Tuesday, July 27, 2010


ThinkHaus in Hamilton

On Sunday I visited ThinkHaus in Hamilton, thanks to Adina & her boyfriend for showing me around. Flickr Set. They have a huge space, several thousand square feet. It's divided into three or four rooms. There is plenty of soft stuff in the first room, and apparently they screen movies in there, which is cool. They have a shop room with a really awesome set of wooden lockers, they just look so awesome, not to mention being useful for storing your stuff :-). Upstairs they have a laser cutter and some servers. The laser cutter is actually a Chinese knockoff, they had to replace the controller boards to get it to work at all, but apparently it works great now. Given how little they paid, I think it's awesome! I love the ThinkHaus logo (pictured), it's one of the best logos I've seen for a hackerspace.

They are in the process of moving to a new space at the start of August, one with a better location. Apparently it's going to be smaller, but they claim that at the present location members find it difficult to get to the space, so I agree that it's worth moving. A hackerspace needs to be somewhere convenient and central, so that people are always popping by just because "hey, I was in the area anyway!". If you have to make a special trip just to go, you're not going to go unless you have active plans, and that defeats the purpose of a hackerspace, which is all about the serendipity of meeting new people and doing things that would never have occurred to you if you hadn't stumbled upon the place and found the tools...

Anyway, good luck with the move, and I'll be back to check it out sometime soon :-)


Site 3 in Toronto

I attended Site 3's opening night party, although I only went for the afternoon. Flickr Set. They've only had the space since July 1st, but they've already got an impressive amount of stuff in there! It's a two story space, on the ground floor they have a workshop, with concrete floors and some machine tools and a storage room. On the top floor, it's a wide open space, with great ambiance, it'll make wonderful classroom space once they get a few more tables and chairs. Apparently it used to be a blacksmith's shop, they even have the old anvil! Also, there is no plumbing/running water in the building, so the toilets are incinerators!

The picture is of a flame device, the height of the flames changes according to the tone of a sound which is created by the speaker down the tube itself, pretty neat. One of the members is a steampunk artist, so upstairs there are a couple of pretty awesome steampunk costumes on dummies, including a leather armor piece that was created from a mold of Milla Jovovich's chest :-).

I think Site 3 has a lot of potential as a hackerspace, it'll be great to watch them fill the space up with love.



So there is a week missing at this point in the blog. I spent time with my family at our cottage, my parents place, and my sisters place. I figure that stuff would mostly bore you, so I've saved you the trouble of not reading that post by not writing it :-).

Anyway, Hacklab.TO in Toronto was my next destination. Flickr set. I was there for their second anniversary party, Friday Aug 23th 2010. The place was hoping with a couple of dozen people in attendance. They have an excellent location, right across from Kensington Market. There is a bar immediately beneath them, the U of T is only a few blocks away, as is China Town, there is plenty of foot traffic outside. I had a great time showing my hack book scrap book to people, and getting a tour from Leigh. Their space is small (perhaps 1000 sq ft?), but I understand not wanting to move, it's a great space in a great location. They have a laser cutter that they (re)built the controller for from scratch themselves, a nice library, a good electronic work station, a small couch area, and a small kitchen. They are super passionate right now about "Free Byron", their effort to get a member freed from unjust imprisonment (he was arrested at the G7 protest for taking photos of the fences around the CN tower!)

If I do settle in Toronto, I can totally see hanging out at hacklab.TO on a regular basis!


Thunder Bay & Sault Ste Marie

Northern Ontario is HUGE! Dude, once you cross the border you think, hey, I must be nearly to home! But then, you're still three days away! Ontario is larger than the prairie provinces combined! They have erected an awesome "Eastern Standard Time" monument that I simply had to stop and take photos of. Flickr Set

Anyway, I had fun in Thunder Bay, since I found a really cool gaming cafe, and talked to the owner for a bit. He's been running it for about 6 months now, the extensive collection of games (perhaps 100 in all?!?) he mostly owned before he even opened the shop, which is telling! Anyway, he's got a great space, and I gave him my best wishes for success.

In Sault Ste Marie, I stayed in an odd hostel, it's an old historic building right off the downtown, but it's only partially owned by the hostel, and there is a separate bar on the ground floor. The rooms were ancient! I even had one of those old hot water radiators. On the up side, the rooms were totally private - not dorm rooms. Apparently the place used to be an HI, but the old owners had some kind of fight with HI and so that deal ended. The new owners are associated with Backpackers, and trying to drum up business. I also toured around downtown The Soo, but I didn't find anything very interesting. It's pretty; the walk along the water is excellent. The Precious Blood Cathedral is awesome (clearly vampires named it!).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Regina, Winnipeg - Geek Girls, Break-in

Regina is a pretty city, but as far as I can tell there is zero geek action here. I spent my evening walking around their man-made lake, which is a great way to unwind after a long day of driving. Flickr Set. Then the next day I drove to Winnipeg, which is a shorter drive.

I had a blast with the Winnipeg Geek Girls (need Facebook link), they enjoyed my scrapbook of hackerspaces, and I enjoyed having some geeky people to hang with. We played pool (badly) and talked about archiving, programming, finding like minded people, and lots of other stuff. Cheers girls and keep up the good work, it'd be awesome if you could grow your little Geek Girls events into a cultural force in Winnipeg! Flickr Set

Unfortunately, while this was going on, my drivers side window was smashed and my car was searched. Fortunately, they seem not to have taken anything except for a few american quarters (not even all of them!) and my bag of bagels. This proves of course that everything I own is fully worthless :-). Seriously though they did pass up on all manner of stuff like my weapons, some computer stuff (mouse, keyboard, power strip), towels and blankets, 10 North Paw kits, nice Chinese scrolls, my iPhone->FM radio dongle, etc. The really valuable stuff like my laptop was in the hostel, not in the car, of course, so my downside was limited, but even so I'm super glad they decided not to trash my stuff.

The ironic thing is that I went to special effort to try to park in a safer area. They offered me free parking at the hostel, but warned me not to keep valuables in the car, and I agreed: the area was far too sketchy. So I drove 6 blocks away and found a nice(r) garage and parked there, but apparently I didn't go far enough! At least my car was covered though so that the rain didn't get in my window hole. The final indignity is the cost of window replacement: $420! That's about twice what I was hoping for, and about 100x the value of what was stolen from me...


Edmonton and ENTS

I'd been looking forward to Edmonton since near the beginning of the trip, because I was supposed to visit my college friend Erica, who works for the city. Unfortunately, she send me an email when I was in Banff telling me that she'd wouldn't be in town because her grandfather had just died and she was flying out to the funeral. So sad!

My other plan was to visit ENTS, the Edmonton New Technology Society, which was apparently given that name WITHOUT any awareness of the trees of middle earth also owning that term… they all agree there that a new name is needed. But other than the name, the place and the people are awesome! They claim to have only 4000 sq ft, but I actually think they have more space than noisebridge. It's divided up into about 8 rooms, and they rent three of them out as office space, which covers about 1/3 of their rent. I was super impressed by all the stuff they have, but ironically they kept telling me how envious they are of noisebridge! I think mostly it comes down to people who do things - they companied that they are all so busy themselves they don't have much time to hack, and so other than improving the space itself, nothing really happens there. But you need to give it time! Anyway, I really enjoyed my time there, keep up the good work. And, please do take my suggestion to call yourselves WhatCouldGoWrong.ca :-). Flickr Set



Calgary was an interesting experience for me. About a decade ago, I lived there for two years, and it was a very sad time for me. I really enjoyed my jobs there (Javien, a dot com startup, and StumbleUpon, which I co-founded with three other people), but socially and in most other ways it was a complete blowout for me. I learned many things from Calgary, and so I had two main goals in Calgary on this trip. One, revisit all my old haunts and see how that makes me feel. Two, check out protospace, the Calgary hackerspace. I did succeed at visiting my old apartment building, my old gym, my old kung-fu studio, seeing the c-train, etc. It was actually interesting how similar yet different things are compared to when I was there. There are a lot more residential towers in the downtown now! My old kung-fu studio has really changed, with a new lobby, crazy huge new weight room, removal of the old wrestling rings, and scaling back of the kung-fu part of the school. Sadly I didn't get to meet my old sifu, but I did get to meet his "new" wife (apparently they met about the same time as I left Calgary). They seem to be succeeding, I'm happy for them! My old apartment building seems to have attracted slightly richer people, as has the whole neighborhood. There is a nice barbecue on my old balcony! Unfortunately I couldn't find the old offices of Javien, I just couldn't remember where they were, and despite walking around for a few hours where I thought it should be, I didn't locate it. It's possible the building was torn down or something, but more likely is that my memory of where it was just wasn't on target. Anyway, revisiting memory lane: great success. Flickr Set

Goal two, visiting the hackerspace, was a blowout. I stopped by the door three times and knocked, but got no response. I sent an email to their mailing list, but it bounced because I wasn't a member (boo, that's a bad policy!). I resent that email to about ten people who's names were on the website, but I didn't get any responses. I think the problem is that I was in Calgary during their one-a-year crazy party called Stampede, so everyone had way better things to be doing than touring some out-of-town weirdo through their hackerspace. Anyway, too bad, it's very unlikely that I'll be back anytime soon, so I may never get to visit protospace.


Victoria, Banff

Some more sightseeing! In the morning I met up with my aunt and we had a great breakfast. We agreed that it had been at least 10 years since we'd talked. Afterward I headed off for Victoria, which is a very involved process, as it turns out. I drove to the Ferry terminal (about 30 minutes south of downtown Vancouver). Taking a car across costs $30 each way, so I had pre-planned not to do that. The ferry ride is about 1.5h, even though it's only about 35km. The ferry is enormous though - apparently it's used to get nearly everything over there, as judged by how many huge trucks they can (and do) load unto it, I'd estimate at least 50 trucks fit on the bottom deck. Then there is a deck of passenger cars which they also fill, likely a few hundred cars. And then they can take as many walk-on passengers as show up, I'd estimate capacity at several thousand, which they didn't approach. It's a super scenic journey. Once on Vancouver Island (which is where Victoria is?), the bus ride is about an hour more to reach downtown. For those of you adding it up, that's a 3 hour commute if everything goes perfect, realistically more like 4h by the time you add a little waiting at each step...

Anyway, once in Victoria I met up with a friend of a friend and had an awesome time talking about his efforts towards a hackerspace in Victoria, the upcoming Ideas conference, and the awesomeness of lawn bowling! I also got to walk around the downtown, take photos of the old hotel, etc.

On the return cruise, it was sunset, so I got many really awesome photos of the sun setting against water and the various islands, check out my awesome Flickr Set.

The next day I checked out Stanley Park (which was actually pretty scenic, I can see why they recommend tourists check it out), and drove all day to Banff. I had an evening in Banff, so I just walked up and down Banff Ave, which actually kind of reminded my of Disney Land, it's almost a parody of itself. Nice, but way too commercial and fake. On the other hand, the next morning I checked out the old hotel that was really the beginning of Banff as a tourist destination, and that was amazing, nobody builds stuff like that anymore! Flickr Set.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Vancouver Day 2 - Science World, Free Geek, Purple Thistle

Flickr: Vancouver Science World, Free Geek, Purple Thistle. A dude I met at VHS works at Science World, so he escorted me for free inside, and managed to spend 15 minutes telling me about all the behind the scenes stuff there before he got called off to actually work :-). It was totally filled with kids, and there are a lot of exhibits, I had a pretty good time exploring around. But it isn't the Exploratorium. They do have a very cool building though, thanks Arthur for letting me in for free!

Free Geek Vancouver also isn't nearly as cool as the mothership in Portland, but they are still doing good work there, putting old computers to reuse. They had a tour scheduled for 4pm, but I didn't return for the tour, so I didn't get as much description of the place as I got in Portland, but conceptually it's very similar and you can see the DNA of the organization.

Purple Thistle isn't a hackerspace per say, but it is the same kind of organization, I loved it there. They call themselves a "reeducation center", they do a lot of screen printing & zine stuff. And they have an active guerrilla gardening program, including right across the street from the space where they have taken over what used to be a strip of grass between the industrial lot and the road. Their library has a huge collection of activist stuff, like back issues of Earth First! I met some rad people there, and I even got to do a bit of gardening.

Friday, July 9, 2010


Seattle, Vancouver, VHS

Some sightseeing for a change! Flickr Sets: Seattle - Gas Works, Freeway Park, Vancouver - UBC, Museum of Anthropology. I really enjoyed touring around Seattle with Pip, I would never have gone to Freeway Park without his encouragement, but it really was pretty cool. I drove up to Vancouver and checked out UBC as well - wow, they have a HUGE amount of land! It's actually kind hard to find the campus amongst all that green. Super scenic!

In Vancouver, I visited Vancouver Hackerspace VHS (down with betamax!), a great little community of people with a nice space in an area just sketchy enough to be cheap :-). Flickr Set. I was there on Tuesday night, when they have an open house and people are encouraged to drop in, and in fact they had tons of people in the space, pretty much filling it up with perhaps 20 people. There was a short presentation on using a multimeter (very well delivered, some great stories of troubleshooting by an older engineer). And there were people hacking on a wide variety of projects, including some robots, some radios, and various kits. I assembled my bliplace and worked on my scrapbook, which people loved, it's finally beginning to have enough content to be interesting! I said that I would return on Thursday night, but I totally underestimated how long it would take to get to Victoria and back, so that ended up not happening, which I am super sad about.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Seattle Day 3 - Metrix, Hackerbot Labs

Another day, another two hackerspaces! Actually Seattle is the only city on the route that has more than one hackerspace, so this post is actually destined to be quite unusual. It's not clear to me why Seattle has so many hackerspaces, but they all seem to have pretty active membership, so I guess there are just that many awesome people in Seattle! See my flickr sets: Metrix and Ada Bookstore, Hackerbot Labs.

Metrix is located in an underground retail space, it was right next to the "Seattle Museum of Mysteries", so basically we had the rationalists right next door to the irrationalists, apparently much to the chagrin of both. However, as of last month the Museum has moved out, so I guess the rationalists have won! Metrix is clearly representing the Dwarves to Jigsaw's elves :-). They have two laser bots, and apparently the members have lots more as well - on "Makerbot Madness" nights, as many as 10 makerbots can be operating at Metrix, which is awesome. They also have a laser cutter than you can rent by the minute, $2. That sure puts my laser cutter time into perspective - I've sat by a laser cutter for hours on end, that would be hundreds of dollars! They also operate a pretty cool shop, you can buy all kinds of kits and components, lease tools, etc. I bought a bliplace from their awesome kit vending machine.

Hackerbot Labs is an awesome hackerspace in an industrial area, they have a very warehouse feel. While I was there they were having a laser-powered hot tub party, the hot tub was acting as the heat sink for the (liquid cooled) laser. Supposedly the 10W laser actually did lase while I was there, but I didn't get to see it thanks to the (totally necessary!) safety precautions. Instead I spent my time with Pip playing with the quarter shrinking machine, which was awesome. I got to load and fire the machine, shrinking my own quarter, as wall as a Hong Kong coin that I found in my car. We also made ice cream using liquid nitrogen. They have a huge variety of heavy equipment and industrial robots in the space; I think they probably qualify as the wizards of Seattle.

I loved Seattle, I think thanks mostly to my wonderful hosts Willow and Pip. The city is clean, feels safe, and has tons of rad people. I guess I understand a little better how Erin and Nils could move here from San Francisco :-).

Saturday, July 3, 2010


Seattle Day 2 - Microsoft and Jigsaw Renaissance

Flickr Set: MS & Jigsaw. I drove around the MS campus, met with a friend of a friend, and checked out the guest center that MS built a few years ago. Key notes: MS sure is huge! They have over 100 buildings, spread out over several campuses in the area. Some of the buildings are huge too, like Building 99, the Microsoft Research building, which has about 900 full time employees inside. I got to play with Microsoft Surface at their guest center, and I came away seriously unimpressed, it's no wonder they never bothered to commercialize it. It's not very responsive (you really have to press to get it to recognize your touch), it misses a lot of multi-touch gestures, and on top of that the demo software is hideously unintuitive. I guess it's a few years old, but still, they know that and yet it's given prominent placement in their guest center?!? Anyway, I figured being this close, I had to visit the belly of the beast, even if the beast is dying. It's like most of the other corporate campuses I have visited: entirely unexciting from the outside. Building 9, where supposedly the executives (like Steve Balmer) have their offices, is the same as all the other buildings.

Jigsaw Renaissance, the first of three hackerspaces I toured / will be touring in Seattle, is rad. Super open space, very welcoming with lots of natural light. They are clearly the elves. They've got a great space for having discussions and watching movies on big projected screen. Plus, they do have a few tools, rapidly increasing in number or so I am told :-). I participated in a Seattle H+ group discussion, I showed them a bunch of my slides from the sensory augmentation talk that I gave at BIL. And we watched Water World, it's bad in a really unique, $300M way, that is awesome. Jigsaw is in retail zoned space, so they "sell" memberships and the law requires them to post a "members only" sign on the door. But immediately below that sign they also have a please come in sign, which is the true spirit of the place.

Friday, July 2, 2010


Seattle: SFM, Art Walk

I spent the morning of the 1st driving to Seattle. About 2 hours into it I realized that I had left my luggage back in Portland! Fortunately, thanks to my Portland host Lynn and the (slightly sketchy) magic of craigslist, I managed to get my luggage delivered to Seattle without turning back myself. Thanks go to mysterious stranger "Michelle", who received one enormous hug from me :-). Also, I owe Lynn one for making it all happen on the Portland end.

Anyway, that crisis dealt with, I proceed to meet Jen and we went to the Museum of Science Fiction, which is unexplainably joined at the hip with something called the "Experience Music Project", hence the name "EMP-SFM. Flickr set. What these two have in common is anyone's guess?!? Anyway, the museum was awesome, they have many of the original props used on shows/movies like Star Trek, Lost in Space, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Planet of the Apes, etc. And, they have many many awesome sci-fi books with commentary on display. There are so many excellent books that I have not read!!! One of the startling things is how poorly made many of the props are - I guess the truth is that on-screen, you just can't tell, and so there is no point making things well. People will believe anyway!

After that, we played some pinball, got a view of the city without paying $15 for the space needle, and then I met up with my first host here in Seattle, Willow. We went and saw an Art Walk at a local workshop building, 5 stories of artwork on display in the workshops where they are created. Awesome, but a little overwhelming, I only managed to tour 4 of the floors… I totally neglected to take any photos of this, sorry!


Portland: Powells and OMSI

Running a little behind on blogging here, too busy seeing new stuff! Here is my Portland Day 2 collection.

We saw Powells "City of Books" bookstore, which takes up an entire city block, four stories high! Special highlights include the Rare Book Room, the Gift Editions shelf, and, frankly, the shear size of the shelves, which always towered above us at about 9 feet tall!

In the evening, we went to the After Dark edition of OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. 21+, they serve alcohol and you get some behind the scenes access, which is super cool. We even got to help carve stone away from a fossil, using a special vibrating tool, awesome! They had pretty awesome turn out at this event, the parking lot was overflowing.

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