Monday night at Noisebridge

Last night Oblomovka and I showed up at Noisebridge. I’ve been a supporter of Noisebridge since it started, donating at first and then joining as a dues-paying member. I figured even if I only have time to go by there once a month for some happy co-working on the couches, I want the space to exist and am proud to help pay for it. I also lurk on the Noisebridge-discuss mailing list and follow all the fascinating drama, which while not much different than any other community politics, is interesting as I get to know people’s names, what they’re working on, what they care about, and how they think anarchist politics should go down in a hackerspace.

So last night I went to hang out and to take a look at my Adafruit SpokePOV kit, which is half-finished there on my shelf of tools and stuff. These SpokePOV thingies are LED panels that bolt onto bike or wheelchair spokes, like HokeySpokes, but are programmable. When we first started making the kit, we didn’t have the USB connector parts for the controller that lets you program the spoke lights. Anyway, I happily started soldering away. I love soldering irons. They make me think of all the nice times I spent messing around with stuff from Radio Shack with my dad when i was little.

spoke POV project

I didn’t get very far as I got distracted by Oblomovka and Moxie talking about ideas for ways to improve Noisebridge. I think that Noisebridge would benefit from heavier use and an influx of new people. It’s a very new space. It needs more signs on how to do things, even super-obvious things. Laminated instruction signs on the walls, on cabinets, and so on, are crucial. I’m thinking of making some for self-guided tours. Defining jobs that need to be done is crucial. For example, I could make a sign that explains how to take out the trash and put it above (and on) the trash cans.

As I was talking and soldering, people were coming in for the Monday night Python class. I usually love giving tours to new people, but I was on crutches, not in my wheelchair, so didn’t want to walk around that much. It was nice sitting near the entrance though, to hear how people shyly introduced themselves and asked for tours, and then ended up talking about their own projects and getting into long discussions.

Then I ended up hanging around with the people working on the Noise-bot wheelchair. Jake was taking the battery off and attaching some new connectors to it. I don’t remember all the details. The powerchair has a wireless card duct taped inside a clear plastic soda bottle, attached to the seat back handle. Stylish! In the back above the battery, there’s a laptop, which you can log into remotely to drive the chair by communicating with the joystick controls. I think this is the same chair that Jake and the Puzzlebot people used to make the brain-controlled chair. He explained what he was doing and how the chair works to me, a high school sophomore who was there for the first time, some people from Instructables, and anyone else who came by. We all tried driving the chair, which was quite powerful and fast.

Here’s the back of the chair, with the laptop:

wheelchair robot

And here’s Jake driving the chair.

wheelchair robot at Noisebridge

Jake could use someone to work on the software interface to drive the chair. It’s controlled from the laptop, so any language you want to work in is fine. Currently it works with a continuous keypress, so if you are hitting “j” the chair keeps moving forward. I ducked and ran from this project, even though I love it. Must not say yes to ANY more projects!

I then talked a bunch with Zeph who has been helping out with the chair.


She showed me her work with The Beehive Collective, making narrative political posters that are extremely amazing. Where people aren’t going to give you the time of day if you spout a lot of information about, say, coal and energy sources and ecology and pollution and globalization and economics, they’ll get into long opinionated conversations if they look at this poster, The True Cost of Coal.

The True Cost of Coal - Thumbnail

I just ordered one of these posters! Since I live on a boat, I don’t have room for it, but hey! I can put it up on the wall somewhere at Noisebridge!

I showed some of my projects, and the Happiness Hat, and Hypatia’s north hat and Lilypad Arduino resources page, to Zeph and she showed me a video of her weird mechanical project called Twitch. It used tattoo machines and a lot of wires and bits of machines to build feedback loops and create creepy organic-feeling random movement.

We must have talked for an hour before I realized that we had known each other in about 1990 from various feminist communities in San Francisco and from zine-making. We were both using different names then. We had each other’s zines and had some friends in common. Neat!

I kind of want to start a Lilypad Arduino group at Noisebridge. But do I have time? I’d like it to be for women, well, for non-100%-male-identified people, and to be exploratory rather than the Lecture of Experts. Anyone want to learn Arduino stuff with me?

As I was leaving I ran into John Benson who is truly fabulous. We met at Maker Faire, where I was giving a talk on DIY for people with disabilities. At that talk he told me all sorts of stuff about his own work in Berkeley, fixing wheelchairs for the last 20 years or so. He worked for Ed Roberts for a while and he had a workshop in Berkeley working with various nonprofits. I was so happy to see him, as we had lost each other’s contact info! So, it sounds like now, rather than move into the Ed Roberts Campus — the rent being quite high — he has gotten funding from the city and has a workshop space where he repairs donated equipment and gets it to people, and makes stuff for people who are part of Through the Looking Glass – stuff like baby bike seats that attach onto the backs of wheelchairs. At some point I got all fired up and started to rant about people not documenting their skills and their accessibility and mobility hacks. I may have pointed at John dramatically and demanded, “WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DIE!? Your knowledge dies with you!” John held up his camera and said “That’s why I have this!” I totally blushed.