Why you should care about your local hackerspace

Open centers of grassroots innovation, hackerspaces offer opportunities to source talent, create goodwill, and push technology forward

This week I'm yielding the floor to Phil Rhodes, a senior consultant for my company, Open Software Integrators. I think you'll enjoy his take on the hackerspace movement. -- ACO

I had the good fortune to be able to attend Maker Faire North Carolina this weekend in Raleigh, N.C. Maker Faires are amazing events that bring together representatives from all parts of the Maker culture, DIY culture, and the hackerspaces movement. At this local Maker Faire, I was struck by the number of hackerspaces represented. The energy, buzz, and activity around their booths was captivating.

Our local hackerspace from Durham, N.C., Splat Space, was in the middle of the activity, with volunteers doing everything from teaching children to program in Scratch to demoing cool Raspberry Pi projects to showing off DIY sand-casting techniques for casting metal objects in your backyard to, of course, showing off the now ubiquitous, ultimate DIY machine, a 3D printer.

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Amid all this buzz, it dawned on me that everyone should be excited about hackerspaces and what they represent, both for their local communities and the world. Although the hackerspace movement is growing rapidly, many people are still not familiar with them, where they are located, or what they do. So let's examine the hackerspace world and explore why you should give a crap about it.

Defining a movement
What exactly is a hackerspace (also referred to as a hacklab, makerspace, or hackspace)? In the words of Mitch Altman, a co-founder of Noisebridge in San Francisco:

[Hackerspaces are] centers of unique community, each supporting the individuals there to explore and do what they love, each an inspirational source of true education where anyone can learn what they need to live the lives they want to live, each a vibrant hub of local community.

The Noisebridge founder further elaborates on the nature of hackerspaces and hacking:

[A hackerspace is] a real physical space, like a storefront in LA or a warehouse in Detroit, where people are supported to explore and do what they love through hacking. Hacking is taking what is, improving on it to the best of your ability, and sharing it. Since anything, no matter how cool, can be improved, we can hack anything. We can hack computers and electronics, of course, but also art and craft, math, science, yourself, society, the planet. We can and do hack anything.

Likewise, Catarina Mota, founder of the AltLab hackerspace in Lisbon, Portugal, says hackerspaces are:

... community-built, self-financed, self-organized, and entirely grassroots, shared space(s) where people from all walks of life choose to pool their resources and spend their free time -- learning, teaching each other, and inventing.

A hackerspace, then, is a physical location, where members of the hackerspace community pool their resources (time, money, tools, equipment and supplies) in order to create a collaborative environment for learning, exploring, teaching, doing, and inventing.

Common features of hackerspaces include: A well-lit, accessible physical environment, with plenty of tabletops and workbenches; a video projector for presentations; small hand tools; electronic tools, including soldering irons, multimeters, oscilloscopes, benchtop power supplies, and more; machining and physical fabrication tools, including drill presses, band saws, grinders, CNC mills, CNC lathes, 3D printers, and related goods; scientific supplies and equipment; a lending library of books and journals; and of course, plenty of computers and computing equipment. Hackerspaces also tend to have a "spare parts" area where equipment is stored and intended to be taken apart, hacked, modified, or scavenged for parts for another project.

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