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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Science emulates the supernatural at local hackerspace event

quelab
By Zach Gould / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Fluorescent liquids like club soda bubble over a UV light in front of Quelab President Gregory Moran. Moran worked on a pumpkin last Sunday that will be lit withLEDs (light emitting diodes) as part of Quelab’s Haunted Lab Saturday. Participants will be able to make their own pumpkin LED kits with customized blinking and color schemes at no extra cost.

At one Albuquerque group’s Halloween festivities, nothing is left up to the supernatural, for technology rules.

Quelab, a “hackerspace” where jacks of all trades, ages and professions meet to build anything from LEDs (light-emitting diodes) to magnetic silly putty, will host an event Saturday demonstrating a variety of gadgets applicable to all things Halloween.

Gregory Moran, Quelab’s president, said demonstrations and activities will include ghost costumes crafted from cellophane and clear packaging tape, LED bugs out of egg cartons and pipe cleaners, brains made from silicone caulking and diluted highlighter ink and, perhaps the creepiest, a human-sized dark brown skeleton made from shrink-wrapped plastic grocery bags.

He said the audience will be able to interact with everything featured at the event.

“The haunted lab theme is going to be part learning and part teaching,” he said. “So we’ll have everything set up as hands-on demonstrations, and then a part of that will be to actually build something.”

Moran, an Air Force program manager for satellite systems, said Albuquerque’s Quelab is one of around 200 hackerspaces around the world. The concept was conceived in Europe 15-20 years ago, and caught on in the United States around five years ago, Moran said.

Adric Menning, co-founder and board member of Quelab, said this hackerspace is only one year old and relies on member dues to sustain itself, but it also uses events such as this one to generate revenue.

“One of the reasons we do our big public events is to pay our rent and keep the lights on while we’re still building membership up to a level that can sustain the whole place,” he said. “But even if we get to that level of membership, we want to keep doing (these events) because, when we drag people in, I see excitement in their eyes, and that is a beautiful thing.”

When the group isn’t putting on events, Moran said it serves as a place for members or non-members to experiment with new projects and ideas, fix broken electronics for practical use, do business work online and meet up with friends and other like-minded people.

He said people can make just about whatever they like in Quelab’s small downtown space.

“The purpose of the space is to make things,” Moran said. “In the big picture sense, there’s few places where you can really play, so this will help inspire that in others. Once you learn something, the space is also set up to be able to help you teach.

The learning part is important, and to us the teaching is just as important.”

Walter Duran, a UNM employee and vice president of Quelab, said he learned how to fix his pair of broken speakers with Ray Finch, an electronics technician and Quelab board member.

“They were just $50 speakers, not super expensive, but I just felt stupid going out and finding another $50 pair of speakers when I could just fix it for, like, $1,” Duran said.

Menning, a network operations technician for a local Internet service, said many of the members got involved with Quelab because they didn’t have a workshop space of their own, but that this was not his motivation for participating. He said he was most attracted to the group collaboration aspect of Quelab.

“I don’t believe hackerspaces are inventing, because that’s been happening since the first person bashed a rock into another rock,” Menning said. “But I do think that one thing places like this really foster is collaboration on your ideas. Halfway through (a project), you’re talking to somebody else and they go ‘Oh, that would be really awesome hanging from the bottom of a helicopter.’”
He said modern innovations do not just come from large corporations such as Google or Apple, but are originated from individuals, and this is why a hackerspace is so valuable.

“This is how new inventions come about,” he said. “This is how new Edisons and things like that work. … Either you can believe that they all come from big corporations, or you can believe that the individual can have neat ideas, and maybe not even a super-profitable idea, but one that’s super fun.”

Regardless of whether the next Edison is at the haunted lab this Saturday, Moran said he guarantees it will be a lot of fun.

Haunted Lab sponsored by Quelab
1112 Second St. N.W.
Saturday
6-10 p.m.
$10 General Admission
Free for Quelab members and children younger than 12