Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Funtime Dongle - A first reaction

Part of my career history was spent creating consumer software products.  So, I am well aware of the problem of software piracy.  With that experience in mind, what I have to say might seem odd.


OK.  It's not all THAT inconvenient.  So, that's not my problem with it.  And, they seem to be relatively reliable.  So, that is not the reason for my ire.

I hate dongles for what they reveal about the software developer's view of their customers.  Let's face it.  They wouldn't rely on a dongle if they didn't think we are crooks!  If our relationship with the company begins with that premise, then what hope is there for real customer service.

"Hi!  I want to sell to you.  But, I think you are going to steal from me.  So, I am going to write my software so that you can't steal from me.  Now, let's be friends."

As I mentioned earlier, I had purchased a Gazelle for my daughter some years ago.  And, for some reason, it went unused.  So, I decided to find out why.  After all, if I can get this thing to work for my purposes, I can avoid having to buy something else.  So, I picked it up and  began to install the Funtime Scrapbooking software that I'd purchased along with the machine.

Uh-Oh!  A dongle.  They think I'm a crook.  Not a good beginning.

It didn't get a whole lot better when I went up to looking to see if a newer version was available.  There was an upgrade and it, too, required a dongle, politely called a 'key'.  But, when I clicked on the "compatible cutters" link, the Gazelle was not listed.  Hmmmm... that's not good news.

Maybe there is something to my intuition regarding customer service and dongles!

Fortunately, Gazelle's web site has the upgrade for the "special" version of Funtime 2010 along with directions for reprogramming my dongle, which also disables it for the current version.  I'm still pondering whether I want to bother.  I expect I will go ahead and upgrade if the current software shows any promise at all.

By the way, I immediately contacted Craftwell to see if they, too, required a dongle with their eCraft software and was please to hear that they do NOT think their potential customers need a dongle to keep them honest.  There will be NO dongle required to run the eCraft software.  I like that.

It may seem like a small thing.  But, a corporation's view of their customers is the foundation of customer focused service.  I'm betting that if they show us respect in this one area, they are likely to show us respect in others.  To me, the dongle vs. no dongle decision by Craftwell could be a very important indicator of their relationship to those of us that become users of their products.

In the meantime, I'll stick the dongle in the 2nd USB port and push on the next level of checking out the Funtime Scrapbooking software and the Gazelle II.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The iPhone App Tells Us Something Important

About 2 minutes and 18 seconds into the video embedded into my last blog entry, the person demonstrating the eCraft software begins to introduce the iPhone app.

One's first reaction might be, "Who the heck cares? I don't have my machine when I'm walking around."

But, that misses a HUGE point. It's about the spontaneity of creativity.

If you need a cutter, then chances are you have a very creative brain.  And, if you have a creative brain, then chances are that brain comes up with creative ideas any time it feels like it.  The iPhone app is an instantly available playground for when your creative brain suddenly wants to play!

And, while that, in and of itself, is a wonderful thing, it tells us something about the brains behind the eCraft product.  At least it tells me something about the eCraft management team.  It tells me that they know you and me.  They KNOW we are creative and spontaneous people and they went that extra mile to deliver that little something just for our creative brains when we aren't sitting at a computer.

And, it also tells me that they value my time and your time.

How many of us have long commutes by public transportation?  How many of us have long waits in doctor's offices, etc.  I venture to say that a lot of us do.  eCraft has provided us with something to bring our creative brains alive and active during those long commutes and waits.  And, that is just the beginning.

I'm in my sixties.  But, I want my brain to stay as young as possible throughout my lifetime.  So I try, as much as possible, to THINK YOUNG.  I'm very excited by the prospects of being able to share design ideas with my family, from my daughters to my granddaughters, through my iPhone and the eCraft web site, no matter where I am.  

I can just imagine my granddaughter coming up with a special shape for Pop-Pop and sending me a message by phone to check it out.  And, me being able to view her special creation and then, together, share a moment of creativity while 100+ miles separate us.  Why do you scrapbook and I take hundreds of photos?  I'm guessing that it's because we want to share and savor memories from generation to generation.  The iPhone app allows us to MAKE memories as well as share them.

I find that to be very, very cool, indeed.

A Different Perspective on the Cost of Software

As I have researched the web for news and views on the new eCraft cutting machine, one thing stood out.  And, that is the number of comments and complaints about the cost of the Pro version of their software.  Frankly, while I never want to part with more money than I need to, I don't happen to think the currently projected cost of $159.99 that is floating around the web is out of line.  In fact, I'd be MORE worried if it were less.

First, lets take a look at what is probably an early version of the software.  It was posted January 26, 2010.

As you can see, it's not a full drawing package like Photoshop.  But, it's not a trivial software package either.  Even in this short video it is apparent that some very sophisticated programming was required.  And, that costs money.  I know, because I'm a programmer and software designer and I am well aware of the level of effort that went into programming something like their application.

But, the fact that it cost them a lot of money to create the Professional Version is not why I'm not too exercised by the price point of the software.  I'm thinking ahead. 

I want them to MORE than cover their initial development costs and have money coming into their coffers to pay for the improvements that all of us are going to demand.  If they price the software too low they will not have the budget for significant improvements.  And, THAT is a BAD thing.  In fact, that is a VERY BAD thing.  Buying the eCraft and it's companion software is an investment.  And, the best way to protect that investment is to have continually expanding capabilities being add to its arsenal.

For instance, right now it can import a a 2D SVG file.  But, I have an interest in 3D design.  And, an automated cutter is perfect for creating the layers needed to complete certain 3D objects.  So, how nice would it be if, down the road, we could import a Google Sketchup (.SKP) file that would automatically parse out the layers based on the thickness of your media and cut them for us.  This would take your craft designs to a whole new level.  In between these two extremes is a lot of room for incremental improvement.

But, adding that capability is NOT going to come cheaply.  Remember, every new update for Photoshop is MORE than the cost of the Professional version for the eCraft.  And, the reason why Adobe dominates the image software business is because they have used the income to add to an ever expanding feature set.  I have been using Photoshop for about 20 years.  And, what we have today is a far cry from those early 1990's versions.  And, the reason is that, while others had lower prices, Adobe had more RESOURCES to improve its product due to it's wise pricing structure.

So, let's let Craftwell make good money on their software.  But, let's also keep their feet to the fire by demanding that they help us protect our investments with new software upgrades that add more and more value to the product over time.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Why the interest in eCraft from Craftwell?

I'm not just being a proud father when I tell you that my daughter is a very accomplished sculptor.  Her exquisite carved porcelain and clay work can be found in several permanent exhibits here and abroad.   Here is an example: 

For a variety of reasons, she realized that she would have to move to using different materials and methods  if she was going to fully realize her artistic goals.  One of the directions she wanted to explore involved paper cutting.

The Cricut

The first machine we explored was the Cricut.  But, that was quickly rejected because it did not have the means for creating one's own designs at the time.  The idea of being at the mercy of a manufacturer to come up with the designs one might need was NOT an appealing feature.  So, we rejected it immediately.  It might be a very great machine.  But, not for our intended purposes.

The Gazelle

At the time we began our search, a new cutter was nearing release.  One of its features was the ability to creat your own designs.  Since this is exactly what we were looking for, we pre-ordered a Gazelle.  To my knowledge it has never been used.


My daughter's initial reaction to the Gazelle was that the learning curve was going to be very steep.  To her, it appeared that it was going to be simply too much effort for an artist that was intent on designing rather than becoming a technical guru.  And, at the time I was engaged in seriously exploring and blogging about low-cost personal 3D printers that were expected to be introduced around that same time.  So, I couldn't put the effort into seriously learning the Gazelle software in order to help my daughter over the learning hump.

Again, the Gazelle might be a wonderful machine.  But, my daughter's initial reaction to its software precluded her from realizing its potential.  I plan to pick it up from my daughter to see if I can figure it out and to compare its software with that of the eCraft.  And, this will not only give us a point of comparison.  It will allow us to find out if the eCraft's newer technology renders the Gazelle an also-ran in our quest for the perfect tool for crafters and artists.

The eCraft

Ok. So, our ultimate goal is to own and use a 3D printer for sculpture and we already have a cutter that could be used for building layers, etc.  So, why this new effort?

Desktop Factory, the most promising of the 3D printers ended up being sold to 3D Systems.  In the long run this is wonderful news.  In the short run, it meant that the introduction of a sub-$5K printer will be delayed indefinitely.  We're forced to look elsewhere for at least the near future.  And, for now, that means cutters.

But, why look at the eCraft if we already have a cutter?

The big reason is the greater variety of media that can be cut.  And, from everything I've seen so far, if their software matches their hardware, it promises to have easier software than we've seen thus far from other vendors.  Of course we don't know that.  We're simply guessing.  But, we do promise to find out and let you know what we find.

You see, I have been a software interface designer for a lot of years.  I have designed for companies like Hasbro, Time-Life Software and Pinnacle Systems, the video product company.  The founder of Pinnacle Systems (Now Avid) was the lead designer for the Mindset Computer System.  And, virtually every Mindset computer that was sold, way back in the mid-1980s, went out the door with Video Titler, the first professional desktop video product for the PC that I designed with Steve Bress.  JVC also marketed the system.

Here is an old animation I created on the Mindset computer in 1984.

I plan to put the software of the eCraft to the test and help other users as much as possible to get up to speed as quickly as possible.  I know the struggle that artistic people can have with technology and I hope that I can be helpful to the artists in my own family and those in the crafting community as well.  At least we'll be in this together since none of us have had any experience at all with the new eCraft or their software.

Let's hope it's going to fun with little frustration.  I expect it will be.

Create it and Cut it - New freedom for Crafting

If you are or have been into cutting paper into shapes for craft projects, you probably already know about a new player that is just about to roll into town.

I'm talking about Craftwell and what they will be rolling in is the new eCraft cutter.

A quick search on YouTube brings up videos that show various prototype models beginning in July of 2009. Why has it taken a year to deliver it into stores? Well, my sources, who have closely followed the development up close and personal, say that it was because Craftwell was determined to do it right as they left the gate. And, right now, I'm content with that answer.

The important thing is that they are getting ready to ship and from all indications it's going to be an excellent product.

Having said all that, I need to stop and explain WHAT I am NOT and WHY I am still interested in a product that I only recently discovered and have never seen in person.

First I am NOT into crafts or scrapbooking. It's not that I don't appreciate those quests. It's just not something that I've put any time at all into doing. I'm also not an artist. My daughters and granddaughters are both. And, THAT is enough to make me not only interested; but, VERY interested.

I am technical. They are not.

I am a teacher. They need teaching when it comes to technical challenges.

So, at least in part, I am interested in the eCraft because I want to be able to help my daughters and granddaughters use such a wonderful tool with as little frustration as possible. More importantly, as far as this blog goes, I want to help ALL those that might purchase an eCraft to be able to enjoy it with as little frustration as possible. So, I'm going to let you piggyback on what I learn in my quest to help my family members.

How do I expect to be able to help them.. and, by extension, you?

The first is by providing videos that explain the things I find as I try to learn the Professional version of the software for the eCraft. I have a great deal of experience in doing this. My blogs related to some 3D design software packages that, unfortunately are no longer published, were very popular all over the world. I know this because people sent me many kind emails.

I expect to enjoy this adventure as much as I enjoyed that adventure.

The second way I hope to be able to help all eCraft owners or potential eCraft owners is by thinking outside the box when it comes to using the eCraft. In this regard, NOT being the traditional user of a cutting machine has distinct advantages. I have NO idea what CANNOT be done. So, I'll just try to do it! And, then, let you know what I've found.

Here are some things I have planned. Creating 3D Jewelry might be fun to try. How about creating forms for clay molding? Or, what if we try to build up a sculpture by layering paper or plastic? Since the eCraft boasts of being able to cut some relatively thicker stock, why don't be try some 3D puzzles?

The important thing is that this machine can be computer driven and THAT means it can be MIND driven. And, THAT is going to be the primary focus of this blog.

The one thing I will NOT do is to cut and paste press releases from eCraft. I might LINK to them. But, I will not insult your intelligence by pretending to write something I have not written. So... now I can't wait until I can get my hands on one!