Running a Hacker Space
Quantified Self is a really cool movement of people doing self tracking using technology — for example, one might use a device to monitor their heart data or when they’re at home, and then analyze it. One idea several people around the lab have been toying with is applying these ideas to organizations one is a part of. Just like individuals can benefit from Quantified Self by gaining objective information about themselves, organizations may be able to similarly benefit. (We admit, our motivations mostly boil down to: data is cool and graphs are pretty.) The natural place to begin, of course, was with hacklab!
We (Sen and Chris) were really excited about this and have done some initial analysis. Hacklab (like, we think, most hackerspaces) had a lot of sources of data laying around, waiting to be analyzed:
- doorbot (in my opinion, our gold mine)
- Google Calendar
- IRC Traffic
- Twitter Traffic
- Mailing List Traffic
- Blog Hits
- Hacklab Public Computer Activity?
So far, we have only worked with the doorbot data.
Unless the door has been unlocked, entering Hacklab requires one to use a small fob, unique to each member. The program responsible for processing these, doorbot, will unlock the door if it detects a member. It also logs the entry in a database. This is a valuable source of data about activity at the lab, but there are a number of ways in which it can be flawed. If a member works on a project on the side walk outside, they may enter and leave a number of times in a matter of minutes, but this doesn’t actually mean there was more activity. On the other hand, a member may enter along with another or on when the door is unlocked, making them invisible. Furthermore, Fob’s may be reassigned over time, and we have no way to know who the former owner was. The first concern is mitigated in the following data by considering only the number of entries by unique members each day.
The HackLabTO board of directors is responsible for the legal structure behind the lab, and is accountable to the members. Tonight we had the first meeting with our new board members, Dan Fraser and Chad Mounteny. It was quick and efficient, and we got lots covered; the minutes are up on the wiki here (registration-required). Fred Supinski, who was one of the initial Board signatories, is passing on the torch but staying on as a member.
We’re still looking for members to step up to be officers of the corporation – an email will go out to you all shortly.
I gave a 5-minute Ignite talk about HackLabTO at DemoCamp last week. Check out the writeup over at my blog:
Slides are up at Slideshare if you just want to see the pretty pictures :)
I’ve just spent about 3 days LDAPizing several of the support apps Hacklab uses, so I thought I’d share my notes.
There are a ton of things to keep straight when starting up a hacker space. Just look at the design patterns document – so many things they talk about are the initial stages, not the day-to-day running of things.
We spent a lot of time getting things like a net connection, insurance, two-factor door authentication, and a monitored alarm system set up. But in the end, incorporation was about the most stressful thing to get going, and we’re not through the process yet.
Obligatory not-a-lawyer preface: I’m not a lawyer, I was simply raised by a pack of them. I can read forms and websites, but this should in no way constitute legal advice. Do your own research and consult a good lawyer – it will save you hassle in the long run. If this post kicks your puppy or causes your hacker space to burst into flames, please complain elsewhere.
Incorporating a non-profit in Ontario isn’t a huge deal, or particularly expensive. It’s $155 and a 4-page form, plus a corporate name search (NUANS search), which costs around $35. We expedited ours for $100 to get 7-day service, and it ended up taking 4 business days – way awesome compared to 6 weeks for the normal fee.
The one thing I wish the guide had been clearer on is that for a non-charity non-profit, which is what we are, you don’t need to have your corporate objects approved. That’s just for charities. Phew, we don’t have to pretend we’re a club….
But wait, we kinda did. They didn’t like our name! HackLab Toronto Inc. Sounds too for-profit, apparently. So it’s HackLab Toronto Club Inc. Which is way too wordy for my tastes, but I really don’t care enough to be concerned. So yeah, make sure your name sounds non-profitey in a way that is consistent with your corporate objects, which you will learn all about when you read the handbook.
Here’s what we ended up coming up with. It’s suitably vague-yet-specific, but in retrospect I can see how the person doing the filing thought we should have “club” in our name. These are the “objects for which the corporation is incorporated” to use the official Ministry lingo:
Hacker Club: The establishment and operation of a social club for individuals interested in computer security, technology, electronics, and related topics for the purpose of:
* providing facilities and equipment for the pleasure and accommodation of members and guests;
* sharing information and knowledge for the mutual benefit of the members;
* organizing technical, educational, and social events;
* promoting awareness of privacy and digital rights issues affecting members and civil society;
and such other complementary purposes not inconsistent with these objects.
For the special provisions, we just left it at the default which comes pre-printed on the form. You should consult a lawyer to see if that’s what you need to do to.
I got the NUANS search done here, and they took about 18 hours to get it back to me. Make sure you get a full NUANS, not just a pre-search. Also, you can do pre-searches for free on the federal NUANS site – just let your session time out if you use up your 8 free ones.
The other board members and I are working on our Bylaws, which for Ontario corporations are not approved by any government agency, just kept internally. Ontario corporations are kinda great that way.
Tomorrow I’m going by the office to pick up our Letters Patent, and then we’re all set to get a bank account, which is pretty much our last step in becoming all official and stuff. Except registering for PST / GST… but more on that later.