Archive for the 'gmc does america' Category

Goodbye America

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Miami Beach, the closest thing to paradise I have yet experienced. Sea, sun and shirtless skaters. I have a new goal in life: to live in Miami. Well. Maybe. Anyway, I seem to have messed up my hotel booking, it is from 13th – 14th of December instead of 3th to 4th. A quick call with the booking agency has the matter resolved, albeit in a somewhat more expensive hotel. It is still at the beach though, so I’m not complaining. It is good to have an entire room and bathroom to myself for once!

After dumping my luggage, I take a stroll along the beach. It’s around 22 degrees Celsius, but under the glare of the sun it feels like at least 30. I could live with that, walking around in shirt and shorts in early December. Now, there is no hackerspace in Miami. But, I used to watch a lot of Miami Vice when I was young, so I had to stop by. It’s all there, the palm trees, the wide roads flanked by pastel-tinted art-deco low-rise buildings. I don’t seem to detect any of the vicious crime and drug-smuggling though, but no doubt if I had looked it could be found.

After a good nights sleep, it is time to start my journey back home. Starting with the return of the rental car at Miami International Airport. It is an emotional goodbye. After 8762.8 miles, this car feels like home. In fact, it is the closest thing to home I have had for 6 weeks. It has served me well, never asking for much and always ready to take on endless roads through cold and hot weather. Never complaining when I revved up the engine to swerve through the armadas of crazy Boston drivers or insane New York City cabbies. Thank you Ford Focus with Nevada license plate 402WUM. I shall miss you.

I manage to get through security without too much groping or invasive body scans, and end up having 3 hours to kill. T-Mobile is letting me down again, so I purchase some crappy wifi and check my mail. I feel a bit depressed. It is really over now. I will miss this country. I think I might have fallen in love with it. I had never expected this!

By the time we lift off night has fallen. It is a dark but clear night. Miami is a sea of orange lights below. Soon, the lights thin out into lines demarcating the strip-malls and occasional suburb along the highway. Until it is pitch dark down there. The only light coming from the flash-bulb on the wing and the interior cabin lights.

A 22-hour layover awaits, so I collect my bags and walk out into the cold Washington DC air. I wait for the hotel shuttle. Wait some more. And some more. By now I have seen all of the other hotels’ shuttles 3 times it seems so I decide to give the hotel a call. Should’ve done that earlier, the clerk says “I’ll send the shuttle right over sir!”.

Well, anyway, safely in the hotel room I enjoy the complimentary chocolate-chip cookie as I zap around American television. No Sonic & Knuckles at this hour (I do love that Knuckles character!), but I fall asleep to some family guy and American dad. Forgot to turn off the heating though, which I regret as I wake up that morning with a slight headache.

After checking out I order some lunch in the hotel restaurant. The two handsome young waiters compliment me on my dreads, making my day again! I wish people in Europe would notice the awesomeness of my dreads some more.

It seems the TSA personnel at Dulles International Airport is not really into it. The naked body scanners are all switched off, and apart from taking of my shoes and veering through the metal detector I can go through security without too much hassle. Not even a quick pat-down. Should I feel less secure now??

When the plane lifts off, it is dark again. Looking out the window I see the lights of Washington DC grow more distant as the plane climbs to cruising altitude. I silently say goodbye to America. I’ve had a wonderfully good time down there. I miss it already.

Thanks so much to all and everyone who made this trip possible. Whether it is by putting me up for a night or two, by engaging me in fun activities at the various hackerspaces or just by pointing out fun and interesting things to do. If I can ever reciprocate the favor, you know where to find me!

So long and thanks for all the fish, Americans.

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Down south

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

From Philadelphia I head for Norfolk. I arrive on this coastal city at night, and meet up with the guys from 757labs. They have a Dr Who pinball machine, so the first thing I do is play a quick game. They have a neat setup there, with a central control for lights, camera’s and other gimmicks. I learn about workshop88’s ‘hackerspaces in space’ challenge, to which they participated by sending a weather-balloon into near space and taking pictures from the earth and the blackness of space.

The next day, before I head off to Charlotte, I drive by the beach. I stroll along the shoreline of the Atlantic ocean. It’s cold, but clear. The sun is beating down on the peer jetting out into the Atlantic. A nice place for breakfast, so I get the bread and Nutella.

As I head into Charlotte, I’m a bit wary of what I’m going to find. This is the south, you know. And indeed, before long the southern federation flags start making their appearance along the highway. I hope people will not shoot at me, I do have a strange accent and dreadlocks. I’m getting hungry, and need some more bread. Time to pull off the highway. I go into a local shop, and although they do look at me as if I’ve come from another planet, they are very friendly. They don’t have any bread though, but kindly point me to a place that might have. There, I indeed find some as well as some bananas. I’m good to go again, and continue the 8-hour drive.

When I first get into Charlotte, I wonder what I have gotten myself into. I need some batteries for the voice recorder, so I pull up into a mall. The parking lot proves to be an obstacle course, with deep holes and wide cracks in the asphalt. A police car keeps watch over the crummy shops, and as I walk into a ‘Family Dollar Store’, people start shouting. Apparently, I can’t go in to the store with my bag. Ah well. I do find some batteries though, and moments later I drive into town.

The hackerspace folk welcome me with open arms! They are about to have the grand opening about a week from now. I can only stay for a night so I have to miss that. But what a fun-filled night! Not only can I help here and there with straightening out the place, we go on the roof to do some spying on the high-rise office buildings in downtown Charlotte. And if that is not enough, we drive around finding a supermarket that sells dry ice! Having found it, we attack it with a jig-saw and later with a table-saw to create evenly-sized Jamendo pieces (blowing the fuse on a lab-psu while at it).

Now, after sleeping in an entirely empty apartment it is time to head out again on an 8-hour drive into Alabama. The radio speaks of sins and savior and penance and assassination of Julian Assange. Friendly.

I’m glad I did not skip Huntsville though. Makers local 256 is one hell of a hackerspace. Located in their own dedicated building not far from the highway, they are an interesting bunch. My attention is drawn to a nice mixing-desk on one table, and after inquiring it turns out they have started their own podcast under the working-title ‘the hackerspace digest’. Of course, I want that on Signal!

I leave Huntsville under a stark blue sky. All of a sudden, a huge Saturn V rocket attracts my attention. Someone just parked his launch vehicle next to the highway, it seems. I take the exit to investigate, and end up on the parking lot of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center (, ain’t that funny domain name for a museum portraying one of america’s greatest feats?). Inside, there is more Saturn V, also a moonlander and a space buggy. Outside, a whole park of rockets and missiles. Even a bunch of German v2’s, the once deadly WWII weapons that inspired the whole American space program.

There is a difference between SW Metropolitan Parkway and Metropolitan Parkway. Most importantly, one is 10 miles from Atlanta, the other is in Atlante. Anyway, I do arrive before my host has to leave for work. At first, I wonder whether I have the right address, as this looks like an industrial complex. With my host on the phone, I drive through the gate and enter the repurposed former corn processing plant.

Inside the gates I find a thriving artistic and creative community. People live in the old industrial buildings, and there are literally dozens of workshops to be found. The hackerspace, Freeside, is also located on the terrain. It is huge! They’ve got everything, from a classroom to a car workshop. There are several rooms, each with a purpose of their own. I’m still very much tired though, and sink in a chair behind my laptop to catch up with email and edit the last episode of ‘gmc does america’, which airs tomorrow.

There is one more space to visit on my trip: Familab in Orlando. It is sort of the opposite from freeside. In terms of surface area that is. But first I meet up with my host of that night, who is a student at Full Sail University. The campus turns out to be too complex for my exhausted brain, and we decide to meet up on the McDonalds parking lot. At the space, which is a storage/workshop unit, I meet several people with interesting projects. We don’t stay long though, everyone is tired and it is getting cold.

And with that, I conclude the visit of my last hackerspace on this tour. I have one final destination: Miami! Stay tuned for the wrap-up.

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Sunday, December 5th, 2010

I somehow expected New York City to be something else, but really it is just a smelly city with badly maintained roads where people are rushing to-and-from lost in their own world. For a badly needed dread-maintenance I go into Manhattan, where a full-time dreadologist keeps shop. On every corner and frequently in between, people harass me asking for money or trying to shove a leaflet into my hands, doubtless advertising for more ways to get their hands on my money. The buildings are clad with advertisement.

The dreadologist (his salon is called dreadology) is not too worried by the state of my dreads, in fact compliments me and is jealous of the way the gray mixes with the brown. He knows dreads, and when I leave I’m not only glad my dreads look sharp and vibrant again, I also have learned a lot.

The next day, I wake up late. I spent too much time watching tosh.0 on the tv-on-demand appliance in my temporary bedroom. I have some time to kill before heading out to

I’m getting tired. I’m ready to go home. Yet I have some spaces to visit before I end in Miami. Driving up to Philadelphia, my t-mobile 3G internet decides to not load several sites. Among which the site of hive76, as well as And I did not make a note of the address. I get off at a random exit to regroup, and drive into a ghost-town. Here and there the suggestion of people, but mostly abandoned industrial buildings and fallow plots. Interesting, but not all-together an inviting place. I decide to get to a McDonalds for the free wifi (and “dinner”).

Meanwhile, I have the t-mobile rep on the phone and try to work through the scripted diagnostics guide with her, not really paying attention to the surroundings when ordering some MacCrap with a medium coke. It is only when I sit down and take out my laptop, that I notice the large proportion of shady people in the restaurant. It doesn’t take long before a guy sits at my table and starts asking me for money. I hand over some change, but now he wants my fries. In the back, I hear shouting. I decide to shove my BigMac into my mouth and eat the rest in the car. Meanwhile, the police and an ambulance arrive. By that time, I have the address for hive76 and quickly make my escape.

At hive76 I arrive together with a small group which looks like to be a father-and-son type of situation. As we walk up the stairs, it turns out they are also heading to hive76. Coincidentally, Jerry Ishdale and family arrived at the same time as me! I was planning to meet up with Jerry in Philadelphia, he has been involved with the founding of crashspace in LA, and is now working on Maui Makers, an Hawaiian hacker/maker-space! We have a good chat, and make arrangements for an interview on Signal sometime soon. When they leave, Far and me adorn the ceiling of hive76 with small carton battle ships and a fort. After a bit of party, I go to sleep in the cat-filled house (human occupancy: 3, feline occupancy: 5).

Next up in this last leg of the trip the south. I’m even heading into Alabama, something I promised I would not do. But well, the people from makers local 256 can be quite convincing! More on all that in a later post.

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Go east!

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

“20 on 3”. “25 on 1”. Is this a gambling house?? No, it’s a gas station in Buffalo, NY. Before filling your tank, you need to prepay. It’s like that a lot here in the states, apparently they’ve had some trouble with gas thieves. I rarely ever have seen this elsewhere. Maybe once, in France, near Paris. So I put 40 on 4, and fill up the tank of my rental Ford Focus.

I drive over to my host’s house, only to find he is in the hackerspace. No problem, I have a tank full of gas and a TomTom satellite navigation. So I head down to the space: Buffalo hacker space. As I drive around the city, it becomes apparent that the economy is not at its strongest around here. I see a lot of abandoned businesses, windows shut with plywood plates.

I park my car in front of what looks like an abandoned industrial complex. I walk in, sign my name and take the elevator to the 4th floor. The elevator is clearly retro-fitted, it stands out in the grimy maze of brick and mortar. The building is amazing, as I zig-zag my way to the space following directions put up by the Buffalo hackerspace team I am enthralled by the sights. If only I were a photographer, I could have captured every corner and last trace of long-gone industrial activity. Ramps big enough to bring trucks up the entire building, chutes and trash compactors, large spaces, dimly lit corridors.

Anyway, I digress. Let’s suffice that it is a very beautiful building in all its rawness. After a brisk walk I find the entrance to the hackerspace. It’s a nice space, and I have some good conversation. Just like the town though, they have some problems finding members. I hope they get some new members coming in, it’s a nice place to hang out and work.

The next day I find myself in Rochester, again in an old industrial building. Here I find interlock, where a broken mechanical candy vending machine proves to be an interesting project. Together with some of the members we fix it and figure out how the configuration settings work. Had a great night here!

Syracuse, Dinosaur BBQ. 1/4 ribs and pork.

From Rochester, I go east. It feels like driving into Germany. The highway is sloping up and down over green hills. Over the railings of bridges taking the road from top to top, I look down on the rooftops of villages in the valleys down below.

I make a short stop for lunch in Syracuse, where I meet the Syracuse Innovators Guild. They just got themselves set up as an organization and are about to sign the lease on their space. Over meat & root beer we discuss how to set up a hackerspace. I feel a good vibe in this group, and leave with a good feeling about their space. Must come back sometime to see how they fared.

The toll-roads are bleeding me dry. When I think I’m finally on the freeway (free as in free beer), there’s another bloody toll-plaza. Despite that, I make it into Boston, MA. As it turns out, they have some unique experiences lined up for me. To start with, I spend two days in the basement of the computer science building of Boston University, which is where hackerspace “builds” is. It’s a funny experience, waking up and walking to the restroom with your toothbrush and toothpaste seeing classrooms full of students attending classes.

On the second evening, I decide to try my luck and go for an unannounced visit to The Sprouts, where I should find Bosslab. Unfortunately, there is no-one there that evening. The drive down is not wasted though, as I discover Rosebud’s diner. It’s one of those classic diners in a trailer (although here is a whole back-area with a stage and everything). Great food and not too expensive.

After dinner, I decide to head over to Artisan’s Asylum, the Joy Street location (they have two locations, one workshop and one classroom facility; Joy Street is the former). When I arrive in Joy Street, Boston, I’m confused. It looks like a regular apartment complex. Not a workshop. Double-checking. The space is in a bloody suburb! So I head to Joy Street, Sommerville. I should really pay more attention to those little details.

Luckily, I find the space. I walk right into a managers meeting, so am left to my own devices. I don’t really mind, and explore the huge 10.000 square feet 1st floor space. I meet some random people that are also hanging out to wait for the end of the managers meeting. I even meet a fellow dread-head, and we share compliments and maintenance tips.

Also going on is a welding class. Had I known earlier, I would have signed up! Welding is surely on my list of things I want to do. Not tonight though. Next to the class a girl named Echo is working on a beautiful metallic bird, and I try to lend a hand. After balancing it out, it has a beautiful flying motion. Nice work!

I leave content.

Did I mention driving in Boston yet? It is crazy! Roads stacked on top of each other, crazy intersections, insane drivers. Try this for example: get on a 6-lane highway on the left then make an exit on the right half a mile along. It’s like the ancient computer game frogger. The other cars are all speeding at least 20mph over. At times like that you’re happy with a car that actually accelerates when you hit the pedal.

My final experience is a tour under and over MIT: I meet up with a friend-of-a-friend who shows me what ‘hacking’ means here. We take a side door and end up in a service tunnel. In a giant room, there is a mural of the ‘hacker ethics’, which I take to heart. We then move on to another equipment room, where a ventilation duct opens up near the ceiling. D. (the friend-of-a-friend) climbs up, and hints me to follow, which I reluctantly do. The inside is all smooth metal, but I learn a trick to descend to the bottom of the vent, where we crawl into a corridor that is called ‘hell’. So named because it is hot from all the pipes carrying heat in the form of steam all throughout the campus. Anyway, after much more climbing and crawling, we end up on the roofs where we enjoy a beautiful view of Boston’s skyline.

Off to New York City, and then down to Philadelphia, Washington DC and into redneck country. Stay tuned for more on that!

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Ruins, oot&aboot, searching through my baggage

Friday, November 19th, 2010

“The ruins of America”, as a friend of mine describes Detroit. I have not seen the ruins yet, what I did see is one awesome hackerspace and a magnificent museum-slash-arcade.

The hackerspace certainly is the biggest I’ve seen so far (not counting the hacker dojo, which is more like an office building). It is cold inside, but work to get the heating there is underway. I am greeted by a giant sculpture of a Canadian comic made out of ductape! Strewn across the giant industrial warehouse are various project, from a piano rigged to be controlled by hard-disk motor to robots made by teams of high-school kids. In the middle is a floating loft, which provides a loungy environment where I interview the president of this space. There are also a number of office units at the front, where we find a crafts-room, a kitchen area, an electronics lab and even a chemical lab.

As for the museum-slash-arcade, I’m referring to Marvin’s marvelous mechanic museum, the museum from the guy behind This site is invaluable for pinball enthusiasts, as it contains very specific and extensive information on how to repair and maintain pinball games of all era’s. The place itself is amazing, it is literally stuffed with all kinds of electro-mechanical and electronic amusement. Including a bunch of the latest Stern games. I spend many quarters there.

My final day I spend going down-town. I now understand what my friend meant by calling it ‘the ruins of America’. A lot of run-down buildings, gritty alleys and broken windows. It is cold. A small train, the “Detroit people mover”, brings me from the GMC world headquarters to downtown. I fail to find downtown though, it’s all wide streets with few shops and abandoned buildings. I decide to leave town, and head for Canada, which is calling me from across the Detroit river.

Flat meadows and fields zoomed with barb-wire fences and interspersed with flocks of leafless trees. Reeds in the watery ditch lining the roadside wave in the wind. Power lines reaching for the horizon. Canada is very much like home.

Around Kitchener, it is dark by now, the heaven decides to come down. With low visibility I crawl through heavy traffic. Of course, my phone is roaming and I do not have data. I decide to stop at a McDonald’s to use the free wifi and have something resembling dinner. Alas, no wifi. And when I ask for sauce to go with the french fries, the girl lists the available salad dressings. Weird folk.

Driving through Toronto, the rain still beating down on the windscreen, I find the hackerspace It’s a beehive in the middle of chinatown. Around the couch people are picking locks and bumping keys. At the whiteboard, animated discussion about designing a new programming language ensues. The cupcake with automated build platform is churning out experimental makerbot part after experimental makerbot part. In all this I manage to find my host (one of the founders of the lab, and a Dutch guy) for the two days, and we head of to his apartment early.

I wake up early, contact Japan and record the third hackerspace hour special with Fish and Nick Farr and a bunch of other Hackers in Japan. After editing that, I head into town. I explore the subway system, and obtain a day-pass for all public transport. It looks like a crash-card, but it seems to get me into all the trains and streetcars (or ‘funny little trams’ as I call them). Public transit seems very well organized, and I have no trouble getting around.

In the financial district, tunnels connect the various streets and buildings, with underground food plaza’s and what have you. I explore the Union station, and somewhere in the catacombs, I find an actual arcade with some video-games and about 10 well-maintained pinball games. That’s another handful of quarters, Canadian quarters this time.

They don’t seem to understand train rides though. They tend to make the experience like flying: baggage check-in, long lines for boarding, gates. I feel lost without data connectivity. I wander the streets, shop after shop after shop. Gigantic shopping malls. I have a quick Asian stir-fry for dinner, with a fix of wifi on the side. There is an eagle class in the hackerspace tonight, part 2 of 2 but I decide to check it out anyway. It turns out to be educational, and afterward we have crispy spicy sliced beef at one of the dozen Chinese restaurants (it is Chinatown, remember).

A bit of sleep, and I end my visit to Canada with a walk along the Niagara river. Right about where it drops from a 52 meter cliff. I expected it to be more impressive, although it was certainly something to see.

And then the gamble I have been dreading since the moment I left the USA: will thet the US border patrol let me back in?? After some poignant questions, which I barely manage to answer because of my nervousness, the officer decides to search through the car. Rummaging through my coats on the backseat, unzipping my luggage in the trunk. It all checks out again though, and I can move on. Boy, I’m glad we don’t have this bullshit in Europe. Imagine going through that every time I visit Belgium.

Ah well, I’m back in the states! Ready for the last 2 weeks of this adventure. Time sure flies, just 14 more days. Next up, Buffalo, Rochester, Boston and New York. Stay tuned!

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