[hackerspaces] New Member Vetting

Danny O'Brien danny at spesh.com
Wed Sep 19 02:25:25 CEST 2012

On Tue, Sep 18, 2012 at 4:22 PM, Lokkju Brennr <lokkju at gmail.com> wrote:
> My experience with NoiseBridge, which influenced how we do things at
> BrainSilo, was that the week I showed up, both the laser cutter and
> one of the CNC machines were broken/down, and at least the times I was
> there (a full week, from about 6pm to 4am daily) no one was around who
> knew anything about either.  This was my first time there, and after a
> couple IRC sessions and a mailing list thread, it was heavily
> emphasized that if I knew what I was doing, just fix it (which I did,
> and didn't ever hear complaints).  It's the way I've learned to like
> it, and the major problem is the avoidance of the Dunning–Kruger
> effect.

I agree, although there's a couple of factors that play into this.
First, is selection from the population. Most people have to take some
effort to go to a hackerspace, and (despite our claims of openness),
there are some impediments in the way if you're on the left side of
the Dunning-Kruger-curve, ie over-predict your abilities. A
hackerspace can be very daunting even if you're the most
self-confident dumbkopf in the world.

The second part is fixing the right hand side of the DK curve. Our
biggest challenge, simply because it's not got easy answers, is
encouraging people who aren't confident of their abilities despite
(or, as per DK, because of) their actual potential. For instance, if
you grew up in the Mission and have never thought about yourself as a
hacker, but are in fact brilliant at fixing things, you're unlikely to
discover that ability without some encouragement, even if you stepped
into Noisebridge one day. Being told to just fix something yourself is
counter-intuitive enough on its own, to the point where Loki himself
was hesitant to do it in the space.

Other impediments can also make the atmosphere unwelcome -- including
those that Matt Joyce, who is still welcome into our terrifying little
enclave in the Mission, but, as openfly, is one of the few people
actually banned from the #noisebridge IRC channel for his repeated
dull and misogynistic trolling -- documented. The difficult challenge
is always working out how to get brilliant or unusual or unspotted
people who are reticent to get involved, feeling like they *can* get
involved, without also either scaring away confident people who are
good at stuff but are unused to being challenged, or attracting
super-confident people who break more things than they fix.

I think our current working pattern is to shout at the people who
break things, while ensuring that they find something that they can
do, and then praise them to the skies when they do that instead. The
middle-rank of people includes a lot of core Noisebridgers ourselves,
and, by our very nature, we get a looot of feedback on that. Working
out what the first group want and need is much much harder, but I
think can be very rewarding long term.


> Our rule at BrainSilo is now simply that if you know how to use/fix a
> tool, feel free.  If you don't know what you are doing, either
> study/read/watch until you think you do; or find someone to teach you.
>  And always remember the Dunning–Kruger effect (we have a large
> info-graphic of it posted on the wall.  It's also advantageous to have
> a mailing list and/or wiki that updates get sent to.  If you change
> the configuration on a system, or update software, or change how a
> piece of hardware is connected - let everyone know.

Documentation is always tricky!

> We're still working through how we want to handle vetting people, and
> current basically use security through obscurity - if you spend the
> time to find and read our membership procedures on our wiki, then
> you'll figure out it's really easy to become a member.
> Loki
> On Tue, Sep 18, 2012 at 4:11 PM, Danny O'Brien <danny at spesh.com> wrote:
>> On Tue, Sep 18, 2012 at 3:21 PM, Pete Prodoehl <raster at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> So how much do you see equipment downtime?
>>> Even though we have equipment that hasn't really been "abused" we still see
>>> things fail, and they often take time to repair, and that's time lost for
>>> people who want to use the equipment, especially those who can only make it
>>> to the space once or twice a week at best.
>> Noisebridge lets anyone use our lasercutter, woodshop, network,
>> kitchen, and so on, which means that anyone can come in and fix them
>> too -- and are firmly encouraged to (that's what do-acracy is for).
>> The working assumption is that breakage is going to be balanced out by
>> a higher frequency of people fixing breakage. Obviously you need a
>> critical mass of visitors with an interest in hacking to pull this
>> off, but the same is true of getting enough members to help out fixing
>> stuff in a more controlled environment.
>> I'd love some way to empirically check this, but my anecdotal
>> impression of the result at Noisebridge that breakage ends up relative
>> not to the expense or fragility of the item, but to its popularity and
>> accessibility. So, despite much understandable concern, Noisebridge's
>> lasercutter and 3D printers are kept going a relatively large
>> percentage of the time, despite having literally no oversight, no
>> repair budget, and a  policy of letting anyone come in and use them,
>> exactly because we have a constant stream of people with an interest
>> in them working. Obscurer stuff that breaks can be broken for longer
>> -- or more likely, is dismantled for use as something else.
>> That means for the health of Noisebridge's systems, (desperately)
>> *encouraging* usage ends up being a high priority than narrowing
>> access. I'm not sure I'd go as far as to call it a *virtuous* circle,
>> but the experience of bootstrapping strangers into getting excited
>> enough about a complex people of machinery and self-cofidently angry
>> enough when it breaks to fix it is definitely a Comedy of the Commons.
>> One of the consequences of this is that people's "pet" hardware --
>> things which they regularly use, but not many other people -- can
>> struggle. That is why, I think, we have to emphasize to people that
>> bringing in their own equipment to "share" with others isn't going to
>> end well (they aren't around enough to maintain it, while no-one else
>> is going to fix your shit to your satisfactoin, even if they broke
>> it).
>> Similarly with creating a special area of the space with special rules
>> is also going to be a problem, because maintaining the rule boundary
>> is a) at least as costly in terms of time and resources as maintenance
>> in this environment, and b) actually (we *think*) diminishes people's
>> tendency to take responsibilty for other stuff in the space. In the
>> end, despite an understandable desire to define the success of a
>> hackerspace in terms of how much cool stuff they have, there are some
>> items where people at Noisebridge end up going "you know, you might be
>> better off just inviting people over to your garage, or using
>> techshop's version of that". Or in other words,"This is why we don't
>> *want* nice things". But that set of items is far smaller than you
>> would think, and the intersection between 'can survive in the open'
>> and 'is cool' much larger.
>> Standard Noiseclaimer:  As Rubin says, no hacker space is required to
>> operate like Noisebridge, nor in fact should they ever.
>> d.
>>> Laser cutters especially seem pretty easy to do damage to themselves by
>>> people not properly trained in their usage.
>>> Pete
>>> On 9/18/12 4:57 PM, Charlie X Wallace wrote:
>>>>> If your space just has tables, wifi, and a few tools, that may be
>>>>> safe/fine for anyone, but if you've got a mill, lathe, forge, kiln,
>>>>> laser cutter, etc. you might be a bit hesitant to let people in.
>>>> We have cnc mills, pick and place, laser cutter, vinyl cutter, tools,
>>>> lots and lots of electronic equipment and components.
>>>> We're not hesitant at all. I accept things might get damaged, but almost
>>>> everything we can either repair or improve. That which cannot easily be
>>>> repaired, would be  whip round/fund raiser to replace it.
>>>> charlie
>>>> nullspacelabs
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