On our recent summer family holiday, I stopped in at The California Academy of Sciences, a beautiful science museum and research facility in San Francisco. In the gift shop, I grabbed a MetalWorks laser-cut trolley-car kit. MetalWorks are 11cm square sheets of tin, laser-cut and laser-etched to come apart into pieces ready to assemble into models of famous buildings, iconic vehicles, and other landmarks. I cleverly threw away the packaging (including the instructions) when we packed for home, but as I just discovered when I sat down to assemble the model, the company is smart enough to post PDFs of their instruction sheets. The model was just the right amount of challenging for me -- the kind of thing I could do in 20 minutes with a pair of tweezers while carrying on a pleasant conversation, and the finished product is a pretty cool-looking model indeed.
Brent Thome, a computer scientist in San Francisco, is building a mechanical computer out of beautiful, laser-cut gears that will compute and draw fractals. He's documenting as he goes in a fascinating blog, in which he also recounts his adventures with kinetic wooden sculpture.
I've been working on this for a while now. Its a wooden computer that computes continuous self-similar fractals. I'll post the working model of a general computer implemented in gears as soon as I get some laser cutter time to complete the counter/comparator unit. Anyway, here is some pictures of the core assembly.
This prototype of the core stands about one meter tall. The final version of the core will stand over two meters tall and is one of three subunits that preform calculations, logic operations, and store/load values.
Below is the disk drive. It literally turns disks with lookup tables, each with a 96 bit capacity. The disks are not shown here.