Disneyland for Nerds
koppie — Wed, 07/04/2012 - 12:59
I went to Noisebridge for the first time today. It's this incredible, magical place. After spending all day there, I still can't believe it's real.
The short description: Noisebridge is a place where you can come and work for free. It has a space for creating electronics, a space for working with wood or metal, a space for sewing, a darkroom, two classrooms, a kitchen, 3D printers, and an electron microscope. All the equipment and supplies are free to use. It's open 24/7. The only rule is "be excellent to each other."
The wiki (yes, they have their own wiki) recommends coming in the evening, when there will be more people around. It suggests you introduce yourself and explain that you're new. Someone will be happy to show you around. My coworkers were telling me about it and several of them offered to take me.
Instead, I decided to jump in without a parachute.
There are various ways to get in the front door. You could ring the doorbell, but what fun is that? I wanted to log on to their computer server and command it to open the door, but you need an account for that, which has to be approved by a human being. So I opted for the smartphone app. I walked up to the building, pressed a button on my phone, and the door opened. Pretty effing cool.
This is what it looks like on the inside. Clean, bright, well lit, and surprisingly well organized. (Not shown: a ceiling lamp with the anarchy symbol.) On the left you can see the electronics workbench. Behind it are shelves with every electronic component you've ever heard of. By the window is the sewing area, with two sewing machines and some spare clothing. On the right is the collection of 3D printers and other robots. Also not shown: an electron microscope. No, really.
I spent a while walking around and soaking it all in. I got in a discussion with a Dutchman who was in San Francisco for Google I/O. He told me he thought San Francisco was the greatest city in the world. Shortly after that my coworker showed up and we camped out in one of the classrooms.
Noisebridge is a Hackerspace. There are dozens of these things around the world, in most major cities. They all run on roughly the same model. Noisebridge is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and runs on membership dues and donations. (But the space is free and open to all.) It is also kept afloat by the huge quantities of equipment and time that are donated by people. "Disneyland for nerds" was the best metaphor I could come up with, because it's a place where you could run around endlessly having different kinds of fun, but in a nerdy, geeky way. Unlike Disneyland, this isn't about passively receiving entertainment from a large corporation; this is fun the way only nerds know how.
For lunch we went to Yamo, which was appropriately bizarre. You wait outside to order. When you get to the counter, do not speak. Wait until one of the girls behind the counter acknowledges your presence, then you may order. Order to go, because there are only four seats. Wait outside whiel your order is prepared, but keep an eye on the counter, because when it's ready they won't call your name. They don't know what it is because they didn't ask. The food is fantastic, by the way.
Later in the afternoon when we were getting tired, we walked outside for a coffee. We passed three smoke shops on Mission St. without seeing a single cafe. Finally we found The Sandwich Place. They serve espresso, but don't speak a word of English, and neither I nor my coworker spoke any Spanish. (Well, I do know how to say "Hola, yo soy grande gringo." But I didn't think that would help.) My friend ordered a coffee and a latte, and I ordered a latte. My second latte confused the hell out of them. If he already ordered a latte, why was I asking for one? But the old lady behind the counter figured it out faster than she let on, just so we'd keep stammering with our utter inability to communicate. She's a laugh riot and I'm definitely getting my coffee there again. (Bonus points for cinnamon in the latte. Kinda like the latte version of a Mexican hot chocolate.)
The rest of the afternoon was spent working furiously for our current code sprint. Electrical outlets and wifi were both plentiful.
All evening I've been walking around like I've found Jesus. It still blows my mind that this place exists. Now I don't want to die, because I can't imagine heaven being any better than Noisebridge.