Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmx DOT com

Science in London: The 2016 scientific society talks in London blog post

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

A lovely time at #DorkbotLondon 66

This evening I hiked over to South Kensington for the latest episode of Dorkbot; usually it's held in Limehouse Town Hall, but tonight it was in a cafe / bar on the second floor of what I think might have been the student union of the Royal College of Arts. You can tell they're an arty bunch because the notices for 'rooms wanted' are that bit more creative than the usual A4 sheet of paper.

The venues hosting the Dorkbots that I've been to have had some intriguing items in them - the ones I've attended at Limehouse Town Hall have had an absolutely massive lamp and the strangest gas heater I've ever seen (I've since discovered they're quite common but evidently I've lived a sheltered life) and tonight I noticed that the lighting rig above us, with those little reflector halogen bulbs in, was using teacups as lampshades. In the bar room next door there were angled wooden pegs on the walls from which were hung wooden stools cunningly fashioned with a hole in the middle for this purpose.

We started off with a lovely presentation from Ansuman Biswas who is a one-man Radiolab show. He started a metronome on his phone, got us to clap every eighth beat, close our eyes and keep counting. Then he switched off the metronome and asked us to keep counting and clapping - interestingly the majority of us kept to more or less the same time, but we ended up with people clapping on every beat. He began the show by drawing parallels between a film of an embryo chick heart beating and an audio recording of the 1966 World Cup crowd cheering (a pulse / shared actions / shared electrical fields (I'm convinced in the case of the heart, less so with a football crowd but this didn't worry me). There was a surprising amount of electrophysiology in his presentation, with slides of ECGs and of heart rate variability. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

Then we had Alex Zivanovic who showed us about the making of a robotic arm device that could generate a unique movement response to the number tag in an RFID card (such as one that might be used in travelling around London, touching in and touching out). This, I believe, originated as part of the 'Takeaway' festival held at the Dana centre and expanded into an installation at the Science Museum. The idea was that visitors would 'bip' their plastic travelcard onto a device (Arduinos featured here I think) and the robotic arm (which also had a cool blue light at its head) would pick up the number and describe a shape in the air based on the numbers it contained (imagine a 16 point clock dial on a circle in the space around the arm, and the robotic arm points to a series of numbers in the order dictated by the RFID tag). I shall be tinkering with an Arduino in a couple of weeks at an MzTEK event so I found this rather fascinating - although I think we'll probably stop short of building actual robots.

We learned a lot about the challenges in creation and implementation - and quite a bit about what people respond to in an interactive setting. I wonder if Alex is part of the British Interactive Group (BIG).

The third presentation was from architect Artemis Papageorgiou who told us about her Fabrique project which derives from follies found in gardens that fool visitors. She gave us examples of grottos that temporarily trap visitors by sending up a spray of water from recessed fountains (you get out after a bit) and various other garden puzzles. Her installation used the set up of a grid with a 'plant pot' on it, each pot containing an Arduino which, when activated by an RFID tag in a 'watering can' transmitted a signal to moving cogs above. Suspended from these cogs were bicycle-chain-like ropes which adjusted themselves according to the order in which they were activated and it was possible to get them all moving.

This was installed at an event in Athens and Artemis showed us a video of the set-up of the piece (very amusing) and then footage of people playing around with it. She also showed us some lovely photos of very neat breadboards with very colourful wires, and the chaos that was her room before the exhibition.

I didn't stay for the last presentation or the 'open dorks' (short presentations) as it's a bit of a trek to get back home from South Kensington.

Anyway, as always, a charming and rather magical evening - well worth visiting (they're not restricted to London and seem to be all over the place) if you get the chance.

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