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

Attention to My New Friends I Met at Maker Faire…

I see quite a bit of activity on my website the past few days- including a few people looking at the available donor machines. If any of you are serious let me know ASAP, and I’ll offer any of the available machines at 50% off of the prices that are listed- as you can imagine, there is a bit of a waiting list to build custom machines, so first come, first served!

And it was great talking to you all!

Email me directly at:
davegaskill@pinventions.com

Dave

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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Night of the Living Dead Update

The last few months have been frantic. Work duties during the week, and weekends spent “cramming for finals” with my Engineering Senior Design Team at Roger Williams University.

Well the finals are done, the Team has graduated and moved on, and I have been teaching myself new programming languages so I can build a custom fog/light/sound/special FX control unit for my machine.

As of today, the machine is symbolic of its own state- a zombie mechanism capable of limited movement and grunting- but lacking a connected “brain” to make it all work correctly as envisioned.

So to the world of breadboards, Arduinos, LEDs and servos I have journeyed.

I emerge from the other side of this jungle jumble of thought wires with clarity- it almost all makes sense now. I have a complex web of my lessons connected, buzzing, glowing, and moving on my actual (not virtual) desktop. The design all works now- lights flash multiple colors, moans and screams happen electronically as I direct them to- as opposed to haunting my dreams. Fog generators glow when expected as I touch trigger wires.

I now must transform this rats nest of success into the limited space of my zombie machine to make it come alive.

I now look forward to days of soldering and cursing my iron scorched fingers.

The sprint is now to get it all together and functioning in time for the planned “big reveal” in New York City- at the World Maker Faire in September- if they accept my application. If so, my work gets an audience of 100,000+ people.

As part of my application, last night I put together a crude video of the transformation of this custom machine. The story, as is the machine, remains unfinished- a stumbling, bumbling zombie still searching for brains.

The video so far can be seen here:

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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.

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.