Hackspace U

No Timmy, we're not preparing you for a life of mindless drudgery! PD, via Wikimedia Commons.
No Timmy, we’re not preparing you for a life of mindless drudgery! PD, via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s funny, how obsessed we are with qualifications these days. Kids go to school and are immediately thrust into a relentless machine of tests, league tables, and exams. They are ruthlessly judged on grades, yet both the knowledge and qualifications those grades represent so often boil down to relatively useless pieces of paper. It doesn’t even end for the poor youngsters when they leave school, for we are now in an age in which when on moving on from school a greater number of them than ever before are expected to go to university. They emerge three years later carrying a student debt and a freshly-printed degree certificate, only to find that all this education hasn’t really taught them the stuff they really need to do whatever job they land.

A gold standard of education is revealed as an expensive piece of paper with a networking opportunity if you are lucky. You need it to get the job, but in most cases the job overestimates the requirement for it. When a prospective employer ignores twenty years of industry experience to ask you what class of degree you got twenty years ago you begin to see the farcical nature of the situation.

In our hackspaces, we see plenty of people engaged in this educational treadmill. From high schoolers desperately seeking to learn something other than simply how to regurgitate the textbook, through university students seeking an environment closer to an industrial lab or workshop, to perhaps most interestingly those young people who have eschewed university and gone straight from school into their own startups.

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A Partwork As A Hackspace Course

If you watch a lot of TV just after Christmas, you will be familiar with partworks. Or at least, you will if you live in the part of the world this is being written from, and if you aren’t you should count yourself lucky. The premise is simple: buy this magazine once a month, and in each issue you will receive a fresh component which you can assemble over time into a beautiful model of a galleon, a Lancaster bomber, or a patchwork quilt.

The value for money offered by such publications is highly suspect, the quality of the finished item is questionable, and though the slick TV adverts make them sound alluring you’re much better off buying the Airfix model kit or just cutting your own patches.

There’s a partwork that caught our eye which may be worth a second look. It’s probably unfair on reflection to call it a partwork though as it doesn’t deserve to be associated with the scammier end of the publishing business. Swansea Hackspace are currently running a six-week all-inclusive course designed to introduce the participant to robotics through a step-by-step assembly of an Arduino based robot. Tickets were £60 ($85) to hackspace members, and all parts were included in that price.

At first sight it might seem a little odd to feature a course. It’s not a hack, you’ll say. And though the little Arduino robot is a neat piece of kit, you’d be right. It’s hardly ground-breaking. But the value here doesn’t lie in the robot itself, but in the course as an exercise in community engagement. If you are involved in the running of a hackspace perhaps you’ll understand, it can sometimes be very difficult to persuade timid visitors to come along more than once, or to join the space. Hackspaces can be intimidating places, after all.

The Swansea course holds the promise of addressing that issue, to say to an interested but non-expert newcomer that they needn’t worry; if they have an interest in robotics then here’s a way to learn. This community engagement and spreading of knowledge reveals an aspect of the hackspace movement that sometimes remains hidden, and it’s something we’d like to see more of in other spaces.

Hackerspacing in Europe: ACKspace in Heerlen

ACKspace group photo

Welcome to the ACKspace in Heerlen. So far this has been one of the coolest hackerspaces we have visited — and super hospitable! What makes this space really neat is the location. It’s on the first floor of a mostly empty office building. They have three official rooms on the first floor. The Hackspace, the Slackspace, and the Stackspace — quite self-explanatory.

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The Nottingham Hackspace

nottinghack

Hackerspaces (or hackspace in this case) come in all shapes and sizes, from those just starting up, to some that are very impressively equipped. [Dominic] wrote in to tell us about the Nottingham Hackspace, which would fall solidly into the second category. We’d invite you to take a look at their intro video after the break, but be prepared to wish you lived near their location.

If you do happen to live there, in addition to a nicely polished website and intro video, they have nearly 4500 square feet of space at their facility. Naturally they have the now ubiquitous 3D printers, but they also have an impressive array of more traditional as well as computer-controlled tools. These include a lathe, welders, CNC router, laser cutter, and even basic PCB-making facilities. Storage space is also included, both for member projects and bicycles.

So be sure to check them out. They have around 130 members right now, but naturally would love to see you there! Continue reading “The Nottingham Hackspace”

Bronze casting with MakerBot

That, dear readers, is the smell of a new Hackspace opening up in Davenport Iowa. It is also the lovely scent of burning plastic. Because how do you celebrate a new Hackerspace? By casting bronze coins of course!

Begin by having a MakerBot extrude plastic coins, then compact the plastic coin in sand to produce a mold. Heat up your bronze in a trashcan furnace and pour it into the mold. The plastic melts away and you’re left with a bronze coin.

There are probably some safety measures and precautions that should be followed as well…