Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Considering a Software Change

I haven’t been adding new products to my Shapeways store for a while as I’m trying to fix models that have been messed up by changing material specifications.  This has lead me to a troubling realization.
Trimble Sketchup is going downhill fast.

I’ve been a big proponent of the software for a long time. When I started doing 3d modeling I was pretty convinced it was the best thing since sliced bread.  Its learning curve was very low as most of its tools made clear ideological sense coming from a 2d design background.  It’s overall functionality was low but extensibility meant that the community presented easy solutions to functionality it lacked.  It was over all stable until you tried to something that was absurdly complex (billion triangle models suck in any application).  And above all its community was very helpful to new comers this was extremely helpful for preventing overwhelming oneself with self-created problems.

In the 4 years since I started using sketchup to model miniatures I’ve gotten much more skilled with my modeling.  I can now do what I once did much faster and more efficiently making it possible to avoid many pit falls I once ran into that wasted my time and efforts.  I know how to make models water tight the first time rather than use 3rd party software to achieve the same result. I no longer need to rely on geometric shapes when I can craft semi-organic forms from scratch in half the time.  In the end I’m just better at doing what I once did without hassle.

The trouble is that in those 4 years Sketchup hasn’t evolved.  It has gone from version 8 to 2013 (v9) and no significant changes has occurred.  Small annoyances like my toolbars staying in place have been fixed and the total zoom level has been improved.  But the core is exactly the same.  It can’t open or import any new file types.  Important functions added by outside plugins such as auto-softening, solid solving, and complex 3d shapes haven’t been addressed by the actual design team.  The ruby api used by Sketchup is dated and grows more so every day.  The community which was once so supportive seems divided and bitter with half lamenting the new direction of the software and the other half lamenting anyone lamenting the software.  Sketchup is even still a 32 bit application.  I own 7 computers and everyone is a 64 bit machine, hell my phone is 64 bit.  I have 16gigs of ram in my desktop and can’t use it when working in sketchup’s 3d environment but can when working in photoshop’s 2d environment.

Perhaps the biggest reason I am growing increasingly morose about sketchup is how slow it has gotten.  I did a test. On my desktop, with that 16 gigs of ram and a 3.4gig quad core processor I installed an old copy of Sketchup 6, another install of Sketchup 8, and finally Sketchup 2013m2. I installed no plugins. Then with no other programs running I loaded a new file into each one and saved it.  Then one at a time I rebooted, loaded a version of sketchup and opened the completely empty file I had just saved, doing so I timed how long it took to actually open the blank file.  I did this 15 times each.  On average the fastest was Sketchup 6.  The oldest version loaded the quickest at 3.5 seconds.  Followed by sketchup 8 at 5.2 seconds. And finally the newest version of sketchup at 13.8 seconds.  I know, 13 seconds isn’t a drastic hit on the surface but that’s an empty file.  Do the same with a big file you have geometry in.  I am regularly wait a minutes for files to load.  And that’s just opening, it took 63 minutes to import a model I was working on from Sculptris.  The same model took 36 minutes to import in Sketchup 8.  Twice as long.  Twice.  God that was boring to time too. No wonder I don’t want to do that on my lunch break anymore.

I want to find an alternative to sketchup but there aren’t a lot of those out there.  Yes there are softwares that compete with sketchup but not a lot that are what I’m looking for.  Firstly: Cost, in the long run cost is an issue this is a hobby and I don’t have unlimited funds so I need low or reasonable prices (for the companies that read this I mean it needs to cost less than a whole paycheck).  Secondly: usability, software interfaces should be designed for ease of use not overwhelming to a new or seasoned user (it should be like getting into a car each one is different but you can recognize the damned steering wheel).  Thirdly: Interoperability,  3d modeling requires a bunch of transferring files about to deal with different types of modeling and testing models etc that means you need compatibility with a lot of formats or one major universal format (this doesn’t include STL, stl files are final output and lose all the stuff like scaling and surface directions and important stuff like that).  And lastly: Expediency, software should work quickly with as little hassle to the end user as possible (this seems obvious but a lot of software especially cloud based ones seem to forget this in favor of being proprietary or cutting edge when unnecessary).

The usual answer I get suggested is Blender.  First let me say frankly I consider Blender a bad piece of software.  Oh it works, it does… stuff. But it doesn’t do it in any way that is remotely intuitive.  You can’t just sit down and use Blender.  You have to watch a tutorial, you must take a class, you need to read a book, etc.  Sure there are a lot of extensions and that add compatibility but over all its clunky and I find it slow.  It gives me headaches because anything I want to do with it is hidden behind a different interface I have to find then figure out how to access and is generally not what I wanted in the first place because I don’t know what terminology the blender community has made up to cover what I’m actually doing.

Then someone will mention all those cloud base services like 3d Tin, Tinkercad, or Insight3d.  there are literally a hundred of these things. But they all are limited in the scope of what they import and export and even if they could import just about anything it takes forever to upload files to a server most days where I live.  Having to import/export 15 times as I’ve done with some models would waste 2 hours on its own.  There is also the iffy-ness with end user licensing on some of those sites.  They usually get the rights to use your files as examples and frankly that’s a pretty big violation of my ideas on intellectual property laws, I should have to give away something I designed just for the privilege of using someone’s halfhearted software service to design it.  All these cloud services are really just trying to cash in on the idea of software as a service but SaaS is only of value if the service they provide is wanted, I don’t want to be limited to their file types and browser window layouts, and lack of extensions, etc.  They are con-jobs with no real value unlike larger services like Office 365 which gives you more value for your buck.  There are also a lot of these services who restrict use based on commercial vs personal use which I find patently ridiculous.  If I am given a truck for free it doesn’t change its value if I use it to drive to the grocery store or if I use it to ship sheetrock back and forth to job sites.  It’s still a truck, a tool to do with as I will, IE its mine regardless of how they want to play with it.  This is particularly annoying with autodesk’s 123D tools which they want to sell you under a “Premium membership” for 120 dollars a year so you can sell your own creativity.  Guess what, can’t guarantee I make 120 dollars a year on 3d models so why would I pay you?

So what am I considering? Well the list is below.

Metasequoia4 – interesting, the interface looks decent enough, I’m going to test it out but the 150 dollar price tag for the functions I might use regularly (unit display, measure thicknesses, and FBX import/export) might be a deal breaker if the interface isn’t good enough.

ArchiCad 17 – I’ve been told the interface is well structured.  It’s foremost an architectural tool but has 3d design options. I might try this out. Again the price is high, a little to high for my tastes but I’ll let it try and blow me out of the water.

Moment of Inspiration 3d – a design based software focused on ease of use for the artist.  A good idea I’d like to try it out and see how user friendly it is.  Price is 295 for the full version so its out of my general price range (if I can’t justify 120 bucks 295 is out of the question).

Hexigon 2.5 – I’ve actually owned this software for about a year.  It was given away by Daz so I jumped on the download but never installed it. I’d like to try it out see how the interface is. Free is always a good but it’s likely designed for a more technical user base.

Silo 3d – someone raved about the interface of silo so I should probably give it a try.  Its relatively affordable at 100 bucks at the moment (usually 150 so not terrible).  Not sure what formats it supports or modeling tools it has, it talks about switching between “organic and edge” based modeling.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Updates

Well now it has been a while hasn't it.

I find myself waxing nostalgic and I remembered I was once a blogger among my many other hobbies. Since the middle of October maybe before I’ve been pretty heavily occupied.   It started of course with several commissions from fairly large miniatures manufacturers. But it quickly escalated as December, the holidays, and my wedding day arrived.

At this point I haven’t worked on my models in months which saddens me.  I’m also sad that some of the commission work I’ve done hasn’t actually been released yet. In particular the defense lines from Chapter House’s kickstarter which were an extensive product I’m proud of.  Still I am not in control of that stuff so I shouldn’t let it bug me.

I’ve had a lot of requests for different designs, mostly space marine bits. I’ll fill these in bit by bit as I get the chance.  My work schedule has imploded due to layoffs so my free time is not what it was.  But I still enjoy this part of the hobby. Truthfully I think the 3d modeling and printing is more fulfilling than playing 40k for me since 6th edition launched. I’d personally like to go off on a rant about how GW’s hodge podge releases are killing the game or how their disguising the price hikes as mini-rereleases sickens me but truthfully my vested interest is pretty much at an end.  I can’t really feel angry at Games Workshop for their business plan anymore, it’s just, sad.

But all that is unimportant when we are talking about 3d printing miniatures.

I’d like to firstly say I get way to many “copy this” requests.  I think I’ve become a magnet for such requests because my big starting project was space marine shoulder pads which are arguably copied designs. (I disagree by definition the addition of any amount of creativity makes things unique designs and I believe I had done that, but I digress).  My point here is I’m going to have to be more discriminatory on this issue.  Companies like Games Workshop are being more restrictive on such issues but even companies that make real world products would have recourse for legal action on the issue if they cared.  Mainly I’m inclined to lean towards simply producing original designs or variants with high degrees of originality. People are free to request anything they want but I encourage you to also consider that I’m free to refuse requests as well.

Secondly I get a lot and I mean a lot of requests for pictures of my products.  I’ve been pretty torn on this issue for a long time.  I have had these requests pretty much from day one on Shapeways.  On the one hand I agree it’s a bit miss leading to put up digital images of a product to be ordered in print.  On the other hand I’ve said before I don’t have a camera that will take good miniatures photos.  There is something bigger at work here though.  Put simply I don’t have time or money enough to order prints of every single product.  And many things I wouldn’t order prints of even if I had all the money in the world.  I don’t want copies of everyone’s custom shoulder pads and I don’t have the need for 500 swords. Even further beyond that is simply I don’t want to take a thousand photos.  I’m not a salesman.  I make miniatures for the fun of it.  Taking it seriously and treating it like a business takes that fun away. It was a nice lark to have Chapterhouse, Blood and Skulls, and others treat me as a professional but this is a hobby to me.  I don’t take pictures of my 40k armies and stick them online I’m not going to do it with the bits I make either.  Now this does make things a bit awkward at times, hard to imagine bits and such can be problematic. I’ll be making adjustments as needed upon request and maybe that’s not good enough for some but It’s the best I can do. At least until I no longer have a home to take care of, a wife to love, a job to go to, and at least a dozen other hobbies to indulge (maybe if I kick one of the hobbies I might take up miniature photography). 

On a happier note, I’m officially buying a 3d printer.  Specifically a peachy printer.  The peachy guys were kind enough to let me pledge late to their kickstarter so I’ll be getting one in a few months.  The peachy printer is a high detail photo-resin printer that uses laser pointers to solidify resin.  It’s oddly sound driven with a water drip system to control the z axis which are really unique features.  The important point is they are affordable.  Not affordable like companies often claim where you have to spend 2 or 3 paychecks to make the down payment but actually affordable, about twice the cost of a standard printer. It uses Blender for its model output which saddens me but I can deal with importing models from a good software package into blender.  Its detail resolution is about .2mm at the moment and they are trying to improve that. This is roughly analogous to Frosted Ultra Detail but its resin meaning it has no frosted surface and could theoretically be printed smooth.  Once I receive this printer I intend to do several things.  First, dance around happily.  Second, lament for days about where to set it up, likely getting yelled at by my wife everytime I try to take over the living room coffee table so I can play with it and watch tv.  Third, I want to test print some of my catalogue of miniatures, specifically some full figures I’m working on, stuff that really needs tested for sizing before being sent off to Shapeways. Forth, I hope to test some of my larger designs, Shapeways is prohibitively expensive to print large things like vehicles so I’d like to try and test some that might eventually be sent off to a design studio for casting.


Anyway that’s a good update for now.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Man I'm having a great day.

Man my day is going just fantastic.

Shapeways apparently changed the limit on bounding box size from being by object to being by shell. this means that though the total object (IE entire stl) is above the limit a single shell or part in that object is not and thus failing.  

<<<Begin Rant>>>
So I resolved the error of thickness on many of my models and come to find out a new bounding box rule has been put in place making some of my smaller objects mess up.

Sigh.

You know what shapeways, I'm starting to feel like an abused girlfriend.

You want me to make objects conform to all your rules. Fine tell me the rules when they fucking change.  Or when things are added. Just email me when you change your design rules page. is that so hard to ask. or maybe have a changes notice when I log in.

Or maybe. and this is a bit of a radical suggestion here.  Maybe you should have the upload tool check for things like Minimum bounding box size.  Cause see I believe things like wall thickness are hard to check. But bounding box size is not. its something video games on my iphone can check without straining the processor.

I just repaired these files and uploaded them and it didn't error then. If your size check would have just checked this I wouldn't have to be embarrassed yet again when dealing with my very pleasant customers.

They've been very nice and patient while I fix things.  I've been frustrated and melancholy about problems with files I thought I was done with.  But they have been polite and understanding.

Don't get me wrong shapeway's, your support team has been nice and all. Always so keen to tell me what I've done wrong. But that again is sort of the abuse of it all. Its all my fault. Its all my mistake.  Nothing you could have done would have fixed this.  No notice sent out would be helpful, no I have to obsess over design rules I thought I learned every time someone orders a model I made a year ago.

Rules like this minimum bounding box and the ever changing wire rules. the lack of clarity on what's detail vs wall rules.  And even the constant wall thickness lottery are symptoms of the same abusive relationship.  You don't know how and when to talk to me.

See I'm getting married so I've been thinking a lot about relationships.  My soon to be wife and I love each other.  Spending time with eachother isn't' a chore its a joy.  We have different interests but we share and enjoy that we are each different.

Now shapeways, I like you a lot.  We share this great hobby of making digital objects become physical but really all there is between us is the physical.  I have spent countless hours trying to make things perfect for you but you're never satisfied.  You just keep raising the bar. over and over again.  If its not what you wanted you could have told me to make some changes when you're demands changed.  But no I have to be blind sided with things. And there are my friends who just want to by some miniatures caught in the middle.  So I have to scramble and redo the whole damned thing to satisfy you. If I don't someone's feelings will be hurt.

And lets not talk about the pricing. Everytime I have to fix stuff for you the price seems to go up. Things get blown a little bit bigger each time and what happens? You get to charge a teeny tiny bit more.  My friends pay the consequences of you not telling me what I need to do.

It just gets old shapeways. you have to tell me things before an issue arises.  Not when things go bad but before they fall apart.  All I want you to do is talk to me.  Is that so much to ask.

Oh yeah and I want you to call fucking Netfabb and have them build you a proper design rules check algorythim for me to test things with before upload.  Fuck.


<<<End Rant>>>

After some consideration I will begin backing up my STL files from shapeways with the intent of removing them from the service.  The goal being to pull everything down and fix it before returning it to sale.  This will be time consuming, frustrating, and will likely mean many products are never returned to shapeways.  but it also won't happen while I'm doing a wedding so it will likely start in February or march.  sigh.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Repairs

I have posted several repaired models that had previously failed.

The protoss and Claptrap's chief among them. I'm slowly working through weapons to make them compliant with the new FD/FUD limitations.

Repaired
Protoss squad
Claptrap squad
Halo Pistol
Halo Plasma Pistol
Advanced Rifle
Advanced Intrasonic Rifle
Advanced Infrasonic Pistol
Advanced Ingrasonic Cannon

To be repaired
Advanced Thermal Laser variants.


Considering
I have approximately 200 weapons many of which were designed for the old FD design rules where wire thickness was allowed to be lower.  I'm considering redesigning all my weapons with standard handles for better printing.

Monday, October 28, 2013

More Notices

It has again come to my attention that apparently some materials that I have intentionally disabled have arbitrarily been re-enabled by Shapeways.  This is specifically problematic with WSF and its relatives as it has apparently been enabled on many of my products. Another thing I need to fix eventually.

Also apparently the model update tool is not working correctly at present so to repair models i have to upload entirely new copies.

Shapeways is getting to be a headache.  The change in modeling rules is frustrating but somewhat necessary to insure they make "quality" products. of course quality here is relative because the increased model limitations are starting to make FD/FUD essentially the same design wise as WSF which was a shitty product to begin with. And since this type of printing generally abolishes tiny detail it can't really compete with finished production casting anyway.  Still I can tolerate that to some degree.  But webpages just not working is another story.

I spend hours modifying a model. Running it through magics to seal it.  running it through netfabb to compare it to design rules (always seem to miss something).  then try to upload it only to not have the update button work so then have to use the new upload function, and waste even more time resetting parameters in shapways.

I'm just frustrated.  Shapeways support is looking into both the issue of materials turning themselves on and the issue of the update page not working. Hopefully its resolved quickly.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Quick Notice

Firstly everyone forgive me regarding how long its been since I have updated this blog or added content to my Shapeways shop. I'm presently planning my wedding for December of this year. It's a fantastic and happy occasion but it leaves little time for modeling or other projects.  I appreciate all the email requests and best wishes I've gotten as well as everyone's patience.

The main reason for this post however is that it has come to my attention that Shapeway's hasn't been able to send correspondence to one of my email accounts for approximately two to three months.  This means I haven't gotten failure to print notices for objects ordered for that entire time.  If people have anything they have ordered that failed send me an email or private massage and I'll try to fix it.

In case people wonder, failures are happening because Shapeways has been adjusting the print rules for Frosted Detail and Frosted Ultra Detail to insure better print ability. In the long run the new print restrictions will eventually lead to more consistent and successful print of higher quality in FD/FUD. In the short run the results basically mean that thin wires now have a minimum of .8mm to print better at 1mm (same as WSF).  Since most of my wires have been made at .75 its just bellow print-ability and for safety some heavy beefing up is needed.

I'm slowly fixing things as I get time. with 650 products this will take a while. My priority for repairs is things that have failed on ordering.

Please bare with me.

present errors I know of.

Claptrap (claptrap's antennae)
Protoss (energy blades failed)
Halo Pistol (trigger guard)
Advanced Sonic Rifle (presumably all sonic weapons as its the dish that caused the error)

Shapeways is getting me a further list of the messages I missed but I'll get on these ASAP.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Update and Kickstarter

Hey, I know I've been slow to update lately. Its because I've been working on commissions.  I've not really been available as most of my free time has been taken up by a mixture of actual job work and commissions.  I'm not sure that will change much but I finally am free to actually let people know what I've been working on.

So here it is.

If you are in the market for some cool terrain check them out.  It's my first major terrain pieces so I'll be following everyone's feedback closely.