Individuals can make, create, repurpose, bend, re-finish, enhance and otherwise stamp their own personality on the objects, tools and decorations that surround them.
By Ryan McGreal
Published June 25, 2009
As part of my research for my recent essay on creating an open framework for public city data, I came across a recently-formed organization in Hamilton called Think|Haus, located at 152 Niagara St. in Hamilton, near Burlington St. E. and Wentworth St. N.
Think|Haus is a centre to promote "Maker" culture: crafters, hackers, tinkerers, do-it-yourself (DIY) mechanics and engineers. Their website reads in part:
Think about how the history of Hamilton is intertwined in the "make it happen" ethos of the DIY mechanic, the basement engineer, the warranty violator, the patent ignorer.
Hamilton was once known as "The Ambitious City".
Come and be ambitious with us.
Curious to learn more, I contacted the organization and they agreed to an email interview. The following responses are provided by James "Myrcurial" Arlen, a hacker-turned-security consultant who works by day implementing information security for large corporations and whose interests include "organizational change, social engineering, blinky lights and shiny things."
Ryan McGreal, Raise the Hammer (RTH): Just what is Think|Haus?
James Arlen, Think|Haus (JA): In its simplest terms, Think|Haus is a shared workspace for hackers, makers, artists and crafters.
In a more detailed description, Think|Haus represents the combination of "clubhouse", "basement", "garage", "dorm room common area", "coffee shop" and random collision of people who share a common mentality - that individuals can make, create, repurpose, bend, re-finish, enhance and otherwise stamp their own personality on the objects, tools and decorations that surround them.
ThinkHaus is a place where the tools, techniques, and other interested and interesting people come together to make these things happen.
William Gibson, a noted Canadian science fiction writer, may have said it best when he wrote: "...the Street finds its own uses for things..." We're finding those uses and making possible the next evolution in (re)manufacturing.
RTH: What do you hope to achieve?
JA: We want to show people that there is an alternative to buying what you're told to buy - that repair and repurpose are two more "R"s along with recycle, reduce and reuse. We want to teach some of the techniques of applied engineering - the ways to get things done - whether they relate to metal-craft, knitting, or software design.
Repair and Repurpose are two more "R"s along with Recycle, Reduce and Reuse.
One of our biggest pushes over the near-term is going to be the installation of a set of rapid-prototyping machines which will allow us to manufacture objects from plastic or metal using patterns or designs shared over the internet or developed by members - technology that was simply unavailable to average people until just a few months ago - and we'll have up and running before the end of the summer.
RTH: How can people participate?
JA: The easiest way is by coming to one of our open|haus sessions - Tuesday nights at 7:00 PM and seeing what we're up to.
The best way is to join us, become a member with 24 x 7 access to the Think|Haus and help us build a new way of approaching the intersection of consumer culture, boutique manufacturing, artistry and ambition.
RTH: What, if anything, can the City of Hamilton do to support your activities?
JA: There are a few great ways that the City could contribute - depending on how you define "City"!
If you mean the civic government, they could help by helping us teach people how to repair, repurpose and redefine the consumer and consumable objects around them.
If you mean the people of Hamilton, the best support is active support - if you have a skill that lends itself to applied engineering, crafting, computer science or some other useful field, offer to put on a class and teach your specialty.
RTH: What do you think about the city's "creative cluster" initiative, and do you see a role for your organization in the city's plans?
JA: It seems like a good idea, however, I'm concerned that it's based on the 'special interest' build requirements - that it could be amazing, but it could also be the Jackson Square of the Hamilton Art Scene.
I'd like to see that rather than trying to build to a set of (current) specific uses, a general purpose facility be created - various sized rooms with power, water, heat, a/c, and internet - and that the facility finds its own uses. Much like what we are in the midst of doing, creating a framework upon which any one of a vast number of projects could be built.
RTH: What do you think about the idea of creating a public API for city data on which third party developers can build reports and applications?
JA: I think that it's ultimately the only option. The most important point is that the city (and by extension, the province and the country) do not own the data independently of the citizens, and should the citizens ask, the city should provide the data in an open usable format.
The city has shown in the past that it really doesn't know how to do a good job of managing the expression of data for the use of citizens. Compare and contrast the HSR route planner (running on a non-standard http port with a user interface as designed by Torquemada) compared to the same data expressed through the Google Maps interface.
Don't get me started on the backyard quarterback analysis of data-driven decisions and financial analysis.
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