Latest Stories
LEGO Comic Book Covers at Designer Con 2015

We've seen LEGO mosaics, dioramas, and other sculptures before, but this is the first time we've seen LEGO mixed with another form of art: comic books! At this year's Designer Con, we chat with Brandon Griffith of the Comic Bricks project to learn how he and other LEGO artists have recreated their favorite comic book covers using our favorite building bricks.

"Talking Turkey with Steve Johnson" - Episode 23 - 11/27/15
Happy Thanksgiving Everybody (In the US). We have a special treat for you this holiday weekend - a brand new CreatureGeek! We welcome back Mr. Steve Johnson, one of our favorite guests on the show and also one of the most colorful and interesting people working in the effects industry today. Steve's resume includes Ghostbusters, Predator, Big Trouble in Little China and so much more. On this episode, Steve talks about his upcoming book, enjoying sobriety and working with some of the most iconic creators in effects. Thanks for spending time with us with holiday weekend and enjoy this new episode of CreatureGeek!
00:00:00 / 01:08:14
Will Shares a Brief History of Tested (from Tested: The Show!)

At our recent live show, Will capped off his tenure at Tested by giving a brief history of the site, from our humble beginnings reviewing technology to the incredible opportunity of collaborating with Adam and Jamie. Will recalls his favorite memories and videos, shares his passion for virtual reality, and gives thanks. We wish him the best as he moves on to the next adventure. (Photo photo by Dallis Willard)

Episode 328 - Embrace The Splurge - 11/26/15
Norm is joined by Tested's Senior Science Correspondent Kishore Hari and Senior Rapid Prototyping Correspondent Sean Charlesworth to talk about NASA's announcements, Designer Con, Gear VR, and the holiest of consumer holidays: Black Friday. Plus, we give our reactions and analysis to the new Captain America: Civil War teaser trailer. Prepare for a comics knowledge bomb! That and more on this week's episode of This is Only a Test. Have a happy American Thanksgiving, everyone!
00:00:00 / 02:14:15
Building The Worlds of SyFy's "The Expanse"

This past Monday, SyFy network released the first episode of The Expanse online, with the rest of the season airing in mid-December. It's an ambitious show--an adaptation of a popular novel series that's already on its fifth book. One of the reasons for the books' success is its realistic depiction of space travel 200 years from now. Given the conceit that mankind has invented a spacefaring technology that allows for regular travel between Earth, Mars, and the Asteroid belt, the story is about the relationships between the cultures that have formed on Mars and asteroid colonies, and their relationship with Earth. What happens when you have generations of humans living on a mining Asteroid, and Martians who are more invested in the development of their planet than the interests of Earth? Thoughtful world building makes for compelling science fiction.

The production values of the show are impressive as well, with the need to tell an intertwining story from three very different types of environments. I got on the phone with Seth Reed, the production designer of The Expanse, to learn a bit about how set and production design contributed to that world-building.

Thanks for chatting with us, Seth! To start things off, can you talk about the role of a production designer and what your responsibilities were in the production of The Expanse?

Seth Reed: As the production designer, my responsibilities included designing everything that was behind or around the actors. That included all of the set decoration, scenery that we built, all the colors and fabrics and textures--pretty much the world. The props were within my department--the propmakers were pretty independent, and always are, but it all happens through the production design department. We provided all the graphics and everything that appears on those props as well.

(Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)

The show is set around three basic areas as we switch between the three main characters. There's Earth, Ceres Station, and outer space on board different ships. Can you talk about how you and your team built out the look of each of those locations?

Well for Earth, we haven't really seen much of it [in the first episode]. We saw Avasarala's place, her office, but not that much. You see a few visual effects shots, which I was involved in, for setting up the look of Earth [200 years from now]. Earth is a more crowded place, with tall buildings designed with soft and geometric edges--a lot of times with points or simple spires at the top.

Watch: How a Neural Network AI Perceives the World

NeuralTalk is a github project that runs images through a recurrent neural network and predicts a sentence description for new images in the form of captions. The models can be improved with larger data sets and longer training times, but the accuracy and results are impressive, especially when new images are fed to it in real-time. That was the experiment of Kyle McDonald, who ran NerualTalk through his laptop's webcam during a walk through Amsterdam. (h/t Gizmodo)

In Brief: Taking Apart the ToyTalk Barbie

Super interesting: security blog Somerset Recon recently took apart Mattel's Hello Barbie, a new doll that incorporates IoT technology to allow children to have conversations with it. The communications tech comes from ToyTalk, a startup (founded by ex-Pixar folks) that has spent the past five years working on ways to develop software to make more interactive toys. They've released interactive apps before, but the Hello Barbie has communications hardware built-in, allowing it to record a user's voice interactions, send it to ToyTalk's servers, and feed back a response from a library of over 8,000 line of recorded content. Somerset Recon found a small circuit board with Wi-Fi, flash memory, LEDs, and a Marvell controller. This is essentially a Marvell IoT board that can is internet-ready and can drop into a variety of different toys. The next step for Somerset is to dive into the system architecture and evaluate its security implications.

Why Music is Important to Astronauts in Space

I recently saw a video of astronaut Kjell Lindgren playing bagpipes in space. Although Lindgren appears to be a fine player, it wasn't his piping that intrigued me. I couldn't stop wondering when and how they put bagpipes on the International Space Station (ISS). I knew there was a guitar and a keyboard in orbit…but bagpipes? Those pipes had to compete against food, spare parts, and other obvious necessities to get a ride into space. I would love to have been a fly on the wall when that idea was pitched to NASA logisticians!

The fact that NASA and its partners were willing to make it happen underscores the importance that music plays in the lives of orbiting astronauts. Whether making music in their precious spare time, or listening to music throughout their workday, having these outlets available is vital for the happiness and well-being of the astronauts orbiting above us.

Tooting Their Own Horns

As it turns out, there are several other musical instruments aboard ISS that I wasn't aware of. Those in the know at the Johnson Space Center informed me that in addition to the bagpipes, Larrivee acoustic guitar, and Yamaha electronic keyboard, there is also a flute, a ukulele, and an electric guitar. And that is just the permanent stash of instruments. Others have stayed temporarily and returned to Earth.

Credit for the first musical instrument in space goes to the soprano saxophone carried aboard the space shuttle by Dr. Ron McNair in 1984. McNair normally played the tenor sax, but there was no way he could ever justify bringing the large instrument aboard. Even the diminutive soprano sax's flight status was uncertain right up until launch.

Dr. Ron McNair plays a soprano saxophone, the first musical instrument in space, aboard the space shuttle in 1984

McNair prepared for months in advance of his mission to adapt to the nuances of playing the smaller sax. He secretly worked with saxophone guru, Kurt Heisig, to fine tune his technique and equipment. Due to McNair's hectic training schedule and Heisig's California locale, all of their sessions took place over the phone.

The pair anticipated that low atmospheric pressure in the shuttle's cabin could affect how the sax behaved. To compensate, McNair worked on conditioning exercises and packed a varied selection of reeds. Some unpredicted factors, however, would prove more troublesome.