Thursday, December 27, 2012

Book Review: Drops of God

I don't read too many graphic novels, but based on a friend's recommendation, I picked up Drops of God, Volume 01 , the first in Tadashi Agi's series about the son of a famous wine critic that must beat an up and coming wine critic at his own game in order to inherit his father's estate and priceless wine collection.

It was an entertaining read, and an interesting take on making the subject of wine tasting accessible to the average reader. That said, I don't think I'll continue with the series. The story is pretty typical despite the unique scenario. The protagonist has never tasted wine, but was raised by his father to smell pencils and leather and taste berries, etc, all in a very "wax on/wax off" karate-kid way that's been done before. Also, the level to which wine and wine tasting are fetishized goes beyond the already excessive way wine buffs in Ameria do so, and takes it to otaku-like levels. Women swooning over a man's skill at pouring and decanting a wine, etc.

If you are a fan of Japanese manga, and want to learn some more about wine or are already a wine buff, then check it out.

Drops of God, Volume '01: Les Gouttes de Dieu

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Book Review: Just My Type - A Book About Fonts

Over the past couple years, I've thrown a number of books on typography (1, 2, 3) into my reading mix, and have also been reading up on e-book formats and the like. Aside from finding it interesting, I think that we under estimate how much area for development still exist in getting type on electronic displays. It took us thousands of years to get paper right, we'd be foolish to think that electronic type is done after 30 years.

Of the books I linked above, a couple leaned pretty far on the technical side, and one leaned further to the artistic side. Just My Type recently came across my radar and it's a nice mix of the two.

The book covers a lot of history of the more famous fonts, their creators, what makes them tick, and what popularized them. There are lots of interesting bits of history and some interesting quotes from interviews with various creators of famous fonts.

If you are into typography, it's a good read. If you aren't sure, this is probably a pretty approachable book to start before you dive in further.

Only two negatives, and they are minor nits. First, I read the paperback edition, and some of the inline font changes (and man, there are a lot of them. the book must have been a pain to lay out) are difficult to closely scrutinize for detail, as they are small. Second, there is some jargon that isn't explained, and that I'd not know of had I not read the other book above (e.g. the book refers to 'rivers' running through text without explaining the term). These are minor nits though

Just My Type: A Book About Fonts

Sunday, December 23, 2012

3D Printing Workflow

So I've been dabbling in 3D Printing this past week after getting my Printxel printer recently. It took me a bit to get things set up correctly. It's not the noob-friendly exercise some folks might have you believe. That said, once you get things working it's pretty amazing. After doing a number of prints of some sample files of varying sophistication, yesterday I did my first from-scratch project. This is an attempt to document the workflow for anyone interested.

We have a series of window screens around the house that suffer from the same broken plastic bracket the joints the aluminum frame pieces. I've been unable to find a replacement so I thought I'd make my own.

First step is to model what you want printed. I used Google's Sketchup, which I'd used before, and is pretty amazing to pick up and play with, even if you have little experience with modeling tools (I spent a lot of time working with Autocad and 3DStudio, but that was ~20 years ago). Sketchup also has really easy to use dimensioning tools, so I could get the model to exactly match what I was measuring on the original with some calipers. Here's a pic of the finished model:

Next step is to export it from Sketchup in .STL format, which can be done via a free plug-in, in order for it to be read by the next step. During output, you specify the format and to keep the dimensions as is in the model (i.e. the above is in millimeters)

Next, is to import into a program that will 'slice' the model - generate a set of instructions giving the 3D printer path information to construct the model. It's referred to as slicing because the X-Y outlined before the printer moves down in Z, thus doing it in a set of slices. This program does more than just slice the model, it figures out how to fill in the insides of the model to save material, how to build temp supports for overhanging bits, it can build a 'raft' under the model as a starting point, etc. I used KISSlicer. The slicing tool needs to have settings for your particular printer, print material, etc, and these have been set up by Printxel's creator in a bunch of .ini files that are available in the Printxel google group. Here's a pic of the model in KISSlicer.

After using KISSlicer to export the printer instructions as G-Code. I import it into Replicator-G. This is the host software that will control the printer. The screenshot below shows the control panel for heating up the printhead or fine tuning the position of the printer before starting the print. Once it's up to temp, it's ready to go.

Here's short video of it part way through the printing process.

Below is a pic of the finished output next to the original (broken) piece. I didn't have any white PLA material, so I did this one with clear material. I've got some white material on order to run off a number of these.

Below is a pic of the part in place. The patchy looking stuff on the 1mm thick outside trim is some remaining white glue off the print bed. putting down a thin layer of glue helps give the first layer of PLA something to adhere to, while making easy to remove the piece afterward.

I'm pretty happy with how the piece turned out. Beleive its stronger than the original piece, as the original was hollow and mine is filled with a corrugated lattice of PLA material. Not sure whether prolonged sun exposure will weaken the PLA as it does some other plastics. We'll have to wait and see. 

[Update: Thought I'd post a pic of a more recent print now that I have some white PLA. See below]

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Book Review: 5 Elements of Effective thinking

Extremely weak. I don't remember who recommended it to me, but I wish they hadn't. Oversimplified, basic approaches to thinking that the authors boil down to knowing your fundamentals, asking basic questions, and thinking about how insights build upon one another.

They pitch the whole thing in far too much of an infomercial style, cite "thousands of students and business leaders", etc, but don't give specific names, and present their method in a "trust us, it works" fashion.

Skip it.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Book Review: Venture Deals

I'd had Brad Feld's book on my to-read list for some time after I started reading his blog (which is worth subscribing to). I got hold of it recently and put it into the pile of stuff I'm trying to worth through by end of year. It was pretty easy to digest so I made short work of it.

Venture Deals comes from a unique perspective as Feld and Jason Mendelson (his coauthor) have both been on the receiving end of VC deals before going on to become VCs themselves. As such, they call out common pitfalls on both sides of deals that get put together, and explain the motivations and responsibilities for both parties. The bulk of the book is a walk through typical terms of term sheets and letters-of-intent. This part is really good as they make the legalese digestible while still explaining what the different clauses are for and what can go wrong with them if not handled properly.

I'll can't give the book a perfect rating as it has a couple shortcomings. First, I'd like to see it address how the VC space is evolving. They do discuss the ebb and flow between times of bullishness and conservatism, but I'd like to see things like the crowdfunding act addressed, etc. Second, they give a little lip service to legal differences in different states, but the book doesn't talk about differences in VCs in different regions/countries. A good appendix would have been made of interviewing a VC based in, say, London or Paris or Dubai. Third, the disparaging tone they use when speaking about lawyers goes beyond the standard lawyer jokes and grates on the nerves after a while. Finally, even in Silicon Valley, there are different motivations for different VCs. For example, Intel and Google both have venture arms who's motivations are broader than just making money (they often have some strategic alignment with their parent corporation).

These things aside, the book is an easy read and a good intro to venture deals.

Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Book Review: Library - An Unquiet History

Library: An Unquiet History is a book about the history of libraries, but in a bigger sense about the history of the written word, and the way in which we've treated it, sometimes despised it, and sometimes tried to erase or otherwise shape our histories and our realities by the which in way we preserve it.

On the plus side, I learned a lot, and was also presented with a lot to think about in areas I'd taken for granted. The purposes libraries serve and have served change over time, for example, the ebb and flow of thinking in whether libraries are there to preserve as much as possible, or to filter and preserve only the best books. There are also great bits of history, ranging from the limited knowledge about how libraries of ancient scrolls were maintained two thousand years ago, to the efforts of Nazi-occupied jewish ghettos to maintain a library under occupation. There's also great bits of history and trivia about librarian education over time, how the Dewey cataloging system was invented, along with others, and much more.

Unfortunately the author has a very dry style and comes across with some degree of pretentiousness that made it a difficult read. As a result, I give this one a 3/5 kind of rating.

Library: An Unquiet History

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Interesting perspectives on "mobile first"

Good post from Fred Wilson, in turn quoting another good post from Vibhu Norby, debating the pros/cons of targeting mobile first. Much of the same debate I hear game devs having as of late, and so it's relevant to that crowd.

Great quote:

"I use my phone more than anything else. I just don’t think that an entrepreneur who wants a real shot at success should start their business there. The Android and iOS platform set us up to fail by attracting us with the veneer of users, but in reality you are going to fight harder for them than is worthwhile to your business. You certainly need a mobile app to serve your customers and compete, but it should only be part of your strategy and not the whole thing"

Good read!