I’ve been working on Stokemonkey for two-and-a-half years now. Until recently, this has always meant hurriedly hacking together one prototype after another, never sweating the fine points of clean workmanship, or clean anything for that matter. The ideas were all that mattered; the forms were base matter, shadows on the wall. My shop has generally consisted of a haphazard pile of tools intermixed with garbage, or rather a whole series of piles overlapping those of other projects. That’s all changing, and it doesn’t come naturally to me, as those of you who know me know. I’m somebody who prefers never to do anything exactly the same way twice, except as an illustration of the idea of consistency. Repeat performance as an end in itself is something I’ve fought ever since I was about six years old, and encountered the same arithmetic problem twice in the same week. This week I have learned that benchmarks are actually marks you make on your workbench to help you do things consistently — ad hoc measuring rods. Man, do I need them.
Stokemonkey has taken over the whole basement, and I am learning to think and act like a factory worker and her boss at the same time. For no good reason, I am surprised at the number of steps required to turn my source materials into finished product. Each kit requires drilling about thirty holes in three materials and five bit sizes; about thirty X-acto knife operations; hand mitre sawing; several minutes of hand filing; painting and touchup; cutting, stripping, and terminating about thirty wires of various gauges, six decal cuts and placements; cutting and singeing straps; greasing threads; splitting and joining chain; cutting housing and cable; electrical and mechanical testing — these are only some of the steps that can be described briefly out of context. What takes as much time as the steps themselves is cleaning up, changing tools, and preparing the work areas for the next operation. This is why I cannot afford not to work in batches, to get the most return on the labor hours invested. It takes large blocks of time to work in larger batches, and I’m having trouble making these blocks. This is why I have yet to finish assembly of a single complete system. I haven’t been blogging much lately, either. My son has been watching too much tee-vee, too. At least it’s TiVo, so he watches the same award-winning crap over and over.
While nothing I’m doing now is entirely new, very little is entirely the same, too, and there have been some surprises. Like how a few microns of plating makes the difference between hand-assembly and rubber-mallet assembly (see hand-filing, above). Or how five of every nine of a certain component shatter during machining or assembly, a phenonemon I had not observed once in previous smaller trial runs. It’s a cheap component, but still. I have a growing list of things that must change for the next batch. This is good because it means I will always have new things to try, but bad because it means I will be shipping product that is not, well, perfect. And if things change too much, what could be simple warranty part repairs or replacements might require more extensive and costly system replacements.
I’m agonizing over every cosmetic flaw. And the controller wiring, well, it fits neatly inside a weatherproof canister, but customers will have to plug several connectors together and stuff the mass into the canister, screwing it shut without the keyswitch body in the lid hitting the controller body, and it feels a bit like a puzzle. Will customers balk? Do I need to start over? Maybe this whole idea is ca-ray-zee! I left the basement last night in a foul mood, with a headache from the fumes of electronics heating up the first time (the chargers) so made an excuse to go riding, fast. Riding the thing always helps put the little annoyances in perspective. I’m really proud of the performance.
The first complete assembly will serve as visual props for the manual and forthcoming site update. The second is going in a box, with bubble-wrap, to a customer. Will it fit? Will the box and wrap provide enough protection? Next week will tell, knock wood.
I got approved to process credit cards yesterday.