Ever since his childhood, Neil Mendoza has been tinkering with toys and electronics, to him electronics feel like magic LEGO. He tried working for a the corporate man but was unfit for cubicle hell. He wanted to make fun stuff. And so he did. In the most amazing ways.
He began his presentation with a journey through his life, present and future. After a while of using technology Neil feels it tends to get a personality – something that can be seen in every piece that he does. Take an ordinary typewriter, try to find its personality ("no one loves me anymore") and hook it up to an arduino with some very strong magnets. Turns out that the only hard part of hooking it up was to let it do a carriage return – a seemingly easy task for a human, but for a computer not so much.
And then in 2006 came Jeff Han with that TED talk that revolutionised the multitouch world and opened up a completely new world to the maker community. If you don’t have any skills but do have a good idea, creating/doing a project is the only good way to learn new skills. With some time and effort you'll be programming in no time and making cool stuff!
Next are some of the commercial projects Neil has done; we see the worlds largest RFID connected Etch A Sketch where you need two people to operate it, a music festival in France where together with some architects they created a huge LED pyramid that guides people in the main hall, and of course cats playing with iPads (no great presentation can go without!) For a British beatboxer, Beardyman, they created a “Pepper's ghost” projecting that actual head of Beardyman on a turntable, so whenever the DJ scratched a record, it produced breaks and beats coming from a spinning head. And this was before the whole Tupac performance.
Next up Neil showed the scrapheap symphony, a commissioned piece by Brother for a new printer. They actually went around scrapyards to find old and broken printers, scanners and hard drives. They figured out that using a stepping motor at a certain frequency caused a musical note and they could use this to create a real symphony. Every object they found had their own sound or personality, if you will. They then hooked everything up to some custom-made controller boards and produced something astounding.
A lot of Neil's work creates a very deep emotional connection with the viewer and shows some sort of awkwardness in the relationship between man and machine. I love it! The installation I Spy really portrays this perfectly – It’s a Kinetic mobile with eyes, a nose and a mouth which uses computer vision to follow the viewer. It almost feels alive, following you around everywhere you go.
For another piece – Escape – he hacked old phones in such a way that they looked like birds, with the same type of movement and sounds real birds make. The viewer could then call/message the birds to get a response. The birds also interacted with each other. People interacted with these mechanical birds as if it were real, so I'd say it was a job well done.
This post was written by guest blogger, Sidney de Koning from Funky Monkey.