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Tested Builds: Quadcopter Drone, Part 3

It's day three of the quadcopter build already, but for some reason it still feels like day two. Still, much progress is made and some things are done better the second time around. Those of you who've been following along know what we're talking about. To watch and follow along with the build, sign up for a Tested Premium Membership by clicking here. Post your comments and questions about the build below!

Tested In-Depth: Android Wear LG G Watch

Will and Norm sit down to discuss Google's Android Wear platform, testing the new LG G Watch, and compare Google's smart watch to our experience living with the Pebble Steel watch. Here's why we think smart watches have the potential to be really useful accessories for smartphones.

The Computer's First Song

The 1956 composition "Illiac Suite for String Quartet" is a pleasant enough sounding piece of music – for the first three movements, that is. It's when you get to the fourth and final movement, that things get...weird. The notes sound random and dissonant. It doesn't sound much like music at all. But the peculiarity of "Illiac Suite" makes a little more sense when you realize how it was composed. This was the computer's first algorithmically generated song.

Programmed in binary by Lejaren A. Hiller, assistant professor of music at the University of Illinois, and Leonard M. Isaacson, a former research associate on the school's Illiac computer, "Illiac Suite" was nevertheless a revelation. That a computer might one day compose music indistinguishable from that of a human artist became an irresistible pop culture trope – for better and for ill. In his New York Times obituary, Hiller is said to have joked that "he would have computers compose all possible rock songs, then copyright them and refuse to let anyone perform them."

Luckily for us, computers are nowhere close to realizing that humorous albeit dystopian vision. And yet "Illiac Suite" remains an impressive feat, even today.

Photo credit: University of Illinois

We can actually trace the beginnings of "Illiac Suite" back to none other than the British mathematician and computing pioneer Alan Turing. In 1951, Turing published a book on programming for an early computer known then as the Ferranti Mark I*. The machine had a loudspeaker, sometimes called a "hooter," that was used primarily to issue warnings or during debugging. But Turing found that the loudspeaker could also be used to produce solid tones – notes, if you prefer.

It didn't take long before programmers began to exploit this functionality to playback simply melodies and songs. But two programmers by the name of David Caplin and Dietrich Prinz decided to take things a step further.

Marilyn Myller, A Stop-Motion Short about Stop-Motion Animation

Marilyn Myller is a stop-motion short about the awesome power and frustrations of being a maker, through the wandering mind of a stop-motion animator. A little surreal and beautifully animated, it's the kind of story that any filmmaker or sculptor may relate to. "A year in the making, the full six minute stopmotion short features the voice of Josie Long, one zillion hand carved tiny things, literally tens of carved foam puppets, two eye fulls of in-camera, long-exposure light trickery and a pair of tiny dolphins, smooching." One of my favorite short films I saw at this year's SXSW film festival.

In Brief: The First Conversational Robot

Last month, Robohub posted a story about the first commercial toy that could respond to voice commands. Radio Rex, a toy dog that jumped out of a doghouse when called, was made and sold in 1922, decades before the first digital computers. Apparently, surviving models of Radio Rex still work today. Rex worked off of acoustic energy: a spring attached to the toy dog released when struck by 500Hz audio--roughly the "eh" vowel sound in the dog's name. The appeal of Rex resonates today, in our interactions with computers and robotics. Social robotics, pioneered by researchers like MIT's Cynthia Brezeal, is the next phase in human-computer interaction. It's why devices like the upcoming Jibo are so fascinating; roboticists believe that the humanizing of technology will forever change our relationship with it.

The Influence and Legacy of Artist H.R. Giger

It will make a great question on a game show one day: What never-released movie had ambitions to be over ten hours long, star Mick Jagger and Orson Welles, feature a screenplay by the writer of Alien, and production design by H.R. Giger? Jodorowsky’s Dune of course, and the recent documentary on this unmade epic is a remarkable effort--probably the best movie about an unmade movie I've seen yet.

All filmmakers have dream projects that for one reason or another, never get made, and Dune was a real heartbreaker for writer Dan O’Bannon. He eventually rebounded with Alien, and brought the late Giger along with him to be the production designer. The rest, as you know, is sci-fi history, as Giger's designs for the creature and sets revolutionized the monster-movie genre. As Ridley Scott said in a statement after Giger's recent passing, the swiss surrealist was “a real artist and great eccentric, a true original, but above all he was a really nice man.”

Most people know Giger’s work from Alien, yet he created a large body of work in his lifetime. Whether you know the name or not, his artwork is unmistakable and unforgettable. It's art that you can both fall in love with and get terrified by at the same time. Giger was a fearless artist who looked deep into the abyss, and found it a great landscape to capture in his work.

We asked Frank Pavich, the director of Jodorowsky’s Dune, how important he felt Giger’s work was to the history of sci-fi. “I think he’s incredibly important,” Pavich tells us. “Let’s say we take the timeline of films, and let’s say we remove Alien from the timeline. There were so many films that directly or indirectly took influence from that film. If you compare Star Wars and films before that to the aesthetic of Alien, they’re completely different. Alien is, as he put it, a biological mess. It’s dirty, it’s messy, it’s gross, it’s disgusting, and I don’t think science fiction had that kind of horror. I think he really created that fear in us.”

The Best Cheap Printer Today

Color is swell, but for most documents, black and white look just fine. Monochrome laser printers and avoid the waste and hassle of inkjet machines (no cleaning purges!), the cost and bulk of color laser (only one toner cartridge!), and still churn out a couple dozen pages per minute with razor-sharp text. For students, small-office denizens, or anyone with modest printing needs, the Samsung Xpress M2835DW is the most efficient way to make hard copies of term papers, tax forms, or any other documents that look great in grayscale.

I spent more than 20 hours researching the mono laser category, looking over dozens of expert reviews and hundreds of user testimonials for the best, most affordable black-and-white printers. Meanwhile, Wirecutter researcher Audrey Lorberfeld spent another 32 hours analyzing existing professional printer reviews and comparing them to user reviews to identify how we could improve upon them with our own testing. With her findings in mind, I’ve spent 23 total hours testing a handful of the top contenders, jumping through hoops to set them up on a smorgasbord of devices and operating systems and printing stacks of monochrome documents to measure speed and print quality.

Like any worthwhile laser printer, the M2835DW spits out crisp text fast and at a wicked low cost per page.

Like any worthwhile laser printer, the M2835DW spits out crisp text fast and at a wicked low cost per page. It’s affordable to buy, yet still includes cost- and time-saving features like automatic two-sided printing and wireless networking, which are often missing from some pricier models. And for what it’s worth, it’s the candidate least likely to send you into fits of rage, Office Space-style, during setup.

Tested Builds: Quadcopter Drone, Part 2

The quadcopter build moves briskly in the second day of building, but Will and Norm run into a hiccup by the end of the session. To watch and follow along with the build, sign up for a Tested Premium Membership by clicking here. Post your comments and questions about the build below!

The Comic-Con 2014 Cosplay Gallery (750+ Photos)

Every year, we attend Comic-Con to celebrate our favorite parts of popular culture. We meet amazing artists, storytellers, toymakers, and of course, cosplayers. Adam walks the floor incognito in one of his new costumes, and I get to spend my free time roaming the convention hall meeting and taking photos of people who embody their favorite characters through cosplay. (It's a great photography exercise, too!) The cosplayers of Comic-Con never cease to impress me with their creativity and enthusiasm, and I'm pleased to share with you my favorite photos from this year's convention. Know who these cosplayers are? Email me at norman@tested.com with "Comic-Con 2014 cosplay" in the subject line to help me credit these awesome cosplayers. Thanks!