Hill District hacking group aims to use skills for good
By Andrew Conte
Published: Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, 11:30 p.m.
Four men sit inside a Hill District garage on a frigid evening, plotting to bend machines to their will.
Like a laboratory for building a Frankenstein robot, the garage holds lots of parts. Pieces of a Roomba vacuum cleaner are stored in one box; across the way, a vending machine spills its guts onto the floor.
Shelves made from two-by-fours and plywood hold dozens of books on topics such as knot-tying, Lego robots and computer coding. A plastic deer stands near the door with a mannequin head wearing an Irish cap.
Each man has his own half-finished endeavors, such as building a safe-breaking robot that would try every combination to get in. Together, they share tasks such as floating a weather balloon 20 miles in the air or retrofitting a child's toy car to travel 30 mph.
The members of HackPittsburgh share a mission, too: making useful things rather than making havoc.
“Here we are a community of people who like to take things and make them do other things than their intended purpose,” said club President Scott Thomas, 34.
Unlike “black hat” hackers who might try to steal your identification and drain your bank account, these “makers” — as they like to call themselves — simply enjoy tearing apart machines to see how they work, then building others from their parts. By day, they work as software engineers and computer security experts. Here they have fun.
The group sponsors Friday night public lectures on topics such as building a snow-making machine. It helps put on the Pittsburgh Mini Maker Faire, a summertime event for showing off remade items.
Around a long table on this night, two men sit in front of open laptop computers, eating Chinese takeout. A third man purrs as he runs his hands over a complete set of socket wrenches. Members can go and come as they please, as long as they keep their personal projects confined to a bin while they're gone.
Doug Philips, the group's treasurer, wears a head scarf printed to look as if it has neon paint splatters like a Jackson Pollock painting. He wears gold-rimmed wire glasses and has a bushy gray beard. On his own, he's working to design art with lighted fabrics.
“The point is,” he said, “I could be in my own basement, but I wouldn't have a community around me.”
Andrew Conte is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7835 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Web of surveillance videos helps ensnare suspect in East Liberty slayings
- Donor name to be stripped from Penn Hills library
- Funeral director, ex-girlfriend of New Kensington murder victim charged in funeral fund scheme
- Qualifications of Peduto nominee for building inspection chief come up short
- FirstEnergy last to get smart meter OK