Monthly Archives: April 2012

Brief Service Interruption

We’ve been quiet here for the last few days, but it’s not for lack of activity.  Over the next few weeks posts will be sparse and brief while I am moving. I hope to blog about building my first 3d printer next month, and from there I have many topics to hit.     Additive Manufacturing is the 6th fastest growing industry in the US, and the recent newsflow reflects that momentum.  Very exciting times.

Stay Tuned


Fix income inequality with $10 million loans for everyone! – The Washington Post

Sheila C. Bair

Sheila Bair was the head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) from 2006 through 2011.  Since she stepped down from her post, she’s been talking about the Crisis on and off…

Financials aren’t the focus of this blog, but this article is worth your time.

For several years now, the Fed has been making money available to the financial sector at near-zero interest rates. Big banks and hedge funds, among others, have taken this cheap money and invested it in securities with high yields. This type of profit-making, called the “carry trade,” has been enormously profitable for them.

So why not let everyone participate?

Under my plan, each American household could borrow $10 million from the Fed at zero interest. The more conservative among us can take that money and buy 10-year Treasury bonds. At the current 2 percent annual interest rate, we can pocket a nice $200,000 a year to live on. The more adventuresome can buy 10-year Greek debt at 21 percent, for an annual income of $2.1 million. Or if Greece is a little too risky for you, go with Portugal, at about 12 percent, or $1.2 million dollars a year. (No sense in getting greedy.) Read the whole thing

Obviously this is satire and it won’t be the last.  This is a situation where only those with much to lose have the power to start  us down the road to recovery by acknowledging the problem: You can’t fix a debt problem by adding more debt.

But until then, enjoy the circus.

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Wearable Computing from Valve

Pursuant to last weeks note on Project Glasses, Valve has let out in a blog that they are also working independently working on the concept.   I wonder how many other companies are exploring this?  Valve has the reputation and relationships with game developers (in addition to its powerful in-house line-up of brands) to ensure exponential adoption in the sub-30 year old demographic so long as the price point is reasonable.   Full article is interesting, but has little in the way of details on the tech – Sounds like they are quite early in the process.

Also, they’re hiring if anyone is looking.

By “wearable computing” I mean mobile computing where both computer-generated graphics and the real world are seamlessly overlaid in your view; there is no separate display that you hold in your hands (think Terminator vision). The underlying trend as we’ve gone from desktops through laptops and notebooks to tablets is one of having computing available in more places, more of the time. The logical endpoint is computing everywhere, all the time – that is, wearable computing – and I have no doubt that 20 years from now that will be standard, probably through glasses or contacts, but for all I know through some kind of more direct neural connection. And I’m pretty confident that platform shift will happen a lot sooner than 20 years – almost certainly within 10, but quite likely as little as 3-5, because the key areas – input, processing/power/size, and output – that need to evolve to enable wearable computing are shaping up nicely, although there’s a lot still to be figured out.

via Valve: How I Got Here, What It’s Like, and What I’m Doing | Valve.

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Upstart smart thermostat maker Nest has received almost-universally glowing praise for its Learning Thermostat since it launched last year — and it also received a major patent complaint from Honeywell, which claims Nest is walking all over its intellectual property. Not so, says Nest: the company just filed its official answer to Honeywell’s complaint today, and in addition to arguing that it isn’t infringing Honeywell’s patents, it also stridently argues that most of those patents are “hopelessly invalid.” What’s more, Nest also claims that Honeywell is misusing its patents to stifle innovation — a strategy Nest claims Honeywell has used to squeeze out new competitors for years. “Honeywell is worse than a patent troll,” says Nest CEO Tony Fadell. “They’re trying to strangle us, and we’re not going to allow that to happen.”

Their mistake was not having a warchest of questionable patents to counter sue with.   Source

Nest vs Honeywell – Patent Enforcement as Means to Stop Technology from Advancing

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Prohibition or Renaissance: The Coming IP Wars

The clash between Intellectual Property and cheap, distributed, additive manufacturing is both inevitable and predictable.  It’s one of those deciding battles where regardless of the outcome, the world  is different afterwards for better or worse.

The conflict is obvious – Patents and Copyright are about protecting ideas, while the line of development Manufacturing is following demands these ideas be created, shared, improved upon ad infinitum. Trademarks aren’t really included, since that’s about brand identity.

Within the next few years this issue will come to the forefront, with conventional design/manufacturing firms screaming that their sales are falling due to rampant production of unlicensed/open sourced (reverse-engineered) “stuff”.     Something comparable to “pirated” IPhone 3GS being for sale at your local flea market (and online equivilents) for 1/4th the price Apple charges for it, and you watch them print it (electronics, antennae, screen and all) while you wait.

Do you want yours printed in aluminum, titanium or Biodegradable Plastic?

Imagine the panic of investment banks, interested parties & governments around the world.  The old system isn’t protecting our property!  It’s all because of this rapid prototyping technology some idiot made cheap and pervasive – Now anybody can make whatever they want, or more importantly steal something you paid/worked/licensed to develop without giving you a dime for your trouble.  We’ll be ruined.  Something must be done.

There are two broad ways this can  dealt with: Prohibition or Renaissance

If we wait, the knee-jerk reaction will be Prohibition – IP Laws will pretty much stay the same, while a new government agency will be introduced to regulate “@home manufacturing businesses”.  It will probably take the form of a licensing scheme, where in order to own & operate a “@home manufacturing unit” you need to take a class on intellectual property, pay some fees for a license from the government, and put your identification number on every item that comes out, making your machine and thus you responsible for it.

The Good News:  It probably guarantees some minimum level of proficiency operating the machinery if there is a class associated with the licensing requirement.    If a product is pirated, defective or fraudulent it’s easy to find out who to punish.

The Bad News: By requiring a license, they’ll make the majority of hobbyists and tinkerers into outlaws and black-market participants by default.   For those who do participate in the licensing scheme, they will have the advantage of fewer competitors, but since every product produced can always be tied back to their machine it introduces a whole slew of liability issues that haven’t even been considered yet.

When it comes to piracy, the assumption is every act is intentional – But how many ideas are there? How many designs?  Additive Manufaturing makes the entire design process “Think it up, design or scan it, create it on-site” so where does the “research to make sure you’re not conflicting with anyone elses existing intellectual property” step come into play, before or after you hit the print button?   Additive manufacturing is so important because it shrinks the minimum viable market size to one consumer.   Is it the @home manufacturers responsibility to research every single design they are asked to print?  Probably.

IP liability insurance will be mandatory, inadvertent violations frequent and payouts punitive in the stated hopes of discouraging similar behavior.  But you can’t discourage creation once the potential of the tools are realized.  It’ll be easy to get one of these self-replicating machines, but expensive to get a license.  And so the blackmarket will flourish with the inevitable criminality that accompanies.  The costs of prohibition are already stacking up, and we won’t even address enforcement here, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

1 910 State of the Art

A Collaborative Renaissance: Everything Old is New Again

Patents exist for a reason, innovation is not free or even cheap.  But who says the way we’re doing it now works very well at all?  Large producing firms defensively acquire patents  as leverage in the event they are sued by a competitor, so-called “patent trolls” buy patents like lottery tickets while wielding the  letter of the law as a thief would a gun; extorting value they did not earn while leaving their victims shaken and thankful more was not taken from them.  The individual inventor is in there somewhere, but with the process to patent a single idea requiring multiple years and thousands of dollars (not including legal costs), what average individual has the time to create ideas and protect them all using only his own resources?  Not many.

Lincoln said “The Patent System added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius.”, and it did.   But over the intervening decades the creosote of bureaucracy and abuse has slowly choked what was once a vital part of American free market innovation.  I propose we take it back.

The Industrial Revolution Seemed Like a Good Idea At The Time.
Manufacturing has major expenses associated in the creation of even trivial objects – The mantra of “we’ll make it up in volume”  leads to a zero sum way of thinking where your costs are fixed at a minimum floor, but you have to compete with all other manufacturers in your space for the profit that remains.   This is the nature of mass manufacturing everything, and the culture it cultivates is one of technological stagnation and secrecy.
On the complete other end of the spectrum you’ve got a place like Thingiverse where nearly every design is available for free and is open source – You can take anything that anybody else has made, change it a little bit,  improve it, make it easier to assemble,  mash it up with something you or someone else created, and then put it back out there for others to become inspired by your work and do the same.  Each Thing has a page, and each page proudly displays the lineage of past Things it was derived from or based off of.  The only thing missing here is the value proposition – Some people use it to promote their other proprietary works for sale elsewhere, but mostly it is people collaborating to advance what is possible with the new manufacturing & design reality.
The coming challenge is to take this virtuous, self-reinforcing cycle of innovation leading to more innovation, and transpose it onto for-profit IP.

New Uses for Old Technology abound

Perpetual, Fractional Payments – A thousand bites at the Apple

If you have a great, profitable idea and you patent it under the current system – That’s great!   But how do you make money with it? You could sell it (if someone wants to buy it, ideas are cheap)  If you want to bring it to market yourself,  you’ll have to find a manufacturer, financing, packaging, marketing, distribution, and on and on.   Most patents are improvements to existing products, so what happens if someone improves your patented idea and patents it themselves?  Not only is your old system obsolete, but if you want to upgrade to the newly developed “state of the art” there are very expensive licensing fees or redudant development costs while you re-invent their re-invention of your technology.   Talk about wasting time and effort.

Instead, why not take advantage of the advantage of our digital world – Combine the concept of Thingiverse’s collaboration & attribution with free value transfer services like Bitcoin with Ricardian contracts sprinkled in there to automate the whole thing. This combination of attributes can uniquely eliminate the involvement of what some refer to as “the parasite class“.

The trick is to design the system in such a way so you can have a single object purchased provide value to everyone along the path of its creation.  Initially these relationships will be simple but as the virtuous cycle kicks in things get complicated. There would be a small submission fee to make sure people bring in designs that are at least a little thought through, say $10.   If someone wants to examine your design in detail, it might cost $.50, if they want to print it, or modify it: $1.   Prices need to be low to encourage experimentation with existing designs.    In that $1 for a use license, at least 50% should always go to the current creator with payments scaling down to earlier creators, but never ceasing to exist entirely.  With Bitcoin and a project called OpenTransactions, you can transfer values as low as .00000001 bitcoin instantly to anyone else with no transaction fees, automatically, with execution based on the fulfilment of pre-determined conditions.


Put simply, if I invent a innovative new doorstopper and upload it to this service, and then you came along and wanted to print it, you would take the other side of that contract and in exchange for $1 sent to an automatically generated bitcoin address, you would be sent the file and granted a license to print or modify under the condition that you make any improvements available under the same type of licensing conditions.

As the content creator, I only make and sign this contract once and then just  put it out there for as many people to take me up on it as like my product.    This remains just as true if my doorstopper is the 5th generation of novel improvement on that doorstopper, except there the $1 once sent to the generated bitcoin address would be split up and distributed to all the contributors based on some algorithm.

For-Profit Open Source – Innovation with Compensation

Instead of focusing your time and energy on protecting your ideas and technology, it is suddenly in your best interest to make sure as many people see your innovation as possible, and if someone wants to improve it that’s great!   Not only do you have a monetary interest, but you can cheaply use their improved version and then build your own improvements on top.

For manufacturing, this means instead of having a contract with a content owner to create 100,000 of their product every 6 months they could become “local manufacturing centers” that can make anything with designs acquirable through this system, paying $1 for each  time they print a design, and charging the customer the difference between what the licensing + material cost are and the prevailing market rate.  For an additional premium, customers could work with your designer to customize the product to their tastes.

A Room with a Large Capacity for Highly Personalized Manufacturing.

For the creator, everything you build goes into the library and if you tag your part correctly it will come up over and over as future innovators look for components to derive from, or consumers choose they want your product created at a hub.  This gives you control over what requires your time – Your designs all have long tails, so you can stay focused on improving new ideas rather than on protecting the ones you’ve already created.

This is a big idea, please tell me where I’m wrong and explain to me the things I just don’t understand.  Until then, I think this could be a better way for a more productive and open future, as it would quickly create a library of quality, constantly improving designs that could be cheaply licensed, and thus competitively manufactured in all localities while still providing value to the brains behind the design. 

What a time to be alive.

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Hivestack 0.3 Enclosure & Mounting System

Triangular landing in blue

Here is the new design for the enclosure

Hivestack .3 (loosely to scale)

4 Units in Holder (not to scale)

The handles are built into the lid, and the lid slides into place under the J-hooks.  The unit measures approx. 8″ x 8″ x 4″, so it’s actually quite small.  Those are the standard dimensions of commonly available inexpensive 3d printers, so it’s the starting size for our modules to keep things simple.  The outside walls are approx 1″ thick – I have concerns we may need to insulate.   There are three exterior entrance holes, all facing what would be away from the building, and a triangular landing just underneath that runs along the middle 2/3rds of the structure.   All transit holes are 9mm to conform to the large end of bee-space standards, and the ones on the exterior are at 45 degree angles coming into the structure to keep out weather and make them easier to defend, while still giving them easy access to most parts of the interior.

One thing missing in this design is a heat venting/rain shedding addition to the roof, anything else missing?

And here’s what it would look like with several of them, this would be about 2 1/2 feet long. 

The trick to all of this, is the (say it with me!) variable lattice matrix that conforms to bee-space rules.   This is pretty dang close, and would not take much modification.

Within has a sister company called Digital Forming, and they work with designers to help customers tailor products to what they want, while still keeping them functional.  Take that concept and put it onto beespace rules.  My hope is I can interest their leadership in this project, and get them to build us a little application that will let us generate beespace lattice matrixes that can be tailored to any size enclosure, and that give you the ability to easily and intuitively communicate to the bees how you would like them to build in a general sense, while still giving them all the tools they need to do the design as is most efficient for them.  This is possible because of the three dimensional structure we can give them…. Hell, we could even print it in wax.

The application would ideally let you do things like designate brood free units, which would make sure the mesh did not allow the queen into the comb area, while still giving her a path from one unit to another.  This is usually done with Queen Excluders, which cuts the queen off from part of the hive entirely…. Not an ideal situation but because we can generate meshes that are suited to different things in one manufactured package, it’s not a problem.     Digital Formings consulting is all about making applications that are easy to use, so this could all be done with sliders where as you increase the “Honey Prodution” slider, the “Brood Production” slider decreases….

I’m still working out some details, but I’ve handed the design & measurements off to Brett – A new recruit from the RepRap side of things who will convert them into SCAD format.   This will be a huge step forward towards our first in-the-flesh prototype, so stay tuned.

3D Printing & Lattice Structures – Within Technologies – Digital Forming

This is a more technical talk, but if you want to understand what I’m talking about with “variable lattice matrix”, this guys company already designed the algorithm.   Fascinating work with enormous implications in the fairly near term on what & how we can build.

Anybody have $30k for the optimized license? Lets talk.

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The Evolution of the Cellphone Headset & Bee Update

“Project Glasses” is basically a high tech visor – One of the problems people have always had with “augmented reality devices” is they generally impede your vision.  Eyepatches, Sunglasses with integrated heads-up-display, etc.   Google seems to have solved that problem by putting a high resolution mini-screen above a single eye, and then using a built in eye-facing camera to track where you are looking.  When it tracks your eye looking at the screen, it then lets you control the screen simply by focusing your vision.   Smart smart smart.

Regardless of your opinion of Google, you’ve got to admire their ability to paint the future.   Cell Phone Headset becomes Smart Phone Visor, and everyone buys it because it’s the natural evolution of a product they’re already comfortable with – Except now it can do so much more!  Supposedly this is in testing, and the word is it’s a long ways out…. But I’m not so sure I buy that, this is all available using current technology and G-Corp has the install-base to pull it off.  This video of course just features Googles suite of products, but once this interface gets into the hands of developers it’s going to be a whole new ballgame.


Open Source, Modular, Printable Beehive Project Update

Tonight my wife & I are attending a bee event at the California Academy of Science – The folks from UrbanBees, a San Francisco Beekeeping group will be in attendence, so I’m hoping to get some city-beekeeper perspective.   The most current design is functionally obsolete – The next design will take this concept, but turn its on its side, I hope to release it early next week.   Thanks to everyone who has participated so far!

Mervyn Levin on 3D Printing – Convergence of the Digital and Physical Worlds

This 17 minute talk was given last week at TEDxTapaeGate – I was not previously familiar with Mr. Levin, but he does a great job bringing you up to speed on what kinds of things 3d printers are being used for right now, and what their capabilities are.   This is the most recent and up-to-date presentation I’ve been able to find –

There are lots of videos & lectures available online I think are worth watching, but I don’t want to clutter up the blog with a bunch of video posts – Any suggestions?  Maybe a weekly video roundup post?

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Hivestack .2 and pushing tinkercad to the limit

New version of the OSMPBeehive is just about ready for “primetime”, I am dubbing it 0.2 as it’s still just me getting whats in my head down in 3d without figuring out exact numbers (not parametric yet, sorry!).   Looking more at Makerslide, I think that’s our support material – MakerSlide is an aluminum V rail integrated into a standard extrusion profile.

An installation would be two 4′-7′ legnths set 2′ or so in the ground, with the wheel grooves on both facing inward.  Those seem pretty ideal for the type of ratcheting “insert Clean unit in the bottom, remove Full unit out the top” system I mentioned in the brainstorm post.

Without further adue, here she is!

Hivestack .2: 3 Module unit with oval cutaway and some racks removed to see enclosure floor detail

I call it the Hivestack, the bottom unit is suspended off the ground and the bottom holes would be covered by strong wire mesh.  The central nesting shaft is now gone, and  the comb-templates create a sort-of library feeling with narrow corridors between the frames.  I was able to increase the number of full-size frames to 6 with this configuration.  The floor plate which was previously a seperate piece is now integrated into the body, each unit will nest on top of the next with little or no gap.  There are still entrance holes on all four sides, but only one row per module now (two rows was a bit silly) – Also, I’ve angled the round entrance holes up at a 45 degree angle to make them easier to defend and to keep out rain.  Since we got rid of the “floor” piece, that means the top unit needs a roof of some kind to keep out the weather. I havn’t put much thought into it, but when my wife saw it she said it looked like a little elf house made from a tree.  Me?  I’m just subconsciously emulating the Ukranians.  Any ideas or clever things we should build into it?

Ukranian Bee Hives (from the old days)

I didn’t worry about removing the combs individually: Modular design allows the top unit on the stack to be harvested as one piece!

Since each unit is small, in the next version we could dispense with formal “frames” and just print some kind of lattice matrix that would let the bees build comb in whatever way was easiest.  Simply use a centrifuge to extract the honey from the module, then toss it in a large pot of boiling water to remove the wax from the module and sterilize it (this also recovers the wax, but not the comb).  That seems like a pretty slick and sanitary workflow to me. With a conventional hive, do you sterilize the inside & outside walls every harvest? I could even see doing this over the course of several days to minimize the stress, where you remove the top unit, then add one clean unit to the bottom of the stack each day until your harvest is complete.

One Hivestack module by itself (The frames will be replaced by a hexagonal latice matrix as soon as I figure out how to do that) User svarogteuse  had this to say:

Its illegal. Every state requires all the frames to be removeable. Doesn matter if belive they need to be or not its the law. Version 0.2 needs to have all moveable frames if you want to even discuss the merits or flaws of this design over the current standards.

And I very much do want to discuss it here, but I’m curious if others think this will be a problem?  Seems like this design probably fits the letter and spirit of the law, but I’d like a second (3rd…4th…etc) opinion, please chime in!

Size and ratio will be important once someone starts drawing this up in parametric fashion –  bees seem to use how big a hole is relative to their body size to determine how to respond to a breach in the hive.  Whenever this gets to real CAD software, all transit spaces will need to be fixed…. Anybody have experiance with this?  Can we scale part of a design, but not all of it while still tracking where the fixed diameter features are on the overall model (if that makes sense)?

Larve space
space filled
with comb
Small space
space sealed
with propolis
Bee space

My “render” times on tinkercad have gotten into the 10 minute range, and breaks altogether with more than 4 modules so I think this is the last version I can build there.  The next step is to transition to more capable CAD software, and create the 1.0 iteration.  Anybody want to take the first shot at Hivestack 1 plans?  Any suggestions to topics I did or didn’t address here?  Thanks to everyone who has participated so far, if seeing what I’m doing is giving you ideas please share them!

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