The Null Device

Dorkbot

I went along to Dorkbot tonight, which was fun.

It started off with Mike Harrison's demonstration of "The Dreaded Destruct-O-Tron"; basically, a box with a huge capacitor that can be connected to various things, including an induction coil, and, when discharged, does evil things to anything metallic in close proximity to it. Harrison demonstrated it crushing soft-drink cans, launching hard disk platters at 300MPH, and, to popular applause, destroying a few copies of the recent Band Aid single. He also had a DVD of footage taken with a high-speed camera (at thousands of frames per second) of what happens to the hapless objects in question.

The "Exploring the Libido with an Analogue Computer" segment was a bit of comedy, somewhere between Benny Hill and Look Around You, in which a balding scientist type used an electromechanical computing device (an arrangement of motors and gears from a 1960s-vintage flight simulator) as a model of his sex drive, and afterwards, proceeded to demonstrate a spark generator connected to a 1980s portable computer programmed to detect raspberry-like noises, as a uniquely British answer to high-tech Japanese toilets. And yes, it's every bit as puerile as it sounds.

Possibly the most interesting part of the evening was Aymeric Mansoux's demonstration of his experiments with Pd; he basically had videos of Pd patches which gathered data (such as traceroutes to hosts or web server loads) and converted them into pretty good Autechre-esque music, along with visuals which wouldn't look amiss on a Warp DVD. Amusingly enough, the traceroute to www.microsoft.com looked and sounded rather dark and ominous.

The "Dorkestra", which consisted of people making noises was a bit hit-and-miss, being much like the What Is Music? festival in Melbourne. One guy was doing "optical analogue synthesis" with cooling fans and LEDs, which sounds impressive, except that the only sounds he seemed to make sounded somewhere between air-raid sirens and circular saws. Had he been able to play a tune, I would have been impressed.

There was also a raffle with free entry, largely to get rid of two BBC Micros. I didn't win either of them; I'm undecided as to whether that's a good or bad thing.

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