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    If You Enjoyed The Martian...

    After posting the SPOILERCAST for The Martian earlier this week, we got a lot of requests for similar book recommendations, so I've put together a short list. Without exception, these books were all major page turners, the kind of read that I just couldn't put down no matter how late it got.

    Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson - This is part one of a trilogy and it's a well-researched take on Mars colonization based on the information we had about the planet at the time it was written. The second book in the trilogy, Green Mars, is still pretty heavy on the science, but the third entry went a bit heavy on the character drama for me.

    Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson - Every nerd should read Cryptonomicon. While it's probably closer to a techno-thriller than hard science fiction, serious math, data havens, Defcon presentations, and cryptocurrencies all play a key part in the plot. Beware, Crytonomicon is a slow starter, but it picks up by the third chapter.

    Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson - Snow Crash, along with William Gibson's early VR novels are probably more responsible for the rise of 90s VR than anything else out there. Read this to get a glimpse of the VR future that didn't materialize, before VR actually takes over.

    The Forever War by Joe Haldeman - The Forever Wars is the best kind of thought experiment. It describes the experience of a new recruit in an interstellar war, and the true meaning of relativity. Despite occasional flashbacks to technology that went out of fashion 40 years ago (it was written in the 70s), The Forever War is one of those timeless science fiction classics.

    (Several more recommendations below!)

    Making Tested's Blockhead Puppets!

    Jamie, Adam, Will, and Norm get transformed into adorable plush puppets! Stage prop fabricator and fan of the site Sean Harrington made these awesome blockhead puppets for us, utilizing some cool modern technology to streamline the design and build process. Sean walks us through how the puppets were 3D modeled and then prototyped with a laser cutter, allowing him to iterate on the design to change the look and puppeteering comfort of these flapping blockheads. We're smitten!

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Custom Sound Systems

    For many hobbyists, the allure of RC flying comes from making their models look like “real” airplanes. Some are happy just approximating the profile of a certain airplane, while others spare no effort or expense to replicate every last detail. Regardless of the level of accuracy a builder pursues, one particular aspect has always been elusive: sound. Most models use screaming glow-fuel engines, growling gasoline engines, or whizzing electric motors. None of those power systems is likely to emulate the sound of the full-scale airplane’s engine. The one notable exception is turbine-powered models, which actually use miniaturized jet engines that sound (and smell) like their big brothers. The necessary flying skills and price point, however, keep turbines out of reach for most modelers.

    Recent developments have revamped the sound equation. Several companies now offer sound systems for electric-powered RC models that play audio recordings of full-scale aircraft engines. These system are linked to the throttle control, so the sound revs as you increase power to the model’s motor. I know what you’re thinking: “How can you possibly get convincing engine sounds out of a system that is small and light enough to fit inside a model airplane?” I thought the same thing and ignored the growing popularity of these systems for a while.

    My curiosity recently got the better of me and I watched a few YouTube videos of models with sound systems. The videos piqued my interest and I was soon investigating the various available products. One particular system stood apart from the others, the Mr. RC Sound V4.1 Sound System. What is most unique about this sound system is that it does not use speakers--at least not in the traditional sense. This is something I had to test.

    What You Get with RC Sound

    The heart of the Mr. RC Sound unit is a control board that measures about 1.75” x 2.5”. The board includes a “sound pack chip” with sound files recorded from six popular aircraft engines throughout history. The chip can be swapped for others with different engine options. In addition to the sound of the running engine, each selection on the chip also includes three auxiliary sounds such as chattering machine guns or the whistling of a falling bomb.

    The sound board must be connected to the model’s RC receiver via standard 3-wire servo connectors. It is worth noting that male/male wires are needed rather than the male/female wires that are commonly used to extend servo leads. One wire is included, but you must provide others if you wish to use any of the auxiliary sounds. The wire lead for controlling engine sounds is connected in parallel to the model’s Electronic Speed Control (ESC: aka “throttle”) via a splitter, or “y-connector” (not included). Leads for each of the auxiliary sounds require an open port on the receiver.

    THE BASIC COMPONENTS OF THE MR. RC SOUND SYSTEM ARE A CONTROL BOARD AND AN ELECTROACOUSTIC TRANSDUCER. THE AIRFRAME OF THE MODEL BECOMES THE SPEAKER.

    The sound board can accept input voltage from about 11 to 34 volts. This means that models using a 3S LiPo battery (3 cells in series, 11.1v nominal) to 8S (29.6v) can siphon power from their flight battery to feed the sound system. This allows the vast majority of electric airplanes to avoid the additional weight of a separate battery for sound.

    Rather than a speaker, the V4.1 system uses an electroacoustic transducer called the TT-25. It is basically a speaker without the frame or the cone. The TT-25 attaches directly to the airframe of the model, which then behaves similarly to a speaker cone. In essence, the entire airplane becomes a speaker.

    How Bubble Wrap Is Made (Edit: Removed)

    Edit: Boooo. Sealed Air, the company that produced this video, has removed it from their channel. So enjoy this video (and audio!) of a roll of Bubble Wrap going through an etching press. Original post: Bet you didn't know 1. that Bubble Wrap is a trademarked brand, 2. what the first hand-cranked Bubble Wrap machine in 1957 was designed for, and 3. Bubble Wrap is actually made of three different types of resin plastics, heated up and extruded like a 3D print for the sheet material. (h/t Boingboing)

    In Brief: Ralph Macquarrie's James Bond

    Ever heard of the Goddard Group? Tested readers may remember them as the production company that envisioned a massive Las Vegas Star Trek attraction that never came to fruition. That attraction--a full-scale Enterprise ship that would replace the Fremont Street Experience in old downtown Vegas--was just one of the many projects Gary Goddard and his team dreamed up and pitched to studios. Here's another: a live-action James Bond stunt show for Universal Studios Florida, circa 1987. As the Goddard Group describes the original pitch, it would've been a "fifteen-minute show filled with technological wonders, grand-scale explosions, high-tech transformations, and of course, humor; all the trademarks of the James Bond films." Set in a frickin' volcano lair! And even though the show never happened, the best thing to come out of it is one piece of beautiful Ralph Macquarrie concept art, showing a potential fight scene for the show. Giant lasers shooting a Soviet submarine, natch.

    Now imagine if Goddard was able to get Sir Ken Adam--production designer of seven Bond films, as well as Dr. Strangelove--to dream up a 007 stage show.

    Norman
    Screenprints of Adam's Drawings at Tested: The Show!

    If you're in the San Francisco area and haven't bought a ticket to our upcoming stage show, here's one more reason you'll want to be there. Tested: The Show will be the first place we'll be selling an exclusive screenprint set of Adam's Mecha-Hand drawings. In the process of researching and building his awesome Mecha-Hand prop replica, Adam detailed all the components--to scale--in a series of schematic drawings. We've turned two of them into a set of screenprints--12"x16", printed on heavy cotton rag stock off-white paper. They're really gorgeous and perfect for framing. We only made 180 sets, and each will be signed and numbered by Adam!

    We'll make the prints available online after our Oct 25th live show, but attendees will get a chance to buy them first, along with other merch we'll be testing out. Check out a few more photos of the two screenprints below, as well as our video from earlier this year in which Adam talks about his drawings.

    Fuel-Free Flight: The State of Electric Airplanes

    When the all-electric E-Fan made its first flight earlier this year, it signaled a breakthrough in the progress of electric aircraft. Although its performance compares well to other contemporary electric designs, the E-Fan does not represent any major technological leaps. More significant is the company behind the E-Fan: Airbus, the European firm better known for producing large airliners. Airbus is a large, multinational company that is deeply entrenched in the business of burning fossil fuels. That such an establishment is willing to invest in the development and production of pure electric and hybrid aircraft is a strong signal that technology may be on the verge of allowing practical electric aircraft for the masses. Much smaller aviation firms and innovative individuals have been shouting that message for years--it’s just that (almost) nobody was listening.

    – THE AIRBUS E-FAN REPRESENTS AN IMPORTANT MILESTONE IN ELECTRIC FLIGHT: A COMMITMENT IN RESEARCH AND PRODUCTION BY A MAJOR PLAYER IN AVIATION. (PHOTO CREDIT: JULIAN HERZOG VIA WIKIPEDIA COMMONS)

    Why Electric?

    In answering the question of why electric propulsion should even be considered for aircraft, you must look at environmental and engineering aspects. On the environmental front, the obvious benefit of electric power is the lack of CO2 emissions. In fact, very strict European emission standards were the catalyst for Airbus’ development of the E-Fan, a stepping stone to their planned hybrid-powered regional commuter aircraft.

    Even if you trace the energy path of an electric-powered aircraft back to a coal-fueled power station feeding the ground-based charger for the airplane’s batteries, the comparative emissions are a tremendous improvement over the exhaust of a kerosene-burning turbine engine. The same is true of hybrid electric systems that would use a small onboard turbine or internal combustion (IC) engine to recharge batteries in flight.

    Without the vibrations inherent in internal combustion engines, an electric aircraft can be built with a lighter and simpler airframe.

    Another environmental benefit of electric aircraft is their lack of noise. How often do you hear about neighborhoods being built on cheap land near a long-established airport, only to have the new residents complain about engine noise? It doesn’t make much sense, but these squeaky wheels are frequently successful in having the airport closed. According to Dr. Brien Seeley, a representative for the CAFE Foundation (Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency Foundation– a volunteer organization renowned for its efforts in measuring and improving the efficiency of small aircraft) noise reduction is the primary motivator for many who are developing and improving electric powerplants for aircraft. He says, “The most significant distinguishing feature of electrically powered aircraft will be their prospects for unprecedentedly low noise and the new operational opportunities that will open when combined with extremely short takeoff and landing (ESTOL).” Perhaps quiet airplanes that are able to operate from short runways will be the key to reuniting general aviation (GA – i.e. your average privately-owned Cessna or Piper) and a noise-intolerant public.

    From an engineering perspective, electric propulsion seems to offer several benefits over IC engines. One of the primary advantages is the vibration-free operation of electric motors. A substantial amount of the structure in GA aircraft is dedicated to absorbing the forces caused by having one or more IC engines attached. Just look at the structure of a glider compared to that of an IC-powered airplane and you will see what I mean. Without the vibrations inherent in IC engines, an electric aircraft can be built with a lighter and simpler airframe. When it comes to airplanes, lighter is almost always better.

    The Great Martian War of 1913

    Here's something you never learned in the history books: the Martian War that engulfed the world in conflict from 1913 to 1917. But it's something that you will find on the History Channel (Canada). For the show "Impossible Factual," UK-based Plazma Design produced these three and a half minutes of footage documenting the fictional war, using a combination of archival war footage and CG. The designs of the Martian invaders' mecha is pretty great--you have the iconic hulking tripods, walking spiders, and even "Lice" tanks that harvest the spoils of steampunk war. Come to think of it, I'd be totally down for an "Alternate History" channel on cable TV. Make it happen, hollywood executives!

    In Brief: Check Out This Amazing 3D Printed Samus Armor

    Before you do anything else, go look at the finished pictures of this amazing Metroid armor 3D printed by RPF user Talaaya. Go on, I'll wait.

    If you want to know the story behind such an incredible build, head over to her blog, where she shows a bunch of in-progress photos, including the project's origins as a pepakura build, the process for finishing the prints (she and Matt Serle used a pair of Zcorp 450 printers and did tons of finish work), painting, and using EL wire to create the appropriate accents. I hope I get a chance to see this incredible costume in person someday.

    Will 11
    Adam Savage's Samurai Armor Costume

    Adam invites us to the Cave to join him in opening a package from Prop Store, a movie memorabilia company that collects and sells props and costumes from our favorite films. Sometimes, the props from lesser-known films are the best deals, like this awesome octopus-themed samurai armor from 47 Ronin.

    Appreciating the Art of Film Editing

    Years ago, I interviewed a number of film editors, which was a fascinating experience for me. You can learn a lot about the storytelling process from editors; they're in charge of one of the most important and under-appreciated aspects of filmmaking: choosing not only what shots to leave in, but what to leave out. The collaboration between director and editor on a movie is crucial, because having complete freedom with no outside guidance can ruin a film just as much as having no freedom at all.

    Over the history of cinema, film editing went from physically cutting celluloid on flatbed moviolas to editing digitally on Avid machines, but the most important pieces in an editor’s arsenal have always been the same: timing, instinct, patience, and personal chemistry.

    Photo credit: Flickr user ahhdrjones via Creative Commons

    Steven Kemper’s area of expertise in the editing room is in the action genre. He has cut a number of films for John Woo, including Face / Off and Mission: Impossible 2. Woo’s action sequences are tight and well constructed, yet surprisingly Kemper says Woo gives his editors “tons of leeway” in the cutting room. Woo storyboards his action sequences, “but very often he wings it on the set if he doesn’t get a shot, a shot isn’t working out the way he hoped or he ran out of time. None of the scenes look like the storyboards when you’re done, but you do get an idea of what he’s going for, there are focus points in the sequence that we make sure to hold on to. You end up doing much more than John originally intended. That’s what I really enjoyed about working with him, is he’s totally open to stuff.”

    Working on a John Woo film, the editor has many options open to him considering Woo has multiple cameras rolling during an action scene, sometimes as many as 16 shooting all at once. Woo’s action sequences are famous for deftly blending together numerous camera angles and speeds, which breaks the monotony of typical action editing. “A lot of movies I see today, it seems gratuitous that they go to slow motion in certain spots,” says Kemper. “One of the things I worked particularly hard on, on all of Woo’s pictures is to carefully meld the over-cranked, under-cranked, and normal speed material. If you catch it at the right action, it’s almost seamless. It’s almost like you haven’t realized for a beat that you’ve gone from slow motion right back to a 24-frame shot. I found it not only challenging, but a heck of a lot of fun.”

    Photo credit: Flickr user andrew_saliga via Creative Commons.

    In talking with Kemper, I learned that patience is one of the most important skills for an editor. In cutting the last forty minutes of Mission: Impossible 2, Kemper spent ten weeks--seven days a week, from seven in the morning to eleven at night--editing that portion of the film. For forty minutes, the editor sifted through 12 to 15 hours of film, which he cut down to what you see in the movie. “Woo shoots so much great stuff, to not sift through every frame is a crime!,” Kemper says.

    X-Men: Days Of Future Past VFX Breakdown

    From effects production house Digital Domain comes this awesome VFX breakdown for some scenes in the most recent X-Men movie. The amount of reference footage, modeling, rendering, and compositing required for an effect like Mystique's transformations is staggering, even if it's just for a three-second transformation. The demo reel runs through the production work on three sequences: Mystique's transformation (from Raven and to Raven), Magneto's lifting of a stadium, and White House battle scene. Fox had previously released a behind-the-scenes featurette about the memorable Quicksilver scene too. And if you have an hour to spare, here's a NOVA special about the magic of special effects, circa 1984. Visual effects have come a long way. (via io9)

    Bits to Atoms: Building an 'Evil Dead' Chainsaw

    Evil Dead 2 is one of my favorite movies of all-time; one that I may have bought more times than even Star Wars. (I own it on Betamax!) My wife even took me to the site of the original Evil Dead cabin near her home in Tennessee. For those who have not experienced this gem, at a pivotal moment in the film, Ash, played the amazing Bruce Campbell, replaces his severed hand (which he cut off because it was possessed) with a chainsaw. He then uses said chainsaw to saw off the barrel of his shotgun, holsters it and as the camera zooms in, proclaims, ‘groovy!’. Instant classic.

    My original chainsaw with fabricated top.

    About three years ago, I find myself at the grocery store and look at a jug of Arizona Ice Tea. My brain connects the dots and I decided that it looked like the base of a chainsaw, which lead to me building an Evil Dead 2 chainsaw replica for Halloween. Unfortunately, that was also the same year Hurricane Sandy hit New York, so we were evacuated and Halloween was cancelled. But the year after that, I am even more ready with an exact costume that’s weathered and bloodied…and I get one of the worst colds ever which cancels Halloween again. Mark my words--this is the year that I will finally get to use my Evil Dead 2 chainsaw--and maybe you can too!

    The parts and tools needed to build your own Evil Dead 2 chainsaw are all actually pretty reasonable. A key piece is 3D printed--I’ve provided the files for download--and we’ll discuss alternatives if you don’t have access to a 3D printer. To start off, I captured a bunch of screengrabs from the film for reference, but the best photos I found were from the excellent Evil Dead Chainsaws site, which makes amazing replicas.

    The original prop was based on an actual Homelite chainsaw that was heavily modified and cast in plastic and rubber so Bruce could fit his hand inside and use it safely. I tried to duplicate key aspects of the original for my first version, which required some light metal work for the top piece and 3D printing the distinctive side-grill. For the version I’m presenting here, I’ve simplified the parts and process while still producing a killer chainsaw replica.

    Building a Custom Arcade Cabinet, Part 6

    With the frame of the arcade cabinet constructed, Norm and Wes head back to the garage to begin the wiring of the buttons and other electronics. In this episode, we discuss the different types of custom arcade controls, the hardware to link them all together, and the tiny computer we're going to build to run the software. (This video series was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Learn more about how you can support us by joining the Tested Premium community!)

    The Arduboy Bracelet Plays Tetris
    s

    The Arduboy is a pocket-sized computer that's as thin as a few credit cards but still has a screen and controls to play basic games like Tetris and Breakout via an AtMega328p running Arduino. While that device is still in development to be made for sale, its makers have also whipped up a digital bracelet running multiple .66-inch OLED screens running on a flexible circuit. The first prototype looks awesome and ripe with potential, so I'd love to see this turn into a customizable kit!

    Behold The Eyes of Hitchcock

    From the Criterion Collection, a supercut of actors gazing directly at the camera in Hitchcock films. Short clips looped in just the right way and extended to the edge of discomfort. Unsettling and beautiful! See more work from the editor of this montage here.

    Announcing Tested: The Show!

    Here's a short promo video we shot announcing our live stage show for YouTube subscribers. The important stuff: it'll be at 1PM on Saturday, October 25th, at San Francisco's historic Castro Theater. We'll all be there! More details here. Tickets are on sale now!

    Show and Tell: The Useless Box Kit

    For this week's Show and Tell, Norm assembles a kit of a machine he's always wanted: a useless box. Flip the switch on the box and all it does is turn itself off. Simple, yet mesmerizing. The kit of laser cut plastic and some basic electronics isn't difficult to put together, and makes for a great afternoon project.

    Tested Mailbag: For the Suit

    Time for another ceremonial opening of a reader package! This one is related to a Still Untitled episode we recorded with Adam earlier this year, with a piece of hardware that may come in useful for a project we talked about. It's really cool! Have a great weekend!