Join 3,415 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


A Machine that Writes in Time
January 10, 2013 9:09 AM   Subscribe

"La Machine à Ecrire le Temps" from Swiss watchmaker Jaquet Droz took nearly a decade to develop, with more than 1,200 intricately connected components; including 84 ball bearings, 50 cams and 9 belts. It costs nearly $350,000. What does it do? It writes out the time for you.
posted by quin (34 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
That cost 350 grand? I'm pretty sure you could make that with Lego Mindstorms for like 150 bucks, and probably give it interesting handwriting to boot.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:16 AM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


What time is it Eccles?
posted by Erasmouse at 9:18 AM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


That cost 350 grand?

"It is because mankind are disposed to sympathize more entirely with our joy than with our sorrow, that we make parade of our riches, and conceal our poverty. Nothing is so mortifying as to be obliged to expose our distress to the view of the public, and to feel, that though our situation is open to the eyes of all mankind, no mortal conceives for us the half of what we suffer. Nay, it is chiefly from this regard to the sentiments of mankind, that we pursue riches and avoid poverty. For to what purpose is all the toil and bustle of this world? what is the end of avarice and ambition, of the pursuit of wealth, of power, and preheminence? Is it to supply the necessities of nature? The wages of the meanest labourer can supply them. We see that they afford him food and clothing, the comfort of a house, and of a family. If we examined his oeconomy with rigour, we should find that he spends a great part of them upon conveniencies, which may be regarded as superfluities, and that, upon extraordinary occasions, he can give something even to vanity and distinction. What then is the cause of our aversion to his situation, and why should those who have been educated in the higher ranks of life, regard it as worse than death, to be reduced to live, even without labour, upon the same simple fare with him, to dwell under the same lowly roof, and to be clothed in the same humble. attire? Do they imagine that their stomach is better, or their sleep sounder in a palace than in a cottage? The contrary has been so often observed, and, indeed, is so very obvious, though it had never been observed, that there is nobody ignorant of it. From whence, then, arises that emulation which runs through all the different ranks of men, and what are the advantages which we propose by that great purpose of human life which we call bettering our condition? To be observed, to be attended to, to be taken notice of with sympathy, complacency, and approbation, are all the advantages which we can propose to derive from it. It is the vanity, not the ease, or the pleasure, which interests us. But vanity is always founded upon the belief of our being the object of attention and approbation. The rich man glories in his riches, because he feels that they naturally draw upon him the attention of the world, and that mankind are disposed to go along with him in all those agreeable emotions with which the advantages of his situation so readily inspire him. At the thought of this, his heart seems to swell and dilate itself within him, and he is fonder of his wealth, upon this account, than for all the other advantages it procures him."

-Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments

tl:dr; Paraders gonna parade
posted by tripping daisy at 9:20 AM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Or, in other words, you wouldn't be reading about it and Jaquet Droz wouldn't feel special if he had used a simple, rational solution to his goal. There are no articles about Chris Rock's Camry, but during Juvenile's 15 minutes we all got to see his collection of supercars.

(I draw all this back to capital deregulation infesting the art world with things like a skull covered in diamonds because the rich have run out of interesting ways to waste their piles of money, but that's in my axe grindy wheel house. Because Dear God I hate stupid, vain, and wasteful financiers and their related parasite industries.)
posted by tripping daisy at 9:28 AM on January 10, 2013


What does it do? It writes out the time for you.

T...i...m...e...t...o...d...i...g...u...p...R...u...b...e...G...o...l...d...b...e...r...g...s...c...o...r...p...s...e...
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:29 AM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ah the first comment is always snark. Saying "you could do this cheaper" is missing the point of watchmaking. Mechanical watches are entirely atavistic at this point, a $5 quartz watch keeps better time. Mechanical movements are interesting because they are elegant craftsmanship, a strange little art, something we enjoy for the pleasure of the creation.

There's a better article about the machine in German, Google Translate does an acceptable job on it. It has a link to an artier video about the machine. The machine was apparently first presented at Baselworld 2009. Jaquet Droz makes a lot of sculptural complications: there's an assortment on their movie page.

What I haven't found is an explanation of the movement itself, the timekeepeing, and how that translates to actuating the correct decimal digit presentation. I'm assuming it's mechanical; that second video I linked shows what looks like a balance wheel, at least. Translating that rotational movement into discrete actuation of base 10 numbers is an interesting problem.
posted by Nelson at 9:36 AM on January 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


"You say you built a time machine? ..."
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:39 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


That is truly incredible.
posted by OmieWise at 9:59 AM on January 10, 2013


That is truly credible.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:14 AM on January 10, 2013


I'm pretty sure you could make that with Lego Mindstorms for like 150 bucks , and probably give it interesting handwriting to boot.

Um, you don't need to even do that. Most of us have, or have ready access to, a device which will write out the time or pretty much any other piece of information in ink on a sheet of paper, and in a nearly inexhaustible list of fonts. It's called an inkjet printer hooked up to a computer. I could write a script in any of a dozen languages in a few minutes to do it on command.

But that kinda misses the point just a little, don't you think?
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:21 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


From the (frankly awesome) Google translation in Nelson's link:

If my piggy bank but so fattened well - I would run for this sculpture immediately to the slaughter.

This is exactly how I feel about this matter.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:22 AM on January 10, 2013


Obviously you could do it cheaper. The point is the mechanism.

What I don't understand is why it's so loud. That must be the sound of a fan governor trying to keep the mechanism from spinning out of control...why not a flywheel/ball governor (can't think of the name at the mo)? For $350,000 I expect a little workmaship.
posted by DU at 10:23 AM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


The aspect that makes this less impressive/more pointless is the fact that the actual written out numbers look terrible. It would be like having a $20,000 Rolex that used Comic Sans for all of the writing on it. Give that thing a calligraphy pen or something.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:38 AM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


This lacks all sense of grace and style. If this had been built in, say, 1873, it would have had graceful flourishes and curves everywhere, brass knobs and glass bits and globes full of luminous lubricant, it would make charming noises and would write the time out in a fine Spencerian hand. With a fountain pen.
posted by kinnakeet at 10:55 AM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


It would be like having a $20,000 Rolex that used Comic Sans for all of the writing on it.

Anyone can get something beautiful out of a cheap printer. Conspicuous ugliness costs money.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:00 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Huh, I was just telling my partner I wished someone would make a laser pointer that would let me project the time onto anything I wanted.

I found it gratifying that the usual eyeroll did somehow convey an overtone of pity this time.
posted by jamjam at 11:14 AM on January 10, 2013


For 350k you could pay someone 100k to follow you around and write out the time whenever you wanted and also carry the 250k you saved.

I like it. As always with ultra-luxury goods the high price is part of why people buy it.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:26 AM on January 10, 2013


Obviously you could do it cheaper. The point is the mechanism.

My point being that the Lego system could likely do it using virtually the same mechanism. This machine is the rough draft, the final version writes out your account balances while a cold mechanical hand monotonously jerks you off.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:48 AM on January 10, 2013


350K would buy you a pretty sweet CNC machining center so you could make as many of these things as you wanted.
posted by digsrus at 11:58 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


@jamjam:

That problem is luckily solved for you already... Projection Clocks
posted by cacophony at 12:05 PM on January 10, 2013


If I had constructed it, and of course that would be impossible, I would have built it such that on one random occasion -- only once -- when asked the time it would write out:

t...i...m...e...t...o...d...i...e

C'mon. You know it's necessary.
posted by aramaic at 12:39 PM on January 10, 2013


My point being that the Lego system could likely do it using virtually the same mechanism.

The Lego system would mechanically write the time, but it has a electronic computer and is battery-powered. This thing is 100% mechanical, even the computation.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:14 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of the automaton in Hugo. Maybe not as much steampunky flourish, but it has a beauty to it.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:16 PM on January 10, 2013


Reminds of Jacquet-Droz's automatons.
posted by Laotic at 1:54 PM on January 10, 2013


And what's painting all about? For $20 million I could fly to France and take a photo of a pond, and it wouldn't be all fucking blurry.
posted by markr at 1:57 PM on January 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


I had the exact same thought as DU. The mechanism is interesting, but clearly with the materials and the presentation they are going for elegance. But it sounds so damned cheap and rinky-dink, worse than the claw machine at an arcade.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:08 PM on January 10, 2013


It's the script I find so disappointing.
posted by BWA at 3:25 PM on January 10, 2013


I like this better.
posted by shackpalace at 4:02 PM on January 10, 2013


Such intricacy and craftsmanship is pretty cool. Seems reasonable one will end up in a museum someday.

Still, I kind of expected a more elegant presentation (spelled out, cursive essentially).
posted by rosswald at 7:05 PM on January 10, 2013


HEX had a nicer hand better penmanship prettier writing LOOKED NICER ON THE PAGE OK HUH.
posted by Lexica at 9:11 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Lego system would mechanically write the time, but it has a electronic computer and is battery-powered.

You can make fully mechanical Lego systems with mechanical linkages and gears and everything. You might have to have the power source be a little different, though. Hand-cranked the entire time, rather than winding a spring. Or use a weight.
posted by DU at 2:54 AM on January 11, 2013


And what's painting all about? For $20 million I could fly to France and take a photo of a pond, and it wouldn't be all fucking blurry.

No, for $20 million you could buy a house on the same pond and have enough money in savings to quit your job and learn how to paint the damn thing yourself. The status of the painting is not the painting itself. It's the bragging rights about how the buyer is such an enormous douchebag that they feel comfortable locking up $20 million in a painting instead of, I don't know, feeding ten thousand families for two decades in various parts of the world, or operating a manufacturing company in their home country instead of firing everyone and moving production to a slum in Bangladesh so they can wave their art dick around.

Or in other words, if you've got $20 million and you claim to care about art, sponsor scholarships for young artists to create art. At least there will be some economic activity generated instead of wasted on your profound vanity.
posted by tripping daisy at 5:59 AM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Coooooool!!!!! This thing is so astoundingly cool!


For those moaning about how they could have invented this cheaper/better/etc- you didn't. So, there's that. It's easy to criticize; it's hard to create.
posted by windykites at 7:25 AM on January 11, 2013


I'd love to see a fully mechanical Lego version of this. There's mechanical Lego clocks, so that's half the problem, I suspect the other half is just as challenging. And doing it would in no way diminish this machine.

I agree it's a shame the numbers are not more interesting in drawing. It's a bit strange really, I'd think the part that moves the pen essentially encodes the vector shape of the numbers and could encode any shape. Maybe more turns, etc takes more power or something? Or maybe he's going for a sort of Helvetique æsthetic.
posted by Nelson at 8:40 AM on January 11, 2013


« Older Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan i...  |  How profitable has it been for... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments