Very nice reconnaissance mission Paul :)
I got the feeling from the article I read, which was backed up by your
report, that Metrix was more of a business than a club or group. Nothing
wrong with that, but it requires a bit more control and effort to set
up. Things like business licenses, bookkeeping, taxes, city permits,
etc. It also changes the dynamic a bit from a group of people donating
their time and equipment to each other to more of an accounting of
resources and expenses type situation. Just something to think about if
the bham hackspace is considering following their model.
[mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] On Behalf Of Paul de
Sent: Friday, October 01, 2010 7:25 PM
Subject: [bhs] Visiting Metrix
My trip to Metrix and what I found there
On 10/1/10 I had to go to Seattle on some personal business. I had some
time in the afternoon, so I dropped in on Metrix, the Seattle
hackerspace at the north end of Broadway. It's literally under the
Deluxe Tavern, where I consumed a burger and brew.
Metrix is a small place. It's about 12' x 25'. There is a small work
area near the door where they are setting up a small hobby-type lathe
mill that might get CNC controls added to it. On the wall is a pegboard
with various wire, cables and various electronic bits for sale. There
is a glass front counter with more small parts for sale underneath it.
Behind the counter are several shelves of mostly technical books. On
the north side of the space is a 8x10 walled in space with a glass
sliding door that houses the laser engraver/cutter. It is down, pending
the installation of a new laser tube that just arrived. The laser is
very much the heart of Metrix - more about that later.
Past the laser cutter, a very small room, barely a walk-in closet has
the soldering station. It is a single-place work bench with a hot air
station and a temp controlled soldering iron, power supply, various
meters, an oscilloscope, etc. It has city-required ventilation for
Returning to the front of the space, the south side opposite the front
counter is filled with an L-shaped workbench with seating for about a
dozen people. The entire space is very full and cozy but not crowed.
Just past the workbench is the famous vending machine which is stocked
with a variety of snack, electronic kits and parts. Food seems to be
important because many people would rather be at Metrix than eating.
There were two people there and we talked about the space and their
experiences getting it set up. One thing that came up repeatedly was
the continuous interference from the City of Seattle planning and
licensing departments. The space has to equipped with OSHA-level safety
gear, protective enclosures, ventilation, etc. That was not nearly as
expensive or as complicated as the process of getting the city's
ravenous and intrusive bureaucracy satisfied. For example, there were
endless delays and $500 in fees for the city to determine that the laser
engraver did not need to be licensed with the city. Got that? Great
trouble and expense for the city to decide that it was none of their
damn business. Once the waffle-butts got paid off, they went away.
Since then, there hasn't been any interference, but initially it
consumed more time and work than any other part of putting the space
In the near future, they will double their space by expanding into the
adjacent suite. They also are interested in getting more
digitally-controlled tools like a ShopBot and a cnc milling machine.
One tool they really wanted was a table saw. They have built a
cnc-router for fabbing circuit boards by milling off the copper from a
board. It is expected to be up and running real soon now.
They don't etch boards there because the spent etchant is considered
toxic waste and they would be buried in bureaucrats if they had any.
Evidently, the disposal regulations for businesses are prohibitive for
small enterprises. So, no etching.
The laser cutter is very much at the heart of Metrix. It's a big draw
and people are cutting all sorts of things on it: plywood, acrylic
plastic, paper, cardboard and cloth. People spend a lot of time
thinking up new and interesting things to cut up and make. Because of
the safety regulations, the laser is in its own room. There is a cctv
camera so everybody can watch from outside the room. It always draws a
crowd when they are cutting, they told me.
Because of their location, most of their members get there by foot or
bicycle. There's not much parking around Broadway and there is a very
high density of young people in the neighborhood. I told them a little
about the feeble effort being made up here and also mentioned that we
were initially a little old-fart-heavy (at least as far as Martin and
myself go.) To which they replied that they very much wished they had a
few old farts around the place. At which point, I bit my lip rather
than saying the only sage old-fart advice I had was to move far away
from somebody who says "I know what I'm doing" when doing something
stupid or dangerous.
I asked what pointers they might have about things that worked for them.
Here's a sampling:
* Have long and regular open hours. They are open 12pm - 12am 7 days a
week. This is important because a lot of people don't fit into a narrow
* Have a cool tool like the laser cutter. It really is the central
focus. It could be any neat tool, but the laser serves as a starting
point for many different projects. They also get a lot of action around
the 3D printers.
* Quick classes are a good way to bring people in. They've had good
luck with Arduino classes making stuff on prototype shields (which don't
require soldering.) They are starting classes on 2D CAD for programming
the laser cutter. They tried some transistor classes but found that was
a little over people's heads for starters. They plan on reintroducing
the transistor classes later as people get up to speed. Robots are also
taught using Arduinos, as is Arduino programming.
* Most people are building electromechancial stuff, but some people are
finding new crafty-type uses for the laser cutter including jewelry and
sewing projects using elaborately cut fabric.
They also said they'd welcome more visits. I promised if there was a
group visit in the future, we'd rattle before we struck.
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