The American southwest is a land of dry heat, rugged individualism, and [usually] tasty salsa, but did you know there’s hackerspaces there too? Durr! Did you know, however, that there are also hackerspaces and hacker-esque spaces in New Mexico? Neither did we until Quelab in Albuquerque announced their existence to the hackerspheredomspacesauce this year and opened on August 8th. Needless to say, the news tickled the fancy of some of the more wanderlusting elements of our own hackerspace; Those two guys with the VWs, Your Humble Editor and HeatSync Labs champion Jeremy Leung. Being interested in meeting our hacker neighbors, we decided we should make First Contact in person.
The trip was long and wrought with danger; Dinosaurs, explosives, tetanus, and, trans-fat all threatened the safety of our great expedition like so many of Ramona’s evil exes. We successfully managed to avoid most of said dangers, but were smitten by the change in time zones, which caused a delay in our arrival at Quelab, whose public meeting had already finished.
Fortunately for us, one of Quelab’s members, Andric, was hacking late into the afternoon and noticed us sneaking around. He gave us a tour of the space, a re-purposed house in Albuquerque’s warehouse district.
Quelab featured a variety of different resources to its members. The largest room featured meeting space for local organizations, a traffic signal (naturally), and a closet with a giant fresnel lens used for melting metal that would double as a weapon of mass destruction if paired with Arizona’s sunshine. Another room next to it features some workbenches with electronics tools and parts, as well as a Makerbot and various kits at various point in progress. The kitchen wasn’t exactly a Martha Stewart design, but had enough microbrew (and now Club-Mate) to justify its utility. The patio-ish coat room featured a table-form arcade machine similar to the one that once occupied our own hackerspace’s first venue and the room next to that had a LoveSac, which I naturally dove into. Many of the rooms featured Andric’s surreal photography, which had previously been featured in some galleries around Albuquerque. A unique aspect of Quelab’s use of space is also a unique source of revenue; Its Albuquerque’s (only?) co-working space, bringing together startup companies and random hackers together in a way that has recently been experimented with by a small number of hackerspaces such as Hacker Dojo, Hive76, and to some extent, HeatSync Labs.
We sat down and shared our experiences with organizing a hackerspace and getting projects built and saw more than a few parallels in not just the goals and ideals of HeatSync Labs, but also of Gangplank. One of Quelab’s many aims is to foster innovation and make it easier for hackers, entrepreneurs and groups of various techies to have the space for getting their ideas out of their heads and in front of like-minded people. According to Andric, Quelab wasn’t even the only organization in this game, and were told of a similar space a short Railrunner ride north: Santa Fe Complex.
The next morning, after a night of enjoying a city that doesn’t have my grandma’s bedtime, we dragged ourselves out of bed to check out the Santa Fe Complex. We weren’t sure if the space would be open on a Sunday, so I left a voice mail asking for hours, and actually got a call back from Stephan, who said they don’t have posted hours and offered to give a tour.
The Santa Fe Complex is located in the downtown area of Santa Fe, which looks more like Sedona’s downtown than Albuquerque’s. Inside, we got a chance to check out a myriad of impressive projects. Near the rear of the main hall was one that involved a large geodesic dome covered in a reflective white cloth that, in conjunction with some projector trickery, transform it into a mini observatory for astronomers. The rest of the main hall was littered with other large white surfaces and projectors that were being used for various augmented reality projects. One of these projected topographical data onto a sandbox where sand piles could be shifted to correspond with projected landscapes and used for a wide variety of simulations.
Other areas of the space featured a library of technical and art books, various smaller office-esque desk spaces, including one used by Dr. Fabio Carrera, a researcher from Venice, Italy. There were also unused server racks full of empty server cases that seemed like they were waiting a grant or two to actually be useful. Also, dried red peppers!
In addition to augmented reality-esque applications, people in the space were active in developing applications for the Android platform. One of these applications was created for the city of Boston to detect and report potholes; Data from a Nexus One’s motion sensors are used to detect a pothole and the phone’s GPS are combined to log where the pothole was detected. This automated a process that currently requires Bostonians to ragecall the city to tell them the Mooninites blew a hole in street again.
Much like what HeatSync Labs and Gangplank do in Chandler, the Complex brings together developers, artists, and entrepreneurs into a common working space to foster creative endeavors. The city of Santa Fe partially funds its operation, which assisted in paying for the facility’s relatively pricey rent, although its put some pressure on its tenants to make something along the lines of the next Google or Facebook, although that hasn’t seemed to stop the Complex’s more art-centric members to spend their energy on building things like a digital mirror that reflects your facial movements onto a 3D Andy Warhol. “Yeah, this is really gonna push humanity forward by leaps and bounds” joked Stephen.
Leaving a trail of swag behind, we made our exit and headed back to Albuquerque to meet up with Gabe Ortiz, one of the founders of Quelab, who had lunch with us at a restaurant where the waitress was mortally offended at the suggestion they used anything but local, free-range chicken eggs for their omelets. We talked about hackerspaces, co-working spaces, and startups based outside of Silicon [Valley|Alley], particularly the microcosm of Boulder, Colorado. Gabe’s involvement with the startup founder community in the mountain time zone gave us some insight on how hackerspaces and coworking spaces can bring together the variety of talent and drive needed to start silicon valleys everywhere. His suggestion to start? Bring the startups, investors, and hackers of the “flyover” west together for a casual retreat in a remote, distraction-free part of the western US and get them talking to each other.
This will not be our last trip to New Mexico…