fizzPOP’s New Home

Those of you who have been following my blog since around 2009 will remember that myself and Nikki Pugh once ran a hackerspace in Birmingham called fizzPOP. Actually, calling it a hackerspace was a bit of a stretch as we never had our own permanent, access-any-hour space and always relied on organisations such as VIVID, Birmingham Friends of the Earth and Friction Arts for space to hold our fortnightly meetings (thanks!).

Fast-forward to 2012/2013 and a new group of brave people have taken over the running of fizzPOP and, in July 2013, acquired an actual space!


Photo by Tom Hodson

fizzPOP's new home

fizzPOP's new home

The new residence is located at 28 Floodgate Street in Digbeth. As you can see from the photos they’re still busy cleaning up and moving everything in, which they always need help with. If you can help with anything just contact them on the mailing list to arrange everything.

Membership looks set to be £25 a month, which seems more than reasonable for access to a massive toolshed and great company. I’ll be signing up for sure!

Congratulations to all involved for making this a reality!

fareWELL fizzPOP

Somewhere in late December 2008 I was frustrated with the apparent lack of a local hacking scene. Luckily a few other people felt the same and in January 2009 fizzPOP was formed.

I once had all the time and energy in the world to pump into helping to organise events such as the fizzPOP Howduino, a visit from Mitch Altman and, and Theremin Day, but unfortunately now I have very little time to dedicate to fizzPOP.

In short: I’m leaving fizzPOP

Although we’ve stressed that fizzPOP isn’t a group run by a single person over time a few key people have stepped up to take on extra responsibilities and have even organised their own events with us. If fizzPOP is to continue to exist and to grow into something more it’ll need more of these people who can maintain and build the community. Feel like you could help to build a hackersapce? Make yourself known to fizzPOP and get involved! I recently wrote a blog post detailing some of the areas that fizzPOP needs assistance in, but we’re open to all offers of help in any kind.

Just to clarify, my departure from fizzPOP as an organiser (I’ll still attend when I can) does not mean the end of it. It just means that the extra responsibilities that I’ve undertaken over the years will have to be covered by someone else.

fizzPOP residency at The Lombard Method

Improbable (by hellocatfood)

If being part of the awesomeness that was Theremin Day wasn’t enough since 1st May, and running until 16th May fizzPOP have been in residency at The Lombard Method. The event kicked off with the building of The Improbable Machine, very much inspired by Rube Goldberg and his crazy machines. This is a good indicator of our progress so far

I’ve also been taking the lead on building a modified Harmonograph. Ever since seeing Mr Underwood’s Pendulum Music for Optical Theremin and Torch I’ve been inspired to make something using swinging motions. I was pointed to a Harmonograph out of our most recent hack session and the discussion that followed saw me going through several designs before settling on the method of keeping the pen stationary and moving the surface.

Like the Improbable Machine I’ve been building this using whatever junk people have brought in or whatever I could scavenge from the space, and relying on the skills and resources of others to fill in the gaps where my skills are lacking. So far I’ve got my board swinging, which has produced a good set of patterns

Rhythmic scribbles (by hellocatfood)

There’s been several challenges in making this, mostly ensuring that the board has a good enough swinging motion and also dealing with the slanted ceiling. Want to help out? fizzPOP will be in residency at The Lombard Method for the next week, so check the wiki for when we’re in and lend a hand!

Theremin Day

For the last month or so the fizzPOP team and Mr Underwood have been planning the awesomely awesome Theremin Day that took place at fizzPOP on Saturday 24th April.

The day kicked off with an optical theremin building workshop, which produced some very interesting sounds. One person described the noises produced as “lil creatures… being tortured by having light shone on them“. Decide for yourself:

The circuitry for all of the theremin were the same, but the housing for the device made them all that more interesting. I think Julia’s Apple Theremin wins some kind of award for most healthy looking theremin! More photos from the day:

After all of the noises we did a frantic de, then reconstruction for the evening performance featuring 8Bit Pete, Mr Underwood and Ms Hypnotique (all totally real names).

First up, 8Bit Pete treated us all to his own Thingamagoop optical theremin and even invited earlier workshop attendees to join in the performance

8bit Pete (by hellocatfood)

Mr Underwood then treated us to a rather hypnotic rendition of Steve Reich’s Pendulum Music using optical theremin and torches:

It’s definitely worth watching the whole 10 minute performance!

Finally, world renowned theremin player Ms Hypnotique treated us to a short history of the theremin, improvised compositions and performances of a few classics, including that Dr Who theme tune

Ms Hypnotique (by hellocatfood)

Nikki has a few good videos of the performance on her Vimeo channel

I think the day was really a great success and I can definitely see a future workshop taking place and I’d really like to see Pendulum music being performed again somewhere. Well done to all involved in making this event happen!

Next up, the fizzPOP residency at The Lombard Method

fizzPOP’s first birthday

Recently fizzPOP celebrated the two of its first birthday’s. On January 26th the mailing list was set up and on February 28th we had our first meeting. We count each one as our birthday, which, in theory, means more cake!

fizzPOP hacksession 03/03/2010 (by Nikki Pugh)

Leftovers from the last session. Photo by Nikki Pugh

I’m really quite proud of what myself and Nikki have achieved so far with fizzPOP. As I’ve stated in my many presentations about hackerspaces and fizzPOP it was first set up to scratch an itch: I wanted to have a space outside of education to learn more about electronics and technology. Luckily Nikki had the same itch and we soon found ourselves working on the creating and running of fizzPOP.

I wont rattle on about the history of fizzPOP as we’re still creating it, and there’s little to gain from talking about the pitfalls we’ve had. The thing that I’m most proud of is that we can regularly get people from all over the west midlands (and occasionally reaching as far as Liverpool and London) in a room to do what they love most. I just wish we could do this more regularly, maybe even every day!

fizzPOP 12/08/2009 (by Nikki Pugh)

Photo by Nikki Pugh

What next for fizzPOP? I’m still recovering from fizzPOP workshop from the awesomeness that is Mitch Altman and Jimmie Rodgers, so have no brain space left to think about anything else! All I know is that I want to see more workshops like that and more people showing off their mad hacker skills.

dev8d 2010

From February 2th6 to 27th I was in London for dev8d. It describes itself as:

Dev8D is 4 days of 100% pure software developer heaven. It will be intense. It will be exhilarating. It will make you a better programmer.

• Learn to use unfamiliar languages (such as Python, Ruby and Clojure)
• Team up with other developers and build rapid development projects for tech prizes
• Take part in lightning session discussions with industry experts
• Swap skills and ideas with other developers

It was indeed like some kind of heaven! I arrived later in the week on Friday, but I still learnt quite a lot. I spent a lot of my time in the Expert Zone and at GB’s Arduino workshops.

Think of the Expert Zone as a more relaxed Pecha Kucha or Ignite. You get 15 minutes to talk about or promote whatever you want. I gave a short presentation on hackerspaces, with particular emphasis on fizzPOP, and why you should either form one or join one.

The Arduino workshops, led by fizzPOP regular GB, were really fun.

img_7101.jpg (by benc)

I’ve had an Arduino ever since the Howduino event last year but I’ve never really played around with it. Being around lots of people who are in the same position really helped me to make a move in learning it. In the end I got lots of LED’s flashing and a little buzzer to play some music. A small achievement to some, but a massive leap into the world of electronics!

Being at dev8d (and at the GNOME Hackfest, which I’ll write about another time) really taught me a lot about software development. It all starts with an idea, but taking that idea and turning it into a reality I feel is best achieved in a group setting with those who can contribute ideas and skills.

Congrats to the dev8d and devCSI team for putting on a very successful event. I’ll definitely be along next year!

Live coding at fizzPOP

Ever since I went down to an Openlab workshop last year I’ve been fascinated by live coding. From Wikipedia:

Live coding (sometimes known as ‘interactive programming’, ‘on-the-fly programming’, ‘just in time programming’) is the name given to the process of writing software in realtime as part of a performance.

I thought about doing live coding for myself ever since, so at fizzPOP‘s latest hack session I thought I’d make use of massive screen and try a bit out for myself using a purpose-built program called Fluxus, which uses the Scheme programming language.

fizzPOP Hack Session: 18th February (by hellocatfood)

I had briefly looked at Fluxus before but had never actually built anything in it or even used Scheme before, so stuck to modifying one of the example scripts provided in the program. Here’s a video of my results:

You can see that an aspect of live coding is seeing how something is built, which could explain the decision to overlay the code over the visuals. I quite like it, some might not.

I’ll be attempting to do some more livecoding at the next fizzPOP hack session on March 3rd

Portrait of a hacker

Recently Helen Flanagan, who was mentioned on CiB last week, contacted fizzPOP about doing portraits of hackers. I happily volunteered myself and this is how one of the pics came out:

Untitled (by Helen Flanagan)

Photo by Helen Flanagan

Notice the roflcopter t-shirt hiding underneath the clown shirt. Major WIN!

There’s two more pics on her blog and you should check out her website, she’s really quite a good photographer!