You say your not afraid of Fear & Chaos?

This has been the calmest weekend I’ve had in a long time.  Perhaps you can tell by comparing these two pictures from the previous weekend and then this weekend:

Before (6/14): 

After (Today, 6/22): 

Let me just say that I’m enjoying the calm; I’m enjoying being able to see most horizontal surfaces in my apartment.  

The record player is “finished.”  I haven’t fully decided if I’m going to do a full page on it here (as I did for the Kino 74) since I ultimately couldn’t see the project through to the very end.  I will however definitely do a page on it at and at the very least post a link thereto. 

To summarize, we finished all of the major components of the player, and in theory everything should have worked, but reality reared its ugly head.  The motor we had assumed would work wound up not being strong enough to drive the full weight of both platters, and the coupling between the motor platter and the primary platter wasn’t strong enough to maintain a solid connection.  Because we never really got the turntable spinning as accurately as needed, we never truly got to test the sound, but there were definitely some issues with our tonearm design.  I’ll write something separate in the future and really go into detail, but I’ll focus on the bigger picture here.  Long story short, we didn’t get to iron out the details that would have made the project come full circle.

I feel a little bad that the record player didn’t come out as Jack wanted, but I’m also not too broken up about it.  I think there are some valuable lessons to be learned from our experience about taking on these types of projects.  What could have been a really awesome project wound up being fairly mediocre.  I think they’re applicable across all “maker” or “hacker” projects (ugh, I hate that terminology).  It’s stuff worth learning if you have any interest in doing these types of things.  

Between my tesla coils, the computer and all the other little projects I’ve done along the way, these are a few things I’ve learned as someone new to making things.

(1) Expect to make mistakes, and be prepared financially and emotionally for them.

This whole process is typically one of exploration.  I think few of us go into these projects knowing exactly what needs to be done and exactly how everything is going to work.  Even if we do, I’d say it’s unlikely that we’re going to get it exactly right on the first try.  But, at least for me, therein lies a lot of the fun of these things.  I typically walk away with new knowledge and new skills that I didn’t have prior to project.

The difference about mistakes made in these projects as opposed to coding, for instance, is that often these mistakes translate directly into extra money needing to be spent.  You fry a chip?  It has to be replaced.  Your motor isn’t powerful enough?  You have to be ready to replace it with something different.  I often will by three or four options and/or backups from square one with the expectation that my first attempt won’t work out.

Even when mistakes don’t translate into more money needing to be spent, there are times where you have to be willing to pull up weeks worth of work and start over from scratch.  In this world there is rarely, if ever, a single solution to a problem and when the road you may have been walking down consistently isn’t working, “failure” has to be an option.  Pretend that your next design will be the phoenix rising from the ashes of your current implementation.  

Unless you’ve got years of experience under your belt, you won’t know exactly what you need from the beginning.  Plan for this fact.

(2) Make sure your eyes aren’t bigger than your wallet.

Many of us can come up with exceedingly clever designs that would work if we just had that one perfect part… that may not exist… or it costs a thousand dollars.  I’d say it’s a safe bet that if you’re doing a project from the ground up, come up with a monetary figure that you think is the HIGH end of reasonable and then double it.  That should be what you expect to spend by the time the whole project is done to get the result you want.  

Sometimes, a project may just be outside of what you can afford.  We had originally intended to keep the record player around $300.  That was about what was spent in the first two weeks.  All said and done I’d guess we clocked in about about $550ish and realistically needed to spend more to get ideal results.  If you look at where the money should have gone initially though: the tonearm, the motor, etc. (you know, the things that actually play the record) you’ll see limited spending at best.  Instead a lot of it went into high-powered neodymium magnets, which in the end we didn’t even have enough of and ended up being a seriously limiting factor of our design. They were, in fact, the only thing that didn’t directly result in the playing of records in our design.  

When we started to suspect that this might be the case, instead of assuming we would need more, there was hesitancy to fully invest that ultimately limited what was possible.  By the time we realized our design truly wouldn’t be accurate, it was too late to get the parts we needed (but that also would not have been guaranteed to solve our problems). 

Truly try and evaluate how much a project will cost you before you get into it, and then be prepared to spend more.  The Kino 74 (see the link at the top of the page), ended up costing about three times as much as I had intended and taking about six times as long to complete, but it’s still one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.

(3) The middle is the slowest part.

This applies less to projects that aren’t beholden to any particular schedule, but I’ve still found it to be true for all projects.  

Projects always progress quickly in the beginning and then quickly as the end draws near, but the middle part is a bitch.  My tesla coil sat for almost a year with both coils ready to go, the transformer right next to it, and me just dragging my feet on getting the parts for the tank capacitor and spark gap.  Once I bit the bullet and bought those, I had the thing up and running in about a week, ready for fine-tuning.  

If you’re on a schedule REALIZE THIS FACT.  The amount of progress you’ll make in the beginning is deceptive.  If you do anything at all, you’ll be infinitely further along than you were when you had nothing. It doesn’t last though and you’ll think you have all the time in the world, until you realize that this thing needs to be finished in two weeks and you’re only a little further along than you were three months ago.

Over the last two weeks Jack and I made an astonishing amount of progress in about four days worth of solid work that we hadn’t been able to do in weeks and months before when there was no pressure at all to finish.  It wasn’t enough though and we could’ve used about two more weeks of solid work on top of that.  

Keep this in mind.

(4) Don’t be afraid to get to the debugging stage

I’ve noticed this in myself, and I noticed it in Jack too.  It may not be true for everyone, but it’s significant enough for me that I think it bears mentioning.  

There’s a phase, right before your ready to assemble all the pieces of the project, where the inertia against just fucking doing it is overwhelming.  My take on the matter is that while everything is sitting in pieces or sub-parts of the project, everything is theoretically working and everything is happy and wonderful.  Presumably everything has been going well up until this point, and while nothing has theoretically gone wrong, putting everything together potentially could make something go wrong, and that scares you into just leaving it for a little while longer and enjoying the feeling of how well everything is going.

As before, there’s nothing wrong with this if there’s no deadline to contend with, but it’s a fabrication.  99% of the time there’s no reason to leave things waiting: any problems you’re going to encounter already exist, you’re just pretending as if they don’t.  You can only gain by putting everything together and fighting the debugging head on.  In fact, that’s usually the most rewarding part of the project, and you get some of your best pictures.  I enter as evidence:


I could think of a hundred more “lessons” from this project but I’ll wrap it up here.  I’ll make a note of them as I think of them and if they’re any good I’ll give an update.

The most important thing is to do what it takes to keep your spirits up.  If finishing the project will make you feel the best, then go ahead and spend the money to tie up those loose ends.  If scrapping it for parts and starting the next project will do it for you, go ahead and do that.  Just plan ahead, be prepared, and have fun.  

Aside from having the horizontal surfaces in my apartment back I’m also happiest that I now get to start a new project!  Goodbye money!



P.S. I apologize for any typos.  I haven't proofread this in the least... and don't really feel like it!