Walking around, I spot a man working meticulously on a clay puppet, the SCUL bike shop, and several razor scooters (which members use to navigate their way around the space). Artisan's melds the worlds of old-school crafters (the woodworking shop, full of benches and saws and grinders, is the most popular space) with modern innovators, makers of cutting-edge robotics and users of the space's 3D printer. Music-instrument makers range from banjo and drum makers to a guy working on a futuristic laser harp.
Rubenstein actually prefers not to call Artisan's Asylum a hackerspace. "We find makerspace to be more appropriate," she explains. "Or actually, community craft workshop and small-business incubator."
A few feet a way, one member is standing with his bike, shaking his head. "We are our own crazy thing," he says, laughing.
In an unassuming classroom in the basement of BU's Math and Computer Science Building, BUILDS is entering its fourth year. Most members of BUILDS (between15 and 30 active, currently) are computer science and electrical engineering students, with some math, physics, and bio majors, too.
The BUILDS kids, mostly undergraduates, are an eclectic bunch: pink and blue-haired tech punx, straighter-laced engineering nerds, programmers, and Web wizzes. Like other hackers I've met, they love robots and synths. During my visit, they spend a considerable amount of time teaching me how to pick a lock. I meet one guy who earlier today taught 24 14-year-old girls in a community service group how to make their own synths. I also meet a recent high school graduate from BU Academy, a teenager who is working in the Google Summer of Code program making a browser- based chat program that uses encryption and has voting features.
The anteroom storage space at BUILDS is filled with all sorts of "cool things you can't have in your dorm room," one student says, like soldering irons, elaborate tools, and deconstructed circuits. One shelf holds hovercrafts from a competition they participated in at Artisan's Asylum. In another room, BUILDers socialize and work on projects around one large table, covered in multi-color cords and random little circuits, discarded old things like floppy drives, weird musical instrument parts, and deconstructed computer motors. Sitting on the table, I notice some sort of electrical board with cords hanging from it. It's a gift from their faculty advisor: "Here is the motherboard from my fridge," reads a note. "Have fun." The "Self-repair Manifesto" hangs on one wall. There's at least one sign reading "Will Code for Food." The book shelf covers topics ranging from communism to modern sculpture.
Of course, they're working on a robot jellyfish. "We have a fetish with robots around here," one BUILDer, John Furst, tells me.
BUILDS even has its very own video-game collective. "The kid with the blue hair runs it," Furst says. "Everyone in BUILDS has attempted to make at least one video game"
The BUILDS kids pride themselves on encouraging creativity and promoting shared knowledge.
"During class, you learn theory," says BUILDer Monica Gribouski. "Outlets like BUILDS allow you to get your hands dirty and learn more." She adds, "Without BUILDS I wouldn't have stayed a computer science major."
"I would have stayed in engineering, but probably would have burned my dorm down by now," says Furst.
University hacker spaces are free of membership fees, and run on college funding. Griboudki says, "The [school] is surprisingly good about rolling with our free spiritedness."