Reverse Engineering Breadmaker Snobbery

I just created a no-longer-made part for my Zojirushi bread maker using reverse engineering!

I have two Zoji BB-HAC10 1 lb bread makers. They are super cute and perfect for the yurt because they’re so small. I paid $10 for the first in perfect condition, and $20 for the second that had been dropped. This broke the hinge that holds the door on. Everything works fine, so I thought I’d see if I could make another one.

I pulled the original off the intact machine and got to work with Fusion 360 and my calipers. My friend Chris has been trying to get me to learn parametric modeling using Fusion for years. Friends, he tells me, don’t let friends use Sketchup! I couldn’t agree more, as Sketchup is the most infuriating piece of software I’ve ever used in almost 40 years of computing.

I was initially pretty stuck because while I’ve done 3D modeling and some basic animation (mostly in POVRay and Lightwave back in the late 90s) I’ve never done parametric modeling before. I was banging my head against the wall unable to do things like, say, create a point on the screen when Chris came to my rescue. I’m usually very fast on the uptake with this sort of thing, so it was a godsend to have someone with more experience walk me through the places I was stuck. In short order I was back in a flow state.

You can only get so precise with a set of calipers, especially when the part has this many strange curves and non-square bits. At a certain point, you have print a low-quality prototype and see how it fits. I went through about six revisions, fine-tuning things, usually in the right direction, each time until I got something that works well.

Here’s the latest version installed!

Reverse engineering a part like this has been hugely satisfying. I was, with all humility, a Lego god when I was a kid. To be able to re-create another object makes me feel like I’m a gnome living inside a Star Trek replicator. In my appliance resale business, the only reason an expensive Dyson or Bose product was disgarded was because of a tiny plastic part that broke. And many of those parts are already available for free download on Thingiverse! And, if they’re not, I can make them.

The next question is how much to share my designs. I want a world where people can make their own things instead of depending on big, corrupt corporations. The Open Source and 3D Printing movements have been a big part of making that a reality. On the other hand, this part isn’t available for purchase anywhere, so there might be a small amount of money to be made selling the parts myself. I think, though, that the people who would be willing to print this part themselves and the people that would actually pay for the part aren’t, for the most part, the same people. So I’ll probably make a Thiniverse page for the design that I’ll update as I refine it, but print one or two and stick them on Ebay and see what happens. Who knows, maybe I’ll make a few bucks?

I’m super excited I was able to pull this off! It’s exactly the sort of mad scientist craziness that really cranks my shaft. I’m sure I’ll be posting many more projects here, so stay tuned!

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Covid Sourdough Theater Part 2

In my tiny yurt it’s a huge mistake to make a lot of heat in the summer, so I want to make an outdoor kitchen. Instead of a full-sized oven, I want to see what I can accomplish with a stovetop burner and a dutch oven. Our landlords recently started charging for electricity for the first time as well, and it’s very possible my electrical bill in the middle of our 100+ o F Austin summers are going to cost more than my rent!

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The sourdough recipe I’ve been using already recommends a dutch oven for baking but it’s used inside a normal oven. This means heat comes from all directions instead of just the bottom, and you can take off the lid of the dutch oven and still have even heat around the bread. To replace the oven in this equation with a stovetop, I knew I’d have to make some changes.

Previously my sourdough starter hadn’t been perking up as much as I wanted. It’s supposed to bubble up to twice its unfed volume at its highest, and I was only getting maybe a 50% increase. However, I realized both that I had been using chlorinated city tap water I had gotten from a friend, and also bleached instead of unbleached flour. As soon as I corrected this, I got a 100% increase in volume! I was ready to try something new.

Ideally I’d like to use an induction burner for this, because it’s not only more efficient than a normal electric hob, it’s actually more efficient than gas. I decided a set of sourdough biscuits would be a good place to start. I heated up my dutch oven on the Tramontina 1500 watt induction burner and was able to get it to about 350 degrees by slowly ramping up the heat over about 15 minutes. I put parchment paper on the bottom to protect the biscuits, but by the time the top was done, the bottoms were pretty badly burned.

As a brief aside, I tried using oat milk in a buttermilk biscuit recipe, but I didn’t add any acid to make up for the difference, so the baking soda and powder didn’t fully fire and they were quite flat. It turns out that 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar can be added to most alternative milks to correct for this, and I will try that again soon.

The problem with using a dutch oven on a hob is that the bottom is a lot hotter than the top. Even with slow, persistent pre-heating, the bottom is likely to be at least 200 o F higher than the top. The base can get up to 500 o F while it’s heating, even after the middle has reached 350 o F. This makes even cooking and top browning a problem. I was thinking that a small baking rack to get the bread off of the floor of the dutch oven might work, but it would take up a lot of space and I’m not sure there would be enough room left for a big sourdough loaf to rise. I looked online for a solution to this, and one suggestion was to put a small cast iron skillet under the dutch oven like this:

0503200054_HDR

I decided to try that. I used my Gourmia induction stovetop for this one. Even with very slow heating (over an hour), the Gourmia would eventually always quit with with an overheat warning. Meanwhile my dough went past the sweet spot and started to deflate. In a minor panic, I went and pulled my high-efficiency Ramblewood Green propane stove out of the van and hooked it up instead. This provided a lot more consistent, even heat, and I was able to get the base of the dutch oven to 350 o F in about 30 minutes.

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What’s the ray gun device I’m using to measure the temperature without burning the *!#! out of myself? That’s an infrared thermometer. It can tell the heat at some distance. I got this one to help diagnose an exhaust problem with my van, but it’s perfect for nit-piggling cooking temperatures. In this case every time I took a sample I measured the heat of the cast iron skillet (around 500 o F), the bottom of the dutch oven (about 350 o F) and the top of the dutch oven below the lid (around 200-250 o F).

I knew I was in trouble doing my final folds on the loaf before putting it in to bake at 4:24 PM. The dough didn’t want to hold its shape and was flattening out. When I tried to cut my grooves, they would immediately self-heal because the dough wasn’t springy enough. But, I figured, it would still taste good and I had learned an important lesson that, at least for the Gourmia stove, this system wouldn’t work due to the overheating problem.

In between all this I was helping build the new paddock for our incoming pigs, two adults and two piglets, that our farm was raising. It was our first really hot day and, despite lots of electrolyte water and sun protection, I still got pretty pooped.

I kept coming back to check on the loaf periodically. I didn’t crack the lid until 5:12 PM, 50 minutes into the bake. At that point I was smelling a faint burning smell but the top still looked like this:

0503201712

In the recipe I was altering, you cook the loaf inside the dutch oven inside a normal oven at 400 o F for 20 minutes, then take the lid off. I had effectively steamed my loaf inside the dutch oven for probably too long. I cracked the lid to let some of the steam out and continued cooking, checking every 15 minutes or so to see how things were going.

At about 5:50 PM, I took this measurement and saw 212 o F. My recipe said the bread was done at 205 o F, but the top still wasn’t very brown. I carefully flipped the loaf over and then baked for another 15 minutes or so to properly brown the top, resulting in this. I took a quick shower, wrapped the loaf in a the towel I had just used to dry myself, and headed to friend’s house to watch the Mandalorian, hoping it would still be warm by the time I arrived.

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It was.

The final result? A quite flat sourdough loaf with a slightly burned bottom, making it hard to cut. It was actually very close to the flatter loaf the Korean guy who showed me the “put a small cast iron pan under it” trick had made.

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One great thing about bread baking is that unless youscrew it up pretty epically, the result will still be delicious, and it was! I knew going in that it would take several tries at least to dial things in, so I wasn’t surprised it wasn’t perfect.

1) At least the Gourmia induction cooktop doesn’t work for this because the sustained heat of the cast iron trigger’s its overheat alarm and it shuts down. If this happened in the middle of a bake it could, in the immortal words of Sansa Stark, Ruin Everything! I didn’t see this problem using the dutch oven by itself on my Tramontina induction hobb, so maybe I’ll try that next time. For a more sure results, use electric or gas, despite the additional wasted energy.

2) What you feed your sourdough starter really matters. Besides temperature, this is the single biggest variable in sourdough baking, and switching from chlorinated water and bleached flour to unchlorinated water and unbleached flour made all the difference, literally overnight.

2) Dough proofing timing is important. I knew this already, and left an hour to get the cooking setup ready while the bread was doing bulk fermentation, but it took almost an hour to realize the induction method wasn’t working, and another 50 minutes until the gas setup was at the correct temperature. At that point the loaf had deflated a lot already.

3) This setup won’t brown evenly. The top of the dutch oven will run at least 100-150 o F lower than the bottom, even with the cast iron skillet underneath. It certainly would have helped if I had cracked the lid at 20 minutes instead of 50, but I still don’t know if it’s possible to get a good top brown on a loaf without flipping it over. I’ll certainly crack the lid sooner next time, but I still think I’ll need to flip the loaf to get a top brown.

4) I might need a different bake temperature. I tried to keep the bottom of the dutch oven at around 350 o F. This meant keeping the cast iron skillet at about 500 o F. At the same time the top of the dutch oven was around 200 – 250 o F. Cooking at a lower temperature might help with evenness and getting a top brown before the bottom burns. One idea that might help here is to use the oven method described in the original recipe and do those same measurements to see what the actual temperature of the dutch oven is.

5) Since many of my problems are caused by uneven heat between the top and bottom of the oven, some kind of solar-powered solution might be in order. It’s pretty easy to make a simple solar oven, and I could either bake directly in that or put the dutch oven inside. We’ll certainly have plenty of heat here in Texas, and it would be free heat.

6) I bet after all of this jacking around with hobs and dutch ovens, using my Zojirushi bread maker will probably product much better, more consistent results. Starting this sooner rather than later is probably a good idea, since my Holy Grail is gluten and dairy-free, low carb sourdough. I’m doing all this traditional stuff to get a feel for how sourdough works, and while I do better if I avoid gluten I’m not celiac. It’s fun to do the messy alchemy, but what I really want is something I can throw into a bread machine once or twice a week, walk away, and have perfect results with no further intervention. Getting this to happen with actual sourdough might well be too hard, *even* if I keep my starter and dough in a proofing box. To get what I finally want, it might be better to find a way to fake the sourdough taste and texture with some form of almond/tapioca bread and either use baker’s yeast or chemical leavening like I do in my low-gluten Jewish Rye recipe.

All-in-all it was fun, and I’ll certainly try it a few more times with this method, because I think it would really help the world to have a good sourdough technique using a hob and a dutch oven.

Thanks for reading this far, you’re a trooper! Please let me know what’s worked for you in our own sourdough adventures.

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Back in the Tiny Saddle Squared.

My folding bike loaded onto my scooter headed for a trip downtown!<

I dug my folding bicycle out of storage, *finally* fixed the headlight on the 7th try, and went on a 12 mile ride yesterday!

My Brompton folding bike, the second most expensive thing I own, has been out of action for, I believe, years. I bought it to have local transportation for my RV, and it worked amazingly well on my trips to Portland. The main problem was that the headlight, which is wired onto the bike, had broken off the mount. The headlight itself is super expensive, so having it banging around while riding was a non-starter. I had tried to fix it with various kind of glue and plastic welding at least six times, but it had broken off again every single time.

Yesterday I had an invite to bike around downtown Austin while the coronavirus has reduced local traffic in what was absolutely perfect weather. Determined to participate, I broke out Testers model cement, which I though might work since it actually melts the plastic a bit. It was a total failure, so I decide it was time to give up on how it looked and break out the Heavy Artillery. I mixed up some five-minute epoxy and put two layers on, rebuilding the entire stem and the reenforcing the join. Cautiously optimistic, I tried a test ride around the farm, and it held!

Next I had to get the bike on my scooter. I used some foam and a set of cargo nets to jankily strap it down on the passenger seat. I was super nervous it might fall off, but it was actually pretty firmly held. I also had pictures in my head of the newly-fixed headlight breaking off and bouncing around for the entire trip. But everything was fine, and I managed to make it just south of downtown on time.

We explored most of the 6th street and Congress areas as well as the Rainey district (where we got some tiny donuts) and parts of the riverwalk. I was worried I would be dying on hills since I'm in terrible cardio shape right now, but Ryan did a great job keeping us mostly level and I really wasn't even fatigued. The Brompton shook off its shifting issues after a bit of lube and riding and performed like it was brand new! I had almost decided not to go earlier because the shifters were misbehaving and I didn't have time for a tune up.

Now that it's working again, I'm refusing to put it back in storage. I found a temporary place for it in the van and am planning to make a mount there, and another one for easily attaching it to my scooter. There are many great places to ride around Austin, and now is a good time with better weather and very little traffic. However, to get it off the property I live on I have to walk it about 1/2 mile over a rock road that it can't handle very well. It's a ninja urban commuter, but not much of a mountain bike.

Here's the route. I didn't do the first three miles because I met up with Danielle and Ryan after they started. It's sweet that they have all these tracking tools now.

Screenshot 2020-04-11 15.21.59
https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/4766974243

I really loved cycling when I was kid, bunny-hopping around our neighborhood on my Redline BMX. I’ve been a slug for months, but regular cycling will be a fun way to get back in shape. It feels great to be riding again!

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Starbucks, Surprise Rodeos, and Sekret TP

Tina from Starbuck was working heroically interacting with the potentially infected public. They were only taking mobile and call in orders and it was her job to tell this to people trying to walk in the door. She was super friendly and I'm grateful she w

It’s been a while! In the immortal words of God “We apologise for the inconvenience.”

Austin, where I live, is currently under almost-Shelter-in-Place orders, with most businesses closed and only 10 people allowed to gather in public. It’s clear that it’s the worst thing to happen worldwide and to the US probably in my lifetime, and my heart goes out to everyone who has elderly family (including me), a service job, no health insurance, and all those in the medical field who are being steamrolled by the incredible workload.

On my end things haven’t been *too* bad yet. I live far enough outside of Austin that my local store still has nearly everything but toilet paper and sanitizing supplies. While I’m really still just barely meeting my expenses with my resale business, I’ve actually gotten three sales in the last week and I have a huge backlog of merchandise. However, it was time to go into town to get a few things I’d been missing since this whole Conorna Virus thing started a few weeks ago. My itinerary was MT Mart (the local Asian supermarket), Costco, my mailbox at the UPS store, and the nearby HEB grocery store at Mueller. I put on a clean set of clothes, grabbed my hand sanitizer and rolled out. As I shoved things around in the back to make room for groceries, I found a WHOLE PACKAGE of toilet paper! I had gotten it for a recent campout before all this started, and it puts my number of rolls into the double digits! Woohoo!

MT Mart was less busy than usual, but didn’t really seem to be out of anything. They don’t normally carry much in the way of household supplies. Many people were wearing gloves and masks and did a fairly good job of maintaining social distancing. They don’t carry much in the way of frozen fruit, but their fresh fruit and veggies were all full and I picked up a few apples. The checkout line had markings at 6 ft intervals, but checkout was quick. I thanked the clerk for coming to work.

Next I braved Costco around 3 pm, afraid of what I might find. There was a line of about 10 people in front of the entrance that looked longer than it was due to the 6 ft distancing rule. They were disinfecting carts as they handed them out, and I was inside the store in less than 10 minutes. They had a sign outside stating what they were already out of including toilet paper, hand sanitizer, vitamin C, etc. Inside they had just about everything else, and it was actually nice that there were probably about 1/2 of the customers on a normal visit. I was able to get my butter, oat milk, frozen blueberries, and other sundry items easily. At checkout I got an almost-lecture about my person grocery bags, which they are not allowed to touch, so I moved my items into a box for checkout. Naturally the food court was closed. I thanked everyone for showing up when we needed them so badly and got lots of positive smiles.

I had just gotten a poorly timed Starbucks gift card from Geico and was wondering if there was maybe a drive through open where I could use it. I ended up at the store at Barbara Jordan and I-35 at Mueller and was surprised to see an employee come out the door! Her name was Tina and she had the thankless job of telling everyone who tried to come in that they were only doing mobile and call-in orders. She was super friendly despite being a bit frazzled and seemed grateful to have someone to chat with for a few minutes. Evidently this is the *only* Starbucks with an open front door in a huge area of the country. She explained they were able to stay more open because they are so close to the hospital where our heroic medical workers are busting their ass right now to try to keep us all safe. I asked if I could take her picture and she said yes. I also put a word in at Corporate letting them know how great she was doing in a stressful situation. After fucking with the terrible Starbucks app for about 20 minutes, I was finally able, only by buying something cheaper than the $5 gift card value, to get something from the store. I was happy to get anything, and it was nice to have *some* kind of interaction with another person in a retail context.

I cruised through UPS to get my mail. No packages this time so I was in and out. I’m glad the post offices are still open because it means I can still make some money shipping items from online sales even if it’s harder to do in person.

I checked the HEB grocery store on the way back, but there was a 30 person line stretching to the back of the parking lot, and I was able to get most of my critical stuff at MT Mart and Costco, so I decided to call it a day and head home.

As I was unpacking my groceries I heard a horse noise *much* closer to the yurt than it should be! I jogged down the hill, frozen items still sitting on my bed, to witness all three of Lee’s horses prancing around on the wrong side of the fence! Farm-mates Camille and Tyler has already noticed the problem. I called Lee and let him know the horses were out and that we’d try to get them back in. I at least know them and have had minimal training getting them to go back into their pen. I grabbed a halter and discovered they had left the barn area and headed up toward the gate. Tyler had gone ahead to cut them off and Camille got some horse feed in a bucket for bait. Working together we were able to get all three horses back into their area one at a time and get all the gates closed. It was a nice way to get some surprise exercise and justified socialization.

So it’s good to be back. I’m not making any promises as to frequency, and *certainly* not to brevity, but now seems like a good time to communicate, so here I am.

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The New Gear

Jedi
After doing Inktober using all vector tools this year, I realized I loved it enough to make it a career. I have to do a lot of illustration for my games anyway, but in the time it takes to make one game, I could make hundreds of illustrations. But to make the dream a reality, I needed upgraded gear. And now I have it! It’s a new iPad 7th Generation 10.2 tablet and an Apple Pencil, and it is *SWEET*!

Getting it was a bit of a fiasco. After months of research, I knew I wanted Affinity Designer as my main production app. It *seemed* that it was supported on the iPad Mini Gen 4. I ordered an Amazon Certified refurb. The first one they sent me was a Gen 1 Mini! So then I had to wait for it to ship back to them before they send out a new one. I had resigned myself to no touch sensitivity because it doesn’t work with the Apple Pencil and Affinity Designer doesn’t support any other pressure sensitive styluses. The Apple App Store even let me *install* AD. But when I ran it, I got a message explaining that AD actually *doesn’t* work on the 4th gen Mini, and to request a refund from Apple.

I was devastated that the entire plan, so carefully researched, fell through. I now had an iPad Mini I couldn’t use! However, after researching online prices around Black Friday, I discovered that the brand new iPad 7th gen was only slightly more expensive and *did* support both Affinity Designer *and* the Apple Pencil! The pencil was a minimum of $80 retail, but I bet I could get one locally cheaper. Sure enough, I managed to find one for $50, and my partner Danielle offered to get it for me for Christmas! So, for slightly over $300, I have the best illustration setup I’ve ever had.

Above is my contribution to ComeDrawATX, our weekly drawing group, evolving. The Pencil sketch was done with Tayasui Sketch with Apple Pencil. So far it’s my favorite raster app, though I also have Procreate and haven’t done much with it yet. I like how closely Sketch mimics real media, even make scratching and other noises when you use the tools! In addition to the many tools you’d expect, it’s got some competent watercolor emulation, and works *really* well with the Apple Pencil. If I’m using the pencil tool and I turn the Pencil on its side, it widens the area just like filling in space with the flat side of a pencil. There’s no doubt in my mind that skills learned with Sketch will translate in skill with real art tools almost directly.

I did the colored one with real pencil, ink, and markers at ComeDrawATX.

The vector outline I did in Affinity Designer after I got home. I’ll follow up with a color vector version soon! AD also supports the touch sensitivity of the Pencil for things like opacity and line width.

It’s rare that I’ve been so excited about a new setup. Being able to draw directly on the screen but have it feel and work like real media is astounding. And AD is by far the best vector tool I’ve used, with a clean layout and easy touch gestures. One feature I like the most is that every stoke and shape is its own layer, making it *very* easy to select any one you want, even when it’s buried under twenty other objects. It also has some raster support for including and touching up drawing and photos. I’m still at the tip of the iceberg, but learning fast!

I’ll post more here and on my FB and Instagram feeds as I improve.

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Experiments in Sensitivity

I’m upgrading my illustration gear! I ordered a new-to-me iPad Mini 4 and a Friendly Swede 4-in-1 stylus. After trying a slew of vector illustration apps, I ended up using the humble Inkpad 2 on my obsolete iPad Mini running iOS 9 for almost all of my Inktober drawings. I really like the iPad Mini as a platform for illustration. It’s small enough to carry in a jacket pocket, but big enough to do anything but the most enormous illustrations.

My goal is to be able to get some level of professional work done on any device I own. This is complicated by the fact that I have OS X and Windows 10 on my laptop, iOS on my iPad Mini, and Android on my phone! Ideally I’d like full inter-operation where I can move my work from one to another with no or minimal re-work, so a strong common feature set and good importing and exporting features are mandatory. So my new main setup will probably be Affinity Designer on the iPad Mini. I will try using a stylus for the first time to see if I like it better than my fingers. I kind of doubt I will with a vector app, because vector is a lot more like sculpting than drawing. I suspect a stylus, especially a pressure sensitive one, is more useful for raster/painterly work like one might do with Procreate, which I also own.

Martin Whitmore, the Evil Illustrator, generously let me borrow his Intuos 3 tablet so I could try out a pressure sensitive tool on Affinity Designer on my Mac (in Windows 10). This way I’ll be able to test the pressure sensitivity and see if that might be worth more money later. Right now the pressure sensitive game on the iPad Mini 4 is very chaotic. It’s too old to support the Apple Pencil, which alone is over $100 anyway. It’s possible to use bluetooth styluses like the Wacom Bamboo Sketch with it, but every single app has to have native support for your specific stylus because Apple only supports their Pencil. You can’t just get the stylus and expect all the features to work across the board. As far as I can tell, Affinity Designer and Inkpad (more on them below) don’t support pressure sensitivity, so I just went for a capacitive Friendly Swede 4-in-1 stylus for now.

Let’s review some of the apps I’ve evaluated so far:

On Windows 10/Apple OS X

Adobe Illustrator CS 5: This was what got me started in vector art and what I used for Zen Fire, my second iOS game.

wf_ZenFireLogo

It’s clearly an industry standard and near the top of the game for vector art. However, I’m spiritually more behind Open Source and indy developers (I am one!), so for now I’m not planning on using Adobe’s new offerings.

Inkscape is the Open Source answer to Illustrator. It’s free, very capable, and has some great vectorizing features for turning raster art into vectors. I used it for my Death of Pun Dog contribution for Inktober 2019. It has that slightly goony Open-Source feel, but will clearly do everything I want. If I took the time to optimize my workspace, I think it could replace most for-pay apps.

Inktober 2019 - Day 6 - Husky

Affinity Designer is a lower-cost professional illustration vector art program. It’s very streamlined and part of a larger suite that include Affinity Photo and Affinity Publisher. So far I’ve only used it for a few small sketches, but it the workflow is the best I’ve seen, and I really like the object tree feature. This shows every single individual item in the work on a tree, making it much easier to find and select things, especially when they’re all mobbed together. I’m looking forward to trying this one out on my new iPad to see how they set up the smaller workspace. At this point I think I like Affinity Designer the best.

On iOS:

Inkpad 2 is the app I used for most of Inktober. Despite the terrible review of this obsolete version, it’s cheap, very simple, has a great, intuitive interface, and supports most basic vector features like pens, pencils, path editing including some basic boolean operations, layers, opacity, blend modes, etc. The version I have is very old, so while I can export to Dropbox, I can’t import anything except raster images, so there’s no way for me to work on vector art I started with another app right now. It also doesn’t have any support for variable line width or gradient meshes, only linear and radial ones. However, it’s my goal to be able to drop professional level work with only this feature set no matter what tool I use. I suspect the newer version I can run on my Mini 4 will have more features. I think this is the current version, and it has spectacular reviews! I’ll report back when I can try the it!

Affinity Designer is available for iOS for $20, but I can’t try it until I get my new iPad.

Android:

Ivy Draw is the first good vector art app I found for Android. It’s interface is a little hard to learn, and the available documentation is very minimal, but once you figure it out, it’s amazing how much you can draw on your phone. It’s also very stable. However, its one major downfall is that gradients can’t be edited in the actual drawing. A separate dialog pops up with things like offsets, angle, etc., that have to be modified *without* being able to see the results on the original drawing. This makes complex gradients nearly impossible to use, and that sent me looking for an alternative, which was:

Infinite Design is another fully-featured vector app from the same developer who make the popular Infinite Paint. The Infinite in the title is support for (at least theoretically) infinite undos. This app has *much* better support for gradient editing in-picture than Ivy Draw. It also has substantially more features, brushes, support for variable line width, etc. Its interface also take some getting used to, and its documentation is also quite sparse for its complex feature set. Its biggest problem, though, is stability. The last time I did a drawing with it, it crashed at least 12 times. The Good News is that it didn’t lose any work, gracefully recovering my art exactly where I stopped next time I ran it. There is an active online forum, and the developer is also very responsive to feedback. I’ve already used my years of QA experience to help him remove a few of the more grievous bugs, something I plan to continue. At the moment this is the best option I’m aware of for vector on Android, and I’d love to see how it works on a bigger screen and with more general stability. At that point it would be a great option for artists who can’t afford the more expensive iOS devices but can score a used Android tablet.

I’m having fun trying out all these different options, and am becoming some of an expert on the competitive field for professional vector art apps. I’m actually picking up my new Mini today, so I’ll report back soon with the updated options on there.

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Inktober 2019 Wrap-up

Inktober 2019 - Day 22 - Ghost

I did it! I got started really late on Inktober this year. I had barely gotten anything out the door by the time October was half way done. The final sprint was epic! I finished five drawings on the 29th, six on the 30th, and another six on Halloween itself! Here’s the finished album!

Inktober 2019 Timeline_Wandering

This year I committed to doing all my artwork in vector format instead of ink. I have a strong belief that the skills of illustration can be learned *much* faster in vector than in raster or by hand, especially for work who’s destiny is a screen. When I started this month, I had barely done any real vector work. To be honest, I’ve been shocked at how well my artwork has turned out on such a tight deadline. The hardest part, as always, is to call a given piece “done enough” to start on the next one. I’d say the average time I spent on a piece was about two hours, with more earlier in the process. I got faster closer to the end. I had to!

Inktober 2019 - Day 9 - Swing

There was a lot more fun and less suffering than last year when I did my drawings by hand. I liked it enough that I’m looking to add professional illustrator to my resume. I’m already going to be doing artwork for my games and a planned web comic, and in the time it takes to make one game I could potentially do hundreds of illustrations. I know the business isn’t easy, so I’m going to research it thoroughly before I make any commitments.

Inktober 2019 - Day 7 - Enchanted

Though I am still researching a boatload of different vector drawing programs including Inkscape, Illustrator, Infinite Design, Ivy Draw, Affinity Designer, and a few others, I did almost all my work for Inktober using Inkpad 2 on my elderly iPad Mini original running an obsolete iOS 9. I definitely prefer working on a tablet to a computer, and really like having something portable I can use from anywhere. I’d really like to try Affinity Designer on a new iPad, and I’m saving up for one now. The only Inktober contribution this year I did with a different tool was The Death of the Pun Husky, which I did with Inkscape mainly because I started there and the version of Inkpad I have doesn’t support importing .SVG files anymore.

Inktober really helped focus me to get my vector design to the next level! It’s the most seriously I’ve taken illustration work in my life, and I’m super happy with the results. Next year I think I’m going to do half my work in ink and half of it in vector that *looks* like ink, and challenge people to guess the difference! I also really like the idea that Jack Parker did of making all of the pieces flow together. Instead of doing one huge scene, I think I might simply have some kind of through-line where something in drawing one flows through to drawing two, etc, all the way to the end.

Inktober 2019 - Day 31 - Ripe 1

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Inktober 2019 – Revenge of the Vectors

Inktober 2019 - Day 1 - Ring

I’m drawing for Inktober again this year, a shared drawing event where you draw a picture from a one-word prompt for every day of October. I’m working on mastering vector drawing, so I’m extending an existing art rule to Inktober. I must draw everything in vector format *first*, then must copy it to paper by hand at some point before the end of the month.

I just about jumped out a window getting this first picture finished. I started with Infinite Design on Android and got about half-way done before having to quit because of crashes. I’ve been working with the developer on fixing bugs, and he’s been very responsive, but the app still needs a lot of work. I then started over on Inkscape on OS X, got nearly finished, and it crashed too. Either I hadn’t saved my work, or the file got eaten in the crash. At that point I had to take a breather for a couple of hours for the sake of public safety. I finally finished it with Inkpad 2 on my obsolete iPad Mini, which is still consistently the best vector drawing experience I’ve had.

I’m already quite behind due to all the work involved in hosting my aunt and uncle right at the beginning of the month. The visit went really well despite my Mom having some minor health issues. My relatives have traveled to almost every National Park in the world, and always have amazing pictures of their journeys. We ate Slavic cabbage rolls, and beef roast with mashed potatoes, both family favorites going back generations. We lucked out with a dog festival in a little park nearby, and my uncle got to try out his new digital SLR.

Now that they’re gone, it’s time to try and catch up!

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The New Drawing Is Here

1) Find image
2) Create vector version
3) Create hand-drawn version using only the vector version

Here I did it on a deadline to contribute to the ComeDrawATX group draw. Other times I take longer to try to get more photo-realistic with gradients, etc. Using deadlines is better, though, because otherwise I tend to obsess and get stuck and frustrated. For now I want to emphasize getting through the entire process rather than the quality of the finished work. That will only come with lots more practice.

I’m using this pipeline in order to improve my hand and digital vector illustration chops. My goal is to have the ability to do this on Android, iOS, Windows, and OS X. I’m restricting myself to common feature of most or all apps. Those are basic curves and shapes, colors and gradients, and simple intersection geometry. I’m avoiding custom features that tie me to one app, at least until I get better at my basic skills.

Right now I’m using Ivy Draw and Infinite Design on Android, Inkpad on iOS, Clip Studio Paint and Affinity Designer on Windows, and Inkscape on OS X. Most of my work so far has been in Ivy Draw and Inkpad.

This time I used Inkpad on my elderly iPad Mini, which is stuck on iOS 9 and can no longer be upgraded. Once I get my resale pipeline moving again, I plan on getting a more modern tablet, probably a newer Mini, to replace it. I’m open to other suggestions, but it looks like the iPad still has the best balance of price and ability.

There’s a fundamental conflict here between the digital vector and hand-drawn steps that is deliberate. I’m trying to get *away*, at least at the moment, from anything digital involving sketching or painting. It’s 100% mechanical assembly, and I want every stroke, shape, and gradient to be fully vectorized and editable. Nothing pixelized or permanent anywhere. Then, obviously, when I do the physical rendering, I’m bringing all the sketchier hand-drawn skills in. This process trains photography, composition, vector design, and hand drawing all at once, and once I master it, will allow me to make high quality illustrations anywhere I go with minimal gear.

In the meantime, there is a *great* deal of swearing.

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Staying Cool in The Heatwave

It's hot as fuck in Austin.

It’s hotter in the yurt than I want right now. High 80s during the day. Fridge temp in the high 40s, and the freezer at 8 o F. Our daytime temps are over 100 o F, and the heat index is in the upper 100s. Worse yet, night time temps are only getting down into the upper 70s with close to 90% humidity overnight. This means that all forms of cooling are less efficient *and* that mold allergies are going crazy as it grows out each night and is then cooked into spore-generating panic during the heat of the day.

I recently removed most of the comforter insulation in the yurt to keep things cleaner. I made a foam gasket to help seal the join between the roof and the walls and improved the seal around the AC ducts. I also re-built the front door which was profoundly warped and allowing a lot of airflow. After I did that, I was able to keep the yurt at a maximum of about 82 o F on days it was getting into the upper 90s. However, since our latest heatwave hit, where it’s going into the 100s ever day and the heat index is in the upper 100s, the yurt temp has been slipping into the upper 80s, which is uncomfortable and unacceptable. I’ve also burned through a few extension cords in line with the AC unit because they were probably 16 or 14 gauge, which isn’t big enough to carry that much power. I rebuild that part of the electrical system using 12 gauge Romex used for house wiring, and now the wires only get mildly warm.

Right now I’ve got Reflectix radiant-barrier bubble-wrap under the billboard vinyl roof. The walls are just the vinyl. Previously all that was also covered with fabric insulation which both improved the air seal and helped keep the heat out. However, it was too hard to keep it clean, especially on the walls where it was really hard to remove. The AC unit I have is supposed to be good for up to 350 sq. ft. The yurt is only 113 sq. ft.

Those fridge temps are supposed to be about 38 o F and 0 o F respectively. I know it doesn’t get enough airflow over the coils, because moisture builds up in the drip tray and then starts to stink. I measured the temp on the surface of compressor, and it’s 118 of F. I’m gonna try putting a fan on the compressor to see if it will improve the internal temperatures. However, I bet that’s going to raise the average temperature in the yurt. One thing I’ve considered is making a vent tunnel just for the fridge where it pulls cooler air from under the yurt, circulates it across the compressor, and then pumps it back out again. If the outside air is at 100 o F in the shade, though, I’m not sure how much that would help. Adding the fan to the compressor is the first thing to try. If that lowers the internal temperature down to where it’s supposed to be, then maybe I can try the vent experiment.

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