I’ve been a huge fan of EMSL for quite some time now, and my recent field trip proved that it has earned the name Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories for a good reason. For instance, look at the reflection in the glass near the bottom and you’ll glimpse the hearse that [Lenore] and [Windell] have sitting in front of the shop. But stop at the threshold, inside there are delights that ate up a couple of hours without me even noticing. And they thought they were going to get work done that day.
Don’t judge me by my appearance. This is late afternoon on a summer Saturday in Sunnyvale. Why does that matter? Obviously summer Saturdays in Silicon Valley always start with the Electronics Swap Meet and Engineer’s breakfast! That was a ton of fun but if you’re doing it right it’s also a bit tiring. No worries, a shot of excitement came over me as soon as I walked in that front door.
Before we get into what EMSL actually sells, I simply must mention what [Windell] called their mini-museum but I would call a curio cabinet. One of the things he collects is mechanical devices, of which the variety of anti-backlash gears was my favorite. They are basically two gears stacked on top of one another with a spring that holds tension so there is no give between teeth.
But then it caught my eye. The original Bulbdial Clock prototype! I’ve been in love with this design since before I started writing for Hackaday. Also pictured above is a 3D printed functional Strandbeest model and the original Mario Bros.
I didn’t snap a pic, but [Windell] asked me to hold out my hand and then placed “the oldest thing you’ve ever held in your life” in my palm. A fragment of muonionalusta, it was heavy (basically a metal lump) and had a triangle pattern to it. I asked [Windell] if he had an emotional connection to it as I didn’t think I was feeling sufficient awe. That changed when he explained that the triangle pattern only forms when the metal cools slowly over the course of about 1-2 million years. Then it hung out for about another 4 billion years before ending up here. Awesome — and from eBay (I asked).
I’m not dancing around the fact that this is a store. But it did feel more like a playground specifically designed to delight me.
Having worked my way through The Elements of Computing Systems and the nand2Tetris project I have a pretty good feel for how an ALU works. Silly me, I could have just picked up a Digi-Comp II which makes the procession of bits a visual and delightful experience. This build is a laser-cut modernization of a kit first available mid-century and once you flip the switch gravity drives the computation through to completion. It was fun playing with it and even more fun to see the scaled-up version which uses 8-balls.
I got a great look at the newest version of the new Eggbot Pro which is a solid chunk of serious CNC machine. Sure, you might not think drawing the nutritional information on the shell of a chicken egg is all that useful. But I’m not ready to jump into a shop-bot-style build yet. Something like this would let me dip my toe in the CNC pool (as it were) with a low barrier of entry. Also of note is the torch-addon for the Eggbot. I didn’t see it in action, but just seeing it again was enough to make me smile.
Everyone needs some art
Work is fun and all, but life is art. I was pleased to see that EMSL thinks so too. I made sure to capture a few of the interesting wall hangings found around the place.
There are a pair of electronic fabrication framings. One is used to make the transparencies for photo-processes of PCB fabs. I forget what footprint those are but hopefully [Lenore] will leave a comment and let us know. There was also a framed solder paste stencil.
Way up high in their CNC shop was some ASCII art and a beautiful abstract sculpture. The Tie-Fighter is CNC milled by spray painting a board black and then milling away the letters to expose the wood-color below. It’s a similar process to this CNC halftone technique. Speaking of, I was given a hush-hush preview of a product in development that makes very interesting use of the half-tone technique. But my lips are sealed for now. I asked [Windell] to write an explanation or tutorial when they go public so keep your fingers crossed for that.
The abstract art is a laser cut set of slats. Put them together correctly and they become a grid to isolate individual LEDs but put them together wrong and you get a visually interesting art-piece. I’m certain this “wrong” way was far more painstaking to produce!
Thank you to both [Windell] and [Lenore] for showing me the shop and their inner sanctum. I couldn’t sign off without mentioning that this finally pushed me over the edge and I ordered my own Bulbdial kit after I got home. This thing is the most well-engineered kit I’ve ever encountered and I somehow managed to find 2 hours over a couple of weekends to assemble it. My wife is still adjusting to the new addition to our living room decor, but she did concede that it makes a pleasant night-light!