Our fingers start aching in this second day of the laser-cut Millennium Falcon build! Will and Norm chat more about their memories of the 80s, and hit a speed bump in the instructions. Have to utilize those spatial skills! (Follow along the rest of the week by joining the Tested Premium member community!)
You knew I loved joinery, but THIS is amazing. Solid joint configurable in three different orientations!
Beautiful footage from the ISS, using a new Red Dragon camera. "Once again, astronauts on the International Space Station dissolved an effervescent tablet in a floating ball of water, and captured images using a camera capable of recording four times the resolution of normal high-definition cameras. The higher resolution images and higher frame rate videos can reveal more information when used on science investigations, giving researchers a valuable new tool aboard the space station."
Don't call it chipgate. Last week, users of the new iPhone 6S discovered that Apple is sourcing its A9 SoC from two sources: TSMC and Samsung. This isn't strange--cellphone makers work with multiple foundries all the time--but some user testing indicated that the phones with Samsung chips may offer shorter battery life than the TSMC ones. According to one Reddit user's GeekBench test, the TSMC-equipped phone lasted almost two hours longer than a Samsung one. Apple issued a rare public statement on the issue, saying that real-world usage between the two models would differ no more than 2-3%. ArsTechnica's latest battery of tests confirms that, with GeekBench being the only battery benchmark that showed a statistically significant difference in battery life.4
For this week's Show and Tell, Will shares his experience with the Microsoft Universal Folding Keyboard, a portable Bluetooth keyboard that works with multiple devices and operating systems. It can connect up to two tablets, and works with Windows or iOS. It's really small and thin, but has good-size keys and feels nice to type on.
I don't know if you could say there are too many apps out there, but there are certainly enough that it can be hard to find the ones worth your time. This is the problem that Google Play App Roundup is seeking to solve. Every week we tell you about the best new and newly updated apps in the Play Store. Just click the app name to head right to the Play Store and check things out for yourself.
SwiftKey Neural Alpha
When SwiftKey first came out a number of years ago, I remember being quite impressed with the quality of the text prediction. This was a time before Google had decided to take the default keyboard seriously, and most of the other third-party keyboards weren't particularly reliable. SwiftKey's predictions have gotten better over the years, but they aren't noticeably better than Google's. In fact, it seems like SwiftKey is prone to certain mistakes that its competitors aren't. Enter, SwiftKey Neural Alpha. It's an experimental new keyboard for Android that uses neural networks to generate better predictions.
I was, to put it mildly, incredibly skeptical of this keyboard when it was announced a few days ago. I mean, it sounds like marketing mumbo jumbo. Neural networks are certainly a thing, and they've been used to improve things like computer vision and speech recognition. Google is also big in the developments of artificial neural networks as a way to improve its search algorithm and for the development of its self-driving cars. An artificial neural network is a different approach to computing that uses layers of nodes programmed to behave more like a living brain. After using SwiftKey Neural Alpha for a bit, I'm convinced they're doing something really interesting. The predictions are helpful and sometimes downright creepy.
SwiftKey's old model for text prediction was called n-gram--this is still what's used in the standard SwiftKey app. It relies on having a lot of data about the way you type and the things it has seen before. That's why you can connect all your cloud accounts to the app. The more data it has, the better its predictions. However, if you look at a half completed sentence, you can probably figure out some likely words without all that data. Your brain is just better at predicting patterns than a traditional algorithm. The SwiftKey Neural Alpha seems capable of that too.
This app looks at the context of your sentence in order to predict the next word, and it seems noticeably better at it than the standard app. When sending a text message about picking up food, SK Neural Alpha suggested the phrase "What do you want," when I just typed a "W." The suggestions aren't always right, but they always make sense at least. That's more than I can say for the regular SK app.
One issue I still have with SwiftKey is the swipe input, which I use often on the Google Keyboard. It just never seems as accurate or forgiving as Google's implementation. It doesn't appear to be any different in the experimental Neural Alpha either. This is an alpha, though, so maybe the neural network stuff won't be fully integrated into the typing experience until later. There are only two themes included with the Neural Alpha, a standard black one and the default purple-ish Neural Alpha theme. It's free and doesn't have any of SK's usual in-app purchases.
We kick off this week with a new build! We found this beautiful laser-cut Millennium Falcon kit at a recent Mini Maker Faire, and picked up two to work on at the office. The designers at makerspace C4Labs put together a really nice project, with easy to pop out MDF pieces and the instructions laser-etched on the boards. (Follow along the rest of the week by joining the Tested Premium member community!)
Earlier this year, we teamed up with effects artist Frank Ippolito to build a Shadow Stormtrooper costume using a new kit from Anovos. We showed you how to use air tools to cut and grind the armor pieces to fit your body. In the second part of our build, we start putting those pieces together to assemble the armor in time for Dragon*Con!
Here's some more behind-the-scenes testing, this time with the new DJI Osmo handheld stabilized camera. While I was in New York, I stopped by the Museum of the Moving Image--one of my favorite places to visit in NYC. (The museum has an upcoming exhibition that will feature a piece by Adam, too!) For those who've never been, here's a walking tour of the museum's "Behind the Screen" exhibition that chronicles different aspects of filmmaking. Be sure to come back next week as we start another set of Weeks of Build!