Latest StoriesArt
    Show and Tell: Custom LEGO Creations

    For this week's Show and Tell, we're joined by special guest Carl Merriam, and professional LEGO builder who shares several of his most recent creations. Carl talks about competing in the "Iron Builder" challenge, and announces an awesome new job. Check out more of Carl's work here!

    Teaching Hollywood How To Hack

    It took a police raid in 1987 to finally scare Dave Buchwald straight. Well, mostly straight. He wouldn't claim after to have completely reformed after the incident – remaining hatless, his words – but he certainly wasn't interested in ever going to jail.

    As a member of the hacker group Legion of Doom in his late teens, the raid was meant to scare him. It was a warning, a slap on the wrist. But while Buchwald was never actually charged, others weren't so lucky. The Chicago Tribune the following year reported on a hacker named Shadow Hawk who was alleged to have stolen "an artificial intelligence program that had not even hit the market." It reads today like something out of a William Gibson novel.

    Shadow Hawk pleaded guilty. He was fined and served his time. Being a hacker in the eyes of the government, especially as the 1980s drew to a close, wasn't exactly something that earned you a gold star. But for a young screenwriter named Rafael Moreu, that animosity was exactly what made the misunderstood community that Buchwald and others were a part of a story he wanted to tell.

    By the early 1990s, Buchwald was working for a private investigator, using the skills he picked up hacking in a more, let’s say, constructive way. He was attending monthly hacker meetings, organized by Emmanuel Goldstein, co-founder of a hacker quarterly magazine called 2600. And it was there that Buchwald met Moreu. Buchwald, it just so happened, was looking for consulting gigs, and Moreu happened to have some work.

    When the film Hackers was released in 1995 – an oddball tale of a still-nascent net, starring a then-unknown Angelina Jolie in one of her first Hollywood films – Hacking Consultant was Buchwald's credit on the film.

    Contrary to what the quality of popular film and television might have you think, yes, these people do exist. They are people, like Buchwald, who have worked behind the scenes to ensure that Hollywood gets its depiction of hackers, computers and cybersecurity mostly right – to translate the technical complexity of science and technology into something that casual audiences can understand.

    And it's a good thing, too, because there are countless memorable cases where film and television get things so terribly wrong.

    The Motion Picture Camera: Past, Present and Future

    For the past two months, I've been slowly making my way through The Story of Film, an epic 15-part documentary about the history and state of global cinema. It's at parts an academic study, a history lesson, and also a sincere love letter to the art of film-making. (And also on Netflix!) This montage video makes a lovely companion piece for the documentary series, combining iconic shots from the breath of cinema with images of the filmmakers and equipment that made them. It was edited for the Society of Camera Operators' 2014 Lifetime Achievement Awards. (And makes deft use of John Murphy's score from the Danny Boyle film Sunshine!)

    The 3D Godzilla Movie That Almost Was

    The next big remake of Godzilla is just around the corner, and the buzz from the trailer is pretty good so far. Many fans, myself included, are hoping that this is the Godzilla remake will finally get it right. Many of the right elements are there: nuclear testing, the monster towering over and knocking down skyscrapers (instead of weaving between them), and even hints at other monsters like Rodan. Things that the 1998 film never got. Another difference is that this will be a Godzilla movie released in 3D. But if the news of an American incarnation of Godzilla in 3D sounds familiar to you for some reason, you might recall that back in 1983 there was an attempt to make a big U.S. version of the big G in 3D that was in development for several years before it finally fell apart.

    Reports of a 3D Godzilla first started gaining traction in the summer of ’83 when 3D was making a minor comeback. That summer had a big influx of movies in the format, such as Jaws 3D, and Friday the 13th Part 3D, which at the time was the highest grossing 3D movie in history. In fact, the director of the third Friday, Steve Miner, was also going to helm the 3D Godzilla film as well.

    Sculptor Shawn Nagle's diorama using William Stout's Godzilla designs.

    As Miner told writer Steve Ryfle, “I had always been a fan of Godzilla since I was a kid. Once seeing it as an adult, I realized that this could be remade as a good movie. I had just done Friday the 13th in 3D, and wanted to do a good movie in 3D.” The screenplay for this version of Godzilla was written by Fred Dekker, who also directed The Monster Squad and RoboCop 3. Dekker was honored to get the assignment, it was his first big Hollywood job, but he wasn’t a huge Godzilla fan, and wanted to elevate the monster genre to a higher level. For everyone involved, the whole idea was to treat this movie seriously, and make it on a big, Spielberg blockbuster level instead of lowballing it.

    Artist William Stout, who was a production designer on Conan the Barbarian and who also designed the poster for Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards, did extensive storyboards for Miner’s Godzilla, and he’s very proud of his work on it to this day. (Stout calls this incarnation of Godzilla “the greatest film project that never happened.”)

    William Stout's concept art for the proposed 1983 Godzilla 3D.

    Miner wanted a lot of “presentation art” for Godzilla, so the studios could get a good idea of what the finished movie would look like. (A great deal of “presentation art” had to be created for Fox to understand Star Wars.) Stout was very impressed with the screenplay he was helping bring to life, telling us, “We were working from a great script, I think Fred Dekker really outdid himself with it.”

    Jamie Hyneman's Hitchhiking Survival Story

    Recently, Jamie did an AMA on Reddit. There were some good questions left over, so he picked a few to give video answers to over the next several weeks. This week, he answers a question from user fivesienta: "How did you survive on your own when you left home to hitchhike across the country when you 14?"

    Photo Gallery: Star Wars Prop and Costume Exhibition

    Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination is a traveling exhibition organized by Boston's Museum of Science and Lucasfilm. It opened in 2005, and houses props and costumes from all of the Star Wars films, but also emphasizes new areas of research in science and technology as seen through the lens of Star Wars. The exhibit has been traveling around the world since 2006, and made its final stop at The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose last October, finishing a 20-venue tour this past weekend. I took a bunch of photos during my visit, which I wanted to share with you guys.

    Inside MIT's Tangible Media Group

    Science Friday visits MIT's Tangible Media Group to get a better look at two projects being developed by PhD candidates at the school. We first heard about the inFORM project last November, but this is the best look we've had of how it works so far. A second project, "jamSheets," uses pneumatic pumps to change the hardness and texture of paper and fabric surfaces.

    Exhibit Design at The Tech Museum of Innovation

    Some time ago on the podcast, I mentioned how unimpressed I was the last time I went to the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose. I'm a big fan of visiting science and technology museums in every new city I visit (The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, OMSI in Portland, and EMP Museum in Seattle are a few of my favorites), but have noticed that some of these museums share similar (and occasionally dated) exhibits. San Francisco's Exploratorium was one of the nation's first interactive science museums, and its exhibit designers published "cookbooks" for other science museums that followed to build their own exhibits. That lead to many of these museums opening up galleries that shared similar exhibit concepts: model planes to illustrate flight dynamics or a large-scale model of a DNA double-helix, for example. That's what I remembered of The Tech when I went there back in high school.

    That's why I was extremely impressed when I revisited it last summer and again this past weekend (in part for the special Star Wars travelling exhibition). Exhibit prototyper Dan Streelman, a reader of Tested, invited me down to the museum last year to show me what he and his team of exhibit designers have been working on. They've built out a large workshop space, dubbed the Tech Studio, where prototypers fabricate new exhibits in clear view of visitors, using the latest in CNC machines. There's nothing that gets both kids and adults excited faster than a 3D printer at work, Dan told me.

    Because the exhibits are designed and built in-house, it doesn't take long for them to make their way from a CAD program to the museum floor. When I visited, Dan was working on prototyping a concept called "Social Robots"--a custom modular robotics system that lets visits build their own robots and learn the basics of circuits and programming. When I came by again this past weekend, there were dozens of parents and their kids building these robots, clearly engaged with the exhibit. These visitors are getting pretty cutting-edge technology to play with, not exhibits designed decades ago. And The Tech is filled with plenty of these projects, like Google's Liquid Galaxy Project, Kinect-activated LED walls, and awesome displays showing the guts of robot toys like the Pleo and Furby.

    So I humbly take back my dismissal of The Tech--it's definitely on my list of places to recommend for anyone new to the Bay Area. And thanks to Dan for reaching out to show me their modern approach to designing exhibits for today's science geeks. I took a few photos of my visit there, which you can find below.

    The Best Utility Knife Today

    If you’re looking for a utility knife for general around-the-house use, we recommend the Milwaukee Fastback II ($15). After 25 hours of research and hands-on testing of 20 different knives, we found that, simply put, this knife has it all. It can be easily (and quickly) opened and closed with one hand. It has a comfortable grip with all the right contours and finger notches. Changing blades is easy and it has a nice, springy belt hook. For increased safety, the knife locks in both the open and closed position. And finally, despite its thin profile, it still has room to store one additional blade.

    If you’re heading down the path of an aggressive DIY lifestyle and feel that the ability to store multiple blades on a knife is essential, we recommend that you go with the Olympia Turbopro ($16). Even with its extremely compact body (thinner than the Fastback II), it still has the capability to house five additional blades. It also has an auto-load feature to make blade changes freakishly easy. It’s a nice durable knife and the butt end has a small carabiner clip so it can be hooked on a belt loop.

    For those of you who aren’t comfortable handling a utility knife and will only use it for really basic tasks, we recommend the Milwaukee Self-Retracting Knife ($12). This knife has a spring-loaded blade that withdraws into the handle as soon as the thumb slide is released. While this feature makes it a very safe knife to use, it also limits the ways you can hold it, making it difficult for anything more than very basic cutting.

    Star Wars and the Explosion of Dolby Stereo

    When Star Wars came out on May 25, 1977, the cinema experience was changed forever. While some critics feel that Star Wars changed movies for worse by contributing to the modern blockbuster syndrome, there’s no doubt that for technology and special effects Star Wars was a huge leap forward. In particular, the way Star Wars cemented Dolby Stereo’s dominance in sound transformed the way we would listen to movies in theaters and at home.

    Sean Durkin, the director of corporate communications at Dolby, gives us a sense of what it was like before that day. “When you think about the ‘70’s, it represents a new era for film. When people think of Star Wars, they think of really iconic moments, and one of them is early in the of the film with the massive imperial destroyer chasing the rebel ship. That was the first Dolby experience for a lot of people. It gave people a different way to think about sound in a movie, and filmmakers and sound designers now had the ability to deliver these big experiences.”

    Image credit: SFgate.com

    As legendary sound designer Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now) said in the book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, “Star Wars was the can opener than made people realize not only the effect of sound, but the effect that good sound had at the box office. Theaters that had never played stereo were forced to do it if they wanted Star Wars.” The executives at Dolby said, “We need our own Jaws” to make Dolby a force to be reckoned with, and it turned out to be Star Wars because it took a movie that big to push the technology through, and finally make it stick.

    Bay Area filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas were always fascinated with the possibilities of sound. Coppola worked closely on his films with Murch, and Lucas’s sound wizard was Ben Burtt, who created R2-D2’s beeps, Darth Vader’s heavy breathing, the hum of the light sabers, and more.

    Stephen Katz began working at Dolby in 1974, and he was also a sound consultant on Star Wars. He remembered the day Ioan Allen called, telling him to come up to San Francisco to meet with a producer and director who were interested in using Dolby in their movie. Katz flew up and met George Lucas and Gary Kurtz, who said they initially wanted to use Sensurround in Star Wars, a short-lived gimmick that was used in Earthquake and several other films.

    Font Men, A Short Film about Type Faces and Foundries

    "You may not have heard of Jonathan Hoefler or Tobias Frere-Jones but you've seen their work. Before their recent split, they collectively ran the most successful and well respected type design studio in the world, creating fonts used by everyone from the Wall Street Journal to the President of the United States. Font Men, gives a peek behind the curtain into the world of Jonathan and Tobias. Tracking the history of their personal trajectories, sharing the forces that brought them together and giving an exclusive look at the successful empire they built together." This short documentary is made all the more interesting given the current legal battle between these two font men. Wish I could've seen this at SXSW!

    The Zoidberg Project, Part 9: All About Molding

    To be honest, I have been kind-of putting off creating the final mold for the Zoidberg project. It’s probably a little bit out of fear that I’ll get it wrong; once the sculpt is molded, there’s very little I can do to change it. But, I’m finally doing it this week.

    Molding the Zoidberg head with his tentacles attached would not be the best way to do it. There is too much detail on the inside of the mouth that is unfinished. I would never get the clay out of the long tendrils, it would be tricky to core out the tentacles for the animatronics to fit in, and would be a pain in the neck to cast up in foam latex--just to name a few possible issues. So the first thing I need to do is cut his upper mouth off so I can mold the head in two separate pieces.

    I'm going to be as delicate as possible and try not to disturb any of the major forms. Once the upper mouth is fully removed, I want to clean up the spot where the two pieces of the sculpture would meet up. Kind of like making a blending edge on a prosthetic appliance. This will help when the final tentacle part is reattached.

    Once this is all cleaned up, I use some Body Double SILK silicone to mold the area of the face where the tentacles will attached. This will give me an accurate reproduction of that area to sculpt the tentacles onto. To do this, I just mix up a small batch of the silicone and carefully brush it onto the sculpture, being careful so I don’t scratch up the surface. I’ll apply two coats of this silicone, then I'll take some plaster bandages and carefully lay them up to make a rigid shell. This will keep the silicone in the correct shape after I take the mold off.

    Shawn Thorsson's ED-209 Build for Maker Faire

    Replica prop and armor maker Shawn Thorsson, who we've previously interviewed about his amazing Warhammer costumes, is building a life-size ED-209 replica for this year's Maker Faire. Make Magazine is following his build progress with regular build logs, along with weekly video updates. Shawn is currently in the prototyping and moldmaking phase, prepping his MDF sculpt into something that can be reproduced into fiberglass resin parts. We can't wait to see it in person this May!

    Gallery: The Posters of Flatstock 43 at SXSW 2014

    Even though Adam's SXSW keynote was last Monday, I stayed in Austin for a few more days on my own to watch film screenings and explore other SXSW-related activities. One event that I knew I had to stay for was Flatstock, a poster show series presented by the American Poster Institute. I had never been to one before, and only first heard about it in the amazing documentary about the history of concert and alternative film posters, Just Like Being There (it's streaming on Netflix!). Screenprinted poster art is one of my obsessions, and I spent a few hours at Flatstock exploring the aisles of booths and standing slack-jawed at the amazing work around me. With the Sony A7 camera I'm testing in hand, I took a bunch of photos of the art on display, including my favorite pieces. Let me know which ones catch your eye!

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Radios and Motors

    This is the second in a series of guides that will walk you through the wonderful hobby of radio-controlled (RC) vehicles. We started off last month with an overview of the different types of RC vehicles, but still have some basics to cover before we get into the actual cars, boats, and airplanes. Specifically, this installment will deal with the radio equipment that controls your model and the types of motors that could power it. It’s crucial to have a basic understanding of both of these subjects before making your first purchase. You don’t want to blindly purchase something now that limits you down the road.

    Putting the “R” in RC

    No matter what type of RC vehicle you plan to use, you will need a radio system to operate it. The essence of RC is that you send radio signals from a hand-held transmitter to a matching receiver that is onboard the vehicle. The receiver translates those signals into commands. The commands are passed on to hardwired components that execute the orders either mechanically or electronically. Sounds simple enough, right? Even the most complex RC set-ups are just an extrapolation of this basic concept.

    Each separate function that you want to perform on a vehicle requires a discrete channel within the radio signal.

    Each separate function that you want to perform on a vehicle requires a discrete channel within the radio signal. Cars and boats typically operate with two channels; one each for throttle and steering duties. Most airplanes use four channels to control throttle, roll, pitch, and yaw. Discussing the radio needs of helicopters, multi-rotors, and robots will probably just cloud the issue at this point, so I’ll hold off on that for now.

    For many years, RC equipment has operated in specific frequency bands allocated by the FCC just for that purpose. Surface vehicles (cars and boats) use the 27MHz and 75MHz bands while aircraft use 72MHz. Each radio set operates on a specific frequency within that band. For instance, a car radio may be tuned to 27.145MHz, while a helicopter radio operates at 72.390MHz. That all works fine as long as there is only one transmitter broadcasting on any specific frequency in the general vicinity (a few miles radius). If someone else turned on a 72.390MHz transmitter while that pilot was flying his helicopter, there would likely be a very sudden and very expensive crash!