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It used to be the term hacker was applied to nerdy movie characters, always male until Lisbeth Salander came around, never with good social skills and often lacking noticeable hygiene habits. But like all good terms, its meaning has evolved over time. And though those havoc-wreaking computer hackers are still doing their thing, the term has expanded to apply to people – not all of them dudes! – who prefer not to accept the objects in their lives as unchangeable. No, these hackers like to take apart their store-bought electronics and make them better. Or different. Or special. Or they like to start from scratch and make stuff previously relegated only to their imagination.
And as with many do-it-yourself endeavours, the yourself part of hacking is often more fun with others. Enter the Vancouver Hack Space.
I caught up with Emily Smith, who’s been a member of VHS for about a year, and puts on some programming there.
What’s a hack space, and what made you want to join Vancouver’s?
A hackspace (or hackerspace) is a physical location where people get together to socialize, work on projects, and/or collaborate. It’s a place to take your passions, share tools, and socialize. VHS is a co-operative environment where new discoveries are made, classes are taught, and ideas are shared. Being a member gets you a vote, and in some cases, a key.
My favourite aspect of VHS is that it’s a great place to cross-pollinate ideas and explore possibilities that you otherwise wouldn’t if you were spending time at home in your own garage or workshop working. I go there to soak up information, learn new tools and tricks, and experiment with various mediums. As a result of hanging out at VHS, I’ve come up with more diverse project ideas, and have made connections with people that are based around passions and hobbies.
In a typical month, what kinds of events go on at VHS?
Tuesday night’s an open hacking night. Mondays are usually reserved for crafting, and Thursdays for hardware nights. Anyone can host a night on a variety of topics – from hacking guitar effects, to putting together EL wire bike kits [EL = electro luminescent wire, like in the video above], VJ nights [these involve tutorials on making visualizations for music and parties], or mending nights. It’s a pretty dynamic place with lots of idea-sharing and building going on.
There’s generally one Super Happy Hacker House a month, which is an open drop-in social night. If you’re interested in taking a tour of the space, this is a great night to check it out.
Have you ever electrocuted yourself?
HA! When I was building my EL wire bike kit, I did. It was pretty minor, but the real problem was that I kept doing it! After the fifth shock or so, I made a noise about it, sat down and took a breather. I then asked someone about it, and was instructed to wrap the end – the wire had been cut in such a way that it was exposed. It was a small charge, so there was no hair standing on end or anything.
If you did happen to electrocute yourself, and the occurrence blasted you off to a deserted island, which three skills you’ve picked up at VHS would be most handy to you?
Well, as stated above, if you have EL wire with the actual wire sticking out, wrap it up. The second one I’d say is to always ask questions. Know what you’re getting into before starting to assemble something – or when taking it apart. If no one can answer your question, google it. It’s important to explore and be open, but always be aware of the risk before you start poking around too much. The third thing, is that these sorts of projects are best done with others. ESPECIALLY others that have degrees from UBC or BCIT in robotics or engineering. They know a thing or two – and you can learn a lot from others’ shared experiences.
Say I’ve never soldered anything in my life, and my mastery of hacking things is limited to having no trouble programming a VCR – why would I check out VHS?
Well for starters, after you ring the doorbell, a key is passed down from the second floor window on a contraption that’s sort of like a fishing rod. Ooh and they have a giant fibre-optic display that looks like a TV that says the word “BYTES” in big letters. Also, when you flush the toilet in the bathroom, blinky LED lights start changing colours in the main room. So it’s a bit of a sensory experience as well.