Wednesday, October 26, 2016

My response to the Ultimaker 3

2 videos in one week, am I crazy? Well, maybe, but the tests were inconclusive. Mostly I'm behind, I want to make sure I'm getting these reviews out in a timely manner, and so if I want to comment on topical matters I'm gonna have to do 2 videos. It's a lot of work for me, but I hope it'll be worth it for you.

When the Ultimaker 3 launched I took to twitter to announce:
...and I still stick by my original statement. For all their hype this is functionally nothing I haven't already had for coming up on 4 years now. But what's exciting about this new printer is that it's solid. It's not by accident that I decided to talk about this while repairing my Rep1, and to be clear my Rep1 will never die, but that's mostly because it will forever be cheaper to fix the one or two things that break on it than buy a better machine and replace it. Will there ever come a time where the human cost, my time to fix it, will culminate in my saying "screw it, I need something better"? Only time will tell. And when that happens I may decide it's time to get one of those new-fangled 3D printers that need less attention. I'm just grateful that there's finally one on the market that looks good enough to fit that bill.

Of course this is all based on reputation.

The Makerbot Gen5 looked good, but something about it smelled funny. I couldn't quite put my finger on it at the time, but eventually it became apparent that the 5th Gen machines weren't all they were being sold as. The Ultimaker 3 has none of that smell. Even their Print Cores, suspiciously similar to the doomed Gen5 Smart Extruder, don't seem like that bad an idea. Sure, they tie together 3 technologies in 1 package, but they're open and they look like something that you could replace the components on. How will that work with the sensor on them that tell Cura to adjust the nozzle diameter? Don't know. It wouldn't surprise me to find out Ultimaker made them hackable.

Maybe I'm being overly optimistic and cutting Ultimaker more slack than they deserve. But this is a $2500 machine, which at this point in 3D printing's maturity you'd expect to buy a machine that just works. And Ultimaker has built a good reputation. So I'm willing to be a bit optimistic here and give them the benefit of the doubt. I won't be buying one right now, but if you were to I wouldn't think less of you.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Review of the Geckotek3D Build plate

Wow, I just noticed that I misspelled "Geckotek" all over as "Gekotek". Gonna have to fix that wherever I can.

I didn't mention it in the video, but Geckotek3D did not sponsor this review. Full disclosure, I think the funky polymer coating on the build plate is the weakest part of the build plate. I fully expect that one day that coating will be replace. But the magnetic replacement plate is really where it's at for this upgrade. It absolutely holds the metal plates on so well that any wiggle I was experiencing from the old build plate is gone. And maybe that's all I wanted. But the difference was so dramatic that I am nothing but happy.

Be sure to check out and find out if they have a replacement plate for your 3D printer. Be sure to use the coupon code 3DPROF to receive 15% off.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Professor is Back, Unboxing and Giveaway

I'm so sorry it's been so long. Really, there's no excuse. But I'll give one anyways.

Moving is hard. And once you're off the wagon it's hard to get back on. Lot's of "I'll record a video as soon as I finish setting up the workbench. Well, I gotta record the new intro. Well, I gotta set up my recording rig. Well, I gotta, I gotta, I gotta..." But those excuses are done, I've actually finished, and I'm back.

I've already recorded a few videos, but they didn't go well so I'm going to re-record them, but my setup is better... I hope. I'm getting some video quality complaints, and if that's the case maybe I need to change my setup again. *Sigh* I'm still experimenting with a setup that will allow me to record and edit videos quickly. The less effort I can put into these videos the more often I can do them. This was recorded through a webcam with audio on my blue ball mic. But it seems my laptop doesn't ahve the huevos for this setup and I'm dropping frames. The experiments will continue. Suggestions are welcome.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

WTFFF 3D Printing Podcast, 3D Printed Toys and Blender

Talk about a cosmic convergence. Well, maybe not cosmic, but still.

One of my favorite podcasts, WTFFF, did a segment about 3D puzzle toys, a topic that I have some documented knowledge of. I've interacted with Tom and Tracy online a couple of times, they're very accessible and I enjoy that. So I reached out again to say "Hey, you're talking about 3D puzzle toys and I've got this book and Blender is reaaally good for this sort of thing, and I hope you'll check out my book." (I'm not very good at the whole self promotion thing.) The podcast has also been reviewing many 3D modeling softwares, but they haven't done Blender yet. In fact in the past they've been kind of... I won't say antagonistic against Blender, but they definitely didn't have the positive opinion of it that I have. So I've been trying to gently say "Yeah, Blender isn't perfect, but you should check it out" from time to time.

In their latest episode not only did they check out Blender, but Tom's opinion of it seems quite elevated and I got a plug in as well. Tom plugged my book because of my timing, telling them about my book because of their timing of their 3D print puzzle episode and because I chose a 3D printed puzzle as a project for my book.

That's the convergence there.

If you don't already you should be listening to Tom and Tracy on the WTFFF 3D Printing Podcast. I love their content and interviews and love listening to them on my commute to work.

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.