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Gear heads of the world, unite

February 02, 2006|Cindy Chang | Special to The Times

THE solitary tinkerer who spends hours in the garage soldering bits of metal and wire is a stock character in the stable of American eccentrics, along with the cat lady and the cranky frontiersman who lives off the land.

The notion of those garage hermits coming together for a summit, where they share the results of their labors in a kind of show-and-tell, may seem a bit odd. But the newly retooled Southern California chapter of Dorkbot organizes just such meetings, with the aim of bringing tinkerers out of their garages to get advice from one another and from experts on troublesome problems such as how to convert a food processor into a motor to power a robot.

The group's monthly meetings, held at Machine Project art gallery in Echo Park, alternate between the show-and-tell "open hack" sessions and more formal lectures with set topics. All are free and open to the public.

The first Dorkbot began in New York City in 2000, and there are now 30 chapters worldwide. Members range from artists to engineers to inventors. The one common thread is their interest in "doing strange things with electricity," as their motto states.

At the January Dorkbot meeting, the first to incorporate the show-and-tell format, organizer Garnet Hertz showed some car-like "mobile robots" he built for his two young sons to a small group of fellow tinkerers. The robots were battery-powered and had a rakish do-it-yourself look.

Jason Torchinsky, an artist, pulled a small homemade robot out of his bag, along with a motor he was trying to rig to make the robot walk. Tom Jennings, who is legendary in techie circles as an early Internet architect, offered rapid-fire suggestions to Torchinsky and others who had brought projects.

Though no one seemed like the stereotypical reclusive tinkerer, some did confess to having toiled too long without feedback from like-minded souls.

"You need a social structure so you're talking to someone who doesn't think you're whacked," said Eddie Wizelman, who brought a crosswalk sign he had configured to flash an obscene gesture.

Saturday's Dorkbot meeting will feature presentations on a programming language that can be used to control physical devices. The next open hack session is March 4.

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Dorkbot Machine Project

Where: 1200 N. Alvarado St., Space D, L.A.

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Cost: Free

Info: www.dorkbot.org/dorkbotsocal

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