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Sep 112017

I’m a transcoastal transplant: my first hackerspace was Noisebridge, and I joined the day they opened their first space on 83c Wiese in September 2008. I was an active member until I left the Bay area in 2011.

Sutro Tower, for me personally the fundamental icon of San Francisco, and of Noisebridge.

This makes me about a year later to the party than the founding members of the Early Three: NYC Resistor, Noisebridge and HacDC all three came out of inspiration from the same Chaos Computer Camp in 2007 – the celebration of this start is what I’ll be writing about here.

Since I had been a member since the first day Noisebridge opened their doors, it felt quite natural to come to town for the Big 10th Anniversary Gala Weekend. For me the celebrations started early – my old Noisebridger friends joined me both for Szechuan dinner immediately after arriving on Thursday, and for my usual back-in-SF bar round on Friday. Since we were a thick pile of relatively old school Noisebridgers — ranging from those who helped make it all happen 10 years ago (Turkshead, DrShiny…) through those of us who were there when the space opened (me!) and to those who got in the game years later, but played large and important roles in shaping the space, or even those who were instrumental in the recent reboot (Hephaestus, Daravinne, …) – a natural point for the pre-party-partying to reach was, of course, the Telling Of Stories: even before the celebrations officially started, a few of us howled with laughter over The Sofa incident, over The Meth In The Cleanup incident, the ins-and-outs of The DJ Booth and of various guerilla moves to enable or disable use of the booth and a long sequence of other old anecdotes – each of them, this being Noisebridge, directly connected to a long long flame war conducted over IRC and Email.

As the Saturday celebration starts, Mitch Altman starts his talk on The History of Noisebridge by inviting me up on the stage; the engraved plaque with NYC Resistor congratulating Noisebridge was formally presented to Mitch representing Noisebridge.

Mitch continues to describe how TV-b-gone took him to HOPE took him to CCC which sparked the creation of Noisebridge, HacDC and NYC Resistor: “If I had a hacker space here in San Francisco I wouldn’t have to wait for the next hacker con to spend time with sufficiently nerdy people”

Noisebridge has held meetings Every Tuesday, since the first group formed at Chaos Computer Camp in August 2007, even before the first space opened in September 2008. Consensus, Do-ocracy and “Be Excellent To Each Other” were the design principles of the opening space. With my and S’s experiences from running Swedish non-profit associations and clubs, the governing principles seemed to be an obvious recipe for disaster — we have been waiting for the terminal meltdown of the organization ever since, and 10 years down the road, the anarchist space is (in spite of all our expectations) is still going strong. Admittedly, an endless source of drama, and an experimental petri dish for hackerspace design principles — but still thanks to hard work put in by many members through the years still actually going strong.

After Mitch’s historical overview — touching not only on the joint roots of Noisebridge, HacDC and NYC Resistor, but also on his experiences helping found Chinese hackerspaces, teaching hackerspace design in Egypt, and also The Story of The Reboot — after some extreme even for Noisebridge drama in 2014, a disgruntled persona-non-grata filed a complaint for code violations, giving Noisebridge the chance to completely close down the space, throw out *everyone* and then gradually re-introduce members to the space with a far tighter control over membership, access, and community supportiveness. With the more restrictive model, the space now is cleaner than I think I have ever seen it, and from what little I have seen on this visit the community seems significantly healthier than I remember it when I left.

The afternoon was filled with project shows, workshops and activities, culminating in the Stupid Hackathon Retrospective — people presenting Really Stupid Hacks, featuring such great stupid hacks as the Eulogizer (automatic eulogies…), the No-Tifier (a wooden block with a vibration circuit scrounged off of an old phone to make it buzz regularly 24/7), a cattle-prod selfie-stick, a Singularity Countdown based on Ray Kurzweil’s age and actuarial tables, a deo-stick for buttering toast and a Character-based RNN a la Karpathy, trained on Noisebridge Meeting Notes — Deep Learning to generate Drama!

As the Time Traveler party part of the evening started revving up, at the far back, a group setup an HTC Vive with a full 3D-scan of Noisebridge, inviting people to come walk around in the same space, but without the masses of people crowding the entire space. In the next room over, someone was displaying Rohrschach patterns — together with both label predictions from a vision system and Deep Dream creepy images generated from them.

The party gains momentum, with a cash bar — Bulleit Bourbon and Club Mate being the drink of the night — a dance floorm, karaoke, live magic show and a jostling crowd of utter strangers. The small clique of 2008-2010 era Noisebridgers cluster together in the back classroom and reminisce.

As for Sunday, while some of the most enticing events were scheduled here — the Noisebridge Fireside Chat with a good selection of Old Noisebridgers reminiscing, and 5 Minutes of Fame, the long running lightning talk event series — my flight back to NYC had wheels up at 3pm. So instead of continuing the party, we stopped for waffles with Turkshead, reminisced some more and then went to the airport.

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