Latest Stories
Phil Tippett's Mad God and Lost Star Wars Holochess Figures

We visit one of our favorite effects shops, Phil Tippett Studio, where Phil is working on his stop-motion passion project, Mad God. Norm and Sean get an update on the status of the film, and stop by the studio's model shop to see how the team there is remaking two figures originally designed for Star Wars' holochess sequence!

Napkin Ring Problem - Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project - 8/15/17
Adam, Will, and Norm talk about Adam's recent visit to Jack White's Third Man Records, analog music recordings compared to digital, stories from a space show at our local science museum, and the most recent One Day Build with VSauce's Michael Stevens. Plus, Adam tries to explain the Napkin Ring problem.
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This Old FX Shop: Painting a Latex Alien Mask

For this week's visit to the FX shop, we geek out over a latex mask from talented sculptor Francisco Charlie Hernandez, whose work we've long admired on Instagram. This latex mask presents some interesting paint challenges, from its elongated form to smooth surfaces.

Google Play App Roundup: Adapticons, Miracle Merchant, and Flippy Knife

A new week has dawned, and with it comes a new list of great things happening on Android. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what needs to be on your phone or tablet right now. Just click the links to head to Google Play and grab these apps for yourself.

Adapticons

Icon packs have existed on Android since time immemorial, but they require you to jump through some hoops like using a third-party home screen (usually) and making do with a lot of icons you might not particularly like. Adapticons is a new app for Android that lets you create custom icons in just a few steps, and you can use them on any home screen you want.

Adapticons includes an assortment of icons shapes, which is the basis for all of your custom icons. Simply find the app you want to edit in the list and tap on it to advance to the editing screen. The shapes range from the typical circle and square to a more exotic squircle and far weirder stuff like puzzle pieces and pentagons.

The shape will act as a frame by default, and it's themed to match the icon's default colors. So, if you have an app with a square icon and no included circle version, you can create a version that has a circular frame to match all your other round icons. It gets better, though. You can also change the size of the icon, which is sort of like zooming it within the frame. That lets you crop out the square edges so the logo is all you can see in the round frame. You can also reposition the icon within the frame. Although, there are times the frame looks better, so don't be afraid to play around. Adapticons includes an assortment of other tweaks like icon size, rotation, color, grayscale, and icon text.

Once you've created the perfect icon, you can use it in several ways. There's an option to export as a PNG, which you can then apply in certain launchers. Alternatively, you can export an icon pack file to be applied. Again, only with certain launchers. The most intriguing option is just to use it on the home screen instantly. This places your icon in the next open space, ready for use.

The way Adapticons makes your icons work is clever. The shortcut is technically for Adapticons itself, but the activity is passed off to the app for which you made the icon. Happily, this handoff doesn't cause any confusion with the multitasking interface, and there's no discernable delay when pressing the icon.

Adapticons is free with a limited set of icon shapes. A $0.99 in-app purchase unlocks a dozen more shapes (mostly the wacky ones), and includes the option to edit more than one icon in the same batch. The upgrade also lets you grab and edit icons from icon packs you have installed. Even if you only have a handful of icons that are bugging you, Adapticons is really neat and worth the upgrade.

Laser Cutting the Maker Puzzle, Part 3

Sean and Norm tackle the third piece of Jen Schachter's maker puzzle design. The theme of this piece is engineering, and Sean picks out some interesting materials to test with our Universal Laser Systems laser cutter to give the puzzle some highlights. Plus, we try a technique to reduce the scorching on the edges of cut pieces.

5 Trade-Offs of Buying a Budget Smartphone

If you've been buying smartphones for a while, you probably remember a time when buying a cheap phone was a sure sign you were going to be disappointed. In those early days of Android, anything with a retail price of less than $500 was sure to have underpowered hardware and outdated software. That started to change a few years ago when phones like the Moto G showed us that cheap phones don't have to be terrible experiences.

For many phone buyers, spending $700 on a new phone seems pointless when a $230 phone like the Moto G5 Plus is so good. And it is good, but it's not good at everything. Some features are still lacking on budget phones, and you should know what to expect before jumping in with both feet.

The Camera

A phone like the Galaxy S8 can easily replace a point-and-shoot camera, but a cheap phone has to prioritize other things. Here, we go back to the age-old debate about megapixels. While a budget phone might have the same number of pixels, that's only a small part of what makes a camera good or bad.

Some more important metrics are the aperture, which is below f/2.0 on high-end phones. Budget phones tend to have narrower apertures, which allow in less light. That means poorer exposure in dim settings. The size of pixels on the sensor is also notable. The larger pixels on expensive phones like the GS8 (1.55µm) can take clear photos with less light than a Moto E4 (1.12µm).

Adam Savage and Vsauce's Michael Stevens Build a Kendama!

Adam is joined by Vsauce's Michael Stevens for a special One Day Build in the cave. Michael has recently taken up playing the Kendama, a Japanese cup and ball toy, and Adam helps make one from scratch that helps optimize his play. This build engrosses both into topics of machining, knot tying, and geometric conundrums. See Adam and Michael this fall on their Brain Candy tour!

Tested: E-flite X-Vert VTOL RC Airplane

Aircraft designers have long recognized the benefits of an airplane than can take off vertically like a helicopter and then transition to speedy forward flight. The only problem is that Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) performance is a tough nut to crack. There are lots of engineering challenges and tradeoffs standing in the way. Airplanes like the Convair XFY Pogo and Hawker Harrier helped set the stage for more modern VTOL-capable ships like the V-22 Osprey and F-35B. But VTOL remains a rare and very expensive capability.

The high power-to-weight ratio of most RC models makes achieving VTOL a little easier. Yet, there are still countless challenges to building a practical VTOL machine. For example, I owned a simple foam model of the Pogo about 10 years ago. It was a great performer in forward flight, but a real bear to control during those vertical takeoffs and landings. Crashes were common. Any landing where the model remained upright was cause for celebration.

X-Vert Overview

The X-Vert from E-flite is a new model that provides a unique solution to the challenges of VTOL flight. The airframe is a simple flying wing with twin brushless motors for propulsion. All of the magic comes from the onboard electronics. A single circuit board on the model combines a radio receiver, two brushless motor controllers, and a flight controller with stabilization features. It is the flight controller with its integrated gyros that allows the X-Vert to take off vertically from the ground and then automatically transition to forward flight.

The X-Vert comes factory-assembled with just a few final steps to complete.

There are two versions of the X-Vert. A Ready-To-Fly (RTF) version ($200) comes with everything you need to get the model in the air. This includes the pre-built model, Spektrum transmitter, 2S-800mAh LiPo battery, and charger. If you already have a 6+-channel DSMX-compatible transmitter and a LiPo charger, you can save a few bucks by going with the Bind-N-Fly variant ($150). It omits the transmitter, battery, and charger. Batteries are available separately for $17. You'll probably want to grab a few spare batteries with either kit option.