27 October 2019, The Electric Chair

Sometimes I drive a project, and sometimes a project drives me.  The Electric Chair is driving me right now.

I am enjoying the process of being creative…of having the right materials at hand so that I can move forward relatively quickly…and I am enjoying discussing this Electric Chair automata with others.  The reaction that I get from people is interesting.  Some ask me if Trump being our President is driving this effort.  I’ll admit that I’m not being driven by Trump consciously…but unconsciously…who knows.  I am extremely dissatisfied and frustrated with US Politics right now.  Extremely.  I wish folks could be honorable and keep their eyes on the important balls.

I’m in a good position right now with supplies being in stock in my studio.  I’ve got things working pretty smoothly in terms of reordering things…of having things that I need to have.  And I am working more efficiently in terms of time…not sure why.  My hands simply seem to be working better.  My hands seem to be creating better.

I ordered a couple of motors from China about three weeks ago.  They finally arrived this afternoon.  I’ll be able to place one of them into the Inclined Slide #1 test stand so that I can get this test stand working properly.

The Electric Chair is Taking Shape


18 October 2019, Automata in Public

In 2016 I created a 20 Pipe Street Organ and I have been playing it in public 2-4 times a month.  I’ve started taking Big Wheel Lift #1 with me to the venues where I feel I can control access (young folks) and to where I can actually transport.  It takes two trips to the car.  At some of the venues where I play the organ I simply cannot do two trips (that would mean leaving something ‘unguarded’).

Anyway, using the battery pack (that I mentioned 12 August) I turn on Big Wheel Lift #1 and start playing the street organ and people cheer up.  When they stop to visit the organ they almost always notice Big Wheel Lift #1, with many becoming fascinated.  And often the reverse happens…people notice the automata first.  The meter now reads 31,644 marbles cycled.  Big Wheel Lift is proving remarkably reliable…rarely dropping a marble or missing a beat.  If memory serves in the last 4,500 or so marbles…none have been tossed out.  Not bad.

Regarding “automata”, when people stop to chat and I speak the word “automata” many have never heard of the word…so discussion happens…which is good.  It’s good bringing automata out in public.

It is not unusual for someone from Europe to stop and chat.  They always remind me that Europe has much deeper automata roots than the US.

I’m very fortunate to be able to play my street organ in public and to demonstrate my automata in public.

Big Wheel Lift #1 displays alongside Misty, the 20 Pipe Street Organ. At the Bernardo Winery Farmers Market.

5 October 2019, The Automata Community

In late 2018 I discovered that Automata Magazine was going to be published.  I browsed the first two issues and then subscribed…and I am really glad that I did.

The world of automata is now much larger and much closer to me.  The articles in the magazine are at the very least interesting.  Many of them are excellent.

And then at the beginning of September 2019 the Automata Magazine Online Forum began.  Though still very young my life has already been enriched more than I was expecting.  It’s nice being able to participate and communicate with the similar minded individuals in the forum.

Inclined Slide #1 is progressing.  I’ve completed the upper drive frame and the marble lift and the ellipse that all will be sitting on. Next to be created will be the drive drum and the related ratchets and springs.

I’m enjoying creating the Jim’s Gym series…but am also starting to want to get out of that box and to do something different.  At this moment my top candidate is “The Electric Chair”.  Sort of a morbid but fascinating concept.  We’ll see.

The marble lift mechanism is being created.

24 September 2019, Still Plodding Along on the Test Stand

Construction of the Test Stand is important for several reasons:

  • The Test Stand is the first place that the geometry of the automata is actually developed so that it functions reliably.
  • The Test Stand permits thousands of cycles of “burn in”, under power.
  • The Test Stand creates the ‘biped standard’ for it’s automata.

As I have been creating this test stand things have been going pretty well.  I am experimenting with building my own hub clamps.  The clamps that I have been purchasing are $5.99 each.  Every time I use one of the purchased hubs I feel like I’m over paying.  Not that I think they are overpriced…but that I am overpaying.,

And I am also experimenting with different versions of cam followers.  The cam follower that you see in the image is a replacement part for a sliding screen door.

I’ve got the Inclined Slide Test Stand operating the biped via hand crank.  I’m very pleased with the motion and believe that this cam profile will be what is used on the actual automata.
The Inclined Slide Project Sheet can be found here.

And not to talk about the weather too much…but just to say that it looks like we are going to get our first rain of the season over the weekend.  It will be nice.  Things have become pretty dry.

This is the cam follower on the Inclined Slide Test Stand

15 September 2019, Test Stand & It’s HOT!

Inclined Slide #1 is moving along nicely.  Pictured is the biped test stand…still being developed.  When I create an automata that I know will be  #1 of a series I always build a test stand for the biped.  This allows me to create good reliable geometry…and then to ensure that each additional biped that is created for the series is properly hinged and configured.  The test stand will be motorized which allows me to “burn in” each biped…cycling it through thousands of cycles before installing it onto it’s automata.
The Inclined Slide Project Sheet is here.

Big Wheel Lift #1 has again accompanied me when I play my street organ.  The power pack that I purchased is working very well…and the automata continues to attract attention and conversation about automata.  Big Wheel Lift #1 has cycled more than 23,000 marbles and does not drop any of them.  It’s nice having the new case.
The Big Wheel Lift Project Sheet is here.

Things went slowly today.  The temperature exceeded 100°f so I took a nap in the middle of the day.  What a treat!  I’m feeling refreshed as I type this.  I simply couldn’t move faster than a snail when it was so hot.

The Inclined Slide Test Stand on it’s way to completion.


8 September 2019: A Case for Big Wheel Lift, Biped Hinges, Automata Magazine

This has been a good week.

I’ve finished the case for Big Wheel Lift #1.  In addition to holding the Big Wheel Lift it has racks for a set of marbles and for the 110v battery pack.  I used it today to take Big Wheel Lift #1 to the Sikes Farmers Market with me…where it operates next to me while I play my street organ.  The case is virtually airtight, which means that no dust will get inside.

I’m in the process of hinging the joints on the biped for Inclined Slide #1.  I’ve yet to identify a ‘standard’ way of installing joints.  Perhaps it will always be on a case by case basis.  I try hard to build longevity into my automata.  Big Wheel Lift #1, which was completed just last month, has already cycled more than 23,000 marbles.  The cycles add up fast.  Everything in these little machines needs to be properly constructed…always with an eye on longevity.  The automata monkey on my street organ has cycled in excess of 1,000,000 times.  And that’s all hand crank work.

Big Screw is forming in my mind.  I believe that it will be the next automata in the Jim’s Gym series of exercise machines.

The September/October issue of Automata Magazine was published.  It’s a great issue…I really enjoy and value Automata Magazine.  In addition the Automata Magazine Forum has been introduced.  I hope that this forum becomes a viable conversation pit for all things automata.

Big Wheel Lift #1 Carrying Case

28 August 2019, One born, one into the trash.

I have discarded A Sunday Drive.  I simply could not focus enough continual enthusiasm.  Too many other automata kept poking their way around A Sunday Drive.  So I’ve thrown it away.  It’s in the garbage.  No different I guess than a painter painting over a failed painting.

And there has been a birth this week.  The biped for Inclined Slide #1 has emerged from a block of basswood.  It’s still in rough shape (as opposed to finished).  Shoulder hinges are installed.  I need to install ankle, knee, and hip hinges…and I need to make a test stand for this biped.

I am building a carry case for Big Wheel Lift #2.

Our weather here in Southern California has been a bit too warm…so I generally don’t work in the middle of the afternoon…but the rest of the time my studio is comfortable.

I don’t feel bad about discarding A Sunday Drive…I feel good.  I learned and I got some fresh ideas.  Good things.

Inclined Slide #1 Project Sheet

Big Wheel Lift #1:  Project Sheet, Detail Sheet

A Sunday Drive Project Sheet

The Inclined Slide Biped emerges 28 August 2019.


12 August 2019
110vac To Go

In 2016 I completed a 20 pipe street organ that I call Misty. Misty and I perform in public 2-4 times a month…it’s fun.  A side benefit are the tips that I receive…which I reinvest into my art projects (street organs and automata).  Sometimes I perform where it is crowded and noisy and sometimes I perform where it is calm and sedate.  I got the thought into my head that I would like to take an automata with me to these calm and sedate venues.

The problem…the show stopper…was that there was no convenient 110vac at these venues.  In July 2019 I completed Big Wheel Lift #1Big Wheel Lift was screaming at me that it wanted to come performing with me…so I started the task of locating a portable power source.

I ended up purchasing a FlePow portable power bank from Amazon…approx $80.00.  This is a neat little power bank that has two powered USB ports, and a 110 volt outlet.

Big Wheel Lift contains a 110vac 6 watt motor.  The FlePow portable power bank powers the Big Wheel Lift for 12+ hours before it needs recharging.  It has worked flawlessly now at three different venues.

Having Big Wheel Lift as part of my street organ playing performance has added depth to my performance.  People are fascinated with it.  Many stop and watch.  Some of them speak to me about Big Wheel Lift and automata in general.  All in all the power bank has been a great investment.

110vac To Go. Acquired August 2019.

31 July 2019
Back to the Biped

It’s Scissor Lift #2 that is the priority on my bench.  I gave up on it’s biped last year and commenced to create Big Wheel Lift #1.  The biped for Big Wheel Lift #1 has turned out well.  I like it.  Perhaps this copper leaf and patina process will become my default biped treatment…I don’t know yet.  

At any rate…I am now proceeding with the Scissor Lift #2 biped, which I expect to have completed within the week.  It has been created and primed (X2).  Only the copper leaf and patina remain to be done.

The Scissor Lift #2 biped Project Sheet is here.

The biped for Scissor Lift #2 is taking shape.


18 July 2019
I still have 10 complete digits

I feel very good about the encounter that I had with my bandsaw.  I did not lose my finger.  This was one of those lucky incidents.  I don’t call it an accident because it wasn’t.  I could have avoided this if I had been thinking more alertly.  So, it was an incident that was my fault.  I wasn’t cutting…I was cleaning the blade.  The “bugger bar” got caught by the blade and pulled my finger into the blade.  And then it jammed and stopped the blade…which caused my finger to remain intact.  I am very fortunate…and I am rethinking how I approach my tools (both power and hand).

Big Wheel Lift #1 is complete.  Now I move to showing it and marketing it.

I am currently finishing the biped for Scissor Lift #2…am about 1/3 done.  I like the way that the copper leaf and patina turned out on Big Wheel Lift #1 so am repeating that process for Scissor Lift #2.

Then A Sunday Drive is going to take priority on my bench.  A Sunday Drive is a one off…and should be fun.  No rolling marbles…just a lazy Sunday drive in a cute little red Volkswagen convertible.

Fortunately I still have 10 complete digits. 15 July 2019.