Getting to the Point

Posted by David N. Wright on August 15, 2017

Sometimes, It’s Not About Getting to the Point

On the subject of points, the Hackerspace has been engaged recently in thinking about a role we might play working with the New Westminster Museum and Archives (“archive” from here on out). The folks at the archive heard about what we were up to in the hackerspace (I am increasingly calling it a “hackspace”), and they sought us out to talk about how we might help them with some preservation and display models for the archive. As I understand it, the archive frequently offers opportunities for members of the public to touch and closely inspect objects in their collection. However, some of the objects are too delicate or precious to allow for such close contact. So, the archive has a problem: they want members of the public to interact with their collection, but some originals are too delicate to allow it.

And this is where we might come in. Currently, the archive has loaned us–very graciously–an arrow point from some distant past. In the hackspace over the month of June, we’re experimenting with different scanning techniques and using photogrammetry to produce a viable scan of the point that can be reproduced on one of our 3D printers and used in the archive’s outreach. We’re trying to find out if 3D printing is a viable solution to the archive’s problem. It’s been a largely deflating task so far, with more failures than successes, but we’re learning a lot and the archive is excited about the opportunities and outcomes so far.

Which brings me to the point: the archive came looking for a reproduction, but they are getting much more than that out of our students. What the hackspace sometimes provides, as I have noted before, is a space to examine processes rather than outcomes. I’ll give you an example: the museum wants, at some point, to be able to reproduce and scan objects themselves; they have highly specialized needs too–forms to hold objects in a specific way or orientation for instance without degrading them. In short, they will need scanners and printers and the kind of specialized knowledge that goes with operating such machines effectively. Well, the hackspace is there to help them figure out what will work for them and what will not; to help figure out exactly how long it takes to do something and how much training will be required to be effective. When it comes time for the archive to take the plunge and purchase some fabrication equipment, they’ll be able to do so with eyes wide open and focused on their outcomes.

On the flipside, students working in the hackspace on scanning the point–either as research students or as drop-ins–get to take part in conversations about possible solutions and emerging issues, discovering limitations, workarounds, and deliverables. They also get to work with the concerns of a real-world application for the archive–we’re not 3D printing fidget-spinners and trinkets (not that there’s anything wrong with that), we’re applying the technologies (machinery, software, technique) to a real-world setting. (As an aside, this is why we continue to print the fidget-spinners and trinkets; they provide a space for trial and error that comes in handy when it counts–we know basically what will work on our printers because we’ve done some experimenting already.) The best part of watching this for me is that moment when I step back and watch the students speak directly with the archivist and museum curator to solve a problem or understand what’s at stake. The students have questions, but they also have answers and perspectives and they are engaging one-on-one with someone trying to use fabrication technologies and techniques in the real world. To say nothing about being able to examine a historical artifact not many people get to touch. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Opportunities like this one, show that the hackspace facilitates more than the ability to reproduce a point; it’s not simply a production house. We’re working with members of our immediate community in New Westminster, providing students contact with people who are working to solve problems and advance an agenda, and we’re learning a lot about the possibilities–and limitations–of fabrication technology and the tools we have on hand (and what we might need to acquire). Ultimately, all that is the real reward for eventually getting to–printing–the point.

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