Ace Monster Toys – a Hackerspace in Formation


Ace Monster Toys Prototype LogoIt is about time that I posted something that isn’t entirely Buddhist related. I did update the description of this blog to “Open Source Buddhism, Technology, and Geekery” recently. I’ve been posting mostly about Buddhism for quite a while given my focus on “open source” Buddhist efforts but I am a geek that works professionally in Internet technology and I do have non-Buddhist interests!

In any case, I have interesting news to report. There is a hackerspace-in-formation in the East Bay now. (For those that don’t know, the “East Bay” is the area across from San Francisco that contains Berkeley, Oakland, and a few other cities). There has been a hackerspace in San Francisco for almost two years now, Noisebridge. I was involved in its founding but immediately after we got the space for it, I went to Egypt. When I came back from that trip, I developed a viral illness that laid me up for three months and put me in recovery for at least six after that. Needless to say, I found that a hackerspace in San Francisco was not ideal for me since I live on the Oakland/Berkeley/Emeryville border. I found myself less and less inclined to go when I wasn’t feeling well and it took me an hour or more to get there. It is hard to feel connected to a space that isn’t nearby, especially when you aren’t feeling connected to much while being ill or recovering.

I have been wanting to see about getting a hackerspace going more locally and since many Noisebridge members live in the East Bay, it has seemed like something that would be doable. Once I dropped out of my doctoral program (abandon ship!), I even had time. I started an e-mail list a year ago but didn’t do much with it, lacking motivation. I ran into a number of people in the last few months who were Burners, engineers, etc. who seemed find a local hackerspace to be of real interest. I got a few of them to sign up to the e-mail list and on April 21, I sent out an e-mail to the list to kickstart things again. It turns out to have been a resounding success. I think it has been just the right time for a bunch of people and the reaction has been quite positive. A few people are Noisebridge members but more than half of those currently involved are not, being local engineers, geeks, and makers.

With the positive response, people decided that we should start meeting in person instead of just online. During the first physical meeting, we decided to meet every week in order to try to coalesce a critical mass of people. This has worked very well and we’ve had three meetings so far with the next being tomorrow. Each meeting has had a revolving cast of people but we’ve had a pretty consistent turn out of 15 or so people. We have an e-mail list (soon to move to a new location), a wiki, and an irc channel (#acemonstertoys on Freenode). We were using the domain that I’d set up last year but last meeting we voted on an official name. We’re now “Ace Monster Toys,” which is an anagram for “Setec Astronomy” and “Too many secrets”, both used in the hacker film, Sneakers. (Sneakers was filmed right here in Oakland.) We’ve taken over now and are gradually moving our infrastructure to that location.

The group has decided to put a pro tempore structure into place, until the end of August, so we can have time to determine how we wish to organize. We’re specifically avoiding the anarchistic (literally) model that Noisebridge decided to use for governance based on consensus. We’re likely to go for a much more traditional model of dues paying members electing a board who, like good Roman senators, decide things for the good of the organization during their limited terms. Our next steps are to determine what this structure will be, incorporate as either a non-profit (preferred by many) or standard organization, and find a space to rent. Realistically, we’ll probably talk and talk until a good space turns up and then we’ll quickly scramble to incorporate and then lease it. When Noisebridge was organizing, it met in coffee shops a couple of times a month for more than a year before, suddenly, a good space was found in the Mission, and we scrambled, over the course of about 48 hours, to get the funds together to get it. When groups have spaces, potential members tend to start appearing, probably because the group seems more “real” than it did when it was just a bunch of people meeting in a coffee shop.

Right now, the membership of the group seems to be heavily interested in things related to physical fabrication. This ranges from electronics to CNC mills to makerbots and the like. There are already two makerbots in the group, a mill or two, and discussions of what could be built with more. Ideally, we will initially organize as a space for people to have workspaces for projects and share tools and purchase more expensive equipment. From there, we will probably branch out into having classes and working on projects in small or larger groups as interests pull at people. It is all long on ideas and short on details at this time.

I encourage people who are interested in becoming involved or even in following our efforts to join our e-mail list or follow us on the wiki. If you are in the East Bay (or anywhere in the Bay Area), feel free to drop by a Thursday meeting and give your ideas. This is a joint project amongst anyone interested in getting their hands dirty and participating.

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