Autocatalytic *Spaces

Hacker- and makerspaces are a fairly meta concept. While they can be explained via terms like “community workshop,” they are essentially a created place where people can create projects. It’s sort of like a school for teachers. It’s important to understand this, because this entry involves some folk who see the space itself as a project. There are many systems stacked on each other, sometimes seamlessly, sometimes awkwardly. Things like space layout, new member introductions, decision-making processes, monetary obligations. If done well, these systems are joyfully participated in, and disappear except for the standard maintenance and conscious involvement of the membership. In a smooth-running space, you don’t have to think about where to return your ratchet to, you just do. You don’t have to struggle with understanding the board-voting system because you helped create it, and contributing to it helps further your community.

Impressionen vom Stempel-Workshop at Dingfabrik, with permission from Fabienne

There are certainly people in your space who are specialists in maintenance and repair of the space itself. We do have to worry about due dates on bills, and maintaining safe space, and the dirty fridge not providing the material basis for the next incarnation of Cthuhlu. Some people take on the active role of those administrative tasks. And yet, part of being a hacker/maker/citizen is being aware of and responsible for the systems you’re part of. This is a participatory culture we’re creating.

A metaphor, just to be sure we’re in the same cognitive place: this is like when you get so good at riding your motorcycle that you reach a flow – you have only to think about where you’re going, not clutch-shift-clutch. As hackers and makers, we care to know how the carburetor or fuel injector is working, how that interacts with the air intake, what other models of motorcycles are out there. I can keep going about the welded construction, the materials involved, what grease to use, etc, but I think you get the point. Now extrapolate that to your *space. Also think about how nice it is to have reference material to help guide you through – either an online forum, or the oil-smeared choose-your-own-adventure of Haynes.

During my wonderful winter stay in Berlin, some of my lovely hosts discussed the idea of *space creation and maintenance. Skytee and Pylon participated in the first rounds of the Hackerspace Design Patterns. They were co-founders of Köln fablab Dingfabrik. Fabienne, another founder of Dingfabrik, but not an original documentor of the Design Patterns also sat with us. It’s important you know their names because these ideas would not have emerged without that conversation. Their work on the Patterns was sort of like laying the groundwork for that motorcycle maintenance forum.

Back around 2007, there were a fair number of spaces either established or getting started, mostly in Europe. The people participating in them mostly at least knew each other, but didn’t really have a dialog around the creation and maintenance of the spaces themselves. There was, however, conversation around the curation of those ideas and structure. And so, be still my organizing heart, a small group just started on it. They curated the conversations into general topics and flows, what seems to work and what doesn’t. That set was dubbed the Hackerspace Design Patterns. Those, along with a tour of European *spaces around the time of Chaos Communications Camp in 2007 is arguably what spawned the boom of *spaces in America. (Bre posted about the talk at Chaos Communications Congress later that year about the Patterns as it was happening right here on MAKE.)

Infrastructure before projects. Get the place and the people and the infrastructure all set up and folks will come up with the most amazing projects. Get the space, power, servers, connectivity and all that kind of stuff all set up so that projects and community can be supported. You need to have a mailing list, wiki, and an irc channel (or jabber server).

When my hosts, along with others, later founded Dingfabrik, they were glad to apply the Patterns. And better yet, to discover they were still relevant and useful. Part of this is due to continued conversation around and development of those patterns, but it is also due to the intelligent and careful laying of groundwork. I love how the sharing of knowledge is a key component to this movement, manifest even in the propagation of useful infrastructure.

Hearing these folk, who have been involved in the *space community for so long, speak with such passion about the community and their own Dingfabrik (sidebar: ownership as something that is/should be for any participating member of a *space, not just the founders) was inspiring. They spoke of the creation and maintenance of the space itself as a project just as worthwhile as the Taschen nähen workshop or Steampunk Bandwidth Meter coming out of it. They see these *spaces as decreasing the barrier to creativity, a place where you can make a mess, make noise in ways that you can’t in your own home. They are the infrastructure on which creativity and community exists.

The next time you’re visiting your friendly neighborhood *space (bonus points if you get the comic reference), remember to take a moment on the long-term group project of the space’s infrastructure. Remember to grease the chain by running the vacuum cleaner. Give a special thank you to the people who set aside their own physical projects to maintain the infrastructure. See how you can lighten their load.

If even only a small part of this movement is the creation of things, not simply the consumption of them, remember that this also applies to the social.

Vielen Dank an meine Gastgeber @fbz @skytee und @pylonc.


How-To: Moss Graffiti

How-To: Moss Graffiti

Wanna leave your mark in a cool but unobtrusive manner? How about a mossy message for the masses? Grab a clump of moss, whip up a moss milkshake, apply, and watch your art grow. Helen Nodding shared her recipe with us way back in CRAFT Volume 04, and it’s a perfect flashback for Natural Materials month on MAKE (and ideal with all the rain we’ve been getting this week), so we shared the how-to in Make: Projects. What will you tag up in moss?


How-To: Get Started with the BeagleBone

I’ve had my eye on embedded Linux platforms for quite a while now, but wasn’t sure how to get started. When I saw that our own Maker Shed started carrying the BeagleBone I put in a call to get a trial unit. The system reference manual that comes with the board is a bit daunting, and isn’t meant as a getting started guide (despite the fact that there’s plenty of useful reference information in there). After a bit of researching online, I started to get the grasp of using Linux’s virtual file system, sysfs, to read and control the GPIO pins on the BeagleBone. In parallel, I taught myself just enough Python to script these operations. With a basic digitalRead and digitalWrite functions, I had many of the tools I needed to do some cool projects with the board.

However, I spent a lot of time going back and forth between my board, the system reference manual, and my script as I worked towards getting blinking LEDs and buttons. Translating between the physical pin on the header to the pin I’d be referencing in the script meant going through two steps of translation, which quickly became frustrating. I updated my Python functions to do this translation for me and packaged it up into its own module. I didn’t have the intention to make this module available publicly, but I figured it could be a lot of help to anyone who’s getting started. This module, mrBBIO, is available at Github and I welcome anyone to make any improvements to it. If you’re looking for something more advanced, check out PyBBIO, which uses memory registers to do the same thing.

Now that I’ve got a good grasp on this, I’m eager to start using it in a “real” project. I managed to get the lighttpd web server with PHP running and I even wrote a PHP script that could set pins high and low. This will make it so much easier to put my electronics projects online, something that can be quite a challenge to do on less capable microntrollers.


I couldn’t cover every possible detail involved in working with the BeagleBone’s GPIO pins, but I hope this list of resources will fill in any gaps:

Subscribe to How-Tos with Matt Richardson in iTunes, download the m4v video directly, or watch it on YouTube and Vimeo.


NEWS FROM THE FUTURE – Solar Panels Made With Ion Cannons

News From The Future-11

NEWS FROM THE FUTURE – Solar Panels Made With Ion Cannons

Twin Creeks, a solar power startup that emerged from hiding today, has developed a way of creating photovoltaic cells that are half the price of today’s cheapest cells, and thus within reach of challenging the fossil fuel hegemony. The best bit: Twin Creeks’ photovoltaic cells are created using a hydrogen ion particle accelerator.

Twin Creeks’s 20-micrometer-thick metal-coated silicon wafers are flexible and strong (more).


Happy Tau Day

Vi Hart pushes back on Pi and whole Pi Day thingy.


Making Things See Video Intro

Here’s a video introduction to Making Things See, Greg Borenstein’s new Make: Books title about 3D vision projects you can build using Kinect, Arduino, Processing, and other readily available technologies.

This detailed, hands-on guide provides the technical and conceptual information you need to build cool applications with Microsoft’s Kinect, the amazing motion-sensing device that enables computers to see. Through half a dozen meaty projects, you’ll learn how to create gestural interfaces for software, use motion capture for easy 3D character animation, 3D scanning for custom fabrication, and many other applications.

Perfect for hobbyists, makers, artists, and gamers, Making Things See shows you how to build every project with inexpensive off-the-shelf components, including the open source Processing programming language and the Arduino microcontroller. You’ll learn basic skills that will enable you to pursue your own creative applications with Kinect.

Making Things See: 3D vision with Kinect, Processing, Arduino, and MakerBot is available now in the Maker Shed.


Vancouver Mini Maker Faire Fundraiser Extravaganza!

This Thursday, March 15th, at the Museum of Vancouver in Vancouver, BC, Vancouver makers are getting together to throw a big bash to celebrate the opening of our Call for Makers, and help raise funds for this year’s event. The evening will feature interactive demonstrations, musical performances, arts, crafts, there will be a silent auction, giveaways, and more! You can purchase tickets in advance, but if you would like to help out the cause, we are currently accepting donations through Eventbrite.

Featuring: A Flying Octopus! Vancouver Experimental Theremin Orchestra, The Legion of Flying Monkeys, Got Craft?, the Bright Red Crayon, A Mighty Ugly Project, glass art by Raul Granucci, glass marbles by Heiki Kapp, Rachel Ashe’s Altered Books, and more!

Vancouver Experimental Theremin Orchestra will be performing at 8:30. Don't miss it!

The Legion of Flying Monkeys' Hand-Carved Horn Instruments

Musical Performance by a Flying Octopus at 7:30

$10-15 suggested admission. None turned away for lack of funds. Your donation supports the 2012 Vancouver Mini Maker Faire. Includes admission to MOV’s amazing special exhibitions: Art Dec Chic and Neon Vancouver | Ugly Vancouver!


How-To: Carve Bone

You know that old joke about carving an elephant? About how you just cut away everything that isn’t an elephant? It endures, I think, because it’s basically true.

To an extent, then, these bone-carving instructional videos from lifetime fisherman, professional fishing guide, surfer, and renowned craftsman Louie the Fish don’t contain too many surprises. From a practical perspective, probably the most useful tip comes right at the beginning: If you’re looking for a source of cheap, clean bone to carve, try PetCo. They sell pristine cattle leg bones for dogs to chew on, and these also make great material for carving.

Louie’s videos are, nonetheless, tremendously enjoyable because Louie himself is so charming, and so good with his tools. In the first, he teaches basic methods and techniques for carving by making a traditional-style Hawaiian bone hook (although not, clearly, using traditional methods). In the second, he shows how to use the same basic processes to make a more complex animal form. Both are recommended.

Louie the Fish


Boxie the Robot Explores its Surroundings

Boxie is a semi-autonomous robot with a cardboard body that roams through its surroundings until it finds a willing human participant to answer its questions and star in a movie it films. It was designed and built by Alexander Reben at MIT’s Media Lab.

Boxie is a simple and cute looking critter, reminiscent of a tweenbot, but it has a litany of on-board sensors and gadgets that helps in its interaction. It uses treads to get around, a PIR and IR sensor to navigate obstacles, an accelerometer to track whether it’s being moved, and a camera to document its adventures.

Buttons on the side of the head provide interface for its interactions with humans which, as you can see in the video, involve an interview and a dance party, and the whole system is controlled by an Arduino Mega.

[via Hacked Gadgets]


Bipartisan Bill for Crowdfunded Investments In Senate

First, the news; then some background. A bill legalizing crowdfunded investments was introduced into the Senate yesterday, sponsored by both Democratic and Republican senators. A similar bill already passed the House overwhelmingly (twice, actually), and the White House supports the idea and says that the President is ready to sign. So the Senate was effectively the last stop. Now it looks likely that this will become law, after the House and Senate versions are reconciled. Then it will presumably be kicked over to the SEC for details and implementation.

This is huge news for makers. Phil Torrone argued here last October that Open Source Hardware is Kickstarting Kickstarter, and it’s hard not to notice that the most successful crowdfunding raises, in terms of raw dollar amounts, are almost always geek-oriented — from last week’s 3.3 million dollar raise for the game Double Fine Adventure on down. Sure, filmmakers, artists, activists, and others benefit from crowdfunding, but it’s the (frequently open-source) hardware and software projects that really take off.

To keep it legal, contributors can’t be investors — they can receive perks like credits or gifts based on how much they contribute, and fundraisers frequently offer advance sale of items not yet produced. But advance sales may be illegal, particularly when any “donors” reside in states like California, which have a broader definition of “securities” than federal law. California law has one case (Silver Hills Country Club v. Sobieski, 1961) where someone tried to fund the building of a country club by selling memberships in advance. The state securities board shut them down, and it stuck, because this was considered a security. This case looks like a clear precedent (and Profounder shut down recently for violation of securities laws), but as far as I know, Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and RocketHub haven’t been challenged on this yet.

This new legislation will change all of that by allowing makers to offer a genuine piece of the action to people invest in them. Want to take off a few months to pursue some idea you have? Do others believe that you’re onto something? Then they can become invested in the project– not just financially but intellectually and emotionally, to help you all succeed.

Opponents rightly warn about opportunities for fraud, but crowdfunding would make a tough con, because it all takes place out in the open, and would-be investors can communicate with each other and verify any claims collaboratively via their own research. In an interesting recent discussion on the Kaufmann Foundation’s Growthology blog, Robert Litan notes that in the early days of Ebay, skeptics thought it would soon be overrun with scammers, but clearly it was well designed to prevent this. In response, Tim Rowe notes that crowdfunded securities are already legal in some other countries, and so far, no fraud has ever taken place on these foreign crowdfunding sites.

To this, I would just add a citation to the only case of attempted CF fraud in the U.S. that I know of– the Tech-Sync Power System on Kickstarter. Here is the full story, from Andy Geime’s Geekscape blog, but to sum it up, someone made some semi-plausible technical claims and raised advance-sale money, but as people looked into it and discussed, they realized something wasn’t right. They started asking questions, the offeror went AWOL, and no one lost a dime.


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