Sunday, August 22, 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010


This version was produced with a rendering program called Shaderlight which operates as a plugin for Google Sketchup. The program makes direct use of Sketchup's textures, but can also enhance imported textures. The interactive operation is a big improvement over anything else I have tried. Shaderlight is still at the Beta stage, but it certainly looks promising.

in situ

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Monday, August 2, 2010

the six pieces

Chess pieces are a nice subject for modeling practice. They are made mostly by spinning a half profile. The knight must be carved or formed by other means. SketchUp has a limited capacity for such functions, which in part explains the rather blocky look here. I may have another go at this subject once I have attained more skill with Blender.

Handling my chess set prompted me to pick up an old chess primer by Fred Reinfeld. I was reminded that there are - strictly speaking - only five chess "pieces": the King, the Queen, the Rook, the Bishop and the Knight. As Reinfeld notes, "the Pawn is just a pawn".

Thursday, July 29, 2010

SF Queens

In 1971 Bobby Fischer was on the verge of becoming the World chess champion. In the U.S. interest in chess was at an all-time high and games could be found in progress at every lunch break. I had finally landed a job as an eligibility worker in San Francisco's Food Stamp program. Getting my first paycheck, I went next door to a Goodwill shop and bought an antique bone chess set for ten dollars.

I was thrilled with my purchase of the chess pieces because of their graceful design. Over the years, I have searched for clues about the origins and age of my chess set, but to no avail. The pieces are made from columns and disks of bone, turned on a lathe and threaded with tap and die for assembly. Red and white were the standard colors for chess pieces around the turn of the Century, and whale or camel bone often provided the raw material. My set exhibits the basic design simplicity that was introduced by Staunton in the late 19th Century, but the lines and proportions have a wonderful combination of strength and delicacy which I have never seen in another set.

The image above and a few others are available on the Free Wallpaper Downloads page of my web site.

I did a Google image search on "bone chess pieces" this morning and turned up an image of a set nearly identical to mine in an antiques sale listing. The context implies that the set is of American origin, though there is a good chance it is English. The red paint in the advertised set has faded, possibly from being displayed in a location too exposed to the light.

"[Item] 109, Ivory or bone chess set. Early 20th century (or earlier). [Estimated value:] $50-$150."

And then I found another image of the set on Flickr. I also found a couple ebay listings which describe the pieces as being "antique ox bone". I would still very much like to know who designed and produced the set, and when.

The chess set turned up again in an Aug. 29, 2014 photo essay in the New York Times.  This time it was set up ready for a match in front of a New York psychiatrist.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

game pieces

One of the most interesting features available in all 3D computer graphics programs is the capacity to emulate forms produced by a lathe. In SketchUp the "follow-me" function is most often used for this purpose. A 2D cross-section of a form is drawn, and that is then spun around a central axis to produce the rounded 3D form. While one can thus produce round vase-like objects, the process is also useful for creating new shapes and surfaces through the intersection and joining with other shapes.

The pawn figures were actually an intermediate step in the creation of a thumb-latch in the model I am working on at present. After spinning the form, I sliced it vertically through the middle, and then laid it over on the newly-created flat surface. I like the simple elegance of the unaltered form, however, and perhaps I'll use it as-is in some future composition.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

shape shifting

When I get stuck trying to model a particular shape in SketchUp my first step often is to do a search on "SketchUp [shape name]". That sometimes turns up a solution if the problem is a common one. Recently, for instance, I was able to generate a shape I needed, but when I tried to combine it with another I ended up with a bunch of fractured faces. It turned out that I just needed to up the scale of the model by a factor of ten to achieve a higher level of precision in joining complex surfaces.

Failing to find a needed solution via the search engine, I turn to plugins, which are Ruby-scripted add-ons for SketchUp which extend its capabilities. That seldom solves any immediate problems, but it does provide the opportunity to play with some interesting shapes. The above shape was generated by an edge extrusion plugin from a suite written by TIG and posted on the SketchUcation site.

The above shape also demonstrates what it is you have to work with in SketchUp and most other computer graphics programs. There are only vertices, straight lines and flat surfaces, which are defined by triangles or quadrangles. Smoothing curved surfaces is accomplished by adding additional basic elements, such as in the subdivision of surfaces with additional vertices and edges.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Chapter 2

(Write your own caption.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

lonely penguin

I'm slowly working my way through the Blender tutorials. My models never look quite like the examples, but they are close enough so that I feel I'm making some progress.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Back at the Airport

I'm working at learning the rather daunting interface of the Blender 3D drawing program. Meanwhile, I'm still having fun noodling around with Google SketchUp.

The small airport composition is made mostly from recycled parts. The planes were replicated from a previous drawing. The two figures, the bike rack and the bench are from SketchUp's sample box. The spiral stairs is nearly a one-click production, thanks to the marvelous on line plugin from The Engineering Toolbox.

The inspiration for my small airport came in part from the ad below which appeared in the Nov. 1944 issue of Popular Mechanics. I also have my own memories of flying off grass strips in the '40s and '50s in Kent and Renton, Washington.

It certainly made good sense for Aeronca to target farmers with their ad pitch for new dealers. Farmers had the land, as well as the necessary mechanical and construction skills to support such an undertaking. I don't know how many such ventures were successful; probably a rather small percentage in the long run, I'd guess. Ultimately, of course, the small airports succumbed to the same suburban development onslaught that contributed to killing off the small farms.

I suppose there is still some possibility that one could start up a small aviation business these days, but the budding entrepreneur had better have an MBA, and maybe a minor in computer science.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Meeting Suzanne

Suzanne is the iconic mascot of the Blender 3D drawing program.

I thought I should give the program a try; it is open-source and free. Blender has built-in animation and rendering capabilities. More importantly for me, it is capable of producing organic designs which are hard to achieve in Google's SketchUp. I've had fun so far learning a bit about the user interface, and tinkering with the controls. Whether the program can be mastered by the average 70-year-old is something that remains to be seen.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Taking a break

I've parked the Fokker at the Airport while we are in Phoenix for a week.

I have a few details yet to finish when I get back. This will be a good chance to evaluate where I am with this stuff. There is a little irony in the fact that I have spent $600 on a computer to run a free program.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Visiting Mexico

One of the photo sites I continue to visit regularly is the Flickr Kite Aerial Photography (KAP) group.

This great photo of a Tijuana bull fight by "El Kite Pics" was made with a kite-suspended camera from the U.S. side of the border. Be sure to read the story about making (and taking) the shot.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


I decided my airplane needed some identifying insignia, so I set about figuring out how to do that.

The tail surfaces are flat and present no difficulty, but the fuselage and wing surfaces have curves that resist direct drawing techniques.

The maltese cross image was projected onto the slightly curved sides with a technique demonstrated in a video tutorial by Aidan Chopra, author of "SketchUp for Dummies".

For the crosses on the wings, I tried a plug-in tool that allows drawing on curved surfaces, but I couldn't achieve the kind of precision needed to complete the design successfully. In the end, I used the same technique that allowed me to cut the hole for the cockpit.

A form with the desired profile is pushed through the surfaces, the two objects are merged, and new edges and surfaces are created. Once an area is enclosed with a continuous perimeter, materials and images can be projected or painted onto it without leaking onto the contiguous surfaces.

I've also scaled back the cowling a bit to give the plane a profile a bit more in line with photos I've seen of it. I'm planning on tweaking a few more details, laying on some color, and hope to wrap up this project in a week or so.

Stuck in traffic?

Take the next left and unfold your wings.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

All the parts together

I'd like to do a bit more with this Fokker d.VIII, but my old Dell computer is balking at the prospect. In order to display the shadows in this image I had to turn off hardware acceleration, so the process really slows to a painful crawl. I have learned quite a bit from doing this model, however, so I think I can put this one in the success column too. I can go back to doing simpler models for a while as there is still a lot of the basics I need to learn.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Back to the Future

Ray gun optional.

Visit the Martin Aircraft Company Limited web site for details on development, and to put in an order. There are some nice videos, pictures of demo flights and jetpack lore, as well as a good 3D animation.


One of the aspects of 3D modelling that I enjoy is the research which allows accuracy, or at least reasonable resemblance, to the object being depicted. While looking for some guidance on how to draw a propeller, I came across this fine blueprint at the excellent Wooden Propeller site. There is also a wonderful illustrated article on the art and craft of propeller construction.

The next challenge is how to translate a good plan into a SketchUp drawing

Saturday, June 19, 2010

one dollar flight

I bought five of these Chinese-made kites at the dollar store.

I was attracted to the design, which is similar to the Indian fighter kite or the Nagasaki Hata. The kite is made from very light-weight materials, including small-diameter plastic spars.

Everything needed came in the package, including the winder, the kite string, a plastic ribbon tail, and a nice little clip for attaching the line easily to the kite bridle. This type of kite needs no bow string; the pressure of the wind on the surface forms the airfoil.

A lot of cheap kites look good, but are poorly made and unflyable. This one was designed and produced by people who understand kites and how they must be made to fly properly. A well-balanced fighter kite is very maneuverable. Letting out a bit of string allows the kite surface to flatten, and the kite begins to oscillate back and forth. When the nose is pointed in the desired direction, a strong pull on the line bows the horizontal spar, forms the kite surface into a lifting shape, and the kite moves briskly in the direction it is pointing.

I also picked up the Mini Copter and the four-inch Spiderman kite, which flew better than I expected.

One of the neat things about kites is that they demonstrate the capacity of humans for intuitively deducing very complex laws of physics. Kites were invented thousands of years ago, probably in China. While the disciplines of mathematics and physics were little developed then, the kite makers nevertheless were able to solve some extremely complex design problems, and to achieve a working understanding of the principles of flight. Because of the flexibility of kites which responds to variable wind pressure, their flight resembles that of birds more than it does modern fixed-wing aircraft.

To get an idea of the variables and the formal calculations required for the design of a kite, take a look at the on line Kite Modeler program posted on the web site of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Some useful thoughts about inductive reasoning can be found in a posting at Slashdot.

around and around

I'm working on a new SketchUp model of a WWI plane. The 110 hp engine in it was an Oberursel Ur.II, a German product copied from a French design. I was vaguely aware that in such rotary engines, much of the machinery went around along with the prop. It wasn't until I began looking at CAD representations that I began to understand why the rotary was considered a good idea at the time, or what made them work. Two CAD depictions in particular make the functioning of rotary engines a lot easier to understand.

The cut-away depiction below is from the marvelous Vintage Aviator site. If you look closely you will see the key feature of the engine, which is that there are two axes of rotation.

How the machinery is linked by the two axes is illustrated with great simplicity by an illustration at the Animated Engines site. Once there, click on the "Gnome Rotary" link to view the animation. Under the "About" link, you will also find an excellent explanation of how the engine animations are produced.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Friday, June 11, 2010


The first 35mm film was conceived of as a motion picture format in the labs of Thomas Edison. The format was put to use in a large number of miniature still cameras in the first decades of the Twentieth Century, including the Leica. The pre-loaded 35mm cassette was the invention of Dr. Ernest Nagel of Stuttgart who devised it for his Retina line of compact folding cameras. Kodak acquired the Nagel factory in 1931 and began marketing the Retina cameras and the film, which was designated as Kodak 135, in 1934.

The interactive 3D model is at the Warehouse.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Busman's Holiday

I spent the afternoon today modeling these 120 roll film spools which came along with my two oldest box cameras. The cores of the spools are turned wood, and the end caps are stamped sheet metal.

I needed a break from working on my latest airplane. Some little alignment errors have proven difficult to correct, and I'm not sure if this one will ever fly. I did learn several new SketchUp techniques in the process, however, so I still feel the time was well spent.

Monday, June 7, 2010

3D Art

Came across a link to this 3D animation this morning at the Filmwasters site.
Pretty extraordinary work.

If you look at the Youtube page, there are a number of similar videos listed in the righthand column, many done by UC Berkeley students. I've been wondering how 3D design is being approached in schools, so was pleased to find these examples. According to the Filmwasters post, the Brownie Hawkeye Flash was done in Solidworks.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thirty seconds over Alejandro

Our grandson's visit provided an opportunity to fly this Walmart micro helicopter, an Air Hogs Sharpshooter model.

I wasn't sure, judging from my own initial experience that the little chopper was a good choice for an impatient eleven-year-old. With just a little practice, however, he was able to fly the craft and control it much better than I. I was reminded of my own kids who, even when much younger, were out-performing me at Pac-Man in less than an hour.

The Sharpshooter proved to be a pretty stable flyer, though offering limited navigational control. It has taken a lot of hard knocks, but still gets airborne.

The charging port seems to have a short which turns on the motor unexpectedly, but that hasn't been a problem once you anticipate the thing trying to take off while you are in the process of connecting the cable. As I thought, the missle-firing capability proved to be an attractive feature. However, the craft flys poorly with the little plastic rockets in place. Small issues aside, however, it seems like a pretty nice toy at thirty bucks.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


Do Robocops prefer toroidal pastries?

I found the pattern for this Robocop card model on a web site along with 49 others.

Most of the model designers are Japanese.

We are due for a visit from our grandson, and I thought he might enjoy putting together some of the robots. Maybe a little simpler one than Robocop, though, as he took me about five hours to assemble.

Robocop with spare

Saturday, May 29, 2010

a few words

I imagine that the few people who stumble on this site are puzzled by its purpose. In brief, it is about my personal explorations of forms and spacial relationships. Over the years I have engaged with this subject primarily through the medium of photography. Recently, I have begun to attempt achieving some proficiency with Google SketchUp, a 3D modeling program. My interest in these pursuits surely exceeds my talents, but I enjoy them nevertheless.

Part of my interest in all of the above is focused on an effort to revisit my own visual and perceptual development, including some mis-steps and misapprehensions about possibilities. I recall that somewhere in my elementary schooling I was subjected to a battery of IQ tests. One of those involved completing shapes by inferring a line from an incomplete shape, possibly representing a 3D figure. The test made little sense to me, and I was graded poorly for this aptitude.

Some years later, as a requirement in a basic psych course, I participated as a subject in a grad student's experiment involving similar processes to the elementary school exercise. I was a flop that time too, and I accepted the verdict of an abyssal hole in my perceptual faculties. Looking back now on those experiences and resulting self-assessments, I think I was a bit hard on myself. The tests may have measured something real, but I think that reality may occupy a rather small place in the perspective of life's complexities.

I eventually discovered for myself that, whatever my limitations, I was not consigned to an illiterate, a-visual life. I decided also that the psychologists who devised those tests may themselves had quite a limited vision of perceptual development, and certainly the bureaucrat educators who employed them stand guilty of that as charged. I was encouraged recently to further consider this line of thought by an article I found by the neurologist,Oliver Sacks, about people who gained sight after many years of blindness.

What Sacks found in interviewing people who had acquired vision only in adulthood was that, at least at first, they could make no sense of the visual images their eyes transmitted to the brain. It seemed clear that opportunities to associate images with forms with the help of tactile experience was vital to achieving perceptual competence. So one must, it seems, learn to see the world.

Another thing Sacks found was that learning to understand visual signals was a very difficult task if undertaken beyond the formative childhood years, much as is language learning. The verdict is still out on whether one can significantly alter one's perceptual skills late in life. That suggests to me that it is probably a good idea for parents and educators to focus on providing opportunities for young children to explore the visual world and make sense of it in a variety of ways to help them make the most of whatever inborn potential they might have. I'm also going to take the optimistic view of possibilities for corrective exercises later in the life cycle, and continue my own explorations. So, that is what this is about.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Atomic Doughnuts

Continuing the theme...

The 3D model is at the Warehouse.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sunday, May 23, 2010


One of the nice things about making images in SketchUp is the ease with which one can generate a variety of views and styles once the model has been constructed.

The plan I used for my 3D model was for a simple old stick and tissue flyer. I added some details gleaned from web presentations of the SE.5, including an extraordinary site about a restoration and replication factory in New Zealand specializing in WWI aircraft.

I have read that most of the 3D aircraft models found in the Google 3D Warehouse are actually produced with programs other than SketchUp and then imported to the program. That may be, but there is also some extremely sophisticated and inspiring work being done natively in the program. One good example is a thread at the Sketchucation site showing many details of the construction process.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Albuquerque Museum Car Show

The Art Museum turns over its parking lot each year on a day in May to the car collectors who put on a fabulous show. It was a nice opportunity to try out my new cell phone camera.