If you ever go to a manufacturing show, you'll see lots of big incredibly expensive machines cutting little pieces out of big blocks of metal and other materials. The machines are controlled by computers and can even work in the dark, with no human nearby. The system is called CNC, which stands for Computer Numeric Control. Now you can get one of these for your home workshop.
They not cheap -- $935, and the work area is only 1 foot square. But, hey, we're talking robot manufacturing. A company called Inventables has a new version of their X-Carve machine that uses free Easel software you can download from the Web. You can watch a demo on YouTube from a guy calling himself The Drunken Woodworker. Starting out in Adobe Illustrator, he typed "Be Curious," and turned it into individually carved letters in walnut, tipping the "C" to add a little humor.
Basically, this what is called a milling machine, because it mills pieces of material out of a block to end up with the desired piece. X-Carve can carve soft and hard materials in a variety of metals, Corian plastic, cork, foam, wood and fiberboard. A larger carver, with a 31-by-31-inch work area, costs $1,400.
Perhaps because of the expense for home users, Inventables took its show on the road, awarding a 3-D printer to one school in each state. In Arkansas, the prize went to Washington Middle School in El Dorado. The contest was in response to President Barack Obama's challenge to schools to teach digital manufacturing. Schools that missed out on the contest can enter another one sponsored by NewMatter.com. New Matter is donating more than $200,000 in 3D printers to schools throughout the U.S. The deadline for applying for the grant is Feb. 5.
A similar milling machine is DreamMakers EvoOne. It raised more than double the funds it sought at Kickstarter.com. We're skeptical of crowd-funded products, but this one is backed by Digital Trends, Makezine, Arduino and many other companies. Its work area is around 15-by-9 inches and it claims to provide the ease of use of 3-D printing with the precision, speed and versatility of CNC.
Fun with Photos
Fotojet is a free online program for turning photos into magazine covers, greeting cards, and exotic prints or digital art without the bother of a learning curve (like the long one in figuring out Photoshop).
Joy started by putting her nephews on the cover of Time magazine. It was so good, complete with headlines, that she shared it on Facebook and saved it on her laptop. You can also share your creations on Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr or print them out.
Next she made a Valentine's Day card for Bob. It was as easy as dragging a photo into place and adding some words. You can add clip art and change the font. Fotojet could give American Greetings and Hallmark software a serious run for the money. After all, what's better than free? Of course, these greeting card programs still have a lot of extras to offer, but if you need a fun photo fast, go with Fotojet.
-- Google Shrunk its Streetview Cameras. Search on that phrase to find a video that takes you close-up inside the world's largest model railroad railway, part of Miniatur Wunderland, in Hamburg, Germany. According to Digital Trends, Google worked with Unilab to affix tiny cameras to the model trains, cars and boats to help you explore Miniatur Wunderland. Quite charming.
-- Publicdomain.nypl.org/pd-visualization takes you to thousands of items you can download for free from the New York Public Library. These were all online before but are newly downloadable. You can group the collection by century (going as far back as the 11th century) or by color or genre. In the 20th century section, we saw a lot of commercial posters, and we like those, but there's a little bit of everything.
-- 100 Dancing Drones Set World Record. Search on that phrase to find a YouTube video showing Intel breaking the Guinness Book of Records. They created a swarm of drones that could dance to Beethoven's Fifth, spell out "Intel" and otherwise astonish us. The military possibilities struck us immediately. And no, we're not kidding.
-- Explore America's History with these Interactive Maps. Search on that phrase to find four maps from the University of Richman's American Panorama collection. One shows that in 1849, the Erie Canal transported over 1.6 million tons of cargo. Another follows the journeys of those on the Mormon Trail, the Oregon Trail and the California Trail through the 1860s. Another shows the forced migration of slaves.
-- 99 Beers in 99 Cities. Search on those words to find the Livability.com list of the best beers in many towns. It draws on data from RateBeer.com as well as map-maker Esri, which helped find cities and towns where people buy a lot of beer. Seems to be heavy on college towns, but nothing much out West.
Decluttr.com is an online service that buys your unwanted DVDs, CDs and video games. They noted that Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 was the most traded video game over Christmas.
Recently, we warned against writing your name and address on luggage tags, since burglars might figure you're not home. Instead, we said, you might use smart labels from HomingPIN. These can be tracked worldwide by the airports' own system.
After writing that, we heard from a reader with a low-tech solution: Write only your name and email address or name and phone number. He points out that he wants the finder to reach him where he is now, not at his home. (We have some smart readers.)
Bob and Joy Schwabach can be reached by email at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
SundayMonday Business on 01/25/2016