my year of hacks

Hacking the Spaces →

http://www.monochrom.at/hacking-the-spaces/

This call to action gets at a lot of what I’m thinking about, and raises issues that should be discussed regardless of whether you agree with the authors. The other Monochrom projects are definitely worth a gander, too.

Incidentally, according to their site, Monochrom will be at Denver’s hackerspace later this month with this talk-

Context Hacking: Some Examples of How to Mess with Art, the Media System, Law and the Market

August 24, 2013; 4 pm at denhac / Hackerspace Denver, 975 E. 58th Avenue, Unit N; Denver, Colorado 80216.


The City of Shanghai wants to hack, too

Shanghai is home to Xin Che Jian (新车间), founded in 2010 and described as ”China’s first hackerspace”. It has now also become home to a number of government sponsored sites, modeled on hackerspaces, called “innovation houses” (創新屋).

image

image source: http://www.stcsm.gov.cn/xwpt/gzdt/331718.htm

According to an article by one of Xin Che Jian’s founders, David Li, and Silvia Lindtner of UC Irvine, the decision by the Shanghai government to fund these hackerspace-like “innovation houses” has been the subject of heated debate. One criticism is that the “houses” focus on tools rather than community.

There is also a larger ideological argument. If part of the value and strength of the hackerspace model is its generative, community created nature, it is worthwhile to be clear about the differences between a community created space and a government sponsored one. Another facet of the ideological issue is that hackerspaces developed out of particular subcultures and values (e.g., the “hacker ethic”, US counterculture, European autonomism, and techno-utopianism). These roots have shaped the development of hackerspaces into what they are today. If these values are no longer implicitly or explicitly part of a hackerspace, is it still a hackerspace? 

(In the U.S., there has been debate over DARPA funding and hackerspaces, which raises similar issues.)

Work cited: 

Lindtner, S., & Li, D. (2012). Created in China: the makings of China’s hackerspace community. interactions19(6), 18-22.


The Craftsman was a magazine founded in 1901 by designer, furniture maker, and pioneer in the American Arts & Crafts movement, Gustav Stickley. Could he also be considered an open source pioneer? David Gauntlett, in Making is Connecting (2011), writes, “Stickley’s belief in ‘a simple, democratic art’…was such that he included his designs and working plans for furniture, metalwork, and needlework in the magazine—even though this, to some extent, undermined his own business…” (p.49)
*digital versions of The Craftsman (public domain) are available at archive.org.  View Larger

The Craftsman was a magazine founded in 1901 by designer, furniture maker, and pioneer in the American Arts & Crafts movement, Gustav Stickley. Could he also be considered an open source pioneer? David Gauntlett, in Making is Connecting (2011), writes, “Stickley’s belief in ‘a simple, democratic art’…was such that he included his designs and working plans for furniture, metalwork, and needlework in the magazine—even though this, to some extent, undermined his own business…” (p.49)

*digital versions of The Craftsman (public domain) are available at archive.org


(What’s the) Big Diff?

image(img: CC BY-SA 3.0)

Multiple people working on the same project requires coordination. For free and open source software makers, there are tools like Git, Subversion, and Mercurial that provide version control (or revision control) and, with public repositories, allow multiple contributors to work in tandem. These tools are crucial. As Chris Anderson notes"Until your project is in a public version-control system, it’s open source in name only. Odds are, nobody will help you build it."

What about for open hardware projects? Turns out the physicality of objects is a real onion in the ointment. The title of Anderson’s article is, “Wanted: Version Control for Stuff”, and he discusses some existing, imperfect attempts to provide a solution.

One (very) partial type of version control for 3D objects and hardware employs “visual diffs”. A “diff” is a direct file comparison. Windell Oskay, on his Evil Mad Scientist site, describes how they might be used to track differences in circuit designs, for example. 

It makes me think of the “what’s different between these two photos?” puzzles they run in the Apple Daily in Taiwan. 

image

(img source: Apple Daily)

Found all the differences? Good. Now, what about 3D objects that are more physically and materially complex? It seems that a good solution for collaborative open hardware development needs to track many potential change “vectors”, from materials or parts used to manufacturing/machining techniques, in addition to “code” (which in this case might be CAD files). Making changes in these variables easily visible to collaborators is a tall order, but for open hardware to proliferate in the way that open source software has, some good solutions seem necessary. I’m sure many smart people more familiar with these development issues than I am are thinking about this.

Gary Hodgson has created a template for tracking and sharing objects on Github called ”Githubiverse" (a nod [of protest] to Thingiverse). He is also behind a proposal for tracking and sharing things called “Thingtracker" that would not be limited to the walled garden of one site/service.

What else are people working on out there for object sharing and version control?


One of the areas I’m most amped (haha) about personally is learning how to create instruments/synthesizers and exploring ways for interacting with sound. This “Atari Punk Console” might be a good place to start. As I understand, it is essentially the same circuit earlier published by autodidact scientist and electronics author extraordinaire Forrest M. Sims III as a “Stepped Tone Generator”. It uses what Sims calls “one of the most popular integrated circuits ever designed”, the “venerable 555 timer designed by Hans R. Camenzind for Signetics” in 1972. (To be honest, this has me truly thinking about “authorship” of circuits for the first time.) This project also shows how DIY style electronics projects often naturally become collaborations across time and space: Camenzind’s 555 IC (1972) > Sims’ Stepped Tone Generator (1984) > Kaustic Machines’ "Atari Punk Console" > MAKE Magazine’s Collin’s Lab (above) + hordes of circuit modding synth-heads all over…


Arduino & Hedonized DIY

I recently read an article by artist/informatics researcher Garnet Hertz titled “Arduino Microcontrollers and the Queen’s Hamlet” that offered up some interesting tidbits. The first was the Queen’s Hamlet, or Hameau de la Reine, itself. Built in 1783 at Versailles for Marie Antoinette, it was a kind of sanitized version of a working farm that allowed the Queen the diversion of playing peasant without the inconvenience of actually getting her hands dirty (the servants handled all the real tasks). A little Disneyworld in 18th century France. 

Hertz uses the Queen’s Hamlet as an example of “hedonized” production. The farm tasks were undertaken by the Queen not because she lacked for milk to drink, but for the pleasure of playing “rustic”. Hertz cites technology historian Rachel Maines and her book Hedonizing Technologies: Paths to Pleasure in Hobbies and Leisure in drawing a distinction between utilitarian and hedonized production. As people’s economic circumstances have improved, formerly utilitarian chores like gardening, cooking, and sewing have been transformed into leisure activities performed not out of necessity, but rather in pursuit of pleasure.

 What of the Arduino, then? Hertz calls it a “hedonized technology” and ties it to a broader critique of the MAKE Magazine, weekend (maker) warrior, consumer hobby culture. His critique is reasonable and all the more compelling because he does not claim that these developments are without value. Even if you buy an off-the-shelf Arduino kit (as I did, full disclosure), by using it you are learning something about physical computing and perhaps questioning the “black box” mindset of throwaway consumer electronics culture. Hertz opines, "Arduino’s synecdochical symbolization of the electronic DIY movement isn’t a negative thing: as a fashionable accessory of nerd culture, the Arduino is useful in its role of re-introducing some of the basics of homebrew computing that predated the personal computer" (p. 45). First off, he gets points for managing to use the adjectival form of "synecdoche". That aside, his main argument is that hackers/makers should maintain an engaged and critical stance toward DIY production and culture, and that hacker/maker culture is much larger and more diverse than O’Reilly Media. Hertz is suspicious of the modern day Queen’s Hamlet. 

Hertz comes across as snide at times, but I believe it is a sign of the depth of his investment in the idea of “critical making” and the wider benefits it may bring. He concludes by writing, “a critical making that combines engaged thought with technical construction is our path into meaningful personal, social and civic engagement” (p. 47).

Hertz practices what he preaches and has produced some very cool and thoughtful stuff that can be seen at his site. Here’s a good interview with him on this and other topics from We make money not art.

Cited:

Hertz, G. (2011). Arduino microcontrollers and the Queen’s Hamlet: utilitarian and hedonized DIY practices in contemporary digital culture. In Proceedings of the 31st Annual Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ARCADIA). Stoughton, WI: Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (pp. 44-47).

Maines, R. P. (2009). Hedonizing Technologies: Paths to Pleasure in Hobbies and Leisure. JHUP.