Monday, January 22, 2007

Dorkbot DC Meeting Wednesday Night!!

Dorkbot DC is a monthly meeting of artists (sound/image/movement/etc.), designers, engineers, students and others in the DC area who are interested in electronic art (in the broadest sense of the term.)

More info at

Next Meeting:

Wednesday, January 24, 2007
7 PM - 9 PM (ET) (iCal)
Provisions Library
Suite 200
1611 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20009
(above Ann Taylor Loft)

Google Maps directions
Limited parking on street. Paid parking garage at 20th Street and Florida Avenue.
Metro: Dupont Circle, Q Street North Exit, turn right at the top of the escalator, and cross Connecticut Avenue and Q Street.

Presentations for Next Meeting:

Randall Packer: The Artist as Mediator

Mediation in the current art discourse is the process in which the different disciplines are employed in questioning, challenging and experimenting with new models and forms that propose social and political change. This presentation describes artistic strategies and methodologies developed over the past five years in conjunction with the US Department of Art & Technology (US DAT), a virtual government agency created as a critique of the role of the artist in society and politics. The US DAT functions as a conduit between the arts and the broader political and economic culture for facilitating the artist's need to extend aesthetic inquiry into the social sphere where ideas become real action.

Packer is internationally recognized as a pioneering artist, composer, educator, and scholar in the field of multimedia. His work has been exhibited at museums and galleries throughout the world including Europe, Asia, and North America. He is Assistant Professor of Multimedia at American University in Washington, DC. His book and accompanying Web site, Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality , has been adopted internationally as one of the leading educational texts in the field. He is concerned with the aesthetic, philosophical, and socio-cultural impact of new media in an increasingly technological society.

Gareth Branwyn will give a talk and presentation on BEAM, a branch of robotics inspired by biology which eschews computer control whenever possible and focuses on simplicity, autonomy, and real-world survivability. While much of BEAM has remained in the realm of proof-of-concept and miniature hobby robotics, the utility and commercial potential of the approach are being proven by the success of the Robosapien line of home/toy robotics, created by BEAM inventor Mark Tilden. Gareth will give a short presentation on the origins of BEAM, the main precepts behind it, and some of the simple control architectures used. He will also show off some of the BEAM robots he's built, including the two that graced the cover of MAKE Vol. 6.

Branwyn writes about technology and tech culture. For 12 years, he was a contributing editor to Wired, co-creating and writing the Jargon Watch column. Through that work, he was asked to be the consultant on computer and Internet terms for the Oxford American Dictionary. Gareth is currently a contributing writer and on the Advisory Board for O'Reilly's MAKE magazine, and he also writes for MAKE's sister publication, CRAFT.

Gareth is also the author of numerous books, including the first book about the World Wide Web (Mosaic Quick Tour: Accessing and Navigating the World Wide Web) and The Happy Mutant Handbook.

One of his most recent works is the Absolute Beginner's Guide to Building Robots. He prides himself on the fact that this book has garnered him fanmail from everybody from 13-year old kids building science faire projects to university cybernetics professors using it to teach robotics and AI.

Gareth Branwyn is also "Cyborg-in-Chief" of the popular personal tech blog Street Tech (

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Arduinos and LogoChips and Processing oh my

I am definitely not a fan of assembly language programming. When I'm creating interactive art, I want to create art, not have to search through 100 pages of PDF documentation to figure out how to properly configure a register for reading. I don't mind getting paid to solve insanely difficult technical problems, while I like the challenge of hardware tech art, I prefer to actually get it done.

The BASIC Stamps from Parallax are expensive for what you get, which often does not include an analog input. The BASIC interactively programmed RVHE has been discontinued. I'm using one for Sycophant 2, and I have one more. For a board with Ethernet it was a good deal, but I found that it didn't really play well when you tried to send IP packets off of the local subnet.

Recently I have become very interested in the Arduino, available from SparkFun for $31.95. You get 13 digi I/Os, 6 analog ins, it connects to your PC for programming over a USB port, plus it also has an extra serial port on the board (in case you want to add an Xport for IP connectivity). The Arduino is programmed in a C-like high level language. Not only is the development environment free and open source, the board design is open source as well. There is an excellent set of learning materials about the Ardunio from Tod E. Kurt's blog.

A cheaper system is the LogoChip, a PIC 18F2320 programmed with an interpreter for a language based on Logo. It has 12 digi I/O pins and 5 analog input pins, and a UART you can use for a serial connection. You can buy the PIC chip for ~$5 from Newark, then if you have a PIC programmer you can download the free Logo interpreter to the chip. In a free development environment, you write the Logo code and send its tokens to the LogoChip to run. It appears that there is an interactive execution mode as well. Although the LogoChip language is a bit closer to the physical chip hardware, the abstraction is enough to make most programming easy.

My other recent discovery is Processing, "an open source programming language and environment for people who want to program images, animation, and sound." It seems like an interesting counterpoint to Pure Data.

Finally, check out this awesome course at Wichita State University:

Technology: Art and Sound by Design consists of lectures and labs, with a focus on artistic philosophy and its application through technology. In the course, students build circuits and interface them to computers, considering how these might contribute to their own artistic creations.


Engineering students are expected to help Fine Arts students with the technical material covered. Fine Arts students are expected to spark a conversation about how the technical material might be used creatively within their discipline.