January 17, 2022. The Carousel Debuts

In 2016-2017 I was engrossed in constructing and enhancing a street organ.  Following the street organ, I have been focused on creating automata.  Automata seem to be a very natural way for me to express myself.  I love designing and creating automata.

I have found myself playing my street organ in public twice a month or so.  It is time that I really appreciate.  I’m able to make people happy by playing music for them.

In November 2021 I decided that my next automata project would be an enhancement for my street organ.  I wanted to add something that would touch people’s hearts, that would make them happy.  I decided on adding a carousel and as that project progressed I realized that I would have room for two ‘side shows’, one to either side of the carousel.

Several years ago I had purchased a batch of carousel animals off of eBay.  My wife selected five of the animals for the carousel and the build started.  The process consisted of creating the mechanics (the carousel, the gears, environment, etc), the electronics (the motor, microprocessor, etc), and the actual mount to the organ.

Yesterday I was able to perform in public with the carousel for the first time.  I don’t have the electronics refined to the point where I am satisfied, but am able to run the carousel non-stop, which is what I did.

I’m pleased to say that the public did notice the carousel.  People expressed interest and appreciation.  The carousel has proven to be a positive addition to the street organ.

For the next half-year or so I will be enhancing the carousel with animated figures and sideshows.

Happy New Year everyone!


The Carousel is mounted to the front of the street organ. 3 January 2022.


December 5, 2021.  A Carousel Before the End of the Year?

As I have mentioned, in 2016 I built a 20 Pipe Street Organ.  Shortly after building the street organ, I added an animated monkey (the first of my automata).  I’ve now got it in my head that I want to add a carousel to the front of the street organ.

I began construction of the carousel in mid-November 2021 and am making pleasant progress.  Tomorrow I believe that I will have the horse lift mechanism mostly completed.  My 3D printer is making things easier for me.  I find that by printing parts with critical measurements that I can be more accurate.  One of the reasons for this greater accuracy is that if something is not right I usually just need to make one or two changes to the spreadsheet in my CAD program…and then I reprint.  For example, yesterday I printed a complicated component and found that I had estimated one of the measurements to be 5mm shorter than it should have been.  Instead of jury-rigging a fix, I made the change on the spreadsheet and reprinted the entire component.  Now, instead of a jury-rigged part, I have a perfect part in place.  Had I created this particular component by hand (using wood) it would have taken a day each time.

And as I move forward with this carousel I’m leaving room to each side for a ‘side show’.  One of the sideshows will be two men playing checkers next to the carousel, and the other sideshow will be a teen skateboarding and doing a jump on the other side of the carousel.  Time will tell what the final sideshows will be.  The point is that I am going to be investing my automata-creating energy into my street organ for the next half-year or so.

The carousel horses are being positioned and measured so that a carousel can be created around them. November 30, 2021


November 16, 2021: The Importance of Humanity

In the two months since my last post, I’ve been pondering life and what it is all about.

One of the questions that I asked myself was “why do the Ten Commandments not mention or infer that there is life beyond the earth?”  Or, in other words, why are religion and science so far apart?

I’ve been studying the larger picture and have concluded that the human species is as important as a grain of sand that is hidden on the largest beach.  We (the human species) are nothing.  We humans and everything around us are simply stardust.  One day we will be stardust again.

I cannot imagine a situation that would cause us, humans, to be important to the bigger picture.  Sure, we are making our mark here on the earth by ‘changing’ the earth.  It’s true that we haven’t meant to do it…but we are nonetheless.

If there is a God, it is unlike anything that we currently define as God.

The Universe is so totally huge that we are essentially invisible.

So, where does that leave us?  It leaves us in the moment.  We are simply animals that are born, that ripen, that reproduce, and that then wither and die.

I conclude that if we chose to be here we should attempt to:

  • Not overpopulate our planet.
  • Be respectful of all that there is.
  • Be considerate of others.
  • Strive to make things better (more joy and happiness).

So, I’m back to creating automatons.  And as I create them I’m going to strive to create them in a manner that causes joy and happiness.

The Bench Press Message Board automaton is almost completed. The next step is disassembly and painting. Nov 16, 2021

September 13, 2021: Gaslight Steampunk & Maker Festival

Each year in San Diego there is a wonderful steampunk and maker festival which is called the Gaslight Steampunk Expo.  This year the festival is being held September 30-Oct 3, 2021.  I’m pleased to report that not only will I be playing my street organ at the event for a few hours on both Saturday and Sunday. I’ll also be presenting.an Automata presentation.  I’m hoping that this presentation will be lively, fun, and action-causing.  Sunday morning at 10 a.m.  Perhaps I’ll see you there.

On the automata front, I’ve been working Bench Press Message Board #1  I’ve got the biped and mechanisms working the way that I want them.  

I recently discovered a program called MeshMixer.  It’s a digital sculpting program that will permit me to design components that are more organic (than I am able to design in FreeCAD).  The head in the image was downloaded and then modified in MeshMixer. I am pleased with the control that MeshMixer gives me over the process and am looking forward to becoming more proficient with it.

I am so sorry to see that vaccination has become a political debate as opposed to simply the practice of good medicine.I frequently think that Golden Retrievers and Automata are better than humans.

This 3D-printed head has been modified with a program called MeshMixer. September 8, 2021.

September 2, 2021: Automata Magazine

I am a very happy subscriber to the Automata Magazine.  The first issue came out at the beginning of 2019 and it’s been bi-monthly since.  I just received my September-October 2021 issue and am extremely impressed.  It seems to me to be a ‘super issue’.  

I’ve not “deep read” the issue yet…I’ve simply downloaded it and browsed slowly through.  My impression at the end of my browse was that this issue is the best yet.

If you are interested in the world of automata you should subscribe.  It comes out bi-monthly and costs about $6 an issue.  If you subscribe now you automatically get access to back issues (worth about $70), a very nice deal.

As I’ve gone through my weeks one of my recurring thoughts is “how does Planet Earth look to alien species passing by”.  I’ve concluded that we probably appear pretty chaotic and undesirable and insignificant.  My guess is that we are bypassed more often than not.

As I’ve mentioned in past posts my 3D printer is now considered an essential tool.  I’ve got a Prusa Mini.  I’ve defaulted to Matterhackers PETG.  The software that I use is FreeCAD.  It’s been about 10 months and I’m finding that I desire to be able to print items that are more ‘organic’ than I am capable of creating in FreeCAD.

So I Googled ‘digital sculpting’ and got good hits.  The end result is that I’m learning a digital mesh sculpting program called MeshMixer.  It’s by AutoDesk.  It’s capable.  There is a learning curve but fortunately, we’ve got tools like YouTube to help us learn.

My first mesh project is a head.  I’m learning how to give it different personalities.  It’s fun.  And I’ve actually been able to use one of the heads on the Bench Press Message Board automaton that I’m in the process of creating.

Time moves on.  The end creeps closer.  I desire to create many more automatons in the meantime.

Automata Magazine is a valuable resource.


August 18, 2021: Time Flows

It’s been five weeks since my last post.  I go through a phase when I feel guilty…and then I let it go.

It’s been hot in my garage studio, and the Golden Retriever wants to be petted.  And books want to be read.  So things have been ‘summer slow’.  

Finally, the Five Slat Message Board is completed (except for its carry case and its video).  I’m pleased with this automaton.  I’ve had it in public several times and am pleased that it has caused quality conversation.

Each morning I plot Covid-19 ‘New Infections’ for the World, the US, California, and San Diego County.  The resulting graph has been beneficial to me in helping me understand what is going on around me.  I can clearly see on the graph that we are entering the third bloom of this virus.  As a result, I have restarted wearing a mask when in public places.  I don’t understand why people are so reluctant to get vaccinated.  It seems that as I age people get more stupid.

I’ve started a new automaton that has a working title of Bench Press Message Board #1.  Yes, another message board.  I think that I have more message board stuff to learn…so am creating another.  This one will be larger.  It will be driven by a biped exercising, doing Bench Presses


Five Slat Message Board #1 is completed on August 4, 2021


12 July 2021: Frustratingly, almost Completed
Five Slat Message Board

I began creating this automaton in early March 2021.  The Five Slat Message Board is a complicated automaton that includes the materials that I normally work with (wood, metal, leather, gear motors), and also 3d printed parts, and also a microprocessor-controlled proximity sensor..

As of today, the message board is almost done, with the only remaining task being ‘making the slat rotation reliable’.

When I create an automaton one of the things that I desire is absolute reliability.  The slat rotator works most of the time…but not all of the time…so I must re-engineer the linkage.

We (humans) are all different.  I consider myself an artist and I define a piece done ‘when my heart is satisfied’.  This is not a tangible, definable situation.  It’s a ‘state of being’.  So the trick to all of this is to not get frustrated and not get angry.  Instead, I try to learn.  Each automaton that I create is easier and better than my last.

The second image shows some of my waste pieces.  These pieces were created as part of the slat turning mechanism.  In the end, they were discarded.  Lots of little lessons in the pile.

These parts all failed to do their job (my fault) so have been sent over the rainbow bridge.

Note the French curve.  I have three of these and use them often.  My preference is to have few straight lines in my art.

Hopefully, my next post will be able to report that Five Slat Message Board #1 has been completed.

Five Slat Message Board is almost complete. July 12, 2021.


June 2, 2021: Why “Created”?

I was asked recently why I use the word “created” in place of “construct”, or “assemble”, or words with similar meaning.  I must admit that I needed to stop and think about it.

Bottom line, the automata that I ‘create’ are to me…creations.  I envision them.  I fabricate many parts…with each part being a creation.  I do utilize store purchased things, such as motors and ball bearings and stainless steel shafting.  And I use all of these parts and pieces and I create my vision.  So, yes, I do use the word ‘create’ often.

I’ve mentioned my 3D printer in past blog posts.  It’s time again.  I’ve been using a high-quality PLA (Matterhackers Tough PLA).  It has been very satisfactory for me with one exception.  I created an accessory that I used in my car.  It warped in the heat.  Not good.  So I did some research and find that I should have expected the PLA to warp.  PETG, however, should not warp.  One of the things that I’m afraid of is one of my automata experiencing a ‘melt down’ while showing off in a store window or something.  PETG is a bit more complicated to print with, in particular, the first layer.  I’ve bitten the bullet and have my first roll of PETG (Matterhackers Builder series) in my printer.  I have printed just one item (the one that warped in the heat in my car) and I must say that I’m impressed…it seems like an excellent filament.

Bits and pieces of the Auger Lift. October 29, 2020.


May 15, 2021: Getting Connected

I’m sure that you are not wondering where the magnets (that I referred to in my last post) are.  The postal service is now reporting that they have come as far west as Los Angeles.  Day 16.

Five Slat Message Board is coming along nicely.  I’ve published a video of its ‘First Life‘.

The last few days I’ve been integrating Proximity Sensor Mk 2 into Five Slat Message Board.  It’s an interesting process…fitting electronic things in between and around mechanical things that make it all work.  The little bits and pieces, though, are fitting in.  I’ve got all of the low voltage wiring completed and am in the process of finishing the 110v wiring.

I’ve been working with prototyping PCB board and am having success…but am also learning a lot.  For example, before I create my next assembly on a PCB board I am going to order a set of 22AWG solid core wire spools.  The 20AWG wire that I’m presently using is stranded, and it’s just a tiny bit too big for the PCB holes.  I spend precious time trimming it down.

I’ve updated two project sheets this past week and have added a video:

The Mark 2 Proximity Sensor is being integrated into Five Slat Message Board. May 15, 2021


May 10, 2021: The Post Office is Constipated (it seems)

My wife and I sell wooden name tags.  We have noticed delays recently when shipping via USPS Priority Mail.  Last week I ordered two separate items.  The 3D printer filament order took 6 days to move 150 miles.  My order for magnets is currently on day 11 of its trip from the east coast and the status being provided by the postal service is vague.  Not good.

Currently, I am creating 5 Slat Message Board.  The image shows its progress as of today.  On the bottom side, the motor and right angle drive is mounted and functioning, with the electronics shelf just below.  On the upper side the pedals are installed and the ring gears are sitting in place waiting for their bearings.  I suspect that I’ll have this completed near the end of May.

Project sheets updated since my last post:

The Drive Frame for the 5 Slat Message3 Board is nearing completion. May 10, 2021