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    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.

    How To Spot the International Space Station

    Many people have a difficult time comprehending the massive proportions of the International Space Station (ISS). Weighing almost one million pounds, and filling the footprint of a football field, it is by far the largest man-made object in space. The ship has an acre of reflective solar arrays that provide power for the crew and also help make the ISS the third brightest object in the night sky (behind the Moon and Venus). It is easily viewed with the naked eye. You just need to know where to look and what to look for.

    The ISS is as large as a football field. Those huge solar arrays reflect a lot of light and make the ISS clearly visible under certain conditions. (NASA photo)

    Where It’s Going

    Before we talk about how to find the ISS in the sky, let’s take minute to review some basic orbital mechanics. The ISS has a roughly circular orbit (as opposed to elliptical) at an altitude of about 260 miles. The plane of orbit is tilted 51.6 degrees from the plane of the equator. If you flatten the Earth onto a map, one orbital path takes on the shape of a single sine wave. That is often the image seen on the large wall displays in photos of the Mission Control Center.

    This diagram illustrates the relative path that the ISS might take through your viewing area. (NASA image)

    Each orbit takes roughly 90 minutes to complete. During that time, the Earth is rotating as well. Due to this relative movement, every orbit of the ISS overflies a path that is a little west of its previous orbit. When the paths of multiple orbits are displayed on a flattened Earth, the image is a series of identical sine waves with a slight and equal offset. The real advantage to this constant path shifting is that the ISS overflies pretty much all of the Earth between 51.6 degrees latitude north and south. This is great for science experiments aboard the ISS that require Earth observation. It is also a boon for those of us stuck on the ground who want to catch a glimpse of this enormous machine.

    How to Get Started in Hobby RC: Body Painting Your Vehicles

    We've run through the basics of several types of remote controlled vehicles, from cars to boats to planes--and some tweaks to modify them. But one of the best ways to personalize an RC kit is to give it a fresh coat of paint. This guide will focus on the basics of painting bodies for RC cars--a genuinely fun and rewarding art form.

    Most RC car bodies are made from polycarbonate plastic (aka Lexan). It is incredibly tough stuff, which makes it ideal for absorbing the abuse that RC cars are routinely subjected to. The bodies are formed by vacuforming a sheet of clear Lexan over a mold. The body is then painted on the inside surface, which effectively makes the plastic a thick, shiny clear coat. If painted correctly, a body can last and look good for a long time.

    The Caveats

    If you are an accomplished airbrush or spray paint graffiti artist, you already possess many of the skills necessary to paint a RC car body. There are, however, a few elements that are specific to painting car bodies that you must consider. The number one thing to know is that most paints will not stick to Lexan. You must use specially formulated products that are typically sold in hobby shops as RC car body paint. This isn’t a marketing gimmick. These are truly the only paints I have seen that bond reliably to Lexan. If you use some random hardware store paint, it will only look good until that first crash. Then, the paint will begin to chip and flake off, randomly eroding your artistic efforts. Trust me; don’t get cheap with the paint. Buy the right stuff and have no regrets.

    Since we will be painting the inside of the body, some things may be reversed from painting tasks you are used to. Obviously, any masking must be done as a mirror image. Less obvious is the need to apply the darkest colors first. Since it is difficult to achieve a fully opaque finish, having a dark color behind a light color may affect the tint of the light color. Applying the dark color first negates this effect. Keep this in mind as you plan out your paint scheme and order of operations.

    Working with Lexan requires special paint as well as specific tools to achieve clean, long-lasting results. A variety of common masking options can be used.

    You may need to do trimming or drilling of the car body. I highly recommend using tools designed for the job. The curved blades on Lexan scissors make it easy to trim wheel wells and other rounded areas without creating jagged edges on the body. A tapered reamer is the only sensible way to drill holes in Lexan. Regular drill bits will grab and tear as they go through, often leaving a mess. . If you are using a body that will require cutting and drilling, it is usually better to do this before painting. It helps to have the body clear when you are trying to get everything aligned and fitted.

    Choosing Buttons and Joysticks for a Custom Arcade Cabinet

    Arcade parts website FocusAttack.com sells 11 varieties of 30mm Japanese arcade buttons, and without some research, it's hard to spot the minute differences that separate one from another. Some are push-buttons, which install into an arcade panel with a simple snap. Others are screw-buttons, which anchor into a wooden surface. There are also smaller 24mm buttons, and buttons with clear tops or clear rims that can be paired with fancy LED lighting. But most importantly, there is the choice between Sanwa and Seimitsu manufactured buttons, Japan's two juggernauts of arcade hardware.

    When you're building your own arcade cabinet, you want the best buttons for your games. But wading into the minutia of arcade parts unprepared feels like going up against a world-class Street Fighter player--while you're clumsily figuring out how to throw a fireball, they're stringing together moves you didn't even know existed. There are just as many varieties of joysticks as there are buttons, each with their own nuanced feel.

    Knowing the differences between these components enables building an arcade machine for exactly the kinds of games you want to play--or, by mixing and matching hardware, you can create a machine with inputs that are great for a wide swath of arcade genres. For the Tested MAME machine, that's exactly what we wanted--something perfect for fighting games like Street Fighter, primed for SHMUPs like Ikaruga, and still able to handle classic 80s games like Pac-Man.

    Here's what we learned while researching our arcade controls.

    The General Overview: Japan vs. America

    There's an easy high-level way to categorize arcade parts: Japanese and American.

    Before we get into the nuances of different models of buttons and joysticks, there's an easy high-level way to categorize arcade parts: Japanese and American. If you grew up going to arcades in the US or Europe, you're likely familiar with American arcade parts made by the company Happ. They're easy to recognize: Happ buttons are concave and have to be pushed in relatively far before they offer that classic arcade click. Happs joysticks typically have elongated cylindrical bat tops, as opposed to the spherical tops of Japanese sticks.

    Japanese parts primarily come from two companies: Sanwa and Seimitsu. Each company produces multiple joysticks and buttons, but in general their buttons are flat or slightly convex, require far less pressure to activate, and have slightly larger faces. Their joysticks are also generally looser than Happ sticks, meaning they have more play to them. The round ball tops of Sanwa and Seimitsu sticks can be replaced with bat tops to make their grips more like Happ sticks.

    A big factor in choosing the parts for your arcade machine comes from personal preference. If you grew up going to American arcades and using American parts, they're going to feel more natural at first, but you might be missing out on something better. The website Slagcoin, which contains a wealth of knowledge about joystick parts, outlines some of the differences between Japanese and American designs and offers up a heavily, heavily researched opinion: Japanese parts are better.

    "Sanwa and Seimitsu make high-quality parts which will not likely disappoint. Happ/IL is a company that seems centered more on simple, public vending parts with high durability at the sacrifice of precision," he writes. "I am not exactly a fanboy for Japanese parts, just quality parts. In fact, it is my opinion that many more Americans would compete internationally much stronger in many more games if our country’s standard/common joysticks were of better quality. I would very much like to see Happ/IL or some other company do better."

    The evidence to support that claim is in the nuances of various button and joystick models. Let's start with joystick technology, the Sanwa, Seimitsu, and Happ options, and which joysticks are best for which games.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (August 2014)

    Big things are happening in the Android phone ecosystem these days. With a gaggle of phone announcements in the last few days, it's time to check in on the options you have on the big four US carriers. There are plenty of compelling options, but is now the time to wait it out? Let's go over your options.

    AT&T

    AT&T will be carrying the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the new Moto X in the next few weeks. If you find yourself on Ma Bell, you need to decide if the current options are compelling enough to take the plunge or if you need to wait it out. If you're in need of a new device right now, there are two options--the LG G3 and the Samsung Galaxy S5.

    Starting with LG's new flagship, the G3 is pushing past 1080p as the first major OEM to put a 1440p screen on a smartphone.The G3 is plastic with a removable back and a 3000mAh (removable) battery, but the plastic LG uses actually feels rather nice as far as plastic goes. The design is overall very slick and the rear-facing buttons work extremely well. The narrow bezels also make the large screen somewhat manageable.

    As for the specs, you're looking at a Snapdragon 801, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, and a 5.5-inch 2560x1440 LCD. It's a real beast of a phone. I like the screen in general, but it is a little on the dim side. The colors are more dull than you'd see on AMOLED and the contrast could be higher. On the subject of battery life, the G3 seems to perform about the same as the GS5 over the course of a day. Note, the screen will suck down more power when it's running, but the standby time is great.

    The 13MP camera on the G3 uses laser autofocusing and it actually works as advertised. Even in a dark room, the G3 can focus when other devices simply fail. It also takes above average low-light shots. In bright light, it takes fabulous pictures.

    LG has also cleaned up its software act this year. The version of KitKat on the G3 is responsive and mostly free of junk you won't use. Samsung still includes more stuff you'll never use, but LG seems focused on a few things. One of the main selling points is Knock Code, which lets you wake and unlock the phone with a series of screen taps. It's really neat.

    This is a $200 phone on contract, and I'd say it's safe to buy this device on AT&T right now, even with big things on the way.

    Making a B.F. Goodrich Mercury Mark IV Helmet, Part 1

    When Adam commissioned us to make a hybrid NASA Mercury space program suit, we didn’t give much thought to the helmet or really any of the “hard parts” with the exception of the neck and wrist rings. We just figured that if anyone was interested in buying another suit, they would have to find a helmet on their own, and that we’d probably have to re-cast or find standalone MIG neck rings. Adam advised us they would be hard to find.

    But initial feedback from prospective customers indicated that we might not be able to sell many suits without including helmets and accessories. Pictured below are Adam’s suits. One with rings on the left and one without rings on right:

    Since Adam supplied the neck ring for the first build and we returned it to him, we had to find another for our third suit. We weren’t really in a hurry to find one but weeks passed and we saw nothing except MIG helmets with rings, so we bought one hoping maybe we could sell the MIG helmet later. The upside of buying the helmet and ring was understanding how the ring locked onto the helmet as Adam never sent us his helmet at this point for scrutiny. Now that we’ve had a closer look at his helmet during the Comic-Con Incognito walk, we can see he manufactured a similar locking system we have based on the MIG helmet and neck ring design.

    I remember Adam saying he needed another neck ring so I kept looking and eventually found one and bought it. Because it was expensive we considered recasting it in four-part molds for future projects. It wouldn’t be functional but may look good enough for some buyers.

    When I told Adam what we were planning and asked him where he got his helmets he offered to send us his spare helmet blank to re-cast but we would have to return it as it was his only one. I’ve never had quite this experience before. We’ve been lent stuff in the past but nothing that couldn’t be replaced easy enough. It was very generous for Adam to send his helmet so we didn't have to sculpt one from scratch, and really aligns with his philosophy of opening these projects up to makers. Above is a photo of what he sent over. We were absolutely thrilled to have access to it!

    Building and Testing a Custom RC Airboat

    Sometimes you seek inspiration. Sometimes inspiration smacks you in the face. As I was walking down the clearance isle at Walmart, I was smacked in the face. They had a few kid’s kickboards on clearance. With my Mini Alligator Tours airboat experiences still fresh on the brain, I immediately thought that one of these kickboards could be the starting point of a scratchbuilt airboat.

    Sitting next to the Mini Alligator Tours, the wide stance and minimalist design of my DIY airboat is apparent.

    There were a few features of this kickboard that I particularly liked, in addition to its clearance price. First of all, it has a very wide stance. That would serve to prevent tipovers--hopefully. Another appealing aspect was its slippery plastic shell. I thought that would help it slide the water, as well as grass and other surfaces. The other kickboards that I saw had a nylon mesh-type covering. That’s probably great if you are actually using it as a kickboard, but not so great in airboat mode.

    The one thing that I did not like about the kickboard was its very pronounced curvature (as viewed from the side). Most airboats use flat-bottomed hulls. I figured I would give it a try anyway and see what happened.

    Keeping It Simple

    Early on, I decided that my focus with this project would be to make the simplest airboat that I possibly could. That proved to be a surprisingly elusive goal. I discarded numerous design sketches over the course of an afternoon before I felt that I had shaved my concept down to the bare essentials.

    The Zoidberg Project, Part 12 (Finale and Recap!)

    Even though The Zoidberg Project has been wrapped up for a while now, it’s not over. I got sidetracked back in May with the Gore Magala build for Capcom's Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate display, and I still owe you all one more article!

    So let's back track a bit….back to early April. Leading up to the debut at WonderCon, I had a ton of finishing to do on the Zoidberg costume. The feet that Carson and I sculpted and molded needed to be cast up and painted. We opted for a simple latex and polyfoam casting. To make this cast, we brushed in about four or five good coats of latex into the mold, giving plenty of time for them to dry between layers. If you don't let the previous layer dry enough, you will end up with wet layers sandwiched between dry layers, which will make the skin too soft and prone to stretching out of shape.

    Since this mold for the feet are stone, I could have just filled it up with latex and let it set for an hour to form a "skin" around the outer edge, then dump the excess latex back out into the bucket and let it dry. But I felt that manually brushing in a few layers and drying them with a hair dryer between layers would be the fastest route. Once this layer of latex skin is set up, I mixed up a batch of Flex Foam 3 from Smooth-On and just rolled it on the surface until it started foaming up. I didn't need it to be a solid foam casting because I still need room for my food and ankle inside.

    This finishes the casting, which could then be demolded and trimmed up while the second foot was being done. I like to use an electric turkey cutter sometimes when I'm trimming foam, and it helps to hog out big sections quickly. Once I find the right fit for my foot, I used a little Barge glue to tack the latex down to the foam, as sometimes it can delaminate. That was it for the feet, but we all know that Zoidberg doesn't walk barefoot.

    How To Mold and Cast Resin Copies of 3D-Printed Figures

    We do a lot of 3D printing at Tested, but it's a time-consuming process best used for prototyping, not mass production. To replicate our 3D prints, we invited Frank Ippolito up to Adam's shop to teach us how to make simple rubber molds and cast awesome resin copies. It's really not difficult to get started! (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Learn more about memberships here!)

    How To Make A Replica Hybrid Mercury IV Pressure Suit

    (Editor's note: One of Adam's favorite costumes is his Mercury program spacesuit, which we've previously featured here on Tested. It's one of the costumes he wore at this year's Comic-Con. Elizabeth Galeria of The Magic Wardrobe, who made the costume in collaboration with Adam, reached out to us to share the process of designing and patterning this suit to meet Adam's specific needs and requests. This is the first in a series of articles in which Elizabeth and her partner explain their fabrication process fort his project. Feel free to ask Elizabeth--Tested user "antylyz"--questions directly in the comments section below.)

    An accurate replica of any costume or prop is only as good as the source images and what budget a “detail enthusiast” is willing to spend to get what’s envisioned. When Adam approached me to make him a Mercury suit, his celebrity factored into my quote. I really wanted to do this project having been a fan of MythBusters for many years.

    Adam had no shortage of images to show me so quoting him was pretty easy. It’s not often you get 100+ high-res images of the actual suits from the Smithsonian so I was able to count stitches-per-inch as is often the case needed for detail enthusiasts.

    Adam was very specific that all he wanted was someone to do the “soft parts” and he would provide all the “hard parts,” which made the project easy. Adam was also very specific about what details he liked about the various iterations of suits used by NASA in the Mercury space program, and he focused on the following image in particular.

    The biggest challenge in almost any replica costume or prop is finding the same or similar fabrics and materials used to make the original. Adam was very specific in describing the fabric he thought the original suit was made of. It's something he has described in his videos about the suit.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Testing and Upgrading an Airboat

    A few months ago, we took a look at the RC boating hobby by dissecting two small, electric setups from AquaCraft: the beginner-friendly Reef Racer II and the speedy Minimono. Both boats are still going strong and my family continues to enjoy them. In fact, I decided that I wanted to bring along at least one RC boat on our summer trip to Florida.

    As I was mentally justifying the cargo space for toy boats and thinking of the different lakes we could visit, I remembered fishing at many of those same lakes as a kid. I recalled that most of them had grass, lily pads, reeds, and even cypress knees all along the shoreline. While all of that aquatic flora is what I miss most about living in Florida, it would cause nothing but headaches with the submerged propellers of my RC boats. I decided that I needed a boat that was designed to traverse this kind of environment…an airboat, to be exact.

    If you’re not familiar with the basic design of an airboat, I’ll elaborate. They utilize a wide, flat-bottomed hull. Rather than a submerged water propeller, airboats have a large airscrew like you would find on a Cessna. One or more large rudders are stuck right in the propwash to provide turning authority. This configuration allows an airboat to ignore most vegetation on the water. It just skims right over it all. Many can even claw their way across dry land. In short, airboats are loud, obnoxious, and extremely useful machines.

    In my last-minute search for an airboat, I found that there are several wood kits that are available, as well as varied plans to DIY. But I was in a hurry and needed something off the shelf. I realized that there aren’t many hobby-quality RC airboats available as turnkey packages. In fact, I could find only two: the Alligator Tours and Mini Alligator Tours. Both are also AquaCraft products. The larger version of the Alligator Tours is powered by a fuel-burning motor, while the mini version is electric. I chose the electric version.

    The Best Handheld Vacuum

    This post was done in partnership with The Sweethome. Read the original full article at TheSweethome.com

    For small spills and tight spots that a regular vacuum can’t reach, we recommend using the Black & Decker BDH2020FLFH 20 V MAX Flex Vac ($130). Its powerful 20-volt lithium-ion battery delivers about 16 minutes of strong, steady suction, which means better cleaning for longer than most of the competition can muster. Equally important, its 4-foot flexible hose reaches where other hand vacuums (including our previous pick) can’t, like under car seats. And it even accepts clip-on attachments like a regular vacuum would. It’s the most versatile portable vacuum out there.

    We spent a total of 56 hours researching and 20 hours testing hand vacuums over the past few years. Of the roughly 40 models we’ve found, this new Flex Vac has proven to be the best bet for most people.

    Who needs a portable vacuum?

    A portable vacuum excels as a smaller, lighter, nimbler sidekick to a plug-in upright or canister vacuum. It cleans spots that a big vac doesn’t easily reach: countertops or the floor of a car, for example. And since there’s no cord to unravel, it’s super easy to grab off the charging dock for 10 seconds to suck up a few dust bunnies or grains of spilled cereal. However, if you think you can replace a floor vacuum with one of these, you will be sorely disappointed. They’re simply not designed for that kind of heavy lifting.

    (That being said, some new battery-powered vacuums are designed as all-purpose cleaners, meant to pull double-duty as an all-house upright and a hand vacuum. This guide does not cover these types of vacuums.)

    The Best SSD Today

    If I bought a solid-state drive (SSD) today, I'd get the 512GB Crucial MX100 for about $220. It's not the fastest SSD you can get, but it's close. More importantly, it has the best combination of price, performance, and capacity. Additionally, Crucial makes its own NAND flash memory and its SSDs have a history of reliability. It's about $30 cheaper than the 500GB Samsung 840 EVO and has the best price per gigabyte of all those we looked at, so it's the best choice for most people who are upgrading a laptop or desktop today.

    If anything goes wrong, the MX100 has a three-year warranty. And it includes TCG/Opal full-disk self-encryption, if that matters to you. There’s no shortage of great SSDs these days, but some are better values than others, as we learned after spending more than 30 hours of research coming to this conclusion.

    The MX100 is one of the best, but if you can’t get the MX100, the Samsung 840 EVO is still good and is our overall runner-up. (It is, after all, our previous pick for this guide.) It’s cheap and fast, just not as cheap or fast as the MX100. It’s also still your best choice for a 1TB drive, since the MX100 only goes up to 512GB.

    If you’re a video and photo editor or 3D modeler, consider a step-up option like the Samsung 850 Pro. It has a 10-year warranty and higher write endurance rating. Its quoted speeds aren’t much different than the Crucial’s, but it can be nearly twice as fast (373 MB/s vs 190 MB/s) in some high-intensity benchmarks like AnandTech’s “Destroyer.” It’s the fastest SATA SSD you can get, but it’s not worth the price increase for most people.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (July 2014)

    You don't usually get do-overs after you choose a new phone. That privilege only comes along once every year or two, so you've got to make it count. It's getting hard to make a truly bad choice when it comes to Android phones, but why settle for good enough when you can have the best? It's time to check out the lineup on the big four US carriers and see which devices are worth your time and money.

    This month Samsung finally gets some serious competition from LG, and the Nexus continues to ride high.

    Photo credit: Flickr user janitors via Creative Commons.

    AT&T

    The LG G3 wasn't even up for pre-order on AT&T last month, but this time it's available and has a lot to offer a connoisseur of mobile devices. Of course, the Samsung Galaxy S5 is also on AT&T as a similar price point and a slightly different approach to the high-end market. So where should your money go?

    Let's start with the Samsung Galaxy S5. This is simply the best phone Samsung has ever made. It might have the same plastic shell most of Samsung's devices rock, but it's more solid than past offerings largely because it's built to be water and dust-resistant. The GS5 is IP67 certified, assuming you've got the back and port covers fastened down. It has a midframe inside that most of the components are mounted to and rubber gaskets protect the internals around the back cover.

    Around front are Samsung's signature hardware buttons, but this time the OEM has finally gotten with the times and replaced the menu button with multitasking. The home button also houses a fingerprint scanner. It's a bit of a novelty (as is the heart rate monitor on the back), but it's something to be aware of.

    Inside you'll find 2GB of RAM, a 2800mAh removable battery, a Snapdragon 801, and 16GB of storage. The screen is a 5.1-inch Super AMOLED at 1080p, and it's a great panel. Samsung has done a lot to fix the white balance and saturation on AMOLED this time, and it really shows. The screen also has very good maximum and minimum brightness. The 16MP camera on this device is awesome in every situation except low-light.

    Samsung's TouchWiz Android UI isn't the abomination it once was--in fact, I'd say the ROM on the GS5 is pretty good. It's fast, the tweaks to Android's UI are not outrageous, and some of the additional features (like Ultra Power Saver) are awesome. Under all the Samsung code is Android 4.4.2 with all the goodies you'd expect from that. AT&T does have a nasty habit of loading you up with bloatware, but that's the case with all phones on Ma Bell.

    The Best Cheap Printer Today

    Color is swell, but for most documents, black and white look just fine. Monochrome laser printers and avoid the waste and hassle of inkjet machines (no cleaning purges!), the cost and bulk of color laser (only one toner cartridge!), and still churn out a couple dozen pages per minute with razor-sharp text. For students, small-office denizens, or anyone with modest printing needs, the Samsung Xpress M2835DW is the most efficient way to make hard copies of term papers, tax forms, or any other documents that look great in grayscale.

    I spent more than 20 hours researching the mono laser category, looking over dozens of expert reviews and hundreds of user testimonials for the best, most affordable black-and-white printers. Meanwhile, Wirecutter researcher Audrey Lorberfeld spent another 32 hours analyzing existing professional printer reviews and comparing them to user reviews to identify how we could improve upon them with our own testing. With her findings in mind, I’ve spent 23 total hours testing a handful of the top contenders, jumping through hoops to set them up on a smorgasbord of devices and operating systems and printing stacks of monochrome documents to measure speed and print quality.

    Like any worthwhile laser printer, the M2835DW spits out crisp text fast and at a wicked low cost per page.

    Like any worthwhile laser printer, the M2835DW spits out crisp text fast and at a wicked low cost per page. It’s affordable to buy, yet still includes cost- and time-saving features like automatic two-sided printing and wireless networking, which are often missing from some pricier models. And for what it’s worth, it’s the candidate least likely to send you into fits of rage, Office Space-style, during setup.

    How To Shop for a Home 3D Printer

    3D printing's popularity continues to grow and more people are taking the plunge into this new consumer technology. With Will and Norm having built a Printrbot Simple for us, I thought it would be a good time to talk about buying your own printer. There are a many choices out there and it can be a lot of confusing misinformation which overwhelms you. It's not possible to cover all the printers out there, so we'll cover the basics and things to consider when buying a printer and places to look for information.

    The Basics

    As a refresher, let's walk through the fundamentals of a typical home 3D printer. Most are going to be Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) machines that use plastic filament pushed through a heated extruder which 'draws' onto a print bed, layer by layer until the model is finished. Many machines print with Polylactic Acid (PLA), a biodegradable, non-toxic plastic that produces nice, but semi-brittle prints. The other common plastic is Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)--the same stuff LEGO is made from. ABS is a little trickier to print with and does produce some fumes but it's also more flexible and durable than PLA.

    A higher-end choice but still in the realm of home printers are some SLA (Stereolithography) and DLP (Digital Light Processing) machines which print with liquid resin which is cured with light. They produce highly detailed prints but tend to cost more for both the printer and materials and we'll cover those in a later article.

    The Best Blu-ray Player Today

    After spending almost 20 hours with the best new Blu-ray players for 2014, the $90 LG BP540 came out on top after our previous pick was discontinued. The LG fits our criteria for a good player thanks to integrated Wi-Fi and the most popular streaming apps. More importantly, it has a better interface and video quality than the competition and offers the best combination of price and performance of those we looked at.

    Who am I to make that claim? I’ve been handling almost all the Blu-ray reviews for Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity since 2010 and have had nearly three dozen players come through my hands. I’ve subjected them to countless objective and subjective tests. I’ve even thrown them on a $15,000 HDMI Analyzer to verify their performance. Often, as is the case with the LG, the picture from a cheap player is 100 percent identical to an $8,000 player’s.

    If the LG BP540 sells out, the $90 Sony BDP-S3200 is our runner-up choice that is almost as good. The menu system is more confusing than our top pick’s and the overall interface leaves a lot to be desired, but it offers a wide selection of streaming content, and Blu-ray content does very well. Be warned, though: The Sony shows some jaggies while watching DVD content with diagonal lines.

    With more expensive players, you’re usually paying for better CD playback quality or niche features. Along those lines, and if you also want the absolute best in audio and video quality, the $600 Oppo BDP-103D is the best high-end player you can buy. It has better DVD scaling than any other tested player, performs flawlessly even with foreign content and weird frame rates, and supports all audio formats as well. The integrated Darbee video processing is a favorite of most reviewers, including video purists, and Oppo has better service and support than other companies. For most people, though, the price difference isn’t justified.

    Our pick from 2013, the Sony BDP-S5100, would still be our recommended pick if it were still being manufactured.

    If you only want Blu-ray playback and don’t care about streaming whatsoever, the Samsung BD-H5100 is our step-down choice at $63. It does fine with Blu-ray content and the lack of Wi-Fi saves you some money, though it also means you’ll have to perform firmware updates manually or have hardwired Ethernet to do so. You’ll want to have updated firmware since it may affect your ability to play newer Blu-ray discs in the future.

    Our pick from 2013, the Sony BDP-S5100, would still be our recommended pick if it were still being manufactured, but alas, it is not. It was less expensive than the LG, had the same streaming options, and loaded discs faster. If you bought our pick from last year, or you happen to find it somewhere on closeout, there is no real need to upgrade.

    How To Build a Life-Size Dragon

    Norm's note: Frank first showed us his Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate dragon sculpt before this year's E3. Frank has since written up his build, which we wanted to share ahead of this week's Comic-Con--where the Gore Magala creature will be on display at the Capcom booth.

    I love video games and video game culture, and last year was stoked to be asked to be a part of a team doing the Zombie makeups for Capcom's Dead Rising 3 booth at E3. It was there that I befriended the creative services team in charge of all of these cool trade show events and displays. Jump ahead to a few months ago, when I received a call from the team lead at Capcom to bid on the making of a display sculpture for one of their upcoming games: Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate!

    The concept was to have a 20-foot tall backdrop with a huge image of one of the game’s monsters, and have the front third of it coming out of the backdrop. Big is sort of an understatement here; once I did some quick math to put it into scale, the sculpture I would have to create would be almost 8 feet tall, 14 feet wide, and 12 feet long. To bid on something of this size is really tough. Most trade show displays are carved or milled out of bead foam and then hard coated, which leaves very little finished detail. But this monster has a lot of detail. So I had to figure a solution that could provide that kind of detail while keeping costs reasonable. After that came an engineering problem: how would this thing support itself? Additionally, it has to be transported to multiple venues and be durable enough for the public to interact with. So it also needed to come apart. Not easy!

    After some back-and-forth details of the deliverables and specifications, and some careful planning and budgeting, I was awarded the job, which would be guilt in my newly expanded shop. Here is what my team and I came up with for the design of this build.

    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.

    The Best Television You Can Buy Today

    If I was in the market for an awesome television, I’d get the Samsung F8500 series, either in 51-, 60-, or 64-inch sizes (about $1,800, $2,400, or $3,100, respectively). This is a fantastic looking television, with a punchy brights, deep darks, lifelike and accurate color, excellent detail, and great performance in rooms with lots of light. While pricey, it has one of the best pictures of any TV in recent years according to all the major TV reviewers.

    The F8500 is likely the last great plasma TV (more on this later). We think that those looking for the “best” TV will love the F8500. Its combination of a bright image, dark black levels (and correspondingly high contrast ratio), lack of motion blur, and highly realistic color make for an addictively gorgeous image.

    If it doesn’t fit the bill, we have some other options that may suit you. However, this is still early in the year for TV reviews, so we strongly recommend you wait if you can. We can recommend some “good” TVs, but we won’t know what’s the (truly) best runner-up until more models are reviewed.

    The Samsung F300 is a good step-down pick if you want to save at least $1,000 (or more, depending on which size you buy). It’s not as bright and doesn’t have as good contrast ratio as our pick, but it still has very good picture quality.

    If stepping down, we recommend the F5300 from Samsung, which costs much less, though it doesn’t have quite the same level of picture quality. It comes in 51-inch ($1,000 cheaper), 60-inch($1,500 cheaper), and 64-inch ($1,800 cheaper) screen sizes. The F5300 isn’t as bright as the F8500, doesn’t have as good a contrast ratio, and doesn’t look as good in bright rooms, but still has very good picture quality.

    If saving a lot of money is your goal, we recommend getting our pick for Best $500 TV, which is only 720p but has excellent picture quality for the price. And it is, you know, $500. Similar to the F5300, the F4500 (our $500 pick) isn’t as bright as the F8500, nor is its contrast ratio as high. And it’s got that lower resolution of 720p (the F8500 and F5300 are both 1080p sets). So the F8500 looks a lot better, for a lot more money.