Total bizarre wonderfulness

I’ve always struggled with the “hacker” terminology, finding it quite limiting and a hurdle to explaining what hackspaces/hackerspaces are about to the various people I find myself having to explain what hackspaces/hackerspaces are about to. However, I’ve long been a fan of how Noisebridge presents itself. This extract from their wiki:

Noisebridge is a space for sharing, creation, collaboration, research, development, mentoring, and of course, learning. Noisebridge is also more than a physical space, it’s a community with roots extending around the world. […] We make stuff. So can you.

The definition is in terms of the verbs, not the tools that are used to realise the projects.

I’ve just come across this short introductory video to Noisebridge which I also find presses a lot of my buttons – loving the emphasis on creativity of all sorts: expressed in the space via the craft area, the darkroom, the kitchen, the gas cylinders in the background as Mitch talks, and the massive library! Check out the video below:

QUEST on KQED Public Media.

Note the importance of community. We always took this as our starting point for fizzPOP, but unfortunately we didn’t manage to get a cohesive group together last time. As you can probably tell, I would absolutely love it if Birmingham could support a Noisebridge equivalent, but ultimately it’s down to the community as to what happens.

Head on over to this recent thread on the fizzPOP discussion group where it seems momentum is gathering around fizzPOP 2.0. If you want to contribute, now would be a good time to do so.

invisible noise

invisible noise from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

Just a quick note to say that, although things may seem a little quiet around here in terms of my own personal projects, many exciting things are happening over at fizzPOP (the hackerspace I’ve been co-running with Antonio Roberts.)

If you’re interested in collaborative learning or creative use of technology, then you should check it out:

Discussion Group:
Announcements mailing list:

We meet on a fortnightly basis at The Edge for our informal hacksessions at which you can just pop in, have a mooch and/or work on a project (we can always find stuff for you to get involved with if you’re a beginner).

This year we’ve also been ramping up the volume with a programme of workshops and events. The next of these will be Theremin Day as organised by Sam Underwood (also featuring in the video above!).

The afternoon workshop sold out rather rapidly, but tickets are still available for the evening of live performances.

Ms Hypnotique

This is an opportunity to see one of the nation’s most renowned Theremin players. She has trained with Lydia Kavina, the grand-niece of Leon Theremin, and performs in many genres from classical to surf-rock to industrial. She has given numerous performances and recordings for artists including Bob Moog, Damien Hirst and TV appearances include “James May’s 20th Century” and “New Paul O’Grady Show”. In 2009 she performed on the fourth plinth, Trafalgar Square, as part of Anthony Gormley’s “One and Other” project and in April 2010 she will perform at Ether Fest at Royal Festival Hall in a 20-piece Theremin orchestra.

Mr. Underwood & Friends

Yes, me! I’ll be doing a super rare performance of Steve Reich’s Pendulum Music, using four torches and four Optical Theremins (of the same kind made in the afternoon workshop). The performance will be in darkness and will peak in a cacophony of squealing sound.

Pete Ashton

Pete will be wowing us with his Thingamagoop (see video below) and some 8-bit sounds. He will also be collaborating with Ms Hypnotique and myself in an improv session.

In May fizzPOP will be in residence at independent artist studios The Lombard Method for an intense two weeks of workshops and making of stuff, 1st – 16th of May. Stand by for more details of how you can get involved with making contraptions and contributing to blinky light extravaganzas!

There’s loads more in the pipeline too, with the British Science Festival in September, exciting partnerships with Aston University Eng Soc, robots, Arduinos and dorkbotbrum. No surprise then that we’ll be moving to weekly hacksessions after Easter in order to try and fit in everything that we want to do!

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…

project space

I just wanted to say that the fizzPOP hackerspace is increasingly becoming the communal, collaborative production space for unpredictable creative things that I was hoping for when I left art school.

Actually, come to think about it, in many ways it’s quite like what I hoped art school would be.

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