The Pirates Who Print Shoes

Care to download and print your next pair of shoes? Without even paying for them?

The Pirate Bay invite you to share their vision: a world in which footwear is stolen and printable. They’ve announced a new category called “physibles” — files describing physical objects that can be made with a 3D printer.

In their imagined future you do not buy the objects you desire. You download the files and print them. “You will download your sneakers within 20 years,” they promise. Imagine that!

All you need’s a 3D printer

If you’ve used a 3D printer, you’ll know why printable shoes aren’t exciting. Not yet.

If you’re new to 3D printing, allow me to describe the experience in two words:

Wax. Candles.

"Cheap" 3D printers use an inkjet process. They build layers of soft resin into a physical object; a physical object that often — as it turns out — looks a lot like a candle.

I struggle to get excited about shoes that are a wick and a match away from mood lighting, but perhaps I am too fussy. Maybe I should become an early adopter and embrace a technology in its infancy to help shape and improve it. Then in the far future I will be able to say, “Yes! I was there! I was one of the first, I was. The first with printed shoes!”

And I’ll wheel myself over to the digifire and print a machine to rub my aching feet, correct my crippled bones, and sing me a song about the old times, when a spade was a spade and printers didn’t talk back.

But 3D printers are an emerging market!

Tip: “emerging market” is gobbledygeek for “don’t buy one yet”. 3D televisions are an emerging market. You shouldn’t own one of those either.

3D printers are — to borrow the words of a friend who lost five house cats in his experimental transmogrifier before calling it a day — “not quite there yet”.

3D printers are designed for rapid prototyping. They won’t produce objects containing a range of materials. They don’t make things engineered with the fit and finish that we’re used to.

3D printers are not — to put it more plainly — designed to create objects that normal people can enjoy.

But they’ll get better, right?

Will they, indeed? A 3D printer in every home? By 2020 we’ll be printing our own furniture, it seems.

Maybe that’s not so far fetched. By 2020, I’m prepared to believe that some of us will be printing our own candles. But only the very determined. And I’ll tell you why.

I turn 30 this year. I am yet to meet a single person who speaks favourably of their printer. Not their 3D printer. Their plain old “2D” one. This is for good reason.

Printers jam. Printers clog. Printers demand that you curse them in ever-creative ways in order to function. Printers run out of photo magenta even when you’re printing in grayscale. Printers are not generally well-liked.

I struggle to imagine a 3D printer that is much better than a 2D one.

The future of 3D printing, today

I do not wish to be told that my 3D printer is out of nanocyan when it’s doing the tricky bits around the laces. I do not dream of discarding twelve pairs of half-printed, mangled, almost shoes in order to get one wearable pair of sort-of-looks-like-shoes-if-you-stand-here-and-squint-a-bit.

The world has changed. People who hated technology are beginning to fall in love with it. New generations are growing up having never experienced technology when it was hard.

"It just works," is slowly becoming the default rather than the exception.

Soon, others will see that too. “No!” they will say. “No more of this! To the charity shop with you, Canon S9000i. Go! Poison the home of some other poor sap! Anything that creates this much pain does not belong in my life. Perhaps I, too, can live without a printer like the Others.”

People will learn to reject machines that make things harder for them. There is no place for ubiquitous 3D printers in this world unless they can avoid the simple frustrations that manufacturers of regular printers could not. And I have my doubts.

It is with all of this in mind that I make a promise to you: that I will never steal my shoes from the Internet and print them at home. Instead, I will do what sane people do when they need new shoes.

I will buy them from a shoe shop.

Date 24 Jan 2012 Notes 7 notes Permalink Permalink

Inkling from Wacom

Wacom just announced Inkling, a ‘digital sketch pen’ that lets illustrators and avid doodlers sketch on paper, record each stroke, and import the finished drawing as layered raster or vector artwork to their Mac or PC. All for €170 (about £150/$250). Get doodling!

Date 30 Aug 2011 Notes 8 notes Permalink Permalink

Save the Web with Readability

Readability’s new service is a great way to support your favourite websites while making web pages easier to read. It looks awesome.

The basic service

Readability lets you visit any web page and view it free of ads, oversized header graphics, and all the crap that big websites put on their pages to distract, irritate, and prevent you from enjoying their content. Making a page readable is simple: just click the ‘read now’ button the service adds to your web browser. Here’s what it does:

Original version:

Readability version:

The new service

From today, you can pay a small monthly fee to support the service (you choose how much). But here’s the killer feature: Readability now tracks which websites you read and pays part of your subscription fee to that site’s owner.

How it works

Readability uses 30% of your subscription fee to support their service, then divvies the remaining 70% between the sites you visit each month. To support a site, just click Readability’s ‘Read Now’ or ‘Read Later’ buttons when you visit that site. If you click one site a month, they get the full 70% portion of your fee. If you click more than one, it’s split up accordingly.

There are two account types:

'Readers' can sign up here to use the Readability service and support sites they visit. You can beautify the page to read it now, or mark it to read later and store it in your reading list. From there, you can archive articles or mark them as favourites — the service doubles as a handy bookmarking system.

'Publishers' can claim their sites here. I’ve already claimed this one; it’s a simple three-step process. The publisher control panel displays a list of pages that Readability subscribers have read. Publishers get paid twice a year, and can add discreet widgets and tools to their sites to encourage visitors to use Readability and support them.

If you want to sign up to be a reader and a publisher, you need to log out of your publisher account to sign up for a reader account using a different email address.

If you still don’t understand what the fuss is about, see the intro here.

The future

Marco Arment is about to release a special Readability-branded version of his Instapaper app, to let iPhoners catch up with their web reading on the go while supporting their favourite writers. Users of the existing Instapaper service will be able to send their reading logs to Readability, so that site authors still get paid. Personally, I’ll be switching to the Readability app — it makes sense to me to use one service instead of two.

I recently wrote that 'we need a better way to support indie publishers', and suggested a platform-based revenue sharing scheme as one solution. Less than two weeks later, someone’s launched one!

Any service that hopes to build and nurture an independent publishing ecosystem is well worth supporting in my view; I’m using Readability as a reader and publisher. Maybe you should too.

Date 1 Feb 2011 Notes 15 notes Permalink Permalink Tags publishing

Derren Brown The Artist

Many know Derren Brown as a thought-fiddler and thaumaturge, but few seem to know that he paints. His portraits have a twisted charm that mirror his whimsical stage and TV shows, and are a lot of fun to browse; check them out here.

Today he’s tweeting photos of his process. Watching this portrait of his father come together, live, is rather wonderful. And he’s not finished yet. Follow along on twitter here: @derrenbrown

Derren Brown: "I like to treat this like a blank canvas."


Derren Brown: "Going to paint m’Dad for a family series. Sketch on canvas done, bring on the messy stuff."


Derren Brown: "Orange phase complete. Let it dry."


Derren Brown: "Building up some tones, dry brush, moving them into background…"


Derren Brown: "More of the same, starting to take some sort of basic shape. Might stop for lunch."


Derren Brown: "Increasing definition."


Derren Brown: "Glazing to soften colours. It’s 5ft tall, acrylic, will take a week of sporadic sessions. Stopping for a few hrs."


DerrenBrown: "Couple more hours tonight painting pic of Dad… Still a way to go but here’s the latest."

Date 29 Jan 2011 Notes 8 notes Permalink Permalink Tags art

The Ears Have It

You can tell a lot about a person from their ears. If the eyes are windows to the soul, the ears are periscopes to the stomach.

The rule is even stronger with dogs. When the golden labrador pictured here arrived in our household, it took my mother, brother, sister, and me 10 minutes to choose ‘Yoda’ as a name for him.

The puppy in front of us, with his puddled skin and pricked-up ears, had all the hallmarks of an 800-year-old Jedi Master. ‘Yoda’ was a name you grew into. It seemed fitting not because it made fun of his physical attributes, but because we expected great things of our first family pet.

My father vetoed the suggestion less than an hour later, so today our dog’s called Toby. I was fine with this. Yoda’s a ridiculous moniker for any animal and, besides, I knew that dogs respond not to the name itself, but to the number of syllables in that name.

Shout, ‘Here, Benjamin!’ to a dog named Toby and it will think you quite mad. But anything with two syllables of equal phonetic prominence works fine. Dogs are forgiving creatures; they know full well when you’ve forgotten their name, but they’ll let you off if you get it close enough.

Toby has arthritis now. Somehow it makes his original name — the one he had for 45 minutes — all the more fitting. When I visit my folks and no-one’s within earshot, I throw his ball and call to him:

'Yoda! Come here, you must!'

Toby’s always smiling when he hobbles back. Secretly, I think he likes his real name better too.

Date 25 Jan 2011 Notes 11 notes Permalink Permalink Tags stories