A choice of steel

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post on removing plastic jewelry from my Kickin’ Wiccan shop on Shapeways. My thoughts on plastic back then were:

  • Photos of plastic jewelry can look cheap.
  • It was not worth customizing jewelry (such as rings) in plastic because I wouldn’t make enough money for the time I spent adjusting the design; if I charged more for my time, the price difference between plastic and steel became insignificant.
  • My skill in 3D design is sufficient that I don’t have to make test prints in plastic anymore.

I’m beginning to think that the same logic may apply to steel as well.

All of the above points on plastic can apply to steel to some degree, though price is a lesser issue. But a new one comes up: customers have different expectations for items printed in a material named “stainless steel.”

Plastic is plastic, and if a potential customer orders an item in, e.g., “green polished strong and flexible plastic” they’ll get what they expect. When customers see the words “stainless steel,” I find they expect a surface that looks like stainless steel cutlery, even if I include a picture of my jewelry in stainless steel.

Let’s take a look. Here is a picture of my large pentacle ring in stainless steel:

Bronze-infused steel cropped

It looks exactly as Shapeways describes on its steel materials page: rough with visible print lines, infused with bronze from the printing process. Here’s a video that demonstrates how Shapeways prints its steel items:

I’d wear it, if I wasn’t already wearing a version of the same ring in brass. But even with the picture, I had a customer complain to me that the ring wasn’t stainless steel and the surface wasn’t smooth. I had little choice but to refund his money.

Shapeways offers a variety of coatings and polishes for steel items. Here’s the ring printed in “matte gold steel”:

Matte Gold Steel cropped

And here it is in “polished gold steel”:

Polished Gold Steel cropped

The color is consistent, and the polished version is smoother, but they certainly don’t look like cutlery. What the customers probably expect is something like looks like the “raw brass” version:

3D pentacle raw brass black felt cropped

I try to temper the customers’ expectations on my Etsy shop by calling the material “bronze-infused steel” instead of “stainless steel.” I also describe the material in detail the FAQ section of the stop, but Etsy places that near the bottom of the page so it’s easy for the customers to overlook.

The lesson learned so far: You can show the customers a picture of what they’re going to get, and they still might not believe what they see!

For now, I’m leaving the steel versions of my jewelry on my shop pages; it’s a sturdy material and I personally like the rough texture effect. I’m getting test prints done of more of the items I sell so I can put up pictures of the steel versions.

I’ll see if this is enough to keep my customers aware of what they’re getting.

Economix

When I discuss the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) with folks, I usually point them to the following three on-line comics:

These three comics go over the details of health insurance in the US, the problems that Obamacare was supposed to solve, how well it solved them, where there was room for improvement, and the Republican response.

Of the three, the last is the most outdated even though it’s the most recent, since it doesn’t include the multiple proposals that were voted down after the American Health Care Act (Trumpcare) failed to pass.

You don’t have to agree with the author of those comics, Michael Goodwin; no one is obligated to agree with anyone’s perspectives, much less those expressed using illustrations (by Dan E. Burr). I refer to them because they’re easy to understand and offer some common ground on which to come up with new ideas.

Michael Goodwin is the author of the graphic “novel” Economix: How Our Economy Works (and Doesn’t Work), in Words and Pictures. (I put “novel” in quotes because it’s not intended as a work of fiction. Perhaps “graphic book” would be better.) It goes over the history of economics, from the theories to practice, defining terms along the ways.

I learned quite a bit from Economix. Here are three highlights:

  • the difference between socialism and communism
  • the economic justification for fascism (basically it puts a country on a permanent war economy)
  • that many current economic ideas used to shape current policy are based on models that even their creators insisted were crude approximations

The book was published in 2012 and its description of the national and global economy stops in 2011. It’s still an invaluable perspective on “how the heck did we get here?”

Again, I don’t expect everyone to agree with what Michael Goodwin says. In particular, he does not spare criticism of Ronald Reagan (though he’s no big fan of the economic policies of every president since Nixon). I suggest the book because it breaks down complex topics into easy-to-understand pictures, and offers a common reference for discussion.

In short, if you don’t know economics, I strongly recommend you read this book. I certainly wish I had it by my side as I struggled with (and failed) my Economics 101 course back in 1976.

Westworld

This past weekend I turned on my HBO subscription in order to watch Game of Thrones. It gave me the opportunity to binge-watch another HBO series, Westworld.

I have mixed feelings about the series. As I’d heard, the show has a narrative complexity and messes around with the viewers’ perceptions in an intriguing way. This sustained the show all the way until the ending of the final episode of the first (and so-far-only season), where it dropped the ball and became annoying conventional.

I’ll eventually watch another season of Westworld if they make another one, but I’m not going to activate an HBO subscription just to watch it.

A Story of 3D Printing

I like to print test samples of the items in my Kickin’ Wiccan shop on Shapeways. I realized recently that I’d printed in enough materials that I could share a visual story of how a polished-metal item is printed by Shapeways.

The process begins with a model created in 3D software. Here’s how my large pentacle ring looks to me in my 3D program, Cheetah3D:

Computer image

I sent this computer model to Shapeways. Their first step on the road to a polished-metal version of the model is to 3D-print the model in castable wax:

Castable Wax cropped

The next step after the wax print is to make a mold from the print and use it to cast the metal. Shapeways has a video of the process:

The result is a mechanically polished version of the piece. Here’s that version of the ring, in what Shapeways calls “raw brass”:

3D pentacle raw brass black felt cropped

Next comes the hand polishing. Here’s the ring after that step. This material is called “polished brass”:

3D pentacle polished brass black felt cropped

Shapeways offers a variety of materials to plate over the polished brass. For my test prints, I like to get rhodium plating: its color is distinct from polished brass; gold plating looks similar to polished brass. Also, rhodium is shinier than silver and creates nice reflection effects as I photograph the jewelry for my shop.

3D pentacle rhodium paper cropped

That’s the story of how polished-metal items are printed. Like all good stories, I hope this one ends: And they all lived happily ever after.

Evolution cropped