Welcome to The Edge – Part II

[ Ryan Says... ]
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I’ll open with a pretty picture.  (And a disclaimer that the creation of the photos in today’s post was very much a collaborative effort.)

High Speed: Egg vs MousetrapLooks like fun, no?  Keep reading, a larger selection of these photos can be found via a link later in the post.

Now then, from the beginning…

Previously, Anna mentioned the difficulty she’s had in defining The Edge, the State Library of Queensland’s Digital Culture Centre.  In support of this, I’d like to point out that I actually visited the place some months ago, checked out the facilities and had a chat to one of the staff on duty – only to come away excited, intrigued, and without any clear idea of what actually went on there.  This was all the more frustrating, as what little I had seen led me to believe that here was something right for me.  This place had the potential to be a big deal.  Of course, if I was seriously going to pitch that idea to the more controlling voices in my head, I’d have to come up with something a little more eloquent than ‘gut feeling’.  [cue ye olde back-burner]

And so it was, some months later and Anna informs me that The Edge is having a second birthday celebration.  Specifically, an open-day featuring a veritable smorgasboard of hands-on workshops held throughout the building – more than enough to rekindle my dormant interest.

Despite sign-up sheets filling quickly, we each managed to attend two workshops.  In my case, a largely freeform session on Stop-motion Animation, and a slightly more technical workshop on some High-speed Photography techniques.  (If you missed it, Anna’s workshop experiences can be found here).

The stop-motion class amounted to a brief run-down of the principles, followed by an hour or so of “Here’s a laptop and a table full of modelling clay and doo-dads… have fun!”.  As I write this, The Edge appears to have already dropped the finished animations from its website.  Shame really, as I met some rather creative-types in the group and I think we turned out a rather spiffy piece of work.

Personally though, the photography session was the highlight of my day.  The general idea behind the techniques used is that the mechanical limitations of a camera’s shutter speed – even at a high setting – can make it difficult to capture certain high-speed events clearly.  A camera flash unit, however, is active for a mere fraction of the exposure time.  By leaving the camera’s shutter open (in an almost completely dark environment), we played with using an adjustable flash, to dramatically reduce the duration of the shot – ie. the time for which the camera’s sensor was exposed to the scene.

I’ll leave it to Mark, the workshop’s host, to cover the details in his great writeup (includes plenty of pictures!).

High Speed: Egg vs Table

Notice the pinkish-red streak to the left of the eggshell?  This is where things get fancy.  Once we had the basic technique down, Mark introduced a new element: lasers and an arduino microprocessor. (I know!)  By connecting a light sensor to the arduino he had set up a simple laser gate just above the table surface.  Once the flash unit was connected to the same system, it wasn’t that hard to tell the arduino to trigger the flash whenever the laser beam was interrupted. Which is to say: right at the moment of impact.  Once again, if you’ve read this far you might as well read the real deal at the link above.

Having successfully wet my feet at The Edge, I’ve recently dived in and started attending a weekly group session there called Hack The Evening.  I’m having a great time of it so far, I’ll tell you how it all unfolds sometime.