Sturdley's Magical Mystical Blog

Musings on life, liberty, and the pursuit of derpiness.

Category Archives: Geekery

Now in 3D (Part 4)

This is the fourth and final installment of Sturdley’s misadventures in building a 3D printer.  See here for the entire series.  Last time I was experiencing power supply-related shenanigans and awaiting arrival of a 12V supply from the internets.  The new supply was delayed several days due to weather.  During the wait, I took the opportunity to measure the extruder rate and level the print bed.  Once the supply was delivered, I took a brief 10 minutes to wire it up to the printer only to run into more problems with the electrical outlet near my workbench.  Now I have had a new circuit installed just for the workbench, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that the power lines running to my house do not spontaneously combust.


Once the power situation was resolved, I loaded up the test cube for printing.  The 1 inch cube took about an hour and 45 minutes.  I followed this up with a different test pattern, a stair-step pattern that ran for about an hour.  Both objects came out quite nicely.  The stair-step pattern measurements were quite close to the 3D model.  I printed a standard Lego block, but there were issues fitting with the real thing, and it lost one of the “round things” (studs – I had to look it up) on top after separating the pieces.  I have since printed several other items: a squirrel, some brackets for a wall-mounted filament holder (they were insufficiently strong for the job), a knob for the printer, some spacers for the Z-axis threaded rods (no more vibrating against the wood frame!), a copy of Greg’s accessible extruder, a tardis, a star trek communicator, and more test patterns.  Most of these objects are available on Thingiverse, by the way.

In the process of printing stuff, I noticed some printer issues that required attention.  The Y-axis belt was skewed resulting in the edge rubbing against the pulley on one end and the wood frame on the other end.  It was also a bit too tight.  Reversing the pulley on the motor and loosening the belt tension drastically reduced the friction and noise.  The stepper motors are running quite hot, and the extruder gears seem to be wearing a good deal faster than I expected (good thing I already have a backup printed).  These things are rather minor, however, and easily fixed.

Then last night I ran into a new issue with – you guessed it – the power supply.  The 12V supply that had been working so well for 2 weeks developed a slight buzzing sound and an inability to hold a voltage.  It’s still within the return period (and unlike the ATX supply did not necessitate cutting parts off, voiding the warranty) so it is on its way back to whence it came and a new one scheduled to arrive later this week.  At this time, I would like to request that if any of my readers have influence with the gods of electromagnetism that you please intervene on my behalf.  My sanity is at stake.

All told, I am exceedingly happy with this printer.   The prints were coming out great from day one, and almost every problem I encountered was the result of my own actions or simple bad luck.

Now in 3D (Part 3)

This is part 3 of my MakerFarm 8” Prusa i3 build progress, see here for previous posts.  Last time I covered the final frame assembly.  This update is focused on the electronics installation and testing.  As an aside, I went to the local Home Depot to pick up my glass only to find out that they will not cut it for me.  Derp.  I bought a few 8×10 pieces anyway; I’ll only need to lop off one side.

Before I start running wires, I need to assemble the hot end and extruder.  These will then be installed on the X Carriage.

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Hot End

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Extruder with Hot End

Next up, I need to do a quick solder job on the three end-stop switches.  I will also attach the thermistor to the underside of the heated bed, and then attach the bed to the frame.  The last electronic component to install is the RAMPS board, which mounts onto the right side of the frame.  So I will run all the wiring over to this location using the convenient wire guides, and after checking that everything works I can gather up all the loose wires with some strategically placed cable ties.

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With all the wiring hooked up, it is time to test.  Aside from a little user error with the end stop switches, everything seems to function properly.  The motors move when instructed and in the correct direction, the switches are detected properly, and the extruder extrudes!

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Complete Printer

Here you see the fully assembled printer with cables tied back and loaded with a bit of filament for testing the extruder.  My plan was to follow up the extruder test with a test print, but the electrical demands of the printer (along with who knows what else on the same circuit in my 90-year old house) were too great and I tripped a breaker.  Since this was at 10:15 PM on a weeknight, it was a clear signal that it was time to stop for the night.  Added to the to-do list: put in a dedicated breaker and outlet for my workbench.

My plans were foiled again the next evening when I encountered some issues with the power supply.  Specifically that it is not able to provide sufficient current without tripping an internal shutdown.  Rather than messing with it (I’ll shelve it for use on a less demanding project), I ordered a real 12V supply, which should arrive in a few days.  In the meantime, I will work on some of the calibrations that can be done under limited power.

Next time I will have an update on the calibration and test print(s), possibly with some video of the machine in action.

Now in 3D (Part 2)

This is part two of my build progress.  See part one here.

Last time I finished the X-Axis.  Next up is the Y-Axis, which includes the frame.

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Y Idler

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LCD Interface

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The frame is the first part to give me any real trouble.  I had to adjust the backplate on the bottom of the frame three times, mainly because I kept not paying close enough attention each time I changed it.  Eventually I got it right…

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Y Bed 

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Frame with X, Y, Z axis installed

This last photo is my current progress.  I still have all of the electronics to wire up, followed by testing and calibration.  I have to say that so far assembly has gone quite smoothly.  A few spots where things fit a bit tight, but nothing that a little appropriately-placed squeezing couldn’t fix.  I also need to take the time to stop at the hardware store for my glass.

More to come…

Now in 3D

The latest gizmo that has captured my attention is the 3D printer.  For those that are absolutely clueless, it is a machine that “prints” small objects, usually plastic, by depositing layer upon layer of extruded material.  Some of the objects that can be created are quite complex.

I started looking at commercially produced units, which are quite nice, but the price tag is too steep.  Then I found RepRap.  Thank you open source movement!  I spent a few days reading through the material and forums, until I settled on building a Prusa Mendel model.  The main advantage with this model is the low cost; estimates put the price tag from $400 to $600 depending on how you source parts and what is included in the build.

I was not looking forward to the time-consuming effort of hunting down parts myself so I decided to buy an assemble-it-yourself kit.  I’ll get the satisfaction of building the printer without the headache of supply chain logistics (I’ve dealt with enough of that at work, thank you very much.)  Based on a plethora of good reviews and praise for the company owner, I decided on a kit from MakerFarm, the 8” Prusa i3.

The box arrived the other day.  Unpacked and sorted a bit, the kit looks like this:

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MakerFarm 8″ Prusa i3 Kit (power supply not included)

I am following the MakerFarm build instructions and videos.  The X Carriage and X Idler assemblies went together quite easily.  After assembling the X Motor assembly and started on connecting these parts into the X Axis, I noticed my allen wrenches were somewhere I could not find.  I did the best I could with the available tools and called it a night.  Tomorrow will include a quick trip to the shop before continuing the build.

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X Carriage

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X Idler

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X Motor

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X Axis Assembly

To be continued…

Who is Fifty

As a life-long Sci-Fi fan, I came to the Doctor Who party quite late. A friend had been watching the new series for a while and repeatedly tried to get me interested. I did try watching at one point, but the Slitheen family stopped me in my tracks. My wife took to watching episodes during my WoW raids and I found myself having difficulty paying attention to the game. That was in 2012; now I am not only fully hooked, I am caught up on the new series and have been watching the old series (almost to the end of the Pertwee years).

Just in time, too. The 50th anniversary year is shaping up to be quite a thing. Series 7 included quite a few little reminders from the old series, whether it was returning monsters or just something mentioned in the dialogue. The season ender came with a surprise lead-in for the 50th anniversary special episode: John Hurt as The Doctor. Trailers came out last week and pretty much confirmed that the Time War is part of the story. We also got a special treat with a mini-episode showing the last minutes of the 8th doctor and his regeneration into Hurt’s Doctor.

With all the rumors, secrets, deceptions and denials about who is involved and what will happen, I am still not sure what to expect come Saturday except that it will be new and exciting.

“I won dungeons and dragons… and it was advanced!”


I got to play (er, DM) some Dungeons and Dragons this past weekend.  I really don’t get to play that often, this was my second game session this year.  When I do play, I always thoroughly enjoy it.  I also tend to go a little crazy in the days and weeks following.  Out comes the big file box and the computer to organize things or come up with the next adventure.  This time, it was my quick reference materials that snagged my attention.  My current setup consists of hand-written 3×5 index cards to keep track of initiative and conditions, half-sheet cards for monster stats, odd-shaped cards with basic PC stats, and the adventure.  My solution was to combine the first three on 4×6 single index cards.  Here is the near-final design of the front side:



The opposite side contains the remaining abilities, skills, and equipment.  I can arrange the cards overlapping each other with the left-column visible on each card and have the most critical numbers visible and in order of initiative.  There is space to keep note of initiative, hp, and conditions.  Monster cards are green, PC cards are blue, and trap cards are red.

Now I need another session to figure out how this system will fail.

Upgrade Your Balls

Support a good cause and get yourself some liberty balls.
I’m upgrading mine, even expanding to a larger set. The best part? These ones are safe to display at work!

Operation Monopoly

congress re-election rates

I’ve been a long-time off-and-on World of Warcraft player.  Some years ago, I was an officer in a guild that found itself with a significant member-bloat problem (get your mind out of the gutter).  Our guild leader came up with a fun (for us) solution to thin the ranks: Operation Monopoly.  The joke was that when asked your favorite Monopoly piece, the correct answer was the boot, as in booted from the guild.

Us officers scoured the list of guild members and marked the select few we deemed “good people” with the rest unknowingly destined for guild recruitment pleas in trade chat.  Our guild leader set up a script to automagically boot everyone marked for ejection.  I was not online at the time it was run, but I hear it was a thing to behold: 100+ people booted from the guild within seconds immediately followed by confusion and bewilderment from those left behind.

My reason for telling this story is not to wax nostalgic about managing a group of pixel mutilators, but to suggest some similarly creative solutions be applied to our government.  I present to you now three poorly thought out ideas for creative governance in desperate need of refinement:

Operation Monopoly: Once a year, a number of registered voters are randomly selected from each state and cast a vote whether to boot the senators and representatives in their state.  A simple 50% or higher boot vote shall result in unceremonious and immediate expulsion through the front door of the Capitol along with the contents of their desk.

Survivor:  Upon every congressional recess, instead of travelling back to their home districts for schmoozing and pandering, all members of congress must instead participate in a series of elimination challenges inspired by the TV series.  Only the last remaining person retains their seat, the rest must snuff their torch, say a tear-filled goodbye, and leave the island.  Willing to entertain suggestions of other reality TV themes, but any suggestion that these clowns either dance or sing are right out.

Hollywood:  A la Mars Attacks or Independence Day.  One downside to this approach is the amount of cleanup and rebuilding required afterward.  This one may need to wait until the perfection of vaporization technology, you know, to keep costs down.

Of course each event would be available for viewing live on Pay-per-View or online at the low, low price of $49.99, with the proceeds put toward paying down the national debt.  Reruns of the prior events will be auctioned for syndication.  Be sure to write your congressman in support of your favored plan!


In the days before the Internet we had Bulletin Board Systems (BBS).  If you are not familiar, a BBS functioned more or less like a web site does today but on a much smaller scale (a few hundred users for most boards) and with far less sophistication in terms of presentation (text or simple, blocky graphics with about 16 color options).  Each system operator (sysop) had to supply a computer with modem(s), software licenses, at least one phone line, loads of personal time, and an excess of sugary, caffeinated beverages.  A typical BBS would contain multiple discussion boards, private messaging, file downloads, and a few online games.

renegade bbs

I regularly visited a few systems during my early high school days; among them Woody’s Nest and The Jungle.  I don’t really recall many other names.  There were some good times, mostly playing the games.  BRE was the king of online games at that time for me.  Not only did you play against other people on the same BBS, but it was possible for games to span several boards.


I recall at one point, a few of the local boards organized a barbeque gathering at one of the nearby state parks.  I went with several of my friends, though I think we mostly kept to ourselves to people-watch, and left after finding the nerdy old adults to be quite boring.

While in high school, I ran my own board on a very slow and clunky PC: an 8086 with a 2400 baud modem IIRC, substandard even for that time.  It was a fun experience, and an enlightening view into the tightly-knit community of other sysops.  One particularly nice fellow logged in out of the blue about a week after I started the board to upload a staggeringly impressive piece of ANSI art for me to use as the login page.  I still wish I had a copy of that file.

After being up and running for a few weeks, I went on a family vacation leaving two of my friends in charge of the system.  Upon returning home about a week later, I found the PC completely locked up with a Pac-man game frozen on the screen.  Apparently, teenage mischief combined with a gross lack of understanding about finer points of BBS software led to this.  After a few WTF phone calls, I made some updates to criteria for selecting the help and promptly reduced their access level.

The board did not survive after a hard drive failure took it down in another month or two.  Having recently obtained an actual internet connection, its fate was pretty much sealed as there was a much bigger world to explore (and only one phone line).  Also, I did not have a backup (pro-tip: always keep a backup).

While the rapid spread of the internet did have an impact on the BBS community, it did not completely demolish the format.  There are still a number of systems running, though now on the internet instead of over phone modems (for the most part).  Most of the world, however, moved on to web-based forums/blogs, peer-to-peer downloading, e-mail, and MMO games.  This is not a bad thing, IMO, as much of the limitations and frustrations of the BBS were eliminated in favor of newer, better limitations and frustrations of the Internet.  Still, it is sometimes fun to think back on how different things were.