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Whirligigs for the New Year

Some people begin the new year by pledging to lose weight or quit smoking. My usual pattern is to try to find two or three new obsessions each year. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that these obsessions find me!

This last year, those obsessions included digital photography,
photo mosaics and logic puzzles. After 20 years as a software engineer, I also made a stronger attempt to produce more works in the physical world. I subscribed to Make, took a class in electronics, started building an analog synthesizer from a PCB (it remains unfinished, but my soldering skills have improved immensely), cowrote a book for O’Reilly, and began working on some puzzle books for other publishers (all due out in early 2006). Pretty tentative steps yes, but significant progress for someone as cerebral and klutzy as this particular geek.

This coming year, there are already some new obsessions on the horizon, which hopefully will take me further into the physical world. They include:

  • mechanical clocks
  • wooden automata
  • paper automata
  • wood working

The overarching theme here is trying to understand autometa and clockwork mechanisms, by building working models out of wood and paper. As I’ve improved my understanding of the equations behindthe physics of these devices, it is compelling to try to build working models, and not just flash animations.


After visiting an amazing local antique clock collection recently, I’ve become fascinated with mechanical clock escapements in particular, and I have been reading everything I can get my hands on about this subject.

Today I ordered an interesting kit from wooden-gear-clocks.com, As a musician & programmer, I have no wood working experience at all. Young musicians very rarely get to take wood shop — they occupy the same hour in the schedule as band practice. If I follow my usual pattern, it’s quite possible you’ll see a software simulation of a mechanical clock from me instead of a working mechanical one! I’ll let you know how my wood working efforts go in the coming weeks.

Some books on my Amazon wish list include:

One Response to “Whirligigs for the New Year”

  1. font_mark Says:

    Another great source of escapement designs is Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements by Henry T. Brown.