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I’ve Been a Lazy Blogger, but a Busy Maker.

A blog is only as good as the story it tells, and my story for the past few months is that I’ve been holed up in my basement a lot, trying to see how many safety violations I can rack up while rushing to finish my latest project.

Since OSHA hasn’t been in touch, I think I’m in the clear now- no major loss of digits, air quality is good enough to keep a canary alive, and I’m not telling about any tripping incidents.

I won’t count the numerous soldering gun events either, since I’m rationalizing that those are almost like what people pay for at tattoo shops (just without the ink or artistic intent).

All of this was in preparation for what I’ll call the “big boy show and tell”- the World Maker Faire held annually on the site of the 1966 Worlds Fair in New York.

The stories from this past weekend were many and varied- I connected with dozens (if not hundreds) of potential clients who were envious enough, nostalgic enough, and “seriously considering” partnering with me to build them a custom pinball machine in a theme of their liking. But the most enjoyable conversations had nothing to do with that.

There was the guy who shared his story of how he longed to be a “creative engineer” (a textbook oxymoron if ever there was one), and how he started his life adventure dissembling and then repairing TVs at the age of 5. He now does movie production work. He was eager to talk about the social messages of the zombie movie, George Romero as a genius director, and asked “why did you choose to keep all the old electronics in your game design?”

Then there was the college grad student who picked my brain about getting new micro controllers to work with all the “electronic noise” of an old pinball machine. She seemed genuinely interested, and she even took notes.

There were dozens of baby boomers who I spoke to who simply loved the sights and sounds (and the physicality) of an old pinball machine- and they played to relive their youth, and to refresh their flipper skills. The “BB of the H” (Baby Boomer of the Hour) and I chuckled together as we watched kids from 2 to 22 walk up to the machine wide-eyed, but not having a clue how to play such a thing without a joystick or controller.

There were the casual inquiries from others who mentioned that they had never seen this model of machine back in the day when they were players. It was always fun to tell them that this was the one and only machine of this type- and even though it looks and sounds like a 1970’s era pinball, those machines didn’t have enclosed fog generating systems or “infinity mirror” portals. “You made this?” was my favorite phase of the day ( but also made me realize I wasted a lot of time and money on signage that tried to make that as pretty much the point of the project.)

There were engineers, artists, scientists, inventors, small kick-starter funded company presidents asking me technical details about my Arduino control system architecture. Some seemed dissatisfied with my choices, but were more forgiving when I admitted that I bought a “Getting Started with Arduino” kit exactly 1 year ago at this very Maker Faire. That same story gave comfort to a few wannabe inventors who were intimidated by the entire concept of Arduinos and programmable micro controllers. If a Civil Engineer (the opposite of an Electrical Engineer, if there is such a thing) can do this- you can as well.

And then there were the zombie and horror movie enthusiasts who shared how NOTLD “affected” them with its bleak ending and ground- breaking visuals.

These were the many languages spoken at Maker Faire- and I was happy to participate in such a wide range of discussions in all of those languages.

But I also must admit that I’m a bit sleepy now. Until next time….
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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!

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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A Fly on the Wall at Boston Comic Con

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I’ve always wanted to go to the “MOACC” (Mother of all Comic-Cons) in San Diego, and actually never even considered going to one of the lesser versions anywhere else. However, my wife and daughter had the idea to give me tickets to the local Boston show for my birthday- and today I return home with some observations- along with some ideas for arranging my own booth at the Rhode Island Mini Maker Faire this coming weekend.

First off, I need to note that I was pretty wiped out after a long drive back from PA yesterday- a trip that included trying to teach my parents how to use an iPhone, a family reunion, a trip to Kennywood Park (the inspiration for my RACER design), a Pirate baseball game in beautiful PNC Park, and a costly game of poker with my two brothers, Scott and Jeff.

So I wasn’t exactly fired-up about the Boston Comic-con, even though in theory I should have been.

I arrived with my wife Linda, my daughter Amanda, and her boyfriend Ben a little before noon. The lobby looked a bit like the Star Wars Cantina scene, and I felt underdressed (or more correctly- oddly dressed) with a throwback Pirates top and baseball cap. As we entered the hall, a full sized embodiment of Jabba the Hut was posing for pictures, a crew of Pirates taunted onlookers into sword fights, and several ghostbusters showed off their back-pack technology. My interest was piqued, and I even toyed with the idea of asking the Pirates if I could join their motley crew- given my ensemble and all. I thought better of this after realizing that I was in Red Sox territory, and that the idea was stupid.

I had heard about the cos players, and they did not disappoint- there were the expected super heroes and villains (I especially admired/was terrified by a Bane clone), along with the sexy (and not so sexy) women in skimpy costumes. I am not a huge comic book fan, but I love science fiction, video games and horror, so I was pleased to get most of the references. We met and spoke to a few independent artists and authors, and I tried to deposit some goodwill in my karma account by buying some of their wares.

We also attended a Q&A forum with authors and artists from the “Locke and Key” comics- a favorite of my daughter’s. I got an appreciation of the genre after listening to the creators- one of them the son of Steven King- he was obviously brilliant, insightful, funny, and extremely creative and talented. He gained a fan today and I will read/ look at their work.

As we exited the venue, I thought about what I observed, and what I could take away from this experience that I could apply to my little venture. I realize now more than ever that there are a lot of very talented people in the various genres on display here, and that they are very passionate about their work. These people tend to be pretty smart, and there is a depth to their work that most outsiders would not realize. I recognize the passion, the depth, and the intelligence as concepts that I too value, and want to cultivate in my own creations.

I also got some cool ideas for organizing my booth at Maker Faire.

Thank you cosmos.

Starting up…

So this is the start of the voyage. Can a man’s skills and passions blend together to make art that is fun, intriguing, thought-provoking, unique as well as desirable? I’m betting it can. So today I post for the first time as an entrepreneur – king of my hobby-business – writing to an audience of zero.

Things are looking up.

Dave