A Mad Scientist Can’t be Named Bob

I was frustrated and frantic, trying to get my custom “Night of the Living Dead” pinball machine working at the start of the Rhode Island Mini-Maker Faire last October. It worked like a charm the day prior. No matter- after 3+ hours (with Amanda’s help) of hanging banners, setting up displays, and making dozens of complex electrical connections, when I pressed the big red “Start” button on the front of the machine- absolutely nothing happened.

My "Night of the Living Dead" Custom Design

My “Night of the Living Dead” Custom Design

“Expletive!” I thought, or maybe I even said it out loud.

The Faire had opened, people started to stream in, and my custom pinball creation defied me- the backglass hero with a gun casually resting on his shoulder smirked. I had created that guy’s smirk- but I hated that cartoonish zombie killer right now. If I couldn’t get this machine to work, then I had nothing to show, and had just wasted a huge amount of time.

I also started to resent the people as they came up to me and asked if they could play my machine- I’m sure I tried to sound polite as I gave them excuses:

What I said:

“Hi! I’d love to show you the game, and yes you can play- I’m just not quite set up yet. Why don’t you stop back in a half hour or so?”

What I wanted to say:

“Hey! Why don’t all you people just leave me alone and let me think! Every time I have to talk to one of you I have to start over trying to figure out what’s wrong! I’m ADD and you are not helping!”

After 30 minutes or so of this, that’s when Bob showed up. To his credit, Bob sensed my mood and tried to get to me through Amanda. Amanda quietly interrupted my flailing on the inside of the machine to tell me that “This man wants to talk to you about a special pinball machine that he made.”

“Can you tell him to come back later?”

“He insists that you will want to talk to him.”

“What? OK, send him over.”

That’s when I first met Bob Kieronski. Bob asked if I had heard of the “Create Life” experiment (also known as the Miller/Urey experiment of 1953). I hadn’t. Create Life?-at first I thought he was a mad scientist- a modern day Dr. Frankenstein, perhaps. I then reasoned that he may somehow be referencing my zombie theme, and had a theory on reanimating the dead. I think I asked him if he knew anything about reanimating a dead pinball machine.

Bob with a robot like thing that chases you around...never mind.

Bob with a robot like thing that chases you around…never mind.

He sensed that I was a bit distracted, so he did not linger for too long. He did pique my interest, however, when he told me that the only reason that he came to the Faire was to speak to me, since he had constructed a custom pinball machine designed around the theme of this “Create Life” experiment- complete with high voltage lightning jolts, and chemical reactions in real beakers and flasks in the backglass of the machine. He fumbled around with an iPad trying to show me some pictures and a link to his website, but it wasn’t working for him. At least the gremlins weren’t just picking on me.

Before he left, he again emphasized that- after I checked out the links myself- I would want to meet up with him later to discuss our mutual interests. He especially wanted to discuss why his flippers were so weak. That comment threw me a bit- since here’s a guy who is OK with the chemical composition of life itself, but he couldn’t figure out a simple electrical problem?

Soon after Bob left, I accidentally stumbled onto the solution to my dilemma as I randomly started (literally) manhandling all the old relays in the game cabinet. I moved each of them until one of them caused a spark of life- It seems that a cotter pin had come loose, and something was pressed against the “Game Over” relay- essentially putting the game into limbo between life and death so it could not restart. Ironic, huh?

I later Googled Bob, and learned about his career in Bell Laboratories, and later his adventures into a bizarre type of science-based art. His work ranged from colorful light refraction displays to a rubber-chicken based alarm clock. He had even displayed his pinball machine in an art gallery.

I'm not kidding about the rubber chicken alarm clock.

I’m not kidding about the rubber chicken alarm clock.

We kept in contact and arranged to meet for lunch at his mansion in the heart of Newport, RI. I call it a mansion only because it is- a huge designated historical site- albeit a rambling, subdivided structure with condominiums, scattered living quarters, and a prototypical laboratory in the basement. It was not your typical Newport mansion.

From the moment I arrived, Bob was very excited and pleased to share his work with someone who had (at least some) shared interests. He introduced me to his lovely wife and the three of us dined on Subway sandwiches with hot tea in the kitchen. We chatted about his career and mine, and the fact that he is retired and I am not. We eventually went to the basement lab where all the toys are hidden. The “Create Life” experiment is a real thing, by the way.

Rather than try to describe what I saw, I will share a few photos and videos from the visit. The captions provide some context.

I very much enjoyed my visit with Bob. We do have many things in common, and those interests are not common in combination, and in fact would be considered odd or weird by most people. Admittedly, his interest in pinball is based on his one creation, while my interests are centered on pinball as my medium. We promised to stay in touch and to collaborate in the future. I’m still trying to figure out what that might look like.

One of Bob's colorful dynamic light sculptures.

One of Bob’s colorful dynamic light sculptures.

Bob with his "Create Life" Pinball Machine

Bob with his “Create Life” Pinball Machine

The Simulated "Create Life" Experiment.

The Simulated “Create Life” Experiment.

The Backglass of the "Create Life" Pinball Machine.

The Backglass of the “Create Life” Pinball Machine.

Springsteen Fans Storming the Site!

IMG_2200.JPGVery cool that my custom “10th Avenue Freeze Out” machine has been picked up by numerous Springsteen sites, including backstreets.com, an official online Springsteen fan magazine.
Lots of fans from Italy and the U.K. as well seem to be drooling over the design. It is still my favorite of my creations, mostly because of the cool turntable/roulette wheel feature and sound clip sound track.

The play field artwork took months to get right- I wanted to tell the story of the song from the top on down to the bottom- with the top highlighting the NYC skyline in the rain (teardrops in the city)- the middle showing a street scene of gathering youth, a tenement building, a radio playing- and the lower section highlighting piano keys, music, the 45 record, and silhouettes of the “little pretties” raising their hands.

As a fan creating this work for my own pleasure, it became an homage to the Boss and the Band circa 1975. Up until recently, I hadn’t really shared the images of the work to sites where other fans might enjoy it. Previously, it was displayed at a local RI Maker Faire and on a few pinball sites, but the response was nothing like it has been recently ever since “Backstreets” made my playfield their Facebook wallpaper.

So thanks to the best fans in the world- fans of Bruce- for getting me some exposure. It makes the 6 months of work it took to build it worthwhile!

So many of you have made statements like “I want one!”, “Where can I get one?”, “Is this real?”, “Is it for sale?”, etc. This is all very flattering. So there is good news and bad news related to these questions- first, the bad news- this unit is my prototype, and it is not for sale.

However- the very good news is that I have a very similar donor machine (with the same roulette wheel feature) that I can customize for someone using the same artwork (slightly altered to fit this machine). The price can run anywhere from a few thousand dollars to much more than that depending on how much additional customization you may want… If you are serious about wanting one, we can make that happen- and it will be a lot less expensive than any other custom machines since I’d be reusing artwork I already have!

So write to me at:
davegaskill@pinventions.com

I also have an active Facebook account for Pinventions as well- currently under my name (David Gaskill). If you want to keep up with my Pinventions work, send a friend request and like the site. Or call me at 401-212-7500.

So to my new Springsteen fan friends- thanks for the supportive, encouraging comments! and feel free to write, comment or call. I will reply in person to anyone taking the time to contact me.

Dave

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I’m a Zombie too!

After a long day at Rhode Island Mini- Maker Faire yesterday, I woke up very early today with sore muscles and that odd feeling of being so tired that I couldn’t even sleep. I had essentially transformed into a zombie myself.

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I did some research into the tell-tale signs of zombification, and I found that one of the first signs is a tendency to make up nonsense words like “zombification”. So I can check that one off the list.

A second sign seems to be slow, dragging movement, accompanied by a moaning sound. Those symptoms started to show last light as I hauled my monstrous, zombie-themed machine back to my FJ Cruiser for the return trip home from Providence. This is an obvious, classic symptom (duh). Check.

Another symptom is a recurring thought of Jeff Foxworthy voicing a narrative of this article where he repeatedly says “You might be a zombie if….”

At least I’m not a redneck zombie- because that would be embarrassing. But yes, check- according to my running list of nonsensical symptoms, I am indeed showing strong signs of being zombificationalized.

And finally, since I’ve clearly lost my mind, I guess I am in a way searching for brains, and I hear they taste like chicken.

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So, “checkmate”- since my list of symptoms has somehow turned into chess metaphors and cliches.

Now that I’ve made such a convincing case that I am, indeed, a zombie, I’m considering my options for parlaying this into something more.

But first I think that I’ll sit around all day and watch football.

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Ode to Eve

Eve was perfectly proportioned. No, this isn’t the start of some weird biblical fan fiction.

Eve was our little Sheltie, and she truly was a perfectly proportioned miniature collie-like dog. She was small but proud, and in many ways the queen of our household. Eve passed away this past week of congestive heart failure.

As a guy who in the past had favored larger, “manlier” dogs (whatever that means), I was a bit indifferent at first when we got Eve over 12 years ago.  She was on the small side-even for a small breed- and quite honestly was a sickly, sad, weak little thing when we picked her up that day. Her hair was matted and patchy, and she had eyes that seemed both happy and sad at the same time.

As we got her home, and over time got her healthier, she grew in confidence and self-importance, if not in size. For example, it was interesting to see her herding instincts, even as a very young pup- she would frantically circle the yard, trying to keep Amanda and Jonathan inside her imaginary paddock. She was very fast, with tremendous bursts of speed, but since she wasn’t very strong, as she rushed to run in progressively tighter circles around the kids, she would stumble and flip over as her own body weight and momentum sent her flying off of her feet, tumbling across the yard.

Afterwards, she would scramble back to her unfinished duties, and go right back to herding the family again, oblivious to our chuckles. This was all serious business to her, and it was very important. Eve had many great years with our family- as part of the family- traveling with us, going to every outdoor activity we could take her to.  We have secretly slipped her into hotel rooms, watched fireworks displays, and taken her on numerous beach walks and arts festival strolls. She seemed to enjoy the attention that she always received, and she got an extra spring in her step on such occasions.  She was never much trouble, relatively quiet and obedient, and when not “working”, she was certainly a playful companion. However, she was always a runt, even if she didn’t know it.

As the children grew older (but not the parents since that doesn’t happen) we all fell more in love with this little ball of fluff, and whenever we would see a small, weak, tiny, cute, helpless little animal of any kind, we simply would say “Eve!” in unison. Eve’s name would come up in random conversations and in the odd situations. In no particular order, I recall one of us (usually me or Jon, never Linda) blurting out an “Eve!” in the following places:

1. Movie theaters (on multiple occasions)

2. Restaurants

3. Shopping Malls

4. Concerts

5. Bike Rides

6, Hikes

7. Road Trips

8. While watching television (often)

Just to establish that there were limits to this silliness, I don’t recall ever shouting “Eve!” at a funeral or a wedding.

While small in stature, and serious in her herding “business”, Eve was also very loving, loyal, and affectionate. She loved to sit on our laps, nap next to any of us, anywhere, and we never even considered putting a fence around our yard since she was always so anxious to come in from outside to be with her family (and our food). One of our favorite Eve tricks was to see how high she would leap into the air to grab a treat. Her excitement and energy on these occasions were off the charts- we called her the “Leaping Loon”- her vertical leap was truly impressive.

As Amanda and Jonathan went off to college, Eve remained the constant in our household. Conversations were held with Eve as the stand-in for any other member of the family. But over time, the rate at which her claws clicked on hardwood floors was noticeably slower.  Her leaps were less frequent and not all that impressive anymore. The past few years Eve had slowed considerably. Her hearing was very bad, her eyes clouded her vision, and her energy level had dropped.  Over time, it was difficult to watch as she took on symptoms and conditions in an accelerated version of what we humans are all likely to experience in our later years.

Last week was tough.

I’ve been guilty of saying (or thinking) that “It’s just an animal” when I hear about other people mourning the loss of a family pet. But on that night when her little heart started to fail, and she couldn’t catch her breath, and those sad, loving eyes looked up wondering what was so wrong- I understood.

Her weakness was evidently contagious.

Perhaps a little dog’s brief time on earth can help us in other ways. She was totally dependent, but so independent. Her affections were pure. She trusted without question. She wore her feelings on her little paw-tipped sleeves, as she expressed so much without ever speaking. Her eyes were happy and sad at the same time.

…and so are mine. Eve.

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Pinventions Merchandise Now Available!

This is just the start. I’ve adapted some of the images from the Night of the Living Dead project into T-shirt and poster designs.   The store can be found at this link:   http://store5680063.ecwid.com

If I Only Had a Brain T- Shirt

“If I Only Had a Brain” T- Shirt

“The Original Bad Ass Zombie Hunter” T-Sh

“Tastes Like Chicken” T-Shi

sexy zombie for T_edited-1

“…Get it Through Her Thick Skull” T-Shirt

Promotional Poster

The NOTLD Promotional Poster T-Shirt

Pinventions Wins “Editor’s Choice” Blue Ribbon and “Best in Class” Red Ribbon at 2014 World Maker Faire

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I was happy to just be accepted as an exhibitor to this amazing event, and I had no expectations of winning any awards. Heck- I didn’t even know they gave awards!

But to be recognized in 2 different categories by the editors and organizers of this amazing organization is very satisfying- not sure if a few $1 ribbon makes up for hundreds of hours of work, frustration, testing, problem solving and troubleshooting, but it was great to climb out of the darkness and into the bright lights of this show. If nothing else it provides notice that “You done good, and we like what you did.”

I’d like to thank Brian Jepson and Nick Normal- both associated with Make in one way or another, but each very supportive of my unique, quirky hobby-business of pinball reinvention.

Nick was the Editor who gave me my award in New York, and I joke that perhaps it is because he happened to get the highest game score of anyone all weekend.

Brian is the Rhode Island guy that I met last year at the Providence mini-Maker Faire, and he has also been very helpful in providing me networking opportunities and media connections.

So on to the next chapter of this story- just yesterday I met my new group of seniors from Roger Williams University’s Engineering School. Pinventions and I are sponsoring another Senior Design Project, and I’ve
outlined a challenge for the team- to create a “drop-in” programmable control unit that I can use to tie into any old pinball machine to provide new high tech light, sound, and motion effects.

If this pans out, I should be able to drastically shorten my machine build times. Wish us luck!

Until next time…

Dave

50% Off any Listed Price of My Donor Machines

Short and sweet- there were 7 or 8 of you at the New York Maker Faire that were seriously considering a custom machine.

Here’s the incentive to make it a reality:

1. Look at my available donor machines.
2. Pick one of those that you like.
3. See those quoted prices? Take 50% off.
4. Contact me with your choice at davegaskill@pinventions.com
5. Let’s design a custom machine together.

Talk to you soon!

Dave