They key to neighbors is to move into a rental house where the previous tenants hosted loud parties that went until the wee hours of the morning and ended up with people passed out in the street. Then you come along with your machinery, and the neighbors are happy to have that noise instead! =] We do limit the hours we use the equipment, and have talked to our closest neighbor multiple times and verified that it doesn't bother them. We are not too far away from Techshop Menlo Park and also head there for some things that it's just not practical to do in the garage. We also find valuable the interaction with the other people at the Techshop, getting advice from them, seeing their projects, etc.
ridgecritter points out this interesting article in the New York Times on TechShop, a membership resource (a.k.a. hackerspace) in Menlo Park, CA, for building stuff. "From hammers to 3-D printers and laser cutters. Fun!" Along similar lines, and also recently in the NYT, a quick on-the-train conversation with Bre Pettis of MakerBot.
MIT isn't the only one offering their courses to the masses for free. Many institutions, both K12 and higher ed, have their courses online now. Of those, many have the Creative Commons licenses that can allow for remixing the content. http://www.oercommons.org/oer/oer-providers has everything from Free High School Science Texts from South Africa to webcasts from UC Berkeley to MIT's OpenCourseWare, as well as dozens of other sources.