Art, Craft, Make, Hack, Whatever

Anyone who has spent much time reading Hackaday, or in the real world in or around a few hackspaces, will know that ours is a community of diverse interests. In the same place you will find a breathtaking range of skills and interests, people working with software, electronics, textiles, and all conceivable materials and media. And oftentimes in the same person: a bare-metal kernel guru might spend their time in a hackspace making tables from freight pallets rather than coding.

Through it all run a variety of threads, identities if you will, through which the differing flavours of our wider community define themselves. Words like “Hacker” and “Maker” you may identify with, but when I mention words like “Crafter” or “Artist”, perhaps they might meet with some resistance. After all, artists paint things, don’t they, and crafters? They make wooly hats and corn dollies!

It’s fair to say that Hackaday readers would likely be on the technical end of the spectrum of hackspace members. We cover a huge range of projects, but running through them are strong themes of electronics, software, workshop time, and cutting-edge techniques. This is a moving target, and we often find ourselves on the steep uphill part of a Gartner-style hype cycle of cool projects. For instance while anything to do with 3D printing would have been a story on its own a decade ago now it’s merely another way parts are produced. You know what you like, and though some of you are sometimes a little hasty to declare that some projects are Not Hacks, we’re probably in broad agreement as to the kind of topics and projects that grab our attention.

But boundaries can be blurry. Take crafting, for instance. You won’t see any corn dollies on Hackaday, but if you were to walk past the corn dolly stand at a summer craft fair you might well stop and be fascinated by the blacksmith’s forge, or the chair bodger‘s treadle lathe next door. They’re both traditional crafts, or at least they are where this is being written, so are we being too hasty on the subject? Getting a little more controversial, textile work is most definitely a craft, but tell me that it is not also engineering when you have watched someone take some fabric, a two-dimensional medium, and fashion it by eye into a three-dimensional garment that is not only functional, but looks good. Not forgetting of course, that our textilist has also done all this effectively with the garment inside out. As a member of a hackspace with a thriving textile space it is an obvious eye-opener when I explain this to a life-long textilist, and see her understand that the rest of the space’s tools, the 3D printers and the laser cutter, are all there for her, too.

It’s easy to see why there is a disdain for activities slightly out of the line of high technology for our community. But that’s too bad. After all, when something has been built with an impressive level of skill, it’s that skill that I’m interested in, not which microcontroller board is inside. Looking into crafts is not the start of a slippery slope that leads inevitably to glue and glitter, and sometimes encountering a few things outside your normal field can help enhance your creativity.

Because in our world, if you aren’t creating, what are you doing?

15 thoughts on “Art, Craft, Make, Hack, Whatever

  1. A few years ago, I read a story about a native woman, maybe Nez Perce, who learned to make traditional saddles by taking one apart (“Don’t tell my mother”), and then by making mistakes. That seemed to be more “hacking” than a lot of what goes under that label, and of course, saddles aren’t seen as technical. The word gets overused, but if you see it as “experience based learning”, then it counts. Even babies “hack”, everything is about experience until they can talk.

    When I made tofu, what the books didn’t say much about was how long it took to get a large pot of soymilk to boil, yet how fast the transition was. Blink, and the soymilk would overrun the pot, and it would get even messier. So I started using candy thermometer, to watch the temperature, and that gave a much better indication of when it was about to boil.

    The experience of doing it for a few years made me go back to buying it, too much soymilk needed to make a couple of pounds of tofu, and too much cleaning up afterwards (soymilk is sticky). But I learned from the experience, I added a bit to the map by adding a thermometer, whike lots f people can assemble electronic projects without knowing anything about electronics, and sometimes even soldering.

    Not everyone can be explorers, not everyone can make maps.

    Xast sputa, which is “Merry Christmas” in Salish (obviously nit a traditional word).


  2. The problem with a “slippery slope”, is that all too often you are the top looking down at others who are sliding downward, and someone sneaks up behind you and straps on a jetpack and roller blades on you, and gives you a gentle nudge.

  3. If taking something apart so you can figure out how it works doesn’t fit the definition of hacking then I don’t know what is. I’m pretty that way more than 50% of today’s engineers would tell you that as teenagers they would take things apart to improve them. Like taking parts from both brothers and sisters bicycles to make a new “my bicycle” with extra features.

  4. In ways, making a saddle is more technical than the old sheetmetal trade. You have some compound curves, not just curves, to create… and the material is malleable but reacts to moisture and stress and heat… then chemicals to boot. I was very proud of the folding useful dash shelf I made for my dad Christmas for his ’62 IH flat dashed Scout when I was 12 that held 2 coffee cups and 2 boxes of shotgun shelves despite “12 on the floor.” I WAS a Maker! It was never refolded and saw years of constant use. High tech? Hinges, hand made catches and hooks and custom bungie cord-springs from a chinese jump rope… 4 yrs after I read ARRL… several times, LOL!

  5. To me ‘not a hack’ is a statement about the originality of something more so than the technicality of it. You could do an article about a macramé or even paper cutting project and if it involved an original and unique solution to the problem of how to make something I would be willing to stand up for it as qualifying as a hack.

    On the other hand if you did an article about somebody running the blink sketch on their Arduino I will stand up for the ‘not a hack’ crowd. It just isn’t something most of us can learn anything from.

    Also… to an extent I think craft projects on HaD are great! Something that I think really makes hackerspaces and the “maker movement” ™ stand out are how they bring together people with diverse making hobbies. It’s good that one person can make an articulate robot body, another writes incredible code and a third does beautiful works of art. When you combine them together though and get a functioning robot that appears to think for itself and actually looks good… now that is when things get great!

    I think it’s great to see ‘craft hacks’ here although I would add a qualifier. There are probably a lot more crafters in the world than ‘techies’ and likewise a lot more craft blogs, magazines, meetups and etc… HaD is somewhat unique in the niche it fills so please don’t ever let the crafting push out the tech.

  6. This was originally a reply to someone speaking about Engineers, but I felt it strayed to far off topic in regards to their post. So I’m making it a standalone thing.

    The TLDR is “We tend to idolize Engineers a bit much her, technicians need more credit”, it’s not really a sentence that I think many people will argue to much. Just felt it should be said.

    It’s weird, sometimes I feel like I’ve seen into a dark disappointing corner of the engineering world. By that I mean I’ve met a lot of Electrical Engineers who don’t strike me as the hacker type. Granted I have had the experience of working with many amazing Engineers who embody the best of hacking and academia. However, far to often I have ran into Engineers who can’t tell the anode from the cathode. When I was in College I ran into a lot of folks in their final year who had never actually seen a transformer. In industry I have met OpAmp engineers who couldn’t remember how to add Caps in parallel.

    I’ve met a lot more electrical engineers who embody calculations work more so than hacking work. Truly computers in the most literal and archaic sense.

    Where I do see the hacker spirit alive though is through technicians. Whether that be Testing, Troubleshooting, or Assembly. The production floor is where clever hacks are born in my experience, I learned so much of what I know today from sitting down and working with electronics assemblers. They have a strong motive to be clever, piece rate is usually based on an average, so if you can beat the average you are making more money. Eventually everyone learns your tricks, or develops their own and the piece rate goes down. New tricks are figured out.

    Test technicians also tend to find interesting tricks to speed up their output. As production speeds up due to their new found efficiency the burden of testing rises as well. Automating time consuming procedures is a must. I’ve known testers who have written their own current testing suites for their DMMs which goes as far as doing a poor mans Laplace transform to analyze a reasonably complex current profile.

    Long story short, Technicians are amazing. I think they deserve a lot more praise.

    1. For every tech that speeds up production there are 3 that disable safeties & end up losing a finger or worse.
      Like [Michael Black] touched on in his reply, what makes someone an expert worth emulating isn’t just knowing the yield strength of your material, the best way to cut a smooth curve into leather, or the proper amount of dither to apply to the PnP machine to get the spools to align, what makes someone an expert worth emulating is the person who knows when it’s ok to take shortcuts on top of all those other things.
      Watch any street vendor work their craft or a mason lay a course of bricks and you’ll see people who really, really, know their trade.
      It’s not so much that people over value engineers simply due to their title, it’s that they confuse titles for talent. Most people can think of a design that the designer clearly has no experience using, but they still made it ‘correctly’ based on all the FEA models and material data sheets.
      Degrees and titles don’t guarantee knowledge or craftsmenship but they are a decent way to weed out the people who clearly don’t belong; a necessary but not sufficient qualification in many cases.

      1. Along the same lines, one of my students, and Electronic Engineering Technician (AAS) was working at an automation company along with some young engineers. He was telling me about some of the dangerous, stupid things these engineers would do, largely because many (most? ) engineering programs have little hands-on work, Until they have about 5 years or so experience, many engineers are useless right out of school. There are exceptions, such as NDSU grads,

      2. Are you talking about tech who actually completed a good engineering technology program, or “techs” that ate just operators that companies who do not know any better call “techs”.. Same goes for “engineers..” There are many companies calling all sorts of people “engineers” who never completed a real engineering program. All sorts of IT goofballs, as well as goofy IT programs,and companies keep trying to call themselves “engineer” or “engineering” this or that with no engineering background. Engineering at heart is applied math and science.

  7. I think the word “hack” has a distinct definition beyond all of the other terms.
    There is an implication of using something in a way it was not intended to be used to great effect.
    An attitude that our curiosity is more important than society’s comfort.
    That quality might not be obvious in the construction, but very much so in the thought that went in, if you are capable of comprehending it..

  8. I’ve always explained the essence of hacking as simply *circumventing limitations*, wherever they may occur.

    Simply making something the way it’s always been made is not a hack, unless one of the materials has become impossible to source, which is now a limitation that must be circumvented. Resurrecting and preserving traditional ways can be a hack depending on how clever one must get to sustain the increasing anachronism.

    I would submit that social stigma, fuzzy though it may be, is a limitation. And solutions that borrow ideas from fields that don’t normally see much crossover, are well on their way to qualifying as hacks in my view.

    However, in every case, if the limitation and the solution aren’t clearly explained in the writeup, especially for those of us who may not be familiar enough with the field to understand the implicit problem being solved, then it’s very easy to miss the point and exclaim “not a hack”. Some burden does rest on the storyteller to convey the wonder so that the audience may be in appropriate awe.

  9. Hack = work-around. Sometimes it implies “gained access via alternative means.”
    My Aerostar speedo ended at 85 mph in imperial. In possibly the world’s simplest hack, I pushed the metric button and went to kmph, where I could again know my speed. Noteworthy? Hardly. Hack? In the strictest sense… Put an entertaining spin on it? No. Hack’s speak for themselves… or, ought to. Otherwise it’s “making news” ir “entertainment news,” and the added fluff leaves the disappointment of artificial sweetener. You think you are reading about a 10 but the hack was only a 7.5. That is not good for our longevity and sense of REAL value and self-worth. Rather, humble success and pleasure with a side if accurracy is best serving to one and all. We do and we do better. What can be greater? Spin city?!? What do you want at tge shiw; a robot or a blonde? The robot if course. THERE is real VALUE. The blonde is for later.
    Merry Christmas! (Try to improve on THAT! It may be the 2nd greatest hack, ever!)

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