All I can say is here are three fairly insane Tesla coil videos. The third one may not actually be a Tesla, but it’s insane enough for me to overlook that.

This guy set up his Tesla to ground to the dropped ceiling grid.

Here we see a crazy man. Note the flames coming from the fluorescent bulb in the last couple seconds of the video.

This… Well, this is just plain the coolest thing I’ve ever seen done with high voltage. I don’t know exactly how this was done, but I’m damned glad it was.

electric, electronic, tesla, tesla coil, electricity, lightning

Pouring a drinkWhile I have written about the Bar Monkey I helped Alan build this winter it’s time to give a better overview of how the whole system works. This is not intended as a how-to but may be of help to folks who are looking to make their own Bar Monkey.

The Bar Monkey is a device for automatically mixing drinks. The concept comes from BarMonkey.net where you can see several other versions of bar monkeys. Almost all of Alan’s Bar Monkey, including the software, was designed by Alan.

How it works

To dispense a drink with the Bar Monkey all you have to do is place a glass under the tap and choose the drink you want from the display. Your drink is poured from the sixteen ingredients (13 liquors and 3 mixers) contained in the Bar Monkey, all you have to do is add ice and stir! If your drink requires something that didn’t make it into the Bar Monkey (we had trouble piping soda and decided milk products would probably go sour) the software will remind you to add it afterwards.

The Software

Pour a drink

The brains of the system is the Bar Monkey software. Alan wrote this custom Java application which, on startup, reads a text file with a list of drinks and ingredients.

The application has four screens for setup and controlling the Bar Monkey. The first and most important one is the “Pour Drinks” screen where just a single click can pour a complicated drink with up to sixteen ingredients. While the drinks are of different sizes any of them will fit into a standard pint glass with room for some ice. If you’re not sure if you’ll like a drink you can view the ingredients on screen or even use the “Taste Test” option which will pour a small drink, one quarter the size of the normal one, with exactly the same proportions.

The second screen will pour a 1.5 oz shot of any of the ingredients in the Bar Monkey. If your favorite drink is not in our list you can use the “Create Custom Drinks” screen to enter the amount of each ingredient for your drink. You can then pour the drink, or pour a “Taste Test” to try it and adjust ingredients if necessary.

The final screen is the “Priming/Cleaning” screen which allows you to control individual ingredients to clear air from the lines, backflow to empty the lines, or run a cleaner through.

Alan is continually updating the software and future features include drink pictures and the ability to save custom drinks. If you’re interested in the software you can contact me and I will pass your requests on to Alan.

Inside the Bar Monkey

ComputerThe software runs on a Windows PC which has been mounted in the Bar Monkey without a case. The PC controls a set of serial relays built from a kit. The kits can be purchased from ElectronicKits.com.

ValvesThe serial relay kit is used to control a series of 16 refrigerator water valves which run on 120 volt AC. These control the flow of each liquor to the tap. Since everything is live 120 volt Alan put together a Plexiglas shield to reduce the risk of electrocution.

C02 tankThe valves provide flow control but, just like in a refrigerator, something else needs to provide pressure. In Alan’s Bar Monkey the pressure comes from a five pound tank of CO2. The variable regulator on the tank regulates the pressure down to only 5 PSI and the valve coming off of the regulator provides easy shut off and converts the thread of the regulator to 1/4-inch outer diameter polyethylene tube. This tubing is the standard for hooking up water to a refrigerator and is available along with a wide variety of splitters, valves, and couplers at home improvement stores.

If you’re considering building your own Bar Monkey I suggest starting with the pressure system. Finding a size and style of tank that fits right and can be refilled locally, then matching it up with a regulator and converters proved to be quite a challenge. Pay special attention to the thread (right-hand or left-hand) of all connections to make sure it will go together in the end.

SplittersIn order to pressurize all 16 bottles the pressure line must be split. While I’m sure there is a more elegant way to handle this, we used T-splitters to make one end into two. It took quite a few splitters but they do not seem to leak. We also added valves to be able to shut off each side independently for easy refills. All the splitters and valves are a quick-connect type which allows the tubing to be removed easily to clean and reroute tubing.

capWe chose to use two liter soda bottles to hold all the liquors. Two liter bottles are surprisingly strong, cheap, common, and all have a standard cap. The bottles, caps and lines are all marked with painter’s tape to assure the right bottle goes on the right line.

capThe caps, which we thought would be easy, turned out to be the biggest challenge of the project. The caps, and the tubes which are glued into them, are made of polyethylene. The molecular bond of polyethylene is so strong it is almost impossible to glue. After several failed attempts with hot glue, cyanoacrylate, silicone and epoxy we finally landed on a solution.

This may sound a bit extreme, but in order to glue polyethylene you must “flash” it first… with a propane torch! By just touching the polyethylene with the blue inner flame of a torch it changes the molecular bond (this is a chemical change, not melting) in a way that it will take glue. We actually found this tip in an Old Town kayak repair manual.

The first step to making the caps was to drill two 1/4 inch holes in the cap. The plastic insert usually falls out at this point, but its absence doesn’t seem to hurt anything. You can then insert the tube through the cap. The tube going to the tap should be long enough to nearly reach the bottom, the other just needs to go through far enough to be solid.

Next we flashed the tubing and caps and wrapped a piece of painter’s tape around it to form a cup for the epoxy. At this point we put the cap on a half full bottle to keep it upright and poured enough epoxy to get a good thick layer. We used 30 minute epoxy but faster epoxy would probably work as well. Once the epoxy had a couple hours to set up the caps were ready to go.

The line which runs to the bottom of the bottle is run up to the valve array. Here wire ties and coaxial cable tack-downs were useful to keep things organized. As seen above, the valves were mounted on three boards to make them easier to install.

The tube coming out of each valve runs all the way to the output of the tap. That is why you can see separate colors on some of the pictures. The tap itself is half of a standard sink trap. Running all 16 tubes around the bend of the tap takes a little fidgeting but is possible.

The full monkeyThe housing of the Bar Monkey was an inexpensive computer cabinet from a popular box store. A hole was drilled in the top for the tap and plywood was used as a substitute for the cardboard backing that came with it. The handles were also replaced to dress it up a bit.

Final Thoughts

Alan, and those of us who helped him, learned a lot on this project. The whole thing took probably around 200 man hours to complete. We have not calculated the total cost, but if you were looking to build one of these yourself you should expect to be into it for up to $1,500 or possibly more depending on how much you can scrounge. I also wouldn’t recommend this as a project for anyone who is not comfortable working with household current.

project, diy, drinking, drinks, entertaining, bar, mixed drinks, bar monkey

Update: The winner has been anounced. Click here to find out who won!

As I sit here watching the debut of ABCs American Inventor I am completely underwhelmed. The best of these showings are a weak mashup of existing products. E.g. the solar powered cooler. Whoopee. Other inventions do have a limited market, but I see very little here which will change how people live.

The highlight of the program is the fashions of Doug Hall, the only actual inventor on the judge’s panel. He also seems like the only one with any interest in the actual inventions. While the other judges are investors and executives, Doug is the complete package. He has made a career out of inventing not in a limited market space, but working with corporations to advance their innovation. He is an active lecturer and a published author.

Most inspiring is a 14 year old boy who has come up with an air-conditioner for the car window so you can leave your dog in the car on a hot day. He didn’t make it, but his resolution to work harder and come back with more means to me we will hear more from him in the future. He is the American Inventor. Despite rejection he received some great advice from Doug. I failed to catch his name but I do hope he continues on.

From what I’ve gathered about the show, twelve inventors will be given $50,000 each to advance their invention. America will choose a winner (although I’m not exactly sure how, probably phone voting) and that winner will receive one million dollars. A heafty sum, but why should a single invention be the measure of the next great American inventor? The show is “American Inventor”, not “American Invention”. A great inventor should be able to broaden their scope to address new challenges, new needs, and new market spaces.

What if these inventors were forced to compete in different areas? Household items, transportation, electronics, office technology, entertainment, the list could go on. At this point I’m truly afraid that the nut bowl with hidden shell discard and the branch cutter (which seems to be just a branch cutter, yes, both of these moved on to round 2) may just win this competition. I hate to say it but the edible snow globe was the most innovative invention I saw tonight. Hell, it’s better than those stupid chocolate fountains that doned the shelves of every retailer this past holiday season.

So I’ll tune in to American Inventor again, but I’m really hoping for more. In the meantime I’ll stick to Make Magazine and the Makezine Blog for my invention fix.

american inventor, inventor, invention, innovation, reality television, reality tv, television, tv, entertainment, inventing

A few weeks ago I mentioned my disappointment that Apple had appealed the settlement of the class action suit for iPod owners whose batteries did not live up to initial claims. While I am still disappointed with Apple for appealing the settlement I am quite happy to say the appeal has been dismissed.

When I checked the settlement administration website today I found this message:

Update December 22, 2005

On December 20, 2005, the appeal filed by individual objectors to the Settlement was dismissed and the Settlement is now Final. This means Apple and the Settlement Administrator can move forward with claims administration and claims fulfillment.

Deadlines relating to claim submissions have not changed. Class members should comply with the claim filing deadlines identified by the Settlement. For Generation 3 iPods, the claim form submission must be postmarked within two years of the original product purchase date. The deadline for submitting Generation 1 and Generation 2 iPod claims expired on 9/30/05.

While it’s still a little unclear how Apple will go about replacing the defective batteries I am glad to see we’re back on track to get this suit settled.

apple,ipod,battery,ipod settlement, ipod nano, ipod shuffle, ipod battery, macintosh

Relay Kit CompleteSo Alan has made some good progress on the Bar Monkey. The relays are mostly complete (a few nights soldering between grading finals) and the next step is testing them out.

According to Alan the relays were fairly straight forward. The only big challenge was figuring out the orientation of the IC chips. Thankfully they mount in sockets so it’s fairly easy to switch them around.

Check out my Bar Monkey Gallery for some pictures of the relay in various states of assembly.

Check back often for updates on the project!

drinks, cocktails, alcohol, bar, bar monkey, electronics, drink, cocktail, alan baker

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