The search for an inexpensive, field-ready 3D printer: Monoprice Mini Delta (review)

Monoprice is an interesting organization. They’re a rebadging company that seeks out unbranded or off-brand products, makes a few tweaks, and then sells them to secondary markets under their own brand. They made their mark in the early 2000s selling good, cheap cables and have expanded from there. You can find headphones, cookware, cables, computer accessories, and, of course, 3D printers, under the Monoprice label. But that doesn’t mean their products are cheap knockoffs. Monoprice has a reputation for finding quality equipment.

The Monoprice Mini Delta is a rebadged Malyan M300. From the specs, it doesn’t look like Monoprice changed anything but the logo, and that’s a good thing. Malyan printers have a great reputation.

This is a delta printer, which means rather than having independent X, Y, and Z-axes, three identical stepper motor arrays work in tandem to control the position of the extruder while the bed itself remains stationary. It uses a Bowden-style extruder that keeps the weight on the printhead down. It has an aluminum frame with steel structural elements. The relatively small circular print area is 110 mm diameter by 120 mm height. Controls are integrated into the printer and it allegedly has WiFi capability through an app.

The Monoprice Mini Delta is available on Amazon for $159.99.

We’re going to make this little printer suffer.

For an explanation of our testing protocols, please see: We’re gonna beat the heck out of these machines: The search for the best dirt-cheap 3D printer for fieldwork.

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The next generation open-source, 3D-printable Niskin bottle has arrived!

The Niskin bottle, a seemingly simple device designed to take water samples at discrete depths, is one of the most important tools of oceanography. These precision instruments allow us to bring ocean water back to the surface to study its chemical composition, quality, and biologic constituency. If you want to know how much plastic is circulating in the deep sea, you need a Niskin bottle. If you need to measure chemical-rich plumes in minute detail, you need a Niskin bottle. If you want to use environmental DNA analyses to identify the organisms living in a region of the big blue sea, you need a Niskin bottle.

Niskin bottles are neither cheap nor particularly easy to use. A commercial rosette requires a winch to launch and recover, necessitating both a vessel and a crew to deploy. For informal, unaffiliated, or unfunded researchers, as well as citizen scientists or any researcher working on a tight budget, getting high-quality, discrete water samples is an ongoing challenge.

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Remembering Walter Munk, a photo on a flash drive in a pile of poo from a seal at the bottom of the sea, lucky vikings, and more! Monday Morning Salvage: February 11, 2019

Foghorn (A Call to Action!)

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

Carsten Egevang goes looking for seals in Greenland and finds a photogenic guillemot instead.
This photo of a sealion on a Southland beach was found on a USB stick swallowed by a leopard seal. Credit: unknown
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Fun Science FRIEDay – Life is Inevitable

Why does life exist? Its an age old question that has been debated for centuries with popular hypotheses crediting celestial interference, a primordial soup, or a colossal stroke of luck. However, a relatively recent and provocative hypothesis suggests luck has nothing to do with it, and that instead, life is an inevitable consequence of physics.

The author of the concept, Jeremy England – professor of biophysics at MIT, suggests, “the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.”

 

(Photo credit: creative-bioarray)

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Logs from a majestic pit of acid: Diving Belize’s Blue Hole with Erika Bergman.

In November of 2018 Aquatica Submarines shipped a three person submarine, Stingray 500, across frosty North America on the back of a truck then over the rolling winter seas of the Gulf of Mexico to Belize aboard the R/V Brooks McCall. Our destination was a site located 7 miles into Lighthouse Reef – a perfect sinkhole in the ocean known as the Great Blue Hole. We traveled to this UNESCO World Heritage site to explore and document a geologic phenomenon in support of conservation science and to conduct outreach. Our mission was two fold, map the Great Blue Hole using high resolution sonar and take people worldwide on this journey with us on broadcast TV. Everything we collected, from CTD data and dissolved oxygen content, to video footage and experiential data, gives us the fodder we need to tell a story about an unusual place on our planet most people have never seen, until now.

Photo courtesy Aquatica Submarines.

Geology from not-a-geologist

Over the past 14,000 years the polar ice caps, formed during the last glacial maximum, have thawed and raised sea level in steps. These defrosting events are captured in a stone record of an oceanic sinkhole in Belize. The aptly named Great Blue Hole is a collapsed cave, filled with stalactite caverns, and built up from layers of fine limestone and rougher calcium carbonate walls. The stepped rise of sea level can be seen in the form of terraces carved deeply by erosion into the otherwise vertical rock walls. Straight vertical stretches of wall are free of erosion because sea level rose rapidly during a few brief decades between each step. As each melting event took place sea level rose dramatically, as much as 100 feet in 100 years, followed by centuries of stability. Preserved from the disturbance of time, and isolated in the darkness, the hole holds clues to a very natural part of our planet’s life cycle. It’s these terraces and stalactites we set out to map.

Photo courtesy Aquatica Submarines.
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Mud volcanoes, starfish wasting, the stinkiest fruit, and more! Monday Morning Salvage: February 4, 2019.

Foghorn (A Call to Action!)

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

Underwater mud volcanoes in the Flower Garden National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico. Escaping gas can be seen rising from the mud volcano. PC: Sea Research Foundation (SRF) and the Ocean Exploration Trust (OET).
Two photos of the same rock, 20 days apart (Neil McDaniel)
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We’re gonna beat the heck out of these machines: The search for the best dirt-cheap 3D printer for fieldwork.

What makes a good 3D printer for field work? It needs to be reliable, it needs to be durable, it needs to be reasonably portable. It also needs to print good, strong parts with decent resolution. They don’t have to be pretty, but they do have to work.

Last year, if you asked me what the absolute best 3D printer for field work was, I wouldn’t have hesitated to tell you it’s the Printrbot Simple Metal. This little beast has traveled the world with me, gone to sea, and taken an absolutely massive beating. And it’s still my main workhorse. At $600 plus a lot of custom modifications, it’s still the best deal in terms of quality, cost, and reliability out there.

If you can find one.

My Simple Metal, with the famous 3D-printed computer driving the 3D-printer that 3D-printed that computer.

Printrbot went out of business last year, due in large part to the proliferation of cheaper machines that have pretty good quality. The company sat in an awkward niche, too expensive for entry-level consumers, not quite up to par for people looking to drop several thousand on a professional machine. As important as it is to me, “can you kick the crap out of it and drop it off a boat?” is not a criteria that rates highly for most people who want a low-cost machine that will sit comfortably on a desk forever.

But that puts me in an tough spot right now. Conservation Tech, especially low-cost, open-source conservation tech, is booming, and we need machines that work in the field on the budget of a conservation biologist. I couldn’t tell you what the best cheap 3D printer on the market is right now for people who need it for field work, travel, or just want a tough machine that works and doesn’t cost much.

So I’m going to buy a bunch, beat them to hell, and figure it out.

The Southern Fried Science Ultimate 3D Printer Review Process

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Hagfish, hagfish, hagfish, hagfish, the social value of a hydrothermal vent, more ways plastic booms could kill the ocean, and hagfish. Monday Morning Salvage: January 28, 2019.

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

It’s all hagfish today, baby!


Hagfish appear to use slime to avoid predators like sharks (top) and large fish (bottom). The images above are from videos showing fish eating a hagfish, which then produces slime and is able to escape (Images from wikimediacommons).
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The ongoing wonder of hagfish, deep-sea mining’s race to the bottom, saving whales with lineless lobster traps, and more! Monday Morning Salvage: January 21, 2019

Logo for Monday Morning Salvage.

Foghorn (A Call to Action!)

It’s month two of the longest shutdown in US history and there’s only one party who won’t allow a vote to reopen the government proceed. Have you called you senator today?

And while I have your attention, FYI:

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)3-D Printing the Ulitmate Deep-Sea Christmas Tree

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Why I don’t bite everyone that stresses me out: The cost-benefit analysis of predators

There is controversy whenever a human creates a close interaction with a wild animal.  Those arguing in favour of the human’s behavior inevitably settle on the argument that if the animal didn’t like it, the animal would have bit them or exhibited some sudden reaction to the human.  People who propose this argument have a very limited understanding of animal behavior.

Real talk, I used to believe this totally incorrect argument, and I will never forget the day that changed my perspective forever.  I was a budding zoologist working on a remote island with a group of scientists that were ringing cormorants.  The cormorants squawked for awhile, but then got “used” to our presence and calmed down.  I was reassured that we weren’t causing them any distress as we worked nearby, otherwise I expected that they would have shown it by either continuing to squawk or simply fly away.  Then, I noticed a few dead cormorants near where we worked.  I thought that they must have died before we arrived.  However, the senior researcher explained that they had been alive moments before but most likely died due to the stress of our presence.  That was an extremely powerful lesson in my young career and it challenged what I thought I “understood” about human interactions with animals.  Keep in mind, I was known for being an animal whisperer of sorts in my youth (see below) and truly believed that my special calm and confident nature could be detected by animals, and that they would accept my presence more readily than those who didn’t have my nature.  That FernGully perspective is wrong and egocentric.  There are few scenarios where our presence isn’t horribly stressful and disruptive to wild animals.   

Squirrel demonstrating a cost/benefit analysis = the benefit of free food is higher than the stress my tie-dyed presence is causing.

Large predators are no exception.  They are just as vulnerable to our stress as cormorants and just as unlikely to express it externally, because the cost of those behaviors is expensive.  Predators have severe energetic constraints and are constantly calculating whether their actions are worth sacrificing energy for, this is a cost/benefit analysis.  We do similar analyses all the time.  For example, I have a Trader Joe’s that is ~30 minutes from my home.  The food there is delicious and less expensive than my local grocery store.  However, I don’t go to The Joe every time I am hungry.  Even though I would save money on discount blue cheese dip there, I would spend more money in fuel for my car – meaning the entire trip would cost me more in the long run.  The costs of this behavior is too high and not worth it.

White sharks are especially discerning since they can burn a lot of energy quickly and are unlikely to encounter large meals in the open ocean to refuel.  So they make conservative decisions that prioritize maintaining energy stores (especially during gestation when a large portion of their energy budget is developing shark embryos).  In the recent case of large white sharks scavenging from a sperm whale in Hawaii, there were several divers in the water creating close interactions with the sharks for social media purposes.  Controversy ensued and the idea that the white sharks must have “enjoyed” these interactions otherwise they would have swam away or bit the divers has been presented.  But it is not supported.  First, white sharks full of whale blubber are experiencing some pretty hardcore torpor.  Also, blubber is very positivity buoyant, meaning a stomach full of blubber is essentially the same as if we ate a ton of foam and then tried to swim about.  White sharks at whale carcasses are typically slow-moving with low aggression, even towards each other.  It’s not that whale blubber makes them “happy,” it’s that being aggressive and swimming fast when there are going to be many other white sharks around AND you’re going to have a stomach full of floaty blubber is energetically expensive and the costs of these behaviors are too high.

Figure 4 from Fallows, C., Gallagher, A. J., & Hammerschlag, N. (2013). White sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) scavenging on whales and its potential role in further shaping the ecology of an apex predator. PLoS One8(4), e60797.

Does that mean diving with full-bellied white sharks is safe?  Absolutely not – for them or for you.  It doesn’t matter how well you think you “know” a predator – species or individual – they are still dangerous.  We all know the list of fatal tragedies that start off with well-known humans believing that they have enough experience to take big risks, and each of those fatalities ends with the animal suffering, too.  For the sharks, disrupting a rare feeding event has long-term implications.  The stress caused – whether they exhibit that stress externally or not – is burning their limited energy, forcing them to recalculate their future behaviours until (if?) they encounter the next windfall.  Also – although currently undocumented – it’s a common thought amongst shark researchers that mating could occur at large feeding events like whale carcasses since it’s provides male sharks an opportunity to take advantage of the large female’s torpor to attempt mating approaches (I personally believe the same is true at seal colonies).  Boats and divers disrupt these behaviours.

I don’t bite every person that causes me stress.  I don’t full-sprint away from every situation that causes me stress.  That doesn’t mean that I am not experiencing stress that impacts my behavior and health.  The same is true for every one of these close animal interactions created by humans.  It’s alarming to me when those humans say that they are somehow especially qualified, and that their experience alone creates these “safe” encounters.  It’s not.  You’re benefiting from the cost a large predator doesn’t want to incur by demonstrating its stress to you – but as we’ve unfortunately seen several times, when the scales are finally tipped, unnecessary tragedies do occur.