Other Pirates include engineer/musician Noah Vawter, a research assistant at the MIT Media Lab, who makes audio sculptures and hacks on experimental electronic instruments. And Jeff Warren, also from MIT, who co-founded the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science, professionally flies balloons and kites, and is a fellow at MIT's Center for Civic Media. Warren also collects the rent; a desk costs $200 per month.
Van Middlesworth helps run "synth night," a weekly Tuesday night jam-and-hack night for playing with new circuits and showing off projects. "Every couple of months we organize a synth-in, a 24-hour hack-a-thon," he explains. Earlier this summer, one Pirate hacked a bike and a tape player together, so the tape played at whatever speed the bike was pedaling. When the synth nights started, they would record re-workings of famous film scores. "There was sort of a political bent to it . . . about copyright law," says Van Middlesworth.
On one wall I notice a poster, an elaborate drawing called The True Cost of Coal. It's the work of the Maine-based Beehive Design Collective, a grassroots anti-copyright group that teaches about social injustice through visuals. Below it, a copy of the Occupied Wall Street Journal — the former newspaper of occupied Zuccotti Park. Anti-authoritarian wall decor makes sense, considering how the P.irateship prides itself on being leaderless.
As I leave the P.irateship, I notice a concert poster promoting a show for Van Middlesworth's band, the Dying Falls. "I don't know if the Dying Falls really speak for this space though," he tells me, as I write the name down. "Because we're a pop band. This is more of a punk space."
HACKERS VS. MAKERS
Down the block and around the corner, on Tyler Street, Artisan's Asylum is considerably less makeshift. The 40,000-square-foot space hosts 250 monthly members and offers access to expensive industrial equipment. Though many Asylum members identify as hackers, they work on everything from woodworking and melding to bikes and electronics, to quilt-making, instrument-making and even painting. Artisan's Asylum is Boston's largest and most-popular maker-space; nearly every hacker I met elsewhere hoped to eventually join. Despite existing for only two years, Artisan currently has a waiting list of more than 100.
Within the space, members rent their own little studio cubes, each marked with a number and a name tag. "It's like a village," explains the Asylum's 25-year-old director of operations, Molly Wenig Rubenstein, a Yale grad. "But instead of the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, you have the CVC router guy, the guy who brews home-brew beer, the guy who's building boats." The space is filled with couches, bookcases, a pinball machine. In a central social space, five folks are drinking beers, surrounded by robots, strands of twinkling lights, cases of VHS tapes.
Unlike university-funded hackerspaces and the no-leaders/no-rules DIY world of P.irateship, Artisan's Asylum has three full-time paid employees: Rubenstein, plus its president, robotics engineer Gui Cavalcanti, who is busy doing an interview about the Asylum's most popular robot when I swing by; and the director of finance, Dmitri Litin, who is off at Burning Man. The space is otherwise run by volunteers. Membership prices vary from $60 for weekends to $150 for unlimited access, with subsidized memberships for students and others in financial need.