Fried Brains and Geekfests

Last week i participated in an event here in Berlin called Campus party.  a week long geek-a-polooza where most of the 10,000 participants camped out, literally, in Tempelhof  Airporthttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_Tempelhof_Airport-a disused airport that is a misture of convention center/city park.  it was a sea of laptops, custom desktops, robots, and stages with a variety of talks and workshops.  yours truly was there to give a presentation/performance, a seperate "Cyborg workshop" the next day as well as provide 3d printing serivces to participants who came us with CAD files they wanted printed (it happens...), and as a participant as well.

IMG_0952Security was very strict; photo id badges, bag checks, id stickers for laptops...not that there was too much of a shady vibe there, but it wasnt too imposing and the security guys seemed nice enough.  having taken note of the security scrutiny the day i went to check out the opening ceremony, i decided to "pulp fiction" them when i came back with my performance gear.  I turned on the lights of the controller before i left home so that when they asked me to see what was in the case, i would open it to some wierd glowing alien artifact.  the reaction was priceless enough that i think i will do this from now on.  5 security guards with grinning "what the fuck" looks on their faces, was priceless.

IMG_0965Lately I have been investigating a therapy called tDCS (transcrannial direct current Stimulation).  this is a really kinda old therapy where mild electrical current is applied to the scalp to excite or depress the neuronal activity at the point of excitation, usually by way of electrodes.  it is considered extremely safe, owing to its very low current (1-2mA), but very effective in a number of cases where exciting neurons is a good thing, like affecting working memory and the ability to focus.    it works by placing the anode (positive) electrode over the area to be excited and the cathode (negative) over the either the area to be control or depressed.

My tdcs system consists of a very un-safe looking simple circuit that consists of a 9-volt battery, a voltage regulator and a couple of resistors.  this reduces the total current output of the battery to 1.04mA, half of the standard amount used in most of the research i have investigated.  I made the "electrodes" out of aluminum pieces i had laying around and instead of saline soaked sponges, i used salty water and cloth (i  just wanted to see if it worked).  my experiment focused on the dorsal prefrontal cortex (left side of the head, just behind the forehead area) excitation, with the cathode placed over the right eye, which is said to increase focus and working memory, as i stated earlier.  interestingly, after taping the electrodes to my head and then attaching the battery, there is a brief flash of light, which i found scary and exciting in equal measure. after the first 20 minute session, i just remember the feeling of just wanting to keep programming and time kinda went away.  i just felt calm and serene and focused and ready to code.

7914058524_e605b200d6_zSo it was with this in mind that i thought it rather clever to tape said electrodes to my head during my friday night presentation performance at Campus Party.  The curiosity was just too great.  as i have mentioned before, i plan to place electrodes in my "afro-helmet", so i figured, why not give it a shot.  my threshold for looking silly or crazy, is pretty high now.  and this was a geek audience, so i figured it was a perfect place for something so nerdy.  the two things i remember from the performance were, one, the feeling of serenity as cascades of wireless errors rendered whole sections of my performance, unintelligible, and two, the dime sized chemical burn on my temple.  maybe salty water, aluminum and electricty for an hour, are not good for my skin...who knew?!  this has not stopped my experimentation, but it does make me think more carefully about how i am implementing this technology. (here is a strange remix of the performance, uploaded by oldschoolpee on youtube)

thIMG_0984e next day was the day of my Cyborg workshop.  I decided to create, from scratch, a device i called "Jazzhands".  this was a back-of-hand wireless gestural controller that used an accelerometer fed into an arduino fio, transmitted to pure data, to enable a performer to still be able to use their hand to do other things but, whhen neccessary, they could merely move their hand around to control other parameters.  i decided to go this route because it involved, design, 3d printing, electronics, programming and performance-all important variables in any sonic-cyborg equation.

I had ALOT of people there.  i was really surprised.  some folks got there early!  trippy.  i had the 3d printer there, printing out the neccessary parts.  everything flowed pretty well except that i decided to do the soldering of the circuit board DURING the workshop, rather than have an already assembled example, so there was a 20-25 minute gap in the midst of the workshop where i was just soldering and troubleshooting, so a few people lost interest, but once the device was assembled and workd, folks came back and played with the device.  it was really nice to have converged all of these disparate things into one workshop.  i learned alot and feel that the next workshops will be much better because of it.

after that, I and a co-reprapper, Lars Beyer, helmed a 3d printzone where CP participants could bring their 3d cad files for us to print.  it was a great excuse to hang out and spread the reprap gospel to masses.  very cool.

so,IMG_0988 with that now done, I am free to get back to the lab and work on stuff again.   and by "stuff", I mean refining the system, which now (mostly) works and using the entire month of september to finally get all of the crowdfunding campaign perks out to everyone that contributed.  Although i feared that many would think i had forgetten about them, I just could not bring myself to send them any old perk.  i wanted to be able to do it right.  perfectionism is not a trait i thought i had but i guess i will have to factor it into my timelines in the future.  the cool part though is that now everyone actually get cool stuff based on a complete beatjazz system concept.  i will be going into greater detail in upcoming posts, but by the end of september i plan to be playing a system that sounds great and ensure that contributors have that system or related perks, in their posession. holla...

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