Thursday, January 15, 2015

Rippowam Labs: The Makerspace in Stamford You Have to Go To

NOTE: If you live in Stamford and haven’t yet taken the 2015 Stamford Share the Road survey please take it before Saturday by clicking here. Sound off about what you want to see happen for bikes and pedestrians (and review Mayor David Martin’s efforts)!

So last week I was invited by a guy I met randomly while I was riding to work 18 months ago to check out Rippowam Labs in Stamford; a makerspace that started a while back as a Meetup group but now, as of November 2014, has its own digs at 482 Summer Street. 

It sounded good to me. Working at home coupled with the Hothlike conditions of Stamford meant I was cooped up. I also wanted a diversion from little irritations -  like my iPhone 5 suddenly deciding it didn’t want to play with its charger cable anymore. It got so bad that I began to wonder what a “Weird Al” song about the phenomenon would sound like.  

Whatcha gonna do wit dat big old phone?

Jiggle. Jiggle.

Meh meh meh. MEH! MEH! MEEEEEEH!

(I’ve found writing “Weird Al” songs in my head is a good coping mechanism for stress. But I’m getting off the subject).

On Tuesday, with temperatures about 20 degrees and falling and my iPhone’s battery life at 20% and falling, I decided to #choosethebike and safely ride at night to Rippowam Labs. Since a bike is a lot faster than a car and I didn’t have to wait for my cheap city bike to warm up, I got there so quickly I had time to stop at Lorca to buy some alfajore cookies to go. I figure I’d come out even on the calorie counts due to the pedaling and shivering.

Soon after, I located Rippowam Labs on Summer Street. I know that part of the block well since it houses Eos - an outstanding Greek restaurant that probably pays six months of property taxes with the amount my wife and I spent regularly on take-out dinners there. 

After locking the bike to a lamppost (Dear Board of Finance: What do I have to do to get bike racks built around here? Sincerely, Mike) I entered the building and walked up to Suite No. 4 - and was immediately inspired by what I saw around me. It wasn’t a crowded space but there were a lot of random items in the cubbies by the door - and the sight of what I was sure was parts of an underwater scooter made me wonder if someone here was working on Duckymoto-like technology. It made me want to know more. 

The random cyclist I had met a year and a half ago who helped build the makerspace is named John, and he and I sat at a table that had a sewing machine and a soldering iron sitting within inches of each other. I also saw something a little unusual yet somehow right at home in a makerspace. 

Ah, I thought. Arduino. 

That’s about all I can say about Arduino - and I subscribed to Make Magazine for a year, bought a book about Arduino, and attended a Maker Faire in Queens. But I still am not completely sure what Arduino is. Something about making your computer talk to different items and getting them to do different things using motors, lights, sensors - whatever you can imagine. Like many things, it is above my intellectual pay grade, but I want to know more. 

John also showed me a 3-D printer under construction. It’s not a whole lot to look at now, but this is Luke-building-his-own-lightsaber cool and it too made me want to know more. 

He also showed me some of the works of Chandni Thawani, one of the makers who is presently teaching sewing classes on Sundays this month. She’s also working on a variety of things including - according to the Rippowam Labs web site - a turn signal bike jacket. 

Hmmm, I thought. I want to know more. 

John explained more about the makerspace and its mission - and it just seemed like a great way for people to learn things (and teach things) outside of their normal orbit. Like Arduino. Or sewing. Or building a voice-changer as part of the Spymaster Series. And there will be something bike related soon, I'm sure.  

I thanked John for the tour and headed home - certain I’d come back (I may do so when Rippowam Labs is hosting a Fix-It Night on February 7th, where they are inviting anyone with a broken appliance to come to Rippowam Labs from 7:00pm to 9:00pm and see if it can be fixed right there on the spot. However: remember that there are stairs, so don't bring freezer cases, water heaters, or anything else that's hard to carry). 

The next morning, feeling smarter, I dug out the plastic bacteria colony/toothpick from my imitation Swiss Army Knife and poked it into my iPhone’s port. I pulled out enough lint to stuff a throw pillow, and when I couldn’t pull out any more with that I cut a piece of electrical tape narrow enough so I could poke the sticky side into the port and pull out even more lint. 

I plugged the phone in. It immediately began taking a charge. Just one thirty minute visit to Rippowam Labs and I was already smarter.  Make sure you check them out, take a class, go to their Fix-It Night on February 7, or otherwise get involved. Rare is the place that inspires and makes you want to know more. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

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