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Focus On: Leeds Hackspace's Jon Stockill

Gareth Halfacree

We recently attended the Halifax Mini Maker Faire 2015, and took freelance journalist Gareth Halfacree along for the ride. This series of Focus On features is designed to offer a sampling of who you can expect to see at a Maker Faire event, why they're there and what it is that drives them.

The dark theatre of Eureka is a great place for Leeds Hackspace to have their table, as it helps to show off the centrepiece: a gigantic LED cube, soldered by hand over a period of some months. "This is our big glowy cube - or, rather, our medium glowy cube," Jon Stockill explains of the acrylic-enclosed creation, which wobbles gently every time someone opens or closes the fire door in the back of the room, "because although this one's about two feet across we do have one that's about ten feet across that we built for Light Night in Leeds last year."

The LED cube isn't all Jon and his friends from the hackspace have brought to the Halifax Mini Maker Faire. "We're showing off Joe [Corcoran]'s powered angle-poise lamp, which is currently being very shy and avoiding looking at people but is supposed to track faces and watch people as they walk past," Jon explains, while Joe hunkers over a laptop attempting to debug the anthropomorphic lighting apparatus and its impressively bright RGB LED ring. "I've brought an ADSB radar receiver, which is currently showing a few aircraft flying over Halifax, we've got an assortment of our 3D-printed squirrels in various materials, including a copper one, my quadcopter, and we are currently fiddling with gravity and running water up-hill as well."

The latter is something which hypnotises the young and old alike. Housed in an unassuming cardboard box, the build uses an oscillating tube and a synchronised strobe light to create the impression that water droplets are travelling upwards from a holding tank to the tube. It's an illusion, but when the strobe is properly calibrated an extremely effective one - although Jon admits that the sound of running water does lead to frequent trips to the toilet for the stand's staff!

Asked to describe Leeds Hackspace, located in the city centre above a bicycle repair shop and boasting a paid membership of around 30 makers, Jon explains: "It's a workshop in Leeds City Centre, owned and run by the members, and we try and provide resources for people to come down and build whatever they're interested in." There are plenty of projects on display, but few limits to what attendees can do if they have an idea. "If there are resources there, then they're there to be made use of. If there are things that members want to do that we don't yet have the equipment for, then we'll look at remedying that."

From the outside, the maker movement can seem daunting - especially for those with no technical or creative background - but Jon is clear that membership is open to all. "That really doesn't matter," he explains when asked about people who feel they lack the experience to get involved somewhere like Leeds Hackspace. "We have all sorts of people come down with experience from very experienced in certain fields to absolutely nothing at all but have ideas, and if people turn up with ideas then we can generally help them get started in sort of bringing them to fruition."

Leeds Hackspace has an open evening every Tuesday from 7PM and an open day on the second Saturday of each month, when non-members are encouraged to visit. More information is available on the official website.

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