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Dorkbot - Doing "Strange Things with Electricity" from New York to Linz

bridges vol. 21, April 2009 / Noteworthy Information

By Jonathan David Farley

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Inventor Hansi Raber (above) presents his invention, "Ice Cube Tattoo" (below).           
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The Danube is again blue at night, with the lights from Linz's famed Ars Electronica Center on the north bank and the sister lights of the Lentos Museum on the south.  Sometimes the river is green, sometimes red.  Tonight it was going to get redder.

I got off the tram at Hauptplatz, not far from Kepler's house - for years a wreck, but recently renovated for the science communication series "The Kepler Salon" - and wandered into the Altstadt.  I was looking for a place called "Roter Krebs."  As one would expect from an artists' enclave, there was in fact no sign.  I saw what appeared to be a manikin on the first floor and figured this must be the place.

Inside, I went up the stairs and saw a group of people drinking.  I looked for Tim Boykett, an Australian with an easygoing (an American might say "Californian") attitude who had gotten his Ph.D. where I now work, at Johannes Kepler Universität's Institut für Algebra, and stayed in Linz to do math and strange art.  Strange electronic art.

While "Dorkbot" started in New York City in 2000, Tim's art group, Time's Up, started Dorkbot in Linz in 2003.  After a long hiatus, it was time for another Dorkbot.

 

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick – all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} I found a creatively coiffed crowd - including a cute couple with matching dreadlocks. Among all the people with ponytails and piercings, I was spitting in the face of convention with my suit and tie.

I migrated to a table where I heard English being spoken; but instead of hearing talk over cups of java about saving the world - the sign on a nearby bus stop - I heard talk about Java code.

Once the drinking was done (well, the drinking's never done), we reassembled in another room where Mika, a soft-spoken Japanese woman, re-inaugurated the event. Tim added that he had started Dorkbot in Linz because there were so many people doing cool work within half a kilometer of each other, but they would only meet when going to conferences thousands of kilometers away.

One presenter, in a desire to recreate the Napoleonic tradition of opening champagne bottles with sabres, created a device that would chop off the cork and send it (along with shards of glass) flying scores of meters.

Have you thought of adjusting the angle to 45 degrees to maximize the distance the cork flies? a math student in a red sweatshirt asked.

Another presenter had invented a game, "Headbang Hero," in which a wireless wig would record the damage you were doing to your neck as you listened to heavy metal music.  The hair got cold feet at showtime; however, afterwards heads were banged and damage estimates (to necks, not to livers) were calculated.

The designer of a device that turned the ambient electricity in the atmosphere into John Cage-like music spoke; the prototype was on display in Madrid.

My favorite invention was "Ice Cube Tattoo," a device that would enable you to draw designs on your computer while a drill carved those designs into an ice cube.

Just don't make the designs too complicated, the speaker - the aforementioned math student - warned, or else your ice cube will melt.

He also unveiled an invention that mixes drinks for you at parties.  The amount of alcohol it puts in your drink depends on how fast you can press a button.  Hence, the drunker you get, the less alcohol you get.  Super!

Dorkbot Linz: "people doing strange things with electricity," with no rules except Maxwell's - and Murphy's.

***

The author, Dr. Jonathan David Farley, is a teaching and research fellow at the Institut für Algebra of Johannes Kepler Universität Linz.

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