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FPV Quadcopter Racing at the 2015 Drone Nationals

The California State Fair recently hosted the first ever Drone Nationals--a FPV quadcopter racing competition that brought together pilots from all around the world. After two days of races and freestyle stunt performances, we chat with the event's director and the competition's eventual winner about the developing sport of FPV aerial racing.

Ant-Man and the History of Miniaturization in Movies

This story originally appeared on the Cinefex blog on 7/21/2015 and is republished here with permission. Learn more about Cinefex magazine here.

Small is big. If you're in any doubt of that, check out Marvel's Ant-Man, the latest in a long line of movies in which ordinary human beings are reduced to the size of bugs.

In Ant-Man, con-artist Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) dons a special suit charged with sub-atomic particles, which causes him to shrink to near-microscopic proportions. Drastically diminished, Rudd faces the considerable challenges posed by an ordinary world magnified to extraordinary proportions. Good job the side-effects of the miniaturization process imbued him with super-strength.

You'll be able to read the complete story of the visual effects of Ant-Man in the next issue of Cinefex magazine, available to preorder now. To whet your appetite, this article includes exclusive insights from Jake Morrison, Ant-Man's visual effects supervisor, about the challenges involved in creating Marvel's latest – and littlest – screen hero.

Before hearing from Jake, however, we're going to take out our magnifying glasses and examine some of the other movies which have delighted in pitting pocket-sized heroes against teeny-tiny villains.

Hobby RC: Testing the AquaCraft Cajun Commander

Last summer, I reviewed the AquaCraft Mini Alligator Tours RC airboat. While not a powerhouse, it was (and still is) a fun boat that can go where most other boats dare not venture. The Mini Alligator Tours even inspired me to build a propeller-driven vehicle from scratch.

The AquaCraft Cajun Commander is styled after full-scale swamp-running airboats. You can add to the scale features if you choose.

AquaCraft recently released a new airboat design, the Cajun Commander ($280). This boat is considerably larger and has much more relative power than the Mini Alligator Tours. It definitely provides a different kind of RC boating experience.

What's in the Box

The Cajun Commander is prebuilt and features a camouflaged plastic hull. The only assembly steps are to remove the parts from the box and install the required batteries. The proportions of this boat are quite similar to the full-scale airboats I've seen roaring around the waterways of Central Florida. To enhance its scale appearance, two seats are included. Human figures to fill the seats are not part of the package, but I suppose that a properly-sized action figure or two would do the trick.

If you're really into the scale aspect of RC boating, AquaCraft also offers 3D print files of other scale accessories for download. As you will see, I'm not much into making my boats life-like. So, I didn't bother adding action figures or printed items.

The Cajun Commander is powered by a brushless motor with a 9" diameter 3-bladed propeller. A metal cage surrounds the propeller to keep aquatic vegetation and your fingers from being pureed. I really like that the cage has a built-in handle for carrying the boat.

Tested Mailbag: 1:220 Scale Models Kits

Woot! This week's reader mailbag is super cool, and a callback to one of our week of build projects from last year. Ben Jean from Montreal designs small-scale models made of laser-cut wood and liner board. His care package included unassembled kits as well as completed versions, one of which is inspired by the upcoming game Firewatch!

Building a District 9 Alien Rifle Replica, Part 4

Over the past month, Punished Props' Bill Doran built a 1:1 scale replica of the alien assault rifle from District 9 to unveil with us at Comic-Con. Bill's build logs and videos will walk through his design and fabrication process, and his finished piece was unviled with a surprise at SDCC. Place your questions for Bill in the comments below! Here are parts 1, 2, and 3.

Here it is: the final part of the District 9 Gun Prop build! Fortunately, the molding process was fairly painless and yielded some very useful molds. When it comes to casting, having good molds can make or break a project, especially when you need 24 of something, as we did for this whacky alien gun.

Dump Molds

Most of the pieces for the gun were done with simple dump molds. This means all I had to do was mix up some Smooth-Cast 300 resin, tint it with a little SO-Strong black, and pour it into the molds we made. The only fancy business we did was to tap the mold around a bit to make sure no bubbles were trapped.

This process was used for the top scope pieces, the barrel pieces, some of the side greeblies, and all 24 of the tubes that stick out the sides of the barrel length.

Hackers Take Remote Control of a Jeep SUV

In a video for Wired, writer Andy Greenberg invited security engineers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek to hijack a stock Jeep Cherokee over a hacked internet connection. The two were able to control various functions on the Jeep--even its steering and brakes--by tapping into a vulnerability in the car's internet-connected entertainment system. Chrysler has just issued a fix for this vulnerability--a software patch that must be manually installed.

In Brief: Testing the Usability of Electronics in Water

Craig Hockenberry's post about testing the waterproof claims of the Apple Watch is a good read even if you don't own a smartwatch. He dives into what affects electronics in water use, and how waterproofing works in modern touchscreen devices. There are some interesting UI implications for wearables in underwater use as well, which may inform how smartwatches adapt input and output for different environments in the future.

Norman
Testing: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Laptop

A few months ago, Lenovo sent me their ThinkPad X1 Carbon laptop to test. While I ran it through our usual suite of benchmarks at the office, I've been waiting for a proper place to test it in the field. That opportunity came during Comic-Con, where I brought the ThinkPad along to complement my 12-inch MacBook. The MacBook, which has been my travel computer for the past few months, has been serviceable for most daily activities--web browsing, writing, and image editing. But I knew its Core-M processor would slog over more intensive tasks like exporting hundreds of photos at once or rendering video clips. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon's Broadwell-U processor--a Core i7-5600U in this loaner unit--was more suited for the job. And what a difference it made. After months of working on low-powered systems like the Core-M MacBook, UX305, and even the Atom-based Surface 3, this laptop reminded me of the joys of computing on a workhorse laptop.

And a workhorse is exactly what a ThinkPad is supposed to be. The ThinkPad X1 line, which we first tested in 2011, has been in a awkward and elongated transitional period where it's straddled the line between Ultrabook and workhorse. What's the difference? A workhorse laptop is designed around performance and battery life, with ports galore and business-friendly features like fingerprint readers. They're no-compromise laptops--essentially the anti-2015 MacBook. Ultrabooks, though, are an Intel classification, denoting the use of a low-wattage Core CPU along with a thin-and-light chassis. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon line, with its tapered unibody design and non-removeable battery, has been more Ultrabook than workhorse--at least in the eyes of some ThinkPad enthusiasts. That was definitely the case with the previous ThinkPad X1 Carbon generation, which had a controversial keyboard redesign and touch function key strip.

This year's generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a return to form, at least for the Carbon line (Wirecutter still recommends the ThinkPad T450s for business users). It's still very Ultrabook-y, with no replaceable battery and a intentionally slim 3-pound chassis. And while the laptop is equipped with HDMI and DP video output and two USB 3.0 ports, there's no internet SD card slot. Ports like Ethernet and VGA are reserved for adapters that plug into the wide power+I/O jack. The 14-inch 2560x1440 screen may not be as overkill as the 3200x1800 QHD+ screen found in Lenovo's Yoga Pro line, though I still think 1080p is a sweet spot for a laptop this size. This X1 Carbon also has a fantastic backlit chiclet keyboard with ample travel and a smooth glass trackpad. The trackpoint nub is still around, too, which complements the touchscreen for precision cursor control. Elements of ThinkPad remain, balanced between the design constraints of Ultrabooks. But what tips the X1 Carbon more toward the workhorse category is its performance. This laptop is fast.