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Hello Internet, meet World
About four years ago I spent an evening at the NYC Hackerspace. It was walking distance from where I live in Brooklyn. Up 4 flights of stairs I found a group of people sitting around a giant table. To the sides were lasers, oscilloscopes, vices, clamps, routers, and all kinds of glue and electronics. Later I learned this was the embryo of the MakerBot.
A MakerBot or Replicator is a mind-blowing 3-D printer that you can buy or build yourself and then use to print things, actual things. Back then this beast was called a RepRap, short for a self-replicating rapid prototyper.
Later that night I was introduced to the Arduino. It's a microcontroller, a simple computer. The Arduino was the first open source hardware I had ever heard of, which is pretty intriguing just by itself. I was already familiar with Processing, a language used to program the Arduino, but the thought of joining the physical and the real to the internet just blew my mind. I guess I had mainly thought of the Internet as separate, un-physical. With an Arduino in hand it was easy to see how the Internet would one day meet the world.
With an Arduino you can make almost any electronic sensor, musical instrument, UFO light show, robot insect, or mad scientist talking monkey that you can dream up. Maybe you want to do something more utilitarian, like track temperature and humidity, pollutants, and noise? You just need some sensors (usually cost between 20 cents and $10 bucks) and then you can find some tutorials and duct-tape together some snippets of Processing code. You want to beam that to your laptop or server? Plug in a Zigbee radio.
If you want to get really cool, you publish your data to Pachube.com, a clearing house for real-time feeds made by everyday people. At the top of this post is a chart of radiation levels over the last 24 hrs, taken about 65 miles to the west of the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan. This is not published by the government or the nuclear regulatory authority, but by a regular guy, who has his Linux-based geiger counter sitting in a room with an open window.
The part of me that is a technophile believes that access to environmental information from around the world will only benefit all of us. But there's another part of me that knows that for every technological leap there is an equal and opposite retrograde motion. Just like email begat spam, and video games drained my savings as a kid. The law of unintended consequences is always waiting.
Aside from sensing my environment, and publishing it to Pachube.com, I have some aesthetic goals; I want to experiment withmotion-triggered and stop-motion movie-making. I just read Tom Igoe's post and I'm thinking of this project as something to learn and build towards. Maybe I'll hook up an old computer to my camera on a tripod, or even cooler, I could connect my Super 8 Bolex camera to an Arduino-powered intervalometer and make some movies. Perhaps movies about the law of unintended consequences.