Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Amazing Automata from the 18th Century

Here's something to knock the socks off of any of you fans of automata.

The newscast is in German, but anyone can get the drift. These are three mechanically animated figures. One plays the organ, one writes, and the other draws. To be clear: the organ isn't a player organ (that plays itself) while the figure sits in front and pretends to play... the figure ACTUALLY PLAYS the organ. The information for the tune is in her mechanics, so that her fingers and arms move to play the fairly complex little tune!

These are housed in the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Neuchâtel, and were built by theologian, mathematician and watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz, his son Henri-Louis and their colleague Jean-Frédéric Leschot in the early 1770s. They were first exhibited to the public in nearby La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1774!

This is truly amazing stuff.. Unlike the two mechanical boys, the woman-organist's body and head move independently of her task, and she can sit and breathe and fidget (her head and neck making almost imperceptible movements) independently for an hour. Also unlike the boys she is operated by four separate pieces of machinery—one to pump the organ, one to operate her hands and fingers, one to operate her head and body, and one to power the bow she performs at the end of each song. She plays five tunes.

via Steampunk Magazine

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Monday, September 14, 2009

More of the Boy With the Cuckoo Clock Heart

We made an earlier post on this fascinating story of the Boy With the Cuckoo Clock Heart.

Here is a blog post with more info:
Edinburgh, 1874. On the coldest night the world has ever seen, Little Jack is born with a frozen heart and immediately undergoes a life-saving operation. But Dr Madeleine is no conventional medic and surgically implants a cuckoo-clock into his chest. Little Jack grows up different to other children: every day begins with a daily wind-up. At school he is bullied for his 'ticking', but Dr Madeleine reminds him he must resist strong emotion: anger is far too dangerous for his cuckoo-clock heart. So when the beautiful young street-singer, Miss Acacia, appears - pursued by Joe, the school bully - Jack is in danger of more than just falling in love...he is putting his life on the line.

[via Popin's Lair]

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Mechanical Cell Phone

Any connoisseur of mechanical wonders should follow the blog over at The Long Now Foundation. Here is an excerpted post from their blog:

Early on in the Clock project we saw that of all the modern timepiece companies few were doing truly new things. One of the rare exceptions was Ulysse Nardin. Once we completed the first Clock prototype in fact we hosted Ludwig Oechslin their chief design innovator for several months here in San Francisco to evaluate our Clock which was very instructive.

Long Now member and alumni Camille Davila sent me a note about a recent development at Ulysse Nardin, a cell phone that is charged by an offset weight swinging around from the ambient motion of the owner. This is an adaptation from mechanical self winding watch technology of course, but it is very cool to see it crossing over into other personal electronics. You can see more on this on their website here.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Why Not Live in a Clock??

There were a couple of interesting posts over at The Steampunk Home Blog about apartments built inside clock towers...

From architect Michael R Davis' website: The The Clock on Old Fulton Street in Brooklyn Heights is a 1,200 square foot loft located in an Italianate storage building built in 1892 on the site of the Brooklyn Eagle Newspaper once edited by Walt Whitman. The most obviously striking feature in the apartment is the 10-foot glass and iron clock face, which serves as the living room window.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

What is Steampunk?

For reasons that will soon become clear to you, we at North Coast Imports, are especially fond of a new sub-genre the kids are all talking about - called Steampunk

I thought I would write up a short blog post about this great thing, but keep in mind that this post only scratches the surface. There are authors, costumers, artists, film directors, hobbiests, tinkerers, and inventors all adding to and building on Steampunkery at an alarming rate. You can read about Steampunk on Wikipedia, of course, but there are also blogs ... and ... web forums aplenty.

"What does a Steampunk do?" You may ask. A Steampunk might collect recordings of turn-of-the-century steam engines. Someone enamored with the Steampunk aesthetic might also turn their humdrum computer into a work of art that looks like it came from Jules Verne's imagination...

...or, a Steampunk might dress the part...

The idea might be summed up as a longing for re-injecting style and beauty into our otherwise cold and artless modern lives. There was a sense of style and craftsmanship of the steam era that might as well be revisited today. Why shouldn't a computer be beautiful? Everyday items should inspire imagination and be aesthetically pleasing while still carrying out their functions.

...so, Steampunk items tend to portray an alternate timeline... as if machines like Charles Babbage'sAnalytical Engine was allowed to evolve in the mainstream of technology, or if the Hindenberg didn't crash, or if the microchip were never invented... our present day might look a lot like the Steampunks' expression - everything would have to be done with clockwork and steam pressure.

...but I feel that the important lesson to be learned is the idea that all things can and must be interesting to look at. Why settle for doldrum-looking devices and tools that only serve the function they must.

Clocks are a perfect example.

Mechanical clocks are interactive works of art that provide a daily function. They are kinetic sculpture. They are tools that don't require electricity to run.

If you're a member of the Steampunk family, browse our website. If you're a horologist, look into the world of Steampunkery. You won't be disappointed...

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Saturday, February 28, 2009

What's a Fusee Anyway??

Let's take a quick look at some of the terms that have been mentioned in recent posts.  To do that, we'll start at the basics of how mechanical clocks are usually powered.

The clocks featured in recent posts are built before the general use of electricity.  Steam engines would normally be too large and inefficient to power such small devices, plus you would have continually stoke it to keep the clock running over night.  So what powers these clocks?

We've discussed examples of the very earliest clocks that run on water power, but the tried and true method of running an accurate timepiece is to harness the power of gravity.  This is the original GREEN power.  Gravity is constantly renewable and reliable.  As long as we have a planet, we have gravity.  Weight-driven clocks also have the advantage of being very accurate.  The force of gravity is always constant in any particular location, so the clock won't speed up or slow down at any point because of an increase or decrease of power.

Weights get in the way sometimes though.  What do you do if you want to make a smaller clock that fits on a shelf?  There would be no room to fit the weights.  Early American clockmakers solved the problem by making really tall shelf clocks with weights hidden in the sides of the case.

Eventually (in the1400's)  the obvious solution became to use the recoiling power of a metal spring.  The spring didn't require the space that weights did, but the power of a spring does diminish as the spring winds down.  This would cause the clock to slightly slow down - hence the Fusee.

The Fusee is essentially a cone shaped wheel, connected to a powered spring barrel.  As the spring applies pressure to the inside of the barrel, it turns, and pulls on the chain connected to the cone.  As the chain is pulled from the cone to the barrel less force is required because of the increasing radius of the cone. This compensates for the weakening power of the spring towards the end of its power cycle.

As you can tell, cutting a fusee accurately requires an expert machinist and craftsman.  Only the finest, most expert clocks incorporated fusees.

Eventually, finicky and delicate fusee mechanisms became obsolete due to more accurate and more reliable advancements in escapements.  Today, very few mechanical clocks have fusees and they have become largely a fascination and curiosity among horologists.

We have several posts that talk about this interesting element of horology.  Click here for more posts about the Fusee.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

The wild world of clockmakers

For a year from September 2005, under the nose of the Panthéon's unsuspecting security officials, a group of intrepid "illegal restorers" set up a secret workshop and lounge in a cavity under the building's famous dome. Under the supervision of group member Jean-Baptiste Viot, a professional clockmaker, they pieced apart and repaired the antique clock that had been left to rust in the building since the 1960s. Only when their clandestine revamp of the elaborate timepiece had been completed did they reveal themselves. Read More

This story reminds the fans of North Coast Imports that lovers of clockwork can be found in every part of life. DID YOU KNOW about the rising popularity of a genre and community called Steampunk? Do a search for this on the internet and you will find a horde of information, full of fans and connoisseurs of the unusual and mechanical. The clocks and automata are a perfect fit for the Steampunk crowd.

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