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Art student’s 407-piece hand-carved wooden clock (2016) (ablogtowatch.com)
512 points by _Microft 44 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 74 comments

From the article: "Suzuki says that although he used computer software for the design, the simulation of its motion was entirely in his head only, and that seeing it take shape was a major motivation."

"Then I observed to my delight that I could visualize with the greatest facility. I needed no models, drawings or experiments. I could picture them all as real in my mind. ... My method is different. I do not rush into actual work. When I get an idea I start at once building it up in my imagination. I change the construction, make improvements and operate the device in my mind. It is absolutely immaterial to me whether I run my turbine in thought or test it in my shop. I even note if it is out of balance. There is no difference whatever, the results are the same. In this way I am able to rapidly develop and perfect a conception without touching anything. " - From Nikola Tesla's Autobiography "My Inventions"

I always wished I had much stronger spatial awareness like that. In my mind I got strong visualizations that last ~2 seconds before they evaporate like a cloud of vapor, and I need to "rebuild" them over and over in a fairly fragmented way of 2 second spurts to try to visualize certain complex things (in code, or otherwise).

This is in the planning phase however. On the other hand, I extensively excel at intuition AS I'm working/experiencing. I will get flashes of insight not from linear thinking, and they guide me along (which often goes against what most people are used to, which is extensive planning). I suppose my way can come off more "off the cuff" but I have built some really complex systems really elegantly, but the entire time never feels like I'm sure of anything until the very last piece goes in and it "all comes together at once."

I sometimes envy people like this guy, or Tesla... with their incredible spatial awareness/visualization, where the entire thing can be planned entirely in the mind without rapidly "dissipating." That would be certainly less stressful than my way.

Quite interesting how minds work

I can definitely relate to some of this, since i also find it difficult to visualize detailed things in my "mind's eye". Because of this, i've always wondered whether artists and people in visually driven careers are on average better at this sort of visualization than the rest of us, or whether they also experience the same spectrum of variation.

More interestingly, some people don't have that ability in any capacity whatsoever, which is very interesting: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aphantasia

It's about as startling of a thought, as discovering that some people don't have any sort of a internal monologue either. Now and then you find an interesting thread where people share their experiences in this regard, for example, this one on Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/NoStupidQuestions/comments/exan65/t...

The human mind is interesting stuff!

I draw and paint every day, and believe it or not I approach art in the same way. I can get flashes of what something looks like finished but they're somewhat distant feeling. On the other hand, I will just know exactly what to do from a deeper part of my subconscious that doesn't require thought (as far as composition, shape harmony, value relationships, etc).

My friend has aphantasia and it's really hard for me to believe how difficult that must be. I've asked him... "so you can't even picture your parents face in your mind???" and he says no. That must be crazy...

I definitely identify with your way of thinking as well.

Frequently I have an epiphany only for it to just poof away. The harder I try to remember it the further back it seems to get pushed.

Maybe I need to cut down on my cannabis use.... Lol

This is how it goes with me, but it's quite frustrating and leads to a kind of doldrums. I reach the point where I've visualized so many extensions and classes I need to write, I can (and do) recite them to myself in the shower or while I'm doing dishes... and reorder them and come up with endless refinements... following each out to their conclusions or collisions... so that when I get to the point where I need to actually write them it's a totally redundant pain in the ass. This is how my projects begin to stall. Particularly once I get to adding UI features.

What's a lot harder than visualizing how it will all work and knowing you're right is sitting your ass in a chair and churning the goddamn thing out. Which, to his credit, this kid actually did. And which separates him from someone who just sees how the clock would work.

I'm familiar with the challenge, you could call it a kind of "imperfection paralysis", the unwillingness to commit to anything before it has been perfected conceptually.

It can be really freeing / productive to "allow" yourself to put down a "crappy" rough draft in code with the mindset that you can rewrite it later when the whole domain is more clear.

Another catchy term is "analysis paralysis". I think every SWE goes through a perfectionist phase, before the disillusionment hits that it doesn't actually matter, the code is ephemeral, the application may become obsolete within 5-10 years or just written off because of politics, etc.

Or become an unmaintainable mess because one person (not targeting anyone in particular) wrote the application to the best of their abilities. Never write the smartest code you can.

Yeah, this is why I need to spend more time talking with other SWEs... I've been freelance and out of the day loop for a long time. For better or worse, the software I write has to be polished and perfect, user friendly and UI complete for business users with every update. The actual enjoyment I get, or the fun part, is working on the logic... but I then have to make sure all the visual/interactive stuff is dummy-proof, or I get to spend the next month in a tech support role if a button breaks. So I sort of have to do both. And I'd rather iterate in my head than in realtime on the phone with end users. But I don't get paid for the hours I iterate in my head, which is problematic. As far as stuff being shelved in 5-10 years and just making it work... yeah, that's definitely a lesson I've only learned the sad and hard way after watching a lot of beautiful code become obsolete once a company is sold or a platform gets replaced. I do think there's a specific kind of writer's block that happens if you're responsible for both the front and back end of a large piece of business software... because even once you fully grok the business logic and you know how you want go handle the data, and you know what they think they want on the front end, you have to put yourself in the position of an employee and think about everything that could possibly go wrong with a click or a transaction. And when you do finally work that all out, the last thing you really want to do is sit down and write event listeners and components.

> so that when I get to the point where I need to actually write them it's a totally redundant pain in the ass.

Yup. Planning a vacation and then doing the vacation is like doing it twice. I'm already bored. Better to just hop off the plane, wander around, and get lost.

I've got dozens of half-baked projects. Once I verify to myself that something is feasible, I lose interest. There's so many more fascinating problems to chew on!

I've wondered why I'm this way. A day dreamer, a space cadet. Maybe I'm addicted to novelty.

My sis seems to be more like Elon Musk; manic energy to execute.

I've met maybe a dozen people like my sis. People who's dopamine hit comes from checking off items on a task list. My hit apparently comes from solving puzzles.

My latest thing is dot journaling. To make the ideas and plans in my head concrete. I've tried so many times in the past. Now it's really not optional. Maybe this time it'll stick.

Here is something similar ("useless" complex machine made from wood) that somebody made to create music:

"Wintergatan - Marble Machine (music instrument using 2000 marbles)"


The video shows the details pretty well too, and the piece being played is of quite good quality. One can see that the machine can just play a pre-configured song, but the operator can add and/or change a lot while running it to create variations of that pre-configured song. The machine is programmable, so that song could be changed.

Checking the youtube channel, the operator of the machine has continued to refine his design, in the last video it barely shakes (https://youtu.be/ZddqSR1wXkE?t=3025), if it shakes at all. Weird fun dedication to a passion project ^^

He live streams all of his work too, which is absolutely amazing to watch four or five hours of him refining small parts of the complex machine he’s working on. I watched him make small adjustments to a tube the marbles drop into so they’d travel at just the right speed to the next point, but without binding. Slightly too loose messes everything up, and slightly too tight makes the marbles get stuck. He’s supported by Patreon fans, which is truly amazing that such a skilled and niche project can be put together from the funding of random people who believe in him.

He’s so openly collaborative too, it’s inspiring! There’s a vibrant discord community of makers, 3d designs, and engineers helping Martin solve problems and prepare a “Manufacturable CAD.”

Like, there are dozens of ideas linked in the video description for a contraption to divide one stream of marbles into four: https://youtu.be/U4B0i0VzXuA

This song is in my audiophile test tracks list. It sounds amazing on a well calibrated HT system. The wood "scratching" of the machine operation adds so much realism to the track; it makes you feel like you're just there in front of the machine.

I'm half waiting for him to redo the track again with his latest marble machine. Only half waiting though, since there is no "stopping point" for a hobby project :)

I'll take this opportunity to post the Death Grips mashup https://youtu.be/gSQyPdYz4f4, which the creator of that machine really likes!

That guy creates a lot of instruments, including portable ones. He's a very passionate woodworker and a great collaborator, it seems.

Not exactly useless. Wooden clocks used to be mass produced as an affordable option for the middle class.

It's "useless" in the sense that you can go to IKEA and buy a small, easy-to-read, reliable, accurate clock for $2.

Even though wooden clocks were once useful, this was not designed to accurately keep time but more to just be beautiful.

Wooden clocks were made up until the early 20th century.

They were more accurate than people think.

If anyone comes across a wood movment, don't use oil on the pivots, and bushing (usually just a smooth hole in a piece of hardwood.).

Just dust, and use graphite.

Some might be interested to know about Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806), a free African-American polymath who among many accomplishments (including surveying Washington D.C.) was an all wooden clock he built by borrowing a pocket watch, scaling up the individual pieces, and carving them out of wood. The clock reportedly kept near perfect time for decades.


Thank you for this. Was not aware of such a person. It is very nice to know.

The Twitter thread (in japanese, the automated translation works quite well though) did not properly embed for me, here is a direct link to it. It has a video of the clock doing its work:


On Nitter, for the un-signed-ups among us:


Here is a five-minute-long video about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wu2SPzv7gwY

Thanks for the YouTube link. Auto translate to English subtitles worked good on interview parts.

Is Woodpunk a thing?

It also reminds me of how some of Leonardo da Vinci's contraptions look like when they create them in real life (some museums do that).

You'll love Bernard Lagneau's cardboard machines: https://www.artexpoconsulting.ch/aktuelle-projekte/bernard-l...

AFAIK the first automaton capable of writing was built sometime around 1770. It still works.


I'm not surprised it does - it's completely mechanical, damage/wear is the main failure mode and as long as it has been adequately lubricated and not suffered catastrophic damage it will continue working. Furthermore, even if parts wear out, it would not be so difficult to create a replacement.

In fact, this one only slightly newer (by a few decades) was damaged in a fire and then later repaired a century later:


Those who enjoy other mechanisms made from wood may also like https://woodgears.ca/

The drawing mechanism reminds me of this technique from 1958 for generating vector characters entirely with analogue circuitry:



This is the same technique as is used for these animations in which a number of spinning circles or pointers magically draws a more or less complicated shape.

You can read about it here as well: https://alex.miller.im/posts/fourier-series-spinning-circles...

I sometimes forget how amazing things you can build by hand.

Everybody seems to talk about 3D printers, CNC routers, Waterjet cutters, pick and place machines...

But a lot of the things can be made just as well by hand. People have been making gears for a long time before there were CNC routers, all you need is patience.

This - or imagine what mechanics and designs could be possible if we combined an idea like this clock with modern methods like you mentioned them. Each gear could be embellished with elaborate designs that would be too time consuming to create manually for example.

For me the interesting parts of the (kinda hate this term) "maker revolution" are share-ability and remixability. The community and sharing sites are an integral part of this.

So you can have lots of people who've never met quickly iterate on a design. Then yet other people customise or use it in unexpected ways.

The end result would be not a clock, but a species of mutant clocks spreading across the world.

Interestingly, the clock is essentially a robot, using cams instead of electronics for control.

With the right cams, I am sure it could trace some of its parts instead of drawing numbers.

Well, yeah. It depends on what activity you want to do.

I prefer spending time thinking about shapes, design and trying to model them. I suck at it. But I am getting better.

This is super cool, I wish it went more in depth as to how the mechanism works. I assume it contains some kind of camshaft system for each digit that encodes a fourier series? Really beautiful

Cams with the shaped required to draw the digit for each digit arm. You can see there's a rod with various cams on for each digit, four of them in total. I imagine there's some sort of slider to engage a cam for the "current digit" so when the redraw triggers the selected cam is the one used for the motion.

Many automata use a similar design to to achieve preprogrammed movements, like writing, drawing or playing an instrument.

It doesn't look like a Fourier series. It couldn't do sharp angles if it was (like for the 5 or 7).

Looking at the pictures, it looks like a two axis parallel robot where the arms are controlled by a cams with complex shapes. The cams can be seen in picture 11/16.

I see what you mean, I think you must be right

I recall a young man building a portion of the 'Game Of Thrones' theme video. Think watching a real-life mechanical, clockwork Winterfell or Kings Landing twisting and rising all out of pop-up flatwood in your spare bedroom.

I've tried a quick search on Youtube for the video but couldn't easily find it.

The kid's friend joked about how soon HBO would hit him up on copyright.

The artist has made several cool and similar things https://www.uselesscrown.com/gallery

Lately I’ve been dumbfounded by the talent of people. I can barely use a coping saw much less design and implement such a wonder.

How much time have you spent practicing sawing with a coping saw?

People are not born with skills. Skills are acquired through practice.

Time is the most fundamental quantity that is innate to life and as a result it has a mesmerizing characteristic. Its an amazing piece of art by the student. If anyone is interested in clock mechanics, there is an effort to build a clock that can self sustain for atleast 10000 years[1]. When completed, it will be a pinnacle of human arts and engineering. This effort is designed by Danny Hills and supported by Jeff Bezos. There is also a technical paper that describes the clock mechanics[2].

[1] https://longnow.org/clock/

[2] https://media.longnow.org/files/2/10_AAS_11-665_Hillis.pdf

Grandpa Amu is also fantastic: https://youtu.be/sUTiJ9mJ3RQ

This is a really nice clock and far from what I am able to do.

Several years ago I went through several phases of "hands-on junk-to-art". The "third phase" was putting together clocks from found material.

So now I have a handful of unique clocks, lamps, and metal-pipe figures throughout my living space. Only one clock is misbehaving, but I'm taking my time in debugging and correcting it.

But it's a lot of clocks to circle about twice a year. I don't mind so much but it does remind me that perhaps something should be done.

This reminds me of https://www.craftsmanshipmuseum.com/

They have some cool exhibits(i.e. https://www.craftsmanshipmuseum.com/Ho.htm). Not sure what the physical museum is like(near San Diego), but the online museum has some cool exhibits, even though the site-design looks quite retro.

That is some next-level stuff.

How could he possibly do it? There's a guy over on YouTube that is making a marble music machine: https://www.youtube.com/user/wintergatan2000 He is very dedicated, is quite smart, but he has being trying to build one for years, and has been a never-ending mechanical engineering challenge.

Put into that perspective, the clock is no less than a work of pure genius.

This is not made of wood but is interesting non the less, a 3d printed tourbillion: https://youtu.be/E9prY3ky6Bo

I wonder if it can be broken down into logical components, like a computer can be broken down into logic gates. The structure of the thing shows a lot of repetition, so my guess would be yes.

Yes, I agree; without looking at how it works in great detail I can imagine how I'd approach the problem. There needs to be a clock component that outputs the 4 digits of the current time, and a digit-writer which runs through the x/y movements necessary to write a given digit. The repetition is probably in the latter part; other comments hear suggest a series of cams being used to encode the motion for each digit. This also needs to be combined with an offset mechanism to write each of the 4 digits. Finally, a set of cams to write the colon and a sequencer to run the whole sequence of actions.

Seems like there are 4 nearly identical sections, one for writing each of the four positions. The strokes of the digits might be doing with something like a cam follower.

I wonder if a computer was involved in the design process at all (CAD or somesuch), or whether that was totally by hand too

Yes, there was a computer involved.

A while back we were arguing here whether a car engine could meet modern emissions requirements with an ecu. I believed it was probably possible even if extremely difficult and there was rather unanimous disagreement. I wonder if anyone seeing this would change their mind a bit.

And yes, I do know what a modern car ecu does.

You aren't clear; are you wondering whether an engine WITHOUT an ECU could pass emissions? If that isn't it, what did you mean? (Every new car passes modern emissions with an ECU...)

I agree it's possible, after all careful tuning of a carburetor can produce great gains in fuel economy and/or power; but of course most people doing it aren't interested in emissions.

I think you could pass emissions, but you would likely have to compromise severely on price and performance. There are carburetors such as Lectron (https://www.lectronfuelsystems.com/) that have some capabilities you would normally use an ECU for.

I envy the free time students have, glad to see he's putting his to good use, reminds me all the free time I used to have but didn't appreciate at the time and likely will never have again until I retire.

Ah yes, if only you had more time. /snark

I guess you had a pretty easy undergrad experience. I was easily working 80 hour weeks throughout college as an art major. The tough part of an art project is it’s never really done, and your work is expected to be flawlessly executed. I’d never had as much free-time then as I do now. Taking care of the kids is just how you chose to allot your time, no need to feel like you missed out on something else because of it.

> Taking care of the kids is just how you chose to allot your time

I was with you until this point. When you have kids, your time is not entirely your own anymore. You have duties and responsibilities to them. The "choice" was made 9 months or so before they were born, not in the moment.

I ended up doing 2 bachelors, even combined it was nowhere near 80hrs contact hours, only the lectures were mandatory and examinable so I mainly focused on them.

But yeah FT work and kids leaves little left for amazing creations like this requiring copious amounts of free time which is something that gets more valuable when you have little of it, just unfortunate to only appreciate it in hindsight.

Now that’s a project!

That must be hell to tour with.

This guy is a genius!

Imagine this clock at your bedside.

Why ?

Mechanical Art.

It's just like the wealthy boys who buy high end mechanical watches.

The movements are breathtaking. Only the watchmaker usually gets to see the beauty though, or at most they might see the rotor, and movment back.

Why not?

I mean really why ? i don't know, have i been working too long ? i have lost vision.

You could have lost vision, or passion, or creativity, or motivation, or soul, or similar thesaurus words for these spheres of Humanity.

Realms of possibility range from personality type, depression, burn out, or simple disinterest as you age. You might know best or at least better than I/we here on HN for obvious reasons.

Granted that not all art is for all people. Many museums, I can be in-and-out in 90 minutes feeling satisfied and that includes the bathroom and gift shop ... and if I go with anybody I either have to loiter or leave and come back to pick them up. Other museums though it is the reverse. Could be that for you as well.

see: jfk quote about going to the moon.

also, because art.


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