John Battelle visits Applied Minds, a Willy Wonka-esque nerdvana

John describes his mind-blowing tour through Applied Minds, a Glendale, CA consultancy started by former Disney Imagineers Danny Hillis and Bran Ferren.

After chit chatting for a few minutes, he took me to a small room – no wider than my outstretched arms – at the far end of which stood one of those classic red English phone booths. We stepped inside – a bit cramped – and Danny lifted the receiver and dictated a passphrase of some sort. Presto – the rear wall of the booth opened, and we stepped into – nerdvana.

From a cramped phone booth into massive pure-white-lit space two-stories high, adorned with all manner of things strange and beautiful. Over to one side stood the Terminator-like skeleton of a forty-foot dinosaur, its 15-foot pneumatic legs gleaming and exposed. Nearly blending into the walls, itself painted movie-set white, was a tricked out Hummer-like RV refitted as a communications/command center – complete with built-in kitchen and bedroom. The space was a great big project lab, with happy geeks combing over various assemblages of wiring, motors, processors and plans like ants on a summer picnic. It's Willy Wonka's chocolate factory for geeks.