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Adam Savage's Alien Spacesuit Replica

Before we went to Comic-Con, we visited Adam in his shop to get an up close look at his replica 'Kane' spacesuit from Alien. At this point, Adam was just about to complete the 10-year project of building the suit in anticipation for his Incognito walk at SDCC. Here, he describes each of the unique components he obsessed over fabricating in this dream project.

Bits to Atoms: Building the Millenbaugh Motivator, Part 3

Progress on the Millenbaugh Motivator marches on! All the measurements have been made and a rough version has been modeled and approved by Adam. This week we take a look at modeling the final version and speccing hardware.

I decided to tackle the ‘valve arms’ first since I wasn’t sure how to build them. They look relatively simple but on closer inspection there’s multiple compound curves, plus the forked portion at the back and I couldn’t easily build them using my regular techniques. I ended up drawing them as 2D splines (curve described by interpreting points) on top of the reference photo--if you are comfortable using the pen tool in Illustrator or Photoshop, this is the same idea. I was able to give the spline thickness by extruding it and then used planes and simple shapes to cut out the rear fork and the front slope.

The many steps to build an arm. (click to animate)

Early on, it was tough picturing the size of some of the parts. When you’re constantly looking at blown up pictures for reference and working in 3D where things are floating in space, you start to picture things much bigger than they really are. Adam mentions this in our video when he was convinced the motivator was too small until he actually placed it on the glove. I did a test print on my MakerBot and it looked way too small, so I printed a 1:1 reference picture to easily compare parts and they were right on. I was even able to print the pivot and if a part was printable on the MakerBot (even if it was a little rough) it should print on the high-end printer without any problems.

Testing: Surface Pro 3 and Shield Tablet's Styli

Two things struck me while testing the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and Nvidia's Shield Tablet, devices I ended up really liking. Both are ostensibly tablets, but the way I used each of them differed from how I used my iPad Mini. First, I rarely used held either of them like a notepad, with one or two hands gripping the sides. Most of the time, I had the Surface propped up in its "canvas" position using its kickstand on a flat surface, and kept the Shield Tablet propped up on a small makeshift kickstand as well. They were tabletop computers, not handheld ones. Second, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed using the stylus on each of these devices, and not necessarily as writing instruments. For both the Surface and the Shield Tablet, the stylus actually became a second navigational tool, used to swipe through the home screen and browse the web. These use cases became as intuitive as touch pointing and gestures--still the primary physical for iPads. And it made me think about how much Apple is limiting the potential of its iPads by staunchly sticking to touch.

Let's start with the Surface Pro 3, which has an active stylus. As I said in our video, my limited digital drawing abilities don't allow me to discern the difference between the Wacom-based digitizer used in the last Surface Pro and the N-Trig one used here. What matters to me isn't degrees of pressure sensitivity, it's accuracy and latency. And the Surface Pro 3's stylus was completely sufficient for note-taking in OneNote--my chicken scratch handwriting looked on-screen like they would have on paper. The ability to manipulate those scribbles as vectors and use the stylus to crop/copy/paste images with annotations made those notes more useful than the ones in my paper notebook after having made my jots.

But my favorite way to use the Surface Pro 3's stylus was actually as an extension of my fingers on the touchscreen. On the Windows desktop, the stylus became a proxy for my mouse cursor. Even with Windows' improved touch tracking for tapping small buttons, the one thing that touch can't facilitate is a cursor hover. With the active stylus, I could hover the tip over the screen and see where the cursor is before making a pinpointed tap. Even when I had I mouse connected to the Surface, I would use the Stylus in combination with my fingers to browse the web--tapping Chrome's UI and scrolling with the pen and easily still pinching to zoom on pages with my fingers. That complementary use of fingers and stylus felt completely natural. Much like how I've found touchscreens to be a delightful complement to the primary keyboard and mouse interface on a laptop, I've found the stylus to be an intuitive complementary input method to finger touch on tablets. You can have the cake and eat it too.

The only thing I wish is that Microsoft could have found a better way to store the stylus to the Surface Pro 3. In past versions of the Surface Pro, the stylus stuck magnetically to the side of the device, attached to its charging port, actually. It wasn't particularly secure, and meant that you had to remove the stylus to charge the Surface. On the Surface Pro 3, the stylus has no docking port--only a sleeve on the type keyboard accessory to slip into. I realize that given the thickness of the stylus and the densely packed design of the tablet's guts, there's no space for a recessed stylus dock. It's the problem that Steve Jobs bemoaned when mandating a touch-only interface on the iPad, but not an impossible task. Lenovo's ThinkPad 2, for example, is a hybrid device with a built-in stylus dock.

Building and Testing a Custom RC Airboat

Sometimes you seek inspiration. Sometimes inspiration smacks you in the face. As I was walking down the clearance isle at Walmart, I was smacked in the face. They had a few kid’s kickboards on clearance. With my Mini Alligator Tours airboat experiences still fresh on the brain, I immediately thought that one of these kickboards could be the starting point of a scratchbuilt airboat.

Sitting next to the Mini Alligator Tours, the wide stance and minimalist design of my DIY airboat is apparent.

There were a few features of this kickboard that I particularly liked, in addition to its clearance price. First of all, it has a very wide stance. That would serve to prevent tipovers--hopefully. Another appealing aspect was its slippery plastic shell. I thought that would help it slide the water, as well as grass and other surfaces. The other kickboards that I saw had a nylon mesh-type covering. That’s probably great if you are actually using it as a kickboard, but not so great in airboat mode.

The one thing that I did not like about the kickboard was its very pronounced curvature (as viewed from the side). Most airboats use flat-bottomed hulls. I figured I would give it a try anyway and see what happened.

Keeping It Simple

Early on, I decided that my focus with this project would be to make the simplest airboat that I possibly could. That proved to be a surprisingly elusive goal. I discarded numerous design sketches over the course of an afternoon before I felt that I had shaved my concept down to the bare essentials.

Matchbox Car Factory, Circa 1962

From British Pathe, a YouTube channel repository of 20th century archival footage, this awesome behind-the-scenes look at the design and production of matchbox cars. It's like the show How It's Made, circa the 60s (cheesy narration, music and all). A 1965 follow-up to the corporate film is just as delightful, and takes a different voice and look to reflect the swing of the decade. (h/t Paul Francis)

Zoidberg Jesus at Comic-Con!

We love going to Comic-Con, but have noticed that every year there are some picketers outside that take a little bit of the fun away from going to these fan events. We decided to bring the fun back by introducing them to our friend, Zoidberg Jesus.

The Zoidberg Project, Part 12 (Finale and Recap!)

Even though The Zoidberg Project has been wrapped up for a while now, it’s not over. I got sidetracked back in May with the Gore Magala build for Capcom's Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate display, and I still owe you all one more article!

So let's back track a bit….back to early April. Leading up to the debut at WonderCon, I had a ton of finishing to do on the Zoidberg costume. The feet that Carson and I sculpted and molded needed to be cast up and painted. We opted for a simple latex and polyfoam casting. To make this cast, we brushed in about four or five good coats of latex into the mold, giving plenty of time for them to dry between layers. If you don't let the previous layer dry enough, you will end up with wet layers sandwiched between dry layers, which will make the skin too soft and prone to stretching out of shape.

Since this mold for the feet are stone, I could have just filled it up with latex and let it set for an hour to form a "skin" around the outer edge, then dump the excess latex back out into the bucket and let it dry. But I felt that manually brushing in a few layers and drying them with a hair dryer between layers would be the fastest route. Once this layer of latex skin is set up, I mixed up a batch of Flex Foam 3 from Smooth-On and just rolled it on the surface until it started foaming up. I didn't need it to be a solid foam casting because I still need room for my food and ankle inside.

This finishes the casting, which could then be demolded and trimmed up while the second foot was being done. I like to use an electric turkey cutter sometimes when I'm trimming foam, and it helps to hog out big sections quickly. Once I find the right fit for my foot, I used a little Barge glue to tack the latex down to the foam, as sometimes it can delaminate. That was it for the feet, but we all know that Zoidberg doesn't walk barefoot.

Soviet Moon Colonization Dreams, Circa 1965

Produced in 1965, this Soviet documentary was produced to educate citizens about Soviet rocket technology and what astronomers knew back then about the Moon. Its second half is a fantastic imagination of how humans might colonize the Moon in the distant future. Just great retrofuturist fodder, even if you can't understand the Russian. "The film consists of two parts: popular scientific and science-fiction. In the first part in the popular form the modern (1965) scientific convergence on the Moon are stated. In the second part the director and the artist create a picture of the future of the Moon." More context about the production of this video on The NewStatesman. (h/t io9)

In Brief: How Long Will Your CDs Last?

Media archiving is a noble yet labored pursuit, as archivists struggle to find and adopt new technologies and mediums that won't go obsolete. We've previously discussed the US Library of Congress's approach to archiving millions of pieces of video. Back in the 90s all sorts of analog media was being transferred to what was then thought to be an enduring platform: the compact disc. NPR's All Things Considered recently interviewed the LoC's head of Preservation, Research, and Testing Division to learn about how those CDs have held up in the two decades since, and what surprising deterioration has occurred on the now dated format.

Norman
Here's The Drill Designed for Space Mining

Like many good ideas, Dave Boucher’s Moon mining drill started as a sketch on a napkin. That was in 1999 (just one year after the space drilling adventures of Armageddon). But sometime this fall, his company Deltion Innovation’s latest prototype of a real Moon drill will go through one of its final tests. And with any luck, DESTIN — which stands for Drilling Exploration & Sample Technology Integrated — will be chosen to spearhead NASA’s lunar prospecting mission in 2018 or 2019, bringing us one step closer to leaving Earth forever and moving to the Moon.

“Space mining has now become a must-do activity for every space agency in the world,” Boucher said in an interview earlier this year. “They all recognize that they have to be able to go mine in space just to support the missions that they're planning.”

In other words, space mining isn’t so much about monetizing the supposed wealth of precious resources contained on the Moon’s surface (though, yes, there is apparently a lot). Not yet, at least. For now, it’s all about figuring out how to make future missions, manned or otherwise, self-sustainable — what’s known as In-Situ Resource Utilization — should we have any hope for the long-term exploration and colonization of world’s beyond our own.

Of central interest for NASA’s prospecting mission are the pockets of water ice that satellite imagery believe exist in the Moon’s Polar Regions. “Water and oxygen extracted from lunar soil could be used for life support,” suggests a NASA document describing the eventual mission, “and methane produced from the Martian atmosphere could be used to refuel spacecraft for the trip back to Earth.”

But we don’t know it’s there for sure. And that’s where Boucher’s drill comes in.