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In Brief: USB "Condom" Protects Devices from "Juice Jacking"

Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing shares this crowdfunded USB dongle that acts as a protective barrier between your USB device and a potentially malicious charging station. The $10 USBCondom was funded on CrowdSupply earlier this year, and is now shipping and taking pre-orders for the next production run. It works by blocking the data pins on a USB connection, only allowing power to pass through to your device. As Doctorow points out, you can also buy a USB cable that does the same thing for $9.

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Making a B.F. Goodrich Mercury Mark IV Helmet, Part 1

When Adam commissioned us to make a hybrid NASA Mercury space program suit, we didn’t give much thought to the helmet or really any of the “hard parts” with the exception of the neck and wrist rings. We just figured that if anyone was interested in buying another suit, they would have to find a helmet on their own, and that we’d probably have to re-cast or find standalone MIG neck rings. Adam advised us they would be hard to find.

But initial feedback from prospective customers indicated that we might not be able to sell many suits without including helmets and accessories. Pictured below are Adam’s suits. One with rings on the left and one without rings on right:

Since Adam supplied the neck ring for the first build and we returned it to him, we had to find another for our third suit. We weren’t really in a hurry to find one but weeks passed and we saw nothing except MIG helmets with rings, so we bought one hoping maybe we could sell the MIG helmet later. The upside of buying the helmet and ring was understanding how the ring locked onto the helmet as Adam never sent us his helmet at this point for scrutiny. Now that we’ve had a closer look at his helmet during the Comic-Con Incognito walk, we can see he manufactured a similar locking system we have based on the MIG helmet and neck ring design.

I remember Adam saying he needed another neck ring so I kept looking and eventually found one and bought it. Because it was expensive we considered recasting it in four-part molds for future projects. It wouldn’t be functional but may look good enough for some buyers.

When I told Adam what we were planning and asked him where he got his helmets he offered to send us his spare helmet blank to re-cast but we would have to return it as it was his only one. I’ve never had quite this experience before. We’ve been lent stuff in the past but nothing that couldn’t be replaced easy enough. It was very generous for Adam to send his helmet so we didn't have to sculpt one from scratch, and really aligns with his philosophy of opening these projects up to makers. Above is a photo of what he sent over. We were absolutely thrilled to have access to it!

In Brief: The History of Headphones

European phone handset company liGo produced this interactive guide to the 120-year history of headphones. It ends up on a weird note showcasing the current state of fashion headphones (ie. Beats), but the stuff about the development of copper headphones for home to military use is fascinating. liGo did a good job pairing each section of this web guide with era-appropriate music and media. Included in the retrospective is brief video of John C Koss (founder of the Koss headphone company) talking about bringing the first stereo headphones designed for listening to music to consumers. I've embedded it below:

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The "Movie Physics" of Back to the Future Part II

One of the things we love about science fiction movies is the storyteller's take of futurism. Films set in the near future take on the challenge of imagining a world filled with technological and cultural changes, and yet are still recognizable and relatable to the viewer. Movies like Blade Runner, Minority Report, and A.I (hey, all based on Philip K. Dick works!) fast forward us in time to create a setting that can be used to reflect on the problems of the present, and adorn that setting with props and effects that signify "the future." Those gadgets in turn have inspired a generational of roboticists, computer interface designers, and even toy makers.

With 2015 right around the corner, we wanted to take a look back at one of armchair futurtists' most beloved movies, Back to the Future Part II. With technologies like Google Glass, video-recording drones, and ubiquitous video conferencing software, it does seem like BTTF II was particularly prescient in its wacky vision of the future. So what’s it like for a screenwriter to see elements from one of his movies coming true twenty-five years after its release? We talked to BTTF scribe Bob Gale about how he and director Robert Zemeckis went about predicting the future, how you can make an audience believe in time travel and hoverboards, and just exactly why Doc Brown infamously pronounced the word gigawatts 'jigawatts.'

We first asked Gale if he was surprised that some of what was predicted in Back to the Future Part II has come to pass. “Well yeah, I kind of am,” he says. “There’s a lot of stuff we did a lot of research on, like using your thumb to make a money transaction, what the money would look like, that kind of stuff was all being theorized about back in the day. The video conferencing, there was a rudimentary form of video conferencing that that already existed back in 1989. So a lot of this stuff was me and Bob Zemeckis saying, ‘Let’s try to take these ideas to its logical conclusion.’

“One thing that’s kind of interesting, is it’s like what came first, the chicken or the egg,” Gale continues. “We know that people who saw the movie have thought, ‘Is there a way to invent a hoverboard?’ Then people are out there trying to figure that out. We did the tie-in with Nike to make the shoes, then they started thinking, ‘Maybe we can [actually] make these things.’ Some of what we predicted may be coming true because people who saw it in the movie were inspired and thought, ‘Maybe there’s a way to make it come true.’ The guys at Mattel that worked on the hoverboard replica were excited about it, they wanted a hoverboard just like everyone else.”

In Brief: Amazon Buys Twitch for $970 Million

Can you believe that the Variety report that Google acquired video streaming service Twitch for a billion dollars was three months ago? Three months on, and there had been no official word from either party about an acquisition, only the closing of Twitch predecessor Justin.Tv and changing policies on Twitch's platform to remove unauthorized audio. (Arstechnica's Ron Amadeo had a good take on why recent changes seemed so bizzare). Well, it seems that Google may not actually be picking up Twitch, as the Wall Street Journal today reports. Instead, it's Amazon that may be acquiring the service, with Bloomberg and Recode sources saying that the announcement could be made later today. What do you think about Amazon potentially owning and running Twitch?

Update: Amazon has announced that it has acquired Twitch for $970 million in cash. Twitch's CEO explains the reasoning for the acquisition and that Twitch will continue operate independently from its new owner.

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Watch Robots Make Cake

This has been a morning of self-discovery for me. I was surprised to learn that I really enjoy watching robots make cake. In my dive down the rabbit hole that is ads for cake-making robots on YouTube, I also discovered that the music on factory equipment sales videos is outstanding. I put a handful of my favorites in a playlist for you.

Google Play App Roundup: Afterlight, Deep Under the Sky, and Snapshot

It's time to make your phone better not through hard work and determination, but by installing some apps. That's a lot easier. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we find the best new and newly updated stuff on Android. Hit the links to open the Play Store.

This week we've got a few new ways to get better photos, plus some alien jellyfish.

Afterlight

In the realm of image editing on iOS, Afterlight is one of the most popular options. This app has amassed a huge number of downloads in spite of the $0.99 price tag in a sea of free alternatives. Surely there must be something to it then, right? Now is your chance to find out as this image editor has arrived in the Play Store.

Afterlight, like many other editing apps, lets you either choose an existing image from your device, or snap a new one on the spot. The built-in camera app is reasonably good, but on Android you're further ahead to use the stock camera interface on your phone. You can use the gallery app of your choice to select the image, and I quite like that it gives you a larger preview of the selected image before importing. It's great if you've taken a few pics of the same scene to make sure you got a good one.

The buttons along the bottom of the screen open up different sets of tools in a row directly above them. As you can probably guess, each one tweaks a different facet of the image. The far left button is for general edits. There are tools for brightness, saturation, color temperature, highlights, exposure, and so on. Afterlight has more tools than most other apps, but it's still a long way from something like Photoshop Touch. Cropping, rotation, and other tools of that sort are available under a different button. There's also an auto-fix tool that seem fairly accurate, though it seems to have a tendency to blow some images out. Annoyingly, the icons for individual tweaks aren't all easy to work out, and there are no labels.

One of those buttons down there opens the filter menu, which will be contentious as usual. If you're into adding filters to photos, the ones in Afterlight are pretty good. There are a few dozen of them split up into categories, and you can change the strength of each. They don't seem to destroy detail like some filters do. There's an irksome little detail here--several of the filters are locked until you share Afterlight on Facebook. Technically, you just have to tap the share button and back out, but still. The only other bit of walled-off content is the instant film effect pack. If that's the sort of thing you need (why), you will have to pay an additional $0.99 via an in-app purchase.

At the end of all your tweaking, Afterlight gives you direct sharing to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and a local save option. The Android sharing menu is also supported. The tree-level quality selector at the top of the screen is a nice touch as well. If you're just sending something to Instagram, there's no reason to save it at full res. Note, the default top setting maxes out at 2048 px wide, but you can change that in the settings so you don't lose any quality.

Show and Tell: Favorite Exercise Armband

For this week's Show and Tell, Will reviews the Tuneband, his favorite athletic armband to use with his iPhone while jogging. It's secure enough so that it doesn't flap around when you're in motion, but also keeps your phone at a good position where it doesn't get in the way of your arm movements.

Tested Mailbag: American Tiki

Another mystery package arrives at the office, and we do our best to guess what's inside! Don't worry, it's not a puppy. But what we do find ends up disrupting our entire day at the office. Thanks, Donbert from the Tested forums!

MakerBot Mystery Build: Soft Boiled

Will's back from vacation and that means it's time for another mystery build with our MakerBot Replicator. This week's build is something for typography nerds. Place your best guess as to what's being printed in the comments below!