OAKLAND -- Rick Karnesky first described Nerd Nite in May as "the Discovery Channel with beer." He was trying to get an East Bay chapter started and was still searching for a venue where people could unleash their inner scientists over a stout or an ale. The inaugural meeting happened in October, prompting another comparison: Ted talks with beer.
"All right! Hello everybody and welcome to the second Nerd Nite," Ian Davis, a UC Berkeley science student, announced from the stage of the Stork Club Tuesday night. "We're being videotaped, and we have to be extra charismatic."
After a spiel about the first lobster-eating pilgrims, he introduced Emma Bassein, an engineer who talked about the "Fruitvale Follies: 6 generations of tinkering and failed experiments in Oakland."
Lobster and pilgrims were not an easy act to follow. First, Bassein had to overcome technical problems with the slides that were supposed to accompany her talk.
"There's a major disaster going on in the back of the room," she said, looking out from the stage.
"Lies," Davis said, working the laptop controls.
"I never lie," Bassein said.
With the slides now operating correctly, she began with the geography and history of the Fruitvale district, where her family's ancestral home, the historic Cohen Bray house on 29th Avenue, stands. She finally arrived at the part about how her family history fit into the evolution of wireless via Alfred Cohen, an
Cohen blew himself up tinkering with a vacuum tube, she told the audience. But she said he would be proud if he had lived to see the text her sister sent from Spain about nuns shopping for lingerie.
The Q&A session wrapped up quickly, and Bassein stepped down from the stage. The intermission began.
The second act was UC Berkeley mechanical engineering Associate Professor Lydia Sohn. She described how the research she is doing can simplify the diagnosis of cancer -- a complex and costly process tangled up with insurance companies.
The crowd Tuesday was slightly smaller than the first Nerd Nite in October, held during the Bay Area Science Festival and, coincidentally, the last game of the World Series.
Brad Swift, a software development project manager, said the size and diversity of the audience surprised him. He expected a smaller group, a more intimate venue and mostly young "white boys drinking beer."
Instead the crowd numbered at least 100, made up of a variety of ages and colors as well as a healthy number of women. There was also a heavy presence of UC Berkeley faculty, students and alumnae.
Many held tall cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Bags
The Stork Club, Karnesky said, was a last-minute scramble after the New Parish made a mistake by booking Nerd Nite on top of an already-scheduled show.
But Karnesky, a senior material scientist (a metallurgist) for Sandia National Laboratories, was happy with the Stork Club and how it feels like a neighborhood bar.
Next month, however, the event will be at the New Parkway Theater. The first set of speakers will be Alex Filippenko, Bill Craig and Lauren Sommer giving a talk called, "Black holes: Objects of Attraction." Filippenko is "super engaging," and he's talking about black holes, so I don't know why anyone wouldn't want to come, Davis said.
Like Nerd Nite, Sudo Room -- the other group I wrote about in May -- found a home for their community hacker group and their computers. It's in an office building at 2141 Broadway, next to the Pan improv theater troupe, a security guard school and a psychic.
Already, they have brought some life to the block. There is usually someone working on some project regardless of the day and time.
And during September's First Friday street festival, one of the empty storefronts in the building was filled with people at tables sewing LEDs onto donated wearables during "clothes hacking night."
Anyway, they are having a housewarming fundraiser during the Dec. 7 First Friday to celebrate the official opening.
Nerd Nite details are at eastbay.nerdnite.com.
The details of the Sudo Room journey to a dedicated hacker space are at sudoroom.org.
Both have been fun to watch unfold.