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    Tuesday, December 9, 2008

    Discussion with Nick Farr, HacDC

    I was in the D.C. area in late November and couldn’t resist stopping in to meet the HacDC guys and see the space. The evening started with Nick Farr inviting me to a DorkBot presentation at George Washington University. Alden Hart, CTO of Ten Mile Square gave a great presentation about his LED projects. This was one of the most comprehensive technical presentations I’ve seen that encompassed everything from where to buy the parts, where to ship the PCBs for fabrication, to discussing details of the software and hardware designs. I'm thrilled he's going to release his hardware designs as open source.

    From there, we went to Froggy Bottom for sub-par pub food, but like most hacker group outings, the company was what was outstanding. Late—sometime around 11PM—we wrapped up the dinner and a group of us went to Nick Farr’s apartment (he has CASES of Club-Mate!) and then to HacDC. While we were there tapping into his Club-Mate stock (entire fridge full of it, too), out of his closet he pulled out a really old computer with an acoustic coupler. I’d never seen one that old because back in the 80s when we had 30+ phone lines going into our suburban D.C. house, we just had racks of slow modems, but none had couplers. He’d salvaged it for hacDC.

    On the ride over to HacDC, I was able to ask Nick specific questions about the organizational structure, management, and financing the space. Because I was driving, I wasn’t able to take specific notes as I was when I talked to Far of Hacktory, so don’t take this verbatim—especially the costs.

    I first asked Nick about the name. It includes “hac(k)” which, in my experience with some hacker spaces, is a turn-off for some participants. Maine’s hacker space is struggling with this, too. His response: if they don’t like hack, then they don’t really understand what we do here and this might not be the best organization for them to join. He said that “hack” in the name clearly separates the organization from other group work spaces, like co-working. However, he also said that some members solely have numbers assigned to them because of the need to remain anonymous because there are still some businesses that shun associations with anything related to hackers.

    The space was amazing! So far, this is the most complete hacker space I’ve seen. What’s also interesting is their location. A church has rented out space to non-profits and hacDC has a loft space. One side of the space is all shelving for storage and it’s packed. I saw some old payphones, an old PC being used as a ballast for a huge rotating white board, five Geiger counters (which I relished being able to play with), table saws, old modems, and tons of computers. Tables are in the middle of the room to be used for projects and Tim proudly told me, “We even have our own bathroom!” as he gingerly took some drinks out of the fridge.

    We discussed that they only have one fee structure which is about $40/month and have around 40 active members. For a large city and even larger technological suburbanite community, I understand how they can draw so many members. They have also started hacker-theme movie nights and will be offering educational classes. It seems as if they have weekly events which is very cool they can do that. I cannot wait to go back to hacDC during Shmoocon, the next time I’ll be in the D.C. area. That seems like an awesome place to be during the conference evenings. Love it, love it!

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