Entries related to technology.

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.

Organizing Information

I’ve been looking at app development recently and speaking with different people about the tools they use. One of them mentioned MongoDB. MongoDB is a document oriented NoSQL database. I loaded it on one of my servers and played with it a little. I was impressed with the simplicity of getting started with it.

Yet as we move away from tabular storage of data, it poses the question, how should we think about organizing information?

There is the great line from The Cluetrain Manifesto, Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. There is a lot in that statement. To what extent are hyperlinks subverting authoritarian structures based on hierarchy? How is this playing out in media, education, and politics? And, how is it playing out in organizing information?

As I dig a little deeper into NoSQL databases, I’m finding myself more interested in triple store or graph oriented databases. Instead of having a limited, predefined set of relationships like, parent child in a traditional relational database, what can we do when we start storing many different types of relationships in databases? What can we do when we start graphing out this information?

So, on my radar for future explorations are Neo4j and Sparql. From there, I may wander back into topics like RDF, the Semantic Web, and of course once information becomes more machine readable, back to the singularity.

Are you playing with MongoDB? Neo4J? Sparql? RDF? The Semantic Web? What things do you think I should be looking into? Are there good starting points and tutorials?

Smarter Happier Selfies

This evening, I sat down to my evening positive attitude adjustment, and found Howard Rheingold had shared on Facebook a link to Jason Feifer’s comments in Fast Company, GOOGLE MAKES YOU SMARTER, FACEBOOK MAKES YOU HAPPIER, SELFIES MAKE YOU A BETTER PERSON

It was, in my opinion, a very well written response to Sherry Turkle’s recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, The Documented Life where she complains about Selfies.

My Initial reaction to Turkle’s piece was to write Sisyphus’ Selfie. I’ve been intending to write more on this, and I started to write a comment to Howard’s status. Yet as it grew, I thought I should really make it part of my blog post.

I started off:

I must say, as an active participant in LambdaMOO back in the mid 90s and a friend of many of the researchers and cyberanthropoligists that became involved there. I've always found Turkle to be a bit full of herself (and other stuff).

I read her Op-Ed and found that my opinion of her hasn't improved over the past 18 years. I've been meaning to write a blog post about her article, very similar to Feifer's, but perhaps from a slightly different angle.

This is where I decided to merge the comment into this blog post. One person suggested, why not just call Turkle a Luddite, and then went on to repeat various assertions of Turkle that are tangential to the article, claiming them to be facts.

I think Luddite is an overused word amongst technophiles and so I want to present a slightly different idea.

Marc Prensky, in his famous article, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants presents the idea of people who have grown up in a digital culture as digital natives. Those who have moved into a digital culture, having grown up in a different culture are digital immigrants.

In my mind, this fits nicely with some of what Turkle talks about. Yes, growing up in a digital culture does change the way we think and act. Yet this also points to the biggest problem with what Turkle has to say.

She is looking at digital culture from the viewpoint of a digital immigrant. For example, her comment

We don’t experience interruptions as disruptions anymore. But they make it hard to settle into serious conversations with ourselves and with other people because emotionally, we keep ourselves available to be taken away from everything.

This sure sounds a lot to me like that old grandmother living in the immigrant community complaining about how people these days just don’t do things the way they used to in the old world, and how much better the old world was.

I pause to think a little more and glance at my daughter creating something in Mindcraft. She is a digital native. Me? Having been on the Internet for over thirty years, and on bulletin boards and programming computers long before this, I tend to think of myself as a digital pioneer, or perhaps a digital aborigine.

Yes, working with computers for all these years has changed my way of thinking. A critic might compare it to the way mercury changed the thinking of hatmakers, and my children might have other comments about having a Dad that has been online longer than they have.

Yet I relish my experiences with technology and I’m glad that my children are having even greater experiences with it. I love the camaraderie of other digital pioneers or digital aborigines.

Through my discussions with friends on Facebook, I’ve also found myself talking about Jacques Ellul, whether or not people need to learn to program, representations of transhumanism, The Power of Patience and Civil Religion and how it relates to prophetic religion, the social contract, the way we interact through digital media, and if there are implications for a Great Awakening.

And, for that matter, I let a young college student from Iran borrow my Google Glass this afternoon, so he could take a selfie of him wearing Google Glass, standing next to a robot.

Technology does change the way we think and act. There is much that needs to be discussed about it. I’m happy that Facebook has given me topics to Google and become smarter about. I’m just not sure that Turkle is really adding much of value to the conversation.

Dystopian Rabbits

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. We'll here we are, another October. Like other months, when I get time, I start off with a childhood invocation for good luck.

But it's October, thirty-seven years ago, a classmate of mine from high school disappeared. They found her body later in the month, but never found the murderer. Last year, during Hurricane Sandy, towards the end of October, my mother died in a car accident.

Looking back over my career, many of my job changes took place in October. My youngest daughter was born in October, as were some of my closest long time friends.

It's October, and the Government is shut down. This weekend, I sat on the porch, after making a batch of green apple jelly. Yes, I'm connected online. With my Google Glass, I get notifications as they happen. But there is something about sitting on the porch, having just made jelly.

I thought about when my mother was a kid. Yes, she heard, via the radio fairly quickly about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but most news was much slower then, and even more slow before the radio and telegraph. How much is this always on, instant notification contributing to disfunction in Washington, where people seem more interested in the political theatre of the sound bite than in sound governing?

How much is the medium the message?

I've been reading The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The setting is a utopian community in the mid nineteenth century. The hero is sick and reads books that other members of the community bring to him. Yet I'm reading it as an ebook on my smartphone. What is the mixed message of a nineteenth century novel on a twenty-first century device?

Kim and I have started watching "H+". It is a series about human implants, similar to Google Glass and a mass kill off of people with the implants due to a network virus. The medium is the message, as my wife and I watch it on an old TV hooked up to an old Roku which manages to still get YouTube. I watched an episode on Google Glass, which pushes the medium is the message idea even further.

And here I am, writing a blog post about it.

It is a post-apocalyptical world and I've been thinking about this new millennialism, a resurgence of apocalyptical thinking. No, we didn't have a Mayan apocalypse. We haven't had an apocalypse as a result of people of the same gender who love each other now being able to marry one another.

Now, even though the Federal Government is shutdown, you can go online and purchase health insurance. Like same-sex marriage, for some this looks like the end of the world. For others, the Federal Government shutdown looks like the end of the world.

But as I sat on the porch over the weekend, with a kitchen full of jams and jellies that I've made, and as I sit in my chair now, writing my blog post and listening to the large dog snore on the couch next to me, this is nothing like the end of the world in all the dystopian post-apocalyptical stories.

So I say Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit, bringing back all the simple childhood hopes and memories in this complicated hyper-connected world as I think of dogs and jelly and porches, and trying to get back to sleep.

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