Monthly Archives: November 2015

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.

Beholden to The Next Thing

Here at Zheng Labs we are busy, as always, working on the Next Thing. The Next Thing is our white whale. It is our golden hind. Our Sisyphus’ boulder. Our El Guapo. It is all of these, and more.

And for us there shall always be a Next Thing, until we are from this earthly womb untimely ripp’d, and the Next Thing, still unfinished, taunts us as we rage against the dying of the light.

And so it was the pursuit of the Next Thing that caused the recent lack of posts at Zheng3.com, and we failed at achieving the Next Thing anyways, and so the Next Thing has become a Last Thing, consigned to the Hopper of Good Ideas That Must Unfortunately Be Backburnered, and we’ll move on to the (next) Next Thing.

next thing

The (last) Next Thing involved lots of voltage dividers and photoresistors and lasers and conduit. Too bad it didn’t work out.

But before we approach the (next) Next Thing, which of course involves parrots and neodymium, we must address an issue that’s been subordinate to the (last) Next Thing for some time. To wit: 3d-Fuel’s Algae-Fuel PLA.

Some backstory: some time ago I ordered a roll of ColorFabb yellow PLA/PHA from PrintedSolid. Nice folks that they are, PrintedSolid threw in a short sample of algae-based PLA for me to test, presumably with the expectation that I would do so posthaste.

Alas, PrintedSolid failed to account for the siren song of the (last) Next Thing, and test prints with Algae-Fuel were unfortunately delayed while I was repeatedly punched in the face, neck, and liver by the (last) Next Thing for the better part of two months.

Pros for Algae-Fuel: it’s compostable, biodegradable, and, best of all, sustainable. The feedstock (algae! will wonders never cease?) can be grown without using huge tracts of land.

Cons: Typical of filaments with infused particles, it can be a little stringy if you’re not tweaking your print settings from regular PLA.

Take a gander at this photo of The Beast. The beast is designed to print without support on an FDM printer, though it didn’t seem to care much for Algae-Fuel.

beast

Prolly shoulda printed an Ooze instead.

UPDATE 7-11-15: Upon receiving some advice from PrintedSolid, I dropped the temperature of my print from 220°C to 180°. I’m almost out of Algae-Fuel at this point, so I designed a little stringing test STL and gave it a go. Here’s a side-by-side comparison.

side by side

The results are definitely improved. Still a little stringing, but nothing like what we saw printing the Beast at 220°. Now back to yesterday’s post.

Other cons: It’s more expensive than your typical PLA’s, and it smells a little funky.

Algae-Fuel is better used in prints without so much open space, like this owl from Thingiverse:

owl

Sharp-eyed readers will note that this is not a Yoda head. Stop printing Yoda heads, people.

You’ll see a little bit of stringing between the owl’s ears and around the beak, but overall the print’s looking pretty good. The final texture is slightly rough, like very fine sandpaper. It’s quite pleasant to handle.

What does algae at 220° C smell like? Strangely enough, like burnt coffee beans. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s definitely noticeable. Ventilate your makerspace well and passers-by will think you’re running a semicompetent java house.

You can purchase Algae-Fuel at PrintedSolid.com.

#staytuned for updates on the (next) Next Thing. Soon.