KAG-Con 2021 – Flash-Fiction Challenge

So from today through the eighteenth, Kingston Area Gamers are holding a virtual comic-con style event with contests, hosted game events, and more called KAG-Con 2021. One such event is a flash-fiction challenge that Sol Prima Miniatures sponsored a small cash prize for.

The writing challenge must follow these rules:

  • Be between 50 and 1200 words in length.
  • No erotica and if it includes triggering material, include a trigger warning.
  • Must respond to the image prompts in some way.
  • Must have a plot and not just be a character sketch.
  • Must be submitted by April 18th at midnight.

So, because I submitted the prize for the challenge, I decided to not officially enter it, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to write a quick story.

The prompt image comes from some dice that were rolled showing what I perceive to be a ghostly figure or some kind of clone. A cabin in the woods or some kind of snow globe, and an unhappy person with their mouth sealed. You might see the images differently and be able to use them in a different way for your story.

Here’s my attempt at writing a story using that prompt image. I hope enjoy it and decide to participate or if nothing else, check out The KAG-Con schedule and see if there’s something you’d enjoy participating in.

Sol Prima Miniatures

Science Fiction Minis are harder to find than fantasy ones, and I’ve wanted to see more cool models in the space, so I started looking at what was out there and the big of sci-fi stuff I found was typically either proxies or direct intellectual property rip-offs, so I figured there was a gap in the market that needed to be filled: unique IP sci-fi models, and so that is what I started working on with my friend, Barry called Sol Prima Miniatures.

We recently launched our second month of models on Patreon which include a character model in different poses, a mech and a space fighter. We are hoping to add around the same number of models each month and it’s a tall order and requires far more capital and time than I think people truly understand.

Our Patreon Tiers start at $1 USD per month which is for people to let us know that they appreciate what we are doing, and go up to $15 which lets people sell 3D prints of our models without us getting cranky at them. With individual models being listed soon on MyMiniFactory at a rate much higher than our Patreon, we hope that over time the project will pay for itself and Barry and I will get to have a bunch of models we are proud of and can use and that others will see the value of our work.

Because neither of us have drawing or 3D sculpting skill, we’ve had to find freelancers to help us with that, and on average it costs around $350 USD per single pose complete model. Are we insane for doing this? Maybe, but how often are passion projects sane?

Resin Printing with Donatello: Phrozen Sonic Mini 4K

So even when I was buying my Sidewinder X1, I was dreaming of also owning a resin printer that could do miniatures in high detail and now Wallace has a friend in Donatello.

I wanted to buy a medium sized resin printer, something that could print large, high detail busts, or bigger space ship models, so when I heard about the Elegoo Saturn, I was pretty sure I was going to wait for that printer to be available in Canada either through Amazon or another trusted source. It had a nice large build plate with its 192mm by 120mm by 200mm build volume, which would be similar to the larger things I had printed on Wallace since getting it (despite the Sidewinder having a 300mm by 300mm by 400mm build volume, I never seem to need to use it’s full volume).

But as July turned into August and August into September, I was no closer to having an Elegoo Saturn printer. See, the Saturn wasn’t available to anyone but the few hundred pre-orders that they sold out of in under ten minutes, so I started looking at other options and that’s when I stumbled upon the Phrozen Sonic Mini 4K.

The Phrozen Sonic Mini 4K has a slightly larger build volume than the Elegoo Mars, the original Phrozen Sonic Mini and a few other small resin 3D printers at 120 mm by 68 mm by 130 mm. With it’s 4K screen, I was going to get a XY resolution of 35µm versus the more typical 50µm of other printers around the same price.

And since the primary thing I wanted to do with a resin printer was to print miniature models, something that Wallace struggled with, I didn’t need a huge build volume, just something reasonable, and when I realized that the resolution/pixel density on the Sonic Mini 4K was higher than the Elegoo Saturn that I was previously considering, then I really started to consider what the most important thing was for my first resin printer.

I Wanted Detail!

Left: Sonic Mini 4K, Right: Sidewinder X1

There was also a noticeable potential price difference between the two printers, and I also rationalized the smaller build volume by deciding that this is my first resin printer and not necessarily my only resin printer.

So I looked for a Canadian distributor of the Phrozen Sonic Mini 4K and found Creative CADWorks, a company in Toronto that has printers, resin, and more. Their pricing seemed reasonable at under $600 and their timeline for getting me a unit actually beat many people that were ordering it directly from Phrozen around the same time that I did (and I only know that from the Facebook group with many complaints about impatiently waiting for their units to arrive).

I also ordered a wash and cure station from Amazon to limit the mess, especially in the increasingly cramped quarters of my office, and once I received the printer, I was off to the races.

Since getting it around a month ago, I’ve printed around one hundred miniatures including fantasy minis, sci-fi minis, minis of my wife and I created on Hero Forge, some fighters from Babylon 5, and a Wonder Woman bust for my mom to paint.

I’ve had to learn a ton to be able to do this though…

Learning Curve

Where the biggest learning curve of Wallace has been temperatures, speed and retraction, the learning curve of printing with Donatello has been focused on setting up proper supports. Many models aren’t pre-supported, and the automatic supports that come with the slicing software doesn’t catch everything, which can lead to failed prints. And since you can’t see if the print is working or not for as long as an hour or two into a print attempt, making sure you reduce failures is important!

My workflow has been to primarily print models that have been supported by 3DPrintingPro as his rarely fail with the otherwise noobish settings on my printer.

Outside of that, I typically take a model, tilt it back between twenty and thirty-five degrees, run the medium auto-supports, and then replace a few of the lowest medium auto-supports with heavy supports, add in some light supports in detailed overhangs/islands and then run the sliced file through the Photon File Validator.

I use that to find issues which I then try to fix in the CHITUBOX slicer. Then I re-export, and check again. If there are still some, I use the Fix tool in the file validator to try to resolve some more of them.

Any that can’t be resolved automatically by the software can be fixed by clicking on them and using the file validator’s pen tool to draw in one or two pixel wide lines to support the islands. I haven’t noticed this cause any issues on my prints, nor am I certain that it increases my successes, but it makes me feel good to have a print without any issues showing on the application.

Then I open the fixed file in CHITUBOX, re-slice it so I can save it as a .ctb file and then print it on my printer.

My CHITUBOX Settings

My first prints were all using 2KG of Phrozen Aqua-Grey 4K resin which was amazing. As soon as I can get my hands on more, I will.

I found a 0.03mm layer height to give me a great amount of detail, and a low number of failed supports. I think lowering the default lift speed also helped reduce support failure. Both of these options of course increase printing time, so I average five to eight hours per print run, but I can typically get three to five minis on a build plate without an issue, especially if they’ve been pre-supported by 3DPrintingPro like I mentioned above.

Donatello has been a work horse and while I did have an issue with a small hole in my FEP film which slowed me down, otherwise the process has been amazing. So far, it doesn’t require the same level of tinkering as Wallace does to produce prints that I’m happy with. Sometimes, I even think about abandoning FDM printing all together and using the space taken up by that equipment for more resin printing fun! But then I look at my shelf of minis and realize that I probably don’t need to do that right now and FDM still has its uses, sometimes…

I mean, this fall Phrozen will be releasing their Phrozen Sonic Mighty 4K with a larger build volume…

Covid Response in Canada: An Open Letter

I emailed something similar to the following to my MP and MPP regarding the recent response to Covid-19.

I am emailing you today as a concerned citizen regarding the “second wave” of Covid we are experiencing as a Country. I am hopeful that you and the rest of our elected government can see that the best chance for economic recovery isn’t one of lax protectionism but a focus on getting rid of this virus quickly, no matter the short term cost.

I know typically health related stuff isn’t under the purview of the Federal government but I ask that you take a public stance asking for more aggressive measures to be taken and more social support to be put in place so we can slow this pandemic while thousands of companies work towards treatments and vaccines. 

I implore you to speak loudly about the loss of life we’ve experienced and the loss of economic power behind that loss.

In Canada alone, we’ve already lost a Smith Falls size population of people. Or put another way, if we assume a 737 airplane holds around 200 people, then Canada has seen almost 54 airplanes full of people fall from the sky and perish.

I don’t think our reaction as a society is enough considering that loss of life. More needs to be done. More has to be done. Every favour you’ve earned, every penny of political capital you have should be going towards convincing others that a more aggressive stance in fighting this pandemic needs to be taken.

I’m not looking for any response from you or your office to this email. Actions speak louder than words.

Luna Has Hip Dysplasia

We had a health guarantee, but we don’t want to give back Luna, so we will find a way to keep her comfortable and hope she gets to live a good life.

Luna just had her second birthday and today we should be on our way to meet up with her litter mates, but we decided to stay home. Around her first birthday when we went, she didn’t really interact with them much, and then add on Covid concerns, a three hour drive, and concern about her hips, and it just didn’t seem wise.

A few months ago, we noticed that when Luna was running, she would start to favour one hindquarter over the other. At first, we just assumed she had a strain or something and that it would heal over time, but it didn’t. It wasn’t an emergency, so we didn’t push to see our vet, especially since Covid craziness meant that they were only doing emergency or required appointments.

When things started to settle down in our area, we made an appointment to see our vet and he did an x-ray and found out that sure enough, she had hip dysplasia.

Hip dysplasia is a deformity of the hip that occurs during growth. The hip joint is a ball and socket joint. During growth, both the ball (the head of the femur, or thighbone) and the socket in the pelvis (acetabulum) must grow at equal rates.

From VCAHospitals

We did have a health guarantee with Luna, but the agreement states that we would have to be willing to give back Luna in trade either for a refund or to be on the list for an upcoming puppy from a future litter. While I doubt that our breeder would ask for us to turn over Luna, we feel confident we can give her a good life, despite this new challenge.

It doesn’t seem to be bad enough that she needs medication for it, but we are still waiting to hear back from a specialist to see what the recommendation is for long term treatment. For now, we are just giving Luna a daily dose of glucosamine in hopes that it prolongs the period of her feeling okay. She has never been an over-eater, so we aren’t too concerned yet about her getting too heavy as keeping her on the lighter side of her breed can extend her period of painlessness.

We are working to give her many shorter activity to strengthen the area and trying to reduce her running and stair usage as much as possible, but she’s still very puppy like and that can be hard. It’s also hard knowing that she might experience pain as she gets older. I’ve seen dogs with hip issues not being able to get up easily and my heart feels for them.

Eventually, hopefully many years from now, she will likely need anti-inflammatory medication to reduce pain in her hip joints or expensive surgery to replace the joints. I wish she didn’t have to go through this. I wish there was an “easy” fix. She’s such a good dog.

A House and Home

It feels weird to write about this since we’ve been living here for more than a month now but Annie and I bought a home.

It is a raised bungalow with Annie, Luna and me on the main level, and my mom living downstairs. The house is semi-detached, so we still have a connected neighbor, but we went from having neighbors all around us at the apartment to just one attached. The difference in our mortgage and property tax versus our rent was pretty low, and with interest rates being what they are, it just made sense.

Annie and I had been looking for more than six years in hopes of finding something that would work for us and that we could afford. And to be completely honest, while we put an offer on this place, we didn’t really expect to get it as we’ve had other offers and opportunities fall through. Don’t get me wrong, I’m stoked to finally be in the housing market and that it provides me the opportunity to help my mom out by giving her a change of venue.

I feel like I’ve made a good choice as we went from two bedrooms and one bathroom to three plus one bedroom and three full bathrooms. It will take us a while to get the place feeling like it is completely ours, but we’ve already made some great progress.

So, how did it happen?

We had been working with Jordan Beckwith for about two years, and while we did talk to other agents to try to get a lay of the land, Jordan’s energy, attitude, and professionalism had us coming back to him when we were finally feeling ready to take another serious look at the market.

As the co-founder of PressTitan, I run my own business in Canada, and that means that I had to have two years of tax returns before a lender would risk giving me hundreds of thousands of dollars for a mortgage on a house. And with Annie as a student, they certainly weren’t in any rush to help out a single income family.

Before we even had the tax returns we needed, or the full down payment saved up, we were out in the market looking at places. We found a builder less than twenty minutes outside of town, and it looked like a sure thing for a while. We were going to build using one of their semi-detached house plans and just modify things a bit. We were super excited because it would mean being able to pick colours, fixtures, and so much more.

Unfortunately, we had to back out of the deal because it was going to be over four months until we’d be able to secure a mortgage and that meant potentially paying a ton of non-refundable money before making sure a lender would work with us. So if the bank decided not to give us a mortgage, we’d be out thousands of dollars. We couldn’t take the risk, especially not for a house that wasn’t “perfect”.

After that, we felt a bit disheartened, but we looked at a few more places an some were really nice, though many were at or above the budget we had set for ourselves. We knew by this point that my mom was going to live with us, so we started bringing her out to the open houses.

It was an open house that we brought my mom to that ended up being the one we purchased. This was the first house we saw that day at around 1:30 in the afternoon. We looked through it and thought it was nice. We could see a ton of potential in it but it wasn’t in the best neighborhood and it was very close to the train tracks. It was well taken care of and felt like a good size. The price was a bit higher than we wanted to pay, but there was a certain energy to it that made us all excited about it.

We all went to another one that we were excited about. It was a detached house and at a lower price than the semi that we came from, but despite a larger yard, we didn’t get a good feeling about it and all left feeling fairly deflated. My mom then left to go do something else while Annie and I continued on to the next place.

In messaging back and forth with Jordan, we found out that the semidetached raise bungalow was holding offers on the place until 4 PM.

We had set a list of places to see that day and there was one more left at the same price as the semi-detached. It was another detached home in the side of town we wanted to live in. It seemed like it was pretty big and so we drove across town to look at it. It was older but just as large as we thought with a beautiful back yard and a nice sun room. Unfortunately, I could tell it needed a ton of work, and being the same price as the semi we were more and more interested in, we left that house thinking about the semi.

My mom was eager for us to put an offer on the semi and at 3 PM with the help of Jordan, we fleshed out an offer. At first, we wanted to go below a certain price cut off we had in mind, but Jordan convinced us to go a bit higher to increase our chances of securing the deal. We had to think long and hard about it, despite only being a few thousand more than we had intended and not enough to really move the needle on the mortgage.

In the end, we put in our offer and agreed to no other conditions other than home inspection and gave them their closing date. We submitted our final offer at 3:58 PM, two minutes before the deadline, and at 4:45 Jordan called us and let us know our offer had been accepted.

We bought a house.

We are now paying the mortgage on a three plus one bedroom, three bathroom semi-detached raised bungalow that’s under twenty years old in a rougher part of town near some train tracks. It isn’t perfect. It isn’t our forever home. But it does provide us with so many advantages over the apartment we were in, gets us into the housing market, whatever that ends up looking like, and allows us to help out my mom. I have my own office, instead of working from the living room, we have a small yard that Luna can run around in, and I feel incredibly fortunate.

I hope this was a good choice for my family and as we walked away from our real estate agent on the closing of this house, I said, “we should start looking at houses again soon… It took us six or seven years to find this place, might take us just as long or longer to find the next…” He laughed, but I’ve already started daydreaming about what might be next.

If you want to read more about the whole experience, check out Annie’s post that she wrote – We Bought a House! — Wait… What??

Hyundai Kona EV – Too Tight a Squeeze

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a post where I discussed the options available to Canadians that interested me with regards to electric vehicles – Electric Car Options, but I was focused primarily on range and price, and since then I’ve come to realize that my top choices might not work.

While the Hyundai Kona EV is a great vehicle with a strong range, good features, and a reasonable price, it was only when I finally saw it in person that I realized that it wouldn’t work for our family.

When Annie and I went to Florida with some of her family, we all packed into our Kia Forte and took turns driving. It was a great way to get down to Florida quickly, but it also meant that I was in the back seat of the car for several hours, and at a little over six feet tall, and another full size adult in the back seat, I was very uncomfortable. There wasn’t enough leg room, the hip space felt tight as I tried to shift into comfortable positions and the head room wasn’t great either.

So when we were able to look at the Hyundai Kona in person, I realized that some of the same issues I experienced in our car might translate over to this compact electric crossover, I had to be sure. I went on Car and Drive and got the specifications for both vehicles to compare some numbers.

The Kia Forte has 35.9 inches of second row leg room, 37.3 inches of second row head room, 54.9 inches of second row shoulder room and 53.1 inches of second row hip room. It seems like a pretty average car size, and surely the Kona was larger, right?

When I noticed that the Kona was over ten inches shorter in overall length than our Forte, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to find good news.

The Hyundai Kona that I was so excited about would have less space in almost every area, seemingly designed for much smaller people. It has 37.8 inches of second row head room, 34.6 inches of second row leg room, 54.5 inches of second row shoulder room, and 52.2 inches of second row hip room.

Kia ForteHyundai KonaDifference
Head Room37.337.8+0.5
Leg Room35.934.6-1.3
Shoulder Room54.954.5-0.4
Hip Room53.152.2-0.9

Most of the time, this wouldn’t be an issue as it is just Annie, Luna and me in the vehicle, but we often end up with additional passengers in our vehicle helping cousins, nieces, and nephews out.

And while our future electric car might not have the same utility as a gasoline powered vehicle for taking family on long trips to cottage country or travelling relay race style passing the driving baton between drivers endlessly, the thought of having less space in the back seat is kind of a non-starter for us.

I should point out that the front seating in the Hyundai Kona also has less space than our current Kia Forte with a loss of half an inch to an inch in every direction per seat. I don’t know that this would create much of a difference in feel, but it seems odd to go from a car to a crossover and end up with less space.

So what do we do now?

Well, we are still not in any rush to buy a new vehicle. Our current one continues to run well and not need too many expensive repairs, and we are still paying it off, so our purchase of a new vehicle is hopefully not going to happen until 2022 at the earliest.

With that said, any other electric vehicle choices that currently exist all include trade-offs. The Hyundai Kona EV is still an impressive vehicle with many things going for it and an electric vehicle with comparable range but more space is going to cost more money.

Maybe by 2022, some of the new electric models of popular vehicle lines will be rolling out and we will have some more options in Canada and be able to come up with a new list of contenders, because if we had to buy today, we likely wouldn’t be able to find an electric vehicle that meets our needs.

New Computer: Freyr

When Annie came to me and said that she will need a desktop computer this fall for school, since it is being delivered remotely, I jumped at the opportunity to build a new machine for myself and pass on my current machine to Annie.

Don’t get me wrong, the current computer, Athena, has nothing wrong with it. It has continued to serve my needs well and I have no complaints. I’ve been wanting to upgrade the processor for a while now, but beyond that I was incredibly happy with my machine… But new and shiny!

The Fractal Design Meshify C is boring according to my wife, but I appreciated it’s style and that it came with two case fans and was easy to build in.

I picked out the following components for the new build:

  • AMD Ryzen 3600 Processor
  • ASUS TUF GAMING X570-PLUS Motherboard
  • Kingston HyperX Fury 32GB DDR4 3000MHz CL15 RAM
  • GIGABYTE GeForce GTX 1660 SUPER Video Card
  • Crucial P1 1TB NVMe Boot Drive
  • Crucial MX500 1TB SSD Storage Drive
  • Corsair RM650x 80 Plus Gold Power Supply
  • Fractal Design Meshify C TG Case
  • LG 27GL650F-B 27″ 144Hz Primary Monitor

The motherboard supports the latest connection standard for M.2 drives, meaning that the Crucial P1 that I purchased has a maximum sequential read speed of almost 2 GB per second and a write speed of almost 1.5 GB per second, or around four times that of my SSD and close to ten times that of most standard spinning rust hard drives.

My current secondary monitor, an ASUS in portrait mode, will be moving over to my new computer, as will all my peripherals. It should be a great work computer for years to come, though I’ll definitely need more hard drive storage at some point. Maybe once multi-terabyte SSD drives get cheaper.

I hope that Annie will be happy with Athena for school this fall and that it serves her well and I hope that Freyr will be the workhorse that I need it to be.