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In Brief: Dayton Allen's Custom Alien Figures

One of my favorite magazines growing up was Wizard's ToyFare, which in addition to reporting on new action figure releases, showcased the custom toy modifications and builds and sculptors who made their own figures. These makers could take a Punisher figure, for example, and swap out its head and paint job to make it a kick-ass Bullseye figures. Custom figure sculpts have come a long way since then, and the quality of figures like the ones made by artist Dayton Allen are just as good (if not better) than the sculpts done by toy companies. The Verge has a fun report on a project that Allen started in 2011, custom sculpting the entire cast of Ridley Scott's Alien--in addition to building out the Nostromo bridge and corridor sets for those 4-inch figures. Allen's Flickr gallery of his work in progress is awesome. Bookmark it! And if want to get your hands on your own Alien figure without making a custom sculpt, the NECA series of Nostromo spacesuit figures just went on sale last week!

Adam's Tour Diaries #19: A Day of Writing and Research

Dec 10. 2014: Sigh. Another day I didn’t leave the bus. After the feverish activity of Omaha (well, it certainly FELT feverish) I felt due for a day of simply writing and research. It was quite productive in its own way. Seriously: I got a lot done.

When I finally DID make my way over to the Orpheum Theatre, I was graced with another lovely dressing room! I was reluctant to leave.

I felt very comfortable here.

But once onstage I had a phenomenal assistant.

My on-stage assistant.

You never quite know how someone will respond to being brought up onstage. For many, it seems like an AWESOME idea until they get up there, and then you can see it sink in: “Holy crap, look at all those people!” Not this girl, though. She was game and had a great sense of humor.

Google Play App Roundup: Action Launcher 3, Inferno 2, and Scrolls

Your Android phone is capable of a lot of cool things, but not because of what Google built in. Developers have access to all sorts of hooks in the system to make your phone do amazing things, you just have to find the right apps. That's what the weekly Google Play App Roundup is all about -- helping you find the right apps. Just click on the app name to head right to the Play Store and pick it up yourself.

This week it's time for a home screen makeover, shooters get glowing, and Mojang is back.

Action Launcher 3

The original Action Launcher came out a few years back, aiming to do things a little differently than the other AOSP-based home screens. The way Action Launcher handled (and continues to handle) widgets is unique among similar apps, and it adopted a different approach to finding your apps. Now Action Launcher has been redesigned around more modern Android code, and the result is the big v3 update. There are a few new features, and some old features are being left behind.

Action Launcher took its name from the Android action bar, which it implemented on the home screen. This was in the early-ish days of Holo, so people (read: nerds) were all over the idea of the action bar. It was a unifying force in Android UI design. Action Launcher 3 still offers the action bar UI (with a Lollipop flair), but the default layout is more straightforward. There's a search bar with a hamburger icon that, when pressed, reveals the Actino Launcher Quickdrawer with all your apps.

I'm quite fond of the Quickdrawer UI. There's an alphabetical column that you can drag up and down to scroll through the list, or just tap and drag the old-fashioned way. There's something new about the Quickdrawer and search box--they're really colorful. The big new fUI tweak in Action Launcher 3 is called Quicktheme. The launcher can pull colors out of your background image and apply them automatically to folders, the search box, Quickdrawer, and status bar (if you have the full action bar UI turned on). It even works with the excellent Muzei live wallpaper.

Covers and Shutters are also carried over from the old version of Action Launcher. Shutters are pop-up versions of widgets that you can trigger by swiping up on the icon of an app on your home screen. I find these pretty useful as I tend to run a widget-heavy home screen. It only takes one or two pages in Action Launcher to accommodate everything I need. Covers are basically folders that show a single app icon. Tap on it to launch that app, or swipe to open the hidden folder.

Action Launcher also drops a few features from the older version including the Quickpage, which was a slide-out home screen panel on the right side of the screen. Icon scaling and Icon pack support is also missing at launch. The developer says icon packs will probably be supported in early 2015, but there's no easy way to change your icons now without root.

The new Action Launcher is also very snappy in my testing with a variety of phones and tablets. It does lack a few features that were in the previous build, but this is a complete rewrite of the app, and several of those features were labeled as experimental anyway. This is a paid update, though. That doesn't particularly bother me because Action Launcher 3 really overhauls the look and feel.

The old version will continue to exist as the unlocker app is being updated as a full version of the paid AL2. Action Launcher 3 is free to try, but all the cool features are behind a $4.99 paywall.

12 Days of Tested Christmas: Essential Workshop Instruments

For the eighth day of Tested Christmas, Will shares his recommendations for essential tools that go a long way in the workshop. These instruments: a good pair of digital calipers and a high quality multimeter make great gifts, and you don't need to buy the most expensive ones!

Adam's Tour Diaries #18: Omaha!

Dec. 9, 2014: I remember Omaha! I remember it from watching Wild Kingdom as a kid. “Mutual of Omaha is people … you can count on when the going’s … wrong ...” or something like that. I’m too lazy to look it up on the Google.

We landed in Omaha for a much desired day of R&R and then a performance.

The hotel was across the street from the theater and was very, very nice. Super comfortable. TERRIBLE wifi. But not worse than most. In my experience, wifi in hotels is a spotty and largely unsatisfying business. I end up using my phone as a hotspot for BLAZINGLY faster speeds. (I keep an eye on my data, though, don’t worry.)

Super comfortable. Terrible wifi.

Downtown Omaha has a lovely and amazing shopping district, enclosed and clad in brick. Our first day was unseasonably warm, so I walked around here for awhile.

Here’s our marquee.

Lots and lots of skybridge in the places it gets cold, I notice...

12 Days of Christmas: Favorite Cooperative Board Game

For the seventh day of Tested Christmas, Norm shares his favorite board game discovery, a cooperative deck building game set in the Marvel comics universe. This is a game like Dominion, but up to five players work together as a team in various scenarios. Let us know what your favorite cooperative tabletop games are in the comments!

A Stop by the Glenn Research Center

On Dec. 5, before our MythBusters: Behind the Myths performance, I stopped by the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, and they couldn’t have been nicer.

I saw the wind tunnel in which Kari, Grant and Tori tested their Blue Ice story, and then the center's ballistics lab, where they investigated the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster. That accident involved insulating foam coming off the oxygen tanks and damaging the shuttle wing. I hadn't realized that what did the damage to that wing was not that much different than a handful of packing peanuts -- but of course packing peanuts traveling at a differential speed of about 500 mph when it hit.

The other lab I stopped at was the Space Lab, where they have high-vacuum chambers. For the first time I saw an ion thruster:

I had known about ion thrusters, but I had not seen one in action before. You can look right through a porthole in the vacuum chamber and see them. They are eerily pretty. They don’t put out that much thrust compared to many rocket engines, but over time it adds up. And the big thing is that they do it without requiring anywhere near as much fuel mass as combusted chemical fueled engines do, by electronically accelerating relatively small quantities of ions to very high speeds to get the push they need.

Adam's Tour Diaries #17: The Hyneman Comes Home

Dec. 7, 2014: Finally we got to Jamie’s home state: Indiana! You should have heard the crowd roar when I reminded them he’s a Hoosier.

Later, after the show, I was on the phone with Mrs. Dontrrythis, and she said, “Take a picture of what you’re looking at right now.” So I did.

My dressing room.

About the least interesting shot I’ve ever taken. To be perfectly honest, most dressing rooms are like this.

Another pattern I’m seeing on tour: I seem to be building a collection of dubious looks from the girls I bring onstage to help us out.

She didn’t believe me.
Adam's Tour Diaries #16: Myyyyyyy Kinda Town

Dec. 6, 2014: Man, oh, man. Chicago is the best. Pulled in around 7 a.m. Woke up and headed over to my good friend and never-not-fun-to-talk-to Peter Sagal’s house, where he made me breakfast while we discussed Kubrick, film, radio, and a few dozen other topics over the course of a couple hours.

Our bus was parked right under the El.

This is awesome. Spotted on the street in Chicago. I think it’s for when the power goes out? I guess a stop sign CAN be stopped.

Myth Busted.

Then Peter gave me a walking tour of the incredible Oak Park, outside of Chicago, where an insane number of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings reside, including FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT’S HOUSE.