Hacker Places To Visit: Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris

I think the restaurant is really close now...
I think the restaurant is really close now… CC: E. Broeks

The best way to pull off this deception: tell your significant other that you’d want nothing more than a romantic week in Paris. Arrive in Paris, stash your bags, and then take either the number three or eleven Metro. When you get to the station that looks like the inside of a giant steam engine, Arts et Métiers, get out. You’re now ten Euros away from one of the coolest museums a hacker could visit.

A significant portion of modern science’s beginnings is sitting in the Musée, polished and beautiful. Most of them are housed in cabinets so old they’re part of the exhibit. Now, the Henry Ford museum in Detroit Michigan is a monument to industrialization, and cool in its own right, but it leaves some questions unanswered. We’re all spoiled by desktop CNCs, precision measurement tools for pennies, and more. How did we get here? How did they measure a shaft or turn a screw before precision digital micrometers? What did early automation look like? Early construction?

Also did I mention it has Foucault’s Pendulum? You know, the one that finally convinced everyone that the Earth rotated around an axis? No big deal.

The museum has a few permanent exhibits: instruments scientifique, matériaux, construction, communication, énergie, mécanique et transports.

What kind of basic museum would have just one example of Pascal's work?
What kind of basic museum would have just one example of Pascal’s work? CC: Anton Lefterov

Instruments Scientifiques was one of my favorites. Not only did it include old scientific instruments, it had sections containing some of the original experiments in optics, computation, and more. For example you can see not just one but a few original examples of Pascal’s Pascaline, arguably the first mechanical calculators in the modern era to be used by the layman for every day calculation, signed by Pascal. It’s also worth noting just how incredible the workmanship of these tools are. They’re beautiful.

Matériaux was initially a disappointment as I entered it from the wrong end. For me it started of with a tragically boring and simplistic display on recycling materials designed primarily to torture children on field trips. Luckily it quickly ramped into a fascinating display on materials manufacturing technology. How did we go from hand looms to fully automated Jacquard looms (of which you can see some of the first examples) to our modern day robotic looms? How did ceramic evolve? What was early steelmaking like? It’s very cool and models are all in beautiful condition.

It reeked of copper, machine oil, and phenolics. They just don't make computers like they used to.
It reeked of copper, machine oil, and phenolics. They just don’t make computers like they used to.

By the time I got to Communication I was reaching the limit of my endurance and also what you can fit into a single day of the museum. It’s a large building. It was packed through many of the early examples of computing, television, and space. There was quite a display of early camera equipment. You could get close enough to some truly massive old computers to smell the still off-gassing phenolics.

Construction held my interest for a long time. It’s not my usual interest, but after living in Paris for a month or so I was absolutely burning with curiosity. How did anyone without a single powered crane or vehicle build so many buildings out of stone? It’s packed for four rooms and two stores from floor to ceiling of beautiful little wood models explaining exactly how.

Énergie was quite cool. It followed the development of steam power for the most part. It started with primitive waterwheels. Moved on to turbines. Then showed the gradual increase in complexity until the the modern day. It had some internal combustion too, but much of that was reserved for the transports section of the museum. It also had some interactive displays to entertain children and Hackaday writers. However they were in desperate need of an oiling and this is by far the most ear-piercingly squeaky exhibit in the whole building.

A lathe fit for a king!
A lathe fit for a king! CC: Rama

Mécanique is competing with instruments scientifique as my favorite exhibit. Have you ever wanted to see hundreds of examples of screw machines, old lathes, and the evolution of the milling machine? What about models of the factories that built steam engines or massive wagon wheels. They even had a lathe that belonged to a French king. Apparently he thought metalworking was the way to get in touch with the common people.

Transports was a nice exhibit, but it fell a little short for me since I’d been to the aforementioned Henry Ford museum. However, it covered the history of some of the European automobile manufacturers pretty well. Had a nice section on trains and subways. And even had some models of the ships used in the European Space Agency.

The entrance of the school. Has some original, “flying,” machines. CC: King Boshi

The last exhibit is the museum itself. It’s an historic building. It was originally built as a school for training engineers in 1794 but as the school grew out of it, it slowly transformed into the museum it is today. The architecture is beautiful. It’s adorned in stone and statue like all the French museums. It also has sections cut out in some of the higher storeys of the building so you can see how it was constructed.

Part of its beauty is also related to the school swallowing up the Priory of Saint Martin des Champs (Google translate does a great job if you don’t read French). The Priory is a beautiful old church, founded in 1079. It was home to the last trial by combat the country would see. You can piece together the story between the two pages dedicated to the combatants Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris.

The muses of agriculture and industry now look over the sanctuary.
The muses of agriculture and industry now look over the sanctuary.

The final display in the museum is in the church. It holds Foucault’s pendulum, dangling from the center of the sanctuary. If you get there early enough in the day you may get to watch it knock over a peg or two and prove the rotation for yourself.

Rather than the statues of the saints there are statues of the muses of Industrie and Agriculture. The hall is filled with more exhibits. There are cutaway original automobiles. A model of the Statue of Liberty. A catwalk lets you take a high view of the surroundings. It is also beautiful in and of itself. The church is well maintained and painted in the style original to them.

If you find yourself in Paris with a few hours (or days) to spare I highly recommend this museum. Any technical person would be hard pressed to leave uninspired and unawed by the display. It’s good to get a perspective on the past.

Featured Photo CC: Roi Boshi


Time-lapse synthesizer build will blow your mind

[themonkeybars] recently uploaded a time-lapse video of his DIY synthesizer build. First off the video itself is a pretty neat hack. An iPhone time-lapse app was used to capture one frame every 5 seconds. By the time the build was complete, approximately 46,000 frames had been snapped. This boiled down to over 43 minutes of youtube footage. [themonkeybars] didn’t work full time on the project, so the video covers about a year’s worth of work which we think makes it even cooler. The synth is also featured in much of the video’s soundtrack.

The synthesizer itself would be classified as an analog modular synth, a type we’ve seen before. Modular synthesizers are one of the earlier forms of electronic music. The synthesizer is composed of discrete modules such as oscillators, modulators, and filters. The modules may be housed in the same box, but they are not internally connected. All connections are made via front panel patch cables. This is where the term “Patch” came from. Continue reading “Time-lapse synthesizer build will blow your mind”

Electronic beer pong removes beer from the equation

You can take the guy out of the frat house, but you can’t take the frat house out of the guy. [Evan Flint] proves this with his incessant need to have a beer pong game at all of his parties. But now that he’s growing up, and living in nicer places, he doesn’t necessarily want to have the oft-messy game in his home. So he found an electronic solution to his problem. Electropong is like an electronic dart board for playing beer pong. You won’t find beer in the cups, but you’ll still find plenty of fun.

The game includes the triangle of cups that makes up a traditional playing area. In the bottom of each cup is an RGB LED that will keep track of each player’s hits by lighting the cup in that team’s color. Illuminated buttons provide a way to control the game, with an LED marquee to read out the score.

[Evan] mentions some difficulty in recreating the physics of a cup full of beer. He says he overcame the challenge, but alas, there are no details on how. We’ve asked him to update his post so check back for more info.

Electronic dice has option for 20 or 100 sides

[Bluewraith] built himself an electronic dice using a 555 timer and 4017 counter. This is a classic project and he enjoyed doing it but wondered about making a 20-sided dice. So he grabbed his Arduino and got to work. A switch on the final project selects between 20 or 100 sides. He used a MAX7219 to control the 7-segment displays, and a standalone AVR chip for the rest of it.

If you missed it back in October you should also look in on this 6-sided dice. It also uses an AVR running the Arduino bootloader but a mercury switch allows the player to shake the box in order to start a roll.

One last note, we made a conscious decision to use the word ‘Dice’ instead of the grammatically correct ‘Die’ which is its singular version. We think ‘Die’ can be a bit too confusing and we’re not the only ones.

Long arms required, electronic trombone

Sadly, the video above is the only information we were able to find on the “Double Slide Controller” trombone, built by composer Tomás Henriques. As well as, the instrument took first place in the Georgia Tech Center Guthman Musical Instruments Competition. Right in front of a Bluetooth bow for violins, and a circuit bending group from New York, and…wait; it beat out our favorite modified didgeridoo? Better luck next year.

Didgeridoo, now does real time video

Some of you may remember when we introduced you to [Kyle’s] Electronically Modified Didgeridoo. Those same members will have their hearts warmed knowing he’s still playing and advancing on his Didgeridoo, now including real time video processing. There isn’t too many details aside from it being controlled by an ATMega168 and an unknown analog switching chip, and in its infancy it just looks like a bunch of dancing white lines but we expect this to turn into one amazing display.

Oh, and those determined on making their own Electronically Modified Didgeridoo should keep an eye out for the April ’10 issue of Popular Science where the instrument will be featured.

Haptic RADAR: Electronic whiskers

[thomph-zhu] sent in this interesting project. If you’ve ever wished for cat like senses, you’ll dig this. It’s a set of electronic whiskers – it uses IR to detect nearby objects, and vibrates against your head upon detection. It’s definitely an interesting use of tactile feedback. The initial idea is for construction safety, but this could be useful for plenty of other applications. (Robotic control, etc)