Huawei filed a trademark for a “PhoPad” with the USPTO this week. There’s no guarantee that the manufacturer will come out with such a device — which, given the name, we’d expect to be similar in concept to the ASUS PadFone or FonePad — but who wouldn’t love to pick up their very own PhoPad at the local Best Buy someday?
“To paint the Forth bridge” is a modern-day phrase equivalent to a “Sisyphean task”: an endless job that can never truly be completed.* The gigantic struggle of maintaining—cleaning, painting, and repairing—the largest structures on earth is an awesome one, and it deserves recognition. That’s the goal of our collection of photos below.
*Despite the popular urban legend, however, the huge Forth Bridge in Scotland is not under permanent repainting, and, because of a new paint system, the actual paintjob will last for a period of 15 years.
The Forth Rail bridge.
Photo: Stuart Caie
Photo: José Sabater Montes
1905: Six men climbing up a rope beside one of the pillars of the Albert Bridge, London, on which they are working.
Photo: Fox Photos/Getty Images
1928: Workmen walking down a suspension chain on Tower Bridge, London, during reconditioning work.
Photo: Fox Photos/Getty Images
1930: Painting the bridge over the Menai straits, Anglesey, North Wales.
Photo: Fox Photos/Getty Images
1932: Painters give the Brooklyn Bridge its winter coat of paint. The length of the bridge is 1825 m and it is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world.
Photo: Keystone/Getty Images
1935: Construction workers apply a coat of protective covering on the huge cable supports of the George Washington Bridge, which spans the Hudson River, in New York City.
1936: Workmen repainting the rollercoaster at Southsea funfair.
Photo: Fox Photos/Getty Images
1938: Workmen spring-cleaning Brunel’s Royal Albert Bridge which spans the Tamar at Saltash.
Photo: David Savill/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
1948: Painters at work on one of the lower reaches of Queensboro Bridge in New York.
Photo: Bob Kradin/AP
1967: A painter pulls himself up alongside a TV transmitting tower in downtown Miami, Florida.
Photo: Jim Bourdier/AP
2003: Sydney Opera House staff scrub off the ‘No War’ graffiti painted by anti war protesters on the tip of the tallest sail of the Sydney Opera House.
Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images
2003, 2005: Painters on the top of the Space Needle in Seattle.
Photo: Loren Callahan/Ap
Photo: Elaine Thompson/Ap
2006: Painters touch-up the Queen Mary 2, the most expensive and largest cruise ship ever built.
Photo: David McNew/Getty Images
2006: Crewmen onboard the Queen Elizabeth II paint the main engine stack while the ship is berthed in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Australia.
Photo: Rob Griffith/AP
2006: A Chinese worker paints the water level markings on the Three Gorges Dam under construction near Yichang, along the Yangtze river in central China.
Photo: Ng Han Guan/AP
2008: Painters work at the Vehicle Assembly Building.
Photo: Jim Grossmann/NASA
2009: Contractors paint the hull of HMS Ark Royal, a 20,600-tonne Invincible-class light aircraft carrier as she sits in dry dock at Portsmouth Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth, England.
Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images
2009: A worker paints a part of the Eiffel Tower as the famous Paris symbol launches one of its regular makeovers, in Paris, France. The project requires 60 tonnes of paint and will take approximately 18 months to complete.
Photo: Francois Mori/AP
2010: Maintenance work on the Megyeri Bridge, Budapest, Hungary.
Photo: Attila Nagy
2011: Crews are painting the main cables of the Golden Gate Bridge Bridge, giving them a fresh coat of the span’s iconic “international orange” colour after almost 75 years. The project is expected to take up to four years to complete and will require tens of thousands of gallons of paint.
Photo: Eric Risberg/AP
2012: A worker cleans the Bird’s Nest in Beijing, China.
Photo: Feng Li/Getty Images
Opening photo: A painter applies the first coat of paint to a new water tower in Georgetown, Ky., 2004.—Ed Reinke/AP
Secret Santa gift exchanges with friends are a fun part of Christmas festivities, but you have a dilemma: all your pals live in different cities. Praise be to the internet, because that’s no dilemma at all.
You know the Secret Santa drill: wrangle a group of friends or coworkers, set a price limit for a gift, everyone draws names, assignments are kept secret. You’ve always wanted to do one of these with your friend diaspora, but have had to enlist a neutral party (hi, mom) to draw names for everyone so no one could spoil the surprise of who has who. The trouble pretty much quashes all the fun. Believe me, I tried to go this route. Enter Elfster, a site that takes the hassle out of the festivities.
Here’s how it works. First, go to Elfster, name your group, and set up the rules. You have to determine a deadline for everyone to sign up, a date the names will be drawn, and your spending limit. I think around £20 is sufficient, because it encourages creativity, but do what feels right. Then you can add any other rules you’d like if you want to make things interesting. Maybe you want to add a theme. How about disco Christmas? Or perhaps the gifts have to be purchased from Tesco.com. Whatever, get creative.
Next you invite your friends by entering their email addresses. The only stipulation here is to 86 your lame friends, because what fun is a wet blanket in a white elephant situation?
Once you’ve done that, Elfster goes to work. Your friends get an email asking them to join the exchange. They just have to agree by the sign up date. Then on the draw date, they’ll receive another email. When they click the option to draw their secret santa, the deed is done.
The only thing left is NO TELLING. Seriously, if you tell you ruin the fun and you should get coal for Christmas and be banned from any future exchanges.
Next comes the actual exchanging. This part of the equation is totally up to you. You could, in theory, mail off your present and be done with it. But if you’re going to end up in the same place over the holidays (high school friends maybe?), why not make an evening of it? Christmas is one of those special times spent a couple of nights sleeping in your childhood bedroom, probably looking at old yearbooks, accidentally finding the retainer you were supposed to be the wearing all these years in a random drawer, calling an old neighbour the wrong name at a holiday open house, and all the while wondering why your parents don’t keep more hard liquor in the house. Time with friends is a good way to temper all the madness.
An internet-moderated gift exchange is a fun and easy excuse to gather your friends in the name of giving each other embarrassing (it’s better that way) gifts that you’ll never ever use again.
I’m in the throes of a gift exchange with some friends I’m planning to spend New Year’s Eve with. We’ve just drawn names, and now it’s time to pick gifts. The rules? You can’t spend more than £20, you have to buy an item for your recipient to wear out on the night of December 31,—the more ridiculous the better—and of course, of course, no revealing the name of your secret santa. I’m looking forward to my exchange. No reason you shouldn’t too.
Doesn’t matter if you’re going away for a few nights or a fortnight, there’s no need to carry more matched luggage than Princess Vespa. With a bit of planning and these simple storage techniques, you’ll be able to pack your holiday’s worth of gear into a standard carry-on.
Have a Day by Day Plan
Over-packing for a trip is a rookie mistake, and a costly one at that; pack too much and your free carry-on will suddenly become a £100 checked bag. Remember, launderettes exist in other towns, you can always run a load if you find yourself in a pinch. Or just buy a cheap pair of shorts or shirt at your destination to compensate for any under-packing mishaps. Plus, if your bag is bursting when you arrive, how are you going to bring all those sweet souvenirs back home?
A general rule of thumb for how much of what to bring follows, though you’ll want to adapt it depending on how formally you’ll need to dress:
- Unmentionables: Do your mother proud and pack a clean pair of socks, undershirts, and underwear for everyday.
- Shirts or dresses: two fewer than the total number of days in the trip—wear the same outfit on the flight back as you did on the flight out, save two days worth of clothing.
- Trousers: a pair of jeans for every other day, slacks as needed.
- Shoes: two pairs of casual shoes (ie a pair of sandals and a pair of shoes) and a pair of formal kicks.
- Toiletries: If you’re bringing your DOP kit through security, be sure to get everything in travel-size bottles and pack them per TSA regulations. If you’re checking them with the rest of your gear, you won’t need the plastic bag but stick with the small bottles to conserve space nonetheless.
Predict the Weather
This should go without saying, but take a moment to check the weather forecast for your destination before you start shoving stuff into a suitcase. There is a nominal but bone-chilling difference between 20 degrees with clear skies and 20 degrees and raining, so make sure you are adequately prepared.
Rolling vs Folding
Once you’ve picked out what you’re going to wear, the real challenge begins: cramming it all into your luggage. There are two schools of thought when it comes to putting clothes into bags: folding and rolling. Folded clothes are less likely to wrinkle but take up more space. Conversely, rolled clothes will wrinkle if stored improperly but take up a fraction of the space as when folded. Of course, there’s nothing to say you can’t use both methods—which, actually, you should.
Soft, wrinkle-resistant materials like knits, wool, and cotton can all be rolled without much worry—just make sure you keep the roll tight, since loose rolling will result in wrinkles, regardless of the material. Starched garments like collared shirts and dressier items should always be folded. The combination should be enough to let you cram everything in without looking like a mess at your destination.
Yes, there is in fact a right way to pack a bag. This is it:
- Lay your suitcase flat on its back, fully opened.
- Pack as many socks and undergarments into your shoes as will fit, then set the shoes in the bottom of the bag. Congratulations! This is the first layer of luggage.
- On top of your shoes, lay down a layer of heavier rolled items—jeans, sweaters, etc.—packing them in as tightly as they’ll go. This not only minimises wasted space, it also prevents the rolls from coming undone during transit.
- If you have any fragile items that aren’t being brought as carry-on, place them in the centre of the bag on top of the heavy-roll layer to protect the items from breakage.
- The next layer should consist of lighter rolled items like t-shirts and undergarments, also tightly packed to prevent unrolling.
- On top of them, place your folded items. This will allow easy access to them upon arrival for unfolding and hanging. You can also place these items in a dry cleaner bag to help prevent wrinkling.
- Any additional lightweight items—underwear, belts, socks, etc—should then be crammed into any available nook or cranny to help stabilise the packing.
- Put your toiletry bag on top of the folded layer, then simply close the suitcase lid and you’re done. That was easier than getting into a pair of skinny jeans.
Got it? If you’re more of a visual type, here’s a video that can walk you through the whole process:
The Return Trip
Nobody wants to go through the hassle of finding and matching dirty socks on the last day of a vacation, and it’s not like your washing machine cares if what you feed it is wrinkled. Instead of wasting those last few hours in paradise (or Poughkeepsie), bring along a compressor bag like the Eagle Creek Pack-It. Just toss all your dirty clothes in (plus a dryer sheet to combat the stink) and these compressor bags will reduce their content’s volume by up to 80 per cent—leaving you with plenty of extra room for souvenirs, gifts, and such.
File this under “things we don’t normally review at Engadget”: a hand-worn sensor that analyzes your golf swing. Truth be told, it’s too niche a product, and most of us are too busy playing around on Moto Maker to be bothered with a putting green. That said, we do have at least one golfer on staff: contributing editor Steve Dent. With his $112 gadget in tow, he headed to the nearest course — and brought his A-game.
Zepp GolfSense swing analyzer
Despite its reputation as a calm sport, golf can turn the most zen among us into club-bending, cursing lunatics. Now, though, when things go wrong, you don’t have to pony up five figures for a Doppler radar system — not with devices like GolfSense, a glove-attached sensor. I recently had a chance to play a few rounds with one, and though I was initially put off by a product fixed to my hand like a leech, I soon warmed up to it.
The GolfSense is lightweight, but not negligibly so, adding more heft than a device like 3Bays GSA swing analyzer, to name just one example. Still, I got used to it quickly, and after a few minutes forgot it was on my hand. Before hitting the links, you need to pair it up with the corresponding iOS or Android app via Bluetooth, then do some prep work to set up your clubs and create goals like desired swing speed, tempo and backswing position. That can be a bit onerous (hint: follow the instructions), but once you’ve done it once, it’s done for good.
With that accomplished, all you have to do is charge the sensor and attach it to your glove, where it should last through an entire 18-hole round and then some. When ready to swing, you can choose the appropriate club from the app, which will dutifully record each flail, resetting quickly for the next. The device will give you swing info whether or not you hit a ball, unlike other devices that require you to actually make contact — handy for those who like to swing at (or in) their homes.
Another big plus: I didn’t experience any Bluetooth connection problems, meaning there was no futzing — something I can’t say about competing products. As for accuracy, though I couldn’t test the GolfSense against a professional device like the TrackMan Pro, the swing speeds it generated seemed to correspond with the distances I hit the ball. For example, a swing speed of 97MPH was generally netting me drives in the 250 to 260 yard range, which corresponds with typical TrackMan data. A Zepp spokesman confirmed that by saying, “When (it’s) calibrated properly and your clubs are configured in the app, GolfSense club head speed ratings are within 2 to 3MPH of TrackMan.” On top of swing speed data, the app also gives you hand plane, club plane, backswing position and tempo — individually or over time — enabling you or your instructor to parse your swing. You can also see an idealized animation of your swing from any angle, plus an overall rating out of 100.
All told, I found Zepp’s GolfSense device to be the most helpful lightweight swing analyzer I’ve used yet, particularly considering the $112 price on Amazon. Still, it’s not without some kinks: while the Bluetooth connection was solid, the Android app crashed a few times, and battery consumption increased considerably on my Galaxy Note II during use — about half the battery life after a 3-hour round. Another thing would-be buyers should consider is that Zepp has just launched another glove-borne sensor, the Golf Zepp, for $150. That aside, for those of us who can’t stop fiddling with our swings, GolfSense could finally attach some meaningful data to all those waggles.
– Steve Dent
According to AllThingsD, Facebook has announced that it will be tweaking its News Feed in order to deliver more ‘high quality’ content by pushing down things like ‘meme photos’ making them harder to see.
Google had adopted a similar move in 2011 when it changed its page rankings to punish spammers and ‘content farms’ that showed up high in search results but delivered crummy pages. The move, called “Panda”, block some content makers like Demand Media.
Some publishers are apparently worried Facebook’s latest plans will be their “Panda”.
Facebook’s News Feed manager Lars Backstorm said “We don’t really think about it that much in terms of promoting and demoting certain kinds of content. The way we think about it is that we’re doing a better job of identifying value”.
Backstorm also said that before planning the change, a lot of people were surveyed about which of which of those things they get more value from and found that people enjoyed cat photos but valuable articles enriched their life more.
When he was asked if the site was focusing on the content or the source, Backstorm said that initially they will be mostly targeting the source so as to distinguish between different types of content and identifying the ‘high quality’ content will be based at the source level.
Facebook doesn’t aim to completely remove the cute photos that users can’t help sharing or ‘liking’, but the site does intend to cut down on their frequency of appearance in the feed.
Backstorm said that the goal is to provide user value and to make Facebook as personalized as possible by giving users what they really want to see.
You probably think there are two ways to open a well-shaken bottle of soft drink: the tediously slow method, and the spill-it-all-over method. Turns out there’s a third way, and it’s awesome. You’re definitely gonna want to try this.
The built up pressure in a vigorously-shaken soft drink bottle has to go somewhere, and usually it brings most of the drink with it. Talk about a mess. But as YouTube’s King of Random helpfully demonstrates, if you can manage to let off all that pressure in one instant, the soft drink doesn’t have a chance to escape. It also makes a wicked cool fwuuPAAASHHH sound and sends the cap ricocheting off the ceiling. Try it at your next party — it’ll literally be a blast.
Welcome to Time Machines, where we offer up a selection of mechanical oddities, milestone gadgets, and unique inventions to test out your tech-history skills. In the week’s leading up to the biggest gadget show on Earth, we’ll be offering a special look at relics from CES’ past.
Atari, a once seemingly untouchable gaming company, was beset by problems during the early ’80s and saw its last chance for salvation in a fresh console release. It pitched this device, along with a very unique controller, at CES in 1984, but never managed to regain its footing in the industry. Head on past the break to find out more.
The Atari 7800 ProSystem
The state of today’s video game console market is largely a post-apocalyptic affair. In 1983, a glut of manufacturers producing lackluster games and mediocre machines, paired with a helping of corporate greed ballooned into a mushroom cloud and the once-thriving world of home console gaming fell upon hard times. It is often referred to as the “video game crash of 1983″ and the most visible protagonist of the story is Atari. While sales flagged and PC gaming began to flourish, Atari made a last-ditch attempt to revive its console-based livelihood with a hyped-up sales pitch at the summer Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Chicago. Their motto was “June 3, 1984 – The Day the Future Began” and the pitch promised a new age for Atari, with its 7800 ProSystem, exciting games and a radical controller concept.
Atari’s flagship console, the VCS 2600, was a monster success for the company and its stable of home arcade games was growing, with hits like Missile Command and Asteroids leading the charge. At the 1982 Summer CES, Atari announced a successor to its 2600 console called the “Atari Video System X,” although it later earned its proper title as the Atari 5200 Super System. This sleek, wedge-shaped console had decent four-channel audio capability (due to its “Pokey” chip), but overly complex and ergonomically displeasing controllers hampered adoption. Atari also failed to incorporate backwards compatibility for its popular 2600 games and allowed its competitor, Coleco, to beat it to the punch with a ColecoVision-based adapter for 2600 games.
Atari’s 5200 video game console.
Around the time that the 5200 was announced, a company of game engineers called GCC, which had a deal with Atari through its parent company Warner Communications, received a demo unit and had the same gripes as customers (if not more). It pitched a new machine based on its “MARIA” chip that would have better graphics and also provide backwards compatibility with 2600 games, solving two major issues. Atari, suffering from declining sales and poor management decisions, agreed to move forward on a new console, which later became the Atari 7800 ProSystem.
According to GCC chip designer Steve Golson’s story, as told at the 2004 Vintage Computer Festival, there were problems behind the scenes in 1983 that exacerbated Atari’s financial woes. Golson said the company had already decided to go with GCC’s chip, but was also in the midst of a deal with Nintendo to use its Famicom chip for a console in the US. He believed Atari CEO Ray Kassar had planned to tie up Nintendo in a legal battle over the chip, blocking at least one major competitor as the 7800 hit the market. Amidst this soured deal between Atari and Nintendo and allegations of insider trading, Kassar was forced to step down and James Morgan took his place. Although tapped for the position in July, Morgan took two months off before setting to work. Upon arriving in September, he froze manufacturing to review the company’s standing, resulting in Atari missing out on sales for the entire holiday season.
Despite the company’s setbacks, Atari had already made major progress in development and by the winter of ’83, marketing and packaging design for the 7800 ProSystem was underway. In May of 1984, the company announced the arrival of the new console as spearheading a new age for Atari. Not only was the system compatible with 2600 games, but it was also expandable, arriving with a keyboard peripheral to transform it into a home computer. It had redesigned the controllers, removing the overly confusing button layout, and even introduced an additional control option called MindLink. Combined with a wireless infrared remote, the MindLink controller would be strapped to a player’s forehead, allowing them to control movement with their thoughts. In actuality, it measured muscle movement, more akin to sensing eyebrow raising and forehead wrinkling.
When Atari hit the floor at CES one month later, it was bolstered by a marketing manifesto with all the right buzzwords, an innovative oddity of a controller, a host of bundled games and its core device, the 7800 ProSystem console. Unfortunately, the sparkling future that the company hoped for was plagued by its undeniable financial failure the previous year. In July of 1984, Warner Communications sold the bulk of Atari’s assets to Jack Tramiel, the Commodore International Ltd. founder. According to Golson’s account, Tramiel arrived at the Atari corporate offices soon after the purchase and proceeded to fire about 75 percent of the staff. Not only was he keen on cutting workforce numbers, but he was determined to cut retail prices as well, aiming to sell the $149 Atari 7800 for an unsustainable $50 per unit. His radical markdown tactic never came to fruition and the console was put on ice until its eventual release to a moderately receptive audience in 1986. The MindLink, which was much better in concept than real-world application, never made it to market at all, sharing the same fate as previous Atari experiments like the “holoptic” Cosmos device, a tabletop game aiming to simulate a 3D holographic experience. While Atari continued on in a diminished capacity, the once-great gaming company slowly yielded its place in the next gaming revolution.
[Image credits: Evan-Amos / Wikimedia Commons (7800 & 5200 consoles); AP Photo / Charlie Knoblock (MindLink)]
It will be years before Amazon’s dream of same day package deliveries via drone will ever become a reality. But you can forget about trying to shoot one down for some free electronics thanks to new software that allows a quadcopter to stay aloft—and on course—even after losing one or more of its propellers.
As demonstrated in this video created by researchers at ETH Zurich, normally when a quadcopter loses one of its propellers it’s game over. The software on board that keeps the craft stable doesn’t have a clue how to compensate, and down it goes. But thanks to advanced flight algorithms the researchers have developed, this drone not only stays aloft after one of its propellers flies off, it also returns to the last spot where it was hovering.
And remarkably, the researchers claim this intelligent flight control system—which can be added to any quadcopter via a simple software upgrade—works even if it loses two or three propellers. Of course, a quadcopter probably wouldn’t have enough lift to stay airborne if that happened, but with this improved software it could help reduce the impact of an unplanned landing, or steer the quadcopter to a safe place to crash. [YouTube via IEEE Spectrum via Robohub]
I’ve spent a fair bit of time trying to explain the WobbleWorks 3Doodler to people over the past year or so. My descriptions generally alternate between the company’s slightly misleading “3D-printing pen” to “sort of like a hot glue gun that melts plastic, so you can write in the air.” Makes sense, right? The company didn’t have much trouble getting the message across, though: it raised an astounding $2.3 million on Kickstarter after initially aiming for just $30,000. And really, it may be precisely the product’s strangeness that made it a runaway hit with the crowdfunding community in the first place.
In a world of lookalike smartphones, tablets and even 3D printers, the 3Doodler offers something unique, letting users create strange new works of art — and it does so with a seemingly reasonable price of $99. The pen looks like it may have the “tech gift for the early adopter who has everything” title pretty well wrapped up (though only backers will get it in time for the holidays — the rest of us will have to wait for a belated early 2014 arrival) But crowdfunding videos aside, how well does it actually work? Is it really a smart way to spend a Benjamin? More importantly, is it actually any fun?
As the saying goes, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes there’s a manual 3D printer trapped inside. On the whole, not much has changed to the 3Doodler’s shell since its creators first brought an early prototype by our offices back in February. The oblong device is covered in a hard, black plastic casing. It’s lightweight and easy to hold between your thumb, index and middle finger, kind of like a stubby pencil. Up top, you’ll see two rubber arrow buttons. These will help you control the speeds at which plastic extrudes from the pen. Above this is a small LED that lets you know when the 3Doodler is heating up (solid red) and when it’s reached the right temperature for printing ABS (blue) and PLA (green) plastics. On top, you’ll also find a big fan — a bit of a necessity for a hand-held product designed to heat things up to 464 degrees Fahrenheit.
Flip the pen over and you’ll see a pectoral fin-like outgrowth, which is where you’ll be plugging in the power cord when you’re ready to get going. This being a first-generation product, it’s not all that surprising that the company had to keep the device tethered. The inclusion of an internal battery would have no doubt added significantly to the weight and footprint of the device. To the left of the power port is a hefty power switch. There are three settings here: Off, PLA and ABS, letting the 3Doodler know how hot it needs to get to print the type of plastic you’ve loaded in. To the left is a three-pin control port. By using this, and the external mount below, it’s possible to mount the 3Doodler to a CNC machine, to help the device truly realize its 3D printer potential.
At one end of the device is a metal tip. It goes without saying (at least it should) that the thing gets hot. Really, really hot. Like plastic-melting hot. So you’re going to want to avoid touching that bit when the device is in use. Just in case, though (and to help it earn that 12-and-up designation), the shipping version of the product features a rubber cap that slips over the tip, protecting your delicate artist fingers from most of the blazing-hot metal. Even with the cap on, however, there will still be a bit exposed, so definitely use caution, especially when using the 3Doodler with kids. On the backside, meanwhile, is a small hole for feeding in the plastic strips.
The first step of 3Doodling? Plugging the pen in, naturally. The included cord is around six feet long, so you’ll either have to find a flat surface next to an outlet or invest in an extension cord. Next, it’s time to heat this party up by flipping on the power switch. As mentioned above, the pen works with either ABS- or PLA-type plastics — both common choices for most commercial 3D printers. When you buy a 3Doodler, you’ll have to specify which you want. Mine came with three packs of ABS, which is better for drawing in the air — a big part of the appeal of the device, obviously. PLA, on the other hand, is better at sticking to surfaces and is a bit more environmentally friendly, being derived from cornstarch (this also means it gives off a less offensive smell went melted). Additional packs of plastic will run you ten bucks a pop.
Heating the device to ABS levels (around 450 degrees) takes just under a minute — 55 seconds, to be precise. Leave the 3Doodler idle long enough and it’ll automatically start cooling off again, but you can get the temperature back up by flipping it off and on again. Once the light’s turned blue or green (depending on your material preference), grab one of the plastic sticks and feed it into the loader slot in the rear, pushing it in until you can’t push any more. Then press one of the extrusion arrows to start the process. I counted roughly five seconds before I started seeing any plastic flow from the nozzle, but once it starts, you’re off to the races.
I suspect I’m not blowing any minds here when I tell you that drawing a 3D object isn’t easy. My first attempts were shaky at best. I tried drawing a rabbit, only to produce something that looked more like a melted pile of Dali-esque surrealism, or that scribbled Picasso drawing of Don Quixote left on a car dashboard in mid-July. Drawing on a flat surface is simple enough, however, and tracing seems a pretty good place to get started with the new tool. Lay a thin piece of paper over a well-defined image and go to town. I also took a shot at drawing the new Engadget logo freehand and am reasonably pleased with the result — a basic outline filled in with plastic scribbles.
The trouble starts when you attempt to draw in the air. You’re essentially creating the support structure as you draw, designing something to support the plastic as it hardens and dries. It’s a sort of race against gravity that will almost certainly result in a lot of frantic scribbling, hence the aforementioned melting effect. There are two extrusion settings, as mentioned above, but I spent pretty much all of my time on the lower setting. I’ll have to draw a few more bunnies before I feel comfortable shifting into second gear. I also had some trouble with the dangling bits of plastic that remain when you’ve halted the extrusion. Do this too many times, and you’ll have a bit of a mess on your hands.
Above: Look, a bunny rabbit!
The 3Doodler itself doesn’t get too hot, thankfully, though the fan does blow a fair amount of warm air on your hands, which, on a cold December day, isn’t entirely unpleasant. The thing did get a bit loud, however. It’s not deafening by any stretch, but if your computer’s fan started making noises like this, you’d probably check around for an all-night repair shop. And then there’s the smell. It’s not overpowering, but WobbleWorks should probably avoid sinking its fortunes into the perfume business.
When the plastic piece has run out, the extrusion will slow down and then stop. Just toss another piece in the back and you’ll be ready to go again after a few seconds. I was a bit surprised at how quickly I burned through the plastic. You’ll want to order a couple of bags while getting started. The 3Doodler won’t magically extrude drawing skills if you don’t have any artistic ability, so you’re likely going to go through the stuff at a pretty rapid clip. When you’re finished with a color, you can just pull it out the back if there’s still some poking out. If it’s all inside the pen, however, you’ll have to wait until it’s fully extruded.
As for how fun the 3Doodler actually is, well, that depends entirely on you. I found myself putting the pen down a couple of times out of frustration at my inability to make 3D objects look the way I wanted them to — a combination of my inexperience with the device and the fact that I’m not even great at drawing the old-fashioned way. Artistic types will likely find some really fascinating applications for the product. I don’t, however, see the 3Doodler becoming a tool for business purposes like prototyping — the results are just too uneven.
If you’ve got $100 to spare or need a gift for a notoriously hard-to-buy-for friend or relative, the 3Doodler’s certainly worth a look. It’s pretty well-baked, as far as first-generation crowdfunded products go. Hopefully the company will ditch the cord in future builds, and maybe there’s something that can be done with the runoff strands. As for making it easier to use, well that will just take time, practice and a lot of bags of plastic.