A Golden Age for Learning
We are all living during an amazing time in history. The last couple of hundred years have transformed how humans live and interact with their environment and each other. Some of these changes have been amazing, computers and technology, for example, have driven an explosion of art, books, music, video games and film which make it possible to experience the lives and imagination of others. Some of the changes have been mixed, social media and the internet weaving us together has been positive in some ways but negative in others.
The best thing about the moment we live in now, is that it is so easy to learn. Teaching is still hard and it always will be but digital tools have helped connect good teachers with those that want to expand their horizons. You still need to be motivated to learn, it's just that now, depending on the subject matter, there are nearly unlimited resources available to you.
It's easy, pick something to learn and clumsily begin learning
I wanted to learn how to create physical objects, to go through the process of generating an idea, modeling it and summoning it into existence. In this day and age, I could think of no better way than acquiring a 3D printer.
The technology has been around since the mid-1980s but has started falling into the hands of the public in the last 10 years, depending on your threshold for cost. In the last 5 years, 3D printing has become cheap enough for anyone to try.
About two years ago, I began watching the 3D printing market and after two months of research decided to purchase a Prusa Mk2. I took photos of the entire build and will share them in a future post.
The first things I printed were vases for Mother's Day gifts and they were well received.
Here is the Prusa replicating itself. This ability for a machine to replicate parts for itself is a characteristic of the RepRap movement.
When you start to learn about a topic you have no idea about, there is a tendency to go into alleys you probably shouldn't be walking down after dark. That is why it is always best to take a survey of the environment and start by building on the work of those that have already made some mistakes and started to move on to successes.
I decided to take two simultaneous paths.
- Learn how the printer worked by printing other people's designs
- Research 3D printing software for our own future designs (I'll get to this later)
It seemed that the most vibrant and best developed location for the first item of business was Thingiverse, a site started by MakerBot. It was a subject of an interesting movie called Print the Legend which showed the types of business pressures that can squeeze the fun out of something wonderful. Nonetheless, the site is well done and has become a hub for 3D designers to share their work.
Buy a printer kit and put it together
I built the Prusa (delivered as a kit because putting it together is half the fun) and started with this model, which turned out well.
The level of detail was fantastic. I was impressed even though I didn't create the model myself (perhaps because I didn't create the model myself). It's not as easy as you might think but more about that later. I went with my first success, printing a model of a vase that was both thoughtfully designed and generously donated to the Creative Commons.
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