Friday, 27 February 2015

What has punk rock got to do with hosepipes?

I was having a discussion on Facebook about recording punk rock vocals. I'm not a punk rock vocalist myself, but I was trying to work out where to record some demos for a thing I'm working on. My dilemma was that if I recorded them in my bedroom, the neighbours would call the police; but I can't hire a recording studio, coz that wouldn't be very punk.

“Stop!” said Drew, a Haiku expert. When I say said, of course, I mean commented. “What does this have to do with connecting a hosepipe to the internet?” Drew thinks I am obsessed with hosepipes.

“Dan's going to shout down the hosepipe until the internet starts listening,” said Nicola, a Facebook enthusiast.

“Oh,” said Drew. “Like Katie Hopkins?”

Pure guff, of course. The internet never listens to anyone, least of all Katie Hopkins.

This terrifying circuitry is what I hope will be the brains of my internet-enabled hosepipe. It's an Arduino with a wifi shield. It does similar things to a Raspberry Pi, but while the Raspberry Pi is blisteringly powerful, this is a bit more like a BBC Micro, but with an eccentric programming language similar to Java.

In a nod to anti-capitalism, the design is completely open-source. Massimo Banzi, one of the team who invented the Arduino, wrote the book Getting Started with Arduino, which encourages you to stick transistors in circuit boards and invent things. In the stirring chapter “The Arduino Way”, he compares electronic prototyping to running a punk rock band:

In other words, I don't actually have to know how to use the thing, so long as I can get it to work. This is encouraging, and I'll go back to that thought when it catches fire. Then I can smash it.

Like all punks nowadays, Massimo has given a TED talk. The best bit is 9:14-10:05. First he shows how an Arduino can graffiti far-left slogans onto walls, and straight after that, he demonstrates a plant that has been connected to Twitter.

Down with the government! Smash the system!

Build tiny robots!

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