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How To Get Started with RC Sailboats

I know what some of you are thinking: At a time when the RC hobby offers excitement such as speedy FPV racing quads, 20-pound gas-powered dune buggies, and even robots that fight to the death, how can anyone get jazzed about a silent sailboat meandering across a pond? I get it. I used to think the same thing. Although I've known about the existence of RC sailboats for decades, they never captured my attention enough to actually give one a try. I really should have known better after my similar experience with rock crawlers. I soon discovered that even though sailboats are not fast (relatively speaking), they offer abundant technical and skill-oriented challenges that keep drawing me in deeper.

RC sailing clubs are a great resource to get started in the hobby. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

Diving In

Once I had decided to give RC sailing a try, I didn't think twice about going at it by myself. After all, I was fairly competent with the Sunfish sailboat that I had as a kid. Plus, RC sailboats only require 2 channels to control. So how hard could it possibly be? As I'm sure you've guessed by now, the reality of my introduction to RC sailing was much different. It involved a few missteps, some humble lessons, and plenty of help from experienced sailors.

One of the things I learned early on is that there is a lot is specific terminology used in sailing circles. I'm still learning the meaning of most of these foreign-sounding words. For any of you experienced sailors who may be reading this, I'll ask your forgiveness in advance since I'll endeavor to use layman's terms whenever possible here.

Even though I knew that RC sailboats were only 2-channel machines, I lacked a fundamental understanding of how the controls worked. The various rigging that I had seen on some sailboats caused me to envision their control systems to be much more complex than they actually are. It turns out that most of the visible rigging on a sailboat consists of static lines that only serve to stabilize the sail mast.

RC sailboats have simple control systems. But until I had one of my own, the various rigging had me convinced otherwise. (Lewis Dunn photo)

The two main controls of a RC sailboat are the rudder and sail trim. The rudder is used to control the direction of the boat in the water. A single servo actuates the rudder through direct linkages.

Sail trim refers to the angle of the sails in relation to the boat hull. Both sails can pivot side to side about their leading edge. Rather than a rigid connection, the sail servo is connected to a pair of rope-like lines that terminate near the midpoint of the booms along the bottom edge of each sail. The servo controls the length of these lines, which subsequently determine how far out the sails can swing. At its shortest length, the sails may only have a few degrees of sway. With the line fully relaxed, the sails could approach 90-degrees of travel. Based on the direction of the wind and the orientation of the boat hull, sail trim is adjusted to harness the wind and keep the boat moving forward.

How to Build a Foam Cosplay Helmet

For his E3 costume builds, Frank worked with foam fabricator Evil Ted Smith to make three awesome cosplay helmets. Ted joins us this week to show how he turns sheets of cheap floor foam into shapely sci-fi and fantasy helms. It's not too difficult!

Tested: Radeon RX480 Video Card Review

Going for second place seems like a weird business strategy, but the RX480 GPU fits in with AMD's CPU strategy of trying hard to stay in second place in a race where only two major players exist.

It's also a smart strategy, at least on the GPU end. Make the most of what you have, and go for the mass market. The potential volume for $200 graphics cards dwarfs that of cards like the GTX 1070, which costs about twice as much.

So can a $240 graphics card deliver performance necessary for modern DX12 gaming? Let's take a look at the numbers – first, the GPU specs, then performance.

By the Numbers

Nvidia's GTX 970 looks to be AMD's main target for the RX480 when it comes to performance. So let's take a look at the specs of the two GPUs side-by-side (chart below).

Nvidia shader ALU (called CUDA cores by the company), and AMD's shader cores (which AMD refers to as stream processors) differ architecturally, so you can't really compare performance based on the number of ALUs. The clock frequency for the RX480 disappoints a little – I'd expect more from 14nm FinFET logic. The good news lies with the die size. At 230mm2, AMD likely has some pricing flexibility.

I also appreciate the fact that AMD finally dumped the DVI port. Owners of older displays may be disappointed, but it's really time to move beyond DVI to a more modern interface. An owner of a DVI-only monitor will need to buy an adapter, however, unless they're willing to replace said monitor.

Beyond the raw specs, AMD offers several interesting features which Nvidia can't quite match. The Polaris GPU includes native support for FP16 (16-bit floating point, aka half-precision), which can be useful in certain types of GPU compute applications, but unlikely to factor in much with games. Nvidia's Pascal converts FP16 to FP32, then uses that converted format, which reduces FP16 performance a bit.

The geometry engine includes features supporting small, instanced objects, such as an index cache. That will help games which uses instancing, mostly real-time or turn-based strategy games which might throw hundreds of similar objects onto the screen.

Punished Props' Foam Viking Axe Build

Tested contributor Bill Doran (Punished Props) worked with Frank Ippolito to build this giant viking axe for Ubisoft's For Honor E3 booth. In this video, Bill, shows how he made the axe using the techniques he teaches in his great Foamsmith book. Check it out!

Testing the Mantis Drone Claw Accessory

We introduce Simone to a Tested tradition--opening mystery mailbags from viewers! This week's package contains an accessory for our quadcopter: a beautiful drone claw manufactured via a Kickstarter campaign. We have fun testing it in the the office though a series of challenges--what could go wrong?

Google Play App Roundup: ASAP Launcher, Pokémon GO, and Titan Quest

You probably want more apps, but more than that, you want the right ones. That's what we're here to deliver with the weekly Google Play App Roundup. This is where you'll find the best new and newly updated apps and games on Android. Just click the link to head right to Google Play.

ASAP Launcher

There are plenty of alternative launchers on Android, some of which are very mature and feature-rich. They all have a lot of features in common, though. ASAP Launcher is brand new, and it's markedly different than those other launchers. It has a very clean material look with custom "cards" on the home screen for features like weather, contacts, and calendar. One thing it doesn't have is widgets. How very odd.

There's one regular home screen panel in ASAP Launcher, and even that one has some unusual modifications. At the top is a single built-in widget with the date, google voice search button, weather, and music controls. At the bottom are five app icons of your choosing. You can drag up from the bottom or open an expanded dock that has two more rows of icons for the apps you use most. This improves over time, but you can also manually pin apps to the list.

If you want to get at the rest of your apps, drag in from the left to open the scrollable drawer. This reminds me very much of the QuickDrawer in Action Launcher, which I really like. You can scroll along normally, or drag along the letters toward the right to fast-scroll. A search bar at the top of the list lets you type the first few letters of an app as well. Drag in from the right side of the screen and you get a configurable quick settings panel.

The cards are what you see if you swipe left or right instead of more home screen panels. There's one for frequent contacts, weather, calendar, and notes. You can rearrange or disable any of them from the settings. I think the weather one is very well-done, as is the frequent contact card. The calendar is fine, but frankly a whole screen is overkill for just a scrolling list. If there were more details shown, then we'd be in business. The notes panel feels unnecessary to me.

All the above features are included for free, but a sub-$2 pro upgrade adds things like unread counts, custom icon packs, and additional themes. ASAP has a lot of potential, and I hope the developer keeps the improvements coming.

Testing a Micro RC Model Bomber Plane

It wasn't so long ago that small, lightweight RC models simply didn't exist. It took some pretty significant leaps in the miniaturization of batteries and radio components before anyone dared to dream that tiny RC aircraft were even possible. Now, these ultra-micro (UM) ships are wildly popular and can be had in a wide range of off-the-shelf kits.

My first UM model was the ParkZone Vapor. It looked a lot like you would expect for a model that could be comfortably flown in most living rooms. It had a spindly skeletal frame made of plastic and composite materials. The tail surfaces and 14.75 inch wing were loosely draped with thin Mylar. It looked more like a kite than an airplane. But looks can be deceiving.

My first ultra-micro model was the ParkZone Vapor, a fun model with looks that reflected its slow flying abilities.

That first Vapor (and others) proved to be a great flying model at indoor venues and in calm outdoor weather. It was so lightweight (.5 ounce) that it was nearly impossible to damage from a crash. The Vapor flew slowly enough that you could walk beside it. This model was a success story in nearly every respect. I credit the Vapor with kickstarting widespread interest in the UM class of RC models.

My latest UM model, the E-flite UMX B-25 Mitchell ($120), provides a yardstick to illustrate the huge strides that have been made in small model design and technology. You don't have to look very hard to find traces of the Vapor in the B-25, but the differences are more apparent. The Mitchell has an onboard stabilization system, two motors, and removable landing gear. This airplane is more sophisticated than some of my models that are many times its size.

Analyzing the UMX B-25

This is how the UMX B-25 looks out of the box. It just requires radio set-up to be ready for flight.

The aspect of the Mitchell that is perhaps most appreciated by RC pilots is that this is a recreation of the famous WWII bomber by the same name. With a 21.7 inch wingspan, the E-flite B-25 is about 1/38 scale. It lacks the level of detail that you would find in a static plastic model, but it is quite good for an RC model of any size. The scale outline is very accurate, so there is no question what airplane this model represents. The designers even captured the characteristic gull wing of the real Mitchell.

Like most UM models, the B-25 is completely assembled at the factory. The packaging doubles as a storage and travel container. This model also comes with a factory paint job which represents the typical olive drab color scheme and insignia used early in the war. The kit includes a set of decals that allows you do replicate the specific markings of any of the Mitchells used in the famous Doolittle Raid.

Hands-On with BattleBots RC Toys!

Something we were surprised to encounter at this season's filming of BattleBots were RC toy versions of fan-favorite robots. Hexbug was on site in the builder's pit to show off their upcoming BattleBot toys, based off of four competitors. We chat with Jason from Hexbug to learn how these toys were designed from the originals, and see what we can do in the tabletop battlebox.