Help Save Nullspace Labs

Nullspace Labs

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

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

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

54 thoughts on “Help Save Nullspace Labs

    1. and how you’re going to define “a significant percentage of Hack-A-Day members live close enough to the particular hackerspace” ?
      Let alone the fact that , lets say your belgium readership is 2% of the HAD total hits, but it might interest 50% of that readership, do you run it?

      if a hackerspace need help or does something totally awesome a full post is imho the best way, otherwise i think the “link” update is a fine place to add some “local” content like “hey here in this city/country there is a new hackerspace” for example

      greetz from brussels, belgium

      1. Geolocation information is available, but it is not reliable. I’m often placed about 50 miles away from here, which I think is just the location of a particular part of the network infrastructure. I don’t remember the specific details.

        I don’t think that metric matters. Deciding what’s worth posting onto a site is a very subjective thing. And the people that don’t care about the story can easily skip it.

  1. So are they a hackerspace or a charity? What happened to being self sufficient? If their members can’t provide enough funds – fold. Any business or club should have a positive cash flow and a cash reserve large enough to weather the unexpected.

    Harsh but true.

    1. If your house unexpectedly burns down – fold, you’re a failure.


      Insurance will cover this, however the above episode cannot be covered by anything than surplus economy, which most people don’t have,

    2. Should, yes, but the real world doesn’t always work like that.

      Also, I think you have an overly-specific impression of how they are set up and operate that doesn’t generalize well. Hacker spaces run under many different models. There are non-profit hacker spaces and for-profit hacker spaces. I’m a member of a young one that is under an unusual designation of minimal profit. Even Techshop, which seems to be very well-backed, has had some troubles. I don’t think those problems negate the value of the idea, for-profits and non-profits run into difficulties too.

      It’s also possible to provide a benefit to the community without being hugely profitable.

      1. Yes the real world does work like that. Just because you charge more than the monthly expenses require to build up a rainy day fund, doesn’t mean you’re a no longer a non-profit. If these organizations are having trouble it is because they are poorly managed. They’ve been around for almost 4 years, more than enough time to build up some savings.

        I have no clue what these guys even spent their money on, from their website they only have “simple” metal and wood working tools, a soldering station and other things that would only cost someone one or two years worth of dues to accumulate themselves. Its not like they have a mill, lathe, 3d printer or anything else that would cost a significant investment.

    3. This. Every other organization such as Condo Associations has to learn to save up money for unexpected expenses, why cant these guys? Why can’t their members foot the bill? Assuming they have 100 people, it would only be a $100 assessment.

    1. Asbestos removal is called remediation. Personally I think it is a scam. Left alone asbestos is pretty safe. Now if someone called for all Rock Wool to be removed I could get behind that. Just don’t call me out on that job. I have an unhealthy respect born of personal pain for that stuff!

    2. Maybe it’s different depending on what part of the building, or costs more to do safely, but my college spent about a year removing asbestos from the basement of one of the buildings in the middle of campus. They cordoned off an area next to the building, dug a hole down to the basement, and then covered the whole area with barrier plastic before beginning the removal process.

  2. Im starting to see more and more buildings closing on hackerspaces. This is curious and very concerning to me. These are places for creativity.

    The TechShop out here in my area of San Jose was having issues with keeping their place as well. Just feels like its too convenient.

    1. Hackerspaces usually gravitaed to cheaper spaces, often on month to month rents =cheaper that were prodiuced by the recession. As the economy exits recession rents rise = exit hackerspace.
      Hackerspace has a bad connotation, the creative recreation we know as hacking in hardware has been tainted by assorted criminals who fraudulently access online sites for destructive purposes and/or financial gain. The press, James Bond movies, etc have all made the idea of a hacker into a bad word. Lets face it Edison was a hacker = trial and error experimentation = applied problem solving.

      How do we distance ourselves from that bad connotation? First, stop the use of hacker to describe ourselves. I would, suggest Electronic Research or Hobby space, Linux space – or what would you suggest.
      Remember this is marketing and re-branding, we will still carry on doing what we like to do most, but the new name will not attract the opprobium of hacker.

  3. Call me paranoid, but it feels like these sort of problems come almost without warning, no organization on how to fix the problem, and they are not given much time to vacate.

    Going along that line of paranoia, muse on the idea that could it be possible that there are groups that think that hacker spaces are the cause of educating people to do harm with technical skills?

    There is a hacker space names TechShop out in my area of San Jose CA that was having lease issues and needed help. Could it be that the only way to get rid of a place of education is through bankruptcy, fires, or health hazards that could have been taken care of “before” you let people populate the site?

    And if they cared about peoples health, you would think they would be looking into other places that have asbestos. I’m sorry, I am still just a little skeptical at how all this is coming around.

    First its schools being closed down, and now educational places like this being moved on next. I am not liking how this is all rolling out.

    1. just paranoia. hackerspaces often occupy some seriously low rent property. these spaces are low rent because they are on their way out, and on their way out because they are low rent. sit happens.

      1. Mind you that there are other buisnesses that are around the TechShop as well.
        Why isnt this happening to other places that are just as much risk if higher risk? And the TechShop isnt dealing with asbestos problems.

        1. Most businesses get leases for a few years. In any city there is short term space at low rents. These usually are waiting demolition or new tenants. In Toronto when a store front gets vacant we get short term jobbers renting them who promise to vacate in 2-3 days notice if the landlord gets a long term tenant. The landlords do this to get at least some rent and to avoid empty space which attracts vagrants.
          Hobbyspaces often lease these low rent – short notice spaces to save $$ on the theory we can pack up and move fairly quickly.
          We need to approach major companies who hire engineers to see if they have 1000 or so square feet to rent to a hobby group (see earlier post about re-branding us to get rid of the hacker name that makes the public look at us like we are criminals.
          Null Space has a good name, just use that, but add no hacker comment or suffixes.

          The whole hacker community that builds electronic items, prints new ways, etc, must either get the whole world to see us as not criminals because we use the name hacker because this name is also used by criminals who steal credit cards and state secrets.

          Just think. You are a landlord and a group called “The Detroit Bank Robbery Syndicate Inc” wants to rent space – what do you say?

          The same thing happens with Hacker in your name, the average idiot Joe public jumps to the conclusion that we do evil,

          1. that is a very good conversation starter. So um you guys, what do you do, hackers, you’re breaking pentagon computers? Hell no, we’re steve wozniak type hackers, we reuse and modify things to use them as they were not designed, yeah just that, and that’s all LEGAL stuff! Ah, and we transformed that shittiy cave into a nice place to talk and do research, all by ourselves!

  4. What? How did they get caught blind-sided by this? Doesn’t the Soviet Socialist Republic of California have laws to protect tenants against “overnight” eviction? Or maybe the laws only apply to big businesses as the small business owners are deprecated. Or maybe they just didn’t “Contribute” to the proper person or campaign so they can get a waiver.

      1. If the landlord required first and last month’s rent up front, it should probably be 60 days. That would allow for notification at any time during the month while still allowing the tenant to remain for the amount of time that they’ve paid for.

      2. I don’t buy that argument. I’d like you to try an experiment. Starting from now, can you find a new place to live and be totally moved out of your old place in a month? Now, scale that up to a hacker space, but same deadline.

        1. Eviction laws here in Illinois are that way. If you dont have a lease it is only 3 days. And scaling it up to a mediocre hacker space like this one doesnt make it more difficult, if anything it would be easier due to their lack of heavy machinery and large resource pool of people who can help move.

  5. In the short term, “Regional Roundup” posts.

    But in the medium to long term, allow us to filter what shows up on our front page (in a vaguely reddit-esque way, but I’m sure they weren’t the first). We can have the defaults, which will look the same as now, but if we log in then we can select what filters show up on our front page.

    So I could have “Defaults+RegionUK+RegionIreland” or have “Defaults-RegionRoundup”.

    It would add a lot of flexibility to submissions, as you could have more niche stuff too which might bring more people through the door without adding too much editorial overhead or compromising the identity of the site. No more “This isn’t a hack” rubbish.

    It would also presumably add value for advertising (as you could show microcontroller adverts to people with Arduino in their filter list but filament adverts to people with 3DPrinters etc).

  6. I’m sorry, but why are they caught off guard by this?

    If you can’t afford to honor your lease obligations, you have no business opening in the first place. There should have been a plan in place for this before they ever opened their doors.

  7. Contributed!

    We went through the same stuff back when i3Detroit was young. Ours was for a very different reason, but the tasks ahead are the same, and I wish NSL all success. I bet the next lease will have some strong terms about advance notice, too. :)

    Some background: We actually had good move-out terms in our first lease, but they didn’t apply to what happened. It turns out the landlord had been flying under the radar for about 20 years, and *nothing* in the space was up to code. Thus, the building didn’t have a “certificate of occupancy”, and it wasn’t about to qualify for one. We faced stiff fines for continuing to “occupy” the building without it.

    However, the city thought we were cool, so we got them to hold off on enforcement, for 30 days. Just long enough to scramble for another space, make sure the new landlord had all the details in order, and shovel everything into a moving truck.

    But oh, the expenses! We were “in the black” in that we were making rent, but we didn’t yet have enough in our emergency fund to cover a move. Another down payment and first month’s rent. More insurance. More renovations. Plus the actual truck rental. Yeah, we needed help!

    We threw together a Kickstarter, and our family and friends came through in a big way. The money made a lot of things possible, plus the vote of confidence from so many donors really lifted our spirits through what was already an incredibly stressful mess.

    It still wasn’t easy. We didn’t have time to organize much while we packed, and the unpacking was equally chaotic, so it took us *months* to get back on our feet and functional the way we’d been before the move. However, don’t despair! Our continued existence is proof that you can come through this! It’s now 4 years later and we’re bigger and stronger than ever.

    I was lucky enough to squeeze in a visit to NullSpace Labs last time I was on the west coast. It felt instantly familiar when I walked through the door — the same kinds of stuff, the same kinds of conversations, and most of all, the same friendly and welcoming vibe that every open-hack-night seems to exude. I had a great time meeting M and Arclight and several others whose names escape me a year later. I learned a fair bit about microscopes and surfacemount, some of the group’s obvious strengths. And I hope to return sometime, although it’ll be to a different address, probably in a different neighborhood. Hopefully one with fewer stairs. ;)

    (And hey, depending on how far you folks are willing to move, there’s plenty of cheap warehouse space in Detroit! Just sayin’.)

    Best wishes from Michigan,

      1. Did you read what I wrote? “Didn’t YET have enough”. We DO have higher dues to build up a fund for such things, but we were only 7 months old at the time, and that hadn’t added up to much *yet*. Years later, we’re much more comfortable financially.

        Also, there are a *lot* of people who think such groups are nifty and will happily give their support, just not on a monthly-dues basis because they’re not regular members. Appeals like this one are perfect to ask those people for their contributions, and as I said, they came through for us when we asked. I have every confidence that NSL’s friends will do the same, and I’m proud to count myself among them.

  8. Disclaimer- I’m not a member of NSL, but I have contributed in the past, and have participated plenty.

    Okee. What part of “30 days notice” do some of you have difficulty understanding? Thats all the notice to vacate that is required by CA law by someone under a month-to-month rental agreement, even if that was once a lease that has “morphed” into month to month. Heck, most lease agreements have so many escape clauses that it is not much more than a month to month anyway, just a different name, and more ways for the property owner to gouge the tenant. Getting kicked out, despite being a good tenant, is a reality anyone who rents or leases real estate must accept.

    NSL is located in the grungy “garment district” of the ancient core of downtown Los Angeles. This area, which is within walking distance (not that you’d want to at night) to Staples Center, where the Lakers and Kings play. (Do they let the Clippers in there too? Can’t remember.)

    Point being, this former skid-row-esque neighbourhood is undergoing an extreme yuppification, and tons of money is being poured in by private investment. A few years back, somebody woke up and realized there were a ton of really cool, old buildings downtown that could be had for cheap, and a “hip vibe” could be created if they cleaned the place up and got the bums and their shopping carts to go away. The idea was a little slow to catch on, but it certainly did. “Old” is the new “New.” Ancient (by LA standards, c1920) buildings that were once low-rent, primarily catering to garment sweatshops, are being gutted and fixed up to make loft apartments for well-off hipsters, and old ratty store fronts are becoming fancy granite-lined bars to serve said hipsters $12 beers. Like it or not, this is Los Angeles, and people with money do whatever the heck they please, and the people who want to tap that money are like bulldozers.

    Therefore, a (literally) centrally-located and low rent building that was once a good fit for a hackerspace is no more, and the surrounding real estate is likely going to be similarly effected by the same sort of “renewal.” Therefore, simply packing up and moving down the street a few addresses isn’t going to be easy to accomplish.

    What is most impressive about NSL, is not NSL itself, but the community of like-minded individuals that has coalesced because of it, members or not. NSL regularly holds pretty d**n good classes, and fairly outrageous parties. Let’s not forget the LayerOne conference, either. I don’t know if “franchise” is an accurate description, but the NSL T-shirts are temporarily replaced by (seemingly clean) LayerOne shirts, on the same exact people. That community will certainly continue to exist, but NSL is certainly the glue that holds it all together. This is all stuff available to the public, not just members.

    Once a hackerspace evolves past 4 guys in a garage with pizza, beer, and wifi, it has to be run like a business in order to continue exist. No way around it. The model for such a business will constantly be “shake down members for dues to pay rent, insurance, and supplies, and hope like heck we break even at the end of the month.” This is simply a dose of reality.

    So technically yes, a “business” that is likely no-where near signed up as a 501(c) is asking for donations to help weather this difficulty, which occurred through no fault nor mismanagement, nor short-sightedness of it’s leadership.

    The reality is, the “glue” of the LA “hacker” culture is in a bind, and could certainly use some help in the form of $, or help packing.

  9. I think Hackerspaces are extremely important to the community and so I do agree that you should cover them as much as possible.
    However, to keep the main site “pure” why not spin hackerspace news off to it’s own subsite like you did with retrotacular?
    Then you can post short summary posts with links to multiple stories on the hackerspace site here on Hackaday. Basically like you do with the weekend summary.
    Just my two cents.

  10. The secret is distributed storage/movement. I am not sure how many huge things there are, but most small stuff can be plastic bagged and boxed into boxes (buy surplus boxes – not UHAUL boxes that cost 5 times as much. In the yellow pages you can find surplus box and tape people. Then each member takes his own boxes home and community stuff is boxed and also taken to home after a picture is taken of the box.
    The shelves are taken down, so are tables etc, and either a garage or one of those mini storage places can be rented. Probably most stuff can be moved by minivan or car trunk. What items need a larger truck or flat bed to take to the min storage.
    With the stuff stored, the pressure is off to be moved in and moved out by the 30 days.

  11. Hackerspace events should definitely be covered …. in a separate calendar. Have a calendar that hackerspaces can add events/locations to, and then allow site visitors to filter events based on distance from whatever city/address/whatnot

    I personally enjoy the tours and other features like that of hackerspaces (and wouldn’t mind them staying in the news feed); those interest me regardless of where they are. Events just aren’t really the same.

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