Sep '09 - Aug '10
I have never seen an audience clap at the end of a DRL presentation. Principally, I think we don’t clap because there isn’t time. While critics are still responding to the a presentation, often vigorously trying to get their two cents in and be heard over the others, the arms start waving a new team to set up, the fingers start snapping and the projector cord is literally pulled out of one computer and handed to the new team. Someone yells, your time is ‘starting now!.’ The previous team is still collecting their project from the table and nodding as the last conversation trickles away and the new team is jiggling the projector cord vigorously and praying silently that they machine recognizes their computer. You hear ‘you time has started,’ an image flashes onto the screen and a new presentation begins. There is no pause for clapping, no real end to the critique. You get thrown on the table, thrown off it just as quickly and sit back in relief as you watch the rest of the teams present. This is just how it goes. It is exciting and fast pace. Without formality or ritual or delicacy, ideas are presented and discussed seriously and it all seems at times almost mechanical as this level of intensity is maintained by the critics for 8 to 10 hours who don’t even break for lunch. So far there has been no room for clapping.
Knowing what was in store for us, my team and I nervously waited for our turn to present our final project. Sure enough, as the criticism raged for the group at the table, the yelling started, the fingers snapped and a projector cord came sailing our way. Onto the table went our models, the laptops, power supply, arduino boards and our final robotic prototype. Disaster, the jiggling fails us as the presentation computer doesn’t recognize the projector and the screen remains blank.
The room is nervously quiet as we reboot. Without a project to attach, the jury turns to my attire. In a place that operates largely without formality or tradition in any way, I had worn a suit and tie. It is my custom, a little way to celebrate surviving which I always consider an achievement. Despite there being about 80ish people in the room, a number of which were quite distinguished members of our field, I had on the only tie to be seen. So before we had a chance to present the jury had ample time to discuss and then decide upon the fact that a CIA agent had snuck into the school and was about to present a project to them. Nice. It was funny but, it would have been so much more funny if it had happened to someone else
Suddenly an image pops up on the screen, we are ready and I smoothly change the subject by beginning to babbling about amebas. Despite this being the first time the entire team had seen the final version of the presentation it went beautifully. We were possessed. We didn’t talk over each other, we said the right things at the right times, there were no tangents and for the most part we just let the images speak for themselves. It was used-car-salesman- squinty-eyed-wink-smooth. Our grand finale was to be a live presentation and this part was all my show. I was the one who had written the programming, wired the servos and sensors and the only member of the team who knew how to turn it on. We asked for the lights to be turned on and fired up the flower. Like a DJ with two turntables, I controlled the robot who immediately tried to self destruct but thought better of it at the very last minuet. It opened, closed made all kinds of funny noises and was generally mesmerizing. After a few minuets to undulating on the table all of the servos collectively retracted and came to a fully closed position through sheer luck (I really had very little control over the thing) and I flipped it off just as smooth as you might please. There was a moment of silence and then a very odd thing happened: applause.
My team was shocked as we looked out at the critics with their cameras extended and the people standing on chairs to get a view of the demonstration while the entertained clapping continued. It was a very odd moment to be a part of because it broke all the rules and the object of fascination was a twitching piece of lacra cloth with wires running through it.
In an ironic twist, myself and my teams spent the next term as victums of our success as we got absolutely no where trying to figure out what to do with this object that had proven so successful. It was a terrible term that ended with the death of the project and a shift into something completely different. Again the irony surfaces because by killing that project and letting it regrow in another form, this twitching lacra robot resurrected itself yesterday after three months in the garbage as the missing part of our completely new system. This is such a funny place because the only thing to be sure of is that absolutely everything will eventually change…