The Rise of the Rural Hacker

On the far side of the Boso peninsula lies Kamogawa. This isn’t the Japan of LEDs, Otaku and maid cafes, or that of wage slave salarymen collapsing from exhaustion. This is the Japan of rice farmers and fields, fresh fish and wild boar, electron microscopes and gigabit fiber, SMD assembly and 500Mhz 5 Gigasample oscilloscopes.

The world has changed. In the 20th century the life of a rural hacker was a constant hunt for technological innovation. We scratched around for whatever we could find. A (usually national) periodical would give its monthly injection of technological curios. And knowledge was locked tight within expensive textbooks, which even if you could afford them might take weeks to arrive.

So, as had been the case for the preceding 1000 years, innovation clustered around technological hubs, San Francisco, Cambridge, and Tokyo among others. And Hackers flocked to these centers where innovation flourished while Hackers exchanged knowledge and tools.

But then the world of the rural Hacker began to expand. The technological hubs that so many rural hackers had migrated to began to connect the world. Young Hackers could learn to program (as I learned C) from textfiles posted on BBSs and exchange knowledge linking national communities. Shortly after that the Internet came bringing its Eternal September. Hackers across the world, regardless of location could communicate.

On the flip-side tech centers were changing too. Venture capital, rather than bootstrapping became the norm. With the influx of cash the demand for skilled Hackers rose, increasing wages and further focusing tech talent around these hubs. But rents and expenses rose too. And Hackers became locked into their expensive lifestyles; eyes firmly focused on the promised million dollar payoff and the eternal dream of an “exit”.

For some though, the freedom to Hack is more important than that million dollar exit and so a new model is emerging. Groups of Hackers in rural communities with low cost lifestyles and access to the world’s best technical talent and equipment that would put the best startups to shame.

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Hackerspace Happenings: Santa Barbara Hackerspace Moving

Occasionally we get a few tips on our hotline telling us of hackerspace happenings. Either a space is moving, they need some help to install a moat around the space, or there’s a mini-conference of weird and esoteric technology happening sometime soon. The latest such tip is from the Santa Barbara Hackerspace. They’re moving, the new space doesn’t have a leaky roof, and they’re looking for some people to help out.

The new space features necessary hackerspace upgrades like no carpet, 120, 220, and 440 Volt outlets, actual parking, and a non-leaky roof. You can get by with a leaky roof in Santa Barbara, but having a roof that doesn’t have holes in it is always a bonus.

Add this to the space’s existing battery of equipment – everything from laser cutters, bandsaws, and welders to oscilloscopes, an amateur radio station, and a forge and anvil, there’s a lot anyone can do in this space.

Hackerspace Tours: Pasadena City College

Pasadena City College is putting together an amazing combination of tools, education techniques, and innovative projects pinning them on the map as one of the best hackerspaces in the Southern California area. Led by [Deborah Bird], the Director of the Design Technology Pathway at PCC, and Sandy Lee the DTP Faculty Chair, this Fab Lab provides students with cutting-edge workshops and internships that will define future jobs.

We were invited to the space by Joan Horvath, the VP of Business Development over at a local 3D printing store called Deezmaker, after meeting her at an Arduino electronics class taught by a young, talented maker named [Quin]. When we arrived, we were greeted by several students who were working on a 3D printed portable map for the blind which was created for an elementary school nearby. The team behind the design attempted to step out of the visual world and into unfamiliar unsighted territory. One of the members gave us a tour of the space showing us the tools and resources they had made available to PCC students. A variety of 3D printers, ventilators, CNC machines, laser cutters, metal lathes, and even a chainsaw were found inside.

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Hackerspace Tour: IXR in Wall, NJ


Hackaday took a little trip out to Wall, NJ last weekend for the Vintage Computer Festival 9.1 East. The event was held at Camp Evans, a former US military installation that can only be described as, ‘The DARPA of a century ago”. This is the site of a Marconi transmitter and the place where [Edwin Armstrong] developed the regenerative receiver a little more than 100 years ago.

There’s a lot more to Camp Evans than a vintage computer festival once a year – it’s also home to MARCH, the Mid-Atlantic Retro Computing Hobbyists, InfoAge, a retro technology museum, and IXR, the Institute for eXploratory Research, a hackerspace located in the old telecom building at Camp Evans.

In our video tour, [Joe Wilkes] takes us around the shop, showing off their equipment and tools. Unlike most of our hackerspace tours, we couldn’t find a Makerbot sitting disused on a bookshelf anywhere, but the space did have a Solidoodle 3D printer, a Shapeoko 2 CNC machine under construction, and enough hand tools to bring any project to fruition.

There were a few oddities in IXR compared to the other hackerspaces we’ve been to. First is an inordinate amount of synths, keyboards, and other MIDI gear. [Joe] didn’t know what these were for, so we’ll leave that explanation for an IXR member in the comments of this post. There was also a small supply of random components for sale (and on display). Most of the merch was from Adafruit, and it seems like a great way to have that one part I need to finish this build for members while providing a little bit of beer money for the space.

Pics and video below.

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Hackerspace Tour: Xerocraft In Tucson, Arizona


While we try to get out to as many hackerspaces as possible, we can’t be everywhere. Not wanting to wait for a Hackaday compatriot to roll through their dusty town, the folks over at Xerocraft in Tucson, Arizona sent in their own video tour of their space.

We’ve seen the Xerocraft space before when [Caleb] rolled through town on his south-west tour a few years ago. Since then, a lot has changed; they have a new, larger, and cleaner space a few miles north of the old one. There’s also a huge increase in the number of tools. While the old space had all the usual metalworking tools, the new space has a much improved wood shop and more 3D printers than anyone can shake a stick at.

From the video, it looks like a great space, and from their blog it looks like they’ve got some really cool projects under their belt. If you’re a member of a hackerspace, we’re always looking for some tour videos. Be sure to send them in so you can share your space with the rest of the Hackaday readership.

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Hackaday Visits NOVA Labs And Small Batch Assembly


A few days ago Hackaday visited NOVA Labs, one of the premier hackerspaces around Washington, DC. In our video tour, co-founder [Justin Leto] shows off the space, going through all the awesome tools, workspaces, and projects his space has put together over the years.

One of the most impressive parts of NOVA Labs is the incredible amount of woodworking equipment. Everything from a Blacktoe CNC router, table and bandsaws, jointers, planers, real woodworking benches, and enough clamps to hold anything together are from a NOVA member that is co-locating his equipment for the rest of the hackerspace to share.

Apart from the woodworking tools, NOVA also has a few laser cutters and enough 3D printers for all the octopodes and Yoda heads you could ever imagine. A few of the members put together 3D build classes, and the machines being constructed are very, very cool. They’re using a Raspi with OctoPrint in their latest builds, attaching a camera to the frame and using a tablet for the interface. It’s just about the smoothest and cleanest 3D printer interface possible without using a computer.

There’s a lot of cool stuff happening at NOVA; the DC Area Drone User Group is the area’s largest group of unmanned aerial vehicles not housed in a five-sided building, and have done some aerial mapping for the metro station that will soon displace the hackerspace. NOVA also hosted a mini maker faire last weekend with over four thousand attendees. Impressive, to say the least.

Also at NOVA Labs is a small business the guys are incubating headed up by [Bob Coggeshall], also known as one of the guys who wrote sudo. It’s Small Batch Assembly, a very cool service that takes panelized PCBs and reels of components and assembles them. While we were there, [Bob] was assembling a few dozen boards stuffed with WS2812 LEDs for the R2D2 Builders Club.

[Bob] is using a very cool and very expensive Manncorp pick and place machine for placing all the components, squeegeeing the solder paste through Kapton film he laser cut on the NOVA Labs machines. It’s only a small-scale operation, but when it comes to placing thousands of SMD components for a few dozen boards, there probably isn’t a better way.

You can check out the video of NOVA, Small Batch Assembly, and a whole bunch of pics below.

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Help Save Nullspace Labs

Nullspace Labs

A few days ago, the folks at Nullspace Labs in downtown LA got a surprising memo: their building is going to be gutted in a month. With thirty days left, they need money to cover first and last months rent, and help with moving. We can imagine that moving a Hackerspace is no small feat, since they tend to accumulate tons of awesome stuff.

The Hackerspace has started a crowd funding campaign, and has posted a call for help. They are looking for money, new members, or help with moving. If you’ve never been, you can check out our tour of Nullspace Labs.

It’s tough deciding what Hackerspace news to cover. We can’t run individual features on every tip we get promoting Hackerspace events, developments, crowd funding campaigns, and calls for help. We’re featuring this one because we just visited them, they’re awesome, and they’ve also been the source for many great stories over the years, like craning in a laser cutter or developing a modular LED orb. So here’s a question for you: Should we be presenting more Hackerspace news that is perhaps only relevant at the local level? If you think we should, how would we present it? There’s the option of doing occasional links-post-like roundups. But if you have a better idea we’re all ears.