3D Printed Sundial

A few weeks ago I posted about designing and printing a simple 3D part. This post will be about a more complex object, using a different design tool.

I’ve wanted to build a custom sundial for my home for years. I have a book (actually, more than one) about designing sundials. The primary one I use is Sundials: Their Theory and Construction by Albert Waugh. This book has lots of information about various types of sundials and includes formulas for designing sundials. I have thought about designing and building a traditional sundial that would be mounted in my front yard, or maybe a vertical sundial on my garage door (which gets sunshine much of the day, but not late afternoon). But that hasn’t happened.

Now that I have a 3D printer, I decided I could make a small sundial (my printer’s print bed is only about 9″ across) using that. I searched for designs, but couldn’t find a sundial I liked in the normal places to find 3D objects to print. I found one that was OK on Thingiverse, but it wasn’t really what I was looking for. Time to design my own!

I wanted to be able to easily modify the sundial for different locations. After all, if I’m going to make a dial for myself, I’m sure I have friends that would like one. And I want to easily customize it to make different sizes.

The sundial I found on Thingiverse had the base and gnomon (that’s the piece that sticks up to cast the sun’s shadow) all in one piece, which made it rather bulky to send in the mail. I wanted something that could be made flat for shipping. So the gnomon needed to be separate from the base, but easily attached.

With all of these requirements, it seemed to me I needed something that I could specify parameters to make it easy to customize, and then based on these parameters do “a lot of math” (not actually so much, but sines and cosines, at least). This is a different way of design than using Fusion 360 or some other similar CAD program, like I did the for the protective feet in a previous blog post. I needed something that could calculate angles and create shapes based on these calculated angles. Is there such a thing? But, of course! There is OpenSCAD, “The Programmers Solid 3D CAD Modeller”. This tool is basically a programming language in which you describe shapes. You write a program, which can include parameters which are used in the calculations. Just what I needed for this project!

The first thing I did was to determine what parameters I would need, i.e., the values I would want to be able to easily change. Obviously, the latitude and longitude of the location where the sundial would be “installed” would have to be easily changeable. What else? How about the size of the base so I could designate whether the sundial would be a 3″ dial, or a 6″ dial, or some other size. Here are the parameters I came up with (as shown in OpenSCAD):

Sundial Parameters as shown in OpenSCAD
Sundial Parameters

In OpenSCAD, these are dimensionless parameters, but the sizes get interpreted in millimeters by my slicing program. So think of these as sizes in millimeters, except for the locationName, which is text, the latitude and longitude, which are degrees, and the timeZone, which is hours. So the dial described above is 120mm on a side, which is very close to 5 inches.

Here is a photo of the sundial base created by the above parameters:

Sundial Base
Sundial Base

Pretty simple, right? A Cuboid (a cube with unequal size sides) for the base, with another cuboid subtracted from it (the depression in the middle), a bunch of cuboids for lines added at various angles, and another cuboid subtracted from it where the gnomon will fit in, then some letters and numbers stuck to the top surface around the edges. Nothing to it! 🙂

And the gnomon is really simple. Just a cuboid the size of the slot it will fit into, and another cuboid to cut away the upper portion at the correct angle (the latitude of it’s location).

Sundial Gnomon

Once you print the base and the gnomon, the gnomon fits into the slot in the base:

Square Sundial Base and Gnomon

With the base and gnomon apart, they can easily be mailed in an envelope. I have sent several to friends in padded envelopes, which can be sent inexpensively, with no problems.

Of course, this all seems simple now. I’ve already done it. Actually creating the sundial took me several days of work to get it just right. A lot of that time was learning OpenSCAD (I’m still just a novice), and also deciding how I wanted my sundial to look. Not to mention getting the formulas right for the basic dial. It took some time to get the hour numbers to print correctly on the dial border. Some of the logic was like, “if the hour line intersects the top border (not the left or right borders), print on the top border (centered vertically), otherwise print on the left or right border (centered horizontally), but don’t print on the bottom border (because the location text is there).” There are still some edge cases where the numbers print in the “wrong” location (which depends on your definition of wrong), but they haven’t occurred often enough yet for me to fix the logic.

For the curious, the code for the Gnomon is:

difference() {
    translate([0,-gnomonDepth,0]) cube([gnomonBaseLength, gnomonBaseLength+gnomonDepth, gnomonWidth]); // Full gnomon
    //subtract linear portion above gnomon
    rotate([0,0,latitude]) translate([0,0,-1]) cube([gnomonBaseLength*4, gnomonBaseLength*4, gnomonWidth+2]);

You might recognize some of the parameters to the cube() function as input parameters above, for instance gnomonDepth and gnomonWidth. The other parameters to the cube function (like gnomonBaseLength) are calculated from the input parameters.

If you are curious about the code, or want to print your own Square Sundial, my “Square Sundial” can be found on Thingiverse at https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:4802077.

360° Panoramas (again)

In my last post, already several months ago, I promised another 3D printer post. That is still coming. It’s half written. Make that a quarter written. I’ve been sidetracked, not to mention that my laptop computer bit the dust and I haven’t yet decided what to replace it with.

My first 360° panorama post was a little over a year ago, Feb. 4, 2020, where I discussed how 360° panoramas were made and showed one from Gates Pass near Tucson, AZ. My second post on panoramas was written on March 9, 2020, noting that 360° panoramas could be displayed on YouTube.

So, what’s new with panoramas?

First, 360° can be displayed on Flickr (I knew that, but had never tried it). Here’s my first panorama on Flickr. Flickr isn’t as good at displaying these as it could be – maybe it will improve in the future. The first problem I noticed is at the very bottom of the photo – directly below the camera. There’s some distortion there that shouldn’t be. Also, it is more difficult to zoom in and out with the mouse scroll wheel, as it usually scrolls the page instead. And it was difficult to go into full-screen mode, and once there I wasn’t always able to pan around the image.

It is possible to display panoramas interactively on WordPress, but only if I pay for a “professional” level. Since I don’t make any money from this site, I can’t really justify doing that. If you wish to see my photo(s) in a better viewer, take a look at it (them) in Roundme. This photo was taken a few days ago while on a cross-country ski outing to the top of Amabilis Mountain. 11+ miles and 2000’+ elevation gain, but the views were totally worth it! What a gorgeous day we had. Here are the rest of the photos I shot that day.

You can see all of the photos I’ve uploaded to Roundme by going to https://roundme.com/@garystebbins/tours.

What else is new?

All of the 360° panoramas I have posted in the past were shot by using my DSLR camera mounted to a tripod (or, in one case, handheld). The latest two were shot from a drone from tens of feet to several hundred feet above the ground.

I got my first done 3+ years ago, but it’s a bit too big to take on a backpack or cross-country ski trip. About a month ago I got a much smaller drone that is something I can take along with me. The drone itself weighs about 1/2 pound. I carried it in my backpack on my cross-country ski trip.

Phantom 4 Pro and DJI Mini 2 drones
Phantom 4 Pro and DJI Mini 2 drones

The larger drone in the photo above is a DJI Phantom 4 Pro, and the little guy is a DJI Mini 2. Both drones can automatically shoot a series of photos to be stitched into a 360° panorama photo. I then use the program PTGui to stitch the multiple images into a panorama image.

If you are curious, the panorama image is just a regular JPEG file, although it is stretched “a bit” at the top and bottom. As mentioned in my first post, it is exactly twice as wide as it is high – 360° wide and 180º high. The right and left edges join together in the panorama viewer, and the top and bottom edges are compressed to display as a single point – straight above the camera for the top edge and straight below for the bottom edge. Some additional metadata is added to the file so that the viewer program knows how to interpret the file. Here’s what the photo looks like when viewed without a panorama viewer.

Kachess Lake Overlook

There you have it – one more 360° blog post. Next (I hope) I’ll actually finish writing the 3D printer blog I promised a few months ago. Stay tuned!

Designing a Simple Part for 3D Printing

In a previous blog I told about my new 3D printer, and showed a few photos of it printing objects that I had found online. What else can you do with a 3D printer? You can design your own items to print, and those can be anything you can imagine. They might be purely decorative, or could be functional. Here’s something simple that is functional.

Julie has a basket that stands on four metal legs. Unfortunately, the little plastic feet that went on the legs have long since disappeared, and now they scratch the floor.

Simple solution: make some protective feet.

Fortunately, this really is a simple solution. I have some filament that I can print called TPU (thermoplastic polyeruthane) which is flexible but also tough. It sounds like the perfect material for this.

I measured the leg, and it was just a little under 19mm across. So I needed to design a foot that would fit over this 19mm square leg, hold up to some use, and stay on the leg. I decided to make it 2mm thick, as that seemed like a good thickness to not be too flimsy, yet not be overkill.

I use Fusion 360 from AutoDesk for most of my 3D designing. It’s free for hobbyists, and very capable. There are many other 3D design programs that would have worked, but that’s the one I’m most proficient with at this time. Maybe I’ll switch in the future. There is a great open source 3D design program I’m interested in playing with, but for this project I used Fusion 360

How would you go about designing a foot for this? It seems like a simple object, and it is. Just a cube with a hole in it. Like this:

I won’t go into any great detail about designing this, but will give some basic steps.

  • The leg is 19mm square, and I want the walls to be 2mm thick. 19mm + 2mm on each side makes 23mm. Draw a 23mm square.
  • Extrude that up 23mm, making a 23mm cube.
  • On the top surface of that cube, draw a centered 19mm square, leaving 2mm of the original cube on each side.
  • Extrude that down 19mm, subtracting this 19mm cube from the 23mm cube. That gives us the basic shape shown above. Note that by doing this we are left with a 4mm bottom. I could have reduced the height of the 23mm cube so that the sides and bottom were uniformly 2mm, but I figured a little extra material on the bottom would just add to the wear resistance.
  • Export this object as a 3D mesh, slice it, print it, and test it. I found that it fit, but was a bit loose, and probably would fall off over time.
  • Go back to Fusion 360 and tweak the internal (subtracted) cube to 18.5mm. If you’re paying attention (you were, weren’t you?), you’ll notice that the walls are now 2.25mm thick. I didn’t see any reason to go back and adjust this, although it would have been easy to do. At this point I believed I probably had a workable foot. In Fusion 360, it looked like this:
  • Kind of square-ish with sharp edges. Fusion 360 to the rescue. I “Filleted” (rounded) all edges, inside and out, with the exception of the bottom edges, which I “Chamfered” (cut at an angle). Why do the bottom different? Because 3D printers like mine have a problem with steep overhangs, and a fillet starts out with almost a 90° overhang, whereas a chamfer has only a 45° overhang and can be printed by most printers. Because this object is so small, it probably wouldn’t have made any real difference, but it’s a good habit to form when designing objects for 3D printing. I now have this, which looks a lot like the photo at the top of the page:

I think it looks good! Export it, Slice it, Print it. Test the fit…

It looks like a winner to me. It fits snugly, won’t fall off, and will protect the floor. The color? Just happens to be the color of TPU filament I have and a color Julie likes. Which is probably why I have this filament. 🙂

Watch for a future blog on designing a more complex object using a totally different 3D design program.

Milky Way Timelapse

[Originally published Nov. 14, 2020, minor update Nov. 4, 2022]

Something I’ve wanted to do for years is to create a timelapse video of the night sky star motion. I made it one of my goals for this year to accomplish that. I’ve been spending a lot of time in places that have terrible views of the night sky. Mostly, too much atmospheric haze and/or too much light pollution.

In July, when Comet Neowise was visible, we found a place a short drive away that had a pretty good night sky view, and was above much of the haze. We went there to try to get a good view, and maybe a photo or two, of the Comet.

Comet Neowise, July, 2020 (15 seconds at f/4.5, ISO 800, 135mm)

We found that this location was also good viewing of the Milky Way.

Milky Way (30 seconds at f/4.0, ISO 1600, 10mm)

It might have been a good time to try for a star timelapse with the Milky Way included, but it was late and I didn’t take the time to try it.

In September we camped at Red Bridge State Wayside in Oregon. The campground is a great place, but the sky is mostly blocked by beautiful Ponderosa pine trees. It does have a pretty good view of the sky from an area near the parking lot. I took my camera and tripod with the hope of getting some decent sky images.

Toward dark I set up on the grass looking over the parking lot and took several test exposures. I was shooting with my Pentax K-3 (crop-frame) camera with a Tamron 10-24mm lens. The exposure I settled on was 6 seconds at f/3.5, ISO 6400. I set the camera to shoot 500 photos, one every 20 seconds. I turned off in-camera noise reduction, thinking I could save battery and do it in Lightroom later.

The first photo was shot at about 9:20 pm, and the last photo just past midnight. I sat in a chair near the camera for the almost three hours it took, reading a book on my Kindle. Fortunately the night was relatively warm and getting cold wasn’t too much of a problem. I did get out of the chair a few times to do some jumping jacks to stay warm.

OK, now for what I did wrong.

  1. I judged the exposure by what the image looked like on the back of the camera. Remember, it was almost pitch black when I was doing this. The image looked great! The next morning I looked at the images. I couldn’t believe that all frames were totally black. How could I have done that? Then I realized they were underexposed so badly that I couldn’t see anything in normal light, but, viewed in a darkened room, there was some image there. Don’t judge the image exposure by what your eye sees when its almost totally dark out! Lightroom to the rescue (sort of).
  2. Turning off in-camera noise reduction was a mistake. the Pentax K-3 does quite well at keeping the noise down, but at ISO 6400, I really needed to let the camera do what it could. Again, Lightroom noise reduction helped (but I wouldn’t say it rescued me).

Once I had 500 RAW images, I imported them all into Lightroom and did what I could to adjust exposure and reduce noise. Then exported them all as JPEG files (a painfully slow process on my ancient laptop computer). Next I fired up Adobe After Effects, brought in all of the JPEG images, and created a 1080p video at 30 frames per second. 500 frames at 30 frames per second results in a video only 16-2/3 seconds long!

The resulting video has lots of noise and color changes due to the extreme exposure adjustments I made. But I think it’s acceptable for my first attempt. Next year (or maybe this winter) I’ll do this again and improve my results.

Here is my video for you to see:

Milky Way Timelapse

Another David Preston Book

It’s already been a couple weeks since I published another book for David Preston. I did the final editing for him, and then formatted the book for both Paperback and Kindle, contracted a cover design, and published it on Amazon.com.

The book, Victim Ride, is the fifth book in David’s “Harrison Thomas Mystery” series.

“Someone from Harrison Thomas’ past intends to kill him, evidently to avenge the death of a loved one slain by Harrison. But who? He has never killed anyone! He must search through his past to find his assailant. If he does not do it quickly, he will die.”

I again used Fiverr for the artwork. I used the same artist that did the cover for Marcia Marsha Marczia. I liked the previous cover this artist did for me, and she came through again with what I think is a great cover for David’s latest book.

Where to buy? Victim Ride is only available through Amazon, in both Paperback and Kindle formats.

You can find all of David’s Harrison Thomas Mystery books here.

Marcia, Marsha, Marczia

…is the title of the book by David Preston that I (re)published for him on March 14. I just wanted to give you an overview of what it takes to self-publish a book. And, this book has an interesting history.

The main audience for Marcia, Marsha, Marczia is probably junior high or high school girls. You might enjoy reading this book even if you aren’t in that group. I did. If you should happen to be interested for yourself or a friend, daughter, or granddaughter, you can order the paperback or Kindle book from Amazon, or other distributors.

David completed writing this book in 1993. He was teaching High School English at that time. It was a bit more difficult to publish a book back then than it is now. He submitted the manuscript to Dell, the publishing company, but they weren’t interested. The manuscript sat in a drawer (I presume) for many years, and David ran across it (I’m making this up…) in about 2011. David mentioned it to a few friends, and one of them offered to scan the manuscript and OCR it. (OCR – Optical Character Recognition. As a verb, to run the scanned image through a program that will convert it to text on a computer.) The book was published on Amazon as a Kindle book titled The Third Marcia in 2012.

Skip ahead a few years. I started bugging David last year to update some of his books, primarily to update the “About the Author” section, but also to add a list of his books at the end of each book, and update the covers to make the books a bit more eye-catching. I also wanted him to publish the e-books (and eventually the paperbacks) through additional channels for wider distribution. He finally broke down and let me work on this 🙂 .

The last thing to work on is the cover, but I’ll show that first and discuss it later. Here is the old Kindle cover followed by the new cover:

I’ve edited and published a number of books for David, both Kindle e-books and paperbacks. The process has changed a bit through the years. I have used Microsoft Word to format the books, except for one book where I used Adobe InDesign. It used to be that I formatted the e-book and the paperback differently, but now different tools are available, and I can use a single Word file to create both formats.

I first create the paperback format and get it fine-tuned. Then I use the converter software at Draft2Digital to create the file for Kindle.

As this book had been published before, I thought there would be very few changes to the text. However, when I read through the book, I found a few typos, but lots of places where the OCR process had left errors. Most of these were like 1 (number 1) instead of l (letter el). The font specified by the OCR operation had made these look almost identical, but the font I used for the paperback (Garamond) had a noticeable difference between these, so they needed to be corrected.

Once the word editing is complete, I search the book for any double (or more) spaces (which are converted to a single space), tabs, line breaks where they shouldn’t be, empty paragraphs, etc., and change those as appropriate. I also convert all prime (‘) and double prime (“) marks to left (‘, “) and right (’, ”) quotation marks, and correct any other punctuation that needs it. And, of course, there are the dashes and hyphens that need to be made correct and consistent. If this is a new book (David will have another book to publish this month or next), then the draft of the book goes back and forth between him and me multiple times during this process.

Once the words are all correct, the document must be formatted for the size of the printed book (5.25″ x 8″ for David’s paperbacks) with appropriate margins. As this is printed two-sided and bound, the margin on the inside needs to be a bit wider than the outside margin so text isn’t printed too close to the binding, making it harder to read.

Every Chapter heading in the book needs to be formatted as a Word “Header 1” Style so that it will be found by the Kindle conversion tool. All other paragraphs, with some exceptions, are made a “Paragraph” style that I have defined. This is an indented paragraph with no vertical spacing between paragraphs. One exception is the first paragraph of each chapter, which has no indent.

A Table of Contents is included in most of the paperback books. This is auto-generated from the Chapter and other headings, like “Foreword” or “About the Author.” I need to make sure it is properly formatted and updated so the page numbers are correct. The TOC is stripped out by the converter when converted to Kindle format and then recreated by the converter in a special format for e-book readers.

Once everything above is complete, which usually takes me several passes, the formatted book interior is ready. I note how many pages long it is, and save it as a PDF (the format required for printing). Next I upload the MSWord file to Draft2Digital’s website and convert it to MOBI format, the file format for Kindle, and download that for later upload to Amazon publishing.

Now it’s time to design the cover. The cover is the first thing most potential buyers see, so it is really quite important. I’m not a graphic artist with cover design experience, so I contracted this out through Fiverr. Remember I mentioned that I noted the number of pages in the book? This is important because it affects the cover design. You must know the number of pages to determine the spine thickness. The front, back, and spine are created as a single image. A separate image is created for the e-books. Here is the image for the paperback cover of Marcia, Marsha, Marczia:

At this point I have all of the files needed to publish the book in both paperback and e-book formats. I published both through Amazon for David, and also published the e-book through Draft2Digital for distribution to other companies, like Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc., and to libraries. Draft2Digital doesn’t do paperbacks yet, but hopefully will in the near future.

Nothing to it! Now you can publish your own book.

360° Panoramas!

[Originally published February 4, 2020. Minor updates November 5, 2022.]

I’ve been playing with 360° photography for over a year. I find this to be an enjoyable variation to my regular photography.

The simplified explanation of the process is to shoot enough images to capture all directions, then stitch these images together into a special format. I sometimes use a drone to capture the images, and sometimes a camera on a tripod. The result is a spherical image, viewed as though you are at the center of the sphere and can look in all directions.

On my tripod, I use a panorama attachment, shown here, that allows the camera to pivot horizontally and vertically around the optical center of the lens so that the resulting photos align properly.

Camera on 360° panorama mount

This panorama attachment has a pivoting base with detents that help position the camera at the right intervals. Using the 10-22mm lens shown above, I take eight shots in a horizontal circle to have enough overlap between shots to stitch them together properly.

When I create a panorama from a drone, I am currently using a Phantom 4 Pro, which has an automated panorama mode where it takes all of the images with one press of the “shutter.”

When the panorama is assembled from the individual images, it can be viewed with a special viewer on my computer. I publish some of my images on a website, Round.me, that specializes in displaying 360° panorama images. Unfortunately, I can’t display the images as panoramas on this website.

I am going to use an image that I shot at Gates Pass outside Tucson, AZ, this past November as an example . There is a small knoll just off the road that I climbed up to take the photos from. I set my tripod on the highest rocks on the top and took 37 images. The images were taken on manual exposure, all with the same exposure. Because there is a wide range of lighting, from shadows to full sunlight to shooting directly into the sun, I shot the images in RAW to best capture the shadows and highlights. I could also shoot bracketed exposures to capture the full tonal value, but I have found that shooting RAW in this situation yields images that I can work with to get the results I want, and it is a bit simpler than bracketing the exposures and post-processing those (although I have also done that).

Back home I import all of the images into Adobe Lightroom. In this instance, I started by doing an “Auto” process on all of the RAW images, which lightens the shadows and tones down the brightest highlights (like the sun!), then change a few other parameters (primarily Clarity, Vibrance, and Saturation) to make the image a bit more to my liking. I might also do some additional brightness adjustments if I feel that is necessary. I then export all of the images as JPEG files.

I use a program called PTGui (https://www.ptgui.com/) to create the panorama image. It is a very capable program, and can process HDR or RAW files directly, but I feel I have the control I want in a way that makes sense to me by doing the initial processing in Lightroom. Once I have the JPEG files, I import them all into PTGui. It will automatically (and magically!) align the images. Once they are aligned, if there are any problems, I can “assist” PTGui to find matching points in adjacent images. I usually only need to do this when some of the images include almost all sky or water.

It the panorama is shot from the drone, I can’t shoot straight up as the camera is mounted below the drone, and the drone blocks the camera’s view. That leaves a hole in the sky above. In this instance, I use a special mode of PTGui to export an image of the “top” of the panorama. Then I use Photoshop to fill in the hole with “sky color” similar to what is around it, and then “reassemble” the panorama with PTGui.

When using a tripod, I can shoot straight up, but the tripod is in the way when I shoot down. So when I am finished shooting all of the images, I pick the tripod up and take a shot of the ground where it was. Many of the images from the tripod pointing downward contain parts of the tripod, such as the camera platform or the tripod legs. I can select these images and indicate to PTGui which parts of particular images should not be used. If I don’t to this, some of the tripod will show up in the resultant panorama.

Once I’ve done all of the point matching and/or masking, if needed, PTGui creates the panorama photo, which is a JPEG file in a format that panorama programs can interpret. If viewed with any “normal” photo program, the image looks quite distorted as shown below. Even though I took the tripod out of the panorama, you can still see its shadow. Here is the Gates Pass JPEG image. Click on the image to view it in Roundme. Once the image opens up, click and drag with your mouse to spin the image around, or zoom in and out with your scroll wheel.

Gates Pass 360° Panorama
Gates Pass 360° Panorama

You can also view this on a tablet or iPad. With the right browser, you will be able to look in different directions just by turning the tablet.

To see all of the panoramas I have published, check out my Panorama Page at roundme.com/@garystebbins. When on that page, click the “TOURS” button to see the panoramas I have published. Some of the images here have been shot with my camera on a tripod, while others have been shot from a drone. Keep watching this site, as I will be adding new panoramas from time to time. 🙂

Editing & Publishing (again)

Once again, I will be editing a book for a friend and then publishing it, both as an e-book and as a printed book. I’ve done several others for David Preston over the last several years.

In addition to editing and publishing his new novel, I will be re-publishing his other books. Why? His earlier books were published with his name as Dave Preston, and the later ones as David Preston. This causes some confusion for Amazon and other platforms. Following his author name spelled one way won’t necessarily find the books with the other spelling. So he is standardizing on David Preston. Also, we are updating author information and adding some other content.

Also, his books were only published on Amazon, and we will be publishing with a wider distribution, e.g., Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Kobo. And they will be available to libraries.

How did I get started editing and publishing? Way back in college (Whitworth College, now Whitworth University) I knew several of the staff on the college student newspaper. I noticed quite a few typos in the papers, so started marking them up and giving them back to the Executive Editor. She suggested that I should do my markup before they published, instead of after, and so I became first a proofreader, then later Managing Editor of the college paper. I also did quite a bit of typing of the newspaper on a Varityper machine, which right-justified the type. This was a bit before the college paper had computers to do this for us. On this machine you typed each line twice – once for the machine to measure the length of the line, then a second time for the Varityper to adjust the space between words to make the type line up at the right margin.

So how did I get into editing books for David Preston? The same way this all started. In 2010 he published an e-book on Amazon, Motorcycle 201. I bought the book, and noticed several typos. I asked if he was interested in knowing about them, and so it began. After that, I proofread and did some copy editing of his books before they were published. His son was doing the publishing.

Then about five years ago, a bit before Thanksgiving, he asked me if I could publish his next book. He was done writing, and his son was tied up with too many tasks to be able to get to it soon. I thought, sure, I could figure this out. And so I did the editing, and read up on how to publish on Amazon at what was then called CreateSpace, now Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). And Triathlon Ride, the third book in David’s Harrison Thomas Mysteries series, hit the Amazon virtual shelves on November 18, 2014.

After Triathlon Ride was published as a Kindle Book, David mentioned that someone he knew wanted to read it, but that person would only read it in paper form. David had earlier published Motorcycle 101 in paper form before Print On Demand (POD) was generally available, and he had to front all of the printing costs, then figure out what to do with 1,000 copies of the book. He didn’t want to do that again.

I explained that now, through CreateSpace, he could publish a book in paperback with no up-front cost. Could I do that for him? Well, I didn’t see why not. So I investigated the CreateSpace paperback requirements and worked with David to decide on the trim size (5.25″ x 8″). David had created the cover for the Kindle book, and I started with that and created the cover for the paperback, adding the back material and spine. It was published on December 16, 2014.

So, here we are, getting ready to add one more book to his list (making nine total). In the meantime, I’m working with him to get his past works republished with a wider distribution.

Stay tuned. I’ll announce the books as they are published. Links to all of David’s books can be found at https://books2read.com/rl/gs-preston.

3D Printers

When 3D printers started becoming somewhat affordable several years ago, I thought it would be fun to have one and learn more about the technology and see what uses I could find for it. But the first ones were a bit out of my budget, and I didn’t see what use I would really have for one.

Scroll ahead a few years. This past summer, at Julie’s urging, I bought one for myself for my birthday (it actually arrived the day of my birthday). The photo below (not a good photo…) is my Creality Ender 3 Pro printer. A little over $200. “Some assembly required.”

The Creality Ender 3 is one of the less expensive printers available at this time. It’s print volume is somewhere around 8” x 8” x 10”. It arrived partly assembled, but there was still some assembly required. I think that was a good thing, as it familiarized me with the printer and took some of the fear of working with it away. More on that later.

Creality Ender 3 Printer

My first discovery was how slow it is to print something! We’re often not measuring print time in minutes but hours. When you begin to understand how it prints, this makes more sense. The printer oozes a small amount of melted plastic through a 0.4 millimeter nozzle (that’s about one sixty-fourth of an inch) and deposits it onto the surface of the object you are printing, creating a layer of plastic in the right places. An average layer is 0.2 mm thick, or less than one one-hundredth of an inch. So to make an object one inch high requires the printer to lay down about 100 layers of plastic. Each layer may take several minutes, depending on the size of the object.

Creality Ender 3 printer in action
Creality Ender 3 Printer in action

So what do you do with a 3D printer? As was pointed out to me early on, you first print things to make your printer better! Things like cable guides or filament guides or tool trays… The list of possibilities is endless. But that’s not all. There are many websites where you can download ready-to-print models, many for free.

Well, almost ready to print. Usually you download an “.stl” file, which is a description of the 3D object. You then must use a “slicer” program to convert that model into instructions that your printer can understand. Then you give that file to the printer, and it magically interprets these instructions into the movements necessary to create a lump of plastic that resembles what you wanted.

Really cool threaded cylindrical container with a lid
Really cool threaded cylindrical container with a lid

Once you’ve printed a number of objects that other people have created, you’ll probably start thinking about designing your own 3D creations. Can you do that? Yes, of course. There are a number of 3D design tools costing from free to thousands of dollars. I’ve tried several, and designed a few simple items.

My first design was simply a knob to replace a missing seat release knob in Julie’s car. Certainly not elegant, but quite functional. My second (ongoing) project has been to create some simple stands to display some Native American pottery. My latest completed project (if a project is ever truly complete – there are always enhancements that can be made!) is a variety of specialized hooks for holding items on 1/2” shelf edges in our camping trailer. And what is in the future? For starters, repair for a plastic part on my “Little Giant” ladder that broke. Photographs have been taken, measurements made with calipers, preliminary drawings have been drafted, but no 3D model – yet.

What is in the printer’s future? I’ve already made a few modifications I haven’t yet mentioned (something for a future blog). I have parts for one more “upgrade.” And I have tentative plans for at least one upgrade beyond that. I have a list of things to print, some quite simple and some fairly complex. With Christmas less than two months away, the printer might get put to use making a few items for that.

Stay tuned

Where to start?

I already have a blog. Not a very active one, though. It can be found at https://garystebbins.blogspot.com/. So, why am I starting a new blog? That’s a good question. I’m hoping this will be a place for more coherent content. The old blog will probably be left mostly dormant.

This blog will discuss my interests and document my pursuit of those interests. Sound vague? That’s because I’m not sure yet what I will write about.

Stay tuned, and we’ll find out together.