I have been obsessed with these for years and have never seen one in person. They are more sophisticated than I thought! The little ones work on simple biomechanics like you'd expect, but the big ones, as far as I could determine, actually include hydraulic digital logic -- like, there's a proboscis with a flat foot next to it, and when each is compressed it closes a valve. 00? Waving in the air. 11? Hard ground. 01? Soft ground, reverse gears. The +5v analog(ue) is a series of water bottles pressurized by the wind and some valves.

But it's all just so weird that I doubt he realized he was building logic gates and a Turing machine. If I were a biochemist I might read this as reaction-diffusion interactions or enzymes. Or if I was a psychologist, I'd think it was id and superego.

These things are glorious.

PS: I tried to make this post from my phone and it basically rolled on its back and wiggled its legs in the air because apparently sending a 63 MB email to my own damned mail server is unreasonable and this is not the future I was promised. What the what.

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17 Responses:

  1. the hatter says:

    Past-you knew that sending multi-MB files through email was a hateful thing that it should stop doing. You promised future-you that 50MB was really a super-worst-case scenario anyhow, and we'd totally be doing something better by now. I hear our past selves weeping as we made such assertions. We already knew.

    IIRC, the big strandbeest use the same logic as the small, but what works with lever and gear mechanics on the small ones doesn't scale very well, so is reimplemented/power-assisted on the big ones.

    the hatter

    • jwz says:

      What happens between two consenting MUA/MTA endpoints is their own business. I just don't understand why my desktop is able to deliver this mail to the same server that my phone cannot, even when they're on the same network.

      Goal: attach some images and videos and write some text; upload videos to youtube; upload photos to web server; make blog post embedding all of them in one swell foop. "Email it all to a script on the server and let it figure it out" seems a perfectly sensible way to do that.

      • James says:

        All the cool kids are sending their multipart messages in HTTPS these days. Remember that letter that required everyone to call key escrow "certificate authorities"?

  2. Someone says:

    Pedantic remark: If you were a psychologist you hopefully wouldn't think about ids and superegos because that stuff is pseudoscientific nonsense.

  3. briankc says:

    Oh, yes, these things are fascinating! Must've been quite a treat to see one up close like that.

  4. Ben says:

    I saw them at the Peabody Essex Museum a few months back but I sadly missed seeing them in the wild on Crane Beach (and elsewhere in Boston) - they are, as you say, glorious and shockingly fragile - the conduit he uses breaks down in sunlight. The "evolution" displays were super cool, as you see how he figure out what worked over time.

  5. Oh this is so very cool! Where are they?

    • Anonnymoose says:

      If I were a gambler, I would bet that they are at 37° 48' 5.90" N, 122° 23' 49.57" W.

  6. These are some of the coolest machines ever.

    Where did you see them?

  7. Craig says:

    No, strandbeesten.

  8. Job says:

    But it's all just so weird that I doubt he realized he was building logic gates and a Turing machine.

    Before semiconductors, we tried making logic gates with valves and air. Theo Jansen studied physics, and knows this; I attended a lecture by him where he explains how it works.

    I also know his former roommate from college, who claims that all the pseudo-science babble Jansen uses is just to please the art critics because the latter prefer things to be vague.