There’s a new place on campus called the EtherNest. Its purpose is to “serve as a collaborative space for students to explore creative uses of technology.” (The Rice Thresher, 2014). It does exactly that and more.
The idea for the space is that students come whenever they want and use the tools available to work on school or personal projects, specifically ones involving electronic components that might need to be soldered. In addition, the creators are sponsoring several guided workshops to introduce newbies to different aspects of electrical engineering, including wearable electronics, noise-making circuits, and the workshop I attended, TV-B-Gone.
Invented by Mitch Altman, the TV-B-Gone is a simple but reliable device that acts like a remote. Whenever activated, it cycles through all kinds of different infrared, or IR signals, that different TVs recognize as a turn-off signal. The result: a single universal “off” remote. The idea is pretty socially complex, as it deals with advertising and putting the power into the people’s hands, a sort of ‘stick it to the man’ if you will. Drawn in by both the collaboration and the event, I reserved my kit and headed on down on a quiet Friday night.
The space itself, in Abercrombie Lab room 119, is quaint. There are a few tables covered in soldering irons in the center, and computers line the walls. There are projects everywhere: an incomplete 3D printer, a color changing lamp, and circuit boards that do things I wouldn’t know how to explain. In a corner, there is a LP player, and the selection is “a sad girl with a guitar,” a folk blues band, and a Devo album. The music is fitting, and it gives the space a grassroots feel, like you’re just hanging out in a friend’s garage playing around with transistors and soldering irons.
Once everything is ready to go, the man in charge, Reed Jones, a senior at McMurtry College, gives us a simple tutorial on how to solder components onto a circuit board. I haven’t soldered anything in at least two years, but anytime I screw up on something, Reed is more than willing to give me a hand, as is everyone else in the room. The camaraderie between all of us in the room is apparent by the fact that questions are just shouted out to the room as a whole and will be answered without hesitation by someone who knows.
The EtherNest, to me, is a great example of the “Rice Geek,” someone who is passionate about what they do. As we all sit and solder our devices, jokes are tossed around like, “a resistor is like Skrillex; it drops the voltage,” and “a capacitor is like pac man, it just eats and eats until it gets full.” I barely know most of these people, and I’m not even an ELEC major, but I feel like I fit right in. The entire feel of the EtherNest is wonderful. It’s a place created by students, a place to hack, innovate, explore, design, and have fun.