17 March 2018

A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time was far, far better than I thought it would be. Between a literal life-changing stage play I saw as a kid to an almost painfully humdrum TV movie, I went in thinking this could go either direction (awesome or boring) if not disappoint and simply be bad. It's another case of the trailers not quite doing the film its justice. They tend to focus on the bigger names in the cast (Oprah Winfrey, Chris Pine, Mindy Kaling), who aren't even the leads. I can understand that from a marketing perspective, but it's a double-edged sword; most moviegoers these days can sniff out a film that plays it safe from a mile off. There's a saying in cooking that the first bite is with the eye, and trailers are the first bite of a movie. It doesn't help that as much as I like the book, A Wrinkle in Time is better known for its off-beat approach to sci-fi and quirky-yet-relatable characters than its actual plot. Taken on its own rather than part of a larger series of cosmic-fantasy reality-benders, it's a fairly straightforward Fish-Out-of-Water/Who Am I/Hero's Journey sort of affair. Again, that's not a bad thing, not as a starting point and certainly not if you've got a good cast to make you invested. That's the real strength of this movie; the main cast is awesome. This is probably the best ensemble of child actors I've seen since Ender's Game. You are genuinely invested in their plights, which are further hit home by the visuals. The book didn't dwell too much on its visuals, as it shouldn't, so it didn't garner a lot of expectations on this front, and by this point we're so saturated in fantastic imagery it's hard to stand out. Somehow, though, this film achieves it. It's not so out there that it's distracting, like its trying to buoy the rest of the movie, but it's still very inventive.

Only two things truly bug me about this movie, one's a nitpick that's in no way a dealbreaker, and the other's more of a question. Firstly, Aunt Beast is mentioned once and seen for all of 3 seconds. It's a somewhat creative look, but easily the weakest piece of art direction in the film. The stage play had furry starfish the actors could shift around inside to operate different limbs, emphasizing their non-humanoid form. Here, we have mammoths with spider-legs, seen way off in the distance... in a haze... before swiftly moving on to the next scene. Like I said, not a dealbreaker, and if the Ixchell had simply been omitted, I wouldn't have even cared. Speaking of omissions, notably absent are the twins. The Murry family is only Meg and Charles-Wallace. Granted, they didn't have a big role in the book, but they were important later in Many Waters. What I'm wondering now is if Disney is going to go ahead and make the other Time Quartet books (Quintet? An Acceptable Time is canon...ish? I'm spoiled on numbered spines, what's wrong with me?) are they just going to have the current collection of kids carry on and rewrite the plot to them, or are they somehow going to find a way to introduce the twins later, maybe as visiting cousins? The Time Quartet In Five Parts (?) was essentially Young Adult fiction before the great Hunger-Potter Explosion, when publishers didn't market these much outside of school book fairs, and the authors tended to play pretty fast and loose with overarching structures and deadlines. My point is the cynic in me fully expects Disney to try and do for the Time Quintaret as a franchise, but it doesn't look like they're taking any steps to do that, and while part of me is okay with that, it's a very odd strategy for The House Walt Built between Marvel and Star Wars. It's like I want more but I'm afraid to ask, if that makes sense.

07 March 2018

If You Love TinkerCAD So Much....

UPDATE 13-MARCH-2018: After much e-mail correspondence with the CEO and founder of SelfCAD, along with concerted efforts between him and his staff, some issues described below have been resolved. Still, more remain as of the time of this update. My final assessment as of now is that this program is not in a state of viability that makes it worth my time and effort to invest in. I've formally requested a refund of my annual license which I am assured will go through in a few business days. 
I have no intention of retracting or editing this entry beyond this update, as at best I could simply replace it with an at least equally-lengthy exploration of the new issues I was able to demonstrate for the SelfCAD team earlier today. Rather, I'm going to leave that new information between us for them to use as they see fit moving forward. Although I'm no longer using SelfCAD, I want to make something clear to anyone whose interest in the program led them here. 

Go ahead and try it. 

No, I'm serious. For all I've said and all the more I would have to say, I don't begrudge SelfCAD or anyone involved in the project for the state of the app. I have the fullest confidence they will sort out the issues and get to a state that will hold its own against the likes of Fusion360 and Sketchup, and certainly run circles around TinkerCAD and OpenSCAD
There's also the notable possibility that you could use the app and never have any of the problems I had with it. A fellow engineer mentioned giving it a try and falling in love with the sculpting features (which I barely bothered with at all), and was shocked at the screenshots I posted. He never encountered these errors, but he used the app differently than I did. To put it another way, your mileage may vary. You've got 30 days, use them.

I'm honestly still looking forward to an iPad version. I'll be there day one to try it out. 


TinkerCAD is a very simple 3D modeling program meant for 3D printing. Many scoff at its simplicity, calling it a kid's toy. What's ironic is that many of the scoffing remarks seem to come from people who use OpenSCAD. OpenSCAD is a needlessly complicated and obtuse graphics modeler the use of which is best described as attempting to teach a graphing calculator to play chess. To be fair, at least their dismissal has nothing to do with the price tag. That distinction gets left to the other scoffers who swear by the likes of Autodesk Inventor
As far as 3D printing goes, Inventor is overpowered. More than half of its features are completely useless, and I don't like paying full price for something I can only use half of, I don't care if it's somehow nice to have the option for more. There's no denying its usefulness and versatility, I simply have no need for it. That said, I'm always looking for an alternative to TinkerCAD, since there are times when I find myself using far too many workarounds for its limitations. Tragically, there used to be a middle ground to this paradigm in the form of 123D (also from Autodesk), which has since been discontinued. To fill this gap, Autodesk overhauled Tinkercad to have a few more features than previous versions, and the rest of their focus has gone to a CAD program called Fusion360. I've used Fusion360 and while I don't hate it, any time I tried importing a model to modify or edit, it never, ever got the scale right. No matter what I set the original model to, meters became feet, feet became inches, and millimeters became yards. It seems as if I have to start completely from scratch within its borders and never venture outside its ecosystem. I looked into the issue to see if I was doing something wrong. It turned out this was a known issue and Autodesk had not yet fixed it. The forum post that outlined this was dated 2015, and I was first trying this program in 2017. 2 full years and no progress on a simple matter of making the program understand scale, the most basic principle in technical drawing and engineering. It'd be laughable were it not so infuriating. 
I've talked before about how tech support is often so reluctant to admit when their program can't do something, reasons being 1) It's their product/paycheck, of course they're not going to talk trash about it, however valid the criticism, and 2) there's always the possibility of a feature being added or a known issue finally being resolved. Here's why this outlook needs to be shut down. To address the first point, if your program cannot work as it has advertised itself and/or is simply not suitable for a given application, it's less suspicious to spell out what exactly your product can and cannot do so you can focus on what works and get it in the hands of the right people who can make the most of it. Secondly, if I'm paying for an annual license, every day I'm made to wait on getting an issue resolved is time I can't actually use the program. I can't wait on a possibility. I'm going to find something else, and I'm either not going to renew my license, or I'm going to fight to get it refunded, and with the issue I'm having now with SelfCAD, I have a strong leg to stand on. 
SelfCAD is a browser-based 3D modeling program just like TinkerCAD, but with an interface somewhat closer to Fusion360. It doesn't have the scaling issue of the latter, but it is going to take you some time to work out exactly what scale the program is working in. To be fair, the only reason this is a problem is that not only is SelfCAD create 3D models, but it can also prepare them for 3D printing by having its own slicer. Scales can ultimately be adjusted when moving from program to program, of if the model is only going to be viewed on a screen, but when printing a physical object, it's important to get the scale right. While I have had some issues with the slicer, they don't compare to the issues I've had with making a simple model, not being able to make it, and then being given two pieces of advice from their technical support team that simply do not pan out as insisted. 

All I'm doing is taking a simple shape, like a cube or a hexagonal prism, 
twisting it, 
and then putting a cylindrical hole in the middle of it. 
Setting aside the practical use of this model, this shouldn't be a great challenge for a program meant for producing three-dimensional solid objects for 3D printing or other means of fabrication. However, when the time comes to subtract the cylinder from the twisted block:
It's a little hard to tell what's going on from this angle, but removing the cylinder has hollowed out the entire interior of the twisted block. 
This should not be a difficult task to perform. I inform SelfCAD of this issue through their site and get an acknowledgment in my email inbox:
"we have received your message and are currently investigating the issue."
Along with this, the following video from their YouTube channel is included: 

Seems simple enough, except I followed this tutorial exactly and got a different result. At least, it seems I got a different result; we don't see whether or not the bat symbol got the same sort of hollowing out or if it had a proper rectangular hole. I bring this up in my reply to that first e-mail. Roughly 5 whole days pass before I get the next reply:
"If you apply the Add Thickness tool with thickness set to 1 to cube after the hole was made, you should get your desired result."
No. No, I do not get the desired result. I literally get a worse result. Not only is the shape still hollowed out where it shouldn't be, but thickening the walls have thrown off all the external dimensions. 
Adding thickness does not fill in the volume around the space left by the subtracted cylinder. Instead, it adds thickness to the entirety of the hollowed shell, expanding its overall size. 
I mean, this is almost insulting. Who would call this a viable solution to the problem of making a cylindrical hole in a given shape. I honestly wonder if they tried this themselves before passing the info off to me. Also, on the off-chance I'd gotten the wrong information, I tried applying the thickness to the shape before subtracting the cylinder.
I don't even know how to approach that situation, especially when the "undo" shortcut simply stops working for no good reason. I shared these updates with SelfCAD, and I have yet to receive a response. Given the 5-day turnaround on the last interaction, I'm not optimistic about receiving this update in a timely manner. The only reason I'm even concerned about the turnaround time is that I've purchased an annual license to use this software. If it can't handle what should be the simplest task possible, and everyday I can't use it effectively goes against that annual license, I'm wasting money on something that doesn't work, and can't even get a straight answer on whether or not that's supposed to work to begin with. 

To give an idea of how simple this process should be, here's the same exact process done in TinkerCAD:
SelfCAD, I am legitimately regretting my contribution to your cause. Not only does this not make me want to buy another annual license, but I'm going to lobby for compensation on what I've already paid. This is absurd. OpenSCAD doesn't even have this problem. 

I kid you not, the day I wrote this, I got an email from SelfCAD inviting me to their ambassador program. How can I represent something that it seems no one at the company knows how to operate?