Young Windsor ‘Hackers’ Learn What Makes Appliances Tick
A fan, toaster oven, paper shredder and radio are among the appliances unscrewed, pried apart and hammered to pieces by kids and their parents at the Hacker Space program at the Windsor Library yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
David Townsend of Windsor assists his daughter Michelle, 9, as she disassembles a zip disk drive during Hacker Space at the Windsor Library yesterday. The program allows youngsters to take apart appliances to see what makes them work. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Windsor - Sarah Tufts, for the past few weeks, was on something of a mission. As visitors arrived at the Windsor Public Library, she’d ask them, as well as her colleagues: Do you have anything old?
Some did, and donated doomed appliances. Tufts, the youth librarian, threw in a couple of her own, plus a few nonfunctional devices that were sitting in the library.
So began the first Windsor Public Library Hacker Space, a free, kid-friendly offshoot of the so-called “hackerspaces” that exist worldwide. Such events have nothing to do with the computer hacking. Instead, they’re generally havens for tinkerers, open-access workshops for people who like technology or art and want to work with others who share their interests.
Although there are no hackerspaces in the Upper Valley, there are three in the Twin States, according to listings on www.hackerspaces.org, such as MakeIt Labs in Nashua, N.H. The small-fry version at the library yesterday was populated by 10 youngsters, most of them around 10, plus or minus a couple of years.
Of course, the name of the program was a bit confusing at first. When Asa Carlson, 11, first saw the program, he thought he would be learning how to break into computers run by the federal government.
“Only at your library,” Tufts mused.
But Asa said he was happy with the appliance graveyard in the library’s children’s room yesterday, which was full of old, discarded pieces of technology ready to be dismantled. There was a toaster that, once plugged in, wouldn’t shut off. There was a heap of zip drives made obsolete by an onslaught of newer, better technology.
There was a pair of hot plates that looked a bit like a turntable but was mistaken by some children for a CD player, and an old, LED-number alarm clock. There was a handheld game made years ago, long before phones and tablets took over.
Alex and Michelle Townsend zeroed in on the lid of a hopelessly jammed paper shredder, brought it to a nearby table and took to it with screwdrivers. Eventually, with help from their dad, Dave, they found a gear that wouldn’t turn, thereby diagnosing the problem.
Meanwhile, Nick Doiron, 12, sat on the ground, inspecting a computer chip he removed from a CD drive while holding the tray in his other hand.
“I just kind of like finding the insides,” he said.
A few feet away, 10-year-old Justin McKenrick marveled at the toaster oven he and a few friends demolished. Its two cooling fans had been removed, and the only part still resembling a toaster was its rectangular metal chassis.
“This is not coming back together,” Justin said.
So when, exactly, would the destruction of the toaster be complete?
“(When it’s) completely, entirely in parts,” he said. “ Like they were about to build it.”
After about an hour of methodical disassembling, during which the kids carefully unscrewed lids and pried apart plastic encasements with wedges, impatience began to settle in.
Pliers were put down. Hammers were picked up.
When the ruckus quieted, detached cords and plastic shards covered the floral-print sheet used to protect the floor.
Tufts said most of the refuse would be brought to WinCycle for recycling, and the rest would be kept in a box for future use, like, say, a day of sculpturing using found parts from annihilated appliances.
Tufts wasn’t sure when the next Hacker Space might take place, but figured the positive response meant it was worth doing again. Maybe, for the next go-round, she would consider bringing in one or two large appliances for the kids to work on as a team. Maybe they can work outside next time, she said.
Beth Carlson, who is on the board of directors of the Friends of Windsor Library, has a broken-down washing machine.
Maybe, Tufts said, the prodigious tinkerers can disassemble that.
Jon Wolper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3248.