Review of 2013

It’s been a really long time since I last updated my blog. I’ve been very busy at work last year and also have been equally busy pursuing a lot of hobbies.

I have been keeping up my music related hobbies including piano and violin practice. Due to lack of free time, I dropped cello for a bit, but I’m hoping to restart it again this year. So far I’m feeling I’ve improved in both piano and violin, but I am still not yet satisfied with my piano skills yet. I am still a bit weak at my sightreading which is preventing me from playing all the anime songs I enjoy, but I’m now learning songs from the music sheet and learning techniques to take the songs of the page into memory which I believe will take me that step further to playing the songs I want to play.

As for violin, I have been making good progress every week and I am just starting on learning a bit of vibrato. My teacher has also said I am almost ready to be able to start playing in an orchestra. I still am not happy with my intonation yet, although it is improving. I am quite good with sightreading, but need the practice so that I can play songs in tune and correctly despite any added pressure. This is so I can record myself playing easier. At the moment, there are too many mistakes that I can’t easily make my own piano and violin combination videos to post onto youtube.

At the beginning of last year, I had the problem that I was struggling with trying to memorize all the simply music songs on my playlist. I recovered my playlist, but due to work being too busy, I have been struggling throughout this year to keep up with all the songs.

Apart from music, I’ve been quite into making a lot of stuff. I got into some hobby electronics and built several headphone amplifies and some speaker amps. I even built a couple of tube amplifier kits and fabricated my own PCBs to make my own CanAmp headphone amp clone which I’m proud of. I also designed and build my own metronome for music practice. I then moved on from discrete electronics into some PIC chip programming to try make some other projects included a test project to play a ham radio greeting with my call sign on a buzzer in Morse code.

I also got into 3D printers as they have become popular lately. Around the middle of last year, I bought a RepRap 3d printer kit from MakerFarm of the 8” i3 Prusa. It is a laser cut kit and it took me about 2 weeks to put it together. I bought my kit around the same time as another person at work bought the same kit, so we worked together to debug issues until we got it working. It was a lot of work and looking back, there was a lot of trial and error needed to learn how to get it printing decently. The printer kept falling apart while printing or something would happen that would cause the prints to fail and I’d have to try figure out how to fix it. Thanks to that, I wasted a lot of time, but also learnt a lot of how to fix all of the issues. Now I can keep it running fairly reliably since I know it inside out. Recently I modified the kit to add automatic bed levelling and it involved updating the firmware to enable the feature. It turned out that the newer firmware had bugs in it, so I had to make some changes to it to get it working on my printer.

I bought a Makerbot Replicator 1 dual extruder printer just before Christmas from someone that was upgrading. I managed to get it at a great price of $700 which was the same price I paid for my MakerFarm kit. I was very impressed with the reliability of it and every print on it was successful. Unfortunately, a couple of weeks in, the Mighty board electronics on it died and I had a lifeless 3d printer which needed repairs. I contacted Makerbot about it and was quoted $250US to get a replacement board, but managed to get it sent for free instead luckily. I am expecting it to arrive next week sometime.

Shortly after the Replicator 1 died, I spotted another cheap 3d printer on eBay that I managed to win for $500. I won a Solidoodle 2 Pro. I was looking forward to getting it, however I found out once it arrived that it had arrived broken. Sad smile
The bed was broken and on an angle and the extruder had broken completely off the hotend. The seller however was very helpful and paid for a replacement part for the 3d printer. In the meanwhile I was able to use my other 3d printer to print some parts to fix it up enough to get it printing until I get the replacement.

My experience with 3d printers has been that they are very slow. Also they don’t seem to have very good resale value, so you can pick up a 2nd hand preassembled one cheaper than buying a kit if you look hard enough. Since the printers are slow, my solution is to have multiple printers to print stuff concurrently so I can enjoy making stuff rather than waiting days to print out complicated  things made of several parts. To me time is very limited, so if I have multiple printers printing my projects, I can enjoy 3d printing better than if I have to struggle printing a part for hours on one printer.

Yesterday I printed out some parts for a simple 3d printer called the SmartRap and ordered the parts for it on eBay. It will be a project for me to make which will be my first 3d printer that I would print out and source the parts myself.

One of my goals is to use the 3d printers to create my own figures. This involves learning 3d software to create my own designs to print out. I have not made much progress in this area yet unfortunately.

I also made a decision to buy Makerbot’s Digitizer while it was on sale over Christmas and New Years. Although there were other competitors out there with cheaper scanners, and some more expensive but with higher specs I decided on Makerbot’s one mainly because of the time saved. I looked at a review of the high resolution Next Engine scanner and it seems to require a lot of mucking around after the scan to make it 3d printable and the higher resolution scans took hours to do. The Makerbot one only takes about 10 minutes and it also makes it instantly 3d printable without mucking around with it. The latest software also seems to improve scan quality, so I feel that what I pay for in the scanner is not really the hardware, but the software which saves you so much time. To compensate for lesser detail, I am planning on learning some 3d modelling tools such as blender to tweak the scans before I print them. This would help me achieve my goal of making a figure. I could sculpt a figure in clay (already have one half made), scan it, tweak the scan and print out a kit that I can assemble and paint.

Going back to electronics, I took an interest in the idea of robotics after getting my 3d printer and trying to take my electronics further with the PIC chip programming. This didn’t really progress much, but I bought myself some servos, a servo control board and was intent on building my own robot. Then I saw Danny Choo’s robot doll and wanted to try replicate it myself with my 3d printer and using similar servos but using a Raspberry Pi instead. In the end, I didn’t pursue it because the parts were very hard to source and the ones I could were very expensive to import. Also I still need to learn how to use blender to sculpt a doll to 3d print and I hadn’t learnt to interface with all the various servos and sensors using a PIC chip/Raspberry Pi.

I don’t know now if I still want to pursue this goal, but it would be fun. Now with the 3d scanner, making the doll base from my existing dolls would be possible and adjusting the models to fit the electronics would be possible. But even if i made a robot doll,  I wouldn’t know what I could make it do apart from dance.

In regards to anime and video games, I have to say I haven’t been catching up with all the latest episodes of anime lately due to work getting too busy. Same can be said about games. I still have quite a backlog of anime and games to go through. I’ve moved from downloading anime to just streaming them using Crunchyroll which a friend at an anime club I go to JAFWA suggested. It allows me to watch all the series instantly without any wasted time downloading stuff i don’t know if I like it or not. It has helped me keep up with the popular shows when I have limited time to watch. As for games, I mainly play visual novels and have moved from playing on consoles to mobile devices. I play the steins;gate 2nd game on iPad and iPod Touch when I’m on the bus and play little busters and other visual novels on my PS Vita. I have now bought an Apple TV so I can watch Crunchyroll easier on a cheap dedicated small box with a remote.

I haven’t bought many figures lately as my room is too full. There are many new figures I would love to buy but I have to just not look at them as there is no space left. I still have many unopened figures that I did eventually open a lot of them, but there are still a lot of unopened figures I have in storage from previous Japan trips.

Talking about Japan trips, I did go to Japan in April last year. It was a great trip and I met up with one of my good Japanese friends who took me around. I also went to a lot of concerts including Kalafina and watched the final screening of Love Live anime in a cinema and meeting the voice actors.
I took a different look at Akihabara last year and instead of anime, focused on the electronic goods. This is where I bought my PIC programmer, lots of chips and kits. I also looked at audiophile headphones and earphones and bought myself a pair of Sony EX1000 in-ear earphones which are the best sounding earphones I’ve heard.

Currently I’m holding off going back to Japan to save money for my own house and to improve my music skills so I can make my own doujin music CD full of my own arrangements and compositions. Currently I’ve only made one arrangement, but I hope to make more.

I am on holidays at the moment, but it’ll end this weekend. I plan to compose a song and arrange something, but it’s looking unlikely. I am struggling to catch up with all my piano practice and I know that doing that would help me achieve my goal of arranging and composing songs. I aim to arrange and compose anime and game songs as a hobby, so I am working towards this.

One thing I have noticed is that I have a lot of hobbies and goals that I want to work towards. I know that I try to do too much by myself and I just don’t have enough time to enjoy all of my hobbies. I want to be a good musician/composer, a good artist and good at building stuff. I want to make stuff and share it with others. There is a satisfaction from making something that I enjoy. I feel that being an Otaku isn’t about being a super consumer and buying crazy amounts of anime/game goods. The true Otakus are the ones that not only consume the media and goods but also create them and give back to the community.

This year, I hope that I have made significant progress towards my goals. I certainly have had an interesting year last year and I look forward to learning more and pursuing my hobbies.

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