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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Shapeways Road: A Second Mile

This post is a sequel to the post: The Road to Shapeways

Steve Cole writes:
   
When we opened our store on Shapeways on 20 June, we had said we would add more ships on the first of every month. That meant that the next uploads would be on 1 July, only 10 days later. Given the problems we had, obstacles we found, and lessons we learned I made a command decision to delay the second batch to 10 July, which would split the time between 20 June and 1 August. I told Jean, who said that she had been meaning to talk to me because the week of the fourth of July is a retail dead zone when people are spending time with family not money on hobbies. She changed my plan to 11 July because sculptors would be working over the weekend and she would need a day to upload whatever landed on her desk Monday morning. The sculptors didn't care why we made the delay; they were just glad to get the extra time. That paid off with a huge 30-item release.
       

The first stage of developing the second release batch was a combination of expanding the current empires and using models already on file. Will McCammon easily turned his D7B into the D6S (or so he thought), and we asked him to upload his existing two-pod freighter. Matthew Lawson already had Omega, Seltorian, and Frax ships on file so he just had to tweak the existing models to account for things we had learned and upload them. Steve Zamboni had been scheduled to provide the two small civilian tugs, and we loved his Tholian Web Tender so much that we assigned him to do other Tholian ships as well. Gary Pollock had already done several Hydrans, and Chris Nasipak was working on the Lyrans.
      

Many lessons had been learned, some of them not quite well enough, as it turned out. Nothing is as easy as it seems. The freighter Will did for us in metal had to be modified to print in plastic. Endless small details like stand holes and phaser bumps had to be checked and re-checked. The D6S that was simple to create failed again and again in pre-checks, even when it was a combination of already approved elements. Will pushed hard, learned a lot of lessons about sensor dishes, and got the D6S to work. A ten-minute job had taken over four hours.
 

Jean said she wanted a monster, and Matthew Lawson had one already done, the incredibly dangerous Igneous. We decided to offer this in three sizes to give price options, then coordinated with Steven Petrick to have him create alternative rules for the SFB scenario to account for multiple monsters of various sizes.
      

The big thing we learned was the concept of a "new start" such as a new empire (Tholians, Hydrans, Lyrans) or a new ship type (fighters, gunboats). Any new start requires that a lot of work go into the first ship and the overall concept, including work by Will McCammon (who as chief engineer set the scale), Jean Sexton (marketing), and Steve Cole (universe background, sculptor coordination, and production). It turned out later that Leanna Cole (accounting and finance) also had a major part to play in each "new start" that would leave us waiting hours for her input (because that's how much work we had to ask her to do getting answers).
      

Jean decided that since almost every Hydran ship had fighters, the fighters had to go on sale with the ships. That caused a major uproar (and cost us the Klingon C8 which was pushed back into August because of the extra work this caused Will McCammon). Starting fighters required lots of research with the existing metal miniatures, what materials would work on Shapeways on such small pieces with smaller points and bumps, the sprue design (and the number of pieces). In a very real sense, we had to stop and get a pretty good grip on the Federation and Klingon fighters before we could finish the Hydrans. The same thing happened with the gunboats. The parts had to be designed, as well as the sprue, and that took a lot of hours. Then for reasons nobody understood the gunboat sprue worked on the Tholians but not the Klingons.
  

Starting a new empire, on the other hand, requires developing a look and feel, as well as the design of each greeble (bump or other detail), and establishing a scale for the ship. The sculptors learned to build a hull but not populate it with details until the size was established. Since we hadn't learned this quite yet in late June, lots of ships had to be essentially done over, but the sculptors quickly learned to keep the size-critical feature details separate and add them only once the hull was sized.
        
Some things we had considered doing got delayed. Will was going to do the Klingon C8 but pushed it back to make time for the "new starts" in this product cycle. Steve Zamboni had done the Kzinti dreadnought that it turned out we didn't need, but rather than release it as the only Kzinti ship in the range we held off to have additional ships done for a later release date, perhaps September or October. Matthew Lawson had some Federation fighters done, but we had so much trouble with the Hydrans that we decided to hold the Feds until we could design, scale, and release all of the drone-armed (Klingon, Kzinti, multiple Fed) fighters together. Chris Nasipak got his Lyran destroyer finished and delivered four more ships to us at the last minute (leaving us no time for public comment), but we decided that enough crazy things had happened that the Lyrans deserved a thorough cross-fleet review before any of their ships were released. They'll be along on the first of August.
    
We learned that lots of things we knew were not true. For example, it's easy to scale-up a 3788 ship to 3125 (just increase it 21%) but then you have to go back and update the stand hole, which needs to be the same size in both scales. When you upload a ship to Shapeways there is an automatic check, but in some cases a ship that was uploaded a few minutes earlier will change from approved to not-approved as the computer grinds through all of the details. One sculptor uploaded a green-light ship only to watch it change from green-light to yellow-light to red-light before his very eyes. (One would assume that approved is going to stay approved, but that ship didn't work that way.) In other cases, ships were "as green as Kermit the frog" but failed the manual checks that are only done when a customer actually orders the first copy. That resulted in a couple of upset customers having to reorder ships once we fixed them.
       
Meanwhile, I struggled through the process to keep track of which sculptor was how far along on which ships and what did he need to finish it. Because we were learning the system, that shoved a lot of work onto Chief Engineer McCammon who had to design the fighter and PF sprues, and check everybody's ships and scale, all while trying to finish his own ships. Every day it seemed we added and/or dropped a ship from the process. The original company policy was not to put on Shapeways anything we were selling in metal, but after Leanna spent a day reviewing sales figures she (24 hours before the upload time) cleared us to upload several of the 3788 ships we were  holding. The sculptors worked quickly to get the extra files to us, files that in some cases took extra work.
       
It was not over when it was over. Hours after we uploaded one item, word came from Shapeways that sample copies the sculptor ordered a week earlier (for his own amusement) had failed to print. We would have expected that report to come much earlier than it did. So we had to jump through hoops to get that item replaced the morning after the release. Then it wouldn't print again, and then again.
    
We have learned a lot, but we have the team trained and we're trying to set up a system that runs like the Department of Agriculture doing the month's crop reports, not like NASA doing a one-time heroic Mars shot with crisis management.


 

The Tholian Patrol Corvette is available 
on ADB's store on Shapeways.


Monday, July 17, 2017

This Week at ADB, Inc., 9-15 July 2017

Steve Cole reports:

This was the week we released 30 new products on our store on Shapeways and tried to maintain some progress on the ongoing projects.
        
Steve Cole worked mostly on Shapeways but did manage to do some blogs, the two newsletters, and make progress on other projects.
        
Steven Petrick worked on Captain's Log #53, quality control assembly and shipping, the Star Fleet Battles modules R3 and C3 updates, and the Kzinti and Gorn Master Starships Books.
      
Leanna kept orders and accounting up to date.
   
Mike kept orders going out and rebuilt the inventory.
   
Simone did website updates and some graphics.
   
Wolf guarded the office, chasing away a very pretty Russian lawyer who said she had valuable information.
       
Jean worked on the GURPS Prime Directive revision, managed our page on Facebook (which is up to 3,850 friends), managed our Twitter feed (229 followers), commanded the Rangers, dealt with the continuing spam assault on the BBS, managed the blog feed, got the ships uploaded to Shapeways, proofread the two newsletters, took care of customers, and did some marketing.
 
 
 Tholian Arachnid Gunboats 
in Our Store on Shapeways
 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Second Wave of Ships Released!

On July 11, 2017, Amarillo Design Bureau released its second wave of ships in its store on Shapeways.

The Klingons get some love with the D6S, a heavy scout cruiser and a G1 gunboat flotilla, including the leader and scout gunboats.

The Tholians show up with a web tender, their iconic patrol corvette, and a flotilla of Arachnid gunboats.

The Hydrans have a strong opening with a Lancer destroyer, Ranger cruiser, Mongol medium cruiser, and Stingers for you to add to the ships.

The Seltorians have a light cruiser and frigate added to the destroyer and heavy cruiser.

The Frax get a frigate and war cruiser to add to their war destroyer and heavy cruiser.

What are they going to fight? Well, there’s Igneous, a monster that is available in three sizes.

So you need to expand your freighter collection? We’ve added a harbor tug, a salvage tug, and the traditional large freighter.

Spread your wings and try the Omega Octant! We chose two traditional foes to open with: the Maesron Alliance and Trobrin Empire. The Maesrons get a destroyer and heavy cruiser; the Trobrins get their heavy cruiser and frigate.

Check all these out here: https://www.shapeways.com/shops/amarillo-design-bureau-inc

Monday, July 10, 2017

This Week at ADB, Inc., 2-8 July 2017

Steve Cole reports:

This week was dominated by doing things for the Shapeways Store, and getting new releases ready for the 11th. We learn as we go along, but every "new thing we start doing" takes a big chunk of time to define scale, features, and other parameters. With the 11 July release we are working on fighters, gunboats, Hydrans, Lyrans, and Tholians; with each of those we spent an enormous amount of time doing "the first one of each" thing. A smarter idea would have been to just try doing two new things a month but everyone is so excited to get new ships into the store. One of the new ships is the 3125 Scale Klingon D6S Heavy Scout Cruiser.



       

The Starlist Update Project moved forward with two new entries and two updates.
 

Steve Cole worked mostly on the Shapeways store but did a few blogs and a couple of other projects.
     

Steven Petrick worked on Captain's Log #53, quality control assembly and shipping, the Star Fleet Battles Module R3 update, and the Kzinti and Gorn Master Starship Books.
      

Leanna kept orders and accounting up to date.
   

Mike kept orders going out and rebuilt the inventory.
   

Simone did website updates and some graphics.
   

Wolf guarded the office, chasing away a pterodactyl.
    

Jean worked on the GURPS Prime Directive revision, managed our page on Facebook (which is up to 3,843 friends), managed our Twitter feed (229 followers), commanded the Rangers, dealt with the continuing spam assault on the BBS, managed the blog feed, worked on the Shapeways store, took care of customers, and did some marketing.

Friday, July 07, 2017

The Road to Shapeways

Steve Cole writes:
   
Every time we do a Captain's Log, we have to go through a decision cycle for several things so that we know what to announce. When we did Captain's Log #52, there was a lot of behind-the-scenes discussion of the Starline 2500 line and what to do with it.
  
The 2500s (1/3125-scale) had more than their share of problems from the very start. Tests with resin had been very good, but actual production of resin ships failed to work so Mongoose had to shift to metal. That got a lot of people upset. Then a contractor working for Mongoose could only meet production goals by shipping everything they made, including ships that customers considered defective. Those had to be replaced, costing money and upsetting customers. Even after ADB, Inc. took over the 2500s and imposed our high standards of quality control, too many players had already rejected the line, saying they did not trust anyone to do the ships right, or on time, or as advertised. It didn't help that once we saw what was going on we found that the ships were too expensive to make and the only way to keep them on the market at all was as mail-order-only products. This made things difficult for overseas customers who bought a far higher percentage of the 2500s compared to the 2400s.
        
ADB, Inc. released many new 2500s, but for all of the above reasons they didn't sell very well and actually lost money. Players were also complaining that the Klingon, Kzinti, and Romulan dreadnoughts had never been released in metal. (We tried, they could not be done economically and some of them could not be physically done at all. Considering it would cost over $500 to put each dreadnought into production and dreadnought sales were usually 1/5 of cruiser sales, this was not practical.)
    
We were on the verge of discontinuing the 2500s and doing the CGIs over as 2450s (in 1/3788 scale) when we decided to at least do some research on Shapeways as a way to release enough 2500s to keep the line alive. Part of our research was to ask an expert who had, two years earlier, convinced us not to do Shapeways because quality miniatures with our details (specifically the phaser mounts) could not be done at sub-astronomical prices. He noted that technology was improving and costs coming down and that Shapeways had become a viable option.
     
So after consulting with Mongoose we announced on 10 March that we¹d open a store on Shapeways and have Mongoose release the missing dreadnoughts there. We expected this to happen in 10-15 days; it actually took 99 days.
    
While the project was starting, Will McCammon asked if he could do a couple of 2500 (1/3125th) ships that were never going to be available in metal anyway (the Klingon F5S and Romulan SkyHawk-L). We consulted with Mongoose and they agreed. About the time those ships were finished, Steve Cole had a bright idea and asked Will to do a "large freighter with skids and ducktail" any time he had the chance. Will said that was so easy that he did it at once and it became a part of the original release plan.
        
When we were within days of opening the store we ordered samples (so we¹d have photographs) and found that it would take three weeks to get them instead of three days. So the store opening was delayed 18 days. During that time, Matthew Lawson (who does a lot of cover art for us) said that his ships (and he had dozens of them) could be added to the store if we wanted them. We agreed, and the evolution of thought started to change the focus of the Shapeways store in directions we never considered.
    
Meanwhile Mongoose had some problems. Their sculptor (the beautiful and talented Sandrine Thirache) had a death in her family which took her out of the office for three weeks, delaying the opening of the store. When she got back, she had to catch up on other work, which delayed us two more weeks. Meanwhile Jean had done a survey of the market and determined that if we didn¹t have the Federation CA and Klingon D7 in the store (in both scales) on the first day, we¹d never be taken seriously. So we asked Sandrine to convert her existing CGIs for this purpose. After weeks of trying to get those two ships (and the rest of the missing dreadnoughts) to work, Sandrine officially gave up. Her CGIs were not originally done to Shapeways standards and could not be made to match them (other than the relatively simple Vulture). She would have to start over, and Mongoose said it was doubtful if she could be spared to start over on every ship in the 2500 range. They bowed out of the project in late May. We then asked Will McCammon and Matthew Lawson about doing the Federation CA and Klingon D7. Will McCammon rose to the task and did them in record time (which still took two weeks). Meanwhile, Matthew Lawson did some other ships for us including the DemonHawk. He already had Frax and Seltorians ready and these were also prepared for release.
        
On 6 June, Steve Cole noticed a Shapeways ship (the WYN dreadnought "Nancy") that Steve Zamboni had done for his own amusement, knowing he could not sell it. Steve Cole was so blown away that he asked Steve Zamboni to join the sculpting team. Steve Zamboni said that while the Nancy would take some rework for series production, he had two dozen freighters ready for us to use immediately. So we added three of his freighters to the initial release package. Before the store had opened, we had seen nice work by two other sculptors and began to talk with them about their joining the team.
   
Somewhere along the line all of the confusion by the sculptors over the Starline 2400, 2425, 2450, 2500, and 2501 lines convinced us to rebrand everything (for Shapeways only) as 1/3125-scale, 1/3788-scale, and Omni-scale.
  
When Will McCammon told us that the Federation CA and Klingon D7 would be ready by 17 June, Jean and Steve Cole penciled in a store opening for 19 June. Every time they mentioned this in public they added the caveat that it probably would be a bit later as there were doubtless issues we didn¹t even know about yet to be surmounted. Steve Cole named Will McCammon "Chief Engineer" for the project and asked him to verify the size and scale of every other sculptor's ships. This made his life miserable as he had to finish his ships while checking everyone else¹s but he rose to the challenge.
        
Leanna Cole insisted that the store not be opened until the sculptors were under contract. This happened, taking a few days longer than it should have due to email problems.
   
Finally, on June 20th, all was ready. The ships were uploaded into our private account, all of the contracts were signed, all of the pricing data established, the sales description text had been proofread, and everyone had enjoyed a nourishing lunch. Jean, Leanna, and Steve Cole had cleared their schedules for the day so that whatever was needed could be done. Jean then officially opened the store.
       
And ran into a brick wall.
      
Moving each ship into the public "for sale" area was taking over 30 minutes per ship (we had allowed five) because there was so much data to enter. When you start at 1pm and have 21 ships to do and each of them takes a half-hour, well, you do the math. Things got better, and things got worse. Jean got faster, cutting down the upload time from 30 minutes to 25 then 20 and finally doing the last ship in about 15 minutes. (She also learned that all of that work could have been done before opening the store, so in future we'll have all of the ships ready to go on release day and need just a few seconds per ship to move them to the "for sale" area.) However, we found that two of the ships had problems, so they came down off sale, then went back up when we figured out they didn't have problems, then one of them had to be re-uploaded (which takes at least an hour) because we had the wrong file. Steve Cole bought Jean dinner in exchange for an agreement to work to 10pm and get all 21 ships uploaded and the official launch was complete. We had five orders by 10:15pm, and more the next morning.
   
But the launch was not over. When orders began to arrive, one of the ships failed to print despite having passed the Shapeways pre-checks. Fortunately, the sculptor recognized the error message (which was actually reporting the wrong error but he had seen it before) and he fixed it within a few hours.

Federation Heavy Cruiser 

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

RANDOM THOUGHTS #292

Steve Cole's list of surprising facts about World War II that few historians, and even fewer regular people, are aware of.
        
1. The invasion of Japan was expected to be so bloody that the US planned to drop eight Hiroshima-type bombs on the invasion beaches to destroy the Japanese defenses, then land US troops into the blast zones the next morning. (Nobody at the time understood radioactive fallout.)
        
2. Those vertical steel panels on the sides of German tanks (four or five feet square) did a swell job of causing bazooka rounds to detonate away from the hull, protecting the tank, but that's not why they were originally there. In fact, the Germans started adding panels before bazooka rockets were used on the battlefield. Here's what was going on. The Russians had deployed tens of thousands of anti-tank rifles which (from 150 yards) could penetrate the side armor of German tanks (even the Panther) if they were aimed at the spot between the upper track and the roller wheels. German experiments found it was easier to fit the tanks with 5mm steel plates that would cause the bullets to tumble and lose energy than it was to add 10mm of armor to the tank body itself.
   
3. Everyone knows the story. The Germans tried to build an atomic bomb and gave up because it was too hard. There is some indication, however, that this is all a cover story and that they really did try to build a nuclear bomb. A very secret "synthetic rubber" factory at Monowitz never produced a bit of rubber but had trucks coming and going all the time and "used more electricity than the city of Berlin." If it was a "heavy water" factory, or a uranium enrichment plant, that would fit. Few know that the bomb the Germans had designed (the "Heisenberg Device" in The Man in the High Castle) was actually a hydrogen fusion bomb, not a uranium fission bomb, and would have been 10 times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
        
4. Everyone knows about the German V1 flying bomb and V2 ballistic missile. A few even know about the V3 cannon which had multiple boost chambers to produce incredible range, enough to bombard London. This cannon (laying on a hillside) was destroyed by allied bombing. Few if any know that the SS took over the project and build two smaller cannons of the multi-chamber type, using them to fire 183 shells into Luxembourg City from a range of 50 miles during the Battle of the Bulge.
      
5. Anyone with any knowledge of World War II knows that the Germans were getting heavy water from Norway to build their nuclear bomb. This was the world's only factory making heavy water. Why? I had just assumed that the Norwegians had found a spring that was heavier than other water sources, but no, they were making heavy water, which was very hard to do. Here's the story. When the industrial revolution went electric, all advanced countries surveyed their rivers for good places to build hydroelectric dams (which even today are the cheapest and greenest way to make electricity, but almost all have been built). Vemork was found to be the world¹s best place to build a hydroelectric dam, with a major river falling over a thousand feet. The problem was that Vemork was remote and there were few customers for that much electricity. Norwegian industry found a solution. They built the world's biggest hydroelectric plant, then used it to split the water (which had just run the turbines) into oxygen (sold to hospitals) and hydrogen (sold to fertilizer companies). The plant used most of its power output in the adjacent gas factory. The waste water from the process was about 10% heavy water compared to a normal 1/6 of 1%. People had known about heavy water since 1931 but nobody knew what to do with it. Hundreds of chemical and physics labs around the world conducted endless experiments, each needing a gallon a year. Norsk Hydro added a special seven-stage system to turn the 10% heavy waste water into 99% heavy water, using electricity the dam produced but no customer wanted. When the world market for heavy water proved to be too small to make a profit, the plant was shut down. Then a few months later, atomic scientists discovered that heavy water could be used to moderate a nuclear reactor, and suddenly the French, British, and Germans wanted lots of heavy water, so the plant was turned back on. The Norwegians decided not to sell any heavy water to the Germans, but the German invasion (done to protect the iron supply that went through Narvik) changed that. It then fell to Norwegian commandos to slip into the country and destroy the heavy water shipments en route to Germans. See the movie Heroes of Telemark.
        
6. Even casual historians know that the German type-XXI U-boat was the greatest submarine invented in World War II. Its greatness, however, came by accident. The Germans had designed that series of subs to use hydrogen peroxide engines that would run without air, i.e., while the submarine was submerged. This would allow subs to operate submerged much faster than ever before, and for days or weeks not hours. The engine couldn't be made work in time, but the subs were designed and in production. They had a figure-8 hull. This consisted of two tubes each the size of a normal submarine hull, one stacked on top of the other. The lower hull was to be a huge hydrogen peroxide fuel tank. Without the need for the fuel, the Germans suddenly found themselves with a conventional submarine with twice the internal volume. This allowed them to add more diesel fuel, many more batteries (type-XXIs could run two entire days on batteries instead of just six hours), and expanded crew quarters with showers and sinks. No other submarine had enough fresh water to provide the crew with full-time showers. (US subs could allow their crews about a minute of shower time per day and even nuclear submarines today are always short of fresh water.)

Monday, July 03, 2017

This Week at ADB, Inc., 25 June - 1 July 2017

Steve Cole reports:
 
This was a week of steady work on current projects. We did decide to delay Shapeways Batch II until 11 July to avoid the fourth of July retail black hole week.
        
Steve Cole worked on the Shapeways store, blogs, and other projects.
    
Steven Petrick worked on the Star Fleet Battles Module R3 update, quality control assembly and shipping, and the Kzinti Master Starship Book.
      
Leanna kept orders and accounting up to date.
   
Mike kept orders going out and rebuilt the inventory.
   
Simone did website updates and some graphics.
        
Wolf guarded the office, chasing away a mastadon. He wanted to kill and eat it, but Jean said no.
        
Jean worked on the GURPS Prime Directive revision and the Shapeways store, managed our page on Facebook (which is up to 3,847 friends), managed our Twitter feed (229 followers), commanded the Rangers, dealt with the continuing spam assault on the BBS, managed the blog feed, took care of customers, and did some marketing.

 
 GURPS Prime Directive Chapter Heading