Thursday, December 17, 2015

Taking a Blogging Break

In recent weeks, I have struggled more than usual in creating interesting content. I feel it is time to take a break from blogging for a while.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Living the Trends

Acrylic Print
In December, in a photo gifting fulfillment plant, you don't just study trends in the photo industry. You live the trends. And you do whatever it takes to get great products to your customers in time to be given as Christmas gifts.

The two biggest long term trends that I see in our Black River Imaging plant are a shift toward increasingly premium products and a compression of the peak manufacturing season.

The products that are in demand include lay-flat photo books, ultra-thick greeting cards on richly textured paper, cards with die-cut shapes, metal prints and large format prints mounted to the back of acrylic. These are all items that require extensive finishing operations after the printing is completed.

While the products are more complex, they still need to be produced quickly. Every year, a higher percentage of the total orders for the entire year are produced in the month of December. We are always happy to see the peak season begin and relieved when it is over.

How is your December going so far?

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Thursday, December 3, 2015

Perfection with 14 Sides

Truncated octahedron From made by user Cyp using POV-Ray
One of the primary advantages of additive manufacturing is the ability to build structures that would be impossible to create using traditional subtractive machining. This can be particularly important for aerospace and automotive applications where reducing weight while maintaining structural integrity can generate substantial fuel savings.

Weight reductions can be accomplished by using titanium and other lightweight materials which are easier to print than machine. It can also be accomplished by replacing solid structures with partially hollow structures.  The key is removing as much material as possible without compromising the strength of the part.

To create the internal shape of a strong, lightweight part, a truncated octahedron may be the world's most perfect shape. A fourteen sided polyhedron composed of six square faces and eight hexagonal faces, a truncated octahedron has edges which are all the same length. A truncated octahedron can be created by joining two square pyramids at their based then cutting off all six of the corners to remove one third of the edge length.

Truncated octahedra.jpg by AndrewKepert.
One remarkable feature of truncated octahedra is they stack together to completely fill a three dimensional space without any voids. An object constructed of hollow truncated octahedra is lightweight and strong enough to resist shearing and buckling. The strength and weight can be varied within a single part by varying the thickness of the walls or the size and quantity of the octahedra.

What is your favorite shape?

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thankful in 2015

The First Thanksgiving 1621, oil on canvas by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris
The First Thanksgiving 1621, oil on canvas by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

As I ponder the year that is almost finished and the year ahead, I am thankful for many things.  Here are a few:

  • I am thankful to be spending today with my family who are loved and loving.
  • I am thankful to be living in a comfortable home and sharing a wonderful meal together.
  • I am thankful to work with thoughtful, talented and dedicated people.
  • I am thankful to be living in a country where freedom of expression and freedom of religion are such an important part of our legal and social framework.
  • I am thankful to be living in an age where so much knowledge is instantly available.

What are you thankful for today?

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hard Choices, Thoughtful Decisions

I was born in the final months of the Eisenhower administration and I have a great deal of respect for his accomplishments during the Second World War and afterward. However, that does not mean that I would like to see a return to the deportation policies or the tax rates of the Eisenhower era.

Politics often frustrate me.  When I hear politicians or elected officials support policies which are based on either bad economics, bad psychology or both, I worry about future of our country and planet. That future is important enough that I have decided to comment more on political issues than I have in the past.

I agree with those who claim that there is a bias in the media. There are examples of extremely biased news on both the left and the right. The most consistent bias is the preference for sensationalism. Every medium wants to enhance their ratings and the most unusual, most radical, most provocative statements are the ones that bring in viewers.

This bias is most unfortunate during the election cycle because it reduces the conversation to the lowest level and tends to boost the popularity of the most outrageous candidates. The bravado that sounds good in a debate or a news sound bite, does not serve us well in working through difficult social issues in our own country or with our neighbors.

One of the best ways to move beyond the hype cycle is to read the books that have been written by the candidates. These books, whether biographical or prescriptive, provide a much greater insight into the decision making process that will be used in forging future policies.

My reading for this week is Hillary Clinton's Hard Choices. Focusing on her years as Secretary of State, Hard Choices is great review of recent world history and a wonderful lesson in what you can accomplish when your goal is to tear down walls rather than build walls.

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Every Image Possible - In Every Direction

When Lytro introduced their first light field camera in February of 2012, it was the first commercially available camera to capture images which could be focused after the image is captured is saved.

The original Lytro camera captured the light field by using an 8x optical zoom lens to focus the scene on a micro-lens array adhered to a standard digital image sensor. The micro lenses allow each area of the sensor to capture the image from one view with a total capture of 11 million rays. From these rays, a two dimensional or three dimensional representation can be computed for any view and these can be recalculated based upon input from the viewer.

Last week, Lytro introduced a very unusual looking spherical camera that captures the light field in 360 degrees.  By capturing all of the rays of light in a 360 degree circle, the Lytro Immerge is designed for creating virtual reality content that can be used with the upcoming Occulus Rift and other virtual reality headsets.

By capturing the entire spherical light field, the Immerge will allow software to calculate exactly what a viewer would see in the original scene as they move their head in the virtual reality headset. Even the light and shadows will be calculated correctly.

The Immerge platform, including a camera rig and custom server, is expected to ship in early 2016.

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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Learning Through Analogy

We have a remarkable ability to learn quickly through direct experience, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. We seem to be hardwired to understand that the results we experience from an event will be be similar the next time we see the same event. By itself, this learning method would be greatly limited by the fact that no two events are exactly the same.

We are also endowed with the power of analogy. Analogy gives us the capability to recognize when situations are similar and extend the conclusions we make from our direct experience to other experiences which appear similar.

Our ability to learn through analogy grows as our experience grows and we have a greater knowledge base to mine for similarities. One of the best ways to stimulate creativity is to actively cultivate analogical thinking.

Here are some questions that can develop analogical problem solving:

  • How does this situation resemble anything I have experienced before
  • What worked and didn't work then?
  • What could I have done differently?
  • Who else has experienced a similar situation?
  • How did they handle it?
  • How did that turn out?
  • What if they had done something differently?
  • Is this part of a long term trend?
  • When in history have similar patterns occurred?
  • Who were the winners and losers that time?
  • Is this part of a cyclical pattern?
  • How does the rest of the cycle typically play out?

Like most creative skills, the ability to see useful analogies is strengthened by a rich pool of knowledge and a strong sense of history.

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