Monday, December 13, 2010

Crafting is More Fun than Lawyers

I've developed a new appreciation for lawyers.  Well... MY lawyer, in particular.  But, they are time consuming and expensive.  The expensive part is what my former sargeant in the Army would call a "Personal Problem".

But, the TIME-CONSUMING part has not only affected me; but, affected those of you that were hoping for more help than I've been able to provide in the last few months.  So, I thought I'd at least provide you with an explanation and my intentions going forward.

No, I have NOT abandoned the eCraft.  The new patch is exactly what I expected it to be.  It's certainly not what I hope it will become.  But, it met my level of expectations for now.

My father-in-law has had dementia for at least three years.  He was tested in 2008 and 2009 by his neurologist and a geriatric psychiatrist three different times.  And, each time the dementia had progressed.  The last Mini Mental Exam (MME) score in 2009 was 17/30.  He was institutionalized for about a year until on a visit home he absolutely refused to be moved.  My 87 year old mother-in-law tried to care for him; but, as you can imagine it was exhausting.

He fell in January of this year.  And, thinking that we'd give her some respite for a few days before deciding whether or not to place him back in the nursing home, we agreed that he should go to my sister-in-law's for a few days.

In five days, she took him to her long-time physician at a walk-in clinic and had her doctor sign a certificate that declared that my father-in-law was capable of signing a Power of Attorney document and a will.  She effectively took over his life in just five days.  She then sent a letter of demand to her mother to fork over half of everything her father and mother owned to her.

Thus began a protracted legal battle that, in total, among all the parties, has already cost well over $100,000.  When you are involved in something this complex, there is little time left for cutting shapes.

My sister-in-law's attorneys are with a law firm having a reputation for being a "predatory" law firm.  They not only prey on those they are fighting in court.  They also prey on their own clients, generating many, many times the number of pages to generate excessive costs.  There are six lawyers involved in the cases that have come about because of my sister-in-law's actions.  My sister-in-law, for instance, is paying $400 per hour to TWO lawyers.  So, she is definitely VERY serious about grabbing 1/2 of the estate even before her parents are dead.  If she wins, she will, no doubt, sell her parent's home, forcing her mom into a facility.

Why?  The economy.  My sister-in-law and her husband took out a $960,000 mortgage and an $80,000 line of credit on a $1.2 million dollar home.  They could afford that if they were both working.  But, that is not the case.  And, in fact, neither are working right now.

So, we have to stop what she is doing to her parents.  And, because of the excessive filings and paperwork keeping up is quite a chore.  But, we WILL prevail.  We will NOT give up.  As part of our action, the courts asked that my father-in-law be tested again, and the outcome was no surprise.  He tested 15/30 on the MME tests.  Clearly, he did NOT have a miraculous recovery back in January.

The final court date was to be in the last part of December, 2010.  But, it's been moved back to March 2011.  Hopefully, after the holidays I will have a little respite to check out the new software more completely before having to pick up my research for the final trial.

So, that is my explanation for my absence at the very time you needed me to be on top of my game.  But, it looks to me that the eCraft is going to be one of those products that developes slowly, over time.  So, hopefully, by the time that they bring out the next phase of software, I'll be here for you.

But, by THAT time, I might only be able to test 15/30 on the MME!!!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Waiting Like You... On Purpose

"Everyone is equal.  But, Some are more equal than others"
 George Orwell, "Animal House"

One of the things that first sold me on the eCraft was their reputed reputation for listening and responding to customers.

Because I, myself, am not an actual user in the traditional sense, I have focused on things not normally reviewed in craft circles. At first, I was sympathetic toward Craftwell because I knew that it was, effectively, a startup.  This was true even if the manufacturing company behind it might actually be enormous.

But, as time has gone on, I am less and less inclined to have a favorable opinion of the commitment of management of Craftwell to its user base.  And, that lagging optimism has everything to do with their almost utter lack of communication.

I can pick up the phone at any time to talk directly with the management at Craftwell.  But, I am not because it is not fair to all those that CANNOT get through.  I do NOT subscribe to the "Everyone is equal; but, Some are more equal than other's" view of users.

I will learn about what is going on when YOU learn what is going on.  And, I will respond the way I think is best for YOU.

But, I want to make this clear.  I am NOT upset that we are having to wait for the software.  It's free and we get it when we get it.  What is killing my enthusiasm for the eCraft is the fact that even as they have built up their staff, they have not dedicated anyone on that staff to be their consistent voice to hurting customers.  That's right.  HURTING customers.

People make a purchase for a purpose.  And, they have high hopes when they finally bite the bullet and buy.  When a vendor delivers less than promised it is MORE than simply a mild nuisance for some of those users.  It can be traumatic for some.  And, a management that seems to be callous to that reality is NOT a management that can hold my respect for long.

Communication, to be real communication, cannot simply be a one-way vehicle for good news whenever it's convenient.  It has to be a two-way dialog that continues in tough times as well as good times.  When I go up to Craftwell's Facebook Page, and see people pleading for help with no response, it does not encourage me to try to do Craftwell's job for them any longer.  And, that is the primary reason I have not participated in discussions about the eCraft for the last month.

I have one eCraft set up and unused right now.  I have another in a box, unopened.  I am NOT going to subject my daughter to unnecessary frustrations as long as Craftwell remains 95% silent leaving users in limbo.

I don't hold grudges.  So, the situation could change at any minute if and when Craftwell decides that customers truly are important enough to talk to publicly.  Let's hope that is soon.  In the meantime, I will not be calling them.  When you find out, I will find out.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

INSERT SD CARD Message - FIX

Never feel like you are bothering me when you send me emails with the problems you are having with your eCraft. This site can only be truly useful if it provides helpful information to the crafting community. And, for the most part, that information is going to come from you.

For instance, I received this email today...
Thanks Tom you've put my mind at rest.
However I am now experiencing another problem that I have not read anyone else has had and that is: yesterday I thought I'd give the software another try but all that happened was that it kept telling me to insert my SD card which of course was in the machine but just to see if it would work I took the SD card out and then put it back in again to no avail.
Now, even though I have tried numerous times and in every way I can think of, the machine display tells me to insert the SD card.....I cannot do anything with this machine as the display will not go to the categories. I have made sure the machine is switched off before inserting the SD card but nothing works. Its incredibly frustrating....I had resigned myself to being patient about the software but now I cannot use the machine at all. Do you have any ideas as to what the problem could be?
Many thanks
Virginia

Now, it turned out that Virginia discovered the fix as well as the problem. She found that removing the USB cable seemed to reset the console and restored it to function correctly. Nice find!

It sounds to me like there might be a bug in the firmware that Virginia stumbled across. And, bugs in firmware are not uncommon in new products, which is why the firmware is designed to be updated from time to time.

So, if you run into this particular bug, you can thank Virginia for helping you to quickly recover from it!

Thanks, Virginia!

Monday, October 11, 2010

One thing leads to another - Sliceform to the EXTREME!

As you know, I just posted an article about SusanBlueRobots.

Maybe I have a soft spot for her robots because they are blue or because they give me another opportunity to sneak in a little personal history.  In the 1980's Hasbro sold a toy robot that 'talked'.  Casey was it's name and here is a short video of the ad for Casey.



In the mid-1980's I was hired by a brilliant engineer, John Perkins, to create some video to be used to create one of the first demos for a new video game system based on video tape. (This was prior to the advent of DVDs.) We were working for Nolan Bushnell of Atari fame and he, in turn, was charged with creating such a product by Hasbro. Hasbro picked it up as the NEMO project.  (Look up NEMO on YouTube)

I used Casey, the Talking Blue Robot as the lead character in my demo video game. I still have the original videos and need to get around to posting them someday on YouTube simply for historical purposes.

It was one of the most fun projects I've ever been involved with but, unfortunately, Hasbro was forced to abandon it because they could not get the costs down low enough for Toys R Us to carry it. 

But, I should also note that NEMO made the 25 Dumbest Moments in Gaming list at #19! It's a little disappointing that we only made #19. Maybe that's because they got their numbers wrong. They claim Hasbro spent $20 million. Actually, Hasbro spent $35 million on it before scrapping the system. That's GOT to be worth at least one or two higher positions on the list! LOL!

At any rate, I'm certainly partial to blue robots. But, I'm also appreciate of the fact that one thing often leads to another. My opportunity to work for Nolan Bushnell and Hasbro came from a person that had once worked as a consultant for Astrocade, the video game company for which I was an employee.

The point of this story is that one thing... John working for us... often ends up leading to another... i.e. My working for John. That's how opportunities grow.

And, in the immediate case, we have another instance of one thing leading to another great opportunity. And, it came from a comment on the SusanBlueRobot article.

A person that goes by the name CPEEP commented on the article about SusanBlueRobot's work in sliceform creations and I was so intrigued by the comment that I decided to see if I could locate CPEEP's work. Fortunately, I was successful in doing so.

CPEEP'S Blog is called EXTREME CARDS AND PAPERCRAFTING And, it is a great place to visit with lots of tutorials.  Here is just one sample of what you will find there.


CPEEP'S work is quite broad in the methods used.In addition to sliceform, you'll find paper folding, pop up cards and paper animata (mechanical models) which are equally interesting.  I wandered around for quite a while and was not the least bit bored by what I found.

Apparently, CPEEPS is not yet and eCraft owner and is able to cut to a Robo Craft directly from Corel so not all of their creations are available in SVG.  Hopefully that situation will change in the near future!  In the meantime I am enjoying the creativity of another person that thinks in 3D, all the while being thankful that one thing does, indeed, lead to another!

Cutting Chipboard Video at Nicki's Cardstock Creations

A lot of people have asked me about cutting chipboard.  Chipboard is such a generic class of materials, I could not confidently say that the eCraft would or would not cut the kind of chipboard preferred by most crafters.  I have to reply on the label on the material and the only paper I had with the 'Chipboard' label would NOT cut.  In fact, it acted more like sandpaper and simply dulled the blade.

I do NOT think that is the material most crafters mean when they ask about 'chipboard' so I'm going to defer to the experts.  There is a new video on Nicki's Cardstock Creation blog that shows how well the eCraft actually DOES cut chipboard.

Chipboard Video

By the way, she reveals one other thing about the eCraft's console controls.  If you hold down the arrows when selecting the shape from an SD card, it will swiftly go through all the choices!  Now, why didn't I think of that???

Robots, Robots Everywhere! The eCraft and Robots!

One of the great things about being a part of a community of crafters is being able to enjoy the vast differences in direction which human creativity can take us.  Recently, I've been enjoying the work of Australian, SusanBlueRobot who publishes the SusanBlueRobot Blog.

I love the quirkiness of her creations.  The best way I can think of describing it is thinking OUTSIDE the box by thinking INSIDE the box!

Using tree found on the eCraft Fundamentals #1 SD that comes with the eCraft digital die cutter she created this card.  Of course, no tree is complete without a few robots enjoying it!



But, using this very same eCraft Shape, she has also created this sliceform 3D tree.  Imagine a party table adorned with various sizes of these wonderful trees!


SusanBlueRobot may be the first person to post an image of a sliceform.  And, in doing so, she has paved the way for an unlimited world of 3D art using a digital cutter with NO LIMITS TO LENGTH.  Because the eCraft uses ROLLS of materials, as well as sheets, sliceform art of larger dimensions is possible.

Here are some samples of sliceform works that might inspire users to consider designing larger sliceform installations.  They can be found at this link.




In the process of exploring sliceform, I ran across the blog of an amazingly prolific crafter that specializes in creating and selling sliceform designs.  Perhaps the most useful way to introduce you to her work is to link to her video page.  Here is the first video on that page.    JennieBeanCrafts Videos




I want to thank SusanBlueRobot for sending us off on a great adventure.  I can tell you that she got instant rave reviews on the eCraft_Crafters Yahoo group and deservedly so!  So, be sure to drop by her blog and see why everyone enjoyed her work so much!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Could the eCraft make the cut with Make The Cut?

There was an intriguing message in the Make The Cut forums that Andy, the developer, and Craftwell have opened lines of communication.  None of us know where this will lead; but, there are a number of reasons why I think Craftwell would benefit enormously by an arrangement with Make The Cut.

First, if Make the Cut or Sure Cuts A Lot can cut to the eCraft it takes a LOT of pressure off of Craftwell in an area in which they have the least experience.  There is no doubt at all that the Craftwell team KNOWS hardware design.  The eCraft, as I have said over and over, is BRILLIANTLY designed.  THAT is their area of expertise and it shows.

But, what is also abundantly clear, is that Craftwell is NOT as skilled and experienced in the area of software.  And, having a bit of a safety valve in place as they sort out and build that experience will not be a bad thing.

This would not preclude Craftwell from designing and delivering a world class software product down the road.  In fact, in my opinion, it would HELP them in that quest by taking pressure off of constant fixes to a poorly designed initial product and let them back up, regroup and build a team of consultants and in-house experts in the management of software development that would know how to deal with farming out the actual software programming effort.  Right now, the tail seems to be wagging the dog and the tail has the dog in a very bad place of dependence.

Craftwell needs something to break themselves away from that dependence.  And, that something could be Make the Cut or Sure Cuts A Lot.  Once that dependence is broken, Craftwell can step up and have more control over the development process in the future.  But, to do so means reorganizing their development strategies, which will take some time.

However, it would be well worth it.  As long as we can cut, using SOME software, I will be the first to urge every eCraft owner to give Craftwell the space to do what I know they want to do... provide a PRO product that more than lives up to the name.  I don't think that will be as likely to happen if Craftwell doggedly pursues their own path without the help of 3rd party products like Make the Cut.

So, I'm hoping the lines of communication produce some cooperative efforts to support the owners of the best hardware in the business.  That would be very exciting to a LOT of owners.  And, frankly, increase the odds that Craftwell could eventually deliver a killer application of their own... which is our ultimate hope.

Monday, October 4, 2010

"What we've got here is... failure to communicate."

As I scan the eCraft Facebook and Twitter pages I am reminded of that great line from Cool Hand Luke.

I find the silence much more incomprehensible than the problems with the software.  And, that was puzzling enough.  The last entry on Twitter was in August!  And, while a Craftwell employee will randomly offer some insight on the Facebook page, most of the help users get is from other users who, themselves, are just hanging on and waiting along with everyone else.

You know something?  That's just not good enough.  Not by a long shot.

Craftwell, you have a machine that I am ready to support and support in a big way.  I look at the hardware design and, as I've repeatedly said, I see a design that has the potential to dominate the digital cutter marketplace.  But,  a great machine design is NOT what makes for great success.  It is only part of the equation... and, a small part at that.

The Mindset Computer was a great design.  It's the ONLY computer on permanent display in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City!   But, I'll bet not a single reader knew it ever existed.  It came.  It went.  It is forgotten.

So, much for great design being a deciding factor for success.

While I think the eCraft also deserves to be considered for such an honored place in design history, I would MUCH rather see it on thousands of tables in homes and businesses then in a permanent display in a museum with no users.  But, that is where it is heading if the management of Craftwell doesn't set aside it's pride in building the first matless digital cutter and start realizing that communication, not engineering, is their ultimate ticket to success.

Cool Hand Luke ended badly.  Mindset's brilliant design didn't keep it from ending it's race badly.  Let's hope that Craftwell's "Failure to communicate" is corrected.  And soon.  Or, it too, might be just another footnote in history.  And, none of us want that.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Added Video Link Gadget

If you find the new Video Links feature to the right side of this blog to be helpful in finding the videos on this blog you can thank Debbie Keith, of the eCraft_Crafters Yahoo Group. 

One of the problems with the blog format is that as every new post is added, the previous posts become harder to find.  And, in the case of this blog, some of the most important posts where the earliest posts as we experimented with our new machine.  And, that is true of the early videos.  They had become too hard to find.

But, thanks to Debbie, that has been corrected. 

I will be adding links to videos at Purple Paper Paradise , Nicki's Cardstock Creations and other sites as I find them or you bring them to my attention.  So, be sure to let me know if you find a video that is not listed and I will add it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

User setting for Cutting Speed

Cherice95405 had a problem and a husband.

Wait!  I can see that you are getting the wrong idea from that sentence!!!

The problem was NOT her husband. 

SHEEESH!!!  You guys are ALWAYS jumping to conclusions, aren't you?

Cherice's problem, that she posted on the eCraft_Crafters Yahoo Group was that she was unable to cut text reliably on the eCraft digital die cutter.  So, she complained to the nearest person she could find, her husband.  And, rather than simply walking off oblivious, as I have a tendency to do, he actually LISTENED.  (Something my wife would claim that I do NOT have a tendency to do.)

Cherice calls her husband her "IT Superhero".  I added that he is also my "ANALYTICAL superhero" because he went snooping to see if their was a way to solve her problem.  He found it in the same place I found the name of the company that is currently responsible for developing eCraftShop... the eCraft's configuration file.

The file is in the same directory where eCraftShop is installed.  It's called eCraftShop.exe.config and it provides a way to customize how the machine works on individual machines. It's an XML file.  So, it is easily edited with a text editor.  However, I would caution anyone that wants to edit that file that you should make a backup copy before doing so just in case things don't go as planned.

Look for the key word "CuttingSpeed" and you will find that it is set to 700 by default.

Cherice's husband slowed down the cutting speed by changing the value from 700 to 500 and she reports that she is now able to cut the characters that she was unable to cut previously.  I've encouraged Cherice to badger her husband to sign up to the eCraft_Crafter's Yahoo group.  We NEED his brain.  

I love inquisitive people!    Nice job!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Purple Paper Paradise - What to Expect With Update

Among my heroes in the eCraft user community is Denise O'Connor. She sees the special quality of the eCraft cutter; but, recognizes that without equivalent quality software, it will have slow going in gaining the marketshare it deserves. 

But, she also realizes that we have to be realistic about the progress of the software development.  And, has written an excellent new article on the topic titled "Moving Forward"

As usual, she's right on target!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Bit of Praise for the eCraft Engineers

Each morning, before heading off to my consulting clients that pay the bills, I take a few minutes to focus on the eCraft community by checking Craftwell's Facebook page and emails that I've receive from blog readers overnight.  Since most current owners are waiting to see what the next software release will bring and the machines one the first boat to the U.S. have not yet begun to be shipped, things were slow this morning.

That gave me some time to sit and reflect on the quality of the design of the eCraft hardware.  It really is unique and well done from both an aesthetic point of view and a mechanical point of view.  Even the battery compartment design merits appreciation.

Some people comment on its deep footprint when the tray is attached.  But, they forget that the tray is simply an added convenience.  It can be removed.  And, once it's removed it requires no more depth than any other cutter since the paper we use in all cutters is the same depth and it is the paper that determines how much room we need behind the machine.

The build quality is excellent.  I love that the blade trolley is right out in front and easily moved by hand or buttons.  The lift up design has allowed me to photograph the blade and blade cover quite easily and while it's easier and probably safer to change the blades with the provided tweezers, it's possible to pull out an old blade and pop in a new one by hand.

And, speaking of blades, when I first took delivery of this machine, I fully expected it to run through blades quite quickly.  But, surprisingly, with all the testing and cutting I have done, I still have new blades I have not used and old blades I can still use in a pinch.  Obviously, blade life depends on the materials you cut and the density of the tabs you've selected.  And, it may be that I'm getting longer life now because I have found that I don't normally need a high tab density and can even cut successfully without any tabs at all with some material and shape combinations.

But, one of the things I most appreciate is the simultaneous blade and pen combination.  When I first started to use the eCraft I didn't think much about how useful being able to chose between a blade or a pen without having to physically change anything would be.  The pen is now my most used feature for testing rendering accuracy and it has not only saved me a lot of expensive paper; but, allowed me to use less expensive paper while testing the software.

Many, many years ago, when I first graduated from college I produced videos.  One of my regular clients was an opinion research firm that would bring people into a conference room to discuss a product or service.  And, one of the questions they invariably asked was, "Is this product was a car, what brand of car would it be?"  That seems like a good question to pose this morning.

If the eCraft was a car, what brand of car would it be?

It's trickier than one might think to make that comparison.  That is because the eCraft combines features that aren't generally common in the same automobile... built-in reliability and sleek looks.  A Ferrari Enzo might be a good choice for comparison when it comes to the styling of the eCraft.  The Honda Accord might be a good choice for it's rugged construction.  So, the Ferrari Enzo has the looks; but, perhaps not the ruggedness and the Honda has the ruggedness and not the looks.  So, there is only one thing we can do....

Why, choose the Bugatti Veyron 16:4, of course!  Yes, if I had to choose a car that best reflects to design and performance of the eCraft the Bugatti is my choice.  The big difference, of course, is the Bugatti is the world's most expensive automobile and the eCraft is not the most expensive digital cutter.  Bugatti at a bargain.  Now, that is a pretty good deal.

And, if I can be permitted to reflect on something else while we comparing the eCraft to an automobile.  One of the factors in selecting an automobile is something I simply call Unity of Design.  For a consumer to feel comfortable with a product, ALL the pieces of that product must be in UNITY.  Just as a potential Bugatti owner would never accept cheap fabric seats, neither would a potential Hyundai Accent buyer want hand-crafted leather seats that cost more than the entire car!  The Bugatti buyer wants seats that reflect every other aspect of that luxury car.  And, a Hyundai buyer wants seats that reflect the frugality of their automobile choice.  When ANY element of a product's design is not in perfect unity with all the other elements, people get very nervous.  They may not know WHY they have an uneasy feeling.  They just feel it in their gut and end up walking away.

The reason I bring this up is that when I look at the hardware design of the eCraft, I cannot help but want a software component that is in every way its equal.  I don't want a Bugatti cutter being driven by Hyundai Accent software!  I expect Bugatti software and nothing else.  As I said in another post, in a different way, the hardware design deserves nothing less.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Reflections on John Perkins

You'll have to excuse me for this seemingly off topic post.  In fact, while none of you knew John Perkins he is an integral part of my history that made it possible for me to be in a position to be a part of the digital die cutter community.  I just learned about John's death from a man named Dave Nutting who gathered together one of the most creative and brilliant group of people I've ever known.  The reason for me taking this space now, on this blog, is that one can't find much information of John.  And yet, he was a very important player in video game development history.  And, I want to make sure that there is SOME reference to him for those interested in the history of video games when they go to make an internet search.

I first met John Perkins when I was working with Astrocade.  At that time he was very much in the same situation that I'm in with eCraft... an engaged owner  He was a Bally Professional Arcade fan and on his own had created some enhancements for the game system.  The more we communicated with him the more we realized that we needed the expertise he brought to the table and we hired him as a consultant and video game designer.  He created Artillery Duel, one of our most popular games.

John was one of those rare people that knew both hardware and software.  Our software and hardware came from a Bally owned company called Dave Nutting Associates.  As I said, Dave Nutting had pulled together a brilliant team of renaissance people.  Just to give you an idea of the diversity of their talents I'll just point out that Dave, himself, designed the Willy's Jeep Grand Wagoneer, the Enstrom helicopter and invented the electronic pinball game.  But, the creativity didn't end with Dave Nutting.  Jamie (Jay) Fenton, a programmer for Dave, went on to found MacroMind and MacroMedia.  Gorf and Galaga were Jamie's creations.  Dr. Tom DeFanti, was their graphics language guru.  It was a fantastic team.

The lead programmer for Dace Nutting Associates was Bob Ogdon.  Bob and John became a formidable team of game designers and after the video game system crash in 1983, which wiped out Asctrocade, they formed their own company, Action Graphics, which was responsible for many of the early ColecoVision games.
 
John, Bob and I worked together on the first demonstration of motion graphics on a CD for Microscoft's First International CD-ROM Conference in 1986.  By today's standard it was very crude.  But, John and Bob's work was the breakthrough that brought about everything you can do with DVDs on a computer.  They even designed the now familar button style interface that most DVD video programs use to this day.

Bob and John taught me a very valuable lesson.  Technically they worked UNDER Astrocade.  But, in reality we saw each other as peers.  The important lesson I learned was to always be nice to those that work for you because, if you do, they might remember you when they rise above you.  I later worked for them!  And, they were responsible for my being offered the position of VP of Electronic Games at Parker Brothers.  Even though I did not take them up on the offer, I was flattered that such talented people would have referred me to such a great company.  (At 39 I would have been the oldest member of the management team and really wasn't so sure if could deal with corporate politics  It turned out that I made a good decision since they disbanded that division less than 6 months later.)
 
The last time I had the opportunity to work with John Perkins was the project that REALLY showed me his amazing genious.  Talk about thinking outside the box!  Nolan Bushnell had been given several million by Hasbro to develop a video game system based on video tape.  (DVDs had not been fully developed as  yet.)  His team at Axlon, led by Tom Zito, a former Washington Post rock music critic, made a valiant effort in several different directions; but, they were in danger of coming up empty handed and having to pay back that money when someone found John Perkins, who then called me in on the project.  John came up with an ingenious solution that involved interleaving multiple video streams into a single video stream!  He built the encoder to combine the signals and a decoder to pick out any one of the videos.  It was picked up by Hasbro and the development effort was code-named NEMO.

If you watch the YouTube video, John has his back to the camera on the far left of the screen. This is actually the second showing to Hasbro personnel; but, the first to include the Hassenfeld brothers, Steve and Alan.

Now, here is where I am going to correct some history. Wikipedia claims that Tom Zito developed the NEMO video game console.  That's a bit misleading.  I don't know if Tom brought John Perkins into the project or not.  I only know that his team at Axlon had worked for quite a while and had failed come up with anything before John Perkins was brought in.  Proof that it was John that invented that unique system can be found by reading just one of the patents for this innovative system officially named ISIX.  He deserves the credit he is due for his contributions to the history of video gaming. After the NEMO project was disbanded, John Perkins was the ONLY person on the ISIX team retained by Hasbro.  They thought that much of him.  And, rightly so.  I think Alan Hassenfeld would second everything I have to say about John... both professionally and personally.

But, while his achievements were notable... and, as much as I marvel at his accomplishments, what I really cherish was his friendship and that of Karen, his wife.  That friendship was golden and will be with me forever.  I'm very sorry to hear that he is gone.  But, I'm also very happy to be able to insert a little bit of his history into the blogosphere and search engines.  He deserves the credit he is due.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

eCraft Owners Unofficial Bug and Feature Reporting

Dear eCraft Owners,

This is NOT an official Craftwell or eCraft project.  We're simply setting this up until Craftwell sets up their own official communication and reporting forums.

As promised in an earlier article. I have set up email addresses to capture your observations about specific areas of the eCraftShop software.  Hopefully, we can have assigned 'moderators' to check a specific email address daily for your messages and check to see if they can duplicate the behavior.  If they can, they will forward it to me and I'll then I will post them to the appropriate 'sticky' message on the blog which will be available to users, eCraft and the developers.  We'll invited the eCraft and the developers to ask questions at that same email address for clarification which the moderator will forward to you.

Until an eCraft forum is set up, this seems to be the most focused approach to gathering information from users.  Here are the email addresses.
TextTools@createandcut(dot com)  (Text and Keyboard Tools)
LineTools@createandcut(dot com)  (Line and Curved Line Tools)
ModTools@createandcut(dot com) (Eraser, Flip, Kerning Tools)
ShapeTools@createandcut(dot com) (Shapes and Library Tools)
SVG@createandcut(dot com)  (SVG Issues)
Rendering@createandcut(dot com) (Cutting and Drawing)
Performance@createandcut(dot com) (General Performance Issues)
Interface@createandcut(dot com) (General Interface Issues)
Lastly, there are multiple ways for you to communicate to Craftwell.  We felt like it might be important to have one that functioned in a "Letter to the Editor" roll.  We will periodically post these letters on the blog.  It is up to you whether these communications include your name or not.  If you want to include it, put your name in the body of the email.,  If not, do NOT include your name in the body of the email and that includes any automated signature information.  If you don't want it published. remove it before sending your message.
OwnersVoice@createandcut(dot com)
RULES FOR PARTICIPATION

Of course, there are rules for ALL of these email addresses.

No profanity.  No abusive language.  We reserve the right NOT to publish an email that we feel is inappropriate for public consumption.  We WILL block senders that ignore these rules or otherwise become too annoying.

We will disable these email addresses, except for the OwnersVoice, once Craftwell has established their own forums, etc.

These addresses are live right now.

If you would like to moderate one of these addresses or If you have difficulty reaching one of these addresses please email me at
tmeeks@createandcut(dot com)  
Thanks!

   Tom

 

Changing Focus Until the Software Patches are Delivered.

If I thought it would help the software development effort, I would continue to test why an SVG does or does not render correctly with eCraftShop Pro.  (I am using the term 'RENDER" to include either drawing or cutting.  If a shape will not draw, it certainly will not cut.)  But, the SVG import and rendering functionality is SO dysfunctional  that it's probably best to just add it to the top of our triaged fix list and get on to other discoveries.  So, here it is:

TRIAGE FIX #1: IMPORT AND CUT SVGs CORRECTLY
TRIAGE FIX #2: IMPORT AND CUT SD SHAPES CORRECTLY
TRIAGE FIX #3: IMPORT AND CUT MENU SELECTED SHAPES CORRECTLY

Now, let's move on....

In my mind, the product that you and I downloaded and have been trying to get to work has enough designed functionality to be the product that is delivered freely with every eCraft.  My strategy at this point would be to take a step backwards and say to my customers...
"You will still get a free copy of eCraftShop Pro when it is ready... But, it is NOT this product.  It will be MUCH more than this product.  So, for now, what you have will be called eCraftShop Home Designer.  And, it will be the basic foundation upon which our professional product will be built. We ask you to bear with us for while as we first work to stabilize the features in the product you now have and then begin to the work to complete the full eCraftShop Pro package.  And, we promise you that the final eCraftShop Pro that is delivered to you will outperform any other digital die cutting software on the market today. "
Now, I'm not eCraft, so I don't know how they plan to move forward.  I DO know that they have had the wake-up call that EVERY individual and company needs to have before than can be truly successful.  I know a LOT of successful people and very few of them got to where they are without some real setbacks that forged the foundations of their ultimate success.  One of my favorite sermons was titled, "Your Failures are NOT Final."

Few things have been as successful as the lightbulb.  And, few inventors will ever be as famous as Thomas Edison.  And there have been few inventors that endured more failures.  It is estimated that he tried more than 10,000 materials before he found the one that worked.   Each failure propelled him in a new, more promising direction until he created something that few of us would be willing to do without today.  The Lightbulb.  And, don't forget that phonograph he invented.  It took him TEN YEARS to bring that to market!

Fortunately, I don't think eCraft will have 10,000 failures before they have the best digital die cutting machine in the marketplace.  And, hopefully, their biggest failures are behind them with their maiden attempt at delivering eCraftShop software.  I hope they are using the term FIASCO in their internal memos.  Because FIASCOS spur us on to do things RADICALLY differently.

So, I would like to see us explore what we have and come up with fixes and minor changes that would suffice for now as the larger, long term effort for a spectacular eCraftShop Pro is fully developed.  If we can accept that the product we have now could be the "LITE" version, whatever it would be called. then we can concentrate on getting this feature set rock solid and functioning smoothly.  Period. 

SVG IMPORT AND RENDERING A BASIC FEATURE 

Of course, SVG Import is a must, even for a "Lite" product.  A "Pro" product should go well beyond simply importing and rendering SVG files.  The 'Pro' product should permit extensive modification of SVG files.

LINE FUNCTIONALITY

Even at the basic level some changes will have to be addressed with the LINE TOOL.  The only time we want to draw without closing a path is in the PEN mode.  So, how the LINE TOOL behaves should be determined by the current CUT LINE / DRAW LINE selection.  The end of a line must be able to be snapped to close a path when in CUT LINE mode.

CURVED LINE FUNCTIONALITY

The current behavior of the CURVED LINE tool invokes a "What in the world were they THINKING???" response.  Again, a curved line, by itelf might be useful to draw.  But, it is NOT going to be useful to CUT.  The ends of the curved line should be anchored in a path meant to cut.  And, currently, the CURVED LINE tool is far too primitive to be of much use and it is VERY difficult to bring the ends together with other curved lines to form a real path.

GENERAL USER INTERFACE

One of the reasons why I would support trying to make our primary immediate goal that of stabilizing the product we've downloaded is that I am not all that confident that the language or foundation underneath the current product is robust enough to support a full set of 'PRO' features.  I am using a computer with Windows 7, 64-bit and an i5 -750 processor with 6 GB of RAM.  When I import a large SVG, it seems to choke more than one would think it should.  So, it seems wise, to me, to maximize performance at this level of functionality before adding more.  Even if C++ is used, there are two styles available to the programmers.  The easiest is called "Managed Code" where the C++ run-time manages the use of memory.  But, it may be that a truly blazing digital die cutter application requires compiling in an "Un-Managed Code" environment.  Being able to observe the current product for a while will help determine if the underlying assumptions upon with the product is based are correct.

Foundations and assumptions should be based on the performance expected under the maximum specifications and functionality that can be reasonably predicted at full maturity of the product.  So, the performance under the current feature load needs to assessed before moving forward.  Otherwise,Craftwell could find itself in the same position down the road.

Let me give an example very near and dear to me.  As some may know, I have a real interest in making 3D modeling much, much easier because I think that in the not-to-distant future we will have 3D printers in our homes and businesses.  I published two blogs on two related products, Cosmic Blobs and CB Model Pro  that had a marvelously simple user interface for creating 3D objects.   But, unfortunately, Dessault was forced to abandon both because the underlying engine simply could not be expanded without slowing to a crawl.  They started from ground zero, using what they'd learned from these two products and created 3DVIA, built on a new engine that COULD be expanded.  They now have more than 500 million users!!!

So, as you can see, it is very, very important to get the basic engine right.  If we can accept the current eCraftShop version for a while, to allow for complete stabilization and optimization, the development of the final eCraftShop Pro will have better legs on which to stand.  Craftwell and the software developers will have time to evaluate the basic engine before proceeding.

It will also allow Craftwell to put a more comprehensive user input and beta testing structure into place before finalizing the eCraftShop Pro feature set for the final design specifications.

Frankly, if Craftwell or Digital Avenues thought the current feature set comprised a 'Pro' product then they really do need our input.  I, for one, will not be satisfied with the moniker of 'Pro' until the feature set is BETTER and MORE ROBUST than any and all digital die cutter applications out there.  And, that includes Make the Cut, Sure Cuts A Lot and Funtime 2010!  

The marvelous eCraft hardware design deserves nothing less.

So, what am I saying... bottom line...

I'm asking the eCraft community to focus on what needs to be done to make the feature set of the product we've downloaded into a mature product distinct from eCraftShop Pro.  The need to fix the SVG and cutting problems are a given.  But, beyond those, what needs to be done to THIS feature set to make it USEFUL to you NOW.  So, let's turn our attention on the LINE TOOL, the CURVED LINE tool and the other tools in the current product and suggest how these basic tools need to be improved until they meet your complete  satisfaction.

Then, and only then. at least in my opinion, is Craftwell ready to move on to a true Pro product.  Obviously, we need to hear what YOU think on this subject.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

SVG Behavior - Size makes a difference

I've been playing with files that people have sent me and it's been quite interesting to try to ferret out why the eCraft reacts so differently to seemingly similar paths.  But, there are a couple of things I'd like to point out that I have found.

First, the best way to study the behavior of the eCraft with imported SVG is to change the output from CUT to Pen.  Click on the shape and select the PEN radio button.  The lines will turn red.  However, you cannot rely on color alone to determine if a shape will cut or draw.  If you copy and paste an image that was selected for PEN, the copy will show in red; but, it will revert to CUT.  You must click on the object to see which radio button is selected for each object.

The pen allows you to observe the detail of the rendering WAY better than a cut permits.  And, you can send the eCraft a file that could not actually be cut, such as the Penguin, by Ruthie Gedalovitch (UK) that you will see later.

But first, let's examine some drawings that were made to experiment with a file sent to me by Carolina Mejia of Tienda de Scrapbookin in Columbia, South America.  In fact, she sent me three different SVG files and we'll examine the others later.  But first left's look at Corazon.SVG that was created in CorelDraw and exported as an SVG.  The first thing I do when testing a new SVG is to look at the XML style code inside the file.  Here is what the CorelDraw SVG looked like.



As you can see, there are spaces between the letters.  At first, I thought this was a CorelDraw issue.  But, I believe it has to do with having been created on a machine having a CodePage for South America,  But, it threw me at first.  I then imported the SVG file, converted it to a PEN drawing rather than a cut and came up with this.


Kind of ragged, isn't it?  But, this is a perfect example of why using the PEN is better than using the CUT when first testing an SVG shape in eCraftShop Pro.  We can instantly see that this will not cut.  And, because we were drawing rather than cutting we could use nice cheap printer paper for our tests!

Of course I wanted to see if the CorelDraw format was the problem.  So, I imported the CorelDraw SVG into Inkscape and saved it in PLAIN format SVG.  Here is the drawing that resulted from this test.


At first glance, that's quite an improvement.  But, there are those pesky misalignments between the starting and the ending.  And, there is some artifacting near the bottom.  So, I wondered if I could make it smoother. So, I brought it back into Inkscape and examined the number of NODES that CorelDraw had used to form the heart.  There were just four NODES and it looked like this.




So, I added some NODES to see if that helped at all.  I hen saved this one in Inkscape's special format SVG that includes more information about the SVG than the PLAIN version.




Then I decided to use the three different SVG files together in various combinations to test them against each other.  First there was the CorelDraw vs. Inkscape Plain.  Whoaaa!  What happened?  The CorelDraw version seems cleaned up and the Inkscape version looks horrible!



This didn't make any sense, so I decided to compare the CorelDraw version against the new Inkscape version with the higher number of NODES.



Once again, I am shocked!  Now the CorelDraw version appears to be PERFECT and while the Inkscape formatted SVG was better, it didn't match the CorelDraw shape.  Now, I am REALLY confused.  But, my motto is "When in doubt, do more!"  So, I decided to put all three versions to the test.



The results were still puzzling until I realized that each of these looked like they were the same size.  But, they were not.  Each time I had manually resized each of them in eCraftShop Pro.  So, each of them was a slightly different size.  So, I tried one more test.


I removed the Inkscape versions an then copy and pasted the CorelDraw version two more times, changing the size each time.  As you can see, the SIZE of an SVG shape makes a difference in how accurately it will be cut or drawn in the current version of eCraftShop Pro.  This is why we saw a horrendous drawing when I first tried the CorelDraw version and then saw a perfectly clean rendering from that very same file in other tests.

So, if you are having problems with alignment or smooth path issues, try resizing the shape just slightly and see if it improves.  Obviously, this will have to be fixed in future versions of the software; but, for now we might be successul with problem shapes simply by tweaking the size a bit.

 Now, about Ruthie's Penquin.  When I first attempted to render the penquin two of the paths in the SVG would fail and halt the process.  In order to debud this file, I first moved all the PATHS around in Inkscape so that I could more easily see how each individual PATH printed.



 It turned out that the offending PATHS were the Iris of his left eye and the white front piece.  Looking at the code, it was impossible to see why it failed. The code looked perfectly OK and it rendered on the eCraftShop Pro virtual mat just fine.  But, they hung up the machine.  I replaced those two PATHS by copying one of the working eyes and resizing it.  Once I'd found and fixed the bad PATHS, I recombined them.

Now, this would NOT be a valid layout to CUT as you see it below,  But, it WAS useful to see how the eCraft and/or the eCraftSho Pro software thinks.  Consider how the reconstituted and combined penguin was drawn.
The first thing to note is that there is a circle (GREEN ARROW) at the top of one eye that the eCraft seemingly created out of thin air.  Rather than the deliberate stepping kind of cut, it zipped around smoothly to make that circle.  The second thing to notice is that the eCraft or eCraftShop Pro does NOT always select individual PATHS to cut.  It seems to combine the PATHS and then try to figure out how the COMBINED PATHS shoul be rendered.  Notice the the area at the bottom of one eye is disconnected from both the body and the eye. (BLUE ARROW)  And, in that same area, notice the little drop down just over the beak.  The PATH of the 'White' part of a penquin seems to be connected and rendered with the eye as one drawing.

The feet and body overlap (RED ARROW) is handled in a VERY interesting way.  When the foot was drawn, the pen created a little indentation or dip that corresponded with the body's PATH at the point.  And, then, when the body was drawn, the pen went UP to follow along the top of the foot that overlapped the body.  In other words, the foot wasn't rendered as the foot.  And, the body wasn't rendered as the body along.  Each of the lines that the pen drew contained elemonts of TWO different paths.

Obviously, this would NOT have cut well.  But, it was a lot of fun trying to figure out how the eCraft handles PATHS.  And, in particular, paths that intersect.  I don't know how interesting this has been to you; but, I hope there was something helpful that you were able to glean from my curiosity.

By the way, I believe that the misalignment between the beginning and ending points that shows up in larger paths may be due to mathematical rounding errors in the software.  It may be that the developers are not using enough decimal places in the conversion of the SVG paths to the rendering engine.  The SVG files seem to prefer at least 5 decimal places.  But, there is also the reality that rounding errors are common in application software.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

SVG Import Examination

There are two operations that must be completed successfully before the eCraftShop Pro software can be said to successfully deal with SVG files.

Australian Thomas Tweedie read about the research we were doing with cutting SVG files.  All of them had been created in Inkscape.  So, he sent me an SVG that was created in Adobe Illustrator. This was the starting point for the file we are going to be examining in this article.

I'm a programmer by profession, so I am as interested in the INSIDE of an SVG file as I am the shape it defines.  After all, eCraftShop Pro can only recreate that shape by reading the code inside the SVG file we give it.  The nice thing about this file is that while the shape is very conplex, the code within it is not.  The entire shape is actually many small shapes and so the code consists of a series of small PATH definitions.

The code that is produced in applications like Inkscape and Illustrator is pretty ugly.  They assume that no one is going to ever look at it.  So, to use the file as a workable test file, I first organized the code into a form that was much more readable.  The next step is to suck the code up and put each individual shape into a memo field of a database program so that I can use a checkbox to include that shape or exclude it on a newly written file.  In this way, I hope to identify shapes that fail more easily so that I can compare the way the code is written between PATHS that work and PATHS that don't work.  But, that comes later.

First we need to examine how well eCraftShop Pro imports a complex SVG.  And, the best way to determine that is to compare the image that comes up on the eCraftShop Pro virtual mat with the image that Inkscape displays.  So, here is our comparison.

Click on Image for full Size Comparison

In the above image, we have the inkscape image on the top and the eCraftShop Pro image on the bottom.  The blue lines point out differences that may actually cause potential problems when the shape is cut.  My conclusion from this is that work still needs to be done in the SVG Import functionality before we even get to the cutting functionality.

This may account for the fact that I am seeing a misalignment between the starting and finishing cut lines in SVGs that otherwise cut successfully.

The next step, of course is to step through adding each element to a computer generated SVG that writes out selected PATHS until we find one that causes eCraftShop Pro to fail to cut properly.  We've already spotted some potential problem shapes, so it's natural to expect that we will find one.  This process will also allow us to identify, for the eCraftShop Pro developers, those PATHS that did not import correctly.  Each path has an ID number and we'll use that ID to communicate what we find to Craftwell.  

I can tell you, from experience at Astrocade, the videogame manufacturer, that engaged users are invaluable to the software development and testing process.  We had a very close relationship with several active user groups in Michigan and Illinois.  And, though that has been almost 30 years ago, I still remember each one and how helpful they were to our company in debugging design and implementation issues with our games. 

I'm hoping that Craftwell comes to realize that in a big way.  And, quite frankly, I firmly believe that some of the recent issues we've seen with the software roll-out would have been uncovered and fixed long ago had they established an active OUTSIDE beta test program for the software as they did for the hardware.  Rest assured that I am actively urging them to use some of you in this role in the future.

HELPFUL HINT - Use the PEN Rather Than the Blade to First Test Complex SVGs

When testing an SVG file it is helpful to first use the PEN instead of of the Blade.  It is easier to follow the order in which the various PATHS are cut and you can use the same piece of paper over and over again as you work. 

To do this simply select the entire shape that is imported into eCraftShop Pro and select the PEN RADIO BUTTON.   The shape will turn a different color.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Going Forward with the Software

My personal opinion about the software is that the basic design we see in the product before us is not up to the level of bearing the 'Pro' label.  Not even close.

But, that is OK.

Those of us that have the current product will ultimately end up having a real Pro product.  And, the current product, that we now have, will end up being quite useful in a very short period of time.  Once it's cleaned up, it would be great 'Lite' product to be included in the box as long as they fix and keep the ability to bring in SVGs.  I can be content with using a 'Lite" version until the real Pro product becomes a reality.

But, to become a true "Pro" product, a lot more functionality will have to be envisioned and implemented.  It's hard to tell from this product whether a real "Pro" vision exists.  And, that is where we, the owners of eCraft cutters come in.  We have a lot of work to do if we are to ensure that there is a vision for a true Pro product that beats anything else out there, including Make the Cut, Sure Cuts Alot and Funtime. And, it is not work simply for Craftwell's benefit.  It is work for OUR benefit.

Yes, communicating our needs and encouraging Craftwell to expand its vision for the software to support the eCraft WILL help Craftwell's bottom line.  But, in the long run it will help US produce the kinds of products and projects that we have envisioned for ourselves as eCraft users.

The first step is to find and communicate the bugs in this product as it has been designed.  There are many.  But, bugs can be exterminated one-by-one and they will be.  The order in which they are attacked is important and that is why we must find a way to communicate the order we hope the fixes will be done as well as what the bugs are.  And, this requires some organization that isn't all that easy to accomplish without a dedicated web site.  I'm hoping that Craftwell will eventually set up a system for bug reports that includes some sort of triage methodology that brings the developers of the software closer to the people for whom they are writing the software.  More on this later in this post.

Among the many things I've done in my life, is that I was in the TV news business, with White House correspondent Forrest Boyd, out of the National Press Club Building in Washington, DC prior to getting into the video game and computer fields.  So, I naturally have a nosey streak. It's interesting what you can find if you snoop around.  :)

For instance, if you look in the CraftShop.exe.config file in the directory where eCraftShop.exe is installed you will find this line.

endpoint address="http://stage.digitalavenues.com/craftshopweb/CraftShopService.asmx"

This reveals the name of the company that is responsible for developing eCraftShop Pro for Craftwell.  This company is in India.  As you can see, their web site is http://www.digitalavenues.com and it is well worth exploring.  It appears to be a company with a successful track record.  But, they also seem to be quite large and quite broad in the service they provide.  That is a two-edge sword.  On the one hand, this made Digital Avenues a good choice for Craftwell because they clearly have the expertise to deliver quality software.  On the other, it hints that there could be too many layers between the end user and the developers.  And, that is never good.

You see, while eCraft is paying the development bill, we, ultimately, provide the income that covers those costs.  And, while nominally eCraft is setting the standards and the specifications, we, ultimately are the final arbiters of whether those standards and specifications are attractive enough to convince us to buy.  So, like it or not, the REAL customers of Digital Avenues is us.  And, if that is not recognized very early by both Craftwell and Digital Avenues it will end up hurting the end product and it's respect in the marketplace.

The reason why we read about failure after failure of huge government development initiatives is that the honchos of Oracle and other monstrous IT companies talk the to the honchos at the IRS and other government agencies.  The honchos are interested in reports and management tools.  The end user is only interested in how easy it is to use and whether it makes his job easier.  These different goals are generally at odds with each other and the systems go unused, crushed under their own weight.

The ONLY way to ensure that software is successful is to make the layers between user and developer as flat as possible.  This is why, for instance, that beta testers from OUTSIDE the company's infrastructure are so important.  Even a company as large as Microsoft recognizes this.

The great news is that no matter what the structure between Craftwell and Digital Avenue, we CAN have an active and vibrant role in the development of eCraftShop Pro by simply making our critiques and requests available in the open forum of the web.  Critiques should be constructive and requests should be clear and communicate WHY a certain feature is desired.  Sooner or later the lowliest developer will stumble across what we have to say and it is THAT person that really has the grunt and grind role of bringing us any and all features.

So, I would like to help make sure that there is the potential for peer-to-peer communication at every level of software design and development for products that support the eCraft.  The best way for us to report bugs, until Craftwell sets up a formal system, is to gather the information in a way that it can be posted on the internet.  And, the best way to do that is to set up email addresses that are based on the various functional areas in the software itself.  If I set these up using the createandcut.com URL the Examples would be:
TextTools@createandcut(dot com)  (Text and Keyboard Tools)
LineTools@createandcut(dot com)  (Line and Curved Line Tools)
ModTools@createandcut(dot com) (Eraser, Flip, Kerning Tools)

ShapeTools@createandcut(dot com) (Shapes and Library Tools)
SVG@createandcut(dot com)  (SVG Issues)
Rendering@createandcut(dot com) (Cutting and Drawing)
Performance@createandcut(dot com) (General Performance Issues)
Interface@createandcut(dot com) (General Interface Issues)
Having separate email areas allows us to set up individual passwords so that a volunteer can be assigned the task of collecting a particular area's submissions so that the weight is distributed among owners.  It's just an idea for now.  So, I need to know what YOU think of it.  The submissions would be placed in either a single post or multiple functional posts that would continually be updated for the Craftwell and Digital Avenues staff should they want to see what you are saying directly.

So, let me know what you think.


SVG Mystery Breakthrough - Use PATHS not OBJECTS

It was an international effort; but, I believe we have found a work-around that allows you to import and cut SVG files as long as you have the free Inkscape or other program capable of editing SVG files.

First I want to thank the people that provided the input that resulted in finding this temporary solution.  Each of these people contributed shapes, testing and/or ideas that resulted in this discovery.  As I said, it truly was an international effort! 
Ruthie Gedalovitch - UK
Denise O'Connor - USA
Tina Mac Queen-Ladoucuer - Canada
Thomas Tweedie - Australia
Denise, I believe, was the first person that was able to get an SVG file to cut, so this let us know that it could be done.  But, the rest of us were having no such luck.  Ruthie then followed up with a Flower that she was able to cut correctly.  So, that encouraged us to dig deeper.  Thomas Tweedie still doesn't have his eCraft as yet.  But, what he DOES have is a great analytical mind and Adobe Illustrator, so he was able to create a test file that contributed to the effort and to dig deep inside my files to provide some insight.

But, Tina provided the file that broke this thing wide open.  I had a very simple file with very few commands that threw the eCraft each and every time I ran it.  But, Tina's file was big and complex.  Yet, it cut perfectly.  This led me to explore the underlying differences and what I discovered was that my file made use of an OBJECT to create the circle and Tina's file made use of a PATH to define her scalloped circle.

So, this prompted me to convert my Circle OBJECT into a PATH using Inkscape and importing the modified file into eCraftShop Pro.  And, BINGO!  Success!  Subsequent tests of building SVG files shows that SOME objects, like a box will work; but, other objects, like the circle will not work.  But, all PATHS, so far, seem to work.

Here is the SVG text for the file that does NOT work.  Notice that there is no section called 'path'.  Instead, the circle is defined as an object with an X and Y location and radius. 


Now, here is a view of the same basic file where the circle OBJECT was turned into a PATH.  Notice that the circle now has a beginning and end with NODES defined along the path to define its shape.

 Click Image to see full size

 While you can see that Inkscape made a very compact file into a very verbose file, that is not where the reasl differences lie.  The code at the very bottom of the example is the real meat of the find.  Notice that you can no longer find a Circle Object in this code.  Instead, at the very bottom, you find a PATH with a series of NODES that defines points along the path that draw the same circle we had before.

Apparently, eCraftShop Pro is able to decypher the circle as long as it's a path.  But, has trouble if the source SVG code defines the circle as an object.  So, our workaround, until Craftwell can deliver a patch that fixes this issue, is that if we try to import an SVG and it fails, we can bring that file into Inkscape and covert any offending objects into Paths and try it again.

If you do not have Inkscape, I would be happy to temporarily try to convert offending SVG files while we wait for a fix from Craftwell.  Just email them to me;  tmeeks(at)createandcut.com

We may find other reasons why an SVG file might not cut correctly.  But, at least we've identified one cause.  I hope this is helpful to you and I'm certainly hopeful that it is consistent as my limited tests have been.

Monday, September 6, 2010

An SVG I Have Yet to Get to Fail

TinaScrapbooking, from the eCraft_Crafters Yahoo group has uploaded an SVG to the files section for the group that I have tested and have yet to get it to fail.  It looks like this when imported into eCraftShop Pro.


The file itself is quite complex.  And, that this is puzzling thing.  The Inkscape version was 0.46 and that may be a factor.  But, no matter what I tried... multiples...


And, even resizing and warping!  I could not get her SVG file to fail.


One thing is clear when you start digging in the SVG file format.  For a "standard", there sure seem to be a lot of variations exhibited from file to file! 

At any rate, thank you, Tina for finding or creating a file that consistently works.  This, along with a file that consistently does NOT work, should help the developers a LOT!

Again, this file can be found in the Files Section of the eCraft_Crafters Yahoo Group.  It's called Scallop Circle.SVG

A Consistent SVG Test File and .CRW

The best way to test software is to minimize it down to the barest essentials to remove the number of variables.

An SVG file is very much like the HTML that draws this page in your browser.  It's just a special form of XML code.  Here is a screen capture of a very simple SVG file that creates a circle and a triangle.

As you can see, it is a very small bit of code.  It says, make a circle with a radius of 60.  The X and Y locations aren't important since we will be moving the file inside the virtual mat area.  And, it also says make a triangle by creating 3 lines connecting from point to point.  The last points, apparently, are understood to go back to the starting set of points to close the path.

You cannot get an SVG file much simpler than this.  So, it should make for an excellent file for testing importing and cutting SVG images.  You can even use a text editor to create the file by simply typing what you see above.  Unfortunately, the blog software tries to run the code if I give you the text itself.  So, I had to display it as an image.

Here is how Inkscape sees this file.

And, here is how it is seen in eCraftShop Prom which is exactly as it should see it. 


So, from a simple visual perspective, it appears that there is no problem IMPORTING a simple SVG.  So, let's take it to the next step to get a consistent behavior from my eCraft.  In a perfect world all of our machines would behave the same with the following setup.  But, we're not in a perfect world and that is why we need to try this in many machines.  Here is the layout.


 I imported the SVG file and then did a copy and paste to get three identical shapes in a row.  Then I cut it with this result.


As you can see, I can repeat the attempt to print over and over and I will always get the same result.  It doesn't matter if I turn off the eCraft and back on so that it is the first thing cut or if I leave the eCraft on between cuts.  It's always consistent.

Now, the real test is to see if your results are the same as mine.  I'm going to put both the SVG and the .CRW files up on the eCraft_Crafters Yahoo group File Upload Section so that you can download the SVG report back on how your system behaves.
 
The  SVG file is called MinimalSVG.SVG and the eCraft project with three sets of the SVG is called MinimalSVG.CRW.

It will be interesting to see how various systems behave with this bare minimum SVG file.

UPDATE #1: Thomas Tweedie's Adobe Illustrator (CS5) File.
Australian Thomas Tweedie sent me a file, using the same shapes, that was created in Adobe Illustrator.  Testing his file, the eCraft reacted COMPLETELY differently, yet THE SAME.  With Thomas' file, the eCraft began the cut with the circle's rather than the triangles (the different) and failed consistently exactly 50% into the first circle (The Same).  Thank you Thomas!  I'll be working with him to try to see how my original file that has been imported and saved in Adobe Illustrator behaves.  What is important for now is that in both cases the failure occurs at 50% of the first circle... a place where one would expect a tab or, possibly, a node in the path.
A personal note.  I am really impressed by the observations and help that I've received from Australian's interested in the eCraft!  And, they don't even have machine's as yet!!   Can you imagine how much help they are going to be to all of us when they actually GET a machine???  Hurry and ship to Australia, Craftwell! 

UPDATE #2: Paths vs. Objects in the SVG Behave Differently

Turning to using a simple SVG file has turned out to be a useful strategy.  For instance, I brought the SVG into Inkscape and converted the circle OBJECT into a PATH (The Scallop was a PATH. And, it cut the entire circle.  However, it continued beyond 360 degrees and then stuttered.  At least there was an identifiable change in behavior.  And, that is what we are looking for as we experiment.  I'll continue to modify and experiment with the file to see if I can get it to stop at 360 degrees and not reach the stuttering point.
If you have a cut that is failing and you have Inkscape, try seeing if converting the OBJECT to a PATH is any more successful.

Taking Stock in What We Know

Over the past 40+ years I have been involved with many, many situations where, for want of a better description, chaos reigns.  That has been true of projects with small companies and with large ones, like Microsoft.  It is inevitable in the computer industry.

It is never any fun to be in a chaotic situation where uncertainty reigns.  And, from reading just about every message about the eCraft on the Yahoo group and Craftwell's Facebook page, it's clear that this is true in the situation in which eCraft owners find themselves.  So, for what it's worth I would like to suggest something that has never failed me in W-A-Y worse situations than this one.  (I once felt it necessary to return more than $30,000 to a client because the software I had tried to use was so bad that I felt I could not complete the project.)

In the rural area I grew up in, the method I use is generally called "Taking Stock".  We step back and rather than looking at what we DON'T know, we focus on listing what we DO know.  And, then try to use that to  apply to the things that we don't know.

So, what do we know?

First, we know that the standalone eCraft is able to cut the shapes on an inserted SD card without stuttering.  That tells us the the cutting engine, the firmware inside the machine dedicated to perfoming cutting operations is basically working.  Yes, we've seen evidence that squares are not square.  But, they ARE at least rectangles and not random jittering lines.  So, our first known is this:

KNOWN #1: The basic cutting engine inside the eCraft is working correctly.

We also know that the basic design of the hardware is excellent. While we've had to learn the settings and when to use the blade cover or not, most of us, with a little experience under our belts, can cut most materials including heavy card stock, light papers, cloth and model airplane plywood.  While we haven't had the luxury of seeing how it performs over several years, it certainly seems tough enough to take some erious punishment.  So, our second known is this:

KNOWN #2: The eCraft hardware design is excellent and the build is rugged.

Beyond the machine, we know some things about the company. We know that the harware beta testers have said that the company has been very responsive when it came to hardware changes and that the machine we now have is a vast improvment over the machine they were first give to test. So, to me that is something that we should not and cannot forget when it comes to the current software situation.

KNOWN #3: Craftwell has proven responsive in the past

We now know a bit more about the structure of the organization behind the eCraft. We can visualize this structure as three arms... manufacturing, software and marketing (with support).

KNOWN #4: The Structure behind Craftwell has three arms

The parent company of Craftwell is Asian based and it is a large manufacturing company with what we Americans call "deep pockets". We have been told, and I believe it to be true that they have many years of experience in electronics manufacturing and that they have a large staff of engineers. Since I don't know any more than this about the company, I am going to limit my 'known' factor to one thing.

KNOWN #5: The Manufacturing Arm of eCraft is large and experienced.

The software company is revealed by eCraftShop Pro, itself. As I write this, I do not have the software available. So, I will have to modify this blog entry when I return home from traveling. But, it is an India based company that specializes in writing software for startup ventures. It appears to be a large organization and India has become a center of software development because of their combination of high education and lower wages. You would be very surprised to learn how many large U.S. Game companies rely on programmers and designers from India and China. My only concern about long distance programming is that direct contact is lost and this, I feel, is what happened with eCraftShop Pro. What appears to be a software problem is really a communication and software management problem. Given the size of the campany behind the software and the location where brilliant programmers are readily available, I think once the communication and project management issues are fixed, we will be quite pleased with the end result. But, for now, it is nothing less than disastrous for Craftwell. So, our knowns for this paragraph are three-fold:

KNOWN #6: The software arm of the Craftwell Organization is large

KNOWN #7: Because it was large, Craftwell might not have paid enough attention to managing the software development more directly

KNOWN #8: Fixing the communication and project Management problems will fix the software problems

A lot of people are surprised to hear me call Craftwell a start-up company. After all, the parent company is enormous and has many years of experience in the electronics field. Start-up companies are generally seen as little mom and pop operations working with a shoe string budget. So, how can I call Craftwell, that oblviously is NOT in that category a start-up.

Well, it's because I have been involved in many such start-ups over the years. IBM had been in the mainframe computer business for many, many years when it formed a team to market the PC Junior. The PC Junior team was a start-up within the umbrella organization. Moreoever, the thrust of the marketing of the PC Junior was completely outside the long experience of IBM. IBM knew corporate marketing. They were clueless about consumer marketing and that is why I was brought in by the PC Junior team to explain to their parent organization why their strategy was destined to fail if they did not change quickly. I still have the paper I presented, to no avail, and the PC Junior not only failed; but, failed miserably. What was the missing element in IBM's strategy? Emotion. IBM had opted for practicality and completely missed the emotional aspects of why people felt the strong need to "learn computers" at the time.

But, that is not my only example. Hasbro is the largest toy maker in the world. But, with Nolan Bushnell of Atari fame, they created a little startup video game company called ISIX in the 1980's that had to stand on its own to succeed. Time-Life Software was a startup within the giant Time-Life organization. Astrocade, sold the video game system developed and owned by the Bally empire. Cosmic Blobs was a small startup tean within the giant Dessault orgranization.

I worked with all of these projects that were effectly startups within much larger organizations. One of the things that made them a startup was that they were moving the company into a market into which they had never gone before. So, even though all of these large companies had years of experience, they did NOT have experience in the field in which the startup team was going to be taking them.

And, that is where the Craftwell offices in the U.S. come in. They are the startup team taking their parent company into the new market of digital die cutters and crafting. And, it is obvious that this startup team was more focused on getting the hardware right than on getting the software right. In fact, I believe that they were (and are) a bit naive about the level of sophistication that will be required by the software to satisfy this marketplace.

But, I also think that they will NOT make that mistake in the future. So, my knowns for these last paragraphs are:

KNOWn #9: The Craftwell team can be considered a startup

KNOWN #10: Start-ups by the very nature of moving in new directions, lack some of the operational experience they need.

KNOWN #11: Those gaps in expertise can be filled quickly.

The infrastructure is there. All the elements for total success are there when we take stock of what we know. Naivete is not surprising in a startup team since there are so many unknowns to the team. They are charting new waters. But, those gaps that resulted in the software we see can be easily corrected by better communication and stronger project management. This is a wake-up call and I think the Craftwell management knows this and is now VERY wide awake!

You wait and see. The end result of this current chaos is going to result in a stronger and more dominant product in the future. I LOVE working with people that have experienced some failure. They are the truly wise ones. Nobody knows better then they, what to watch out for in the future.

If you have already purchased an eCraft and are concerned, I think you'd be wiser to keep it than to return it. My experience says this a GOOD thing (although it looks TERRIBLE now) for all of us in the very near future.