solid focal point and a single leader in lieu of a more collective form of management.

The Board

Most spaces based on the Design Patterns will fall in to either this or the final category.  Almost every Hackerspace that takes a corporate form will have a Board of Directors of some kind, as corporate law throughout the world generally requires it.  The Design Patterns suggest that Hackerspaces start with a small core of persons who usually comprise the first members and, by default, become the first Board of Directors. 

If this small core of persons continues to effectively own and control the Hackerspace, it falls in this category, However, if a space takes the suggestion of the Design Patterns, and hands over effective ownership and control to all those who support the space equally through dues or other means, it falls into the last category,

Sometimes, this isn’t always what you want to do. The question Koen posed in his post is one worth exploring and involves matters of law that differ across borders. Koen’s example cites Dutch law, where a stitching is a board and a vereniging is a membership organization:

“The difficulty is in judging what is right. On the one hand, the democratic principle of a ‘vereniging’ is very much compatible with my idea of how a hackerspace should operate. However, a ‘stichting’ is a safer keeper of things like money and equipment. This might be especially relevant if said money and equipment are injected by external parties. However, the ‘stichting’ can not have members, thus there is no ‘membership fee’: any money asked for usage of the facilities will to the tax office look very much like an entrance fee for a commercial service.”

And herein lies one of the biggest critical distinctions between these last two categories. Do you give members certain administrative control in exchange for their membership dues? Or do you end up paying taxes or losing potential revenue to keep closer control over resources?

Of course, the specific matters of law and taxes and their inherent advantages and disadvantages vary depending on the jurisdiction.  In general, the key advantage to a Board is the safety of having more control in the hands of fewer people.  The disadvantage is potentially marginalizing those participants who support the space and aren’t on the board. They might lose out on a certain sense of ownership that comes with being a fully member-controlled organization.

The Membership

Most Hackerspaces based on the Design Patterns fall in this category.  Generally, the space is run by members who each a specifically defined contribution in exchange for the benefits of having an equal say in the space’s operation and special privileges like a key, locker, etc.  They decide how much to pay in dues, who gets a key, where to locate and so on.

While these spaces will still have a Treasurer to handle the finances, a Secretary to take notes, a President to preside over meetings, etc. what these officers do is ultimately determined by the members.  Ideally, every member supports the space equally, through work or dues and gain a sense of equal ownership over the space itself.  The members set the agenda, make informed decisions on how to handle administrative matters and give specific direction to the officers.

Of course, there are disadvantages to having a membership organization.  What happens when you can’t get a quorum of enough members to make decisions?  What if your membership is apathetic to administrative concerns?  What if organizing is seen as too burdensome a requirement?  Sometimes, as through the first example, the benefits of membership can be effectively conveyed through means other than establishing an official membership organization.

As a quick side note, there are some spaces that are technically organized under one category and functionally operate under another.  The classic example is NYCResistor, which is formally organized as a for-profit Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) comprised of the original founders of the space.  Legally, they’re an entity run by a subset of the members, putting them in the previous category. Functionally, the larger and ever changing dues-paying membership has an equal say on each issue and they meet every Tuesday to discuss business.  The decision to become an LLC ultimately ended up being one of convenience and expedience.

The example of NYCR highlights two things.  First, each space may fall into several categories for any number of reasons.   (I could make a case that the Metalab falls into all of them!)  Second, this is a theoretical construct designed to help illustrate similarities in forms of organization. It’s a starting point for a conversation, not an explicit means of dividing Hackerspaces into groups.

Conclusion

I believe every place where Hackers go to make things and socialize is a valid Hackerspace.  Building Hackerspaces that last and are inclusive is a particular emphasis of mine, as I feel every hacker should have a nearby place to go, make, learn and socialize with kindred spirits.

Hackerspaces.org is about bringing all these spaces together and inspiring people to build their own.   The aim of this theoretical discussion is giving people the tools and background required to make more Hackerspaces happen.  Our emphasis in discussion should be on finding ways to work together, using criticism as a means for identifying pitfalls rather than a blow to the hard work of fellow hackers.

As always, this is just my own milepost in a much larger conversation meant to keep Hackerspaces going throughout the world.  Please take it and run with it! The spaces need your thoughts too.

Greetings from the night shift!

astera | Posted 2009.09.09 at 9:05 am | Perma

Dear haxx0rs,

sorry for the short, unannounced downtime this night, as we were doing some maintenance on the servers.
As of now, everything’s up & rolling again! However, if you encounter any bugs [cough, cough], please feel free to drop me a line and I’ll be right on it like white on rice ;)

G’morning greetz from your fave nightshifters hellekin & yours truly,
/astera

Respect the Past, Examine the Present, Build the Future

Nick Farr | Posted 2009.08.25 at 5:00 pm | Perma

Hackerspaces aren’t a recent phenomenon. The latest crop of Hackerspaces to emerge over the past two years represent a Third Wave, something approaching a critical mass in a longer continuum of efforts Hackers have made to collaborate in physical spaces.

Spaces like the L0pht, New Hack City (Boston and San Francisco), the Walnut Factory, the Hasty Pastry, and many other First Wave spaces that date back to the early 1990s are the stuff of legend. Some of my most cherished memories among Hackers took place at NHC, circa 2001. I wish New Hack was still around, just down Market street under the “We Buy Diamonds” awning, only evidenced by a buzzer button labelled “SETEC Astronomy”.

Did spaces like NHC contribute to excitement over hackerspaces? Absolutely. Did they inspire the Hackers in Germany and Austria who began building spaces of their own in the late 90s? It’s a question worth looking at, it points at a need for expanded theoretical discussions about the development of Hackerspaces. Hackers throughout Europe fueled the Second Wave of spaces, proving Hackers could be perfectly open about their work, organize officially, gain recognition from the government and respect from the public by living and applying the Hacker ethic in their efforts.

With a decade of experience and the collected wisdom of the Design Patterns, efforts like C-Base and the C4 inspired the Third Wave of spaces like NYCResistor, HacDC and Noisebridge.

I choose to view the Hackerspace phenomenon under a Toffleresque framework of successive waves. You might frame it more elegantly, or not frame it at all, and I will probably happily agree with your conclusions. As I wrote on the Hackerspaces discussion list, looking at the theory of hackerspaces is not about casting firm definitions or assigning motivations. It’s about identifying patterns, trends and theory that help us frame and examine what’s happening with Hackerspaces. It’s an invitation to open debate and documenting our thoughts and feelings about our spaces so we can benefit from each other’s experiences and give new spaces the benefit of our collected wisdom.

Firm debates along clear lines such as hackerspaces vs. non-hackerspaces, serving members vs. serving the public and spaces of old vs. spaces of new are not as clear cut as they’re sometimes framed. Simplification allows us to discuss generics and trends while lending others a framework for examining their own efforts. Developing and sharing theory is about being inclusive.

We could very easily kill the enthusiasm behind the movement if we use theory as an exclusionary fence. Theory should illustrate progression and suggest the best paths for moving forward, not define a set of limitations. If a hackerspace is “a place where people can learn about technology and science outside the confines of work or school”, then a hardware hacking skybox at the Riviera during DefCon, or a food court during a 2600 meeting should qualify as a hackerspace too.

Even the idea of Hackerspaces as a benevolent collectives is worth challenging. As Hackers struggle to find work in the global downturn, why shouldn’t we have patently for-profit hackerspaces? The idea may be initially offensive, but what better way of getting towards a future where soldering irons are as normal in bars and coffee shops as pencils and moleskines are today? Instead of discounting the for-profit idea and other efforts to expand Hackerspaces as a concept, we should be encouraging and participating in such efforts. The global economy being what it is, who wouldn’t support some entrepreneurial hackers with their local parts store and coffee shop?

If we’re not growing conceptually, if we’re not networking as spaces efficiently, if we’re not exciting those younger and more enthusiastic than we are, this incredible global phenomenon we’ve got going is bound to fail. In a way, a certain level of failure is inevitable. Odds are good that we’re going to lose some spaces over the next year. With some continued effort and global cooperation, we can keep most of the explosive net growth we’ve had over the past two years. We can build a future where a hackerspace is already waiting in the next place our life takes us.

The First Wave showed us that hackers could build spaces. The Second Wave showed us how to make it sustainable. The Third Wave will ultimately provide us with critical mass, or it’ll peter out. So much effort goes into building these spaces and so much good comes out of them that I believe we must focus on ways of keeping them alive and vital.

Looking at the history of these spaces and the theory behind them is something we can all take part in. Even if you aren’t directly involved in a hackerspace, you can help research old spaces and contribute your findings to the hackerspaces.org wiki. If you have experience with non-profits, write a wiki page on fundraising, or some other aspect you have experience in. If you are involved in a Hackerspace, respond to Far McKon’s Hackerspace organization questions, join the Hackerspaces discussion list and jump on the upcoming call-in!

Categories : organization  people  theory
Tags :     

The Rights and Obligations of Hackerspace Members

Nick Farr | Posted 2009.08.19 at 2:25 am | Perma

With Hacking at Random now behind us, giving us a fresh supply of hackers excited about the Hackerspaces movement, it’s worth noting that the “Design Patterns” by Ohlig and Skytee are now two years old. Initially presented after the first Hackers on a Plane, and later revised for the 24C3 and other conferences, the patterns are still the best guiding theory behind the global Hackerspace Movement.

Of course, the theory must keep up with the practice of Hackerspaces. One of the things I enjoy most about Defcon, HAR and the other conferences I attend are the intense discussions on Hackerspaces and the theory behind them. One of the biggest points of contemplation in the discussions I have are the differences between members, non-members and other casual visitors to local hackerspaces. Many in the community don’t have the time or resources to build a hackerspace or become a member. However, it is these “casual users” that help breathe life and vitality into today’s spaces, the ones that ensure the success of this global movement and the ones I believe we have an obligation to support and encourage to make this movement sustainable.

In an interview for HAR FM, I noted my belief that Hackerspace members do in fact have obligations that come with the rights and benefits of building and sustaining a Hackerspace. While the rights of membership are clear, such as having a key, a place to build and store projects and other special privileges, the obligations of membership are something not often discussed or even consciously realized.

Since each Hackerspace differs slightly on members and the issue of membership, I choose to define a member as a person directly involved with the upkeep and governance of a Hackerspace. Most members pay dues to cover rent and expenses and share the obligations of administration, publicity, documentation and other duties essential to keeping a space open and flourishing. Without these members, the Hackerspace itself would cease to exist.

It’s worth noting that Hackerspaces have been around for quite some time, the most notable being the L0pht in Boston. Founded in 1992, the L0pht began life as a storage space for Oblivion’s electronic and excess computer junk and, as he describes, “turned into quite a presence”. The wikipedia article on the L0pht shows how its members functioned in a role similar to those in hackerspaces today:

As L0pht occupied a physical space, it had real expenses such as electricity, phone, Internet access, and rent. Early in the L0pht’s history these costs were evenly divided between L0pht members. In fact, L0pht originally shared a space with a hat-making business run by the spouses of Brian Oblivion and Count Zero, and the rental cost was divided between these.

The key distinction between a space like the L0pht and a “Design Patterns” Hackerspace is that the latter actively engages those outside their direct membership and the former exists primarily to serve its members and their interests. Spaces like c-base and the C4 that inspired the Design Patterns exist as a venue for the local hacker community, in sharp contrast with spaces like the L0pht and spiritual successors like New Hack City (San Francisco). The distinction is very well put in an article about the hacker documentary Disinformation, and the challenges the filmmaker had shooting NHC and Cult of the Dead Cow members who built and sustained the space:

The hackers are seen chatting, goofing around, and demonstrating their break-in skills at one of their said-to-be San Francisco-based hangouts, the so-called New Hack City hacker social club. “Said-to-be” because the whereabouts of the clubhouses that host the spare-time activities of the Cult of the Dead Cow is a well-guarded secret.

That secrecy made life difficult for director Backer, who was constrained by time, money, and few opportunities to interview his subjects.

“They were very strict,” Backer said. “They blindfolded us and drove us around for a couple days, going in circles. Finally we got to their secret location, and I had no idea where I was. They said we were in San Francisco.”

Nearly a decade later and just down the street from where New Hack City existed, Wired wrote about Noisebridge, quoting founding member and TV-B-Gone inventor Mitch Altman who explained how Noisebridge operates on an entirely different philosophy inspired by the Design Patterns:

“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.”

Noisebridge even welcomes non-members to come use the space, and Altman says non-members can do everything that members can (except block the consensus process). The community governs itself according to the guiding principle expressed on a large poster of Keanu Reeves hanging from the loft: “Be excellent to each other, dudes.”

The spirit of excellence from Noisebridge not only covers how members must treat each other, it extends to how members should treat the community outside their membership, those that benefit from having a space nearby. This obligation is not a static one, as new members are almost always casual users first. There are also many casual users that spend a lot of time in hackerspaces, perhaps making more significant contributions than regular members, but decline to officially join for many different reasons.

Without these casual users, hackerspaces run the risk of disappearing like the L0pht and New Hack City did. Being welcoming to the outside world helps ensure our collective success and sustainability, helps show the world what hacking is all about and helps feed and cultivate projects and activities going on locally and globally. It leads to more hackerspaces and more resources for existing hackerspaces. It’s the kind of thing we should keep in mind when we build and maintain our spaces, that we’re not just in it for ourselves, we’re in it for our neighbors and our world.

Hackerspaces on Wired

astera | Posted 2009.03.30 at 12:42 pm | Perma

This morning, our neighbors at WIRED.compublished a really informative and outstanding article about hackerspaces, and NoiseBridge in specific.

wired_frontpage

From the blog post:

DIY Freaks Flock to ‘Hacker Spaces’ Worldwide

NoiseBridge on WIRED

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!
yt, /astera

***

UPDATE!

Apache crashed

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.

digg

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.

Hack on,
/astera

Reciprocity

Eric Michaud | Posted 2009.03.22 at 4:16 am | Perma

This was a recent publication from the CCCKC Blog

CCCKC <3’s PS:One

Mr. E, President of the Chicago Hacker Space, Pumping Station One and jur1st, President of the Cowtown Computer Congress announced on March 7th the formation of an agreement which tightens the bond between regional spaces. We believe that this won’t be the last such agreement as similar organizations continue to come together around the United States.

This reciprocity agreement allows members of both organizations to utilize the facilities of each other’s organizations when in town. At this early stage for both organizations, members who would like access must provide proof that they are members in good standing at the sister organization and will be given full privileges to use networking services, take classes and use the workshop while on the road for business or pleasure.

Expect more announcements of strategic alliances between spaces very soon.


Forskningsavdelningen

Brendan | Posted 2009.03.06 at 2:39 pm | Perma

A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to visit Forskningsavdelningen (“The Research Department,”) a hackerspace located in Malmö, Sweden. Malmö is a faded port town that suffered enormously from the closing of shipyards and the loss of port traffic in the 1980s. It reminded me a bit of a more charming version of an American rust belt city like Baltimore, or Philadelphia.

Vacant lot with blue fence

In recent years, the city has seen an economic recovery, but there’s still a great deal of vacant industrial property. The Research Department is located inside an old factory and has a very grunge feel to it.

I spoke with OlleOlleOlle, a friendly, articulate hacker with very little of a grunge feel to him. He was nice enough to fill me on the origins and operation of the hackerspace.
Read more…

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CCCKC Underground Lair Open For Business!

Eric Michaud | Posted 2009.02.27 at 4:23 pm | Perma

I’m not one for posting press releases but this just puts the point across perfectly.

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Note – This is the press release which we issued to a number of media outlets. You can watch the schedule of events become more refined by subscribing to our calendar or checking the events page. – jur1st

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Cowtown Computer Congress Opens Their Underground Lab

February 26th, 2009. Kansas City, MO – The Cowtown Computer Congress (CCCKC) is happy to announce the opening of their Underground Lab to the public with a full week of events Beginning on March 2nd, the grand opening showcase the rich and vibrant community of creative minds in the Kansas City area. CCCKC, the first organization of its kind in the midwest, will serve the community by providing technology classes, donating unique projects to local organizations and technology assistance to those in need.

The week will kick off on Monday, March 2nd with an open house for individuals and organizations who are interested in learning more about the organization and how they can take advantage the Underground Lab for meetings, classes and other activities.

The creative talents of CCCKC members will be showcased on Wednesday March, 4th. The member project showcase will be followed by a screening of Make:TV, a public television series which will be shown for the first time in the Kansas City area that night. If you’re curious about what CCCKC and the maker culture are all about, this is the night to come be inspired. Projects to be showcased range from alternative methods of energy generation to a labyrinth game which is controlled with the balance board from a Nintendo Wii Fit.

Thursday, March 5th is the regular member meeting where members come together to discuss group projects being developed for donation to local organizations and plan future community service projects like our monthly free computer repair opportunities.

Friday evening will feature a slate of speakers covering topics ranging from improving home security and information management to protecting data from theft while using public wireless internet.

On Saturday the public is invited to take part in a range of free workshops on basic electronics and soldering, e-textiles and Nintendo Wii hacking. All day members will be available to assist members of the public choose, install and configure computers using the free and open source Linux operating system.

About The Cowtown Computer Congress

The Cowtown Computer Congress (CCCKC) is a not for profit technology cooperative founded to advance technology of all kinds. They are a member supported organization providing technology classes, workshops and services to the public free of charge. CCCKC brings together some of the finest minds in midwest to collaborate on research and projects for other local groups. Through their affiliate program, CCCKC gives assistance to specialized technology user groups by providing them with a facility to hold meetings and work on projects of their own.

CCCKC’s Underground Lab is located 85 feet below the surface of the earth at 31st Street and Southwest Trafficway in Kansas City, Missouri.

http://www.cowtowncomputercongress.org

Further inquires should be made to:
press at cowtowncomputercongress.org or to
John Benson – President and Co-Founder
816-332-6389

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/E.