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Maker Faire 2016: Pocket CHIP $49 Portable Computer

Last year, we were impressed by Next Thing Co's $9 CHIP computer. At Maker Faire 2016, we were able to check out their PocketCHIP housing, which puts CHIP into a portable console package that runs Linux and indie game console Pico-8. Here's what you can do with the $49 system!

Avoiding RC Transmitter Switch Mistakes

At the most recent meeting of my RC club, several pilots got into a discussion about the embarrassment of accidentally flipping the wrong switch on their radio transmitter. The consequences of this mistake ranged anywhere from scuffed paint to a full-bore crash into the turf. Given the complexity of modern radios and the forest of protruding switches, it's easy to understand how even a seasoned pilot could mistake one switch for another. It is even more understandable when you realize that many pilots are reluctant to take their eyes off of their aircraft. The myriad switches are often navigated purely by muscle memory and feel.

Nearly everyone had a story to share about causing damage to a favorite model from an absent-minded switch throw. Most stories were followed by a description of what was done afterward to mitigate the risk of future mistakes. The majority of pilots chose to modify a critical switch in order to differentiate it from its neighbors.

Modern RC transmitters are often complex. Hitting the wrong switch can cause an embarrassing and costly mishap.

For many pilots, their target switch to modify is the one which activates retractable landing gear. Obviously, you want to be able to easily locate that switch so that you can safely lower the gear when it's time to come in for a landing. This is especially true if you're already dealing with an in-flight emergency such as a dead engine.

Correct operation of the landing gear is also vital when the model is on the ground. One pilot relayed an incident where he intended to retract the wing flaps while taxiing his expensive jet model. He inadvertently hit the landing gear switch instead. As the landing gear tucked itself away, his jet belly-flopped onto the hard runway, causing considerable mechanical and cosmetic damage. Another flyer talked about the time he accidentally retracted a model's landing gear while the engine was warming up. His transgression ruined a very costly propeller.

You want to be able to quickly identify switches by feel.

Many multi-rotor models have switches that control flight modes and/or the 'return home' function. Changing either of those could fundamentally alter how the model responds to your control inputs. Correct positioning of the switch is vital.

Whatever your hot-button (or two) may be, the intent of modifying the corresponding switch is the same. You want to be able to quickly identify that switch by feel so that you can move it when you need to and leave it alone when you don't. What follows are three proven methods to modify a critical switch.

In Brief: Pebble Announces New Watches, Core Accessory

Even though Apple reportedly corners half of the smart watch market, Pebble is pushing forward its lineup with new watches and an interesting accessory on the horizon. The Pebble 2 and Pebble Time 2 are the logical follow-ups to the low-power watches, adding heart-rate monitors, extending battery life, and expanding the screen size by 50% in the color model. But the more interesting product looks to be the $70 Pebble Core, a display-free pocketable puck that has GPS tracking, Spotify streaming, audio out (including Bluetooth), and even 3G sim card support. Steven Levy examines why the Core may be a smart move for Pebble on Backchannel. Pebble is also once again turning to Kickstarter for early bird pricing pre-orders--pay in 35 days and you'll get a new watch by the end of the year.

Maker Faire 2016: OpenROV's New Trident Drone

We catch up with OpenROV at Maker Faire to learn about their new Trident underwater drone. This new model is faster, has a better camera, and is built to be ready to dive out of the box. It also has a unique towable receiver buoy that floats and lets you pilot the drone remotely.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind's Surreal Effects

In director Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman plumbs a consciousness-bending story about a man, Joel Barish (Jim Carrey), who attempts to ease the pain of a breakup by undergoing a procedure that will erase all memories of the relationship from his mind. Joel's attempts to interrupt the erasure mid-procedure – all from within his subconscious – set the story in a world that is part reality, part waking dream.

That surreal world was the stuff of visual effects, more than 100 realized by Custom Film Effects. Buzz Image Group took on only 16 shots, but each was a critical depiction of Joel's altered mind as, one by one, his memories of Clementine (Kate Winslet) are deconstructed, abstracted and, finally, erased.

The memory abstractions are sometimes blatant, sometimes subtle. In a sequence early in the film, Joel – in his car – follows Clementine as she walks angrily down a sidewalk. "This was a hand-held, non-effects shot," said Buzz visual effects supervisor Louis Morin, "but in the scene, Jim Carrey says a line about everything falling apart – and Michel wanted to emphasize that feeling." To visually support the idea of a world falling apart, Gondry suggested removing one of Clementine's legs in the scene. "I said: 'Okay, it's possible – but this is a swish-pan, and it is going to be so fast, nobody will see it.' But he wanted to try it; so we replaced Clem's real legs with CGI legs, did 3D tracking and remodeled the sidewalk she was walking on."

Determined to limit the number of visual effects in the film, director Michael Gondry used in-camera trickery wherever possible. For a scene in which Joel transports Clem into his childhood memories, production built a forced-perspective kitchen set to render Jim Carrey child-size.

The first attempt at the shot bore out Morin's initial concerns. "Nobody could see it," said Morin, "because it was so fast. I asked if they had a longer take of Clem walking, and they did – but in that one, she wasn't turning her head properly. So we combined takes in the swish-pan, tracked the head from the first take onto Clem in the longer take, and put in a whole CGI background." In that background, a car crashes behind a fence, unnoticed by Clem. "That was a CGI car and a CGI fence. It was a shocking event to keep the audience on their toes, to say, 'Look – some pretty unusual things will be shown to you in this movie.'"

Tested: Mechanical Gaming Keyboards

What makes a good mechanical keyboard? And why are peripheral companies releasing new gaming keyboards so frequently? Patrick and Norm discuss the state of this essential accessory, and how the switches in new keyboards from Corsair, Razer, and Logitech compare. Which type of switch do you prefer?

Building a Studio Scale Death Star Laser Tower Model, Part 3

This month, prop maker David Goldberg shares with us his build of a studio-scale replica of the Death Star laser tower from Star Wars. Previously, David covered sourcing his reference, creating a 3D model, and the core structure fabrication. Today is all about the finer details!

The original models built for the Star Wars films were detailed with hundreds of little parts taken from plastic model kits. These parts were often referred to as nernies or greeblies. This was the first time this approach to adding detail for film models had been used to such a great extent and it was one of the defining characteristics of the realistic "used hardware" look of the film. There are photographs of the ILM model shop back in the day showing entire walls stacked high with hundreds of model kit boxes. Models kits of all types and scales were used for "donor parts" but it seems there was a fondness for models of military subjects, especially tanks and other vehicles.

A great deal of time and effort has been spent by members of the Replica Prop Forum (The RPF), Studio Scale Modelers (SSM) and other online sites analyzing photos of the original models and tracking down precisely which parts from which kits were used for the added details. Some of these model kits are still in production and many more are available on EBay, although sometimes at extremely high cost! Other than purchasing the Mig 21 kit to use for the barrels, I decided I didn't want to spend what could amount to many hundreds of dollars purchasing all of the necessary donor kits, some of which are quite rare. Instead I decided to replicate many of the parts with 3D printing, laser cutting and scratch building. In the end, several 'authentic' parts were donated for use on this project by some of the very kind members of the RPF.

Before applying detail parts some additional layers of plating were needed. Styrene sheet, cut by hand, was used for this plating on the original models but I wanted the benefits of precision and speed that could be achieved using a laser cutter, and styrene doesn't laser cut cleanly, the edges tend to melt a little. Instead I laser cut the plating panels out of a material called Polybak, a cardboard sheeting which has been impregnated with resin to make it water resistant. Polyback is often used to back cabinet panels in moist locations and as a backer for thin wood veneering. It laser cuts beautifully and takes paint well.

I laser cut a series of panels to go on the top of the tower as well as a bunch of randomly sized rectangular panels that I could stick on the casework wherever desired. Before cutting, I applied double-faced adhesive tape to the back of the Polyback sheet so that to attach the parts all I would have to do was peel off the backing paper and stick the parts down. In additional to the plating, several custom parts were laser cut, some with partial surface etching to represent bolt heads and other details.

Testing: Jaybird Freedom Wireless Earbuds

Our favorite wireless headphones from last year were Jaybird's X2 earbuds. These Bluetooth earbuds packed all the electronics and radios in the ear pieces, requiring only a flat cord to connect the two ends behind your head. I thought they were great for bike riding and jogging, and the interchangeable tips (supporting plastic ones or Comply foam tips) made them comfortable for me to wear. The 9 hours of battery life was pretty good, too. But for some people, they X2's design was still too bulky; the weight distribution of the electronics made it necessary to use the "wingtips" to wrap the earbuds around your ear to keep them in place. Jaybird's new Freedom earbuds solve that problem completely.

The new Jaybird Freedoms are significantly slimmer than the X2s, while retaining the same 6mm driver that gave the X2s really good sound quality (for earbuds). It's almost shocking how small the new design is, which now can completely fit into small ears without sticking out and dragging off the lobe. Jaybird (which was recently acquired by Logitech) accomplished this in two ways: incorporating a tapered driver design so that the tips are smaller, and putting all of the battery, electronics, and radio into the volume control module along the cable. The redesigned driver and relocation of the electronics don't appear to have changed the sound quality (and there's still a built-in microphone), and Jaybird is also pushing a new companion app that allows for real-time EQ adjustments and downloadable presets.