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Hacker Trips: Making Awesome

This is the first of what are (hopefully) many installments of Hacker Trips - encounters of the first and fourth kind with other hackerspaces throughout the country.  Freeside knows no bounds; our members appear and disappear throughout the world!  We're coming to your hackerspace and it's gonna be OK!  My own travels are likely going to take me to the DenHac sooner rather than later, so I'm definitely planning to report on that.

Tallahassee, Florida.  The word Tallahassee means "abandoned fields" in Seminole.  It is a town of about 180,000 residents, home to FSU and FAMU colleges which turns the city into a ghost town during winter and spring breaks.  Tallahassee kind of looks like a shrunken Atlanta - complete with its own perimeter, airport, and transit system.  I grew up in Tallahassee.  I have fond memories as a child of traversing its fine ground water drainage system that linked all the neighborhoods together, and some parts of downtown, like the old DOT building.  Days of feigned illnesses and put home from school spent unproductively wandering into random backyards or behind government office building shrubbery.  

No dice if you seek manatees, but plenty of turtles and the occasional alligator one must take care not upset while engaged in psuedo-urban trekking.  If there's anything Tallahassee does have is a super abundance of wildlife, forest, and a unique concentration of allergens that defined my destiny.  When I didn't have my face buried into a tissue during the pollen season I was stuck at home, behind an air filter, reading.  No regrets!

There's a handful of fun stuff to do in Tallahassee while you're there.  You can eat the pizza slice bigger than your head at Momo's!  Shoot a game of pool over cheap beer and get served free pizza at Poor Paul's!  There's cool food trucks, art, and live music at Railroad Square.  While you're there, you can also catch a documentary that details how Edward Ball exploited every single square inch of Wakulla Springs.

This past Sunday, I was able to make a pass through Tallahassee and visit Making Awesome (MA).  MA is a 5000sqft, free-standing facility located on a community college campus over on the west side of town.  Had I known about Making Awesome as a young person, maybe I might have picked up on a few skills after school I could be using today.  They share the hackerspace ethos and Freeside vision of providing an environment where exploration and play with technology is encouraged.

There I met with David Brightbill, one of the founders and president of MA, and he quickly put a beer in my hand faster than I could say, "Bully!" We talked at length about our experiences running hackerspaces, trading war stories and the whatnot.  It was a pretty chill space, but you could tell its members definitely enjoyed using all parts of the Making Awesome for their projects.  He took me on a tour of the space.

First thing I thought was great was their access control system.  Here's parts one, two and three of their write up on how they got it working.  Although it's a wired system (in contrast to what we're trying to do with Vuvuzela) it was inspiring to see the whole set up together.  They, too, share a love for the Raspberry Pi so we spent a good while talking about our different approaches.  They've also got plans in the works to create an access system where the RFID card has to rest on a sort of flat reader in order to render a machine operational.  Just a heads up, MA - we'll be copying you on that one.  Let's work together - like the co-mod!

MA has not one, but two CNC machines - one is huge, a 4ft square or maybe 5ft square machine (my eyeballs are spaced weird so who knows) that had some foam swords sitting on it - no doubt, bound for Dragon*Con.  Seeing foam pieces carved into fantastical shapes has got to be some kind of international symbol of trustworthiness.  The other CNC machine is this beautiful machine to the right.  It's a work in progress, but David tells me that when it's completed they'll be slicing through metal like a Talking Heads video.

This wooden thing redefined my architecture.   It's a giant, mobile, tool storage gazebo.  It has all the right places to stow away the tools.  I had intense and wild visions of tools getting stored properly at Freeside if this thing was around.  You could basically push it over to whatever you were working on.  They took that same concept from musicals where the piano is on casters and turned it into a useful thing.  This could appear at Freeside in some kind of musical production.  Grease meets the Village People, directed by John Waters, or such as: everybody dancing with this thing.  I want to dance with it.  It's a world of possibilities.

This was a particularly cool project - Launchpad: Moon - an educational economics board game designed at MA as part of the NASA Space Apps challenge.  It was inspiring to see the laser cut board and pieces!  I've mentioned it a few times but I'm trying to be super sneaky about turning our Analog Game Night attendees into the wonderful world of game development and prototyping.

 Finally, we rounded out the tour with visiting their hydraulic press (watch your hands!), the radial arm saw (watch your arms!), and a totally legit 1930's sewing machine.

It was lots of fun to spend a few hours with the Making Awesome gentlefolk.  If you're ever in Tallahassee for reasons, then you should definitely stop by.  You'll both feel right at home and simultaneously also be made to feel at home!




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