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April 6, 2012

Five geek projects

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Network World - At the end of last week I slipped on a wet floor, did a wild, balletic (or so I thought) attempt to recover, and wrenched my knee and leg. The next four days were a blur of X-rays and Vicodin. Luckily nothing broken, but I’ve had better weekends.

I spent much of Saturday and Sunday browsing the Web and adding to my growing list of “Stuff I Must Write About”. As an experiment, this week I’m going to give you a tasting menu of products and services you really should check out …

* Shapeoko: This is a low cost Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine for milling all kinds of materials, including plastics, woods, metals, and maybe even chocolate. The Shapeoko is available as a DIY, open source tool that can mill objects up to 7.87 inches along both X and Y axes, and 3.5 inches on the Z axis. You can use software such as Google Sketchup, Autodesk 123D, TinkerCAD, or Inkscape to create your objects. The mechanical parts-only kit is $199, the full kit is $649, and the premium kit, $999. The developers of the product are approaching this as a “jumpstart” kind of business and want 150 orders if they are to deliver any units at all. At the time of this writing they have 107 on order with 19 days to go … I’d be surprised if they don’t go to production. I might need one myself …

* TinkerCAD: While I’m at it, check out TinkerCAD … this is an impressive online service (written in JavaScript) for HTML5 compatible browsers with the WebGL library) that lets you create simple 3D objects and then print them using one of a number of fabricating services such as Shapeways. Rating: 5 out of 5

* Arena Partslist: If you have a need to create parts lists for any project, check this service out. It is cheap at $9 per user per month but free for personal use (for example, for your open source 3D fab projects). This is a slick, polished system that makes creating and managing a bill of materials extremely easy. Rating: 5 out of 5

* MongoDB: This NoSQL, free, open-source database is getting a lot of attention these days. Why? My theory is based on Darwinian evolution … “looser” standards (in biology, less specialized genotypes) have a better chance of fitting a “natural” niche environment for success at survival (the dimensions of a “natural” niche aren’t, in reality, so overly restrictive as to be unsurvivable for a reasonable number of individual implementations to flourish). As a friend of mine, John Hoebing, noted, “[MongoDB's] table/row/column replacement of collection/document/field is so much looser than [SQL]. Mongo [claims] that horizontal scalability is the killer app, but I’m guessing it’s more the relaxed structure. Still, I am impressed, and am going to use [MongoDB] for my next db. Who doesn’t need less structure?”

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