Yesterday was a complete clusterfuck. I got up late. That means that I blogged late. That got me to work late. And when I finally got to work it was like a car crash.
I opened the door to my office and looked down at my 3D printer. The extruder heads were limping along doing something odd. And when I looked down at the build plate I saw why. The build plate was completely cockeyed. One side had popped out of its screw and the other side had remained anchored. The object I tried to print was supposed to be a square but it was a blob. And the extruder heads were covered in gunk. The whole thing had the look of a wounded animal.
This was hard to take as the first set back of the day. I have been working with this device for a while and I can admit that they are a bit fussy. But I have a whole procedure down for each print job and can usually reliably build objects. The problem is that I’d let my ego get the best of me and I was running an experiment: I was trying to build on an unheated bed.
But when I had left the printer the night before I thought I had made sure that the raft, which is a layer of plastic that the object is built on, had stuck to the bed. I guess it hadn’t because the resulting mess was spectacular.
It looked like I had broken the device and I was nearly in tears. My University had spent $1000 on this printer in order to support curriculum. My job is to get this up and running and support the device and any software that might be needed. Class starts today. I thought I had broken it and I was despondent.
I guess it was lucky that at that exact moment I had a second emergency. It turns out that the server we use to push images wasn’t working. “Push images” sounds fancy but it’s not: we take a copy of a computer (an image) and push it down to another computer so that all the computers in the building are the same. It’s simple, an elementary school kid could do it.
I went to look at that and sure enough, a group of computers hadn’t downloaded the image and were basically toasters. At this point I’m in a bit of a panic. I try restarting the systems and they just won’t connect to the image server. I try rebooting again. And again. I try simplifying the job, just push to one computer. Iteration after iteration.
I could have just looked at the log files and figured out the problem but I didn’t. Some people respond better in those situations, and typically I do as well, but on the day, I was having a mare. I needed to calm down and think for a second but instead I called tech support.
One of the other parts of my job is tech support and I deal with a lot of panicked patrons. I never thought I’d be one. But here I was on the phone with this guy, trying my best not to freak out. He was great, calm, just like I try to be with the person who needs my help and normally, if you’re just calm and give them a moment, the user will figure out what they did wrong.
In my case, it was a change I had made the night before. Of course it was. It’s almost always the last change which messes things up. I had changed some firewall setting on the server and that was blocking the computers from contacting the service.
I felt like such a fool. This is a simple program, basic even, and I had made a rookie mistake. I made a rookie mistake in front of others. My shame was nearly endless.
But the important thing isn’t my shame. The important thing is having all the computers working for the students in the morning. We restarted them and of course, they downloaded the image.
My third failure happened as I walked back to my office to deal with the printer. I had my phone in my hand and I glanced down to see “Arsenal 1-2 Olympiacos HT”. I wanted to throw the phone into the jaws of a lion and kick the lion into the sun. I nearly screamed “WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON TODAY? FUCK YOU AND YOUR FULL MOON HARVEST ECLIPSE BLOOD MOON BULLSHIT!”
I couldn’t watch the game live so, I recorded it. To make the game as live as possible I had turned notifications off inside the Arsenal app and put my phone into “do not disturb”. What I really needed to do was turn off the damn notifications in the settings of the phone. But I guess I’d had a mental lapse and figured that just turning off the push notifications in the app would be good enough.
I went back to my office. Took a sip of water and looked at the 3D printer. What the fuck was I supposed to do with this mess? I walked over to the device and looked at the printer bed. Somehow, the bed had just lost a screw. the nut wasn’t stripped, the springs weren’t broken, just the fly bolt had fallen off. How? I don’t know. I screwed it back on and did a crude leveling of the build plate.
Then I looked at the printer head. It was completely covered in plastic. Actually, to be precise, it was completely covered in polylactic acid (PLA). Which, if you know anything at all is not a plastic. PLA is a thermoplastic aliphatic polyester!
AH HA! PLA has a relatively low glass transition temperature! In short, it bends when you heat it up and you don’t even have to heat it that much to bend it. So, I heated the extruder to 100C and simply pulled most of the glob of PLA off the extruder head. Then I cleaned it up, leveled the bed, and sat down to think for a minute.
I needed to test the device. I printed a calibration cube. It worked.
I was back, baby.
I adjusted a few things, printed a calibration cube in red, then one in white. Perfect.
Well, not perfect. PLA is notoriously fussy. But they were pretty good cubes.
I hadn’t done anything special to save the day. I hadn’t even really “saved” the day. I was still a fool in front of a stranger and I still didn’t have the base for my t-rex skull (which was what the blob was supposed to be), and I knew the final score to the Arsenal match 2-3 to the Greeks. But by going back to basics in each one of those instances I had reversed the foolish mistakes I had made and gotten back on track.