Week 3: Bringing print to life

It’s been a good, busy week for us in Sheffield. We’ve had fewer meetings, and have picked up pace with building. I’ve been writing C to run servos off my laptop usb in Starbucks and soldering a microcontroller in my living room. A robotic drawing machine kit has arrived. But best of all, as James has explained below, we went dark for two of our three days to get the printers tweeting text messages (long story) – working towards something for the Bill Drummond take-down party this weekend. Somehow we got it finished, and the printers are now on display in reception, quietly challenging people to send them a text.

And just because I noticed it was possible, I’ve activated voicemail for them too, so you can give them an actual call on your phone. (Heathcliff: +44 114 303 1476 and Cathy: +44 114 303 1477) I set up a php page on my domain, filled it with a load of random extracts from Wuthering Heights, and asked Twilio’s robot lady to read them out to anyone who calls, hoping to speak to our tragic heroes. Be careful though, it’s addictive. Well, it is for me, anyway. Ahem.

OK, none of this is exactly problem-solving, but quite apart from the fact it’s obviously uplifting and motivating for us to be making things, it might turn out to have an impact on local attitudes to technology because it is a demonstration of what we think is fun about computing. The printers specificially will be visible beyond the gallery to the art-going community, and to the sixth form students trialling it on Saturday. I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the inspirational impact of seeing people getting excited about making something fun. Let’s face it: we didn’t just get into tech for its brilliant usefulness – we got into it because we saw how it can bring ideas to life. Its excitingness was shown to us, and we became excited as a result. We want to pass a bit of that joy on to the Site gallery when we leave. We hope they’ll be inspired by our enthusiasm, and that the things we make and the pleasure of making will stay in the system. We want to leave them with a frozen Megatron to be reverse engineered into new ideas, not a replicant, with planned obsolescence.

The true creator of C&H, James Adam (as seen in Wired recently) kindly talked about us in his weeknotes today, mentioning that we’d given his printers identities. It’s more than that; to get all this working we’ve had to give them Twitter accounts, gmail accounts, dates of birth and phone numbers.  Amazing to think we only got them last week. They grow up so fast.

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