The word "hackerspace" calls to mind a haven where Angelina Jolie, Jonny Lee Miller and their ilk feverishly crack encrypted websites.
Las Vegas' hackerspace, SYN Shop, however, looks less like a scene from Hollywood's "Hackers" and more like a tool shed for crafty techies.
The nonprofit SYN Shop launched in network engineer Jeff Rosowski's garage a few years ago as a collective for creatives out to "hack" the electronics we use every day and figure out what makes tech tick. (The SYN in the name refers to the language computers use to communicate with each other.)
Hackerspaces are popular in major metropolitan areas, but Rosowski could find none in Las Vegas.
"The whole reason I started this was to find more people that are interested in working on electronics and welding and building things and working on projects," Rosowski said. "Part of the idea of the hackerspace is anyone can have a shop in their own garage, but not everyone can find other people and work on things that other people (want to work on)."
The SYN Shop has grown from six members to about 100, with 60 or so actively working on projects. The group has also outgrown Rosowski's garage.
A SYN Shop board member brought the hackerspace to the attention of the Downtown Project, an urban planning effort led by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. The Downtown Project decided that SYN Shop was the kind of creative co-working effort that downtown Las Vegas needs, and offered the organization free use of a building on Fourth Street, across from the Neonopolis, for at least one year.
"One of the cultural elements to a hackerspace community is they tend to go outward and do things with schools, share how to build robots," said the Downtown Project's Zach Ware. "For us, having this beacon that attracts engineers and goes out and shares that (information) with people fits with our vision."
SYN Shop's hackers are busy turning 30-year-old minicomputers into robots or building circuits to power sailboats, but education and outreach will be key in their new space. SYN Shop will host speakers and classes covering a variety of tech topics, including computer programming, soft circuitry and carpentry.
"The state of education in (Nevada) is not the best," SYN Shop board member and spokeswoman Suz Hinton said. "A lot of the time, if kids are interested in doing something that doesn't necessarily equate to a college degree or may be a little left of center, they're discouraged from pursuing that ... I think encouraging them to be curious about the world, encouraging them to take ownership of their own learning, is a very healthy thing."
While the Downtown Project retrofits what was once a pawn shop and mailbox store next to a Thai restaurant to ready the hackerspace, SYN Shop plans to drum up interest (and funds) with an appearance at First Friday tonight. The group will have a table in the Kids' Zone on Casino Center Boulevard near Colorado Avenue, handing out light-emitting diode "throwie" kits and showing off some of the projects now in the pipeline, like a big, plastic tube that sucks up money and spins it around. (It's called a "do-nado.")
Donations given at First Friday will end up in the "do-nado," and then help pay for the move into the Fourth Street space later this summer. The nonprofit will sustain itself on a membership model with a monthly fee of around $40 to work in the space and to have access to tools such as a three-dimensional printer, laser cutters and classrooms.
Contact reporter Caitlin McGarry at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5273.