More VR Stuff, this Time with the Rift

I am fortunate enough to have a wonderful brother just as interested (if not more so) in emerging tech, specifically with virtual reality. He already owns a Vive, but decided to order an Oculus Rift a few months back. Due to some fluke, Oculus sent him two Rift Touches by accident, one of which he lent to me. I’ve been having tons of fun with it, but more importantly, I’m learning how it can be useful in existing fields. This is particularly due to the fact that I work at an architecture firm that is currently conducting research in how VR can be used with architectural visualization. This isn’t exactly a brand new topic, but I’m really excited to be personally involved in the research, both at home and at my workplace.

In terms of architectural visualization, I think the biggest, most exciting software for me right now is TwinMotion for VR. I learned about TwinMotion from one of Fabrice Bourrelly’s Unreal Archiectural Visualization webinars (check them out here when you get the chance). I am currently learning Unreal Engine as I am really interested in building my own VR environments from the ground up (textures, animations, lighting, the whole deal). Of course, this takes time and energy, which most of us don’t have much to spare. TwinMotion is a more “plug and play” software for VR, with built in material, lighting, and animation presets. Essentially, all you have to do is bring in a model (whether it be a Revit, Rhino, Cinema 3D model, among others) and add in whatever you like. Another pro: the software is compatible with most VR headsets. The software is still in its early stages, but I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ll have in store for us. Check them out here.

On to a more lighthearted, fun topic- Games and Apps with the VR! So I love messing around with my headset, and there are some really fun games and things to do while in virtual reality. Of course, my favorite moment was when both my boyfriend and brother played AFFECTED – The Manor, a horror game. I was a wimp, while both of them were very brave facing ghosts and goblins and scary things (though the bf did scream like a girl a couple times). Truly a terrifying experience. Another cool App I discovered was Medium, a sculpting app. Imagine 3DSMax or Mudbox, but rather than staring at a monitor and sculpting with a keyboard and mouse, you create models within VR. Your canvas is the virtual world within the headset, and your sculpting tools are your hands (well, the touch handset you hold… but you get the point).

I will try to post a time lapse video at some point of me using Medium, but for now I can share a few screen grabs of my latest creation- a silly octopus. The app was a little finicky with layers and resolution (Medium actually began to crash after I added too many suckers, but I should have expected that… I was modeling a large model in VR…) and my head hurt after a couple hours of being in the headset, but overall really fun. I can see artists using Medium to create large virtual environments with crazy creations.

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All about Wood Tables

Over the last year, we’ve worked on two wood tables that I’d love to share with you guys. They were both really fun projects that I definitely learned a lot from. The first table was made from white oak we purchased from a man out in Maryland who had cut down the tree in his yard and dried the wood himself (that was probably one of the most important the thing I learned from this experience- how long it takes to kiln dry properly care for wood in preparation for furniture). I’ll start off with the biggest mistake we made during the process- storing the oak in a damp room. A few days after storing it, we noticed warping and minor honeycombing (when the core cracks) in the wood. Bummer!

Not to be discouraged, we decided to say “screw it” and sand/finish it anyways to see if we could get a table out of it. Here is the wood before we began work:

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We first removed the bark from the wood and sanded down the top with some hand sanders. Here it is post-bark removal:

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We went up to a few hundred grit, and were told by some of my Techshop coworkers to go up even higher to really give a smooth finish. After we finished sanding the wood, it was time to decide on legs. We knew we wanted cast iron, but had a couple options to decide on. We ultimately decided on cross legs, but when we received them, this is how they turned out (the piece of wood in the picture is actually another piece of the same wood from the Maryland man… not sure what we are going to do with it yet…):

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WAY too tiny! A quick search on Amazon found us some pin legs, which we decided to go with (the next time around, I would love to get into the metal shop and make my own, but that’s a project for another day).

We decided to go with Waterlox (a Tung-Oil sealer/finish), which turned out beautifully. Here I am putting on the first layer:

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And after a few more layers:

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It wasn’t especially difficult to put on, and dried really nicely. After that, it was time to screw in the legs…

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Et viola, complete (I apologize for the intense Instagram filter):

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As you can see, we did get some minimal warping, which was definitely a bummer because we put so much work into the table. Weirdly enough, around the same time Sasha’s Aunt decided to get rid of a GORGEOUS (albeit dented and somewhat moldy) Redwood table. I unfortunately do not have a great before-photo and did not document the process as well as our first table, but here is the table just as we began to smooth it down/remove the existing, nicked finish with a hand planer:

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Once we got off all the old finish, we hand sanded it down until it was nice and smooth. A few days later, we set up shop on Sasha’s parents back porch and finished it with two layers of danish oil. Here’s the final product:

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The next step for this project will be working on new legs, as the current base is some dimensional lumber with too light of a finish. Hopefully I can get around to it with all the projects I want to try!

Zipping Together Two Mummy Bags

My boyfriend I are avid backpackers and do a lot of camping trips in the spring and summer time. We have increased our inventory of gear since we first started dating (I had most of the gear at the beginning of the relationship, now we are about even). He purchased a new sleeping bag last year (the REI Helio down, right zip) and I knew at some point I would need a new sleeping bag as well. I had been using an REI Radiator sleeping bag leftover from my childhood backpacking trips with my family- literally, this thing is 20 years old. It held up amazingly, though! Check out this picture from circa 1997 and one my boyfriend snapped today- same bag:

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You can see I’m on top of two other sleeping bags, which leads me into the fabrication topic of the day. Many sleeping bags cab zip together, which is really great as you can cuddle and steal warmth from a significant other. In order to zip together, two mummy bags must each be one right-zip and one left-zip. They also need to be of the same zipper manufacturer. I knew that when I would purchase my next sleeping bag, I would want it to zip together with my boyfriend’s Helio bag.

I went to REI to try to find an REI brand sleeping bag that could potentially zip with the Helio. I spoke with a very helpful REI rep, who recommended the REI Flash sleeping bag. Since my boyfriend is very tall and has a tall sized sleeping bag, the rep also recommended going for a regular size men’s bag as it was left zipping and might fit a little better next to a tall bag. However, he wasn’t positive the Helio and Flash would zip together and unfortunately, they had none left in stock. The bag had all the specs I wanted (correct temperate range, great weight for backpacking), so I decided to take the risk and order the bag online. However, when I received the Flash, we immediately realized it would be impossible to zip the bags together for two reasons:

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Firstly, both of the zipper fasteners were on their respective bag’s top zipper. One would have to be on the bottom and one would have to be on the top in order to zip properly. You could potentially flip one of the bags over, but then the head part of the mummy bag would cover your face- not ideal.

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Secondly, even if the zipper fasteners were on their correct side, you couldn’t attach the fastener to the zipper due to a blocker (item circled).

I realize the reason this all probably happened was because both of the bags are men’s sleeping bags and REI only guarantees that their REI brand men and women’s bags will zip together. I was so happy with the Flash bag that I didn’t want to return it and go through the trouble of finding another great sleeping bag that could zip with the Helio. It was time to figure out a possible solution using 3D printing!

I took the measurements of the zippers using a caliper and snapped a couple photos from plan and elevation views. I then brought the images and measurements into Rhino and modeled the zipper. I modeled two zippers, one the same height as the bag’s current zipper and one a millimeter taller in order for the blocker piece to fit through it. Check it out:

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Two poly-surface zippers with different heights and two meshes, exported as an STL to be printed.

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Ready to go!

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I printed two of each of the two-sized zippers on the Mojo 3D printer at Techshop (printing away in the image above). Once the support came off, it was time to test them:

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And it works! This video shows just one zip fastener, but in reality each zipper on the bag, bottom and top, has two zip fasteners, like so:

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Our two mummy bags finally zip together! We did run into one problem though: even when the bags are zipped together, the Helio bag still has an open foot area at the bottom as the starting point of the Flash’s zipper is higher than the Helio, like so:

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You could potentially start them at the same point at the bottom, but then the Flash’s head would be much shorter than the Helio. Either my boyfriend’s feet will be cold, or my head will be at his chest- so I think I’ll be buying him a bunch of wool socks 😛 Jokes aside, I am still trying to come up with a solution for this, and will update my blog once I can come up with something viable. In the meantime, happy camping!

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Learning how to Turn on a Lathe

I am fortunate that one of my coworkers at Techshop, who is extremely skilled at wood turning, offered to teach me how to use the wood lathe. At first I was a bit nervous, as I have minimal experience in woodworking (I’m more of a CNC/digital fabrication kind of gal). However, I soon learned turning was not as difficult as I thought. I believe it’s one of those skills that is relatively easy to learn, but difficult to master. It’s all about getting the rotation speed correct and placing the chisels correctly (this was actually a bit difficult for me as a lefty!)

I wanted to show a comparison of my first work with my most recent work. Here is my first work, a basic baluster, that I turned on the lathe:

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To get the varying cuts and grooves, I used different chisels, such a spindle gouge for lighter grooves and a parting tool to make deeper cuts (this is also what to use to actually remove a piece from the lathe). After I learned how to use the lathe, my ultimate goal was to make some sort of bowl. My coworker decided he would show me how to do so, but using marble rather than wood. I was really surprised to learn that marble (and soapstone) was a soft enough stone to be cut using steel chisels. It didn’t take much more effort to turn the marble than the wood, and I think the final product came out beautifully. I decided to give the small bowl-turned-candle holder to my mom- check it out:

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Couple of side notes: 1) I used steel wool to polish the marble. You just hold it against the stone while it’s spinning. 2) This bowl was actually supposed to have a lid, but unfortunately it went FLYING OFF THE LATHE (!) as I tried to part it. You live and learn I suppose- my happy accident turned my jewelry bowl to a candle holder.

Becoming Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road

My boyfriend, myself, and two friends decided that we wanted to take on Mad Max for Halloween. It was on of my favorite movies of 2015 and I loved Furiosa’s character (a strong, bad-ass, independent female main character- what’s not to like?), so I decided I would go as Furiosa.

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I knew immediately I wasn’t going to shave my head or cut off my arm, so I had to work around those parts of her costume. To start off, I purchased a basic costume from Amazon I knew I could modify:

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I also purchased a tan short sleeve shirt, high waisted black pants, 3 worn leather belts, faux welding goggles, a black infinity scarf, and some children’s hockey shoulder pads. All this was the basis for my costume. First and foremost, I knew I had to change out the belt. One of major pieces of Furiosa’s costume, the belt had to be done correctly. I actually was able to find the designed buckle ornament on Thingiverse: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:943629 (shout out to EmmJ for the design!) I printed the ornament on a Mojo 3D printer and this is how it turned out:

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Looks pretty good, right? So the next step was giving it a nice shine and smoothing it out. I did this by using acetone vapor to smooth out the print. You can do this by soaking paper towels in acetone and placing them in a large metal can. Flip the can upside down and then place your 3D print under the can (being careful to not let any of the paper towels directly touch the print). Note: this can only be done with ABS prints. After that, I spray painted the piece with some shiny silvery chrome spray paint.

The buckle ornament has a leather backing, so I purchased an 8.5 x 11 piece of worn leather from Michaels. I then measured out a circle with about a half inch offset from the ornament and cut it (I realized I could have done this quickly on a laser cutter, but I ended up doing it by hand with an x-acto blade). Check it out:

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The next part was modifying the belt from the costume to include my new buckle ornament. The most important factor was connecting it and making it sturdy while still also making it look good. I cut off the old ornament from the costume belt and also cut off the dingy, crappy looking belts. I left the leather pieces that hung down to hold the original ornament, as so:

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I then cut two holes in my leather and ran some brass coated jewelry chain and connected that to the hoops on leather pieces on the original belt. On the belt ornament leather backing, there are also approximately 20 one-foot chains that hang down. I added this in by cutting holes all along the bottom of the backing and running jewelry chain through the holes. Here is the finished product (which I was quite please with!):

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And here is everything put together:

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The costume came with a sleeve that was supposed to represent Furiosa’s mechanical arm, which I thought was good enough. I unfortunately do not have any images of the in between steps of spray painting the white hockey shoulder pad you see in the image or adding dirt and cutting the sleeves of my shirt, but both processes were quite simple.

Finally, check out pictures of all our costumes! It was a really fun process and I’m glad I got to go as one of my favorite characters.

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Back After a Long Hiatus

I’m back after taking some time off from blogging. I’ve been really busy, with some big career changes in my life. I moved from my job at the State Department/Jacobs Engineering to HOK, private architecture firm. I wanted to be more involved in the design process and working at an architecture firm will give me exactly that. I’m still looking forward to continuing my studies and tests in digital fabrication, so prepare for more posts to come now that I have a bit more down time!

To leave you, here is a wonderful GIF of Commander Shepard dancing in honor of the release of ME Andromeda:

Electroplating 3D Prints

I’ve always been interested in 3D printing in different materials or even possibly coating prints with paint or metal. During my time at UVA’s architecture school, I printed in nylon, wood filament, and many other crazy materials. I’ve also tested smoothing ABS with acetone vapor (works wonderfully). However, I really wanted to try something new, especially now that Techshop was at my disposal. My friend/coworker Brett runs an electroplating class, which I decided to take one day after work. Basically, the idea of electroplating is to use an electric current to coat a conductive object (typically some sort of metal) with, well, a different type of metal. It’s extremely useful and can be used for many different things, such as to decorate, to harden objects, or to protect from corrosion. In Brett’s class, we plated a copper penny with nickel- the process was far simpler than I originally imagined. You mix together nickel acetate (easy buy from Amazon) with vinegar in a plastic container. Once that’s all nice and mixed up, you connect whatever you are trying to electroplate (in our case, copper) to the cathode aka negative side of a small power supply  (6V battery) and the metal you plan to electroplate with (nickel) to the anode aka positive side. Place both in the nickel acetate vinegar bath, turn on the power supply to about 4 V (best to keep the voltage low) and wait. You will begin to see a coating form over your penny!

I was extremely pleased with the results and wondered if I could somehow use the same technique to coat a 3D print. I did some research online and saw that many people had tried it and got some pretty awesome results. It seemed that the cheapest method was using a graphite based coating, which would make the 3D print conductive. I decided I would try out a combination of acetone and graphite powder- the acetone, in theory, would cause ABS plastic to melt a bit (remember acetone vapor smoothing) and therefore act as a adhesive for the graphite. I purchased some graphite powder and acetone and mixed it. Oh my goodness, the graphite got everywhere! My hands were covered in this stuff for days. But, the mixture turned out very well in my opinion. I found an old ABS print I didn’t mind testing on and coated it with my solution. Here is how the solution looked and the graphite powder I purchased (noticed I kept it in a plastic baggy at ALL TIMES):

Once it was coated, I used the same method as Brett showed in class, but rather than connecting a copper penny to the cathode, I connected my graphite covered 3D print (well, I wrapped nickel wire around the print to ensure it was secure and connected that the cathode). Unfortunately, I did not take any photos of that rig, but I do have a picture of how it turned out:

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First try went way better than I expected. I honestly didn’t think it was going to work at all (my coworkers at Techshop had their doubts as well). The dark gray areas are places that didn’t take the nickel, but the lighter areas are locations coated in nickel- success! Now that trial 1 was over, it was time to move on to bigger things. Such as JEWELRY.

I designed a basic parametric bracelet in grasshopper and printed it on a Stratasys Mojo. It came out with a lot of support material, so it had to sit in the bath for a while. Here it is covered in support:

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Afterwards, I coated the bracelet with my acetone graphite solution. I did about 3 coats since the design was so complex; I had to ensure I got every little crevice. Here it is as I’m beginning to coat it:

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Alright, now it’s time to electroplate it! I set up the rig and connected the 3D print using A LOT of wire. I then carefully placed it in the nickel acetate bath and let it sit for 7 hours. It’s like watching paint dry:

Here you can finally see what the rig looks like. That rectangular object is my chunk of nickel, connected to the anode of my power supply. I had to rotate my bracelet every so often since my solution didn’t fully cover it. You can see the nickel beginning to cover the print:

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After seven long hours, I pulled the print out and was amazed at the results and how well the graphite took the nickel. Of course, it wasn’t perfect. There were areas of the print that didn’t take as much and some areas looked a little clumpy. Additionally, the metal was not polished. I purchased some Simichrome and used that the polish it up. It actually worked pretty well. Here is an image of the final product:

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Pretty cool stuff. I plan to test it on other objects, but for now I’m pleased I created a new trendy bracelet I can wear 🙂