Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Exploring 3D World

I decided to go ahead with my idea of doing the Me-262 in Sketchup to compare the experience of using OpenVSP for the same model.  The two systems take very different approaches to computer graphic modeling, so it is really kind of an apples and oranges proposition.  However, for the CG dabbler like me, it still seems a worthwhile comparison.

Google Sketchup and OpenVSP are both friendly to beginners compared to any of the other design packages I've looked at, and of course being free is also a plus they share.  From my perspective, the biggest advantage that Sketchup has over NASA's little OpenVSP is the capacity it gives the modeler to directly superimpose the model being drawn onto a set of three-view plans.  If you have a good, detailed set of plans a very realistic model is possible.  Another check in the plus column for Sketchup is in its forgiving nature; you can easily undo a whole series of mistakes with a mouse click.

The importance of starting off with a good set of plans probably can't be over-stressed.  The really proficient computer graphics guys amass dozens or hundreds of drawings and photos of their subjects before they start working on a model.  An example of what this kind of thorough preparation along with acquired skills can be found in a thread at in which Marek Ryś details the construction of his Me-262.  This CG artist uses another free, open-source modeling program, Blender.

Sketchup was originally aimed primarily at architectural applications, and its capabilities were initially much better suited to that environment than to the kind of organic modeling tasks which Blender users have typically undertaken.  In the past couple years, however, a large number of plug-ins have been developed for the program which is making it a serious rival to the product developed by the large Blender community. An example of how far this process had come can be found in the work of an artist who goes by the name of Axeonalias in the Google Sketchup Forum.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

the weather

As this wunderground screen shows, the week is looking good for those of us who get around on two wheels.

Much of the south is enjoying this same mild winter.  The graphic is also a reminder of not just seasonal oscillations, but also the day-to-night extremes that desert dwellers must accommodate.  With nearly a 40 deg. difference in night-time lows and day-time highs, the sun has to be well up in the sky before I can develop some enthusiasm for getting out on my bike.  

Of course, if the upward warm trend persists into the summer, then some of us will likely develop a different attitude toward the way things are headed.  I'm thinking particularly of the all those unfortunate small towns over in Perryland that are about to run out of water.  There is likely to come a point this summer when turning on the tap produces only a sucking sound.  That, presumably, will be followed by the rumble of Harley heading out of town.

The Wunderground site is a great alternative to the histrionics of the local tv weather clown.  Farhad Manjoo explains the excellent predictions produced by this on line weather resource in an article at

Today & Tomorrow in Albuquerque:   Find more about Weather in Albuquerque, NM
Click for weather forecast

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The parts assembled

This is my rendition of a Sixteenth Century stonebow, modeled in the free version of Google Sketchup.  It resembles an illustration in the Payne-Gallwey book on crossbows.  I had to wing it in a few details because of my skill limits in the program.  I also found that some of the parts from the plans shown by the author did not fit together well; some may have been from different models judging by the proportional errors.  I'm also  not sure of some of the mechanical details.  For instance, I haven't yet come across an explanation of the proper relationship between the bow and the stock which allowed the bullet to pass over the end of the stock without hitting it.  I ended up giving my bow a bit of dihedral, but I doubt that was the actual bowyer's solution.

Below is the stonebow as it appears in Google's 3D Warehouse.  By clicking on the image, the viewer can drag the mouse cursor to rotate the bow in 3D space.

Being able to manipulate a 3D model on my computer screen was something I wanted to do ever since I saw the first examples of it on some of the early personal computers.  I'm happy to stop at that.  Others who use Sketchup and similar programs go the extra step of translating the images into real-world objects.  Aircraft modelers typically print out cross-sections of their creations to use as patterns to be cut from plastic foam.  More recently, designers are producing complex models and prototypes directly from the computer designs using 3D printers.


I'm always thrilled when the disparate threads of my life come together in unexpected ways.  One of the puzzles for me in Vargas Llosa's book, La Guerra del Fin del Mundo,  was his choice of a phrenologist to be a principal character.  Some light was shed on that choice for me today when I read the latest posting at a favorite blog, Genealogy of Religion, about Franz Joseph Gall who founded the discipline of phrenology.  While his association of head bumps with brain functions did not hold up to scrutiny, he was nevertheless a pioneer of scientific thought in relation to the conception of the mind as a product of physical structure rather than evidence of another dimension as posited by religions.  The path started by Gall led directly to the scientific revolution epitomized by Darwin, as well as a questioning of social and political systems by the 19th Century revolutionary thinkers like Karl Marx.  The Church, of course, recognized quite early on that the Gall's course would lead to a dissolution of the magical thinking that held it all together and therefore promoted the persecution of phrenology wherever it raised its head.  Vargas Llosa, in his book, does a marvelous job of illuminating this complicated historical conflict, which is one of the things that make him a great novelist.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Lost Love

I seem to have drifted back into Sketchup. I'm not quite sure what got me started on modeling a Sixteenth Century stonebow. I've got most of the parts sketched out with the exception of the bow, which will probably be the most difficult component.

When we moved to the city I decided to give away all my archery gear, including a fine little book by Saxton Pope on the rediscovery of the joys of making and using the longbow.  I had a couple recurves and an old longbow which I never strung or shot.  I never did own a crossbow, though I was always interested in them.  I recall that the De Young museum in San Francisco had a nice example of a stonebow very similar to the one I'm working on now in Sketchup.

The illustrations and plans I'm working from are out of The Book of the Crossbow by Ralph Payne-Gallwey.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Life's Clutter

While my interest in photography with old cameras has taken up much of my time over the past ten years, I haven't been able to resist looking into other subjects, a few of which are illustrated here.

My longest-running hobby is actually reading novels, mostly by Spanish and Latin American writers.  I never had patience for English and American literature, and always felt fiction something of a waste of time.  Reading in Spanish always seemed less self-indulgent as I could tell myself I was also building some language proficiency.

I'm not quite half-way through 2666 by Roberto Bolaño.  The endless digressions and philosophizing get a bit tiresome, but he was an accomplished storyteller, and I'm working at withholding judgment on the book until I'm done with it.  The story has a lot in common with the trilogy by Stieg Larsson, though the swede's style was more nimble.

Another writer with a lot in common with those two is Mario Vargas Llosa.  I've read most of his novels, including most recently La tía Julia y el escribidor and La guerra del fin del mundo. Vargas Llosa is often slow in starting his stories; I was about eighty pages into La guerra before I felt I knew where the plot was headed.  The peruano's strength is in developing interesting characters, something that has been helped along considerably by his having lived with a succession of interesting women.

In the past few years I've been reading more non-English-speaking writers in Spanish translation.  I enjoyed the exotic stories told by Orhan Pamuk, and reading him in Spanish seems appropriate as Turkish and Spanish have some grammatical similarity in their use of a familiar tense.

Bolaño's novel is probably going to last me a couple more weeks at the rate I'm going.  After that, I'm hoping to read a bit of Tolstoy, possibly Anna Karenina.  I started to read it on line, but digesting a novel with my desktop is tiresome.  If anyone out there has a dog-eared copy of the Spanish edition, I would be happy to pay a reasonable price for it.  

Saturday, February 4, 2012


The Germans fielded the first operational jet fighter in WWII, the me262.  

This model was constructed in OpenVSP.  I've learned a few more things about using the program, but still don't understand how one might round off the wingtips, nor how to properly shape the cross-sections.  I used a POD object to form the canopy; it gives a smoother result than the FUSE object, but no individual cross-section control. Perhaps I'll try this same model in Sketchup.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


I took a quick trip on my motorcycle through Albuquerque's Old Town to test my new video setup.  The camera is not vintage, but the Honda Shadow is twenty-five years old.

The frame for holding the camera is made from a couple pieces of  angle iron.  There is a camera strap that goes around my neck, and a leather shoelace loops around my back.  A small ball head allows me to properly adjust the camera's forward tilt.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


More doodling with OpenVSP.

This is a rather crude rendering of the mid-century Soviet fighter.  I still haven't figured out how to do cross-sections which would create a canopy, so I approximated one using a short fuselage object.  It also isn't clear to me how one might round off the tips on the wings and tail surfaces.  I'll work out the answers to some of my questions with practice, but it would be nice to see how others are dealing with some of the challenges.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


I put away my 3D drawing projects for some time because of a combination of frustration with the complexity of the tools and the nagging thought that they were taking too much time away from my photography.  Recently, I have been seduced into the 3D world again by the appearance of a new tool, OpenVSP.   As the NASA web site says:

OpenVSP is a parametric aircraft geometry tool. OpenVSP allows the user to create a 3D model of an aircraft defined by common engineering parameters. 

Compared to anything else I've tried, OpenVSP is blazingly fast, and * taa-daa * it's free.

Here is an example design that comes with the program showing its capabilities:

Here are  several doodles I produced in a few minutes each:

Here's my x-plane that I've been using to familiarize myself with the program's drawing tools:

There is a very good manual for OpenVSP which includes instructions on all the basics and a few ok video tutorials.  To get beyond the basics takes some dedication; I'm trying to figure out at the moment how to construct a typical aircraft coss-section which inludes a canopy.  Hopefully, there will be some online discussion developing around the program which will help to answer questions.  Since NASA has released the program as Open Source, perhaps there will also be some development of additional features and import/export options.