Toorcamp with Noisebridge

Toorcamp is a hacker/maker conference and camp, the next one is coming up August 8th through the 12th and takes place on the Northern Washington coast in Neah Bay. Hacker camps generally consist of talks and workshops, plus the fine tomfoolery that hackers can come up with when faced with the great out doors.

Just like last year, Noisebridge is planning a camp, The People's Republic of Nosebridge. Within PR0N we'll be hosting the Welcome Pavilion, Light Tower of Consenso, Occubus, Drama Cafe, and a vomitorium.

Interested in going to Toorcamp? Want to possibly camp with PR0N? Are you an excellent human being? Great! Get on our mailing list and ask how now!

Mitch Altman is no longer welcome in Canada?

Ever been kicked out of a country before? Well, it sucks.

I’m in the middle of my Hackers On A Train Workshop Tour, giving my popular Learn-to-Solder and Arduino-For-Total-Newbies workshops at 22 hackerspaces near Amtrak stations, and going to 4 conferences, over a 53 days. All by Amtrak. That was the plan, anyhow.

I was scheduled to give a talk about the hackerspace movement at the WorldFuture 2012 conference this Saturday. While there I was going to stay with my (academy award winning) friend Chris. It was going to be a really wonderful 5 days in Toronto.

To give the workshops, I’m traveling with a rucksack full of clothing and toiletries, my laptop, camera, and two huge suitcases, 50 pounds each, full of workshop stuff, including kits for teaching.

The train to Toronto from Syracuse, NY, stops at the Canadian border for customs and immigration. Everyone has to get out of the train with all their stuff. The line moves rather quickly, and when it was my turn, the Canadian Border Patrol wanted to have a look at my huge bags. After much polite discussion, there was no way that I could assure the CBP that I wasn’t going to sell the kits in Canada.

The CBP folks politely offered a suggestion that I could leave the workshop stuff in the US, and then come back to the border. When I asked where to leave the workshop suitcases, they had no info to offer. When I asked about my train to Toronto, I was told I’d have to call Amtrak. Then they gave me and a Japanese woman a free van ride to the US side of the border in Niagra Falls, NY. As we were getting in the van, one of the CBP people politely told me that in order to get into Canada, I’d need court records for my arrest when I was a young teenager.

Flashback: I’m 13 years old, hanging out with a friend in suburbia. My friend has the idea to grab his remote control for his garage door, and see if it works on any other garage doors in the neighborhood. Wouldn’t you know it — it did! In the hour that we walked around his suburban ‘hood, we came across 5 garage doors that would open. Damn. On the last one, we hid behind a bush, and opened and closed and opened and closed the garage door to see what would happen. The people who lived there came out, scratched their heads, and went back inside. As we were walking home, the police stopped us, assuming we were the people wanting to break into someone’s garage. Oddly (naively), it never even occurred to us that anyone would think we were trying to steal anything.

After meeting with a lawyer friend of my dad’s, he told me that after I did some community service, I should never tell anyone about this, since the record would be expunged.

It turns out, however, that the record was not expunged. After all these decades, it’s the CBP that (politely) told me this. They also (politely) told me that in order to get into Canada, I’ll need the court records for this case, otherwise they’ll assume that the case is still open. Since I was never given any records (from my parents or anyone), and I have no idea how to get any court records, this may mean that I may never be welcome to Canada ever again.

Scratch the WorldFuture 2012 conference in Toronto and the workshop at Vancouver Hack Space.

Hacker Trip To China #2

I got home today from a month-long trip to China that I organized <>. 10 of us traveled around, visiting all of the hackerspaces currently in China, exhibiting at the Shenzhen Mini Maker Faire and giving talks and workshops and exhibiting at the big Maker Carnival China 2012 in Beijing. We also visited my manufacturer in Shanghai, where my TV-B-Gone remote controls are made.

Lots of photos:

This was my 10th trip to China. I was there with my mom in 1998, and then every year since I started making TV-B-Gone remotes there in 2004. It has been very interesting to get a snapshot impression of how China has changed through the years.

Though not very accurate, it is possible to have a sense of some very real change happening in China.

In 1998, there was capitalism visible in China, including KFCs everywhere, but it still felt like a 3rd-world version. Also, the Cultural Revolution was not all that long gone in ’98, and my sense was that people were still realing from it. Police were all over, and they had guns. And people seemed to be a bit wary of them.

On my trip in 2008, just before the Olympics, there must have been some heavy propaganda happening on Chinese media, ’cause lots and lots and lots of people I met all asked me what I thought about protestors in London and San Francisco. And before I could answer, they all said the same thing: “CNN is all lies.” I’d probably mostly agree, but probably for different reasons. There were also many inconvenient, seemingly random, restrictions imposed by the Chinese government (such as not allowing anything to be shipped with a battery installed). When asked why, most Chinese people I asked, answered with a straight face that it must be done because otherwise the Dali Lama would blow things up at airports.

By the time of the first Hacker Trip To China that I organized in 2009, things were very different. A gigantic, ugly statue of Mao was surrounded by a perimeter of stores selling everything imaginable. A huge department store had a mongo pile of a newly released American board game that they were pushing hard: Monopoly! There were still no hackerspaces in China, though. I still had the sense that officials were very official, and you didn’t want to cross them.

When I went there on my own last year, things were somehow way more open than it felt before. People I met were openly criticizing the government. There were two hackerspaces, XinCheJian in Shanghai, and FlamingoEDA in Beijing. Lots and lots of people, including those with positions in Chinese bureaucracy, were expressing the opinion that Chinese culture needs to change to encourage people to be creative and innovative — without this, they said, China would not have an economic future.
When I mentioned hackerspaces, people agreed with me that this was one means of implementing this change; and there was a lot of interest in me sharing my experiences in how to start a hackerspace. And there was also a lot of interest by people in organizing a Maker Faire for the same reason.

One year later, this year, there were not one, but two faires in China: a Mini Maker Faire in Shenzhen, and a big Maker Carnival in Beijing. And there are 7 hackerspaces in China, with talk of lots more. There may very well be 100 more soon, as the top 100 universities may be mandating that they each have one. And an elementary school in Shanghai is slated to have one soon. The hackerspaces in schools and universities are being called “Toyhouse” .

Everywhere I went, the Chinese media was interviewing me about how hackerspaces can change China in positive ways.

The Chinese government still openly censors the internet (though there are free online services that easily circumvent this).  And the bureaucracy is still huge and centralized (though so big and out of control that many actually call it “anarchy”), and people in power can, seemingly on a whim, make decisions that adversly affect projects (such as the last-minute venue change for the Shenzhen Mini Maker Faire and the last minute date change at Maker Carnival — both because some bureaucrat said he needed the venue for a meeting — no apology — it’s just the way things are.

How will the changes in China play out? I don’t know. We will get to see.

Mitch. – Hack Nights for the Occupy Movement

The Occupy Movement is an international protest movement which is primarily directed against social and economic inequality. Currently near by to us there are Occupy encampments in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley.

Noisebridge as always is open to those looking for a space to work on projects, and resources to make those projects a reality. We've been seeing more and more groups coming through seeking aid for things related to the Occupancy. Together we've built out interesting ways to recharge car and cell phone batteries, provided internet at camp, had meetings about web presence, document GA minutes and more.

We want to let participants of the Occupy Movement know that we're here and open to them. We've also started a site called Hackupy are open hack nights at hackerspaces for Occupy related projects, and the site gives a listing of spaces which provide such nights. So far hackupy has been happening at NYC: Resistor and almost 24/7 at Noisebridge, and we look forward to seeing more hackerspaces jump in and provide time to those wanting to hack for excellence!

Trip to Cairo, Egypt

3-Day Hackerspace

3-Day Hackerspace at Maker Faire Africa

I’m in Cairo.  The main reason for this trip was to set up a 3-day hackerspace at Maker Faire Africa, which is in Cairo this year.  Exciting time to be here!  Lots of high hopes since the “Freedom Revolution”.  Plus lots of attempts by the still-ruling-military at divide-and-rule.

Our trip was funded by generous donations from 186 people, who collectively gave us $8,169 so that we could spread the joy and hope provided by the international hackerspace movement.  <>

The 3-day hackerspace at Maker Faire Africa was incredible!  The main idea of setting this up was to show people how incredibly cool it is to be part of a supportive community where people explore and do what they love.  And the energy was high.  I taught about 300 people to solder (on my own) at an ongoing, 3-day-long workshop, with kits and soldering irons bought with money donated through our Kickstarter campaign.  The brand new Cairo Hackerspace put together the MakerBot, donated by MakerBot Industries, and also put together the Egg-Bot, donated by Evil Mad Scientist — and they gave 3-D printing workshops.  Minal gave fabric painting workshops.  Bilal gave several Arduino workshops with Arduinos donated by a new local electronics store named Future-Electronics.  Lots of fun for all!  I gave away lots of Noisebridge keys to people who will be visiting us someday in San Francisco.  And Cairo Hackerspace now has a large number of enthusiastic people who will help contribute to Egypt’s first hackerspace.

Before Maker Faire Africa we organized two Hackerspace Meetups, to get people psyched about starting and joining hackerspaces.  The first was hosted by a co-working space in Cairo named Rasheed22.  The second was hosted by a startup incubator in Alexandria named Tahrir2 [the 2 is actually a superscript, and pronounced "squared" -- a reference to the "Freedom Revolution" much of which took place in Tahrir Square in Cairo].

Mitch in Giza

Mitch in Giza

We will have two more Hackerspace meetups before we leave on the 14th.

Photos of all of the above are at my Flickr: <>



Wall-O-Tubes v1

The internet is a hard problem, not really solved yet. Getting the internet into your hacker space is another hard problem. Thirdly making it easy for folks to diagnose their (own) network problems without taking down the internet for others or killing other network hardware is also hard.

At Noisebridge we've got a network rack named Susan The Rack (she might be old but she's got one hell of a rack), she held our internet important network gear. After a month people started throwing their own gear in there (because obviously a free hacker space wants to host your internet/power hungry torrent box), she thing turned into the rats nest of cables and junk and hacker STDs, and we couldn't tell what was internet important and what was just garbage hardware not doing anything. Eventually the DSL modem got shoved off the rack and was just hanging off by its phone cord. One night a couple hard working dedicated Noisebridge members aimed to fix this problem...


Behold, The Wall-O-Tubes! The idea is that everything that involves getting the internet into the building and back out through our wifi is bolted onto this wall. If the wall has power, the internet should work through our wifi network. If the internet goes down, it'll be easy to diagnose, and hard for someone who isn't dedicated to fix (you have to go get a stool or ladder or poking stick to do much of anything). Currently the image shows version 1 of the wall.

One of the biggest problems we had was someone's laptop would stop loading web pages, the person would freak out thinking the whole internet is down, and start unplugging and rebooting device without doing any sort of diagnostics. For version 2 we're setting up a machine called Minotaur! This guy will monitor different parts of the network (our internet links, the router, servers and services on the network, wifi link), and display a sort of heart beat message in plain English on a monitor under the wall. If all is green, then your "internet problem" might most likely be somewhere between you and the keyboard.

NYC Resistor visit

Rachel sez:

I visited NYC Resistor this past weekend.  They’ve got a 5th floor space in Brooklyn, maybe a little bigger than ours, with lovely light.  I posted some pics on the Noisebridge wiki, and here’s a few more:

They gave us a present which I will post pictures of as soon as I’ve shown the rest of the Noisebridgers at tomorrow’s meeting.