Time to get this blog rolling again

2010 got off to a good start, then I was hit by some unexpected family losses followed by some annoying family weirdness. Between that and a larger than usual assortment of extra-curricular activities, my blog got derailed. It’s time to fix that.

For those who haven’t kept up with my twitter feed or photo stream, here’s the short version of what you missed the last few months: 1) The DPRG is working on starting a Dallas Hackerspace. We’ve decided to call it a Makerspace because Dallas people seem to be easily spooked by the word “hacker”. 2) I’m still playing with vintage cameras and have more in the queue to try out. 3) Still playing with my DSLR too. Got some recent photos into an exhibit Germany. My photos of the Traveling Man Sculpture made into the May/June issue of Robot magazine 4) Still working on the Noise Boundary robotic music project. We did a demo for a class at UNT and I got the opportunity to chat with Pat Metheny about the topic while he was in Dallas 5) DPRG did some major stuff at All-Con this year and also at Tech-Fest and the FIRST LEGO League regional championship. 6) Lots of other fun stuff, events, people, and places. More to come.

All-Con 2010

I was out at All-Con this weekend along with the whole crew from the Dallas Personal Robotics Group. Eric Chaney and I spent a lot of time trying to recruit a few more new members for our Dallas Hacker/Maker space. Also did some demos of the Noise Boundary robotics music project and shot a lot of photos. Jerry Chevalier brought his excellent Robbie and Gort movie robot replicas. The Assassination City Derby Girls were there as well some of the best Dallas cosplay people. You can check out the photos in my All-Con 2010 Album on Flickr and maybe get a quick view of them below if the Flickr embed code is working…


Establishing a Dallas Maker Space


I wrote up this summary of the work Ed Paradis and I have been doing to boot up a Dallas hackerspace for the DPRG website but posting here too.

The Dallas Personal Robotics Group (DPRG) had access to a warehouse in Garland for seven years, from 2002 through 2009 thanks to Mike Dodson, who allowed us to use one of his warehouse buildings and patiently put up with all our geeky shenanigans for almost a decade. In 2009, Mike retired and the building we were in changed hands, so we lost our long time home. After looking at several options for finding a new and permanent space for working on projects, we settled on the hackerspace model (aka makerspace or a shared community workshop). This idea has been used by groups in the US and other parts of the world with great success so it seemed likely we should be able to do it too.

The theory is that you get a number of people together who are willing to pay a monthly membership fee in order to obtain 24/7 access to a shared workshop. The members also share in maintenance and renovation work. The membership fees are used to cover the costs of the space and to buy new tools and equipment. If you ever visited our old workspace in Garland, you have an idea already of what we’re talking about. You can see some photos of our old space in the DPRG Warehouse photo gallery.

Most important of all, please take a look at “how you can help” section at the bottom of the page. For this idea to succeed and grow, we need everyone’s help.

Getting Started

Ed started by looking at existing hackerspaces. Many have extensive documentation on their structure and funding schemes. He also contacted several of the hackerspaces, sending a list of questions concerning their membership structure, their business models, the problems they ran into and the solutions they found. So far, he has corresponded with these groups:

Other hackerspace groups were studied in less detail. Many of those can be found on the hackerspaces.org Hackerspace List

Steve began by collecting ideas for a list of desired qualities the new space should have. In part these were based on the DPRG’s experience with the previous location and in part on suggestions provided by members and other hackerspaces. Like the classic “good – fast – cheap” triangle, it’s unlikely any space could meet all these specifications, so we’ll have to trade off for the best combination we can find. Some of the ideal qualities for a Dallas Hackerspace are:

  • In Dallas County
  • Area that’s reasonable safe after dark
  • Near major North-South and East-West highways
  • Within walking distance of a DART rail station
  • Area where Verizon FIOS or other highspeed internet is available
  • Area zoned for use of noisy tools such as welding equipment and saws
  • Rooms suitable for meetings, lectures, and classes
  • Warehouse-like work area for larger power tools
  • Garage doors and area suitable for working on vehicle inside
  • Smaller, private meeting rooms
  • Two restrooms (men, women)
  • Kitchen and social areas
  • Heating and cooling
  • Sufficient parking
  • 220V and/or 480V power for large tools and welders

Resources We’d Like to Offer

The next step was thinking about what sort of things we’d like to have available in the ideal hackerspace. Like our list of ideal qualities, the list at this point is just a wish list of everything we think local hackers might possibly enjoy playing with. Ideas suggested so far include:

  • CNC Plasma cutter
  • CNC Laser cutter
  • CNC milling machine
  • CNC wood routing system
  • Drill press
  • Sheet metal brake
  • Metal lathe
  • Hot air SMT rework station
  • Electronic test station (e.g., scopes, meters)
  • gas welding equipment
  • arc welding equipment
  • MIG welding equipment
  • TIG welding equipment
  • Vacuforming station
  • Highspeed Internet dedicated hosting rack
  • Radio tower for Ham, repeater gear
  • Injection molding station
  • Film processing/darkroom
  • Photography studio area
  • Audio/Video recording area
  • Kiln, ceramic working tools
  • Automotive bay with tools
  • Painting room, painting or powder coating hardware

Note: we’re intentionally leaving out hardware related to crafts and fashion (e.g. industrial sewing equipment, fabric silkscreening equipment) since those are already covered by our friends at the Dallas Make Shop in the Bishop Arts District. We hope to work together with the Dallas Make Shop and other local community workshops to avoid unnecessary overlap and cooperate when possible on larger scale projects.

Funding Model

In general terms, the funding of hackerspaces is fairly well understood. The space itself has associated monthly expenses (e.g. rent, insurance, net access, expendables, utilities, etc.) and there are expenses associated with the acquisition of new tools and equipment. Income is generated from membership fees, grants, and donations. The size of the income determines the size and growth rate of the hackerspace. Within that general framework are lots of minor variations and an exact model hasn’t been determined for the DPRG hackerspace yet.

The Search for Space

One of the first steps in our process is searching for space. See the section below, “How You Can Help” to find out how to help us find our space. So far, we are talking to everyone we know about the idea and asking them to talk to everyone they know. In additional general networking, we are also contacting local real estate professionals and representatives of the local Dallas non-profit community. Some of us are also engaging in manual search-by-looking-around activities in our spare time, driving through random parts of town, looking for likely clusters of unoccupied buildings and contacting building owners. We’ve also tried posting ads to local community forums.

We’re also looking into the possibility of space offerings in parts of town that have revitalization initiatives with heavily discounted lease rates, tax abatements, or other incentives. If you know of any areas like this, please let us know.

How You Can Help

There are several things you can help us with if you want to see this happen. Here are a few:

  • We need 1-time donations to give us working capital for the initial setup, which will cost several thousand dollars. It’s easy to make a donation through Paypal. Any amount will help: $1, $10, $100, or whatever you’re willing to contribute. All donations are 100% tax deductible
  • We need people who will commit to being full-time members. This will help us determine our budget and calculate what kind of space we can start with. Join our Dallas Hackerspace Interest Group and let us know that you’re willing to become a monthly member.
  • Help us find space. Mention our plans to your friends. Ask if they or anyone they know would be willing to donate a building outright, or offer a free or low-cost lease to a non-profit. Dallas is a big place and we know there are opportunities out there if we can network with enough people fast enough to find them!

Find Out More on the DPRG Website

I’m posting this to the DPRG website too and will include a donation link and additional info for those who want to meet up and help out. We’ll also be posting regular updates so get over the DPRG website now!