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Horseshoes, Hand Grenades, Movie Props

In early September I started work on a Halloween costume: We have baby twins, a boy and a girl, and during the pregnancy (before deciding their real names) I took to calling them “Luke and Leia”. So, my plan for Halloween was to dress as their father, Darth Vader.
In the end, unfortunately, I didn’t get the costume done in time. Still, I’ve had a great time with the project. Star Wars is a beloved classic, an elaborate, fully-realized fantasy. If you take it a small piece at a time, a lot of it is deceptively simple: Wooden plaques with coin slots and rocker switches, metal boxes with lights and knobs and pieces of hose… But in the context of the movie, these props become real.
As a scale modeler, hobbyist, and perfectionist I am used to working at my own pace, and building things to stand up to pretty close scrutiny. Movie prop makers, on the other hand, have to deal with tight deadlines, but often with more relaxed standards as well. With a two-month schedule for this project, I had to adapt my work to something a bit closer to the prop-maker’s style: work faster, not sweat the small stuff, and avoid going back to rework things I’d already done. And still I didn’t finish in time… But it’s been a fun project.

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GM Command project (and Sniper Ⅱ), Reactionary Design Choices, and the 1mm Rule

Earlier this year, Bandai released a new model kit of the GM Sniper Ⅱ, a design from Gundam 0080, a late ’80s anime that is practically “holy ground” to me. I was quick to angrily denounce the kit and start work on a CAD model of the 0080 GMs based on the original reference art for the mecha, to prove I could do better and as the starting point for a physical model in the future.

However, I was a bit surprised when I compared this “correct”-looking CAD model I had made to Bandai’s Master Grade kit. The two were actually far more similar than I would have imagined.

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Micro USB power connector for Nintendo 3DS

I bought a 3DS recently, and I’ve had a lot of fun with it. But when I bought it, I was kind of shocked to learn it is sold without a charger. How can people be expected to continue to use their new portable game system after the first few hours of use without the means to recharge its battery?
The answer, of course, is that the proliferation of USB as a power port for small devices has rendered dedicated chargers largely obsolete. However, the system itself doesn’t have a USB connector: it has a proprietary connector. In a sense this isn’t a significant issue: third-party USB charging cables for the system are inexpensive online.
However, I did get a bit fed up with the situation: When I misplaced my charging cable, I couldn’t use the system. And if I took the system on a trip and forgot the cable, my opportunities to buy a replacement would be limited, and expensive. My phone, on the other hand, uses Micro USB cables. I can buy those for a few bucks at a gas station if I have to, and they’ll usually be among the cables supplied at charging stations. I love that convenience. So I decided to replace the system’s proprietary power connector with a Micro USB connector.
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My 3D printer project (“Cheezbot”) has been progressing at a slow pace over the past year. It’s not up and running yet, but a lot has changed since the late-2014 post I made when I had just powder-coated and assembled the frame.

Makeit Labs, where I store the project and do the majority of the project work, is roughly 45 minutes away, so I don’t get over there too frequently; usually only about once a week. Usually I try to go on a day when I can spend most of the day at the labs, so I get a good 4-6 hours of time in working on the project, with some additional time set aside for various things like printing things on the labs’ 3D printers, playing video games, helping to clean and organize the space in the wake of our recent move, visiting the local comic store and drooling over their substantial assortment of Gundam kits, etc. In the course of this project I’m also struggling with my limited skills on various tools I need to use, as well, so seemingly simple problems can be significant challenges.

But basically, since assembling the frame much of my effort has been spent adding laser-cut acrylic panels to the machine, installing the electronics package, and building the X/Y gantry which moves the print head.

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Target: SCGMC

In the months leading to the 2014 Southern California Gundam Model Competition I had some projects lined up for completion for the show. But in the last weeks prior to the show it became clear those projects weren’t going to be ready, so I decided it was time for a last-minute change of direction. I considered two options: the first was to complete my half-finished HGUC Geara Doga. The other was to start fresh with another kit: a high-quality kit with simple construction and paint scheme. I chose Plum’s Assault Suit Leynos kit. I started work on it about a week before the competition, and quickly dropped the Geara Doga in favor of it.
Finishing any project in just a week is a tall order. I tried it last year and failed: but even so, I did good work and made significant headway on the project. I felt I might have better chances of pulling it off this time due to the simpler paint scheme and construction. It still didn’t work out in the end, but I had a lot of fun with this kit. My initial impression of the kit was that it was way overpriced for what it is, but after working with it, I love it. I plan to buy another one soon.

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Hackerbot Project

Earlier this year I decided that I’d like to have a 3D printer. I’d considered getting one for a while but I’d felt that they were too much hassle for not enough quality. This year I reconsidered and finally took the plunge. After considering my options I decided on a set of design features I wanted: an enclosed build area for better temperature control, independently-controlled axes, and modular construction to make it easy to change things in the future. I found the Hackerbot Project and decided it was just what I was looking for. I made a few minor changes to the design (made it taller and replaced the one big door with two smaller ones) and I ordered my parts and got started.

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RGB upgrade for the Nintendo Entertainment System

For a long time I was completely unaware of this: the composite video output that comes out of the NES is pretty terrible.
When I got my first HDTV in 2007 and tried my Nintendo with it, I was able to see the problem clearly: straight edges were jagged, shapes staggered oddly as they moved across the screen, and other strange artifacts were appearing as well, like “checkerboard” echoes of on-screen shapes elsewhere in the frame. Initially I thought my NES was in need of repair, but all these things are pretty much normal for the system. It’s all part of how the system renders video. It all looks fine on an old, low resolution TV, but it starts to look pretty terrible when you hook up to higher-quality displays.

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All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Once my plan to complete the MG Rick Dias in a week for Patcon fell through, I started aiming for Granitecon, roughly a month later. For various reasons, I lost a lot of my potential work-time leading in to the event, and again fought down to the wire trying to complete the project for a show. It was at this point that I got the first coats of primers on the parts, and various mistakes from earlier in the project came back to haunt me. These posed various challenges, but none worse than the seams on the legs, which for some reason have given me a world of trouble.

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The One-Week War

It’s a classic story: the deadline for some modeling contest creeps up on me, and then I rush to get something ready to show. It never works. But this time it was at least a lot of fun, and I made a lot of great progress on a new project.

I got this kit as part of a trade, kind of on a whim, but when I got my hands on it I decided I really liked it. Bulky kits are just really cool, and while I wouldn’t call this thing anime-accurate, its chunky design style gives it a very bold look.

This time the event in question was Patcon, the show held by my local IPMS club. This was the first Patcon held by the club in several years, and I was excited to see it back. I wanted to be a part of it, so I took a bit of time off and spent most of the last week prior to the con working on my Rick Dias.
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The arena is empty except for one man, still driving and striving, as fast as he can…

SCGMC is only about a day away, and for me that day is a travel day. So, sadly, the Zaku FZ won’t be ready. I actually realized yesterday that I had run out of time to make molds for the parts that needed to be duplicated. By the time a new 2-part mold would have cured, I wouldn’t have had any time left to cast parts in it… And the parts that needed duplicating weren’t all ready anyway. It’s really a shame that it didn’t work out, I’m going a long way to attend SCGMC and I would have really liked to have something new to show apart from the HG Zaku. But I don’t feel too bad, the trip will be fun, it’ll be nice to see everybody and the model work at the event and so on, and even though this burst of activity working on the FZ hasn’t resulted in the completion of the project, I feel really good about what I’ve accomplished in the past couple weeks of working on it. Even though it didn’t work out, this is the first time with this project that I’ve dared to draw a line in the sand and say, “this is when it’s gonna be done.” Pushing for completion on the project, and looking at it as a practical, tangible goal has made a big impact on this project. I didn’t complete all the parts I needed, but because I treated the project as an attainable goal with a fixed deadline, I was able to motivate myself to focus on the project, and get past some perfectionist obsessions that had been holding me back. The project’s not done, and I didn’t even get far enough to hack together something showable, but I made a lot of progress, and I feel that I can keep on making a lot of progress and maybe finish this thing by the end of the year.
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