Hackerspaces and Projects Galore in Hack This!

Geek Culture People

Hack This bookHack This book

If you’re a DIYer or tinkerer and are unfamiliar with the term hackerspace, then author (and GeekDad contributor) John Baichtal has just the book for you. The flip side of that is, if you already are familiar with the term hackerspace, John Baichtal has just the book for you. Let’s just recap for a moment — I’m taking this definition directly from this new book, Hack This!, because honestly I don’t think I can come up with a better definition:

Imagine a friend calls you up on a Wednesday night and invites you to the open night at the local hackerspace… You step through the doorway and into a noisy room full of people and equipment. At one table, a couple of guys are hundred over a 3D printer… [in] the wood shop a woman is milling hardwood for a suite of customer furniture she’s designing… [other] members are playing around with a CNC machine… while others are soldering electronic components together. People are working and talking together. They’re sharing information, learning new things, asking questions… [they’re] building projects to fill a practical need or simply for the love of it. This is a hackerspace.

I’ve been anxiously awaiting a book on this topic, and I was quite happy to hear that a fellow contributor and friend was writing a book that takes a look at some of the most successful hackerspaces around the globe. I got a first look at an early draft of the book that lacked images, but I was so impressed by the information provided that I didn’t even miss the photos. But now, the completed book is out, and I’m happy to report that the publisher chose to go full-color and the photos of the hackerspaces, their members, and their special projects are impressive and inspiring.

First, what is Hack This! about? Glad you asked.

On one hand, you could simply look at the book as a collection of 24 hands-on projects that you can build in your garage or workshop. Many involve some basic woodworking skills and even more involve some basic electronics skills. But what’s so cool about the projects is that they’re not what you might recognize as polished products you’d find on a store shelf. These are projects that have a certain look and feel that I often refer to as kludged. And before you think that may sound insulting, please know that I love projects that show seams. I love projects that don’t attempt to hide the big blobs of glue from a hot glue gun. I love projects that steal components from other devices (often dead VCRs or broken toys) and use them to revive other devices or build completely new ones. I’m talking Frankenstein-level creations, and this book is full of them.

The book could easily stand alone with just the 24 special projects. There are details for building a book scanner (something I’ve been wanting to do for sometime since getting my iPad) — a wooden contraption that you insert a hardback or paperback book into and take photos of the pages for converting to PDF. There’s another project that converts one of those small battery powered cars that toddlers drive around neighborhoods into a more adult-friendly version complete with heavier motors and faster speeds. (I showed it to my 5 year old — his eyes lit up.) Other projects show you how to build your own bronze-melting blast furnace (using a garbage can, of all things), a TARDIS photo booth, a toasted cheese sandwich making robot, and an interactive Space Invaders mural (you’ve gotta see this if you’re a fan of that classic arcade game). And many more. Some of the projects are a bit more involved than others, so you’ll be happy to know that Baichtal has provided plenty of links that include many hackerspace websites where the groups put up more detailed plans and instructions for duplicating their work.

One nice addition to the book was a nice collection of sidebars that discuss terminology, tools (such as CNC), and software. Veteran DIYers will love having all this information in one place as well as a great book for loaning out to friends who raise their eyebrows and wonder just what kind of craziness is involved in these hackerspaces. School libraries should have one or more copies of this book on their shelves for those tinkerers and self-learners who are constantly looking for special projects and more information on linking up with others who share their interests and enjoyment of all things hacked.

In addition to the 24 projects and the sidebars full of information, you’re also getting one of the best things about the book — profiles on 24 unique hackerspaces. Members share details such as how their hackerspaces began, how they raised funds, how they organized, and how they pick projects. You’ll read about some of their troubles (the sidebar on a police raid at a hackerspace in Sweden is a very interesting read — page 176), some of their special brews for staying awake during late-night hacks), and why most hackerspace members are so proud of their organizations, their fellow members, and the work they are doing to inspire and help others in their communities.

The book has an encouraging Foreword by Dale Dougherty (Founder of Make magazine) that should serve as a call-to-arms for all tinkerers, DIYers, and hobbyists who lack a hackerspace but want one. And the book closes with dozens of pages filled with advice on starting a hackerspace, funding it, getting tools and members assembled, and, ultimately, getting organized so members can begin picking those first projects that will define the group.

Hack This! is such a cool book to read, and I have no doubt that this book is going to be the cause of more hackerspaces coming into existence. Existing hackerspaces will find a wealth of possible new projects and maybe even some advice on improving the way their groups work and play together. New hackerspaces that are struggling will find a ton of information to help them solidify their group and grow in numbers. And those living cities and towns without hackerspaces will find plenty of suggestions on linking up with others in their area to discuss the possibilities of starting up a hackerspace.

Disclosure: A copy of Hack This! was provided to me for this review.

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