Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Victorian Steampunk Wimshurst Electrostatic Generator by Casavitus

Or, “It’s alive, ALIVE!” 

Electricity:  philosophers debated it, alchemists expounded upon it, enlightenment experimenters played with it, Victorian scientists tamed it.  From ancient Greeks, to Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, electricity was one step away from magic and godhood with Zeus hurling thunderbolts at poor mortals.  Amazingly over the  centuries, nobody made the connection between static electricity, which known by the ancients for its attracting power with amber, to static shock, or lightening, to machines to amuse at parties or medical quack cures. 

Early experiments eventually found that electricity was natural, dangerous, and somehow interwoven with life itself.  Eventually, electro-chemical electricity (wet cell batteries), and static electricity generators became dwarfed with huge power plants, first run by steam engine, then by falling water, filling energy.  Now electricity is taken for granted, but there was a time when it was rare and magical and that time was only 150 years ago.

Casavitus Design gives us this magnificent recreation of a static electric generator in a beautiful 19th century mode of design.  Fully operational and aesthetically mid-Victorian, this machine generates a powerful electric spark that jumps between two metal rods in a dazzling display of simple electric power.  Don’t be deceived by the size of the portable design, the twin Leyden jars can store a very powerful jolt and cannot be treated as a toy, beware! 

Casavitus has kindly allowed me to showcase this artistic work here on my blog.  You will find photos of the finished work here as well as the materials he used to scratch-build the machine.  Additionally he provided a short YouTube video.  His text is a follows:  

Dear Ladies & Gentlemen,

    Let me introduce you to a small Wimshurst machine that I recently built. To be honest with you, my knowledge about electro-magnetism is extremely limited. It was more the naive fascination with the Wimshurst machine, that looks so much like it is straight out of an H. G. Wells story, which drove me to this project. I wanted to build a small machine with an functional design.

    There are uncounted instructions, explanations, examples, & whatever about Wimshurst machines in the aethernet, so there was no need to worry about that.  If you are curious & want to know more about electrostatic machines, or are crazy enough to also built one, I can recommend you this page where you find all information you need.

    What worried me much more was the first sketch I made. The electricity-lady & some other details where much too catchy to delete, but how to get all this parts? It looked like an insane amount of labor.  I tried to bury the sketch in a drawer & forget about it. It did not work. Finally I decided to give it a try with casting, to, at least, be able to produce not only a single machine & resigned myself to my fate. Like expected, it proofed to be an even more insane amount of labor then expected, but in the end the whole construction really worked!

    The discs have a diameter of 24 cm; the Leyden jars have a diameter of 4 cm & are 17 cm high. Both are made of acrylic. The frame & bottom is made of beech wood.  The figure of the classical woman, the tops & bottoms of the Leyden jars, the handles and decoration of the shafts are made of super hard cast acrylic gypsum.  The main wheel for the crank is steel and was made for model steam engines, the other wheels are aluminum and made by my self.  The terminal gap can be adjusted by pushing or pulling the insulated handles. This machine produces constant sparks when adjusted to a gap of 6.5 cm length, but is limited at 7.5 cm maximum spacing to produce sparks.


I am always pleased to host such works of industrial and Victorian aesthetic art here on my blog.  Casavius Designs is the brainchild of an artist and craftsperson living in Munich Germany.  Be sure to click on his name to find some of his art.  Also you might note, composes and did the music on his YouTube video above.  I expect to see many more fine works from the workshop of Herr Casavitus.

I had always suspected that the big wheel on the back of the time machine was a powerful electrostatic generator.  Casavitus’ efforts show clearly with a practical demonstration of steampunk ethos of uniting history, science and science fiction.  H. G. Welles would have been proud as well as Ray Harryhausen with this functional Wimhurst electrostatic generator.  Well done!

Let me again caution people making or using these static generator machines that they are not child’s play and safeguard the machines from misuse or the curious finger while demonstrating.  They can cause serious injury and worse.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Star Wars and Remembrance, 25 May 1977 and the 35th Anniversary*

Wednesday at the noon matinee in a small city, far far away; a personal memoir of geekdom, many years ago.

This 25th of May is the anniversary of the premier of Star Wars.  Weirdly, it is celebrated on the 4th of May due to some interesting misunderstandings or mistranslations of “May the Force be with you”.  The real general release date of the first Star Wars movie was 25 May 1977, which was a sleepy Wednesday when just another SF film was released without much fanfare in the middle of the week for a sultry noon matinee.  Yes, there were previously other private screenings and previews.  I’m talking about the full release to the general public.^

Anyway, I was working at GameScience, a company that designed and sold wargames during the developing period of the modern wargame industry during the 1970s.  We sold wholesale and retail and the famous Lou Zocchi GameScience catalogue had the most diverse listings of anybody in the industry.  Additionally, were also the first and only domestic makers of polydice, at the time.

Most, if not all the employees, were SF fans and gamers.  Many were involved with CoastCon as well, during the planning stage for the first CoastCon in later in 1978. + Things were a bit slow, so we took a long lunch to watch this new movie at the cheap matinee price at noon.  We didn’t hold up much hope that it would be really very good and the general consensus was that it was just riding on the coattails of bad TV science fiction fare of the 1970s.  We expected to at least get our two bucks worth.

We few took our seats and there weren’t but 20 or so people in the whole place, including us refugees from work.  The music and the credit crawler started, in the style of old movie serials and the lively music boomed:  maybe this won’t be too bad after all and worth a few chuckles.  By the time the Imperial battleship had slid over the screen, we knew this film was a cut above the usual SF Hollywood exploitation film.  It had classic elements, at times lovingly campy at others, new and rich.  We were hooked and vowed to see the film again later that night after work.  It’s rare for a film to surprise me and I sure got my two dollars worth on this one.  We decided to see it again.
No, this isn't me!  I found this on the internet.

Word still hadn’t gotten around yet about this obscure film and the evening show was fairly well attended, but no real crowds yet.  Remember this is the days before twitter (flash crowds were science fiction fare), before personal computers, before cell phones (only Star Trek had them).  The only instant news we had was radio or the TV, if you happened to be close to a set at the time.  Within days, word of mouth had gone out and lines for Star Wars became as long as those for Jaws (1975), the only other precedent we could cite for the phenomena. 

The lesson here is not to sell things short, even when the Hollywood hucksters don’t have much faith in a film.  Yes I was one of the few who actually saw the regular release of Star Wars the first time around.  But the secret was out very soon and within a week you couldn’t hardly get near a theater for the lines and the mousey little SF flick tossed out too the summer fans, ended up being the fox that roared.  

Those us, sitting in Wednesday matinee seats in small theaters all over the country were witnessing history.  Yep, we were there and that, with a couple of bucks might buy you a cup of coffee (hold the foam).  Years ago, I met a woman who saw Dracula when it was a first-run movie in 1931 and I was envious at her attendance at a historic cinematic event.  After 24 May 1977, I was no longer jealous. 

In my generation, the touchstone used to be “Where were you when your first found out that Kennedy had been shot”?  I’d like to propose a much happier touchstone of memory and remembrance, “Where were you when you first saw Star Wars”?   It really doesn’t matter if you saw it first run, or a month later, or even a few years back the first time.  They can’t take away that first time, especially if it was in a theater. 

Star Wars:  alive and well.  I just came back from MobiCon XVI and there was a healthy showing of Star Wars Fans in attendance.  Now Star Wars is mainstreamed, shown on TV and generally taken for granted.  SW clubs are still abundant and many are getting new members.  There are many Star Wars oriented groups now, both rebel and empire some are even neutral like the Mandalorians.   Star Wars has even jumped genres and become Steampunk.  Let’s face it, for better or worse, Star Wars is mainstreamed and become an integral part of our culture.  Right now there are budding anthropologists are writing Master’s theses about esoteric subjects in the Star Wars universe and its impact on us.  For those of us who remember a pre-Star Wars Era, the remembrance of that distant period will fade with our generation.  But who knows, a contemptible little film may premier out some boring Wednesday as summer fare, attended by few to be another culture-changer like Star Wars and a new generation will have their cinematic touchstone. 
Footnotes for those that care and the overly detail-oriented (or the just plain bored)

My apologies to Herman Wouk for appropriating (kind of) the title to War and Remembrance, well not really.  BTW, the fellow is still kicking around, thanks for the stories about your generation!

*Yeah I know, it premiered 36 years ago, this is the 35th anniversary. 

^Yup, I know there was a pre-premier on 1 May and I know there were other private and closed screenings.  I’m talking about the hoy polli of fandom, not the elite, not the insiders, not industry people.  In any case, those early, closed screening must not have generated much interest, because the pedaling of Star Wars was a pretty pedestrian trailer and no real follow-up hype. 

+Yes, Wikipedia says the first CoastCon was 1977 … it’s wrong.  CoastCon incorporated in mid 77, and the first convention was in 78. 

 However, the cake is a lie!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mobicon XVI Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, 17 – 19 March 2013, in Mobile Alabama

It’s time once again for that annual southern treat of MobiCon, a Science Fiction, Fantasy,  and Horror convention held in Mobile Alabama!  I have attended a fair number of MobiCons over the past decade or so and always enjoyed the laid-back southern fen that operate and attend MobiCon.  The committee’s hard work always makes MobiCon a great convention to attend, especially for a costumer.  Along with panels, there is a costume contest, a game room as well as LARPs and lots of interesting people to meet.

This year their guests include:
Artist GoH, Amanda Nen Kilburn
Anime GoH, Chris Cason, of Dragon Ball Z fame.
Special Speaker,  Douglas Mallette
Gaming GoH,  Lou Zocchi, the polydice king
Author GoH, Candace Sams
Horror GoH Dr. Anne Marie Guzy
Publishing GoH,  Barbera Frendish
Fan GoH, Karl Ruhl

If you are in the south, (in Foghorn Leghorn voice), “ah say, ah say, the deeeep south, son”, come on down to Mobicon and enjoy this quirky convention, run by and for fans.

Last year at Mobicon 15, 2012                    CoastConFan

Here’s a blast from the past, slide show from Mobicon XI back in 2008

 For more information click on the URLs

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Free Comic Book Day and May the Fourth Be With You


Today the first Saturday in May, is a national holiday, known to but a few as Free Comic Book Day when comic book stores celebrate the joy of comic books.  Our local comic book shop, Three Alarm Comics on 15210 Lemoyne Blv between D’Iberville and Ocean Springs (228) 392-9833 had a celebration that had artists and fans meet at the store for a free comic book giveaway and a costume contest.  The turnout was very good and the people enthusiastic.  Fans of all ages arrived, some in costume and enjoyed talking with artists and browsing the books and art available.  I foolishly left my camera behind at home, so I have no photos of the event.  Outside of that blunder, I had a great time, seeing old friends and meeting new people.  Next time, I’ll bring that darn camera!


This is a double holiday, because it is also Star Wars Day or "May the 4th Be With You".  Due to a misunderstanding and or/mistranslation of "May the Force be with you", the 4th of May became the day (wrongly) that Star Wars is celebrated rather than the original release date of the 25th of May.  I'll have a blog entry for the 35th anniversary of the release on 25 May 2013.  There were a number of Star Wars costumers evident at the Comic Book Day celebration, making it a doubly fun day for all.

Between Free Comic Book Day and Star Wars Day, I had a great time today and I hope you all had a good day too!