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In Brief: Designing the Ultimate Toy Gun

Ever wonder how the research and development divisions of massive toy companies operate? This FastCo Design profile of Mattel's new BOOMco line of toy guns details the three-year process Mattel researchers and prototypers journeyed to produce a product line to challenge Habro's Nerf (that design story told here by Wired). Mattel, known for its Hot Wheels cars and Barbie dolls, wants a share of the estimated $500 million toy blaster market (they already bought LEGO competitor Mega to fight in the building-block front). Their toy makers claim that BOOMco blasters were engineered to have six advantages over NERF, including darts that fly straighter and stick better. One innovation to improve the stickiness of its plastic dart tips--formulating not only a new material for the dart, but the targets as well.

Norman
Google Play App Roundup: Today Calendar, The Walking Dead, and Wind-up Knight 2

A new week has dawned, and there are new smartphones hitting the streets. You want to have the latest and greatest apps for your new purchase, right? That's what we bring in the weekly Google Play App Roundup -- all the content that's fit for your Android device. Just lick the links to head right to the Play Store.

This week we've got a new calendar, a game with zombies, and a fabulous platformer.

Today Calendar

Your phone comes with some version of the Android calendar app, whether it's a custom solution from the OEM with Google's account back end added, or the Play Store version of the Google app. Today Calendar is freshly out of beta and could give all those other solutions a run for their money. However, you're going to have to part with a little of YOUR money to find out.

Today Calendar is based on the AOSP calendar app, but has some UI tweaks and additional features built-in. The interface has been cleaned up in this app when compared to the stock app. The gray-on-gray UI is gone, replaced instead with accented whites and a blue action bar. It's interesting that this app now looks a little more like a modern Android app than Google's own calendar app.

There are still weekly and agenda views, and they haven't changed much beyond some performance and UI optimizations. The month view is where all the really cool things are happening in Today Calendar. Rather than have a stretched-out month-long calendar taking up the entire screen, Today Calendar integrates an agenda with the calendar. The developer calls this the All-In-One view, which pretty much explains it. You can tap on any day from the calendar in the top half of the screen to see the agenda for that day in the bottom half. It's really the best of both worlds, and much more useful than other views. You can also swipe to move between days in the All-In-One view.

The app itself is great, but that's only part of what you get with Today Calendar. Buying this app also gives you the Today Widgets, which are available as a separate purchase as well. These are highly-configurable, scroallable calendar widgets -- both month and agenda view -- with multiple themes and options. Settings for these widgets are available when you place them, or from within the Today Calendar app.

Today Calendar will run you $2.99, but it's definitely something you should consider as a replacement for your current calendar app. Even if you end up not liking the app, the widgets can be used independently and linked with a shortcut to the stock app.

Show and Tell: BioShock's Motorized Patriot (in LEGO!)

For this week's Show and Tell, Norm brings a new collectible figure produced by the toy company NECA. It's the Motorized Patriot, from the game BioShock Infinite, and a wonderful toy sculpt. Norm is also joined by Carl Merriam who has his own Motorized Patriot to share, in LEGO form!

Tested: SaneBox Email Prioritization

Email has a unique problem. In the beginning, when the Internet was new, email’s general usefulness increased as each new person created an account. It was inexpensive, relatively easy to use, and faster than the alternative. But email had a fatal flaw baked in, it was designed for use on a network where every node was trusted. For a while, the general guidelines that evolved from users for acceptable behaviors on the service were good enough. But as more people connected to the service and the stakes for taking advantage of email's weaknesses increased. Eventually email’s ubiquity became its downfall, and spammers and marketers destroyed the signal-to-noise ratio of the service. Behind every single real email message you receive from someone who you actually want to hear from, there are a dozen or two email newsletters and updates from services and likely several hundred unsolicited spam messages.

Over the last twenty years, the email problem has gotten progressively worse, until it’s almost beyond the ability of people to imagine. There are dozens of services designed to help people manage their email problem, tools that are built into popular email services, and third-party clients designed explicitly to help you manage email. If you have a common address, you regularly get urgent email from people you've never communicated with before, or your email is posted publicly on the web (like mine is), your email situation is probably even worse. Over the last decade, I’ve tested dozens of different tools to manage email, and I’ve found a service that has made a huge positive impact on my email use.

The service is called SaneBox. SaneBox filters messages into folders based on relative priority. Messages from users that require immediate attention stay in your inbox, while less urgent emails are moved to a separate folder for you to look at at your convenience. SaneBox monitors your inbox and learns which emails you open quickly, which emails you delete or archive, and which emails you ignore. You can also filter emails into more specialized folders—I’ve added a folder for newsletters and press releases and another folder for notification emails from social networking services, online stores, and financial institutions. SaneBox automates the daily triage that I’ve been doing on my inbox for years, and the big benefit is that I’m able to glance at the contents of these folders quickly, read and act on the email or two that I need from them, and mass archive the rest in just a few moments. Consider me a fan.

SaneBox also adds a feature that should be part of every email service, the black hole. Move an email to the Black Hole folder and you’ll never see anything from that sender again. Getting marketing spam you didn’t sign up for an can’t unsubscribe to? Black hole it. What about emails from your college’s alumni association? Yup. Once you add it to the black hole, you’ll never see it again. I even use the black hole for PR people who continually blast me with stuff that we’re unlikely to cover—enterprise switches, for example. Of course, if you accidentally add something you need to the black hole list, you can remove them manually. SaneBox also includes a variety of other options, including email-based reminders (bumping messages back into the inbox after a specified length of time) and attachment management (automatically removing attachments from your emails and saving them in a Dropbox or Box account).

After a week of training, the sorting and prioritization from SaneBox worked better than Gmail's new filtering tabs, with only an occasional mistake. After a month of regular use, I trust it implicitly. It's saving me time, it helps me answer more urgent queries from both people I know and people I don't know.

SaneBox works on the server side with any IMAP email provider, which is both a pro and a con for the service. On the positive side, it means that the service is totally client-agnostic—it works on desktop clients, web clients, mobile devices, any client that can move messages between folders on an IMAP server. You don’t need to transfer settings between different machines, since all of the settings are stored on SaneBox’s servers. Of course, running on the server side raises some problems as well. The biggest problem, at least from a security standpoint, is that you have to give SaneBox access to your email accounts in order to use the service.

SaneBox's pricing seems unnecessarily convoluted. They price based on the number of accounts you want to cover, as well as the number of special folders you want to use, and some other special features. The $100/year plan was the one I chose because it would cover my two email accounts. I also have access to the attachment stripping service and reminders, which I didn't find particularly useful. While I initially thought $100 a year was pricey for this kind of service, dealing with email is one of my least favorite tasks, and the time saved has already justified the cost. For what it's worth, with a service that's as important to me as email, I'd much rather pay for the service than use something that was trying to monetize my most private data. If you want a free two-week trial and a $5 credit, you can click my referral link to sign up. (Full disclosure, I get a $5 credit for everyone who signs up using this link.)

If you don't constantly struggle with email, SaneBox probably isn't worth paying for. For my fairly unique circumstances, it's an incredible tool.

MakerBot Mystery Build: Something Isn't Quite Right Here

It's Friday, so that means it's time for another MakerBot mystery build! Something went slightly awry in this week's print, but you'll have to watch and see to find out what exactly went wrong. Place your best guess as to what's being printed in the comments below!

10 Smart Lifehacks for Your Kitchen

If you cook a lot (and you should), you’re probably always looking for ways to make your kitchen more efficient. We can help. Here are ten outside-the-box tricks that will help you save time and money in your culinary pursuits from the comfort of home.

Behind the Scenes at Kernerworks' Workshop

What do special effects veterans do when Hollywood relies increasingly less on practical effects and more on computer generated imagery? The effects experts at Kernerworks (who have worked with Jamie and Adam in the past) turned their fabrication experience into developing and building realistic trauma mannequins the military to train field medics. These robots not only behave realistically to simulate injuries, they look incredibly lifelike as well--some even have the capability to spurt blood from their wounds. Here are some photos of our visit to Kernerworks' workshop earlier this year.

Almost Human: Trauma Mannequins for Medic Training

They breathe and they bleed, but they're not real human beings. These robots, built by the especial effects and fabrication experts at Kernerworks, are incredibly lifelike trauma mannequins used by the military to train field medics. We visit Kernerworks' workshop to learn how these robots are built and get a demo of their trauma simulation capabilities. See photos from our visit here.