Things I Learned About My Ender 3

Things I Learned About My Ender 3

I’m on an Ender 3 support group on Facebook, and nearly all the comments in this group asking for help are from people who did not follow the instructions when doing the setup on their Ender 3’s in the first place. Those who are meticulous about getting the frame absolutely square and the belts as tight as they can get them without binding everything up are getting superior results.

If you’ve just bought an Ender 3, there are a few things you’ll probably want to do or try at some point.

  1. Make sure your frame is square. I’m serious. 90% of the problems you’re likely to have with your prints will derive from not having properly assembled the gantry.

  2. Make sure your bowden tube is properly trimmed (and by this I mean trimmed off exactly square) and then fully inserted into your hot end.  This one error will make your life hell. If you don’t get this exactly right, you’ll get plastic plugs where your filament heats up and jams your bowden tube, requiring you to partially disassemble your hot end and possibly trim back your bowden tube to get past the clog. Having the bowden tube properly trimmed and properly inserted mostly stops this from happening. There are “fixes” to get around the clog problem, but in general they just add additional points of failure and rarely work as well as setting up your bowden tube properly in the first place.

  3. Replace the plastic extruder clamp with a metal one. Some printers have an extruder arm made entirely of plastic. They’re cheap, usually under $20, but the filament tends to saw through the plastic clamps over time. Sooner or later you’ll want to replace it. Newer ones have a brass liner in there that stops the filament from doing that.

  4. If your printer has to live inside, get a silent controller board. This makes your printer so quiet that you’ll have to do an eyeball check to see if it’s still even printing, it’s so quiet. They’re about $40. However, these silent boards can also prevent you from making linear advance calibrations that can improve the quality of your prints, so you may find yourself with a choice of quality versus machine noise while printing.

  5. Print a fan cowling for your CPU box to keep crap from falling into your controller box through the vent fan. Newer Ender 3’s have the vent on the bottom of the controller box, so it’s not a problem – but the older types have the slots on the top. It’s amazing how much crap can fall in there.

  6. Print a muffling fan cowling for your power supply box. This will drop the fan noise made by the machine by half. Be careful – doing a poor job reassembling your fan with its new housing can make it worse, not better.

  7. Order more bowden tube, and more nozzles, and more pneumatic clamps. These things wear out, and after about four to five months of use, they’ll start to screw up your prints. You do not want to be stuck without spare parts if you’re in the middle of a paying print job and something breaks.

  8. Get a glass build plate.  Go to your local dollar store, and buy a cheap 9×9 square picture frame. Take the glass out of it, and throw the rest of the frame away. The picture frame glass is a quarter the weight of the official Creality glass bed and causes far fewer problems with Y-axis ringing due to its much lower inertia. Alternatively, go to IKEA and get a 1′ mirror tile, then go to your local home improvement store and get a glass cutter so you can cut the mirror tile down to the size of your printer’s bed. If you’d rather use the Creality build plate, don’t be afraid to flip it over and use the untextured side. It’ll leave a mirror-smooth bottom surface on your parts!

  9. Don’t use tape on your print bed. Tape is a substitute for proper bed leveling, and solves problems that haven’t existed since the introduction of heated, adjustable beds. The only time you might want to use it is if you’re using something other than PLA in your printer that sticks like mad to your printing surface, such as PETG. The tape will let you remove the part without breaking your glass.

  10. If you’re having particular problems getting your PLA to stick to the glass, try a fine mist of Aquanet. It’s cheap, and compared to fiddling with the bed leveling to get it precise to the last 0.01mm, it’s a fast solution that gets you on your way and printing parts again. Some purists think this is cheating, because you can resolve sticking issues with better bed leveling, but if you have to get the parts out the door, there’s nothing wrong with doing something quick that works so you can get on with your life.

    If it feels stupid, but it works, it’s not stupid.

  11. Buy eSun PLA+ filament for printing. It runs about 10° C hotter than the usual stuff, produces much more precise, clean prints, and costs exactly the same as whatever you’re using.

  12. Don’t grind your filament to death. One of the things that can happen if you try to drive your printer too fast, is that you can exceed the structural integrity of the filament as it passes by the gear in your extruder. If the extruder can’t feed the filament through the print head fast enough, it’ll start digging a hole in the side of the filament at the extruder head, and then you are basically and royally screwed, and your print has failed.

  13. If you think vibration damping is something you need, buy a $5 yogo mat, cut it into 1 foot squares, and put a stack of four or five squares under your printer. It will kill a lot of the noise and vibration your printer makes, and may well improve the quality of your prints.

  14. Make sure your belts are as tight as you can get them. Don’t worry, you won’t break them. Tight belts means more precise motion and better prints.

  15. Experiment with printing at stupidly thin layer heights. I started experimenting with 0.08mm layer heights, and people I show the prints to, even other 3d printer owners, are amazed that these are 3d printed objects.

  16. Special fan housings generally do very little, and on the whole don’t improve print quality enough to bother with. Minor tweaks in your slicer settings usually have a much broader effect.

  17. It is possible for an Ender 3 to not want to print because it’s too cold to start with. If your printer lives in the garage or workshop, as mine does, it’s probably not in a heated environment – and that means that it can get down to under 10°C and chill your temperature sensors to the point where the printer’s firmware thinks something must be broken, and you’ll get a MINTEMP error. You could have a bad thermister, or a bad connection trace to it on the motherboard, or a bad connector, but the first thing to try is just bringing the thing inside and letting it warm up a bit. I did this and once I got the temperature of the printer up above about 8°C, the printer realized its sensors weren’t broken, and it started right up.

  18. Get a Raspberry Pi and load it up with a webcam and Octoprint. Being able to run your printer without having to be in the same room with it is heaven. Being able to move your printer to your garage or workshop is even better.

  19. Having trouble with weird surface artifacts in your prints? Slow down. This is especially true of specialty filaments like silks or silk metallics. They are extremely sensitive to print speed, and what looks like a hopeless print may come out perfectly if you cut the print speed in half.

  20. Have to paint your prints, but don’t like the way the parts smell afterwards? Sometimes the client wants it painted, and it’ll smell bad for quite a while once you do. White vinegar will get the smell out of the painted surfaces while not endangering the finish. Be sure to rinse off the white vinegar, or your parts will smell like vinegar instead of paint.

  21. Don’t bother with vibration damping feet for your printer,or special angled mounting arms for your filament spools. By in large these do nothing but waste your time and materials.

  22. Octoprint suddenly won’t connect to your 3d printer? It could be the USB voltage levels. What’s happening is that it matters what order you connect your printer to your Octoprint device. If you turn on your Raspberry Pi and plug it into your printer before your printer is powered up, the motherboard in the printer will draw just enough power to make the voltage levels required to detect your printer as a USB device too low to actually do the job. 

    The fix is to disconnect the USB cable, power on the Octopi and the printer separately, and once you’re sure the Octopi is booted, then and only then connect the USB cable between the Pi and the Printer. Now the Pi will be able to detect the printer as a USB device, and all will be well.

Check back here periodically. I’ll be updating this list of tips as I go, and you may find out something new you didn’t know before.

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3d Printing Opens Vistas

3d Printing Opens Vistas

September saw the arrival of a new Creality Ender 3 3d printer at the Krypton Radio head office. The intent was to create new things to offer as station swag and perhaps create a new line of bespoke merch, something along the lines of props and costume pieces that people might want to buy from us.

I’ve been having a blast with it, and I’m trying to find new ways to use it that will benefit the company and myself. It’s a new creative tool I can use to bring daydreams into the real world.

The Lightsaber

I’d always wanted one of these, from the first time I saw one in 1977’s Star Wars, but the goal had always been out of reach. I printed one. This is the one carried by Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first Star Wars movie. 3d printers print in layers, so there are layer lines. You just sand the heck out of it and hit it with primer, and you’d never know it was 3d printed.

I’m working on modifying this one to add electronics to it, but I may just go with a completely different design, one that already supports the idea of adding a blade.

Sabacc Gambling Coins

These replica coins from the movie Solo: A Star Wars Story were printed in black PLA, like the light saber, then painted with black primer, then I added Rub’n’Buff. I hand-sewed a bunch of bags and put 18-20 coins in each one, and gave them to friends and family when we went to Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge last month for Life Day on November 18.

My friends and I had a lot of fun giving them to cast members and watching their reactions, which ranged from gratitude to amazement.

I later found out that the Imperial credits were about half-sized, so I’ll be fixing that on future batches, but having bags of these was really something. I looked for a sabacc deck in the shops while I was there, but none of them had the decks in stock.

The Antikythera Mechanism

The Antikythera mechanism  is an ancient Greek analogue computer used to predict astronomical positions and eclipses for calendar and astrological purposes decades in advance. It gets its name from the Greek island off the coast of which the device was found. It was fished out of the sea in 1901, and assumed to be some kind of archeological mistake – it couldn’t possibly be from ancient Greece, could it? They didn’t have computers – or did they?

The largest piece is this one. It’s about eight inches wide, and seven inches tall, something around there. That’s what I’m currently making.

The instrument is believed to have been designed and constructed by Greek scientists, and was made sometime around 70-60 BC. It was housed in a wooden box, about 13.4″x7.1″x3.5″, and they know this because they found bits of the box around it. After conservation, it came apart into 82 separate fragments, four of which contain gears, like this largest piece.

The Antikythera Mechanism originally had at least 30 meshing bronze gears, and up to 37 gear wheels that helped the device keep track of astronomical bodies like Mars, the Sun, and the Moon. It could predict eclipses, and could tell you when the next Olympic Games were going to be. It was extremely accurate as well, correctly reporting subtle variations in the lunar orbit, for example.

The device, housed in the remains of a 34 cm × 18 cm × 9 cm (13.4 in × 7.1 in × 3.5 in) wooden box, was found as one lump, later separated into three main fragments which are now divided into 82 separate fragments after conservation works. Four of these fragments contain gears, while inscriptions are found on many others. The largest gear is approximately 14 centimetres (5.5 in) in diameter and originally had 223 teeth.

All known fragments of the Antikythera mechanism are now kept at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, along with a number of artistic reconstructions and replicas of the mechanism to demonstrate how it may have looked and worked.

My version started as Cosmo Wenman’s rough layout model of it, about the right shape, but with technically accurate placements of the bronze gears and metal features. Wenman’s finished version makes use of a lot of post-printing texturing and paint, but I brought it into ZBrush and added corrosion detail geometry before sending it to my printer, so a lot of the details on mine will be already there when the printing is done. That will will take two and a half full days on my Ender 3 3d printer.

I thought for a while that my version might be too big, but I took a quick measurement of the main gear while it was on the printer, and yeah, it does look like it’s about five and a half inches across, meaning that the size of my replica artifact is probably pretty close to the real thing.

Once it’s done, it gets a little cleanup with a brush to remove tiny filament strings, artifacts of the printing process. Then it gets painted, and I have purchased an artist’s airbrush and compressor for the purpose. Whatever details that didn’t make it into my sculpt I can probably fudge with paint. I figure once I get going it will take about a full day to paint it properly.

The lighting here shows off the printing artifacts on the surface are going to be sanded off. There’s a lot of handwork to go before I can put any paint on this, and only a few days to go before I deliver it.

Rather than sand it all down, I used acrylic sculpting medium instead and just filled in the raster lines from the printing. Then I painted it all flat black, then airbrushed it and added some finishing touches of Rub’n’Buff to make some of the details pop. My airbrush work is – well, I need a ton more practice, let’s put it that way.

Walt Disney

At Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida, there is a sculpture garden decorated with bronzes of famous Disney characters. One of them is a bust of the great man himself. Somebody took a 3d scan of it, and converted it into a geometry file, and being the fan of his work and the man himself as I am, I had to print a copy of it.

One of these days I’m going to print a really big one. The model is actually a lot better than the resolution of my printer can cope with at this size. Still, it’s gorgeous, and I’ve given away three copies of this thing to my Disney-fan friends so far.

I’m sorry you’re not still here, Walt, The world could use you. I’m doing my best to try to follow in your footsteps, but I’m not doing it very well, I’m afraid. I just don’t have the reach you did – but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying. The world needs every bit of magic we can muster.

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Finally, I’m a Director

Finally, I’m a Director

This is not how I thought this was going to go.

My first director’s credit was supposed to happen 30 years ago. That’s how I saw it all happening in my head, anyway. But I quickly found out that unless you’re born into the system at the right level of connectivity, that’s just not going to happen. If you have responsibilities to anyone but yourself, it’s just not in the cards, because you can’t risk letting them down.

And so it went, until I was 61, and I was finally in a position in my life to try something, because at this point I had to try something to move forward because nothing else was working anyway. And what I did was this.

Aphrodite and Ben from ‘Mighty Aphrodite!’

I created an animated web series almost on a whim, using a machinema engine that ran on my phone. We made a Kickstarter, it succeeded, and by the time we’re done we’ll have four animated episodes, about 3 minutes long each.

Gone with the Wind it is not. But it’s real, and it’s mine, and it’s my first producer’s credit, my first writer’s credit, my first director’s credit. As small a project as this thing is, I brought this into being by sheer force of will, and with the help of my wife Susan (without whose support it wouldn’t have been possible, and without whose participation it would have suffered from a character arc standpoint), and my actor and voice actor friends, we made a thing. It’s up on IMDB now, and it gives proper credits to everyone who worked on it.

The thing is, in my 20’s I thought I was going to be a director by the age of 30. I went to film school, graduated from UCLA, concentrated on screenwriting because it was cheaper than paying for all that film lab work, and I had a bunch of friends at the time who were all going into terrible debt paying for their student films. So I got my degree and out into the world I went.

And part of it was because UCLA at the time was not all that great a film school, and part of it was because I lacked the industry connections to make any impression on anybody, but my career foundered after that, and I went into computer programming and game development instead, and it was only after years of that that I finally came back full circle. Computers were now being used to make movies with, and I sort of slipped in the back door while nobody was looking and ended up with some 30 odd film credits. Unfortunately since I was working for an often neglected department in a very large studio, I almost never got screen credit for the work I did.

No matter. I still did the work, I still learned what a world class organization looked like from the inside, I still learned what world class artists and animators did every day and if not in every detail how they did it, at least what they did and where to look things up.

And now my lifelong dream of becoming a director and writer has come to pass, but it’s on the smallest project one could imagine. But it’s a commercial project, for a company – my own company, which I founded – and there’s an IMDB listing.

What more may come of Mighty Aphrodite! The Web Series? I have no idea, but I bet we can make some waves with it once I get the fourth episode done – and then we can release them all as a single piece, a ‘fifth episode’, if you will, which will be a good solid fifteen minutes of animated narrative.

I’m certainly humbled by the entire process. I imagined myself at the helm of much greater projects than this, but starting with literally nothing but an idea, I and my friends made something happen. We moved the needle.

I’ve always wanted a home at the Magic Store. I didn’t anticipate either that I’ve have to build the Magic Store myself, nor that the roof might be made of cardboard.

This year I’m hoping to put some shingles on that roof.

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Mighty Aphrodite: Animating is @#$#@ Hard Work.

Mighty Aphrodite: Animating is @#$#@ Hard Work.

This is probably obvious to everyone reading this, professionals and fans alike, but animation is hard work. I’m learning this the hard way. I’m in the middle of production of my first animated web series Mighty Aphrodite!, and I’m quickly finding out that there are a lot of hidden tasks involved in producing something like this that actually haven’t anything to do with animation at all.

It’s fundraising, yes, but after that it’s writing, and scheduling, and recording voice artists, and editing.

And then it’s design and animation (in my case nearly all the design work was done by somebody else, an artist at the company who makes Plotagon), and then you have to render it all out. It was supposed to be a short little thing, just a few quick inserts to cover things Plotagon couldn’t do.

Ben is holding a box. You can’t do this in Plotagon either.

And then reality hit. Plotagon, as neat as it is, really isn’t suited for dramatic storytelling. Not really. Your actors can stand or sit in interesting settings and talk to each other. And that’s it. No walking through the scene, no getting up or sitting down as a motion, no carrying anything, no hand props (unless you count a cell phone welded to their hand), no running, no falling down, no dancing (unless you count dancing in place doing a weird sort of Austin Powers dance move). Even something as simple as a character handing a bag of coins to another character requires special animation.

So, you do your best, and you light everything, and render it out, and then you discover that you haven’t checked your scene well enough before sending it to the render queue, and you’ve just wasted $100 of render farm resources, and you didn’t have it to spare. Vowing not to waste any more money, you render it on the one machine you have, and 216 frames takes 3.5 days. So you’re now trading dollars for time.

Aphrodite standing up from a seated position. You absolutely positively cannot do this in Plotagon.

Some people use a game engine to produce their animation. Some animate straight up in Blender, or Maya. I’m doing a hybridized approach, animating using something similar to a game engine, and then padding out its capabilities when I hit something in the script that I need to do that it can’t do. The next result is that, at most, I have to hand animate perhaps 500 frames out of the some 8000 frames that comprise the episode, which is an enormous savings of time and effort. I only have to animate about 6% of the completed episode, and while that sounds great, and it means my production costs are $300 to $400 per episode instead of $25,000, it’s still a daunting, soul sucking amount of work. The production literally owns you until it’s done.

So far my damned project is about four months behind schedule. Thank God my backers are all behind me and being patient. But boy, lesson learned. An errant line in a script can mean weeks of extra expense and production effort. I’m so looking forward to finishing this episode, so I can get to work on the next two. This is a story that needs to be told, and we need significantly more money than I got on the first Kickstarter to make it not painful to produce the next batch of episodes.

The payoff, though, should be pretty huge. I’m using Plotagon to save me 95% of my production costs and time, at least, but it’s something that isn’t likely to be spawning a hoard of imitators. My show is going to set some records, and hopefully be greater than the sum of its parts.

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Who Watches the Watchmen?

Who Watches the Watchmen?

I wrote this piece a number of years ago. Since then, I have been made Top Writer on Quora for 2018, and this kind of piece I think is one of the reasons why they did that.


Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The phrase is Latin, and is literally translated as “Who will guard the guards themselves?”

In other words, “Who watches the watchmen?” I have encountered this for years, and I finally figured out the answer to that question.

And it’s a real answer.

The real answer to “Who Watches the Watchmen?” is, “We watch ourselves. We are answerable to our own conscience, ethics, morals and sense of duty. We can trust no one else’s more than our own.”

And that implies that we are being asked to follow somebody else’s ethics and morals without questioning them, and that’s exactly what we’re being asked to do by those very people who ask “Who watches the watchmen?” What they’re implicitly saying is that our own judgment should give way to theirs.

This argument is almost always used not in the search for truth, but in the obstruction of it. It introduces a self-referential logical conundrum that cannot be solved, thereby stopping any reasonable discourse in its tracks. By attempting to declare that there is no clear acceptable answer, the speaker implies that the opponents are intrinsically wrong, and this is a logical fallacy. An unknown solution does not imply incorrect action. It’s basically a false dilemma fallacy, similar to a loaded question such as “Have you stopped beating your wife?” or “Are you going to admit that you’re wrong?”

Those who stand up for the good, the innocent, the right and the just are often publicly attacked by those seek to set themselves on a throne and tell others how to think, feel and act — or worse, seek simply to do society harm and not be caught at it.

The next time you hear someone ask “who watches the watchmen”, think about why they’re really asking this. The answers may surprise you.