As I approach retirement, I plan to transition from being a physician to being an artist. I spent my summers while in junior and senior high school working in a boat yard helping mechanics, painters, and wood workers. I have always enjoyed using these skills to build furniture, but it wasn't until the last few years that I branched out and started to create what I call architectural art. Visitors to the house have seen a progression of projects over the years

Home Automation

Home automation has gained tremendous momentum over the past few years, with mainstream businesses like Samsung, Apple, and Amazon becoming involved. Gradually, this is becoming something that can be done without a networking degree, although we are still not anywhere near plug-n-play functionality. There are many more devices that can be controlled and many more ways of controlling them. As a result, we are getting beyond the gee-whiz demonstration stuff that is neat but not really useful like being able to turn a light off by a voice command.

How are commands sent? This part gets confusing because there are a boatload of competing protocols, Z Wave, Zigbee, Bluetooth, Thread, Weave etc. As time goes on some winners will emerge and we will also see devices that can manage multiple protocols. Right now I am primarily using Z-Wave devices.

What sends the commands? Controllers, aka Hubs, send commands. These include Smartphones, pads, computers, and proprietary boxes such as Smarthings, Wink, HomeSeer, Amazon Echo, and Vera.

Why Bother? This used to be the big question because there wasn't that much useful stuff you could do. Now there are single functions that are useful, such as locking a door, and we can now link functions in very elaborate ways.

Individual Functions
Digital door locks allow secure keyless entry. This is extremely useful for both rental and non-rental properties. I can open the door from my cell phone to let repair people in and I can create codes that allow entry at certain times, all the time, or just a single time. I can tell if somebody tried to get in but failed. This is so much better than a shared key. The systems vary greatly in the ability to to enter new users and to enter schedules. At Mystic, I can enter a user and designate the exact minute their code will become active and an exact time it will expire. If the lock malfunctions, has a low battery, or experiences an incorrect code, I get a text. There are many locks on the market including Yale, Kwikset, Schlage, and August. The biggest issue right now is how they are controlled and programmed. I am currently using Vera as a controller. It is a box with a dedicated computer and internet connectivity that costs about $100. So far it has been very reliable, but as is the case with many of these things, getting it all set up and running can be a little challenging if you are not familiar with wireless networks at home. For this setup you need a Yale real Living lock, Vera, and a network the Vera can plug into with an ethernet cord.

Light control. Light switches can be replaced with switches that are Zwave controlled. This means that you can operate the switch normally or can do it from the controller. The switch sends the controller information so that the controller knows if the light is on or off. Each switch costs about $35. When are these useful? Suppose you have limited mobility and can't easily reach a switch? What if you hate walking downstairs to turn off lights at night or if you don't like walking into a dark house? Lights can be controlled from anywhere with a remote, key Fob, wall switch, or voice command.

Thermostats. There are a number of internet controlled thermostats. I am currently using Nest, but Ecobee and Honeywell are also good. These cost around $200 but provide an easy way to control energy usage without compromising comfort. I manage the Nest thermostats with my cell phone and I get a monthly report showing energy usage, weather conditions and a comparison to other users in the area.

Flood detection can be done with simple floor monitors that detect water from a storm, blocked drain, or broken plumbing. If water is detected, I get a text.

Temperature, humidity, motion and light level can all be done with a single detector. If there is motion, at a place or time that is not expected, or the temperature is too high or low, a text can be sent

Garage door status is monitored, so I don't have to check to see if I closed the door. If I forgot, I can close it from my cell phone.

Video monitoring has lots of options now. I am currently using software designed for the Mac called Security Spy that is really easy to use yet quite powerful. I have been very happy with Hikvision cameras; note that the ones on Amazon are not from authorized dealers and can be more difficult to program. The most reliable connection to webcams is with a ethernet cable instead of wireless. A key point is supplying power since you may not have an outlet near the place you want the camera. Some of these cameras can be powered from the same ethernet cable that connects them to the network. This feature is called POE or power over ethernet. Basic ethernet switches can be purchased that will supply the power and a port to plug in the ethernet cable. I use this system on all my cameras.

Linked Functions
Scenes are groups of commands. For example if I am going to cook I need the main overhead lights on, task lights on, island lights on, some music, and if its hot, I want the ceiling fan on. I can set all these things to happen by programming a scene called something like "Lets Cook." I can activate that scene with a command from iPhone, wall switch, keypad, or voice. I can also make a command called "turn Kitchen off" that will shut everything off, or "Serving Dinner" that will dim or turn off some of the lights. Imagine how nice it would be to push a button or say "Alexa turn the house off" and lights go off, doors lock, garage door closes, and the security system is armed. What if a noise wakes you up at night and you can turn inside and outside lights on with a command that also checks to see if there has been any movement in the house.

There are many controllers available, each with their own programming abilities. Many are 1st or 2nd generation and have some growing pains. Some use a very simple box in the house that depends on an internet connection to be able to function. Smarthings from Samsung is like this. The problem is that if the internet goes down, your system goes down. Other systems like, Vera, use a proprietary computer in a box. This system benefits from not doing anything but home automation and is somewhat immune to the crashes that full featured computers like PCs and Macs can experience. I am using a system designed for Mac computers, that can be run on any computer that stays on. I use a mac-mini, but an old laptop can also work well. This system is called Indigo and has been around for quite awhile. There is a bit of a learning curve but it isn't that difficult. Its strength is that you can do all the things I mentioned above without knowing any programming at all. All of the platforms have active users forums with experienced users that can help newbies get their systems working. This is especially true with Indigo

Coffee Table

A major project that blends walnut, carbon fiber, aluminum, and pewter. Many new techniques were used or developed to create the final product.

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Indoor Pond

In our house in Pittsburgh I built an indoor koi pond. It has a natural water filter made of a 25 gal barrel of lava rock inoculated with natural pond bacteria. This has kept the water clean for ten years without any maintenance. We don't add any chemicals, nutrients, algicides etc.. water is pumped out of the pond, to the bottom of the barrel where it percolates up through the lava rock ecosystem before flowing down to the waterfall. The lights in the pond are made from color changing Leds that are turned on and off by the home automation system

Range Hood

The hood was designed and built by myself. The box that holds the grease baffles, controls and supports the exhaust column is aluminum plate that I cut on a commercial waterjet and TIG welded. The Waterjet is a large platform with computer controlled nozzle that cuts with a slurry of water and garnet dust under incredibly high pressure.

Controls for the fan and lights, as well as the light bar were hand made from copper scrap. Interior components include a large silencer that dampens vibrations from the 1200cfm in-line fan. The outer skin was constructed, in the driveway, with copper sheet and treated with oxidizing chemicals to create the striking aged patina appearance.

Perhaps the most complicated part is the pewter arch.The Arch was drawn in Adobe Illustrator and the design was fed to a computer controlled CO2 Laser to cut a plastic template. Silicone, used to make stage props, was poured over the plastic to make a mold. Finally, scrap pewter was melted in a cast iron pan on the BBQ, and poured into the mold.

The Fan is mounted above a large silencer the reduces typical fan noise to a whisper.

Fossil Bar

"Time without Borders" original artwork by Chuck Law

Hand poured pewter, Walnut Slab, Fossils, Gemstones - Turquoise, Malachite, dinosaurs bone, Epoxy resin, 18 months to complete.

Fossils were purchased from multiple places including Ebay and mineral shows: Orthoceras (black mollusks, from Morocco, 400M yrs old), Ammonite (nautilus shape, Morocco, 400M), Diplomystus ( large fish, Wyoming, 50M yrs), Knightia (small fish, Wyoming, 50M yrs), Turritella agate (snails in brown slab, Wyoming 50M yrs), Septarian Nodules ("dinosaur eggs", 50-70 million yrs old)

There are 3 major sections to the piece:

1. Walnut live edge front

A whimsical meteorite was inlayed to fill a large defect in the wood. The shape of the table edge was kept natural with only some light sanding.

2. Resin and Fossil the "Big Bang"

Four sections were created with hand poured pewter rails that were bent to shape then welded together. The lengths of each section, and the diminishing wave length of the fossil stream, are based on a Fibonacci sequence which is also related to the Golden Ratio. These mathematical concepts are the basis of many things in nature including the shape of the ammonite shell as well as architecture and furniture design. Clear epoxy and epoxy blended with universal colorants, was used to create dynamic patterns and visual depth.

ammonite head

Section 1. Ammonite with tentacles. "Big Bang". This fossil was purchased on Ebay. Ground thin and imbedded in blue resin. The green eye is made of Malachite and the head is hand crafted pewter. The tentacles were first sculpted in wood with a router and then used to make a silicone mold that molten pewter was poured into.

Fossil table with incredible water view

Section 2. Explosive discharge of fire, stone and fossil cascading over Septarian Nodules "dinosaur eggs", 50-70 million yrs old

Section 3. Deep Dive - past a Diplomystus (fish), carved from rock and seemingly coming back to life, then under a chilly ice cap made of Kingman mine turquoise before rising over an agate with natural copper

Section 4. Entombed in rock for the next 50 million years before being dug up and becoming part of a bar in Mystic CT. The school of Orthoceras and a large ammonite end their journey and become imbedded Bronze and Turitella rockFossil bar with incredible water view

3. Pewter edge slab

walnut bar for parties

Construction Details

A newly cut 8.5' long, 3" thick walnut slab came from a tree that was toppled by a storm. I bought it for $80 on Craigslist because the heart wood (middle) split from the sap wood, which turned the slab into 3 pieces.The seller thought it was practically worthless; I saw an opportunity for an epic project.

Drying, Leveling and straightening.After gluing the pieces together, I dried the slab in a solar kiln for 6 months to get the moisture content under 10%. In order to level/straighten the top and bottom, I built a frame around the slab with a sled that allowed a router with a 2" surfacing bit to slide above the slab. I spent about 5 hrs pushing the sled back and forth to level the surface.

Pewter work

75# of scrap pewter was purchased on Ebay. melted the pewter in a cast iron skillet and poured the edge part to add width. The pewter side piece was joined to slab with dovetails. I poured pewter into silicone molds to make the square stock that divide sections. Raw Slab pieces get glued together and kiln dried for 6 months

Early experiments with design

Melting Pewter

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