Scott Hanselman

The Basics of 3D Printing in 2015 - from someone with 16 WHOLE HOURS' experience

January 27, '15 Comments [44] Posted in 3D Printing | Musings | Reviews
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Printrbot Simple MetalI bought a 3D printer on Friday, specifically a Printrbot Simple Metal from Amazon for US$599. I did a few days of research, looking at all the consumer models under $1000. Some were enclosed, others not. Some made of wood, some of plastic.

I selected the Printrbot Simple Metal because the reviews consistently said it was physically well made, rock solid, didn't require me to buy filament from the printer manufacturer, and Printrbot offers a number of updates like a heated bed and other attachments. I have the sense that this printer is basic, but flexible and expandable.

I've been using this printer now for basically 16 total hours over a few days, so we'll call it two days. I went through a number of emotions over this last two days an learned a TON, some about the Printrbot Simple Metal specifically, but also about 3D Printing in general.

Here's my 16 hours laid out for you, Dear Reader, so that you might save this time that was stolen from me. ;)

Disclaimer: I know jack squat about 3D Printing. If you're reading this, it's more likely than not that you know little as well. Any mistakes here are my own, but I hope my learning process helps you in your 3D printing journey.

Each hours includes an emotion and a lesson.

Hour 1 - Anticipation

Lesson 1: 3D Printers do not just work out of the box.

It's a hobby, not an appliance. Yet. There's a LOT of art to it, in addition to all this science. There's a million acronyms to remember. Here's the ones I've found useful.

  • PLA Filament - "Polylactic acid (PLA) is a bio-degradable polymer that can be produced from lactic acid, which can be fermented from crops such as maize." It's the basic starter plastic you'll use. It's harder than ABS and melts above 180C.
  • ABS - "Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) is a commonly used thermoplastic as it is lightweight and can both be injection molded and extruded." It melts over 200C and should be used in a ventilated area.
  • JsCad and OpenJSCAD - It's JavaScript for CAD! Lets you design stuff procedurally like a programmer.
  • STL - Standard Tessellation Language. It's the most common format you'll find as you look around for models of things to print.
  • G-Code - RS-274, a numerical control (NC) programming language. It's the "Assembly Code" for your printer. It is ASCII and uses control codes to tell your printer what to do. You'll take STL which is generic 3D and combine it with your specific settings and preferences to create G-Code that is the instructions that will be sent to your 3D printer.

3D Printers are like those cake decorator pipings. The 3D Printer pushes hot, molten plastic through a tiny tube in layers to make a real object just like a cake decorator pushes hot sugar through a piping tube to write Happy Birthday.

3D Printing is like Cake PipingCake Piping is like 3D Printing

Hour 2 - Annoyance

Lesson 2: 3D Printers really need to be calibrated.

The most important thing I've found is the "Z-Stop." Basically, you need to make sure that when your Printer's Head is at X0 Y0 Z0 that you can just barely fit a piece of paper between your extruder nozzle and bed.

The most important part of any print is the first few layers. If you build a good solid base for your 3D print then it will at least have a chance. If something goes wrong in the first few minutes it's not going to get better. Cancel the print before you waste more time.

I also found this list of tips useful: 10 Rules for top notch prints with your Printrbot Simple.

3D Printing Animated Gif

Hour 3 - Frustration

Lesson 3: 3D Printers are persnickety.

They are easily affected by the environment/temperature/your mood/Mercury in Retrograde. Cold garages aren't a great place for 3D printing as cold plastic is hard plastic and that breaks easily.

Temperature control : each filament has an optimum temperature for its extrusion. If you do not know, a value between 190 and 210° Celsius (374°-410° Fahrenheit). Start at 190° C and adjust the temperature according to the behavior of the filament: Shiny, too hot, Dull, not hot enough. Find balance.

Early on, expect only 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 prints to be useful. Fail fast, fail often. When you do have a failed 3D Print, write down your settings and compare it to previous prints.

Have a clear, solid table, find your place to print, and get organized.

Where I 3D print.

Hour 4 - Resentment

Lesson 4: This freaking piece of crap is incapable of producing anything other than a molten pile of crap.

Learn about how there's different kinds of support mechanisms to sit under and support your model. There's Rafts, Skirts, and Brims and they all have different uses.

3D Printing often requires a base

When in doubt, check your 3D Printer's Skirt.

Hour 5 - Disgruntlement

Lesson 5: Documentation for 3D printers is spotty because the tech changes every few months.

Collect links and compare notes. Start small. Don't print something massive (as I tried to, which made me more angry), print something tiny. 10 minutes max, then try again, change a setting. See what happens. There's a "calibration cube" file you can use.

The docs for your printer are useful, but you'll find even better information on Reddit but most of all on YouTube. There's a million great videos showing different techniques. Start by subscribing to Tom's YouTube Channel and go from there.

Hour 6 - Unfulfillment

Lesson 6: The first half-dozen things you print will be parts and improvements to the printer.

You'll wonder why it didn't come with all these things. There's no filament spool, no feet for the printer, no where to mount extra stuff. Fortunately for every problem I've had, there's someone on the Thingiverse 3D website that has had the SAME problem AND designed a part for me to print out.

My first "fix" was to print this small filament guide. A tiny victory, but still unfulfilling.

image

Hour 7 - Vexed

Lesson 7: Getting the filament to stick to the base will be your primary challenge without a heated bed. Ideas 'solutions' abound.

Whenever you have a problem with your 3D printer you will go and Google with Bing and find others with your problem. The 3D Printing community (in my 16 whole hours in it) is super nice. Everyone wants to help and share.

ASIDE: I LOVE ThingiVerse, it's like Wikipedia for stuff, and it's all Creative Commons. Share and Share Alike. I'm here.

However, when you search for your problem there are one of two things that will happen.

  • You find someone just like you with the same software and same printer and they SOLVED IT AND THEY HAVE THE SOLUTION THERE FOR YOU TO USE.

or

  • You find someone just like you with the same software and same printer and they NEVER FOUND THE ANSWER AND THIS QUESTON WAS ASKED IN 2009AND YOU WILL ALWAYS BE ALONE.

So. Ya. Be ready.

Hour 8 - Chagrin

Lesson 8: 3D Printing can take HOURS. Like, hours. Many hours. And then halfway through you'll bump it and start over.

But, while you're waiting for things to print, there are some amazing websites to explore, like OpenJSCAD.org. You can write JavaScript (you know JavaScript!) to describe the things you want to build.

Here's a cool example. Sometimes you'll find JsCad files and you'll want to turn them into STL files, then eventually GCode files to be sent to your printer.

function main() {
return union(
difference(
cube({size: 3, center: true}),
sphere({r:2, center: true})
),
intersection(
sphere({r: 1.3, center: true}),
cube({size: 2.1, center: true})
)
).translate([0,0,1.5]).scale(10);
}

Go and explore the relationship between STL and G-Code. Get the basics of G-Code in your brain. Remember typing "ATA" to answer your modem manually? No? Well, you had to do this back in the day, young lady, and it was magic. G-Code is just like typing ATA or ATDT to your modem, except it's instructions for your 3D Printer.

For example, my Printrbot was locking up at the same place during a print. I had no idea why. Rather than accepting the system is a "load a file, print, and pray," I looked at the G-Code and saw it was turning on a Heated Bed. I don't have a Heated Bed. I commented that part out and my print finished. Stuff like that will save you hours.

Hour 9 - Triumph

Lesson 9: Think about your printing area. Consider how your filament will feed into your printer and make a filament holder.

The Printrbot SImple Metal doesn't come with any formal way to feed the filament spool into the printer. I ended up having to move it every few minutes. After a while I used a broomstick and put the spool on it horizontally. Then I got sick of it and printed a Filament Spooler from Thingiverse to put on top of the printer. This was EPIC. This was my "I can do it" moment.

It was rough, and it broke off with just a few layers left, but it WORKED. It fixed a problem I had. Boom. I think this is going to be OK.

IMG_1095

Hour 10 - Bitterness

Lesson 10: I didn't notice that all the printing and shaking was literally causing the printer to shake slowly off the desk.

In my last print the piece shook itself off the print bed. 4 hours almost wasted. I was able to use some sandpaper and fix it, but for a few minutes there I was pretty upset. Watch for things like shaking and look for solutions. I printed a set of feet and put rubber bases on them.

Hour 11 - Rage

Lesson 11: Remember what I said about heated beds and stuff sticking to the base?

It hurts even worse when it breaks off and is thrown across the room and you're left with a pile of hot plastic spaghetti. I've decided I want to upgrade to a Heated Bed at this point. This $99 attachment will keep the bottom of the model warmish and pliable so it doesn't warp as it cools. It also helps keep it stuck to the base.

Before this Heated Bed shows up, here's some things you can try to help prevent peeling of your 3D print:

  • Glue Sticks - Get the Purples ones that dry clear. 99 cents.
  • Blue Painters Tape - Required. Don't print directly on the bed. I put my tape lengthwise and I'm sure NOT to over lay them. Make it FLAT.
  • Nail Polish Remover - Smear this over the tape with a cloth. I dunno if it works, and it stinks, but folks swear by it. I'm still testing it myself. Seems to do SOMETHING.

Also consider how thin/thick you're printing. I found that 0.2mm was my default, but for my current setup was hard to keep flat on the non-heated bed. I am having more success with 0.4mm, although the quality is less. There IS a setting that will work for your setup.

Avoid being near a vent or the AC. Cool air being blown inconsistently in a room can affect a print. I like to keep it toasty. Gotta get that Heated Bed soon. Damn these expensive hobbies that make you buy stuff after you just bought stuff.

Hour 12 - Heartened

Lesson 12: Use OctoPrint. It's amazing, it's brilliant, it's everything.

I started using the Repetier software that Printrbot recommends to load up STL files. These 3D models are then "sliced" with your choice of slicer software. The slicer is the thing that takes the 3D concept and makes it a series of G-Code instructions that will be fed to your printer. However my Printrbot would freeze up and I'd have to manually press OK in the Repetier software. I found lots of people with this problem, some fixed it with new USB cables, some never did. For me it came down to deciding NOT to use my Laptop as a print serve for 3 hour prints. If my 3D printer isn't wireless, well, darnit, I'm gonna make it wireless. So...

Hour 13 - Satisfaction

Lesson 13: Hook up a camera to OctoPrint so you can safely leave a print going while you go about your business.

As I read and absorbed, I found lots of references to OctoPrint as something I should explore. However, my Printrbot recommended software called Repetier and I didn't feel like setting up more software to get this thing to print, so I wasted a few hours NOT installing OctoPrint. This was foolish of me. Let me save you some time now. If you're not using OctoPrint you're in for a treat. Take the time.

Turns out since I had a Raspberry Pi and a spare Webcam lying around, this setup only took me 30 minutes. The basic idea is that rather than using your computer as a Print Server, you use a small embedded system. This can make your 3D Printer wireless!

What you do is this:

  • Get a Raspberry Pi B+ or newer and a fast Class 10 SD Card.
  • Optional: A cheap wireless USB dongle. I got this Edimax and it works great. Got two actually just in case.
  • A 1A or greater micro USB power supply. I used a Samsung phone power supply.
  • A USB keyboard (not wireless) temporarily.
  • A Logitech or Microsoft USB Camera.
  • Use Win32DiskImager and install OctoPi to the SD Card. Boot off the Pi, expand the partition to fill, optionally setup the WiFi on the PI, and you're set.

This little Raspberry Pi is now running my 3D Printer. Watch this wonderful YouTube by Tom who explains setting up OctoPrint on a Raspberry Pi better than I.

image

I hit http://octoprint.local and BEHOLD. I've got a nice bootstrapped website where I can see and control all aspects of my 3D Printer AND see the print via either my USB Webcam or a Raspberry Pi Camera.

OctoPrint is glorious

Now I can use my iPhone or Tablet to watch my print and shut it down if something goes around. No more babysitting!

Even better, you can setup OctoPrint to create cool Time-lapse videos of your 3D prints.

Hour 14 - Reassurance

Lesson 14: Maybe it will be OK. Why was I so angry early on?

I need to chill and 3D print some stuff. After a while things are starting to make sense. I'm still an unranked amateur but I'm one who can write this giant blog post, so I musta learned something.

I also learned that Ii t turns out that Windows 8.1 has support for 3D Printers built in. I didn't have to install any drivers, one was already on my machine. There's also a 3D Builder app in the Windows Store.

Here's the apps I've been trying and using:

  • 3D Builder - Can model, slice, and print.
  • Autodesk 123D Design - Free and for Windows, Mac, and iPad. Stores your designs in their cloud.
  • Repetier - Loads STL files and can launch a Slicer to make G-Code, then send the instructions to your printer.
  • Cura - A very well-thought-of slicer. You should explorer different slicers as you gain experience. These slicers have different algorithms, and some are smarter with different kinds of shapes. Some are focused on reducing "travel" (how far the print head moves) or minimizing your use of filament. Others are great at setting up "supports" for when you have a piece floating in mid-air, as I do in the pic below. That side bit will need a small temporary support to hold it up. I'll remove it later.
  • OctoPrint - YES. DO IT. It's the best app to manage your G-Code and your printer. Model with whatever you want, but print with OctoPrint.
  • Tinkercad - Do your 3D modeling all in the browser. Great for kids.

Also check out Jon Gallant's blog as he's on a quest for the perfect 3D Model Software. Here's his list so far:

Here I'm working on a holster for my Dyson Handheld Vacuum. I have a DC56 though, and this is a DC34. It's close...but, not quite.

3D Builder

Hour 15 - Encouragement

Lesson 15: In which I take a JsCad into a STL then into G-Code and successfully 3D print.

I made a Dyson Holster. I AM POWER.I want a holster for my Dyson Vacuum so I found this DC34 Wall Charger holster/holder. In this comments of this other model on Thingiverse, I saw someone modify the JsCad for the design to add a little room for the DC56 over the DC34. However, it was in this JsCad format.

  1. It took me a second but I realized I just needed to take the original JsCad file (remember this is JavaScript that expresses a 3D design), open it in Notepad, and change the parameters with the new measurements.
  2. Then I ran my new file through the OpenJsCad parser online.
  3. I took the resulting STL file and loaded it into Repetier and sliced it with Cura. This made a G-Code file that's MY custom instructions with my preferences.
  4. I then loaded the G-Code into OctoPrint and printed.
  5. PROFIT. Well, no, but FEEL ACCOMPLISHMENT.

Here it is. Now I'll mount it to the wall and check that off my Bucket List. What should I print next?

Hour 16 - Power

Lesson 16: You can do this. I can do this.

It will take days, perhaps weeks, but you'll have a satisfying new hobby that will make you more powerful than before.

OK, so I can't just print all the free LEGO I want whenever I want. (I would never do that, I respect the LEGO Group too much.) I mean, I can't just make stuff on-demand. Yet. But I can solve some small problems and I am learning. I'm getting better. Each print teaches me something. I'm MAKING physical stuff with Software. This must be what Woodworkers and proper Handypeople feel like.

Conclusion

  • Is 3D Printing ready like Inkjet and Laser Printers are ready? Nope.
  • Is 3D Printing ready like Microwaves are ready? Nope.
  • Is this Plug and Print? You'll need a few hours, days, weeks. Hopefully I've saved you some time or at least helped you decide if you want in.

But I bet in 3 to 5 years I'll be able to buy a solid enclosed reliable prosumer 3D printer for $599 from Office Depot, bring it home and have it just work. I'm stoked and I am happy with my Printrbot Simple Metal even if I don't get any further than I have after these last 16 hours.

What do YOU think?

* These are Amazon referral links. I use the few bucks I get if you buy stuff from Amazon to buy 3D Printer Filament! ;) Click click!


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Using a Surface Pro 3 full time for two months

October 13, '14 Comments [63] Posted in Reviews
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en-INTL-PDP-Surface-Cover-Black-RD2-00080-LargeBack in August I posted my initial impressions of a Surface Pro 3 after using it for a week or so. I paid for the Surface Pro 3 with my own money and have been using it as my primary machine ever since. I've been using it now for two months full time and figured it was time to break down the good, the bad, and the weird.

I won't waste your time telling you specs and details you can search for. Instead, I'll tell you what has worked and what hasn't the last few months.

The Good

  • It's very fast. I haven't had any issues or concerns about performance. I've given talks internationally this last few months and used this Surface Pro 3 for demos involving multiple instances of Visual Studio without concern.
  • I always want more memory, but 8 gigs has been fine. I can run Hyper-V or VirtualBox and run at least one VM without concern. Even better is running the VM off a USB3 hard drive. However, 12 gigs of RAM would have been a nice option.
  • Running two monitors with the Surface Pro 3 Dock is pretty perfect. I'm having no major issues with my 24" monitors. A little more on some subtle video card things below under "The Weird."
  • It's far more usable in your lap than previous Surface versions. I'm sitting on my front porch right now, in fact, typing this post while the kids run around. It's actually kind of nicer than a laptop in that the screen part doesn't flop as I type.
  • The Dock is exceptional. It adds 3 USB 3 ports and 2 USB 2 ports, for a system-wide total of 6 ports. It adds a second Mini DisplayPort as well as Gigabit Ethernet and an audio jack. Drop in, go. It also works nicely with Mouse Without Borders.
  • The kick stand is brilliant. Having a continuous kickstand is perfect and useful. Every tablet should have one.
  • It's really an everything/everywhere machine. I use it for work, then remove the keyboard and use it on the treadmill for movies.
  • I added a 64 gig MicroSD card and put movies on it. Works great on a plane and everyone loves the kickstand and comments on it.
  • The pen is fantastic, but I don't really use it for anything other than OneNote.

The Bad

  • I'm underwhelmed by the battery life. I have been generally underwhelmed with batteries in general in the last year. From my iPhone 5S to my Lenovo to this Surface Pro, all batteries seem to last about 5 hours for me. This is "fine." But it's not awesome. I never take any device anywhere without some subconscious concern about the battery. It's not an all-day battery. From what I can tell the number one thing you can do to get it to last longer is to lower the screen brightness. Unfortunately for me, I like a bright screen.
  • I almost point this under the Weird, but I just don't like the Touchpad on the Surface Pro 3. It's OK, but it's not epic. A MacBook Pro is a universally loved touch surface. No one knows why, but it just feels right. The Surface Pro 3 touchpad is one of the best I've used, but it's very small and you'll want to at least adjust the pointer speed under Motion without Mouse Properties. While I don't use it as a mouse, it's gesture support for pinch to zoom and scrolling is excellent. That said, you'll end up using the touchscreen for that naturally.
  • With every Surface I've ever used there's been this weird thing where it would stop seeing the keyboard. It happens maybe once in 30 attaches, but it's annoying. Just detach and reattach, but it's clearly a flaky bug and I've seen it maybe 8 times in the last two months.
  • I spend a lot of time in Google Chrome and while it's great on my desktop, I must say that using Google Chrome on a hybrid like the Surface that has both touch and high-dpi really makes Chrome feel unpolished. Touch support in Chrome is there, scrolling and pinch to zoom work, but with newer betas there are weird zoom effects they appear to be bringing over from Android.
  • In recent Chrome builds it started popping up the Virtual Keyboard. Unfortunately, that's not Chrome's job to pop up the keyboard. ;) The keyboard pops up when a physical keyboard isn't attached. However, Chrome pops it up whenever a text box is touched, and even worse, resizes the window to half height. It's REALLY annoying. I just can't use Chrome or recommend it on a touch screen. I'd love it if someone from the Chrome team would get in touch with me or someone at Microsoft because this kind of thing makes everyone look bad. Here's an eight month old thread that continues filled with folks with this issue.

The Weird and The Subtle

  • Early on, before the first firmware update that came over Windows Update, I was seeing some concerning heat coming off the the back right side. I had one "thermal shutdown" while sitting in my car. I haven't seen any heat issues since the most recent firmware updates, but it was initially concerning. Ultimately I did have to come to terms with the fact that mine is an i7 processor, not an iPad Air. It does have a fan and it will use it if you are running Handbrake and compressing video.
  • Hotkeys and the keyboard take a week or so to get used to. One feature I'd like to see (can you hear me Surface Team?) is to be able to have F1-F8 be function keys and F9-F12 stay as Home/End/Page Up and Page Down. It took me a while to figure out some of the more subtle hotkeys on a Surface Pro 3 keyboard, for example:
    • Toggle Fn lock - Pressing Fn-CapsLock will toggle the top row to stay as Function Keys.
    • Fn+Spacebar - Printscreen
    • Fn+Del and Fn+Backspace - Brightness up and down
    • Fn+Up and Fn+Down - Page up and Page Down (in addition to the other PgUp/PgDn keys.
    • Windows Key + Vol Down - Screenshot to screenshots folder
  • I think Windows on a tablet should be more aggressive about what it does in the background on a tablet. Every once in a while there's some indexing service or malware service that slows everything down. It's no more on a Surface than it is on my other devices, but somehow I'm more aware of it with this device. When I'm not plugged in or have my keyboard removed, Windows needs to CHILL OUT.

I recommend the Surface. It's an amazing, fast, thin device. It's got some quirks, but I've had two firmware updates in as many months, and Microsoft has publically said it would support it (as well it should) with Windows 10. I think the Surface Pro 3 will likely get more useful updates, as driver updates, pen updates, and firmware updates that will make it better.

Finally, Windows 10 and the "Continuum" concept cannot come fast enough. It's exactly the behavior I want on this device.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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iOS8 3rd Party Keyboards Reviews - SwiftKey and Swype

September 18, '14 Comments [29] Posted in Reviews
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I've been running iOS8 for a while now in Beta, and today all my iDevices are running the released iOS 8. One of the most anticipated new features is the ability to create and add 3rd party keyboards. In the future I anticipate we'll see lots of interesting and creative keyboards, perhaps to draw an emoji with your finger, custom Chinese or Japanese IMEs (input method editors), and others.

Until then, the primary thing folks have been waiting for is what Android and now Windows Phone have had for a while, the ability to type without lifting your thumb. You'll either love it or hate it, but you need to try it for a day. When done well, it's amazing and brilliant.

The Hassle of the Setup Process

3rd Party Keyboards install from the AppStore like any other app. When you run each for the first time they walk you through the process of installing their keyboard. This is easy for a techie, but for your non-Technical Relatives it might take a little coaching as you'll end up 3 or 4 deep inside Settings | General | Keyboards.

Multiple Keyboards

Swype - US$0.99

Swype worked great, exactly as advertised. I enjoyed using it very much and it's swiping feature works as advertised. I did feel its autocorrect somehow left something to be desired. Below you can see it getting confused as I swipe the word "autocorrect."

Swyping Adding new words

The deal breaker for me with Swype was two-fold. First, the spacebar is smaller than the default space bar. It's a small thing to be sure (as tiny keyboards are) but it had me adding periods . throughout . my text, as I hit that before I hit the space bar.

Secondly, the lower left corner of the iOS keyboard has always been the little 123 Icon. It lets you switch between ABC and 123, of course. Swype chose to move this over to the second spot. This flummoxed me all day. I'm sure I could train myself as it's just muscle memory, but it was an unusual choice, I thought, and this is just one place where Swype deviated their keyboard design from being "just a swiping solution."  They've moved other things as well.

Opening the proper Swype button in the lower corner with a press and hold brings up the Globe (usually not hidden in other keyboards) as well as the Dial Pad for numbers, and the Settings gear.

Swype has moved some things and this slowed me down quite a lot. This keyboard below moves all my symbols to new locations, with the Asterisk nowhere to be found!

Checking out the Swype menu What's with the random Emoji?

NOTE: One thing that ALL these keyboards thankfully fix is the "shift key problem" with the default iOS keyboard. They show lowercase letters when you're typing lowercase, and change the whole keyboard to uppercase when you press Shift. It's so painfully a problem with the default keyboard, it's really unfortunate that this wasn't changed in iOS8.

Swype also includes funky themes with background images if you're into that level of customization.

SwiftKey - Free, with registration and has optional $ IAPs

SwiftKey is free, but they intend to make money by selling us keyboard things. For now, I'm thrilled with the default, as seen below. It looks almost exactly like the default iOS keyboard, which is what I'm looking for. I don't want to relearn where things are when I just want swiping and a few other features.

SwiftKey keeps all the symbols and numbers exactly where they usually are, and adds a few nice touches like a gentle reminder than I can touch-and-hold on punctuation for additional choices.

SwiftKey Fantastic  swiping is amazing

One odd bug I saw with SwiftKey - If I turn off "Allow all Access," in Settings | General | Keyboards, SwiftKey ignored my white theme choice, showing me only a black keyboard with a reminder to turn on All Access. I presume this is a bug, as it's definitely wrong. Other than this one issue, I'm digging SwiftKey.

TouchPal

There is also a free Chinese keyboard called TouchPal that includes swiping input, keyboards, themes and a focus on Emoji. The Emoji are included in the keyboard, meaning your don't need to switch to the Emoji keyboard. That said, I installed it and my phone locked up. I rebooted and had no keyboard until I removed TouchPal. I think this experience speaks (IMHO) to the larger issue of stability with 3rd party keyboards on iOS, but this is only from my perspective as a user. I was unable to get TouchPal working.

Privacy Concerns

Here's the kicker for a lot of people. In order to make predictive text suggestions, sometimes these keyboards need to send what you're typing to their cloud engine. Be sure to read their privacy policies to make sure you're comfortable with how they use your data.

Here's part of SwiftKey's privacy policy. Note that you can opt out of their cloud service. They try not to collect passwords and payments, basing this on hints like "type=password" in HTML, I presume. They also allow you to delete all your cloud data at a later date if you like.

For users that opt in to SwiftKey Cloud, we will collect your email address, basic demographic information and information concerning the words and phrases that you use (“Language Modeling Data”) to enable services such as personalization, prediction synchronization and backup. We may use data provided by you to develop and improve our Products.

Where a field has been flagged by a website or app as denoting a password field or payment information, SwiftKey does not log, store or learn from this information.

Be educated, but I'm OK with using these keyboards for basic email. Of course, you can (and will) switch keyboards many times a day if you're like me.

Switching Keyboards

Bugs

If you type technical (or Medical, or Legal, or whatever) things a lot, you'll likely find some very odd predications with these keyboards. Here SwiftKey has clearly looked at my history and is suggesting something totally wrong...and offering to Capitalize it also! Autocorrect has always been a problem, but don't expect a 3rd party keyboard to fix it...although these ones aim to try! Theoretically they'll learn even more from what I type.

Random suggestion More autocomplete

A number of times I've found myself looking at a text box with a flashing insert point waiting for a keyboard to pop up. These keyboards need to LOAD and sometimes that causes a pause, or when things go wrong, they just never show up. In a word, there's bugs all around, in both the Keyboards, I suspect, and in iOS8's handling of them.

Here I am, keyboardless. I had to reboot at this point. Your mileage may vary.

Just Blank, no KeyboardStill no keyboard

Mark my words, I predict bug fixes for a the supporting APIs for 3rd Party Keyboards will be coming in the next minor update to iOS8.

NOTE: Neither of these keyboards includes a Microphone Button to start Siri's built-in dictation. As such, these keyboards won't work with my app, myEcho. This appears to be a limitation imposed by Apple, that won't allow us (developers) to invoke a dictation without using their button. If you want to dictate (which is almost a keyboard on its own...I'd like to see a giant "Dictate now" button, myself) then you'll need to switch to the built in iOS keyboard.
Press Microphone to Dictate to Siri

Final Recommendation

My recommendation? YOU should try them all and see which one makes you happy. If you are very much a touch typist and you want a swiping keyboard that doesn't deviate far from the default, I recommend SwiftKey.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Surface Pro 3 - Initial Impressions

August 15, '14 Comments [76] Posted in Reviews
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I went out and bought a Surface Pro 3. I bought the i7 8 gig RAM 256 gig storage version. It was paid for with my own money and there were no discounts. It's been a while since I had a high-powered laptop that was my own, not my employers, so I was mostly happy to spend the money. I bought the "Microsoft Complete" plan that covers accidental damage, even from drops.

That's a Surface Pro 3 there

I was a big fan of the size of the the Surface RT and the Surface 2. Those were the tiny thin ARM-based Surfaces. I used them all the time for email, Videos, browsing. I have an iPad Air, but used the Surfaces for their keyboard and their split screen abilities. Sitting on a plane with an 8 hour battery life device doing email and watching a movie at the same time is killer. If my iPad could do split screen that would be something.

I was NOT a fan of the Surface Pro 2. I have a lot of friends who have some but it was just so thick and heavy. The differential between the thickness of the keyboard and the thickness of the device itself was near comical. I wasn't going to try a Pro until it was as thin as a Surface 2.

And the Surface Pro 3 is thin. It's crazy thin. It's 9.1mm thick and about 800grams. That's about 1.8 lbs.

Now, I'm never going to be able to do a review like Paul Thurrott or AnandTech so I'd encourage you to read those uber-reviews. Instead, I'm going to cut through the specs and get to the questions and answers that matter to me.

Oh, and this is random as I'm not a sticker person. I have no stickers on any of my laptops but this Decal from DecalGirl was too awesome so I went all in.

What IS this device? The Obvious Comparisons

IMG_8260The difference between my Lenovo X1 Carbon and my iPad Air is clear. One's a powerhouse laptop and one is a lightweight tablet. I do work on the X1 and I surf and relax with the Air. I throw them both in my bag and go. I'll do a little light email on the iPad but it's largely my media and gaming device. They are separate and their difference makes sense to me.

After carrying the Surface Pro 3 around for a week, two interesting things happened. The screen on my iPad now feels small and the screen on my X1 seems HUGE. The Surface is basically the size and weight of a large magazine or a stack of papers.

The Surface occupies a space in my brain like a real hybrid. I want to throw the Surface on the couch with abandon like I do my iPad, but somehow I carry it with more reverence. That's likely because I didn't get the cheapest Surface. My subconscious knows it's a non-trivially-priced laptop rather than a tablet. 

I truly love my iPad Air. It works, it turns on, it runs one app at a time, and runs them well. I play games like Modern Combat with my Steelseries Stratus bluetooth controller and am amazed.

But then I plug the Surface Pro into my 30" monitor, add a keyboard, mouse, or an Xbox controller and play a Steam Game, and I realize this is an i7 PC. It's a weird shift that has taken me the week to get my head around.

The Good

From a consumers point of view (and in this context, that's me) it seems there are a lot of updates coming down for the Surface. Just yesterday an update came in that gave me more control over the touchpad and its right-click behavior. I hope that the updates continue. According to the Penny Arcade review they are looking at updates to improve the pen and other little details.

Can it run Visual Studio? Sure. I have been using it full time for a week and it's been fine. I wish it had 12 gigs of RAM, but I wish everything did.

The Type Cover 3 is WAY better than the Type Cover 2, and that one was pretty good. I thought the fold-up extra magnet was a gimmick but it's not. It does more than change the angle of the keyboard, it adds lateral stability to the device and makes it feel more like a laptop and less like a tablet with a keyboard attached.

The screen is fantastic. I mean, truly awesome. It's "retina" in that I can't see individual pixels and it's super bright and clear. The resolution on devices like the Yoga 2 Pro are so high that they can be overwhelming. The Surface Pro 3's 2160x1400 is such that I can run it at 100% (no scaling) and find it usable. I am running at 125% right now and am not having any of the high-dpi issues that happen when you scale out to 200%. It's also worth noting that you can scale the desktop and full-screen apps separately.

There is a micro-SD card slot hidden under the stand. I popped it a 64-gig card and told Windows to store videos there. Easy expansion and my movies take up no space on my main drive.

NOTE: Having a USB3 port is awesome, so I got a 3 port USB3 hub with Ethernet and it works great. I added a tiny Smart Card reader and a 3-in-1 mini DVI video adapter (DVI/HDMI/VGA) and got my bag of adapters down to just these three.

The Bad

Noting that I have an i7 version, and not the i3 or i5, I have noticed both fan noise and heat when the Surface Pro 3 is working hard. By working hard, I mean sustained CPU over 50-60% plus hard drive access plus wireless. So, playing Steam Games, installing Visual Studio, running Handbrake.

I was initially really disappointed that there was a fan at all. But again, after a week, I realized that the laws of physics are what they are and I'm carrying around an i7 the size of a paper notebook. I also went back to my X1 Carbon Touch and installed Visual Studio 2013.3 and noticed that the fan turned on noted it was hot too. In fact, hotter than I remembered.

So, is there a fan and will it blow when needed? Yes. I'm cool with it, because 90% of the time, it's off. It did take a mental adjustment.

Conclusion

I'm 90% happy with the Surface Pro 3. It's small and it's fast. It's not my desktop but it's definitely as fast as my beloved Lenovos when doing regular stuff. Right now I've got Outlook, Chrome, Firefox,  and IE all open. I've got 20+ tabs going, Windows Live Writer and an instance of Visual Studio. I've ordered the Docking Station and will report back when I've hooked it up.

Do any of you have a Surface Pro 3? What are your thoughts?


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Review: Logitech ConferenceCam CC3000e - A fantastic pan tilt zoom camera and speaker for remote workers

July 7, '14 Comments [10] Posted in Remote Work | Reviews
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cc3000eI'm forever looking for tools that can make me a more effective remote worker. I'm still working remotely from Portland, Oregon for folks in Redmond, Washington.

You might think that a nice standard HD webcam is enough to talk to your remote office, but I still maintain that a truly great webcam for the remote work is one that:

  • Has a wide field of view > 100 degrees
  • Has an 5x - 10x optical zoom to look at whiteboards
  • Has motorized pan-tilt-zoom

Two years later I'm still using (and happy with) the Logitech BCC950. I'm so happy with it that I wrote and maintain a cloud server to remotely control the PTZ (pan tilt zoom function) of the camera. I wrote all that up earlier on this blog in Cloud-Controlled Remote Pan Tilt Zoom Camera API for a Logitech BCC950 Camera with Azure and SignalR.

Fast-forward to June of 2014 and Logitech offered to loan me (I'm sending it back this week) one of their new Logitech ConferenceCam C3000e conferencing systems. Yes, that's a mouthful.

To be clear, the BCC950 is a fantastic value. It's usually <$200, has motorized PTZ, a remote control, (also works my software, natch), doesn't require drivers with Windows (a great plus), is a REALLY REALLY good speakerphone for Skype or Lync calls, it's camera is 1080p, the speakerphone shows up as a standard audio device, and has a removable "stalk" so you can control how tall the camera is.

BUT. The BCC950's zoom function is digital which sucks for trying to see remote whiteboards, and it's field of view is just OK.

Now, enter the CC3000e, a top of the line system for conference room. What do I get for $1000? Is it worth 4x the BCC950? Yes, if you have the grand and you're on video calls all day. It's an AMAZING camera and it's worth it. I don't want to send it back.

Logitech ConferenceCam CC3000e - What do you get?

The unboxing is epic, not unlike an iPhone, except with more cardboard. It's a little overwhelming as there are a lot of parts, but it's all numbered and very easy to setup. My first impression was "why do I need all these pieces" as I'm used to the all-in-one-piece BCC950 but then I remembered that the CC3000e is actually meant for business conference rooms, not random remote workers in a home office like me. Still, later I appreciated the modularity as I ended up mounting the camera on top of an extra TV I had, while moving the speaker module under my monitor nearer my desk.

You get the camera, the speaker/audio base, a 'hockey puck' that routes all the cables, and a remote control.

The Good

You've seen what a regular webcam looks like. Two heads and some shoulders.

Skyping with a regular camera

Believe it or not, in my experience it's hard to get a sense of a person from just their disembodied head. Who knew?

I'm regularly Skyping/Lyncing into an open space in Redmond where my co-workers move around friendly, use the whiteboard, stand around, and generally enjoy their freedom of motion. If I've got a narrow 70 degree or less field of view with a fixed location, I can't get a feel for what's going on. From their perspective, none of them really know what my space looks like. I can't pace around, use a whiteboard, or interact with them in any "more than just a head" way.

Enter a real PTZ camera with real optics and a wide field of view. You really get a sense of where I am in my office, and that I need to suck it in before taking screenshots.

The CC3000e has an amazing wide field of view

Now, move the camera around.

The CC3000e has a remote control to turn it

Here's me trying to collaborate with my remote partners over some projects. See how painful that is? EVERY DAY I'm talking to half-heads with tiny cameras.

My co-worker's chin

Part of my co-workers' faces

Half my boss's head

These calls weren't staged for this blog post, people. FML. These are real meetings, and a real one-on-one with the half a forehead that is my boss.

Now, yes, I admit that you'll not ALWAYS want to see my torso when talking. Easy, I turn, and face the camera and zoom in a smidge and we've got a great 1:1 normal disembodied head conversation happening.

A bright HD Skype

But when you really want to connect with someone, back up a bit. Get a sense of their space.

A wide field of view shows you more context

And if you're in a conference room, darn it, mount that sucker on the far wall.

A wide field of view shows you the whole room

While only the me-sides of these calls used the CC3000e (as I'm the dude with the camera) I've used the other screenshots of actual calls I've had to show you the difference between clear optics and a wide field of view, vs. a laptop's sad little $4 web cam. You can tell who has a nice camera. Let me tell you, this camera is tight.

The CC3000e has a lot of great mounting options that come included with the kit. I was able to get it mounted on top of my TV like a Kinect, using the included brackets, in about 5 minutes. You can also mount it flat against the wall, which could be great for tight conference room situations.

1photo 2

The camera is impressive, and politely looks away when it's not in use. A nice privacy touch, I thought.

photo 4

The optical zoom is fantastic. You'll have no trouble zooming in on people or whiteboards.

Here's zoomed out.

Zoomed out

Here's zoomed in. No joke, I just zoomed in with the remote and made a face. It's crazy and it's clear.

Zoomed in

The speakerphone base is impressively sturdy with an awesome Tron light-ring that is blue when you're on a call, and red when you're either on hold (or you're the MCP.)

The screen will also show you the name/number of the current caller.

image

A nice bonus, you can pair the base with your cell phone using Bluetooth and now you've got a great speaker and speakerphone. This meant I could take all calls (mobile, Lync, Skype) using one speakerphone.

The Weird

There have been a few weird quirks with the CC3000e. For example - right this moment in fact - the camera on indicator light is flashing blue, but no app is using the camera. It's as if it got stuck after a call. Another is that the microphone quality (this is subjective, of course) for people who hear me on the remote side doesn't seem as deep and resonant as with the BCC950. Now, no conference phone will ever sound as nice as a headset, but the audio to my ear and my co-worker's ear is just off when compared to what we're used to. Also, a few times the remote control just stopped working for a while.

On the software side, I've personally found the Logitech Lync "Far End Control" PTZ software to be unreliable. Sometimes it works great all day, other days it won't run. I suspect it's having an isue communicating with the hardware. It's possible, given the weird light thing combined with this PTZ issue that I have a bad/sick review model. Now, here's the Far End Control Application's PDF Guide. It's supposed to "just work' of course. You and the person you're calling each run a piece of software that creates a tunnel over Lync and allows each of you to control the other's PTZ motor. This is a different solution than my PTZ system, as theirs uses Lync itself to transmit PTZ instructions while mine requires a cloud service.

Fortunately, my PTZ System *also* works with the ConferenceCam CC3300e. I just tested it, and you'll simply have to change the name of the device in your *.config file.

<appSettings>
<!-- <add key="DeviceName" value="BCC950 ConferenceCam"/> -->
<add key="DeviceName" value="ConferenceCam CC3000e Camera"/>
</appSettings>

To be clear, the folks at Logitech have told me that they can update the firmware and adjust and improve all aspects of the system. In fact, I flashed it with firmware from May 12th before I started using it. So, it's very possible that these are just first-version quirks that will get worked out with a software update. None of these issues have prevented my use of the system. I've also spoken with the developer on the Far End Control system and they are actively improving it, so I've got high hopes.

This is a truly killer system for a conference room or remote worker (or both, if I'm lucky and have budget.)

  • Absolutely amazing optical zoom
  • Top of the line optics
  • Excellent wide field of view
  • The PTZ camera turns a full 180 degrees
  • Programmable "home" location
  • Can act as a bluetooth speaker/speakerphone for your cell phone
  • The camera turns away from you when it's off. Nice reminder of your privacy.

The optics alone would make my experience as a remote worker much better. I am boxing it up and I am going to miss this camera. Aside from a few software quirks, the hardware is top notch and I'm going to be saving up for this camera.

You can buy the Logitech CC3000e from Logitech directly or from some shady folks at Amazon.

Related Links


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.