The EtherNest: An Innovative Harbor

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.

Rice Lunch Bonding

It’s approximately 11:55am, suddenly you see giant crowds of Rice students talking, laughing and walking towards the various serveries. This is one of the many great things about Rice, the fact that (the vast majority of) class times allow students to eat lunch with each other every day. This unique scheduling allows students to bond and take a much needed midday break together.

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First Ever Iron Chef at Rice

This is a candy centerpiece made by one of the chefs!

Last Thursday was the Iron Man 3 movie premiere, but prior to going to that, I got to attend a related event on campus that day: Iron Chef! This was a competition among the head chefs at each of the six serveries, and gave them the chance to really showcase their skills and creativity. Each team (a head chef and two helping chefs) prepared an assortment of appetizers, desserts, as well as a drink, which were left to the attending students to sample and vote on for best of show. Unfortunately, I arrived a tad late and missed much of their creations, but was able to try a few things thanks to some friends. Nevertheless, based on how amazing everything looked, all of the chefs certainly did a great job! After the appetizers and desserts, the chefs then began with the main event, preparing an entree using the “Mystery basket” of ingredients, which consisted of Texas quail, quail eggs, ground buffalo, purple cauliflower, rice sheets, and guava. One entree featured buffalo-stuffed quail, which I found slightly reminiscent of Epic Meal Time’s stuffed turkey. Of course, all the dishes were outstanding–a few of my friends were positively drooling as they watched the judges sample them. Most of all, it was such a treat getting to see each of the chefs in their element as they crafted their respective entrees. I hope to see them compete again next year!

Winding Down

It’s insane to think that my first year at Rice is nearly over – Orientation Week seemed like just yesterday! As I reflect on my freshman year here, I think about the multitude of opportunities and experiences I have gotten to take part in, and I am amazed at the wonderful year I have had. I was involved in my college’s government as a new student representative, I joined the African Student Association and the Black Student Association and performed in two cultural shows, and joined the Student Admission Council (that’s how I’m writing here now!), just to highlight a few.

Do you remember the Choose Your Own Adventure book series? Well, in the series, the book read as if you were the main character, and at the end of every chapter, you were in some sort of crisis. You could choose one of the two or three solutions, and this decision impacted all of the future decisions you made. Rice is a lot like the Choose Your Own Adventure books: Your Rice experience is what you make of it. Rice offers you a vast array of opportunities, and it’s up to you to forge your own path. Whether you find your passion through involvement in your residential college government, joining cultural groups, or pouring yourself into major-related research, the ‘adventure’ you choose is sure to leave a lasting, positive impact on your life.

The Beauty of Campus

As I strolled to class on this beautifully warm, sunny day I took a moment to appreciate how truly gorgeous Rice’s campus is. One of my favorite things about Rice is the accessibility of art, both natural and man-made. On my short daily walk from my residential college (Will Rice) to the Shepherd School of Music I encounter so many of these beautiful things. These range from spring flowers, trees and butterflies to the Turrell Skyspace. I thought I’d show you some sights from my typical morning walk.

There’s An Acronym for That

Hey y’all! Long time no see.

Over Winter Break, I got the chance to hang out with some of my dear friends from high school who have also gone off to college. As we were catching up, one of my friends remarked that he had switched from majoring in Biochemistry to Chemical Engineering, and I replied, “Oh, yeah, I’m torn between being a ChBE (pronounced ‘chubby’) and a BIOE.” I continued to blab about my classes until I saw the look on his face that read, “Chubby?” in bewilderment.

All silly anecdotes aside, that conversation made me realize what I truly loved about being at Rice: our culture as a university. Besides the residential college system and the university’s other traditions, one of the quirky things that stands out to others when they interact with Rice students is our language, or as the my residential college’s Orientation Week book calls it, ‘Rice Speak’. In the course guide, each academic department is distinguished by a four-letter acronym or partial word (i.e. general Humanities courses are listed under the “HUMA” category). Instead of calling the department by it’s full name, students pronounce them acronym as if it were an actual word. This is where we get terms like Musi (pronounced myoo-zee), which is what we call music majors, and archi (‘ark-ee’), which is how Rice students refer to architecture students. Rice also has acronyms for nearly all of its student organizations. (There are so many that a few of them overlap!)

On any given day, a student’s conversation will be so littered with acronyms that it sounds like a foreign language to an outsider. Although it may seem trivial, to me, Rice Speak is one of the defining characteristics of Rice University. Rice Speak brings the multidimensional, incredibly diverse students of Rice together.