Thursday, December 29, 2011

Local Feature: LVL1


I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Cprek from LVL1 for this Local Feature.  I first became aware of LVL1 when my husband started attending their Sound builders meetings and shortly thereafter I photographed their Hackerspace for this book.  I always joke that LVL1 is the guy equivalent of D.I.Y. Louisville, not that we don't accept dudes or they don't accept girls, cause we do, ya know?  Anyway my husband goes to Sound builders on Mondays and I do D.I.Y. Louisville on Tuesdays, we're a crafty family I tell you.  But I digress, on to the important stuff, the interview!

What is LVL1 ?

LVL1 is a hackerspace in Louisville, KY. A hackerspace is an open community lab and workshop democratically operated by it’s membership. We are friendly community of tinkerers, makers, engineers, educators, scientists, artists, hackers and overall geeks. Anyone who is, aspires to be, or just wants to hang around smart, creative, friendly mad scientist maker/hacker Louisvillians is welcome at LVL1! We’ve got
lots of cool tools and equipment. We’ve got a lot of really bright and creative people. We like to work on (and show off) fun and challenging technical projects.

In the most basic sense, we are a community technology workshop pooling together our knowledge, resources and equipment.. We've got high-tech tools like a Makerbot 3D printer, a 40W laser cutter and a
CNC Mill. We've got lots of common tools for sewing, woodworking, and electronics. We're also home to creations made at LVL1; little robots, high-altitude balloons, tricked out Power Wheels racers, fire-breathing robotic ponies.. Most importantly though, we have a community of people eager to share their DIY skills and hobbies with each other.

Who started LVL1 and what made you want to do this?

Brian and Mark posted an announcement looking for people to help start a hackerspace in Louisville. They had heard about hackerspaces popping up over the US over the past couple of years and wanted to see it
happen here too. Quite a few people showed up for that first meeting, including myself. I think we all wanted a hackerspace for the same reason. We all loved working on DIY projects and knew that if we had a
physical place to do it socially, it would be that much more awesome.

In a few months, we had convinced a core of group about 12 people to start putting money towards making our hackerspace a reality. This group bankrolled the start-up funds necessary for a few months of rent, insurance and utilities.  Once we opened the space, and people saw that this was really happening, our number immediately doubled to 24 members. Now we have about 36 members. They all have a key to the
space and pay monthly dues. This is the core group who cover the costs of operating a physical space. In addition to those members, we have twice as many people regularly coming to LVL1, working on projects and contributing to our community.

How long has LVL1 been operating?

We opened the doors in July 2010, so about a year and a half now.

What makes you D.I.Y.?

I think we go beyond "Do It Yourself" to "Do It Together". Everyone I meet at LVL1 understands the satisfaction of making something yourself. They enjoy the challenge, the craftsmanship or just the sense of accomplishment that comes with DIY.

What I don't think they expect when they first show up is the breadth and diversity of DIY things happening at LVL1. It's a very different experience than say, a monthly woodworking or knitting meet-up. Those
are great groups, but by definition the DIY scope is more focused. LVL1 is different because all those interests and skills are thrown together and shaken vigorously. People bring different interests to the conversation and before you know it, you are forming into a DIY Voltron.

How does your group impact Louisville?

We're definitely making Louisville more awesome. LVL1 has a very open and welcoming culture. We like to welcome visitors and share our knowledge. That isn't necessarily the case with all hackerspaces. Some
operate as more closed club types of environments that are very protective of their assets. We view ourselves as a community resource and try to make ourselves as available as possible.

LVL1 has hosted about 47 workshops in the 1.5 years we've been around. We've hosted workshops on topics like Android programming, Roomba maintenance, TV-B-Gones, Arduino, backyard chicken raising, making circuit boards, etc. These are all hands-on workshops to give you the basics of the topic for
self-study. We also make all of our tools available for use; with the caveat that you need to track down someone to show you how to operate it safely first.

Where else can you go to play around with a 3D printer, attend a workshop on chicken husbandry and solder together a crude robot from junk? That's not just rare in Louisville, that's rare anywhere in the
world.

What are you currently working on?

A couple of things. I'm working on an music keyboard based on an isomorphic design. The electronics are mostly done and functioning. But I'm getting a good education on how long it takes to do the physical design process. I suppose that happens when you are making stuff up as you go. Making hexagon key caps and a solid case for has been a continuing series of failed experiments. But it's getting close! I'm also working on some laser cut journals as a Christmas present for my girlfriend. I found some open source plans from a
design company in Holland that makes these. The booklets themselves are made out of thin wood, but you can cut them with the laser in such a way that lets the spine bend. It's a cool trick to make wood bend
just like a book binding. It's also personally rewarding to tell someone, "I used lasers to make you this thing."

What are your long term goals for LVL1?

It's difficult for me to say what the long term goals are for LVL1. The way we are structured, our members democratically decide what we want our long term goals to be. I, personally, want to see LVL1 continue to grow our membership and be as active as possible.

What is your favorite thing about running your group?

My absolute favorite thing is seeing our members becoming DIY rock stars.

Every week someone new shows up that has quietly been working on their own little DIY obsession. LVL1 becomes a platform to share that obsession, get encouragement and find unexpected inspiration. I often
like to think of LVL1 as analogous to a music venue, but instead of performing music you are making stuff. There are lots of different acts and a dedicated audience that 'gets it'. I think people underestimate how important it is to have a community of DIY peers to keep your motivation up. It becomes a feedback loop of DIY positivity. The community celebrates the things we make, and in turn we get inspired to make more things.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?

The toughest thing so far has been finding the resources to do everything the Louisville community is asking us to do. We've been asked to do a lot of volunteer work over the past year. LVL1 has talents that are unique and highly desired. We're being asked to educate kids, retrain workers, create jobs... We want to do all those things to make Louisville a better place. But there are hundreds of established organizations whose missions are much more suited to those tasks than we are. The challenging part is wanting to do everything
and hitting the limits on the resources of our nascent group.

Do you have any advice for other local groups/non-profits?

This only applies to groups that depend on volunteers, but always keep things fun. The only reason people will want to get involved and stay involved is because they are having a good time.

How can people get involved with LVL1?

Visit our website at http://www.lvl1.org and watch our calendar for workshops and events. Follow our tweets @LVL1HackerSpace. Join our mailing list http://groups.google.com/group/lvl1. Finally, come to one
of our weekly meetings. It's every Tuesday at 8pm. We run through an agenda as quick as possible and then it's socializing and tinkering. You can get a tour of the space, meet some passionate people and get inspired to make!

Thanks so much to Chris and LVL1.  Hopefully reading this has inspired you to get out there and join a D.I.Y. group and get making stuff.  Louisville is an amazing town for artists and D.I.Y.'ers!

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