Noisebridge! Best thing ever!

On April 2nd and 3rd I am going to spend several hours teaching at least 70 high school physics students how to solder and some alluring information about contributing to open source software!

They are doing a project to design and build a solar home. If you know anything about electronics or solar energy cells please join us a do some teaching!

rowan learning to solder

I spent $250 of my own money to buy a crapload of little LED kits so they can have a conveniently teachable soldering project – that is how much I love Noisebridge, and geeky things, and teaching, and non hierarchical anarchist/mutualist community spaces!

I am thinking of the Hackability group that meets at Noisebridge to fix and mod their wheelchairs and mobility scooters! We take over a classroom, gank all the workshop tools, and get on the floor where none of us think it is weird that we scoot and crawl and roll across the floor to pick up a screwdriver just out of reach, laughing at all this solidarity! We bravely dismantle our cyborg leg-wheels and bolt them on again covered with LED lights, jazzed up with arduinos to measure battery voltage, then roll on out into the town!

potentiometer and its lever

And the fierce, fun feminist hacker hive that is a chaotic unstructured network of strength and curiosity and information sharing, that stretches from Noisebridge to sudo room and LOLSpace, and beyond!

Claudia

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I am thinking of all the people I’ve given tours to who come in from out of town and are all starry-eyed and inspired, who meet people and go to Python and Ruby and web dev and Linux classes and eat the strange productions from the Vegan Hackers, the laptops that people at Noisebridge fix and give away, the cameraderie I always find there and the fabulous energy of young people just moving to San Francisco to do a startup or find some kind of freedom or empowerment and hope to find at least part of it at this weird ever changing junkyard coffeehouse-feeling co-op workshop. We made this place that isn’t anything like any other place and it can also be YOURS. Meddle in it!f

surface mount soldering

SUBSCRIBE to support Noisebridge’s rent, its freely provided wifi, its bins of electronics parts that anyone can rummage through and pillage, its beautiful giant robot, its classrooms and electricity, its ADA-compliant bathroom custom built specially by Noisebridge folk, its elevator, its devotion to support accessibility for all, all its copies of keys that I and others have distributed as Keys to the City, the library of excellent technical books, well used and loved and read!

Hacker moms visiting Noisebridge

Our rent went up this year, and our people’s job security and income went down. It’s exactly at that point, when the economy is hard on us all, that we need collectives and co-ops and hackerspaces. We have to band together in the best ways we can come up with.

me and maria zaghi at noisebridge

People visit Noisebridge and like it so much that they move to the Bay Area. They come to Noisebridge for education, to find peers and mentors, to teach, and sometimes to find as close as they can get to home and family when they are hackers down on their luck.

Noisebridge - looking west

They come to speak in public for the first time at 5 minutes of fame. They sound a little odd and then they turn out to be geniuses. They drudge to clean the floors and toilets and scrub the kitchen and buy toilet paper, doing the unglamorous physical domestic labor of maintaining this place that’s used heavily 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

noisebridge

We do good work together as best we can. We give a lot to our community! We give access, tools, skills, time, belief, trust, fantastic spectacles, beauty and humor and art. With a sense of wonder and playfulness people walk in and look around – I see it on their faces – like they have just had a million new ideas churn around in their heads – So many possibilities and they know they can be part of it.

Noisebridge table

circuit hacking monday

And we need widespread, ongoing support.

Donate, sign up for a monthly subscription, be a fabulous affiliate of Noisebridge!

If you can spare any, we need your exclamation points as I have used most of them in this post!!

Noisebridge tea cart

Asking for access

This week I noticed a great post by lightgetsin on asking for accessibiilty improvements in which she records the results of asking a couple of dozen sites to fix inaccessible content.

It was a familiar story to me, very similar to what happens when I ask for accessibility accommodations off the web. Sometimes no response at all; sometimes a few reasons why the person or company can’t be bothered; very often, outright hostility, fear, and defensiveness.

Lightgetsin’s post became very popular over the past few days and the responses were quite interesting.

The reactions on Hacker News, Asking for accessibility gets you nothing but grief, were often faily but in complicated ways, worth reading and sometimes worth arguing with. You can see from many of the responses that it is the norm for developers to think that it’s not worth it to make software or sites accessible. Their reasons vary. There are also excellent and positive comments in the Hacker News thread.

Bryant Park accessibility sign

Naomi Black from Google responded to the post in a more helpful way, pointing to Google’s accessibility page.

I’m glad that lightgetsin’s post has sparked such widely ranging discussion.

It’s always hilarious to me when people ask me for help or advice with web accessibility or want me to be on web accessibility panels at conferences. I’m a wheelchair + crutches user; I don’t surf the web with my legs! And while I want to be a good ally, frankly, I am not always, and don’t have particularly special knowledge about web accessibility. You could boil down what I know into “use alt tags on images”, “don’t autoplay stuff”, “transcribe videos”, “make the text in hyperlinks meaningful”. So I try to refer people to actual experts in the field, when I get asked.

I’m spending the morning today checking my blogs with WAVE, a tool to show errors that would break a web site reading experience for users of screen readers. I’m also going to install the WAVE Firefox toolbar, to help remind me to check my blog posts for obvious accessibility errors. I’m looking at this huge list of resources, hoping to learn a bit more: Web Design References: Accessibility.

What guides or tools would you recommend for web developers, bloggers, or software developers, to educate themselves about accessibility?

Women Who Code hack night

The Women Who Code meetup and hack night yesterday was very lively! I look forward to going again and also going to CodeChix events if I can manage it. I think there were about 50 people there, of fairly diverse backgrounds and coding in many languages. I saw several people I knew like Hilz and Adina and Amy, but most were people I’ve never met, not people who show up at conferences or usual techie events, lots of recent comp sci grads with jobs at startups. There were a few people who are company founders and just interested in meeting programmers and hanging out with us, a few people just beginning to learn to code, and several people who told their way-back-when COBOL and BASIC stories. I gave away a huge stack of geekfeminism.org stickers.

photo from the 50s or 60s of woman at computer

The meetup was at the Blazing Cloud office in the Native Sons building which is an amazingly cool building, but not accessible, so I’m glad I managed it on crutches instead of bringing my wheelchair, which even if I’d been able to get it into the building, would not have worked in the tiny crowded office with people sitting all over the floor. Blazing Cloud looked like a company focused on giving programming classes mostly Ruby and other web dev stuff. I talked with a few people at the event who complained about their CS departments only teaching Java and C and being super … well… computer-sciencey, without teaching anything they wanted to know for building web or phone apps. So it was a good match between the host for the event and the people who showed up!

I had some pizza, beer, and cupcakes as I fiddled around with vim, vundle, Supertab, and Gundo (which Oblomovka had been showing me earlier) and setting up things with ExpandDrive so I can work on my VM dev environment *from my Mac* instead of ssh-ing into the VM. I think I’m getting to like folding in vim. Hilz explained her whole emacs setup to me which is similar and I think was called tramp; basically a thing so she can edit her remote files from her normal setup. While I don’t *much* mind hauling my .vimrc after me onto every server, vim bundles look extremely cool and I like the idea that I could keep it all in just one or two places (ie my laptop and maybe my main server in case I don’t have my laptop and want to work from somewhere else.)

Then I got totally distracted talking with Jesse and Judy who were starting to make a fun app with Ruby (which I’ve only tried once at a She’s Geeky workshop). Judy is making something to tag and search Starcraft VODs. Then we got gossiping about Noisebridge which she had just been to for a Ruby class and ended up staying all night learning how to use the Cupcake makerbots.

It was a lot of fun and even if it stays such a short event I recommend it. I think it will inevitably spawn some all day hackmeets though since no one wanted to leave or stop working on their projects 1 hour into it!! Actually, I would like to invite all the Women Who Code and CodeChix people to Noisebridge, which is a fantastic hackerspace open 24/7 (with an accessible bathroom and an elevator) and to the upcoming Hackmeet unconference.