Initial explorations

So, there I am, setting foot on American soil for the first time in my life. At Chicago O’Hara airport. Well fed, i step out of the plane for the long walk to customs. That’s mostly a bunch of guys and gals with guns, who spend their day stamping forms. For our own security. I feel so much more secure knowing that my forms have been properly stamped! Explaining a 6-week hackerspace tour to the nice lady behind the counter (who will take my fingerprints later) without mentioning the word hacker proves to be a challenge. How do you explain that you’re staying with people you’ve really never met, but that the hackerspace community is such that it will be allright. She actually thinks i’m crazy, doing the tour in 6 weeks and all.

Luckily, my documentation checks out, and I can collect my checked luggage. Yet another round of questions, less thorough this time, and one more form returned to yet another customs official. The pile they put the collected forms on makes me wonder if they are actually archived or just thrown away when the guys’ shift ends. Anyway, on to a funny little railway to take me to the gate where a domestic flight will take me to Seattle. Oddly enough, security is much more strict on this flight. I duly go through the motions, taking of my shoes, forgetting the cellphone in my pocket and all that. Frankly, i’m done with planes for a bit now.

Seattle promises to be wet and windy, so I’ll feel right at home! When I arrive at the Columbia city stop of Seattle’s lightrail, Flyko is waiting for me with his bio-diesel converted red VW Rabbit, which takes us to his appartment. We’re off for a quick bite in Georgetown, a lovely little community within an industrial complex. Right next to the Boeing factory. Trains, planes and Calamity Jane’s. We enter to order a bite, only to find a lesbian in a clockwork orange costume force us into playing bingo. It’s hard checking out the menu while keeping up with the bingo balls.

After that I am quite tired. We do have a lot of catching-up to do though, and a busy tuesday ahead. We start off the day with a visit to the Museum of Communications, where Flyko volunteers between travels. It is a great place, truly unique in the world. After a cup of coffee, Troubleman Bob takes me through an extensive tour of the 3rd floor (we don’t even get to the 2nd floor), where I get to see innovation in telephony switching technology starting in 1915, using an elevator system to select prefixes and subscriber numbers through literally thousands of contacts. They also have a number 5 crossbar telephone switch. At least a dozen racks of roughly 70 feet full of electromechanical equipment; relais, wiring, stepper units. And it is all interconnected, so one can make calls from one switch to the other. If you are ever around Seattle, this is a must-visit!

After a quick lunch, we set out for town. Pick up the car, do some shopping (get new shoes!) and get myself a sim with a local number and internet on it. In the evening we head out to The Black Lodge. This hackerspace recently got evicted from their location, because the land owner sold the piece of propery the hackerspace was on. Luckily they have a new space, and are moving in next week. We met them at their old space, where they were just packing their last belongings. There’s a lot going on in the space normally, with regular programming nights and the occassional party.

On wednesday, we head out for our first short ride out to Portland, where we find Brain Silo. In an old abandoned industrial building, with large silo’s running all the four floors of the building, this hackerspace occupies part of the first floor. To my surprise I find a pinball game there. When asked ‘do you know how to fix pinball machines?’ I don’t hesitate: I dive right in. After a few initial checks and standard quick fixes the game starts to work. I leave the rest for them, giving them a link to the marvin3m pinball repair pages. I also talk with one of the developers of the Damn Vulnerable Web App, recording an interview for signal next thursday.

After that, we find a cozy place to sleep in the space to prepare for the next day, where we will do a long 11-hour lap to San Francisco. More on that later!

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