Make it yourself: A Thing-O-Matic Case Study

Bespoke Pencil Case

Makerblock receives a gift of colored pencils from his wife. But how to carry them? A few years ago he’d have to be happy with a trusty rubber band. But this is 2011. How does he solve his problem?

“After measuring them with my trusty calipers, I found they were 7mm from flat side to flat side on a cross-section. The above design uses a “width” of 7.2mm, which has resulted in an excellent fit. Each of the pencils falls/slides easily into a vacant hexagonal slot. The printed cap could be printed by increasing the “width” of the pencils. I’ve included the OpenSCAD file for anyone to peruse. Before you try to render it, please note it uses the MCAD library of shapes for OpenSCAD to create the hexagons.”

He feeds his CAD file to his Thing-O-Matic 3D printer and out pops his solution.

He adds: “Perhaps my favorite part about this design is that when you slide these little pencils into the case, you just know this case was custom made for these ten pencils.”

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Your Hedge Fund Howto

“Fresh out of college, with no background in finance, I learned high frequency trading (HFT) first hand while bootstrapping my startup from nothing to trading tens of millions of shares daily for a billion-dollar hedge fund. I’m starting this blog to discuss the technical challenges related to building world class HFT system, including developing the trading algorithms, handling the data feeds, building the high performance data structures, structuring the threading model, and designing the system for maximum reliability.”

Is it any surprise the similarity between a business focused on making money by watching money and any random business focused on making money by watching, I don’t know, tweets? The money watchers invest a lot of time & energy in building real time systems for delivering answers. The tweet watchers don’t care so much about real time currently. They’re ok with answers eventually rather than now. How much longer will this remain the case? Is there a future where real money is riding on immediate answers derived from tweets? Or from any random unit of “social media” from the fire hose? Regardless, it looks like the world of finance has a lot of the answers and WK’s High Frequency Trading Blog is a great behind the scenes look at how it could come together.

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On Spacefilling Curves & the Traveling Salesman Problem

Using A Sierpinski Curve to Solve Traveling Salesman Problem

“Paul Goldsman used the spacefilling curve heuristic to solve the same instance [15,112 cities in Germany]. Our solution was about 34% longer. At a leisurely 600 km of travel per day this means the time to drive our solution would be about 147 days versus 110 days for the solution of Bixby, Chvatal, and Cook. But our computation took less than a second on a cheap laptop, so here is the tradeoff: Use our heuristic and you get a reasonable route immediately. Alternatively, configure a network of 110 processors, then spend two months computing the shortest route to save a month of driving.”

Fascinating & accessible write-up on the use of spacefilling curves to solve the traditional traveling salesman problem. The researchers have already applied their technique to practical good use: routing blood for the Red Cross, delivery routes for Meals-on-Wheels and to target a space-based laser. (Ironic; life & death.)

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Water-powered turbine generator idea: Strait Power

Strait Power Shark illustration

“designed originally as his senior project at the college for creative studies in the united states, industrial designer anthony reale’s ’strait power’ provides a highly efficient redesign of water-powered turbine generators.”

Strait Power Rendering

“realized, tested, and archived over 130 days, the project involved 711 hours of production work and 200 testing hours, as well as 95,000 USD worth of private and in-kind donations, composed primarily of milling machine time at the college for creative studies and testing time and parts from the university of michigan.”

“the team calculated that the prototype already improves power output of a single turbine blade by 40%, a figure reale expects to improve in later versions.”

But come on, why didn’t he just call it Shark Power? Check out the video too.

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Words I Love: Computational Art

“From generated pixels on a screen to artwork, translating computer art to prints can give computer-produced visuals new life. This week, Christina Vassallo lets us know about her new series of silkscreened limited editions from two artists whose work in code (via Processing) we already know and love. [...] Just seeing that MacBook Pro and big buckets of color next to one another is a reminder that something special happens when you use the digital medium alongside traditional craft, when the continuity with art is restored.”

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Cleaning & transforming your data with Stanford’s Wrangler

Wrangler Demo Video from Stanford Visualization Group on Vimeo.

“Too much time is spent manipulating data just to get analysis and visualization tools to read it. Wrangler is designed to accelerate this process: spend less time fighting with your data and more time learning from it. Wrangler allows interactive transformation of messy, real-world data into the data tables analysis tools expect. Export data for use in Excel, R, Tableau, Protovis, …”

Seeing how this is from Stanford University, there’s a nice paper as well, “Wrangler: Interactive Visual Specification of Data Transformation Scripts”. There’s a bit of an overlap between FreeBase’s Gridworks (now Google’s Refine tool) but really, more differences than similarity. But they both work in your browser–try Wrangler right now.

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Fractals all up in your browsers

J​u​l​i​a​ Ma​p HTML5 Canvas

“Today, we launched Julia Map on Google Labs, a fractal renderer in HTML 5. [...] Julia Map uses the Google Maps API to zoom and pan into the fractals. The images are computed with HTML 5 canvas. Each image generally requires millions of floating point operations. Web workers spread the heavy calculations on all cores of the machine.”


FractInt originally appeared in 1988 as FRACT386, a computer program for rendering fractals very quickly on the Intel 80386 processor using integer arithmetic. Most ‘386 processors of the era did not come with floating point units (387), so the integer approach was much faster. The early versions of FRACT386 were written by Bert Tyler, who based it on a Mandelbrot generator for a TI-based processor that used integer math and decided to try programming something similar for his 386 machine.”

How far we’ve come. From the childhood suffering of having to run optimized hardware specific code for your fractal fix to something you can run in any old (well, mostly) browser today.

Wow–little known fact, “Along with Emacs and NetHack, [Fracint] is one of the oldest still-maintained free programs.”

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Food Fashion

​D​e​s​i​g​n​e​r​s​ ​C​o​o​k​ ​U​p​ ​F​a​s​h​i​o​n​s​ ​M​a​d​e​ ​o​f​ ​F​o​o​d​ ​-​ ​W​S​J​.​c​o​m

So many choice quotes from the article, “Tasteful Attire: Designers Whip Up a Buffet of Fashion Out of Food” from the WSJ:

“Try to keep the chocolate away from the armpit area,” advises Ms. Mahoney, a self-described “chocolate artist.” Such esoteric insight is useful for image-makers riding a wave of interest in clothing made out of food. Lady Gaga’s “meat dress,” concocted from strips of flank steak, is but the highest-profile example.”

“[costume maker] Ms. Goodheart also designed a pasta body suit, waffle trousers and a cocktail dress, with matching hat and handbag, from bread and chocolate. She spent a week learning how to make challah for the shoulder pads and baguettes for the skirt.”

“Though her dress included fresh croissants, Ms. Ploof resisting nibbling on them, but she did pilfer some chocolate from the sewing table before it was stitched on her. Ms. Goodheart, who trimmed 72 waffles into a pair of pants, says she indulged in the scraps.”

Each quote just a little more ridiculous than the previous. Ultimately this is still the domain of one offs and special occasions. And here I thought the WSJ was onto something a bit more general purpose & practical.

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Paul Housberg Glass Design

Paul Housberg Glass Design Frick Chemistry Lab

“Stained glass has a few associations for us, namely: church and church. Also: church. Which makes what Paul Housberg does for a living nothing short of revolutionary: He takes the fusty old art of stained glass and updates it for hotels, offices, and universities — those sanctuaries of the modern world. The resulting installations are giant, geometric arrays of colored glass that owe more to abstract art than to the windows of a 13th-century cathedral.”

The geometric aspect to his design is particularly appealing. Reminds me of an elegant evolution of the bitmap.

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Compulsive Internet Collection #267: Stereo Stack


Totally agree with A Time To Get. Thank goodness for compulsive internet collectors who collect cool & interesting things. And yes, these are vintage LP stereo banners. Stacked.

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