Thoughts: Machines I haven’t made (yet)

A hard truth that I think everyone who makes stuff has to come to terms with is that it’s basically impossible to do everything one wants to do within a lifetime. The proportion of imagination (the plans) to wherewithal (the means) has got to be at least exponential. (Perhaps that’s for the best.)

In other words, my time and resources have never really been able to keep up with my ideas. At any given time, unless I’m worn out or recuperating from something, I can expect to have several new ideas in the hopper before I’ve finished the one I’m already on. This doesn’t end well. Some of the time I can actually slog my way through to the end of what I’m working on, generally at the expense of the exciting new ideas. More frequently, however, I end up with another project at 30 to 50 percent completion. I think I inherited this from my dad. He was a very smart and inventive guy, and my childhood was practically littered with impressive projects started by him and then preempted by life.

Anyway, my angle here is that I have ideas that I like but am not currently working on. I offer a sampling [Edit: See Back Burner for an up-to-date version of this list.]:

  • Arcade-style dance machine. Summarily, a StepMania/DDR cabinet with custom input and output interfaces. This was my timesink around 3 or 4 years ago. I invented a special soft-touch sensor square that offers a bit of shock absorption and has LEDs embedded in the top of the panel. I created an RS-232 interface for animating LEDs. I was even working on convincing an 18F PIC to identify itself to a computer as a USB gamepad so I’d have something better to deliver than a hacked-apart controller. I bought a used TV for the purpose.
  • A solid-state dual AC switch/dimmer with opto-isolated microcontroller input. This would be more or less a twin solid-state relay (SSR) with dimming capabilities. It could be used to make a computer turn on the marquee light of an arcade machine or act as a speed controller for a rotary tool. This circuit could easily be built into an outlet box with a pair of sockets. An application note by Fairchild (AN3003, PDF warning) has as figure 9 a very basic SSR that seems suitable. I’d be making one of these per outlet.
  • A knockoff of a Griffin PowerMate that isn’t made out of a scroll wheel. Basically, a rotary encoder with a hand-sized cap attached.
  • A really big rotary encoder wheel. Actually, that was part of the DDR machine concept. I bought and dismantled a pair of rollerblades from Goodwill to harvest their bearings. Those are also still waiting for my attention.
  • A RepRap. But who doesn’t want one?
    • Not to mention all sorts of creative apparatus, including a 3D plotter, CNC mill, CNC vinyl cutter, on down to a UV station for photoresist boards, but these are far more likely to be bought than made.

And I’m confident that I’m capable of making all of these things and many, many more, but not necessarily in the same lifetime.

Fortunately, I’m not presently in despair about this; it’s merely an irritation. It’s frustrating to know from the get-go that whatever I’m starting isn’t likely to come to a meaningful conclusion.

On the other hand, someone of the mindset that it’s not the destination but the journey would call this a victory—a life that’s all journey and no destination. Sometimes I can see it this way, also. :-)

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