Noisebridge circuit hacking

I’ve been helping out lately at Noisebridge during Circuit Hacking Monday. One week, some people showed up expecting the event and no one was there to run it, so I ran it for someone I knew from She’s Geeky, her friend and teenagers, and a couple of extra adults who were here from Norway and Denmark for Google I/O. I had just been pawing through the soldering supplies, organizing them a bit as I searched for what I needed for my project (messing around with a LilyPad Arduino), and had found a little bag of cheap LED light up badges shaped like teddy bears. So we used those tiny kits to make blinking badges. It was chaotic, but fun.

IMG_1678

I talked with Mitch Altman to find out where his kits for sale were and if it was okay for me to sell them while he’s out of town, and then send him the money. I might, though, just order some kits as cheaply as I can find them, and keep them independently to avoid hassle. As I end up giving tours to lots of new people, many of them from out of town or overseas, I could do them a favor by giving them something geeky to do in the space rather than sit and check their email!

The next week things were back to normal as Miloh and Rolf were at Noisebridge to run the class. Before they showed up, a teenage volunteer helped me set up soldering stations. More and more people kept coming in so the situation got quite chaotic again as we were giving them tours of the space and trying to find room. I realized that next time I would approach things differently — clearing the whole area of people who were working, and setting up 20 or more stations ahead of time, so that we weren’t doing setup and giving tours at the same time.

During the event Miloh and Rolf really took over the teaching aspect. I was somewhat trapped with my scooter in a corner because of the number of people, the table arrangement, the many chairs and the backpacks all over the floor. So I also would like to look at making the central area of Noisebridge less cluttered with tables, chairs, and stuff for the future so that I can participate. In my corner, I again hung with some kids and the teenage volunteer, and a guy who couldn’t hear well. The kid didn’t have a computer to look at the instructions for his kit, and needed a lot of one on one help as he was maybe a bit non neurotypical. The guy who hung out with us could not hear well in a situation with background noise. I’m in the same boat — I’m in my 40s and just can’t hear in a loud, chaotic situation. The kid fixed his Mintyboost and then made a tv-b-gone. The other guy made a blinky badge then was hooked and got one of those big name LED badges, I think. He appreciated the How to Solder comic book print out that I happened to have on me because he missed all of Miloh and Rolf’s explanations. I thought it was interesting that, marked out as somewhat different and disabled, I ended up doing more one on one work with people who had particular access needs.

Our volunteer also was super helpful in that capacity and seemed unusually alert to access issues, like that chairs or cables were in the way of my scooter or that it might be hard for me to get up to get supplies on high shelves. After the event when his dad came to pick him up I saw that his dad had one arm and walked with a cane. So growing up with a parent who has some mobility issues he might be more tuned in than others usually are.

I thought both those things were interesting! And figured it is a pretty good role for me at CHM. If you have particular access needs or are going to bring a bunch of 10 year olds to Circuit Hacking Monday (Mondays at 7:30pm) then feel free to email me with questions and see if I can be there & be helpful: lizhenry@gmail.com.

Basic supplies are running low. We have lots of soldering irons, including a bunch that I think Jake, Lilia, and MC Hawking won in a contest, but they’ve seen very heavy use over the last couple of years. So there are a lot of kind of crappy soldering irons and a few decent ones. We might be able to clean them or swap the tips cheaply. We have lots of snippers and wirestrippers. We need solder, weighted holders with alligator clips and lenses, more of those weighted bases with copper wool for cleaning soldering iron tips, and more de-soldering braid. Plus it would be so nice to have a supply of many kinds of coin cell batteries. After I talked with Miloh about that he shared a giant complicated spreadsheet with me. I haven’t read through it yet! But it would be great to get particular donations for restocking our electronics supplies.

We have shelves and shelves of hardware junk, in bins, and a wall of tiny little parts in tiny drawers meticulously labelled!

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Yesterday I spent some nice time in the afternoon doing a Dice Kit with my son. We couldn’t find any decent epoxy or glue, so went to the fabric store on the corner, but ended up getting a big tube of contact cement from the dollar store. I gave a lot of tours and hung out with my friend who came by to fix her headphone wires. We’re both going to help TA at Black Girls Code in San Francisco. She ended up also using the wood shop for another project – modifying wooden artists’ brush handles to make those long tapered sticks so useful for holding up long hair and especially dreadlocks. Claudia aka Geekgirl showed up too and told me about how she is going to Rwanda in September and has a job there teaching IT and computer programming to middle school girls. Nifty! Meanwhile, my son played with MC Hawking and read comic books in the library after he was done with the Dice Kit. Along the way he learned to figure out the values of resistors from the color code chart (and learned it is not hard to just memorize the numbers.) We looked at my LilyPad and he got to the point of comfort with the code to make a scale go up and down again and modify the time of the notes. I gave the world’s worst and briefest explanation of what a function is and what it means to pass it variables, but he caught on with no effort. I’m very spoiled as a teacher when I set out teach him anything! He gets the idea too quickly!

Anyway, I sat up far too long that afternoon, and sadly had to leave before Replicator Wednesday kicked off. It has been nice going out into the world a bit more, this last month, more than just for the grocery store and physical therapy.

One last note: this is what happens if you leave your bike blocking the elevator at Noisebridge!!! It gets put into the E-WASTE bin!

ewaste

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Driving around, I waste more time

This afternoon we drove around searching for the building I’ve seen and wondered about for years. It’s visible from Highway 101, is topped with giant panels of stained glass, and says “STUDIO” on the side in white letters. “Studio” is not very google-able. It’s in a neighborhood in San Francisco called Silver Terrace, just west of Bayview and east of Portola. STUDIO, after we tracked it down and did some sleuthing, turns out to be Church Art Glass Studio owned (or formerly owned?) by Nick Lukas. Above the front door there’s an awning made of the same colors of glass as are on top of the building, throwing intense colored shadows. Framed stained glass panels were in the dusty windows. The hill was very green & lush. I love corners of neighborhoods that are mostly full of industrial buildings and warehouses for floor tile and stuff like that. This area has the added bonus of being mostly underneath a highway.

church art glass studio

The majority of windows at St. Michael [in Livermore, CA] were done by the Church Art Glass Studio of San Francisco, which has designed windows for the churches on the West Coast and Hawaii since the turn of the century. The original owner, Edward Lopolka, advertised as “artists in stained glass, German and English antique.” The business was sold in the 1940’s to the father of Nick Lukas, who continues to operate the business in the shadow of the 280 freeway.

I felt like I solved a mystery only to come up with several more mysteries.

Mystery #1: Is the Studio still open? It looked deserted. A post from 2009 says Lukas was trying to sell his entire stock of art glass. It looks like we only just barely missed a very cool art show hosted there, Virtuoso.

Mystery #2: What is the hill of Silver Terrace called? It doesn’t seem quite like it would be named “Silver Terrace” but that’s what I’m going to have to call it. (ETA: I think it’s Mount St. Joseph! Source: How Many Hills are in San Francisco?

Mystery #3: What is that funky deserted building at 432 Paul Avenue that looks like an old school next to an equally funky factory? It’s beautiful!

Silver Terrace was in the Rincón de las Salinas and Potrero Viejo Mexican land grants, sold off by the Bernal family in the 1860s. Actually it sounds like General Sherman foreclosed on the Bernal mortgage and then sold it off to J.S. Silver who subdivided it into lots, so it’s a very old San Francisco neighborhood. You can see from old maps that Bernal Hill is on one side of the bay inlet where Islais Creek was, that was eventually filled in to become Bayview, and the mystery hill that isn’t called Silver Terrace is on the other side, just east of Hunters Point Ridge.

San Francisco coastline and crreks

Here is a fantastic history of the area!

History of Bayview and Hunters Point (pdf)

We ended up going through McLaren Park which we had looked up beforehand – making fun of videos of hippies dancing to very boring music at Jerry Garcia auditorium – And pausing to look out over the valley below & trying to figure out what everything was. It was mostly Visitacion Valley, Bayshore, and the Cow Palace. I’ve never been there. We drove through and the most I can say for it is that I plan on going back to the huge Savers thrift store on Geneva. If there was a there there in Visitacion Valley I didn’t find it. I did wonder about what the Visitation was – something like the Annunciation which I do know is when Mary finds out she’s preggers – It turns out it’s when Mary’s pregnant and knows it, and goes off for a visit with another pregnant lady. I could rewrite that in my head to be all about pregnant ladies being supportive of each other instead of all the stuff about creepy babies leaping in the womb because of getting weird telepathic messages from other babies!

Back on Mission in the Excelsior neighborhood we were tempted by the Chicken Coop restaurant which looked amazingly retro. I couldn’t park though so we decided to go home and make omelettes. Signs informed me that Excelsior Welcomes the World. I will definitely return to work my way through all the small grocery stores on Mission. They look great. Anyway, we changed our minds about dinner again a few blocks later when we passed Joe’s Cable Car. Joe’s Cable Car turned out to be not the greasy cheap diner I thought it was. It is more the Dr. Bronner’s of Burgers. Everything at our table was covered in rambling, old-school sales talk and folksy wisdom about the magic of GROUND STEAK from, presumably, Joe. By the time we ordered our food I couldn’t bring myself to say the word “burger” because of the incredible amount of text about GROUND STEAK I had just read and all about the sharp knives, the way they butcher it all and grind it right there practically at your table, and how Joe himself and his jolly butchers were ready to Down-Home-ily bring a cow right to your house straight from the Gold Rush, and grind it up, unlike the evil fast food industry and its evil, evil breadcrumbs and midwest factory slaughterhouses, so please fork over 14 bucks for your Ground Steak while you enjoy the wolf-whistle of the doorbell and the singing santa christmas lights and the giant neon signs shaped like the Golden Gate Bridge, while sitting in something that in 1965 used to either be, or look like, a cable car. I had a great time and the burger was delicious.

The myth of the place and what I was about to eat had completely sold me on the restaurant before I had even sipped my coke. It was overwhelming especially to sensitive, neurotic artists who had gone to look for America and been driving around all day. It reminded me a little of the 1000 mile trip I took around the Southwest where through three states I saw billboards advertising “The Thing!” and then finally got to “The Thing!” roadside attraction and was so freaked out by its Americana-ness that I wrote several chapters of an autobiographical novel about it.

As usual, Oblomovka navigated and looked things up on his G2 while I drove and made a lot of spontaneous decisions which way to go, and we made things up about the stuff we were looking at and tried to imagine everything about all the neighborhoods and imagined our future hacker artist co-ops in all the funky old buildings. I have an especially good time because we can both get passionately attached to some imaginary and pointless goal, like figuring out where the headwaters of some cemented-over creek is, or how to get as close to the top of a hill as we can, but we don’t actually care that much and so are happy to change our minds and do something else as soon as what we’re doing isn’t fun anymore.

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Very small adventures

This morning I had a Very Small Adventure, which is a little like a Very Small Epiphany. I’ve looked for Very Small Adventures for ages but only just now named this practice – it deserves a name! A VSA takes anywhere from 15 minutes to a few hours and is simply a departure from habitual patterns. I started doing this long ago to ensure that I was on time for things and didn’t get bored. To have a Very Small Adventure, leave early for something you need to do, and on the way, take a detour to explore. That could mean driving a different way to work, going down a new road, taking a bus to the end of the line and back, or going into a different corner store than usual to buy a soda and see what it’s like in there. It is crucial to sit and stare at something new and very helpful to have a map to look at.

The Very Small Adventure of the day today came about because I dropped off Moomin at school at 8:20am and then needed to go to work, but don’t have any meetings till 9:30. Normally I might stop to pick up non-refrigerated groceries on the way to my office, or get gas, or do some other tiny errand. Today I wanted to have a VSA instead. Instead of turning left on the road that goes to my office, past the marsh and the county’s main dump and recycling facilities kind of over by Oracle, I went straight on down one of the main roads into Redwood Shores to see if I could see any of the shoreline in back of the San Carlos Airport.

voyage to corkscrew slough

I ended up in a lot of back parking lots behind hotels and shopping centers looking at Steinberger Slough and its resident ducks through chain link fences. I came across some people passionately making out in the cab of a big truck so it must be a good romantic make-out spot even at 8:45am.

There’s a nice non-fenced view at the northeast end of the shopping center, in back of Nob Hill Grocery. I sat in the car and wrote a few lines and felt very peaceful there. Though, I did neurotically imagine what explanation I would give to the bread truck delivery guys or the police if they came to ask me what the hell I was doing there and they would believe that I was poeting and watching the morning rather than shooting up or working on my suburban bomb plot. I ended up hoping the police would investigate the hot and heavy passion in the truck cab before they would bother the tiny car with the FMINIST license plate. After 15 minutes of driving around through those back parking lots and subdivision cul-de-sacs and doing some free associating in my notebook in my lap, I found a trail access point next to a road, at the intersection of Teredo and Spar.

I would like to note that “Teredo” is a terrible street name! Everything in that neighborhood has a fake maritime name that has nothing to do with anything – they could name the streets things like “marsh” or “pickleweed” or “cordgrass” or “liquefaction zone” or even “goose poop” if they were going for local accuracy. But no. “Teredo”. Which, if you don’t know, is a sort of marine worm, really a clam, that’s notorious for boring into the hulls of ships and into piers and pilings and eating them into skeletons no matter how the wood is treated. It’s like naming something “Termite Lane”.

The access trail was up a short gravelly slope, about 10 feet and manageable for me on crutches especially in my energetic morning. I hauled myself up the path and stood there to look at the morning light on the water of the slough. It is the sort of trail people only go on to walk their dogs. But I bet you can see lots of seals from it in the early morning and evening. There is probably somewhere along it that’s good for guerrilla kayak access, too. In future adventures I’ll look for somewhere similar but with a bench. It was nice to see the Port of Redwood City, the gravel crushing factory in action, and my own harbor but from the other side of Bair Island.

I sat in my car for a bit there too thinking about the act of looking at familiar things from other perspectives and how important it is. Now while looking at the map of this place, I will have a mental image in which my maps in my head all hook up, which my friend Lisa explained was “stitching manifolds” in math or topology. I listened to Leadbelly singing “Good Morning Blues” on the radio from the awesome Monday morning KPOO blues show and it was the perfect sound track.

The other good thing about my Very Small Adventures is just making space in a day to think and to go outside routine. When I do this (which I do a lot oftener than I admit to, when alone) it helps me feel like a human being with free will and agency even if I’m just stealing 20 minutes out of my day going to work in my cube and shop and cook and pick up my kid. It also prevents me from doing what I really, really shouldn’t do which is write in my lap while driving.

I love my car especially I think because of disability. I feel hugely empowered driving around by myself and just making the simple decision to go one way or another and stop as often as I want without anyone being annoyed or inconvenienced.

I got into work at 9:05. Go, me!

Well! I have many adventures from the last month and from NYC and Boston to relate, but I’ve been busy and sick and then even more busy and sick again. There’s a lot to catch up on. Rather than go back in time I thought it best to blog about my morning and jump back in the saddle that way. Peace, out!

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The saga of the Alviso Boat Ramp

The opening of the Alviso boat ramp looked pretty cool. Kayakers and dragon boats gave free rides to whoever showed up, and they had a big party. Chris Pereira-Ponce has a great photo of the ramp.

Go, Alviso! Very cool!!! A long fight that led to free public access to this place that might actually see some use. It could lead to other nice, small scale development that gives people access to the water and shoreline.

The Inflatable Kayak blogger wrote up the launch, with photos. The slough is peaceful, calm, and full of birds, and looks like a great place to kayak.

I found a government record of the project: Alviso Marina County Park Boat Launching Facility Project Blog. There was a meeting in 2005 talking about potential Requests for Proposals. They thought the ramp would be finished by 2006. Ha! After 2 years of entries that read “Status remains unchanged”, here’s how far along things had progressed:

Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Per Santa Clara County: due to construction calendar constraints as dictated by permits, and the award of the needed grant funding for the project in September 2008, the first foreseeable construction window is considered to be starting June 2009.

Updated: Friday, January 18, 2008

Permit issues, funding issues, land control issues, and environmental concerns have led to unforeseeable delays to this project.

I’d love to know the story behind that, and what the permits, land control, environmental concerns, etc. really were! Yikes!

This summer the ramp opened. It cost 2 million dollars to build. It goes into a narrow slough that’s about the same depth as Redwood Creek in the area where I live — with a low tide channel depth of 4 feet.

There’s a local politician proposing a port, with restaurants, an IMAX theater, and a tiny ferry. That scale of port seems quite unlikely! Get real! How about some decent public bathrooms, boat rental, and an ice cream shop?

I wonder why my town doesn’t do more with the waterfront it has. Here we have a great creek, we already dredge the channel every few years, there’s at least two officially public boat launch ramps into the creek, and yet our waterfront is barely used. Not that I want an IMAX next door. It does seem like there could be more small businesses and it could be much more of a nice destination for local people.

Anyway, I’d like to take my kayaks to Alviso Slough to take a look at what’s there!

alviso-slough-map

You can see from the map that the area of the boat ramp is marked “South Bay Asbestos Area”. Mmmm! Asbestos! I think also a lot of mercury comes down the Guadalupe River from the hills. But seriously, that doesn’t bother me. IMHO if it’s polluted, stick a park on it, put up some warning signs, and start to work on reclamation. I’m going to kayak through the marsh, not roll around it or lick it, and if I fall in I’ll take a shower afterwards. I’m sure whatever pollution there is about a million times less horrible than one afternoon working in a dry cleaners. Anyway, people live there, on that worthless neglected marsh that then gets sold off in chunks to Cisco for umpty-gazillion dollars so they can build some giant parking lots on it.

So, 2 million dollars! Could you build a decent boat ramp meant for kayaks for less than 2 million dollars? I could.

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Warm Water Cove and Pier 70

Today’s random expedition led me to Potrero Point and Warm Water Cove, a tiny, gritty park one step above a vacant lot in an industrial wasteland. It’s a vacant lot in an industrial wasteland with a bench! I love this park. Right now it’s full of wild mustard, radish, dock, mallow and other great edible plants. The remains of a creek ooze out of a scary tunnel. It’s all surrounded by warehouses, parking lots surrounded by barbed wire, and off in the distance, rusting ocean-going cargo ships. Apparently there used to be weekly punk concerts there run off generators and lots of campers. While I was there today a woman and a dog in a very DIY camper van were doing some housekeeping and enjoying the late afternoon sun, so the camping, or homeless-person-occupancy, probably continues despite the recent community makeover, graffiti cleanup and daily policing. A few years ago people were still fishing from a pier to take advantage of the warm water coming from the power plant outfall (which attracts fish.) The pier’s gone now.

Sounds like a lot of piers have been closed over the last few years, including San Mateo Pier, the longest fishing pier in California.

From there I could see a very interesting building that looked like a lot of cubes piled up on top of each other.

It’s behind the Pacific Gas & Electric Station A, a huge and beautiful red brick building.

Pier 70

Here’s some links to the history of Potrero Point:

* Station A

A block or two north, little alleys wind around the decaying buildings of Pier 70.

* The Noonan Building
* Map of Pier 70 structures – a great map with notes for each building.
* Irish Hill This hill full of houses and apartments for the iron and steel mill workers and their families was leveled and the rubble used to fill in the Bay. I saw a tiny bit of the hill left – you can tell it’s not just a pile of dirt because it looks like a roadcut through serpentinite.

Underneath these industrial buildings is a tide-washed labyrinth of slag pits, cisterns, waste dumps, and wooden pilings. I can’t even imagine the giant amounts of toxic junk still leaching into the Bay.

Building 104, an office building from 1896:

Pier 70

Building 21, from 1900.

Pier 70

Building 11, The Noonan Building, 1941. People obviously live there.

Pier 70

During wartime this shipyard churned out countless ships. Thousands of people worked there in round-the-clock shifts. As the shipyards closed the area became neglected and used for storage for old cars, MUNI trains and buses. It sounds like then there were decades of concern from people in the Dogpatch, Potrero, and Hunters Point communities, plans for redevelopment, toxic cleanup, reclamation, preservation of the historic buildings, and industrial customers who still might use the land for power plants, and ship building or repair. The largest floating dry dock facility in the world was sold to the City in the 1980s for one dollar — probably because the massively polluted land (and ongoing pollution of the Bay) was clearly a liability and someone was going to have to *clean it up* before it got seriously used again.

As I mulled over What Is To Be Done here’s what I thought up. While it’s not being used for much else and it’s polluting and dangerous, full of crumbling buildings and broken glass and probably more asbestos than anyone can imagine, make it a public Dangerous Park. Just let anyone do whatever the hell they want in there and graffiti it up and have punk rock shows and photograph the roofs of falling-down warehouses. But let them know the dangers to their health and safety — just as you’d put up signs to say that a seaside cliff is dangerous because of erosion and high waves. The conditions of entering the Dangerous Park should be agreement that you’re not going to sue the city for whatever injuries result.

Some of the Historic Buildings would be graffitied and fucked up, but maybe some would be improved, cleaned up, cared for by artists and colonized in interesting ways.

I realize this isn’t going to happen and instead it will end up being a squalid industrial center for a while longer until some asshole buys it and Develops it, because the only way that people are “allowed” to be in or live on a toxic waste dump is if some bunch of developers makes an obscene profit off it while covering up any risks with massive lies. But people using crappy in land in some less centralized and profitable way, with accurate information about the problems of that use, is, weirdly, never okay.

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