5 April 2020, Surfer #1 is completed

I challenged myself to a two week build…which I began 18 March.  The subject was a surfer on a board.  I’m pleased to report that I completed the challenge on time.  No motor.  I wish that I had included a motor because I really like the motion of this automata…I would like to be able to turn it on and sit back and watch it.  The motion is very soothing.  I’ll be creating a video soon and will post a link when completed.

The big deal in the world right now is COV!D-19 (the coronavirus).   The entire planet is feeling the effects of this pandemic.  Things will be different moving forward.  I shudder when I consider the cost of the bailout package that Congress just passed…we don’t need more national debt…and yet I cannot imagine what I would do if I was in their shoes.  A very difficult situation.

At James Coffee Studios things are sort of normal.  We work from home…so continue to do so.  However, business is way down.  It will pick up as social distancing rules are relaxed.  And trips to the store are far less frequent.  We had been trying to buy local.  Very difficult at this point to buy local and to support local businesses.  We are purchasing many more things online now.  Inevitable, I guess.  In a hundred years I wonder what “local” businesses will be?  Restaurants, bars, megastores, grocery stores…  Many of the small businesses that are on the streets of America will be distant memories in 100 years.

Surfer #1, completed 2 April 2020


25 March 2020: Isolation is Good!

Since we’ve been asked to stay home I’ve had more time to work on automata…which has been wonderful.

I am fascinated as I watch the world cope with this pandemic.  It seems to me that there are two options:

  1. We could all simply ignore the virus and go about our lives.  Some of us (probably many of us) would get sick.  Some of us would die.  We would overload our medical establishment.  There would be pandemonium and chaos.
  2. We could attempt to minimize illness and death while vaccinations are being developed.  

As a society, we seem to have chosen #2.  In my mind, this is a wise thing.  While there will be damage to the economy worldwide it seems to be the preferable method.

In my case, I’m in my studio many more hours per week and I like this.

At this time I’m working on Surfer #1.  This is a “Two Week Challenge” project.  I challenged myself.  Bottom line…I’m appreciating this ‘quick’ automata build and hope to do more quick builds in the future.  You’ve got to stay on your toes.  You’ve got to think ahead.  There is not a lot of time to redo things.  

Anyway…try to stay healthy…as the world turns.


The Red Telephone, a part of Electric Chair #1


15 March 2020, Resetting to a “New Normal”

I’ve completed the ‘mechanical’ part of the Electric Chair #1 build and am now adding details to the ‘story’.  This clock is to the left of the executioner.  I envision the shelf holding a coffee cup, a black rose, and perhaps a clipboard.

I just read that the California Governor has placed everyone 65 years and older into ‘home isolation’.  Wow.  That means me (74).  Fortunately, it’s OK.  Nowhere that I really need to be.  Lots of chaos out there.  I’m fine staying at home.  I spend most of my time working in the studio, which is great.

I’m finding this whole situation interesting.  We have the benefit of speed of light International communication, and a lack of ‘practice’ with pandemics.  And of course, everyone is a back seat quarterback, knowing way more about things than they really do.  This will all end one day.  We’ll be smarter.  The next pandemic will be easier to manage.  Mother Nature will be smarter too.

I listened to a radio show this morning that talked about the 2008-2009 recession causing there to be a ‘New Normal’.  Things would not go back to the way that they had been.  And that this pandemic will cause another new normal.  Things will not be the way they have been

I’m thinking that what I will miss the most while all of this is happening are my street organ performances.  Apparently I’ll not be able to perform for at least a few weeks.  Too bad…my street organ music makes people happy.

Stay healthy everyone.


A shelf is being added to Electric Chair #1. I anticipate there being a coffee cup and a black rose.


1 March 2020: Electrics Completed

It’s been a long time coming…the Electrics Module is finally completed and has been installed into Electric Chair #1.  It fits right in.  Nice to be able to work on this entire assembly while it is on the bench…and then to be able to easily install.

There are some tweaks needed to the interface between the Drive Frame and the automata proper…but this was to be expected.  Being under power things are much easier to troubleshoot.  I suspect that within a week or two I will consider the “machine” part of the project to be done and will begin disassembly and paint.

The Corona Virus continues to spread around the world.  China is struggling to get back to work.  Meanwhile, the 3D printer that I’ve been interested in has increased in price by about $60 (on Amazon).  Chinese produced.  Oh well.

The Democratic Party continues to be fragmented. They are in the stage right now where they beat each other up.  So sad…the process. 

This is the completed Electrics module


18 February 2020:  The Electrics Module

I’m closing in on the end of the build.  Not much more left to create before I disassemble, paint, and then reassemble so that a story is told.

At this time I’m working on the Electrics Module.  It is this module that will contain everything that is electric with the exception of 1 microswitch.  One module.  The electrics module contains the motor, a push button, a DPDT toggle switch, and a circuit breaker.  The microswitch is not in the module, rather it is mounted at the other end of the automata.  I am creating it such that it would be very difficult for someone to accidentally touch a hot wire.

In the image you see the beginning of the Electrics Module.  The motor is mounted and it hangs from two transverse shafts.  

On the 3D printing front…I am working with TinkerCad, Fusion 360, and Blender.  There is a learning curve associated with each program.  Before I order the printer I want to know for a fact that I can work with the bipeds.  Apparently I’ll be working in a mesh, or T Splined environment.  Once I know that I can manipulate the bipeds in software I’ll order my machine.

Looking out at the world right now it is the Corona Virus that is speaking loudly.  This is a virus that started in China and that is migrating around the world.  Many things are being touched (not including people).  For example, Disney has shut indefinitely two theme parks in Asia.  Container shipping is affected.  We went to the vet today and I asked her if the virus was affecting her…it is…she gets many of her fluids from China.  So she is ordering heavy at the moment.  We order from an awards supplier (our name tag magnets).  We received an email from them yesterday warning that there could be shortages.

No one knows right now, except our President.  He says it will go away by itself.

I’m wondering if this is the one that will take out humanity.  Who knows?  I don’t.  

On a personal front, we feel comfortable here….we don’t need to go anywhere…we have food on the shelves…we can stay away from other people.


The Electrics Module is taking shape.


4 February 2020, Pulsing and 3D Printing

The campak now includes 5 cams, with the most recent being the cam that turns on the pulsing.  One of the features of this automata will be the convict ‘shaking’ while he is being electrocuted.  I’ve played with the idea in my mind for months and have just recently built two versions of the pulsing mechanism, the second of which seems to be what I want.

I attended a Miniature Show in Del Mar this past weekend and found a doll seamstress who is willing to sew the outfits for both the convict and the guard.  Good news.  I was sort of dreading doing the clothing myself.

I’ve immersed myself into 3D Printer prepurchase activity.  I looked at 3D printing three or four years ago and was not compelled to move into the field.  3D printing has done a lot of maturation in the last few years and I now feel that it is time.  I had been lusting for a miniature lathe and mill.  When I carefully consider what I would be creating I find that a 3D printer is better suited to my needs.

Critical to 3D printing are the ‘filaments’ that are used.  I was pleased to note that in addition to purchasing strong stable filament (for gears, pulleys, etc.) I can also obtain filament that is wood, copper, brass, aluminum, and bronze based.  These last specialty filaments all contain PLA also…none of them are pure material.  But for my purposes, I feel that they will be useful.  

A primary use for me will be biped printing.  The bipeds are 11″ or so tall so I need a printer capable of that height.  At this time I’m considering a delta style printer, a FLSUN QQ S,  It looks like an interesting and capable printer that is receiving good reviews.  So for example, instead of needing to copper leaf my bipeds, I should be able to simply print them using the copper filament.

As I do this research I continue to be thankful for the Internet and for all of the information that is available to me (us).  What would have been so difficult that I perhaps would not have done it is now relatively easy.  One of the things that I love is the fact that I can access the writing of so many people…so many thoughts and opinions.  We are very rich right now.

Five of the six cams have been cut.


25 January 2020: The Scroll Saw

One of the important tools in my studio is my scroll saw.  It’s a Ridgid brand.  I bought it used for $50.00.  Immediately after it arrived in my studio I took it apart…inspected it…lubed it…put it back together…and have used it happily for the past four years or so.  It’s a very nice tool.

I had more difficulty with blades.  First is the issue of blades with pins in each end, or pinless.  Next is the issue of how many and what kind of teeth.  And lastly is the ‘which brand?’ question.  I’ve settled on Olson, 18.5 tpi, pin end (p/n 42401).  I’ve tried about 4 brands.  To me Olson is clearly the best.  18.5 tpi works well for the materials that I cut which are usually between 1/64 and 3/8″ thick.  And pin end because they are much easier for me to install.  My old eyes struggle installing the plain end blades.  I try to keep 10+ blades in my studio at all times.  It is not a good day when a scroll saw blade breaks and there is not a replacement at hand.

In the image you see the two new version 2 side frames being installed into the Drive Frame.  Hopefully I’ve thought this through enough that there won’t need to be a version 3.  Side frames are critical components that require a lot of time to fabricate.

I use french curves to help me with the layout of these frames.  I prefer gently curved lines to straight lines.


Side frames, Version 2, are being fitted into the Electric Chair drive frame.



17 January 2020, 4 Motions are Linked

First let me report that my brother came through open heart surgery with flying colors…what an era we live in!

There are six cams in the campak.  Of those six four have been connected to their components…and all is well.

Remaining to connect are the two motions that will utilize the ‘pulse’.  I think I know how I’m going to do it…now I just need to build what is in my mind.

It’s at this stage of the project that things are coming together and that more ideas start flowing into the mind.  Some of these new ideas are valid and I will take action.  Others are just part of the creation process noise.

I’ve been reading a blog about a 47 foot trawler that is exploring the southern tip of South America.  The story is very interesting.  I doubt that Cheryl and I will ever get that far down…but it’s pleasant thinking about it.

Part of the process of creating automata is having what you need at hand.  I’ve spent thousands of dollars and about three years building adequate stock.  It’s paying off.  I am able to create much faster than I used to be able to.  Not that speed is the goal…it’s not.  What I mean is that there is less stopping to wait for something.  I’ve got a spread sheet that I utilize for keeping track of inventory and parts orders.  The spreadsheet helps a lot.

Sorry that the image does not have more detail.  The detail is hard to photograph in a manner that makes sense.  What you should notice is that the Drive Frame (the lower part) is filling up.


Four of the six motions are now linked to the campak.

9 January 2020, The Cams are going in…

Happy New Year everyone.  Time sure goes fast as I get older.  Time seems to be flying.

My brother is going to have open heart surgery next Monday.  Imagine that.  They are going to open his heart and repair it.  What an age we live in!  And then there are some of us who create these little cranky machines that we hope might make someone smile.  There is lots of breadth and depth to life.

Regarding the Electric Chair #1, I’ve made two decisions that I’m very pleased with:

  1. I wanted the top (the automata proper) to be removable from the bottom (the Drive Frame).
  2. I wanted to be able to easily remove and replace the CamPak.

In hindsight…I’m glad that I made these two decisions.  The build is going well.  I’m in the finicky stage of the build…the part where I actually make the things that move…move.  This is the time to ‘take your time’, to go slow and lovingly, to care about every little detail.  Proper motion is so important.  Improper motion seems to sort of wreck things.

Our President continues to stress me out.  I feel guilty because I am trying to just “shut it all out”.  I know that’s wrong to do.  But it eats me up inside if I think much about it.

The Cams are being installed into Electric Chair #1


30 December 2019, Product Spinner

It’s almost the end of the year.

It’s almost the start of another year.

Time is running short.  I’ve got perhaps 20 more years to go…then I’m out of here.  As I write this I’m approaching 75.

As I’ve aged I’ve gotten better with time utilization.  I have many fewer non-essential things and activities in my life.  I am much more focused.  It’s easier getting from A to B because the lines are straighter.  I like to think that I’ve finally become “who I am”…as opposed to being someone who was trying to be.

I have been taking Big Wheel Lift into public with me occasionally and I keep noting that people are very attracted to it.  They stop and study it, and marvel at it…and seem to receive joy from it.

This has gotten me to thinking about how to get my automata into public more often.  I am contemplating what I think of as “Product Spinners” that I rent to stores.  A Product Spinner would be a biped powering some sort of machine, part of which includes a platform perhaps 3″ in diameter that turns.  Product would be placed on the platform.  The Product Spinner automata would sit on a counter top and would be a point of interest, an addition to the ambience, and a conversation opener.  I’m thinking rental in the $30-$50 month range.  We’ll see. 

The image to the right shows the side frames for the drive frame coming to life.  This is the first set of side frames.  I’ll admit that I’ve never had the first set on the final automata…there always seems to be critical improvement that I must make…so I bite the bullet and make new ones (perhaps two or three times).   I like these ‘lattice’ frames, because you can see through them.

I’m a little early…wishing you a Happy New Year!

The side frames for the Drive Frame are taking shape.