On a cold winter night in a little house not too far from the heart of downtown Albuquerque, 9-year-old Ethan Derrick sits on a stool in front of a workbench with a soldering iron heating up nearby. He is accompanied by Bandit Gangwere, a one-armed instructor working with QueLab, and he’s about to learn something that Gangwere considers an important life skill.
“Soldering is like knowing how to brush your teeth or ride a bicycle for the electronics world,” he said. “Once you learn how to do it, there’s no end to the kinds of projects you can build.”
QueLab is Albuquerque’s premier “hackerspace,” which is defined as a place for hackers of all kinds to meet and work on projects together that involve science, technology and electronics. The term hackerspace was originally coined in the early 1990s as a place for people to meet in an ad hoc, open community laboratory. Your typical hackerspace is both a place to make things and to network with other geeks about all things related to technology. A hackerspace is sometimes also known as a “makespace,” in homage to the movement’s favorite magazine called Make.
According to QueLab President Greg Moran, Albuquerque’s QueLab evolved out of an understanding that such a space was needed to foster technological development for hobbyists throughout the city. Currently, QueLab has 25 members who each pay $40 a month to rent a house for their thrice weekly meetings, which includes two “hacknights” on Tuesdays and Sundays as well as a “co-working” space day on Wednesdays, where independent consultants, who work from home, can come together to work in tandem.
Similar to the recently deceased Santa Fe Complex in Santa Fe, QueLab’s mission, in part, is to provide a space for people to meet, share, discuss, play and build, but it also serves as a networking hub for the local hobbyist community, which may in turn result in the development of new products or even start-up companies as the space and its membership continues to evolve.
“Our goal was to allow the space to develop organically,” said Moran, citing the recent demise of the Santa Fe Complex as a model that was not sustainable for controlled evolution. “As it stands now, we are outgrowing our space, and we’re seeking something larger, perhaps 3,000 square feet of open space somewhere where we could really grow some great projects.”
In addition to the informal “hack nights,” QueLab also hosts three to four workshops a month covering a number of different topics. Also, on the first Thursday of every month, QueLab hosts a “packet party,” where members who are network security engineers come in to teach and the TCP/IP protocols and network security.
“Obviously, a lot of what we do down here is pretty geeky,” Moran said. “But future plans definitely include reaching out to the arts community and seeing what we can do to create some collaborations between our people and their needs.”
While electronics and circuit boards are common projects within the world of QueLab, the only limit to what one can bring to QueLab as a project is the imagination. Moran has a lot of deep interests in space-related projects such as rocketry. Many of the people at QueLab have experience in coding and electronics — but some people have interests that are far outside the world of traditional geekery.
On a tour of some of the projects that have been done at QueLab, for example, Moran points out an Etch-a-Sketch backlit by LED lighting.
“Someone came by and wanted to know how to do the lighting part — they were already making the Etch-a-Sketch art and wanted help with the electronics,” Moran said. “Rather than just doing it, we taught him how to do it, and now he has a way of lighting his art just the way he wants to.”
In addition to growing its membership and finding a bigger space, the organization eventually plans to purchase a 3-D printer, a gadget that has become all the rage in technological circles lately.
“A 3-D printer uses a kind of resin to build layer upon layer of plastic to create a 3-D object,” said Adric Menning, one of the co-founders of QueLab. “We put together a campaign on IndieGoGo to raise money to buy one so that someone can come in off the street and say, ‘Can you print this object?’ And we can say, ‘Why yes, yes we can.’ “
While membership is an affordable way to get involved with QueLab, it’s easy to get your feet wet by just showing up 7 p.m. Sunday or Tuesday. Nonmembers pay just $5 to come hang out, and while there, they can check out what the other folks are doing, meet new people — or, like Derrick, learn an important life skill.IF YOU GO