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A "life hacker" is selected by a game of Roshambo to travel the world 

Wednesday, Oct 20 2010

Earlier this month, the Mission District-based hacker collective Noisebridge held a party celebrating its third anniversary. It collected $10 donations and asked partygoers to decide how to spend the money, about $1,000 in all. One idea: Pay a mariachi band to get naked. Another: Mash Hostess cakes into a huge ball, light it on fire, and roll it down the hill at Dolores Park. One member had written a special light detection program. To indicate their preferences, partygoers simply held up their glowing cellphone screens, and a webcam tallied the votes.

The winning idea was to send a random partygoer on an "international mission." Guest Antonio Roman-Alcala suggested they select the traveler through an epic game of Roshambo, also known as Rock-paper-scissors. (He is not a computer hacker, but he thinks of himself as a "life hacker," someone who applies a hacker-style approach to nondigital problems.)

Roughly 15 of the 100 or so attendees decided to play. Roman-Alcala won. "Most of the people there probably voted for the outcome because they wanted to see someone else go," he said. "I realized afterwards that I was kind of a sucker."

This wasn't the first time the 27-year-old Mission District native had fallen prey to late-night awesome ideas. Courtesy of a previous birthday bash, he has a tattoo on his arm of a dead gopher, a tribute to all those who have died in his urban farming projects.

Roman-Alcala ducked out of the Noisebridge party to consult with his roommate, who advised him that his classes at Cal and his efforts to fight gentrification could wait for a week. In his absence, the hackers decided where to send him. Cuba was "too close," Tokyo "too cliché," he heard later. The group started Skypeing with another hacker space across the Pacific, who agreed to host him. Just after noon the next day, Roman-Alcala was on his way to Singapore. He spent a grand total of 30 hours in the country, enjoying a walking tour and a ceremonial exchange of hacker space keys. Then he got back on the plane.

Niket Desai, who came up with the idea, said it was successful enough that Noisebridge may start sending out hacker ambassadors regularly.

About The Author

Lois Beckett


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