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In Brief: The History and Technology of Nintendo's Virtual Boy

Technology historian Benj Edwards (who writes the great Vintage Computing blog) celebrates the 20th anniversary of Nintendo's Virtual Boy with an exhaustive history of the failed game console for Fast Company. Edwards chronicles the development of Reflection Technologies' PrivateEye display which was featured in Virtual Boy, and the vision of its creators to build a true head-tracked HMD like today's virtual reality headsets. It's a great read that gives context to why the LED display tech was so interesting to Nintendo, despite its color limitations. To get a closer look at that tech, iFixit also did a teardown of the Virtual Boy a few years back.

Norman
Inside Adam Savage's Cave: Hellboy II Prop

Adam shares his latest acquisition from Prop Store's collection of original movie props: a costume piece from Hellboy II: The Golden Army. These horns and wig were part of King Balor's makeup--the one-armed king of Elfland from the beginning of the film. It's a beautiful piece that now finds its home in the cave!

Google Play App Roundup: Floatify, Pac-Man 256, and Gathering Sky

Well, your phone or tablet might be cool, but it could be a lot cooler with the right apps. So what? Spend like mad until you find the apps that suit your needs? Nah, just read the weekly Google Play App Roundup here on Tested. We strive to bring you the best new, and newly updated apps on Android. Just click the app name to head to the Play Store.

Floatify

Android 5.0 added the heads-up notification paradigm and did away with our beloved statusbar ticker text. We mourn its loss, but life goes on. Floatify came out a while ago to make heads-up notifications a bit less annoying, and a new update (V8.0) really takes it to a whole new level. I haven't had a chance to cover this one in the past, so now seems as good a time as any.

After setting up Floatify as a notification handler, it can essentially take over for the heads-up notifications built into Android 5.0 and higher. When you get a notification, the floatify banner will slide in from the top of the screen. You can do several things with this, depending on your settings. You can swipe up to hide, to the side to dismiss, and down to open all your notifications.

What's new in this update is an improved version of quick reply called direct reply. Confusing names aside, what this means is that you can swipe down on a messaging notification to get a quick reply box. Just type your message and send it off. Yes, basically like iOS. The direct reply feature is a way to add some canned responses to your messaging drop-down. You can configure these in the settings to say whatever you want. Want to reply "okay, cool" or "you smell" without typing? That can be arranged.

Floatify also extracts media playback controls from the stock notifications now. So each time a new song starts playing, you get a heads-up with the artist/song and playback controls in case you want to pause or skip. These can be hidden like any other heads-up too.

Floatify is designed to work on the lock screen as well as elsewhere in the UI. You can disable the lock screen feature if you want, but leaving it enabled means you'll want to turn off the stock notification content so you don't double up. Floatify also tends to pop up notifications far unimportant things by default. You can tweak all that stuff in the settings as well. The basic settings are free, but a pro unlocker app ($2.49) is needed to access everything.

Building the Star Wars Rancor Costume, Part 3

For the third part of our Rancor suit walkthrough, Frank shows us how he sculpted the incredibly detailed Rancor head. This clay sculpture weighed 300 pounds, and was based on Phil Tippett's original puppet sculpture for Return of the Jedi. Plus, we talk about the electronics solution that allows Frank to look around while wearing the suit! (Thanks to Model-Space.com for sponsoring this project!)

Tested Mailbag: From Belgium!

Will and Norm tear into this package from a Tested reader, sent all the way from Belgium! Its contents are right up our alley--beer! Not just any ordinary beer, but a rare bottle of Westvleteren 12, considered by some to be the best beer in the world. The story of how one acquires this beer is interesting as well. Thanks so much to Peter for sending this mailbag!

10 Alternative Energy Solutions For Powering Your Mobile Devices

Let's face it: remembering to plug your cell phone in at the end of the day is kind of a pain in the butt. For all the freedom that the mobile revolution has given us, we're still tethered to those damn wall chargers and watching our power bill increase. Thankfully, alternative energy is one of the hottest industries of the 21st century, and dozens of companies are working on products to replace the old-fashioned charger. Today, we'll show you ten amazing inventions that charge your phone in very different ways.

In Brief: Amazon Echo Adds SmartThings Support

Today SmartThings and Amazon announced that the Amazon Echo can now control SmartThings-connected devices. After a short setup process, I was able to control individual lights (or groups of lights) in my house using the power of my voice. I'll discuss in more depth on the podcast next week, once I've had some more time with it, but my initial results are very positive. This means if you want voice-controlled lighting in your home, you just need a SmartThings hub, some relatively inexpensive Cree Connected bulbs, and Alexa. While it isn't a cheap solution, that setup costs a fraction of a comparable home automation rig from a few years ago. The only bummer is that you can only adjust things (or groups of things), you still have to switch modes for the house using the SmartThings app. (via @Uncle_Spooky)

Will 1
Building a Carbon Fiber Kitesurfing Hydrofoil

Tested reader mahtieu sent in this video, where he builds his first carbon fiber hydrofoil kitesurfing board from scratch. I love watching the process, and seeing him get more confident as he progresses. It's a bit long, but it's worth watching til the end to see his first rides with the new board.

Hands-On: Real Virtuality Multiplayer VR Demo

Most virtual reality demos we've tried have been single-player experiences, but we get a sense of the potential of multiplayer in VR with the Real Virtuality platform. Developed by motion-capture firm ArtAnim, Real Virtuality allows for free (and wireless) movement in a large physical space, with the ability to interact with tracked objects and other participants. We chat with its creators to hear what they've learned from testing it.

Taschen's The Making of Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey'

In reading and collecting literature about celebrated works in cinema, there is rarely a single book or other kind of publication that serves as a sufficient canonical archive of that film's production and legacy. Just look at how many "Making of Star Wars" books that have been released over the years. Taschen Publishing's The Making of Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey' isn't the end-all complete chronicle of Kubrick's masterpiece on its own, but the 562-page tome proves more than a sufficient anchor for any completist's collection. I've been reading an early copy of this book this week, wide-eyed and mouth agape at just how much insight into the film's production history is revealed on each page.

This book is a re-release of an ultra-limited collector's edition that Taschen published last year--which also instantly sold out. While this book doesn't have the film stills and original screenplay/production notes printing that the $1000 edition included, it's a treasure trove of production material pulled from the Kubrick archives. The cadence of the book is perfect as coffee-table fodder: dozens of pages of narrative tracing the origin, production, plot, reception, and legacy of 2001: A Space Odyssey in academic detail, followed by full-spread and fold-out pages of photographs, production designs, and promotional artwork.

A specially commissioned artwork demonstrates how the various interior sets for the Discovery would fit in to the habitation sphere if the ship were constructed at full scale. (Credit: Oliver Rennert/TASCHEN)

Concept art and storyboards from the likes of Robert McCall, Richard McKenna and Roy Carnon show how Kubrick united astronomy illustrators with recruited aerospace engineers to design the visual language of futuristic manned spaceflight--at the same time NASA was reaching for the Moon. You get a sense of where designs like that of the space repair pod originated (inspired by a 1960's Boeing drawing). That artwork is paired with photographs of miniatures, sets, and costumes, in various states of competition and use. For prop replica builders, photographs from the sets give a close-up look at switch panels, knobs, display systems, and label text. A mind-boggling amount of detail.

While it's unquestionably a treat for the eyes, I was pleased that the book isn't just a visual record of the film. Writer Piers Bizony (who has written numerous space history books) devotes numerous sections to the technical details of the special effects and innovative cinematography techniques used by Kubrick and his collaborators. We learn not only how specific shots were accomplished, but where those technical achievements stand in the context of cinema and effects history. Motion-control, front projection, matte masking, and the slit-scan machine get their appropriate dues. This book gets delightfully nerdy.