SUV Maybe?

This is the third in a series of posts starting almost two years ago about vehicle choices to someday replace our car.

The first post was Electric Car Options in October of 2019, the second was Hyundai Kona EV – Too Tight a Squeeze and after that whole thing, I decided to temporarily open up my search into non-electric vehicles as a replacement for our car someday.

What Do We Need?

Ideally, something with some space in the second row! I am over six feet tall and many of my family members are too, and so having some more space over our small Kia Forte would be really helpful going forward, and as such, we will likely be looking at sports-utility vehicles, the most popular type of vehicle right now.

The main goal is to make sure the front and back leg and head room end up being better than what we have today, and if it has the option to tow a small camper trailer, so much the better.

Surrogacy

This is a difficult topic for me to write about as I never thought I’d be heading down this road, but here we are…

There are so many moving pieces to this whole thing, but I should start by saying that my wife has written more about this journey than I probably ever will both on her blog and on an Instagram account she started called Operation Baby spaceship.

Basically, to get you all up to speed, my wife and I have decided to chase down surrogacy as an option to having a child to hopefully raise and take care of. My brother’s wife has said yes to being our surrogate and my brother and their children have given a thumbs up as well.

I really struggle with the idea of surrogacy, mostly because it is a difficult, awkward, and expensive process. It will take us more than a year from start to finish, and we already started on this journey months ago. It will cost tens of thousands of dollars. It will require testing and sampling and conversations that aren’t fun. It requires discomfort for my wife and my sister-in-law. The whole thing sends me spiraling through a bunch of emotions.

One of the conversations we have had to start working through is all of the worst case scenarios like in what circumstances do we consider abortion? What do we do if my sister-in-law experiences negative health effects? What if the pregnancy is a high risk and she’s off work for the majority of the time? A million different what-if’s. Eventually, all of our decisions regarding these worst case scenarios will be combined into a legal document that we will have lawyers revise to build a contract agreement for all of us to sign.

I’ve always wanted to be a parent and raise a child of my own, but I never thought I’d go so far to try to make it happen. Just yesterday we had a call with our fertility specialist and found out about multiple thousands of dollars in additional costs that we hadn’t learned about previously that we will be required to pay to make this all happen and we haven’t even locked down the total cost for everything yet, but know it’ll likely be in the mid-five figures.

The money portion really stresses me out. While I have a good income, a fairly frugal partner, and a mom helping make homecooked meals most nights, I still can’t help but feel so much weight on my shoulders regarding financing this endeavour. And it feels hard to complain about it because the “easiest” part of this whole thing is the financial aspect. The testing, the waiting, the discomfort and potential pain… those are the more difficult aspects of making this whole thing happen.

It’s hard for me to keep my eye on the prize, so to speak. To think about the potential success of having a child in my arms, a child to raise. I’d like to think I’d make an okay father, but at nearly forty years old, it also feels late to be starting out. I know others have done it, and I know if it works out, then I’ll do it too, but it wasn’t what I expected for my life, but who gets everything in life that they expect?

Annie has so much passion for making this a reality, and my sister-in-law’s grace helps keep it on track. And I am just here, feeling like I’m in the passenger seat, trying to protect my heart, grow my wallet, and keep on the path hoping that it will turn out the way we want this time, and not end in another heartache that I’ll have to carry with me forever.

In the end, I just wish this was all easier, less expensive, faster or at least guaranteed success.

A Year in Our House

So it has been basically a year since we moved into this house and while it wasn’t the year we expected when we started the process of buying the house, I definitely can’t complain. Living here during Covid has been great.

It’s mostly little things like having our own entrance, controlling the number of people and potential Covid vectors in our lives, and having some private green space have all made this whole pandemic more bearable.

Being that it is semi-detached has probably been the hardest part. We don’t hear the neighbors often, but when we do, it gives us those “apartment-living” chills where our space doesn’t totally feel like our own. We haven’t cultivated much of a relationship with our neighbors yet, partly because of Covid, and partly because I’m not a super outgoing/social person. The attached neighbor is very keen to maintain the small patch of front-yard we share, so that’s nice.

Maintenance, Repairs, Changes

Annie and my mom planted a small garden out front this year, which really made things look great! Other than that, we haven’t done much to the house so far, mostly due to lack of money, but we also made sure to buy a place that was already in pretty good condition so we wouldn’t have to spend a ton in the first year. We had someone come in and do a check and maintenance to the furnace and air conditioning units, and both are in good repair. We will probably need to replace the central air conditioner unit before too long though, as it is getting near the end of it’s efficient lifespan.

We have a deck in our backyard that eventually needs to be removed as it is a home for all kinds of neighborhood critters like bunnies, a groundhog and more… It also is in a weird place and shape in our backyard, so we will probably replace it with some nice stonework next year or the year after.

One thing I am hoping we will find some money and time for before the winter is to fix or replace the banisters going up our front steps as they aren’t as safe as I’d like them to be and we also need to fix the way the steps look as the exterior coating has chipped away due to salt and ice and water ruining the finish. I don’t think it necessarily reduces safety, but I’m concerned it could cause the steps to age quickly and become unsafe.

We did have one issue with some water. The drain hose for the dishwasher became disconnected and flooded the under-sink area with water that started leaking into the basement a little. We caught it very early and were able to dry and remediate the damage. So far, no mold or moisture problem outside of that. It was one of those moments where I think Annie and I both thought, “why did we do this to ourselves?” We were so used to these being other people’s problems if they happened.

Our neighbor replaced their shingles this year, which made a big mess in our front and back yard. The company they hired, Elite Contracting, didn’t do anything to maintain a clean site, but what can you do? We didn’t even know they were going to get their roof done until we started hearing strange noises above us. Thankfully, it doesn’t look like any damage or anything was done to our side of the roof, but we continue to have different coloured shingles and that will always look weird to me.

Good Stuff

This house seems to work perfectly for the three of us adults and our two dogs. The backyard is big enough to be enjoyed, but not so big we can’t maintain it, and the house is comfortable for all of us and feels like it can expand to fit half a dozen more when we can have visitors. Having three full bathrooms goes a long way in making it easy to have many house guests.

The train noise isn’t so bad. The trains don’t typically use their horns near here as all of the crossings in Kingston proper now have bridges so the trains can pass through easily. Sometimes, when outside, it does get a bit annoying to hear the trains, but during the summer, when the trees are full, most of the noise is dampened anyways.

My mom has setup a craft and painting area downstairs near her workstation, and that has been used more than a few times to do paint pours, paint models that I’ve 3D printed, or to work on other crafts.

I got my first barbeque this summer. I don’t think I’ve ever owned one before, and there’s a bit of a learning curve because I went with a Weber charcoal kettle rather than a propane grill or sticking to my original plan of getting a pellet smoker, but I am enjoying the process and have already produced some edible food!

And Now?

The current housing market in Kingston continues to be crazy, and if we hadn’t bought when we did, we would have been nearly priced out of the local market. If local comparable sales are any indication, our house has likely appreciated in value by as much as one hundred thousand dollars over the past year and a half since we put in our offer, which just seems stupid to me.

It looks like the same kind of increases in pricing is happening even at the edges of Kingston, where there used to be less expensive options, but today for homes with three bedrooms or more and one and a half bathrooms or more, there are only eight options in the greater Kingston area under $350,000 and only one of them is a fully detached home.

I can’t say that this is our forever home as we’d certainly like to have all of our walls be completely our own, but I am super happy with this place and hope to continue to be happy for years to come, or at least until we can afford something better for us…

My Experiences Thus Far with Crypto

I have thought that cryptocurrencies were interesting for years now, but I have always been too risk adverse to invest any real money into it, until recently.

Back years ago, I bought three bitcoin for around one hundred dollars. Unfortunately, I wasn’t smart with it and put it on a wallet on the local computer with no backup. Then, when I gave the computer to a friend, I formatted the drive, never thinking about my three bitcoin. With no access to those three bitcoin, they were lost to the ether.

I often think about those three bitcoin and while it would be worth over $100,000 today and more than $150,000 at their highest value. I also know myself and know that I would have sold it when the three coin were worth two hundred dollars, doubling my investment and making me feel like I was smart…

Sol Prima Mothballed

So after a few months, I’ve decided to close down Sol Prima Miniatures for now.

It just wasn’t converting and while fun, it was eating up a bunch of money each month. I was spending over one thousand per month for six months to try to get the project going, and at the end, I made around fifty dollars for that investment. My friend, Barry, was too busy and the project wasn’t always going in the direction he was most excited about and so we just couldn’t find traction. Add to that, my limited marketing skills, and it was time to pull the plug.

In the end, I think the we made more than twenty models, some with different poses, weapons and more. I am so happy with some of the models that were produced, and feel so thankful to the amazing artists that worked on the project with me.

I am not sure what kind of future the project has. It might end up as part of a long list of hobbies/projects that went no where, and I have to accept that. I am hoping to put the models somewhere reasonable that people can buy them and maybe over a few years it’ll earn back some of what was put into it.

Right now, my focus has switched to work and playing with Cryptocurrencies. Wish me luck!

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…