3D printing myself

Back in March I wrote a piece on the rapid mainstreaming of 3D culture that included coverage of the Omote 3D Shashin Kan pop-up store in Tokyo, where families could get themselves scanned and have their own 3D figurines printed. Now this concept has made its way to Europe, with the likes of My3DTwin in London and Twinkind in Hamburg offering full-body scanning and colour printing on the high street.

In Brussels too, a similar service (not yet full colour) exists. Located just a few minutes walk from my base in the city, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get a ‘mini-Justin’ made by the people at Vousen3D (“You in 3D”).

“The concept is to create a 3D scan of people and print it on the printer. We started something like one year ago with friends and we seemed to enjoy it, so we decided to start a small business out of it,” explains François Chasseur, who co-founded the company with Alyne François.

The scans are done with a Kinect, using software called ReconstructMe. “It’s made by an Austrian company (Profactor). We tuned the software to make it work very well for what we do,” says Chasseur.

The scanner is attached to a rail, allowing the operator to move it steadily up and down, whilst rotating the client on a small turntable. Standing perfectly still on this device as it rotated was harder than it looked, so a second scan was necessary, although, even then it took only a couple of minutes in total.

Vousen3D uses Netfabb for the cleaning and post-processing of the scan, before loading it in another piece of software called Cura, which is a slicer. The whole process from scanning to having a ready-to-print model took less than 30 minutes.

Chasseur and Francois are currently using an Ultimaker to do print the figurines. “For a low-end printer, it’s one of the best,” says Chasseur. “For the price of the set up, it’s quite amazing what you can actually have,” he believes. I was able to collect my PLA figurine the next day and, I have to say the likeness is impressive, even for a so-called low-end product.

Services offered by Vousen3D range from a simple bust (with printing outsourced to Sculpteo) to a full-size scan with source file attached (enabling the customer to go and get another print – of whatever size – later).

I discovered Vousen3D in a pop-up shop for artisans in the commune (borough) of St Gilles. I asked Chasseur what would happen at the end of July when that shop’s lease expired? “That’s a good question. We have day jobs – I work as a developer in a medical imaging company. We started this as a side business. It takes up quite a bit of time, but so far we enjoy it.”

Despite growing interest, Chasseur is less bullish than many in the industry about the demand for 3D printed figurines, particular given the cost of the full-colour services to consumers. “It’s probably because of the [economic] crisis also, but getting something like this, it’s low priority on the family budget.” Something worth remembering next time you read a breathless piece of 3D printing boosterism.

This article was written for SPARPoint Group, July 2013. For more like it, see: http://www.sparpointgroup.com/

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The greatest English Premier League side?

Football fans can debate the respective merits of teams from different eras till the cows come home, go out and come home again. I thought I’d apply a little (pseudo-)science to the question of which has been the greatest side in the 21 years of the EPL. To this end I compared the respective performance of each league champion since 1992 against their toughest opponents, namely the teams finishing in 2nd to 6th positions.

The results make for interesting reading. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the number of titles they have won, it is a Manchester United team that comes out on top. Not, however, the lauded treble-winning side of 1999, which performed relatively poorly against the toughest opposition (15 points out of a possible 30 home and away versus 2nd-6th).

Rather, it is Alex Ferguson’s other Champions League winning unit, the 2007/8 side, that has performed best in those crunch games, securing 25 points out of a possible 30 that season (the only blemishes being a defeat against Chelsea and a draw against Arsenal).

The second and third spots in this all-time list go to Manchester City’s epic 2011/12 title winners (24 points out of 30, with 24 goals scored versus 9 conceded); and Mourinho’s dominant Chelsea side of 2005/6 (24 points; for 20 goals, against 6).

Level with those two in terms of points but just below on goal difference are Arsenal’s ‘invincibles’ of 2003/4 and the record total points holders for a Premier League season: Chelsea 2004/5.

At the other end of the scale, the three least impressive Premier League champions in terms of results against the rest of the top six have been the 2000/1 and 2012/13 Manchester United teams (both with 14 out of a possible 30 points; indeed last season’s champions were actually outperformed by runners-up City – 15 out of 30 – in these big games), just above the bottom-ranked 2008/9 United squad.

More than one way to skin a full-back

What then can we infer, given that United’s 2009 side was virtually identical to the 2007/8 team which leads this ranking, also reached a Champions League final and actually finished with more points in total (90 versus 87)? Perhaps it just goes to show that the importance of ‘big games’ is overrated when it comes to winning a league campaign – that it is all about consistency. Being a flat track bully may not be as thrilling, but it is just as effective.

The strong get stronger

A second conclusion to be drawn from the data is that the top team has been getting comparatively stronger than the rest of the league over time: In the first 10 seasons of the Premier League (or Premiership as it was first known), only one side (Man United in 1999/2000) won 20 points or more in matches against the rest of the top six; in the 11 seasons since, this has happened no fewer than eight times.

EPL winners’ results against the rest of the top 6 (2013-1993)

  • 2012/13 – Manchester United: 14 points out of 30 (vs City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, Everton
  • 2011/12 – Manchester City: 24 out of 30 (vs Man United, Arsenal, Spurs, Newcastle, Chelsea)
  • 2010/11 – Manchester United: 23 out of 30 (vs Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool
  • 2009/10 – Chelsea: 18 out of 30 (vs United, Arsenal, Spurs, City, Villa)
  • 2008/9 – Manchester United: 13 out of 30 (vs Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton, Villa)
  • 2007/8 – Manchester United: 25 out of 30 (vs Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Everton, Villa)
  • 2006/7 – Manchester United: 20 out of 30 (vs Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs, Everton)
  • 2005/6 – Chelsea: 24 out of 30 (vs Man Utd, Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs, Blackburn)
  • 2004/5 – Chelsea: 24 out of 30 (vs Arsenal, Man Utd, Everton, Liverpool, Bolton) – 14 goals for; 5 against
  • 2003/4 – Arsenal: 24 out of 30 (vs Chelsea, Man Utd, Liverpool, Newcastle, Villa) – 18 goals for; 8 against
  • 2002/3 – Manchester United: 23 out of 30 (vs Arsenal, Newcastle, Chelsea, Liverpool, Blackburn)
  • 2001/2 – Arsenal: 17 out of 30 (vs Liverpool, Man Utd, Newcastle, Leeds, Chelsea)
  • 2000/1 – Manchester United: 14 out of 30 (vs Arsenal, Liverpool, Leeds, Ipswich, Chelsea)
  • 1999/2000 – Manchester United: 23 out of 30 (vs Arsenal, Leeds, Liverpool, Chelsea, Villa)
  • 1998/99 – Manchester United: 15 out of 30 (vs Arsenal, Chelsea, Leeds, West Ham, Villa)
  • 1997/98 – Arsenal: 19 out of 30 (vs Man Utd, Liverpool, Chelsea, Leeds and Blackburn)
  • 1996/97 – Manchester United: 16 out of 30 (vs Newcastle, Arsenal, Liverpool, Villa, Chelsea)
  • 1995/96 – Manchester United: 17 out of 30 (vs Newcastle, Liverpool, Villa, Arsenal, Everton)
  • 1994/95 – Blackburn Rovers: 15 out of 30 (vs Man Utd, Nottingham Forest, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle)
  • 1993/94 – Manchester Utd: 15 out of 30 (vs Blackburn, Newcastle, Arsenal, Leeds, Wimbledon)
  • 1992/93 – Manchester Utd: 19 out of 30 (vs Aston Villa, Norwich, Blackburn, QPR, Liverpool).
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Interview in this month’s easyJet Traveller mag

Check out my interview with PM Doutreligne for the Real Regulars section of this month’s easyJet Traveller magazine.

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Olaf Diegel: 3D printed guitar is just the start

If, like me, you are a fan of rock music, one of the coolest things about London’s 3D Printshow was the chance to see and hear 3D instruments being played live – I’m sure it would have been the first time for many other people as well. My former editor at SPAR Point Group Sam Pfeifle – a fellow music-lover – was lucky enough to get his hands on one of the 3D printed guitars that 3DSystems brought along to SPAR 12 in Houston back in April. Now, the Rock Hill-based 3D giant has added basses, acoustic guitars and drumsticks to its growing instrument range. Anyone who caught the Live Show at the 3D Printshow would have heard these – and a 3D printed violin from EOS – being used to play a specially-composed piece by Dave Marks. Here’s a clip of part of that performance. And here’s Marks talking about using a 3D printed electric guitar in the compositional process.

The guitar in question was developed in partnership with 3DSystems by New Zealander Olaf Diegel, founder of the firm ODD Guitars. I caught up with Diegel in London and asked him about the story behind this exciting innovation and what’s next in terms of 3D printed instrumentation. Check the Olaf Diegel interview to find out more…

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Welsh rugby should look beyond borders in regional shake-up

Old Deer Park - home of London Welsh

The news that Welsh rugby’s regional structure is set for yet another revamp will come as no surprise to anyone who has sat in a three-quarters empty Cardiff City Stadium watching The Blues try – and fail – to inspire some kind of atmosphere.

With low attendances across the board, and a general climate of belt tightening, clearly the current system, whereby the Welsh Rugby Union ploughs equal amounts of money into the four regional sides – Cardiff Blues, Newport Gwent Dragons, Scarlets and Ospreys – is ripe for reconsideration. Particularly since none of the Welsh regions has yet to win Europe’s premier club competition, the Heineken Cup, in contrast with the Irish regions’ five titles (including four of the last six).

In its report of the possible restructure, Welsh current affairs programme Week In Week Out quotes WRU chief executive Roger Lewis as saying several funding permutations are on the table. These include something akin to the Irish model, whereby three main provincial sides receiving equal funding, whilst the fourth receives less money and is primarily used to develop young players. But, says Roger Lewis, “the permutations could be greater than that. It could be one and three, two and two or three and one…We’ve got to come up with the best solution for all of Welsh rugby.”

WIWO also spoke to Regional Rugby Wales chief executive, Stuart Gallacher, who admitted: “We have to look at different ways of running the professional game in Wales”.

One of the biggest problems facing the Welsh regions is the financial pull of rival leagues (i.e. England’s Aviva Premiership and, increasingly, the Top 14 in France). This has led to something of a player drain, with Welsh internationals including James Hook, Lee Byrne and Andy Powell all currently plying their trade outside their home country, potentially creating additional problems of player availability for international matches.

Whatever way you slice the WRU funding pie, attempting to match the financial firepower of the English and French leagues is surely a zero sum game for Welsh rugby. But if you can’t beat them, then why not join them?

A rugby side with very strong Welsh connections is already close to the top of the 2nd tier of the English league pyramid. If the entire Welsh regional structure is up for grabs, why not make London Welsh one of the regions the WRU funds in future? On top of the club’s existing strengths and fine traditions (7 British & Irish Lions on the victorious New Zealand tour in 1971), the extra investment should (of course it’s no guarantee) lead to promotion to the Premiership. With that achieved, Welsh internationals who want to try their hand in the English game would have an ideal destination – and a club that would be far more forgiving when it came to international release dates than the rest of the Premiership. The rugby would also be more competitive more often than in the Celtic League, hence aiding player development.

Another, even more radical scenario, would see some regional funding being earmarked for a new ‘Welsh-owned’ franchise in France. Something along the lines of a ‘Bretagne Gallois’ side (based in Rennes). In this case significantly more initial investment would be required, but given the pot of TV money available in France, significantly higher income could also be generated in time (not to mention the valuable cultural and tourism links with our fellow Celts in Brittany).

Of course, given the insularity and in-fighting for which Welsh rugby administration is known, the chances of either of these ‘expansion’ scenarios coming to fruition is slim to say the least. More likely we will see the Dragons becoming the Connacht of Wales, whilst the Scarlets, Ospreys and Blues each take a bigger share of the pie. A solution that would be no more than a sticking plaster when it is surgery that is needed.

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My latest flames

Here are some links to a small cross-section of my more recent work:

First up is this interview with Detroit techno pioneer Carl Craig, published by FACT magazine.

Also on the music front, here is a report on music technology/social media and branding for London-based website, brand-m.biz.

And a very different take on technology and music can be found in this column for SPAR Point Group’s 3D laser scanning industry website. (You can read my weekly ‘Continental View‘ column for SPAR Point Group every Tuesday).

If you are in Brussels this week (Jan 31-Feb 4) you might want to check out the American Theatre Company’s production of Donald Margulies’s ‘Dinner with Friends‘, for which I have done the sound design/sound fx. (Here’s a little Bar Noise with music to get you in the mood).

Finally, I’ve recently written my first ever script. It’s for the English-language learning comic strip ‘Grammarman’ (as featured in the Bangkok Post among other international publications). Here’s a preview…

Grammarman preview

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Revitalising the Europa League

For a football fan, the idea that you would want your team to get knocked out of a cup competition goes against all instincts. When you are a fan of a team that hasn’t won a major trophy for 35 years, to want them to lose seems positively barmy. Yet, a few hours before Manchester City’s Europa League last 16 match against Dynamo Kyiv, here I am, not exactly wishing them to lose, but equally, no more than half-heartedly wanting them to win.

And the reason for this: the competition itself – the Europa League. Or rather, the number of games a team has to play to win the bloody thing! This evening’s match with Kyiv will be City’s 12th in the competition, with a further five to come should they progress to the final in Dublin in May. That’s nearly half a Premier League programme of games for a competition that is distinctly second best to the Champions League.

Yet there are obvious ways in which UEFA could streamline and strengthen the Europa League, opportunities that they missed when revamping the UEFA Cup into the current half-baked format.

Let’s consider first the biggest gripe from fans, players and coaches: the number of matches. There are sensible ways in which UEFA could reduce the number of rounds in the tournament, whilst making it more attractive to paying spectators and broadcasters in the process. At present, after the end of the group stage in December, there are a further 9 games to play if a team wants to win the trophy – that is too many. There are currently 32 teams left in the competition after the group stage. That number should be reduced to at least 16 and preferably eight.

Ideally, the Europa League should move directly from the group stage to the quarter-finals. What is the best way to achieve this? Here’s one suggestion:

At present 48 teams compete in the group stage of the Europa League, with two teams progressing from each of the 12 groups of four; these 24 teams are then joined in the last 32 by the eight third-placed teams from the group stages of the Champions League. An alternative solution would be to add another knockout round prior to the group stage. This round would involve 56 teams (thereby increasing the total number of teams in the Europa League qualification rounds), enabling 28 teams to progress to the group stage.

Teams would then be divided into seven groups of four teams. The seven group winners would progress to the quarter-finals, as would (to borrow an excellent idea from Rugby Union’s Heineken Cup), the second-placed team with the best record. Another change from the current format would see the final two group stage matches played after the turn of the year, rather than before. For a side finishing fifth in the English Premier League, this potentially would mean two qualification rounds, a six-match group stage, quarter-final, semi-final, final – 15 matches in total, of which eight would be played before Xmas and seven after the turn of the year.

To compensate the eight teams who currently drop into the Europa League from the Champions League and who henceforth would be excluded from the former, I propose a new knockout tournament: the UEFA Shield, the winners of which could play the winners of the Europa League at the beginning of the following season. At stake would be the prize of qualification for the group stage of the Champions League.

Hypothetical 2011/12 fixture list for the fifth-placed English Premier League side if the Europa League were to be reformatted as suggested:

Europa League – Round 1

First leg: August 18

Second leg: August 25

Europa League – Round 2

First leg: September 15

Second leg: September 29

Europa League – Group Stage

Matchday 1: October 20

Matchday 2: November 3

Matchday 3: November 24

Matchday 4: December 8

(break)

Matchday 5: February 23

Matchday 6: March 8

Quarter-Finals

First leg: March 22

Second leg: April 5

Semi-Finals

First leg: April 19

Second leg: May 3

Final

Wednesday May 16

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Belgium’s coalition woes show ConDem plain sailing was all too easy

Today Belgium will set a new world record for the longest time taken to agree to the formation of a government, surpassing the 249 days it took Iraqi parties to agree the terms of a coalition following their country’s elections last March. With typical Belgian humour, the good burghers of Ghent will be marking the occasion with a festival, ironically titled “Support Our Heroes”. Yet, if Belgium’s ongoing travails are cause only for gallows humour, British observers should avoid the temptation to smirk. For though our own coalition government has been plenty busy in the time that Belgian politicians have spent arguing the toss, the almost indecent haste with which it was formed has been the source of much of its weakness. With hindsight, the five days it took the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats to agree the terms of their marriage of convenience seems ludicrously short. Yet at the time, and in the face of huge pressure to act swiftly and decisively from the Murdoch press and other mainstream media outlets (not to mention the ratings agencies), to David Cameron and Nick Clegg it must have felt like an eternity.

But the speed with which this shotgun wedding was agreed has undoubtedly led to heartache and headaches later. From the Lib Dem u-turn on tuition fees to the ConDem u-turn on forests, principles swiftly abandoned and policy made on the hoof can only erode confidence, not only in this coalition but in the politics of partnership as a whole.

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Synopsis

Justin Toland has more than a decade’s experience as a journalist and editor, working across a wide range of publication types and sectors: business-to-business newsletters, trade magazines, consumer and mass market publications, institutional PR, reports and directories. He also has significant experience as a radio presenter and producer and as a video maker.

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Photographs

A small selection of my published photographs. Mostly taken with an Olympus E-510 digital SLR camera.

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