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


67: End of Spool Prints

I’ve had my 3D printer (Prusa Mini) for about 7 months now and have developed a sort of rhythm with the thing.  As I’ve worked with the 3D printer I’ve printed ‘one off’ items…things that I’ll never print again.  And I’ve printed things that I’ll use again and again.  So earlier this week I realized that I was near the end of my 4th spool of filament.  I know that I don’t want to run out of filament while a job is in progress, and I also know that I want to use up as much of the filament as I can.  No sense in being wasteful.

It’s interesting…I have found myself manufacturing parts that I need.  This week I started keeping track of the 3D printed inventory.  And because I am at the end of a spool of filament I am printing small inventory items to use up the filament.  I quit with 3-1/2 feet remaining on the spool…and I’ve got a nice little stash of parts.

Thus far I’ve printed with just Matter Hackers Tough PLA.  It’s a nice strong filament that prints easily.  I’ve learned,  however, that its ‘service temperature’ is not high enough for some things.  For example, I cannot print clamping hubs for the motor shafts…the shafts get too hot.  One of these days I’ll try using a filament with a higher service temperature.  One of these days.

An internal ring gear is being 3D printed for Five Slat Message Board. February 20, 2021


April 26, 2021. The Biped is Seated

Yesterday evening my wife and I attended a small party of friends (three other couples).  It sure did feel good to be around other people again.  Cheryl and I have been very careful, making extreme attempts to stay safe.  We have not wanted to become sick, and more importantly, we have not wanted to infect her Mom.   All is well, and the party was a wonderful treat.  Many thanks to Kim and Tom for hosting.

During this pandemic, I’ve had more time to think.  I tend to get caught up in big picture things…for example, “What is Life All About”.  Without boring you with the details my conclusions are:

  • In my lifetime I won’t ever learn the answers to the ‘big questions’.
  • I am in control of an extremely small portion of my life.
  • Bottom line…Enjoy the moment while contributing positively to the bigger picture.

I am presently working on Five Slat Message Board.  I’ve been doing a lot of boring, behind the scene stuff and am pleased to be able to get my hands into things again.  Pictured you see the biped resting in his new ‘sort-of recumbent seat.  Next up is the pedal assembly.

Project sheets updated since my last post: Five Slat Message Board.

The biped for the 5 Slat Message Board sits in his new seat. April 26, 2021.

12 April 2021: Finally, creating an Automaton

It seems like it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to work on an automaton proper.  My last few months have been primarily learning Arduino and building two different versions of a proximity sensor.  I’ve also constructed three or four automaton cases.  Each of these cases is custom constructed to fit a specific automaton.  

The automaton that I am creating now carries a working title of Five Slat Message Board #1.  I had been calling it 1.6 Earths but realized that I need a more generic name because I believe that I will be creating at least several of the Five Slat Message Board automatons.

One of the things that I’ve been creating is the Mark 2 version of the proximity sensor.  Five Slat Message Board #1 will contain a Mark 2 proximity sensor, which will turn the automaton on and off in response to people being in front of it.

At the moment I am creating the biped.  He will be relaxing in a sort of recumbent position, pedaling.

Limb hinging is an important aspect of this construction.  He has no moveable ankles, knees that pivot nylon on hardwood, and leather hips.  I am creating the arms and head at this time.  The decision of “how to joint” is important.  The last thing that I want is for a joint to fail.  That said, if a joint does fail I want repairs to be relatively non-destructive.

You will note that his wooden feet will be replaced with sneakers.


The biped for Five Slat Message Board #1 is being created. 12 April 2021.




28 March 2021: I’ve found my voice

As I look back over the past recent years I see that my automata creations have a common theme…a biped doing work. As I look at my automata I can see threads of commonality.  Most importantly, at least to me, I see many future creations that follow the same theme of bipeds doing work.

In some respects, I’m disappointed in myself.  I look at other automata and see frivolity, comedy, fantasy.  I’ve tried to think those ways but realize that it’s simply not who I am.  For a while, I was feeling inadequate.  I was scolding myself for not being able to create automata that is like other automata.  

But at the end of the day…I’m who I am…and I’m doing what I love, and I am comfortable with my creations.

The image shows the Proximity Sensor Mk I and Auger Lift #1.  I am very pleased with the proximity sensor…I like the way that an automaton comes to life when you get near it, and that then takes a break when you leave.  The Mark I model is a desktop unit.  It stands alone and an automaton plugs into the back of it.  In my head, I am designing the Mark II model.  The Mk II will be two separate modules that are made as small as possible.  One of the modules will contain the sensors and perhaps an indicator light or two.  It will be mounted under and to the front of an automaton.  And the second module will contain the processor, the power supply, the power relay, the hour meter, the circuit breaker, and the control switch.  This second module will be mounted in the rear of an automaton.


Auger Lift #1 and the new Proximity Sensor Mk I. 21 March 2021.


13 February 2021: Time for Another

There is a lot going on right now…most of it in my brain.

On the automata front, I’ve finished Auger Lift #1, with the exception of the carrying case and the proximity sensor (more on proximity sensors in a bit). 

In the past, I’ve been working with two different themes, 1) Jim’s Gym, and 2) Product Spinners.  At the turn of the year, I decided to add a third focus: Earth Awareness.

Earth Awareness: This is a complicated subject but I’ve been able to narrow things down a bit by focusing on the statistic that in order for us to be in balance with the earth (the way we are living today) there needs to be 1.6 Planet Earths.  I’m in the process of determining how to communicate this.  It’s a challenge that is interesting.

Proximity Sensors: I participate in the Automata Magazine online forum. One of the topics recently was Arduino.  This has got me thinking about how I could use a small microprocessor and what I’ve concluded is that immediately I could use a proximity sensor that will turn an automaton on when someone is proximal, and then would turn it off when no humans are around.  I like this idea and think it would be useful.

So I’ve been on the journey of specing what I want the proximity sensor to do, and then of sourcing the components so that I can build the sensor.  The sourcing part is complicated.  There is no one place to go.  I’m going to need to establish relationships with about four vendors when I embark on this journey.  I’ve been reminded that to create automatons I’ve got relationships with about a dozen vendors.  I’ve slowly built these relationships over the years, terminating about as many as I have found useful.  It’s tough finding good vendors.  On the other hand, the fact that we can shop online is like a godsend.  I will be creating a prototype proximity sensor that hopefully can be used with all of my motorized automata.  It will be a stand-alone unit, about the size of a cigar box.



Auger Lift #1 is completed. 46.5 hours on the clock. 5 February 2021


21 January 2021: It’s a New Year

I was born in 1945, which means that by some measurements I am old.  As is true of most of us, as we age we learn.  And what we learn should change our outlook and our behavior.  In my case, one of the things that I’ve learned is that I’ve had too many interests in my life…I’ve not focused enough on the primary things.  During 2020 I slowly came to the realization that I should focus on just three things: 1) Myself (happiness and health), 2) My Wife (I need to be as supportive and as loving as I’m capable), and 3) Automata.  I’ve spent time and energy in 2020 disposing of and or ending relationships or activities that don’t support one of those three primary focal points.  As I enter 2021 and the remainder of my life I’m going to stay focused on just those three things.  By doing so I believe that my quality of life will improve and that my impact on the planet (for what it is worth) will be more positive.

My two automata categories of focus have been Product Spinners and Jim’s Gym automatons.  I’m adding one more category…Earth Awareness.  I admit that I don’t have even one automaton in mind yet for the Earth Awareness category…but I also believe that automata can increase awareness of how we should be inhabiting this planet.  I think that it is vitally important that we properly inhabit this planet…this space ship.  We need to learn how to do it.

In my automata world, Auger Lift #1 sits on my workbench completely disassembled as I carefully apply coats of paint to each component.

The Auger Lift #1 Electrics Panel has just been painted and reassembled. January 20, 2001.


3 January 2021: Happy New Year

2020 was a long year. A year like 2020, however, forces the realization that most of the time we’ve got it pretty darn good.

I suspect that 2021 will be a better year…however the price paid will be spread over many of the coming years.  

I’ve cut my activities down to just “myself, my wife, and my art”.  This simplification allows me to focus more on the things that are important to me.  In hindsight, I’ve had too many interests over the years.  I should have focused years ago.

In the studio, the Auger Lift is coming along nicely.  the biped has been created, the elliptical pedaling mechanism is operating, the auger lift is lifting marbles.  The last thing, the actual marble run itself, is being created at this time.  I suspect that by Thursday or Friday I’ll have the machine circulating marbles.  After that…30 or 40 hours of burn-in run time…then disassembly for paint.  This automata should be completed by the end of February.

In the meanwhile, the next one is taking shape in my head.

Happy New Year everyone.  We wish you the best in 2021.

Cheryl and Jim Coffee. 25 December 2020


6 December 2020: The 3D Printer has become an Essential Tool

It’s been an exciting couple of months with the Prusa Mini 3D printer that I acquired in mid-October.  Just this evening I installed my second roll of filament (382 meters, MatterHacker Pro Tough PLA).  I’ve had the printer running a lot…and I’m not printing little toys…I’m printing things that I need.  The quality of the 3D prints is much better than I had imagined that it would be…and I can print smaller than I thought I would be able to print.

The software (FreeCAD) was difficult for me to learn…but I’m now able to design many of the parts that I’m wanting to print.  Each time I design something I get a bit better with the software.

At this time I’m creating an automata that has a working title of “Auger Lift”.   The first image shows the crankshaft arms that have been 3D printed.  In the past, I’ve made these crankshaft arms from wood.  I work carefully however have never been able to create crankshaft arms that are as precise as these 3D printed crankshaft arms.  They are each exactly the same size.  What this means is that there are no binds.  The motion flows smoothly.  In the second image you see the 3 journal pillow block (also 3D printed).  I drop the crankshaft onto the pillow block, tighten the caps down, and rotate the crankshaft to find no binds what so ever.  It rotates in its bearings very smoothly and freely.  Tough to do when working at this small scale and working with wood.

And another beautiful thing is that I’ve now got the crankshaft arm design saved and available for reuse.  So yes, it did take time to work with the software to create the crankshaft arms, but I can now print on demand.

What I’m finding is that the 3D printer is allowing me to work at a higher level of quality.  For example, the third image shows the elliptical motion test stand.  The motion is generated by a gear motor and then transferred to the crankshaft through pinwheel gears.  There are no binds.  Had I made these same components from wood (and metal) my work would not have been as detailed and there would have been binds and irregularities in the drive train.

I know…it sounds like I’m just blathering on and on about the 3D printer.  Sorry, if that’s what you think.  However, if you are someone who has been considering acquiring a 3D printer I say to you that this little printer has become an essential tool in my workshop.  Ironically I am even now considering purchasing another one because I don’t want to find myself in a “down” situation.

And on the national/international front, COVID 19 continues to top the headlines, along with Trump continuing to attempt to tear down our Democracy.  I hope that the electorate and the Republican party have learned something from this experience, I also am trying to learn something.  There is obviously something that I still don’t understand.

Anyway…I live in California…and our Governor has just locked us down again.  Some folks are pissed about this…but I say that we’ve brought this lockdown onto ourselves.  I’ve been watching the numbers carefully.  It is obvious that we are getting sicker quicker.  Sicker quicker is not sustainable.  At some point, we will overwhelm the medical systems, and then where will we be?  So I’m staying home and working on automata.  I feel very fortunate to be able to do so.

Crankshaft for the Auger Lift. The crankshaft arms have been 3D printed. 4 December 2020.
Crankshaft Assembly: The 3 journal pillow block and the crankshaft arm have been 3D printed. 5 December 2020.
The elliptical motion for the Auger Lift is in a test stand being ‘run in’. The motor mount, pinwheel gears, pillow block, and crankshaft arms have all been 3D printed. 6 December 2020.
The Auger Lift crankshaft assembly in the test stand. 6 December 2020.