Donner Party 2.0 I Truckee ‘enginerds’ blaze into Red Bull competition
June 24, 2011
TRUCKEE, Calif. – Who gets excited about using an Arduino microcontroller?
Donner Party 2.0, that’s who.
When Justin Self, a Truckee-based fusion metalcrafter, heard the online call that a national competition challenging teams of four to invent something using an Arduino microcontroller – a small computer used for automatically controlled products – with the theme “hacks the past to create the future” for entry honors, he stoked his friends into action.
What resulted was Donner Party 2.0, a killer team of Truckee skiers, metal artists, photographers, computer programmers and enginerds who blazed into the finalist list for the national competition known as “Red Bull Creation,” a non-stop 72-hour competition culminating in a 4-hour public viewing event July 10 in Brooklyn, N.Y., featuring inventors, makers and hackers who must build a device new and inspiring under deadline pressure with very few limitations.
“We have a diverse skill set, spent a week deliberating and under a week building,” said Self. “Most of the other teams are computers nerds. They eat, sleep and breathe computers.”
Donner Party 2.0 mates include Self; Justin Winter, a web development man; Grant Kaye, photographer, computer and pyrotechnics guy; and Randy Vasquez, a metal fabricator apprenticing in Self’s shop.
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“Nothing is older than time,” said Self of the team’s resulting creation, “Firebreathing Grandfather Clock.”
The self proclaimed “ragtag group” contemplated using a real clock, but needed to incorporate the microcontroller. So they fabricated an 8-foot tall, 200-pound metal clock with working gears, propane and a brain that ignites a massive fireball flame, up through the clock’s top and forced back down in a fiery burst – every hour, on the hour.
“It’s comparable to flames and explosions at Burning Man,” Self explained. “You can feel it, depending on how much we turn it up.”
Donner Party 2.0 cranked up the heat at Truckee Thursday June 16, where kids of all ages got to push the ignition button. Each time the ensuing fire power torched the clock in Downtown Truckee, folks jumped.
Self thinks it’s about time for something like this competition, as it brings all kinds of different people together.
Winter said it’s good promotion for artists in the community.
“Red Bull has focused on extreme sports,” Self said. “It’s great to see them marketing toward another group.”
The Donner Party 2.0 guys wanted a name that touched on something local: Kaye’s idea “hit the nail on the head,” said Self.
There is much online banter and within the Twitter universe about the third place finalists (out of 100 entries) devouring the competition and survival of the fittest. The personality mix in Donner Party 2.0 demonstrates determination and artistic passion, said Self, who learned the value of self discipline as a ski team kid with the Squaw Valley Freestyle and U.S. Development Teams.
“As an athlete, you have to have that skill, dedication, to do what you want to do,” Self said. “Discipline is changing these days. There is so much instant gratification, kids don’t have to work for what they want.”
Vasquez, who has a bachelor’s in fine arts from Chico State concurred: “Never give up on your dreams, no matter how hard it gets – just push.”
The 72-hour competition offers plenty of push for Donner Party 2.0. Two weeks prior to July 10, event topic riddles are leaked online. The 10 finalists and six wild-card teams will land in Brooklyn with the allowed 200 pounds of tools: Red Bull will provide additional tools and materials.
And, of course, Red Bull.
A big proponent of caffeine – 1 or 5 a.m. depending, – Self believes there may be some Red Bull consumed. OK, lots of Red Bull. And, in keeping with the theme of the infamous Donner Party, possibly some cannibal costumes.