True Fear

I would say that as an engineer, you have not experienced fear until the moment someone installs a part you have designed. Something that I have noticed over the years through multiple work environments, is the desire to get it right the first time. Now some may look at that statement and say, “Of course you want to get it right the first time!” Which is true, somewhat. Design is an iterative process, and sometimes steps have to be repeated. Prototyping is essential.  In some instances, you don’t recognize issues until the part is in your hand and you’re looking at it. Of course as you repeat any process, you apply lessons learned, streamline, and quicken said process.

The issue that comes forth is when the streamlined process is expected right off the bat. Faster, cheaper, better is always what management wants. The importance of prototyping is diminished because similar work has already been completed, and individuals can build from that. Or that’s what your boss thinks, at least. Vertical pressure notwithstanding, there is always a since of foreboding with any recently built design. The self-reflection, checking, and internal questions. “Did I miss something? What if it fails? Maybe I shouldn’t have made that assumption…” As the engineer, if that part fails everyone immediately looks to you as the cause. (I mean you designed it.)

While design problems are the reflex answer, by no means are they the only possibility. Material deficiencies, production, improper scope, there are numerous cause that can lead to problems with design implementation. However, as is often the case with design(and business for that matter), the first task is proving that the problem isn’t your fault. It’s the fear of that situation that gives me butterflies whenever I see a part I’ve designed in use the first time.

3D Printing and the Arcade Machine

So here is a bit of an interesting problem that I was able to solve with the help of Hacker Lab’s 3D printer.

So as I posted earlier, I’ve been working on an homebrew arcade machine and had to scrounge quite a bit of parts for that cause. It turns out that one of the Joysticks i managed to lay my hands on was missing a vital component, the plastic actuator that engages the microswitches on the bottom of the stick assembly.

Now, I had one good joystick with all the components and the other which was missing this plastic part. (Technically, it was missing an e-ring and a spring as well, but a quick trip to Home Depot remedied that issue.)  As I’m mulling over possible solutions to this problem – Do I really want to order this tiny plastic part? Do I really want to wait on it to come…it hits me. I have access to this amazing 3D printer. I can measure it, model it, print it. Problem solved.

It took 2 tries but I’m happy to report that I was able to print my replacement part and the joystick is holding okay. Things like this are what 3D printers are excellent for. With a little bit of creativity and unchained thinking, you’d be surprised at what applications you could come up with? What could you do with this tech?

The Arcade Machine Mk. II

So awhile back, I wrote on the Hacker Lab blog about how helpful, if not essential, social activity can be to hacking. That is hacking defined as defined as doing something quickly or testing the boundaries of what can be done. As opposed to all the computer-y stuff that flashes through peoples’ heads when I tell them I spend a good deal of time at a place called Hacker Lab.

To help illustrate this point, I mentioned a home brew, jury-rigged, arcade machine I’m working on with a friend. Well now, after one sleep deprived night, we are in business(relatively). Still working some of the kinks out, but I said I was going to have something up by Saturday, and by darn it, something was up on Saturday

On that note, big ups to Gabriel, Gabbi, George, Josh, Jenna, Eric, Barrett, Alex, and to anyone else I may have missed who helped me with that thing. I dont care if you only turned one screw, I appreciate all of you, cause that one screw was one thing I didn’t have to do. And I had to do a lot of things.

The question now becomes where do I go from here. I’m not entirely sure. I suppose I should build another one. I have a couple of things in the works regarding the arcade stuff, but I’ll wait till that gets further along to discuss.

The build is pretty straightforward. It’s really just a bunch of wood held together by angle brackets and wood screws. There is a very established community for arcade cabinet building, and some of those designs look pretty awesome. I suppose I’m going for the “unplugged” look. An old flat screen TV serves as the monitor, and a slightly modified version of the keyboard hack I posted about earlier serves as the interface to the joystick buttons. The joystick buttons and other parts I either ordered online or cobbled together from old joysticks I managed to scrounge up.

Of course, I had to put NBA JAM on it. The machine itself, Josh put Ubuntu on an older PC(I don’t know the exact specs) and did some fantastic work simplifying the setup. So what’s next? The Mark III of course! I’d like to clean up the machine a bit, close it off with a bit more wood, and maybe even paint the thing. Or maybe we’ll just tear it down and build another. Either way, a pretty nice work in progress and proof of concept. Also, there’s a cool partnership related to this that I’m working on, and I should have things to post about that soon as well.

Pacific Rim

pacific-rim-posterI saw Pacific Rim awhile ago, and loved it. Now when I say I love movies like this, it always comes with a caveat: I don’t expect too much. I have basic expectations, and as long those are filled I’m happy. With this movie, I wanted to see giant robots beating up on monsters, and I got that. (For the record, I would have liked a little more robot action, but I will take what they gave me.) Whenever I see a movie like this, it always appeals to the tech geek/engineer/nerdy little kid inside of me. One of the many cool things about the times we find ourselves living in is that the tech exists to do really amazing things in the entertainment realm. I can gripe about corporate soulessness and greediness all I want to, but at the end of the day with a flick like this just shut up and take my money. I recently read an article that detailed the “post-mortem” of Pacific Rim, and what it means for (possible?) future cinema of this type. I link to it because I think it’s a spot-on analysis of the movie, it says what I want to better than I would.

Going back to that engineer inside of me, whenever I watch a movie like Pacific Rim, I am always constantly evaluating it on its technical merits. How good does it look? How detailed does it get? Is this at least partially conceivable? To most, this might sound mentally tiring, but I enjoy it. In seeing this movie, I was blown away by the detail and sense of scale. That effect was magnified that I (generally) make my bread working in 3D mechanical design. So not only am I blown away by the final effect, but also because I have some appreciation for what it takes to create it.

Recently, the work I’ve been doing with 3D printing and related tools has really served to further illustrate how the lines blur between 3D mechanical design and 3D graphic art/design/animation. If you didn’t know, there is a lot of crossover. Autodesk, a leading company in all things 3D, produces various software that handles 2D/3D design in varying ways. There is AutoCAD, which just about everyone has heard of, and many mechanical engineers like myself know intimately. While primarily 2 dimensional, AutoCAD does have 3D capabilities that I’ve become more familiar with recently. Autodesk also makes Inventor, which is pretty good 3D design software from all reports I’ve heard. Next is Maya, widely known as go-to 3D graphic design software.

One company, three applications. Each accomplishing a different task, or rather similar tasks in different ways. I’ve been putting a decent amount of time in to learning 3D graphic design and animation software, Blender specifically. (Hey, it’s free.) The differences in the object creation workflow have been my greatest hurdle. (I thought it was all 3D, right?) However, the truth is that while the end result may be similar, the process that I go through to design-let’s say…a giant robot, is quite different from how a 3D graphic artist would approach it. And tools are built with that idea in mind. The challenge is learning to adapt to the differing methodologies. I’d like to think I’m good at it already, but this 3D creation rabbit hole is pretty deep…

Arcade Machines and the Social Aspect of Hacking(Not to be Confused with Social Hacking) – Crosspost

Note: This post first appeared on the Hacker Lab Blog on May 25th, 2013. (Direct link)

SAMSUNGThis is a picture of an arcade joystick keyboard hack I’ve been working on. Yes, it looks terrible, but I’m proud of it on multiple levels. The way it works is, you take apart a keyboard, solder connections from the control circuit card to the joystick and button inputs…and voila! Arcade joystick. But the real story here is not the ins and outs of this poorly constructed hack, but more so what it represents.

Anyone who knows me knows I am a HUGE gamer. Nintendo, Sega, PlayStation, I’m into it all. People who know me a little better, know I’ve been wanting to build an arcade cabinet for a while. I had drawn up some plans, thought about it, but it never went anywhere, until I finally got the catalyst to kick it off.

A month or so ago, I’m sitting around Hacker Lab and the subject of joysticks and arcades comes up. Josh Smith comes up and suggests the idea of building arcade machines. I’ll take care of the hardware, he’ll handle the software. This was music to my ears as I now had a partner and didn’t have to shoulder the load on my own.

I think that a lot of tinkerers, hackers, hobbyists are in their own homes, their own little islands, looking at cool things on the internet, but immediately working on them in their own, usually limited, spaces. I know I was. I have notebooks full of cool ideas and projects I have yet to get to. One of the things I have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy about my time at Hacker Lab, is the community aspect of it, how just chatting people up about your interests, and projects you’re working on can lead to interesting and (potentially) profitable partnerships.

So get out there, talk to people, strike up some working relationships! No man is an island. And apparently, no hacker is either.

Intro to CAD for 3D Printing – The Postmortem

CAD Class 01So if you’re not aware, I taught a class recently. Overall, I thought it was a good experience, but of course there were/are areas for improvement. It goes without saying that I am incredibly grateful to everyone that attended that class, and also to everyone that thought enough to give me their feedback. I think I could have slowed my pacing a bit, having the benefit of hindsight I now see that my schedule was a bit ambitious. I think I was so worried about not being able to get through all the material, that my speed increased accordingly. Making sure that everyone was keeping up was a very high priority for me, but I think that in subsequent classes just asking “Is everyone still with me?” isn’t going to cut it.

I’ve worked as a tutor, both formally and informally, so I’d like to think that teaching people is a skill I posess. I always like to say whenever I teach someone that I take their learning personally. I feel that how well they perform whatever task or function I’ve helped them learn reflects directly on my skill as an instructor, and indirectly, my own skill at the task. I can’t have people out there screwing up and saying Alan M. Ware taught them. I’ve got a reputation to uphold here. I don’t know if that is a reasonable position to uphold or not, but that’s the way my head works.

One of my biggest takeaways from this class is how teaching scales. That is, there is a big difference between teaching 1,2, max 5 people, and teaching a class of 20 or more. The same methods don’t always scale as well. I mean I’ve presented to large groups before, but I think that this was the first time where I’ve given a class where so much information had to be taught and (hopefully) retained. I believe a lot of my natural abilities skew towards teaching smaller groups, and now I’m thinking about better ways to approach larger groups.

Regardless, it seems that everyone who attended the class got something out of it, which is important. Also, despite whatever I write here, I think I did okay. Still plenty of lessons to apply to the next one though.

Putting it through the paces.

If you’ve stumbled across this page, then you’ve found my blog. I’ve been wanting to start one for awhile now, and with the conclusion of my Intro to CAD for 3D printing class, I decided that I would just go ahead and jump in and get this sucker started. At the current moment, I view this more as a bit of a “soft launch” as I have not put in navigation back to the main portfolio site or from the main site to here. Normally when I do this type of stuff I always want to have every “t” crossed and every “i” dotted, but as I’m quickly learning you can’t always do things that way. If anything, that attitude is often counterproductive to getting things done. I decided to go with wordpress because of my familiarity with it, and this is the sort of thing it was made to do. I have actually done a bit of wordpress work, but this blog is my first ground up build of a site. I imagine I will tweak and try some different things as I feel my way around the software, eventually building toward a proper launch. Said launch will probably be sooner than later as I’m trying to fight this internal nature of mine to hold on to work for too long. For now I feel this launch is a good compromise.

Gotta ship!

Design Blog is up!

Welcome to the design blog! I had intended for a more spectacular rollout, but you work with what you can. Going to be learning as I go with this one…