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. If you don’t, 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. 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.

  4. 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.

  6. Print a muffling fan cowling for your power supply box. This will drop the fan noise made by the machine by half.

  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, and by this I mean 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. 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. 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 can help a bit with bridging, but generally speaking, they don’t improve print quality very much and are probably not worth the effort.

  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.

  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? 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 trying to print vibration damping feet, special angled mounting arms for your filament spools. By in large these do nothing but waste your time.

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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Facebook Lied to Us

Facebook Lied to Us

If you were like us, and spend thousands of dollars growing your Facebook page follower base, thinking that this would give you a big loud voice, congratulations, you have been suckered by the ultimate bait and switch, and you have no recourse but to vote with your feet. Facebook grossly misrepresented the benefits of growing your following on their platform, and teaming multitudes of small businesses were deceived into thinking that this was going to do them some long term good. Then Facebook pulled the rug out and removed the thing we thought we were all paying for: access to our own fans. Honestly, there should be a class action suit against Facebook for this, and I hope somebody does it.
The free ride is officially over. Small business owners and charities are the losers, pushed out by big media, penis pills, bait and switch scams and fake wrist watch ads. This is Facebook now.

Small businesses can still post, still have discussion groups and pages, but distribution of what’s posted in them has now been throttled back to about 1% of what it was five years ago.

You hear people complaining about this a lot, and then everyone says, “but Facebook is still your best option for reaching prospective customers”.

And it is – but only if you can spend hundreds to thousands of dollars a month on advertising, and only if you have a product or service that has such a high profit margin that you can afford to set that much aside for advertising. Most, if not all, of the small businesses operating on Facebook, in pop media or geek culture or otherwise, do not fall into this category. Many barely eek out an existence, making just enough in a month to allow them to keep doing it next month.

So what do we do NOW?

I’ve been studying this a while, and the alternatives are Twitter, and Instagram, and possibly Pinterest. And before you ask, yes, Tumblr has a wide following, but people using it for marketing don’t do well. It’s used mostly by kids, and most of them don’t have discretionary income.

Twitter is used by about a quarter of all adults on the internet. Instagram is used mostly in the United States for some reason, but has a huge following as well – but the drawback with each of these is that you can only reach the people who directly subscribe to you. Getting them to do that is an agonizingly slow process unless – you guessed it – you pay for advertising.

Yes, you now have a new problem to solve – how to grow your social media following outside of Facebook with no advertising budget. The harsh truth is that you can exchange money for time, you can either build it too slow to matter but cheap, or fast and more expensive than you can afford, but there is now no third option.

You’re going to have to figure out where your balance point is between cheap and fast, and it’s going to take a chunk out of your profits if you have any to start with. The sooner you wrap your brain around that fact, the sooner you can get over the shock and begin to deal with the new reality.

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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Forcing Centovacast to work with SSL

Forcing Centovacast to work with SSL

Starting with What Made Sense

So the Krypton Radio web site has to go full SSL now because most modern web browsers (read “Google Chrome”) won’t let people visit without warning them that your web site will slay your children in their sleep if you don’t have an SSL certificate on it.

This is frankly just Google messing with our heads, for the most part. A site that does not handle money shouldn’t have to worry about this. All the monetary things we need to do are handled by external sites that actually are secure. But I digress.

So our first assumption was that we could just buy a cert from secureserver.net, install it on Centova, Icecast and our main web server and we were probably good to go.

And then everything collapsed.

What We Did First

I went to create our private key and Certificate Signing Request. After a few tries, I finally was able to use CPanel to generate this, adding in wildcard domains for every domain we wanted to cover. This is a completely legal thing, and you can buy one certificate to handle as many domains as you want. 

If you actually buy it through CPanel, though, you can’t. It’s one domain per cert, and $30 per cert. Buying it through your registrar, though, is a lot cheaper.  If you own ten domains, you can easily spend a bundle doing this, and there’s literally no reason for it. Shall we spend 10% of the cost Cpanel wants us to spend?

Yes. Yes we shall.

Mind you, the only reason we’re doing that is that when we started all this there was no such things as Let’s Encrypt, which is a free secure certificate signing company.

The only catch to certificates you get from Let’s Encrypt is that the certificates expire after 90 days, so it’s kind of a problem if you want to use them with a mail server. Every three months your users will have to accept a new SSL certificate to get their email, and trust me, it wigs them out. Most people can barely operate the send button.

That Utterly Failed

No matter what we did with the certificates supplied to us by secureserver.net, Centovacast hated them. The installation script provided by Centova (your installation will tell you that the script lives at /usr/local/centovacast/sbin/setssl) just barfs on it every time. 

The instructions provided by Centova say to get Apache credentials. This is wrong. You need credentials for something, but whatever it is, it wants a .pem file, and whatever is supposed to be IN that .pem file isn’t documented.

If you can get a .pem file, great – otherwise, you’ll have to do a massive workaround.

The Icecast Connection

So that’s when we figured out that Icecast, the Centova main panel , and WordPress all needed to be set up with certificates, and that not all of them were going to be able to use the same ones.

Here’s the instructions I found on how to do that for Icecast.

Note with particular attention that they’re talking about putting the private key, the public key, and the authority chain all in one file. I found a BBS topic on how this should be done, specifically with Let’s Encrypt.

(By the way, the whole point of a private key is that it’s supposed to be private. Why are they asking you to do this??)

The Centovacast Connection

I never got the certs I bought working with Centovacast, and self-signing isn’t an option, so I went ahead and asked the Centova Utility  at /usr/local/centovacast/sbin/setssl to create the certs for me using Let’s Encrypt.

To do that, you need to set up a directory alias on a web server on the same domain as Centovacast to serve up the validation files Let’s Encrypt needs to prove that you’re who you say you are.

The instructions say to use a specific block of code to define the directory alias that points to where those validation files are held on the server, but it says nothing about where in your Apache file to put them.

You’re going to need to set up your aliased directory so that the same domain that handles your Centova server is being served as a regular domain or subdomain on port 80, which is the standard port for serving web pages.

In my case, I had a subdirectory called ‘station’. I had to create a server alias so that that subdomain was included in the list of other servers my main vhost listing handles for me, so that my Centovacast subdomain and my main one are really being handled by the same vhost. This saved me from having to set up a complete separate vhost just to handle this one fricking problem.

It also gives the incorrect code to insert in the first place. Forget what they say in their article. Here’s the correct code:

Alias /.well-known/acme-challenge /usr/local/centovacast/etc/ssl/acme-challenges

<Directory “/usr/local/centovacast/etc/ssl/acme-challenges”>
Options Indexes
AllowOverride None
Order allow,deny
Allow from all
Require all granted

# Apache 2.x
<IfModule !mod_authz_core.c>
Order allow,deny
Allow from all
</IfModule>

# Apache 2.4
<IfModule mod_authz_core.c>
Order allow,deny
Require all granted
</IfModule>
</Directory>

Big question: Regarding the ‘setssl’ utility, why put broken code in a utility, and then write documentation that pretends it works? Again?

Centova is notorious for this.

When we fixed all of the above basic configuration with the Apache server to satisfy the needs of LetsEncrypt, we found that the setssl script was changing permissions on the target file folder such that it would return a 403 error. 

That’s right, the Centova utility script that installs the certificate intentionally breaks the process so that it can’t finish.

Insert the change in the chmod instruction that alters it from 750 to 755.

Change both of them or ‘setssl’ crashes and burns.

For some reason this bug has been in there forever, and Centova’s never fixed it:

if [ ! -e “$challengepath” ]; then
      mkdir -p “$challengepath”
fi

chown root.centovacast “$challengepath”
chmod 0755 “$challengepath”

testcontent=”test-$(date +%s).$$”
testfilename=”${testcontent}.txt”
echo “$testcontent” > “$challengepath/$testfilename”
chown root.centovacast “$challengepath/$testfilename”
chmod 0755 “$challengepath/$testfilename”

Once I patched my copy, I set the file permissions on it so that future Centova updates couldn’t revert my changes, like they did the last three times.

You’re Not Out of the Woods Yet

It’s not enough to get Centova itself running on an SSL certificate. Now you have to get IceCast itself working with SSL, which for some reason is a separate task, and any attempt to link to an unsecured stream from a secured site will make web browsers claim your site is not secure, thereby defeating the whole point of having a certificate in the first place.

So the trick here is, you will probably have to create a new listen socket beyond your default. Centova, by default, set you up on port 8000. I had to create a new secure port, so I moved it well up out of the way, on port 8080. All the mount points are available on both ports, but you can’t have one port be both secured and unsecured.

Your Icecast config isn’t called icecast.xml in a Centova installation. It’s called server.conf, and it’s also in a nonstandard location, which is /usr/local/var/vhosts/<your station name>/etc/server.conf.

Here are the listen socket sections from my server.conf.  It’s the top one you’re looking at. The bottom one is the default definition, and the top one is the secure one. Centova does not support the direct creation of secure listen sockets, so you have to hack this by hand.

<listen-socket>
<port>8080</port>
<ssl>1</ssl>
</listen-socket>

<listen-socket>
<port>8000</port>
</listen-socket>

Last Step

Once this is done, you can go to the Centova interface and reload the server, and it will inhale the new settings. You can test them to make sure it worked by going to https://<yourdomain>:8080 and seeing if it loads. If it doesn’t, you’re still broken, but if it does, congratulations, you now have a secure stream on your internet radio station’s business end!

Except that that doesn’t quite do it.

So it’s /usr/local/letsencrypt/letsencrypt-auto renew,

then rebuild your Icecast PEM file, then use your modified setssl script:

/usr/local/centovacast/sbin/setssl letsencrypt <your domain name>

and then after all that, you have to both restart centova, and then stop your Icecast instance completely and restart it before Icecast will use the new certificate.

Now you’re done.

What a fricking ordeal.

 

 

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.