Success in 3D!

In my last post, I mentioned that my next goal with our 3D printers was to build an object from scratch. The first CAD program I tried was FreeCAD, which is very powerful for an open source product. However, it is about as non-intuitive as any software I’ve ever attempted to learn. I watched a few tutorials on YouTube, and I was able to make a couple of very simple objects, but it is not something my students will have the patience to learn. The next one I looked at was Wings 3D, but it wasn’t suitable for the same reasons.

The third time’s the charm, though, and I settled on TinkerCad, an online CAD program. After I set up my free account, it immediately offered me a very short lesson where I learned how to move objects around on the workplane. After 8 of these brief (and fun) lessons, I was very comfortable with the basic features of the software. Best of all, it is something that my students will be able to learn and use in less than an hour.

I decided to make a compact disc display stand. Using TinkerCAD, I was able to design one in about 45 minutes:


You can specify dimensions to the nearest 0.1 millimeter, so I was interested in seeing how accurately our printer could reproduce the design. TinkerCAD saves your projects on their site, but it also provides you with several options for printing and uploading:


I chose “Download for 3D Printing”, and this dialog popped up:


I saved my design as an .stl file, which is what MakerWare uses to slice the object. It took our MakerBot Replicator2 about 1 hour, 45 minutes to print my CD display stand. Here it is hard at work:

Here is the final result; all the dimensions match the design’s specifications exactly:

CD Stand1

And here it is in action, proudly displaying one of my favorite albums by one of my favorite groups, Big Big Train!

CD Stand2

Things I’ve learned so far: always print your object with a “raft” – a temporary base the printer lays down on the printing plate. When the build is completed, pop your object off the raft, then peel the raft off the printing plate.

Update: I designed a little stand for my iPod Nano:



Here is the printed version:

iPod Stand


Here it is, valiantly supporting my iPod:

iPod Stand3



Let’s Set Aside The Math For A Minute…

…and talk about some music. I haven’t written a music post in a long time; which is probably due to the fact that I don’t buy nearly as much music as I used to. Here are a couple of albums that I recently picked up, though, and have really enjoyed listening to the last few days.

First up: Flying Colors. This is sort of a contemporary prog-rock supergroup. Mike Portnoy is on drums, Steve Morse handles guitar, Neal Morse (no relation) on keyboards and vocals, Dave LaRue does bass, and Casey McPherson is the lead vocalist. Strictly speaking, this isn’t progressive rock, but rather more pop-progressive. Think late-’80s Rush (it’s produced by Peter Collins) meets late-’60s Beatles and late-’70s Kansas. It’s a very enjoyable listen from the first spin, but it’s somewhat superficial compared to the music the members created with their original groups (Dream Theater, Spock’s Beard, Dixie Dregs, etc.)

Next is O.S.I. with Fire Make Thunder. This is Kevin Moore on keyboards and vocals (formerly of Dream Theater), and Jim Matheos on guitar (Fates Warning), assisted by Gavin Harrison on drums (Porcupine Tree). Fire Make Thunder is O.S.I.’s fourth album, following Blood. It’s a great set of songs, and probably my favorite album of the year so far.

Finally, I’ve discovered a new band, Big Big Train, via this excellent blog post. Their website has lots of terrific tracks available for free download. They are the real deal – as good as Close to the Edge-era Yes, or Red-era King Crimson. The Difference Machine and The Underfall Yard are astounding, beautiful albums that reward repeated listens. I haven’t been this impressed with a band in years. They are incredibly generous with downloads – check them out now!

Thanks for staying with me as I went off on a tangent (ha!); I’ll be returning to mathematics on my next post.