More 3D Printing

I’m reflecting on the 3D printer and how it’s been working for me, and overall I’m very happy. For something I build from plans but with a lot of my own design, it’s working very well.

Some notes so far:

  • I used a caliper to measure my cubes. They are, in fact, exactly 20mm on every face. They did not shrink. That’s great news.
  • slic3r is a great program. In addition to letting you preview layers, it has scaling features. Using those I scaled the 20mm cube by 200% today and thus printed a perfect 40mm cube (confirmed by the calipers).
  • The blue tape is an excellent bed for PLA prints
  • There are a lot of available things to print on the internet, but now it’s time to learn blender and make some of my own. There are things I want to print that no-one else has designed yet, so now it’s my turn. 🙂

Today I’m printing a lens gear for the Canon DLSR. I doubt it will fit in the underwater housing (or interlock with the control wheel if it does, but it’s a start and I can then work with designs to create my own focus and/or zoom gears down the road.

More 3D Printing Fun

Today I was able to get back to the 3D printer after several days dealing with a major server crash.

After talking to my AU collaborator, I wanted to try extruding at the recommended temperature of 185C instead of 210C that I’d been using. One problem with hotter extruding is that the tip tends to ‘leak’ filament at idle.

My friend also recommended a colder bed, saying he used 30C instead of 60C.

I also configured an old APC UPS due to a power outage yesterday due to wind so that the printer wouldn’t die during a print if the power went out again. Although we have a generator, it takes 1 min to detect and respond to an outage, and a UPS saves the day during this interval.

I powered up the printer and used pronterface on my PC to set the extruder temperature to 185C. Once at temp I test extruded several cm of thread and it worked perfectly.

The last modification I made to the printer was to replace the tape on the aluminum bed with blue painter’s tape I bought earlier in the week. I figured this tape had a nicer pattern which might give better grip to the print.

I started the latest version of slic3r on my PC and set the new extruder and bed temperature as defaults, then loaded the 20mm cube and exported new gcode. I copied the gcode to the printer SD card, then inserted it into the printer and started the print. It was fast!!! The cube printed in 15 min, which is about twice as fast as the first time. I used a honeycomb fill pattern, which contributed to the speed, but it was still very fast. The new cube was identical to the first cube except for the fill pattern.

Finally, I found a model of a moai (Easter Island statue) on the web, and loaded into slic3r. It was a bit big, so I scaled it down by 50%, created the gcode file and copied that to the printer SD card.

It printed in just over 2 hours, and although there were issues with the filament not coming off the spool smoothly, there were no problems with the print. It’s awesome! The blue tape worked perfectly; I needed to really tug to remove the finished print.

I’ve attached photos of the moai printing as well as the final print. I also added some photos of the filament on the reel showing how it seems to be poorly wound at the factory. I’m not sure what I’ll do about that. Probably I’ll just live with it for this spool and buy a different brand from now on.


Moai printing   


Finished moai



Filament problems   

3D Printer Build (Prussia I3) – Jan 2016 to July 2017

I can’t believe that is’ been May since I last posted, but worse – I cannot believe I never posted anything about my 3D printer build. That’s terrible!

Well, to correct the omission, onward.

In January 2016 I started building a 3d printer with the encouragement from a colleague at Athabasca University. He had built one and thought I’d love doing it as well. He was an immense help, first giving me a detailed list of what to purchase from which ebay vendor, then actually printing the key plastic parts on his printer and sending them to me.

The idea was to custom build a Prussia I3 printer rather than buy a kit. Kits were/are costly, and don’t always use the best parts. By purchasing exactly what you want, you can customize the build as well as optimize the quality. In the end I bought about $350 worth of stuff from ebay, including rods, bearings, heated bed, stepper motors, extruder and all the electronics. A note about the electronics – the Prussia I3 can use many boards, but we used the RAMPS 1.4 which includes the arduino mega and an LCD control panel. The RAMPS has controllers for all the stepper motors as well as the extruder and heated bed. It runs off a slightly modified ATX power supply as it needs 12V at 25A.

I also bought  other parts locally, such as threaded rod, nuts and washers, as well as some aluminum plate for the frame and beds. Here I ended up spending about $225, so my total build cost was $575 (Canadian funds) including shipping and taxes.

The hard part initially was waiting. Buying this stuff off Ebay means Hong Kong, which in turn means 2 weeks to 1+ months delivery wait times. It gets pretty difficult to keep enthused while you check the post each day.

Finally in Feb or so most of the parts were in, and I could start. There are a lot of really good build videos and instructions on the internet, so I started with those.

By March I had the basic Y axis and X asis frames build, and there I stalled. My colleague used wood for his base and support structures, but I didn’t have the right wood and just could not get enthused about wood for this build. So I put it all away in a box for safekeeping, and  there it sat until late May of 2017.

Then I had an epiphany. I would build the frame from aluminum plate, as it’s easy to work with, relatively inexpensive and easy to get and have cut. I checked the built y axis against a large sheet of cut aluminum plate, and it fit perfectly. From there it began anew.

First I made sure the Y axis was true, then glued the feet to the aluminum plate with epoxy. Once that had cured, I started to design the vertical support system for the X and Z axes. Gradually it came together. Of course, the design/test/correct process means most of the holes become slots, but that’s not a big problem.

Once I got going, things really progressed quickly. The biggest problem became a lack of M3 bolts in various sizes. I’d originally bought a few specific sizes from an Ontario mail order outfit, but they were pricey and selection poor. Finally in June 2017 I bit the bullet and ordered a 440 variety pack from Hong Kong, figuring a month wait. To my surprise, it came in a week and I was back in business with even more renewed vigor.

By the fist week in July I had the printer complete, and started testing. There I hit some major snags. All the build instructions said “the kit comes with firmware loaded”. Well, I didn’t use a kit, so there was no firmware. Worse, my colleague from AU no longer worked there, and it took some time to reconnect. Finally I did, and with a few tips from him I was able to find the arduino software that compiles to the firmware that drives the printer.

This highlighted a further problem: the firmware has about a zillion parameters that must be set for your particular printer. Some aren’t critical, but others (like stepper motor settings) are essential. Fortunately the default parameters are pretty close for most things, and there are ample comments and options to get things up and running without too much bother.

Then there’s the ancillary software. To build a model, the printer needs instructions. The process is simple in theory. You take a 3d model and load it into a ‘slicer’ program which creates the actual instructions to drive the printer. It’s all very cool and open source, with the ‘gcode’ file being completely human readable. You can even manually tweak the file if you want. The problem yet again is the slicer program has   dozens of options, most of them critical for a good print.

Ultimately I got most things running by July 10, with the exception of the extruder. No matter what, it just created puddles of goo that it would then plow through while trying to print. After much internet searching, I found one document that discussed “extruder calibration”. Now I’d already calibrated the X, Y and Z stepper movement, which turned out to be perfectly aligned with the firmware default stepper rates. Of course I figured the supplied default would be correct for the extruder as well. However, puddles of goo said otherwise, so I calibrated the extruder. You simply make a mark on the filament, extrude a set amount and see if the actual movement matches the desired movement. To my surprise, I was running 5x what I wanted. Fortunately, with all those parameters in the firmware source, it was quick work to enter a corrected extruder parameter, and another test showed that I was now spot on.

With that, I printed my first 3d object on July 10, 2017 – a 20mm cube using PLA filament. When cooled, it was 19mm on every side, straight and true, so I am very happy with the operation of my 3d printer.

Later that night I printed a 1inch ball mount for my underwater video light, and it’s also turned out perfect.

Here’s a link to a video of the printer creating the cube:

Computer Science & ‘Coding’

Some thoughts from a post-reply I made on a chat forum for the University…

I like the term “Computer Science”, because it makes me feel all “sciency” and warm inside. It allows us to pretend this ‘stuff’ is a real science, instead of a collection of urban legends and pseudo-science statistical mumbo-jumbo with a large dollop of sociology thrown in. 😀

The term I really, really despise is “coding”. As in “lets teach CODING to everyone in K-12”. As if “coding” were a real thing beyond the good old “Typing 10” we used to get in grade 9. Sure, the machines foisted upon the trend-chasing edu-set are slightly better than 30-year-old Underwood typewriters we used (at least the “k” doesn’t stick), the crap and crapware loaded onto them make them amost as useless to young minds. The only “skill” actually learned in “coding” is perhaps typing.

In that vein, programming, really excellent programming, is more ART than science. It’s an intuition and invention to solve complex problems that involves many of the same centers of the brain as does invention and genius. That’s why there are so many “drone coders” working in 21st century sweatshops today. OOPS, did I say sweatshops? I meant to say “enlightened fun, fascinating work places”. Same thing, IMO.

My god, I hate that “coding” word.

Network Weirdness – Update

As noted in the previous (October) post on my network ‘weireness’, the new keyboard has resolved all issues with the mysterious key presses and characters appearing when connecting to unix boxes of all flavors and locations.

What did not go away was another problem – mysterious session ‘resets’ that would occur randomly during file transfers from my remote co-locate server. Simply put, for no apparent reason and at random but frequent intervals, the download would stop and the remote unix session would die with a “session reset” error.

After observing exactly what was going on when the session would die, I realized that the only common occurrance was that I was using a browser (Netscape) or email (Thunderbird) to access web pages or email. This seemed odd, but deserved a closer look.

I don’t really want to play super detective with the network stack. Wireshark is awesome, but diagnosing what exactly caused the event you capture is tedious and frequently without a solid answer. I could see the session dying, but the reason “unexpected xyz in abc” is not that much help when it’s something in the windows stack that’s involved.

Instead, I tried a simple test: don’t use email or browse the web AT ALL during the download. Just wait. I’ve done this twice now and the downloads proceeded without any interruption and the session never died. A third time I let it go for quite a while, then started browsing and … the session died. Quit browsing and the session ended normally.

Since downloads of backup data can take several tens of minutes, waiting can be boring, but it’s still better than resetting the session frequently.

Network weirdness… resolved?

Back on March 13, 2016, I posted the following:

As for my network speed, it started because I was getting really tired of my SSH sessions being clogged with strange control characters and other weirdness including sudden session drops. When I went to check SSH on other machines including my mac and my other win7 box, there were no issues at all. That meant it was my current win7 machine.

In that post, I indicated that updating the NVIDEA drivers and disabling some of the more useless driver functions helped, but did not cure the problem.

Slow forward to last week. The problem still persisted. It did not matter what machine I connected to with SSH, it was always bad. Worst was the PiDP8. It was totally impossible to use the PDP8 editor because the spurious control characters generated my Win7 ssh sessions always killed the edit. I ended up using other means to get files onto the PiDP8.

It was bad in any SSH session – unix, linux, Raspbian, Ubuntu, OpenBSD. They all suffered. Even newer releases of Putty and other SSH clients did NOT fix the problem.


My lighted Logitech keyboard started to fail. Gradually. Slowly. But eventually the control key was so bad that “ctrl-c + ctrl-v” did not cut-and-paste, but rather just inserted ‘c’ and ‘v’ wherever used. Working with Excel became almost impossible. Emails had to be carefully checked to ensure I had not messed them up.

I finally had enough, and did some Google searches on decent inexpensive lighted keyboards. The only condition was I would not pay over $150 for a keyboard. In the end a high rated keyboard was the AZIO lighted keyboard. $45 with free shipping from, and wired USB like my old one.

It arrived, I unplugged the old Logitech, plugged in the new Azio… and the machine froze. A quick reboot and it was fine. Probably just a driver hand-over glitch.

But what happened next had me totally baffled.

ALL OF MY SSH SESSIONS WORKED PERFECTLY. Yep – after swapping out the Logitech keyboard for an Azio keyboard, the very next ssh session had no key glitches. Zero. None. Nada. And the session after that, and the session after that, …

It’s now been almost two weeks since the new keyboard, and every ssh login has been clean and glitch free.

My best guess is that either there was something amiss with the logitech keyboard driver, or some weird interaction. The keyboard never gave any problem at all (until the control key failure) when used on windows, ONLY when running an ssh session.

Very strange. Very strange indeed.

Update – PiDP8 and text files

Looking back on my previous posts about the PiDP8 – a PDP8 replica that uses a Raspberry Pi as it’s compute engine, I realized that I never explained how I got text files (i.e. FORTRAN source and data files) from my Raspberry Pi into the PiDP8 emulator.

The process involves several steps. In overview, they are

  • copy the file to a directory on the Pi where SIMH can find it.
  • from within the PiDP8, escape to SIMH (<ctrl-e>)
  • in SIMH, attach the file to a Paper Tape Reader (a device supported by SIMH)
  • CON to return to the PiDP8
  • copy the file from paper tape reader to the PiDP8 disk using PIP

These steps are not all that difficult once you’ve done them a few times.

SIMH can only look for files in the SIMH execution path. That includes imagefiles (where it finds disk and tape images), so I used that as a starting location. I created a new directory /opt/pidp8/imagefiles/rsh to contain any text files I want to transfer to the PiDP8. To make things easier, in the home directory, I created a directory to hold the text files when I transfer them from my PC. I then created a symbolic link in that directory to the /opt/pidp8/imagefiles/rsh so it’s easy to copy files there.

From within the PiDP8, <ctrl-e> transfers control to SIMH. In SIMH, attaching a text file to the paper tape reader (PTR) is done wiht the command ‘att ptr ../imagefiles/rsh/text_file’. The text file can have any valid unix name. However, once you copy it to the PiDP8, you need to use PDP8 file naming conventions (6 char max + 2 char extension). Typical extensions are .FT for a  fortran source, .DA for a data file, and .TX for a text file. Once the file is attached to PTR, return to PiDP8 with CON.

In PiDP8, I found the best program to read the paper tape reader and store a file is PIP. Sadly, PIP is not on the default boot disk image. If you refer back to my post “Getting FORTRAN on the PiDP8”, that technique can be used to boot the image ‘os8.tu56’.  It needs to be attached to td0 (tape 0) and then you boot td0 and copy the file to RKA0 before rebooting rk0.

PIP is easy to use, with one note. If anything goes wrong with the copy operation, you must go back to SIMH and detach, then reattach the text file to PTR. To copy the file from PTR to disk, the command ‘R PIP’ is used. It return an asterisk meaning ‘command in progress’. Type ‘FILE.TX < PTR: /I’ to copy the file from PTR to FILE.TX on the PiDP8 disk (RKA0 by default). You can use ‘RKB0:FILE.TX < PTR: /I’ to copy it to RKB0 if you wish instead. While copying, you get a ‘^’  symbol, then the ‘*’ prompt again. Press “esc” and “return” to complete the copy.

Now you can go back to SIMH and DET PTR to detach the file from PTR if you wish.

Cranky tools make for cranky developers

I’ve been compiling and testing the Open Porous Media (OPM) reservoir simulators for over a week now, and have discovered one very annoying ‘feature’ of the Ubuntu package tool.

I have had great success compiling OPM under Ubuntu 14.04, which is the ‘official’ version for OPM at this time.

I have had less than great success compiling OPM under Ubuntu 16.04 for the past week. Once I did a lot of manual tweaking and got it to compile, but every time since I’ve had the build fail. It isn’t easy to diagnose as the log files run to thousand of lines.

Tonight I figured out the problem.,, and it’s made me a bit cranky.

The issue is that there are package differences between Ubuntu 14 and 16, but I already knew that. It’s what the package manager does with some differences that’s annoying.

The command to install a package in Ubuntu is ‘apt-get install’, followed by one or more packages. So far, so good. But here’s the problem… if you specify multiple packages in the list, and any one of them no longer exists, the ENTIRE INSTALL fails. Worse, there’s no real error message. You only figure it out by the lack of messages about the packages that didn’t get installed.

For example, say you run ‘sudo apt-get install packa packb packd1.02 packe

If packd1.02 existed in U14 but now it’s packd1.11 (for example), you do get a message in the log telling you that packd1.02 cannot be found and thus cannot be installed. What you don’t get is any message telling you that it’s aborted the entire install and so packa, packb and packe are also NOT installed.

It took a few days to track down (why was BOOST missing all the time???) but finally I cracked the code, and it looks like the big compile is proceeding as expected.

It figures, Microsoft

I tend to keep everything. There’s a long story behind that going back to my dad and our move from Calgary to Red Deer when I was 10, but I’ll leave that for another time.

I’m not as much of a ‘physical stuff’ pack-rat as I used to be; moving a long distance cures a lot of that. But I am a digital pack-rat, and have been since my first experiences with computers. As a result, I have various documents I’ve written dating back to my undergraduate days. Many things were saved as text, but once word processors came about I started to save their documents as well. Other than one nasty episode where I’ve lost my entire M.Eng. Thesis because it was saved in Borland’s orphaned (and forever forgotten) “Sprint” editor, my stuff is mostly Microsoft Word documents.

After all, MS Word has been around since early Windows, and it’s still sold and maintained. What could possibly be wrong with saving old MS Word documents, correct?

Well, as it turns out, plenty. MS Word has dropped support for older products as time passed. Each new version seems to lose support for another older version. As a result, when I went to look at a 1992 MS Word document last night, it would not open. There were a few, and some would open but not display properly,  but some would not open at all. The error was “check the file protection settings in trust center”. I did that, but I already had as much prior support enabled as possible.

I even tried my older copy of MS Word on my 2005 Macbook. No joy there either.

I figured that the files were lost to time, thanks to Microsoft’s laziness and lack of care.

But.. this past week I’ve been playing with Open Source programs, most notably the FLOW reservoir simulator. I was compiling that from source on an Ubuntu 14.04 virtual machine running on VirtualBox on my Win7 PC with great success and fun. I also had created a VirtualBox Ubuntu 16.04 machine for compiling Tomcat and other Apache programs.

I remembered that all the Ubuntu machines were installed by default with a current copy of LibraOffice – one of the open source word processors.

On a whim, I fired up Ubuntu 16.04 on VirtualBox, used SMB to connect to my data server, and copied a directory of the older MS Word documents over to a local directory on Ubuntu. *** Programmers Rule #1: NEVER work on the original file.***

Once the documents were copied, I double-clicked the one that would not open at all in new MS Word, and … IT OPENED! No errors, not missing formatting. It was there, perfectly intact.

So, way to go Microsoft. You ditched compatibility with your own older document formats, but fortunately the Open Source world didn’t.

One more  win for Open Source.