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Are We Alone in the Universe?

This weekend in The Guardian I came across a fantastic interview -- "Are We Alone in the Universe?" -- between two of my favorite people: astronaut Chris Hadfield and cartoonist/former NASA physicist Randall Munroe.

Listening to two of my favorite minds when they get together is genuinely thrilling. Their banter makes me feel like I can see just a little bit wider. I love that they're both seeking ways to articulately communicate the incredible scales they understand things on.

Composite: David Levene, Josh Andrus for The Guardian

I also love how excited they are about what they don't understand. And that might be the best part: their humility and generosity. I know this of Chris; I'm lucky to say he's a friend. I've gleaned it from Randall's incredible, prolific body of work.

I wish I could interview people like this.

Google Play App Roundup: HomeUX, Please Don't Touch Anything, and Last Horizon

It's time again to dive into the Google Play Store and see what apps we can find. Every week we find the best new and newly updated apps for the Roundup, and this week is no exception. Just click on the app name to head to the Play Store.


You don't have to look long to find numerous home screen replacements in the Play Store. Third-party launchers have been one of the most prominent customization options on Android since its inception, and now there some very diverse options. Most home screens are based on the AOSP Android launcher on some level, and they feel like it. HomeUX (previously a closed beta) has a different vibe, though. This home screen has a clean and efficient UI that focuses on organization and search.

The basic layout of HomeUX is very different than what you're probably used to. At the top of the screen is a section called the action panel. This is where you'll find a clock, but also the settings (swipe left) and custom groups (swipe right). You also have the option of adding shortcuts to this area that will be available at all times, sort of like the favorites tray on other launchers.

The bottom three-quarters of the screen is where all the action happens. By default, you have a list of all your apps here in scrollable pages. There's an action button-style search button straddling the border between the two areas, and it does what you'd expect. Tap it, and you can search your phone for apps. Again, this is only the default behavior, though. You can change the long-press action and icon of this button to do all sorts of things. For example, have it launch the Google apps.

Things get interesting when you start adding custom folders to HomeUX. Let's say I want all my work apps together. I make a folder, give it an icon, and select some apps. You switch between folders by swiping up and down in the app list. So a swipe down, and I'm in the work folder. It's essentially a way to filter your app list. You can also add widgets to these folders, which is a cool way to keep that information easily accessible without cluttering up the UI.

The free version of HomeUX has some solid customization options including custom grid size, hiding apps, icon packs, and configurable wallpapers/themes. A pro upgrade for $1.49 adds things like icon scaling, notification badges, and clock UI adjustment.

This is still a beta app, and as such, there are a few rough edges to be worked out. I've seen some graphical glitches and the way certain features are accessed could be clearer. Still, you should give this launcher a shot because it's a refreshing change of pace.

LEGO Comic Book Covers at Designer Con 2015

We've seen LEGO mosaics, dioramas, and other sculptures before, but this is the first time we've seen LEGO mixed with another form of art: comic books! At this year's Designer Con, we chat with Brandon Griffith of the Comic Bricks project to learn how he and other LEGO artists have recreated their favorite comic book covers using our favorite building bricks.

"Talking Turkey with Steve Johnson" - Episode 23 - 11/27/15
Happy Thanksgiving Everybody (In the US). We have a special treat for you this holiday weekend - a brand new CreatureGeek! We welcome back Mr. Steve Johnson, one of our favorite guests on the show and also one of the most colorful and interesting people working in the effects industry today. Steve's resume includes Ghostbusters, Predator, Big Trouble in Little China and so much more. On this episode, Steve talks about his upcoming book, enjoying sobriety and working with some of the most iconic creators in effects. Thanks for spending time with us with holiday weekend and enjoy this new episode of CreatureGeek!
00:00:00 / 01:08:14
Will Shares a Brief History of Tested (from Tested: The Show!)

At our recent live show, Will capped off his tenure at Tested by giving a brief history of the site, from our humble beginnings reviewing technology to the incredible opportunity of collaborating with Adam and Jamie. Will recalls his favorite memories and videos, shares his passion for virtual reality, and gives thanks. We wish him the best as he moves on to the next adventure. (Photo photo by Dallis Willard)

Episode 328 - Embrace The Splurge - 11/26/15
Norm is joined by Tested's Senior Science Correspondent Kishore Hari and Senior Rapid Prototyping Correspondent Sean Charlesworth to talk about NASA's announcements, Designer Con, Gear VR, and the holiest of consumer holidays: Black Friday. Plus, we give our reactions and analysis to the new Captain America: Civil War teaser trailer. Prepare for a comics knowledge bomb! That and more on this week's episode of This is Only a Test. Have a happy American Thanksgiving, everyone!
00:00:00 / 02:14:15
Building The Worlds of SyFy's "The Expanse"

This past Monday, SyFy network released the first episode of The Expanse online, with the rest of the season airing in mid-December. It's an ambitious show--an adaptation of a popular novel series that's already on its fifth book. One of the reasons for the books' success is its realistic depiction of space travel 200 years from now. Given the conceit that mankind has invented a spacefaring technology that allows for regular travel between Earth, Mars, and the Asteroid belt, the story is about the relationships between the cultures that have formed on Mars and asteroid colonies, and their relationship with Earth. What happens when you have generations of humans living on a mining Asteroid, and Martians who are more invested in the development of their planet than the interests of Earth? Thoughtful world building makes for compelling science fiction.

The production values of the show are impressive as well, with the need to tell an intertwining story from three very different types of environments. I got on the phone with Seth Reed, the production designer of The Expanse, to learn a bit about how set and production design contributed to that world-building.

Thanks for chatting with us, Seth! To start things off, can you talk about the role of a production designer and what your responsibilities were in the production of The Expanse?

Seth Reed: As the production designer, my responsibilities included designing everything that was behind or around the actors. That included all of the set decoration, scenery that we built, all the colors and fabrics and textures--pretty much the world. The props were within my department--the propmakers were pretty independent, and always are, but it all happens through the production design department. We provided all the graphics and everything that appears on those props as well.

(Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)

The show is set around three basic areas as we switch between the three main characters. There's Earth, Ceres Station, and outer space on board different ships. Can you talk about how you and your team built out the look of each of those locations?

Well for Earth, we haven't really seen much of it [in the first episode]. We saw Avasarala's place, her office, but not that much. You see a few visual effects shots, which I was involved in, for setting up the look of Earth [200 years from now]. Earth is a more crowded place, with tall buildings designed with soft and geometric edges--a lot of times with points or simple spires at the top.

Watch: How a Neural Network AI Perceives the World

NeuralTalk is a github project that runs images through a recurrent neural network and predicts a sentence description for new images in the form of captions. The models can be improved with larger data sets and longer training times, but the accuracy and results are impressive, especially when new images are fed to it in real-time. That was the experiment of Kyle McDonald, who ran NerualTalk through his laptop's webcam during a walk through Amsterdam. (h/t Gizmodo)