Hackerspaces are Hard: Safety

Safety is one of those topics that often elicits a less-than-serious response from some tool users. For these folks, they assume their elite skills will protect them and as long as they pay attention, they never will get hurt. This explains the prevalence of the nickname “Stubby” among this population. On the opposite end of the spectrum, safety is also one of those areas where people who don’t know a lot about tools can overreact. Imagine a whole table of kids wearing goggles as one of them gingerly melts some solder. You don’t want solder in your eye, but that’s just not going to happen under normal circumstances.

And then there are freak accidents, which are a reality. On September 20th, a leaking propane tank exploded at Sector67’s new workshop, severely injuring Chris Meyer. Far from a noob, Chris is one of the most experienced people in the shop and was a co-founder of the space. He has a long road of healing ahead of him, and as seems to be the sad necessity these days, he has a GoFundMe campaign to help both with his medical expenses and to help refurbish the workshop. The Foothills Community Workshop also burned to the ground recently, although fortunately no one was injured.

All in all, hackerspaces seem to be reasonably safe, particular considering the challenges they face — or more fairly, the risks associated with the typical hackerspace’s openness. Most hackerspaces allow anyone who pay dues to be a member. There is a wide range of backgrounds, competencies, and judgments represented with, how shall I put it, some unusual viewpoints that might hinder rule-following. And once the member has a fob or key, it’s open season on any kind of tool in the place right? Not everything can have a lock on it.

Here are a few simple rules that have emerged over the years, and may help your hackerspace navigate the twin dangers of complacency and paralyzed fear while preparing for the freak accidents that may simply come to pass.

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Where a Wood Shop Goes, a Hackerspace Follows

The 2×4 Contest at my local hackerspace captured my interest. The challenge was to build something cool out of a single eight-foot 2×4 with the winner getting free wood storage in the space. I had half an idea for a project, but I ran out of time and never even started it. My idea was to cut the board into half-thickness strips and glue them edge-to-edge with some biscuits holding them together — to basically make wider, thinner boards to do… something cool with it.

One of the entries is pictured above. [Jon Alt] designed this clock and phone charger that includes a capacitive charger for his smart watch. He makes use of the 2×4’s grain to make a gorgeous enclosure, carving away the rear of the front panel so only a credit-card’s thickness of wood remained, allowing the 7-segments to shine through. The other entries were great as well and I especially liked the 2×4 guitar.

Mostly what interested me about the contest was what it showed about the wood shop: thanks to the volunteers and board, that is a wood shop doing well. Stuff is going on! A sad wood shop doesn’t hold contests. By extension, when the shop is doing well, that means the hackerspace is also doing well.

A wood shop is one of those areas of a hackerspace that is tool-driven. It’s not just a gathering place for like-minded folks; people go to use a specific tool or tools they can’t afford, and let’s face it, there’s always tools to buy that costs a bunch of money.

I’ve seen this particular shop begin as an empty concrete room with a cheap drill press and someone’s old bandsaw. Pretty soon worktables, shelving, and storage were built. More tools arrived, some donated, some loaned, some purchased with dues. So how can other spaces replicate this wood shop success story?

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Make Munich was Awesome

It was a good weekend to be geeky in Bavaria. In addition to our own Hackaday Prize Bring-a-Hack party, there was the reason that we scheduled it in the first place, Munich’s independent DIY expo, Make Munich.

If you’re a loyal Hackaday reader, many of the projects would seem uncannily familiar. I walked in and was greeted by some beautiful word clocks in both German and English, for instance. Still, seeing the Open Theremin being sold with an “as seen on Hackaday” sticker made us smile. And then we had a great conversation about [Urs Gaudenz]’s other project: DIY biological apparatus, also seen on Hackaday.

There were robots galore. Someone (from Gmünd?) was driving around a graffiti-bot and spraying the floor with water instead of paint or chalk to very nice effect. The full evolution of the Zoobotics robot family was on display. Even the Calliope (a German version of the micro:bit) booth had this cute Bluetooth vibrobot. Join me after the break as I dive into all of the great stuff on display over the weekend.

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Press Button, Receive Hackspace WiFi Code

When you are running a hackspace, network security presents a particular problem. All your users will expect a wireless network, but given the people your space will attract, some of them are inevitably going to be curious enough to push at its edges. Simply plugging in a home WiFi router isn’t going to cut it.

At Santa Barbara Hackerspace they use Unifi access points on their wireless network, and their guest network has a system of single-use codes to grant a user 24-hour access. The system has the ability to print a full sheet of codes that can be cut individually, but it’s inconvenient and messy. So the enterprising hackspace members have used a Raspberry Pi and a receipt printer to deliver a single code on-demand at the press of a button.

The hardware is simple enough, just a pull-up and a button to a GPIO on the Pi. Meanwhile the software side of the equation has a component on both client and server. At the server end is a Python script that accesses the Unifi MongoDB database and extracts a single code, while at the client end is another Python script that reacts to a button press by calling the server script and printing the result.  It’s a simple arrangement that was put together in an evening, but it’s an effective solution to their one-time WiFi access needs.

It’s a temptation as a hackspace to view all of your problems as solvable in one go with the One Piece Of Software To Rule Them All, and as a result some spaces spend a lot of time trying to hack another space’s effort to fit their needs or even to write their own. But in reality it is the small things like this one that make things work for members, and in a hackspace that’s important.

Does your space have any quick and simple projects that have automated a hackspace process? Let us know in the comments.

Thanks [Swiss] for the tip.

33C3: Works for Me

The Chaos Communication Congress (CCC) is the largest German hacker convention by a wide margin, and it’s now in its thirty-third year, hence 33C3. The Congress is a techno-utopian-anarchist-rave with a social conscience and a strong underpinning of straight-up hacking. In short, there’s something for everyone, and that’s partly because a CCC is like a hacker Rorschach test: everyone brings what they want to the CCC, figuratively and literally. Somehow the contributions of 12,000 people all hang together, more or less. The first “C” does stand for chaos, after all.

What brings these disparate types to Hamburg are the intersections in the Venn diagrams. Social activists who may actually be subject to state surveillance are just as interested in secure messaging as the paranoid security geek or the hardcore crypto nerd who’s just in it for the algorithms. Technology, and how we use it to communicate and organize society, is a pretty broad topic. Blinking lights also seem to be in the intersection. But on top of that, we are all geeks. There’s a lot of skill, smarts, and know-how here, and geeks like sharing, teaching, and showing off their crazy creations.

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Taming A Variac With A Thermistor

The folks at TOG, Dublin Hackerspace, have a large variac. A variac is a useful device for testing some fault conditions with AC mains powered equipment, it allows an operator to dial in any AC output voltage between zero, and in the case of TOG’s variac, 250V.

Their problem was with such a magnificent device capable of handling nearly 3KW, it presented an inductive load with a huge inrush current at power-on that would always take out the circuit breakers. Breakers come with different surge current handling capabilities, evidently their building is fitted with the domestic rather than the industrial variants.

Their solution was a simple one, they fitted an NTC surge limiter in series with the variac input. This is a thermistor whose resistance falls with temperature. Thus on start-up it presented an extra 12 ohm load which was enough to keep the breaker happy, but soon dropped to a resistance which left the variac with enough juice.

This is a simple fix to a problem that has faced more than one hackerspace whose imperfect lodgings are wired to domestic-grade spec. In a way it ties in neatly with our recent feature on mains safety; making the transformer no longer a pain to use means that it is more likely to be used when it is needed.

Via: TOG, Dublin Hackerspace.

Hackaday Links: March 20, 2016

Western Digital introduced their second revision of the PiDrive this week. This is a native USB hard drive – formatted to 314GB – based on the WD Blue drive. The earlier version of the WD PiDrive was 1TB, and cost about $70 USD. The new, 314GB version, sells for about $35. Does Western Digital manufacture 314GB hard drives? No, that would be stupid. Who’s taking bets on the actual capacity of these drives?

[SopaXorsTaker] has introduced us to a brand new way of removing BGA chips. PCBs are usually more flexible than chips, and a few whacks with a hammer is all that’s needed.

For the last few months, [quarterturn] has been upgrading a PowerBook 520. He’s trying to replace the CPU with a 68040 that has an FPU. His first attempt failed, and his second attempt – a new Freescale part that certainly has an FPU – also failed. It’s great experience in desoldering and reworking fine-pitch QFP parts, but [quarterturn] has no idea why the Apple System Profile reports an FPU-less CPU. It might be something in the ROM that tells the PowerBook not to use the FPU, in which case the obvious upgrade would be to replace the ROM with one from a PowerBook 550c or a Sonnet upgrade card. If you have either of those, I’m sure [quarterturn] would like to have a word with you.

LIDAR! We all know what the coolest use of LIDAR is, but it’s also useful for robots, drones, and other autonomous thingamadoos. Here’s a Kickstarter for a LIDAR module, 40 meter range, 360 degree range, 500 samples per second, and UART/USB connections.

[Bill] is trying to start a Makerspace in Fort Lauderdale. Here’s the indiegogo campaign.

We launched the 2016 Hackaday Prize this week. Why should you enter? Because last year, it seemed everyone who entered early won something. There’s $300,000 worth of prizes on the line. Need an idea? [Dave Darko] has just the thing for you. It’s the Hackaday Prize Buzzword Generator, the perfect thing for spitballing a few ideas and seeing what sticks.

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