Igor Kromin |   Consultant. Coder. Blogger. Tinkerer. Gamer.

The Metal Earth Darth Vader Helmet is a new kit in the Star Wars range put out by Fascinations. It sits along side similar kits like the First Order Stormtrooper Helmet, Boba Fett Helmet, Luke Skywalker Helmet and a few others. In my opinion it is the most iconic looking kit and is the one with the most presence when fully assembled. I like it!

I like the new direction of painted kits that Metal Earth/Fascinations is going in. Though I do have some complaints on the ease with which this paint can be scratched during construction of a kit, overall these painted kits are truely something else! Of course the only colour (or lack of really) in the Vader kit is black. It looks so menacing and powerful when complete...
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Now you may think this is a simple helmet/bust style kit and will be a breeze to put together. Think otherwise. As Vader would say - "You are unwise to lower your defences!" This kit is hard, mostly due to all those curves. There are very few tabs that easily bend at 90 degrees or snap in place. I had to spend significant time coercing panels to line up properly, but the end result was worth it.

So lets see the kit and what's inside. It's a two sheet kit and has a single sheet instruction manual. Nice and simple. The instructions are improved here and have an A and B sheet referenced for each numbered part - this makes it so much easier to find what you're looking for.

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From the get-go the construction is not easy going. The first part to be assembled is the face nose/mouth section. There are a few tricky curves here and at first I curved those parts around where the breather grille goes in later - I had to straighten them out at a later point.

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At the end of 2017 I wrote about how PCBway stacks up as a low budget PCB fab and was generally happy with the results. I haven't had major PCB based projects since then, but now that I'm starting to look at a more interesting new board design I checked out PCBWay again and I must say they have improved. Many times over!

So lets dive right in and see why I was so impressed with them this time around. In 2017 I had two main complaints - the lack of an online Gerber viewer on their site and their confusing Eagle to Gerber tutorials. Well no more and both are resolved with their online Eagle to Gerber converter. This tool really did impress me and is a wonder for any casual hobbyist like myself. It takes out the additional work of conversion steps and generally works from the first go. I did notice it produced an odd top paste mask but that didn't actually affect my PCB in the end. I've checked on this with their staff too and all was a-OK. I'm still surprised that you get your own representative assigned for a very customised service.
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The converter will let you preview all your Gerber files and then download a ZIP with everything included. If you weren't using a converter and just wanted to view your Gerbers, they also added a separate Online Gerber Viewer.

Something else that irked me last time were the vastly inflated prices for solder mask in colours other than green. That's dealt with now too. Blue, red, black, yellow, green it's all the same price now. Unless you want one of the more unique combinations in matte you'll not pay a cent extra for a different colour.
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Fabrication times were a few days, then delivery times ranged from a few days to months, depending on how much you wanted to pay. During the production of my PCBs there was a fault and one (out of 5) boards had to be scrapped. This was handled very well - PCBWay emailed me with two options - get a discount and have only 4 boards shipped out or wait a few days and get a whole new set of replacements. I chose the latter and ended up with 9 boards in the end for no extra cost. Their service has improved too, not just the technology and pricing.

That was the online and service side of things. This is how my order arrived...

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Similar to last time, but with extra padding. I really do like the fact they send PCBs in a cardboard carton, unlike some other fabs. Each of my two lots of PCBs were vacuum sealed in bubble wrap, same as last time too.
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I use Gmail (via G Suite) for both my personal email as well as email services for all the websites I run and it's a great email system. I also use a Macbook Pro and that's a great laptop. Unfortunately when you combine what Apple has with what Google has, it doesn't always work smoothly. Safari and Gmail are a good example and this combination has been driving me nuts lately.

Safari has a "neat" feature that can auto-complete whatever you're typing into form input fields with information from your contacts, user names and passwords, credit cards, etc. This goes a little haywire in Gmail when you try to search for a label. In this case, the Gmail search popup shows up and over the top of that, the Safari popup shows up and blocks whatever Gmail was showing. The end result is rather irritating, not to mention that both popups show different information...
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Fortunately there is a way to make this stop by disabling AutoFill for Contacts. This is done by disabling the Safari Preferences > AutoFill > Using info from my contacts option.
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The number of times I've changed domain name registras is astonishing, and it's always an annoying process to go through. The only reason I change registras is cost. We've all seen those insanely low prices that are offered in the first year, only to be massively inflated in years that follow. But recently I've discovered something that will break this cycle of registra hopping.

After writing a post about GoDaddy injecting JavaScript into hosted websites some of the readers suggested switching to CloudFlare for domain name registration (unrelated to what GoDaddy was doing but useful nonetheless). Reasoning being that there was no price gouging and the domains were registered at-cost...meaning you pay exactly what CloudFlare pays and no more. So...I decided to give it a go.

The Early Access program has been open for some time and when I signed up to it I was in the 4th wave. The way that CloudFlare domain registration works is a little different to the usual registra in that you have to have your domain already active on CloudFlare. This is no drawback whatsoever of course because you get the benefit of a (free, unless you want advanced features) CDN and cheap domain registration in one. The way I see it is it's a deal that's almost too good to be true, but it is!
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After signing up to the early access program, you will get a bright purple box appear on your Home page that lets you start transfers of your domains to CloudFlare.
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