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    Customizing a Pelican Case with Our Laser Cutter

    Sean works on a quick project to improve our camera lens storage using the shop's Universal Laser Systems laser cutter. This custom Pelican Case storage topper helps label our gear and protect the breakout foam from wearing down over use!

    How Home Mesh Networks Beef Up Your Wi-Fi

    The devices we use today are reliant on wireless communications. Smartphones, computers, and even video game consoles all access the internet through signals known as Wi-Fi. However, due to the complexities of radio signals, a single access point for Wi-Fi doesn't cut it in some situations. Mesh networks provide more coverage while also maintaining speeds. They have been utilized in the enterprise space for years now, and this technology has finally made its way to the home.

    Wi-Fi

    In order to understand mesh networks and its importance we need to know what Wi-Fi itself is and how it works.

    The majority of wireless communications and data transfers are done via radio waves; a type of electromagnetic radiation that propagates in as many as three dimensions through the environment at the speed of light. Artificial radio waves can be tuned to a wide range of wavelengths and frequencies which are sectioned off for different purposes and regulated by government agencies and international groups of experts. Radio communications in their simplest form involves a source transmitting data and something tuned to the same radio wave specifications to receive the transmission.

    The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE, typically pronounced "eye triple-e") is the body responsible for the 802.11 standards our Wi-Fi capable devices use. Most devices made today support the 802.11n revision at either 2.4GHz or 5GHz, or the more recent 802.11ac revision which only operates at 5GHz. Each new version of the standard makes some sort of improvement, generally coming in the form of better throughput. The 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies are the radio bands that Wi-Fi is allowed to operate within, and is broken down further into channels that operate within tens of megahertz of the band.

    There are pros and cons to using Wi-Fi at either 2.4GHz or 5GHz. Most channels for 2.4GHz overlap with one another, which can cause interference. And while 5GHz 802.11ac may be the new hotness, most devices still use 2.4GHz which causes more congestion. Then there's the fact that other technology, such as bluetooth and microwaves, operate at 2.4GHz as well, which causes interference. The 5GHz band tends to have much faster data speeds. However, due to the faster propagation of the wave it also breaks down faster, especially through solid objects, and so the 2.4GHz band has a longer range.

    For years there have been ways to mitigate the shortcomings of Wi-Fi signals.

    This Old FX Shop: Dinosaur Garage Kits

    Back in Frank's shop, we take on our next garage kit challenge: dinosaur busts we found at this year's Monsterpalooza. These reptiles have lots of sculptural detail to bring out with paint, so Norm and Frank look to nature for inspiration and reference for their distinct approaches.

    The Best Gaming Mouse for Most Gamers

    The right mouse can make the difference between a won or lost game where valuable skill points are on the line.

    After spending over 15 hours scouring the internet for gaming mouse reviews and with over a decade of competitive gaming experience, we feel comfortable recommending the Logitech G403 as the best gaming mouse for most people.

    The mouse has the best sensor on the market, solid buttons suited for MOBAs and FPS, a wired and an actually good wireless version, and a size and shape that will fit most hands. At $62 bucks for the wired and $80 for wireless, we feel the mouse is worth the higher-end price.

    Another great mouse that works for a large variety of games is the Razer DeathAdder Elite. The DeathAdder features an iconic ergonomic design, a responsive sensor and buttons also suited for MOBAs and FPS.

    The DeathAdder isn't the pick for a couple of reasons. The mouse is a little too large for the average hands and Razer has had a few build quality issues. Those two things put it just short of a recommendation in comparison to the solid Logitech G403.

    We felt comfortable picking a right handed mouse when factoring that 90% of the population is right-handed. A lot of left-handers use right handed mice anyway.

    No mouse is perfect — there's no such thing as one mouse fits all, so we've written a guide on what to look for and provided some alternatives for different priorities.

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (May 2017)

    The first round of flagship phones in 2017 are in the open and the reviews are in. So, which one is most deserving of your money? And what about those phones from the tail end of 2016? Maybe one of those is best. It can be hard to know what to buy when there are so many solid phones, but you can (probably) only get one, and it should be the right one. Let's break it down.

    Carriers Phones: Samsung Galaxy S8 vs. LG G6

    Of all the phones you can get from carriers, there are two that stand out: the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG G6. They're available everywhere, have powerful hardware, and nice design. They are not completely equal on all things, though.

    The LG G5 was a flop—I think we can all agree on that now. LG did what it had to do in order to remain competitive in the face of Samsung's non-stop onslaught. LG has left a few anachronisms behind and improved its design to claw its way back with the LG G6. Firstly, this phone looks nice. It has a glass and aluminum frame, similar to Samsung phones. There's no more removable battery on this phone, just a 3300mAh seal-in li-ion cell. It'll make it through the day, but not much more. The non-removable battery made it feasible for LG to make this phone water-resistant as well.

    When you first look at the G6, it's clear there's something unusual going on. But it's unusual in a good way. The LG G6 has a 5.7-inch LCD display, but it has a different aspect ratio of 18:9. That means the display is very tall. The phone's bezels have been shrunken way down, and the screen has rounded corners. The display has a resolution of 1440 x 2880, so some apps render a bit oddly. The upshot: you get a lot more screen area in the same footprint. It makes a difference, too. The G6 is very comfortable to hold, and you can use it fairly well with one hand. That's not something you can usually say about phones with a 5.7-inch display.

    LG is still doing the rear-facing fingerprint sensor/power button combo, and it works quite well. This is the right place for a fingerprint sensor, in my opinion. It's infinitely better than the Galaxy S8's fingerprint sensor, which is far too high up on the back.

    Everything You Need to Know About Custom Mechanical Keyboards

    Mechanical keyboards come in all shapes and sizes, many of which you can find on Amazon or via some other retailer. If you need a new board, buying a pre-built one is the cheapest and easiest way. However, building a custom keyboard gives you the chance to choose everything from the case material, to the switches, to the keycaps.

    A WhiteFox with GMK Hyperfuse caps

    The popularity of custom keyboards has exploded in the last few years, making it a confusing and intimidating hobby to pick up. Let's break it all down.

    Layouts and firmware

    One of the things you'll notice about custom keyboards rather quickly is they tend to have unusual layouts, and they're often tiny compared to the standard full-sized 104-key layout. There are tenkeyless (80%) boards that lack a number pad, but also 65%, 60%, and smaller. A 60% is fairly common these days—these boards have only the main alphas, number row, and modifiers. The arrows and other keys are accessible via a function layer. A 65% board adds back the arrows and a few extra keys, but 40% boards go the other way with the alpha keys and a just a few modifiers. Then there are various split and ergonomic boards, like the Ergodox.

    Some of these are available as niche pre-built keyboards, but there's one main difference between those and a truly custom board. A custom board is programmable, meaning you can have any of the keys do whatever you want. This is extremely important when you're dealing with fewer physical keys because you will need at least one robust function layer to fit in all the standard keyboard commands.

    A RedScarf II with DSA Overwatch caps

    The firmware on a custom keyboard offers much more power than the desktop clients many fancy "gamer" keyboards use. After a board is programmed with your preferred layout, it doesn't rely on any software on a computer. It works exactly the same no matter which device you plug it into. The things you can do are also much more advanced. Some boards include advanced macro support or the option to control the mouse cursor.

    A smaller keyboard layout can be much more efficient than a full sized one. By relegating some commands to a function layer, your hands don't have to move as far while typing, and your mouse stays closer to your hands. True, some people can't get by without a full layout and number pad, but most people who think they do are wrong. It's much easier to scale back the size of your board than you think.

    How To Use Contact Cement to Repair Your Foam Builds

    I use a lot of different types of foam for all kinds of projects. Of course, this means that I also have an equally diverse array of adhesives for foam. My workshop has an entire shelf full of epoxies, cyanoacrylates (CA, a.k.a super glue), polyurethane glues, hot glues, aliphatics, you name it. I've gradually sorted out my favorite applications for each type of sticky stuff.

    Since all of my foam-bonding needs have been covered, I've been resistant to experiment with anything new, until recently. A unique repair job spurred me to try Beacon Adhesives' Foam-Tac, a contact cement intended for use on foam. It provided exactly what I needed, a strong, yet flexible bond. None of my other glues would have worked in this situation. Consequently, my glue collection just expanded.

    The broken rudder hinge on this RC model prompted me to expand my glue selection.

    The Repair

    Molded foam RC airplanes often use what is called a "live" hinge on the control surfaces. It's basically just an area of thin foam that can flex freely. Live hinges are convenient, but not always very durable. In fact, one of my recent model airplane acquisitions had shipping damage that completely ripped apart the entire rudder hinge. This particular model is made of Expanded Polyolefin (EPO) foam.

    My normal process for repairing this kind of damage would have involved several steps. First, I would have trimmed back the jagged parts of the ripped foam with an X-Acto knife and/or sandpaper. The next step would be to reattach the rudder using mechanical hinges. This involves cutting aligned slits in both foam parts and gluing the hinges into place with CA. Lastly, I would find a decent color match in my paint stash and touch-up the cut/sanded areas of foam. None of these steps are difficult, but it all takes time and effort.

    Several of my RC buddies have suggested Foam-Tac for these types of repairs in the past. I'm glad I finally listened. The repair process is much faster.

    How to Protect Your Privacy on Android Without Making Your Smartphone Dumb

    Your Android phone knows where you are and what you're doing, and it'll share that data with Google and any number of app developers. If you're a privacy-minded individual, you might not want to fling your data around freely. At the same time, you bought a smartphone in order to make use of all its cool features. There is a middle ground between being completely open and shutting off all your phone's features. Let's try to find it.

    Secure your location data

    You will hear plenty of people advocating turning off location completely to enhance privacy, but I don't think you need to go that far on newer version of Android. There are plenty of times you do want an app to be able to access your location. It's better to make use of Android's built-in permission system and disable automatic tracking through Google.

    You may not realize, but Google maintains a full history of where your phone has been. You can see it in the Maps app under "Your Timeline." If you don't like the idea of your phone constantly uploading your location to Google, you can disable that in the settings. It's under Settings > Location > Location History. You can turn it off with the toggle at the top, and your phone will stop uploading your location to Google.

    Next, it's time to take advantage of the permission system Google rolled out in Marshmallow. Head to the settings and find the app permissions list. Sometimes this is hidden in the overflow menu. One of the entries in the permission list will be location. Tap that and you get a list of all apps on your phone that request the location permission. You can turn all of them off here if you want, or just leave the essentials on. Apps will request location when you open them, but that can be denied.

    Making a Laser-Cut Nintendo Switch Stand

    Here's a simple and timely project for your laser cutter: a custom Nintendo Switch stand that holds it at more usable angle than the built-in kickstand and allows USB-C port access for charging. Frank sketches out the design and puts it together using threaded rod. Download the SVG file here!

    The Risks of Buying A Cheap RC Truck

    It's definitely true that you get what you pay for. But as a noob, it's often difficult to recognize or understand what you sacrifice with a bottom-end model. So let's take a look at one of the least expensive 1/10-scale hobby-grade RC trucks available, the ECX Amp, and analyze the pros and cons of pinching pennies.

    Analyzing the Amp

    The Amp is a 2-wheel-drive truck that comes pre-built or as a kit. Both versions are priced at $130 and include a radio, battery, and charger. You only need to add 4 AA batteries for the transmitter. The kit version also requires paint for the clear plastic body. Obviously, the pre-built version will get you on the road sooner. But the kit version will jump start your knowledge of how RC cars work. Learn now or learn later. The choice is yours.

    I highly recommend choosing a 1/10-scale model for your first RC car. They are large enough that the components are easy to work on. At the same time, these cars and trucks are not so large that replacement parts and hop-ups are prohibitively expensive.

    The ECX Amp is one of the least expensive hobby-grade trucks available. What do you sacrifice by going cheap?

    Like most modern off-road models, the Amp has a molded plastic chassis, long suspension arms and oil-filled coil-over shocks. I've crashed the truck into a few immovable objects and it has proven to be tough.

    The transmission has a gear-type differential. Many racing cars and trucks use limited-slip differentials. While limited-slip diffs allow tuning options, they are also more difficult to assemble and require maintenance. Gear differentials are very tough and work well in most situations. They're definitely the best bet for newcomers.

    This Old FX Shop: Interstellar Model Kit

    We pay homage to Christopher Nolan's Interstellar by building model kits based on the practical miniatures used in the film's production. Frank and Norm each make a Ranger spaceship, showing painting, masking, and weathering for this scale model.

    This Old FX Shop: Miss Monster's Masks

    One of our favorite aritsts is Melita Curphy--aka Miss Monster--who sculpts beautiful figures and masks with a distinct techno-organic style. We're thrilled to paint two of her masks on this episode of This Old FX Shop!

    How To Mold and Cast Foam Props!

    Our very own Frank Ippolito shows you how to make simple silicone molds to cast and paint foam replicas of props like shop tools! We go over the moldmaking process and show how self-skinning expanding foam can make great-looking stunt props for your projects.

    Shop Tips: How To Use Spray Paint Nozzle Tips

    This week's tip from Frank Ippolito is about actual tips--for spray cans, that is. Frank shows Norm how he uses different nozzle caps for different effects when spray painting props and signage in his shop. Whether you run a large workshop or just work out of your garage, we want to hear your shop tips that you rely on in your projects. Post them in the comments below!