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    Saturday, March 6, 2010

    Indy Hall, Coworking Space in Philadelphia, PA

    Just one block from Christ Church and situated in the upscale neighborhood of Old City, Philadelphia, amidst outdoor cafes and coffee shops, I squeeze my large New Englander we-get-more-snow-than-you (except for D.C. this winter) SUV into a parallel parking space between a Bentley and a beater 1970s hulking Chevy. Philly is interesting in that way; from block-to-block, neighborhoods change fast. Just this morning, Far McKon, Maggie and I engaged a stranger in a conversation of whether the Satellite Coffee Shop is in West Philly or South West Philly—the locals decided upon the latter by 50 ft.

    I’m dropping in on the Indy Hall crowd this afternoon right after departing the Hive 76 hacker space. On the second floor of a loft space, I exit the elevator to a large sign painted on the wall, “Independents Hall”. However, this is not the Independence Hall where our Nation was planned just a few blocks away, but this one is where startup companies are being planned, developed, and grown into companies.

    On a Saturday afternoon, Indy Hall’s conference room hosts a cluster of about eight men sitting at desks arranged in a coworking circle. Their mission: to get Google to bring Google Fiber to Philly. Fast at work talking and typing on their computers, Alex @alexknowshtml, co-founder of Indy Hall, took time out to give me a tour.

    Indy Hall’s furniture consists of modern IKEA individual desks, but all desks are arranged in clusters where developers can work side-by-side with their coworkers and with other entrepreneurs who choose a group working environment over renting an office in solitude. When asked about the arrangement of the desk and the permanence of a few of the work stations, Alex said, “Every 4-6 months, we move everything around just to keep things new. Sitting in the same place breeds complacency; when you’re running a start-up company, mixing it up keeps ideas new".

    The idea of a modular set of individual desks was clever. Just when you get used to the same coder or social media mogul sitting next to you every day, you may have a biologist or a hardware architect next to you tomorrow. According to the philosophy of Indy Hall, taking down walled barriers and moving around spreads ideas, intrigue and innovation.

    I asked questions about usual organizational management: about $275-400/month for full-timers, less for part-timers, and there is a $25/day drop-in membership for out-of-towners or people who just want to drift through when they feel like it. Between the murals on the walls, the hang-out area with couches, glass tanks containing a rat and a turtle (respectively), video game consoles, and large pillows to sit on the floor, this was a fantastic co-working space in which the organizers have given obvious attention to the flow of ideas and co-working camaraderie in a dynamic business environment in which old ideas of managing companies and intellectual property are becoming stagnant. This coworking space keeps it fresh.

    Visit to Philadelphia to see Hive 76, one of Philly's hacker spaces

    I might have one of the most awesome part-time jobs: I am setting up a 5,500 sq ft hacker space in Northern Virginia. I traveled to Philadelphia this weekend to talk with Far McKon, one of the founders of Hive 76. About a year ago, I met Far in the D.C. area and we talked about the idea hacker space. Of course, ideals are challenging to obtain, but some hacker spaces have come closer than others. Hive 76, profitable after only 8 months since it was started, is one of those.

    I met Far and Maggie, from the Prometheus Radio Project, for lunch at the Reading Terminal Market. After living in the Seattle area for a year and enjoying Pike Place Market, I have pretty high standards when it comes to indoor public markets, but I thoroughly enjoyed the Reading market. If I lived in the Philly area, I would do most of my food shopping here. I was also interested to see that most of the shop vendors were Mennonites and Amish.

    At lunch while I enjoyed crepes with Nutella and fruit (I have fond memories of Nutella from my days living in Oxford, England), we discussed ideas such as an international hacker space conference, an organization for helping new hacker spaces get started, and challenges with management, legal, and lobbying efforts with hackers spaces and those faced by The Prometheus Radio Project.

    After lunch, Far and I went to Hive 76. It is situated in a large warehouse/loft space in Philly’s warehouse district, not far from Center City. Upon entering the building, I was delighted to find that access to the 5th floor loft is via an old elevator that looks like it is straight out of the movie Blade Runner; for a moment, I envisioned Sebastian’s bio-engineering workshop apartment with his invented creatures--his hacker space. Entering the caged elevator room through two steel lattice doors and watching the old counter weights go by as we ascended, I was impressed with the engineering prowess of the well-oiled machines of the last century.

    The space’s access is on the 5th floor in a building occupied by artists. Upon entering the loft, the sparsely furnished entryway is accented with little more than a threadbare couch and a large steel frame cubical sculpture. Hive 76 is down the hall, and in contrast to the neighboring artists’ spaces with kilns and easels, this hacker space is comfortably full with tech equipment: laser cutter, cupcake CNC, server racks, a workspace area for computers, and tables for projects. Christmas lights strung from the high ceiling reminded me of the hacker’s workshop in the movie Sneakers. As I sit here writing this blog posting, I have a great view of Center City, Philadelphia.

    Far and I discussed some models for hacker space physical and business organizations: this is why I came. With my huge hacker space (perhaps the biggest in the U.S.) being planned for a grand opening later spring/early summer of this year, I have a lot of work to do to learn from other hacker space organizers to share what works and what doesn’t. I’ve visited a handful of other spaces, and collectively, I have graciously been afforded the opportunity to talk one-on-one with the founders about their successes and failures. I hope to replicate the former, not the latter.

    Some of the discourse we’ve shared: the hacker space size, equipment and memberships should be commensurate to community in which it is located to facilitate success; membership, ideally, should pay for most if not all of the space overhead costs; a national hacker space organization (with Founder conferences and a data base of shared technical, management, and legal resources) would be very helpful in helping manage existing hacker spaces and facilitate start-ups of new spaces; a hacker space in which co-working/hacker start-up companies can rent full-time locking office space that is physically connected to the hacker space. (Image is of an old typewriter being turned into a keyboard for a computer)

    Friday, September 18, 2009

    @h3inous, Leah Kubik

    If you were on Hackers on a Plane and attended Hacking at Random in The Netherlands, you knew Leah Kubik, @h3inous. She had a tragic accident at the University of Toronto and will be missed in the hacker community.

    Her funeral is Saturday, September 19, 2009 at Palmer Funeral Home-River Park in South Bend, IN. Flowers for the service have been sent from the Hackers on a Plane participants. The card with the flowers says:


    Monday, July 13, 2009

    OpenOtto Project at DEFCON 17 and Black Hat USA 2009

    The OpenOtto Project is doing more presentations. We had/have a lot of conference presentations this summer. The photos (photos by Brian Turnbull) are from Intridea’s HackOn (un)conference that was held June 18-20th in Portland, Maine. After co-working with Intridea on Friday, Nothingface and I did a presentation about the current state of the OpenOtto Project on Saturday.

    We also just secured presentations at Black Hat USA 2009 and DEFCON 17 in Las Vegas. Our Black Hat talk will be with me and Travis Goodspeed. Travis is working on the layout so we can progress toward releasing the schematics, source code and producing the first demo. We're doing a presentation at Black Hat in the open source project break-out session on Wednesday, July 29, 10:00 AM, Genoa room, 3rd floor at Caesar’s Palace.

    The DEFCON talk will be on Saturday, August 1, with Skytalks, skybox 303 at 10 AM, The Riviera.

    Please come see us and talk with us about hacking your car! We’re looking for funding and developers.

    Friday, May 1, 2009

    2600/HackME Meeting Tonight

    After a few months of first fridays attendance at info sec and hacker conferences, I am going to be at this meeting tonight, 6 PM in the food court at the Maine Mall. The hacked car will be in mall's parking lot, but I don't know if Nothingface remembered to bring the hardware to do a demo. If you're in Portland, please join us for a recap about the Notacon hacker conference that was in Cleveland, Ohio a few weeks ago.

    Friday, March 27, 2009

    What should the OpenOtto demo car NOT be

    Rob T Firefly suggested we get a DeLorean for the OpenOtto demo. Awesome idea! Love it. If we come across one, we'll make a go for it.

    However, here are some suggestions of what the demo should NOT be. Although they might attract more girls to the computer hacker scene, these cars are not cool.

    Even though the guy with the 89' Oldsmobile Cutlass Sierra Louis Vuitton Limited Edition looks pretty fly, this doesn't quite say, "Give us VC funding, please" but, instead, "I'm a bad knock-off."

    The's just so wrong. This doesn't say, "I'm so hot, give me a speeding ticket," as Ferrari's should, but, "This is my teenage daughter's car." Instead, this is the Ferrari OpenOtto would be willing accept as a donation to the open source project. If you've ever ridden in a Ferrari and driven so fast along winding mountaintop roads in Italy that there is FIRE coming out of the tailpipe and you're pinned into the racing seat, you'd understand why my vote is for a sports car. I like fast cars that go boom.

    The last picture is one I took of a wimpy Jeep Liberty on my driveway during mud season. Indeed, it took TWO Land Rovers to tow out the Liberty. No wimpy SUVs--this is a going-to-the-mall car. Thank goodness it was a rental. It had mud coming in the doors by the time we got it out of there. I was told that, when it was returned to the Portland, Maine airport car rental office, the guys receiving the car stood in disbelief as they saw the mud on and in the car. Instead, we vote for an H1 as our off-roading vehicle demo car. If we can't have that, we'll stick with the 2003 Land Rover Discovery it's in now because it really can go anywhere. In fact, we've taken it there and back.

    Thursday, March 26, 2009

    If OpenOtto could have a demo car, what should it be?

    We’ve been watching Knight Rider. (Actually, we have been since the 80s, so that probably dates us.) We’ve recently been having some fun debates about a dream demo car for OpenOtto. Of course, we’re just scraping by now and absconding with junk parts from cast-offs and running OpenOtto on a 2003 Land Rover, but if a dream could come true, what would be the coolest car OpenOtto’s software and hardware could control? Would it be an off-roading SUV, a sports car, or a muscle car?

    Because Knight Rider was an inspiration, one of the demos has to be an American muscle car. There will always be some who believe the original Knight Rider¸ a 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, will be the only true KITT. If you ever wondered if KITT really had a blood analyzer, Ski Mode, or an electromagnetic field generator, here are all of the technical specs for KITT from the 1980s series. We should have attended the Knight Rider Festival last week in Las Vegas. Both the new and old KITTs were demoed along with hobbyists displaying their tribute cars.

    The new Knight Rider series features a Ford Shelby GT 500 KR Mustang. With Val Kilmer as the new KITT voice, the car sounds and looks HOT. If you want to keep watching the new Knight Rider TV series, you must be proactive and sign a petition to keep the show going. Why not? It’s cooler, hacker-ish, and more techie than the dozens of boring doctor and lawyer shows now on prime time TV.

    But one thing is for sure, when we do professionally demo a car controlled by OpenOtto, the developers must wear their Michael Knight costumes. (Sorry, these hokie things are part of what start-ups make their employees do). But I think I’ll opt for Daisy Duke’s outfit even though the 1969 Dodge Charger General Lee always seemed to be broken down, didn’t it? KITT would leave General Lee in the dust and then go on to hack some wicked encrypted world computer networks any day! Hack on, KITT!