Once the space occupied by a 'Space' becomes saturated, like so many forms of life the 'Space' needs to undergo change, evolve, and grow
It doesn't take much to start a "Lab" or a "Space." Really, it's more about the need than the gear. Once someone has decided there is a need for a "Space" (often called Maker Spaces, Hackerspaces, Fab Labs, or Fundi Spaces), then there are a few requirements such as a physical location and access to electricity, but other than that... well, where there's a will, there's a way.
Seriously?! (Source: Lindsay Craig)
I've seen such "Spaces" started with little more than a soldering iron and a bunch of scrap electronics harvested from old radios and video game consoles. Sometimes, there isn't even a soldering iron, since it's possible to heat a piece of metal, such as a nail, in a fire and hold it with a wrench as a substitute. Sometimes the people starting these spaces aren't even aware that they are starting a "Space." They just put a couple of odds-and-ends in a shoebox and think nothing else of it.
These unwitting -- soon-to-be packrats -- often don't even realize what they are getting into with this tiny action. They have no idea how their eyesight and late nights will be sacrificed to mountains of datasheets. They don't realize that, despite their own awareness of just how little they know, soon others will be drawn to them like wild cats, sniffing out transistors and scratching at their necks, asking for help with their dreaded "projects."
Little do they realize the sheer magnitude of dream potential they create the instant that first grimy component lands in that cardboard or plastic box, bouncing with no slow motion to indicate the momentous occasion, just an everyday rattle. The dream potential grows as others add their collections of motors and wire and tweezers and sensors. One day, people look around and realize that it's time to either become official about their efforts, or seriously work on finding someone else to take all this stuff off their hands.
I've seen full-grown engineers with their eyes brimming with tears as they are forced to turn away enticing stepper motors, which they will likely never use, but that are just soooo cool. The claw marks they leave on their cheeks are testament to the pain they feel at not having enough space for all the "stuff" the world brings to their doorsteps. Their eyes roll back into their heads as they bemoan their lack of space for their "Space." Alternatively, with glee splitting their cheeks from ear to ear, they clutch yet another box to their chest, and harsh whispers of "my precious" accompany their attempts to balance towers of equipment and hide their growing hoard from friends and family.
I know. I've been there. I'm still there. It's wonderful.
Fundi Space before the move (Source: Lindsay Craig)
This entire 'Space' was quickly filled during the move (Source: Lindsay Craig)
At first, I found myself helping others figure out how to tame their components and equipment. At SparkFun, when I first started, I spent a couple of days cleaning out the old production room, preparing it to become a classroom. Amongst the rework stations and PCBs, I found things that indicated the personality of the "Space" such as toy cap guns and a Lone Ranger costume. When the Fundi Bots cleaned out Solomon King's spare bedroom, we placed datasheets and instruction manuals in an old gutted Thunder Cats book cover. We found pictures of Solomon and other Fundis from the days when their dreams had yet to truly take shape and the first components had just begun to multiply in the darkness of their containers. We made massive piles of odds and ends. We labeled them with annotations such as "Tools," "Mechanical," and "Inputs." Anything to convince ourselves that we had the situation under control. My part time job at Zebulon Solutions Inc. is flavored by solar cells, batteries, and a child's doll who stands sentry with a large screwdriver. Left over from testing of a product intended for younger users, this guardian reminds us to keep things tidy, wary against the possibility of unchecked clutter-growth.
Each space has its own culture (Source: Lindsay Craig)
Such clutter-growth can happen either by chance or on purpose. Regardless of how it occurs, it will happen. Once the "Space" it occupies becomes saturated, like so many forms of life, it needs to undergo change. In my experience, this happens in one of three ways: The "Space" entity searches for a larger shell; it divides roughly in half in order to stay where it is; or it sends a multitude of tiny pieces of itself out into the world to encourage the process in other forming "Spaces." For example, the Fundi Lab managed to encourage its users to put everything into a single truck. With a triumphant mechanical engineer, Samson Kasozi, riding on top to discourage the lab from pursuing one of the other forms of transformation, it moved to a space at least ten times the size of its previous location. It now shares that space with a classroom, with tendrils of bike chain and electrical wire occasionally snaking out to try and claim more than the corner in which it hulks. I was the recent recipient of the amoeba like splitting process when I cleaned out Zebulon's older projects. Now I am in the process of performing the "dance of the dandelion" whereby I pirouette about dispatching tiny parcels of electronics and tools to my old friends and new acquaintances in Uganda.
A single SparkFun Inventor's Kit will be enough to start a Robotics Club in a school in Northern Uganda. The teachers will use it to inspire countless students as they can. Luckily, even in the hills and jungles of Uganda, the laws of tech "Spaces" are hard at work. The other components start to show up. People take busses and bring their tools with furrowed brows and nascent ideas. International visitors see that "Something Has Been Started," so they are more prone to make donations themselves. Retiring mechanics and electricians donate parts they no longer use. The process starts all over again.
Most importantly, it starts somewhere other than my house. Just kidding, I refuse to give up the stacks of easily identified red boxes that dwell in what might once have been a guest room.
People tend to give me stuff, knowing that I will give it to others (pineapple for scale) (Source: Lindsay Craig)
But seriously, even something as simple as one of the Solar units from Nokero or Recharge Labs will be sufficient to start this process. When these "Spaces" breathe, they don't give off CO2; instead, they produce farm automation designs, communication devices, teaching tools, CNC routers, incredibly inquisitive and intelligent humans, dreams, and -- most importantly -- the means to fulfill those dreams. The point is that all these inventions can potentially be initiated by something as small as a single capacitor.
Dreams take many shapes (Source: Lindsay Craig)
Many thanks to the multitudes of people and organizations that help Oysters & Pearls-Uganda, the Fundi Bots, your humble narrator, and others like us each year. One thing I have noticed about all of these "Spaces" is that they tend to be filled with wonderful people who treat each other with respect and compassion, regardless of how much one knows or the resources one has available. I am grateful to be able to visit these various "Spaces," whether I am trying to find a soldering iron in Madrid, teaching with nice people I just met in Uganda or at a barbecue in my home town. These dreams have many forms, and witnessing and being part of some of them is a dream in and of itself.
Lindsay "Linz" Craig is a consultant, educator, technologist, and artist. He's taught technology for 14 years to students and professionals ranging from two-years-old to PhD-level. Linz has taught in a wide variety of facilities and locations, including universities, museums, K-12 schools, "spaces" (e.g., Hackerspace, Maker Space, Fundi Lab), libraries, garages, warehouses, and on kitchen tables. He's also presented to organizations and at conferences. In addition to Linz's educational and technological skills, his specialties include programming, animation, game design, video and sound editing, soldering, sensors, actuators, microcontrollers, and wireless networks. He cofounded SparkFun's Education Department and lived in a RV teaching workshops all over the US. Currently, Linz is working to further technology education in East Africa.
In 1999, I looked at a house I might buy. On one cellar window sill, lay a single capacitor, an unused Sprague Black Beauty from the 1950s. I read this as a good omen, and have been living in that house ever since.