A Case for The Hopper

Grace Hopper was an amazing lady. She had the nickname of "Amazing Grace". You should read the full article in the wikipedia. Besides a number of things she accomplished, she is known for her nanoseconds visual aid. People (such as generals and admirals) used to ask her why satellite communication took so long. She started handing out pieces of wire which were just under one foot long (11.80 inches), which is the distance that light travels in one nanosecond

To honor her and to aid in casual use of the metric system, I propose the pseudo unit of the Hopper.  A hopper is exactly 30cm long (11.8 inches) or about 1 foot. You use it where the foot would be appropriate.  For instance, "He is a big guy - over 6 hoppers tall." rather than "... over 1.8 meters tall."

Floor tiles are 1x1 or 2x2 hoppers rather than 30x30 or 60x60 cm. Shipping pallets are 4x4 hoppers. Ceilings (at least in the US), are typically 8 Hoppers tall. Ceiling tiles are often 2x4 hoppers. A sheet of paper is about 1 hopper long.

In summary, a foot and a hopper for most purposes would be interchangeable, kind of like a quart and a liter.

So amaze your friends (especially the technical types) - start referring to things in conversation in terms of hoppers, and when they look puzzled, educate them:

"You know - hoppers, about the same size as a foot but in metric, the distance light can travel in a nanosecond. Named after Grace Hopper."

Next thing you know, all the cool kids will measure in Hoppers and a few more will know about Grace Hopper and the important contributions she made to the world we live in today.



3D Printing

A few weeks ago we purchased our first 3D printer.  For those of you living under a rock, or thinking that 3D printing is to regular printing what 3D movies are to 2D movies, this post is for you. I won't explain the technical details or benefits of the technology.  What I will do is share with you what I found to be an unusual use case, something entirely unexpected.

If you bought a computer or smartphone in the last several years, you are familiar with the digital equivalent of "some assembly required".  On power up you must immediately download and install software updates just to get the functionality you purchased.  You then follow that up by loading the key applications that are important to you. Continue reading to see the hardware equivalent for 3D printing.

The printer we purchased was the Afinia H Series 3D printer. It came with a spool holder capable of supporting a 1.5 lbs spool of plastic filament.  We had also ordered multiples spools of 2.2 lbs of filament that would not fit on the holder (it being cheaper).  So did we need to order a larger spool holder attachment? No. We simply downloaded a 3D file for the the larger spool holder, and printed it out using the material from the smaller reel. We essentially used the machine to modify itself, by creating parts for itself.  There are also a number of files for making spare parts.

The RepRap project takes this idea a bit further, where you can print many of the parts to build your own 3D printer. It will be interesting to see where this leads.

A prototype printed on our printer


Developer Lessons From My Three Worst Online Shopping Experiences

Tonight I had my third worst online shopping experience.  It was a pain but as I considered that it might have been worse, I remembered  two more that definitely ranked higher in the negative sense which prompted me to come up with these seven lessons for Developers that might prove helpful.

So what was so bad tonight? Well, I was trying to catch up on work over the weekend and order a vendor specific development system for a project I'm working on. The vendor's site was pretty professional, I had been studying their offerings for a couple of months, I had just not gotten around to pulling the trigger on a purchase, because I had just been too busy.  So finally on a Saturday night, as I'm checking off my to do list, I try to place the order. Unfortunately the site's checkout system failed me, and instead of simply dying, it inticed me to go through a gauntlet of checkout pages, multiple times, thinking that I only needed to make one more change to be successful.  Maybe some developer/designer of online stores can learn from my frustration.

Lesson 1 - Use one screen rather than three or more to enter the customer's information.

Lesson 2 - If you must use multiple screens, save the customer's data, don't make him enter the same information over and over again for a simple correction.

Lesson 3 - Accept common forms of phone numbers, zip codes and state abbreviations. Do not fail for lack of a dash or worse because one was included. Certainly accept zipcodes like 55555-4444 and not require 555554444. And if you can't pull this off, don't wait for two more pages before you tell the customer that it is a problem. But if you must, see Lesson 2.

Lesson 4 - If a customer goes to the trouble to fill in a shipping address - use it. Don't make him also click a box that says "Ship to my shipping address and not my billing address".  But if you must - See Lesson 2.

Lesson 5 - If (after the 3rd try) there is still something wrong with the information the customer is providing - provide an explanation. Not "try again or use a different credit card".  But if you must - See Lesson 2.

Those were the lesson's from my third worst experience.

Lesson 6 - From my second worst experience - Don't send me my login ID and password in an email "so I can keep it in a safe place". This tells me two things - (1) you have no clue about how to keep my information safe and (2) you did not keep my information safe.  You didn't even bother to hash my password. If you had written my ID and password on a post card and posted it on the bulletin board at the post office fewer people would have had access.

Lesson 7 - From my worst - Don't include my billing address, my shipping address, my credit card number and the card's expiration date on the packing slip - but if you do, don't tell me none of your other customers complained. It makes me worry about why I would select the same company those guys use.



The Hexadecimal Cube

 A Single Hexadecimal Cube projection showing all sides. (Click for a larger image.)

All Unique Orientations of a Single Cube(Click for a larger image.)

This is another interesting design to come out of our research. Some might argue that it is a device rather than an artistic expression, or maybe even an expression of mathematical first principles.  We don't really know ourselves, but we have a lot of ideas on how to put it to use.  Here are the FAQs.

What exactly is a Hexadecimal Cube? Well, you might think of it as a nibble of art (pun intended), with practical as well as artistic applications. Technically it is a standard six sided cube with each side divided into quadrants, with the quadrants marked such that the cube can be manipulated to show 16(hexadecimal) unique quadrant combinations.  Artistically it is the full expression of a unique three dimensional pattern that illustrates the complete Hexadecimal base number set. By applying certain rotations and aligning multiple cubes larger artistic as well as practical images and messages can be conveyed. 

What can you do with a Hexadecimal Cube? Well, just one makes a curio that might serve as a nice paper weight or conversation piece.

What can you do with many Hexadecimal Cubes? Frankly we have dozens of ideas most of which we don't have time to try, and we haven't scratched the surface. Some examples are: (1) Produce a work of art. A set of cubes allows you to create bit mapped images. Think of it as a mechanical dot matrix display. Any monochrome image or text can be created with enough cubes. Each cube represents a 2x2 section of the display. (2) Make a reusable QR code display for indoor or outdoor signage. Only a 12x12 set of cubes is required to create a QR code display.  (3) A reusable billboard. (4) games i.e. guess the message or picture content in the fewest number of moves. (5) exercise your (or your child's) brain - graduate from Alphabet blocks to digital blocks.

What is the easiest way to create a Hexadecimal Cube? (1) Take an existing cube, mark, paint or apply stickers. (2) Print out the supplied Hexadecimal Cube pattern, cut, and tape or glue to create a paper cube.

Hexadecimal Cube - Box PatternClick here to download a PDF version.

Can I make these for fun and profit? Yes. We grant you a non-exclusive permission to use the Hexadecimal Cube design and derivatives in any craft or project.  Personal, non-commercial, charitable, or low volume artistic use is free. We can also provide you with a commercial license.  If you want to "Do the right thing." but not bother with securing a commercial license you can simply set aside $1(US) or 1% of the sales price (whichever is less) for each set, package or system sold. A system can contain any number of Hexadecimal Cubes. You can make the payment whenever it is convenient to you, or not at all. Payments are voluntary for individuals or organizations producing less than 10,000 Hexadecimal Cube based products. For larger production volumes fees are mandatory but negotiable.

Are there any products currently available using Hexadecimal Cubes? Not as far as we know.  Please let us know of such products so we can provide links. We have a few in work and will update the page when appropriate.


Grid Beams, Bit Beams, and Grid Struts

Various kinds of modular building materials have been available for years.  Some are better than others for prototyping industrial machines and robots.  Recently there have been a number of articles and presentations on grid type structures.  

What do we mean by Grid-type structures? Think Lego and Erector Sets. With the right sized compatible parts you can build most anything - with the limitation that the parts attach in a standardized grid pattern.  All the attach points are predetermined, but there are many, usually as many points as will fit on a piece.

Besides the obvious advantage of not having to drill holes, weld, glue, or other difficult attachment methods, grid type systems avoid the need for precise measurements to make square connections.  Simply count the number of holes or other grid points to get a repeatable precise measurement.

When you move up to "Adult" (as described by one blogger) grid type systems, there are really few sources for materials.

We are thinking we might be able to help out in that area.  Here is how: Just-in-time Grid Beam Manufacturing.  The idea is to create a set of tools that allow Grid Beams and derivatives to be manufactured as needed locally.  Locally can mean within shopping distance, say the local hardware or building supply store or your garage.  Contact us if you are interested in becoming a Grid Beam Maker.

For more information on grid-type construction materials try these sites: GridBeamNation (medium scale), BitBeam (small scale) , and soon at our own site GridStruts (all scale).

For a really fun (my wife would say nerdy) example of grid type prototyping  see the video below.

And for a Whole Earth Catalog kind of introduction view the video below.