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Let's Build: Pinball Playfield Light-Up Kit

Norm brings a new art piece to the office for today's build: the playfield of a 1992 Data East Star Wars Pinball machine! Using a lighting kit that Jeremy helped design, we wire up the back of this playfield to bring this classic game back to life!

Google Play App Roundup: Scheduled, Hexa Turn, and Skullgirls

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.

Scheduled

You probably already use your phone to make reminders, but how often are those reminders related to sending a message? Ask someone about something or wish that guy a happy whatever—you know the drill. Scheduled is an app that takes the middleman out and lets you schedule messages for the future.

Scheduled works with a wide variety of messaging apps and services like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram. There's also support for good old-fashioned SMS. In fact, SMS is the most powerful option in Scheduled. When setting up an SMS, you can choose to have the app send the message automatically when you configure it.

To set up a message, simply pick a contact, date, time, and repetition. Toggle on the auto-send feature if you're sending an SMS and you want to speed things along. The app fires off a notification at the appointed hour, allowing you to quickly open up the message details. A tap on the send button brings up menu of supported apps. Tap the one you want to use, and the message is dropped in.

Again, SMS is the coolest part of the app as Scheduled can simply act as the SMS sender. That's a single tap to send, or no taps if you choose to send automatically. You can schedule as many messages as you want in the app, and there's even an option to sync the birthdays in your calendar for easy messaging of happy birthday wishes.

The basic functionality is free, but you might be wondering why the app's reviews in the Play Store are a bit mixed. Well, people aren't jazzed about the payment model. The app has some ads, and the auto-sending feature is locked unless you pay. Oddly, the developer has opted for a subscription model. It's $0.99 per month for the premium features. A lot of people will probably steer clear for that reason, but if you use this app frequently, I can see the $12 annual cost making some sense.

Hobby RC: Upgrading an RC Snow Toy

I estimate that I'm about halfway through my first winter in Buffalo. And in this weather, I'm always on the lookout for RC gadgets that can thrive in the snow. My latest project began life as a toy-grade RC vehicle with a dubious reputation, but a few simple modifications turned it into a super snow machine. More-extensive tweaking made it even better!

Terrain Twister

The Terrain Twister is an RC toy that was previously sold by Mattel under both the Hot Wheels and Tyco RC labels. It's discontinued now, but new and used examples are readily available on the internet. What caught my attention is the Twister's really unique screw propulsion system. Rather than wheels or tank treads, this vehicle is motivated by a pair of counter-rotating cylindrical pontoons that have external threads like a screw.

There have been a few examples of screw-propelled vehicles throughout history. The buoyancy of the rotating pontoons allows them to move across swampy or muddy terrain that would cause wheeled or tracked vehicles to get hopelessly stuck. Screw-propelled vehicles also excel in the snow.

Online reviews of the Terrain Twister are all over the map. Some people love them, and lots of people despise them. A cursory analysis hinted that many of the haters had tried using the Terrain Twister on surfaces that it wasn't meant for. Spoiler: a screw-propelled toy is NOT going to work well on your concrete driveway or the tile floor of your kitchen. I eagerly pulled the trigger on a used unit I found on eBay…a whopping $5 investment (+$9 for shipping)!

Episode 432 - Just for the Taste of It - 1/18/18
Norm is still away at WETA workshop in New Zealand, so Kishore and Jeremy are joined by TekThing co-host Shannon Morse to discuss the Great CES blackout of 2018 (12:40), her hands-on impressions of the new Vive Pro (22:15), the potential Studio Ghibli themepark (1:09:40), and to celebrate Shake Shack expanding to San Francisco, we rank our favorite chain burgers (1:12:00). And yes, Kishore is still reeling from the huge Diet Coke announcement. Check out Shannon on TekThing (https://www.youtube.com/tekthing) and Hak5 (https://www.hak5.org/shows/threatwire). And special shout out to Danica Chan for designing our new podcast set!
00:00:00 / 01:32:26
Custom Keyboard Spotlight: The Zeal60 PCB

At the heart of most custom keyboards is a PCB, or printed circuit board. The PCB determines how you program a board and what switch layouts it supports. The Zeal60 from ZealPC is one of the most popular PCBs for a compact custom keyboard project right now. It does not come cheap, and that's not just because of the pretty purple color. It runs powerful firmware with one of the most advanced lighting setups available in a DIY keyboard.

A keyboard's PCB is roughly analogous to the motherboard in your PC—it's where everything connects to make your keyboard work. In a high-end custom board, the PCB includes a microcontroller with user-programmable features. In the case of the Zeal60, it's an ATmega32U4 chip. Unlike many PCBs, this one is not part of a full kit (case, plate, switches, etc.). If you buy a Zeal60, that's just the start of your keyboard adventure. However, it's compatible with a wide variety of parts.

You'll need to work some magic with function layers if you build with the Zeal60. It only supports 60% layouts similar to the popular Poker 3 and HHKB2 boards. That means you don't have arrows, an F-row, or a number pad. All those actions still exist, but they're in function layers. For example, the arrows are accessed via Fn1+WASD in the default configuration. Many people prefer 60% boards because they're compact and require less hand movement.

Tested Mailbag: Power Loader LEGO MOC!

The first mystery mailbag of the new year! Dan Schlumpp sent us a care package with some of our favorite things: custom LEGO sets! We put together his beautiful power loader and Alien queen kit, and Dan has made the build instructions free to download! Find Dan's MOC designs and other LEGO creations here.

First Time Lucky: The Space Shuttle’s Dicey Inaugural Mission

I was well into writing this piece when I learned of John Young's death on 1/5/18. I never had the opportunity to meet him during my time at NASA, but he was indeed a legendary figure at the Johnson Space Center. I encourage anyone with an interest in space history to research his incredible career. Ad Astra Mr. Young.

When Columbia fired its engines in April of 1981, crowds cheered NASA's first manned rocket launch in nearly six years. This was STS-1, the maiden mission of the space shuttle program. The system's reusable components promised to revolutionize spaceflight. No one watching the launch that morning had any way of predicting the highs and lows of the shuttle's three-decade career ahead. They weren't even sure that this crazy spaceship-glider was going to work at all. The columns of fire and noise lifting Columbia must have been reassuring, but not everything was unfolding according to plan.

STS-1 was the maiden spaceflight of the space shuttle program. The success of the mission was a near thing.

Neither the astronauts racing skyward, nor flight controllers on the ground realized that Columbia had sustained significant damage in several locations during the first seconds of the launch. Any of these injuries could have led to a catastrophic failure. In fact, mission commander, John Young, later noted that he would have aborted the launch and ejected if he had known the extent of Columbia's maladies.

Exactly how the shuttle absorbed the hard knocks of its first launch and completed the mission safely is still not completely understood. The orbiter's robust design certainly contributed, as did the expertise within Mission Control and the astronaut corps. At the same time, it is difficult to analyze the specifics of STS-1 and completely discount the role of pure, dumb luck.

CES 2018: Just the Good Stuff for PC Builders

Last week, technology companies gathered in Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronic Show to unveil their latest products, prototypes, and pitches for your attention (and dollars). It seems like more real, big, product announcements were made this year compared to the past few years. And while we weren't at the show this year to cover the event in person, here is the computer hardware that caught our attention.

HTC Vive Pro

When the likes of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive launched, it was unknown how often the hardware of this new era of VR headsets would be updated. Well, almost two years after the launch of the Vive, HTC has taken off the wraps of the Vive Pro. Releasing sometime in Q1 of this year, the new headset has been redesigned and features a massive resolution increase.

The Pro has two OLED displays for a combined resolution of 2880x1600, which is a 78% increase over the base Vive's resolution of 2160x1200. The ergonomics of the strap have been redesigned to better distribute the weight of the headset, and it now includes a dial to adjust the sizing. It'll also be hard to miss the addition of integrated headphones, as well as a second outward facing camera. The Pro will be lighter than the original model, but HTC has yet to say by how much.

HTC will also be releasing 2.0 base stations, although it sounds like they may not be released until sometime after the Pro. The Vive Pro, when combined with four 2.0 base stations, will be able to operate in a space as big as 10 square meters. HTC has yet to say whether or not we'll see the release of updated controllers in 2018, but if we do, hopefully they'll be based on Valve's knuckle controllers.

A price for the Vive Pro hasn't been announced at this time. The base Vive bundle currently retails for $600. That's a $200 premium over the Oculus Rift. I'd be surprised if the base Vive's price didn't drop in the next couple of months, but I also won't be holding my breath for a Vive Pro bundle to come in at $600.

Announced alongside the Vive Pro is the Vive Wireless Adapter. HTC has partnered with Intel to utilize their WiGig technology to make a first party solution for wireless VR use. It will work with both Vive headsets and ship sometime in Q3 2018. HTC has not announced a price.