Every year at SHOT Show, fun new tools and technologies are launched. The Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade show is a giant event centered on recreational shooting and hunting gear, but it also has become a place for police and military equipment to be demonstrated. And while there are a lot of very cool new gadgets this year, like tiny thermal scopes for less than $2,000, or brand new pistols from brand new manufacturers, the most interesting technologies I read about this week weren’t actually announced at SHOT Show.
Delta P Design has begun selling a brand new titanium suppressor, which is made entirely on a 3D printer. There are other companies, in America and New Zealand, who have been creating suppressors with 3D printers, usually out of titanium or inconel superalloys, but the Brevis II has a new design that makes the most of this manufacturing technique. First, it is extremely small, only 3.7 inches long. DPD is utilizing a mysterious interior design that replaces the traditional baffles with some new structure, probably something that couldn’t be created any way other than 3D printing.
This also makes it extremely light, weighing less than 10 ounces, and made entirely in one piece, with no joins, bolts or welds. Despite the small amount of metal that it is made of, it is able to contain the blast of a high-pressure rifle round. This tiny suppressor isn’t going to set any records for quietest silencer ever made, but it is incredibly impressive how quiet it is considering that it is smaller and lighter than most muzzle brakes. It is so unobtrusive that it’s almost like adding a flash suppressor to a rifle, rather than a fully capable sound suppressor.
Today I was looking over a few camera accessories that I might want to purchase before the end of the year, and was reminded of how good we videographers and photographers have it, technically speaking. It seems only yesterday that I was wrestling with the almost crippling limitations of tube cameras and tape recorders to try to get images that looked cinematic, decent, or even discernible… and today I take modern camera technology for granted.
In the last 20 years I’ve gone from terrified that I might permanently burn out the pickup tubes of a $30,000 BetaCam camera, to frustrated that a $9,000 HDV camera isn’t compatible with certain broadcast standards, to slightly peeved that I can’t get absolutely every feature I want in a $400 camera (and those numbers, by the way, are not adjusted for inflation).
And in reading through various reviews and blogs and forums today, I noticed that lots of folks are peeved that they can’t get the perfect camera yet; a magical camera that could combine the best features and patents from multiple companies. My perfect camera, for example, would be a small mirrorless body combining Canon’s autofocus technology and color science, Sony’s most sensitive image sensors, Olympus’s in-body stabilization, Panasonic’s wifi remote, and Blackmagic’s high-bitrate recording formats.
Some commenters have complained that this magical camera doesn’t exist because of too much competition in the in the market, not enough government regulation of features, and that darn old capitalism letting greedy camera makers keep the prices too high. This is an odd sentiment, since I can’t think of any product or field of technology that has benefited more from competition, lack of regulation, and free market economics than digital video cameras.
When I’m sitting at my computer, I usually do Bible study using Blue Letter Bible or e-Sword, depending on whether or not I have internet, but when I’m anywhere else, with internet or not, I use AndBible on my phone. I was going to write up a blog post on all the things I like about it and how to use it, but then I thought it might be easier to demonstrate it in a video.
It’s definitely my kind of software; simple, functional, and it even has a dark color scheme. There are no user accounts, no sticker packs, and no way to put emoji in your favorite verses. Everything works, everything works offline, and it’s really obvious how everything works. If you have an Android device, make sure you check it out.
Heidi and I recently saw the new Jungle Book film. I may be a CNC Machinist by day, but I’m still an animator by night, and a Kipling fan, and an amateur Disney historian, so I was very eager to watch this retelling of the classic story, even if only to see the animation and other technical details. And what details!
First and foremost, the new movie is a visual masterpiece. The design, animation, lighting, and rendering are just plain incredible. It should be noted that almost everything in this movie that is not Mowgli is completely computer generated. All the backgrounds, nearly all of the plants, and every single animal. Ironically, while this film is one of Disney’s many “live-action” retellings of their animated classic films, this one actually has more animation in it than the original.
The animators at MPC and Weta Digital should be credited with two amazing feats: creating believable wild animals, and making those wild animals into believable emotive actors. The engineers also deserve credit, because after the animators created the skeletal animation, every animal got a soft-body muscle stimulation on top of the bones, a cloth-based skin simulation on top of the muscles, and finally a dynamic fur and hair simulation on top of the skin. Every bit of water the animals touch and every bit of foliage they brush against is also simulated. Everything in the film feels real.
Recently my sister-in-law Nadia, told me about a new program she was trying out to help her manage her projects, to-do lists, shopping lists, and other lists. We often “talk shop”, as Nadia’s husband calls it, and swap ideas on household management, everything from organizational tips, menu ideas, and helpful computer programs or apps, to laundry solutions or child training ideas. It’s often very helpful to bounce ideas off of someone else who’s in a similar stage of life, and get ideas on how to do what we’re doing faster or better. This program is called Todoist, and it has been a game changer for me.
I love lists; I love making lists, and I love checking things off my lists even more. I’m constantly trying out new methods of list-making for various projects and seasons of life. I’ve used Excel Spreadsheets, Word documents, Apple Reminders, Google Keep, Evernote, random mobile apps, post-it notes, notebooks, scratch paper, and more. At various times in my life, all of these have been helpful, but this new system tops anything else I’ve used thus far. I don’t use this as a substitute for Google calendar (where I put actual appointments like dental appointments or dinner at someone’s house), but it’s perfect for all those daily things I can’t forget to do or the house would fall apart, but there’s no exact time for them.
Here are some of the most helpful features:
Despite the underwhelming response to Google Glass and the overwhelming hype surrounding various VR headsets, it’s pretty safe to say that the future of head-mounted displays is very bright. And while most folks are excited about the gaming potential of immersive displays like the Oculus Rift, I think that transparent Augmented Reality displays like Microsoft’s HoloLens will get more overall use, simply because they can be used for more things.
However, all of these displays seem too expensive, too big, too delicate, and too early in development to have any apps for your personal job. I’d love to have a little screen sitting just under my right eye showing me my emails, camera viewfinder, CNC machine terminal, caliper display, and so on, but that technology is a little far off, and who knows how useful it would actually be in day-to-day practice? I think it’s worth building something that’s a little simpler to implement for the sake of experimentation.
I think that someone should build a basic Bluetooth headset with a little microphone boom which has a multi-color LED on the end. I don’t think it would need to be much longer than two inches to get that flashing LED into the wearer’s peripheral vision (try this yourself with a tiny LED and let me know what you find), and little plastic prism would direct the light toward the eye and away from other folks.
Yesterday, Lenovo announced its newest addition to the Moto mobile phone line. The Moto Z is basically just a bigger and thinner Moto X, except for a very interesting addition to the back. Down near the bottom are 16 visible pogo pins, and a couple of invisible yet powerful magnets. Moto phones have had customizable back plates for years, but this data port enables the phone to snap on “Moto Mod” backs, accessories that add new electronic components.
LG introduced a modular phone earlier this year, but it required disassembly and a reboot to swap parts. Lenovo’s solution means that the Moto Mods just slap right on and power up. So far, the existing mods include a powerful JBL speaker back, a miniature projector back, and a basic extended battery. In order to encourage other developers to create backs for this new line of phones, Lenovo has offered a $1m prize for the best prototype, and Hasselblad has already announced a camera back. Let’s throw out a few ideas of our own, shall we?
1. Solar Battery Pack
While InCipio is already making a smart rechargeable battery back for the Moto Z, it would be neat to have one with a built-in solar panel. Previous attempts to add solar panels to phones have been unsuccessful for several reasons, mainly because a cell phone is usually in your pocket or being held in your hand or away from sun, because cell phones usually overheat when they are in the sun, and because a phone-sized solar panel doesn’t provide enough juice to power a phone.
Now that I’ve been working with our CNC machine for a little while, I’ve begun accumulating various tools to make my various jobs easier. I’ve tested a lot of different types and makers of bits, experimented with a bunch of different ways to mount work to the table, and here are several things that I use every day:
- Freud Straight Flute bits: great for thinner sheet plastic
- Countersink Bolts + Wingnuts: for attaching jigs
- MDF & HDPE: cheap machinable jig material
- 25ft Tape: for measuring big things
- Ruler: for measuring small things
- Calipers: for measuring tiny things
- Pens and Sharpies: to write on everything
- Notebook: to write down everything
- Wireless Keyboard: Remote control of terminal
To be perfectly honest, the most useful things on the table are those last two. I really needed a notebook to keep track of all my settings and measurements, so I could flip back a few days to see what depth I was cutting this jig at, or what that toolpath was supposed to look like, or what feedrates I’ve already tried with a certain bit – without taking the time to load up the files on my computer.
I also wanted to drive the machine without walking back to the computer. There are several options for professional CNC remote controls, but this $15 keyboard works great – once you memorize the key commands for Shopbot’s software. Now I can move, jog, and calibrate the machine from anywhere in the shop. Anyway, all of these little things things have sped up my workflow enough to have time for side projects like this:
Fact: private citizens are allowed to manufacture their own firearms, as many as they like, without having a Federal Firearms License, and without giving these firearms a serial number. It is only when transferring that firearm to someone else that it needs a serial number and paperwork, and so forth. Fact: the lower receiver is the part of the AR-15 that is legally classified as the firearm, and if that part is less than 80% finished, it is legally not a firearm. Many Americans buy these unfinished blank receivers freely on the internet, finish the machining themselves, and are technically the private manufacturers of the resulting firearm, which is perfectly legal for them to own.
Seems pretty simple, right? Not if you are the BATFE. Take the case of CA resident Daniel Crowninshield, who began renting out his CNC mill to folks that wanted to finish out their 80% lowers. In 2013, an undercover BATFE agent documented how Crowninsheild helped him build a jig for a lower, instructed him on how to fixture it in the machine and how to start and run that machine, and then (at the agent’s request) sold him more lower receivers. In 2014, Crowninsheild was charged with unlawful manufacturing and dealing of firearms, and five other charges. In 2015, the BATFE made a new ruling (2015-1) that more clearly defined Crowninsheild’s activities as unlawful firearm manufacture. Last week, he plead guilty to two charges, including unlawful manufacturing and dealing of firearms.
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.
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: