Way of the Dojo
Mountain View's Hacker Dojo a gadget-builder's paradise
With colorful hair and vibrant enthusiasm, Mitch Altman was at Mountain View's Hacker Dojo last week, instructing people on how to solder circuit board components using kits from his company Cornfield Electronics.
Mike Rooney, from marketing automation company Genius.com, was there too, making a "TV-B-Gone" remote to switch off televisions. This single-function device can be used for pranks, switching off TVs in bars and restaurants.
His colleague Drew Stephens was making "Trip Glasses," which display colored flashing lights in sequence with brain waves. And Bill Hewitt waved his hands over a circuit board to make lights change color.
Another experimenter demonstrated a board with rows of blinking red LED lights. When he waved it fast in the air it spelled the word "MINK."
Members join the Hacker Dojo for $100 a month and gain access to the lab's tools, including a computer-controlled mill and test instruments. Members save time by using standard components, stocked in the lab's drawers. Software engineers with laptops hang out to brainstorm.
As I took in the sights, staff volunteer Katy Levinson invited me on a tour of the place, which is part events venue, part startup office and part public living room, decorated with stained glass art left by Glass Paradigm, a previous tenant.
Levinson led me through the main event room. A model helicopter hovered by, steered by Ari Krupnik, who designed the controller to fly several helicopters at once. Upstairs, we passed a movie screen used for Hacker Dojo movie nights. Movies are selected via voting on Hacker Dojo's Web site, hackerdojo.pbworks.com.
Programmers with laptops were creating innovative applications upstairs. Waleed Abdullah was working on his NetworkedBlogs application for both the Web and Facebook. A directory of popular blogs, it sorts and selects them by topic, region or school. Another programmer was making an operating system for children. Another had multiple computers linked to test cloud computing. Levinson ended by showing me the library, where there's a fair selection of books on programming that you can read on a comfy sofa, drinking fresh coffee roasted on site.
Hacker Dojo co-founder Jeff Lindsay is interim executive director, supported by a volunteer staff. He told me he started programming on a Kaypro luggable computer because he couldn't afford either an IBM PC, like his father had at work, or an Apple II, like his class used at school. He showed me pictures of early hacker parties held at co-founder David Weekly's home. Weekly founded PBWorks, which provides online document sharing. Eventually the parties grew so large they began holding them at company sites — a Sun Microsystems event had 400 programmers in attendance.
Lest you think a hacker is a bad person who steals computer data, let me assure you in that the 1970s, when I was at college, hackers were the best programmers with the most creative ideas and solvers of the most challenging problems. It's in this spirit that the Hacker Dojo was founded.
Lindsay explained to me that shared hacker space is a growing trend, where volunteers provide a creative environment for technical professionals. He cited Noisebridge, on San Francisco's Mission Street, as another hacker hangout.
Hacker Dojo provides a highly stimulating environment for bouncing around ideas and meeting new people. There's no need to be a lone programmer in Mountain View.
Angela Hey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.