Laboratory B: A Home For Burlington Hackers

Dec 30, 2013

In the last six years, “hacker” spaces have opened around the country. These communal work spaces where hobbyists share tools and expertise have popped up in virtually every American city.

Laboratory B is an 800 square foot space whose interior design aesthetic might be described as bohemian gamer. There are about 20 members of this hacker space who pay $75 a month, though underemployed members pay just $35 a month. The one large room has work tables, an electronics bench and milk crates containing a variety of computer parts. There’s a futon couch and a small refrigerator.

Jesse Krembs is one of the co-founders of Laboratory B. On a recent weeknight he wore a white lab coat with the Laboratory B logo embroidered on it.

"One of the biggest things I've gained from joining the Lab is realizing that it wasn't really that crazy to think that I could do some of the projects that I'm doing." - Ben Simmons, Laboratory B member

“When you say you’re starting a hacker space or maker space, people start bringing by old computers and you have to be like, “‘We’re not taking that,’” said Krembs.

The hacker space did not, it should be noted, turn down an offer of a large tank of hydrogen gas. Krembs has serious street cred in the hacker world. In addition to helping found Laboratory B, he organized Burlington’s 2600 hacker group and is involved in the annual Las Vegas hacker convention known as DefCon.

Krembs points out high end soldering gun he refers to as “the devil’s own hair dryer.” He used it to repair his cell phone. And speaking of telephones, Krembs works for a phone company, in the data network division of FairPoint Communications.

Odd, then, that one of the things he’s working on at Laboratory B is a free public phone that can call anywhere in the world using a wireless internet connection. Krembs and his collaborators are looking for the heavy-duty hardware to house the phone.

“One of the things that’s actually holding us back is just not having a pay phone,” said Krembs. “And we’ve been thinking about it. We’re just like, “Maybe we should just drop the 300 bucks and buy a pay phone.”

Laboratory B may not be rolling in dough, but it seems to have some rather talented computer geeks in its ranks. Ben Symonds is a data technician at a company in Williston involved in theatrical supplies. One of his current personal projects involves using the Xbox Kinnect to analyze karate kicks — the roundhouse karate kick, to be precise. Symonds programmed the video gaming device as a part of his quest to earn a black belt in Taekwondo.

“They’ll get to see how my kick looks. Here’s how the Kinnect tells me it’s supposed to be,” said Symonds. “This is how the brain of the Xbox says an ideal kick looks like.”

Symonds and another member of Laboratory B are involved in the Civic Cloud Collaborative, a project to leverage Burlington’s super-fast fiber optic network to benefit local non-profits. He’s working to help local music venues stream performances online. Symonds says getting involved in the hacker space has given him the confidence not to be afraid to dream big.

“One of the biggest things I’ve gained from joining the Lab is realizing that it wasn’t really that crazy to think that I could do some of the projects that I’m doing,” said Symonds. “I’m not wrong to think that my ideas are realistic and that my ideas are possible.”