A couple of months ago I wrote a piece about the evolution of hackerspaces, and mentioned that I’d be attending a party for a hackerspace birthday. As I write this that party was last weekend, and it was celebrating both the birthday of RevSpace in the Hague, and the tenth anniversary of hackerspaces in the Netherlands. After a relaxing ocean cruise across the North Sea and a speedy train ride I found myself in RevSpace with a bottle of Club-Mate in my hand, hanging out with not only the locals but a selection of others from all across northwestern Europe and beyond. RevSpace is an exceptionally well-organised hackerspace with a large membership, so there was plenty to talk about and a lot of interesting projects to look at.
There was a short programme of talks in Dutch, covering hackerspace history and interviewing a panel of hackerspace founders. I am told that these may make their way online with an English translation in due course, and should be worth looking out for. Then there was an epic-scale barbecue, an old-school rave with Gameboy chiptunes and analogue synth EDM among other delights, and the chance for an evening’s socialising with the rest of the attendees.
A Very Special Badge Indeed
The physical take-away from the event was the Decennium badge (Dutch language, Google Translate link), a creation in the usual high quality we’ve come to expect from that quarter. It’s a PCB about 130 mm by 180 mm, and on its front is a map of the Netherlands with provincial boundaries marked in the silkscreen layer. It has fifteen surface-mount bi-colour LEDs mounted upon it at locations corresponding to all the Netherlands hackerspaces that have been active in the last 10 years, and on the back it has an ESP32 module and a pair of screw terminals for 5 V power.
Turn it on and the LEDs flash on and off while you connect to it via WiFi to give it your hotspot password, reset it and they light up green for hackerspaces that are open or red for those with nobody in. There are also a pair of unlit memorial LEDs for two hackerspaces that have closed for good. Mine is on the desk beside my computer as I type this, and over the day I watch as my Dutch friends come and go from all red lights early in the morning to a few green lights still burning the midnight oil as I go to bed.
It works by a RevSpace server polling each space’s spaceapi and collating the list of open spaces, and each badge in turn polling that server before lighting its LEDs accordingly. Have a look for yourselves: at the bottom of the page we’ve posted a time-lapse video of a day’s operation. It’s a simple idea well executed, that delivers a powerful and enviable sense of community.
Welcome To Our Global Community
In the news as I am writing this is the exit of the United Kingdom from the EU. Sitting here with the Dutch hackerspace community lighting its LEDs in front of me I am reminded that the hackerspace world is an international community whose strength is in our close ties across physical and political boundaries. Back in the Cold War those of us who were radio amateurs were among the very few who communicated across the Iron Curtain, and that spirit continues today as we get excited about projects on the other side of the world and travel to each other’s hacker camps and conferences.
I wish I could have a light-up badge showing the hackerspaces all across Europe from Galway eastwards, and I am already planning my summer’s hacker camp trains and ferries. What I came away from my weekend with was the sense that it has never been more important for us to strengthen those ties, to visit our neighbours and welcome them with open arms in turn. I don’t yet know what will be the cool tech at the 20-year celebration of Netherlands hackerspaces, but I hope by then I am no longer the only Brit making the journey. In the years to come I hope to see a load of you making the same efforts.
Now, enjoy the video below courtesy of [Niek], a day’s time-lapse of a Decennium badge following the various hackerspaces as they open or close.