Barre Open Systems Institute (BOSI), Libraries, Civic Halls, and Hackerspaces
[I know I’m long-winded. Deal with it. 😉 But bookmark / explore the links included.]
I was trying to hoe a middle row last night. One which, not being a resident of Barre, I have little right to hoe, but that’s never stopped me before. I’m more comfy at the keyboard and hope this will prove to be a more nuanced attempt at that road.
On the one hand, I’m all for a true hackerspace. Attempting to clarify what I was saying last night, I think the “but there’s not enough staff…” argument shows a bit of a misunderstanding of the way hackerspaces function. (Again, I’m speaking from VERY limited experience.) Think co-op. Think farmers market. The participants / members ARE the staff. And, if things are done right, they have a vested interest in sustainability, safety, growth, education, entrepreneurship, etc. which should allay the fears of the more conservative elements of the society. You shouldn’t need babysitters, watchdogs, or maintenance. HacDC, upon moving into the church said “You know what? Your WiFi sucks. We’ll fix that for you,” and rewired the entire church, not just their rental space. They’ve made other infrastructure improvements as well.
While the Adult Swim has made an impressive impact, limping along in the basement of the church once a week and getting kicked out by the Boy Scouts can only take one so far. Moving it to somewhere else and sticking to the “two hours once a week” model would only potentially be a modest improvement at best (if there was more space, more tables, more electrical outlets, beer, etc). The big problem is storage and access. Not everyone is free at the same time, and schlepping your half-built whatever back and forth, sometimes across the frozen tundra with the huskies, just doesn’t cut it. Speaking of “cut it” CNC routers, laser cutters, and 3D printers don’t take kindly to being moved constantly, even if you do find the means to port them.
So, a permanent home, perhaps initially kicked off with a grant, but probably ultimately sustained by membership and the occasional baked sale / fundraiser / “Colorado dispensary” is probably the goal to aim for.
On the flip side, I don’t know of any official government support in the U.S. Yes, the politicians will say nice things, but the public libraries, while trying to become something akin to hackerspaces, aren’t, to the best of my knowledge, in a position to set up the kind of space that needs to exist. The best governments are able to do are to partner with big-ish businesses, or businesses they HOPE will become big, and support co-working “incubators” for “entrepreneurs” — some of which very much resemble hackerspaces, so that the cities can draw in more businesses.
I’m not sure the “if you build it, they will come” field of dreams model will work either. Are you SURE there’s enough “they” to come? Maybe a survey / census, so that you can plead your case before some cabal with graphs and charts, papers in hand. I don’t know. So, I think the approach of generating interest with Raspberry Pi / Arduino classes that don’t involve sharp pointy things, hot pointy things, or anything that involves insurance waivers is a good start. We’ve become a very litigious society. The libraries (and possibly schools, “wreck” centers, and of course your “Meth”-odist Lab) become the incubators for the true hackerspace. Hook ’em when they’re young, and they’ll build up a tolerance quickly, at which point you can push the “harder” stuff on them. 😉
The idea of a traveling circus / mobile lab could work: Fab Lab DC (http://www.fablabdc.org/) started out with a grant from the Awesome Foundation (http://www.awesomefoundation.org/) and was a mobile lab for a while before settling into a space. By the way, notice the Neanderthal grunting over the Arduino in the back left corner of the photo on Fab Lab DC’s home page. 😉
Also, although considerably more effective under the former mayor, the DC Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) was doing a lot to “bridge the digital divide” with their Community Broadband Summits, which also included a van full of networked laptops that community members could try out. They showed up at the first Disco Tech. (Picture #4 on the Connect.DC web site http://connect.dc.gov/ shows part of an outside view of their slick, shiny van.) Sadly, DC OCTO has lost its way, and although they still pay lip service to “digital inclusion” the last couple of summits have been “How can we attract angel investors so that we can become the Silicon Valley of the East?” rather than its former goal of “How can we bring technology to the under-served citizens, and provide them with the education to use it effectively?” But I rant.
As much as I detest bureaucracy, “Robots” Rules of Order is probably going to have to come into play. With that thought, I encourage you to look at the bylaws of both HacDC and Free Geek, both 501c3 non-profits which have gotten permanent space.
If you’re not familiar with Free Geek, you should really explore their wiki. I think it may be quite helpful, given the reputation of the VT population. I’ve provided a link below to article I wrote for Red Hat’s opensource.com site reporting on Free Geek.
“Refurbished computer business offers education and job skills in exchange for community service.”
Also, simply Googling “hackerspace bylaws” turned up a few hits but I didn’t explore them.
Anyway, I hope something in the above proves useful.
P.S. I mentioned the DISCOvering TECHnology (Disco Tech) Faires inspired by the Detroit Allied Media Project’s Disco Techs. More specifically, they were inspired by the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition ( http://detroitdjc.org/). There wasn’t much of a write-up on the second DC Disco Tech but here’s a couple of tidbits from the first one:
And, I forgot to mention, MIT has recently picked up on the whole Disco Tech idea:
I just had a short call with Monsieur Flint, and… oops. I kept hearing “town hall / civic hall” when he was saying “labor hall”. I was thinking it was some sort of government building with a regular day-to-day office-like function. He pointed out the web site. That and a very brief history of the current local politics / nepotism 😉 make his position considerably clearer. Whilst I don’t know if his path to Karen Lane is best, I’m getting the sense that the road to the labor hall basement might be considerably easier than I first thought. Of course, this is still a VERY outsider perspective, with no knowledge of the history or personalities involved , let alone the condition of the building for such a space. But a good argument for a DIY space in a Socialist stronghold reinvigorated by a psychedelic pizza-loving, anti-war, folklorist Quaker (who may have had a Guy Fawks / Anonymous mask somewhere) and the love of his life… That potentially has legs. That said, at least in DC, historical society folks can be real sticks in the mud, and I sometimes think they’d bring back slavery and the black plague just to keep things historically preserved. Often not the most responsive to looking forward rather than back. (Taking to the DC Historical Society about accessibility shows the disconnect with reality sometimes , though they usually reluctantly cave a little. And, I’m sorry but some of those things they want to preserve are just plain butt-ugly and the space s could be put to MUCH better use. Preserving the past at the expense of the present — and future. But I rant again.)
By: Kevin Cole