Friday Hack Chat: Making A Makerspace

How do you make a makerspace? Over the last decade, there have been plenty of talks and tutorials handing out pointers. No day of the week will be good for a meeting, so the meetings are always on Tuesdays. The bike shed will be painted orange, no exceptions. Are you going to be a for-profit, or not-for-profit? Are we a makerspace or a hackerspace? Jerry, stop being clever. Pantone 021 U.

For this week’s Hack chat, we’re going to be talking all about making a makerspace. These are community hubs where people come together and share resources to bring their inventions to life. It’s not as simple as it may seem. You need insurance, you need a building, you need a landlord who’s cool, and there are a thousand and one things that can go wrong. Who best to steer you through the storm of opening a Hackerspace? Who can you solicit advice from?

Our guests for this week’s Hack Chat are Vaibhav Chhabra, a mech E from Boston University. He spent two years working on an eye diagnostic device, is an instructor at MIT REDX health care innovation lab, and is a founder of the incredible Makers Asylum. Eric Michaud is a Hacker, runner, and author, currently working on Rift Recon, Shellcon, and hackerspaces.org. He has written tutorials on Adafruit, and was a founding member of HacDC before he took off to Chicago and started PS:One.

Topics for this week’s Hack Chat include what it takes to open a makerspace, how you can fund it, organizational structure concerning for-profit, not-for-profit, and the thing that the members are most concerned about: what equipment is most crucial for a successful makerspace. You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the Hack Chat; to do that, just leave a comment on the Hack Chat event page.

join-hack-chat

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This Hack Chat is going down Friday, February 16th at 09:30am Pacific time. This is different than our usual time slot. Want to know what time this is happening in your neck of the woods? Here, look at the neat time zone converter thingy

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Brits: Make A Vote, Put Cash A Hackerspace’s Way

Those of you who have been involved in the running of a hackerspace or makerspace will know the never-ending struggle to maintain financial solvency, and the quest for sources of income to move your organisation forward. It’s certainly a topic upon which Hackaday’s crew have some experience, more than one of us has helped run a space.

A good avenue to explore lies with community grants: money from organisations on a philanthropic basis to invest in community organisations. These can come from charities, governmental organisations, or even from companies as part of their corporate social responsibility. It’s this last source of grant money that claims our attention today, because we are in the final days of voting for the Aviva Community Fund, in which the British financial and insurance company makes grants for worthy causes across the country. The causes compete to gain as much support as they can, and hope to thus win their prize.

Among the many worthy recipients of the cash are a selection of hackerspaces. First up are Hitchin Hackspace, whose Big Hak full-size rendition of a Milton Bradley Big Trak toy was featured in our coverage of EMF Camp 2016. They are building a new space in what we’ll call a redundant community facility because it sounds better than “Former public toilet”, and winning a grant will help them a lot in that aim.

Then we have East London Makerspace. They have secured an unused garage to turn into a makerspace, as the capital’s population of our community swells to support ever more spaces in its different suburbs. Like Hitchin, the money would go to the essential work involved in creating a functioning space where previously there was nothing.

Finally, we have the unexpected, a heating system from Milton Keynes Men In Sheds. If you know about Men In Sheds as a community organisation for older people, you’ll be wondering why this is listed here. What we haven’t told you is that MK Makerspace is a subgroup of the MK Shed that occupies the upstairs portion of their building, and what warms the Shedders also warms the hacker community of one of Britain’s new towns.

These appear to be the only hackerspaces bidding for grant money, but votes can usefully be given to other allied causes. Linlithgow Remakery and Tool Library, for instance could use a boost, as could the other Men In Sheds groups scattered across the competition.

So if you are one of Hackaday’s British readers, please take a minute to stop by the voting pages listed above, and give them a boost. You have a couple of days to get your votes in, so make them count, and make a difference!

Disclosure: [Jenny List] is a member of Milton Keynes Makerspace.

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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