DACS General Meeting
Danbury Hackerspace—with Mike Kaltschnee
By Sean N. Henderson
Our most noted local figure for the "Do It Yourself/Do It Together" (DIY) movement gave an informative presentation at DACS last month. The topic was hacking, and in particular, where to hack. Mike Kaltschnee, DACS member and co-founder of the Danbury Hackerspace at The Innovation Center, gave us the low-down on how Danbury is moving up in the tech DIY world.
The impact of this sort of tech community is widespread. Gadgets and services we use, such as Pinterest and the Square card reader that attaches to a smartphone, have sprung from these co-op hacking spaces. Mike outlined the fiscal impact of such spaces, which is measured in the millions, part of which can be seen on crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter. The educational impact is far reaching: as programs in schools get moved to the side, these spaces can supplement limited science, math, arts and technology programs in schools. As an example, Mike cited how Danbury took art out of the STEAM program.
The Danbury Hackerspace is linked with the Danbury Innovation Center, which encourages new local business development and provides resources for growth to businesses in the local community. Mike showed the benefits of the involvement of the City of Danbury in the project, which included a $550,000 commitment to renovate the facility space. Why did it take 20 months? Mike cited politics. While he and Jon could have rented a different space, patience seemed more practical. One of the considerations of working with the City is navigating various safety and other requirements.
Mike gave a review of the Danbury Mini Maker Faire. Next year, Mike indicated that the Danbury Hackerspace will have its own event, the Madhackers Social Media Conference, separate from the Mini Maker Faire.
Mike outlined how the demographics for downtown are changing. For instance, how college and technical schools are represented in downdown Danbury, with the Naugatuck Community College campus having 1,000 students this semester. Ridley-Lowell and WestConn are also in Danbury. Mike's plan is that the hackerspace will represent a destination and activity center apart from the bar-scene.
The Danbury Hackerspace will be located in the old Union Savings Bank building next to the library. It will share the space with SCORE and some co-working space in what is known collectively as the Danbury Innovation Center. The plans for the building include an Innovation Cafe - a real coffee shop, connected to the library. There is shared program space. There is a co-working room. Mike indicated that there are currently 9 co-working spaces in Fairfield County right now, and said he's "really into co-working - co-working is getting really hot." Like nearly all the other hackerspaces and co-working spaces, there is a big common table - "[people] don't work in cubicles anymore - people work together, and they want to work together on projects." Another feature of the hackerspace is its mockup studio where it is zoned for light industrial, and will have noisy equipment. Money is being raised for a laser cutter. The drive-up window has become a garage door where tools and materials can be wheeled in and out. Overall, the space will be 4,700 square feet.
"The City is committing a lot to this project."
Regarding SCORE, four representatives from the Western Connecticut chapter were present and stood up to inform the audience about SCORE activities at the space.
Mike has been on tour the last year, speaking to the Lions, Rotary, Kiwanis, and DACS, among other groups - "my job would be a lot easier if we called it a makerspace." These spaces aren't just about computer people - the maker movement includes other trades such as artists and craftsmen - even a blacksmith. Hackerspaces are an international movement, started in this country by Mitch Altman, who went to Europe and brought back what he saw. An example of one hackerspace here in the U.S. is a 60,000 square foot facility outside of Boston called Artisan's Asylum. Other hackerspaces have a different focus - some more along electronics and micro-controllers, others more towards crafts, and still others more towards other making endeavors.
Despite not opening its doors yet, the Danbury Hackerspace has already hosted or participated in events in Danbury. For instance, a recent show-and-tell downtown at Two Steps, and a spot at Danbury's First Night celebration. As far as equipment, the hackerspace already owns three 3-D printers.
Bill Saturno from CT Hackerspace in Watertown was acknowledged and talked about their facility and their open house schedule. Nearly all the hackerspaces have an open house or public night. Mike mentioned hackerspaces.org as a way to find out not only about hackerspaces in a location, but about their open house schedules as well. Bill Saturno also confirmed Mike's estimation of economic impact. While the older building that CT Hackerspace is in had no tenants prior, CT Hackerspace's activity and presence was able to draw more tenants to the building and area.
As an indicator of the growth of the hackerspace movement, Mike again pointed to Artisan's Asylum's growth in three years from 1,000 to 10,000, to 40,000, then to 60,000 square feet. They now have full-time employees to help with management of the facility.
Being realistic, the Danbury Hackerspace will not be able to match this type of facility in the near future, but it is an example of the movement's popularity and justification for this project in Danbury. Other indicators of the movement's popularity include shows on TV such as Mythbusters, and coverage on the movement by Wired Magazine and Make Magazine.
After his presentation, there were many questions. All in attendance seemed eager to hear more about this project and know how to get involved. More information can be had at Danbury Hackerspace, at Twitter, at Facebook, or finally at Meetup.