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Nat techhead needs 3D brain transplant

Written By: - Date published: 8:16 am, February 28th, 2014 - 55 comments
Categories: crime, drugs - Tags: , , , ,

What can one say about Maurice Williamson. Is he really as much of a comedian as he appears. Well he pretty much had me in stitches of laughter yesterday morning heading to work.

I mean that it is good that he is looking at the downstream consequences before they arrive. But the examples he was using!

Mr Williamson says the printers are actually manufacturers of products and 3D computer files can be emailed or downloaded from the internet.

He says household printers will soon be able to produce drugs and weapons, and the country’s borders are extremely vulnerable.

“If people could print off … sheets of Ecstasy tablets at the party they’re at at that time, that just completely takes away our border protection role in its known sense.”

His contention is that with the development of 3d printers being so rapid, it isn’t going to be long before they become as ubiquitous as inkjets or laserjets in the hands of potential criminals (aka youth) who will be able to download sophisticated programs to attack him disrupt society. This shows a rather optimistic (ie fantastic) view of the capabilities of the devices, both current and into the foreseeable future. It also ignores that we already have equivalent technologies.

Weapons? The hardest part of any gun to make is  the barrel. This has to withstand the pressure of an explosion inside it for any chemically powered weapon. A gas powered weapon like a air gun is much the same albeit at lower pressures. If you get it wrong then you have a wee bomb in your hand. Sure in theory, a barrel could be made out of sintered metal powders. However the resulting barrel would scare the crap out of even a weapons freak like I have been over the years. Basically you’d want to fire it from remote control, even after it’d be tested many times.

And has Maurice Williamson looked at the costs of second hand CNC milling machines? They aren’t that expensive and they’re ideal for making gun barrels. They’ve been widespread in industrial and engineering plants since I was a kid and the name means “Computer Numerical Control“. In other words these days you typically download, modify, and install a program. Given some decent steel, you’d be able to roll out some pretty decent, cheap, and safe weapons just like a gunsmith I know.

Incidentally guns made out of plastic, wood, pipes, bamboo and many other materials has been around for a very long time. They have never been that popular because they are viewed by everyone who know weapons as being one-shots, and preferably fired from some distance away from our delicate bodies. Just like the glow of the Liberator 3D plastic gun, they are a interesting idea but bloody impractical for any purpose apart from posing.

liberator plastic gun

Or his example about drugs. Perhaps he should look at the do it yourself history of homebake in NZ.

Homebake can be manufactured from over-the-counter and prescription painkillers containing codeine, and was popular in the late 1970s to 1980s due to the crackdown on the heroin supply in this time period. It Is also commonly manufactured from morphine sulfate tablets as the morphine to diacetylmorphine reaction is much more simple than the codeine to morphine process. Clandestine drug laboratories established to homebake heroin have existed in New Zealand since the 1980s

This was eventually dealt with was with careful control of the active ingredients. Now if you look at the chemistry of MDMA, the active part of the drug Ecstasy:

Safrole, a colorless or slightly yellow oily liquid, extracted from the root-bark or the fruit of the sassafras tree is the primary precursor for all manufacture of MDMA.  There are numerous synthetic methods available in the literature to convert safrole into MDMA via different intermediates.

Relatively small quantities of essential oil are required to make large amounts of MDMA. The essential oil of Ocotea cymbarum typically contains between 80 and 94% safrole. This would allow 500 ml of the oil, which retails at between $20 and $100, to be used to produce between 150 and 340 grams of MDMA.

This does suggest to me that there is a much simpler route to control of ecstasy in NZ – the homebake style of control of the precursors. Typically most precursors require a pretty horrendous chemical transformation to be useful. MDMA for instance:-



For those who didn’t have to suffer through university level organic chemistry (not my favourite subject), there are some pretty serious chemicals used in that synthesis. Each of which can be disrupted in the supply chain.

In theory of course a sufficiently advanced “printing” technology could assemble molecules from elemental atoms. But the probability of anything being capable of actually doing that at a reasonable cost within the next few generations is complete fantasy (probably drug induced).

Most drugs are the same. The active ingredients are usually derived from the natural world which is a lot further on than humans in how to assemble complex chemicals relatively cheaply and at low temperatures and pressures.  Having a drug in a refined form and merely printing it onto a substrate implies that the drug has already been manufactured or imported. Customs and other law enforcement should probably concentrate on those happening.

For that matter, in some ways it is harder to produce good ammunition than it is to produce guns. Perhaps customs and the police should look at how to improve border control on those.

The same thing applies for producing stem cell or cloned cell tissues, one of the more interesting technologies being explored with 3d printers. While it is tempting to consider creating some extra brain tissues to replace those already lost by decayed brain of Maurice Williamson. That too appears to be a long way away.

If you know where you are looking on the net and in the printed literature, you can find just about everything you need to do most things that are known technology already. You could even when I was a kid in the 60s using the Auckland War Memorial museum library to find out all of the interesting techniques used in guerilla warfare in World War 2.

But the really scary thing about this proposal is what Gareth Hughes said on frogblog:

The amazing thing is, Toby Manhire is probably right, it is terrifying he is one of the most qualified people in National to comment on tech issues.

Sure Labour politicians are, in my experience, an interesting mix of being either pretty damn technophobic or having an inept over-enthusiasm for it. But I get the impression that they’ve done some study and thinking on most tech areas I raise with them. However it’d be pretty clear to everyone who has followed 3D printing over the last decade that Maurice Williamson, National’s version of a techhead, appears to be clueless on it.


55 comments on “Nat techhead needs 3D brain transplant”

  1. One Anonymous Bloke 1

    You forgot the potato cannon.

    Williamson should probably take a look at people selling 3D CAD software too, in case it fell into the wrong hands.

  2. karol 2

    I see the Stuff article by Alex Fensome yesterday is taking the Maurice Williamson line: headline “Printers capable of making guns”.

    Three-dimensional printers can already make guns, and may soon allow people to create gold, gems, food or drugs in their living rooms, the Customs Service has warned.

    It suggests the law needs to be changed to control importing designs for restricted or prohibited goods in the same way as child pornography is restricted.

    A report obtained under the Official Information Act says 3D printers have already been used for criminal activity and to create weapons. In Australia, one was used to make a working “card skimmer” device, which could steal credit card details

    So, while I usually consider Lynn to know way more than me on such matters, I wondered if he had got it wrong with this post, so looked further.

    Today, Alex Fensome in the Dom Post seems to have had a change of heart, having attended to some experts on the matter: “No smoking gun with 3-D printers, experts say”

    The founder of 3-D printer supplier MindKits, Tim Carr, said criticism of the new technology was “infuriating” and 3-D-printed guns posed more of a threat to the person firing it than their target.

    There were much more simple ways to build a gun: “A lathe is more deadly . . . I wouldn’t want to fire a gun made from a 3-D printer. There are so many easier ways to make something more lethal.”

    And a Guardian article from November last year explains just how difficult it is to make a safe-to-use gun from 3 D printing:

    Solid Concepts says that the gun comprised of over 30 3D printed components in stainless steel and a nickel-chromium based superalloy is capable of hitting “a few bulleyes at over 30 yards.”

    However, Solid Concepts stressed that this kind of metal gun cannot be printed using desktop machines – only by using an industrial printer that costs “more than my college tuition”, according to Alyssa Parkinson of Solid Concepts.

    It would have saved me time if I’d just gone with Lynn’s explanation to start with. Clearly he knows way more than Williamson about it, even though Williamson claims to have read up on the matter.

    • Lanthanide 2.1

      The line about “creating” gold, gems, food or drugs is just mind-boggling.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 2.1.1

        One quark at a time, presumably.

        • Murray Olsen

          Been a while since I’ve done any particle physics, but I thought quarks couldn’t be isolated because of a detail called asymptotic freedom. Since it has “freedom” in the name, I would have expected NAct to know that.

      • karol 2.1.2

        Kind of like the ancient art of alchemy.

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          These days, transmuting elements (the alchemical grail) is routine in particle and nuclear physics.

          • lprent

            Just freaking expensive because of the energy and capital requirements.

            • One Anonymous Bloke

              Nah, it’s actually cheap, but the scientists involved are part of the Al Gore conspiracy so they funnel the money straight to a secret standing army the UN is building. Luckily we have the Masters of Cyberspace to protect us.

          • McFlock

            Indeed, we can even make antimatter.

            And damned teens could use that to make 10megaton bombs to blow up their school.

            As long as they can afford the $5,200,000,000,000 a gram cost, of course. But it’s something we should be scared of right now.

        • freedom

          There really are people out there who believe 3D printers are some sort of Star Trek molecular synthesiser. (I imagine they are the same people who believe National are paying down debt) But let’s be honest here, if 3D printers had any of that potential they would more closely resemble something from the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.

          When the ‘Drink’ button is pressed it makes an instant but highly detailed examination of the subject’s taste buds, a spectroscopic analysis of the subject’s metabolism, and then sends tiny experimental signals down the neural pathways to the taste centres of the subject’s brain to see what is likely to be well received.

          However, no-one knows quite why it does this because it then invariably delivers a cupful of liquid that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

      • lprent 2.1.3

        The line about “creating” gold, gems, food or drugs is just mind-boggling.

        Yep, with gold, the idea of doing some kind of nuclear fusion in a 3D printer is something that I don’t think even the extreme adherent of the technology would think was possible.

        I think they may have gotten it mixed up with the idea of the “Philosophers Stone

        • Murray Olsen

          The new ACT leader probably thinks the philosophers stone is the currency paid between close relatives for commercial sex.

    • KJT 2.2

      My high school tech class in the 70’s was making crossbows. Not something which would be allowed now.

      The bolt could go through a small tree at close range.

      The technology, and that to make gun barrels, is available in every engineering workshop in the country.

      Don’t tell Williamson. He will probably want to ban lathes.

      Don’t need fancy 3D printing technology.

      Williamson has always had a fairly loose grasp on reality. Apparent ever since he told farmers that, “opening up the coast” would cause the shipping cartels to lower freight rates.

      • weka 2.2.1

        “The technology, and that to make gun barrels, is available in every engineering workshop in the country.”

        While I agree that Williamson is being an idiot, I don’t think this comparison fits. The technology to make a gun exists within NZ, but the people capable of using that tech are relatively small compared to the idea that anyone could press a button and print off something dangerous without having to learn any kind of skill. That’s what is scaring the likes of Williamson.

        What annoys me most about Williamson’s ignorance and paranoia is it creates a backlash that carries an implied meme that 3D printing and all new technology is always good for us.

        • lprent

          …that carries an implied meme that 3D printing … is always good for us.

          In the case of 3D printing as in what is feasible for the next couple of decades, I suspect that it is.

          Consider that I cannot think of a case where a 3D printer could be used as a production line tool. They are simply too slow at making stuff compared to any kind of mass production technique. For instance in plastics materials (the most likely immediate usage), they’d be competing against injection moulding and plastic extrusion/blowing.

          They manufacture large and small objects in a time period that can be counted in seconds. At best for the next couple of decades it is likely that 3D printing equivalent will be measured in hours, and in the case of home equipment the sizes will be pretty small.It will also be correspondingly expensive.

          What 3D printing is damn good at (and how it is used where I work) is making bespoke one-offs. For instance if we need a new design for a electronics case we get one made for us from our CAD designs. While it costs a lot, it allows us to test a design in prototype practice (often several times) before we commit to paying the 10s of thousands of dollars to make a injection die. Before 3D printing we simply wouldn’t have done that degree of testing.

          What it does is reduce our risks, time to production, and time to market.

          The same economics applies in almost every other usage I know of for 3D printing (except possibly for the emerging field of growing biological tissues)

          • Draco T Bastard

            Consider that I cannot think of a case where a 3D printer could be used as a production line tool.

            GE and Rolls Royce can. Of course, that sort of capability isn’t in the at home type of 3D printer – yet.

            At best for the next couple of decades it is likely that 3D printing equivalent will be measured in hours, and in the case of home equipment the sizes will be pretty small.

            Depending upon what’s being created hours may actually be a hell of a lot faster than present methods. As for size, well, this.

            It’s still an emergent technology but I don’t think it’s decades away.

        • KJT

          Umm. The skills exists in just about anyone who passed 5th form metalwork.

          Not so much now as the academics have this fantasy, that technology is simply to educate designers to design for the Chinese makers.
          The fact that we need about 1 designer for every hundred makers, and the Chinese have plenty of their own, seems to have escaped them.

        • Draco T Bastard

          but the people capable of using that tech are relatively small compared to the idea that anyone could press a button and print off something dangerous without having to learn any kind of skill. That’s what is scaring the likes of Williamson.

          Nope. What’s scaring the likes of Williamson is that mega-corporations are becoming obsolete. 3D printers will giver everyone the ability to experiment and produce products at home.

          Capitalists are absolutely terrified of competition and 3D printers represent almost unlimited competition.

          • weka

            True. But I also think this is a dog whistle to people* that don’t think like that and instead would be scared of the masses being able to make a gun or drugs at home.

            *I was going to say middle NZ but I’m really sick of that expression and its vagueness.

            • Draco T Bastard

              That’s certainly how it’s framed but as bad12 points out, there’s just not that many people who want a gun.

          • lprent

            They really are awesome for prototyping.

  3. felix 3

    “Having a drug in a refined form and merely printing it onto a substrate implies that the drug has already been manufactured or imported. Customs and other law enforcement should probably concentrate on those happening.”

    Actually I can think of far more important things they should be concentrating on. Why should ecstasy be any concern to them?

    • lprent 3.1

      There is always that issue. Personally I have always been of the mind that virtually all recreational drugs should be treated like tobacco and alcohol should be. Legal, regulated strongly (including limited or no advertising), and taxed like buggery to pay for mitigating downstream harm and a good proportion of the money gathered used for explaining the downsides of use.

      Probably wouldn’t stop me from drinking, the only vice that I currently do after I had to give up my tobacco addiction after a heart attack..

      • Lloyd 3.1.1

        Recreational drugs should be like driving. Driving is potentially dangerous. So is taking drugs.

        Alcohol is a recreational drug, so any rules for other drugs would need to be applied to alcohol too.

        Drivers are tested on their knowledge and have their licence taken off them when they are shown to be too dangerous to leave on the road. Drug takers would need to pass knowledge test(s) about their drug(s) of choice and should have their licence removed when they are shown to be incapable of taking the drug of choice without harming either them selves or others around them.

        Legal drugs would be much cheaper if sold at cost by the state. (Remember state control of alcohol as a choice in elections?) Supply of drugs would need to be absolutely connected to the drug taking licence. Lose your licence and no more drugs. State provided cheap recreational drugs would take any profit in drug dealing away from gangs.

        Random health tests would be a part of the drug licence regime, show signs of serious health effects and you lose your licence. Possession of a licence for certain drugs would mean that certain jobs and probably possession of a driving licence would need to be given up.

        Money spent today on drug squads would be far better spent on health check teams, and extra funding for this could come from the licencing system and drug sales.

  4. One Anonymous Bloke 4

    It’s sad in a way. The man who gave us the big gay rainbow is clearly a buffoon of the highest order.

    • RedLogix 4.1

      Yes. It’s not hard to sound plausible when espousing a political ideology – matter how much of a zombie it is.

      Reality is however their undoing.

    • Lanthanide 4.2

      I would have thought his comments about big gay rainbows would already have made that clear.

      Sure, maybe it’s a nice soundbite and catchy, but it’s not actually clever or really all that witty.

  5. bad12 5

    Why anyone would want to indulge in even attempting to ‘print a gun’ off of some laser printer in this country is beyond me,

    If i had a mind to,and i don’t(honest,please believe me),i am pretty sure i could score a working pump action shotgun with the necessary pills to create mayhem in under 2 hours,

    An illegal AK47 would take a couple of days and assembling an arsenal too bulky to carry probably about a week,

    This place is awash with firearms so making dodgy plastic imitations would seem more an item of ‘news’ for its novelty than any actual ability to produce one off of a printer that would have any use other than as a decoration would seem a waste of time and money…

    • weka 5.1

      That misses the point bad. It’s not the few people like you, it’s the masses that will be able to buy printers.

      • bad12 5.1.1

        The day a ‘printer’ can produce gunpowder,a necessary component of a bullet, unless all these masses of printed firearms are to be gas operated, i won’t eat my hat coz i have better uses for it,but, i will be sufficiently contrite,

        The Masses, weka, in case you havn’t noticed need only apply for a firearms license and sit a simple test to enable them access to real fire-arms,

        Hell i know a few who can barely read the Queens English and they have passed the test, as the Post points out a firearm complete with all working parts might be able to be copied in plastic but try firing a bullet out of it and see what occurs…

        • McFlock

          “gunpowder” is a piece of piss, as it were.

          And teens were making “zip guns” in the 1950s

          • bad12

            A further explanation Mac is definitely needed to show how gunpowder can be produced using a ‘printer’, i would suggest it cannot and would have to be inserted in the ‘cartridge’ with which such a printer would actually print,

            i agree with the Posts author on the fact that plastic is not of sufficient strength be able to escape the explosive forces of discharge and remain intact,

            Yeah sure, i was making bolt-bombs out of match-heads and steel razors in my Borstal years, tossed out the cells air-vent in a two storey cell block they were quite an effective tool for intimidating the night patrol screws with the various bits of steel zinging off the confined space a number of times even with such small explosive force…

            • McFlock

              You might as well ask how cooked pancakes can be produced using a ‘printer’.

              why use a printer? I made it as a kid at home. Two of the ingredients are easily obtainable, another is moderately-easily obtainable. The trick is in the ratios and mixing process, easily available online and used 700 years ago.

              Easy to make it go boom.

              • KJT

                I think our collective point is there is much easier, simpler and better known ways of making effective weapons than using 3D printers.

                And, even if they were effective, despite the knowledge, equipment and skills being common out there, very few people do make weapons. Apart from hobbyists, like black powder clubbers, who have no intention of using them illegally.

              • Draco T Bastard

                why use a printer?

                Caseless ammunition

            • greywarbler

              Sounds like fun, diversion and revenge in a package.

          • KJT

            And first year University engineering gives enough knowledge to make “composite” (plastic) guns.

            I will stop on this subject before the GCSB get interested.

        • Draco T Bastard


          In the 17th century, air guns, in calibers .30–.51, were used to hunt big game deer and wild boar. These air rifles were charged using a pump to fill an air reservoir and gave velocities from 650 to 1,000 feet per second (200–300 m/s). They were also used in warfare; the most recognized example being the Girandoni Military Repeating Air Rifle.

          I have NFI why some people think that airguns aren’t dangerous.

  6. captain hook 6

    this is all hypothetical mush designed to sell newspapers and distract voters from the real issues.
    Where are the jobs and why is the National Party intent on wrecking the education system.
    all the rest is piffle.

  7. Rich 7

    there is a much simpler route to control of ecstasy in NZ

    Legalise it and sell it in Cosmic?

    I can’t believe how Kathryn Ryan didn’t pick Williamson up on anything he said: like surely if someone says printing a gun is possible, then the obvious question is “but can you print any ammunition”. (Making and handling a primary explosive is a fairly difficult process on a non-industrial scale).

    Then there was the “I read this in a magazine” and the “making gold”.

    • freedom 7.1

      “I can’t believe how Kathryn Ryan didn’t pick Williamson up on anything he said”

      A week ago Kathryn Ryan had the PM sitting there talking about how dangerous the 10 billion dollar debt left by Labour was, and somehow forgot to ask the PM about the 60 billion dollar debt National have created ???

      *shakes head, walks away muttering *

  8. fender 8

    Williamson has been having too much fun printing his own supply of acid trips.

    I’m more concerned about the Nats printing off caucus members without proper quality control measures in place..

  9. Tracey 9

    makes you wonder what maurice really meant by the big gay rainbow.

  10. xtasy 10

    Nooooo brain transplant for Nat techheads, please, they may get some “ideas” after all, no, thanks!

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    The number of working New Zealanders needing to stop Kiwisaver payments is another sign that many people are not seeing benefit from growth in the economy, says Grant Robertson Labour’s Finance spokesperson. "There has been an increase of 14 ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Fight Club failings
    The Corrections Minister must take full responsibility for the widespread management failings within Mt Eden prison, says Labour’s Corrections spokesperson Kelvin Davis. ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Rethink welcomed
    The Labour Party is pleased that Craig Foss is reconsidering the return of New Zealand soldiers buried in Malaysia, says Labour’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson David Shearer. “For the families of those who lie there, this will a welcome move. The ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Disappointment over UN vote
    Helen Clark showed her characteristic drive and determination in her campaign to be UN Secretary General, and most New Zealanders will be disappointed she hasn't been selected, says the Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. "Helen Clark has been an ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Māori need answers on Land Court job losses
    Māori landowners, Māori employees and Treaty partners need answers after a Ministry of Justice consultation document has revealed dozens of roles will be disestablished at the Māori Land Court, says Ikaroa-Rāwhiti MP Meka Whaitiri. ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Key’s ‘efficiencies’ = DHBs’ pain
          John Key’s talk of ‘efficiencies’ ignores the fact the Government is chronically underfunding health to the tune of $1.7 billion, says Labour’s Acting Health spokesperson Dr David Clark.       ...
    3 weeks ago
  • More than 1,300 schools to face budget cuts
    The latest Ministry of Education figures reveal thousands of schools will face cuts to funding under National’s new operations grant funding model, says Labour's Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins. ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Speculation fever spreads around country
    House prices in Wellington, Hamilton and Tauranga are going off as a result of uncontrolled property speculation spilling over from the Auckland market, says Labour’s housing spokesperson Phil Twyford.  “Speculators who have been priced out of Auckland are now fanning ...
    3 weeks ago
  • New Zealand lags on aid targets
      The National Government needs to live up to its commitments and allocate 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income on development assistance, says Labour’s spokesperson on Pacific Climate Change Su’a William Sio.  “The second State of the Environment Report ...
    3 weeks ago
  • War on drugs needs more troops
    The Minister of Police must urgently address the number of officers investigating illegal drugs if she is serious about making a dent in the meth trade, says Labour’s Police spokesperson Stuart Nash.  “Answers from written questions from the Minister show ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Doctors strike symptom of health cuts
    The notice of strike action issued by the junior doctors today is the result of years of National’s cuts to the health system, says Labour’s Associate Health spokesperson Dr David Clark. ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Government starves RNZ into selling Auckland asset
    Just weeks after TVNZ opened its refurbished Auckland head office costing more than $60 million, RNZ (Radio New Zealand) has been forced to put its Auckland office on the market to keep itself afloat, says Labour’s Broadcasting spokesperson Clare Curran. ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Government must be more than a bystander on the economy
    Despite what he might think John Key is not a political commentator, but actually a leader in a Government who needs to take responsibility for the conditions that mean a rise in interest rates, says Labour’s Finance Spokesperson Grant Robertson.  “John ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Māori Party all hui no-doey on housing
    The Māori Party should stop tinkering and start fixing tragic Māori housing statistics in the face of a national housing crisis, says Labour’s Māori Development spokesman Kelvin Davis. ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Labour committed to eliminating child poverty
    Labour accepts the challenge from Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft to cut child poverty and calls on the Prime Minister to do the same, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. ...
    3 weeks ago