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How to Get Into Hobby RC: Taking Off with Airplanes

Previous installments of this series have covered tips for getting started with RC quadrotors, cars and boats. While those are all fun RC vehicles (and there is more to come regarding each of them), my greatest enthusiasm for RC revolves around airplanes. The reasons for this are difficult to pin down. I suppose I was born with an incurable fascination for flying things. Aeromodeling has always provided an avenue for hands-on exploration of that interest on a practical and affordable scale.

The Delta Ray’s SAFE stabilization system does indeed make the airplane very easy to fly…even for beginners. It does not, however, remove all crash risks.

In a more cerebral sense, creating RC airplanes simultaneously feeds my cravings for scientific and artistic stimulation. On top of all that is the excitement and challenge of actually flying these widely varied machines. I don’t expect that all RC enthusiasts share my depth of interest and satisfaction in the hobby, and that’s OK. It’s an activity that you can simply mingle in if you choose. There are, however, a few initial summits that you must climb in order to get started at a practical level.

Choosing the Right Path

The most common misconception about RC airplanes is that flying them is intuitive…it’s not.

The most common misconception about RC airplanes is that flying them is intuitive…it’s not. Even pilots of full-scale aircraft often lack all of the key skills to be RC flyers. There are countless stories of a father and son bringing their new RC plane to the park the day after Christmas. They arrive full of excitement, perhaps fueled by Snoopy-like dreams of vanquishing the Red Baron. More often than not, those dreams end up in the same garbage bag as their short-lived model aircraft. It’s a shame to hear these stories because a little guidance on the front end can often make the difference between disgruntled one-timers and enthusiastic rookies.

In my opinion, making a successful first flight in this hobby requires three basic things:

1. A rudimentary understanding of aerodynamics

2. An airworthy model suitable for beginners

3. Basic piloting skills

There are many ways to attain this triad. Some roads are worn, while others are less-travelled. I will attempt to explain a few of these approaches and you can choose the path that suits you.

In Brief: Why You Always Seem to Choose the Slowest Line at the Supermarket

Adam shared this awesome story yesterday: an explanation for why it's so difficult to choose the shortest line at the supermarket. The answer lies in queueing theory, or the mathematical study of how people wait in lines to best optimize and predict wait times. According to queueing theorists, simple probability explains why your chances of choosing the fastest line in an scenario with lots of line options is small. In a perfect world, a single long line at the supermarket that funnels into the next available checkout counter would be the most optimal (like a bank or post office line), but human psychology rejects that. We would prefer to take the gamble of trying to find the fastest of multiple lines at the store--it gives us the illusion of control and the hope that we can beat the system.

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Alternative Universe Movies: John Boorman's Lord of the Rings

John Boorman is the director of such masterpieces as Point Blank, Hell in the Pacific, Deliverance, Excalibur, and more. He also almost directed Lord of the Rings, and to think what he could have done with the classic Tolkien tale absolutely boggles the mind. At that point, there was no way a major studio would have backed three movies that told the whole story. It was a miracle New Line Cinema went ahead with three movies when Peter Jackson tackled the trilogy decades later. Still, with a brave and experimental filmmaker like Boorman, you get the feeling it could have been a hell of a movie if he had the opportunity to make it.

Boorman wrote a bit about his opportunity to direct Lord of the Rings in his autobiography, Adventures of a Suburban Boy. Boorman had just made Leo the Last for United Artists, and David Picker, who was then the head of the studio, approached the director about potentially adapting the Tolkien epic. The first problem was, you guessed it, trying to cram the entire story into one movie. “To compress the three volumes into a three-hour movie was a hugely ambitious undertaking,” Boorman wrote. “But I was grateful to have the chance to try. I was interested in the central metaphor, that the One Ring is of such power that it corrupts whoever possesses it.”

To help him, Boorman hooked up with Rospo Pallenberg, an Italian architect living in New York who wanted to be a screenwriter. Pallenberg first became aware of Boorman’s work when one night he had an argument with his wife, and walked out into the rain in a huff. Seeking shelter, Pallenberg ducked into a movie theater, which was playing Point Blank, Boorman’s classic crime thriller starring Lee Marvin. Pallenberg loved the film so much, he sat through it twice that night.

Eventually Pallenberg was introduced to Boorman, who was in New York staying at the Sherry Netherland, having a meeting in his suite about Leo the Last. After the meeting, Boorman took Pallenberg into the suite’s closet, turned on the light, and thrust the three Lord of the Rings books at him. “Do you know them?,” Boorman asked. “Maybe we can write a screenplay together.”

Manually Rewinding a Massive Motor

This video shows how a large motor, on location at San Leandro-based Koffler Electrical Facilities, is re-wound, serviced, and tested, by hand. The large motor is used to power a pump that removes water from a submarine dry dock facility at Pearl Harbor. The Koffler facility also has a massive 50' lathe, which is shown off in this video.

Microsoft's Adam: A New Deep-Learning AI System

From Microsoft Research: "Project Adam is a new deep-learning system modeled after the human brain that has greater image classification accuracy and is 50 times faster than other systems in the industry." Wired has an in-depth story about how this new approach to running neural networks--using a technique called asynchrony--allows its deep learning system to train computers to do things like recognize images. Skynet jokes aside, advances in machine intelligence is something we can get behind.

Limited Offer: Get an Adam Savage-Designed Art Print

Hey everyone, Norm here. I wanted to check in to give you all an update about what's going on with Premium Memberships on Tested. As Will and I discussed in a Google Hangout back in May, we've heard your feedback about what kind of Premium content you want to see on the site, and what you want to get out of supporting us with a membership. To that end, we've been mixing things up and trying out new kinds of videos, including new shows available to everyone that's brought to you by Premium Members. In June, Will spent time in Adam's shop learning woodworking and welding to build a custom computer desk, and all this month we're releasing daily videos of project builds. That's just the beginning--we'll be trying out new video series the rest of this year, all of which we wouldn't be able to do without your support.

We're also pleased to announce a new subscription offering. For a limited time (to coincide with Comic-Con and our big party), new members will get an exclusive art print designed by Adam. It's an awesome piece of original art that Adam has created as a side project while working on one of his prop replicas. We'll be unveiling the piece next week at Comic-Con, but here's a teaser: Over the four years spent building one of his favorite movie props, Adam has accumulated hundreds of reference photos, drawings, and schematics to fuel his obsession. Adam is sharing that wealth of knowledge in a unique art print--the first he has designed for public release--with his sketches and personal notes that break down all the individual components of this iconic prop.

Every new annual member will get the print, as well as entry to our Comic-Con party if they're in San Diego next week. And for existing members who've already supported us, we're working on a way to make the print available to you as well in the near future.

That's just the beginning. There's some really cool stuff coming later this year, including more exclusive Tested products, big video projects, and events. As always, we'd love your feedback about what you want to see on the site--Tested as as much yours as it is ours. Learn more about Tested Premium memberships and how you can support the kind of stuff we're doing here.

Tested Builds: $540 3D Printer, Part 3

In part three of our PrintrBot Simple 3D printer build, we reach a few steps that are deceptively complex. We also use this time to review the steps taken so far, and find some mistakes that need to be fixed before we can continue. No disassemble! (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Learn more about how you can support us with memberships!)

Android Auto vs. iOS CarPlay: How Your Car Will Get Smarter

Google's announcement of Android Auto at the recent Google I/O conference should surprise exactly no one. Apple is gearing up for its own in-car infotainment service later this year called CarPlay. It's long past the time when Google would hang back and see how Apple's approach to a new market worked out -- Android Auto is going head-to-head with CarPlay later this year.

Both companies want their mobile platform with you all the time, but how are they going to convince people to embrace connected cars?

Touchscreens separated at birth

If there is something surprising about Apple and Google's move into in-car entertainment, it's the overall similarity of the approach. The implementations don't rely on hardware inside the car to do any of the thinking -- the smarts are all packed into your phone so you can upgrade your apps and features independent of the car. This circumvents one of the long-time weaknesses of pricey in-car infotainment.

What good is that fancy touchscreen if Apple changes its connector and makes your whole system obsolete? Oh, your car only works with USB mass storage devices? Sorry Android doesn't do that anymore. Since your phone's mobile data connection is used for the dash system, you also won't have to worry about getting yet another data plan for your car, which I'm sure is a sad turn of events for Verizon executives.

When Apple announced CarPlay, it sounded at first like you'd have to get a new car to have CarPlay-compatible setup, but thankfully component makers like Pioneer have stepped up to develop aftermarket decks that will support Apple's platform. Google announced several car audio companies right from the start including Alpine, Pioneer, and JVC. This is a technology segment that has seen decline in recent years as people simply made do with smartphones tethered to inexpensive decks and stock audio systems via Bluetooth or even an audio cable. CarPlay and Android Auto are an opportunity to make aftermarket decks interesting again. This is just another thing Android and iOS in the car have in common.