Wooden Bentleys with brass tyres

This might surprise you: not every Bentley is made out of steel. Or has rubber tyres. Not, that is, when they are pianos. Be comforted by the thought that I, too, had no idea that there was a brand of wooden instrument which rolls on brass instead of rubber that basks in the shadow of that famous marque.

My ignorance was dispelled by a good friend of mine, Eric Sievers of EMS Piano fame, who had run up against a sticky problem. He was in the process of repairing a piano of the aforementioned brand when the standards – the bits that hold the action in place – simultaneously split in two. Within the piano tuning and restoration trade, this sort of thing is not regarded as a good omen.

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These parts are made of some kind of composite whose ingredients are as mysterious as the Mona Lisa’s smile, and repairing them proved to be an exercise in futility. Fortunately Eric knew of my CAD and 3D printing skills, and so popped over for a chinwag.

I sadly do not possess a 3D scanner, and please contact me should you wish to donate one to the cause, therefore some lateral thinking was required. Eric pointed out the critical dimensions and then left me to my devices.

This was a bit of a head scratcher. It’s very tricky to measure up something like this successfully without specialist equipment, and there was very little wiggle room. The piano was located beyond my meagre means of travel, my old mare being rather flat-footed these days, so it was case of reverse-engineering the damaged parts I had at hand and working with the piano restorer to ensure they would fit correctly.

Working around the lack of a 3D scanner (all donations towards one gratefully received) I scanned the standards on my trusty flatbed scanner, and used that as a starting point to model the new standards in Blender, the open-source 3D studio-in-a-box. This is not a flawless method, but comparing the scanned images with measurements taken with digital calipers, the results were pretty good.

full standard persepctive full standard top view full standard

Printing these beauties, however, was a bit of a challenge on my Ultimaker 2, both because they were slightly too large for the bed to be printed in one piece, and because they required support all over the show even if they would fit on the bed in the first place. To resolve that issue, I split each standard into three pieces which were glued together after the print. No support was therefore required, and they fitted into the printer really nicely.

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Red filament was selected for the print simply because it was the soup-de-jour, i.e. that was what the machine was eating at the time. It’s no better at doing the job than, say, hot pink – which I don’t happen to stock anyway.

All in all, it worked out quite nicely and saved a dear old instrument from the Dreaded Doom of Destruction – chalk up another success story to open-source software and open-source 3D printing!

A wee dram of controversy

It’s not every day a client of mine hits the headlines, but this happened to Lehman Brothers whiskey, who had approached me to design their bottles.

I’m always up for a challenge, and had a stab at something just to get the ball rolling.

whiskey bottle v1.6

OK, it was nothing exciting, but the client had asked for something quiet and understated, and had provided the layout for the label.

The customer, of course, is always right, but in my usual forthright manner I told them that the whole thing looked really boring.

“You need to bold,” I said. “Wild. Shouty. And classy. All at the same time.”

After these deep and ponderous words, I held my breath until the client said cautiously: “Let me see what you have in mind.”

Thus was born a range of whisky bottles that are already gathering their own legend.

Ashes of Disaster

Ashes of Disaster

Evergreen

Evergreen

Snapfire

Snapfire

Old versus new

A fusion of a previous chess scene with a concept developed by my eldest son, this combines my love for robotics and appreciation of the jarring oddities in life that makes things that much more interesting.

There is no rule that states robots may not play chess, but why would they? Who is this robot playing against? Which colour is it playing? Is this the last move of the game? To all these questions, the surrealist would answer: “A fish”. Of all the potential responses, such ingenuity and lateral thinking perhaps suits this image best.

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A serendipitous layer malfunction (I forgot to turn the lights on, basically) and some tweaking resulted in a Tron homage. I’m not really sure which one I prefer.

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Preview your 3D prints

Recently I was approached to produce a cloak clasp consisting of two buzzard’s heads. Well, that part was easy enough, but in this case I realised the client needed something more than just render to look at.

Buzzards cloak clasp

So using the powers granted to my by sketchfab, I uploaded the model to a password-protected page for him to preview at his leisure, and here is the clever bit: in 3D, in any modern browser (i.e. Chrome or Firefox) without installing any additional software.

Marvellous what these new-fangled machines can do.

A sticky Alt key

Blender offered up a strange problem the other day. For some reason, the Alt key was behaving as if it was sticking, making it impossible to Alt-select edges.

I finally tracked this down to a keyboard shortcut I had set up for alternating between languages. This is quite simple to do in Ubuntu and offers up all sorts of possibilities, and I had set it to change when pressing both Shift keys simultaneously.

Once that was changed to something else (Windows key and Space bar) everything worked hunky-dory.

Update:

In a recent re-install of Ubuntu, I cam across the same problem, but this time the above solution did not work. It was resolved by doing the following:

Use CompizConfig Settings Manager (ccsm – install it if you need to), click through to the “Windows Management” subsection and then click into “Move Window”. In the “Initiate Window Move” option, change the button value from <Alt>Button1 to (for example) <Super>Button1. Hey presto, you can now move windows by holding down the Windows key and Button1 on your mouse, and Alt for loop select will work just dandy!

Sound advice

For ages I nursed along the previous incarnation of my computer until finally the day came when it’s fragmented memory gave up the ghost.

One new motherboard, processor and handful of RAM sticks later, I booted up my existing Ubuntu installation to find…that it was business as usual, just at hyper-speeds. Whereas previously I had 4GB of RAM, now I had 16GB, with space for another 16GB should the need arise. Against the previous 2.8GHz was 4GHz, and the motherboard made little difference other than having a shiny new BIOS.

One small spanner in the works though was the sound. It was horrible. It did not take long to discover that the on-board sound of the MSI Z97 Gaming motherboard was the issue, as ALSA did not like the Realtek ALC1150 Codec. Gah.

MSI have not yet discovered Linux, so I did what would appear to be the obvious and installed the Linux drivers from Realtek which was a whopping disaster. All manner of horrible things went wrong. Avoid like the plague.

I tried so many different things and forget what most of them were, but the very last thing I did was to try this advice from this page, albeit using Synaptic instead.

In short, I reinstalled the current kernel, linux-sound-base, alsa-base, alsa-utils, linux-image-“insert your kernel version here”, did not bother with linux-ubuntu-modules-“insert your kernel version here”, but did with libasound2.

Took a deep breath. Rebooted. Cranked up the amp, the volume on my PC, woke the dead.

DIY design – artisan pizzeria

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Artisan pizza store design

One of the most empowering facets of CG and the one-man-studio like me is that it allows clients to explore areas they would have never considered before.

A client recently approached me do help out with designing his wood-fired artisan pizzeria. It’s early days yet, and saving money is crucial for him. So we hashed out some ideas, and I lurched back into my cave to see what would appear.

Since I was able to show him exactly what I was thinking of, this allowed him to make some rapid decisions and save a huge amount of money over what he had originally budgeted.

The result which you see above took me all of one day to do. You can just imagine what an interior designer would charge for such a job, how long it would take to deliver and how much it would cost to have a place like this outfitted professionally.

Instead the client is simply waving around my renders to a carpenter, builder and a builder’s merchant and watching his vision coalesce into perfectly baked slices of Italian heaven. All by himself.