fizzPOP: thoughts about meeting, sharing and learning

Following on from the artist-led spaces podcast, there have been various other fizzPOP-centred events and conversations recently.

[Quick recap: fizzPOP is a hackerspace I’m involved with; hackerspaces being a place where people from all sorts of backgrounds can work on projects that typically involve varying degrees of programming, electronics, craft and/or jiggery-pokery.]

Antonio Roberts presenting at Eastside Projects

Antonio Roberts presenting at Eastside Projects

On Thursday 19th of November, Antonio Roberts gave a presentation to the Eastside Projects associate members. In the short time available he gave a very good, comprehensive, whistle-stop tour of how the hackerspace came about, what we do there and what our aims for the future might be.

The bit that has stuck with me most though, was when someone in the audience asked what kit we hoped might furnish a more established fizzPOP with. Antonio’s response included the usual basic toolkit of soldering irons etc etc, but then for his ambitious one-day-we’d-like-to-have item he went on to mention web servers. That would never have even occurred to me!

Now, Antonio comes from a graphics/code sort of a background, and I come from more of a maker/sculptural background. If I’d have been asked the same question, I would have answered with something along the lines of a laser cutter or a rep rap for rapid prototyping of physical objects. My point is not that one or other of these answers is right or wrong, just that it was a timely, healthy reminder that fizzPOP plays host to a really diverse range of people and that, if we asked 20 people that question, we’d quite likely get 20 different answers!

Right from the beginning we’ve said that the community is our number one priority and as fizzPOP grows it will be interesting to see what shape things settle down into.

drones eye view (we wish) of a small part of the fizzPOP Howduino event in full swing

drone's eye view (we wish) of a small part of the fizzPOP Howduino event in full swing

On Saturday the 21st of November, fizzPOP and Howduino joined forces to host a day-long hacking event at VIVID as part of the Hello Digital fringe events programme. This is something we’ve been itching to do for some time since our regular Wednesday evening haunt, The Edge, can only hold about 15-20 people and we’re only there for a couple of hours in the evening once a fortnight.

Saturday was intense and involved about 40 people, whatever stuff they bought with them and lots and lots of ideas. It was amazing to see how all these ingredients got circulated around over the course of the day. We certainly filled the space!

Marie and Helen blink like mad

Marie and Helen blink like mad

fizzPOP regular GB did a sterling job of compiling and delivering beginners’ workshops introducing people to the basics of the Arduino platform.

This led to messages such as “Woo Hoo! I’ve downloaded a program onto the board & successfully have an LED winking @ me! :) Thanks 2 the wonderfully patient Howduino team” [@IonaMakiola] and “My first ardunio (technically a freeduino) Never been so proud of turning on a light on before” [@TigersHungry] being posted on Twitter. TigersHungry has also written a fuller account of her learning experience on her blog.

At the other end of the skills spectrum, we also had two proficient hackers teaming up to work on projects together. Arvydas and Stewart could be seen running around the gallery space testing the autonomous robot car they’d programmed to recognise and avoid obstacles in its path. Check it out in this video avoiding even a pencil-sized object!

Arvydas has written up the project on his website, and there’s also another video from the show and tell session at the end of the event.

Whilst that was going on kids were making lego robots, Antonio was making wailing noises, Bubblino was doing its thing and, in return for a bit of soldering instruction, Helen helped me patch up my sinister glowy-eyed teddy.

Evil Ted gets patched up after having LEDs inserted behind his eyes and an Arduino implanted in his head

Evil Ted gets patched up after having LEDs inserted behind his eyes and an Arduino implanted in his head

Nicky Getgood and her mum popped in for a bit and were moderately baffled by the whole thing. When, whilst being interviewed by 6-year-olds the following Monday I described the “inventors’ club” my friends and I had set up, their eyes sparkled with excitement!

I’ve indicated as much before, but it’s worth saying again: I love fizzPOP as a space where I can go to learn things, to teach things, to be exposed to new ideas and to just try things out without risk of ridicule if it all goes horribly wrong.

Evidently other people feel the same way: several people clocked up round journeys of about 200 miles to attend the Howduino event (Bath, London, Milton Keynes, Hertfordshire and, of course, Adrian and Thom coming from Liverpool). Others came from Leamington and near Banbury, as well as a more local Birmingham contingent being present.

Despite going from strength to strength at the moment, fizzPOP will be going a bit quiet over the coming months due to the combined effects of heating costs for the warehouse space we hold our hack sessions in and a Christmas break. We’re looking to hold at least one more hack session before we go – add your name and preferred day to this poll.

Though we may become quiet in practical terms, behind the scenes we’re also beginning to think about how we can develop fizzPOP’s activities and give it a more stable base from which it can operate. We’ve seen that the demand for this sort of a space exists, and we know we won’t be able to hold our hack sessions at The Edge indefinitely, because at some stage it will need to be reclaimed as a studio and exhibition space.

If you know of anything you think we should be aware of – be it a potential advocate, source of funding to help us get started up, or some bricks and mortar that are available, please get in touch.

Also, if you have any spare web servers or rapid prototyping machines…