Helping a Hand

I am the first to admit that most of my hobbies are realistically not the most efficient or effective way of handling something. Smart lighting and home automation are a convenience at best and really don’t provide enough utility to be a necessity; Sous-vide while amazing is not going to replace your stove or even a microwave oven; but this week I was able to take a step towards a future I hardly believe in, but many boldly claim might be an upcoming reality: home manufacturing.

With the popularity of 3D printers many media sources are calling this the start of the home manufacturing revolution. A new way of life that will be as big a change to our way of life as the industrial revolution. While I am very skeptical about this and building and operating a 3D printer has taught me that there are many, many obstacles in the way before this will be close to a reality. 3D printers today are very limited, very expensive, very slow and fairly unreliable, not to mention nowhere near as efficient as a large manufacturing run. But this week I showed myself that there is potential for a home manufacturing revolution.

As I spend most of every day sitting at a keyboard poor ergonomics and the cost of them is a real concern. Well it seems i had not been giving it proper attention as this week I started developing the wrist pain that comes from too much keyboard use. After aching through a day at work I came home and realized that I did not own a proper reinforced wrist brace to slap on until my wrist was better and I had made the necessary ergonomic improvements. While these can found online and in most drug stores I remembered a design I had seen that I wanted to try. 3D printing a wrist brace.

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3D printed wrist brace

Modeling and digitally fitting a fully formed wrist brace would be a pain and would by very difficult and time consuming to print. This design, of which I found a few iterations online, is ingenious as it uses the relatively low melting temperature of one of the commonly printed plastics, PLA, to make printing and fitting much easier. The brace is modeled and printed as a flat piece and after a dip in near boiling water becomes malleable enough to be wrapped around a wrist. Once cooled it maintains this form and is stiff enough to provide support.

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The wrist brace being printed

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A flat and formed wrist brace

While certainly not as comfortable as a commercial wrist wrap it worked quit well. The model I chose had fitting s for Velcro to be used to hold the brace in place but I found wrapping a compression bandage around it worked quite well, though it covered all those pretty hexagons. The printing of each brace took a little under an hour and half and the forming took just minutes, all without leaving home. It may not have been modeled from a 3D scan of my hand but it held up for a few days until I manage to get a proper brace and it was and interesting talking point to all who noticed.

3D printers will probably not be as popular as the inkjet for decades to come, and editing a model in CAD will never be a simple a writing up a document, but there is potential for 3D printing and home manufacturing to replace as least some mass manufactured products.

Pebble Power

I still have a bunch of photos that I have not uploaded from my vacation in the mountains. So many photos that I have to carefully curate them to a succinct few for posting. While working on that I want to report on an experiment that I preformed on my 10 day trip. The Pebble Time Steel which I had recently received boasts a 10 day battery life. Coincidentally the length of the trip I was about to embark on.

Could I go the entire trip, Friday to Sunday without charging it?

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Pebble, Tracking a trek at 12,000ft

No, I couldn’t. At 10:43am on the last Saturday of the trip the watch gave out. But 9 of the promised 10 days isn’t bad.

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Interestingly enough the Pebble still functions as a regular digital watch when the battery hits zero. I wounder if it would have lasted another day in that state?

Bleeding Out on the Edge

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Last week Oculus released SDK and runtime version 0.7 to bring Virtual Reality to all us windows 10 users.

Today I got my hands on an Original kickstarter Development Kit and was ready to settle in to some Oculus time comparing the two development kits.

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Sadly after a significant time spent getting windows and the Oculus configuration utility to detect the DK2, I loaded the demo scene to find that the fastest frame rate that could be driven to the headset is around the order of 3. Not quite the 75 FPS that the system was designed for. After some researching I found that I am not the only one having this problem; the community is blaming a bad graphics driver from Nvidia, and that the unreleased latest version has the fix.

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So I am still without means of powering my own VR.

Tough Little Machine

Though uses of quartz watches, analog or digital, may not sees the merit in it; I must rave about how hearty the original Pebble Smart watch is. I have had my Pebble over two years now and it stands today as amazing and marvelous as it was then, even with the launch of AndriodWear and the Apple watch in the interim.

I have been neglecting to charge my Pebble recently, not giving it the daily ten to twenty minutes of juice it usually gets, as I am moving house and my charger has yet to be packed and moved. But as the Pebble is advertised as having a five to seven day battery life, it has not been a problem. Limited charging through last week and no charges over the weekend. Monday morning I wake up to the ten percent battery warning! Now If my phone were down that low I would panic and scramble for a charger. No way that a tenth of the battery would last me the day, let alone an hour! But with the Pebble it was a challenge, can a device with a glued in battery that has been running continuously for two years last a day on nearly no charge. This is a challenge that plagues our technologically integrated society, we are stressed by our batteries and tethered by our chargers, any other device was sure to fail.

As the existence of the blog post may give you a premonition, the battery held. Like holy oil wanton for resupply the tiny battery stretched far longer than it should have. Lasting the entire day with no complaints. I may have stacked the odds a little by turning off the back light and the vibration motor, the more power hungry features. But who we to say that the Maccabees didn’t go easy on the oil. So while I wait impatiently for my new Pebble Time Steel to come off the assembly line, I am still impressed by the one on my wrist.

Technology Perpetuating Technology

In the news this week Apple unveiled more information about their newest product, the Apple watch. Discussions of smart watches (smarches) are very polarized, especially within the smart watch community. Whether or not smart watches are useful and what system is the best; Android Wear vs. Apple Watch against all the rest, the market is already pretty big. Personally, I am a backer of the Pebble smart watch, having been wearing one for nearly two years. Pebble has strategically launched their new watches in time with Apple’s event even though neither devices will be on anyone’s wrists for another few months. Still many are drawing conclusion and making unfounded comparisons between the two. Since I have access to a 3D Printer I decided to make a less-biased comparison and compare the physical form of the two.

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Left: Apple Watch, Right: Pebble Time

The Pebble Time is wider than the Apple Watch, which is much smaller than I expected it to be. The model I printed is of the 42mm model which is the larger of the two offered. The Pebble time is significantly thinner than the Apple Watch, and with the rounded face feels much more like a watch. The Apple watch gains a lot of thickness from the heart rate sensor the sticks out of the underside of the watch and the round rectangle shape make it feel like a mini tic-tac case.

With out regard to my personal preference in smart watches, it amazing how small both of these devices are.

Combining hobbies

When one has more than one hobby its always interesting to see how they can cross. Two of my passions happen to naturally fit well together; 3D Printing and Games.

Board and tabletop gaming mesh perfectly with 3D printing. How many times has a little piece of plastic gone missing from a box, only to be noticed weeks later half way through the next playing of the game? A small unicolored plastic token, that is what FDM printers are best at! Better yet, should you have to model the new piece yourself all the pieces from the box are usually the same shape so you have an object from which to take measurements. I had a missing Catan road piece that was easily replaced by some ABS plastic. One could easily see printing missing Monopoly houses or a militia man from Risk, pieces that get lost so easily and so often. Why stop at small pieces, I am in the process of rebuilding my Catan set with entirely 3D printed tiles. But this is only the first step, 3D printing and games can benefit from a closer association.
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So a 3D printer can replace a missing piece from a game, but what about a game that had no pieces to start with. Dungeons and Dragons and many other ‘Table Top’ role playing games do not require anything but paper, pencils, and imagination. Though imagination is all that is needed many players have found that adding drawn maps and physical tokens to the game are beneficial organizational tools and help encourage more role playing. Many campaigns will use what they have on hand; bottle caps, guitar picks, and thimbles. Some of the more committed will get Games Worksop miniatures or buy sets of models from Wizards of the Coasts. But with a personal fabrication device, why would anyone want to do that, just print them. There are a few artists who have started making and providing models of creatures, monsters, and dungeons elements often found in the worlds of Dungeons and Dragons to be printed and used. A committed and industrious Dungeon Master could try and print all the party’s encounters before the group meets. This is not always easy as the party will not always take the path the DM planned and encounters are sometimes unexpected by all involved. We have started using the 3D printer to print custom marker tiles, labeled “MONSTER” to denote where on the grid the big beasties are. This with some adhesive vinyl and wet erase markers lets us enact any encounter. My group uses hero characters out of my set of old Games Workshop miniatures but for players who are attached to their characters there is now a service, Hero Forge, that lets DnD players customize a character design and then have it printed on high resolution SLA printers. While its hard to get the same detail out of the popular FDM printers now, in the future creating one’s character might involve some 3D design and extruded plastic.
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So the 3D printing community can take a game and repair or enhance with this new technology. But what about the future of table top and board games, how might that be affected by the rise of 3D printing?

Since it may take years to decades for 3D printers to be common place in households (if this ever happens at all), the first place games will see innovation from 3D printing will probably be inside the packaged box. Game makers with access to 3D printing will be more easily able to prototype mechanically and visually complex game pieces. The parts that the home player would get would still be injection molded plastic, but used as a rapid prototyping device a 3D printers will make these pieces easier to design and play test with before the manufacturing run starts.

If 3D printing ever does become common place, then there may exist a market for digital distribution of physical board games. Table top and board games that come with printable STL files instead of playing pieces. Catan might be reduced to a deck or cards and a download code, tiles and play pieces all to be printed. This can make games cheaper, more flexile and shake up typical board game distribution channels. If a 3D printing enthusiast were to look online now there are already a couple of independent games designers making games to be printed and played. Some are calling the spread of 3D printing the start of a new home industrial revolution and I think that may be a big step away from where the technology is headed, but if there is ever is a time with a Form1 or Makerbot printer next to the family InkJet then games seems like an industry that should easily adapt to this new revolution.

Indulging in Hobbies

Today I held a race of man vs. machine. Myself against my 3D Printer. I started printing a hand shaped coat hook and started a Metal Earth model of a tarantula.2015-01-03 13.33.37 HDR

After a few hours though it was still neck and neck, but the printer managed to finish the hand a few minutes faster than I could assemble the laser cut model kit.

A New Dimension

Last week I revived a very special package, a box containing all the components I would need to assemble a printer. “Why would anyone what to build their own printer? Electronics stores are almost giving away ink jets these days.” This printer does not print with ink or paper, it prints plastic.

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There are many types of 3D printers but the ones that have been making the most news are Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printers because a combination of expiring patents and availability of precision parts had made it possible for anyone with some time to kill to build one. FDM printers work by heating plastic until it is soft and malleable then pushing it through a pin hole opening to form hairlike strands of the plastic. Motors and belts move this extruder around while it is pushing the plastic out which forms shapes. This is repeated over and over creating layers of a 3D object.

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If you want something done right, you need to do it your self. Though this is not always true, its often applicable in the world of 3D printing. More and more people are making businesses out of selling and servicing 3D printers, most printers have no support other than the operator. That’s why its a good idea to build the printer one’s self and get a good knowledge of how the machine works, because eventually it won’t.
I purchased a kit from Makerfarm for a Prusa i3v 10. A printer in the popular open source Rep-Rap family. This kit came with almost all the prices needed for full assembly, I just needed a power supply and a piece of glass for the build plate. The assembly was fairly straight forward with every step of the way documented by YouTube tutorials. Putting in hours after work it took me a few days to get it ready to print.

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The Printer nearly completed

First print

First print

The first print was a calibration cube, 24mm by 24mm by 24mm, and it took me three tires until I could get one to print completely. Printing this helped me troubleshoot and find anywhere that I may have made a mistake when building the printer. I had to deconstruct and rebuild the extruder because some part of it were not tight enough the first time.
wpid-wp-1414603536453.jpeg Once the calibration cube was completed, it turned out very nice. Often these printers require hours of tuning and calibrations before they will print anything decent. This Prusa i3v just need some bed leveling at it printed pretty well. Eventually I will go through all the setups and calibrations to get perfect prints but first I want to try something a little more ambitious than a cube.

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3D printing a Star Trek com badge

I printed a few of these Star Trek com badges. A fan design that merges the styling of the new movie series with the com badges from The Next Generation. That’s pretty cool but I think we can do more.

Printing a Bust

Printing a Bust

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Though it didn’t come out perfectly I was able to print this bust from a 3D scan of a Greek statue. The entire thing took almost 6 hours to print but it came out pretty well. The spaghetti like string hanging off it are places on the statue, like the chin, where the overhang was too great for the rigidity of the plastic and the print was printing on air. To counter this prints with overhand are often printed with attaching support material.

2014-11-02 11.14.51With 3D printing one also gets a choice in the material to print with. The most common choices are plastics, specifically PLA a corn based plasic, and ABS you standard toy plastic. All the prints made from the white material are PLA. PLA is considered the easier print material to use because it melts at lower temperature than ABS, cools faster, and is completely nontoxic. PLA is more brittle than ABS and more sensitive to temperature changes, making it very good for display pieces but not for functional parts. To print with ABS a printer needs to have a heated build plate to keep the model warm while printing. Since ABS cools slowing than PLA a ABS print that is not heated will curl and bend as it cools, causing the print to fail.

My printer supports printing with both PLA and ABS and I also purchased a spool of black ABS plastic. Above is one of my first prints with it, a clip on bow tie.

3D printing is still in a state where it’s really only best for hobbyists, but it is fun hobby to have. This is not the home manufacturing revolution some say it will be, but it might be a baby step towards star trek style replicators, and I am glad to have a piece of the future sitting on my table.

 

 

PAX-imus Prime

As I’ve mentioned before this weekend was PAX Prime, the original Penny Arcade eXpo. Tickets for PAX sold out moths ago but I managed to get a Monday pass from fellow Tested reader at the meetup I attended Friday night. Excellent luck on my part, as I had tried to get a ticket through work contacts bu they were in too high of demand. With a ticket in hand I was able to experience PAX, my first big convention.

I was there on Monday which was probably the least busy day as most people have gotten their fill and are traveling home. That being said it was still a mad house. There were people everywhere and lines for games were dishearteningly long. I stayed on the main floor almost the entire day and, after waiting in line, got to play some cool games.

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Turtle Rock Studio’s Evolve was literally the center of PAX. Walking in you are greeted by their booth with a 17 foot tall statue of the monster Goliath. If that wasn’t enough to draw a crowd they highly anticipated game had its release date pushed back from this October to February, so many were eager to play this elusive game. I tried several times to get in line for Evolve but it was so popular the line was capped and lines to get in line were formed by fans and dispersed by enforcers. After wandering around the expo all morning I decided to commit and wait in line as long as I need to play this game. The enforcers by this point had started giving up and were letting the line get longer, so I was able to queue. The line wrapped around the booth and easily contained a few hundred people. Turtle Rock was running six games simultaneously to try to keep up, but it wasn’t enough the wait was still destined to be 2-3 hours.

Evolve is an asymmetrical multiplayer game; it pits four class based human hunters up against a ferocious monster in a cage match. The monster, controlled by a single player separated from the rest, is very powerful but not strong enough at the start of the game to take on the humans. The monster must run and hunt wildlife until it has fed enough to evolve and get string enough to confront the hunters. This asymmetrical aspect is what has most people so intrigued because it promises new and interesting game play. In Player vs. Player games balance is one the most important factors, and its extremely difficult to get perfect if there is asymmetrical game play. This is why I lined up for Evolve, I wanted to see how well its been done.

The asymmetrical aspect of the game also gave me an advantage in line; people had to play the game in group of five, four humans and a monster, and most people were there with groups of their friends. To let people play the game with the group of friends they brought along the booth coordinators were working very hard to sort everyone into groups of five without splitting any friends up. As I went to PAX by myself I was a sought after singleton. Because there was a group of four ahead in line I was able to skip a good portion of the line and join their team. Excellent luck for me, getting me to the game faster. This group need a monster to hunt and I was it.

I'm a Monster!

I’m a Monster!

I got to play one round of the game as the monster Goliath, though the recently reveled Kraken was also playable. Goliath is a damage tank with strong melee and short ranged attacks while the Kraken is more of a long ranged attack class. Playing as the monster is tough at first as the controls aren’t you regular FPS like the other characters. I decided to pick one attack, fire breath, and stick to that as much as I could; putting most of my upgrade and evolve points into it. The monster is very mobile, it runs faster than the hunters and is able to climb, though I didn’t get the hang of climbing. Knowing the basic mechanics of the game I took off running in a random direction, hopping I wasn’t running towards my death. The monster needs to eat to recharge shields and build up to evolve. I tried but it took me a few attempts before I realized that the wildlife needed to be attacked and killed before you can consume them. While I’m feeding the hunters found me, early confrontation do not bode well for the monster so after fling a few fireballs I got out of there as fast as I could. I had enough snacks and was ready for my first evolution. While evolving the monster has no shields and is paralyzed for a few seconds, so it is important to find a safe, secret place to do this. I traveled to the bottom of a ravine and tried to hide myself under a waterfall. I started the evolution process and as I was choosing my new perks I was found! This is my pitfall of the game, I was stuck in the evolution menu and I didn’t know how to exit to defend or run, and my help was dropping. Luckily I was able to flag down the attendant for out table and they were able to help me out. I spat a few fireballs and got out of there very quickly. After munching on a few more native fauna I noticed the hunters nearing, but they hadn’t noticed me yet, as I was on the other side of a hill. It was only a matter of time until they did so I launched a surprise attack. Even in my weakened state I managed to take out the medic, tracker and support hunters. It was down to the assault and I and we weren’t quitting. His health was low, but so was mine but we duked it out til the end, my end. I died and the hunters were victorious. putting down the controller and taking off the headset I realized that my heart was racing. The game had really gotten my adrenaline pumping. It was fantastic, well worth the wait.

 SUNSET OVERDRIVE

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Another A-list game that I got to play was Sunset Overdrive and Xbox exclusive being developed by Insomniac Games. I got to play one round on one of the eight player maps. On the map there were strategic points that needed to be held against waves of zombies.The game art is beautiful whimsical. everything is exaggerated to the point of being a little cartoonish, which sets up the tone of the game to be a bit whimsical. similar to Titainfall this is a very fast shoot that has many vertical levels. In Sunset Overdrive the game play is all about grinding on rails, rooftops, and power lines. In the multiplayer mode the anound of grinding you have been doing acts as a score multiplier so to be #1 you have to do it. While this is to reward you for using a core mechanic of the game the grinding system is where I felt the game had most of its problems. The grindable surfaces are magnetic so if you are in position with a push of a button you are attached to the rail and automatically start moving. In my game play getting onto rails wasn’t always as easy, there is no way of knowing if you are close enough to a rail to attach so you think you are swinging out of danger but you accidentally swing into the enemy’s mouth. Once you are on the rails you move along with no input into speed or direction, your options are to reverse or jump off. This makes the third person shooter a rails shooter, which I am horrible at playing. Whilst on the rails you are above the map so it’s a good place to be, but because you a moving it hard to get a clean shot with a precision weapon. I would recommend sticking only to splash damage weapons in Sunset Overdrive if you can figure out the weapon switching interface.

Overall this game has both the potential and the marketing push to be the next big game on Xbox. I feel like because of its deviation from standard first person shooters that it takes a few rounds of game play to understand what’s going on, and as I only played once my experience was not representative of what playing it really is. I do feel that Insomniac Games could polish it a little more to make it easier to pick up and play.

AGE OF EMPIRES: CASTLE SIEGE

Another game published by Microsoft Studios that I was glad to see made it to PAX is Age of Empires: Castle Siege. This is mostly Microsoft pimping out Age of Empire name recognition, but I really don’t know what else they would call it. Age of Empire Castle Siege looks and plays like a mobile game, but its available for PC as well as Windows phone. The reps told me it was playable with a mouse and keyboard but the idea was to play it on a touch screen like the Surface Pro 3. Looks like Microsoft’s getting good at eating their own dog food. The station had a bunch of Surface tablets set up and as it was set upstairs from the main floor it was not too crowded. The game demoed was a siege senario, although I believe you can also design fortifications. I was given a set number of units of varying types and was able to deploy them anywhere around the fortress, with these I was to raze as much of castle as possible in the 6 minutes given. The lack of economy management is the reason this is not a full Age of Empires game, but sieges are what those economies are for. The touch controls are very intuitive but not as precise as the classic mouse and keyboard. Even with only a few group of units on the map I found it very difficult to manage them all. I lost all my units around the five minute mark with only 50% of the fortifications destroyed I did not do too well.
This is a fun little mobile game that is way to pick up for a few minutes at a time while on the bus or waiting at the doctor’s office, this does not mean they are reviving the Age of Empires franchise. If they port this game to android I would buy it instantly but it seems its locked to Windows for now.

Those are the highlights from PAX, there was a lot else going on and many other games I got to watch and play. I enjoyed my self more than I expected just walking the floor, I look forward to next year when I’ll have the opportunity again.

Continue Testing

This weekend was the glorious Penny Arcade eXpo, often refereed to as PAX. The authors of Tested.comone of my favorite sites, came up from San Francisco for the event. On Friday night, before the expo gets crazy on Saturday, they held a Tested members meetup. I, as a massive fan of the site, had to attend and meet these internet celebrities who had wandered into my backyard.

There were more people than they planned for so it was crowded. I was able to say hello to Norm after squeezing through the people. I sat down at the table with the only remaining chair and introduced myself to those sitting there. I found the best bit about the meetup was not saying hello to Will and Norm, it was to meet the other readers. Because Tested is a somewhat niche site, everyone at the meetup had a shared a particular set of interests. Being at PAX video games was on everyone’s minds, but after a while the conversation started to go on to other topics. It was great discoursing about 3D printing, virtual reality, and smart watches (Norm joined in on this one) with people as or more interested in the technology as I am.