Hackaday Links: August 5, 2018

Here’s something of historical interest. The daughter of Terry Holdt, project manager for the 6502, cleaned out a garage and found shelves full of MOS Technology binders, test results, notes, instructions for processes, letters to customers, and datasheets full of errata. Some of these documents have been posted on Twitter, and efforts are underway to collect, scan, upload, and preserve them. In the distance, a man in a fabulous suit is screaming, ‘donate them to the Internet Archive’.

This is a link to Defcad, the repository of 3D printable files for weapons. Under an agreement with the US Department of State, Defcad was set to go online on August 1st. This caused much handwringing in the tech journalist thoughtspace, with reporters calling to end the first amendment because they don’t like the second. Alyssa Milano chimed in. Defcad was ordered shut down by a federal judge in the western district of Washington before going live.

As you may well be aware, Printrbot ceased operations last month. It’s sad to see them go, but they made some acceptable machines and were really pushing the boundaries of what was possible with their infinite build volume prototype printer. But what about all those existing printrbots in the wild, you might ask. Well, good news for anyone who hasn’t changed their hotend over to an E3D yet: Ubis is going to be selling hotends. Get ’em while they’re hot (or not, I don’t know how this pun works).

File this one into the ‘awesome government auctions’ category. The city of Longmont, Colorado decommissioned their tornado sirens last year because they ‘self-activated’ and malfunctioned. These sirens were put up for auction, with a winning bid of $526. Someone bought the most annoying thing imaginable for just over five bills. The world of government auctions is amazing.

DefCAD Triggers HTTP 451

Depending on where you live, pointing your browser to Defcad.com yesterday may have shown you something you’d never seen before. It certainly did for me. That’s because I live in one of the two states (as of this writing) in the United States which have scrambled to block access to the online repository of firearm CAD files after they were approved for release by the US State Department.

Anyone using the internet in those states was presented with HTTP status code 451: “Unavailable For Legal Reasons”. This code was named for Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel “Fahrenheit 451″, in which books are burned to censor the information they contain. Rather than simply returning the traditional 403 error, 451 can be used to signal that the server is willing to serve the user the information, but is being prevented from doing so by court order.

Whatever your personal feelings are on the public having unfettered access to technical information on firearms, this is still a worrying development. The First Amendment covers more than literal speech: source code and technical data is a form of expression just as much as a poem or song, and are equally protected. If the federal government believes the files that Cody Wilson’s Defense Distributed offers up are not restricted by International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), then how can a citizen of the United States not view them? The question remains unanswered and overnight a federal judge granted a restraining order to restrict the website for the remaining states.

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3D Printering: The Problem Of Thingiverse

Most makers, I’m sure, enter into the 3D printing world with a goal in mind. Whether that’s printing enclosures for projects, Warhammer figurines, robot chassis, or even a mechanical computer, there is usually some obvious utility in having a 3D printer at home. 3D printers are a machine tool, though, and any time it’s not being used means it’s an investment with a lower return, or at the very least a really cool toy gathering dust.

Where then do you find new stuff to print that you don’t design yourself?

For the longest time now, Thingiverse has been the largest repository to share, browse, and download object other people have made. Even I have some very stupid stuff up on Thingiverse and have made use of a few random objects I found on there. This does not mean the 3D printer community particularly likes Thingiverse, however: Last year, Makerbot, the people behind Thingiverse, changed the terms of use so (allegedly) Thingiverse owns everything uploaded to their service. Couple this with completely unsubstantiated rumors of things being removed from Thingiverse that compete with Makerbot products, and you have a perfect storm of people unsatisfied with an online repository of 3D objects.

There is a huge market for an online repository of user-submitted 3D objects that isn’t controlled by Makerbot, and many have attempted to enter the fray. Defense Distributed, the guys behind the 3D printed AR lowers and all-plastic handguns launched DEFCAD, a Thingiverse clone, made an attempt by mirroring thousands of Thingiverse objects, removing the attribution in violation of these object’s licenses. Shady, yes, but at least it’s an option. There are other repos such as Cubehero and the newly launched YouMagine, a repo developed by Ultimaker. the Luke Skywalker to Makerbot’s Darth Vader.

But here is the problem with Thingiverse: even if you would like to get away from using this Makerbot service, it’s still the largest collection of 3D printed objects on the Internet. It has the most users, and is growing more each day than any of its competitors. Putting your objects anywhere else only means fewer people will see them, and fewer still will incorporate your designs into their new designs.

There are a few tools for you to ‘roll your own’ object repository. Github has a great new tool for viewing diffs between different versions of objects. There’s even a lot of work in making the Github landing page more like a Thingiverse page. This doesn’t address the core value of Thingiverse – if all the objects aren’t catalogued in one database, searchable by anyone, it’s just not as useful a site as Thingiverse.

I’m simply not smart enough to offer up a solution to this problem. Therefore, I’m turning it on to you: how should the 3D printer community retain the great value Thingiverse offers while still making something as usable as the now-malagined site? Should any new site mirror objects already on Thingiverse a la DEFCAD, only with proper attribution? Who should control the portal to all the objects, if anyone?

If you have any ideas on how to solve the problem of Thingiverse, drop a note in the comments.

DEFCAD, The Island Of Misfit Objects

Defense Distributed, the guys working on 3D printed guns and lower receivers for an AR-15, have a storied history with makers, corporations, and our elected representatives. When the news broke they were designing a 3D printed weapon, their $25,000 leased 3D printer was taken away from them. When their designs were too controversial for Thingiverse, they were taken down. Defense Distributed keeps on firing back, though, and now they’re hosting their own 3D model repo called DEFCAD.

In another one of Defense Distributed’s well-produced promo videos, they make their case for a repository of 3D models that doesn’t respond to takedown requests. Basically, 3D printing is a disruptive technology and is too important to be beholden to copyright lawyers, talking heads of the media, and, “the collusive members of the maker community”.

DEFCAD isn’t only about guns. They plan on hosting anything those in the upper echelons of power don’t like – or at least those with a copyright, patent, or trademark gripe – and never responding to a takedown request. It’s a great idea, somewhat akin to The Pirate Bay for physical objects, but actually popular.