Workshops

We’ve been running a series of workshops at Cambridge Hackspace over the last few months, getting people to build electronics projects.

The evening is spent learning basic soldering techniques, assembling and soldering the components, and then programming the Arduino software. Usually we learn a bit of fault finding too, as there’s always someone that applied too little or too much solder somewhere, and we have to track it down.

soldering

So far we’ve run workshops to build clocks and thermometers, we also have upcoming workshops building spectrum analysers, multimeters, wifi display screens, and internet connected environmental sensors.

clock

The inspiration came from Paint Nite, a local company providing group painting classes, where you go home with your own painting to hang on your wall. You get to learn, create, and have something to show for it afterwards.

That’s exactly what we’re doing at hackspace, with a focus on electronics and software.

Not only do our up-and-coming electronic engineers get to benefit from the evening, but we get to earn some money too, which goes towards improving our workshop and making the space more appealing to new members.

hackers

Starting a Hackspace part 2

When I moved from the UK I brought with me 2 small boxes of electronics, they weren’t a lot, but they had the basics, and they turned out to be enough to start a hackspace.

I teamed up with a colleague, and meeting in her living room we had our first hackspace meeting.

Knowing that another of our colleagues *loves* the song ‘baby I love your way’ we decided to build a speaker that would play the first 20 seconds of the song – connected to a motion sensor. It was to be installed in a hidden location next to said colleague’s desk, so whenever he moved the song would play. We got our device working, we were ready with our prank, the hacking night had been a success!

Prank

It was that night that we made a plan to hold a proper event, we created an event online, made a Facebook page, and signed up for a twitter account, we had the basics – we were going to be a hackspace.

Having a hackspace usually involves having space, and we didn’t have any. We decided that we would hold a hacking event at our office, we had a room, and it had a dining room table in it. The point of the event was to get people together, get them making, and get them talking. We wanted to see if people were interested in a hackspace, and if they would find value in it.

We held our first proper meeting in April, 13 people turned up, and we ran out of chairs – a mark of success in anyones book. We met some great people, and heard so many interesting ideas. Most importantly we’d had a lot of fun.

First Meeting

We decided that without a dedicated space we were instead going to hold regular events, bootstrap the operation, and see if there was enough interest within the community.

Our weekly Tuesday meetings brought in a steady flow of new hackers, all keen to share their ideas. People wanted to work on projects together, they brought their ideas, and they were interested in the future of the hackspace.

A couple of moves, a 3D printer, and nearly 40 meetings later and we have our regulars, we have new visitors each week, and we are now looking for dedicated space. We’re going to move from a weekly social/hacking night to becoming an actual hackspace. The word ‘space’ in our name will no longer be technically incorrect.

I still use those 2 boxes of components in my projects, only now we have a large group of people all with their own boxes of parts to work and collaborate with.

Community in maker spaces

When you think of a maker space, your mind automatically goes to a physical space, tools, equipment, and what you can build there. The space and the tools are obviously very important, and provide a place, and a means for members to build their projects. This is especially true when you start looking at larger, messier or more expensive tools, like band saws, laser cutters, and CNC machines. Having these tools really expands the capability of the members, and lets them work without limiting their creativity.

However, there is something within a maker space that is even more valuable, the community.

The benefits of the community are many, and not always realised. People are often drawn into maker spaces by the tools, but their real benefit can often be from their fellow makers.

You get to work alongside other people who have similar interests to your own, you can share ideas, get feedback, and receive validation for your ideas. Having others there to demo your work to inspires you to keep working, a friendly sense of competition can promote you to work more on your project, or to make it better, something you may not have done if you were working on your own. Plus, celebrating a successful project is much more fun when it’s done with people that appreciate your accomplishment (and beer).

Collaborating on projects with other people is also a massive benefit, you can embark on a build that goes way further than your skill set, knowing that there others with complementary skills that will fill the gaps. Working with other people keeps you motivated, and gives a sense of accountability, improving your chances of finishing.

Some people find that a hackspace is a great place to meet and make friends with like minded people. Not everyone is lucky enough to live or work with people as the same hobbies and interests as them, so they rely on a community, or social events to meet them. A maker space for some can be purely social, and some great friends can be made.

There are usually a wide variety of events held at maker spaces, there can be interesting speakers, hackathons, parties, and evenings where members share the projects they are working on.

Education through the community should not be underestimated, in some maker spaces courses are run every week or evening covering topics from microprocessor programming, screen printing, welding, or training on one of the various tools. In other spaces people get together informally and share what they know with each other. Even if learning is not formally mentioned, whenever you talk to a fellow member, or come to an event, you are always learning.

There is always something to discover, to learn, and to try, and it’s the community within the maker space that connects it all together.

Starting a Hackspace part 1

I moved to the Boston area almost a year ago for work, I brought my wife over, and we settled down in Somerville, a place with a great community feeling. I had been part of a different type of community back in London and was actively participating in the London hackspace, a maker space in east London that caters for people designing, making and building things.

Although my work involves expressing myself in code, designing websites, it does not give me a creative outlet that lets me work with my hands, other than clicking on the keys on my keyboard. Being part of a hackspace is my creative outlet, and I find it extremely rewarding.

The London hackspace is a community run hackspace, the community decides what big tools should be purchased, where the physical space should be, and what events should be put on. To be a member you pay what you want, and you have full access to the tools, workshops, and space. Training is done on a regular schedule, costs nothing, and allows you to use the laser cutter, welding tools and lathe. The space is run for and by the members, and that setup works amazingly, it’s a great place to be a part of.

So I found myself in the US, I had to rent an apartment, work out where the baked beans were in the supermarket (they don’t sell them here) and most importantly, find an outlet for my creative side.

I needed to find myself a maker space.

I looked around at the options, but none of them seemed suitable. There was the Artisan’s Asylum in Somerville, a massive space with awesome tools, but a bit expensive for my tastes. There were several university based maker spaces, and fab labs, but with access only for students, so, I was left out.

I wanted to find a maker space with a community feeling like the London hackspace, some internet searching showed a few maker spaces that had come and gone, and a couple that were too far away, which didn’t leave many options.

That left me with a decision to make, do try and fit myself into another hackspace, do I give up on the idea and just work on my projects at home on my own, or should I start my own.

I decided to create my own.