Introducing the New CNC Machine

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This is the CNC router that I’ve been working on for the last two months; the first one I’ve ever worked on. It’s a 4×8 PRT Alpha from Shopbot, and we bought it used, which means that it’s the older model, but it did come all wired up. That means that we got it up and running quickly, but it also means that I don’t really know what I’m doing when I have to find a wiring issue. If I’d wired all the connections from scratch, I might actually remember what things are. As it is, I find that I have to talk to tech support about once a week.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with this machine. In function, price, and capability, it sits somewhere between a DIY hobbyist tool and full-fledged production machine. It’s cheap (for what it is), and you are expected to be pretty handy with a multimeter and machine code to keep it working (I am not handy with these things). There is no hand-holding or helpful software wizards or internal digital diagnostic checks on this machine. On the other hand, it is a sturdy steel table equipped with fast and powerful stepper motors and a 4hp spindle that can do a lot of serious work.

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Here are a few “starting-out” lessons I’ve learned that seem really obvious in hindsight. As you might guess, these are trial and error kinda lessons:

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Making Heidi’s Engagement Ring

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Tomorrow is the two-year anniversary of our engagement, but since Heidi and I plan to be busy then, I thought I’d post about this ring tonight. I think I’ve gotten more questions about this ring than she has, which is a little strange, but then again, I spent a fair amount of time thinking about what Heidi might be looking for an engagement ring before she was probably ready to think about being engaged. It is, by far, the most special design project I’ve ever worked on.

When Heidi first saw this ring it marked the very special first day of our engagement. Interestingly, because I’d been working on it for so long, I more thought of it as marking the end of our wonderful but much more uncertain un-engaged relationship. I started working on it so early because I didn’t know how long it might take to learn how to make a ring like this. I only worked on it when we were apart. When things were going well, I’d sketch on it while I prayed about my hopes. When things were going not so well, I’d worry that I’d never be able to show it to her.

And two years ago, she saw it for the first time. And now, the boring technical background. This was only my second jewelry experiment, the first had me working on mens tungsten rings (here’s the first), and I didn’t know anything about rings, but I knew what I wanted, and thanks to some undercover research that her sister Megan had done on my behalf, I thought that I had a pretty good idea of what Heidi would want.

That being said, my first design didn’t actually work. I sent drawings around to a few foundries that specialize in mechanical parts and jewelry casting, and I was told that I hadn’t made the prongs that hold the stone quite strong enough for the angle I had placed them in. I wanted a strong, practical ring that would last, so I tweaked the angle and thickness of a few parts, and ended up with this:

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Superfortress Sunrise

For the last month or so I’ve been buried in work relating to CNC machines and material constraints and toolpaths, so it was nice to do a quick, straightforward animation job. This was a very fast project for a friend, and I think it turned out pretty nicely. It is extremely simple; the B-29s are textured using blueprint drawings as bump maps, the exhaust plumes are textured boxes, and the planes and camera were animated procedurally. All light and cloud stuff was done in After Effects, as you can see here:

Many, many, Januaries ago, when I was just four years old, my Dad took me to see the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan. At the time, it was still being refurbished, but the Smithsonian used to let folks behind the curtain if they asked nicely. Last January, when my niece Katherine was almost four years old, her Daddy took her to the Air and Space Museum’s giant Udvar-Hazy Hangar, where the completely restored Enola Gay is currently exhibited. She was fascinated by the big planes, but her little brother Nehamiah was most intrigued by the P-40 Warhawk that “had a mouth on it.”

Christmas and The Gospel

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Merry Christmas, everyone! We are enjoying a snowy family time in Colorado, and reflecting on the many ways that God has blessed us over the past year. However, Christmas is also the time to give thanks for the gift of Jesus Christ, not just in our own time, but also His work over the last 2000 years. This gift is not just to us individually; His sacrifice has blessed the entire world. Of course, the redemptive power of the Gospel does save us as individuals, working directly in our hearts, but it is also a transforming power in all tribes, tongues, and nations.

Heidi and I made this map last year to show spread of the Gospel, as a tool to help us all see the constant increase of Christ’s influence and government on this earth, starting in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth. We hope that it is an encouragement to you, and a reminder to worship and glorify Jesus Christ. We praise Him for the work that He has done on earth through His saints, even as we thank Him for the work that He has done in our own hearts through the Spirit.

We often fall into the trap of focusing on a single attribute of Christ at a time, sometimes forgetting that He is fully God and fully man at the same time. This Christmas, let us remember that the Son of God, by whom all things were created, humbled Himself to became a man like us, even to the point of being born a helpless baby in a stable. In no way does His Sovereign Majesty detract from the humility of His approachable human nature, or vice versa. In the same way, the sacrificial purpose of the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world only adds glory to His rule as our King, to whom all authority has been given.

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The World View in 5 Minutes

Here’s a quick promotional video that I put together for The Worldview in 5 Minutes, a Christian news service that provides an overview of what is happening in the world, every day. I find it to be a particularly useful service, partly because it’s very flexible; I can either skim the text of the transcript or listen to the professional audio recording depending on what I’m doing. But more importantly, I really appreciate the tone and perspective that this news report provides. For example, today’s WV5 broadcast contrasted information on the San Bernardino Muslim Terror attack with testimony of a Muslim couple coming to Christ, and finished a report from Open Doors on Christian persecution by quoting Romans 8:17.

There are other Christian news sites out there, some of which only report on things that have happened directly to professing Christians, and some of which that have a wider focus, but few reporters really mention the Sovereign God who is behind everything going on in the world. The Worldview in 5 Minutes does a much better job of providing that context to events of the day.

And on a side note, this is the first project that James was able to participate in! In case you were wondering, he appears as “Baby in Background” in the first shot.

Tom Thumb Studio Thanksgiving Sale

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For those of you that don’t know, I have an Etsy shop, and for the next few days we are running a Thanksgiving sale! At the moment, we have several new wool jackets available, and everything in the shop is 30% off. All of our products are made by either my mother-in-law or me, and are crafted from beautiful felted wool, then hand embroidered. These classic sweaters are warm and cozy, and make wonderful Christmas gifts.  Go to the Tom Thumb Studio Facebook page to get updates, or our store to see more of what we have in stock.

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Concept Renders: Data

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Here are a few pieces of concept art I made today. I’m in the middle of building out a full marketing and branding package for a data analytics company, and today I’m experimenting with different ways of depicting the abstract concept of “data.”

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Today’s experiments are in developing the look. I’ve already done a number of tests of motion; how these blocks of “data” are animated as they are “analyzed” to reveal patterns, shapes, and relationships. Right now the process is pretty simple.

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T-Rex T-Shirt Design

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Any day that you can draw a Tyrannosaurus Rex using modern military hardware is a good day, and I think Bill Waterson would agree with me! Dinosaurs are always fun to draw, particularly the majestic T-Rex. A technical note: since the shirt was being printed with water-based discharge inks, rather than opaque plastisol inks, I had to do a little research and planning. It ended up needing three color separations, first white, which was actually a bleach, and then black ink, and then red ink. Now discharge inks behave more like dyes than ink on paper, so it ended up being a six-color print; essentially two passes on parts of each of these separations using different inks.

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The team at Threadbird did an excellent job with the actual printing, and so this t-shirt is currently available from the fine holstermakers at T-Rex Arms.

Smart Cruise Control

Self-driving cars are supposed to be the Next Big Thing(tm). Audi, Google, and Tesla have all exhibited and demonstrated vehicles with very impressive autonomous ability. The legal framework for self-driving cars is probably lagging behind the technological frameworks at this point.

At the moment, Tesla’s autopilot is legally limited to the car bringing itself to your front door in the morning, and a very adaptive cruise control that uses radar to detect other cars and cameras to read the speed limit off of road signs when controlling the throttle. It’s a complicated thing to implement, and it’s actually more than I want. I propose a simpler “smart cruise control.”

In essence, I’d like to have cruise control that takes RPM and MPG into account when setting the MPH. I don’t mind braking around other vehicles or keeping an eye open for speed limit signs, but I do get annoyed when cruise control suddenly downshifts and redlines the engine on an uphill to avoid losing speed or jams on the engine braking on a slight downhill to avoid gaining speed. Small, gradual changes to speed are preferable to large, rapid changes to the throttle.

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Experiments in 3D Printing

Earlier this year I printed some 3D objects at Shapeways. 3D printing is a fairly new technology, with lots of methodologies and applications. In its simplest form, it’s just like regular inkjet printing, but instead of the print head laying down a drop of ink, it lays down a blob of plastic, and once the first layer is done, the print head starts printing plastic on top of the plastic. After several hundred layers, a 3D object is finished, and can be assembled into a UAV, or a rifle reciever, or a magazine.

Different printers can print different types of resin, plastic, ceramic, and even metal. Some printers have an ink nozzle right next to the media nozzle, so it can paint objects in full color while printing. Other dual-head printers can print a rigid plastic and soft rubber at the same time, or ABS and wax. This is useful for objects with a lot of non-touching moving parts, like gears. The gears and axles can be printed in hard plastic, supported by the printed wax until the object is done and the wax can be melted or crumbled out.

Objet Printed Gear Widget

There are even experiments in printing blood vessels and human organs, cell by cell, custom designed for transplant surgeries. As the printers get more sophisticated, they can do more things. Researchers are building machines than can print optics and electronic sensors directly into objects during printing. One of the great advantages of this system is that the cost is the same to print one object as it is to print a thousand. Mass production of injection molded plastic still might be cheaper in the long run, but there’s no setup cost to print a single custom product.

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