Makerspaces and the gigabit internet project

Gigabit Internet project is a makerspace in the making

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When I first heard of Chattanooga's municipal gigabit Internet project in 2010, the first thing I wanted to know was the name of the Linux user group in Chattanooga. When you combine gigabit Internet connectivity with open source software, the universe of possible products and services quickly grows to infinity. Although I live several hundred miles from Chattanooga, I signed up for the Chugalug email list and started monitoring the message traffic on that list.

I've participated in several different Linux user group communities, and the Chugalug group is one of the most vibrant I've encountered. One day, not long ago, my ears perked straight up when I saw Tim Youngblood and Taylor McDonald talking about creating Chatt*Lab, a makerspace in Chattanooga.

When McDonald was recently traveling through Washington, D.C. for work, I had a chance to sit down and chat with him for a while. He is a tech entrepreneur in Chattanooga and serves as the president and co-founder of Second|Site, a technology company focused on bridging geospatial information with the augmented reality environment.

As I listened to him describe the possibilities for this makerspace, it occurred to me that the only thing missing from it was a Gulfstream jet —a Gulfstream jet remarkably like the one Apple's board of directors gifted the late Steve Jobs, presumably not being used much by his surviving wife, Laurene Powell. Apple paid about $90 million for that jet. Why not sell it on eBay for $100 million (add a $10 million cachet for it belonging to Steve Jobs), and then use those funds to support the creation of makerspaces around the United States? eBay would surely waive the listing and seller's fee—they're such nice people over there at eBay.

$100 million could go a long way in jumpstarting makerspaces around the country. One in Chattanooga would be particularly exciting because of the city's gigabit Internet initiative—a concerted effort to attract geeks. What better recruiting tool than a vibrant makerspace? Do you see the beauty of this? Apple was born from the ingenuity assembled in Steve Jobs' garage, so how great would it be to reinvest in that ingenuity from which Apple sprung, with the Gulfstream jet? From dust to dust, from ingenuity to ingenuity.

So, would you like to know how fast a gigabit Internet connection is? Using today's technology, you can transfer 4.5 gigabytes of data (an entire DVD's worth of data) in less than two minutes over gigabit Ethernet. This recently created screencast shows this file transfer happening before your eyes.

These are such exciting times for creativity and ingenuity. With open source software and hardware projects flourishing left, right and center, it behooves the nation to act boldly to ingrain ingenuity into our culture via the establishment of a network of makerspaces. When ingenuity becomes a structured part of our culture, all sorts of positive things will occur for our economy. If Laurene Powell decided to sell the Gulfstream jet to support makerspaces, then the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation would surely see fit to match that $100 million. Then, at that point, Apple itself might choose to match Laurene Powell's $100 million, bringing the total to $300 million. With its large cash reserves, Apple could do so while retaining $99.9 billion in cash.

That $300 million could be used to set up 300 makerspaces. A million dollars doesn't go so far these days, but makers are the people who know how to squeeze the best value from such seed money. And if the makerspace movement had a rule that any company spawned from a makerspace were required to plough back 5% of its profits into the makerspace community, that could create the kind of sustainable growth that could spawn innovation in 2015, and then more innovation in 2020, and even more in 2025 and 2030. For all of that to happen, a bold move needs to be made now, in 2012. Can you think of a better use for an unused Gulfstream jet?

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About the author

Phil Shapiro - Phil Shapiro has been an educator, teaching students from pre-school to graduate school for the past 30 years. He currently works at a public library in the Washington, DC area, helping youth and adults use 27 Linux stations. Between 2007 and 2012, he blogged for PC World magazine on various technology topics and currently writes for Ars Technica, MAKE magazine, FOSS Force, TechSoup for Libraries, and Visit him at his... more about Phil Shapiro