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


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