Interview with Dan Shapiro, creator of the Glowforge laser cutter

My guest this week on the Cool Tools Show is Dan Shapiro. Dan is the founder of Glowforge, the 3D laser printer. He's also the creator of Robot Turtles, the board game that teaches programming to preschoolers. He wrote Hot Seat: The CEO Guidebook, and his latest hobby is throwing his wife and twin 10-year-olds in dungeons with dragons. You can find him on Twitter @danshapiro.

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Show notes:

Cast iron skillet and Random orbital sander
Raw transcript excerpt: "I love cooking for the family and my favorite cooking tool is something that my wife got me for my birthday. She went on eBay and she got a 1950-something 12-inch vintage cast iron skillet. You say, "Okay, vintage cast iron. What's the fuss?" And I wound up super geeking out on this. It turns out that nowadays cast iron skillets come directly out of the cast and they have this rough bottom. You read about cast iron being the ultimate nonstick cookware, but you've got this grating surface on the bottom of your cast iron. Modern cast iron has this, but the old stuff didn't. The old stuff they actually ground down so it was smooth on the bottom. But geeking out, I wanted to figure out, is this something you could replicate today? And I found a really cheap achievable way of doing this. Because it turns out, if you take a modern cast iron skillet and you sand it flat, which takes about a half an hour, you can get almost as good as the old vintage stuff that's really hard to get ahold of. So what you do is use a random orbital sander and put on the coarsest sandpaper that you have laying around, and you just sand the bottom of the pan. You go around and around until it is smooth to the touch. Then you follow any of the good how to season your cast iron skillet how-tos on the internet, and you wind up with a cast-iron skillet that works like nonstick cookware but doesn't flake carcinogens and you can use metal spatulas in it and all that good stuff that cast iron is wonderful for, and will last another century. So I love my vintage cast iron skillet, and I cannot recommend enough that you either go fancy, get one of those, go to a garage sale, find one that way, which is a lot cheaper or just take some sandpaper to a modern cast iron skillet. It is kitchen magic."

Mobile Passport App
Raw transcript excerpt: "I have to travel internationally for my job, and our family went to Asia on vacation. Every time nowadays I go through these lines and there's the global entry, which is a big fuss and you have to get signed up in advance and it's good to do it. But the weird thing is you're standing in line, and they're like, "Okay, here's the forever line of chumps with paper, and here's the global entry of people who planned ahead, or you can install this app," and you think to yourself, "Surely this cannot be this simple," but in my experience you can install the app before you leave, or you can do it when you touch down, you fill out everything in the app and you can do it while you're walking to customs, and then they let you right through. It is the shortest line. It's shorter than global entry, which you have to pay for. I've had friends who are not U.S. citizens who used it successfully. So I think it's the intersection of it's streamlined and quick because you can enter all the data there, and people don't know about it just makes it really fast."

Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set
Raw transcript excerpt: "Because this is about a tool, I'm just going to focus in on one particular thing, which is that for those who may have touched Dungeons & Dragons at some point in their life, Wizards of the Coast released a new version, a new set of rules, that they call 5e, the fifth edition. They're widely regarded as one of the most friendly and approachable versions.They did an amazing job with the starter kit because they put together everything you need for a group of three to eight people to play probably 20 to 40 hours, if you really stretch it out, of wonderful game time in a box for about 20 bucks. The starter kit is two books, one that's read by the dungeon master, who's sort of the head storyteller and who guides the story, and one that is read by everybody. Or, as is often the case, that's also read by the dungeon master who just sort of tells people what they need to know as they play, so depending on your audience. It comes with a set of dice and it comes with some character sheets. Besides a pencil and either extra dice or a dice rolling app, that's really all you need. My wife, who didn't grow up with it at all, was a little skeptical at first, and then it was like, 'Oh my gosh, we're spending four hours at the table with our kids talking to each other. This is amazing!'"

Glowforge 3D Laser Printer
Raw transcript excerpt: "The Glowforge laser cutter (use this link for a discount on the purchase of a Glowforge) is something that founded the company now almost five years ago. We did a crowdfunding campaign, but now we've actually been shipping them for a couple of years. We got people building businesses on them, we've got people building their woodworking hobbies and fundraisers around them, we've got schools who are using them for prototyping and for art class and for engineering and for STEM, and it is basically a desktop CNC laser cutter engraver that can engrave and cut and sculpt surfaces with a ton of precision pretty fast. It's really easy to use. It fits on a desktop. It's about the size of, think about a bag you'd check. It's like 38 inches wide and I want to say 18, 20 inches deep. You can cut 18 by 10 and a half inches. I have it in the basement. There's no ventilation. We have a product called the Compact Filter, which sits underneath the Glowforge. Glowforge starts at $2,500, and you can connect it to a window or you can put it in the basement like me and put in a Compact Filter, which is another $995, and that does all the filtering so you can run it anywhere, anywhere with wifi and a power plug."

Also mentioned:

Homemade Dungeons & Dragons screen
For those unfamiliar, Dungeons & Dragons is a game where the dungeon master has sort of a loose outline of a story, tells part of the story, the players say what they do, and then the dungeon master will share a different part or just make something up if the players are sufficiently creative, in order to handle that. But you've got to keep your story notes private because you don't want to ruin the surprise. This is a piece of material that sits on the counter so that when you roll the dice and you roll something that means a terrible thing just happened to the players, you can look up with an evil smile and just pause and stretch it out for a minute and they say, "What happened? What happened?" And you can say, "Well, it's not pretty." Traditionally the screen is either file folders and duct tape or you buy one for $10 or $20. For the DM screen I made, I actually took a big piece of plywood. I used the Glowforge Pro, which lets you use oversize materials, so you stick one end of the plywood in, print on it, push it through, print some more. I used a Glowforge Pro so I could print all three panels out of a giant piece of plywood, and have the grain run nicely across the whole thing because, as I used to be a woodworker, I'm picky about that sort of stuff, and put the whole thing together. It took about two hours of printing time.