Hacker Spaces Offer More Than Sum of
March 15, 2017
whether they’re Wikileaks or malicious computer coders, have a bad
reputation. But there are also hackers who are simply trying to create a
more user-friendly world. Think of them as New Age do-it-yourselfers.
And they have playgrounds where they do their hacking.
Hacker Safe Spaces
Tinkerers around the world are starting to come together at so-called
hacker spaces, to share tools and camaraderie. These hacker spaces
include a member-financed club in a warehouse in Oakland, California
called Ace Monster Toys.
Jose’s full time work is as an architect, but in his spare time, he
hangs out at Ace Monster Toys so he can use big “toys” like a buzz saw.
He hacks guitars out of old wood, including one created entirely from
triangular scraps of highly-prized purple heartwood that a carpenter had
thrown away after completing a project.
Different rooms, different tech
Rachel McCrafty, an artist, designer, and maker whose real name is
Rachel Sadd, runs Ace Monster Toys. She says Jose’s work represents the
heart of what they do here.
“That he made something epically beautiful out of trash," she says,
“that’s the essence, to me, of hacking.”
She says Ace is a great place to hack, tinker and collaborate on a
variety of projects.
There’s a textile room, where quilt squares made in the beginner’s
sewing class are displayed on one wall. The highlight is the club’s
professional sewing machine.
In another part of the building, it’s more high-tech. Software engineer
Walt joins Jason, a sound engineer, to experiment with Jason’s latest
“toy.” It’s a programmable music cube he’s developed that flashes green
and yellow as it changes pitch, all in a clear cube that’s no bigger
than the palm of your hand.
Upstairs at an electrician’s table, red lights flash as part of a
baton-sized gizmo for scaring pets away from cars. Kam, its creator, is
a salesman for a semiconductor equipment maker. He says that he’s
learned new ways to program gadgets, thanks to other Ace Club members.
In fact, the people who hack here say that one of the best things about
this place, is the people who hack here.
“Whenever I run into problems, people here help me,” Kam says. “They are
very nice people. Very helpful.”
McCrafty says she planned it that way.
“Our teachers are volunteers, our tool stewards are volunteers, our
board members serve as volunteers. They’re just incredibly generous.”
A cooperative space
The club’s 150 members pay monthly dues to cover the building's rent,
and to get their hands on cool stuff, like a 3-D desktop printer, and a
monster-sized laser cutter that can cleanly cut wood into the curvy
front of an electric guitar, or make something as delicate as a paper
octopus. Members can use the tools anytime, day or night. McCrafty says
it works out, thanks to rules that emphasize communication and respect.
“Respect yourself. Be safe. Respect the space,” she says. “Respect the
people you’re sharing with.”
These values pay off, as they did for Owen and Arun. The young
entrepreneurs are here every day, all day, using computers in the club’s
shared office space. They’re programming Amazon’s virtual assistant
Alexa to be a virtual banking expert that readily answers financial
hanging out at Ace, Owen says they’ve learned more about how a high-tech
probability model can enhance Alexa's virtual banking expertise.
“It was actually our friend, Walt. We had just met him then, and he
said, ‘Hey, I couldn’t help but overhear, you guys were talking about a
Bayesian classifier. Let me tell you how I use that in my current job.'"
Looking around at his fellow hackers, Owen added, "So I think it’s
pretty critical that we’re in a space where people are generous with
their time, they’re super motivated and working on their own projects.
It just creates these chance encounters.”
It all makes this hackerspace greater than the sum of its parts, or its
members, all of them offering unique ways for people to “play” together.