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Engine of More: How To Hackerspace

Engine of More: How To Hackerspace

How to start a Hackerspace: this book would be a companion for those looking to found or start a space. It would concentrate on the organisational, financial and marketing aspects of starting a Hackerspace rather than choosing tools and other geekery covered well elsewhere. It would seek to focus on the tools needed to cope with the emotional labour or founding and running a Hackerspace and would be something like a self-help book, with a style influenced by books like “Tribes, we need you to lead us” by Godin or “the life changing magic of tidying” Kondo and “The war of art” by Pressfield.

Continuing my series based on 4 book ideas I put forward in the blog on Friday, I move to consider my 3rd idea, the “How to” book. This idea sits simultaneously for me in both the appeal and unappealing pile. Its the book I’ve tried to start writing or tried to have the most conversations about but which is pretty much the most frustrating and ignored of my thinkings. It’s a topic which has been approached in a dozens of ways, especially if you swap the word hackerspace for makerspace. More about that in a moment.

When I started out trying to setup Nottinghack (the name of the organisation that would become the Nottingham Hackspace) in 2010, there wasn’t very much information at all. There were few people in a position to advise. There were at the time Hackerspaces around the country including London Hackspace (just getting started above an archery range), Leeds Hackspace (in a sort of loft) Fizzpop in Birmingham (meeting at an arts collective) and Bristol Hackspace (a mysterious entity called the BOT Lab), all seemed impossibly remote and uncontactable to me at the time. I did manage to pluck up the courage to contact Fizzpop though. I reached out to them and got an answer from Antonio Roberts http://hellocatfood.com/ 

Thanks for your e-mail, it’s always great to hear from people wanting
to set up their own hackerspace.

For setting up your own hackerspace I’d recommend the following first steps:

* Set up a mailing list. Google provides free and easy mailing lists
at http://groups.google.com/. This’ll do until you have your own
dedicated list, though a lot of hackerspaces that I’m aware of just
use Google Groups as their main list
* Find similar groups in the area and announce your plans there. I’ve
only been to Nottingham a few times but I’m pretty sure they have
Linux User Group there
* Possibly sign up to the global hackerspaces mailing list at
http://hackerspaces.org/ and use their knowledge
* Find a venue to have an initial meeting, preferably with wifi
* Tell everyone you know!
* Set a regular day to meet and stick to it
* Have fun hacking!

Unless you have the funds to secure a venue don’t worry about getting
your own dedicated premises just yet, just get the community together.

If there’s any more questions that you have feel free to e-mail again
or we can have a chat on our IRC channel (just lemme know when you’re
around)

Good luck!

Ant

This was tremendously good advice.

I remember thinking quite jealously about Fizzpop at that time, their output and pictures seemed impossible for me to comprehend. How had they found a place to exist? Was some council or organisation handing spaces out to the worthy, if only I knew which door to push on? Where did the money come from? How had they gotten from here to there? I was quite jealous of them in point of fact, they had in recent weeks put on a soldering workshop with Mitch Altman! THE Mitch Altman, who at that time was a sort of the pied-piper of hackerspaces, the founder of Noisebridge and having been amongst the most vocal advocates and part of the legendary “Hackers on a Plane” tour of Germany. I remember I wanted it all and I wanted it now and couldn’t fathom how to make any of it appear in an instant.

Around this time there was much talk of the “Design Patterns” which, I must admit, I’ve never particularly felt comfortable with. From time to time I’ve heard leaders in the hackerspace movement refer to the design patterns, almost as tablets of stone brought down from a holy mountain. The complete α to Ω, all the knowledge needed, all the work on how to run a hackerspace had been done, by the Germans, and written, into those “perfect” design patterns. Don’t get me wrong, they are useful, especially the one about the dishwasher. Okay, I’ll also cop to having done the “Spooky Action at a Distance” anti-pattern following burn out (is that a new one?). You can also find a “Design Patterns Catalogue” on the Hackerspaces.org Wiki.

Over the years that followed, various guides appeared online. Makezine.com had this one by Mitch Altman in 2012 and Adafruit did another later that same year. Moritz Walter wrote another for Hackaday in 2016. All of these guides are good and some of them touch on the interpersonal aspects of how to make a Hackerspace. When I’ve tried to start this book before, it quickly started to become a self-help book. One can’t help but feel, when one starts to write such a book, that you could be compared to a drowning man writing a book about how to swim. Which really only begs the question, who amongst us is really unbroken enough to write a book about to help anyone else?

So this book for me, should be about some of the emotional labour that goes with founding or doing ongoing active driving of a space, though I feel certain that my own approaches have been very far from perfect and have lacked some finesse, worse have at times been detrimental, stressful to others and led me to periods of near personal catastrophe. Recently (like literally in the last few weeks) I’ve had cause to reflect on my own attitudes and behaviours towards the Foundation at large and the Nottingham Hackspace in particular. I’m unsure how to best help the Nottingham Hackspace, who really are doing just fine in-spite of rather than because of any help I’ve given them in recent years. Being kind to myself for a moment, I do feel I have something to bring to the table around emotional labour and burnout, I see a potentially horrible trap for those who would engage with a Hackerspace at a director level, a thankless unpaid job that ruins a perfectly good hobby, BUT as with any organisation, the people prevail. If it’s worth doing, and it is, people will step up and they have to be allowed to do it their way. So whilst I do think this is a book that I could write its not the book I want to write.

At this point, I’m putting the breaks on, and reflecting that, writing and writers block aren’t really problems for me, but homing in on WHAT is important is. Maybe its a bit like sculpting, you take effort to find the write block of stone (analogy for all the stuff I’m writing) then you release the book from within it?

I want to include a reading (or listening/viewing) list at this point, some of the works I found useful and since wish I’d known about or read at the time:

What I was reading & listening to at the time of founding:

At the time I was reading/learning a lot about Lean Manufacturing.

Free, the future of a radical price by Chris Anderson (though I listened to this in audio book format via iTunes/ApplePodcasts)

The Long Tail, why the future of business is selling less of more by Chris Anderson I had this as an audiobook from Audible

Mythbusters Beyond Productions

Make: Magazine (the physical print version, especially when it was in the old Popular Mechanics size produced quarterly).

YouTube continues to be a great source of inspiration for me at the time finding clips longer than a few minutes was hard.

This talk Make Your Own Unmanned Aerial Vehicle - Chris Anderson led directly to a rabbit hole that had me hearing the words Arduino and Hackerspace for the first time leading directly to my desire to found Nottinghack.

Weekend Projects on Make: Channel YouTube

The Adam Savage talk on Obsession FORA.TV

What I wish I’d known about at that time:

Tribes: We need you to lead us by Seth Godin

1000 True Fans by Kevin Kelly

The School of Life on YouTube (didn’t exist then)

Happy, why more or less absolutely everything is fine by Derren Brown

Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is by John Scalzi

As per usual, I’d welcome feedback on anything you see here.

Engine of More: The Maker Monk

Engine of More: The Maker Monk

Engine of More: Utopian Hackerspace

Engine of More: Utopian Hackerspace