Many & Varied

A couple of months ago I was approached by the arts team at The Public about spending some time with them on a residency based around hackspace activities – something they want to be more involved with in the future.

Following a successful application for Arts Council funding, I’m now working under the umbrella of Many & Varied to deliver a programme of events and consultancy based around themes of maker culture and DIY technology.

maker hands

I learned a lot through co-founding and helping to organise events for fizzPOP for a year or two. Also during the following years where I have run various workshops as myself. Many & Varied is the next iteration in the evolution of these and my attempt to respond to things I have noticed, struggled with and aspired to.

First stop is the programme of events at The Public and we’re working on some Big Exciting Things for after that.

Stand by for events that embrace and nurture a wide range of skills, media and fun.

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.

DIY Arduino

Over at fizzPOP we’re exploring group dynamics and how to strengthen our community at the same time as running compelling events and extending our skills.

We’ve been doing free-style hack sessions for over a year now and we’ve also run a fair number of workshops and events (Such as Howduino and Theremin Day) on specific areas. We’ve been paying attention and, whereas the atmosphere at the events we run is absolutely fantastic, it’s not sustainable for us to run things at this level on more than an occasional basis. We can however incorporate elements of the big events into the little things we do every fortnight.

Right back in the beginning we pondered on the importance of shared goals and working as a group. We’ve recently returned to this with themed sessions – Hack a Toy and Processing Anonymous being two examples.

Starting on Wednesday the 18th of August we’ll be experimenting with themed hacksessions on a more formalised basis. You’re still welcome to come along and work on individual projects if you like, but the steering group and other members of fizzPOP will be taking it in turns to initiate and coordinate clusters of activities around particular themes. It’s really interesting watching theses themes get negotiated online as people discuss what skills they can share and also what skills they would like to acquire.

This Wednesday the theme will be DIY Arduino – home-made versions of the Arduino board that are more minimal, less expensive, or simply do a specific job – and it is I who has been herding the cats. There are a range of different interests and skill levels at fizzPOP (all are welcome!) but several common focal points seem to have emerged in the online discussion:

  • building a barebones arduino board, either on stripboard or breadboard
  • burning the bootloader using ArduinoISP and building daughterboards to make this easier
  • designing and building low power variants
  • and using the barebones board as a case study for learning about PCB design

Since there’s a bunch of us interested in building our own modules, I’ve been able to buy a load of components in for a lower price than compared to smaller quantities. I’ll be selling components for a bare bones Arduino (NB, it really is just the basics!) for £4.50.

This kit of components (plus battery connector) will be available for £4.50

This kit of components (plus battery connector) will be available for £4.50

This is significantly cheaper than the £25 or so you’ll pay for the full-blown board and, as an artist, it’s what makes multiples and building things like the sonar goggles possible in my work.

So, if you’ve dabbled with Arduino before and are looking to take things to the next level, or perhaps you’ve not yet dipped a toe in because you’ve found the cost prohibitively expensive, than this is the session for you. It won’t be a formal, led workshop, but there will be a room full of people applying their brains to related challenges and with assorted relevant kit etc. Think of it as being in a room with 20 mentors.

There is more information on the fizzPOP website:
and a sign-up page on the wiki:

fizzPOP enters its second year

Last night at our fizzPOP hack session we celebrated the group’s first birthday.

Chocolate brownies, jammie dodgers, humidity sensor LED candle.

Chocolate brownies, jammie dodgers, humidity sensor LED candle.

fizzPOP (so named as a reference to the Lunar Society) came into being just as I returned form a residency at the Banff New Media Institute and was pondering how on earth I was going to develop my skills and practice in a city with an apparent lack of peer group.

I’ve been heavily involved in the organisation of the hackspace (working with Antonio Roberts and others) since the early days and seen it grow from laptop-orientated meetings in pubs through to regular practical sessions held at The Edge. I’m happy to be able to report that I’ve learned loads and am constantly meeting new people who provide skills and ideas that feed into my work (and play!).

There are big plans for our second year – look out for more in the way of events and workshops, as well as continuing to develop the hacksessions that form the core of what fizzPOP is about.



LED matrix

LED matrix: GB contemplates colour mixing, simple graphics and very small numbers.

hack meeting and seeing the light

Yesterday Jonty and Russ, founders of the recently founded Hackspace Foundation, made the journey up to Brum to check out what was going on with the start-up of an organisation for hackers around here.

Antonio Roberts (aka hellocatfood) is marshalling our efforts to gather a community of people interested in tinkering with code, electronics or any other manner of stuff for the sake of innovation, problem solving or just finding out what “happens if you do this…?”.

If you think this community might include you, please join the google group and make yourself known.

The group is currently in a very protozoic stage: we’re discussing various models for structuring the group and also looking into different spaces to work in. As well as a few discussions in pubs there has also been a bit of hacking at my place. Our next session for getting stuck into some hacking has been set for 11-6 on the 11th of April at the Linux Emporium in Sutton Coldfield.

If you don’t have a specific project to work on, then please feel free to come along anyway to meet some of the gang, find out what everyone is up to and potentially discover a collaborative project to work on or some new skills to learn!

I see a huge overlap in ethos and tools between the hackers and the BARGers, so stand by for what I am sure will be interesting interactions between the two groups in the near future.

Here are two photos I took of yesterday’s meeting with some nice surprise effects: the first is Antonio explaining how he plans to lead some of Birmingham’s artists and art organisations into the light and the second one is inspiration zipping around the room before lodging a stonking idea into my head.

hack light 2

hack light 1

hacking at the interstice

The Birmingham hack space mailing list has been going for several weeks now and much of the current discussion is centred on premises, constitution and business plans.

I’ve seen a fair bit of this stuff before when it’s been artists wanting studio space rather than hackers and tinkerers wanting a warehouse with WiFi. Only once have I seen it come close to fruition (I believe progress is still being made) and that was with a group of artists with very established reputations/practices. Fair enough: there are large sums of money concerned (which really need an established group with demonstrable outputs first!) and there’s a particular balance needed for you to be prepared to off-set building management duties against the benefits of having a space.

Wait a minute! I already have a space that can be used for messing around with tech and interfaces!

The decision that I was going to use the lounge in my new flat as a pseudo venue was made a month or so ago (referred to as interstice as a riff off of this post) and, grabbing a small slot of available time, last Thursday night I set up a sign-up page for people wanting to come around and work on whatever projects took their fancy.

That’s it: no agenda was set, just a start and an approximate finish time. I would provide the WiFi and attendees were instructed to bring stuff and some food to share.

The format was part Jelly co-working:

We invite people to work from our home for the day. We provide chairs and sofas, wireless internet, and interesting people to talk to, collaborate with, and bounce ideas off of.

You bring a laptop (or whatever you need to get work done) and a friendly disposition.

and part Kissa Hanare (shared food used as a keystone for producing a social atmosphere, strategies put into place to ensure the regular event is sustainable without impinging too much on the host’s normal activities).

laps and tarts

We had a small group of people, a great atmosphere (assisted by jam tarts!) and an unheard of amount of iguanas. Tinkering included fiddling with tints on Pindec’s Flatpack app; extracting code from Flash games past, in preparation for re-writing them in a newer language; and an infeasibly large amount of time spent trying to get some Python code from a Vista machine working on XP (thanks Ciarán!).

multiple RFID readers and a walrus

I now have 4 RFID readers interfacing between a crowdsourced Officious Walrus and Twitter, so stand by for more gubbins that plays with that!

In the meantime, the discussion continues over on the Birmingham hack space mailing list and I do believe someone else off the list has offered his office space for use, so hopefully things will evolve into a weekly hack session alternating weekly between venues. Come join us and see what happens!

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