Gas station without pumps

2019 July 31

Thirty-eighth weight progress report

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 16:54
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This post is yet another weight progress report, continuing the previous one, part of a long series since I started in January 2015.

My weight has been about the same as a year ago, but I hope that I don’t put on as much weight as I did last summer and fall.

My exercise level has been a bit low, averaging 3.4 miles a day of cycling in July.  This is a little misleading, as I have started doing some weight training, treadmill running, and elliptical machines at the “Wellness Center” on campus, though not as frequently as I should.  It also does not include the walking I have been doing, which is hard to keep track of.

When I was young and skinny, I did not realize how difficult it was to lose weight once one put it on—in those days my problem was trying to increase my weight, to keep from looking like a skeleton.

2019 July 27

3D-printed chain of office

I’ve previously posted about my 3D-printed stage jewelry: the 3D slugs  and the diamond, printed on my Monoprice Delta Mini printer using CC3D Silk Gold PLA filament.

I’ve done a couple more designs since then: a star pendant and a chain of office to show the director and props people at WEST Performing Arts the possibility of making stage jewelry with a 3D printer.

The front of the star. The “notches” on the top point are a horizontal hole for hanging the star from a chain or cord.

The back of the star, showing the flat spot.

I have released this star design on Thingiverse:

The chain of office is more complicated, as it consists of 20 triangular plates and a pendant.  The plates took an hour apiece to print, and each one needed cleanup with a riffler to remove stringing.

The top layers of the print look pretty good, but there is a lot of stringing as the print head moved from one part of the print to another.

The bottom of each triangle looked worse than the top, as the first layer seemed to have more trouble with uniform extrusion than the higher layers.

This is what the triangles looked like after cleaning up the stringing with a riffler.  The difference in shininess is an illusion—I photographed this one with a flash, and the previous two photos were with more uniform lighting.

The triangles need to be joined with 6mm OD split rings:

Here are the triangles joined into a chain with jump rings.

The kid-size chain uses 18 of the triangular plates:

The pendant here is a design suggested by my wife, since I did not have any fake jewels to glue onto a pendant. I think that fake jewels may make for a showier pendant.

To make an adult-sized chain I added two more triangular plates, for a total of 20:

The chain of office needs to sit fairly wide on the shoulders, so probably needs to pinned or stitched to the shoulder seam, as the plastic is not heavy enough for the weight of the chain to hold it in place.

I’ve not released the chain of office on Thingiverse, mainly because their web site seems to be misbehaving this week.

2019 July 29: released as

2019 July 24

Shakespeare cookies

Tuesday night I tried making shortbread cookies to try out my Shakespeare cookie cutters, both the version 3 stamp and a 1-piece cookie cutter (version 4).

Back view of Version 3 (the cookie stamp) and Version 4 (the cookie cutter)

Front view of Version 3 (the stamp) and Version 4 (the cookie cutter).

I’m not quite ready to release the design on Thingiverse, as there are still a few problems.  One is that the handle is not aligned in any way—it is glued on with just a pair of flat surfaces without any alignment features.

This back view of the cookie cutter shows the handle, glued on with FlexEpox.

This closeup of the handle shows the lack of any alignment features.

I looked online for shortbread cookie recipes and found a lot of them.  The proportions of the ingredients were all fairly similar, with small fluctuations:

 1 cup butter
½ cup confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
½ cup rice flour or cornstarch
1½ cup all-purpose flour

The biggest differences were in the ratio of the flours—the total flour-to-butter ratio was nearly always close to 2:1 but the rice flour or cornstarch varied from 0% to 33% of the flour, with 25% being the most frequent in the recipes I looked at.  Most recipes called for sifting the dry ingredients together—a useful precaution, as both the confectioner’s sugar and the cornstarch had lumps.  I used a little cornstarch to use up an old box, then made up the rest of the ½ cup with sweet rice flour.

The instructions for mixing the butter, sugar, and flour varied a lot (beating with a spoon, pastry blender, shaving frozen butter, mixer, …).  I opted for one of the simplest methods: softening the butter, beating it with a paddle in the mixer, then adding the sifted dry ingredients and beating the dough for a minute.

The dough came out very sticky, and I contemplated adding more flour, but decided in the end to just chill it in the refrigerator for an hour.

After chilling, the dough was firm enough to roll out between two sheets of parchment paper, but it softened quickly, so I rolled out half the dough while keeping the other half in the refrigerator.

The v3 cookie stamp was a complete failure, with the dough sticking to the whole face of the stamp.  Perhaps if I had used enough flour on the stamp, I could have reduced the problem, but eliminating it seems unlikely.

The v4 cookie cutter was more successful.  The first attempt resulted in a lot of dough getting stuck in the crevices of the cutter, but after cleaning that out and flouring the cutter more heavily on each cut, I managed to get some clean-cut cookies.  Because they were not close on the parchment, I transferred them with a spatula to a cookie sheet that was covered with another piece of baking parchment.

Temperatures for baking the shortbread in the recipes varied from 325°F to 375°F, with baking times from 12 minutes to 35 minutes (and the longer times were not necessarily for the lower temperatures).  On my wife’s advice I opted for the low-temperature end of the range (325°F).  At that temperature, the cookies took about 25 minutes to bake.  She says she does shortbread for even longer at 300°F.

Here are 4 good cookies, two of which are slightly overbaked (30 minutes instead of 25). Even the good cookies sometimes have trouble with the Bard’s right eye and the curl of hair next to it.

Here are three failed cookies. The one on the left has a divot on the top of the head, probably from transferring the cookie to the baking sheet. The top right cookie is missing the curl of hair by the Bard’s right eye—a fragile feature that often gets stuck in the cutter. The bottom right is missing part of the ruff, which broke off when transferring to the cooling rack.

I’ll probably make one more design iteration on the cookie cutter before releasing the design, with two changes:

  • opening up the space by the Bard’s right eye so that cookie dough does not get stuck there so much, and
  • adding some alignment features to the back and handle, so that the handle is more easily glued on.

2019 July 23

Alibaba now open to US companies

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:28
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I saw a BBC article today that announced “Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has opened its doors to US sellers on its oldest platform,”

I wonder whether this is just for wholesale sales, or includes the bidding on contract manufacturing.  For small start-up companies, finding a US manufacturer is often nearly impossible—most manufacturers make it very difficult for new customers to contact them, with unfriendly websites and opaque pricing.  It has been much easier to find Chinese manufacturers, but putting out a request for bids on Alibaba, then having the manufacturers who are interested in such small orders contact you.

My son’s company, Futuristic Lights, did contract manufacturing that way after their first production run, which they had done with the prototyping firm they had been using.  They did have to “qualify” the manufacturers by ordering a small prototyping run, to make sure that the manufacturers had adequate quality control, but even with that extra step the process was much easier than finding a US manufacturer willing to talk to a company that wanted only a few thousand tiny boards.

Since seeing that (about 4 years ago), I’ve had a strong belief that much of the problem with US manufacturing is not with the factories or the labor costs, but with the almost Victorian business infrastructure that relies heavily on word-of-mouth to connect customers and manufacturers.  The Alibaba business-to-business infrastructure seems much more useful for small businesses (including small manufacturers as well as businesses needed small runs of custom fabrication).

I hope that US manufacturers join the Alibaba platform—or a similarly useful platform is developed for US manufacturers.

2019 July 17

3D-printed stage jewelry

The 3D slug heart was my first attempt at 3D-printed jewelry, and I’ve only printed it as a draft in green PLA so far.  I wanted to show the director and props people at WEST Performing Arts the possibility of making stage jewelry with a 3D printer, so I designed a simple diamond pendant that can be put on a chain or a cord:

I’ve been playing around a bit with photographing small objects and adding different backgrounds. Here the pendant was photographed on a white background, the background was erased, and a blue backdrop was added.

Here the gold pendant was photographed on a black, textured background, and the background was blurred to make the diamond look shinier.

The diamond itself is a simple piece of OpenSCAD code:

module triangle(side=1)
// equilateral triangle centered at (0,0), with first vertex in +x direction
{   circle(r=side/sqrt(3), $fn=3);

module rounded_triangle(side=1)
// intersection of three circles, centers at corners of triangle
{    intersection()
    {   translate([side/sqrt(3),0]) circle(r=side,$fn=60);
        translate([-side/(2*sqrt(3)), side/2])  circle(r=side, $fn=60);
        translate([-side/(2*sqrt(3)), -side/2])  circle(r=side, $fn=60);

module beam(side=1, length=3, center=false)
// triangular beam from (0,0,0) to (0,0,length). 
// (0,0,-length/2) to (0,0,length/2) if center is set.
{    linear_extrude(height=length, center=center) triangle(side=side);

module rounded_beam(side=1, length=3, center=false)
// rounded_triangle beam from (0,0,0) to (0,0,length). 
// (0,0,-length/2) to (0,0,length/2) if center is set.
{    linear_extrude(height=length, center=center) rounded_triangle(side=side);

module chopped_beam(x=13.5, y=27, side=20)
// triangular beam from (x,0,0) to (0,y,0), side-wide,
//  sitting on top of x,y plane and staying in 1st quadrant.
// center line of beam directly above (x,0) to (0.y)
    {  cube(abs(x)+abs(y)+side);
       translate([x/2, y/2, side/(2*sqrt(3))]) // slide out and raise
        rotate([0,0,atan2(y,-x)])  // beam parallel to (x,0), (y,0)
         rotate([0,-90,0])  // beam along x-axis
          beam(side=side, center=true, 
            length = 2*(abs(x)+abs(y)+side));
 module diamond(width=50, height=100, side=20, hole=4)
     length = sqrt( height*height + width*width)/2;
     x = width /2 - (length/height) * side;
     y = height/2 - (length/width)*side;
     {    union()
             chopped_beam(x=x, y=y, side=side);
             mirror([0,1,0]) chopped_beam(x=x, y=y, side=side);
             mirror([1,0,0]) chopped_beam(x=x, y=y, side=side);
             mirror([0,1,0]) mirror([1,0,0]) chopped_beam(x=x, y=y, side=side);
         translate([0, y, side/(2*sqrt(3))])
             rounded_beam(side=hole, length=width, center=true);

I made a triangular beam, rotated it into position and chopped it down to a single quadrant, then mirrored it to make the diamond. The hole for the cord or chain is made with a rounded triangle rather than a circle, so that there is no flat spot on top to cause drooping of the filament.

I have released this design on Thingiverse:

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