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Tested In-Depth: 3D Printing with Printrbot Simple Metal

After building the Printrbot Simple Metal a month ago, Will takes it home to tweak and test its printing capabilities. We sit down to discuss the current state of home 3D printers, best practices for getting good prints, and several modifications and add-ons to make the Printrbot even better!

How to Get Started in Hobby RC: Body Painting Your Vehicles

We've run through the basics of several types of remote controlled vehicles, from cars to boats to planes--and some tweaks to modify them. But one of the best ways to personalize an RC kit is to give it a fresh coat of paint. This guide will focus on the basics of painting bodies for RC cars--a genuinely fun and rewarding art form.

Most RC car bodies are made from polycarbonate plastic (aka Lexan). It is incredibly tough stuff, which makes it ideal for absorbing the abuse that RC cars are routinely subjected to. The bodies are formed by vacuforming a sheet of clear Lexan over a mold. The body is then painted on the inside surface, which effectively makes the plastic a thick, shiny clear coat. If painted correctly, a body can last and look good for a long time.

The Caveats

If you are an accomplished airbrush or spray paint graffiti artist, you already possess many of the skills necessary to paint a RC car body. There are, however, a few elements that are specific to painting car bodies that you must consider. The number one thing to know is that most paints will not stick to Lexan. You must use specially formulated products that are typically sold in hobby shops as RC car body paint. This isn’t a marketing gimmick. These are truly the only paints I have seen that bond reliably to Lexan. If you use some random hardware store paint, it will only look good until that first crash. Then, the paint will begin to chip and flake off, randomly eroding your artistic efforts. Trust me; don’t get cheap with the paint. Buy the right stuff and have no regrets.

Since we will be painting the inside of the body, some things may be reversed from painting tasks you are used to. Obviously, any masking must be done as a mirror image. Less obvious is the need to apply the darkest colors first. Since it is difficult to achieve a fully opaque finish, having a dark color behind a light color may affect the tint of the light color. Applying the dark color first negates this effect. Keep this in mind as you plan out your paint scheme and order of operations.

Working with Lexan requires special paint as well as specific tools to achieve clean, long-lasting results. A variety of common masking options can be used.

You may need to do trimming or drilling of the car body. I highly recommend using tools designed for the job. The curved blades on Lexan scissors make it easy to trim wheel wells and other rounded areas without creating jagged edges on the body. A tapered reamer is the only sensible way to drill holes in Lexan. Regular drill bits will grab and tear as they go through, often leaving a mess. . If you are using a body that will require cutting and drilling, it is usually better to do this before painting. It helps to have the body clear when you are trying to get everything aligned and fitted.

iPhone 6 Plus Mockups and Size Comparisons

Apple announced its new iPhone 6 smartphones yesterday, both of which are larger than the current iPhone 5/S/C design. To get a sense of how the 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch screen phones fit in our hands, we 3D printed mockups based on Apple's posted spec dimensions and compare them to our current phones. Plus, the jeans pocket test! (Thanks to Jeremy Williams for the 3D printing!)

Tested In-Depth: Sony RX100 III Compact Camera

We sit down to discuss Sony's latest high-end compact camera, the RX100 Mark III. Having tested both predecessors to this model, we evaluate its new features like the electronic viewfinder and improved zoom lens, as well as its image quality compared to big DSLR cameras. Here's why it's one of our favorite new cameras to use!

Awesome Jobs: Meet Meg Lowman, Tree Canopy Biologist

Meg Lowman’s head is in the trees. She’s a botanist and the Chief of Science and Sustainability at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Lowman was one of the first scientists to climb a tree in the name of science and ended up pioneering one of the most important fields of botany. Called “Canopy Meg” in scientist circles, she chatted with us about why the tippy tops of trees are the most important part of a forest and what it’s like to spend hours and days above the canopy.

Why do we care about studying the tops of trees?

In the 1950s scuba gear was discovered and that opened up exploration of coral reefs. In the 1960s, NASA developed spaceships and went to the moon. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that single rope techniques were adapted from mountaineering in order to climb trees.

Started by me in Australia and another researcher in Costa Rica (independently), we started asking questions that required us to reach the top of trees. In Australian rain forests, I welded a slingshot and sewed a climbing harness from seat belt fabric, tools that allowed me to climb a coachwood tree and discover enormous numbers of critters living up there. It turned out to be what scientists call a “biodiversity hotspot” of the planet.

Scientists acknowledge that we know more about the moon then the top of a tree.

We now know that forest canopies are a center for global biodiversity. Almost 50 percent of the biology on the land portion of Earth lives on the treetops. That is a lot of species! And we didn’t know that 30 years ago! Scientists acknowledge that we know more about the moon then the top of a tree. It’s been an amazing journey for me as a scientist to be part of this discovery, virtually in our own backyards.

The canopy is home to so many species on the planet. Tree tops undertake energy production in a humongous way. It is a region of abundant fruits and flowers and lots of sex! Incredible materials that we harvest come from canopies like medicines, building supplies, and food products. And canopies give us clues about forest health in general -- healthy forests provide water conservation, prevent soil erosion, store carbon, provide shade, serve as a genetic library, and influence climate control in a big way. It is amazing to appreciate that millions of trees, while we sleep, are doing all these things for us!

Apple Announces Its Watch Collection, Launching 2015

Here it is. Apple's watch. And it's decidedly a watch, not a curved band or "wrist wearable" as we and some other people had predicted. Here's what you should know about it.

The Apple watch is a touchscreen device worn on your wrist, running a special version of the iOS interface. The big deal here is the user interface--users will interact with it via touchscreen, voice, a dedicated button, and a crown dial on the right side. This digital crown dial is used to zoom in and out of applications as well as scroll and navigate. On the bottom of the watch are four optical sensors for monitoring the wearer's heartbeat, as well as an inductive charger for wireless charging. Activity monitoring is a big part of the Apple Watch, and an Activity app monitors different types of motion like workouts or sitting down at the office. Feedback is provided via a small speaker and haptic feedback provided over what Apple calls a "Taptic Engine." The color screen displays digital clockfaces like Android Wear watches, and you can tap into Apple services like Siri and the new Apple Pay. Developers will be able to adapt their apps and create Watch-specific apps with Apple's WatchKit SDK and APIs.

The Apple Watch connects to iPhones--starting with the iPhone 5C--via Bluetooth 4.0, but also has Wi-Fi connectivity. As for when you'll be able to buy one, Apple has only said that its Watch will come out in 2015, with a starting price of $350. Apple Watch comes in two sizes--38mm and 42mm--as well as several different finishes and strap options. What are your thoughts about this new smart watch? We'll be talking about it in-depth on this week's podcast, which we're recording tomorrow.

Apple Announces iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

As expected, Apple has announced its iPhone 6 line of phones, with two sizes. Here's what's new about them, with our thoughts coming later today.

The two phones are the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, in 4.7-inches and 5.5-inches. 1334x750 resolution with a 326ppi for the 4.7-inch model, which is the same pixel density of the current iPhones. The larger iPhone 6 Plus has a 1080p display (401ppi), not the 2208 × 1242 resolution that some had hoped. Both phones are thinner than the current iPhone 5S, at 6.9mm and 7.1mm. The larger phones will show more on the home screen (as well as a horizontal view), as well as a landscape mode for apps to show multiple panes. Kind of like the iPad. Apple also talked about its new iPhones using a better screen than previous generations, with an "ion-strengthen" glass, better polarizer, and ultrathin backlight.

To accommodate the new phone sizes, the sleep/power buttons are now located on the right side of the phones for thumb access. Apple also decided to add a one-handed "reachability" function to the phones--double-touching the home button slides the whole display down so users can access the top of their app pane with the thumb. For the 1080p display that's not the same pixel density as the past phones, apps scale up to full screen using a software scaler.

Other new hardware is Apple's A8 processor, which Apple claims to be 50% faster than the last generation. Battery life for the iPhone 6 is slightly improved over the 5S, but the iPhone 6 Plus has two hours of extra battery life for web browsing (12 hours from 10). 802.11AC is built-in, along with a new LTE chip that supports up to 20 LTE bands and voice over LTE.

The iPhone 6's camera is still a 8MP sensor with a f/2.2 lens and dual-tone flash, but the sensor is redesigned for faster autofocus with phase detection and better tone mapping. The iPhone 6 uses digital image stabilization, but the iPhone 6 Plus has built-in optical image stabilization. The camera lenses also protrudes out from the back of the phone a little bit. 1080p video capture is capped at 60fps, but high-speed recording at 720p jumps to 240fps (8X slow mo). With the phase-detect sensor, continuous autofocus now works in video.

The phones will come in Silver, Space Grey, and Gold, and pricing for the iPhone 6 starts at $200 on contract for 16GB, with the step up being 64GB for $300. The iPhone 6 Plus costs $100 more for each corresponding model, starting at $300 on contract for 16GB. Pre-orders open this Friday, and the phones will be released on the 19th.

Making the Automaton from Hugo

I rewatched Martin Scorsese's Hugo last night, and was reminded of how much I loved the film--itself being a love letter to filmmaking. One of the standouts of the movie is the elaborate automaton that's at the center of the story--a small mechanical boy that winds up and draws a picture. I was pleased to find this behind this scenes video from production house Dick George Creatives that showed the making of this complex and beautiful machine. The propmakers used modern fabrication technologies to build 13 static models, and two that actually drew without the aid of CG (albeit slowly). As I've mentioned before, the Hugo automata was inspired by many automata machines of the 1700s, including watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz's 'The Writer' and the Maillardet automata now at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. And as expected, RPF members have attempted to recreate it, or at least the notebook featured in the movie with the automata drawings.

In Brief: Six Common Mistakes in Creature Animation

Friend of Tested Fon Davis shared this really useful article from the AnimationMentor blog. It's a list of common mistakes made by animators creating demo reels showing off their creature work for production houses, and written by Shawn Kelly, an animator at ILM. Kelly, who was the lead animator for the Lockdown villain in the latest Transformers film, calls out animation and editing quirks that ruin the suspension of disbelief, like an inconsistency between the size of the creature and the speed the viewer expects of it. A useful read not only for aspiring animators, for but film nerds to understand the difficulties of animating believable CG characters.

Norman