For hardware companies, it has become very challenging to compete in that market. Recovering rocket scientist Joan Horvath and hacker Rich Cameron team up to form Nonscriptum when they realized nobody’s doing any training and authored quite a few books on 3D printing. Joan shares that something that’s been really valuable for them is writing books and teaching 3D printing to try to change how people teach math and science by using 3D prints. Their fascinating partnership works well because it presents two great sides to 3D printing, the educational and the professional side, which are so important because there’s a balance in what you have to teach and what you have to learn between the two sides. What’s important to education and what’s important in terms of the technical side or the design side of things. Learn more about Joan and Rich’s great perspectives to the industry and the education platform.
We have two guests. They’re the authors of quite a few books on 3D printing. Mastering 3D Printing, Practical Fashion Tech, The New Shop Class, learning by making through that, how to teach math and science with 3D printing. There are some great books there. Joan Horvath and Rich Cameron.
Joan is a rocket scientist. She worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena for thirteen years. She hooked up with a hacker. Rich Cameron is known as “Whosawhats” is online. He and his hacker, Dave. They hooked up together and started writing books together. This is a fascinating partnership that really works well here because it presents two great sides to 3D printing. They’re very technical and really high-tech of calculus, among other things.
An education view of that and then this practical how do I use it, what do I with it, how do I hack this to make the product work or make the system work. Their company is called Nonscriptum. They are working now on a new book for MIT Press. We met them at a Pasadena trade show and we have gotten reconnected.
Listen to the podcast here:
Working Together To Teach 3D Printing with Rich Cameron and Joan Horvath of Nonscriptum LLC
I’m so glad you can both join us. I think the burning question really is how did a rocket scientist team up with a hacker?
I’ll start answering that and then Rich can take it. I always like to say I’m a recovering rocket scientist at this point. We were both together at a Kickstarter-funded 3D printer company. Like many other hardware companies, it became very challenging to compete in that market. The two of us, three and a half or four years ago, said nobody’s doing training. I was the business development guy at that company and Rich was the designer. We just stayed together out of that.
It’s so important though because there’s such a balance in what you have to teach them and what you have to learn between the two sides: what’s important to education and what’s important in terms of the technical side or the design side of things.
Something that’s been really valuable for us is we write books and in particular we’re trying to really change how people teach math and science by using 3D prints. Particularly, we’re looking at focusing in, at the moment, on calculus and reimagining teaching calculus and teaching it younger. We’ll have a book out from MIT Press about that.
That would be great. Calculus is otherworldly for me. If I could have had something physical and visual to help me with that, I’m sure it would have been a lot better.
I never took calculus in school so it’s a new experience for me. I always get tripped up on some of the notation. That stuff just didn’t make sense. I’ve learned to hate Leibniz. If you look back at Principia, Newton’s book, there’s no algebra in it. It’s all shown with graphs, charts and stuff. I started looking at some passages in there and it’s saying, “If you have this and you have this, then this is true.” I’m like, “Yes, obviously. Why wouldn’t it be?” It’s a very different way of thinking about things.
We think a lot of people just built models, called, “Here’s a model go download it.” A kid prints it at school and so what? There’s nothing behind it. What we’ve tried to do is to make models. We write everything in OpenSCAD. That has parameters. You can change things, you can vary the model based on the math and the science and you’ll learn something by doing it. You have to explain things very differently. It’s been an interesting challenge. It’s two postdocs per model.
It’s the same thing from a design perspective when go to design. It’s like each and every one of itself is its own research project, a design project, a style project, and technical. There are so many aspects to it. That is an under-appreciated part of the time it takes to produce really great model that do more than you anticipate, that they teach you something, and/or have a resonance with the audience that’s going to buy it or use it.
I have an MIT degree and I think I learned more in some ways doing the models for two existing 3D printable science projects books than I did during that time because you really take a step back. Every textbook has the same 2D image redrawn if they own it. When you actually say, “What can I use that third dimension for?” It’s a powerful thing. That’s a lot of what we’ve been exploring with our models. You have to explain how to teach differently with it because if you just teach the same way, again it’s like, “So what?” You really have to also provide somebody who’s going to teach with it that background of how to teach differently.
When you start looking into those 3D models, you also noticed that they’re all wrong in the same way.
They’re all wrong in the same way? Explain what you mean by that?
There are errors that they’ve made to either simplify or just because more has been learned since then and they copy the same thing. They make these errors and either don’t bother correcting them or whatever. It’s all the same thing.
This some of the open source problem from doing it from downloading, is that you’re right, that sometimes they’re the first draft and not the final.
Also, people do bizarre things. There’s the classic picture of the projection of a cube in 2D. I’ve seen people 3D print line drawings as a projection. It’s like, “What are you thinking?” You’ll have a 3D situation and you’re printing lines there. We work a lot with teachers of blind kids. We have a pro bono project. If any of your listeners are interested, teachers of blind kids post requests for models they’d designed and teachers are looking for a project, claim those and go off and do them. We have many more requests and fulfillment because it’s hard. We’ve really taken that step of talking to these teachers of blind people. We have a real enthusiastic following we know and teachers of blind kids because our models are right. Even they have to think about, “How do I teach differently?” They have to think that way anyway. In a bizarre way, they jump on top of it faster than the average teacher.
I heard you at the very beginning saying that you wanted to change the model of how math and science is taught. You wanted to change that. I think it would be helpful to dive a little bit into, I don’t want to say wrong, but what’s not working in the model by which our kids are learning math and science?
There’s a marvelous book called A Mathematician’s Lament and Harvard University Press has a print version of it. It’s just a little book written by a guy who’s a science teacher in a high school. He’s a mathematician. He says if we taught art the way we teach math, we’d spend a couple of years having people do brush strokes because they’ll need it later. Then in a couple of years, we’ll be having them draw perfectly straight lines because they’ll need it later. By the time they got to high school, they really hated art because it’s so boring. Instead of letting them do a painting. That’s how we teach math. Our claim is that if you could instead say calculus has some handful of really fundamental concepts and it’s all about things moving and changing and they’re elegant and beautiful things and they’re not that hard frankly, if you could start there and then motivate people to get their brush strokes better later, to mixed metaphors, we think that that’s a powerful thing. It’s only going to catch on in places that are a little less structured maybe which is one reason that we really liked some of the differently-abled folks because they teach differently anyway. That’s been an interesting niche for us to talk to a lot of teachers and think about how you teach differently.
They’re always looking for a new way to connect and to make it happen. They’re more open-minded about the process. That makes sense. It seems obvious to us. We’re in 3D printing. We like these projects. Learning how to build a CAD model, you wouldn’t just learn one tool for how to use that within the whole toolbox for an entire year and then go to another tool and another level of math and all that. You need to use all these tools the best way that you can to achieve a result more holistic. We’re big believers in alternative math teaching. They have here in California an Integrated Math Program that our oldest daughter went through. They were learning calculus principles in the earliest grades. By the time they got to what typical people would be doing calculus, they knew what to do because they’d been trained in process the whole time. I think that’s similar to what you’re talking about in terms of applying these projects in this curriculum.
It’s been interesting because MIT Press peer reviews the idea on the way in. Just the comments from the traditional world were interesting and enthusiastic from the mathematician side, which is really how we were peer reviewed. We’re connecting as we’re writing with some folks on the education side to say how would you think about this and how can we even make this better as we write it? It’s an interesting balancing act because there’s an enormous investment in teaching things a certain way and it’s legislated in lots of places. The way this came about partly is that when we were working on some of our earlier books, I started teaching Rich some of these concepts piecemeal; and as he said, he jumped on them and he started making models to help himself think about it. After about the fifth model, I said, “Wait a minute, this is a thing.” We started formalizing that and thinking about it. We have a thing here where he’ll start describing something to me. How do you always put it about the look I get in my face?
Yes, there’s this a certain look she gets on her face after. First of all, we’ll be trying to figure out how to show some concept in a model and we’ll try to think about how to show the math for this thing. I’ll go away and think about it for a while and then I’ll come back and rattle off some equation. She’ll give you this look on her face which I’ve learned means that the equation I just rattled off is named after someone and we’re not going to be able to get anywhere until she tells me who and what its significance is.
That is one of my favorite parts of Hidden Figures, the movie. It’s one of my favorite part when she goes, “It’s old math.” Then she goes and she finds this book which has these diagrams of the Orland method. It’s fascinating to me to think about that. It’s the same thing as design principles. The old way of doing things still have application in new technology, in new things, and in new innovation; and yet, we throw it out and say this is older and we shelf it. It just doesn’t make sense to me that the idea that we incorporate all those things and they become transformative. That’s exactly what 3D printing is all about: this merging technology.
People get lost in the mechanics of it. Our company is called Nonscriptum, which is Latin for unwritten, because we try to write down all these things that people haven’t quite been able to write down. When we started the company, we thought about calling it ‘Now What?’ because that’s what people said. It looked funny as a domain name so we didn’t.
You’ve written seven books?
Together, we have developed six. I had a couple before that and then, we have two in work. The calculus one is a little farther out than that. We’re doing two books at once which we did once before and we said we’ll never do that again and we did.
You have one on practical fashion tech, you have The New Shop Class, you have two volumes of how to teach science through 3D printing, and then you have Mastering 3D Printing.
One of the things we’re working on is basically an update to that because that book’s four years old which is astonishing. The world has changed. Most of it’s still true, but it’s interesting that the things you have to worry about have changed. Stuff that’s in there is still accurate, but a lot of things that we explained in loving detail, you don’t have to do anymore. There are some things that you can do now that you couldn’t do then so we’re not doing that. One is Mastering 3D Printing in the Classroom, Library, and Lab and that’s up on our publisher’s site. It’s basically focusing into that market a little bit more because their needs are a little different than everybody else.
You are active in online learning platforms. Are you finding that it makes it easier? A textbook or a book in general is one thing but you also have the opportunity for videos and animation and more verbal dialogue and how you explain things and what you do. Do you find it easier?
I think people tend to use both. I think people buy our books in print to have them as a reference. People who like to use a book as a reference and people who like to learn off the screen may or may not be the same people. It’s a different learning style. We try to put the things that work well with one platform onto that platform and to regard them as complimentary to each other.
That makes a lot of sense. It expanded the reach for a lot of people who don’t have the opportunity. I see a lot of teachers in rural communities just don’t have access to being able to go to regional conferences or national conferences and get an expanded education that the online learning platform is that essential for them. We find a lot of them listen to this podcast and have reached out to us asking for more resources.
We also have classes through Learn Network which is basically outsourced online learning for community colleges. Learn makes that fairly transparent. We’ve had the situation where we’ve been teaching one of those classes and somebody emails us asking for the key in the Makerspace in New Mexico, and we’re in Pasadena. It’s like, “We can’t help you there. You may have registered for this through some school in New Mexico. Sorry, we have nothing to do with that.”
What was the work about Shop Class? What’s it called?
The New Shop Class is a book about how you learn by making. It’s a little bit more of a philosophical book. I think that was our second. The point of that book was the first half is talking about learning by making and with some maker stories. The second half is stories of scientists as kids getting in trouble by making something or not making something and talking about the how important it is to fail as a scientist. A lot of people who become scientists are fine as kids, failing spectacularly often and blowing things up, and all the other things that happen with kids who are going to be scientists.
I’ve found over the years more people are not making things now that they have computers and software to be able to build things virtually in the computer, especially desktop 3D printing. Obviously, it’s easier if you have a small object that you’re working on and you can actually make it on desktop 3D printer. That’s great but even I find people all too often doing CAD work, creating models, it’s a rookie error where they don’t go through an iterative process. They create their mode, and maybe send it off to Shapeways or somewhere to be made and then they don’t get back what they expect and they get surprised. I think it’s essential to actually go back and forth between the physical three-dimensional real object and your computer. I’m curious what you would think about that or have you had similar experiences?
In designing 3D printers, I’ve often had a process where I design a part and start printing it; by the time it’s finished printing, I’m two iterations later in my model. It’s still useful. I can check a fit on those parts when they finish. Maybe I didn’t wait and started the next iteration printing before I did the test with that one; but I can consolidate those fixes into the next version.
We find that design, in and of itself, for us is very iterative and if we don’t go through that process, this is where you end up with fundamental product failure later. It’s just one of those things where there’s always something maybe intangible with it, like you couldn’t put your finger on it. It looks the same, but there’s something about physically making it, holding it in your hand, and then realizing, “Wouldn’t it be great if this was just slightly different?” Those tiny little adjustments make a huge impact into consumer perception from a product standpoint. That’s where we found the benefit of the process that we’ve always used before 3D printers. We’ve always modeled and gone into factories and worked with the factories that makes something before we start selling it. By doing that, there is somewhat of a process of refinement that happens that so many adjustments can be made at once.
The physicality of it is hard for people and the CAD is hard for other people. We often work with art teachers and they’re really comfortable with the physicality. It doesn’t bother them at all that some stuff fail and things like that because they’re used to experimentation and they’re fine with that. The fact that you have to make it on a computer is intimidating and holding their hands to get past that. Once they get past it, they run a thousand miles an hour. The third author on our fashion tech book was a teacher for 30 some odd years in high school at theater, art, drama, dance, and all kinds of stuff. She’d never done any programming and she just absorbed from Rich, in particular, and off she went and she did awesome things. We learned a tremendous amount from her about how you make a good costume and what’s a good costume and what happens when people sweat in things and all the other practical maker stuff that somebody who comes at it more like I do. I was a system engineer and I come from an environment where engineers didn’t make things, you weren’t allowed to, for flight stuff, and you stayed away from it. I got converted out of that in a Kickstarter for 3D printer company, where it’s like, “Here, hold this.” They were always amused that the engineer had made almost nothing physical and that they had made lots of paper over the years.
I’ve always experienced and also read of others that the only way we really know if something is properly engineered or not is when something fails and then you know what the limit is and you can improve upon that. Otherwise, you’re either really overbuilding it or you’re trying to go push it real close to the edge of the limits of the material or the structure. Failure’s a good thing in that you learned from it and make it better. It’s also a bad thing if that failure causes some consequence of hurting somebody or something like that.
I spent sixteen years at JPL which means that you couldn’t fail. Period. It’s good. How do you create a system that won’t fail under any circumstances whatsoever? I was a contingency planning engineer at one point, which is your whole job is to figure out how are things going to break and make sure that doesn’t happen. Coming from that mindset to the maker mindset is a hanged upside down by your thumbs experience. Rich and I come from opposite sides of that. We come at this from the opposite sides of the spectrum; but has been a powerful thing for us.
Do you find that there’s a lot of terminology explanation that really needs to go on? It’s not like, “It does this or it has that.” We’re just not using the same words.
We fight about that all the time. That’s why we’re lucky to be here. My attitude has explained it. If you don’t use the word, so be it and maybe explain the word using the words for things. Rich likes to use terminology because it makes it easier for people to look things up themselves.
That’s an interesting idea to have people look them up. We struggle with the terminology for design and designer and engineer and engineering. They’re so broadly used, and at times, very misused and it doesn’t quite categorize. Design to us is much more about creative problem solving than it is the path of least resistance from here to there. It’s always been this terminology. I think that’s happening in the 3D print world, depending on whether you’re coming from the industrial direction or you’re coming from the maker’s perspective. There are also a set of terminology that’s very confusing.
The maker terminologies are not quite the way an engineer would use it. It feels wrong in some cases to me and you don’t correct people because you’ll look pedantic. You surf over a lot of that stuff and say, “What are we actually talking about?” and just try to deal.
That just makes it more complicated as you have to edit your book later.
It’s been interesting. I sent you a couple of pictures of one of our models from the book of airplane wings. When we went to design that, we used World War II equations for airplane wings which we said this’ll be easy. Rich went and looked them up on Wikipedia, he coded them up, and they were wrong. We went and looked at a reference in Wikipedia and that was wrong
too, in a different way. We then said, “What are we going to do here?” We ended up going back to the 1935 archive which was a scan of a handwritten document with equations in it signed off by Wilbur Wright and Charles Lindbergh and we coded from that. Sometimes you have to really go back.
One thing we have in every chapter of our science projects books is a little section called Learning Like a Maker, which has all the blind alleys we went down trying to create the model and everything that went wrong. A lot of times it’s an obvious way in a couple of books to make a model and why make people do that. We always say here’s all the things we did wrong and what we were thinking. People love that. We’ve gotten a lot of feedback about, “This is awesome.” You say, “Why not do the thing that seems really obvious to deal with?” We’d scratch our heads, “Why didn’t you do that?”
Yes, they go and try it and they go, “That’s why?” They waste your time. We’re really excited to see how you manage to get out that math book and reach and change calculus. I’m very hopeful that you have a great solution because we have a couple of daughters who are very visual.
Maybe we can test some of them out with them.
Thank you so much for being on the show. We really are big fans of the way you format your books. We encourage everyone to go out and get some, especially if you’re interested in the fashion science, shop class making, and mastering 3D printing.
Thank you very much for having us on.
Working Together To Teach 3D Printing – Final Thoughts
Joan and Rich have such great perspectives to the industry, to makers, and to the education platform. It’s so necessary that we have two people like this working so hard to educate all of us on the professional side and the educational side of 3D printing like how we learn this, how do we teach this, and all of those things are really big questions. They also have a really nice model for it in the book because I love what they’re doing with the model side of things. You’ve got that practical visual, let’s hands on, let’s make it, combined with that educational and informational piece on where this comes from, why it’s important, and what you can do with it.
I’ve thought in the past sometimes we get a bad rap or even have a spirited debate with some people over social media who write in their comment on the blogs when we were really down on the reality of just downloading free files and printing them. That isn’t really the point, but obviously, they had a very strong opinion about that as well. What’s the point of doing that?
Rich has good experience with this. Doing that and knowing that these designs and files themselves are flawed to begin with and then they get iterated with their flaws in place. That’s a pretty scary thing when you thing about it. That’s like having a bad code from the beginning which is what Rich knows from his hacker days. That makes a lot of sense from that viewpoint. It is what we see, why we think these files are so bad because they give a bad user experience on the other end, like we see it and it didn’t make what you thought it was going to make, and it’s giving 3D printing a bad name. It’s like, “Your 3D printers. The problem.” When it’s really a file problem to begin with, but you don’t see that. That’s the part I have an argument with the free libraries of the world that the there’s no calling, no screening, and no information about the sides, the internal users. Do you really go back and review stuff?
There are some curated collections with some things. I think the guys that asked her to print, they had their app, and they have things that are really screened and tested and you know are going to work. That’s really important because they care about the user interface of it. As you’re a new person, new in 3D printing and maybe you’ve got a new machine and you’re trying to work through it. The last thing you need is a rogue file you’ve downloaded off of somewhere that actually has not been vetted or that’s on one of these sites where you’re self-reporting if they are quality models or not. That’s certainly not curated.
What happens is that we just give up on that site. We don’t go back in and participate and try to improve it because we don’t have time. That’s really a good point. This is why their books are so valuable if you’re teaching yourself something or if you’re going to be using this as a learning experience with a classroom or with a group of students is going through and figuring out the things that they did wrong. These things that you think, “It makes logical sense that I would try this first,” and yet, it doesn’t work. That’s what we really found in our early days of 3D printing is all those good product design practices that we had in place and yet didn’t produce a good file at end of the day that made a good print. You were like, “Why? This is good design principle. It should work,” and then, it just doesn’t.
All the old rules don’t necessarily apply when it comes to 3D printing. It has been really a new frontier of manufacturing that has its own pros and cons and benefits but also opportunities as well though, not just constraints. There are so many wonderful things you can do with it that you couldn’t do in other processes. It really does take a different approach to design and iterative design and successful failure really to get there; but you don’t need to increase your percentage of failure by having files of poor quality that you didn’t create.
What I was saying is that this learning like a maker section that they have where they show all the things that they did wrong. That to me is really great because you wouldn’t naturally go and want to do this if you were an engineer. You wouldn’t naturally want to do this if you were a designer. It’s a natural thing to want to make this setting go this way or you want to naturally do this as your next design or experiment or adjustment that you make and it has the wrong effect. I love that they expose all of that because that really is the shortcut. That’s what we’ve always been about since the day we started this podcast is we wanted you to lead the learning curve. We want to do to jump it. We want you to get as far into it as possible so that you can find the place at which you get the most value from 3D printing where you can do the most things with it that you want to accomplish, design beautiful, amazing objects, and fix all the things around your house, whatever your value in it is. We want you to have success.
Just recently where we were recording, just as soon as the interview ended, my mount for my microphone boom which is 3D printed broke. I’ve got another interview in an hour, then I realized, “Go fire up the 3D printer.” The file is still there, print up another mount, stick it in my table service and my microphone boom is good to go again. That’s something that now is a part that it didn’t exist on the market. I made it myself. Maybe I need to revisit the engineering of it because it breaks once in a while with a lot of stress. You could use being beefed up a little bit. I made it out of PLA which is another material that had come out recently, but it’s supposed to have the strength and integrity of ABS, but it’s a PLA material. I think that I should make it out of PETG or maybe some other materials, but in any case, I’ve gotten so accustomed to it that I need another part for a boom or I have a friend who’s got a boom for his podcast and they don’t want to use that C clamp on the edge of the table top because it always loosens and comes off. This is something you drill through your desktop service and it locks so I just print them. I think there’s going to be more and more things we’d continue to do like that because we have a 3D printer.
If you’ve jumped the learning curve, you’re just capable of just making an adjustment and doing that. Check Joan and Rich’s books. They’re great books. They have great value. Whether you’re new to 3D printing or your experienced in 3D printing, you just want to up your game in a particular area, want to learn more about math and science through 3D printing, teach differently. There are all kinds of things for them in the books that they have put together.
You should check out local Meetups in your areas. There are lots of them going on all around the country so make sure you’re checking Meetup.com because it’s a great place for you to find the local ones in your area and meet interesting people who are doing some cool things with 3D printing. We’ve met quite a few interesting people over the years heading into ones in our area. This should serve as a good reminder to any of you that are putting on local 3D printing events to use Meetup if you’re not already. Hopefully, most of you are. It’s pretty easy to put something up there and you want to make sure most people see it.
Some of our most fabulous connections over the years have happened because of Meetups. It’s certainly something we try to do regularly. We don’t get as often as we would like but we try to find one a month or so. If you have any kinds of events or anything coming up though, we do have a directory at 3DStartPoint, so we would love to find out information about it. You can let us know. You can send an email to Info@3DStartPoint.com or you can just go to the website and fill out a form. Of course, don’t forget we’re on social media @3DStartPoint.
About Rich Cameron and Joan Horvath
Joan Horvath and Rich “Whosawhatsis” Cameron are the co-founders of Nonscriptum LLC. Their Pasadena-based consulting and training firm was founded in early 2015 and focuses on teaching educators , scientists and others how to use maker tech. Joan is an MIT alumna, recovering rocket scientist and educator, and Rich is an open-source 3D printer hacker (known online as Whosawhatsis) who designed the RepRap Wallace and Bukito printers. They have written 6 books for Apress with another on the way, have authored courses on the Lynda.com/LinkedInLearning and LERN Network platforms, and are working on a book for MIT Press.
- Mastering 3D Printing
- Practical Fashion Tech
- The New Shop Class
- Joan Horvath
- Rich Cameron
- A Mathematician’s Lament
- Mastering 3D Printing in the Classroom, Library, and Lab
- The New Shop Class
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