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Pinventions- Catching Up in the New Year

Happy New Year to all!

I blinked. Before I had a chance to open both eyes, the holidays were over, I was back at work, and I didn’t spend nearly as much time as I wanted to on my favorite hobby-business. In my last update, I introduced the Pinventions Senior Design Team working on a fog system for my “Night of the Living Dead” custom pinball project. That was in late November.

Here’s a quick update on what has happened since then:

1. The Roger Williams University Engineering School Senior Design Team delivered a summary of their work in a semester-ending presentation to faculty, students, and others.
2. I can only assume they all got A’s as a result of their awesome progress (and because they all looked sharp in their suits). Photo below.20140116-212216.jpg

3. Linda, Amanda, Jon and I had a nice long drive to PA to visit and celebrate a total of 3 Christmas’ with our families. Eve made alternate arrangements.
4. Amanda graduated from college a semester early. This was good.
5. Other stuff…
6. In pinball related news, I recently partnered with a talented comic book artist, Chad Cicconi, to help design a playfield for my Night of the Living Dead pinball machine project. Chad happens to be from my hometown- Brownsville, PA, and does some lawyering on the side (much like I do some engineering on the side- meaning that those are our real jobs).

About Chad Cicconi.
Link to Chad’s website.

I’d like to dedicate the rest of this blog to highlighting some of the comic book work Chad has done, and sharing some of the concept art he has created for my pinball project.

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Chad draws (among other things) the FRACTURE series of comics for Action Lab Entertainment, and a recent issue has been receiving some favorable press. Review.Traditional (nostalgic) pinball art has many similarities to comic book style art, and I am not especially talented in that genre. I saw some of Chad’s work online, liked his style, and realized that he could help me with certain parts of my overall design. He has some great ideas, and I am excited to see how his work, my work, and the Senior Design Team’s work will all come together in the next few months.

There are a few surprises in store, but here is a sampling of what Chad is working on for me. Stay tuned, this should be fun.

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P.S. I am overstocked with “donor” pinball machines (and running out of room since both Jon and Amanda are back living at home temporarily). I have 12 or 13 machines now (I honestly lost count), and would be willing to sell a few “as-is” (non-customized) for $500 to $800 just to clear up some space. If you are interested, let me know- I’ll get a machine cleaned up and working for you.

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Meet the Pinventions Team!

This past week I paid a visit to Roger Williams University and met with the Engineering Senior Design Project Team working on a self-contained fog generation system for my “Night of the Living Dead” custom pinball machine.20131117-215752.jpgBackglass Design

This is my third meeting with Alexander Gilman, Anthony Melkonian, Richard Mendoza, and Brian Stuckman- the “Pinventions Team” as they are known- and I am very impressed with their progress to date. We first met in late September when they visited my workshop, got a sense of what my business endeavor is all about, and learned about my vision for my zombie pinball machine design.

20131117-214803.jpgMeet the Team

The engineering challenges that I gave them were somewhat unique. I had done a lot of research into solving the series of engineering problems associated with this project, and there were no clear-cut answers for some of them. I also was pushing the limit in my requirements and expectations of this design team. For example, my design vision includes:

1. Development of a self-contained fog generation unit that could simulate fog (in a foggy cemetery scene in the back glass of the machine).
2. The fog generation needs to be almost instantaneous.
3. The fog should be controllable to a certain extent- with different modes that can be triggered by different game play actions- for example, fog could be swirling, low-lying, exhausted at the feet of the player, or be capable of being piped to an area beneath the playfield for use in other special effects.
4. The glass areas should be easy to clean, ideally with an automatic or self-contained cleaning system.

These design requirements would necessitate some pretty complex automation, including air handling, temperature control, and integration with older electronics from the base game design. I was a bit worried that this would all be a bit too much for these four students, expecting perhaps a “fun” and easy project (after all- zombies!).

But after our meeting this week I was pleasantly surprised. They had researched and solved the problem of instantly generating fog by hacking some of the electronics from a special kind of electronic cigarette, and they have been working with anti-fogging liquids (ironically) to minimize the need for cleaning the glass. They had completed some basic work on the computerized automation and airflow, constructed an acrylic back glass and constructed a working test/demo unit.

20131117-214355.jpgTrust me-There’s fog in the cemetery.

To their credit, they also printed out one part of my back glass design artwork and attached that to the test unit to give it a more realistic look. Even in the brightly lit classroom, the effect was impressive. Considering that they have 2/3 of the school year left to pull it all together, I am confident we will have an impressive prototype to show.

The students tell me that Dr. Linda Riley (program director for RWU Engineering) suggested that their fog generation concept may be worthy of a patent. I tend to agree.

Before I left the meeting, I offered them (and myself!) an even greater challenge- I suggested that they plan for completing their work a month or so early, and I would work to have the rest of the machine design completed and working by then as well- including original artwork for the playfield design as well as some other special effects to make additional use of the fog. Our hope is to put it all together and have the entire working machine there for the final presentation in May 2014.

Thanks to Alex, Anthony, Richard, and Brian for some impressive work to date. I’m looking forward to your presentation at the end of the semester, and to mentoring you all towards the completion of our project.

And finally, a bit of trivia about the theme of the design- “Night of the Living Dead”. Although this classic movie from 1968 is generally regarded as the first of a long line of zombie movies, the word “zombie” was never used in the movie. The flesh-eaters were called “ghouls”.

And now you know…

20131117-214557.jpg“Well, hello there! Please don’t call me a zombie.”

Motel Hell and Pinball Nirvana

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This is My Canvas

Hello world! I made it home alive from my excursion to exotic York, PA last weekend where I attended a pinball convention (of sorts) for the third straight year. If that sounds super exciting to you, then wait, there’s more! I am also pleased to report that I was privileged to stay in what I judge to be the worst hotel in the world.

I can hear you doubters out there saying “Come on, Dave! It seems certain that there are hotels in third world countries and West Virginia that can proudly make that claim. Surely you jest!”

I’m not sure why you all speak that way, but that’s what I heard.

Anyway, I can offer proof of this claim by way of a list that I will entitle:

Why the York, PA Econo Lodge is the Worst Hotel in the World

Let me list a few examples that help to illustrate my point. Let’s begin at check-in….

1. I was greeted and checked in by a woman (I assume) that (I assume) was the owner, who-during the entire time (s)he was checking me in- was wheezing uncontrollably and continuously. I almost called an ambulance for this person, but (s)he didn’t seem to be bothered by this nearly as much as I was. Also, I didn’t call for help because I was so distracted by the large flap of skin in her (?) left nostril that fluttered in rhythm to the wheezing. This had an oddly hypnotic affect on me.

So perhaps I only imagined the rest of these examples…

2. The hookers relaxing in the lobby, as well as (evidently) in the room next to mine were, well…let me put it this way- have any of you seen “Breaking Bad”? And how did I know they were in the room next to me? Let’s just say that I could hear them doing their “breathing exercises”. Enough said.

3. In my experience, most no star hotels at least have chain locks on the doors so that you can barricade yourself in the room, offering at least a small measure of resistance to any criminal encroachment, FBI raids, or zombie hordes. The Econo Lodge in York, PA does not offer such a thing. The chain lock in my particular room had been ripped from the wall several decades earlier.

4. The hotel room was curiously large and spacious- which may seem like a good thing. It was perhaps 12 feet wide and maybe 25 feet long- in fact I counted as many as 7 (maybe 8?) carpet remnant patches used to cover the massive floor. The variety in the carpeting color and texture were much like the rings in a tree, offers clues and glimpses into the colorful history of the room. For example, the patterns of stains in several of the pieces suggest periods of time when civilization may have first used fire, or the inhabitants evolved to using utensils like crack pipes. Other sections of carpeting hint of massacre or perhaps human sacrifice. Fascinating.

5. An interesting feature of my particular room was that all electrical outlets (except one!) had been eliminated. Smoky colored plastic plates covered areas of the walls where (I assume) electrical outlets used to exist. I can appreciate how this may save management the expense of having hotel guests syphon off precious electricity from their power grid. I imagine they also save money from not having any place to plug in vacuum cleaners. The one lone outlet in the room was taken up by the microwave oven, which was perched on top of the trash can by the door, 20 feet from the bed. I must remark that the microwave seemed out of place in this room, like some strange “artifact from the future” accidentally deposited here by a careless time traveler.

6. The towels (both of them) were of an interesting gray color, crusty to the touch, yet still lacking the “nibs” that seem to be common on most towels. My best guess is that the nibs had worn off several years ago after repeated washings on stones in the local “stream” that ran in the back.

7. I’m glad I didn’t have a black light.

8. I could go on, but I’m guessing you can see a pattern here.

At this point, a logical (and fair) question to ask is how I ended up at the Econo Lodge in York, PA, and why I stayed there after my first impressions of “Wheezy” and the girls.

I admit that this is all my own fault- for when I am traveling on my own, I am admittedly very frugal, and in fact I make a game of seeing how little I can pay for a hotel room. In this case I used Priceline, and even “named my own price”- a price so low that I was surprised it was accepted. In hind site, I can understand why Wheezy would take any offer (s)he could get. I usually am OK with my Priceline results- I really don’t care that much since I tend to arrive very late, go to sleep immediately, get up, shower, and leave. No star hotels are OK with me as long as I believe the sheets and towels are clean- my basic rules include: never touch the comforter; wear socks at all times; wear long sleeves to bed; use plenty of hand sanitizer.

But in this case, Priceline and the room won, and my rules were insufficient. It was that bad.

The weekend was not all lost, however. I eventually made it out of the Hotel California, past the beast, and on to Pinball Nirvana at the York Fairgrounds. I spent the day with other game room aficionados, freely playing the dozens of old and new games and perusing the older junker machines for sale that I target for my restoration/customization projects.

I have several projects in the works currently (one is in the photo above), and have a few donor machines in stock already, so I didn’t have to buy anything. I did end up buying a machine very similar to the one I converted into my Springsteen machine- Tenth Avenue Freeze Out-complete with the roulette wheel/turntable feature. My thinking is that if anyone out there wants a machine similar to that one, I now have a donor unit that can be used (along with the art designs I have already created) to create a very similar, but new, Springsteen themed machine at 1/2 to 2/3 the cost of the original. In the scheme of things, this could be a bargain for someone.

So as I wrap this ramble up, I want to again mention the photo above- this shows the original play field of the machine that I will be using for my Night of the Living Dead project. It has been stripped of all hardware and is ready to be stripped of the original design- down to the bare wood. In others words, I am preparing this as my next “canvas”, and am currently working on the art design on my iMac.

As I ponder my adventures of the past week, and look for inspirations for this new design, my memories and thoughts converge into an idea that is growing on me- “Wheezy” and the girls as zombies.

Unfortunately, this idea is very close to the reality.

A Triumphant Return….and there are no losers.

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It’s been a while.

I enjoy writing these blog entries, and I want to keep my website fresh. I really do. I promise.
But I have been extremely busy doing a few fun things, a few charitable things, and a few other things designed to build my business and network. I have also heard rumblings from the underworld concerning my promise to pay $50 for any pinball design ideas I use.

And as I keep reminding myself and others- I still have a day job that I am committed to (FM Global needs to know that!)

But “Digress, I do .” says the little Yoda on my shoulder. So let’s tackle a few topics in order:

1. Pinball Design Contest

I received about 30 design ideas through various means (including Facebook, emails, and notes in bottles) -although an objective in creating the contest was that I was kinda hoping to drive up the traffic to my website. But never mind- a few of the ideas have real promise, and if I ever pursue any of them- I sincerely promise to pay off the idea man or woman. To be honest, I am not working on any of them currently- so there are no winners yet- and there are no losers! I wish things could be different. It’s not me, it’s you. You deserve prizes from someone better than me. Can’t we just be friends?

Moving on.

2. Roger Willliams University Engineering Senior Design Project

I am very excited that my endeavor “Pinventions” is sponsoring a senior design project at RWU. Some of you know that I serve on the professional advisory board for the university’s engineering school, and working with the faculty there we came up with the very cool idea of packaging a senior design project around one of my machine’s designs.

The challenge? Create a fog-filled cemetery scene in the back glass of my “Night of the Living Dead” custom machine design. To do this the team needs to develop a self-contained, self-cleaning fog management system that can respond to various actions taking place in a pinball machine.

Dr. Linda Riley at RWU tells me this was one of the most popular and most requested projects. I’ve already met with this very impressive team of young engineers who visited me at home for a tour of my shop and an overview of the project objectives. I can’t wait to see what they come up with. They are:

-Alexander Gilman
-Anthony Melkonian
-Brian Stuckman
-Richard Mendoza

3. NYC World Maker Faire

I got my first taste of the Maker Faire in Providence a few weeks ago, and realized I am indeed a “Maker”- which is a difficult term to define. In general, a “Maker” makes, creates, hacks, mashes, etc. for his own enjoyment, or to challenge themselves to solve a problem that they may in fact create for the sole purpose of solving it. I create custom pinball machines (among other things).

Anyway, I am hooked on this “Maker” movement, and knew I had to attend the New York City version to saturate my senses and curiosity. I was not disappointed. The photo above is of me by the icon of the movement- the Maker Robot.

I also had a meeting with some “Make” representatives there who were more than a little interested in my pinball creations. Nothing for sure yet, but we continue to talk.

4. The Pittsburgh Pirates

I am a life-long baseball fan, and grew up in the 1970′s with the Pirates- Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell- these were my heroes. As a professional working in downtown Pittsburgh in 1992, I attended every home game of their last playoff series. As a “Maker” even then, I created a banner mocking the Brave’s “tomahawk chop” and hung it in the stadium. It even made the ESPN broadcast back in the day. Just prior to that playoff series in 1992 our daughter Amanda was born, and I recall watching the Pirates on TV in the hospital while Linda was in labor. At that time they were gunning for the playoffs (the Pirates, not Linda and infant Amanda), which they made, and cruised through until…

…my beloved Pirates were minutes away from the World Series. It was the seventh game of the NL final. They were ahead in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. Then with a single swing of the bat it all changed. A weak single. A weak throw from Barry Bonds to the plate. A lumbering Sid Bream- who for years prior had been a fan favorite in Pittsburgh but then the traitor bolted to the hated Braves-scored the winning run in slow motion, and sent the shell-shocked Pirates home to a cold exile for 21 years.

Pittsburgh baseball fans like myself have been in shock ever since, afraid to commit as fans, reluctant to ever come close to experiencing that heartbreak again.

Amanda just turned 21 a few weeks ago, and the Pittsburgh Pirates have had a total of zero winning seasons since that terrible day.

Until now.

Let’s go Bucs!

Seriously? I Guess $50 wasn’t Enough.

So a week or so ago, I asked blog readers, potential customers, and Facebook friends to contribute their ideas for creating a new pinball game- as long as it was nostalgic and met a few other criteria- and I would offer $50 if I chose to used your idea in a future design.

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So far, my favorite idea is one of my own that I am building now- “Alien Abduction”- a prototype flying saucer can be seen in the photo. Picture this saucer with a blue “tracker beam” hovering low over cornfields looking to levitate cows- with all of this fitting into the back glass of a pinball machine. More details as to how this will work for scoring to be forthcoming…

But I digress. This is not about me, this is about the collective “you”. You are letting me down.

I received a handful of ideas- including several sent through email (rather than in the blog comments), but all in all I am underwhelmed by the lack of interest. The ideas that I did get do have promise- so “thank you Bob”- and if any of them become a reality, I will be forwarding a royalty check to the idea man or woman. But “Alien Abduction” is what I’m going with for now.

The offer still stands- $50 for any ideas that I end up using in a design- or 50% of one of my “donor machines” if you want one for a commissioned project.

Also, a few loose ends to tie back to some previous themes:

1. My “Night of the Living Dead” back glass design- the one with a backlit fog effect- has been accepted as a Senior Design Project for the Roger Williams University Engineering Department. This is very exciting since I like mentoring the engineering students, and since hopefully they can help me come up with a good way to manage fog production in an enclosed glass case.

2. Jacquizz Rodgers is not panning out as the Fantasy Football League stud that I thought he would. He had one catch for -1 yards, and no yards rushing. This resulted in a grand total of 1 fantasy point.

3. There no longer seems to be a market for the Cumberland Farms/David Hasselhoff iced coffee ad cardboard cutouts. I have one in my possession. Don’t ask how or why.

4. I refuse to believe that summer is over. Do not try to convince me otherwise.

5. My baby girl Amanda is turning 21 next week. I refuse to believe this either. Do not try to convince me otherwise.

And finally, spend 30 seconds thinking of a good ( or even a bad) idea for a game theme and list them in the comments. $50 is real money. Believe it!

Contest: Your Pinball Design Ideas for $$$$!!

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This is not a trick. I am looking for great ideas for a new customized pinball machine design.

If I decide to build one based on your design- and you will know since I will post it here- I will pay you $50. Not enough for college tuition, I know- but certainly worth a few minutes to brainstorm some ideas, and type them out in the comments below.

For reference, and to get you thinking, here are links to my prototype 3 designs thus far- (sorry, I have a few other secret commissioned designs in the works that I can’t share yet):

The Racer
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Night of the Living Dead

Here are the rules:
1. Ideas must be submitted with your name and email address in the comments below. Additional explanation/concepts will be helpful to envision the idea (this could definitely influence my decision!)
2. Ideally, the theme or concept should be nostalgic- from the 60′s, 70′s, or early 80′s
3. Ideally, the theme should be one that has not already been used in a pinball design.
4. Be wary of ideas that directly relate to copyrighted works.
5. In a future blog posting, I will outline the entries as well as my thoughts in determining any “winners” for designs I choose.
6. In lieu of a $50 prize, winner(s) may choose to take a 50% discount on one of my donor machines to use for making your idea a reality.
7. If there are insufficient and/or inadequate entries, I reserve the right not to declare a winner.
8. Limit of 3 ideas per person.

This is not a joke, nor a trick. I am looking for inspiration and the next big idea for an art project. It costs nothing to provide your ideas! Good luck!

Dave
P.S. my new email address for the business is:
davegaskill@pinventions.com

Fantasy Football and David Hasselhoff

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For those of you not familiar with Cumberland Farms, it is a family owned chain of gas stations and convenience stores located mostly in New England. There is one down the road from us where I usually purchase my gasoline. Several months ago, I was shocked to see former Bay Watch and TV semi-star David Hasselhoff’s somewhat bloated image plastered around the Cumberland Farms store and parking lot.

The image is prominent and repeated: As I pull into the lot, David’s life-sized image- fully clothed but still riding a surf board- smirks me into thinking about how odd he now seems, even as he tempts me with a refreshing beverage…. I’m pumping gas, David is eyeing me up, fluffing up his chest hair, offering me a mega-serving of iced coffee…. I make out a 99 cent gold medallion around his neck- reminding me within his chest-forest that the drink is less than a buck….. I go inside to purchase something else and -dammit- there he is again- cloned on every wall- a Jurassic-Parkesque scare tactic that makes me consider purchasing a delicious iced beverage. It’s under a dollar after all.

It seems that I am not alone in being hypnotized by sir Hoff’s glare and stare, fluffed chest hair. There has been a recent crime wave of sorts, as Rhode Islanders and neighbors are stealing the large Hoff parking lot signs from stores around the region. One brave employee recently risked his life protecting one of the sought after prizes. David himself expressed concern after hearing that this employee was injured in the line of duty- guarding one of the remaining signs from theft. Hoff tweeted his regret, and by all accounts it was a most sincere tweet.

Unfortunately, all of the above is true.

After shaking myself out of my trance, I reflected on the most disturbing aspects of this ad campaign. In no particular order, I offer these thoughts:

1. If you are surfing, why would you wear a long sleeve shirt and long pants?
2. How can you surf and drink coffee at the same time? This seems like trick photography or something.
3. In Jurassic Park, why was there a porta-potty in the middle of the T-Rex enclosure? This seems a bit contrived and I suspect was there simply so the lawyer could go into it and be exposed and eaten by the dinosaur.
4. Is David Hasselhoff getting career advice from William Shatner?
5. Did anybody see the Sponge Bob movie? The German people worshipped Hoff.
6. Does Germany have eBay? If so, can someone help me post something for sale there. Don’t worry about what it is. That’s my business.

On a related, note, I’m a bit nervous about my first fantasy football draft this Sunday. Anyone have any advice? Here is my logo for my team. Notice there is nothing this week about custom pinball machines- but I have a new idea for a design….

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