Adventures In Hackerspacing: An Interview With Chris Boden Of The Geek Group


There are some big hackerspaces out there.
And then there’s The Geek Group.
It takes a certain chutzpah to convert a 43,000 foot former YMCA into a hackerspace. And an epic hackerspace it is, complete with 5 axis CNC machines, 3d printers, and of course, giant robots romping through a forest of Tesla coils.  The Geek Group has performed live demos in front of thousands of people over the years, and inspired tens of thousands more via the internet. You don’t work this big without having some big adventures, and The Geek Group is no exception. They’ve been through roof leaks, gas pipe breaks, surprise tax bills and angry neighbors. They’ve also been dealing with their current adventure, fire.

Unless you’ve been under a rock the last few weeks, you’ve probably read about the recent fire, and ensuing cleanup at The Geek Group labs. We’ve covered the fire and its cause here on Hackaday, with no small amount of drama in our comments section. There is a small but vocal minority who don’t have many good things to say. Accusations of cults, safety violations, and tax evasion often fly. While some groups would take this lying down, the geek group put on their flame proof suits and wade through the comments. None more vocally than [Chris Boden], the president, CEO and founder.

DISCLAIMER: The interview contains questionable content and some profanity (which we’ve altered as grawlix). We have posted the transcript as it was captured, which includes some spelling and grammar issues. Please consider these things before clicking through to the interview itself.

Chris Boden at his command console.
Chris Boden at his command console.

Are any of the accusations true? Is The Geek Group a cult? Finding out for sure would involve a trip to Grand Rapids Michigan, which is a bit outside Hackaday’s budget. However, The Geek Group is more than just their facility. They maintain a strong internet presence with their YouTube videos, Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel, and live video stream. Chris runs twice daily shows where he streams video and talks to the group on IRC. It was during one of these shows that I entered the IRC room and said hello. Nearly immediately I found myself pulled into an impromptu interview, with me on IRC and Chris on live Video. The mixed format was a bit awkward, but we managed to get it done.

My first question to Chris concerned the future of The Geek Group.

[Adam] Chris, what [is] your ultimate vision for the geek group

[Chris] My ultimate vision for the geek group is to build a non-profit hackerspace concept similar in structure to the girl scouts. I want to have a college style campus without all the extra structure. I mean every hackerspace has an electronics lab, we have an electronics lab. But I want to have a large-scale high voltage lab. a 20,000 square foot building specifically dedicated to high voltage. A 20,000 to 30,000 square foot building specifically dedicated to vehicular sciences. It’s infrastructure. It’s all about infrastructure.

Just to clear the air, I had to ask him the cult accusations, some of which may be traced back to this tongue in cheek video from 2009.

[Adam]  just for the record, are you running a cult?

[Chris]  As far as I know no. If we could run a cult I probably would. I’d want virgins and slaves though. One a more serious note, If I’m running a cult it’s the most disorganized, irreverent cult in the history of mankind because nobody does what I tell them. If we’re evading taxes than I’m the worst tax evader in history because I mail a check to them every month, and they know my address.

We then moved onto the subject which first brought me into the IRC, the fire in the high voltage laboratory.

[Adam] On the subject of the rotary spark gap that started this all. Hindsight is 20/20, but one screw? Did they back out over the years?

[Chris] None of the other screws were loose. We’d never had a problem with them working loose before and we’d run that gap for 10 or 15 years. We’d changed the electrodes a couple of times, but it’s never been a worry or a problem. It happened, it’s something we have to worry about in the future. We’re certainly going to change our rotor design. We chose to play with dangerous things. It’s high voltage physics. This s**t will kill you the moment you don’t respect it. We go as safe as we can, but we’re not gods, we f**k up. It’s really easy on shows like Mythbusters, where if they f**k up you’ll never see it. When we f**k up we show it. That’s why we made the video and said ‘Hey guys, we had a fire, we f**ked up’. It’s important to show people science is about making mistakes. Science is about  ‘hey we’re going to try this thing, and maybe it will work, or maybe we’ll f**k up real bad.’ But it happens. You say ‘ok that sucked lets not do that again. and you go on, and you do it better the next time’. The blog is a behind the scenes look, I try really hard to do the right thing, but some days we eat it.  We make screwups all the time, and we’re going to make a lot more.

[Adam] With the fire and knowing that high voltage is dangerous – how do you keep the public reasonably safe during demos?

[Chris] The first level of safety is the cage itself. We take the minimum safe distance for the cage and then multiply that by about three. The public never enters the cage when anything is armed. Operating any of the big systems like Gemini or Thumper requires a key. Every system has multiple redundant safety interlocks, so they can’t just spring to life. Each of these systems fails safe. The High voltage lab has its own grounding system separate from the building’s ground. 12 ground rods are interconnected with heavy gauge copper wire. Other systems include the fire extinguishers, the fireproof aspect of the room itself, the HVAC fire alarm and cutoff, and the emergency stop switch which kills all power to the room. Planned systems include the fire suppression system and an evacuation fan. When the fan is installed we’ll be able to change the entire atmosphere of the room in about a minute and a half. We make a lot of smoke in that room sometimes even when we’re not trying to burn the building down. The room is a workshop 90% of the time. 10% of the time it’s a showpiece. As such we have to have safety systems for both.

[Adam] Do you have manual lathes and mills? One thing I personally hate is seeing the machining skills of generations past dying off and being  lost as CNC comes in. CNC is great, don’t get me wrong. but it would be great to see some old timers passing skills to the next generation.

[Chris] We do have manual lathes and mills both in wood and metal. That is a big thing for us – it’s great to learn the CNC stuff, which we’re doing a video series on. But basic craftsmanship is a big part of what we do here.

[Adam] I’ve been in meetings, and sat at tables asking for donations. How the hell do you negotiate all those wonderful toys?

[Chris] I sit at a lot of those tables, that’s how I do it. 90% of my job does not appear in the blog. I sit at a lot of tables, and spend a lot of face time with people. I give hundreds of tours every month. It’s a nonstop thing, and it’s a lot of begging. It’s a lot of ‘no’s’. For every ‘yes’ you see on the videos there were five ‘no’s’ ahead of it. We hear a lot more ‘yes’ now because we have a lot more to offer. We’ve got a really solid reputation. A lot of people know who we are, and we’ve got a very powerful megaphone. People want to showcase their products on our channel. We know who we’re talking to we know what we’re asking for, we make sure it’s relevant. The real secret to it is perseverance. I have an amazing team of brilliant people who do a lot of research and make sure we waste as little time as possible. The IRC is a huge help here. Before I walk into a meeting I know who I’m talking to – they’re vetted, I know what they like, I know what they do, everything.

[Adam] You definitely have a great crew. Liz, Doogie, Batman, Kidwell, Are there any others we don’t get to see?

[Chris] There are a lot of people who you don’t really see on the blog. Vicky is almost never on the blog. Mum might have been in one blog. These people don’t want to be in the public eye because they see the hell that I catch, and they don’t want it. I don’t want them to suffer like that. There are a lot of people who exist very much behind the scenes, and this place wouldn’t’ work without them. I owe everything I am to these people. I am exceedingly grateful for everything that they do here. The people involved with this company, who know the truth who see what really goes on here day-to-day, are the most ardent supporters of it. The more people learn about the truth about who I really am, what I’m really like, The more they want to be a part of it. The more they want to support it. That tells me I’m doing something right.

The Geek Group IRC is also huge for us. The IRC, which only averages 100 or so people, donated over $74,000 USD last year. That’s amazing – these are not wealthy people. You should see the percentage of donations that come in at $5 or $20. $100 is a big donation to us. Yet we raised $74,000 just from the IRC. That’s staggering. Normal hackerspaces don’t’ work like this.  We’re the only hackerspace that has to file the IRS 990 long form. That’s how big we’ve grown, and we’ve done it fast.

[Adam] How many kVA are you planning for the next tesla coil?

[Chris] It’s really limited to the size of the room. If we keep the same room, it’s probably a maximum of 200kVA. If we rebuild the high voltage lab, we’d be looking at a 50 foot ceiling, so the power levels would go up significantly. I can tell you that the next totally separate Tesla coil project will be a big outdoor coil called project Zeus. Zeus will about 500kVA. You’ll be able to safely stand inside the top load while it is operating. I’ve already got the power supply sitting here ready to go.

So there you have it. At face value it seems that everything is on the up and up. No cults, no tax evasion. While I can’t be 100% sure of The Geek Group’s motivations without visiting in person, it does seem that they are providing a great resource to the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. When you play with large high voltage projects, the danger levels ramp up to incredible levels. History has proven that high voltage displays can be done safely for the public, from The Boston Museum of Science Van De Graaff Generator to ArcAttack, to The Geek Group themselves.

65 thoughts on “Adventures In Hackerspacing: An Interview With Chris Boden Of The Geek Group

  1. Like usual, Boden exhibits a general lack of wit; instead, replacing it almost entirely with a volatile mix of childish arrogance. This group needs a new figurehead.If their board of trustees can’t see that, I feel they may need to be shaken up as well.

    1. I need to step in and stomp down the comments right there.

      Chris’ personality in general rubs me the wrong way. I think he already knows that about himself and has come to terms with it.

      If you can get past the ego issues, what is going on with the geek group is worth hearing about. Much of it’s success can be leveraged for other hackerspaces. It’s failures can be learned from by all.

      Thanks to Adam for going out and getting this interview.

    2. The people who tend to run successful companies also tend to be very strong-willed stubborn motherfuckers. Chris is one of them. He may not be someone I would want as a friend, but he is someone I’d want running this show.

  2. My issue with The Geek Group is one of their track record. And, I’m most fearful of that track record now, given the magnitude of the donations they are currently receiving. I fear there are going to leave a lot of people disappointed if things go wrong.

    I guess my primary complaints are twofold:

    1) The group is not self sufficient and doesn’t seem to make a serious attempt at becoming self sufficient. Chris drones on and on about how much he hates soliciting members of the group for cash donations. But, there’s almost _always_ some kind of “emergency” money that’s needed; be it for a gas bill, or a water bill, or what have you. Secondarily, the group also re-appropriates funds at their leisure. When you donate, there’s typically an action that the money is destined for. But occasionally, that action is never carried out. Where does the money go? This is an area where I feel the group is really lacking professionalism and accountability. As far as I know, the record keeping in terms of expenditures, where funds have been accrued via donation, is incredibly loose. To me, that’s a serious caution.

    2) Why is it that so many people have bad things to say to the group? Why is it that there is a reasonably high turn over associated with The Geek Group, and the majority of those who have left end up with a negative opinion of the group? The reality is that Chris rules with an iron fist, and he has a small group of followers that will follow him to war. The problem is that he’s no “captain”, and his judgements are often impulsive, paranoid, elitist and rife with error. It’s a dangerous combination. Chris will form an opinion, whether it’s justified or not, and many members of the group will just plod along behind him in support. Those who disagree typically don’t expose their true feelings. I’ve witnessed him turn on an individual, attempt to ruin them, garner support from his small group of followers, and in the end, the entire thing was a paranoid misunderstanding.

    I’m not here to reign judgement. But, I do want to expose some of the facts as to why so many people have such a volatile opinion about the group and its history. Form your own opinion. Just, be warned.

    1. ” doesn’t seem to make a serious attempt at becoming self sufficient”

      [citation needed]

      Do not mistake my reluctance to open the facility to the public for a lack of desire to establish self sufficiency for the corporation. We waited to long so as to ensure that the facility (and staffing requirements) would be able to handle the influx. I would rather wait (which is expensive to do) than open the doors and not have people able to do as much as they’d like. It wasn’t that long ago when we started on the lab, and to begin with, we had no heat, water, power, etc. We’re back into Remodel mode at the moment, cleaning up the mess and making final tweaks before we open again. I expect we’ll be opening within a week, though at a reduced capacity. We have always been open to Members.

      “Chris drones on and on about how much he hates soliciting members of the group for cash donations.”

      Yes, I do. I hate fundraising. I suck at it and it’s one of the least fun parts of my job.

      “But, there’s almost _always_ some kind of “emergency” money that’s needed; be it for a gas bill, or a water bill, or what have you.”

      Yes, there is. Such is true in just about any business, at almost any scale. One of the “perks” of management is dealing with all manner of crisis. Some are real (lab’s on fire, critcal staff is sick on the day of a video shoot, vandals smashed out the window on the company trucks, pipes froze in the night, etc) some are stupid, like wasting my time trying to bring logic and reason to a HaD comment stream.

      “the group also re-appropriates funds at their leisure.”

      [citation needed]

      A significant amount of donated funds are locked to specific tasks and we actually have no say at all about how they get applied. Some funding is discretionary and management (sometimes myself, though not nearly as often as you may think) performs fiduciary triage to sort out prioritization of outgoing funds.

      ” When you donate, there’s typically an action that the money is destined for. But occasionally, that action is never carried out. Where does the money go?”

      On the very rare occasion that has ever happened (I think we have crashed out perhaps 2, ever, fundraisers, both in the IRC) the funding was recycled into the next fundraiser. I remember this happening with the one for the exhaust vent in the VSL because a crisis happened that had a higher priority.

      We never did get that exhaust fan.

      “This is an area where I feel the group is really lacking professionalism and accountability. As far as I know, the record keeping in terms of expenditures, where funds have been accrued via donation, is incredibly loose. To me, that’s a serious caution.”

      [citation needed]

      Please demonstrate to me another hackerspace that is more transparent and forthcoming with accountability than The Geek Group. We file the long-form 990 (which details all manner of things), we do our fundraisers live broadcast worldwide in front of everyone, friends and enemies alike. We let our userbase choose what cameras are on the livestream on their own (subjecting the entire facility to a Big Brother atmosphere). Half the staff maintain their own personal blogs (over which I have zero editing or oversight), and as a 501(c)(3) non profit all of our data is open book for the world to review.

      Now, given the plethora of information available to the public about the Group, I’m sure you’ve of course taken the time to actually check all of that before posting offhand comments in a public forum. You’ve of course bothered to do your own independent research and check facts before you spoke, of course.

      Our annual report for 2013 (how many other nonprofit hackerspaces publish an annual report?) will be published within a week. If, that is, you can be bothered to read it. 2012’s is available on our website.

      “Why is it that so many people have bad things to say to the group?”

      1. Because there is a small collection of very vocal, rather butthurt people who have an axe to grind. Our supporters outnumber our detractors by several orders of magnitude. However, despite my cultleader status, I do not force (or even encourage) them to rush to our defense. I have told people they may post what they like, where they like, and are in no way obligated to do so. For the staff, I tend to actually discourage it, because most of us tend to think that you guys are a waste of our time.

      2. Because I can be a bit of an asshole. This is no secret.

      ” Why is it that there is a reasonably high turn over associated with The Geek Group, and the majority of those who have left end up with a negative opinion of the group?”

      Because typically, when you’re kicked out of a social group, you tend to be rather upset about it, and hold negative feelings towards that group. Ask people who have been fired from their job how many of them are friends with their old boss.

      As far as turnover, are you aware of how many people have been active members in the Group for 5 years? 10? 15?

      “The reality is that Chris rules with an iron fist, and he has a small group of followers that will follow him to war. The problem is that he’s no “captain”, and his judgements are often impulsive, paranoid, elitist and rife with error. It’s a dangerous combination. Chris will form an opinion, whether it’s justified or not, and many members of the group will just plod along behind him in support. Those who disagree typically don’t expose their true feelings.”

      *snork* I’m sorry, if I keep reading that I’m going to piss myself laughing.

      I’m going to eat lunch with my iron fist of ruling…….and you really should come meet some of the staff and see how reserved they are about disagreeing with me.

      Have fun kids, enjoy your flames and trolls. I may wander back in here if we get a moment.

      Chris “It’s not paranoia when they actually are out to get you” Boden

      1. I”ve been a proud member of the group for over 7 years. 4+ of them active in the lab. I enjoy a level of freedom and even some fame from years of dedication. I don’t go to the lab and break myself building and making awesome because of Boden, or because he’s asked me to. He’s a nice enough guy (when you get to know him) but yeah, his extremes are more than most people can bear. I go and do what i do because of the guests to the building, the people there learning and the fact that I have the ability to teach something. Most of the time i smile and nod and go back to what i was doing, when Boden presses his big red button of “Everybody get in here”. Most of the time thats perfectly fine cause i don’t require microsupervision, and i’m already working on a high priority task. Sadly I got a new job now and therefore don’t get up there as much as i would like, which is why you probably don’t see me much in commentary about the group.

        I’ve volunteered thousands of hours with this group, and trust them with my safety explicitly. I always check my own safety harness, of course, but these folks are the smartest and friendliest of the STEM community, and they deserve my respect, because they’ve earned it. Almost every single one of them i’d trust to watch my back in a dangerous situation, and the ones i don’t trust its because they’re new and I’ve not met them personally yet.

        You make a lot of comments, OP, that are completely based in hearsay and frankly, bullshit.

        “Why is it that so many people have bad things to say to the group?”

        because people parrot what is the most sensationalist, and successfully hosting a couple dozen boyscouts and teaching them science every other weekend isn’t nearly as exciting as a group of people destroying their favorite toy in the most spectacular way possible.

        Let me close with this – you have no idea what you’re missing out on if you’ve never been there. My hugest regret is not having been able to drag my parents up to see gemini before it burned, mom’s barely recovering from cancer, and frankly the replacement project won’t likely spark and arc before she’s gone. I only need to know my mom’s pride in me regarding what i’ve done by giving away my time energy blood sweat and tears to help bring science to others makes it worth it. Boden has nothing to do with that. He gave me a big playpen to play in, and i took him up on that. Occasionally that means you gotta pay it back or pay if forward. You should be so lucky.

        ~~Dan “Maglinvinn” Eakin

        1. “He’s a nice enough guy (when you get to know him) but yeah, his extremes are more than most people can bear”

          It’s the hallmark of a sociopath that they’re only nice when it benefits them.

          All this apologizing sounds like classic abuser apologizing. “He’s a nice guy most of the time, except when he beats me…”

          I see this all the time in clubs and groups – a leader whom people feel it necessary to apologize for or make excuses for. That’s not a positive sign.

          1. who said i was apologizing for him? He is what he is, and its perfectly good by me. Some people have pretty thin skins and they can’t put up with him when their every little whim isn’t instantly resolved. That ain’t my fault, or my problem.

            To my recollection, he’s never beat me. He has told me i’m ‘better’ and can ‘do better’, and if thats some sort of criminalistic behavior, we need to arrest every teacher and drill instructor in the states. Just because you don’t settle for good enough doesn’t mean you’re a tyrant.

            And your last comment, you’re really basing that on a bunch of bs and statements taken out of context, and its statements like those (for the others playing along, asking where’s all this hate coming from) that create this bad image that has absolutely no grounds in reality. I can’t stop you, obviously, but i can point out what a moron you are and discredit you.

        2. I just stumbled upon this group yesterday. Watching the first video blog (building the studio) had me scratching my head and wondering a lot. My first thought was, who are these people? The next (behind the scenes) explained all, and I was thinking, wow, what a awesome group of people. Chris reminds me of a guy I use to work for, and am still friends with, even though my parting was very ugly. He was known as Captain Showbiz. I watched as Chris showed kids the magic of science and said wow, how cool is that… He is awesome with kids. (maybe he is a kid in disguise) Obviously the kids loved it all. The internet is a great tool, but it is also Pandora’s Box, filled with things that should never see the light of day, or the dark of night. The one lesson I have learned in almost 70 years on this planet is that you don’t judge unless you’ve ACTUALLY have walked in the other person’s shoes. Dan, I am sorry to hear about your Mom. I lost my wife to cancer and was her caregiver. Its a tough road. I was at her side when she passed away, and we had 37+ years of living together. My own Mom had and survived cancer even when the doctors had given up all hope. Its a ugly disease that knows no bounds, whatsoever. Anyway, that’s my $2.50..
          Take care and keep on rockin’

          1. “*cough, hack, wheeze* My argument is also fallacious and lacking real quantitative evidence (that isn’t also anecdotal) that I’m still gonna call hard evidence so I’m gonna clear my throat like I’m important enough to take seriously. *choke*”

      2. Here we go again, Chris how old is this noise?

        I joined the Group in 1999, 15 years ago this fall. The Group’s primary mission has been education. I used to tell people I worked for a non-profit research and experimentation facility for high voltage education. That always got a look. Then I would ask them who invented electricity, most say Edison and remind me why what the group strives for is so important. Education. Bringing to the public knowledge and resources that should be public in the first place. This is not a cult. Chris is not the “leader” he’s member 0; someone had to be first and when others said he was crazy and it couldn’t be done he continued on. Does that make him crazy? That depends on your perception I suppose. What The Geek Group really is doing is causing a paradigm shift in the way we look at education. There was a time when we thought the world was flat, there was a time when we thought the sun revolved around the earth, and there will be a time when pushing information to students becomes a thing of the past. The Geek Group is a pull environment. All the tools and resources to learn are there and publicly accessible and the staff only function to maintain the lab and facilitate education. No one is going to set you down with a textbook at a desk and conduct testing. At the same time the facility continues to push the envelop of what has been done through experimentation, all while operating solely on donations. It’s a truly staggering feat and regardless of what you may or may not think of Chris, the group doesn’t revolve around him either. I am now a part of the computer lab’s staff. At the moment I am working to move the surplus donations that the group has received — and there is A LOT of surplus — but Chris hasn’t come into the lab since I came on board as staff. We had one conversation when I started about what he would like to see the computer lab become and then he shut up and walked away. The same can be said about the other areas of the Leonard street labs. There are whole days where Chris is only seen on the LS even to members of the staff — a cult leader indeed. Here’s a thought to all the “haters” or “naysayers”, if you think the group is being ran poorly or unsafely, come to the labs and teach us the right way, otherwise all your comments are doing is building our membership base, either way, no one listens to empty criticism when they can see with their own eyes on the Live Stream and IRC.

        1. I can attest to the increase in members, certainly in the IRC, we used to have on average about 110 in there for months, since the fire that number is more like 130-150, the new members are mostly active, not just lurking.
          I’m sure that TGG also have more subscribers on their youtube channel, and on the captain’s blog videos.

      3. “some are stupid, like wasting my time trying to bring logic and reason to a HaD comment stream.”

        You are a braver man than I for trying to do this. Some might call it a foolish venture.

  3. Is it funny that because of this whole thing with the fire happening kinda got me to join the geek group’s website? o.o
    I can’t go there personally since i don’t have the money at all, but at least I did join. :3
    Now what should I do with this is what I’m wondering >.<

    1. You should join the IRC if you haven’t had a chance yet ( if you don’t have an IRC client or if you do). Most of the activity is there at the moment. The webpage is currently being worked on, the forums just came back online after a redesign iirc.

  4. Is it funny that because of this whole thing with the fire happening kinda got me to join the geek group’s website? o.o
    I can’t go there personally since i don’t have the money at all, but at least I did join. :3
    Now what should I do with this is what I’m wondering >..>)

  5. Chris, although I do admire your drive to sort things out. I feel the best use of your time is looking after your facility and it’s members.
    Rude things will always be posted online, and it’s a full-time job finding and correcting them all. Take it with a grain of salt, people say some stupid things because they can hide behind a keyboard.

    In the meantime, I admire what you’ve done, and hope that more people can take the time to help others learn.

    fyi, If a cult could teach me all sorts of tech elitism I would join in a heartbeat! Our race thrives on information and learning keep up the amazing work.

  6. Does anyone else find it really difficult to form an opinion on geek group? Information online about them is so polarised.

    Its nice that HAD are fairly neural. Adam does make seem to offer them as ‘probably good’ and Chris’ genuine-seeming replies do help to sway that way. But it is difficult to ignore the large amount of hate about.

    1. a lot of that hate is just echos of butthurts through the ages. I mean, we had this one guy, who i helped call out for his shenanigans, posting about violating canadian gun law and associating the geek group in his posts. His exit was less than smooth, and he still pops up on occasion causing greif. Granted, he was screwed when he started asking group members questions on how to stalk his flings online, but he was a real peice of work. Sadly, no job, bored outta his mind, and now he’s got a crusade against the group. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was trolling it up in the comments on the other HaD posts even.

      I don’t know if you can make it up to the lab, but thats really the best way to get information straight from the source. IRC is pretty much the backup for remote members, though there’s slowly new chapters getting momentum and probably starting up within a year or two.

        1. Some of us have experienced a few dozen really hard life lessons in justifiable paranoia. It comes with living life on camera, in public, and making people think for a living. Not to mention, Dan spends a lot of time standing next to me, and he’s a lot easier to hit. ;)

          1. i do make a considerable sized target. i think i’m going to start a new rumor that you geneticaly alter your members and i was your first success involving a gorilla. mwuhahah. too late now, its on the internet.

            besides, this isn’t theory. There’s a few ex members who proudly and vocally go out of their way to troll and bash, even here on HaD. Its not paranoia when they’re actually out to get you :P I don’t know they’re names because they’re scum and i don’t have time for them, but a quick look on the other HaD posts and you’ll figure it out pretty quick.

    2. The more “Captain’s Blog”s I watch, the more I enjoy the group and find I can tolerate/enjoy Chris’ outbursts. This group reminds me of the people I hung out with in college, so there’s that. And the whole thing is built with a mission–inspiration through cool shit! Who can’t get behind that? I sure want to get out there one of these weekends to check it out. Won’t be for awhile, but eventually it will happen.

  7. In Chris’s defense, I’ve yet to meet a person with the drive to create any kind of group who isn’t a bit of an egotist and/or a**hole. It kind of goes with the territory. I’ve been following the Geek Group for many years as a lurker (creepy, I know), so I have seen some of the ups and downs. I was involved in a similar enterprise until recently and we crashed and burned over issues much less grave then some that the Geek Group has encountered. One of these days I’ll take some time and visit, I’m only a couple of hours from Grand Rapids. Keep up the good work.

    1. profit? Chris doesn’t even have a home. He is redirecting the funds for his house to helping build housing solutions for the staff so they can be closer to the lab and help more.

      if crashing on someones couch is ‘where its at today’ its pretty hipster cause this is the first i’ve heard about it.

      1. Oh, and… Chris had a home, staff built it for him above the cafe, with a false-wall to hide his bed behind, and ran power without a license, and plumbed in a kitchen sink, shower (we won’t talk about the cameras so he could tape volunteers who showered up there) and toilet (no license for the plumbing).

  8. You know, reading some of the naysayer comments in this thread I realize the prime reason we don’t see regional versions of a place like the Geek Group is because of those very naysayers. They’re of the same ilk as the not in my back yard idiots.

    Me, if I ever do get some dough I want to give the group a sizable donation. I love what they do – I’ve followed the on YouTube for some time. And I’ve learned a hell of a lot just watching their videos.

  9. If you’re unsure, come join us in IRC. You’ll find out real quick that this really isn’t all about Chris.

    we have a HUGE eclectic collection of people that come and hang out and make a rich resource for nearly any project.

    Want to know how to change the fuel ratio on you car? we have people that know.

    Want to know what MOSFETs you should use for that motor controller your building? we have experts.

    want to know how to program a bar code scanner? we can help with that as well.

    Want to know how to make a bomb, or talk about illegal stuff? we’ll kick-ban your 4$$ so fast, your NIC might start smoking.

    we are GEEKS AND HACKERS, first and foremost. Hell, most of us agree that Chris is an asshole. I’m an asshole too.

    Something to keep in mind, though, is that every large successful company out there has someone in charge that a LOT of people think is an asshole. Assholes get shit DONE.

    If you think that you can do a better job, quit bitching about Chris and open our own hacker space. If you need advice, come to the Geek Group IRC and we’ll be more than happy to help you find what you need to know.

    I’m confident in saying that even Chris will happily give you all the good advice he can, so that you can open up your own hacker space, as long as you’re doing it honestly and with the goal of at least making a part of the world better.

    If all you want, is to make hateful comments and unfounded accusations, maybe you can get a job at the Weekly Star, I hear that BatBoy might need a new publicist.

    I am Obliterous. I am an IRC moderator for the Geek Group, as well as a member. I am a network engineer by trade, and a Geek Of All Trades by preference.

    I invite ANYONE that is willing to be non disruptive and non hateful to join us in the IRC.

          1. but that’s the point isn’t it?
            common sense doesn’t prevail, you say that you won’t teach something illegal, which is the rather “typical American” view “we own the internet” what’s legal here isn’t legal in other places, and the same is true visa versa.

            home brew was an interesting idea, since (despite what’s said above) even UK law isn’t quite as simple as nobody under 18 can drink, it’s actually only true that nobody under six can ingest alcohol without the supervision of a doctor, after that there is a sliding scale of privileges regarding what can and can’t be done, but it’s “basically true” that what happens in your home with parents consent is your business.

            I.e it’s perfectly legal to home brew and drink beer at home when you’re seven, if a child’s parents support them in this endeavour (whether you think it’s worthy or not) then why shouldn’t they come to a place that claims to be educational, teach people to make with what they’ve got etc to get advise?

            Having established that in the UK at least home brewing is perfectly legal (and likely in America too) it comes down to the question of what laws you follow. -not common sense.

            It’s perfectly legal to build all kinds of munitions in certain countries and not in others, hence why your answer about common sense, makes no sense. common sense is based in certain morals and teachings that are based in law.

            On the other hand Sparkys answer makes perfect sense -we’re registered here and we’ll be following the laws dictated here.

            which leads to the answer to my question.
            no, we won’t help someone make a bomb where it may be perfectly legal in their country, (because it’s not in Michigan)
            Yes, we will give advise that leads to a guy in Saudi Arabia breaking the law because that’s what is legal here.

          2. Apart from being one of the remote staff based in the UK, i also volunteer (Gmod) on a forum providers support forum, the servers are in Texas, the registered HQ is in California, so the rules are based on California law, and as such (although not officially posted (yet), we would be basing our decisions on Michigan law, and would hope that members in other states and countries would appreciate that.
            as for the alcohol brewing, remember that many of the members are under the legal age limit for that sort of thing, so if someone asks, we may prefer that links are posted to other sources at most.

  10. I’m only fairly new to The Geek Group and I joined because I believe in what TGG is all about. There are people out there with an axe to grind, as I’m sure there are some that feel the same way about just about any other hacker space out there. My suggestion would be, “If you feel you can do better than the said group, then go out and try.” If you fuck up then get up, dust yourself off and try to learn from it. Yes, Chris Boden can be a bit intense for some people, but that is only showing his true passion for what he has helped to create! All this Boden bashing really seems to me to be quite childish.

  11. I first came across The Geek Group, as many others do, via Youtube. In my case, they got buried amongst my other subscriptions. A year or so later after coming across them, they popped back up, so I set up Youtube to email me of new videos, watching the videos made me want to become a (paying online) member, but at the time I didn’t have extra money to spare.
    Sometime afterwards, I found about the IRC, so I joined in. Not long after that I became an online member and I’ve been a part of some of the fundraisers
    (like the autopsy table for the equipment autopsy set, that’s one that comes to mind).
    I’ve been a part of the Geek Group’s IRC for about a year or so, and I love it, it’s one of the most accepting and helpful groups I’ve been a part of. While there are some “slow” times in the IRC, due to timezones, considering there are folks from all over the world there, there is usually at least a few folks on talking about something.

    One of the aspects I like the most about TGG and the IRC is how helpful they can be, on nearly anything. Normally when you think of “Geek” you think “computer” or “electronics”, but there are also folks that do machining, others that do automotive work (or various types)…There are artists,musicians,animators… and so many other fields that are part of TGG and the folks in the IRC, and they are always willing to help.
    As for being /there/ at the lab, I’d go there in a heartbeat if I could, not only to help (esp. now),but also to work on many projects – the access to materials,tools, and knowledge is profound there, and while there are some “areas” I’d love to see happen (like the more “traditional” metalworking, blacksmithing, casting,etc) I’d still have plenty of stuff to work on!
    I’m proud to be part of TGG, and I enjoy helping others in the IRC as best as I can.

    ~ Bre. A. (21,Delaware,US [TGG IRC Nick: BrefelanS])

  12. “Assholes get shit DONE”. in reading all the discontent I was wondering if something in that vein was in play. Not so much one has to be an asshole to get anything done, than it is that the person getting things done can’t even please most, most of the time, thereby leaving a lot of butt hurt people in their wake who will judge that person getting things done an asshole. Unclear if Boden’s critics in Hackaday’s comment are in one way another contibuting memberd of the geek group. In the event they aren’t they probably should STFU. Nothing is no more deadly to any group are members or non-members grousing amongst them selves rather becoming actively involved to make the changes they demand others make.

    1. Hack a day is a site about hacks.

      The last three “stories” about the geek group have certainly not been hacks, we’ve heard how stuff caught fire, how they are cleaning up and now some sort of half arsed interview somehow to clear the air.

      The truth is that when you invite publicity you invite a critical eye also.
      The geek group are very good at inviting publicity.
      They appear to be monumentally bad at taking any kind of criticism.

      A big part of the criticism is going to be due to the leadership, if it walks talks and quacks like a duck, you’ll call it a duck, if Chris walks talks and acts like some sort of megalomaniac cunt on camera for everyone to see, then that’s pretty much the opinion that people will get of him.
      (Personally I don’t have a really strong opinion of him, I can see he’s a good business man, but I can’t see him as a good figurehead)

      Then you get issues like the “cause if the fire” we hear that electrodes are loose and come out, then we hear they are not loose, which I guess in a strange way is a bit comforting and shows that the group is a group of individuals not just a bunch of instructed talking heads.

      There is still the issue of criticism, all comments before of why didn’t you do this, why didn’t you have this etc were all shot down with some sort of holier than thou attitude, as if everyone here is ten and living in their parents basement and couldn’t possibly know as much as anyone there.
      (When you treat people like idiots they do tend to kick back)

      But the biggest thing for most probably has to be “the myth busters problem.”.
      Running around doing half arsed poorly thought out miss understood experiments is not science, not matter how many times you say it is.
      It’s fun, it’s entertainment. Maybe mildly educational, but that’s so very far in the back seat so as to be almost forgotten!

      It teaches as much about science as being a Cub Scout teaches about camping (you know when you’re six and the tents are set up for you, the campfires are lit for you, meals are cooked for you. What did you actually “learn”)

      But I get it, I really do, science, proper in depth science. Is boring and complicated. It doesn’t suit well to being lectured in videos, it doesn’t appear on myth busters, and by the sounds of things won’t be appearing on the geek group any time soon either.

      That’s ok though.
      My comment isn’t so much a criticism of the geek group, but a rationalisation of previous criticisms….

        1. funnily enough I didn’t suggest that Hack a day should not have published these posts, nor that they should take them down.

          I said that they are not hacks, – that is justifiably true.

          whether or not hack a day post “not a hack” posts or not is strictly an editorial decision, and I personally believe that the site is often enhanced by opinion pieces and interviews.

          however that doesn’t preclude that there is at the end of every article an invitation to comment.

          I never said that there shouldn’t be not hacks, or that the posts should be taken down that was all you, stupidly trying to put words into peoples mouths.

          1. Eakin, just walk away man. Breathe, and walk away. This is sport for him. It’s his cheap entertainment, there is no win. You’re battling with someone who has a PhD in being a smartass and there is no point to it at all. Just walk away secure in the knowledge that the odds are pretty safe you’re not the only one he makes feel like this (he’s annoying me too) and that eventually someone is going to punch him in the face for it.

            We’re here because we do this for a living, we’re standing up to defend our life’s work. He’s here to be an ass, and anyone with that level of dedication and freetime is probably living in his parents basement with a lifetime of having to pay for sex ahead of them.

            He has nothing to offer you, and he can’t cost you anything. There is no point, it’s just sport.

            Stop feeding the troll, and remember the fundamental rule.

            Pick battles big enough to matter, and small enough to win.

            Good evening gentlemen.

          2. true…

            you should never argue with an idiot, they’ll drag you down to their level and beat you with their experience.

            or arguing on the internet is like running in the special olympics.

            but you sir just proved the point.
            you’re not open to suggestion and you’ll shout down anyone and anything that speaks against you.

            This is your living after all.

            (I hope you’re paying hackay day for all the free advertisement for your business.)

            like PCF11 said whilst being tongue in cheek, non profit is where all the money is!

            Funnily enough, what I was saying was meant to be constructive, it you and your cronies who start calling people idiots and asking if they accidentally joined the girl scouts.

            and I thought the whole nicey nicey comments policy was meant to be in force after the last geek group article.

      1. It teaches as much about science as being a Cub Scout teaches about camping (you know when you’re six and the tents are set up for you, the campfires are lit for you, meals are cooked for you. What did you actually “learn”)

        what scout troop were you a part of? i hope you didn’t land in a girlscout troop by accident. I had to earn my totenchit to even be able to carry a knife to camp, and i was most certainly lighting my own campfires. my own father told me “cold cereal or warm food, its up to you, here’s the tools”

        The videos i’ve been in with paul, and most of the ones i’ve done with chris were strictly educational. You’re making generalizations again without actually knowing.

        1. frankly I’ll call you out right now as a liar.

          I don’t care what scout troop or organisation you were in at six years old.

          a six year old doesn’t have the upper body strength to erect a canvas ridge tent, and no professionally run organisation gives a six year old a box of matches and tells them to get on with it.

          yes, by the time you’re ten in the scouts you’re carrying equipment and putting up tents, finding wood, lighting fires and cooking food. but for the six year old and their version of scouts (called beaver scouts in the UK) the time spent with the group is more about playing games and learning team building through games.

          i.e it teaches you very little about camping, other than that’s something that you do in a tent.

          whether or not your dad took you out in the woods is entirely an aside from an arguments about an organised scouting movement. what you did in scouts at an age over six is also irrelevant.

          Of course you can try to twist words, throw in a few personal insults, and look like a bit of a fool whilst doing it. -then you can respond to this saying how you’re sick and tired of all the insults to the geek group, and say how people should get thicker skins, whilst having a tantrum and calling people names?

          As for the next comment, it’s half one am here, I’ll watch the videos tomorrow.

          what I am saying to you is this:

          Please don’t take my comments out of context, as I said at the end of the last comment I made, I was trying to surmise thoughts in a friendly fashion, perhaps explain why it is that a lot of people who likely have been professionally taught look at some videos that are released and take offence to the thought that you;re “teaching science” as I said it’s just the same as the vocal opposition of the mythbusters TV show. because a lot of times it doesn’t come across as teaching, and it doesn’t come across as science and well I’m the kind of person that likes to call a spade a spade -as are many others.

          So far as teaching people goes, personally I do not think it’s possible to properly teach in depth principals through the medium of video alone, and therefore my suggestion of improvements would be to have transcriptions of the videos as text articles that people could refer to, with the theory properly explained diagrams, links to other work etc… text book fashion.
          I’ve looked on the Geek group website, the best video I could find to explain the creation of a tesla coil was this one:

          but there isn’t really much to see in the video, it’s shot like it was a public display video for some sort of secret tech, there is no design released for the spark gap, no details on the transformer. no details about the materials and grades of materials.

          Sure you inspired awe in a kid, but what did he learn, -that it was possible to make lightning? did he learn how the coils were built? anything about the theory behind it?
          Did he want to or would he have just yawned and left if you’d tried…? -do you understand what I mean about the difference between education and entertainment?

          So far as inspiring people with awe. my projects tend to be very much smaller scale,
          however, everyone who has seen my speaker builds is generally very impressed at the sound quality, (though that is subjective) I have inspired and mentored people through the design and construction process of speaker cabinet builds.
          I only write on a blog, (hosted on blogger) but I can say that one of the articles I wrote has been used as teaching material inside a university… (i’m not sure you can say that anything like that has happened with geek group generated material?)
          but further to that I know that means precisely bugger all.
          I write a blog to try to make electronics accessible and understandable because electronics is my passion and I believe that too few people are interested in it. additionally I wanted a way to spend spare time in a way that I thought was useful. I know that not many people read my blog, (it’s very apparent when you’re confronted with the stats page every time you log in)
          I haven’t asked for or wanted donations for what I’m doing though, the video that you showed was an advert, asking for cash.

          In spite of all the comments saying “if you don’t like it join and change it” I’m still unsure how it is that I can join and improve a hacker space that thousands of miles away.

          1. Apparently I also was in a horrible cub scout troop and my father was a lousy parent. During my childhood, you could buy the ingredients for minor explosives at the corner drug store, start fires with flint and steel, and own a rifle by the time you could ride a bicycle.

      2. I had a couple minutes to rub together so i built this list for you. Its personal highlights from the last two years, with the finale being why i’m a member and donate myself to the cause. hacking a peice of wood into a peice of art. hacking clothing hacking sand with a set of hacked powersupplies that require more power than the average household. hacking antique game system to be operational with modern tech zomg not a hack! HaD will delete this comment. anyways, purely educational video on the physics of casters (of all things). cause you know, the geek group doesn’t do education. educational video on voltage doublers/triplers. please note, i happen to know for a fact that the parts of that tripler were hacked off of other circuit boards. Cause, you know, i actually own that tripler. Its part of my tesla coil. audio visual educational. quite nifty. maybe nto a hack? *shrugs*

        and the peice that single handly makes all of this worth it. no seriously, watch it.

        at 40 seconds. when was the last time you inspired that much awe in someone? This happened every other weekend at a minimum. Now you know why loosing those coils hurts some of us like it does.

        I dare you to inspire someone like that. Take a video while you do it. Put your reputation on the line. Give up your house and life to keep the inspiration running for more than one person. And when it fails, have the nuts to stand up and say “Yup. now time to make it better”.

        in the interim, maybe you should pass a little less judgement on those who are sacrificing their efforts.

        You know what we did in that last video? We hacked mediocrity right out of that kids brain. But no. You’re right. HaD should delete this content.

      3. “The truth is that when you invite publicity you invite a critical eye also.
        The geek group are very good at inviting publicity.
        They appear to be monumentally bad at taking any kind of criticism.”

        Chris has publicly said, he doesn’t mind criticism, but it should be constructive,
        If TGG are doing it wrong, tell them WHY they are doing it wrong, AND tell them how to do it right, even better, join us and tell us how you would make it better,
        But remember one thing, TGG is not a multi-million $ corporation, so there needs to be a way to fund improvements that need money, and you need to factor that into your proposal for improvements.
        TGG have been improving on a daily basis, memberships and massive help from the members in IRC, many are still at school or in low paid jobs, but they still make a difference.

          1. That one actually has a shred of truth to it, though you’re obviously misinformed.

            I regularly encourage people on tours, at live events, etc (most people I meet) to check out both spaces and make their own decision as to which one they would rather join. I EMPHATICALLY encourage people to make their own decision. Typically, I don’t push people to pick either one, as both spaces cater to a very different type of crowd. There have been several times when I’ve actually encouraged people to join the competition because their personality or needs would better fit that group than ours.

            However, because GRM was created in the way it was, by the people it was, and is direct competition to The Geek Group, I do not allow people to be members of both simultaneously. It creates too many conflicts of interest and security issues and it’s not worth the hassle. You are welcome to be a member there, you’re welcome to be a member here, but you have to pick a side, you can’t do both.

            I’m an American, I’m a Capitalist, and I believe in a healthy level of competition among business. I see nothing wrong with this system at all. Some people do, and get a little butthurt. I’m ok with this, those are the people we don’t want as members anyways. ;)

            I’m in business to change the world and empower as many people as I possibly can with the ability to explore, to create, and to learn. I am not in business to make everyone happy and win popularity contests. I have found over the years that trying to do that is actually quite detrimental to the goals of the company. Sometimes to have to just accept that some people are going to get upset regardless of what you choose, and make the best decision you can. I don’t always make the best decision, but I have a strong Board, and an incredible Staff, and together we certainly win more than we lose.

          2. “However, because GRM was created in the way it was, by the people it was, and is direct competition to The Geek Group, I do not allow people to be members of both simultaneously. It creates too many conflicts of interest and security issues and it’s not worth the hassle. You are welcome to be a member there, you’re welcome to be a member here, but you have to pick a side, you can’t do both.”

            Why should this matter? You started out your post saying it was a stretch of the truth but it’s exactly what the poster was implying, just rephrased.

            Oh and from your IRC….


            You make people sign non-disclosure and want to make them sign non-compete agreements. That doesn’t read at all like a person who honestly doesn’t care if a person goes to participate/work at another space, but to precisely prevent them from going elsewhere, far beyond an NDA. The only security issues I see are your own insecurity issues. Seems like you declared that you’re in competition with every hackerspace on the planet and all your staff are going to quit and crush you. If anyone is paranoid, it’s you.

            And if your statements weren’t hilariously contradictory enough already…..


            This guy asks why people left for GR makers and when you say they “washed out” of The Geek Group, he asks if they were “dangerous or unsafe”. HA!

            Then you claim you’re “a lot more inclusive than they are”… Yet, your own statement above:

            “There have been several times when I’ve actually encouraged people to join the competition because their personality or needs would better fit that group than ours.”

            Why would you do that if you really wanted them around? What makes a person a better fit if you claim to be “more inclusive than they are” when you claim to tell people to go there if they’re a better fit?

          3. I’d write a long and detailed reply, but any intelligent reader has already noticed the obvious.

            You’ve just proven my point for me.

            And they wonder why I’m a touch paranoid.

            Thank you, and good night.

          4. You know the old saying, “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about.” If you claim transparency, you’ll get plenty of assistance being transparent from those who know of your current and past activities. Sweet dreams.

          5. All kinds of organisations have non-compete type arrangements.

            When I was younger I used to play in brass bands, when you enter national competitions You get registration cards that tie you to one organised group.
            When you play organised five aside at a weekend, you sign up to one team.

            The reason is obvious, when you end up competing you, your team managers and your team mates need to know that your loyalties and priorities are fixed… they need to know that you’re committed to them, and not sharing tactics or skills with the competition.

            I’ll agree that sounds like it sits a little oddly with an educational establishment, (i.e you should be able to learn from any place you like.)
            But the trouble is that hack spaces often enter competitions, be it summer of code type affairs, top coder, hack-a-thons (like the redbull sponsored one) etc. Hacker spaces are also known to spawn for profit companies, (like maker bot growing out of NYC resistor.)

            Non-compete and NDA on hacker spaces seems extreme, but the reasons are fairly obvious and seen all over the place in just about every other walk of life…

          6. @Pfffffft Think of the NDA like this.
            You are working on a project of your own in TGG, this happens often, members may even seek help of others where your skills may not be enough, it’s something you don’t want the world to know about until you officially release it, but another member sees what you are doing, and spreads the word, you would hot be happy.
            You see, the NDA protects you as a member too.

  13. Re. IRC, I will say that they are a bunch of very helpful, intelligent people who are willing to share their knowledge and experience.

    As for the naysayers, lets see any of them scratch build a TC or induction heater using salvaged parts sometime, and have it working.

  14. A long ago ED from 2008 who still grudges spreads rumors and signs on as different people even today to make trouble or harm the group. This is an awesome program and we need more non traditional leaning and this person wanted to be Boden. TGG is simply dedicated people with all personalities and listening to a man who was forced out as he still is rubbed raw is a waste of time. Good Luck to The Geek Group.

  15. Oh, and, it was a grub screw on the sparkgap that rattled loose (because the thing was never maintained) that caused an electrode to rattle loose in the disc and strike a stationary one and launch white-hot tungsten into the capacitor arrays.
    I was in the office working on donation receipts at my desk, Mike was in his room in the basement sleeping (his room was across from my bedroom under the main stairs… that little metal door in the wall that everyone walks past), most everyone was in either MDH or A/V otherwise. (And, I can say stuff because I was never told to sign the NDA, even after telling Boden… his response was “you wouldn’t get this far if you hadn’t signed it”)
    I got Mike and we went over to the gas station and hung out (with no money for pop or anything). I tried calling Boden and Moose on my lab phone, and found that my service was blocked (control information to media), eventually we met back up with them, and spent the rest of my time there working to clean up the mess.

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