There's a rule of thumb in the hackerspace community - hold your open house on Tuesday. It's completely arbitrary. No matter what day of the week you do pick for your open house, there will be someone who just can't make it. Many just pick Tuesday by convention and no more thought is needed. Unfortunately, it makes it hard to visit other spaces since members generally want to be at home base for the open house. But since I was out of town with no hopes of making it to Kwartzlab, I had a perfect excuse to take a Tuesday to visit Hacklab.to.
Tucked away between two shops in the north end of Kensington Market, it's an easy place to miss. It's one of those mysterious doorways in the city that appeals to my inner child (who has a love of the paranormal, secret passageways and hidden worlds). Whose door is it? What's behind it? There are a few clues that suggest there's something more to 170 Baldwin Street. A simplex push-button lock and RFID reader guard the door while an infrared LED-lined camera provides overwatch.
I arrived just after 7 to a full house. Rent in the big city isn't cheap and space is at a premium, meaning seats at the main work table fill up fast. At less than 500 square feet, Hacklab isn't a space for manufacturing big things, either. They're much closer to the stereotypical description of "hacker" than most of the other spaces I've visited, with a strong emphasis on electronics, software, and information security. But even with the limited floor space, there's still a wide variety of projects going on. A model railroad hangs from the ceiling. A box of locks for locksport enthusiasts can be found in the lounge. There's even an '80s Mac Classic hanging out in a closet.
At 3 years old, Hacklab.to is the oldest hackerspace in Canada. In the big picture that's not a long time, but it's long enough that Hacklab can claim at least partial credit in helping establish a few other hackerspaces in the province such as Site 3 and Kwartzlab. Being the first, they've also been able to attract some media attention from places like BoingBoing and Discovery Channel.
Hacklab has a number of great tools available to the membership. A workbench constructed over the bathtub holds an
Epilog ULS (my bad) laser cutter - a cheap craigslist find that some lab members brough back to life with extensive hardware and software rebuilding. A tricked-out Makerbot 3D printer lives on a shelf near the main work table, and evidence of it's capabilities cover the short wall next to the stairs.
In addition to the oddles of thermoplastic gizmos and doodads next to the stairs, there are member projects scattered everywhere in the space. One of my favourites was a touch-screen computer hanging on a central support near the main work table. The display oozed with data and information, such as the date and time, and news feeds. Other mostly complete projects seem to collect on any available flat space. It's not clutter - they're evidence of learning and education. For many, hacking isn't about the end product, it's what you learn on the way. These leftovers, then, are trophies of accomplishment. Of conquering the unknown.
Hacklab.to is located at 170 Baldwin Street in Toronto, Ontario. They run an open house on Tuesday from 5:30 PM to 11:00 PM every week.