Compiled by Arun Rao, May-2016
Ace Monster Toys (AMT) was started by a group of former members of Noisebridge, an anarchist hackerspace in San Francisco that focused on coding, security/cryptography, and open source cloud projects. Al Billings called the original AMT meeting at a coffee shop in Berkeley, and the early founders were Mike Gittelsohn, Rachel McConnell, Neha Chris, Tracy, Christian, Shannon Lee, David Rorex and Dr. Jesus.
This wanted to start a similar space in the East Bay, closer to where many of them lived in May of 2010. They held meetings on what they wanted to have and avoid.
What to have:
- An Easy Bay space, close to BART, where hackers and makers could share tools and have a sense of community with an inspiration to hack;
- A social experiment where trustworthy people would work on cool shit;
- Simple, effective decision making; a calm, reasonable, deliberative tone; tiered membership to be fair;
- A diversity of members, including more women and an openness to different backgrounds (LGBT, students, makers and coders, etc.);
- An anagram for a name (it’s a secret) and a secret handshake (that never took off);
- The best aspects of anarchy, that is, “hippies repairing microwaves.”
What to avoid and keep out:
- The worst aspects of anarchy, like an impotent decision making process; liability issues from loose cannons or untrained makers;
- Drama from overzealous anarchist types, antimatter and especially anti-mercury;
- Anything that looked like a secret society; a mess, cat piss, and vermin;
- People screwing with the tools without knowing what they’re doing;
- Annoying seniority affecting otherwise enthusiastic project proposals;
- Pointless rules about access to the space that smack of elitism;
- A dramaphilic mailing list.
The goal was to find a good balance between light governance and anarchy, with Robert’s Rules of Order, pooled expensive tools (laser cutters, 3D printers, CNC mills), and space where people shared information and helped each other.
After checking out remote spaces in Oakland and another space on Lowell just south of Stanford, the group settled on the current space on Lowell. Al Billings signed the lease because the landlord would not rent to a new venture.
The First AMT Board: At the June 14, 2010 meeting, the Board was elected: Al, Christian, Shannon, Mike, Dr. Jesus. A discussion on finding officers ensued, and Neha stepped up to be Secretary.
In late 2010, the current site opened with around 20 members who contributed: welding gear, a CNC mill, a lathe table, a partially functioning woodshop.
AMT would have no explicit focus on hardware, software, or made or crafted objects. A hacker here would be a hacker if they made anything and just considered themselves a tinkerer. The laser cutter and 3D printers came later, as did the full crafting/sewing area. People threw the contents of their garages in and there were many donated items, like workstations.
AMT added Textiles and brought in sewing machines. Doing that engaged a different community, bringing in more crafters and artists. Shortly after, AMT instituted the stewardship method and that ramped up the quality of the experience.
AMT expanded into more space in the building it currently resides in. Around this time there was some conflict on the board, but most of it faded away. Either people changed their approach or moved on to different projects. Chris and Sam Cook incubated Hacker Scouts/née Curiosity Hacked at AMT. They drove a lot of energy. During 2014/2015, Rachel 1.0 (Dr. Shiny) did a year and a bit as President and created a really nice culture where people got along well.
There have been no major conflicts or schisms in AMT’s history. Only 3 people have ever been asked to leave, and that was for conduct in violation of the very simple rules. The overall ethos of this hackerspace is: “Make cool stuff” and “Don’t be a jerk!” but can be more practically defined as a culture of transparency and respect.
2015 thru 2016
Over this period, Crafty Rachel became Executive Director (aka president) and AMT kickstarted some bigger sweeping changes with the backing of fellow members:
- Adding a budget
- Spending money on creating a party feel for get-togethers
- Installing over 40 feet of workspace
- Implemented a “no hoarding” process
These changes resulted in growth of the membership by 50% and increased diversity. AMT also restarted the Monster Corps (volunteer program) in 2015, and most of those folks converted to paying members.
About 70% of members are builder types (focused on making physical projects) and the rest are coders or more conceptual. Cool recent projects include:
- an R2-D2 replica from “Star Wars”
- wet-moulded leather masks
- horizontal lightning
- a bass-string instrument
- 3D printers built and printed from scratch
- a “Polaroid” camera with a vintage Hasselblad form-factor, edge detection software, and an instant printer.
According to Rachel Sadd (Crafty Rachel), the current AMT Executive Director, the most unique aspect about the hackerspace culture here is “How well it works! People are crazy generous about getting things done and sharing their knowledge. We are more top-down than a lot of other hackerspaces I have seen. I think in some ways we get to avoid a lot of drama that way. We are so focused on doing stuff that the “how” is a little less ego driven. We are also really broad about the kinds of makers and hackers we welcome and support. I feel like that is pretty unique.” The current keeper of the Electronics space, Ray Alderman, notes that it’s “Really the only time I’ve ever seen a group of volunteers make a real go of it.”