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Soft Boiled - MakerBot Mystery Build

Will's back from vacation and that means it's time for another mystery build with our MakerBot Replicator. This week's build is something for typography nerds. Place your best guess as to what's being printed in the comments below!

MIT Integrates 3D Printer and 3D Scanner To Print on Objects

Many of the problems encountered while 3D printing are due to the fact that printers are actually pretty dumb. While the printer knows where the print head is at any given time, it knows nothing about the state of the print, which leads to some awesome failures. The folks at MIT have developed a printer that scans the print bed for objects, and can print on those objects. I'm hopeful we'll be able to use a similar method to print irregular-shaped objects without resorting to support material. (via Make and Sean Charlesworth)

Ira Glass Spills His Worktime Secrets

I didn't have a chance to read this Lifehacker interview with Ira Glass when it was first posted, but I'm glad I found it in my Instapaper queue this morning. The voyeuristic appeal of the series is strong for me. I love the glimpses you get into the processes of different businesses and publications. Audio wonks will love the details of the This American Life recording setup (they record interviews using a $240 AudioTechnica shotgun mic), but the real gem of the interview is his best life hack, "...my wife and I decided to live just a few blocks from where I work. We did this because of our dog. Since I spend at least an hour every night walking the dog, I didn't want to spend another 60 or 90 minutes a day commuting."

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Exclusive: Kevin Tong and Tom Whalen's Info•Rama Art Prints

Artist Kevin Tong is one of my favorite movie poster designers. If you've watched the videos shot at our office, you may have noticed his Overview print mounted on our studio set wall, as well as his Avengers Iron Man print in my garage in Tested member videos. We've also shared his design process videos on Tested before, which are fascinating for anyone who appreciates Adobe Illustrator work. I've had the pleasure of meeting Kevin at various conventions like the Renegade Craft Fair and Comic-Con, and it was at this year's SDCC that he let me know about an infographics exhibit that he had recently been working on. Called Info•Rama, it's debuting this Saturday at the Phone Booth Gallery in Long Beach. The show is a collaboration with artist Tom Whalen, whose work you may have recognized as part of the recent Gallery 1988 Ghostbusters exhibit. (I bought his awesome Stay Puft 'Kaiju' print.) Kevin and Tom have designed a dozen prints for this show, covering a range of topics from spacesuits to dinosaurs to celebrated vehicles of the 20th century. And I'm delighted to be able to show you guys two of the prints here.

The coolest thing for me about this show is that Tested was actually able to help with some of the information for one of Kevin's pieces. For the infographic on NASA's Extravehicular Mobility Unit, Kevin told me that he sourced some of his information from our video about the EMU shot at NASA JSC. Terry Dunn, who we interviewed in that video (and now is our RC columnist on Tested) also helped fact check an early proof of the print design.

Check out our exclusive print reveals from both Kevin and Tom, below, as well as some in-production and close-up photos!

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.