Bricolage is a podcast for makers, made in the united kingdom by dominic morow with new episodes more or less every week!

Engine of More: Bikeshedding

Engine of More: Bikeshedding

This is an introduction to Bikeshedding. What is bikeshedding? When a problem or a project is proposed in a Hackerspace, generally speaking, where the hackerspace is run with a flat hierarchy* debate ensues and rages on for a while and no actual activity gets done.

* we are not talking about the many dictatorships that look a bit like a hackerspace

The right place to start is with the Hackerspace design patterns which describe the problem thus:

I think red is a terrific color for a bike shed.

Red is a terrible color for a bike shed. Bike sheds should be white. White keeps the shed cooler inside.

I’d really like to reduce our eco-footprint with this project. Black paint would keep the shed warm in the winter and reduce our need for portable heaters. Also, it will keep my bikeseat warm in the winter.

While I am intrigued by your desire to use the endothermic properties of dark paint in seeking an ideal thermodynamic state within the bikeshed, I wonder if maybe we should approach this from another angle. What about the psychological impact of colors? With the right shade of color we could produce the abject desire to avoid storing your bike within the shed, thus reducing the likelihood of a bike critical mass within the shed, and keeping people exercising longer. That beind said it would be my suggestion that the bike shed be painted a 1950s style vomit green. Maybe wall paper the inside with a banana print. Hang a chandelier and install a cocktail cabinet.

You suggest creating something new for your hackerspace, like a bikeshed. But now all anyone will discuss is its colour. No bikeshed will be built.

That’s a known problem. It’s sometimes called “Parkinson’s Law of Triviality”. If you suggest something that everybody else in your hackerspace can build, they will take part in the discussion. Even if it’s only the colour of the bikeshed, the design of the T-shirts, the Linux-distribution on the server, etc. Nerds tend to discuss trivial problems in epic detail, while more complex tasks will be ignored. Identify pointless discussion like these and just end them.

Don’t be distracted into a discussion about bikesheds and their colour, that’s not what bikeshedding is really about, that’s just the example. In a Hackspace bikeshedding occurs often, not just because the folks in a space get distracted by all the possibilities of the outcome of a project, but also because structures are flat and it’s easy to avoid taking responsibility for a project. This also doesn’t just occur when

When something is everyones job, it’s really no ones responsibility, worse, if it is a group people that are responsible for something then its just as unlikely to happen.

Early on in Nottingham Hackspace we made a rule called Rule 3, Talk is Cheap..

Rule 3 is becoming an important part of the culture of Nottingham Hackspace.

Talk is very cheap, and hackers love to gabble about stuff, and speculate on the directions a project could go in. Before you can say “Gantt chart”, a relatively simple and practical project suddenly morphs into a massive technical specification for something that will, say, automatically display a tiny superfluous lolcat while performing its actual intended function. The person who just wants to get on with it may feel paralysed by the intentions and ambitions of others. The Bikeshed Anti-Pattern is a good explanation of the problem.

When it’s not a contentious issue, doing stuff counts far more than talking about stuff. If you’re actually doing the thing, and it won’t interfere with infrastructure or other hackers, then your opinion generally counts a lot more than the kind of idle speculation we’re all prone to firing at ideas on the mailing list.

There are several ways to interpret Rule 3:

Don’t mistake speculation for intention.
Just get on with it.
If you’re doing something awesome, you probably don’t need permission from anyone else.
Rule 3 is not carte blanche to do whatever you like; all members are expected to take other members into account. However, don’t be put off doing something simple just because people have more ambitious ideas that they’re unlikely to execute on.

Rule 3, “talk is cheap” came about because in the early days of the Nottingham Hackspace, it became rather tiresome when working on, say, an Arduino project, to have someone else say to you something like “What YOU should do is with that Arduino is build a robot.” The original idea of the “talk is cheap” rule, was to stop people telling you what you should do with your project and to encourage them instead to go do that thing they suggested, themselves.

I’m going to repeat this, with a slightly different example. You’d turn up with two halves of a bike with the intention of turning them into a whole bike, for example. Another member of the space would sidle over and say “What you should do with those bikes is make a cider press.” “No you’d say, I’m going to make a bike.” The idea was that instead of giving forth opinions about what others should do, you should do a thing yourself, with your own stuff and not trouble others with how they should work on their stuff.

But, of course, as the Hackspace was being developed and worked on, people came up with ideas about what should be done, yet not wanting to do that themselves they’d say “Someone should_______” and that might be “make a woodwork area” or “build a door bot.” Rapidly in the Nottingham Hackspace, Rule 3 got moved to tackle this sort of “suggestion”. There was something similar at the London Hackspace.


Well Volunteered, uses the Engineering Professor animal advise meme template and can be found on Jonty Wareing’s website. Implying that the person who suggests the thing, should do the thing. In the best case scenario this means that people will do good things. In the worst case it means people won’t speak up for fear of being lumbered with a responsibility they can’t handle, or worse will end up being volunteered for a task for which they are ill equipped or prepared.

Now you know what Bikeshedding is. All that has to happen now is I tell you how to fix this problem… now if we paint the problem red then…

todays photo thumbnail is a picture of railway arches at Herne Hill, Lambeth in South London. The South London Makerspace is in a railway arch a few yards up from these “lock-ups”. I believe that railway arches make excellent homes for Maker and Hackerspaces.

Engine of More: Making it easy Pt.2

Engine of More: Making it easy Pt.2

Engine of More: Making it easy

Engine of More: Making it easy