Bar, Hack, Lab, Fix: The Genius of Play and the Power of Opportunity

Link suite overview: On creating a bottom up culture of distributed innovation, making tools, making tools that make tools, fish songs; and a thought

Links become part of the TrackerNews searchable database.

Want to see a happy man? Watch Dale Dougherty, editor of MAKE magazine, wax poetic about the glories of motorized muffin-cars, electric drill-powered scooters and the “Sashimi Tabernacle Choir” (a mash-up of plastic “singing” fish and an old car, created by a physicist with a taste for the benign bizarre and time on his hands).

All of us are makers. Makers are enthusiasts. They are amateurs. They are people who love doing what they do… (They ask): ‘Can I do it? Can it be done?’

Although the inventions often dive into the realm of the sublime ridiculous, there is genius in the journey and delight in discovery.

Bar / Hack / Lab: Fix,” the new link suite on TrackerNews, explores one of the most encouraging trends to emerge over the last few years: group-organized collaborative “doing.”

Rather than wait for a vaguely defined “Them” to fix things, people all over the world are gathering in hackerspaces, innovation labs and accelerators, or meeting up at BarCamps, Maker Faires and hackathons. Guided by an open source ethos and joy of community, information is shared and help offered. Disciplines cross-pollinate effortlessly:  techs work with crafters, who work with builders , who work with mechanics, who work with electricians.

It seems almost to good to be true—the world as you thought it was supposed to be back in kindergarten. In fact, a hackerspace can feel a little like a kindergarten for adults: a room full of toys, a place to play, humor welcome. “Maker” culture is full of promise. Anything is possible. Really.

In a kind of conceptual loop-de-loop, hackerspaces segue neatly into the tinkerer / education movement, best personified by Gever Tulley. Tulley, famous for the Tinkering School and the book, Fifty Dangerous Things (you should let your children do), is opening a k-12 school called Brightworks this fall to build on his ideas about learning through doing.

What if the goal of education were to produce a resourceful generation for whom innovation was simply part of the mix? In a world where change, often rapid and extreme, has become the “new normal” (see climate), the ability to adapt will require both collaborative networks and the confidence to invent.


When you come to any hackerspace in the world, you are among friends.

— from Dinosaurs and Robots (video)

One the key moments for me was the day one of the developers told me about “Hello World of the Month”… an exercise to take something they knew absolutely nothing about and figure out how do something useful with it… ‘We want to feel comfortable with learning new things. We need to feel comfortable not knowing so we can look for the answer.’ Now that’s the right attitude. We could all learn from that.”

Eduardo Jezierski, CTO, InSTEDD / “iLabs: Community, Connection and a Culture of Innovation

In the connect-the-dots style of the aggregator, the forty-plus links describe just the surface of a quirky, fascinating, constantly iterating (tech-speak for evolving…) global movement. From the fun and froth of a Maker Faire to the establishment of “labs” designed to help build tech sectors in developing countries, the work is infused with optimism. It is at once bold and humble, an attempt to find better answers through a bottom-up distributed culture of innovation.

Among the suite’s highlights:

…and much more (all links become part of the TrackerNews searchable database)



Discoverability: the holy grail of digital content. Between search engine “filter bubbles,” the frenzy surrounding iTunes rankings and the graphically dismal world of wiki’s, a staggering amount of interesting content regularly falls through the cracks.

Does anyone ever get beyond the second page of a Google search?

We think about this a lot at TrackerNews, usually while on the hunt for one-off diamond-in-the-rough links.

There is a limit to what even the cleverest machine algorithms can deliver. Determining what information is useful at any given time, or for any given project, is very much an individual decision—one that must take into account the “human algorithm” of personal experience, online and off.

Curated aggregation, of course, is TrackerNews stock in trade, and a powerful combination. But a personal aggregation tool could be a game-changer. Imagine if anyone—everyone—could more deeply mine and share digital content. This, too, is a bottom up rather than a top down approach.

Hackathon anyone?

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