MadLab Mitch Altman Workshop and Ye Old Hack Day Review

Mitch Altman Workshop and Ye Old Hack Day Review

Posted by Tamarisk Kay, over 3 years ago

TV-B-Gone soldered circuit boards and decapitated doll’s head automata. Some may call this mischievous, but here at MadLab we call it creative inventive FUN!


The weekend of the 2rd May saw MadLab host three innovative tutors who travelled from as far as sunny America to ‘sunny’ Manchester to lead workshops in soldering and automata creation, Victorian style! Both events were highly attended and culminated with a collection of extremely happy participants, and a rather messy MadLab!

The workshop held on Friday 3rd May was an electronics and soldering event, run by San Francisco hacker Mitch Altman and fellow American Jimmy Rodgers. Best known as the inventor of TV-B-Gone, Mitch has created an array of great hacks and cool electronics and is the co-founder of Noisebridge.


On the day, attendees were introduced to the world of soldering and were invited to create their own electronic project to take home. The group picked from a list of cool kits such as a LEDcube (funky cube of blinky lights), TV-B-Gone (universal remote that turns off TVs) and MiniPOV (more funky blinky lights). At the end of the session, a Tweet from MadLab sent ripples of horror through the Manchester area: “Manchester be warned! We’ve just sent 20 kids into the city with their own made universal remotes to turn off TVs”. MadLab deny responsibility for any of the repercussions, but openly accept the fact that everybody at the workshop thoroughly enjoy their time!

Mitch Altman workshop at MadLab from Prohyena on Vimeo.

Saturday’s Ye Old Hack Day was an event led by Stephen Guy, the co-founder of Fire the Inventor. Participants were encouraged to bring a bag of ‘bits and pieces’ such as small old toys, Xmas tree baubles and curious objects, with the idea to construct a fantastical mechanical invention known as an automaton.


Dating back to 150- 100 BC, an automaton is a self-operating machine that was commonly used in toys and scientific tools. Perhaps it is the mechanical toys that are most renowned. Constructed from wood, car and metal, these machines utilize most of the mechanical processes that can be found in almost every modern machine. And who knew Leonardo da Vinci had a keen interest in the mechanisms? The artist created a complex design of an automaton robot in 1495, then to be rediscovered in 1950s.

Using Stephen’s pre-made basic crank and camshaft structure, attendees were then allowed to build on the skeletal mechanism by constructing more complex mechanisms. Experimenting with cams, cogs, levers and other such movements the group harnessed their creativity to create whacky kinetic designs! From music orchestrated by a chickpea can to a decapitating Meerkat devise, all the low-tech automatons were powered and made by hand.


The Victorian theme to coincided with MadLab’s ‘The Ghosts of St Pauls’ event series about the history of the Northern Quarter, supported by an ‘All Our Stories’ grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). This matched the events running perfectly, since the Victorian period saw many major developments that made travel, communications and trade easier for many people. Arguably, many of the things we take for granted today, such as photography, electric light bulbs and telephones were invented during this era. The vacuum cleaner, whisk, coca-cola, Morse code and Jelly Babies all saw their origin during Queen Victoria’s reign.

Ye Olde Hack Day at MadLab from Prohyena on Vimeo.

Final thanks to VRevolution Cafe, for keeping our Vegan American’s fed and watered, HAC:Man for lending us equipment for both days and Maria Ruban for filming. Finally, a big thank you to the HLF for their financial support of the Ye Olde Hack Day.