Technology

Entries related to technology.

Online Video Tools

The annual Weitzman Symposium is coming up and at work, which we stream live every year. So, I’ve been exploring where things have been going with online video. It seems like there are a lot of interesting developments.

In live streaming, I’ve used a bunch of different tools. I did a lot on QIK years ago. However, that got bought out by Skype and shutdown. A friend gave me a heads up to save the videos, but I believe I was too late.

Another live streaming system I used a bit was Ustream. This is what we use at CHC. I’ve always liked UStream and they continue to be reliable. They have new software for streaming, called UStream Producer. I’ve only used the free version, which does most of what I want. The paid versions, Producer Studio and Producer Pro add options like multi-camera support and audio mixing. Not much new there.

The other real workhorse in video streaming is Livestream. I’ve used this a bit as well. They appear to be the first of the serious livestreaming platforms to work nicely with Google Glass. However, they organize their content around events as opposed to channels like UStream does. I find the event orientation a bit clunky.

I’ve also kicked around Justin.tv, ooVoo and Bambuser. None of them really have been that compelling for me, so I don’t end up using them often. However, I did use Bambuser from Raspberry Pi, so that was pretty cool.

In terms of video conferencing, at work we use Vidyo. I’ve participated in various Vidyo conference calls, and it seems fine, but I never really got a chance to get under the hood, so I can’t say a lot more about it. However, at work on Friday, we took a look at zoom.us. I was really impressed with it. The free version is very powerful, and the paid versions are pretty inexpensive for the features they provide. It is interesting to note that key investors includes Qualcomm as well as Patrick Soon-Shiong.

The other software that I started playing with is ManyCam. This allows you to switch between different cameras on a PC, screen cast, and even do some funky effects. I used it for doing some green screen broadcasting going out into both UStream and Zoom.us.

So, any other online video tools I should be looking at?

Teaching Elementary School Children 3D Printing

A few months ago, CHC purchased a 3D printer. Since then, I’ve been learning how to create objects using various programs. Initially, I used Blender, which is a very powerful, yet complicated 3D rendering program. I figured it was probably too difficult to teach to elementary school kids. Later, I tried SketchUp which is much easier, and there is also a free version of this. I was thinking of teaching this to the kids, when someone suggested I try TinkerCAD.

TinkerCAD is a free web based 3D design program. It is very easy. However, you need to set up an account to use it and the terms of service said you needed to be thirteen to set up an account. I didn’t want to go through issues of trying to get the parents to set up accounts, nor did I want to set up a half dozen student accounts to manage.

Fortunately, it turns out, you can have many people logged into the same account at the same time, so I set up six computers running TinkerCAD and logged all of them into my account. I prepared a lesson plan based on the TinkerCAD quests going through how to move, copy and replicate objects, how to change your views, how to change the size and location of objects and how to use the opposite of an object, a hole, to create interesting designs.

The students came in, sat down at the computers, and started working. Many of them had played Minecraft in the past, and were used to moving around cubes to create 3D designs, although they may not have thought of it that way. They all quickly started creating objects and reshaping things. There went my lesson plan.

So, I watched the students as they played at 3D design and I pointed out things they didn’t pick up automatically. A few had problems finding objects other than the basic geometric objects and I got them to scroll up and down the objects on the left. Many had probably moving objects up and down along the Z axis, and I showed them about using the little black arrows above and below the objects.

We also, fortunately, had more students than computers, and some students arrived a little bit late. This meant that the students needed to share computers, but more importantly, it gave them an opportunity to teach one another what they were learning.

I spent a little time talking about how long it takes to print objects. The basic cube takes about twenty minutes. Two cubes together, only takes a few minutes longer. The complexity of the object seems to contribute more to the time it takes to print an object than the size of it.

I show them how I could take their designs, save them as STL files, open those files in the Makerbot program, and then print the object. Seeing their objects printed, while understanding how long it took to create objects really inspired them, and by the end of the hour, every student had an object they wanted printed. They helped change the filament of the printer to the color they wanted and excited watched their objects appear.

I only had enough time to print the first two smallest object and I figure I’ve got a full day of printing objects from these students ahead of me. They will swing by later to print up their objects and perhaps share some of their own designs.

I pointed out to their parents how they could set up accounts, and share objects they created publicly. I expect I’ll be getting some emails about other objects they create.

The key take away in teaching kids 3D printing with TinkerCAD: Set up the environment, let them start playing with the program, give them hints on places where they might get stuck, encourage them by printing a few objects, and get out of the way. The students picked up TinkerCAD much more easily and quickly than even I had expected.

Getting Started with 3D Printing – Day 2 – Files

After printing a couple samples off the SD card in the new Makerbot Replicator 2 at work, my next step was to download some things off the internet and print them.

Actually, the next thing I had tried was using the Makerbot Digitizer. I downloaded MakerWare for the Digitizer and scanned my Google Glass. The scan didn’t come out all that well, and I started to look around for ways to edit the scan.

This led me to GETTING STARTED WITH 3D DESIGN. The first thing that they suggested was choosing one out of around a dozen different tools. A couple of them I had worked with in the past, including SketchUp and Blender. I downloaded both, as well as a few other tools and looked for a quick start guide. I like SketchUp because it is easy to use. I like Blender because it is powerful. Yet I couldn’t find a good quick start, so I set them aside and started exploring Thingiverse.

Being an Ingress player, I found a nice Ingress Enlightened Faction badge. It seemed like downloading something from Thingiverse and printing it was the next best step to get better acquainted with 3D printing on the Makerbot.

The file I downloaded was in .stl format which stands for stereolithography or Standard Tessellation Language, depending on who you speak with. You can open an .STL file in MakerWare and, if your printer is connected to your computer via a USB cable, print the object on the printer.

When I opened the faction badge, I received a message saying the object was off the platform and asking if I wanted to reposition it. I moved it on to the platform and printed it. Unfortunately, partway through the printing, it hung. It may be that my PC had gone to sleep during the printing, or there may have been some other problem. It also printed an edge around the object that I didn’t want.

When you print, you have a lot of options to choose. Getting going, I took the defaults. One of which was Raft, which creates this edge. It is useful if you have an object that doesn’t quite fit together, but most of the time of no value or downright annoying. Unfortunately, it took me a little while to figure this out.

To get around the issue of my PC going to sleep while printing, I took to saving the image as a X3G file. This is, essentially, the compiled format of the object, ready to be printed. I could then copy it to the SD card for the printer and print from that. This worked much better for me.

Along the way, I also found a few other file formats there are important to the initial understanding of 3D printing on the Makerbot. The STL file is the first, and most important format. You need to get things into STL format, so you can load them into Makerware to either print or save to the SD care. STL format can be Ascii or Binary. So far, I’ve only used the Binary format.

STL files can be combined into a zip file, along with a manifest file. These thing files can be loaded into MakerWare to load several STL files at the same time. The only thing file I’ve worked with so far is the example nut and bolt file.

When you export a file from MakerWare, you can export it in X3G, S3G or gcode. So far, I’ve only used X3G format and will experiment with the others later.

Blender can read and write STL format files. SketchUp needs an addon to do this. In my next blog post, I’ll write about taking existing images and objects in other formats, like JPG, SVG and OBJ and converting them to STL files that can then be loaded in MakerWare and printed.

As always, any thoughts, questions or suggestions are encouraged.

Getting Started with 3D Printing, the first print

Recently, we got a Makerbot Replicator 2 at work, and I’ve been spending a bit of my free time learning my way around 3D printing.

The initial setup was pretty straight forward. Take it out of the box. Put it on the counter top you are going to use, plug in the power, put the snap the build plate in, connect the tube to the extruder on one end and to the back of the printer on the other end, feed the filament through the tube, and run the startup routine.

The startup routine displays on the little display screen on the printer the steps to start printing your first object, which you select from a few objects stored on an SD card that comes with the printer. Before you start printing, you need to level the build plate. You twist a few adjustment screws on the support below the build plate. It was fairly easy to adjust, much easier than tuning a guitar. We selected a comb to build.

We watched the extruder move back and forth across the build plate, squirting out a thin line of melted plastic. These lines combined, and we ended up with a comb.

This is where we ran into the first problem. The comb stuck to the build plate. After a little experimentation, we discovered that the easiest thing to do is to remove the build plate, by unsnapping it at the back of the printer and lifting it forward. Then, using a sharp knife and a bit of finesse, we finally got the comb off, without much damage to the comb.

The build plate is smooth on one side and frosted on the other. We had the frosted side up. We flipped the build plate over and tried another comb. It also stuck. Apparently the side of the build plate that is up doesn’t seem to matter.

Reading online, I found a lot of people have reported this problem and suggests are all over the place. Some say lowering the build plate a little. Some talk about heating or cooling the build plate, or using a different temperature for doing the build. Others spoke about using painters tape and putting down a piece of paper on the build plate.

I’ve taken to using left over printer paper and taping it on with scotch tape. This works pretty well. For bigger objects, or if I don’t tape well, the paper sometimes lifts up a little adding a little bit of a curve to the object base, but this has been minor.

One of my coworkers later asked how difficult it was to set up. It is probably a little less difficult than setting up a DVD player for your home entertainment system. If you’re comfortable with technology, you should be able to do it easily. If not, you should be able to get a friend to set it up for you.

Of course, setting up a printer, and designing interesting objects are two very different things, and I’ll get into some of that in later blog posts.

Do you have a 3D printer? How’s it been going for you? Have you been thinking about getting one? Do you have any questions about 3D printing?

3D Printing a Better Healthcare System

Recently, at work, we got a 3D printer. I work at a health care center, serving mostly poor; people on Medicaid, or without insurance. People have asked, what does 3D printing have to do with that? Are you going to print syringes?

As I've been thinking a lot about it, 3D printers, at least in my work space, are about fostering creativity. How do we get people to think more creativity, not only about what they put down on paper or canvas, but how they live their lives and promote health around them? Does learning how to design and print 3D objects help empower people to be more creative? Does it even, simply, get people who should be getting primary health care, in the door?

How do we use having a 3D printer in our innovation center, to encourage people to come forward with creative ideas? Does fostering creativity in one realm, like 3D design, encourage creative thinking in another realm, like public health? These are issues for me to explore.

So far, I've been testing the 3D printer, getting to know what it does and doesn't do, getting to know how to operate it must effectively. So far, I've printed a couple comes and an Ingress Enlightened game insignia. I've started looking at 3D design and exploring different design packages. There are several free ones, like Sketchup and Blender. I've used both in the past, and I'm starting to relearn them to see if I can make some neat objects.

I started thinking about 3D design back when I was active in Second Life, a 3D virtual world. I’ve encouraged people to use 3D virtual games to create animated videos. These days, my youngest daughter plays a lot in Minecraft and related games. I like Minecraft much better than a lot of the other games she plays because it is a game that encourages rudimentary 3D design. Can I use it as a gateway to Sketchup, Blender, and Opensim for her?

I’ll continue to work on my 3D design skills. I’ll try to find others interested in these skills near where I work. It may not lead to a cure for cancer, but if it can provide even a small spark that improves the health of our communities, it will be worth it.

Do you do any 3D design or printing? Are their systems, tutorials, or projects you recommend? Let me know.

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