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The word ‘robot’ may have first been coined in a 1921 Czechoslovakian play, but robot history’s been dominated by a battle between the U.S. and Japan for robo-supremacy.

The first humanoid robots (and humanoid’s the only ones that count here – no automata or remote-control bunk) were built within two years of each other – Herbert Televox in 1927 by Westinghouse Electric Company, and Gakutensoku by biologist Makoto Nishimura in 1929.

Herbert Televox (it’s adorable they gave it such a square first name) operated by sound and could buzz, wave its arms around, and accept phone calls, but not answer them until given a two-sentence speech function several years later. Televox was wildly popular and toured all over the country, leading Westinghouse to create other robots, one of which would end up at the World’s Fair (more on that in a moment).

Here’s Herbert’s earliest iteration before speech was added:
early televox

…and a later version playing bridge with the girls at the club:
televox bridge

(both pictures came from here, along with lots of other amazing promo articles and photos of America’s first Robo Pal.)



Gakutensoku, whose name means ‘learning from the laws of nature’, was closer to an automaton in that it wasn’t mobile and operated from a square base hiding function. Gakutensoku had arm and facial mobility, and came with a lamp named Reikant? (‘inspiration light) by which Gakutensoku wrote using an arrow symbolic of human potential, and robot bird Kokuky?ch? (‘bird informing dawn’) who perched on his shoulder and cried, because Japan kicks America’s ass in expressing poetic philosophy via physical objects.

It toured extensively as well, but was lost while touring Germany in the 1930s, a sentence fragment I take to mean ‘was stolen for diabolical use by the Third Reich’ (you’re welcome, alternative historians).

Gakutensoku was rebuilt and installed permanently at the Osaka Science Museum in 2008:

The background New-Age music isn’t just part of this video – also heard in several home movies, that’s apparently Gakutensoku’s ‘thinking music’ when he composes light verse.

Not to be outdone, Westinghouse created a series of robots with better technology and goofier names – Mr. Telelux, a light-sensitive robot in 1931, Katrina Von Televox, Mechanical Wonder Maiden, Rastus Robot and Willie, Jr. (not quite as racist as you’d expect, though Willie’s only functionality was ‘blowing things up at a distance using light triggers’ which…why would you even need a robot for that?), and their most successful public ambassador Elektro the Moto-Man, built in 1937 and displayed at the 1939 World’s Fair.

While we can’t beat Japan at thoughtful meditation, we can definitely out-cool the world (it’s why France hates/loves us)! That’s right, America debuted the world’s first smoking robot:

As Elektro’s ‘voice’ seems to come from prerecorded transcriptions, there is NO REASON it needs to talk like that save it’s being a total stereotype, fulfilling people’s expectations of what a robot should sound like.

Even in death our countries compete – Japan claims the world’s first death by robot in 1981, when Kenji Urada was pushed into a grinding machine by the hydraulic arm of an incorrectly shut-down robot at Kawasaki Heavy Industries plant. However, American Robert Williams was killed two years earlier in 1979 at Ford Motor Co. Plant when the arm of a one-ton factory robot hit him in the head. We may win historically here, but Japan wins on style – that is some serious Maximum Overdrive-style revenge shit right there.

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Behold! It is the mystery project that absorbed all free time around it, a grand adventure in total pointlessness, THE CROSS-STITCHED AIM CONVERSATION! Go ahead, I’ll wait.

(many thanks to Angry Jim for having the good sense to scan the finished object in.)

Right then. Remember AIM? The graphically hideous chat program favored by office drones and college whelps alike? For some time I’ve saved nearly every conversation had, and there the files sat, sad little things not even counting as proper text on their own, needing a browser to open and read them. I’d long thought of giving them physical form through needlepoint, but downconverting pixellated graphics to even simpler icons was surprisingly challenging. Add into the mix the mathematical formulations needed to get it near the size wanted – I’d hoped the final form would be closer to the width of an actual AIM window on a computer screen, but had to settle for 7 inches across – and you have a project dredging ever-so-slowly along before a single stitch is made.

As the prep work dragged and fell by the wayside, other crafters picked up on the ephemeral- electronic / physical – durable juxtaposition, creating stitched text messages, embroidered spam, blackwork emails. While these were all lovely works (particularly the embroidered spam which made excellent use of color and typography), they didn’t capture the enormity of what I yet hoped to do. Nor were the fonts correct.

Facing an eight-hour plane ride and being what might be politely termed a ‘nervous flyer’, I took the opportunity to get the project in gear. Extensive research on the exact banal shades of gray used, how best to translate the writers’ chosen fonts into legible stitchery, the emoticon potentials – all helped distract me from the constant, constant knowledge I was hurtling well over 500 miles per hour 45,0000 feet above an enormous body of water in a large metal tube.

5 months later, after working solidly day after day after day after day and not even reaching the halfway point of completion, I put the project aside. Toting a gigantic scroll around can get a bit tiresome. Things picked up again after entering the ‘Small Stories’ exhibit – and things really picked up when I did some quick math and realized I had less than a month to finish what had taken me three to do in the past. The days were a blur of inane conversation and needlework. But Lo! IT IS FINISHED. Had I realized for a second how long this would’ve taken….but then again I must have, or I wouldn’t have dragged my feet so long in starting.

I’d still like to make my original dream of having a wall full of conversations happen, but I’m still a bit burned out from this one. If you’d like to see a slightly larger image, along with more of my ‘artist statement’ (apart from ‘I felt like making a really big cross-stitched AIM conversation’), the project got a write-up on Mashable. Huzzah!

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*Not to be confused with the upcoming Comic Con, Nerd Central.

This year marked the inaugural East Coast Maker’s Faire. Held for years on the West Coast, the popular gathering combines craft, science, technology and a pretty good sense of humor into a weekend-long event held at the former site of the New York World’s Fair.

These rockets, along with the more famous world’s globe, are remnants of the fair. Nearby sits the Science Center & museum, where shows and performances were held.

I got into the Faire for free volunteering at one of the booths. Baking slowly under a tent after waking early to arrive on time, I met several friends attending and begged them for a caffeinated beverage. They said none were to be had, but there was a lot of paella.

Everyone who passed this tent, myself included, had to say the obvious out loud. That is a lot of paella.

This was one of my favorite setups- a metal rocketship attached to gas piping and a freight lift switch. One press of the satisfyingly large button and WHOOSH! You made FIRE! Some greedy “tween” in sunglasses and backpack kept pressing the button like he owned the thing, despite a line of people (ok, just me and my friends) waiting impatiently behind him. The second we finished he snatched it back. You do not own fire, boy.

While sitting under the tent helping others, I’d periodically have to shout over the quickly rising noise of what sounded like a jet engine warming up. Turns out that wasn’t far from the case. Behold, the Rocket Ponies:

Admittedly they don’t look that exciting when Captain Bored lazily leans against them, but when fired up they whirled around faster and faster propelled by jet until they flew parallel to the ground.

The fellows from Eepy Bird did a live performance of their Mentos and Diet Coke fountain. The second they began a sea of iphones swarmed up before me:

One of the guys running the Life-Sized Mouse Trap next door clambered up the crane for a better view:

There was a giant claw machine operated by a wizard,

A stick-guitar operated by bicycle wheel,

A machine whose speed was determined by your observational distance,

Homebrew 3-D printers,


And chariot races.

It got sort of overwhelming towards the end.

This pretty much sums it all up:

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We live in a time of copious documentation and archiving. This is not a judgement, just a fact. The time of photo albums (or, if you are like me, drawers and drawers of poorly organized envelopes stuffed with random pictures and negatives) has passed into the time of Flickr, where the physical medium becomes a middleman instead of the final object.

Moving towards the past, major events have scant records, perhaps a picture or mention in a diary or newspaper, and day-to-day life recording becomes rare, if nonexistent. For example we know next to nothing about the Celts, not even what they called themselves. Their names and what little we do know comes from other cultures who kept records and documentation. Nowadays, every tweet ever tweeted/that shall be tweeted will be permanently archived by the Library of Congress. Seriously.

Whether or not the future will find ‘@chunkylover69 OMG luv mayo on snwchs 2!!!’ a deeply important historical document is highly debatable, but for better or worse we live in an age of documentation so thorough we don’t even need to think about it as it’s mostly done for us, or in more insidious cases like CCTVs, without our active consent.

I see the future of the internet becoming a realm of data organization and filing. Sites like Bibliodyssey are an excellent example, culling the public archives for gems. Mostly Forbidden Zone over there in the sidebar is an example of what we’ll see even more of- it’s a compendium of other compendiums compiling images and material from other places. To trace even a single image back to its original uploading source often requires 10 sites’ digging or more, but that’s not the point. With the internet, the image IS the image, no matter where it appears (unless someone posts a lower-res version), and so the challenge is to find a collator whose point of view closely matches your own.

There’s also Public Collectors, whose work falls in between- they compile lists of collections available to the public, like (sigh) the Vanilla Ice Museum of NYC, and lists of digital collections, like Childhood Graffiti From Antique Sources,

1929 Child Doodles

…and my personal favorite, Album Covers Recreated with MS Paint . They have a strong metal bias as they were originally posted in a forum on Yes that is a real url.

So, that’s the future- a thousand points of view supplemented by an increasingly vast body of information and material (if the stupid rulings about whether internet providers have a right to monitor/control content don’t continue, of course).

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People are liveblogging breathlessly about Apple’s latest deelybob, and all I keep thinking of is this:

Simpsons Newton

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