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25 May 2007

the farmer who grows robots

current listening: we show up on radar – 1p needle and 1p thread


this man is my new hero. his name is mr wu yulu. i saw him on tv last week. and it was one of the most magical things i've ever seen. he is a farmer in his mid forties from a village in eastern beijing. he is also a backyard scientist who builds robots out of welded together metal, duct tape and second hand batteries. he thinks of all of the robots he makes as his sons. and they are all named after him and numbered one to twenty five. and they look like they come from outer space. number five is a one metre tall humanoid robot capable of walking, changing light bulbs, lighting cigarettes and pouring tea. number six is a monkey like robot with magnetized feet which enable it to crawl slowly up metallic walls. he has also produced a miniature frog shaped robot that hops, and a giant, walking eight-legged trestle table capable of carrying two passengers. and he made a mechanical grasshopper. his greatest invention though is probably number twenty five, a rickshaw robot, made to take him and his wife to market, that walks slowly across the fields pulling him and his wife in a rickshaw. it has big metal feet and eyes that pop out of its head and it shouts in mandarin, "hello everybody, i'm a rickshaw robot". which makes sense but is probably quite scary if you're not familiar with it.


sometimes they don't always work perfectly. five years ago, one of his inventions short circuited and he burnt his house to the ground. and once a salvaged battery exploded, and mr wu was left with serious burns on his hands and body and needed to be in hospital for several weeks. he is quite a lot in debt now after rebuilding his house and paying his medical bills and taking out extra loans to pay for more robots. and last year he finally had to sell one of his robot sons to pay off some of his debts. which is a bit sad.

he has a real family too, as well as a robot one. his wife is called dong shuyan and she seemed sweetly philosophical on the programme about him burning the house down and getting them into debt. "when we got married, everyone warned me he would care more about his robots than about me," she said, "but on the other hand, at least he doesn't drink or chase other women." although she did seem quite annoyed when she was talking in her newly rebuilt kitchen about how "other people's husbands are busy making money, or looking after the wife and children. and the only thing on his mind is making robots."

i hope one day i get to see one in real life. i think i'd really like a mr wu robot to be my friend. or maybe i could have a robot grasshopper as a pet. i think that would be nice.


04 May 2007

i photograph the things i will forget

current listening: manic street preachers – send away the tigers

i'm just sitting in the studio at the moment with pete and jamie, our engineer, listening to a mix of 'i box up all the butterflies'. pete is busy importing a set of twenty bbc sound effects cds into his itunes library, which includes weird sound effects like "main railway station with indiscernible pa announcement and arriving train" and "forty children outside on wet gravel", as well as more familiar everyday sounds like "iberian marsh frog" and "zeppelin bomb drop mechanism". the one i'm most looking forward to though is "alien pod lands, sprouts four legs, walks off". i think it'll be quite useful. pete and jamie have been in here for the last couple of months recording and i've been here some of the time and when i haven’t i've been at home trying to finish off writing the words. i think they're mostly finished now. so hopefully i'll be able to spend more time in here now and maybe i'll find some time to write the weblog more frequently too.

we played a couple of shows in the last couple of months. one in london at dingwalls, which went okay i think and i got to finally see absentee because they were on just before us so that was exciting. and there was a good second hand book shop opposite the venue. and i bought these books.


i've read a few of them since then but i'm not going to start doing book reviews. and then last week or the week before we played a show in manchester at the academy two. it was a bit of a weird one because we were meant to go on at about half past nine but then archie bronson outift, who were meant to be on before us, broke down at the motorway services so they were running late and so we swapped places with them on the bill. i didn't mind swapping at all, i just wasn't quite ready to go on. not that i need a lot of time to prepare for a show. we don't have any blonde ambition tour style group prayers before we go on or anything like that. it's just that when our tour manager came up and told us we were on in fifteen minutes i was in the middle of stuffing my face with a burger and a big bag of chips and i think that may have had an affect on my performance. i had fun anyway. and we played a new song, 'a balloon on a broken string'. and i liked the way that sounded. we've got one more show in glasgow next thursday, and then that's it for a while.

this is a book that someone sent me. it's a copy of i, robot by isaac asimov with a much nicer cover than the one that i bought with will smith on the cover. i've lost the envelope that it got sent to me in and i can't remember the name of the person who sent it to me. sorry, but thank you so much whoever sent it to me.


and i went to brick lane a couple of sundays ago and i bought this weird doll made by this company called bobby dazzler. it has a little tag tied around its wrist that reads "one day i'm going to make it. just you wait."


and that's it really. for the moment. more soon.


oh, and i bought a new camera too.