Tuesday, May 23, 2023

D-Day: The Bedford Boys Tribute Center

 We are coming up on the month of June.

There are two significant dates for our family in the month of June; but, this particular year our interest was brought into even sharper focus by what I had expected to be a rather mundane visit to a small town museum.  It turned out to be very significant.

June 3rd

Some years ago, we donated the diary and personal effects of Lt. Benjamin Draper, of Milford, Delaware


Lt. Benjamin Draper and Fiance from Milford, DE

If I remember correctly, there is a handwritten note in his possessions that indicate that his fiance never married.  Soldiers are not the only casualties of war.  While none of my family are directly related to either, we feel a special responsibility to keep the memories of their sacrifice alive. 

Lt. Draper was killed on June 3, 1864 at the battle of Cold Harbor.  He is buried in the Cold Harbor National Battlefield Cemetery.   That is why June 3rd continues to have a special place in our hearts.

June 6th

As a child born during World War II, D-Day has also occupied a special place in my memory.  I have visited the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia many times over the years.

I live in the Washington, DC area.  And, in the 1970's I was hired by the National Park Service to produce videos in many of the nations national parks and historical sites.  So, I have seen many impressive national monuments to those who fought in our nation's wars.  But, none are as impressive to me than the Natonal D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia.  It captures the experience like no other monument I have seen.

My mother-in-law was born and raised in Bedford.  And, this weekend, I traveled once again to visit the town for a memorial service for her brother and his wife who passed earlier this year.

We had some time between the service and a family dinner later that day and decided to use that time touring a local museum in town called the Bedford Boys Tribute Center.  My back was giving me some issues so I wasn't all that keen on going and, frankly, didn't expect much from the visit.  

It turned out to be one of the most moving and significant experiences in my life.

June 6 will never be the same for me.  While significant before, it now holds a very special place, with a whole new meaning. And, that is all due to the way the founders ans curators have told the story with so many personal effects, letters and images of the very first casualties of the D-Day invasion and built upon that to tell the stories of others in every branch of the service who served in WWII.  

Green's Pharmacy - Bedford Boys Tribute Center

The Bedford Boys Tribute Center is located in the former Green's Pharmacy.  The site, itself, is significant because this is where, as teenagers, the Bedford boys would take their dates for sodas and icecream.  But, it is also significant for it's role in receiving the news, on June 17, of the tragedy that had hit the town on the beaches of Normandy in the first hours of the invasion of June 6th.

The Teletype that broke the news

The Bedford Boys Images and Personal Effects

Imagine being a 23 year old woman who is suddenly faced with message after message bearing the news of the death of someone that she knew well.  Bedford is, and was, a very small town and suffered the greatest percentage of casualties than any other town in America.  Nineteen were killed in a single landing and one was killed in a different location.

Because of the wonderful way the curators have told the stories of these men, the families of other soldiers, sailors and marines have entrusted them with the artifacts of others that have served in every theater of operations in WWII.  And, in fact, I plan to donate the Cruise Book for the USS Bataan, on which my uncle, James Willard Simpson, endured the constant threats of kamikaze attacks.  Like Lt. Draper, my uncle had no children, and it seems fitting that he be remembered for his service in a place that knows how to tell his story so well.  

I am grateful that I agreed to make that visit in spite of my initial reluctance.  It was a highlight that I shall never forget and I hope that others will have that same experience.  You will not come away the same as you entered.  Kenneth and Linda Parker have done something wonderful.  

Please take the time to visit the National D-Day Memorial and the Bedford Boys Tribute Center 

P.S.  While you are in the area I would also encourage you to visit Appomattox Courthouse National Park where you can see the restored Plunkett-Meeks Store, owned by Albert Francis Meeks, my great-great-grandfather at the time of Lee's surrender.

Plunkett-Meeks Store Interior - Appomattox Courthouse

Memorial Day is coming up on May 29.  But, please keep the days June 3rd and June 6th in mind to remember that the sacrifices people made were individual and personal.  And, not only for those that died; but, for those that loved them dearly.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Impressed by the Mingda Magician X

 I was recently contacted to fill in for someone that was to teach a 3D printing intro class; but, now could not make it due to a medical condition.

As part of my preparation, he sent me a printer by a manufacturer that was completely new to me, Mingda.  The printer is the Magician X.

 This isn't a review of this printer.  I simply thought it worth alerting the readers to an excellent printer at an affordable price that  can print flexible materials.  I've loved using it the short time I've been able to test it.


Mingda Magician X

My day-to-day printer is a Creality.  I have tried other Chinese built brands, like Geeetech, but  non of them equaled the value of the Creality until I tried this printer for the first time.

What immediately set it apart was (1) it came with automatic leveling that actually works, (2) it was a direct drive printer and (3) it includes not only a full size SD reader; but, a port for using a USB drive for storing prints.  And, all of the ports are on the front of the machine.

I have been successfully printing with both PLA and Polymaker Polyflex materials.  

The printer is exceptionally quiet in operation.  And, I especially like the ease with which fine adjustments to the printing height can be made during printing.  The Z-Axis "baby-step" process is the easiest I've used so far.

The only criticism I have of the machine is that loading filament can be a bit finicky.  Because it is direct drive, it is very important to cut the filament at a 45 degree angle before loading.  I am going to link to Mingda's video about loading and unloading the filament because it is different enough to be a potential problem for those used to loading most printers in this price range.


The Magician X currently is currently available for $219 in the USA.  But, they offer a newer version, the Magician X2 for $289.00.  The big innovation in the X2 version is an easily removable print head assembly.  


That is a HUGE upgrade to any 3D printerALL 3D printers can and will become clogged at some point.  Over and over I hear teachers and librairians talk about their school, or library, having a printer; but, they cannot use it due to a clogged head.  Having a print head specifically designed for swapping surely helps this situation.

The only other printer we've owned with this capability is the Jellybox 3D printer. from iMade3D, specifically designed for educational institutions.

Considering that my first 3D printers were all above $1000, either of these Mingda 3D printers offer real price/performance value that are worth serious consideration.  I've been quite impressed so far.

Addendum:  Now that I have the time to print several dozen TPU prints, and an equal amount of PLA prints, without a single failure of any type, I can confirm that THIS is THE printer brand I have now placed at the top of my recommendation list of FDM printers.   I can confidently load multiple parts for printing without fear that one or more part might fail.  

For libraries, in particular, that allow the public to use their machines, the Magician X2, with the easily swapped head makes a lot of sense. 



Thursday, April 27, 2023

Finally! A 3D Rendering Application I can Afford and Use.

This began as embedded, non-transparent, solid objects in a CAD application.

Multi-color Glass Marble Created in Moment of Inspiration & Meshrender

 For years, I have drooled over images in the Moment of Inspiration Gallery that users have rendered.  But, as I explored the options to do the same, I was hit with (1) the cost or (2) the complexities of the 3D rendering options I could find.

But, this week, I got a huge break.

The creator of Meshmolder, a sculpting application that I have used for some time, released a brand new product called Meshrender.  I stumbled across a video announcing the release several days ago.

The Cost

Karlay Souza, the creator of Meshmolder and Meshrender has a unique approach to pricing.  In both cases, there is a free 'shareware' version and a full version for which he asks a small donation.  In the case of Meshrender, that is $20.00.  In both cases, the products are a true bargain.

The Ease of Use

I have no idea how easy the Blender rendering engine might be to learn and use.  The reason for my ignorance about the rendering engine is that the whole Blender interface sends me running in the opposite direction.  The same is true for the other rendering engines I have considered in the past.

Meshrender stands alone.  Every single button, widget or dialog applies to one thing and one thing only... rendering a 3D object in the simplest steps possible.,  Yet, it also offers advanced features that we can grow into as we use it.

I instantly found it comfortable to use.  

As could be expected by an early release, I had some startup glitches that were quickly address by Karley with a single email.  Now, it is working very smoothly.

An Excellent Companion to Use with Moment of Inspiration

One of the first things I teach new Moment of Inspiration (MOI3D) users is to name objects.  When MOI3d exports to a .OBJ file, a multi-part design is exported as a single file containing multiple components using the names we give to them.

When brought into Meshrender, each component is listed and we can assign materials and colors independently.

Here is a video of the process beginning with creating in Moment of Inspiration and ending in the rendered image.

Impact on Education

As most of you already know, I have a passion for teaching at-risk young people 3D design.  While I love 3D printing, the time it takes to print and the reliability of most 3D printers in school situations is a huge impediment to making 3D design available to the broadest spectrum of students.  A low cost rendering engine that is easy to use, it seems to me, has a lot of potential for greatly increasing the viability of teaching 3D design for ALL students.  Not just a select few.

And, this really has me excited!

Here are some variations....

MeshRender - MOI3D Beads Variation 1

MeshRender - MOI3D Beads Variation 2

MeshRender - MOI3D Beads Variation 3

MeshRender - MOI3D Beads Variation 4

As you can see, this could become addicting!

Monday, April 24, 2023

AI Voices & the Current AI Controversy

Little did I know, when I started to create the new Moment of Inspiration training series that the decision to use AI voices would change my release plans so dramatically.

From the beginning, I had planned to upload the Moment of Inspiration Course onto Udemy.  But, little did I know that including AI voices to supplement my own narration would be cause for rejection by the Udemy team.

The reasons for Turning to AI Voices

Ten years earlier, when I created my first Moment of Inspiration Curriclum, my voice was strong enough to complete hours of video.  By the time I started on the new curriculum I was ten years older and, as it turned out, was having age related heart issues.  My voice simply no longer had the stamina to smoothly narrate all the videos required to teach Moment of Inspiration effectively.  

I did not want to give up on the project because I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that at-risk young students' lives have been radically altered through the 3D design and printing classes we taught at YouthQuest.  So, I wanted to continue that work if at all possible.

The first attempts at finding suitable voices to use didn't go all that well.  While Descript allowed me to use my own voice, I never really seemed to evoke the right tone behind the words.  Speechelo was OK.   But, again, I was not able to control the voices to my liking.

Fortunately, I found WellSaid Labs.

The voices I ended up using not only conveyed the pronunciation; but, the way WellSaid Labs Studio worked, allowed me to tailor both the pronunciation and the inflection to a point where the narration is 95% or above exactly as I would have spoken it.

I am not trying to fool anyone by using voice other than my own.  I simply needed a script to be narrated at the lowest cost possible while still being effective.

The Controversy

 The rejection of a course simply because it includes AI voices, has to be seen in the broadest context.  We have jumped into AI so quickly that the full ramifications of the technology are totally a mystery and the potential for harm, in the broadest sense, are certainly there.  I assume that Udemy is simply trying to get ahead of the Intellectual Property curve and it's easiest to simply develop a blanket ban while the technology is being sorted out.

But, from this one small corner, I would like to address my own experience with using WellSaid Studio as part of the workflow of my course development.

Using AI Voices Improved the Content

I have been creating video content since 1969, when I begin with a used Sony TVC-2010.

One of the realities that has remained the same in all of those years was how difficult it has been to match sound levels between takes.  It was a VERY pleasant surprise to discover just how seamlessly it sounds when new AI material is inserted into previously recorded segments.  This allows for improvements and additions to scripts in a way unmatched by live recording.  I found my narrations getting better in the editing process because I could reflect on what had been there and make it better and more clear so easily.

The other aspect of using AI voices that I believed helped the content is that it put me into the role of director, rather than simply writer/narrator.  Hearing the words I had written in a voice other than my own allowed me to refine what I written and work harder on getting the inflection to convey my thoughts.  It was a remarkable experience.

Using AI Improved the Flow

Designing in 3D is a multi-step process.  Being able to change narrators to indicate a new series of steps or a new focus of the course content was another benefit of using  AI voices to augment my own narrative.  

The two voices I most used were identified as Ava M. and Wade C.  But, even within those voices I was able to select different styles based on the subject matter being delivered.  The only issues I had as I switched from voice to voice is that Wade C., using the "Conversational" style was considerable louder that the other voices.  But, this was easily dealt with using the Limiter and Loudness Normalization effects in Audacity.  


Quite frankly, it was a big bummer for me when Udemy would not allow my course simply based on the fact that I had used AI voices.  But, in the grand scheme of things, that loss pales in comparison to the benefits that AI voices brought to the project as a whole.  I don't know how negatively AI might impact society in the long run; but, I can attest to the terrific value of AI voices in helping me overcome a disability to allow me to complete something very important to me.

The new 3D Design for Fun and Life Course.

Published a New Series of Moment of Inspiration Lessons

I completed the first phase of a new Moment of Inspiration, Version 4, course for public release. 

It can be found at:

   3D Design for Fun & Life

Most of my readers know that ten years ago, while with YouthQuest Foundation, I created an original 3D design curriculum, around Moment of Inspiration (MOi3D), specifically intended to change the trajectory of young at-risk lives in National Guard Youth ChalleNGe programs we served.  We started with MOI3D Version 2.

 3D Systems made a huge contribution toward that initiative with the donation of 32 Cube2 printers.

The combination of creating a 3D design, seeing their design printed and then refining that design to make it better, brought a powerful and much needed message to the population we served.  "Your failures are not final." 

Along the way, we ended up using the curriculum to a much wider base of at-risk students, across four states and the District of Columbia, including those on the autism spectrum.

I am very thankful for having worked at YouthQuest and having seen so many young lives impacted.


But, YouthQuest was a very small not-for-profit that lacked the resources to expand  its reach.  A little over two years ago, it ultimately lost its primary funding and made the decision to shut down, transferring its property, including the 3D curriculum, to another not-for-profit.

At the time, we had hoped our relationship with the many groups we served would continue.  But, the successor organization had more localized interests and a very restrictive view of "intellectual property rights".

Based on the above video.  I am sure you can understand the sadness I feel about that loss.

I absolutely loved what I was doing through all of those years.  

But, in the back of my mind, I always thought that more should be possible.  I know the impact of Youth ChalleNGe programs and I know the impact  that learning 3D design has on at-risk students.  But, I always felt many more could be helped if the curriculum were released to a wider population.  That feeling became even stronger as 3D printers dropped in price from above $1200 to under $200.

The additional capabilities introduced with the release of Moment of Inspiration Version 4 makes it an even better fit for the classroom. And, which makes it a great time to bring the experience of learning Moment of Inspiration to, hopefully, many more at-risk young people.

I have been committed to creating an even BETTER 3D curriculum around the wonderful Moment of Inspiration V4 to be released on online learning sites at a very low cost.  It has been being designed from the ground up, taking into consideration all of my experiences learning and teaching 3D design and printing since 2012.

The course design is intended to allow ANY learner to become very proficient well within the free 90 day trial period for Moment of Inspiration.  The unique session organization takes into account those that need sparse information as well as those needing very specific step-by-step directions.

But, I immediately ran into a hurdle! 

At 78, I'm ten years older than the first video series.  And, that means my voice has a lot less stamina than the first time around.

Well Said Labs to the Rescue

The handwriting has been on the wall for a fairly long time.  So, I began to look into using AI Text-to-Voice to take some of the load off of my own voice about two years ago.

Of course, I immediately ran into the reality that most computer voices are just plain boring and annoying.

I first subscribed to Descript.  In fact, I even recorded my own voice using their "Overdub" technology, hoping that it would capture my emotion and inflections.  

It got the tonality right.  But, I never was able to get it to deliver the inflections so critical to holding onto interest in the content.

I then tried Speechelo.  Same result.

If push came to shove, there are some voices in both Descript and Speechelo that could be used in a pinch.  While it might be better than my tired old voice droning on and on, I don't think I would ever really be happy with the result.

Fortunately, my sister remembered an online site she had used during the Covid lockdowns.

It was WellSaidLabs.com.

I have finally found some text-to-voice voices that come very close to expressing my thoughts very closely to how I would express them. 

While I wish every minute of my training could come from my own mouth, that is just not feasible at this point in my life.  I feel very blessed that I can still deliver the content that I feel could be so crucial in changing the trajectory of the lives of at-risk young people despite the limitations of my voice.

I am very grateful to WellSaid Labs for giving me the ability to complete this project and continue to add more content in the future.


Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Sovol SH01 Double Wide Filament Dryer & Storage

This article is about a new dual-spool filament drying system from Sovol that has extra features that also make it useful for safe storage of filament between prints.  It's the Sovol SH01.

Sovol SH01 Filament Drying/Storage System


If there is any group of people that appreciate the critical role that quality filament plays in the success or failure of a 3D printer to deliver it is those who own(ed) the Cube series printers from 3D Systems.

And, one of the factors in maintaining filament quality that we, as users, can control is making sure that our filament is dry.  While this is true of PLA, it is even more true for water-soluble support materials and nylon.

Over the years we have tried various devices for drying and storing filament.  Our first dryer was a DIY modification of a food dehydrator that we used with both Cube2 and Cube3 cartridges.  

Food Dehydrator Used to Dry Filament

This served us well over the years; but, it had two limitations.  Firstly, it could not be used while printing and; secondly, it was not suitable for storage.  For storage, we turned to five gallon paint buckets with sealed tops in combination with rechargeable desiccant canisters.

Rechargeable Desiccant

While these worked well for pre-print drying and storage, they did not provide a good solution for continuous use while printing.  Nor were they convenient for short-term storage between prints over weekends, etc.

To solve this we turned to two excellent active filament dryers from Sunlu and eSun. 

Sunlu Filament Dryer

eSun Filament Dryer

Both brands have served us well for the Polymaker Polymax filament that we have preferred for so long.  But, the reason we needed two for each printer was that we have dual nozzle printers.  But, what really made us make another search for a third solution was that our friends at IMade3D, right here in Virginia, began importing and marketing excellent filament from the Czech Republic, FilamentPM through their FilamentBuy.com web site. 

The spools of FilamentPM PLA are too wide to fit into either the eSun or Sunlu dryers!   The timing of of search was fortunate.

Sovol had just begun offering their WIDE SH01 filament dryer/Storage box on Amazon for $59..  It was capable of holding two Polymaker spools or one FilamentPM spools.  I am certainly happy that I immediately ordered one because they quickly sold out the first batch.  It's wonderful!

Sovol SH01 Filament Dryer

The Features That Make the Sovol 3D SH01 Dryer my Favorite

Of course, the reason why we chose to purchase this dryer even though we have two that we like quite well was its ability to handle wide spools of filament.

Sovol Dryer with Wide FilamentPM Spool

But, what we did NOT know when we ordered it was that the Sovol Filament Dryer has some features that set it apart from our previous dryers.  First, the display is WAY bigger and better, alternately displaying Temperature/Humidity and Time Remaining.

Sovol Filament Dryer  - Temperature/Humidity


Sovol Filament Dryer - Time Remaining

The first image above image shows our startup temperature and humidity. The second image shows the time remaining for our default 6 hour drying session.  It is SO refreshing to see auch a large and bright display!  The MODE button allows us to enter setup where we can select 40C, 45C or 50C depending on the type of filament we are drying and set our target time up to 12 hours.

Within 7 minutes our target temperature of 40C was reached and within 30 minutes the humidity had dropped to 29% and steadied to the target of 30%.  I have checked it with a 12 hour setting and the targets remain steady over the entire drying period.

Now, for the bonus feature that the Sovol Filament Dryer brings to the table.  SEALED STORAGE.

The top of the Sovol is sealed shut using two latches on the front of the unit.  Neither the eSun nor the Sunlu is sealed in this way.  Moreover, all of the openings are fitted with plugs to completely protect the filament while being stored.  This includes both of the ports through which the filament reaches the printer and the power receptacle! 

I REALLY appreciate this level of detail that Sovol has taken to make this not only an active dryer; but, a protected environment for storing filament between prints.  We live and work on the east coast and humidity is a huge problem in the summer.  

If Amazon is out of stock when you follow this LINK, then try the Sovol web site:


If you go to the Sovol site before Father's Day 2021, you might also take the time to enter a drawing for their latest 3D printer.  They are giving away one FREE Sovol SV04 IDEX printer in a short term promotion. 


I have no experience with Sovol 3D printers; but, the care they demonstrated in the design and build quality of the SH01 Filament Dryer gives me some positive vibes.


Friday, April 12, 2019

It is Wonderful When a Vision Becomes a Reality

As I wrote in my previous article, I am more than a little thankful for the start that the Cube printers provided me.  Among other things, the Cube was a significant step forward in my quest toward my ultimate goal... finding a way to help my sculptor daughter realize her dreams with the assist of 3D printing.


In reality, the Cube came my way out of the ashes of an earlier product in my trek on the quest that went up in smoke when the DeskTop Factory was swallowed up in 2009 by 3D Systems.

Desktop Factory 3D Printer 2007-2009

Cathy Lewis was the CEO at Desktop Factory, and a tireless advocate for consumer 3D printing, and in the acquisition became the Vice President for International Marketing of 3D Systems.  Cathy and I had become acquainted in 2007 through my interest in the Desktop Factory development and years later, in 2011, remembering my deep interest and help in testing and providing feedback on sample Desktop Factory prints, she contacted me to be on the lookout for a new consumer printer from 3D Systems... the 1st Generation Cube released in 2012, the same year, this blog began.

I knew that the Cube FDM printer was not the ceramics printer of my dreams. But, I also knew it was a first step in gaining 3D printing experience so that I would be poised to be ready when a real ceramics printer became a reality.  And, not too many years after starting this blog, it appeared that ceramics printing was right around the corner.

Those of you that have followed this blog know that 3D System's tantalizing 2014 announcements of the $10,000 Cerajet and, in particular, the $5,000 CubeJet were greeted with extreme happiness around here.  It appeared that the end of my quest was near at hand. 


But, that was not to be.  When 3D Systems closed down the Cube family production line, the CeraJet and CubeJet became collateral damage and my dreams of seeing my daughter's art rise from a bed of powder went down in flames.  It was a hard blow.... made harder by learning that the engineers on the project had probably been scattered like ashes.
There some are creating amazing art with 3D printers capable of extruding clay.


That isn't the process that I prefer.

I know, from years of experience printing with YouthQuest Foundation's Z450 "sandstone" printer, just how much I enjoy working with a powder based printer.  Yet, neither the Z450 nor the newer CJP (Color Jet Printing) ProJet series printers are true ceramics printers.  The powder used in the CJP printers is NOT clay-based ceramics and the binder is, I am relatively certain, NOT something you want to put into a kiln and fire!

And, being able to apply the glaze of your choice and fire your creation is a huge deal.

CeraJet / CubeJet 3D Printed Pottery

Now, out of the Ukraine, comes a 3D printer that has rekindled those long smoldering dreams.  I don't even remember how I found out about the Ceramo Zero Max.  But, however it was, or whoever it was, that pointed me in their direction I am truly grateful.  Here, finally, is a desktop, powder-based ceramics printer that creates objects meant to be fired!

Kwambio Ceramo Zero Max Desktop Ceramics Printer
I am not going to try to post an image of the ceramics output of the Ceramo Zero Max because it would be misleading.  The Ceramo Zero Max does not print in color.  But, the most beautiful examples online are in color.  And, that is because printing the part is simply one step in the process of turning a creative idea into a stunning piece of art.  And, that process is already familiar to clay artisans.  I cannot even begin to tell you just how incredibly important this fact is to an artist.  They can print out a 3D design of a cup and, if they wish, not a single one would be the same as another.  Each can be imbued with the vision of the artist in a completely unique way using varying patterns, color, firing techniques and other personal touches.

But, I WILL point you to their materials pages to see exactly what I'm talking about.  First, the ceramics powder page:


Next, a bonus, the GS ONE page:


I am assuming that one would need two Ceramo printers to EASILY use both materials, as they seem so different.  But, the fact that both are available is very cool.  I'm guessing that the GS One would be great for creating molds for slip casting.  But, since I have no real experience with it, don't hold me to that conclusion.


I mentioned that the Ceramo Zero Max was developed in the Ukraine.  Actually, this didn't surprise me as 3D-Coat, a marvelous 3D sculpting application we've written about in earlier posts, is also the product of a Ukraine company!

But, Kwambio's international headquarters is in New York City.  And, they recently opened a new lab in Harford, Connecticut where it can continue to develop consumer, industrial and, I believe, biomedical products and materials. Both Stanley and GE use their industrial ceramics products.

Here is a story from this year's CES that overs both the industrial and consumer ceramics printers.


I wish I could tell you more; but, until I get a chance to actually seen one in action, I'd simply be guessing.  But, hopefully, I will get that chance in the next few weeks, either at Ceramics Expo 2019 in Cleveland at the end of this month or their offices in Connecticut sometime in May.

I can tell you this.  Whichever visit works out, I am REALLY looking forward to it.  While not a life-time, twelve years is a long time to be on a quest!  And, I am extremely optimistic that the goal is very, very near.