Aug. 30th, 2010

aleph3: (ants)
This Saturday last I was at BarCamp Madison #3, which was a fine experience. If you want the high-level overview of what it is, the Wikipedia entry is a good start; if you want a high-level overview of what one looks like, @raster and Time Lapse Bot cover it in 3 odd minutes.

Among the attendees were representatives of several hacker-spaces: Noisebridge in SF, HackPittsburgh, and Sector67, which is just getting off the ground in Madison. ("Hacker" here, just to underline, is in the sense of "tinkerer" and "maker", whether with hardware or software - though there is a bit of a bias towards hardware in the movement, simply, I'd guess, because pooling resources opens up a lot more avenues more quickly to the hardware hacker than to the programmer.) They gave a joint presentation about the movement which was pretty damn awe-inspiring.

In large part just because of the things people have done with this kind of grass-roots, non-profit collaboration and sharing of capital: launching a space balloon; making serious progress towards self-replicating assemblers; and a host of smaller-scale coolness, like cocktail-making robots.

And in equally large part just because of the co-operative nature of the endeavour. Mitch Altman from Noisebridge - who would deserve one of those Benefactor of Humanity statues merely for his creation of a remote which can turn off TVs in public places - laid down his own cheerfully-self-admitted hippie anarchist take on it: "We have no leaders," he said, "and one rule: be excellent to one another. No matter where you are in your life, you can think of a way to make it just a little bit cooler." Wrapping up, he said "If you think you'll ever be in San Francisco, let me know, and I'll cut you a key so you can visit Noisebridge."

That emphasis on the calculus of coolness is a good thing to hold onto, I think, when things get rough. If the first derivative of your life is in the direction of more coolness, in any dimension, that's an achievement.

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August 2010

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