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Favorite Products of 2007

January 19, 2008

Filed under: entertainment,life,review — Terry Wohlers @ 08:33

I’ve listed my favorite products and services in the past and it’s time to do it again. Some companies provide good quality, but many do not. The following, listed at random, are a few of those that have met or exceeded my expectations over the past year or so.

1) PdaNet. This is an excellent application that runs on Palm Treo handheld devices. A one-time cost of $34 turns your Treo into a broadband modem for your laptop or desktop computer. Read about it in an April 2007 Wohlers Talk blog commentary.

2) tryda. This free “directory assistant” operates on a Treo running the Palm OS. (A Windows Mobile version is coming soon.) The application permits you to quickly search for names, addresses, and phone numbers of companies and individuals nationwide. Looking for a pizza restaurant? Just enter “pizza” and a zip code or city and tryda will list pizza restaurants in the area. What’s more, it links to Google Maps and displays locations and directions. Did I say that it’s free?

3) OnlyMyEmail. I’ve tried many spam filtering programs and services and this one is the best, especially for small companies and individuals. At $4 per month, it’s a bargain.

4) Shure Sound Isolating Earphones. This $150 product (Model SE210) is worth every penny, if you’re looking for compact, in-the-ear quality sound. The product dramatically reduces the ambient noise when on a plane or in other noisy environments. It’s easy to fit the earphones to your ear canals because they come with many types and sizes of rubber and foam sleeves. I prefer earbuds over bulky headsets, but most do not stay securely in my ears. These do and they are comfortable.

5) Panasonic Plasma Television. In high definition (HD), this 50-inch screen (Model TH-50PX75U) is the next best thing to being there. You will see detail that you’ve never seen before on a television. The price continues to drop, making it affordable to a broader range of customers.

6) Philips Home Theater System. This $200 product (Model HTS3544/37) is near the low-end of the home theater system-in-a-box price range, but you wouldn’t know it when hearing its 1,000 watts of power.  In fact, I would bet that most blindfolded listeners would guess that it’s priced 3-5x higher. A DVD player with HDMI upconversion is built in.

These products and services from six companies stood out from the pack. Check back at this time next year to see what makes the list.

3D Printing of Game Characters

December 21, 2007

Filed under: additive manufacturing,entertainment — Terry Wohlers @ 11:35

The idea has been discussed in the past and now it’s a reality. Ed Fries, former vice president of Microsoft’s video games business, rolled out FigurePrints last week. The 9.3 million subscribers of World of Warcraft (WoW) can now order a 100 mm (4-inch) tall model of their personalized character from the online game. The models are manufactured on a 3D color printer from Z Corp. Fries was inspired by an Electronic Arts’ exhibit at the E3 show last year. The exhibit included 3D printed figures from EA’s new Spore game.
Fries has partnered with Blizzard Entertainment, the makers of WoW. Blizzard is expected to promote the FigurePrints service inside the game. The cost for a model of a character: $100 plus $15 for shipping.

Due to demand and other factors, the service is not rapid. Delivery takes 1-2 months from the time an order is placed. Even so, this exciting new application of additive fabrication (AF) will introduce 3D printing to millions of people. Until now, the estimated 2.3 million commercial CAD installations worldwide have been the source of data for 99 percent of the parts produced by AF technology.

FigurePrints is facing technical challenges that could adversely impact a high volume, low margin business, such as this. For example, the polygonal mesh resolution of a game character is typically not good and the mesh is often not a closed, “water tight” volume, a requirement of AF. Normally, these problems require a trained individual to review and revise the data to make it suitable for fabrication. FigurePrints will need to streamline and automate as much of it as possible and I’m sure that Ed Fries and his staff are working diligently on it.

Will the manufacturing of video game characters become a sizeable business? Yes. How quickly will it take off? FigurePrints/Blizzard and Electronic Arts (likely next year) will motivate Microsoft, Sony, LucasArts, Ubisoft, Activision, Nintendo, and others to follow. In the short term, the challenge will be to fine-tune the file processing and part finishing steps, and then build capacity. And, FigurePrints will need to turn the jobs more quickly. I suspect that many customers will not wait 30-60 days.

The Pros Have Tarnished a Great Sport

August 31, 2007

Filed under: entertainment,life — Terry Wohlers @ 18:35

Fall is in the air and football season has arrived. I’ve been anxiously waiting for months. American football is arguably the most exciting sport on the planet, although some outside the U.S. may disagree. It’s college football that really gets my blood pumping. Life doesn’t get much better than watching an in-state rivalry such as the Colorado State University Rams and the University of Colorado Buffalos go head to head. Kick off between the two is tomorrow at 10:00.

Professional football can be thrilling to watch too, but some of the players take the fun out of it. Michael Vick is one of them. Another is Travis Henry of the Denver Broncos. Henry is listed as the starting running back ahead of Cecil Sapp, a standout from Colorado State.

Henry has reportedly fathered nine children by nine women in at least four states, including Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. Can you believe it? I didn’t, until I did some research. What’s more, he is unwilling to support them without a court order. Yet, he spent $100,000 on a new Mercedes and $146,000 on gold jewelry. Henry has a $25 million contract with Denver and a base salary of $50,000 per month.

Highly visible players, such as Henry and Vick, are often “worshipped” by kids of all ages, which is horribly sad. These athletes are not setting the kind of example that I want my kids, or other kids, to follow. The majority of pro players are likely fine people, but it’s the “sour grapes” that leave such a bad taste in my mouth. And, that’s a big reason why I prefer college football over the pro version of the game.

Will Fab@Home Succeed?

April 15, 2007

Filed under: additive manufacturing,education,entertainment,review — Terry Wohlers @ 16:31

Fab@Home has been receiving a lot of attention lately. What is it? Fab@Home is an open source 3D printer development at Cornell University. Hod Lipson, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Evan Malone, a PhD candidate in Lipson’s Computational Synthesis Lab, are working together on the project. The plans for the machine are available at for anyone to download. Also, a kit is available from Koba Industries, a machine shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for $2,975.

About a dozen people are building one and three are complete and running, according to a March 5, 2007 story published by The Engineer Online, a web-based publication in the UK that quoted Lipson. Two of the assembled machines are at the University of Washington and one is in Innsbruck, Austria.

To some degree, the academic project has already succeeded. Will it become commercially viable? It may, if on-going improvements are made to the system. Currently, the quality of the parts from the machine is questionable. At, you can see parts made from silicone rubber, chocolate, and cake icing. Part quality aside, I believe that engineers, students, and others would enjoy assembling and experimenting with the machine and custom tailoring the process for a specific application and/or material. If the momentum continues, the development could grow into something much bigger and of commercial interest.

Lipson and Malone refer to the 3D printer as a “fabber,” a term that was introduced about 15 years ago. It received a cool reception back then and few have since warmed up to it. With the attention that Fab@Home has been getting, the guys at Cornell could popularize the term. More importantly, they could popularize 3D printing among those who would never consider a more expensive system.

Cosmic Modelz

August 20, 2006

Filed under: additive manufacturing,entertainment — Terry Wohlers @ 16:11

On August 3, 2006, The Wall Street Journal published an article titled New Copiers Create 3D Plastic Models on Demand. The story introduced 3D printers to many readers and cited recent developments and applications of 3D printing. Also, it revealed that SolidWorks is launching a new business called Cosmic Modelz in the coming weeks. Cosmic Modelz will permit kids—or anyone—to use the company’s Cosmic Blobs software to create custom action figures. This easy-to-use software sells for $40 and is targeted at kids. Using a new website operated by Z Corp., the Cosmic Blobs models will be sent to Z Corp. for production on one of its color 3D printers. The cost per model: $25 to $50. 

If you go to, you will see a “Coming Soon” page (as of today) that introduces the visitor to the new service. The page shows examples of the kinds of figures that are possible.

If SolidWorks and Z Corp. follow through with the plan, it will be the first serious attempt to “commercialize” the use of 3D printers for the mass home market. Pricing is aggressive, so I would expect that many people will give it a try. When they see the model quality from the latest generation machines from Z Corp., they will undoubtedly show and tell their neighbors and friends. 

Nothing quite like this has been available, so its novelty could lead to something big. If even a tiny fraction of the kids with access to computers choose to have a model produced, it could generate millions of dollars of revenue.

I applaud SolidWorks and Z Corp. for their creativity and originality. I will be among the first in line to give it a try. And that line will likely grow long as the word gets out.

Super Sunday

February 6, 2005

Filed under: entertainment,life,money — Terry Wohlers @ 12:58

Super Bowl Sunday is a day in which consumers across the U.S. will burn through $5.6 billion. For those of you who do not follow some of the peculiar American traditions, the Super Bowl is arguably the single biggest sport event of the year. I love college football and I’ve been a season ticket holder for the Colorado State University Rams for years, but this is no college game. The top two teams in the National Football League meet at 16:25 today to determine who is the best. My family and I are looking forward to joining some friends for the big event. However, I’m more interested in the wild commercials seen for the first time and Paul McCartney’s halftime show than I am in seeing the New England Patriots take on the Philadelphia Eagles. One exception is watching former Colorado State standout Dexter Winn return punts for the Eagles.

I like the game of football and it will be fun to see some good hits. Sadly, some of the players have tarnished the image of the pro version of the sport. (The same could be said about professional basketball, baseball, and hockey.) On and off the field, these in-the-spotlight athletes could and should serve as role models for our youth. Many do, but others do not. After big plays and touchdowns, some of them dance around like they’ve never been there before and it can be a real turnoff. Off the field, some of the same players are caught doing all types of shameful and unlawful acts. The obscenely large contracts that they negotiate leave you wondering how professional sports have gotten to this point. 

Later today, I will be at the television for the big game like 140 million others. But it won’t be for the purpose of intently watching each play or caring about who comes out on top. Instead, it will be to spend time with family and friends, enjoy some good food and drink, and have a laugh or two from some of the hilarious commercials that debut each year on this day.

3D Printer Stars in TV Show

January 22, 2005

Filed under: additive manufacturing,entertainment — Terry Wohlers @ 15:54

I’m not a fan of the popular CSI: NY television crime drama, but I did manage to watch most of one episode. The part of interest was the ZPrinter 310 from Z Corp. It was used in the show by forensic investigators to produce, from x-ray scan data, a replica of a bullet lodged in a horse. It aired on December 1 and again on January 19 on CBS. Deb Cole, associate producer of the show, was fascinated by the technology when she discovered it. 

“We were looking for a story line for which we could use a 3D printer because the technology provides strong visuals—an important part of the show,” Cole explained. “As soon as the script we developed called for the use of the 3D printer, we contacted Z Corp. Depending on the response we receive, we may continue to use the 3D printer in upcoming episodes as a standard tool in our crime scene investigators’ high-tech bag of tricks.”

The inclusion of 3D printers and RP systems on mainstream television shows will introduce the concept to millions of viewers. If only 1% are engineers, that’s thousands of customer prospects. CSI: NY actors referred to the device as the “ZPrinter,” which is good for Z Corp. and for the industry.

There’s No Place like South Africa

January 17, 2004

Filed under: entertainment,life,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 10:26

I’m currently planning my fifth and sixth trips to South Africa. Except for the travel distance, I’m really looking forward to them. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean. The people are friendly, the food and wine are great, and the scenery and wildlife are spectacular.

When you visit the country, a big game safari is a must. Plan to spend at least three nights in a camp at Kruger National Park. This wildlife refuge is located in the east along the border of Mozambique and is the biggest and best. You will see everything from lions, cape buffalo, and wildebeest to rhinos, elephants, and baboons. The experience is absolutely amazing and unforgettable.

If you are a veg head (i.e., vegetarian), you may not appreciate the fine South African cuisine as much as me. It’s not unusual to have two or three meats, such as pork, lamb, and chicken, at a meal. They serve some wild game, but not as much as you’d expect. The red wines there are among the best anywhere and inexpensive.

On my first visit, I recall a visit to a convenience store and being helped by a clerk. He was a young black gentleman, probably in his mid-20s. He smiled, asked me how I was doing, and genuinely seemed to care. He went on to help me and wished me a good day when I left. You rarely get such good treatment from store clerks in many other parts of the world. This cheerful and helpful nature is typical throughout South Africa.

I was told that $1 was roughly equal to 1 South African rand a few decades ago. Less than two years ago, $1 would buy 10 rand. Today, the exchange rate is about $1 = 7.3 rand, so you can imagine how far the dollar will go. In November 2002, lunch for 10 adults at a very nice restaurant with a beautiful view (soft drinks and beer included) came to $23 total ($2.30 per person), and three people had beef steak.

Beautiful mountains and valleys, rivers and lakes, vineyards, breath-taking coastlines, game reserves, an abundant supply of natural resources, good educational institutions, wonderful and well-educated people (South African inventors are among the top 5% internationally) ….. South Africa has it all. At the same time, the country is not without its challenges, such as unemployment, a staggering number of HIV and AIDS victims, and a lot of crime some areas.

In 2000, a group of South Africans from industry and academia founded the Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa (RAPDASA). It focuses much of its attention on rapid prototyping and tooling. The association is planning its fifth annual conference scheduled for the week of November 2, 2004 in Bloemfontein, located in the central part (the heart) of the country. So, begin making plans now.

For a detailed account of my first trip to South Africa, visit

Mission: Space

January 10, 2004

Filed under: entertainment,life,review — Terry Wohlers @ 15:48

Have you ever envisioned yourself in a space vehicle and landing on the moon or Mars, but know that it probably won’t happen in your lifetime? The next best thing is Walt Disney World’s new “Mission: Space” adventure ride at Epcot. Believe me, it’s nothing short of spectacular. If someone would have blindfolded me, took me for a long car ride, and than sat me in the Disney simulator, I would have sworn I was on a space shuttle. They’ve made it so realistic that you believe you’re launching into space, with the rumbles, vibration, and 2.4 Gs of force to go with it. And the high resolution displays give you incredibly realistic visuals.

Mission: Space is somewhat of a technical marvel. To build a simulator that accommodates a few astronauts is an achievement, but to build one that can handle 160 people at once (4 centrifuges x 10 capsules per centrifuge x 4 people per capsule) is something special. Fortunately, I had the opportunity not only to ride it, but to get an up-close look at its back side. Michael Siemer, an engineer at Disney’s Ride & Show Engineering, was responsible for the design and production of the space capsules, and was my host. Michael explained that in designing and prototyping the ride, Disney tapped some of the best resources available. Among them were NASA engineers, a well-known simulator and centrifuge designer, and several past and present astronauts.

So, if you don’t expect to launch into space anytime soon, but would like to experience the thrill, visit Epcot. I promise: You won’t regret it!

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