Thumbtack adventure

Scanning old family photos has been a little tougher lately since so few services offer color transparency scanning. Any old flatbed can handle most of the standard prints and the larger prints can be photographed with a good digital SLR.

But my sister once visited Oklahoma’s premiere theme park – Frontier City – nearly twenty years ago and to commemorate the occasion, the family bought one of those family portraits.

But this one was a unique little keychain viewer which used an old odd sized color transparency format I wasn’t familiar with. Fortunately, some people still have flatbed transparency scanners – mostly the photographers trying to deal with a changing market.

I remember using dedicated slide scanners decades ago – they were the preferred method for the photographers back in the 90s when I worked at a magazine. Everything was just better fidelity than the flatbeds. But things advanced enough to the point where the flatbeds were winning out. Another case of digital creep – that point where old tech starts to give way to new toys.

SO here comes the gig economy – I needed a one time scan of a one of a kind image from a format that hasn’t been actively used in at least 20 years. In steps Thumbtack, whose SEO criteria carefully matched one of my searches.

I hate sites like Fivr – bad branding and bad attitudes and publicity made me think those were not the way to go. But Thumbtack seemed just left of center enough – same basic model but definitely a more approachable methodology.

Overall, I keep looking for ways to monetize art and my work, but sites like these just seem like they could be eliminated entirely with even better SEO by Google at some point. Since it really is all search based, only based on tasks matching to availability instead of web crawling and search phrases or images.

But it was good experience. I have my scan, spent 30 dollars and less than a full 24 hours later I can send the image to my family. I don’t know what kind of camera, photographer or other equipment was employed to make the original but even the most common iPhone model today can take a better picture than this film format with little assistance.

But it still took someone with a good eye and rare gear to make it happen. I think there’s a lesson in there somewhere but it’s not as apparent as digital creep and technological obsolescence. I think it’s more about needing to preserve certain things at the right time.

The real lesson is that the color transparency lasted over 20 years and sustained very little damage for being a physical thing. A digital photo that isn’t backed up disappears instantly with a careless swipe or a spilled bottle of kombucha (not kidding, that happened to thousands of my photos).

A color slide can survive a lot. I’ve spilled all kinds of other drinks on color slides, sat on them, flung them across the room in anger, and even set a few on fire. Ok, the last one did actually burn beyond recognition, but a corner or too survived. This one in particular survived a few decades in a jewelry box, stored in a non temperature controlled room in a state with temperature swings from freezing to 100 plus summers.

That’s a lesson – how robust are our digital photos when we constantly lose them to carelessness, but just as quickly fill up another device until it, too, is drowning in Kombucha? Haha!

Going for a CAD upgrade

If you’re an experienced 3d modeler in any profession, you rely on certain tools. Being such an open source nerd, as well as just cheap, I depend on plenty of free tools.

Professional 3d modelers spend their careers keeping up with the tools that are in demand at movie or television studios which makes most of them scoff at free tools because of their simplicity or feature set.

But a key component lacking in entertainment work is dimensional and engineering accuracy. You can animate the universe in Maya and make it pretty, but good luck getting an accurate engineering visualization out of it.

And that’s something I looked for in other 3D CAD tools lately – sure the Hollywood boys an girls get all the glory on screen. But I’ve said this before since getting into 3d printing – NONE of the models usually made for the screen translate seamlessly to the printer. The demands on either are are very different.

There’s is some shared space between them in the concepts of creating profiles, polygons, extrusions and the like. But the meat an potatoes of creating something that actually works when manufactured? New ball of wax.

Dimensional accuracy, tolerances, the Shore scale of material usage, material density to weight ratios, etc. There’s so much more to worry about when turning a 3d design meant for actual use in the real world than there ever was in merely making something pretty onscreen. I take it back, but only a little – we’ve all worked for THAT director at some point. The one that things the weight of the world depends on THAT ONE PIXEL.

If only they knew.

Form Fuse and Fabulous

The latest release from Formlabs is pretty impressive – maybe too expensive for me right now but definitely a serious thing to consider for the rest of the world.

Think about this for a second. Formlabs started on Kickstarter, made a successful if legally challenged launch, released a follow up to that product commercially as a fledgling company and has now released an SLS solution.

That stands for Selective Laser Sintering – a fancy way to get rid of the support structures and make incredibly clean prints. If you have any experience in 3d printing, you have dealt with supports, the structures that make 3d printing possible with other technologies to compensate for the annoyance of gravity.

SLS is not new, but for many serious prototyping facilities it is the only serious method to get around the laborious and sometimes destructive practice of cleaning off support structures. I typically don’t mind the process but I have become to accept it as a part of getting clean parts.

I have always hated the idea of altering my design to fit the limitations of the technology – this has always been a designer’s problem with regard to FDM or Fused Deposition Modeling, the more familiar melting plastic printing process to most of you.

But SLS technologies are the best current solution to getting clean parts with minimal cleaning out of a printer. The powders used get dusted off the parts as you pull them from SLS printers, kind of like the movie version of the archaeologist’s field work. Indiana Jones never had it so easy. And sure they have their share of issues, the relative ease of personally modifying an FDM printer (the first 2 Ultimakers are open source and famous for this ease) are likely gone.

SO think about it – a company that was crowdfunded has released a consumer model of the best possible way of getting clean 3d printed parts without tedious sanding and tweezer gymnastics other printing tech forces us to accept.

It’s a big move, and I can’t wait until I can justify the expense.

Promises and forgiveness

Practicing forgiveness is not an easy thing for me and I imagine the same for many of you out there. Just a few weeks ago, my mother passed away suddenly. Just three years after my father died, my mother was examined at her nursing home, sent to the hospital and before I could board my flight she was gone.

I didn’t find out until I was headed to the ticket counter to get my boarding passes.

It was the second time I was in an airport finding out a parent had died. The last time, I was on one of those lumbering belted walkways, rushing other travelers to their gates at Denver’s airport. I almost wanted to start a foundation whose sole purpose was to find people grieving in airports and offer some counseling. They would offer emotional triage in mid trip, especially during the summer, surrounded by cheery Disney draped families, children chirping along to their coastal vacations.

It was a weird thought to have on my own trip – thinking for a second that no technological intervention other than a full time, on demand personal Concorde flight would have helped. Again, my thinking went right to a solution that was mechanical in some way. Instead of spending time in the exact moment – exactly where I needed to be. With the rest of my family.

All of my siblings are older, the ones who could travel and made it to the funeral destination within mere hours of one another. Other than one of my sisters who could not travel, the only thing missing from this picture was an object – the only object that mattered in many ways. My mother’s wedding ring, with a 1 Karat, platinum mounted diamond, was missing. No one, not the nursing home, ambulance crew, emergency room staff or hospital administrators could account for it.

That ring was worn with faith, love and incredible dignity by a woman who was a teacher, a role model, wife and mother to six children. And while a ring as an object is an easy thing to lose, what it meant to her daughters and sons was more than its appraised value. It was something we all knew she wanted to be buried with in the faith that she would meet her husband again, he would see it and they would live out an eternal promise made on their wedding day.

My parents were great teachers of one virtue incredibly missing from our world, our discourse and our teachings. They were experts in forgiveness. But being the more rebellious of my siblings I found it the hardest virtue to practice, favoring others more – like justice.

It’s easier for someone who sees the world darkly to favor the story that says someone stole that ring, pawned it for some lowly sum – unequal to the symbolic worth of the years it was worn. That’s easier than thinking of it more objectively – that it was an old rock, held in a band of metal, worn on one finger for as long as it would fit.

What was more important? The object, or the promise?

Just after the funeral, thinking about the sharp sense of simple humor my father often showed, I thought for a second what my father might say. Seeing my mother’s finger naked for the first time since their vows, he might say jokingly with the bemused lovable smirk “Hey, (pause for effect) … where’s your ring?”

When people say, “you can’t take it with you,” this is the literal truth of all things except the vows, promises and work done in our lives to make our worlds better. Wherever that ring lies, whether it was through greed, stolen, or through negligence merely lost, nothing has undone the promise and the lesson.