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    Awesome Jobs: Meet Ann Ross, Forensic Anthropologist

    When someone is murdered, the medical examiner isn't always able to discover the cause of death. Sometimes, especially in cases where a body has been buried for a long time, they have to call in a scientist that specializes in understanding how bones work. Ann Ross is a forensic anthropologist and the co-director of the Forensic Sciences Institute at North Carolina State University. It's her job to help authorities find buried bodies and inspect their bones to help puzzle out what brought about their demise. Ross chatted with us about what it's like to adapt tricks of the archaeological trade to find success in her unconventional field work.

    What's a forensic anthropologist?

    That's a good question because I always ask people what they think it is and I get so many different answers! It's the applied discipline of biological anthropology or skeletal biology. We are experts on bones. A lot of skeletal biologists are dealing with prehistoric or past populations but we apply that to contemporary issues or issues of the law.

    What kind of law? Is it crimes that have happened recently?

    Not necessarily recent. A lot of time we're experts in the tools that make some kind of pattern on the bone or a trauma. The medical legal community, the medical examiner, or law enforcement need our help in identifying the class of weapon that make the wound. Or was the fracture made at around the time of death or post mortem.

    The skeleton can tell us so much. We can tell everything that you do in life--it's almost mapped on your bones.

    Where is your lab? Do you work out of police offices?

    Most of us work in the university context. Quite a few of us work in medical examiner offices. There are other government agencies that contract forensics or have one on staff. I work at North Carolina State and when there's a case I get a phone call or an email. It can be from a medical examiner's office or the sheriff's department or the SBI. Generally it's remains that I need to see. I either go pick them up or bring them to the laboratory. A lot of times we reexamine cold cases. So it can be as old as the 70s or as recent as a year ago.

    How I Turned Raspberry Pi 2 into an Audiophile Music Streamer

    I was all set for for a Raspberry Pi Model 2 server experiment until somebody asked me if HRT's dSp would work with a Raspberry Pi. Good question. The dSp is a DAC: a Digital to Analog converter. It turns the zeros and ones that make up a digital audio file into the analog signal a pair of headphones or speakers pump into your ears. A good DAC is a critical step in making your audio files sound amazing, and some third-party DACs are much better than the ones built into your smartphone or even your PC.

    That's when I remembered the cable hanging off the back of the amp and speakers in the warehouse. Nothing wrong with plugging that ⅛" jack from the amp directly into a phone or audio player, especially if it meant not using the cheap Bluetooth adapter that's usually plugged in there. But hey, what about turning the Pi 2 into a badass audio box that anybody on the network could use to stream their tune to the big speakers?

    Suddenly, I had a project! A D-I-Y SONOS, if you will. (I love the SONOS system, we run three of 'em at home, I'm just not ready to buy one for the office speakers!)

    And I have DAC issues. Or at least I could spare a DAC for a while. Within arms reach I've got a HeadRoom Micro DAC and Amp ($650) I used for headphone testing for several years, a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 for recording podcasts, the AudioQuest DragonFly 1.2 ($150) that replaced the HeadRoom DAC for testing, along with the headphone jack on my laptop. I've also, as of late, received that HRT dSp for testing, and, because I was curious, ordered a $42 HiFiMeDIY Sabre USB DAC to see how it compared to the DragonFly, which, rumor has it, features a Saber DAC.

    The differences from a the headphone jack on your PC and one of these USB DACs can be subtle. Beat-up earbuds that came with your phone, low quality streaming audio (or those 128 Kbps MP3s you got off your uncle's old laptop), the sound of the bus engine coming through your feet--all of these things make it difficult to hear the goodness that an excellent DAC can bring. But when you can actually hear it, it's like being in the room where the recording engineer placed the microphones. That's a good thing.

    The audio built into the Raspberry Pi model 2 (or 1) is not that impressive. The hot ticket for serious Pi audio geeks is an i2s card that plugs into the pins on the Pi, but I figured USB DACs I already had (and could use for something other than a Pi) would have to work.

    How to Get into Hobby RC: Testing Ares Quadcopters

    In my recent look at starter FPV quads, I had an opportunity to log some flight time with the Ares Ethos FPV. I'll admit that I wasn't really familiar with Ares products prior to pulling together that article. I later found out that Ares is a house brand for Hobby Town, a chain of brick-and-mortar hobby shops across the US. Until very recently, I didn't have a Hobby Town within 100 miles of my house. I guess that explains my knowledge gap. Regardless, I was impressed by the Ethos FPV. So I decided to investigate some of the other quads that they offer.

    The quads in the Ares lineup vary greatly in size, but they are all geared towards beginners and sport flyers. While some carry cameras, none have gimbals or GPS that would be necessary to make them serious aerial photography platforms. These machines are primarily for the sole enjoyment of flying. I tested three models: the Spectre X, Ethos QX 130, and Ethos HD.

    This family portrait of a few Ares brand multi-rotors illustrates the significant size differences between quads that were tested.

    Spectre X

    The Spectre X ($89.99) is a mini-quad meant for indoor flying. With a diameter of 120mm, it is in the same league as the Heli-Max 1SQ and Hubsan X4 that we have often recommended as starter quads. While the Spectre X is not Ares' smallest quad, it is the smallest with a camera.

    The camera records video at 640x480 at 25fps and photos are 1280x960 JPEGs. With those specs, you won't be shooting any documentary scenes with the Spectre X. But the camera is a fun little novelty to play with. A 2GB micro-SD card for the camera and USB card reader are included as well.

    The included transmitter is a medium sized unit with conventional layout. In addition to the two joysticks and trim levers used to control the quad, there are four buttons on the face of the transmitter. They allow you to start/stop video recording, take a still photo, switch between low, medium, and high control rates, and initiate an aerial flip. It runs on four AA alkaline batteries, which are included.

    The Ares Spectre X offers very sedate handling, making it ideal for new pilots.

    A 1S-700mAh Lipo battery is provided with the Spectre X. This is good for about 9 minutes of flight. The 500mA USB charger takes about 1.5 hours to charge a dead battery. The battery is housed in an enclosed compartment of the quad.

    The hinged door of the battery compartment kept falling off every time I opened it. The piece that is supposed to hold the door's hinge pin just didn't fit tightly enough. To correct this, I began by adding a thin layer of grease to the hinge pin. With the door in place, I then filled the gap in the plastic pin holder with Household Goop adhesive. The grease on the pin prevents the Goop from bonding to it.

    The first time I flew the Spectre X, I appreciated how sedate the controls are. Many other mini-quads have overly sensitive controls, which makes them difficult to fly for beginners. Sure, most of them can be adjusted to make them more docile. But the Spectre X is the first I've seen that is configured this way out of the box. On low rates, it is really docile…just what new fliers need.

    Crafting Felt Creatures with Woolbuddy

    At WonderCon, we meet up with Jackie Huang, an artist who sculpts with felt to create fantastic creatures. Jackie's "Woolbuddies" take the form of everything from adorable owls to giant dragons and even an R2-D2 droid. We learn about the felting process and get a quick demo!

    Milling Time: Testing the Roland MDX-540 4-Axis CNC

    Previously, I've talked about testing the Othermill--an out-of-the-box work horse--and the Shapeoko 2--a CNC kit ripe for re-invention. Today, I'm going to talk about a big boy, examining a CNC mill that's bigger, pricier, and commands a steeper learning curve. That's because we're adding another axis!

    This is the MDX-540 with a rotary axis made by the Roland DGA Corporation. A 4-axis mill can do everything an X, Y, Z machine can do, but it can also rotate the cutting material around an 'A' axis. Essentially, this mill combines the functionality of a typical CNC and a lathe. With that additional axis, you're able to create complex double-sided objects and components with undercuts.

    Three cork "bottles" milled using different settings.

    I'm fortunate enough to work at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program , where we have a bunch of incredible tools and machines. The MDX-540 is our latest addition to the shop and we're just beginning to experiment with it.

    For all of my testing I mounted material in the rotary axis exclusively.

    Realistic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Costumes

    We weren't fond of the designs for the most recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, but this TMNT imagining we found at this year's Monsterpalooza were awesome. Originally designed and fabricated as costumes, these mechanized sculpts are the work of an artists collective whose members work in special effects and animatronics. These are the Ninja Turtles we'd like to see on screen!

    Putting the Original Tron's Special Effects Together

    Seeing Tron when it first came out in the theaters was an insane experience. You knew by word of mouth it was going to be a major step forward in special effects technology -something state of the art, like when Star Wars first exploded - and many young filmgoers, like myself, were completely blown away. I had no idea the movie was a flop until many years after the fact, and I was completely flabbergasted to learn this.

    Even with the film initially tanking at the box office, it's remarkable how Tron still has a stronghold of fans after all this time, and how ahead of its time it really was. It took Hollywood many years to catch up with the marvels of computer technology, and Tron first opened the door for it, eventually paving the way for Jurassic Park and the Pixar films.

    From a production standpoint, Tron was a hell of an undertaking, and the origins of the film go all the way back to the late seventies. The film's director, Steven Lisberger, had his own animation studio, Lisberger Films. A graduate of the city's School of the Museum of Fine Arts, he was creating animation regularly for networks such as ABC and PBS, but he had his eyes on a much bigger prize.

    "When you have an animation studio you try to create your Mickey Mouse," Lisberger says. "It's no secret that animation studios survive by creating characters who are their actors they own, and we were a team of people in Boston who wanted to create a character."

    On Lisberger's team were Roger Allers, who went on to direct The Lion King, and John Norton. Norton came up with an idea of a warrior who was made of neon. They called him Tron, but they didn't have a setting for him. Then one night Lisberger went to visit his in-laws, and everyone was crouched around the TV, playing Pong.

    Screen-Used Star Wars Stormtrooper Armor Replica

    We've seen plenty of Stormtrooper armor made by Star Wars fans, but replica props and armor are only as good as their source reference. For Star Wars, there's a lot of interpretation of what's authentic, because props from the film are lost or scattered in private collections. We chat with eFX Collectibles' Bryan Ono about their new replica Stormtrooper armor, which is made from a newly discovered hero suit--only one of six from Episode IV--that even Lucasfilm doesn't have!

    A Glimpse Inside Aviation Artistry

    I am of the opinion that airplanes are themselves a form of functional art (even the ugly ones). Perhaps that is why I also think that airplanes are great subjects for more conventional art mediums. I recently had an opportunity to speak with three noteworthy and successful aviation artists. They create drawings, paintings, and photographs covering all genres of aviation. As you will see, my interviewees are all lifelong-airplane fanatics and multi-talented artists. Between them, they can claim two long-term Smithsonian exhibits and an Emmy award. I learned a lot about how each found success, the challenges of their chosen mediums, and the other forms of art that they create.

    Lloyd S Jones - 3-View Drawings

    I first became familiar with Mr. Jones' work when I was still in elementary school. I was given a copy of his book 'US Fighters', and it immediately became my favorite source of bedtime reading material. Whereas my peers may have preferred searching for Waldo or reading the adventures of the Berenstain Bears, I indulged in topics such as the development process of the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. As much as I enjoyed learning the history, my favorite part of 'US Fighters' was the collection of 3-view drawings within: at least one full-page drawing for every subject airplane (well over 100).

    Making a Real Life-Size EVE Robot (from Wall-E!)

    We catch up with Mike Senna, one of the few R2-D2 builders who has also made a life-size Wall-E robot. Over the past year, he's been working on a companion for Wall-E: the high-tech EVE. Mike shares his build process for EVE, where the build currently stands, and what he plans to add to complete this adorable robot duo.

    Animatronic 'Westworld' Gunslinger Robot Sculpture

    Behold, Westworld's Gunslinger--the original Terminator as portrayed by the great Yul Brynner. At Monsterpalooza, we chat with sculptor Nick Marra about his amazing portrait of the character. This silicone sculpture not only captures Brynner's likeness, but is mechanized to reveal his true robot face in spectacular fashion. Draw!

    LEGO with Friends: Veronica Belmont, Part 1

    Veronica Belmont joins us for some building in this week's LEGO with Friends! We discuss the projects she's been working on, the Game of Thrones premiere she hosted, and catch up while assembling some fun LEGO kits. It's going to be a fun week! Follow along with us by signing up for a Tested Premium Membership here! (The first episode is free for everyone, but the rest of the series will be for Premium Members.)

    The WonderCon 2015 Cosplay Gallery (630+ Photos)

    Here are photos of my favorite cosplayers, characters, and creatures at this year's WonderCon pop culture convention! This year, I tried to take more candid photos and had fun playing around with scale. Tell me which ones are your favorites in the comments! Thanks to everyone who stopped for a photo--and if you find yourself in this gallery, email me at norman@tested.com with "WonderCon 2015" in the subject line and I'll get you a full-res copy of your pic and get you a proper credit!

    The Special Effects Creatures at Monsterpalooza 2015

    Last weekend, we attended an awesome creature and special effects convention: Monsterpalooza. We met sculptors, painters, animatronics designers, makeup artists, and creature geeks showing off their latest projects. Here's some of the coolest stuff we saw on the show floor!

    Hardware Wars: The First Star Wars Fan Film

    Other the years, there have been many fan films and parodies of Star Wars, and this year's release of Episode VII will undoubtedly spark more. Thanks to the marvels of digital video tools and sites like YouTube, you can put together a Star Wars parody quickly, cheaply, and unleash it into the world for all to enjoy.

    This was not the case when Hardware Wars came together in 1978. It was the first parody of Lucas' space opera--and reportedly one he enjoyed. It became an urban legend short film that played in theaters and on cable, and it's still great fun to watch after all these years. As Shock Cinema magazine notes, Hardware Wars "laid the groundwork for every DIY movie send up that now pops up on YouTube…Premiering when George Lucas's cash cow was still filling the theaters, it quickly became a pre-VCR, word-of-mouth phenomenon." And indeed, Hardware Wars was still playing in theaters as a short subject years after it was made. (A friend of mine saw it play before the animated movie Heavy Metal when it opened in 1981.)

    Hardware Wars was written and directed by Ernie Fosselius, a multi-hyphenate who could not only write and direct, but also worked as a sound editor in Hollywood for years (his credits would include Spaceballs and Ed Wood). John V. Fante, who was the cinematographer of Hardware Wars, and who also went on to shoot the visual FX for The Right Stuff and Star Trek IV, says, "Ernie's a very gifted filmmaker, a multi-talented renaissance man, and he's very, very funny. I don't know if he's ever been a stand-up comedian, but he certainly could have been one. He's very gifted, and Hardware Wars only scratched the surface of what he was capable of."

    The thirteen-minute film opens with a fake studio logo, 20th Century Foss. The parody names for the characters include Fluke Starbucker, Ham Salad, Darph Nader, Princess Anne-Droid, Augie Ben Doggie, and Cuchilla the Wookie Monster. And remember, this was a decade before Spaceballs.

    Part of its charm is that special effects in Hardware Wars are hilariously cut rate. The land speeder is a dune buggy, and you can clearly see the wires on the spaceships, as well as on Android's home planet, which is a basketball floating in space. The spaceships are steam irons, the Death Star is a waffle iron, and R2-D2, redubbed 4Q2, is a vacuum cleaner. Fosselius also created lasers by scratching them directly onto the film negative.

    Hands-On with FOVE Eye Tracking VR Headset

    We've tried several virtual reality headsets that track your head movement, but FOVE is the first that also tracks your eye movement. At this year's Game Developers Conference, we put on FOVE's latest prototype headset and chat with the company's CTO to learn what eye tracking can bring to VR.

    Your TV is Too Small (Why You Should Get a Projector)

    That weird little rainbow circle on a motor thing in the picture below? That's the color wheel for a DLP projector. More to the point, it's the color wheel that's going into my projector. It's twee and fragile, and I'm sure the old one made the tiniest ping when it shattered. I didn't hear it... but I didn't need to. The results were pretty obvious when I fired up the projector to watch a movie, and the screen was 50 shades of grey. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

    The wall of grey led to two things. First, I borrowed a gorgeous 55" Samsung Plasma TV. Second, the realization that 55" is way too small for an HDTV when you're used to 100 glorious inches of 1080p color blanketing the wall in my living room.

    We'll talk about the color wheel another time, but it was the 55" TV that got me thinking: most people buy televisions that are way too small for the room they put 'em in. So, my simple advice: buy a bigger TV than you think you need. Seriously. All too many people say "gosh, that thing is huge" or "60 inches? That's ridiculous!" while they're wandering through the TV aisle at Costco or Best Buy.

    This makes some sense. People who grew up with standard definition televisions remember a time when a 37” TV was too big. That’s a fair association; back in the CRT days, 37 inches was massive. A TV that size was also a couple feet deep, so it literally took up a lot of space in the room. And more often than not, living room CRTs were stuffed inside some huge piece of furniture to hide it when it wasn't on--which took up even more space.

    People who grew up with big CRTs need to rewire how their brains think about screen space in relation to TV sizes.

    Going much for a bigger screen in the days of VHS and DVD usually meant rear projection. These were massive boxes that hulked against the wall. We're talking a couch worth of floorspace...great for baseball games. Not, to paraphrase Loyd Case, so great for the Spousal Acceptance Factor.

    And in defense of spouses, husband or wife, a big blank 60" screen tends to really overpower a small living room. Which is a shame, because the higher resolution of HDTV (much less UHD/4K) means you can sit much much closer that before bigger screen stops looking really good. A 1080p screen displays 1920x1080 pixels, nearly six times as many pixels as 480i (let's agree that 480i, or 704x480 at 60 interlaced frames is roughly 'standard def' in a digital format). People really need to rewire how their brains think about screen space in relation to TV sizes.

    Flying FPV Multi-Rotors with Team Blacksheep

    We met up with Team Blacksheep pilot Raphael Pirker (AKA Trappy) to talk about his FPV flying exploits, videos, and new ready-to-fly hexacopter. Pirker talks frankly about his dealings with the FAA, views on multi-rotor safety, and the newly proposed guidelines for RC flyers. We also do some flying and racing!