Magazine article The New Yorker

INCOMPREHENSIBLE; DEPT. OF INVENTION Series: 5/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

INCOMPREHENSIBLE; DEPT. OF INVENTION Series: 5/5

Article excerpt

The motto of dorkbot, a group that holds meetings once a month in Manhattan, except in the summer, and in fourteen other cities, including Sofia, Bulgaria, and Mumbai, India, is "People doing strange things with electricity." At a dorkbot meeting in San Francisco, a speaker presented a design for two twelve-story towers. By means of a generator called a Tesla coil, the towers would produce lightning bolts as long as three hundred feet, which, a colleague said, was desirable, because "real lightning, which is very rarely seen up close, has the ability to focus and clear the mind." At another meeting, a talk titled "Fire-Spewing Vacuum Cleaners" described a project involving vacuum cleaners fuelled with propane. The speaker called his next endeavor "Things That Might Fly If You Put Enough Rockets on Them."

Dorkbot was founded by a young man named Douglas Repetto, who teaches computer music at Columbia. "The idea of dorkbot was to reach people who had nowhere to talk about these projects," Repetto says. "Some might appear in a gallery, perhaps, but many are too odd, or they're unfinished, or it's not even clear what they are." Dorkbot presentations typically feature novel ways of using electrical devices, especially uses that don't require much money. "Dorkbot is about what you can do on the cheap in a back room somewhere," he says. The name encourages humility.

Dorkbot meetings are usually held near Columbia, but the May meeting was in SoHo. The room was large, with high ceilings and white walls and columns. About eighty people in folding chairs faced a table on which there were three laptop computers. On the wall was a projection of a grid of colors, which were flashing. A man tried to make the grid disappear. Repetto, who shaves his head and has an athletic build, said, "We'll get started in a minute. We're just trying to solve some technical problems." Then he took photographs of the audience.

The first presenter was a tall man named Spot Draves, whose presentation concerned his Web site, Electric Sheep, on which abstract images constantly change form, in response to information coming from other people's computers via the Internet. Draves is tall and bald and diffident. "I'm not a big public speaker," he said. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.