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Brooklyn, New York (Motherboard.tv) -- A few summers ago, at a DIY repair-off at a small art space in Brooklyn called Get Yr Fix, I watched as ragtag teams battled each other and the clock to breathe new life into all manner of dead and disused goods gathered from the city's streets.
The toddler's three-wheeler became a colorful miniature carnival ride; the resurrected baby pen would have fit right into a Tim Burton version of "Mad Max."
But then, there was a jaw-dropping moment: Two guys armed with little more than a soldering iron and a multimeter dismantled a couple of broken TVs, rearranged some parts and, after a little trial and error, flicked a switch to reveal one fully functioning boob tube.
"Eet's aliiive!" one of them crowed as the crowd oohed and ahhed. They didn't win -- the tricycle did, on aesthetic grounds -- but they weren't there to make something beautiful.
The duo, who were from a group called NYC Resistor, took a kind of mischievous pleasure in taking things apart and remaking them -- like a cross between Bob Vila and Dr. Frankenstein, but in hoodies.
They were quintessential hackers, not the criminal kind notorious for breaking into computer systems and stealing things, but part of a growing movement of do-it-yourselfers that just wants to make things work better.
Not long after, I called them up and asked if Motherboard could pay a visit to their Brooklyn lair.
Founded by a handful of friends who wanted a place to tinker with electronics and meet like-minded hackers, NYC Resistor has blossomed into one of the country's most influential hackerspaces. On any given Thursday night, its cozy, cluttered loft workshop is crawling with a diverse crowd of hard-core tinkerers and curious newcomers.
Throwing some caution -- and many user warranties -- to the wind, they're there to build, refine, break and share everything from robot pets to intricate paper sculpture to newfangled musical instruments to machines that can make art. Using a turntable, some valves and tubes, and an open-source hardware-software kit called Arduino, the group even fashioned a way to dull the edges of their late-night work sessions: a bartending robot that serves up Sazeracs at the push of a flashing red button.
On top of public workshops on topics ranging from algorithms to laser cutting ("fiiire the laser!" is a cry often heard from the next room), the group has spawned a huge DIY following, and a number of events and offshoots to match. Most well known among them is MakerBot Industries, a company spearheaded by three of the Resistor co-founders that specializes in kits for an innovative and inexpensive 3-D printer, essentially a miniature factory for your bedroom.
With roots in the underground computer hacking movement -- whose only crime, the Hacker's Manifesto proclaims, is "curiosity" -- NYC Resistor and similar hackerspaces around the world are redefining the idea of hacking.
They're using valuable skills, materials and personal interactions, says Resistor co-founder Bre Pettis, to "make awesome things happen."