Zheng3 aka Princess Sparkle Pony

Earlier this year Zheng Labs had the distinct honor of winning the Pinshape People’s Choice award with the 2015 Seej Starter Set. During the run up to the vote tallies I promised our little community a photo of me wearing a lovely 3D-printable tiara if any of my designs won, and so here it is because WHO LOVES YA, BABY?

jim wearing a tiara

Nobody’s heard from Steve Harvey since the final results, so I think it’s safe to release the model. You can download the tiara over at Pinshape, or you can grab it from The Forge. Huge thanks to everyone who voted for the Starter Set.

Them gears is articulated, too! Just don’t catch your hair in them. This isn’t really a problem for yours truly, having given up the battle against middle age some time ago.

functional gears!

(I’m using ColorFabb PLA/PHA Silver and Gold at 220° to print the tiara.)

With the tiara project out of the way I must now hunker down and finish the launch copy for Zheng Labs Kickstarter #4. #staytuned, dear pals, and Join the Horde to be notified when we launch.

Lao Zheng out.

I gots new models on Etsy, yo

Kickstarter preparations continue at their frenetic ground-pounding pace here at Zheng Labs. The 3D printers whirrburble day and night, we hear camera shutters flutter in our sleep, and we’re driving the kobolds as hard as half-rations and flickering torchlight allow. We’re sure to hear from Humanoid Social Services if we flog the scaly little bastards any harder.

When last we left our heroes they’d just announced the sale of Dice Citadels on Etsy, and now we’ve got another RPG-related opus out there in the marketplace. Witness for yourself the power of this fully operational RPG Dice Plinth!

plinth gid

This one’s printed in ColorFabb Glow-In-The-Dark PLA/PHA, which is fast becoming my favorite filament. We’ve got ’em in Slate Blue, too. They’re both compatible with Chessex-style dice boxes.

plinth slate

Longtime followers of Zheng3.com will note that these dice plinths are remarkably similar to Dice Plinth 1.0 but there are two important differences to be noted:

First, and I realize this is getting a little deep in the weeds for 95% of the audience, the geometry on the new plinths is way more elegant. It’s been completely overhauled to minimize slicing and printing errors. No wonkiness in the STL, as far as I can tell.

Second, and this is where it gets exponentially more interesting, Dice Plinth 2.0 features a hidden chamber underneath a hinged trap door!

trapdoor closed

The secret compartment is spacious enough to stash a little cash for gaming night. Bust out a Hamilton and summon some mozzarella sticks, baby.

trapdoor open

You should buy one of these for your significant other right now. The STLs won’t be available until after the Kickstarter’s done, and can the love of your life really wait until March? April? May? I don’t think so.

So! With the completion of the dice plinth I’ve got a couple of backer reward levels done and tested, with solid gCode backing them up. You wouldn’t believe the amount of filament retraction troubleshooting that’s been going on over here.

oh gawd the filament retraction troubleshooting

All that remains now is to make the Kickstarter video, write the copy, and throw this project down on the front step and see if the cat licks it up.

Also I have to get around to designing that tiara I promised. Pinshape! Haven’t forgotten about you guys. Tiara’s gonna RAWK, trust me on this.

#staytuned, my friends. Join the Horde, too, while you’re at it.

Lao Zheng out.

Prelude to a Kickstarter

TL;DR: Buy a dice tower and help me work out the kinks in my production process before we launch an official Kickstarter for Dice Citadels later in the year.

Sharp-eyed readers and hominids with their auditory orfices pressed to the earth will have noted by now that there have been rumblings in the distance that might just possibly, herald the coming of Zheng3 Kickstarter #4.

Clearly a throng of hardcore loyalists who really enjoy the work that we do here at Zheng Labs exists, but with the exception of the lightning-in-a-bottle success of the original Faire Play, our Kickstarters have failed to gain traction with a wider audience outside the 3D printing community.

I suspect there are two reasons for this:

  1. Zheng3 crowdfunding ideas are mostly unappealing to people not named Zheng3.
  2. Desktop 3D printing still hasn’t reached a significant enough market penetration where backers are willing to receive digital-only backer rewards. People want stuff.

This time around I think we might have a concept that deals with obstacle #1: instead of appealing to the Barbie-age grrl warrior demographic or geeks who might want infant children cut their teeth on Dungeon Blocks, we’re going slightly more mass-market. But only slightly, mind you.

Behold, the Dice Citadel.

slate blue square

Oh, yeeeeeeeah.

The citadel makes a nifty container for one full set of RPG dice, including an extra d10 so you can get your percentiles in there too. The battlement on top unscrews with a quick twist of the wrist.

dice cu

Best part? I’ve got a whole bunch of these ready to go in Colorfabb Glow In The Dark filament.

glow

Now, as for problem #2: people wanting stuff. THINGS. Physical products that they can hold in their hands and show off to Aunt Tillie. I’ve grudgingly accepted that the time for widespread adoption of digital-only backer rewards has not yet come, and have resigned to printing an oxcart full of these citadels and their Kickstarted descendants for those geeks outside the Venn diagram intersection of the 3D printing and RPG-playing communities.

Here’s the thing about Kickstarters: even an unsuccessful one is really, really hard to pull off. If you’ve never done one before you’d be amazed at how much pre-production goes into the process.

Amid all the planning hullabaloo there are known unknowns that can be minimized, however, and one of those is the production capacity of the small facility here at Zheng Labs. To that end, I’ve started moving my prototype Dice Citadels on Etsy. Fulfilling actual orders some outside accountablity in the process, and will help iron out printing, logistics, and shipping issues before we get into making dozens of dice towers for Kickstarter backers.

So! Help us out and grab yourself a Dice Citadel. Or Join The Horde to be notified when the Kickstarter launches later this year.

Thanks. Lao Zheng out.

Seej 2015: The People Have Spoken

People's Choice Award

Hey, so this is pretty great! Thanks to hundreds of votes from dedicated fans, The Seej 2015 Starter Set just won Pinshape’s People’s Choice Award!

I’m truly honored and thankful that y’all took the time to vote for Seej. As promised, I’ll be designing and modeling a 3D-printable tiara to commemorate the win. #staytuned, my friends.

Apparently Robber Rex finished second in the “Best Simple Model” category and he is pissed.

There Once Was a Project ’bout Venus

full

Longtime readers of this blog– both of them– know that here at Zheng Labs we’ve got a couple of rugrats running around the place. The older one’s in high school now, and has a practiced eye roll that earns perfect 10’s even from the Romanian judges. She’s not the subject of this post, although you can see photos of her pupal stage here and here, and some free 3D printable models to boot.

No, my friends, this week we bring to you the chronicle of my younger spawn and his adventures at the elementary school science fair. Each year his school puts on an open house for prospective families where they might explore for themselves the Hogwarts-like environment at one of Wisconsin’s fine public charter schools.

This open house features a gymnasium full of the kids’ long-term science projects, and is always a treat for those inclined to make things that go kablooie with papier maché, baking soda, and a little CH3COOH.

In years past procrastination and lack of interest have led my son to flail helplessly in front of a sloppy trifold when the time to present his project came, and this year we were determined not to repeat that particular learning experience. We got started early, enlisted a 3D printer, and won the science fair.*

*on “winning:” the event is actually noncompetitive and the school doesn’t give out prizes. I’ll define winning as spending a couple hours in the basement with my son, teaching him how motors and voltage and switches and soldering irons and burn creams work. Plus the look of unadulterated joy on Xiao Zheng’s face when the project worked: priceless. Scroll down to the bottom of the post for the big payoff video.

Also, the kid who actually won the science fair was the one with the trifold cheerfully labeled “Exploring Uranus.” That kid’s going places and has either fantastic or clueless parents.

Astute readers may have surmised that this year’s theme was space science, and the thrumming gymnasium was packed, absolutely packed with elementary school children wearing astronomy-related costumes. One kid was a dead ringer for Carl Sagan (red turtleneck included). Galileo and Halley’s comet were easily identifable from across the room. One young man made a fantastic Pathfinder rover hand puppet, a young lady was fetchingly dressed as the day and night cycle complete with helium balloons tied to her pigtails, and much aluminium foil was spent in the pursuit of knowledge.

Soviet science was well represented, too. The neighbor kid dressed up as Sputnik, and there was even a kid in full bright-orange Yuri Gagarin drag. Imaging getting that costume past the a 1950’s school board here in Appleton, Wisconsin, hometown of national disgrace and Ted Cruz lookandthinkandsoundalike Senator Joe McCarthy.

McCarthy’s grave is right down the street, should you feel the need to urinate.

I’d post photos of the science fair, but! Kids’ privacy issues. You know the drill. Local parents: if you’d like to share a photo of your kid’s costume, send it my way.

好久以前, back when Zheng himself was xiao, Dad and I spent many evenings in our basement laboring on school projects. In all fairness it’s safer to say that Dad did the heavy lifting and I just provided parameters, but man those projects were the envy of the other kids in elementary and middle school. I wish I had photos of the tornado diorama, or the sculpture of Zeus made of toilet paper, shellac, and Ivory soap flakes (!) or that Roman aqueduct we (Dad) made out of grout and PVC. Or the paper bag mountains with joint compound glaciers. Or the passive solar house model made out of foamboard reclaimed from the dumpster at work.

Thanks Dad, for doing those projects with me. I’m doing my best to pass your creativity down to your grandkids. Cir-cle of liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiife!

But I digress. This is a 3D printing blog first and foremost, and you’re here to read about the process of creation.

We got the trifold part of the project out of the way first, and settled into working on the costume part of the presentation. Our challenge: making a wearable model of Venus. Xiao Zheng’s first idea was to hand-letter the word “VENUS” on a piece of cardboard and hang it around his neck. He’s literal that way sometimes.

A planet-like sandwich board was also considered and quickly discarded as “stupid” and uncomfortable to boot. We gnashed teeth and rended garments for a while before remembering that his bike helmet has a GoPro mount on it, and would be a perfect platform on which to place a model.

The model of Venus itself is nothing fancy, just a lightweight ball of bubble wrap shrouded in painted tissue paper. It masses approximately 116 grams. The actual planet Venus masses 4.867 × 1027 grams.

venus

I introduced my son to the joy of inadvertently huffing spray paint fumes in the garage, which he liked. Maybe too much.

huff

Just attaching Venus to a helmet’s really not enough when the other kids are dressed up as Saturn V rockets, so we had to take it to the next level by making the model spin. I’ve got a bunch of old DC motors kicking around because of course I do, but we quickly realized that even if we could attach the motor’s axle directly to the model, it’d spin way too quickly.

We needed to slow the spin and the solution, as it is to so many things, is gears. Fortunately, I’ve already got some at the ready.

So a few minutes’ modification in Maya and we’re off and printing. Pro tip: gaffer tape works astonishingly well as a print surface for ColorFabb’s PLA/PHA. Note that there’s a cup integrated into the top of this gear to give the planet more surface area for adhesives.

gear

Next we’ve got to get the gears onto the helmet, and fortunately there’s a GoPro-compatible mounting system in the Forge. A few more minutes of vertex wrangling and a couple of test prints and the mounting system looks like so:

assembled

(You can download the models here if you’d like to take a peek at them.)

The rotation is controlled with a momentary switch hidden in the kid’s pocket. Hold the button down and Venus spins faster and faster. Of course, my kid’s teachers aren’t pants-wetting bigots and he’s white as Wisconsin snow and not named Ahmed, so nobody batted an eyelash at this suicide-bomber-looking pushbutton setup. It’s even RED.

switch

Fun fact: Venus’ day is 243 earth days long. I learned this from the aforementioned girl dressed as the day-night cycle.

Everything’s gaffer-taped together to insulate the solder joints and the wires are hidden under clothing.

The project survived the entire night on one set of 4 AA batteries and finally met its demise when my son, in an all-too-typical display of spazzy exuberance, head-butted the kid dressed up as a Soyuz capsule during cleanup and Venus went spinning across the gym floor and into the hallway.

Lao Zheng out. Thanks again, Dad, for teaching me how to do a science fair project right.

The Agony of The Feet

plutarch on rail

If, bit by bit, you replace the parts of a store-bought pirate parrot with 3D printed components and electronics, is it still the same parrot in five years?

Another Halloween has come and gone, and no, I did not festoon the house with an Arduino-controlled lightshow as I had planned to do in July.

Nor did I design and print that glowing Riddler sword cane I’ve been wanting to get to, and I also failed to make any headway on that EL wire and fog-machine witches’ cauldron I was so pumped up about two years ago.

What I did manage to do was stay married to the lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3, who in addition to being lovely and talented also had the foresight to order us up a couple of relatively inexpensive pirate costumes from some online retailer.

See, here’s the thing about Halloween costumes. A store-bought costume is all well and good, but I gots ideas, man. Next time you and I are having a beer ask me about my plans for a two-person piñata donkey costume. If you whack us with a stick we’ll drop a bunch of candy out through a trapdoor in the belly. It’s-a-gonna-be-awesome.

pinata

Of course, I don’t have the time to make this. I also must make peace with the idea that I will never, ever, learn how to do DIY vacuum forming and craft myself a suit of Dr. Doom armor. The probability of my constructing an animatronic tarantula the size of a Great Dane approaches zero. Halloween’s an annual exercise in abandoning fun projects before they get started.

But you’ve gotta have a costume, right? Especially since we annually attend a spectacular haunted house/halloween party thrown by good friends of ours out in the boondocks of Hortonville, Wisconsin. Can’t show up there wearing my usual costume of cargo pants and free trade show T-shirts.

As she’s done so many times in the past, the lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3 pulled my bacon out of the fire with an assist from Amazon prime and MasterCard, and now we’ve got pirate gear aplenty.

But what about next year? And the year after that? We’ve decided that our best option is to commit to the pirate life completely and upgrade our costumes by degrees. This year’s our baseline, and at some point in the next twelve months I’ll buy a nice set of leather boots to replace the cheap vinyl boot-tops that go over my dress shoes.

(The costume has a little tag on the inside that says, I kid you not, DO NOT WASH. Need to replace the shirt ASAP.)

do not wash

Maybe next year I’ll find a flouncy pirate shirt that can do double duty at the renaissance faire. And the year after that I can fall off my wallet and get a nice steel cutlass. And so on and so forth and in five years I’ll have a really great pirate costume just hanging in the closet.

We also bought a polystyrene parrot accessory. He doesn’t look too bad for $10 but the UX could use some love. At the most basic level, it’d be nice if I didn’t have to worry about my bird falling off to join the choir invisible every time I reach for the guacamole.

Plutarch’s original feet have two problems. First, they look nothing like actual parrot feet. Parrot feet are weird, and these are clearly sparrow feet repurposed by an overworked factory manager in Guangzhou.

original feet

Second, the feet don’t ship with a convenient way to attach to the wearer. Plutarch ships with a shoelace-like strap that’s halfheartedly hot-glued to his sole, intended to loop under his owner’s armpit. You’ll see from the Amazon reviews that this is a less-than-optimal solution.

Magnets are my go-to solution for holding things together. A while ago I bought a passel of tiny neodymium magnets for some long-forgotten purpose, and I still have about fifty of them left. A few minutes tweaking a cube in Maya gets me a pair of parrot feet with little sockets for the magnets. The magnets are friction-fit, but being a belt-and-suspenders type of hominid I’ve super glued them in.

feet magnets

A steel tuna fish can lid, easily hand-bent to be convex, hides under my clothing. I’ve covered the lid in athletic tape because it’ll be under a white shirt eventually and I don’t want it to show through.

feet pauldron

Besides, I’m nursing a rotator cuff injury, again, and have no other use for my athletic tape for at least a month. Feh.

Also, Coco gives approximately 6.02×10-23 f_cks about this parrot.

These feet are printed flat in ColorFabb signal yellow PLA/PHA, which is easy enough to deform post-print with a little bit of heat. A few months ago I bought this great little heat gun for heat-shrink tubing and it does a fine job helping me mold Plutarch’s toes to my shoulder.

plutarch shoulder

In the long term I’d like to put some motor control into Plutarch’s head so that he can swivel to look at stuff. And a webcam. And a speaker. And wireless control so that I can control the parrot from across the room.

I’ve already got a wee servo on order from Adafruit, so that’ll be next weekend’s project.

Like I said, I gots ideas. Check back in a year and we’ll see how far I’ve gotten.

Why Plutarch? Ship of Theseus, grandfather’s axe, and all that.

Lao Zheng out.