Hacking the Commons: How to Start a Hackerspace

Originally posted on Shareable.

Touring what will become Sudo Room's new space at 2141 Broadway St. in Oakland. Photo by Marina Kukso.

It's a sunny Saturday in downtown Oakland, and I'm touring a potential new space for Sudo Room, a DIY/creative/technical hackerspace I've been co-creating with a hodgepodge array of changemakers for the past year. As we're exploring the space, faces both familiar and fresh continue to trickle in. Ryan tells me we'll have to add air-filters to the common room. We could leave them out for now, but the fumes from soldering stations and laser cutters will make for a toxic hangout space and could contaminate the GMO bacteria growing in the next room over, causing a feud between the hardware hackers and wetware hackers: Carbon vs. silicon.

With visions of a federation of Bay Area DIY communities dancing in our brains, we'd invited nearly a dozen ethically aligned groups and individuals to check out the other rooms available for rent that surround the common space in the building we will be moving into this week. As such, our group today includes representatives from LOL, Ace Monster Toys, Noisebridge, and the Anarchafeminist Hackerhive.

To rewind a bit and cover any confusion over the oft-misunderstood term “hacker,” allow me to clarify: A hacker is not necessarily someone who maliciously breaks into computer systems – as mass media portrayals would have you assume. A hacker is a learning enthusiast, someone who is so curious as to take something apart completely in order to discover the fundamental components of a system. To "hack," then, is to learn the process of creating something through doing it, and through modifying it to do what you want it to do (a more detailed explanation can be found here). Put simply, in the words of McKenzie Wark (author of The Hacker Manifesto): “The slogan of the hacker class is not the workers of the world united, but the workings of the world untied.”

Among our group today, I count at least two biohackers, three writers, half a dozen software developers and web geeks, and a bevy of folks with interests ranging from 3D printing to building robots to starting a cooperative business. What unites us is a shared passion for citizen science and open access to tools and education – as well as a strong desire for community.

Events in the Life of Sudo Room

This month marks the one-year anniversary of Sudo Room's first meeting. From the beginning, we committed ourselves to the active practice of openness, transparency and collaboration. Drawing from prior experience as well as the Hackerspace Design Patterns guide, we set up a mailing list, wiki, and IRC channel. We take notes together using an etherpad shared document, and post them on the wiki after each meeting. We decided to run by consensus without fastening ourselves to a binding agreement; iteration is invaluable, and we wanted to leave room for growth and change.

The first Sudo Room meetings were held at an Oakland technology salon, Tech Liminal, every Wednesday night for more than 6 months. There, we incubated at somewhere between 5 and 12 folks per meeting, regularly overlapping with local techie non-profits who showed up to meet, organize, and hack on innovative civic projects. During this time we also created a collaboratively written mission statement:

Sudo Room is an open, non-hierarchical, collaborative community of humans, including tech developers, citizen scientists, activists, artists–and all combinations in between and beyond!–who are interested in and working towards social change. Our goal is to create the first inclusive, dedicated hackerspace in downtown Oakland, to share ideas and projects in citizen science, digital citizenship and literacy, environmental sustainability, community engagement, and self-government.

Sudo Room is committed to access, empowerment, transparency, and public/social good. Sudoers have a great diversity of interests and we emphasize respect and solidarity among ourselves and with others.

In May, we had a kickstarter/fundraiser (calling it a 'kickraiser') featuring a panel of Bay Area hackerspace representatives, including BioCurious (a DIY biotech space in Sunnyvale), HackerMoms (a hackerspace for moms in Berkeley) and The Crucible (a fine and industrial arts education space in Oakland) as well as the aforementioned (Noisebridge, LOL and Ace Monster Toys). Participants spoke on the topic of “Hackerspaces: The Necessity for Community Spaces Here and Everywhere.”

Come summer, we'd moved into a space – of sorts – an eclectic building also home to a psychic, an improv theater group, a nurse's training organization and a gun security instructor. We rented the box office and a tiny orange closet, giving us access to the large classroom space and two smaller back rooms. For better or worse, the improv theater folks hold auditions in the classroom every weekday evening. We have our meetings in the back room, but the open ceilings prevent any possibility of privacy – our voices often straining to be heard over the raucous hollering and silly sounds of the actors.

Despite the limitations of the space, we made the most of our momentum: We worked together to develop a governance structure, get a bank account, and forge a compact.

We also made the most of our location in uptown Oakland by hosting events for the monthly First Friday Art Murmur. For August's Art Murmur, we took the opportunity to stage a public announcement declaring our Intent to Exist – a requisite for obtaining a bank account without a federal tax ID – followed by an attempt to see how many hackers we could fit in our small box office space (the answer? 42.)

Sudoer Tracy declares our Intent to Exist.

Sudo Room has also been in a courtship with Coyote Counter Collective, an Oakland-based workers' cooperative workshop and retail space for fashion designers, leatherworkers, and other kinds of functional, sustainable artistry. Our clothes-hacking night during September's Art Murmur featured electronic conductive thread and LEDs sewn onto donated clothing and homemade hats.

Just this week, Sudo Room voted unanimously to move into the larger space at 2141 Broadway St. We intend to hold a series of fundraisers throughout Oakland throughout the end of November and the first week of December to ensure we keep member dues as low as possible.

Toward a Federation of Bay Area DIY Communities

Our kickraiser helped us raise the funds we needed to get our initial space, but more importantly, it brought together other Bay Area hackerspaces in a spirit of cooperation, camaraderie and support.

From left, Praveen Sinha (LOL), Jen-Mei Wu (LOL), David Rorex (Ace Monster Toys), Elisheva Sterling (Hacker Moms), Joe Jackson (BioCurious), Steven Young (The Crucible) and Mitch Altman (kneeling on the far right, Noisebridge) speak to the topic of “Hackerspaces: The Necessity for Community Spaces Here and Everywhere” at Sudo Room's first kickraiser at Tech Liminal.

There is something truly exciting about the interconnections between subcultures and the value of their hybridization in the spirit of creativity. What happens, for instance, when you combine botany buffs and hackers? You might get something like BioBridge, the amorphous DIYbio contingent of Noisebridgers, working on experiments in oyster mushroom growing and developing Arduino-controlled sensors for monitoring temperature and pH levels in kombucha brews and sourdough starters. Here you would also find overlap with Tastebridge's Vegan Hackers night and perhaps some friendly Food Not Bombs volunteers.

While Sudo Room embraces an inclusive model of “hacking” that goes beyond hardware and software – to wetware, wearables, and even culture itself – there is certainly reason to resist confining ourselves to hacker culture alone. While not disregarding the admirable ethical core of lifelong learning, decentralization, and collaboration, the term is also connotative of an elite culture consisting of a privileged class of internet savants.

Jen-Mei Wu, co-founder of Liberating Ourselves Locally, wrote the following in response to our invitation for Saturday:

“I really liked the way you called the proposed federation a DIY federation and not a hackerspace federation. Often when I talk w/ hacktivists, I get the feeling they think everyone should hack, that hacking == DIY. But … there's this whole amazing universe of DIY groups that live outside (sometimes waaaay outside) hacktivist circles, and they are doing great things.

I think hackerspaces really could learn a lot from each other, but that they could gain even more by being part of a larger community of DIY organizations.”

LOL, short for Liberating Ourselves Locally, is an Oakland maker space founded and run by people of color. The group works closely with other local grassroots organizations dedicated to fostering self-sufficiency and community-based commerce. Their events have ranged from weekly carpentry classes to yoga classes, meditation sessions, Decolonize study groups and political co-education (with pancakes!), demonstrating the wide swath of possibilities for creating an inclusive community education model.

Considerations Toward the Future Network Economy

As we move forward into the future of increased access to technologies, citizen science, and DIY engineering, we'd do well to be wary of those who would seek to co-op and capitalize off of this movement. Maker Faire's announcement early this year that they are now accepting funding from DARPA – who are also sponsoring 'makerspaces' in high schools nationwide – has introduced some deep questioning over the ethical responsibilities of hackers and DIY enthusiasts. Are we still DIY if dependent on funding from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency? Do we want to support military-funded and run projects in our schools?

The solution may well be to foster the kind of grassroots coalition-building that would connect DIY spaces and tools with neighborhood community organizations, worker-owned business cooperatives, local investors, and new opportunities for crowdfunding. The JOBS Act, which passed through the House earlier this year and comes into action in January, would allow the public up to $1 million in shared equity through crowdfunding platforms – bypassing the typical route through Wall Street by which companies and investors were previously obligated to navigate.

These are a few of the matters we are trying to hack in our efforts to manifest solutions in the spirit of collaboration. Have any ideas or questions? Make them shareable! We'd love to hear your thoughts and impressions on the potential of community creative spaces and how best to align our highest dreams with our deepest principles.

Sudo Room meets every Wednesday evening from 7-9pm at 2141 Broadway St, two blocks from the 19th St Oakland BART. We are currently campaigning to raise funds to cover the costs of our new space, and would be deeply grateful for your support. You can donate here

Human No More: Digital Subjectivities, Unhuman Subjects, and the End of Anthropology

Human No MoreI’m excited to announce that “Human No More: Digital Subjectivities, Unhuman Subjects, and the End of Anthropology” is finally out and available to order! Human No More began as a delightfully weird, interdisciplinary array of posthumanist scholars in an invited session at the American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting in 2009. Co-edited by Neil Whitehead and Mike Wesch, the book’s topics range from the hive-mind of Anonymous, a wired indigenous tribe in Guyana, the disembodied simulacra of human-bot interaction, and the “humanity” of marginal groups in the context of state-sponsored dehumanization. My own chapter explores how the dead “live on online” through continued presence and interaction via online social networking sites.

This book is dedicated to Neil Whitehead, co-editor and rebel anthropologist, inspiration to us all, who passed away earlier this year. Check out his brilliant, evocative work here.

Turning an anthropological eye toward cyberspace, Human No More explores how conditions of the on-line world shape identity, place, culture, and death within virtual communities. On-line worlds have recently thrown into question the traditional anthropological conception of place-based ethnography. They break definitions, blur distinctions, and force us to rethink the notion of the “subject”. Human No More asks how digital cultures can be integrated and how the ethnography of both the “unhuman” and the “digital” could lead to possible reconfiguring the notion of the “human”. This provocative and ground-breaking work challenges fundamental assumptions about the entire field of anthropology. Cross-disciplinary research from well-respected contributors makes this volume vital to the understanding of contemporary human interaction. It will be of interest not only to anthropologists but also to students and scholars of media, communication, popular culture, identity, and technology.

snapshot of a day in the life:

we don’t have a tv in our living room,
just baby chickens in an aquarium tank
in our kitchen, which is the common space.

daily activities include:
building things, like a yurt, a garden, a chicken coop.
communal living drama.
sharing stories of everyday trials & tribulations over food gathered via dumpster-diving, food stamps, the garden.
the latest events unfolding in the cultural/scientific/economic (r)evolution we’re each individually spearheading, in our own unique ways.
spirited brainstorms of brilliant ideas,
or vulnerable confessions of tiredness, disorientation, and/or frustration.

amerika, 2012, i see you,
and raise you one hand –
– my own.
it’s not enough that you vote for obama, or that you contribute tax dollars to the empire,
but that you act in the very vision of the world you imagine
as utopic.

i am utopic, and envision
a world in which food forests decorate every rooftop,
all information is derived from trusted sources entrusting their peers with providing their knowledge to the whole,
and so much is
forsaken yet still forgiven,
in the wake of a new world.

this is the plumbing of the depths.
the stirring of the soul
that, wrenching, screams
for forgiveness.

we came here sodden…

we left unforgotten.

What I have been up to recently…

Yes, I became one of those Blogs Without Updates, a potentially potent memetic force seemingly caught in the tethers of stagnation. However, I have very good reason for this.

I have cast my net to the midst, brought my wiles to the wild world of free and open source collaboration in all things from learning (more properly termed ‘co-teaching’- see Noisebridge), to living (communally – yurt the world!!), to working (federating aligned communities/organizations of practice).

In the past year, I was introduced to a fabulous crew with whom I resonated so strongly that I made the decision to take a first Leave of Absence from my Ph.D program down at UC San Diego. Together, we worked on many projects:

  • A live/work space we called Adeline Live/Labs – Live spaces upstairs, and labs downstairs for collaborative activities ranging from hacking the web to making things to growing food, cooking and sewing. While this fell through initially due to unforeseen budget restraints, we continue to seek a space befitting of a bevy of excellent hacktivists and DIYers.
  • An open source project we coined ‘The Pyre‘- in essennce, USB pendants that would serve as keys for bootrapping civilization, replete with a core, secure Linux OS; free and open source software for everything ranging from project management to audio-visual documentation; and instructables for DIY natural building, permaculture design and 3D printing. Check out our nascent wiki here, and contribute if you feel so inclined!

With the Fall came the onset of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Over the summer, I had started up a small web development business with a friend, and felt pulled to engage with and contribute directly to the movement. I found myself pulled onto the Occupy San Francisco web crew, with whom I built this site. Since November, I have been focused on the following projects:

  • Starting an East Bay hackerspace, SudoRoom devoted to citizen science and local community-based projects.
  • Ongoing volunteer work with the OccupySF web crew and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
  • More to my personal research agenda, federating alliances between hackerspaces, Occupy, co-working spaces, nomad/volunteer networks, neotribal subcultures and intentional communities.
  • Levelling up with an experienced meta-systems architect to design a tech platform for facilitating the collaborative nature of save-the-world projects through software designed to propogate tasks throughout tribes and then associated networks, built on biomimetic principles and encouraging alliances between values-aligned organizations and communities of practice.

For the past three months, I have been finishing up at UC San Diego – leaving the Ph.D program with a second masters and moving back up to the Bay Area to re-engage with these networks and continue my action-oriented ethnographic research under conditions more befitting of the emerging and future network economy.

I welcome anyone and everyone to become friends, beacons, lamplights in the darkness, as we together make our way toward the sunrise. The beginning is near.

i am sitting in a tree,

manifesting manifestos. magic is in the mere making of it, the process itself, conjuring conjunctures. perhaps more apt if yet abstract: the moment-to-moment absorption in doing, aligning thought, word and action.

the over-wired mind takes its time to unwind, reaching in from behind to find nothing at all, an inky chasm of pure possibility.

home is where the heart is, which is to say, where you are.

my roots are fragile saplings, tender to the tethering touch.

well i don’t know where I’m going and I don’t know what I’ve done,
but i mean to say, steady on let’s just follow,
let’s follow the sun.

(at 3:08pm the air turned chilly, slithering around my shoulders like a sketchy arm in a dark elevator. I grew famished, and departed upon the following line running a ribbon through my mind:

Would you mind, never mind your mind, the gap between you and me where we might be, were you to see?

Now, where were we?

an indiscriminate concert for our ears alone.

empathy is embodiment of another’s
feelings- what are feelings?
serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine
(to be “balanced” for happiness and contentment,
or else craving, despair, restlessness, NEUROSIS);
memory, thought, daydream
(always after the fact, sense, experience);
repulsion, attraction
(is the law, the draw, the motivation).

i think in text, always after the fact.
clean sights and sounds and arrange them
on a crowded page,
where they jockey for position within
the mind maze,
a labyrinth of the mundane,
occasioned by doom but more often desire.

this texture creates the narrative creates the memory.
the truth?
is on the tip of my tail.
i chase it in circles.
i could do this forever, narcissism junkie.

or sit beside it, idling in the breeze.
presence takes practice.
my mind craves meander.
so then move! from one world to the next,
each one more wild
than the last,
further from yet nearer to the past.

where were we? empathy.
a force that unites spirit and form,
the presence of another’s presence
in whatever way it is inscribed:
a confession.
a secret.
a shared ecstatic flight.
a terrifying fall.
eyes that dare to dive in.
words that tumble out the mouth or pour forth from the fingers, unperturbed
by the double.

-but must it always,
after the fact,
be subsumed within the mindmaze?
chasing, being chased.
where were we once upon?

it came of its own accord. accordingly, it came into its own.

Born alive dying dead,
start at the end and end at the head:
I am waiting to be born,
I am waiting to break free.
I call out to the moon,
but the wind-
it strangles me.

Nothing so near to completion can be free.

“As California goes, so goes the rest of the nation…” the headline read. We immersed ourselves in the mythology of the new frontier through full participation, hurtling headlong down 1-90 across the USA. It turned at the solstice when the moon spoke in yawns, ever glib in her slip-sweet tones howling, onward.

Before winding our way across the states we wove a circuitous path to all the homes we’d ever known – Joe’s in PA, mine in NY, Boston, Philly, New York and Wesleyan. At each place we paid our respects to the people who made it possible to prosper and sway, and here I give a shoutout to Joe’s family and my own, to Jeramie, to Jake, to Rob, to Isto, to Jenny, to Dawid, to Rod, to Jeff, to Natan, to Sam, to Alan and Alyssa. Further thanks to Rod to handing me Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poetry to get lost in overnight and in the dawn’s light, and whose words have remained burning inside me ever since.

“Poetry is the rediscovery of the self against the tribe,” but
“Don’t be so open-minded that your brains fall out.”

The road onward was marked by strong women and sensitive men. We rocked the gorges of Ithaca, caught wind of a wesreunion in the windy city, told tales ’round a campfire on a reservation in South Dakota, coasted through the mountains of Montana to camp near kind souls in Idaho, reaffirmed friendships in Seattle and Portland, then wound our way manic down the coastline to San Francisco just around Independence Day.

At this juncture we parted ways; I wanted to know if I could hack it solo. Surprise? I not only survived, I thrived, and thus the rub: launched from a new nest and a temporary mental incubation, a transportation across the seas to hound the hidden corners of time and self and space. I spoke excitedly, concocted brilliant ideas with a burgeoning international community of activists and academics, wrote poetry buzzing with flavor, listened intently to words i could scarcely decipher, enacted and actualized the very stuff of dreams.

Alone and strange I would conjure charming spirits from the dregs of the day by dousing them in firelight, follow the music to find the true spirit of the town, eat the fruit of the looming dawn and dance until the rain came down. I met bums and soldiers playing heart-songs on the cobblestones, students and artists seeking poetry in well-worn places, all the time helping to foster community within ISDT using my own peculiar yet authentic form of connectivity.

There are so many forms of participation, I’ve yet to incubate fully. This is why I must be untethered and wandering for the entirety of August: to foment and to cement ideas, possibilities, chance happenings. To live the dream rather than living to dream, open heart allowing meanderings, intuition in my teeth. At present moment this structurelessness and imminent homelessness is precisely what’s been needed. I am re-learning how to cook for myself, how to explore unafraid, how to follow the firelights that guide the way.

(This is not to say, “the end,” but please begin: how do we do, how me? how you? now and at this great division of reality. on one end a dream-dew blankets the swamp; at the other, a fire engulfs a fissure.)

And so i found the soul of Portugal, and found my calling also: a wandering empath nourished by adventure and diversity, open heart guided by intuition and empathy ever onward toward la musica au vivo, a cacophonous cadence of erratic heartbeats wound together and the spaces in-between. Full-fledged allegiance to the tribe and to the set path must be avoided at all costs in pursuit of the self-sensical, the poetical peregrination:

She spoke of the need to need nothing, and then nothing came to be: um amor blooming in poetic ecstasy. Obrigada, universe, for synchronicity.

on the definitions of a medium

6:00-6:10pm, aim:

b: do you work “with” a medium or “in” one?

r: depends on your definition of medium…
r: language is a medium through which we speak
r: think
r: with which we write?
r: in which we think!
r: with which we write!

b: we use to write

r: but what is writing if not the use of language?

b: exactly

r: i agree
r: but then you are saying
r: we use the use of language
r: doesnt make sense

b: medium doesn’t mean use
b: also
b: I don’t think “language” is a medium
b: “writing” is a medium
b: it’s backwards

j: writing is the use of a medium
j: which is language

b: no
b: painting is a medium, sculpture is a medium, writing is a medium

j: so it goes back to the definition of a medium
j: you’re speaking from the perspective of the arts
j: i’m coming from an anthropological perspective
j: in which language is the primary medium through which communication occurs
j: you’re talking about mediums as conduits of creation, i think?
j: or expressive practices

b: yes!

love to the point of breaking.

we’re all forsaking our former forms-
however, every slip-sweet beautiful now is tethered
to the entwined snakes of memory’s web’d pathways,
though we stretch toward the intangible HOPE of future connection,
dreams crafted out of our utopian revisions,
ideal forms informed by the matrix of experiences re-explored,
re-interpreted, and
interpellated.

howls from the concrete jungle / human zoo

“The city is not a concrete jungle, it’s a human zoo.”
Desmond Morris, The Human Zoo.

Soaking up the sunshine this weekend, I perched with a friend on the steps of Union Square. Nearby, a group of attractive young white kids with brightly colored hair spun poi and hula-hooped in fashionable earthy garb, crafting a performative stage at the foot of the steps where dozens of people sat. I watched and wondered, as I always do, at the seemingly innate enjoyment of judging gazes, small envies, unsubtle desires, attentive eyes consuming their brightly colored shimmying hips and tanned, fluid limbs. I’m at a loss for how to go about reclaiming a lifestyle co-opted by childish style tribes, recuperated and sold back in the tone of the “underground.” But as Kurt Vonnegut says, so it goes…

A man holding a sign ranted loudly about the perils of nanotechnology, drawing a small cluster of avid listeners. My friend attended to her Seed Magazine, which highlighted the contemporary debate on the issue. She commented on the young man giving out free hugs while simultaneously strutting about in a shirt emblazoned with the words “made of poison.”

I casually struck up a conversation with the man chillin’ to my left, complimenting the intricate detail of the colorful psychedelic prints splayed out around him. Averting his eyes, he described his process as one of “adding to” pre-existing images – at this, I raised an eyebrow and smirked at the psychedelic elephant in my hands. Smoothly, he then pulled out a translucent pair of prints and moved them slowly across one another, blurring and goo-ifying a gigantic block print of the year 2012. Wince.

Gradually, we inserted ourselves into another nearby spectacle that had drawn a dense crowd- two lithe black men dressed in bright, skin-tight animal print bodysuits engaged in a wildly contortionist dance, bizarre twistings of bodily form. For their grand finale, one leapt effortlessly over the heads of half a dozen “volunteers.” Throughout, they called for the audience to give money for their endeavors, and at the end passed three large buckets around. Embarrassed, I avoided the buckets, reaching a hand into my pocket to ensure my four dollar bills were still milling about.

The area where I run at the Chelsea Piers has finally finished construction (or at least a substantial portion of it), and is now allowing people to meander along the shiny new walkways accented by bright green grass and surrounded by trees and water. It is beautiful!

Tonight, I rambled to the corner market for a beer. It was around midnight, and I found myself gazing in at the bars closing down. Bartenders, cooks and barbacks gathered in small pockets just beyond accessibility, cocooned in the inner glow of afterhours. There was a sense of belonging in these fractured glances, and in the smooth strides of a man who zipped down 19th street on rollerblades while chatting with his bluetooth’d self Each of these sightings registered a pang of longing that sung through my heart.

(I recalled, as I often do, a memory of a rainstorm at dawn several years ago, my green bedroom syrupy and sunlit and full of friends sprawled out on mattresses and in chairs, long bouts of listening interspersed with sleepy jokes and lazy laughter. Joe had set up a feedback contraption that captured the sounds of the falling rain and catapulted them back into the room. Drenched in sound and in the love of adopted family close at hand, I remember falling asleep with the acute sense that I had come full circle back to my childhood, to the warmth of s’more-infused campfires and sunday night baths with my siblings.)

Then I remembered that sunlit day, which proceeded into an evening of laughter, ranting, and friendly camaraderie with a friend I’d never gotten to know well one-on-one. There was a point where I found myself persuading her to look at San Diego, to come and make a community of smart, down-to-earth compadres. It occurred to me just how necessary such dreams had become, lost in the sea of anomie that is new york city.

This was all only ever temporary, a sacrifice for love. Never inclined toward urban environments, I resolved not to become too attached to this city – just as I’d resolved, 5 years ago, not to fall in love during the year I was abroad in Denmark.

That pact failed back then – of course during the last two months of my stay, with nothing to stand in the way of letting go – I fell in love with a Danish boy destined for the Danish military life, just as I was destined for the American collegiate life. I’ve no regrets. How could I?

And so I’ve no regrets for my renewed mission: to love this porous city for all its flaws and elegant superstructure, to capture this life so rich with culture and madness, and finally to know what it means to escape the zoo of my own accord.