Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Workbench 2.0 is in progress

I'm finally moved into our new house, and I'm setting up the workbench. Well, more of a nerd cave. Well, less of a cave and more of an office. But the plan is to make this a recording mecca so I can crank out the videos. I'm also experimenting with some new software to one-take some high quality videos. That's the hope. And that way I can produce a weekly video more reliably, and maybe even more than one a week.

The printer is functional and it's already cranking out the models. The first thing I printed? A peg for the shelves in the new kitchen. Yup, pragmatic. It's always difficult to find shelf pegs the right size, so 3D printing is a good solution, but these ones I beefed up to make up for the fact that they're not metal. And they worked.

Awesome. Hopefully I'll be getting back to videos this weekend. Or at least a clean enough desk to make a vlog.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

This is NOT a 3D printed gun

EVERYONE PANIC! Someone tried sneaking a 3D printed gun on an airplane. But thank goodness, the TSA caught them first. Everyone with a 3D printer, you'd better watch out.

Actually, the TSA was pretty chill about the whole thing. They pick up a lot of guns, loaded and with ammo, but being 3D printed makes this note worthy enough to merit a press release.

Only problem, that's not a 3D printed gun. It looks like a gun, but it's got a number of points that kinda made me raise my eyebrow. Even the TSA press release call it a "realistic replica". They know it's fake, but there were a number of problems that are easy to spot.

For one thing, this is small and flimsy. Current successful projects to make 3D printed guns are big and clunky and often times rely on metal inserts. For instance check out the WashBear. Plastic is weaker than metal and bullets are explosions. A bullet fired from this thing might as well be set off by pounding on it with a hammer.

Secondly, how does the firing mechanism work? There doesn't look like there's room inside for a spring and I don't see a rubberband around there. There seems to be a screw holding something in place so maybe there is something there, but what? And how can that generate enough push to set off a firing pin? And how do you trigger it? Because this gun doesn't have a trigger, so do you just flick it back with your thumb and then release to shoot? That seems... less than effective.

So it's not a real gun, so that probably rules out nefarious purposes, probably. But that only raises more questions. For instance, with the live ammo, what was the goal and who was the person doing this? And who were they? All we know from the TSA is it was a male on a 5:30 flight who was wiling to leave the gun behind. This doesn't all make sense to me. I see a couple of possible scenarios:

  • Some designer is trying to build a compact 3D printed gun, printed a test, and took it on a flight to show it off to someone, and when they were caught with it left it behind because it was easy to print another one on the other end.
  • Someone wanted to actually pull some shenanagans and in the end would have at worst injured themselves, but most likely would have made a fool of themselves with an impotent toy.
  • Someone wanted to see just how undetectable a plastic gun would be going through airport security. For this purpose I would have contacted the TSA and told them ahead of time. I might have even made a video about it.
  • This is a publicity stunt by the TSA. If so it's as poorly constructed as the gun, but it already has people calling this fake "deadly" and "bad news".
I still want to know who was making this gun and why. Did they test fire it yet? How's the firing mechanism work? How is the barrel rotated? What printer was it printed on and what settings? I don't see this thing working, and yet here we are talking about it.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

3D printing and board games

A New York MakerSpace is holding a game jam. It's co-presente presented by Ultimaker and MakerOS so you know there will eventually be requirements that the games have 3D printed elements in it, though other tools like laser cutters will also be available. For $30 I would hope they're able to supply everyone's needs.

I love the idea, but I see a lot of problems with this. Maybe this is just sour grapes talking because I can't attend, but I gotta ask, do you even 3D, bro? There are downsides.

The first problem I see is unless they have a bank of printers they're gonna have the devil's time producing several teams worth of games, especially if they're part intensive like Seej or Wood Wars or Shapes the game. 3D printing is slower than inexperienced people expect. Even relatively small games like Pocket Tactics require a solid day to print and several color changes to do it right.

But if the games limit the 3D printed components, like a few fancy chits or minis, or a case to hold the bits. Pocket Tactics could have a paper version done with a few standees. And that would be a good plan. But Art don't design itself, unless the thought is to reuse assets from other people's games they're going to blow their whole time in design, 2D or 3D. And if they do steal assets they're going to have to be careful and attribute. (Now I wish I had finished my 3D printed board game resource pack before now.)

But anyone who's designed a game knows that you save the art assets until you've sorted out the gameplay. Having participated in game design groups, I know a game can be developed in a day, and the art assets can be developed in a day, but it's generally not the same day. Play testing takes time.

With a focus on the finished assets it's likely these games aren't going to be good games. They may be pretty, and for success that's about all you need, I guess. But without time to develop the game play these project will eventually languish like all things that lack substance. It'll make for some pretty blog posts, which is a win for the makerspace, but a bit disingenuous for the rest of us. Maybe some of the teams will have games they've designed and tested and the jam will only be to put their hand through the polish phase. That, in my mind, would be a winner all round.

Having thought about this quite a bit I figure this is as good a place to expand on my thoughts about designing games with 3D printing. I've previously said some of this in a past video.

Most people new to game design don't realize that game design is often constrained. In fact the biggest factor to a games success is price so if you can make a fun game out of 16 cheap paper cards then you've got a hit. On the other hand big boxes with expensive components do occasionally succeed but more often than not the risk isn't worth it for most game publisher. 

This is where 3D printing can shine. Offload the production of the fancy chits and minis to the buyer and a whole world of possibilities open up. But this doesn't remove constraints, because you still have to think of the consumer. If you buy a box with the promise of a craft project before you can play it, I think there are some people who would get excited by this, but many people would say "no thanks". Conventional wisdom says the game should be playable out of the box. But conventional wisdom's been wrong before. Add to that, however, if your design relies on screws, rods, or other elements that won't be coming in the box. That's a lot of potential negative experiences people are going to have with your game because they didn't realize the incidental costs your game works incur on them. So keep the out-of-the-box components to a minimum.

In my option, the best game for 3D printing is where the 3D components matter. Pocket Tactics could be done with paper and it would play the same, in fact full color chipboard tiles with good art might actually be an improvement. But could Seej work any other way than 3D printed? No. The weight and dimensions of the components are absolutely vital The problem with this sort of game, though, is your design had skip the cheap prototype phase before you could test it. Ask me how I know.

Before modeling parts in 3D you should ask the hard questions. Could this be done another way? Weight the reasons. Be willing to accept that maybe 3D printing isn't the right answer. Maybe you can get it done faster, better, cheaper and more accessible some other way. If 3D printers become ubiquitous then, yeah, having a 3D print heavy game is good. But we're not there now, so 2D printed components can have a wider audience.

On the other hand, 3D components are really cool, so there's that. Novelty has its value. Imagine a monarchy themed game where you 3D print a small scepter to indicate who's first player in a given turn. Important to gameplay? Na. But the moment you get the scepter you know you're having fun.

In my experience a fully 3D printed game isn't feasible. Even my take on Squirrel Squabble needed a book of rules that I didn't take into account when designing the case for it. (A redesign is in my project pool.) Rules, stats cards, things with small text on them, all are better 2D printed.

In short 3D printing can be a valuable tool when designing a game but it's value needs to be weighed against other tools.

I can't wait to see what comes out of this game jam. All of this aside, if I were in a position to I'd probably attend this thing.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Is 3D Printing Dead video

Fun fact, the original joke at the start of this video was going to be me wondering what my wife had been up to, but I switched it to my kids for reason.

John Brandon's article about the slow, sad, and ultimately predictable decline of 3D printing is badly written, badly cited, leans too heavily on personal experience, and kicked off some great conversation. Forcing 3D printing to defend itself to prove Mr. Brandon wrong showed just how alive 3D printing is. Sure, 3D printing stocks are down, well, unless you're lulzbot. But the companies with slumping stocks are generally the ones who threw everything they had at 3D printing to cash in on the hype and it turns out the exchange rate for hype isn't that great. Lulzbot on the other hand, and other's like them, kept expectations manageable and growth modest and they're doing better and better. That's not just good business when it comes to 3D printing. That's good business in general.

The articles 4 points about how to avoid hype are the one take away, though I would have edited them a little, like so:

  1. Make it real. Brandon's first step was to "Make sure to try it yourself" but I say make it real. Can you see it? Can you feel it? Can you go to where it is? Can you try it yourself? Then do so. But keep it cheap. The goal here is to crash early and not to kill yourself financially in the process. Fail early, fail cheap. For instance, I didn't jump in an buy a 3D printer or try building my own. Instead I modeled a Chinese Chess set, put it out there and got someone else with a 3D printer to print it. He charged me $25, which is quite a bit for a chess set, but not so much for a custom chess set. The moment I held it in my hand, the moment I made it real, I was never going to turn back. But without this experience I might have eventually left 3D printing alone. If I can't make a thing real then it may be cool, but it's not for me.
  2. Talk to the insiders. Brandon's "Ask hard questions" bullet point is just the worst. Asking hard questions is good, but he doesn't list hard questions you should ask. He complains that he couldn't get good answers back in the day, that his hard questions weren't answered, but he still went with 3D printing, so who's the fool? I mentioned some questions above, and I'll mention some below, but here I'm going to say "Talk to the insiders" because that leads to the next point perfectly. Find people who are into the hype and find out what they're doing. For 3D printing find a local maker, read interviews about industry leaders, see what people are doing with the technology. Learn how it's changing other people's lives and get a little excited. Find out what's possible.
  3. Talk to outsiders. There's always detractors and you should let them have their say. Do they have a point? Listen to them and let them talk you out of it. Here's where you try to answer the hard questions: What can go wrong? What's the worst case scenario for me? How much do I stand to loose? What are the risks? What are the dangers? Why shouldn't I be excited about this?
  4. Do the math. The math in this example is pretty obvious, though Mr. Brandon doesn't seem capable of it. But your math should include not just money, but time. A Makerbot Thing-o-matic debuted at $1225 for an unassembled kit. $1225 for a machine that can turn plastic into anything? That's a steal, right? Not when you took into account the more than 8 hours is it would probably take to assemble it. I knew many people who bought the Thing-o-matic and never made anything because "I'm just trying to find the time to put it together". That alone was enough to keep me away until I won a 3D printer, and I had to be pretty awesome to pull that off. And it came preassembled. So thank goodness otherwise I probably would still be on the outside looking in.
It's not bad to be excited about something. It's not bad to be caught up in the hype. But always, always try to talk yourself out of it. 

Then again, if it's destined to be, then jump in with both feet. Don't pussyfoot into it then whine later when your experimental water-bottle cage breaks. 3D printing is still awesome. And if anyone has a broken cup holder for a SAAB they can send me I'll gladly model it for them.

This wasn't the first video I was going to do this week. That video, about the history of Makerbot and their community, got overwritten in the output process because I'm an idiot. Not having time to re-record it I had to scramble to edit this video, a video I worked hard to get ahead so I would have a video next week. Turns out the audio for this one is less than ideal, but it's what I have to go with. So now I've got to re-record this week's video for next week, and I don't think I'll have time for that this week. If'n I don't I'll just pull out a quick Vlog and give away another book or two.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Pinshape "How Do 3D Printers Work" Infographic

This infographic is incomplete, but then again I feel like a complete infographic on 3D printing would be... vast. There have been lots of solutions to 3D printing, and FDM, SLA, and DLP are only the most popular right now, but it's a good start, so I'm sharing it here. I may work this into a future video:

Friday, July 29, 2016

Setting up Blender 2.77 for 3D Printing

I'll let you in on a little secret. This first part of this video was almost entirely lifted from my books. Content-wise, anyways. The book is much more concise and less... rambly. The second part of this video, where I point out that Blender's STL export is now a little broken in 2.77, well, that's original.

So this video got me thinking about something. I could have probably told you about Blender's left-select setting, how and why and had time to mention the changes to STL export and how to fix it in a solid 4 minutes. This same content in the books is less than 1 page. However, you get 12 minutes of me over explaining things. Why isn't this video shorter? Because it takes time to be concise. I would have had to plan a script, edit it, set up my recording so I could read it, in addition to the filming and editing that I already did. Going without a script saves me time, but ends up costing you all some time watching the video. I dream of the day that external revenue sources like YouTube and Patreon add up to a full-time comparable paycheck and I'll be able to abandon my day-to-day job and do this full time. That would mean awesome, concise, scripted videos, more than once a week, along with awesome projects that I can only dream of right now.

Okay, that is the one time I'm going to burden you guys with my pipe dreams. Now, back you your regularly scheduled being-happy-with-my-lot.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Vlog video about books, Patreon, and a contest to keep you watching

I'll admit it, I'm not above bribing you to watch my video. If you want to win a copy of my second 3D Printing Designs book, the SD Card Holder Ring, then you need to comment on YouTube. Each book has a focus. The Octopus Pencil Holder was about solid shape modification and modifiers. This second book is more about measuring and creating accurate-to-real-life measured objects than the first one. The Sun Puzzle, the third book in the series, is more about the sculpting tools. Of course you can get all three projects in one book at a slightly reduced price in 3D Printing Designs - Fun and Functional Projects.

Concerning the results of the survey from my "Should I Censor my 3D Print Video" video, the clear result is that I should not do anything, so that's what I'm going to do... or not do.

But I think it's interesting that while 1/4 of people said I shouldn't take it down because "screw-the-law", and 1/4 said I should be a nice guy and at least remove monitization, even if I didn't do anything wrong and might be legally justified. That is interesting to me. There's something about the fact that these two categories balance each other out. I just don't know how to articulate what it might mean, so I'll just leave it there.

Besides that, this video also announced my Patreon, which if you're a frequent follower on the blog you already know about. Which lead me to ask, why aren't you a 3D Scholar yet? Sign up, and get not only exclusive 3D models but the source files for them as well.


I'm still figuring out Patreon, so I'm sure I'm doing things wrong, but I'll figure that out one day I'm sure. Thanks for all your support.