New York Times - City - Urban Studies - Revenge of the Nerds‏

30 Dec 2008 - 11:06am
965 reads
Gloria Petron

Published: December 26, 2008

A ROBOTIC roller skate propels itself across the fifth floor of an old
sewing factory at 397 Bridge Street in Downtown Brooklyn. The softly lighted
room is permeated by an acrid odor emanating from soldering irons and
recently extinguished birthday candles.

Over the thump of electronic rock, two dozen men and women chat, type at
laptops and pull on tangles of wire. "Firing the laser!" someone shouts. An
electronic sign attached to the wall blinks: "Welcome — to — the — 21st —

The 800-square-foot space belongs to a hacker collective called NYC
Resistor, which opened in the summer of 2007, and already has inspired a
clone. The collective has turned away those who are interested in fraudulent
computer hacking, preferring a membership of tinkers and inventors — mostly
self-professed nerds — each of whom pays $75 a month for access to the space
and equipment.

"People think hacker means a criminal," said Devon Jones, a 33-year-old
member of the collective who was slumped on a ratty couch drinking a beer.
"Well, we want our word back."

The collective has proved so successful that another one is planned in the
city, called Htink, reflecting a growing trend of hacker spaces nationwide.

"Some people go to the gym," said Mr. Jones, a designer for an educational
software firm in the West Village. "Some people go to nightclubs. We tried
to build a creative community for nerds."

The result is a kind of frat house for modern-day mad scientists. Outside
the collective's home is the bustling Fulton Street Mall, where vendors hawk
sneakers and bundles of incense. Inside the converted laboratory, circuit
boards, gadgets and spare parts overflow from every shelf. A minifridge near
the entrance is stocked with beer. Members eager to quench their thirst can
also consult Bar Bot, a silvery drink-dispensing robot that resembles the
Jetsons' maid, Rosie.

Diana Eng is one of seven women in the collective. A former contestant on
the television series "Project Runway," she created a sweatshirt with a
digital camera embedded in the hood that takes a picture when the wearer's
heart rate is elevated, creating snapshots of the day's excitements.

"My designs were too nerdy for 'Project Runway,' " Ms. Eng said with a
giggle. "But here they fit right in."

To help pay the rent, the collective offers classes for $25 each on topics
from basic electronics to the art of laser-cutting Christmas decorations.

The group's success has not gone unnoticed.
"Resistor blew the doors off the scene here," said Eric Moore, a hacker from
Bushwick who is forming his own group. "They're the next generation of
American hacking. The rest of us are just trying to catch up."


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