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Milling Time: Testing the Shapeoko 2 CNC Machine

Over the past few months, I've been working with various desktop CNC milling machines. I first tested the Othermill, which I really enjoyed using. The next desktop CNC machine I tested was the Shapeoko 2. Shapeoko is an affordable, open source CNC kit that has been on the market for a few years. Originally a Kickstarter project, it grew into a robust product originally sold through Inventables, and now the Shapeoko 3 is about to launch--sold exclusively through shapeoko.com.

Given that the company is on its third generation product, there is already a large online Shapeoko community. Tips, tricks, and mods can all be found on the site’s forums. Numerous videos on YouTube show you everything from step-by-step mill assembly to machine calibration, and even material-specific best practices. That’s a compelling asset.

My Shapeoko 2

The mill itself is also very user friendly and lends itself well to modification. If nothing else, the Shapeoko is a very robust X, Y, Z plotter that is incredibly hackable. If you have plans to build your own job-specific machine, the Shapeoko’s parts would be great bones to start with. I have seen watercolor painting CNC’s, DIY laser cutters, even Zen garden sand printers built from this chassis.

If the Othermill is Eve, then the Shapeoko is Wall-E.

Google Play App Roundup: Open Imgur, Frozen Synapse Prime, and Overpaint

The time has come again to shine a light into all the shadowy corners of Google Play to find the best new and newly updated stuff for your phone or tablet. The Google Play App Roundup is where you can come every week to see what's cool on Android, and this week is no exception. Click on the links to head right to Google Play and download for yourself.

This week you can share images more easily, hack the system, and mix up some colors.

Open Imgur

Seldom will you see a more negative reaction on the internet than if you post a link on Reddit that does not go to Imgur. The image sharing site has become the go-to way to host images for Reddit, as well as many other sites and services. There is an official Imgur app, but it's really just okay. Open Imgur, on the other hand, seems pretty great.

This app comes to the Play Store packing a fully material interface with an "imgur green" action bar and light backdrop. That's just the default, though. As with most material apps, you can change the action/status bar color in the settings. There's also a dark theme, which actually looks a bit more like the Imgur website.

The main screen when you open the app is a feed of recent galleries posted by users in a grid layout. To get around, there's a slide-out nav menu on the left. Again, this is done with proper material styling. From here you can log in if you have an Imgur account, as well as access different areas of the app. You can view images by topic, subreddit, or random. When viewing individual images you can add comments and favorite posts.

Open Imgur also has a meme generator built-in, which comes with a selection of all the big memes. There's Scumbag Steve, Insanity Wolf, Skeptical Third-World Kid, and more. If you're already tired of all the memes you've ever seen, feel free to avoid this section of the app. Actually, why are you using Imgur at all? I kid.

Of course, Imgur is all about sharing your pics, and you can do that with Open Imgur. There's a section of the app where you can get images from your device uploaded and share the links. A FAB on the main page also lets you upload images. If you're logged in, you can access all your past uploads from the app as well.

One last thing, this is called Open Imgur, right? Well, it's open source, You can go to the Github and download the code, fork it, file changes, and so on. You can get the finished app free in the Play Store.

Show and Tell: Parrot Rolling Spider Mini-Quadcopter

For this week's Show and Tell, Norm flies the Parrot Rolling Spider, a tiny quadcopter controlled by your smartphone. Made by Parrot, this "minidrone" is definitely more of a toy than hobbyist multi-rotor, but it's very simple to fly and impressively stable. Plus, it rolls on ceilings!

The Making of Interstellar's TARS and CASE Robots

My favorite part of last summer's Interstellar was the novel design of the film's two robotic characters, TARS and CASE. This video shows how the robots were created, and the rig that was made so that puppeteer Bill Irwin could manipulate the full-size robots.

Hands-On with FOVE Eye Tracking VR Headset

We've tried several virtual reality headsets that track your head movement, but FOVE is the first that also tracks your eye movement. At this year's Game Developers Conference, we put on FOVE's latest prototype headset and chat with the company's CTO to learn what eye tracking can bring to VR.

Your TV is Too Small (Why You Should Get a Projector)

That weird little rainbow circle on a motor thing in the picture below? That's the color wheel for a DLP projector. More to the point, it's the color wheel that's going into my projector. It's twee and fragile, and I'm sure the old one made the tiniest ping when it shattered. I didn't hear it... but I didn't need to. The results were pretty obvious when I fired up the projector to watch a movie, and the screen was 50 shades of grey. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

The wall of grey led to two things. First, I borrowed a gorgeous 55" Samsung Plasma TV. Second, the realization that 55" is way too small for an HDTV when you're used to 100 glorious inches of 1080p color blanketing the wall in my living room.

We'll talk about the color wheel another time, but it was the 55" TV that got me thinking: most people buy televisions that are way too small for the room they put 'em in. So, my simple advice: buy a bigger TV than you think you need. Seriously. All too many people say "gosh, that thing is huge" or "60 inches? That's ridiculous!" while they're wandering through the TV aisle at Costco or Best Buy.

This makes some sense. People who grew up with standard definition televisions remember a time when a 37” TV was too big. That’s a fair association; back in the CRT days, 37 inches was massive. A TV that size was also a couple feet deep, so it literally took up a lot of space in the room. And more often than not, living room CRTs were stuffed inside some huge piece of furniture to hide it when it wasn't on--which took up even more space.

People who grew up with big CRTs need to rewire how their brains think about screen space in relation to TV sizes.

Going much for a bigger screen in the days of VHS and DVD usually meant rear projection. These were massive boxes that hulked against the wall. We're talking a couch worth of floorspace...great for baseball games. Not, to paraphrase Loyd Case, so great for the Spousal Acceptance Factor.

And in defense of spouses, husband or wife, a big blank 60" screen tends to really overpower a small living room. Which is a shame, because the higher resolution of HDTV (much less UHD/4K) means you can sit much much closer that before bigger screen stops looking really good. A 1080p screen displays 1920x1080 pixels, nearly six times as many pixels as 480i (let's agree that 480i, or 704x480 at 60 interlaced frames is roughly 'standard def' in a digital format). People really need to rewire how their brains think about screen space in relation to TV sizes.

Epic 18 Month SSD Endurance Test Is Over

We've advocated using SSDs in most PCs for several years, the benefits of having a drive with virtually no latency and a ton of bandwidth are obvious. But the longevity of flash memory used in SSDs has been worrisome--each flash memory cell can only be written to a finite number of times. That number of writes is large and SSDs use a variety of techniques to manage wear and keep your data safe when cells inevitably fail, but the manufacturer's endurance estimates for most SSDs range from writing a few dozen terabytes to several hundred.

To test SSD endurance in the real world, The Tech-Report has spent the last eighteen months writing petabytes of data to a sextet of SSDs, noting the total amount of data written and the condition at the time of their failure. The results are in, and the Samsung 840 Pro was ultimately the winner, but seeing how the different drives failed might be informative when you're deciding between MLC and TLC drives or different controllers for your next SSD purchase.

Of course, as the price per gigabyte for SSDs continues to drop, longevity isn't that much of an issue for home users. Typically people upgrade to larger SSDs before they have an opportunity to wear out. However, with new processes coming that promise to dramatically increase the density of flash memory, SSD endurance will become much more important.

Building an FPV Racing Quadcopter, Part 4

The previous three articles of this series were all about getting the Strider Mini Quad assembled into an aerial racing machine. With all of those steps complete, it is now time to put the Strider in the air. I will cover my initial test flights, some configuration changes I made, and my thoughts on flying a quad racer.

Test Flights

I planned for my initial test flight of the Strider to be a quick, knee-high hover in my backyard, lasting only long enough to confirm that the controls operated correctly. Things started off well and all of the controls worked perfectly. Things worked so well in fact, that I spent more time hovering than I anticipated.

A few minutes into the flight, the Strider unexpectedly tumbled into the grass and I heard something bounce off of the fence. In my excitement to get the quad in the air, I had neglected to adequately tighten the prop nuts…a rudimentary task that I really should not have missed. Remember when I mentioned that I was much too astute and diligent to need CCW-version motors? I guess I asked for it.

There was zero damage to the Strider, and I quickly found the flyaway prop. The offending prop nut is another story. It is definitely somewhere in my back yard, but I gave up looking for it. Lawn mowers are great at finding (and hurling) such things, so it’s only a matter of time before we are reunited. Luckily, I had a pair of replacement prop nuts that, while not the same color, fit the threads on the prop shaft.

WHETHER THE STRIDER IS DOCILE OR AGGRESSIVE DEPENDS ENTIRELY ON YOUR RADIO CONFIGURATION AND FLIGHT CONTROLLER SETTINGS. TAKE THE TIME TO EXPERIMENT AND SEE WHAT EFFECTS PROGRAMMING CHANGES CAN MAKE.

Subsequent flights took place at my RC flying field, where I have plenty of room to let the Strider run free. I began with a few line-of-sight flights in Attitude Mode so that I could get a feel for the quad’s speed and handling. I don’t know how my Strider compares to other racing quads, but it’s fast! Because of the quad’s small size, I had to be very careful to keep it in relatively close, or it would quickly morph into a tiny black blob in the sky.

I soon became comfortable flying the Strider in Attitude Mode, so I switched to Rate Mode. The stock Rate Mode settings in the CC3D felt pretty aggressive to me. So, I toned down the rotation rates and added about 30% exponential (using Open Pilot GCS) for subsequent flights. Even though that helped tame the quad, I decided that I still wanted an easier transition to Rate Mode. The solution was using Rattitude Mode.