Rube Goldberg Machines | Pitagora Suichi

I assume many of you would have been forwarded clips like the one above – where elaborate and yet delightfully simple motions and mechanisms are activated as a ball (or something else) rolls along etc. This clip, however, is the grandma of all – a compilation of the best mechanisms, and it’s deliciously 12:54 long!

It was only recently, however, that I learned that these machines are known as “Rube Goldberg Machines“.

A Rube Goldberg machine or device is any exceedingly complex apparatus that performs a very simple task in a very indirect and convoluted way. Rube devised such pataphysical devices. A Rube Goldberg machine usually has at least ten steps. The best examples of his machines have an anticipation factor: the fact that something so wacky is happening can only be topped by it happening in a suspenseful manner.

While the namesake goes to an American, I’d venture that the masters of these crafts are the Japanese. The classic Honda ad (where the car parts form a Rube Goldberg sequence) was a popular example, as it wow-ed and charmed many.

But for me, the “ピタゴラスイッ” (Pitagora Suitchi, Pythagorean Device) series from Japan beats Honda hands down in the variety and imagination in the mechanisms involved. Pitagora Suichi is actually a Japanese educational TV program aimed at kids. In between segments, a small clip of an Rube Goldberg device is shown (Heh, these clips are the best parts of the show! A typical show is like this.)

What a great way to keep the child’s attention, while expanding their imagination! I’m sure I’d be sitting through the whole program just to make sure I catch all the fantastic sequences.

TalkingCock in Parliament

TalkingCock in Parliament is the closing event for IndigNation2006. It was an amazingly talented bunch of funny people with their own takes on what it means to be a Singaporean. Ruby Pan and Hossan Leong’s performances, in particular, caught me.

Ruby’s masterful command (impersonation?) of various English accents in Singapore only gets better and better: watch it till the end!

Hossan Leong sang Singapore’s condensed history to the tune of “We didn’t start the fire”.

Slurp Digital Eyedropper

Digital data and interfaces have certainly become more prevalent, even though to some it’s still a somewhat nebulous, intangible and hard-to-conceive abstract notion. There have been some efforts in making digital gestures more tangible, analog or personal, and the Slurp digital eyedropper is another very interesting concept. Here’s the description:

In this video I demonstrate how slurp can be used to move digital files between machines over the network. Rather than plug a usb drive into the port that corresponds with a specific file seen on a screen, just suck the file directly off the screen itself. Slurp is used like an eyedropper, it vibrates and displays light to indicate it’s state to the user.

Slurp is tangible interface for manipulating abstract digital information as if it were water. Taking the form of an eyedropper, Slurp can extract (slurp up) and inject (squirt out) pointers to digital objects. We have created Slurp to explore the use of physical metaphor, feedback, and affordances in tangible interface design when working with abstract digital media types. Our goal is to privilege spatial relationships between devices and people while providing new physical manipulation techniques for ubiquitous computing environments.

I have a personal interest in tangible media interfaces, especially in the balance between intuitiveness and “tangible-for-tangible’s-sake”, which we often see when some designers turn digital bits into some arbitrary physical objects for little additional benefits/interests. This uncanny valley between the two requires a delicate sense of what’s appropriate and resonant, and I think Slurp has managed this very well indeed.

Slurp is made by Jamie Zigelbaum, Adam Kumpf, Alejandro Vazquez, and Hiroshi Ishii, and you can see more of such works at MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group.