Thursday, September 10, 2009

Interview (The First) with Rich Nagy aka The Datamancer. 2005

This interview with Steam Punk designer Rich Nagy was done before his move to California in 2006 (I think). He's doing OK. One of his creations found it's way on the SYFY series Warehouse 13.

Pedro Angel Serrano: What projects are you working to complete before your move out west?

Rich Nagy: Well, right now I'm trying to finish a full rebuild on my 56 Ford pickup. So far I've installed new monoleaf lowering springs and a disc brake conversion in the front, flipped the rear axle, boxed and c-notched the frame, and put sway bars front and rear. I removed the bed, replaced the rear bed wall, and did a crapload of custom metal work to the back of the bed. I rounded off all the corners using exhaust pipe steel, built a new tailgate from scratch (well, I reused the stamped F O R D letters from the old gate), and made a new curled roll pan into which I sunk twin cat's-eye oval Harley taillights on either side, corvette style. Right now I'm redoing the interior, then I'll move on to the engine compartment. Like I said...full rebuild. Aside from the truck, I'm also trying to finish the Computational Engine, which is a personal computer built out of all antique components, and the Espada Suena, which is a sword design that came to me in a dream.

PAS: What's the inspiration and the complete name of the "computational engine"?

RN: It's the "Nagy Magical-Movable-Type Pixelo-Dynamotronic Computational Engine". I was aiming for a touch of "World's Fair chic".

The basic aim of the project is to retrocentrically create a false historical heritage for the modern computer, using a little creative anachronism. While charming in its reticence, the buzzing beige rectangle under a desk hardly seems a fitting aesthetic legacy for what is unarguably the most important invention of the last 100 years. I feel the modern personal computer was a victim of an era in which technology is taken for granted, and has become soulless and disposable. If the PC had been unveiled in the 40s or 50s, it would have been lavished with the talents of the greatest designers, adorned with intricate woodwork or chrome, and given the place of highest honor in the household. I am trying to duplicate that sort of craftsmanship.

The main body of the Computational Engine was a 1920s King Radio cabinet, modified with an upright dvd-rom drive which is accessed through a brass-rimmed glass porthole from an old mantle clock. That cabinet sits atop a scratch-built tabletop held up by the black, wrought-iron legs of an antique singer Sewing machine, and supports a tray on which resides a 1908 Underwood manual typewriter that will be wired into the control circuit of a standard ps/2 keyboard. The housing for the flat-panel monitor is all built from scratch, and I integrated the quatrefoil designs from the cathedral chair (which I pulled out of someones garbage and refurbished) onto it. Finally, a large phonograph horn will curl over the top, into which I will embed small speakers, just out of sightHi-Fi, baby.

PAS: When did you become a Gearhead? Did that manifest early?

RN: Well, I guess you could say its in the blood. My great-grandfather was an engineer, my grandfather was a mechanic, and my father and brother are both well-known auto body mechanics and locally-renowned hot rodders and car customizers. It was only natural that I would wind up with the passion for it, too.

PAS: From 'Gearhead' to 'Datamancer': How did that come about?

RN: Well, it was actually the other way around, I guess. I was always the other son, the weird one. I was into art, literature, music, computers, futurism, robotics and electronics, then finally got into cars heavily only a few years ago. I have always liked classic cars, but I guess there was one more or less pivotal moment. When I was about 21-22, I had this insanely high-stress job where I was simultaneously the Asst VP of Marketing, the Lead Design Coordinator, and the Manager of Information Services at a huge, multi-million dollar travel agency. At the same time, on nights and weekends, I was also partner in a start up design firm with my boss, friend and eventual housemate, Spencer. One day, Spencer dropped dead at age 31 of a stress-induced heart attack. That put things into perspective for me. Granted, Spencer wasn't exactly the perfect specimen of good health, but I was well on the same path stress migraines, dwelling on work every second of the day, persistent anxiety, etc . Plus, I have a brother who was exactly the same age as Spencer, so it hit me twice as hard. So, I started thinking, and here I was, 21 years old, and instead of wondering if Susie with the cute ass wanted to hang out or whatever, I'm sitting in bed at 3am dwelling on the quarterly marketing report. Lifes too short to be miserable all the time. That was around when I got out of the IT field and began simplifying my life. I got more into music, polishing my art skills, electronics, started reading for pleasure again, building contraptions, and working on my car. (At the time it was a 1964 Cadillac Coupe Deville, which I still own and drive, and most likely, always will)

PAS: I've seen you starry eyed over Nikola Tesla. Is he someone you think should be more famous than he is?

RN: Oh hell yeah. Tesla was a genius on the level of an Einstein or a Babbage, but no ones ever heard of him. Everyone has heard of Edison, who wasn't one-sixth the inventor Tesla was. They've heard of Marconi and how he invented the radio.YEARS AFTER Tesla invented it and using 11 of Teslas patents in his claim. Tesla invented pretty much everything you use today, wireless data transmission, x-rays, the foundations of modern electronics and robotics, fluorescent lighting, radio, and not only perfected and improved Edisons D/C system, but created the entire A/C electrical system including hydroelectric generators that are still used today (Tesla also personally built the Niagara Falls generator), electrical transformers, advanced harmonics, telautomatics (remote control devices), and he even has his own eponymous unit of measurement. Magnetic fields are still measured today in Teslas. His obscurity is further evidenced by the fact that my spell-check is currently yelling at me about the word Teslas, but has no problem with Hertz, Ampere Watt, or Volta.
Sadly, Tesla was not a businessman. He was a dreamer and humanist. He felt that he existed merely to further humanitys technological evolution and to make life on the planet better for everyone. For example, Westinghouses board of directors wanted Tesla cut out of royalty rights for his A/C system and would not approve its implementation otherwise, So Tesla ripped up a million-dollar contract (in the early 1900s, mind you) with Westinghouse on a handshake and verbal promise that Westinghouse would help give his inventions to the world. Actions such as this would ultimately be his undoing. In the later years, while the Edison Electric Company thrived by focusing on marketable commercial products, Tesla drove himself into ruin by trying to perfect a grandiose free energy machine for the entire planet. He died penniless and alone. Poor bastard his life reads like a Greek tragedy.

PAS: I'm living in the Twenty First Century but every thing I see and use is some variant of Twentieth Century tech. To me an Ipod is just an updated Walkman.actually, will anyone under 30 know what a Walkman is?

RN: haha, maybe you could replace it with "Discman"...that would buy you about 5 extra years..
That might spare you the. "Walkman?...its like a Discman that plays cassettes...cassettes? well, they are like 8-tracks that you can rewind....8 tracks? Well, they're like...oh never mind."

PAS: hahah exactly.
Ok, where was I?... One thing that seems "new" is linking humans with computer tech. Recently I saw a man move a mechanical hand by just thinking about it. That's not too new but he could also move a cursor on a computer. That seems like a new function for a human. Or is it?

RN: Yeah MITs Touchlab especially has been doing a lot of really exciting, interesting things with machine interfaces lately. I cant wait to see where its going. We humans are endearingly curious creatures and need to exert our will on everything within our reach. Its only natural that we exert that same will on our own forms, even unnaturally. From Neanderthal wielding a stick, to modern man implementing neural feedback interface devices to control machines of steel and silicon, using technology to extend our abilities is inborn. Id go so far as to say its our purpose. The next leap in our evolution will be a self-crafted one.

PAS: What do you want to do in Cali?

RN: Well, the short version is that I'm striking out West for fame, fortune and adventure! and all that happy cliche horseshit. I'm going out there with a dual aim. I'd really love to get involved in movie prop making, set design, model building and special effects. That's about the only occupation I can think of that combines all my random skills and interests into one single aim. I'm also thinking it might be a good idea to try and take advantage of this whole stupid TV gearhead renaissance like Overhaulin, American Hot Rod, Monster Garage, all those shows. So Ill either become Rich Nagy, Car Customizer-turned-Effects Wizard or vice-versa, but Id like to try both. Ill probably aim for the hot rod thing first. That seems like more of an industry that I can just show up and get a job in, rather than having to break into like the movie biz.

PAS: Will you maintain your secret identity or will all know the name of the Datamancer?

RN: Well, its not too much of a secret I don't have my name on the site ( mostly just for the sake of internet privacy, but my Myspace profile ( has links plastered all over it and I'm always hyping it. Unfortunately I'm not updating the site nearly as often as I should. I suppose that Ill be forced to trademark and copyright everything once I start to get some mojo working especially for my logo. With my luck, Nike will swoop in and trademark it and then ill be stuck with a fucking sneaker logo tattooed all over me.

PAS: Would you perfer a Utopia or dystopia?

RN: Dystopia, definitely. Utopianism is boring. Without challenge and struggle, there is no growth....adversity builds strength...there is no story without an antagonist, etc ad cliché

PAS: Ripe old age, burn out fast and young, or cyber immortality?

RN: Hmm. Tough call. Im on the fence on that one right now, but I chalk that up to my youthful inability to comprehend my own fragile mortality, but something tells me that by age 60 or so, Ill be at least half cyborg or a nanobot cloud or something. Life takes many forms and not all of it need be organic.

PAS: Underground bunker or artificial island complex?

RN: Both. My tiki hut bikini harem conceals a sprawling underground complex.

PAS: Been good typing at you. Of course we were only 40 feet and one floor away from each other, but this was less taxing.

RN: Hells yeah...physical movement and the spoken word is for pathetic Luddites, we are the cyber elite hahaha l337 haX0rz!! w00t!

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