Geek Group Fire Update


The Geek Group is in the process of cleaning up after their fire. Their small capacitor/spark gap room sustained the most damage, with the interior nearly completely incinerated, along with some structural damage to the walls and roof.  The gap room was isolated from the much larger high voltage lab by red plastic welding curtain. The curtain was fire-retardant, but when it did finally burn, it was extremely sooty. With the curtain burning, soot covered the high voltage lab. The rest of the building escaped fire damage, but nearly all of it is covered in a fine layer of soot. The group has been and are attacking the soot problem head on, with shop-vacs, rags, and elbow grease. Several of their sponsors have also promised supplies to cover the remediation.

[Chris] and [Paul] have also been doing some sleuthing as to the root cause of the fire. While the cause will never be known beyond a shadow of a doubt, they have a pretty good idea of the chain of events. Gemini, the group’s 200 kVA Tesla coil had been run about 1/2 hour before smoke was detected. The fire was concentrated in Gemini’s spark gap room. Close inspection of the rotary spark gap showed that the stationary electrodes all seemed to have sustained a mechanical impact. It appears that either while the gap was running, or as it was spinning down, one of the flying electrodes moved enough to impact the stationary electrodes. These electrodes are 3/8″ and 1/2″ tungsten, and often glowed white-hot while the gap was in operation. One set screw held each electrode in to the 12″ rotor. The set screw of one flying electrode was found to be loose, and the electrode it retained probably impacted the stationary electrodes. It’s not a far leap to guess that hot metal from these impacts could have landed in the capacitor array, smoldered, and eventually caught aflame.

A single loose screw most likely caused the entire chain of events leading up to the fire. [Chris] and [Paul] had observed the spark gap throwing out hot bits of metal even during normal operation, and had planned an encapsulation box. However, disaster struck before it was built. This is not to say that The Geek Group operates an unsafe shop. The important thing here is that no one was hurt. Everyone in the building was evacuated quickly and safely.

A quick note about the comments – we know The Geek Group and [Chris] tend to be polarizing topics. However, we’d like to at try to keep the comments constructive.

167 thoughts on “Geek Group Fire Update

    1. That’s a big question mark still. Those numbers haven’t come out yet. It’ll be a little bit before they’ve got an estimate probably and then it’s a question of how much the insurance coverage is etc etc.

      The walls and roof of the small room that housed the MMC and SRSG are heavily damaged, the tesla coil Gemini is entirely scrap except potentially for some of it’s variacs, and there’s a good amount of donated high voltage equipment that just isn’t safe/functional any more because of the soot, which is conductive

      1. The cost to rebuild the geek group will be zero as they don’t need rebuilding. Once the clean is done they’ll be able to reopen just without the HV lab, cost of repairing the HV lab is difficult to tell. It all depends on there coverage really.

    1. I doubt the Tesla Coil & spark gap were in operation unsupervised. The white hot debris that flew off during operation probably didn’t cause any noticeable problems until after they had shut down and left the machine unattended. There are a few lessons that can be taken from the incident, and I’m sure they’ve learned them well. Hopefully they get back on their feet in a timely manner.

      1. My job as a welder has me working with heat and electricity ( obvious statement ) or what is generally called hot work. One procedure that the welder and his/her fire watch are required to do when working in the carriers or subs is that once hot work is completed a half hour wait is required before leaving the area to insure that there are no materials hot enough to ignite any combustibles ( these are items that are not movable and within a 35ft danger zone ). This is a good work practice to implement in any instance where there is any equipment or material that creates enough heat to ignite plastics or paper to say the least.

        1. I’m glad someone made this suggestion.

          I know of welders who knew better that still had it bite them. It’s one of those things you start to ignore after going years without incident.

    2. It wasn’t unsupervised, a demo was run for someone visiting and 20-30 minutes (approx.) later the smoke was noticed. The coil doesn’t have a locking trigger iirc and there are 3 lockouts on Gemini’s console, a key, and E-Stop and an arm switch.

    1. Agreed, While they say “This is not to say that The Geek Group operates an unsafe shop” it totally is. What happens when their other public-showing equipment has failures like this? They blatantly ignored horrible warning signs on very very dangerous equipment and kept it operating so they had equipment to show to the public.

    2. The spark gap did not normally throw hot bits of metal. However, the electrodes did glow white hot during normal operation. This was expected, which is why they were made from solid tungsten.

    3. well… that’s obviously because they are really cool, and in the year and a half since they apparently noticed the issues and put a video on-line talking about them… life without man made lightning would be pretty unbearable…

      and that, right there is why the comments are destined to be non-constructive…

      Intrinsically dangerous machine, viewed to have abnormal and more dangerous behaviour 18 months ago. but continued to be used right up until it burned the place down…

        1. yes, I know. grossly over exaggerated…

          but you see the point…

          Known issue goes bad, after 18 months of ignoring it.

          Considering the comments in Hackaday can’t leave alone even the most well thought out and put together projects, it stands to reason that the request to stay positive might be just a small voice in a drowning sea of rather loud W-T-F’s

          1. The system did not go bad 18 months ago and they chose to ignore it. In fact, in that 18 months, the Spark gap has had maintenance inspections, repairs and adjustments done by qualified electrical engineers. Even the secondaries have been repaired and replaced in the 18-month time frame you clam all problems were ignored. The spark-gap throws sparks. That’s normal. It didn’t suddenly start happening. That’s why there was a welding curtain to protect the eyes of the observers. You can’t have a light so bright that it requires a welding curtain without having sparks too, especially with those power specs.

          2. The normal sparks of the SRSG didn’t cause this fire. the fire was caused by a loose grub screw that let one of the flying electrodes strike the stationary electrodes sending big chunks of white hot tungsten into the MMC. The normal sparks probably never would have lit the MMC on fire because they just don’t have enough heat and cool off before they can cause any fire.

  1. “[Chris] and [Paul] had observed the spark gap throwing out hot bits of metal even during normal operation, and had planned an encapsulation box. However, disaster struck before it was built. This is not to say that The Geek Group operates an unsafe shop.”

    Noooo, that is saying that they run an unsafe shop, exactly… Or they observe unsafe operating conditions, make note of them, come up with an idea to fix them and then completely ignore all of those things and continue to run unsafe instead of locking the thing out until they fix the safety issues. And yeah, yeah, we are talking about a 200,000 volt tesla coil, how safe is that right? Well, there are plenty of industries that do things that are inherently “unsafe” but still have to work to make things as safe as humanly possible and if they observe and make note of something unsafe they STOP and fix it! Good thing nobody got hurt, as these guys would have likely been sued to oblivion! My constructive comment would be “don’t ignore dangerous conditions and STOP operating until you actually fix them”. Oh and those red welding curtians are NOT a fire break! they are meant to filter UV light and contain a few littles sparks, not stop fire from spreading! How the fire marshall hasn’t shut this place down is beyond me…?

    1. A good time to implement “Do Not Use – Unsafe” Tags into their operation… A Lot of companies do this when something is suddenly considered unsafe. Even if somebody just mentions that there could be a problem with a machine to a manager they generally just throw one on before its checked out. Much better to have some downtime then to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to some insurance claim or lawsuit.

      1. The problem is, white-hot Tungsten and sparks are normal and safe to operate from 30′ away which is why they have a safety cage that is confirmed clear before any operation. There was no indication that anything was wrong during it’s final operation and before the fire.

      2. Wow! I am imagining a factory where just “someone” mentioning that there “could” be a problem gets a machine shut down, just sitting there with a tag on it.

        Any factory I have been to that would cost the manager, his boss and maybe even his boss too their jobs. They will shut things down if they think there is a safety issue that might endanger their certifications but someone is on the job fixing it IMMEDIATELY and that takes more than just “someone” mentioning there “could” be a problem.

        That being said, a hackerspace is not a factory.

        1. Generally if it’s a situation like that the employee is trusted enough to be a reliable determinate of a machine not working correctly. They’re not just going to have some Joe Shmoe saying “uhh machines being funny” and shut it down. The operators should be able to identify if something isn’t right even if they don’t know the problem. How much material would you waste before declaring something broken? And I know it’s a hackerspace. But it’s a hackerspace with a giant tesla coil. When dealing with things that easily kill humans you have to be a little more careful with them. I don’t necessarily mean this situation since it was stated that it really wasn’t a situation that could be predetermined as a possible safety issue.

    2. The welding curtain was installed only to block the light from the spark-gap. The high voltage equipment was installed in a room built of non-flamable materials as a precaution. Looks like that preparation was wise – the room contained the fire, and looks like there was very little damage to the building overall.

    3. Never having heard of the Geek Group, I’m not polarized at all by their mention (hey, I just do my 3D printing and play with robots and boats, I’m in a bubble). That said, as an ex-Navy Nuke, I have to agree with KleenexCommando on the ‘safe’ operation. Not saying that they’re bad people (like I said, I hadn’t heard of them before), but it sounds like it was definitely unsafe practices that they knew this was occurring but hadn’t deadlined the equipment until the fix was implemented.

    4. It’s a high Voltage Rotary Spark Gap made of steel and Tungsten. It’s normal operation creates lots of blinding light (Thus the welding curtain) and sparks (Thus the name ‘Spark Gap’) The accident occurred when a screw came loose and it was undetected.
      Is it a safe device to be directly next to, not as safe as it is to be 50′ away. High Voltage experiments are unsafe by nature, but that’s how things are invented. People taking risks. That’s why it was in it’s own little room and nobody can be within 30′ of it during operation. For safety. Electronics and mechanical devices fail. It happens. Unfortunately, this failure had catastrophic consequences. It wasn’t due to negligence or poor leadership, it was just an accident.

    5. When they noticed the spark gap throwing bits of tungsten they did come up with a plan to fix that and implement it. They changed the number of electrodes and spacing to lower the heat and then changed the timing and phase of the motor and the tuning of the primary windings of the tesla coil to compensate for it.

  2. What they did was considered safe by most american laws, and it really is. What happened to their equipment was such a remote possibility, that it’s the kind of thing that the only preparation you make for it happening is insurance and an evacuation plan. Luckily, they had both. They obviously planned for an emergency, and that is what makes it a safe shop. Eventually, no matter what, something WILL go wrong, and it’s the people who prepare for that are running a safe shop.

  3. GG should proto a Fire control system as the next project, inert gas flame out etc, i am sure all of us that have man-case would love to see a super simple project that can be super expanded (like tri corder can) beyond original design, could be a nice spring board /dev board

    1. The HVAC in the high voltage lab had a smoke detector that shut down as it should, they have an extinguisher system sitting in HVL waiting to be installed, and a fire alarm system that is also waiting.
      The latter 2 are being installed voluntarily by contractors at weekends when they have time, money is tight, the group exists on donations and memberships.

      1. But god forbid they *GASP* wait until those things are installed and properly working before they start operating dangerous equipment for the sole purpose of entertaining people (in the name of science *ahem*)? Negligence is what gets people hurt, your lease revoked, your possibly tossed in the clink and gives the whole hackerspace scene a black eye. It’s just bad news.

        1. I guess we also shouldn’t drive our cars until the highways are lined with mattresses and tires just incase someone loses control. It doesn’t matter how many safety systems are installed, things can still go wrong even after years of incident-free operation.

          1. No,
            You shouldn’t drive your car down the street without the bumpers / fenders attached, because you turn an add ident that someone might walk away from into an accident that might kill someone.

            And that’s kind of the point here,

            The machine was known to throw more than sparks, that can be *seen* in the video linked in this article.
            A guard was planned for the machine but not put into effect 18 months later.
            18 months ago they find it so cool that the gap electrodes get hot that they run to see them, but not rush to guard them…

            Electrodes are held into high speed machines with a single grub screw, it’s a recipie for failure.

            Machine parts known to glow white hot are used and then just left with nobody to watch the equipment to ensure that a safe shutdown was complete.

            It’s a good job that everyone is ok, because IF it had worked out bad then someone would be sitting facing manslaughter charges by now.

            It’s all very well to keep saying “awww they are amatures, hackers, diy people and geeks, not professionals” but how much slack do you cut a person when they are doing something dangerous?

            Something that keeps coming up is calling it a research space.
            This isn’t really a research space, tesla coils and rotary spark gaps are well known technology, this is learning through entertainment. So no, not a ground breaking new technology research space, but certainly a space where people can and do learn!

            My thinking keeps going between two extremes, one to think, well they are just amatures so hackers etc, and should be cut slack…
            Another thinking, people who build big dangerous machines, then profess to be experts via YouTube and invite the public to come see them… Well they better know what they are doing and do it well… And it just seems that some really basic stuff got missed here…

            (And honestly I think that a lot of the commenters here trying to defend their actions don’t do them justice… Like the guy in the last thread who claimed it’d be impossible and too expensive to install fire detection and surpression in the hv area… But then we find out it’s going in this weekend!)

  4. My concern is that if too many incidents like this happen, insurance companies will start rate jacking or black-listing hacker/maker spaces.
    I hope this serves as a warning to every such group to please be careful and observe proper safety and fire precautions.
    Also, don’t let your pride get in the way of asking a legitimate professional to review your shop and make suggestions. I’m guessing many fire departments will do this free or cheap (at least invite the station house to your next barbecue for their efforts).

    1. Start blacklisting hacker/maker spaces? I hope the industry is already well aware of the inherent dangers of amateurs fooling around with things beyond them. Higher risks should incur higher premiums for coverage. Either that or coverage goes up across the board and a select few are unfairly subsidized by the rest.

  5. This is no different to turning on your washing machine once a week for years without problems, even ignoring the bit of a rattle at times, then one day it decides to catch fire.
    Except that the room the gap was located in was designed to be fire resistant, it has been said that the fire had just about burned itself out before the fire dept got there, left alone it would not have caused more damage than it already did,
    I just ask that people watch the recent Captains Blog videos before commenting.
    Maybe Hackaday could contact chris and ask all the relative questions, lets put the hatred behind us, we are all geeks.

    1. Actually, I’d describe it more like turning on you washing machine once a week for years; noticing that the supply conductors are turning brown during use and producing a burning smell; thinking to yourself that it’s be a good idea to get that looked at/repaired; then not bothering for a few months until it finally bursts into flames one day in the middle of your whites load and burns your house down.

  6. Everyone, please keep in mind that the spark gap unit was in a concrete and steel room with no obvious flammable materials. Who would have looked at a stack of capacitors and predicted that they would go up in flames? Same with the welding curtain? As for containing the sparks from the, ahem, spark gap, think about it the next time you use a grinder. Sparks are thrown in NORMAL operation, both with a grinder and with a Tesla coil. That’s why it was put in a concrete and steel room in the first place.

    This was a one in a million shot, and totally not foreseeable. I hope those guys can get back up and running quickly.

    1. when you realise the difference between the sparks from a grinder, (and in small an hot particles of the material that you’re cutting via friction means), and the operation of a spark gap where two electrodes don’t actually does each other and an arc of electricity forms between the two, (with ideally little to no wear besides some oxidisation -hence the use of platinum) then you’ll understand why the comparison between a rotary spark gap and a grinding wheel is just stupid.

      1. My comparison between the two was simply to demonstrate that there are other devices, much more commonly used, that throw sparks as normal operation. Welders also come to mind.

        Do I have to link some Youtube videos of guys setting their shops on fire when using grinders or welders? Heck, I’ve done it myself, though I was right there to put it out.

        The Geek Group did nothing wrong, except perhaps having a lack of foresight, just like all other human beings.

        Oh, and the electrodes were tungsten, not platinum. This was mentioned multiple times in the videos, if you actually watched them.

        1. I think the point he was making is that grinders are expected to “throw sparks” while the spark gap should just contain arcs / sparks at the operating surfaces. Once the spark gap started “throwing sparks” it should have been readily apparent that it was not running properly and should have been kept offline until the problem was corrected.

          1. It’s a spark gap, a 12″ diameter disk running at 2800rpm with high voltage running through it. It’s been running for years. Throwing sparks IS normal operation. It didn’t just suddenly start throwing sparks. Watch the videos.

          2. The sparks didn’t cause the fire, an electrode strike broke of a chunk of the stationary electrode and that caused the fire. Little sparks aren’t going to ignite the material the MMC was made of it was a chunk of white hot tungsten.

        2. Quite the contrary, they had plenty of foresight. It wasn’t the Hackaday writer or one of the commenter in this discussion thread that came up with the idea of building an enclosure, it was one of the guys at The Geek Group. They themselves acknowledged that it was a safety issue, they simply chose not to bother doing anything about it for over a year…

          1. Then why not go to the geek group if you are so pissed off and install the equipment they have laying about to prevent something like this instead of bitching about in a thread.

          2. the funny thing about these threads, is that there are four distinct groups.

            Those that live in thre real world and realise that you only have one life, and it’s pretty sage advice to take care of it. (these are apparantly the bad guys)

            And those that apparantly don’t live in the real world, and appear to expect everyone to live within minutes of every hackerspace and just drop in to give wisdom where they can…

            Of course, there are arm chair warriors who wouldn’t even if they could. they are the guys who know it all from reading the books, but never turned a wrench in their lives.

            But there does seem to be a lot of people here saying that unless you can actually get to the Geek group and help clear up after their mistakes that you shouldn’t be allowed to offer advice? either on how to clean, or how to prevent this from happening again?

            This is like when Chris offered a guy $20 on the EEV forums to come to the GG and do a video on how to solder, then critisised the guy saying he should shut up and couldn’t do what the GG are doing when the poster said that he’d do it, but only if GG covered his plane ticket.
            Chris says:
            “I rest my case.

            Everyone wants to bitch from the sidelines, nobody wants to actually do something to make a change.

            Thank you for proving my point.

            Cheers everyone.”

            This final fourth group of people are actually worse than the armchair warrior, because they not only don’t know how to do something, but they won’t take advice. won’t learn, and can only offer a ridiculous challenge that they know is impossible to meet.

            By the way if anyone disagrees with me they are fully welcome to hop on a flight to britain to say that they disagree to my face…

            What’s that, it wouldn’t be worth the flight money just to tell someone you disagree? well that durely must mean I’m right. and if you only type a reasponse then you’re just an arm chair warrior shouting down stuff…

    2. “Who would have looked at a stack of capacitors and predicted that they would go up in flames?”
      WTF?? I seriously hope you are kidding. That’s like saying “Who would have looked at that can full of gasoline and predicted it would go up in flames!” Gasoline = capacitors = energy storage… and a lot of it.

      1. Well then you better be very, very fearful of you cellphone. If energy storage = fire hazard, then every electrical device in the world is an explosion waiting to happen. Obviously, this is not the case. Comparing capacitors to gasoline is asinine.

  7. gg is very fortunate to have learned the ‘single screw’ lesson without anyone getting hurt.. some in the remote control helicopter hobby have not been as fortunate– a single nut/bolt combo holds the main blade assembly together, and many ammature hobbyists have had to learn the lesson an even harder way when the main blades fly off at high rpm and cause bodily harm..

    everyone would do well to remember to check that rotating assemblies are correctly torqued/tested/replaced before every use..

    1. I think everyone’s criticism of this group is ridiculous… They went above and beyond to isolate this thing, and a fluke accident happened. Period. Stuff happens. Sure, hindsight is always 20/20, and there is always a way you could have prevented something knowing how it happened afterward, but I don’t think they were remotely negligent here. It was in an isolated room, with supervised operation of equipment, and power was fully cut to everything afterwards. Sure you could spend gobs of money you don’t have on equipment to detect said event, or tighten every screw of every machine before using it every time, but that isn’t practical or generally reasonable. Hacking is inherently dangerous, accidents happen, and I would have thought general visitors on here would understand that and give them the courtesy to have a little compassion for them rather than blaming or ripping on them. I wish them a speedy recovery.

        1. You’re thanking someone for being the ‘voice of reason’ when they’re speaking out against someone who suggested checking your equipment before every use? Seriously? Yes, it was an accident. Yes, it was a fluke. And yes, you should check your equipment before EVERY. SINGLE. USE. Especially if it’s something like this. You don’t get to say, oh, well, it was a one-in-a-million fluke, so they shouldn’t have been checking to make sure everything was working on a use-by-use (or daily, if you use it multiple times a day) basis. That’s outright ignorant, DANGEROUS behavior on your part, and you should be ashamed of yourselves, both of you.

          1. Yes, and I’m sure that you put your car on a lift and check that every nut and bolt is tight before trusting the lives of you, your family, and everyone on the road to such a complex machine?

            Don’t be ridiculous.

          2. If you mean do I regularly check my brakes, my tyres -tread depth and pressure and a quick inspection for cuts in the wall etc, also my oil, the condition of my spare tyre, then the answer is yes, perhaps not the recommended weekly, but these things are checked pretty religiously, and corrected if issues are found.

            Other less routine, but still maintenance that is carried out includes jacking up the car and taking the wheels to check brake pad and disc/rotor wear, checking for rust (to prevent problems before they get bigger) and checking wheel bearings etc.

            These are things that you *should* be doing, and if you are not ensuring that your car is in good repair, then just like has been said above, when you get stopped by the police, with an un-roadworthy car, you will be fined, if your un-maintained and un-roadworthy car happens to be involved in an accident where someone dies then you’d be looking at manslaughter charges.
            I would suggest that these basic maintenance tasks are not beyond and hackaday readers, or to that end any readers, it’s basic stuff, really really basic stuff that involves little or no skill, (in fact my five year old routinely “helps” do these checks -and if you don’t perform these basic checks then you endanger yourself and other road users.

            Cars are dangerous machines and should be routinely checked for the safety of yourself and others.

            Your analogy about checking “every nut and bolt before each use is bordering on the ridiculous. on a car you’re talking about hours of checks before a quick run to the shops.
            There aren’t a lot of nuts and bolts in a machine like this, and really the only moving part would have been the rotary spark gap -the bit that failed, (which is a pretty simple set up and could have taken less than a minute to check, and less than five minutes to fix.)

            Other checks would be a quick look at the condition of wires going into and out of the machine just checking the condition of the cable flex and insulation. -again, a very quick check that should have been done.

            And that is the crux of “the haters” arguments here:

            Most “accidents” are preventable, -and you don’t actually need 20/20 hindsight just decent operating procedures.

            You can’t skip basic safety and claim to be running a safe place.
            And you shouldn’t be inviting the public into a place that is not safe.

            There was about 300 seconds of what should have been everyday “pre-flight” checks here that were routinely skipped. -in fact this reply is now so long that you could probably have done the required maintenance on the machine in the time it took to read it!

          3. This is more of a reply to DainBramage:

            I’d say that the difference between industrial and consumer devices is huge. Making a bespoke high-voltage, high-temperature device without an engineering department means they must take extra precautions.

            The precautions ignored when we get into a car have been taken in to account by entire teams of engineers whose jobs are devoted to making sure the cars we get into are safe enough that their parent companies aren’t sued out of existence.

            It would be one thing if the device were designed with safety in mind, but it wasn’t. It’s not a bad thing, but if failsafes aren’t build in, then they should have checked their design before every run.

            Also, I guarantee no car company would let something off the lot with a set screw holding a round rod (with not so much as a flat milled on it) in something that spins yellow-hot at 5k RPM, but it’s not my place to nitpick their creation.

      1. +1 Couldn’t have put it better myself. The world needs more people helping and supporting, and less people just sitting around telling others how they are doing things wrong. To all the critics out there, everyone that is soooo capable of telling TGG how they screwed up and how they should have been doing things different, I say this; instead of criticizing, spreading hatred and negativity why don’t you go down to their lab and help out!!! If you know a better way of doing something I am certain they are willing to listen. It is so easy to sit back after an incident and tell people what they did wrong or what they should have done, it’s not as easy to actually be a part if it and make a real difference in the real world, especially when your a non-profit organization.

        All the people on here that have nothing better to do than rip apart an organization or a person who is trying to make this world a better place disgust me. You need to take a long hard look at yourselves and ask your self “are my words and actions helping to better the situation, helping to better the world I am a part of?”

        1. If I wasn’t an ocean and half a continent away I would be there, and would be helping.

          I’ve tried to phrase comments sensibly… Not rip into people. But it does stand to reason that this was probably preventable, with better maintenance, with better shutdown procedures, with better design…

          You think that just saying oh well shit happens and waiting for the next fire is actually helpful to these guys who are trying to help the world?

          For those of is who are oceans away and can’t just arrive with some cleaning gear giving suggestions online is the only way of helping. Just because we’re not taking the frankly idiot approach of saying well if you play with dangerous toys someone or something is bound to be hurt.

      2. wow, there’s a lot of hostility here…. my post had everything to do with the ‘one bolt’ theme, and relatively little to do with gg’s failures… i do respect what the geek group is doing, and i fully intend to visit them in the future, though my schedule won’t allow it for at least a couple of months.

        this was a freak accident– who would have expected sparks to do what they did a while after the machine had been running? i for one have never seen an ember start a fire later on– it ALWAYS either dies, or ignites a surface right away, so i would have never thought of the possibility of such a thing happening later on. for me, when the power is off, the machine is for all intents and purposes, ‘dead’. maybe it’s a possibility that is too easily forgotten… i’ve heard embers can start fires later, but i’ve never seen it–again, maybe it’s something that i should work harder to remember..

  8. Why link that video? Here’s a better one:

    Boden has such a very convenient explanation. Amazing how they were the only ones who had access to this area before fire inspectors or the insurance company came out, suddenly can find the root cause so quickly… while shooting a video, with Chris’ expert forensic analysis.

    Yet, what’s in that video? Boden’s plans already boasting grandiose plans of rebuilding it BIGGER and BETTER. Seems like that was the plan all along. What a great way to trump up new volunteers and supporters.

    Amazing that they have held public tours in there since moving with exactly one exit that doesn’t require entering the cage. With a building chocked full of cameras with two independent camera systems, and with one of their staff “working” on the cameras the day of the fire, with a room that had TWO cameras, they mysteriously lack any footage to set the record straight.

    This is very suspiscious.

    1. The room has an emergency exit besides the main one. It’s down a short flight of stairs, and outside the cage. Don’t hold a strong opinion about stuff you clearly don’t have all the facts on.

      As for how everything Chris does apparently being so very “suspicious” I have to ask, do you happen to take medication for paranoia? Because it seems like you’ve missed a few doses.

      1. From the video the day before, to the right of Thumper, the white door, is this the second exit you’re referring to, with no illuminated exit sign?

        Wow… and just a while before this fire started, Boden was in the room giving a tour.. to obviously a member of the public This means to the public there was exactly one exit… mind you, next to the thing that caused a massive fire.

        Chris “Captain” Boden is a self-proclaimed magician, actor, former seminary student among the many things he boasts to make up his ego/superiority complex. If there’s one thing I will give him credit is he’s a master social engineer. Pardon my suspicions, they are warranted with someone of his background.

        Any real investigation would have required that area to be completely sealed off from everyone and investigated by a third-party. But now it’s too late — the evidence has all been scrubbed. For the amount of cameras and video equipment that place has, with two cameras right in that room.

        All that’s left is a biased explanation from Paul Kidwell, the guy who loaned them $50,000 according to their IRS 990 forms for 2012.

        But nope, not suspicious at all… carry on, nothing to see, give them more money.

    2. Assuming it is indeed under investigation by fire and insurance officials the footage is likely being reviewed by professionals and considered evidence for the claim. Once the claim and any legal liability assigned they might be able to release it.

      Not exactly the conspiracy you were hoping for.

    3. The person that found the root cause was the guy that built the Spark gap, Paul, not Chris. Why wouldn’t he inspect it especially when it’s suspected of being the problem? Their insurance company and lawyers watch these videos and know what’s going on. Why wouldn’t they rebuild bigger and better? Wouldn’t you or would you just abandon everything and go home? That room also has two exits. One has almost direct access to outside but the main door used is the one that leads to the lobby. The two cameras were retired news cameras that didn’t record and were only hooked up to the Live Stream for internet broadcasting. Had one of them been selected on the live Stream at the time, viewers would have alerted the staff to the problem long before it was noticed by the smoke alarm in the air duct.

    4. As an industrial electrician of over 30 years, i watched Chris’s video of the spark gap on the table, i put together the chain of events in my head, then i watched Pauls video a day or so later (linked at top) and Paul said exactly the same as me, i don’t think an inspector would have seen any different (assuming the inspector was electrically/mechanically qualified)

    1. Sprinkling water on a HV lab is a bad idea. Even the normal hand held powder extinguisers are dangerous to use above a few thousand volts. I think (but don’t know the rules in the US!) that using water is allowed if the sprinkler system is centrally triggered (eg no melding solder sprinkler that starts at will) and power is cut a specified time before engaging the water system.

      Normally they flood the room with CO2/Halon but such a system is very expensive.

      1. They don’t use Halon very much anymore. There are other specialty gasses they would use for these situations, but you are right that they are crazy expensive.

        Maybe they should trigger the release of a tank of neon. The HV would turn it into an amazing display while everything burned.

        I still think that some of the people on this site should get off their high horse and stop criticizing. I don’t care if the guy in charge pisses people off. These are fellow hackers who had an accident. We should be showing support not acting like pretentious asses and armchair fire marshals.

      2. Even tho such a system is NOT required by code for that building, a full fire alarm and Co2 fire suppression system was in the process of being installed anyway. Why? because they value safety. They also didn’t have any good reason to cease running the machine before such a system was installed since it’s had years of incident-free operation. If you had a 57′ Chevy that’s been accident free and running perfectly for the entire time you’ve had it, would you suddenly stop driving it until you got airbags installed?

          1. You’d cringe at the actual number of people driving on bald tires, brakes worn down to the squeal plate, low oil, low power steering fluid, and what have you, all contributing to hazardous conditions on all roads.

    1. The carbide isn’t experiencing any direct radial or axial mechanical load like in a milling application where collets are normally used so I don’t think those collet holders would make a difference considering the cylindrical shank that is needed to be held on to would require some type of set screw to hold in place just like the original grub screws. I’m thinking safety-wiring the tungsten so it couldn’t physically pull out enough to impact the stationary electrodes might work. That or red loctite on the grub screws to avoid vibration-loosening their threads. It will be interesting to see what they come up with for improving the spark gap design based on the failure mode from this ACCIDENT.

  9. I would say it is an unsafe shop. I worked in a high voltage lab in college and been around the labs at work. They knew about the issue of hot blobs of tungsten flying off as early as June of 2013 and didn’t do anything about it for over half a year. The university or company I work for would have decommissioned the equipment until safeties were in place.

    1. The sparks didn’t cause this fire the root cause of the fire which was a big chunk of tungsten from colliding electrodes. There’s a big difference in the danger between the sparks that were known about, which were essentially the same as welding sparks, fast to cool and not long lived enough to ignite the MMC.

      1. No it wasn’t the sparks directly, that caused the fire. But if there is metal getting so hot (white glowing!) I would consider cooling it somehow (i.e. with pressured air) and encapsulate the whole thing heavily. The rotating parts of the spark-gap should be designed self-tightening by the radial acceleration. This way no parts could fly away, when a screw loosens.

        I wish them all the best and hope they rebuild their great space ASAP.

  10. here is an idea for rebuilding, have all screws “lockwired” (it is a safety measure used in aircraft and heavy weapons where a small hole is drilled through the head of the bolt, the bolt is put in place and torqued then a small wire [normally 0.032″] is passed through the hole halfway,then the other half is folded down and twisted on itself and the next bolt inline.)

  11. The only thing more awesome than a warehouse full of ridiculously powerful and awesome equipment is the Valkyrie’s fire claiming these machines of great righteousness for Valhalla.

  12. Could the MMC capacitor array simply have caught fire due to capacitor failure, a bad electrical connection within, or some visitor putting a metal object in there that doesn’t belong and it arced over? Were the sheets acrylic or plexiglass used as a backer to mount the capacitors made of a fire retardant plastic? Typically fire retardant plastic won’t be very transparent. Using such large amounts of non fire retardant plastic to construct the MMC would be a critical mistake.

  13. I am full of admiration for what these chaps are doing, but that should not remove them from the responsibility that their ignorance created. Yes they made a mistake, but it was them that made the mistake.
    I have a couple of points to add:
    To notice a spark gap is flinging white hot bits of metal around a high voltage area, discuss enclosing it and then not do so is rather negligent in my book.
    To make a disc to retain very dense electrodes and secure them with just a single grub screw each strikes me as a poor design. I imagine this was done to allow adjustment of the position to ensure an even gap. There are far superior ways of doing this than a single point load tapping into relatively weak phenolic composite board.
    The safety appreciation of the GG itself does appear to be lax; during one HV demo, Mr Boden drops a fluorescent tube on the ground; there is an admittedly small amount of mercury in these, but why do that? Also in another video there is a chap angle grinding busily with sparks falling directly onto the power cable, and neither he nor the chap behind him are wearing any sort of hearing protection. In any sort of industrial setting that would be cause for very serious complaint and possibility of legal action. Just because this is a group of individuals does not make it magically safer, or hearing damage any more severe.
    Also during the clean up, everyone is saying PVC curtain, lots of smoke and soot, and yet only one person is wearing any sort of particulate mask after the event. Soot is incredibly finely divided material and causes lasting damage to your lungs. Mr Boden must be aware of this and should issue masks to all people on the cleanup.

  14. As pointed out they knew for more then 6 months parts of the electrode came off during use, they mentioned then failed to build a containment system. As to a hypothesis on how the screw got loose, thermal cycling or vibration. As to the fuel that kept such an intense fire going it had to be the dielectric in the capacitors.

    So they notice 6,000 degree F/ 3400 C molten tungsten, one of the few substances with such a high melting point flying around a pile of plastic supported, oil filled cans and did nothing to mitigate contact. They created a machine that the only way to fail was catastrophically without designing for the eventual failure. Another video mentioned failing motor bearings and that they should get a new motor (not sure if they ever did something about that either).

    Add it up and its negligence, unintentional sure but negligence never the less.

    Dam lucky no one was directly injured but as others have pointed out, they are showing off the soot on everything and I don’t see a lot of dust masks and the parts smaller then <2.5 microns are the real concerning ones. To their credit in the video with all the vacuums the one gentleman mentions bags and hepa filter to be installed on each one.

    Just about everything that spins has a shroud on it for protection unless it's directly necessary to have the exposed moving part to do its job. Grinding wheels typically have a partial shroud. Large motors usually have a cage around the moving parts, air compressors with belt driven compressors and such usually have some protection from both accidental contact and part failure containment etc. I find it concerning they liked the light show more then worrying about the possibility that something could have fallen into the system or something in the system coming out.

    Lesson – Design for failure.

    With that in mind, at work one day a lighting strike 4 blocks away blew out every surge suppressor and power supply on both the phone and electrical lines of two buildings I managed. The computer room was saved by a UPS however the blue metal oxide varistor inside died violently. The explosion from that component embedded parts of the molten core in both the main board as well as the metal containment case. The case was dented 1/4 inch in two places and the motherboard caught fire and burned a 50+ cent sized hole before self extinguishing. I still have the photos, APC gave me a new UPS in exchange for the failed one after everyone was done with it for their own analysis. The best part was I hit the power button on the UPS before knowing it was dead. It worked, the server came online and ran off clean ac driven by the battery and inverter (checked with a meter, nice and clean). The part that failed was only in the charging portion of the supply. That is what a design for failure should do, contain the problem and prevent others.

    1. The sparks from the gap were no more than you’d get from an angle grinder, to protect others from getting hit by them you would at least have something like the welding curtain that was in front of that room.
      The capacitors were not oil filled, they were aluminium foil polypropylene.
      at the very most if people were in the HVL at the time, there would have been smoke and soot issues, and maybe a bit of heat exposure, but if the fire had started when there were people in HVL, they would have been evacuated according to safety protocol long before that could have happened.
      the spark gap was located in a room off the back of the HVL separated by the welding curtain, and there’s a safety cage that no member of the public, and indeed staff would be inside the cage while they run Gemini, the spark gap room can only be accessed from inside the cage.
      And as you say, you can’t plan for a lightning strike, you can only go so far to reduce damage in the event one happens, damage and injury was prevented and reduced by having the major components in a fire resistant room which did its job.

  15. Staying within the scope of this article, I’m surprised that they only used one screw and not two, I’m sure this is not the first time an electrode has been flung out from a HV device. Also, why were the screws not using safety wire ( considering the nature of the operation?

    So, you have a hacker/maker space with amateurs (not using this term in a bad way) and an accident happened. Not surprising. I’ve also watched their videos and there are things that are being approached by people who want to do stuff but don’t know how but do it anyways. A lot of us do or used to do this. Us smart ones learn to ask someone who has practical and lessons learned experience. They did not. Unfortunately, this is a “lessons learned experience” for them.

    The hacker/maker spaces and movement is great. But, I see a lot of videos of people doing crazy things. Welding without proper ventillation or a jacket, grinding without ear plugs, people tightening bolts on car brake systems without a torque wrench, etc. You really don’t want to relearn the lessons that brought about the practices that are in use today.

  16. So what we’ve learned here is:

    1.) Be as careful as possible
    2.) Take all necessary precautions
    3.) Be prepared to get lambasted about your failure to adhere as closely to #1 & #2 as someone else would have, given #4
    4.) Hindsight is always 20/20

    I think that pretty much covers it.

    No matter what I think of GG and Chris, I hope for everyone’s sake that they’re able to rebuild stronger and better very quickly. S#*7 happens to everyone, it will happen to you someday no matter how hard you try to avoid it, and the best we can do is learn from our mistakes and press forward.

  17. Chris Boden: I’d respond to you on your Youtube channel but figured you’d delete it. You responded directly to me in your latest video blog regarding the exit signs in the high voltage lab which was discussed elsewhere in this thread.

    Here’s the part replying to my criticism:

    But I noticed you edited something out…. specifically the exit sign on The Geek Group’s internet stream? Specifically, this part which occurs right before you cut to the fire alarm:

    or alternatively,

    Sure, there was an exit sign there… WHEN THE ROOM WAS A SWIMMING POOL AS A YMCA BEFORE YOU MOVED IN. So who is the dumb f*ck? Did I bruise your ego? Can’t admit you’re wrong, bro?

    I love your fire alarm handle by that “exit” door. Does it connect to your non-working fire panel you showed us on January 4’s blog?

    So either you’re lying about the exit sign, or you’re incompetent and have been putting the public at risk for years with your demonstrations.


    1. I like The Geek Group as a whole, however I don’t like them embellishing the facts about what they actually do though. They say that room is a high voltage laboratory, in reality they have a couple of huge and deadly toys, I have no problem with that, I find them fascinating, but I don’t see why they need to embellish the truth.

    2. It’s good to know you watch the live stream. We always appreciate new viewers. Perhaps you caught the live interview with Adam from HaD a couple nights ago.

      As you saw in the edit I am not infallible. I looked up and saw a box where an exit sign had once been mounted (the new one had not yet been installed, as the HV lab was not yet done being remodeled nor open to the public). I thought one had melted off the wall (as the other ones had done, one of which is in our display case now). I was mistaken, as I often am, and caught the mistake after shooting the video and edited it out instead of shooting a whole new clip.

      You’re welcome to donate the new sign and I’ll install it, or perhaps even come here and install it yourself. We always welcome new volunteers.

      1. Buy your own damned sign! You’ve come up with the resources the wire cameras from the HVL to the control center within months of moving in, but wiring up a $50 dollar sign that has been missing from the HVL for the past 3 years isn’t a priority. Despite your claims that the HVL lab isn’t open to the public, you have had demonstrations of Gemini to larger groups of people who are likely not familiar with the layout of the building.

        It is not the burden of those who point out code and safety violations to supply the needed fix. It’s your responsibility as the CEO of the Geek Group to correct safety issues within the organization. You’ve now learned the hard way the consequences of deferring the repair of a known safety issue, i.e. the lack of a cover for the spark gap.

        You’ve bashed Photonic induction for his safety practices, but right now you are the one who suffered significant fire damage. Why. Because you assumed that everything was fireproof and failed to check the the room the spark gap was in for damage. Photonic induction knows damned well his gear is surrounded with flammable materials. You’ve become overconfident about your equipment and let yourself be lulled to sleep.

        You might be enraged about the questioning of various Geek Group safety practices on hack a day, but I will tell you one thing. If someone were to have been injured during the fire, their lawyers are going to ask the same questions and bring up the same issues as others on this forum. This time you’ll be in court and giving them the finger will simply result in having a contempt of court charge slapped on you.

        1. OK, my turn for questions
          Were there any members (or would there ever be) any members of the public in the gap room which can only be accessed via the safety cage ?
          If the fire had started while anyone was in the HVL, would they know the way to the main exit that they entered from that actually had an exit sign on?
          If that exit was blocked, would they have been led to the other exit (which had a notice on the door) to the safety of the outside ?
          How long after the fire started would anyone in the HVL be physically affected by smoke, heat, soot inhalation ?

          The fire in the spark gap room was virtually out by the time the fire dept got there, most of what they did was damping down and venting the roof of HVL, the room served its purpose with little damage, except for the loss of some equipment, much of the stored stock and the gemini coils will have to be scrapped ONLY because soot is carbon, and that doesn’t go well with HV, anything scrapped from HVL will be destroyed before it is scrapped so others don’t get hold of it and try to use it.

        2. John Smith, you question “what if” someone had been injured, but the simple fact is nobody WAS injured, so your point is moot.

          I think the more relevant questions would be “what if john smith was a pedophile?” or “what if hitler actually loved jews?”.

          1. Brian Benchoff proving that Truth’s law of “There is always some pretentious mouthbreather easily baited into posting about Godwin’s law”.

            DING DING DING Truth’s Law is verified once again.

          2. So does it take an actual injury to occur before the Geek Group would feel the need to be proactive about safety? Evidently a major fire isn’t enough for you to rethink your policies and priorities. You guys lucked out that nobody suffered any injuries this time… Next time you might not be so lucky.

          3. John Smith, does it take the abuse of a child before the authorities would feel the need to be proactive in protecting children from the potential of you being a child molester?

            We need to think of the children here and lock you up, just in case a child gets hurt.

            Won’t somebody think of the children?

          4. Suggesting that preventing accidents within the Geek Group by taking a proactive approach like not running Gemini until proper guards are fabricated to address a known issue and installing missing exit signs to meet fire code is akin to unfounded accusations of child molestation by your logic. Not much room for any constructive further debate. You’ve hit a new low for the Geek Group. Would Boden be proud of you?

  18. Everyone needs to stop saying shit about tgg. If you have not been there or if you are not a member then you have no right to talk shit about tgg. If you think tgg should have more safety precautions then DONATE.

    1. Yeah, let’s give them loads of money so they can come out with more poorly thought out contraptions that are poorly maintained…

      I’d rather spend my money on cigarettes, at least then I only endanger my own life and get to control when and where the fires happen!

        1. Funnily enough, I always ensure my cigarettes are out. Properly out. By following simple and obvious safety practices I’ve not had any fires unintentionally started by me.

          Which goes once again to prove my point, most peoples point.

          If they operated this thing with same safety, but clearly there could be improvements to that practice, all the people in these comment threads saying they did nothing wrong are wrong.

          The geek group had a lucky escape, now they need to accept a bit of questioning finger pointing and banter, live LEARN and move on!

          1. Sorry bub, but your word doesn’t cut it – safety is paramount.

            As such, Cigarettes are banned effectively immediately, enjoy your cold turkey.

            Ah, I can’t be that mean. You can keep your cancer sticks, but you have to carry a fire extinguisher around with you at all times from now on! It’ll help put some puff back into those tar-filled lungs of yours!

    2. No. Lets not donate. They are supposedly a “multi-million dollar operation” from Chris’s own words. Most of what people have been pointing out are about SIMPLE and inexpensive fixes. Lighted fire signs? Like $50. Locking out equipment you are planning to fix but haven’t gotten to it yet? Free.

      No, you guys are allergic to any constructive criticism that comes your way. I’ve been to your shop. I walked away. You keep saying you are safe, but you forget basic things. When somebody points out a safety measure your automatic response is that we need to buy it for you. Sorry, I’d rather not. I’d rather donate to an organization that actually does stuff safely and won’t put my money in jeopardy.

      Look, if I ran a commercial shop and one of my tools was busted or found to be unsafe, I can’t go back to the employee and force them to make it safe. It is MY responsibility, both by ethics and by law to make it safe for them to use. This is no different.

      1. The millions of dollars you speak of are mostly in the machines.
        Chris works very hard trying to get sponsors, we have even heard him on initial calls to companies while he does a show, so we get an insight to how he works.
        He has been promised sponsorship by many, but has been let down at the last minute many times.

        Now think about lights, exit signs, security cameras, security systems (locks and lockouts etc), fire alarms, he can get labour donated quite often by volunteer contractors, but the parts are hard to get donated by companies, remember that a lot of manufature has gone to other companies, so the members of IRC (tgg chat) raise money to buy all the basic stuff, while Chris and staff work on the bigger stuff.
        We donate because we want to, not because we are ordered to, because we believe in what The Geek Group stands for, and no, i’m not some teen that has been brainwashed, i’m 58 with over 30 years in the electrical industry.

  19. Everybody needs to stop giving Chris and tgg a hard time. They work hard for everything they do. If you think they should have more safety features then DONATE. and if you are not a member then you should not talk about tgg not being safe. We have had enough of everybody on hackaday complaining.

  20. The captain’s blog where they talk about the spark gap and needing to put an enclosure (entrapment) around it is dated 6-17-11. 2 and a half years of running this after noticing a problem is irresponsible/negligent.

      1. Pretty simple.
        There is a big room, that’s the main hv “lab”
        There is a small room at the back where the hv generation and switch gear/spark gaps etc were.

        The small room is only an alcove in the big room, not a physically seperate room. The fire was in the alcove and confined to the alcove.

        Smoke and soot contaminated the rest of the room.

        Kind of like how a barbecue is contained in a metal bucket, but smoke still rises out if it.

  21. Where I work, we get fined for things like that.

    We don’t get second chances to “fix it later”, and we try to keep everything safe not because of a fear of fines, but because of a fear that property damage maybe caused, injuries sustained, or profit margins cut by downtimes.

    It’s a shame it happened, but if I left a machine running with a known hazzard like that, I’d be in front of my boss getting chewed tk a million pieces. And I wouldn’t be telling him “The person who found it should fix it”, “We were going to next week”, or “We thought it wasn’t an issue”.

    It’s professional responsibility, plain and simple, to maintain a safe environment.

    I only hope some people learn from this incident, and that the needed leadership responsibilties and manegerial changes are looked into.

    Trying to be neutral, but I know I’ll be flamed (pun not intended).

  22. I must admit, the past week has been one of the most humbling of my entire career. I was shocked and disgusted to learn of the deplorable accusations of misconduct. Though I promptly am making safety the #1 priority In my organization and repeatedly stressed that I had no prior knowledge of safety issues with the rotary spark gap, many have continued to accuse me of being unsafe or even a conspirator to this incident. And to those who do, I can only ask that you simply look at me, right now, and just ask yourself one question: Do I look like a corrupt, vengeful, openly antagonistic bully to you?

    Really, take a good, hard look. Do I seriously strike you as the type of person who would sabotage my own hackerspace to get more money, materials, sponsors and members? And not only do that, but run a cult, essentially waging a fear campaign to permit my fans to systematically intimidate, isolate, and marginalize my critics one-by-one?

    C’mon, that’s just not me. Everyone knows that sounds nothing like me.

    Really, anyone who has followed my career even the slightest bit over the years knows that the last thing I am is an overly ambitious and hypersensitive man with a penchant for antagonism and belligerence. I mean, it’s me we’re talking about here! Chris Boden! Not some ultra-competitive blowhard with deep-seated insecurities probably stemming from my own experiences being bullied as a child. That’s why this whole scandal is so silly. It’s like, everyone knows that’s the pretty much the exact opposite of what I’m like.

    What, am I wearing a butt-plug helmet or something? I mean, hello? It’s me! Chris Boden! Part of me gets, I suppose, why this whole debacle is so intriguing to people. After all, just imagine me secretly being some overcompensating, bitter, antagonistic personality with a my-way-or-the-highway demeanor and a ruthless desire for ever greater degrees of prestige and power with my franchise. I mean, sure, I see how that’s a pretty amusing and unexpected reversal: Chris Boden as a bully. I get it. But, look, let’s get serious here. People don’t just turn into completely different people overnight. I’m still the same warm, civil, reasonable, level-headed, pussycat-like guy who’s made people say for years, “Wow, that Chris Boden sure seems like a sweet, soft-spoken, not at all temperamental or vindictive person.” Nothing’s changed, folks! I’m still the same old me!

    Heck, the mere facts alone that I’ve been the President and CEO of The Geek Group for 20 years now and invented the hackerspace concept should really let anyone know by now that I’m obviously a compassionate and forgiving person who treats everyone—regardless of their views —with decency and respect. So could you ever imagine me quickly losing my temper over even the smallest perceived slight and then blowing it way out of proportion? Get outta here!

    Folks, everyone knows that little things like criticism of my decisions, my track record, and especially the trolls on the Internet just rolls off me like water off a duck’s back (see what I did there?) C’mon, that’s, like, my whole thing, right? That’s my image: Mr. Calm And Conciliatory.

    So if you’re one of the many people who is currently wondering whether I knew or didn’t know about the safety precautions or people living at the lab, just remember my overall demeanor, how I interact with everyday people, and how I respond to questions from the media, and you’ll quickly realize that I could never, ever be capable of endlessly obsessing over every last criticism leveled against me, nor could I ever bring myself to actually use any and all resources at my disposal to attack everyone who proved an obstacle to my company. And the idea that I would go to incredible lengths to continue exacting retribution at any available opportunity, even years later, is just inconceivable given the way I’ve famously carried myself both personally and professionally.

    Honestly, the way people have been talking about this whole fire scandal, you’d think I was the type of guy to still harbor plenty of ill-will and resentment toward those who maybe watched, donated and helped promote The Geek Group for so many years!

    Ah well, that’s politics, I guess. People are always going to try to portray you as a sadistic, ruthless, overly belligerent scumbag hell-bent on crushing anyone who stands in your way. Weird that anyone would ever think that I, of all people, exemplify those traits, but whatever.

    Ultimately, I take solace knowing that my fans as a whole, won’t just blindly accept these unfair accusations launched against me. They know the real me. I’m Chris Boden, and you’re NOT.

    1. Don’t take this the wrong way, please.

      A few things that may help:

      Since TGG is a private R&D establishment, you can afford downtime on projects (within reason). Because of this, I humbly suggest that you institute a system to report issues and lock out affected machinery/projects if needed.

      A workorder system (we use a dedicated package, but bugzilla could be pressed into service) allows you to get a time/date, description of an issue, who noticed/requested the repair, when it was fixed, and how it was fixed.
      It can be used for everything from “Hey, the mens room faucet leaks” through “Machine XZY is making a funny pop noise”, and will allow you to better manage everyday occurances.

      Require that large projects, power equipment, and machines have a “walk around” flip chart detailing power disconnect locations, proper startup/shutdown procedures, lockout information, and applicable operator maintenance procedures.
      We use hole punched laminated printouts with key rings in the holes, for ease of updating and hanging from a hook.
      Obviously the shop vac doesn’t need one, but the table saw and mill might. It’s at best discretion.

      Establish a policy for PPE (personal protective equipment), such as “No plugs, no glasses, no access” or “Must have party hat on at all times in the cafeteria”, and enforce it. Not saying to have the Gestapo roam and kick people out for forgetting, but it cuts down on liability for everyone involved, and isn’t much of a bother.
      An earplug dispensor at each entrance, a lens cleaning station or two for safety glasses, and possibly a community stash of gloves/aprons/whatnot is also encouraged, and can be a slight nudge to people to be a bit safer.

      In the end these are only suggestions that I can make based on my experiences, please do not take them the wrong way.

      Accidents happen, people will always rub each other wrong, and everyone knows everything but the winning lotto numbers. In the end it’s what you make of it.

      Here’s to a strong recovery for 2014, and to an even bigger twin setup (Rooftop towers anyone?) in the future.

  23. master boden can keep saying he cares about safety all he wants. his previous actions and videos show otherwise. hopefully liz (Elizabeth Stack) will wakeup sometime soon and go get a real job. Liz, ask others that have left how much better off they are now (Steve). Dont waste your life for this moron.

  24. Unlike the vast majority of the people here, I was not only there during the fire, but am also not employed by or interning with The Geek Group. I am a member and I am working on my own project with guidance from the CNC department staff. I have not been around there long enough to be indoctrinated into the cult of Chris Boden, but I have been there enough to know the safety procedures, the layout of the building (including the multiple exits from the HVL) and the risks involved with the equipment. I have no vested interest in the success or failure of The Geek Group (though I would prefer to see them succeed) nor am I especially concerned with the reputation of the company or their CEO.

    First and foremost, that was the least eventful fire I have ever witnessed. Evacuation of the building was handled extremely quickly and professionally. The fire itself was contained to a single room, exactly as it was designed, and at no point was any living being in physical danger. The GRFD response time was brilliant and TGG staff provided the fire department with all the information they needed to protect themselves before they entered the building. Power to the building was killed as quickly as possible and all directions and requests by the FD were immediately put into action. The Captain’s Blog covered alot of what happened, but to say the least, those commenting here at HaD did not see even half of what I saw. And what I saw was textbook protocol.

    To those who have said TGG was not following safety protocol or that the building was not up to code: You are not the Grand Rapids fire marshal, building inspector or TGG’s insurance adjuster. Simply put, you’re talking out of your ass. The process for opening to the public is long and requires many inspections with sign offs from multiple people whose job it is to nitpick every last detail. Furthermore, every policy they have in place worked exactly as it was intended. Given what they’ve learned from this incident, I am confident that even more safety protocols will be instituted above and beyond the above and beyond they already have in place.

    Many of the experiments and projects at TGG are inherently dangerous. CNC equipment can catastrophically fail and cause severe injury or death even with the most stringent safety policies and features in place. Extremely high voltage equipment can fail in the best of circumstances causing severe damage. An industrial grade robot can kill you instantaneously with a single fraction of a second movement and not even slow down. And for these reasons, there are safety protocols in place at TGG for every single dangerous piece of equipment. Using the CNC equipment without undergoing training and without staff permission is not permitted (and with the control panel integration, now impossible). Only a very select few people are permitted to operate the high voltage equipment and it is isolated from the rest of the building by design. The robot has a cage around it to protect the wandering unaware from harm.

    There’s only so much one can reasonably do with limited resources to prevent accidents. Were mistakes made? I would say so. These people are smart as hell, but by no means are they infallible gods. I think they’ve learned from their mistakes and will rebuild with those learned lessons firmly in mind.

    It is super easy to sit back and berate someone from your comfy arm chair…it is much more difficult to get off your ass and do something. If you feel you can do better, DO IT! If you think you know better, come up with a plan, figure out how to fund it and send off your suggestions to TGG staff. But the could haves, should haves and what ifs are completely and utterly useless. If you’re unwilling to take action, your words are meaningless.

    An accident happened, it was well contained and no one was hurt. I call that a win.

    1. If it was a win, a cheap smoke alarm would have alerted everyone and there wouldn’t have been any damage. They had prior knowledge the Spark Gap was a dangerous piece of equipment. It’s a big spinning rotor with white hot tungsten flinging around at thousands of RPM. Who in their right mind wouldn’t have taken simple precautions.

      But hey, I know they couldn’t afford that 20$.

  25. Has anyone else noticed how this comment log is starting to read like the stages of grief process?

    1) NO – GG burned!
    2) Why didn’t so and so do such and such.
    3) Well its not all bad they didn’t kill anyone.
    4) I hope they rebuild or do don’t rebuild.
    5) All is well – “It’s all just a game”

    Not sure but I think that covers it.

    Dear HaD readers/commentator, you/we are a bunch of hard-ass critics, but I honestly value that about this group. You need tough skin here, no punches are pulled and some dam fine advice comes out of it.. Sure people blow smoke out their collective butts trying to make some point, I think the majority of the readers/commentators here know and address this in their own way. But in the end I don’t see anything in this dialog other then passion on all sides.

    No matter what side of the field your on, don’t let your passion die, especially when given a setback.

  26. Of course the haters are going to not understand this. Chris I have not lost faith in what you and your team have been and are trying to build. Anytime someone tries to do something as innovative and frankly as great as that will run across people that will appose you with every fiber of their being. Personally I cannot exsplain why they do this. My first impulse is to lash out at them however I know that this would not change their behavior. What I can do is ask that “Chris, keep up the good work.” I look forward to coming out sometime and spending some time with you guys.

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