Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Rattlesnake at SXSW

Rattlesnake at SXSW

(It's not a band. I don't go to concerts. :-))

Now that I've posted them, I can point the reader to the pictures of an interesting art machine -- a mutant vehicle, if you will -- I saw at the Plutopia party at South By Southwest last week. The party in itself was a bit disappointing compared with last year's; very few costumes, not many art / tech pieces (the Robot Group did not seem to come up anything more interesting since last year than a ping-pong printer; all it does is print text on ping-pong balls. As soon as I approached it, the guy manning the printer gave a long, autoironic spiel acknowledging the printer's uselessness. :-)) There were fewer performers and more speakers, such as Bill McKibben (I remember only one line from his speech about his grassroots movement against global warming: "We realized that it's not enough to screw in a fluorescent bulb over a breakfast table. We needed to screw in a new senator.")

But anyway, the coolest thing at Plutopia was the one I saw after I left. For obvious reasons it could not fit inside Scholz Garden and had to be parked on the street. It was a long white many-ribbed worm powered by bicycles. Nestled between the ribs was a total of 6 bicycles; plus there was a seat in front for drivers, a team of two young women, one of which was clad in a sexy devil costume. She said the name of this vehicle was Rattlesnake. (Not a worm, then.) The woman hopped into the drivers' seats, roped a few bystanders into taking passengers' -- or rather, co-drivers' seats, and took the thing for a ride on a nearly empty street. The snake turned tight corners with surprising grace. One thing I don't understand, though -- as in other projects of collaborative pedalling, like the ones I saw at the Maker Faire -- is, what happens if one of the riders does not pedal. Or pedals out of phase with others. Nothing, perhaps? And what about the steering? Was the driver the only one capable of steering, or the other bikers too? If so, what would happen if one of them tried to steer the thing in the opposite direction?

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