Another Semester in the Books

Sunday, while Susan and the kids were at the mall finishing up some Christmas shopping, I submitted my final paper of the year, bringing the end to another semester of school.

This semester I “only” took six credit hours in the form of three classes, compared to the spring semester when I took 10 credit hours. I still wonder how I managed to pull that off. This semester I took Autobiography in Adult Education, Independent Study (essay/short story writing), and Project, in which I wrote 40,000 words of a novel.

Last spring I finally hit that magical 2:1 ratio by putting in two hours of work at home for every hour I spent inside a classroom. When you take ten credit hours, that means dedicating a total of thirty hours a week to school. My workload this semester was similar. Autobiographies in Adult Education was the first and only online class I’ve taken for my degree. It was three credit hours, and I’d estimate I averaged three hours reading and three hours writing a week for that class. My Independent Study class was only one credit hour. The amount of time I spent writing for that class varied, but I’d estimate it was about one hour each week. Finally, in Project, I was required to turn in a new chapter of my novel every week. While Project only counted for two credit hours, I spent about eight hours a week writing and editing my novel. So for six credit hours, I spent twelves hours a week outside of class writing. I guess that 2:1 ratio is here to stay.

At the end of each semester, my body shuts down for a day or two. It is, I believe, the physical manifestation of stress leaving my body. Sixteen weeks worth of writing, stress, balancing work-life-school and trying to maintain my 4.0 average takes its toll. Friday evening, it was all I could do to stay awake until bedtime. Saturday, I alternated between taking naps in the living room, naps in the bedroom, and long baths. On Sunday, I must have taken three or four naps in my recliner. This morning, I feel better.

As of today, I’ve completed 30/32 hours required for my Master of Professional Writing degree. In six weeks I’ll start my final semester — one more round of Project, in which I’ll finish up my novel and prepare to defend it before a panel of professors who also happen to be published authors. No pressure.

With a risk of sounding like some sort of award acceptance speech, I have to thank Susan and the kids for all their understanding and patience over the past year. Writing, especially under deadlines, is a solitary and often lonely practice. Several times a week, I disappear to my upstairs office to poke words into a keyboard. I’m going to make all of this worth it guys, I promise.

Star Wednesday: R2D2 Ceramic Bank

I told myself I wasn’t going to buy any Star Wars collectibles in 2017 and for the most part I haven’t. Then, last week, I saw this for sale at Dollar General and caved.

This R2 unit is, in fact, a ceramic piggy bank. It’s all one piece, so there’s no articulation. His legs don’t move and his head doesn’t swivel. He just stands there at attention, waiting to accept your spare change.

In the 1970s pottery and ceramics were all the rage, which led to a lot of bootleg Star Wars items. Garage sales were full of misshapen Vaders, Chewbaccas, and R2D2s. At the time people considered them to be weird bootlegs; today they’re collectible curiosities. Few of them have any real monetary value. Personally, I just think it’s interesting to see what kinds of tributes to Star Wars people were making back then, especially before toy stores were bursting with officially licensed toys.

This R2D2 unit, however, is officially licensed. On the bottom there’s a sticker identifying it as made in China by Zak! back in 2015. has the bank listed for $12.99, although I can tell you that I found this one being liquidated at Dollar General for $3, and it was far from the last one there. Maybe kids don’t use piggy banks anymore.

One thing that interests me about Star Wars collecting is all the different ways collections can be organized. Some of my playsets are sorted by movie and location. (All my Hoth playsets are together, for example.) In other areas it makes more sense to sort things by toy line, like displaying all my vintage 12″ Star Wars figures together in one place. But there are two characters, Darth Vader and Yoda, who each have a 4′ shelf dedicated to them. Each shelf contains figures Pez dispensers, plush dolls, and other items, all in the character’s likeness. As I made room for this latest R2-D2, I’m thinking that all my R2s may need to be placed together on their own shelf.

Cold Bones

The high yesterday afternoon was 74 degrees. Right now at 6 a.m. it’s 38, but the weatherman says it feels closer to 30.

“It’s going to be cold on the motorcycle this morning,” I say. “Sure you don’t want to ride the bus to school?”

I’m not sure he answered me with anything but a look. The Fonz does not ride the bus to school.

I can’t remember exactly when or why — that happens a lot these days — but I rode a motorcycle to school during the winter of either my junior or senior year. Maybe it was because I had wrecked a car, or maybe it was because my insurance had gone up after getting a handful of tickets. Whatever the reason, I was on two wheels instead of four that winter. I’m sure I could have ridden the bus too, and I’m sure I didn’t.

And although I can’t remember why, I do remember what freezing air blowing into my helmet felt like as I zipped down NW 10th street on my way to school. I remember sitting in first hour, unable to focus on anything but how cold my thighs were. Under my desk, I would rub them until the feeling came back. My shins were so cold they burned. Even with gloves, my fingers were too cold to hold a pencil.

I remember the morning my friend Louis wrecked his motorcycle on the way to school. Louis was the only other person I knew in tenth grade with a motorcycle, and the two of us rode our motorcycles to school together, side by side, every morning. One cold winter morning, Louis had pulled in front of me when we rode over the 10th street bridge. By the time I topped the bridge, Louis was already down, sliding on his hands and knees toward oncoming traffic while his bike slid the other direction into the ditch. At the bottom of the bridge, Louis had hid a small patch of ice. Louis wrecked and I didn’t only because he was on the left side of the lane and I was on the right. He and his bike were okay and there was no time to go home and change clothes because we cut it close every morning, so off we went to school, him and his bloody palms and me with my frozen thighs.

So that’s our only rule with Mason’s motorcycle — he can’t ride if there’s a possibility of ice on the ground. The Fonz asks what’s the worst that could happen and I remember Louis sliding across the double yellow line on his hands and knees into oncoming traffic.

But there is no ice today. Mason puts a coat on over his hoodie to stay warm while I go out and start my truck a few minutes early to let the heater warm up.

3D Printer Back Up and Running

My foray into 3D printing got off to a rocky start. I originally unboxed and assembled my printer on the dining room table. Everything worked great until I moved the printer upstairs. During that process, a wire that controlled a critical cooling fan failed. When the fan failed, a pretty important part of the printer cooked itself. Fortunately, instead of buying the printer directly from China, I purchased it from TinyMachines3D, who priority shipped me a replacement part. When that didn’t fix the issue, Chris, the owner of the company, worked with me over the phone until we got the printer up and running.

With my printer offline, I had some time to play around in Tinkercad. One of the first things I designed was this robot from the 1980 Stern arcade game, Berserk.

With the printer finally back up and running, I decided to see how it handled this model.

Not bad! I also printed the stand that Greedo is standing on. It worked so well that I printed half a dozen more.

While I was printing, Morgan told me she wanted a “sweater-shaped cookie cutter” for Christmas cookies this year. One sweater-shaped cookie cutter, coming right up!

The other thing I wanted to print, something I have wanted for a long time, was a tiny set of risers for these little Diener figures I collect. I love the way the different colors display, but it’s hard to see the ones in the back. Not any more!

If you look closely at the risers I printed you’ll see that the top section is black. That’s because I ran out of the 200g of white filament that came with my printer and had to switch to the 1kg spool of black.

So, how much can you print with 200g of PLA filament? Two dice, one headless cat, a 4″ robot from Berserk, 7 stands for Star Wars figures, one sweater-shaped cookie cutter, one set of mini-risers 40mm wide, one set of mini-risers 140mm wide, and half a dozen aborted screw-ups.

Charles Manson (1934-2017)

When I think of Charles Manson, the word that comes to mind is “fascinating.”

I became aware of Charles Manson after viewing Helter Skelter as a kid, the 1976 made-for-television movie (based on the best-selling paperback) that frequently aired on late night television. The fictionalized version of “Charlie” in Helter Skelter was a caricature of the real Manson. In the film he was presented as guy with hypnotic powers over the members of his Family. In real life, he was just a criminal and a con man.

People my age (mid-40s) and younger grew up aware of Charles Manson, but were born after the Tate/La Bianca murders took place in 1969. Maybe that’s why Charles Manson and his followers seemed almost like characters to me. My knowledge of Manson and his Family came from books and documentaries and jailhouse interviews where journalists desperately took turns trying to get serious answers from a raving lunatic.

In my review of the book Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson I said that I felt sorry for Charles Manson. His mother was an unwed fifteen-year-old alcoholic who (according to legend) once traded her son Charles for a bottle of booze. She went to prison for the first time when he was five. By the time Manson was thirteen he had been placed in a home for boys, where he claims to have been raped repeatedly; when he escaped and returned home to his mother’s house, she wouldn’t let him in. Due to a string of burglaries, automobile thefts, forged checks and other crimes, Manson had already spent half of his life behind bars by the age of 32. He was released from Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institution in 1967. The Tate/La Bianca murders took place two years after that. According to most accounts, he was involved in other murders during those two years.

The scariest thing about Charles Manson to me wasn’t the actual murders, but the fact that a bunch of drugged-out hippies could cause so much carnage and hysteria. By all accounts, neither Manson (who once scored 109 on an IQ test) nor any of his followers were criminal masterminds. A .22 revolver (one of the murder weapons) was found a mile and a half from the crime scene, next to the murderers’ bloody clothes. When police raided Spahn Ranch (where the Family was residing) on unrelated charges, Charles Manson infamously hid underneath the sink. (They found him.) Susan Atkins, one of the women present for the murders, blabbed about the crimes in detail to multiple cellmates on multiple occasions. The police weren’t exactly dealing with professional assassins here, and yet, by graphically slaughtering seven people over a period of two nights, Charles Manson and his followers brought terror to Los Angeles and the surrounding areas. It has been claimed that the murders single-handedly put an end to the Summer of Love and the “free love” movement.

Axl Rose, lead singer of Guns N’ Roses, used to frequently wear a Charles Manson t-shirt, and included a cover of Manson’s Look at Your Game, Girl on their 1993 album The Spaghetti Incident. Trent Reznor purchased the home at 10050 Cielo Drive (the site of the Tate murder) and recorded The Downward Spiral there along with the music video for “Gave Up.” As a kid I thought those things were pretty cool. I don’t think they’re very cool anymore.

Over the past 40 years, researches have poked significant holes in the story that Charles Manson and his followers were motivated by a Beatles record to start a race war; much more likely is that that the Family was trying to throw police off who were investigating the Family’s involvement in other murders and a stolen car ring. Without all the “Helter Skelter” mumbo jumbo, all we were left with was a bunch of sad people who ended almost a dozen people’s lives and ruined many more.

Yesterday, a bunch of new Charles Manson t-shirts went up for sale on eBay.

Guns N’ Roses LIVE in Tulsa, OK

Last night, 25 years after seeing them perform live for the first time, I got to see Guns N’ Roses perform once again, this time in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

My friend Tim is a big Guns N’ Roses fan. He and his wife Dawn along with Susan and I have seen the band live three times — in Norman, back in 2011; in Las Vegas in 2012, for Tim’s 40th birthday; and Tuesday night, November 17, in Tulsa. Additionally, even though we hadn’t met yet, Tim and I were both at the Oklahoma City Guns N’ Roses show back in 1992.

Throughout their 30-year career, the band’s lineup has been as volatile as vocalist Axl Rose himself. The original lineup from the band’s 1987 debut Appetite for Destruction (Axl, Slash, Duff, Izzy, and Steven Adler) didn’t last long. By the time they played Oklahoma City for the first time in 1992, Izzy had quit (replaced by Gilby Clarke), Steven Adler had been fired (replaced by Matt Sorum), and keyboardist Dizzy Reed had officially joined the band. In the 17 years between 1991’s Use Your Illusions albums and their next studio album, 2008’s Chinese Democracy (a period of time once could easily write a book about), all of the original members of the band except for Axl Rose were long gone, and most of the musicians who had replaced those musicians had come and gone, too. By the time we saw the band perform in 2011, Axl Rose was the only original remaining member, backed by Tommy Stinson on bass, Frank Ferrer on drums, and three guitarists (DJ Ashba, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, and Richard Fortus). This was the same lineup we saw in 2012 during the band’s Las Vegas residency.

A few years ago when asked if ever planned to tour again with the band’s original lineup, Axl Rose famously remarked, “not in this lifetime.” With original members Slash and Duff McKagan rejoining the band on stage, what better name than Not in This Lifetime for the band’s 2017 (and 30th anniversary) tour.

One thing about a Guns N’ Roses show is, anything can happen. In the 90s, shows were cancelled because Axl “wasn’t in the mood to perform.” In some instances, there were riots. Axl Rose has been known to leap from the stage and beat up fans. The band was notorious for taking the stage two or three hours late. (The ticket stub I have from the 1992 show says the show will begin “around 9:30 p.m.”) With Duff and Slash — someone Axl Rose refused to speak to for 20 years — back on stage, the possibility of the performance (and perhaps the band itself) imploding is very real.

Our tickets claimed the show would start at 8 p.m., and by 8:05 p.m. the lights had already dimmed and the band’s introduction video was playing on a series of large screens. This was the first sign that the Gunners may have grown up.

With a zillion-dollar production in motion, 2017’s Guns N’ Roses came off like a well oiled machine. With productions this size, very little (including the set list) is left to chance. My friend Tim followed along with his phone, telling us which songs were coming up next, when a block of songs from Chinese Democracy was coming up (a good time for a bathroom break), and, as the show went on, how many songs were left.

The the 2011 and 2012 shows we attended, it was never clear who the lead guitarist was. At the Vegas show, Richard Fortus, DJ Ashba, and Bumblefoot each took a turn in the spotlight with long solos and attempting not to step on one another’s leads during the songs. Last night, there was no question as to who the lead guitarist was. Richard Fortus is a fantastic and capable guitar player who, in all rights, has been a member of Guns N’ Roses longer than almost anyone else (2002-present), but when Slash walks to the front of the stage wearing his trademarked sunglasses and top hat and breaks into the opening riff from “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” even Fortus is smart enough to know his place is in the shadows, playing rhythm.

It’s easy to think that a bass player can be easily replaced, especially in a rock band like GN’R, but I swear, tracks like “Mr. Brownstone” and “Rocket Queen” haven’t sounded the same live since Duff McKagan left. Tuesday night, they sounded better than they’ve sounded in decades.

You would be hard pressed to guess everyone on stage was in their 50s based on their performance. Slash spent much of the concert jumping off of things while Fortus spun in circles and Axl ran from spot to spot. Seriously, the entire show, Axl was running at full speed (except when he was off stage, no doubt taking hits of oxygen).

At times when the band showed its age. Coming off a show the previous night in Nashville, it’s obvious that years of screaming and screeching has done a number on Axl’s voice. Rose uses every trick in the book, from dropping octaves to relying heavily on his cohorts to help carry the tunes, but even that couldn’t save him. While years of experience have worked in the favor of everyone else in the band, Axl’s voice simply can’t keep up. An hour into the show his voice was already showing signs of fatigue, and the band played for a total of 3 1/2 hours.

There were several pleasant surprises throughout the evening, including a tribute to Chris Cornell with a cover version of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”), but for guitar fans, watching Slash and Fortus trading riffs during an instrumental version of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” was definitely cool.

For decades, Guns N’ Roses have ended their shows with “Paradise City,” and Tuesday night’s show was no exception. What was surprising, however, was when Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl walked out on stage to join them. (The Foo Fighters were playing the same venue the following night.) In the early 90s, the feud between GN’R and Nirvana (which Grohl drummed for) was pretty legendary, so to see Grohl out on stage, headbanging wildly while standing face-to-face with the guys from Guns N’ Roses was a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Who knows what the future holds for Guns N’ Roses. Most people (probably including the band) are surprised the guys are getting along as well as they are (and by getting along I mean, nobody has punched anyone else on stage yet). Who knows if the members of Guns N’ Roses will be on speaking terms five years from now, and whether they’ll be playing giant arenas, state fairs, or even be alive. I suspect last night’s show was as close as we’ll ever get to seeing the same lineup I originally saw back in 1992, and if those two shows bookend my Guns N’ Roses concert experience, I’m okay with that.

Set List:

  1. It’s So Easy
  2. Mr. Brownstone
  3. Chinese Democracy
  4. Welcome to the Jungle
  5. Double Talkin’ Jive
  6. Better
  7. Estranged
  8. Live and Let Die (Wings cover)
  9. Rocket Queen
  10. You Could Be Mine
  11. New Rose (The Damned cover)
  12. This I Love
  13. There Was a Time
  14. Civil War
  15. Yesterdays
  16. Coma (followed up with band introductions)
  17. Slash Guitar Solo
  18. Speak Softly Love (Love Theme From The Godfather) (Nino Rota cover)
  19. Sweet Child O’ Mine
  20. Wichita Lineman (Jimmy Webb cover)
  21. Used to Love Her
  22. My Michelle
  23. Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd cover)
  24. November Rain (“Layla” by Derek and the Dominoes)
  25. Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden cover)
  26. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan cover) (with “Only Women Bleed” intro)
  27. Nightrain
  28. Patience
  29. Madagascar
  30. Don’t Cry
  31. The Seeker (The Who cover)
  32. Paradise City (with Dave Grohl)

Star Wednesday: LEGO Biker Scouts

The Biker Scout is arguably my favorite Star Wars action figure. Introduced in Return of the Jedi, the Biker Scouts (at least at first) came off as more elite than the typical bumbling Stormtrooper. Everything about these guys, from their helmets and armor to their unique pistols, was simply cool. To top it off they had super fast Speeder Bikes, on which they raced at break-neck speeds (sometimes literally) through the forest moon of Endor. Unfortunately, the Biker Scouts (along with the rest of the Empire) were overtaken by a small group of Rebel Commandos with help from an army of Ewoks. That doesn’t say much for their elite status.

Due to their popularity, certain figures are easy to collect. Every Star Wars collector has an abundance of R2-D2 and Yoda items and figures simply because so many of them were made. If you find yourself attracted to a slightly less popular character, you may have to dig a little deeper at garage sales to find the figures you’re looking for.

In the mid-to-late 90s, right after the special edition of the Star Wars trilogy hit theaters (but before Episode One: The Phantom Menace was released), Star Wars Merchandise once again began filling store shelves. The Power of the Force action figures, released in the mid-90s, were just the beginning. By the time the special editions were released, it was as if Star Wars had never left. Not only were there Star Wars action figures and playsets on shelves, but also drinking glasses, mouse pads, bouncy balls… and, among a thousand other things, Star Wars LEGO sets.

I got my first LEGO set when I was five years old. For a while I kept my LEGO bricks in a zip lock bag before graduating to a shoe box and eventually a Tupperware tub. Today my LEGO bricks fill a 22-gallon plastic tub. I’ve enjoyed LEGO playsets for a long, long time, and when they began releasing Star Wars-themed sets, naturally, I decided I had to own them.

The “7128 Speeder Bikes” LEGO playset came with two Speeder Bikes, a tree with a base, and three action figures (two Biker Scouts and one Luke). The set sold for $9.99 back in 1999, which would be a good deal today for the figures alone.

I own fifteen LEGO playsets from that same era, including two of this one. I have tried very, very hard over the years not to fall into the trap of buying two of the same thing (one to open, one to store), but in this case it appears I did. I probably realized at the time that I would be too tempted not to eventually open a Star Wars-themed LEGO playset, especially one containing Biker Scouts!

Both of the boxes I have for this playset contain $4.98 price tags from KB Toys. There used to be a KB Toys liquidation store I occasionally visited in Texas, which explains the bargain price. Based on that, it seems like I got a good deal — unopened versions of this playset are selling for $40-$50 on eBay today.

“Ha ha ha,” he said, when talking about selling Star Wars things.

When it comes to my Star Wars displays, there are big items, and there’s filler. These small Speeder Bikes make good filler, and can easily be placed in between or around other larger items on my shelves. Currently they’re on the shelf right next to my cable modem and wireless router, so every time I need to reboot one or both of those items, I find myself looking at these guys.

The Purple Star

This semester, along with two other classes, I began work on my senior project — a fiction novel. Each week, I write a new chapter for my novel and present it to the head of my committee. During our weekly sessions, my professor reads the chapter and provides me with immediate feedback.

Project is the intersection where form meets art. For two years I’ve been reading and learning about story structure, plotting, character development, and pacing. Project is where students write their own stories, applying the structures lessons we’ve (hopefully) learned. Next semester, after my novel is finished, I’ll present copies of it to three professors of the professional writing program. A few weeks later after they’ve had time to read it, I’ll be asked to defend my choices just like a dissertation. My stomach knots just thinking about that day.

I was a lot better at writing when I didn’t know how to do it. When I didn’t know how to write, the words sure flowed. Every single night I wrote something — blog posts, articles, short stories, reviews… heck, I even cranked out a couple of self-published books. When I look back knowing what I know now, it’s hard not to pick those things apart. That’s not to say that some of them weren’t good, but most of them contain flaws that bug me.

The first chapter of the novel I turned in felt forced. It was wordy and weak and didn’t have much to do with the novel’s overall plot. My professor didn’t say anything, but inside, I already knew. The second chapter I delivered was met with slightly more puzzled looks. On week three I left home with a third chapter for my professor to read, but by the time I got to her office I decided not to let her read it. Instead, we had a talk about going back to the basics — applying the lessons I had learned. She also told me I start my stories too early, which is true. I’m working on it.

After agreeing to scrap the first three chapters, I put everything I had into the next week’s chapter. I wrote, then second, and finally third-guessed myself. Originally I had taken a generic story structure and tried to write a novel that would fit inside those parameters. After that, I tried taking my story and cramming it into an established format. That didn’t work, either. After working and reworking, I had a moment of zen — or so I thought. I quit trying to force a poorly drafted story to work, stopped trying to force myself into applying rules that weren’t helping, and just wrote.

I just wrote!

It’s hard to explain what the difference was, but things started falling into place. I wasn’t sure I was doing things “right,” but at least it finally felt right. The story, plot, and scenes finally began to fall into place. I began to tell the story I wanted to tell. I separated my scenes and sequels, and made sure my scenes ended with a setback. I was no longer changing my story to fit the format; now I was simply rearranging things to fit the structure we had already learned.

When I met with my professor the following week, I was a bundle of nerves. I was so anxious to hear her feedback that I literally had to leave the room as she read my chapter, and returned just as she had finished reading it. Before giving me feedback, she asked what I had done different with this chapter. It all came spilling out. I told her (or at least tried to explain) what had clicked. I (politely and respectfully) began to rant about form — about structure, and plots, and characters. All of it. I told her about changing my story to fit into a cookie-cutter form, and writing a story to fit into a form. By the time I was done I had no idea what words were coming out of my mouth.

When I finally stopped talking I realized I sounded like a mad man, a fact my professor confirmed. Before I could say anything else, she asked if she could show me the corrections she had made to my most recent chapter. I hesitantly agreed, and she proceeded to flip through all fifteen typed pages, showing me that she hadn’t made a single mark.

She then flipped back to the first page and drew a star in purple ink at the top of my paper. After confessing she wasn’t entirely sure what I was so worked up about, she said this was the best chapter I had handed her over the past two years. “Do this a few more times,” she said, “and we’ll have ourselves a novel.”

I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry, so I laughed while sitting in her office and cried a little when I got back to my car.

Whatever finally clicked, clicked good. Last week I turned in the seventh chapter of my novel, and while there have been a couple of weak and confusing plot points and lots of minor suggestions, it seems like I’m finally on track. I don’t know if the story I’m writing will have any mass-market appeal, but I’m enjoying writing it, and things finally seem to be coming together.

Star Wednesday: 3D Printed Weapons

Toy guns have been a staple in the lives of young boys for many generations. As a kid I owned army guns, cap guns, dart guns, Nerf guns, and even a rubber band gun, but I never owned any of Kenner’s official Star Wars guns.

There were three different guns in Kenner’s Star Wars line: Han Solo’s blaster, the Stormtrooper rifle, and later, the Biker Scout pistol. All three guns resembled the versions that appeared in the movies, and made electronic sounds that did not resemble the versions that appeared in the movies.

So while I didn’t have the life-size versions, I did, like every other kid, have the teeny-tiny weapons that came with the original 3 3/4″ Star Wars figures. Because of their small size they had much less detail than the larger versions, but they still resembled the weapons used on screen.

The life-size Stormtrooper rifle you see here (with a 3 3/4″ Stormtrooper for scale) is not the one that was sold by Kenner. It is a custom, 3D printed version of the blaster. If it looks simple and lacking in detail, that’s because it is. It’s essentially a scaled-up version of the tiny blaster that came packaged with the original Stormtrooper. To fit into the hands of those small action figures, the scaled-down weapons were often missing details (like triggers).

Through the “I Grew Up Star Wars” group (WWW | Facebook) I ran into a seller selling these 3D printed weapons. The guns were reasonably priced considering the time (I’m guessing at least a day per gun) and materials required to print them, although later after doing the math I realized in the long run it would be cheaper for me to buy my own 3D printer than to keep purchasing these things.

Did I mention I bought the Han Solo one, too?

I told myself at the beginning of 2017 I wouldn’t buy any more Star Wars collectibles, and for the most part, I haven’t. That being said, there’s something inherently cool about these guns. They’re big, but instantly recognizable as larger versions of the weapons that came with the vintage figures. Plus I had all that empty wall space above the closet door. Who can blame a guy for filling that space?

The best thing about the guns is, should Rebel scum kick down my front door, I’ll be ready for them.

The Wonderful World of 3D Printing

Last month I didn’t know anything about 3D printers, but the universe has a unique way of telling me when it’s time for a new toy. My friend Justin mentioned he could use something 3D printed. Then my friend Jeff also mentioned 3D printing. A blogger I follow, Rob Cockerham, bought a 3D printer. Then I bought a couple of 3D-printed Star Wars-related items online (you’ll have to wait until Wednesday to see those.) After recently selling my car I ended up with some spare money sitting in my bank account, and decided to take the hint from the cosmos and spend some of it on a new 3D printer.

What follows are a few questions I had about 3D printers, and the answers I have learned.

What exactly is a 3D printer?

A 3D printer is a device that prints objects in three dimensions. Instead of ink, it uses filament. The filament melts and turns into itsy-bitsy dots that stick together. In a way, it’s almost like a super accurate, computer-controlled hot glue gun.

Are the printers expensive?

My printer, the Creality CR10s, sells for $599. There are cheaper ones and ones that are a lot more expensive. (The first one I looked at was $4k.) Prices vary based on quality, size, and speed. Some printers can print two colors at once (most can only print one). Some printers have huge online support groups while others do not. I’m not advocating Creality printers one way or the other yet, as I haven’t had mine long enough to form an opinion yet.

Is the filament expensive? How much do things cost to print?

The first part of this question is simple. Rolls of PLA filament cost around $20 per kilogram. They come in a rainbow of colors. The answer to the second question is, “it depends.” Small things that are hollow obviously take less filament than big things that are solid. Before printing, the software gives you an estimate of how much filament your print will require.

How big is the printer? How big can it print?

The Creality CR10s has a print area of 300mm x 300mm x 400mm. That’s slightly less than 12″x12″x18″. (I should warn you that everything related to this printer is done in the metric system.) The printer itself is roughly 2′ tall and, including the controller box, about 2′ wide.

Is it fast?.

No. Printing something the size of a regular die took 15 minutes. Printing something the size of your fist might take 2-3 hours. Based on what I’ve read, it is not unusual for large prints to take 24 hours or more. Unless you like hearing internal fans blowing and tiny motors going “weee-weee-whirr-whirr” all night long, you might want to put your printer in another room. Because it has a MicroSD slot, the printer doesn’t need to be connected to a computer to print.

Was the printer easy to assemble?

No. The printer came “85% assembled” according to the seller. I watched a video on YouTube where a young lady assembled this same model in 10 minutes. It took me almost 8 hours. I could probably do the next one in 2 hours.

Is it easy to use?

Hmm. Define “easy?” To print something, at a minimum you are going to have to obtain a 3D model of the object somewhere, load it into another program, save that file to a MicroSD card, insert it into the printer, and then hope nothing goes wrong.

What could possibly go wrong?

The temperature of the bed could be too hot. Or too cold. Same goes for the extruder temperature. You could have cheap filament. The print bed might not be sticky enough. The bed might not be level. It might be too high. Or too low. There’s a ton of variables and options that have to be figured out through trial and error.

Here are the first two things I printed.

Come on, it can’t be that hard, can it?

Say hello to my new cat on the left, “Headless Harry.”

What software is required?

If you want to create your own designs, you can either build them in a CAD program (I’ve been using TinkerCAD) or a 3D sculpting program (haven’t tried that yet). You’ll also need a slicing program, which takes your 3D model and slices it into printable layers that the printer can understand. All of these programs I have used so far are free, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past couple of days learning how to use them.

And finally…

What can I print?

As I mentioned, with a program like TinkerCAD, you can build virtual 3D objects and then print them out. I haven’t actually printed this out yet, but here are some tiny risers I created for some of my collectible figures.

If you don’t feel like learning a CAD program, you’ll want to check out, a website with hundreds of thousands of free models available for downloading. Trust me, the people building those models are way better than me. This is a 3D printed version of Rick from Rick and Morty. Note that it didn’t print in color — the person who printed the model also hand-painted it.

Here’s the first thing I got to print correctly. It’s the Programmer’s Dice from Thingiverse. It’s a six-sided die with binary numbers on the sides. So far I have printed two of them — one for me (which had minor issues), and one for my dad. It’s no headless cat, but eh. I printed this with the white filament that came free with the printer. It would probably look better in a different color.

That’s about it for now. Between work, school, and home life, I know I won’t have as much time to play with it as I would like, but little by little I plan to explore and learn more about it works. I have a few real-life objects I plan to design and print as parts replacements in the future. Maslow said “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Right now, everything looks like it needs something printed to me!