Recap: Hackaday’s First Live Event

Packed house

Last Tuesday was the first time I know of that Hackaday hosted our own live event. There were some less official get-togethers associated with conferences and things like that. But we threw The Gathering to see if readers would rise from their lairs for a chance to interact with one another. We called, you answered, and I had an amazing time. Hackaday packed the place with over four hundred readers, and every conversation I had ended up being a fascinating interaction. Thank you!

[Brian], [Eliot], and [Mike] via [Mike's] phone an color corrected by [Hefto
[Brian], [Eliot], and [Mike] via [Mike’s] phone an color corrected by [Hefto
[Brian Benchoff] and I returned to our snowy homelands the next morning. Surprisingly this was the first time we had met each other despite working closely on Hackaday for the past several years. I also had the pleasure of meeting [Eliot Phillips] and [Jack Buffington] for the first time. I’m sorry I didn’t have more time to hang out with them, but when you’re trying to say hello to several hundred people you’ve just got to keep moving.

Before I get too wordy I better throw the more tag in here. Join me after the jump for a blow-by-blow of what we did, what sticks out in my mind, and where we’re going next.

What we did

We rented out the LA Brewing Company, forced the staff to wear Hackaday shirts all night. Then had fun. What did you expect?

Jolly Wrencher drawn freehand in Laser Graffiti
Jolly Wrencher drawn freehand in Laser Graffiti [Photo by Tom Mix via Facebook]
It should not have come as a surprise that readers started showing up about 90 minutes early. In true friendly-hacker fashion the first gentlemen I met walked right in and asked if he could lend a hand setting up. Right on! Despite my nervous agitation the place was ready for the 6pm open. [Ben Delarre] had his Laser Grafitti Rig set up on time. We had envisioned a huge bare wall for the projection surface but that doesn’t actually exist in any bar so we made do with a smaller projection screen. It was still a ton of fun. [Brian] found a place for the Jolly Wrencher flag which is something he made himself. It was hung from the awning on the front of the building. I tried to kill myself hanging posters from a ladder that was just a bit too short. And [Lori], who coordinated everything, got the check-in area arranged, and the swag situated.

p117463357-5Apparently it took forever to get in the door. I’m going to blame the guy checking IDs because I thought we were more than ready to scan tickets or look up names pretty quickly. But by 7:15 most folks were inside. At least the wait for a beer was never very long, which makes up for the delay at the gate. We shushed the masses and cleared out a landing on the stairs to the loft so that I could get the formal remarks under way. This talk included info on where we’re going (see below) but it was nice to break it up with a few lightning talks. 01.21.2014_192620[Brian] spoke about the HaDuino; opening almost one bottle of beer before it broke. [Ben] spoke about the trials of putting together Laser Grafitti; he built a great controller but the missing source code was a trial and a topic for a future post. And [CharlieX] and his wife [Kris], both associated with NullSpaceLabs in LA, spoke about previous and future LayerOne Conference Badge Hardware.

01.21.2014_194044We raised a glass to the concept of Hackaday and got back to enjoying ourselves. The place stayed pretty full right up until we had to vacate the premises; sometime after 10pm. I managed to escape hangover. Since I was talking with so many people I didn’t get very many opportunities to visit the bartenders. In fact, I never made it up to the loft to try out Laser Grafitti and I’m kind of bummed about it. Next time we may just have to plan to hack together our own large-format projection screen

What sticks out

[CharlieX] gives a closer look at LayerOne Badge hardware
[CharlieX] gives a closer look at LayerOne Badge hardware
My biggest takeaway from this even is that readers want to help. From the guy who showed up 90 minutes early to the defense industry coder who offered to spearhead a guest post explaining synthetic aperture radar for mortals, everyone seems happy to pitch in to make Hackaday more awesome. Let’s do it! This really is the epitome of a virtual hackerspace. People contribute their expertise and time where they can, we all celebrate success and try to overcome anything less. It doesn’t mean we have to live in the same place, but live events like this really drive home the message that what we do here is enjoyed by all.

People are positive in person. From the comments you’d expect nasty arguments to break out at The Gathering. But I didn’t experience any of that. In fact, there was one attendee was handing out “Internet Troll” business cards and he seemed to be among the most pleasant of the bunch.

p647741068-5Hackaday spans generations. There were guests who appeared as young as 6 years old, and others well into retirement who must be making hacking a fun full-time “job”.

We have our own fanboys and that’s okay. I actually had people come up and tell me they only read what I write and don’t like anything other writers are doing. Luckily I didn’t get the opposite. But one thing I always like to point out… it’s not about me or the rest of the staff. Hackaday is about the community.

Where we’re going next

This is both a literal and figurative question. Hackaday is growing and so “where are we going?” is a very important question. New faces, new content in the form of guest posts, and the addition of live events might be troubling for some long-term readers. But this blog has grown from the ground up. Everyone brought on as a contributor has been a long-term reader. It’s one of our core values. None of us want to see the awesome go away, and we’re watching the horizon to ensure that we stay on course while covering Fresh Hacks Every Day.

Bags to carry free stuff home
Bags to carry free stuff home

The opportunity to include original content in our weekly rotation is a welcome addition. This helps to make sure we don’t stagnate, and certainly adds value to what we offer. But close analysis will show that we’ve been sticking to a tight goal of featuring at least six gnarly hacks (most of them from readers) each day, leaving about two slots for original content and newsy posts (like this one). We hope that this is a satisfying policy for those who, darn it, just don’t want to see anything change.

We have some opportunities that we have never had before. Although we’ve been working on many things the only one I’m ready to discuss was also revealed at The Gathering. [Brian Benchoff] has some grand ideas for hacks that are difficult, costly, time-consuming, and unlikely to be profitable. In one way or another that describes every project you’ve ever thought was awesome. Don’t worry [Brian], I’m only spilling the beans on one of your endeavors: wire-wrapped 68000 computer. He sent the board files to Seeed Studio in December and they’re back. When visiting Apex Electronics he picked up a bunch of wire-wrap sockets and other interesting baubles for the project. It’s designed for a case and the preliminary photos (I think he made the interesting ones blurry on purpose to irk me) are drool-worthy. Think wire-wrapping an entire retro-computer is a big project? It’s nothing compared to some of the other things he has on tap.

Seriously, I couldn’t go. Where’s the next one?

Using NFC cards to vote on the next live event (more on this in another post)
Using NFC cards to vote on the next live event (more on this in another post)

It’s really hard to say where the next one will be. We used this as a test to see if the Hackaday community would actually show up, and you did! Meetups are great, but I’d prefer to do some hacking if we’re going to the trouble to get people together. The first hacking event would most likely be in LA again — as a first test run. But if we can take these to other cities we will.

As far as branching out, what makes the most sense to me is to hit the other large population hub in the US: New York. After that it would be great to do something in the middle like Chicago, or somewhere in Texas. And of course it would be great to have some in Europe. But we haven’t hacked our own money printing system (yet) so this is dreaming pretty big — which we’re not afraid to do.

Here’s a question for you. It could take a long time to organize these events. Do you want us to organize some more spontaneous meet-ups to coincide with other events? For example, having some of the Hackaday staff plan to meet at a bar during DEFCON? Would you come and hang out even if you had to buy your own beer?

[Photos by Edward de la Torre unless otherwise noted]

47 thoughts on “Recap: Hackaday’s First Live Event

    1. As a frequent photographer of many years, I don’t have “mad color correction skills.”

      I click on the white balance tool, find something that should’ve been mostly white, and click on it. Then fiddle a bit until it has the right look. If there was a ton of red light in the room, then a photo with a lot of red in it is in fact the correct way for the photo to be presented, and the human brain understands that. Not to mention, if there are multiple unmatched light sources in the room, white-balancing is impossible.

      What the human brain does not understand is banding and compression and all sorts of other problems that occur when you try to “fix” an image where one channel is pretty blown out compared to the other two. I didn’t look at the image in a histogram, but if the red channel is blown out or heavily biased in the highlights, unless it was an awesome, recent camera writing RAW with 12 or more bits per channel, that image is not recoverable and you’re best off leaving it alone.

  1. One idea is that each hackaday editor hosts a meet-n-greet in his/her town. Say one of the editors lives in Philadelphia, then he/she can find a public location and say he’ll/she’ll be there at a certain time and any readers who are available can show up to meet the editor and chat with other readers. Those present can also chat about meeting again in a larger venue to do presentations on their hacks.

    1. This is a great idea! Why limit it to the editors? We have about 13 people working here now. Why not set up something with each of them?

      I wonder if local hackerspaces would be interesting in hosting? Would get some more people to show up at the Hackerspace. Maybe we could cover the cost of a few cases of beer to get started (if the Hackerspace allows it) as well as supplying some swag for anyone willing to show off their hardware. Thoughts?

        1. Saddle up, kids. It’s story time.

          A year or two ago I was sitting in front of this coffee shop enjoying a cig. This place was about a block away from U Baltimore, and three blocks away from Camden Yards. Basically, this is tourist town, and most certianly *not* where the filmed The Wire.

          A guy comes up to me and asks if he can bum a cigarette. Being the generous person I am, I give him one. He’s grateful and says: “thanks, man. You want a tic tac? A peppermint?” I decline, and the guy goes on his way.

          Five minutes go by.

          Around this time I say to myself, “Hey. Was…. was that guy offering me drugs?”

          I pull out my phone, open up Urban Dictionary, and apparently, *yes*. This guy was offering me drugs. PCP, in fact.

          In short, that’s why we’re considering a Baltimore meetup. It’s not the fact that we could rent a warehouse for nothing, or the fact that Baltimore has a great *free* circulator to take everybody around to everything. It’s the free PCP.

  2. I think a New York gathering would be great because A) I live there, B) Close enough for folks from Philly, Boston, Baltimore, etc. and 3) Tons of easy public transport, things to do and see, eat, drink etc!

  3. I love the idea of guest expert posts. That is such a neat way to offer up knowledge to the masses so to speak. There are some very smart folks out there and I would love to read what they have to say. That’s one of the best things about having a large group of people , you get such a great amount of knowledge to pick from. Let’s hear it.

  4. Do one of these in Houston (the 4th largest city in the US) so that I can attend! I live in San Antonio, and a $30 roundtrip gas bill is much easier to swallow than a $400 plane ticket!

    1. Oh, and I should point out that Houston is driving distance from Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio, which are the 9th, 7th, and 11th largest cities by population in the US (according to Wikipedia). So Houston would be a great hub!

      1. Hmm.. I’ve lived in Houston, Dallas, and Austin, and have visited San Antonio several times. Geographically and technologically, it would seem as if Austin would be a better central location, although I must admit that Austin natives can be a little odd(no offense, they are proud of it!). Although I would probably enjoy Houston more(EDO on Fondren Ave!!!), it is a 4.5 hour drive from where I live 20 miles outside of Waco, and an hour or so longer to get to Dallas/Fort Worth from Houston.

        Austin would probably be the best choice geographically, but I would attend any event in Texas, maybe even Oklahoma.

        1. Yes, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Austin, Waco, San Antonio, College Station are “driving distance” from Houston, for that matter, so are Seattle, Augusta (Maine), Sacramento,
          and Key West… and Fairbanks…

  5. Okay, I’m going to (continue to) be that guy: I can’t help but notice that the crowd is overwhelmingly white and male. Even though I’m being that guy, I’m really not trying to scold or shame or troll anyone. I do have three questions:

    1. Am I wrong? I totally wasn’t there and I’m just going by a cursory glance at the photos posted here. I haven’t done a survey or anything… maybe there’s more diversity here than meets the eye?

    2. Does the makeup of the meetup accurately reflect the makeup of the readership? Obviously, the event is going to be skewed towards West Coast Americans, but is it possible that an event like this might seem less inviting to non-white or non-male hackaday readers than it does to their white dude counterparts?

    3. Do we care? I actually think “No. It isn’t our job to attempt to manage the demographics of our readership” could be an acceptable answer here. Of course “Yes, and we’d like to think about what to do about it.” is also a choice.

  6. Sounds great. I figured it be a lot of social awkwardness lol. That’s one stereotype I think we can all nip in the bud; my main reason for not be chatty is distraction, probably similar for others. It’d probably be cool if a lot of people had projects to show off as well.

    And I’m a “fanboy” (I never want to be called that anything else lol) for mostly Brian’s articles now b/c they have to do w/ homebrew computing and microcontrollers the most. All writers do write articles I’m really interested in from time to time. Matieu Stephan for instance has been writing a lot of radio ones lately, like those.

    Would love to have one in Chicago, preferably on the weekend, and a some kind of advance warning to plan for it.

    Yeah bring all the ladies with you next time; they need to at least know Ohm’s law. Give us pasty whiteboys some “diversity” lol. You missed the Asian guy with his kids. Racism etc is only a problem if you make it so.

  7. Thanks for hosting it here, We had a lot of fun and really appreciated the good company, good food, and good beer (they ran out of Guinness after my first glass, a likely story (sorry I’m suspicious after reading their Yelp reviews)). Thanks to everyone who worked so hard to make it happen in L.A.

  8. Why do you seem to think you have to give away swag or beer to do an event? Is that a US thing? Over here in Europe I expect to buy my own beer and don’t expect any free swag. I also don’t mind paying a small fee for a space if it doesn’t make it’s money from beer sales. Unfortunately most hackspaces i’ve been to here in the UK are full of kit and have limited space for a big meet up, but they are full of people who happily volunteer there time and equipment to set up events all the time. Maybe you could even look at hackspaces running events like TEDx events which spin off locally from the main TED conferences (and again are mostly free compared to the pricey main TED conferences) I guess the question is, other than the celebrity factor of meeting the HaD writers, what will be the differentiator for these events from the existing landscape of hack based meet up events like OHM CCC TOOR OGG UMF camp?

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