Tinkering at the windmill
I love my job.
But after a day of starring at a laptop screen in your own home, it's nice to get out and interact with real people, instead of mediated avatars or disembodied voices on skype.
So a couple of days ago, I spent an evening at the Tinker meetup at the the Windmill, a normally charming pub, meeting a load of new faces working in the embryonic hardware hacking/ physical computing scene.
Someday I'll get tired and jaded about technology, and all the stories of ingenuity and resourcefulness will just sound like people talking about themselves and how good they are at hacking, but for now, these nights are revelatory for me - I've come away with so many useful new perspectives on the work I'm doing, but it's also been good to get an idea of what's out there in London for someone relatively new to the world of physical computing.
Sadly, the Windmill had started putting on a pub quiz the same night that Tinker normally have their hardware show & tell sessions, so we ended up passing around examples of 3d printing, to the sound track of distorted pub trivia questions booming out of cheap speakers; quite a strange juxtaposition.
Whither London resistor?
After reading about NYC Resistor in New York, and my own experiences of meeting so many interesting people in The Hub, and finding lots of interesting and fulfilling work as a result, I'm convinced that there needs to be a similar venue in London that lets people meet up, and put simply, hack together and share what they're building on.
In Arduino, we as developers, designers, and tinkerers have a free, open platform that serves a similar purpose to what html, but for ubiquitous computing - a standardised platform that abstracts away enough of the hard stuff associated with electronics to make it accessible to a much, much wider audience. In my opinion this is a wonderful thing - it means being able to come from a domain like web development, and dip your toes into the world of physical computing is possible, and in our experience, deeply satisfiying.
So why don't we have a place like NYC Resistor in London? It's not like there isn't interest.
I asked Alex from Tinker this, and this developed into a fairly involved conversation - the main take away points seem to be that there are two factors stopping things in London;
- Health and safety
Health and safety
The UK's health and safety standards are generally more stringent than equivalents in the US. This is usually a very good thing. But it also means that when it comes to amateur electronics, you have a lot more regulation to deal with, which is time consuming and expensive, especially when such a space would be at least semi-public.
If you are linked to a uni, then you're in a great position to make use of equipment they have access to, like laser cutters, 3D printing devices and suchlike, usually at very favourable rates. Again, this is normally a good thing, but this easy access for alumni means that setting up an independent place to reach the same experienced people who might attracted other relative newcomers is even harder, as anyone setting up such a place is competing against comparatively well funded institutions, who aren't subject the brutal economic realities facing down businesses in London.
Will things change?
These barriers are high, but they don't seem totally insurmountable. You'd really need somewhere relatively central, that's accessible, is cheap and has space for people to meet and hack, in a relatively informal setting.
At times the Hub in Angel Islington feels like it would meet at least some of these criteria, especially after 6pm, and there's already something of a workshoppy vibe here already. It also looks pretty cool:
[gallery link="file" columns="2"]This still doesn't solve the problem of tools though, or maintenance.
At least it's a start.
Update - turns out we do have a space in London after all, called L-space, according to hackerspaces.org. Sadly we've no photos. Come on guys!