In what ways can our location be better?
July 3, 2012
With the news that slashRoot is bursting at its seams, a number of educated questions have been raised by folks in the community. This post is part of a series of answering these questions.
What is it about 60 Main Street that is impeding the growth of slashRoot?
One of the simplest but most important deficiencies of our current space is that we are unable to hold class and be open for customer-facing services at the same time. Those who are affected by this problem know that it is difficult to exaggerate its impact on our evening momentum.
At 5:00PM, when we switch from code green (open house) to code orange (slashRoot students only), we typically have to kick out at least one person or group who is trying slashRoot out for the first time. They generally never return. Tragic as this is for building our customer base, people generally understand that our curriculum is our first priority. However, this doesn’t need to be a problem. The former Rhinebeck Artist Shop, for example, has a layout which will allow us to do both.
Another problem with the space is the continual need for expensive maintenance. We have spent some serious time and money fixing and upgrading this space. We have pushed it to what we believe are its practical limits. The electrical and plumbing systems were disastrous when we inherited them. Post our efforts, they’re quite tolerable but still not suitable for some of our basic needs.
In retrospect, we recognize that our efforts to improve the space (even at the expense of paying rent) represent a tactical mistake. We’re now behind on rent payments, despite having poured tens of thousands of dollars into the space. Unfortunately, the landlord of the building doesn’t prioritize repair and improvement, so we have had to in order to make the space workable at all.
Even after the obvious and enormous improvements we’ve made, the space still falls short in several material ways:
The outdated electric lines refuse to carry X10 signals, preventing us from doing any kind of serious automation tasks. The walls, particularly the rear structural wall, act as RF shields, making it difficult to test certain types of wireless signals. The circuits are frequently temperamental - our servers live in constant fear, even with UPS backup.
The front stairs and railing are in a state of utter disrepair. People routinely have trouble bringing a desktop computer to our front door. In addition, the gutter above the stairs is faulty, so the ice in the winter is relentless. This makes it difficult to attract elderly or disabled users to our space, despite our belief that they represent an important and growing part of the user-base for open source software.
It is enormously difficult to achieve any kind of serious airflow in the space, which is bad for humans and electronic devices. Dust settles readily and easily - it’s not inaccurate to say that we are the final resting place for the dust of a big portion of the New Paltz community, transmitted to us by computer fans and filters. Despite our rigorous dust protocol, our space is still not allergy-friendly.
We’re also affected by the dark, hot, dungeon-esque feeling of the space. Our facade, which faces north, accounts for the only natural light available. This effect is compounded by the dozens of LCD monitors throughout. We want our members to have better access to natural light and fresh air. Sometimes our more serious developers can be seen emerging from the space looking zombified from exposure to purely artificial light for hours at a time.
While we’re on the topic, our location (ie, the *where* rather than the *what*) of our space is a mixed blessing. First, the good:
We like that New Paltz has a recognizable symbol, right on its Main Street, of resistance to the corporate media, the feudal DNS, and the copyright industrial complex. We generally don’t mind the crowds of young people who gather outside our space, although we do ask that they keep our facade clear during business hours - a request which is sometimes visibly disrespected. We like the drumming and dancing at night, the faux-oasis of our flowerbox, the tentacular image of our wires and antennae, and the general in-your-face message that comes with positioning a radical organization on a main street.
We have many visitors from the City who excitedly burst in our doors, having seen our sign and logo, wanting to know what we’re about.
One of our most poignant fantasies is one that will likely never be realized if we do in fact move: We want to turn the stoop into a radio booth and make it the visual center of our mesh network. We want to demonstrate that media can be delivered throughout a community without the need for a hierarchical infrastructure at the transport and hardware layers. This will be sick if we can pull it off, but again, we’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars that we simply do not have in liquid cash at the moment.
There are a number of disadvantages to our location as well.
The facade of our building fades into invisibility during the day. Facing almost due north, it is very difficult to appear open and inviting on a sunny day. It also almost completely precludes the possibility of a photovoltaic node deployment - the only suitable place for solar power is on our rear roof. We want to be able to proudly display a solar-powered network node in public view.
Additionally, our building is effectively boxed-in; we don’t have effective line-of-sight in any direction past a hundred feet. This is obviously not ideal if we’re going to be at the center of a community-wide wireless mesh network.
There is also no fiber transit available at our current location. A regional network transit company provides service on main street until North Front, but it doesn’t make it to us. We had an engineer assess the connection costs; we were told it’d be in excess of $6,000.
Then, there’s the social dynamic. Simply put, we sometimes feel overexposed at our current location. We get an enormous amount of foot traffic, but it comes at a signal-to-noise ratio that is difficult to manage. For every super-serious software activist who walks in, we get a hundred people on a different wavelength. We get people looking for ice cream, pet food, car insurance, and even apple-certified technicians! Like we’d ever get certified by a fruit company!
Seriously, we don’t mind the idea of people having to seek us out a bit. After three years of being on the main drag, we sometimes think we’d be a better fit if we were slightly off the beaten path. Of course our serious customers come to us; they don’t find us because we happen to be on main street.