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    Living with Photography: Angling the Plane of Focus

    The lure of bokeh in photography is strong. To the untrained eye, an out-of-focus background is correlated to a better photo, or at least the use of more expensive camera equipment, than a "flat" photo. That's why there's software to artificially add bokeh to photos by strategically blurring the background. And that's why many new photographers use wide-aperture lenses and shoot with the widest F-stop available to them. It's not something I recommend, but there's also technically nothing wrong with shooting wide open. You just have to know what you're getting into, and whether or now it's giving you the kind of photos you really want.

    Photo credit: Flickr user janitors via Creative Commons.

    Case in point, ever since getting the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens, I've shot the vast majority of my photos at the maximum aperture. A glance at my Lightroom Analytics from WonderCon, for example, shows that all but four of my photos were taken at f/2.8. Part of this is because I know what kind of depth-of-field that aperture gives me with a full-frame sensor, and part of it is because I'm not attuned to subtle DOF changes while in the moment, when I'm thinking about shifting ISO and shutter speeds. Optical viewfinders don't do a very good job approximating the depth-of-field of a resulting photo. I stick with f/2.8 for now while I try to master the camera's other attributes, and take advantage of the amount of light it gives me.

    But when shooting at a fixed and relatively wide aperture, there are smarter things you can do with your composition that dramatically affect how a photo turns out. That's something I've recently become much more aware of; that while shooting, my brain tries to visualize the plane of focus where the parts of my subjects are sharp. And that by adjusting the camera angle and composition, I can manipulate that plane of focus to put more of the subject in focus without having to change the aperture.

    The plane of focus (not to be confused with a camera's focal plane) is an imaginary two-dimensional plane that "slices" through your scene. Everything lying on that plane is in focus, and objects in front or in back of it are out of focus, to various degrees depending on the camera and optics. The plane lies parallel to the camera sensor, so as you tilt your camera, the plane moves along with it. For some of the photos below, I've Photoshopped an approximation of the plane of focus as it intersects with the subjects.

    Let's take a look at this photo above, taken when we visited Frank Ippolito for the painting of the Zoidberg Project. As Frank was working, I was maneuvering around him snapping up photos of the painting process. I wanted to capture the detail not only of the paint job, but of the fine wrinkles and creases in the mask sculpt. So using auto-focus, I pinpointed the focus on Zoidberg's tentacles--the equivalent of his nose. And while I got those tentacles in focus, the result was an unflattering photo, because the rest of the mask was lost in the bokeh. When taking portraits, one of the most important parts of a subject to get in focus is their eyes--it's what viewers draw their own eyes toward--and focusing on the nose usually means losing focus on the eyes. And yes, while this Zoidberg mask didn't even technically have eyes yet, I wanted to find a way to get both his eye sockets and tentacles in focus at the same time. The solution was simple.

    The Best $100 In-Ear Headphones Today

    If I had around $100 and had to choose one pair of in-ear headphones to buy, I’d get the Beyerdynamic MMX 102iE. After researching more than 100 headphones and testing more than two dozen with our expert listening panel, the Beyerdynamic MMX 102iE were the one pair our listening panel could all agree on. They’re not perfect—although they have a useful universal remote button that works with iOS and Android devices, along with a functioning microphone and a Skype adapter, they unfortunately lack volume controls. However, they are light, have an exciting sound, and fit well enough that you might forget they’re in your ears, all for $109.

    Our previous pick, the Sony XBA-C10IP, are still technically our favorite. When compared to the Beyerdynamic, not only are they more evenly balanced sonically across the all frequency ranges, they’re much less expensive. Alas, the Sonys have been discontinued (more on this later), which is why we decided to re-visit this guide.

    How did we pick a winner?

    Since we still like our previous pick but it’s unavailable to most of the public, we were forced to find a new favorite. First I interviewed experts. Steve Guttenberg of CNET’s Audiophiliac added a few potential favorites, and I also read as many reviews as possible, including those by Tyll Hertsens on Inner Fidelity, and In Ear Matters’ List.

    Once I had a grasp on what the pros were saying, I took to Amazon and Best Buy to see what customer reviews were available. Anything with four stars or more was considered.

    Finally, I contacted every company that we know makes in-ear headphones in this price range and called in anything that was brand-new to the market since our last review.

    The Best microSD Card Today

    After eight hours of research and 15 hours of testing, we determined that the 32GB Samsung EVO is the best microSD card for phones and tablets. It has fast sequential and random read/write speeds, the latter of which are important if you’re using this card as additional storage for your mobile device.

    The Samsung EVO has fast random read and write speeds for storing and retrieving app data, and is also fast enough to handle 1080p video recording. However, for those using a GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition, we think the 64GB SanDisk Extreme is the best option because it’s the most affordable and lots of Amazon reviewers report back that it’s a reliable option.

    The Samsung EVO card is faster than our previous pick, the 32GB SanDisk Ultra, and also $6 more expensive. We think it’s worth it for the faster 4KB random and sequential speeds across the board. Still, there are no major flaws with the SanDisk Ultra, and it’s a decent option if our (new) main pick is sold out.

    The Best SD Card Today

    After 15 hours of research and another 15 hours of testing, we determined that the 32GB SanDisk Extreme Plus is the best SD card for most people because it’s reasonably priced and it comes with a lifetime warranty. Oh, and it ended up being the fastest of all the ones we tested after our burst shooting tests, file transfers, and benchmark tests.

    The SanDisk Extreme Plus is fast enough to handle 1080p video recording and significantly improves burst shooting and photo transferring over our previous recommendation, the SanDisk Extreme 45 MB/s. Those shooting 4K video and professionals who know they need it should use UHS-3-rated cards recommended by their camera’s manufacturer, but the SanDisk Extreme Plus is fast enough for everyone else.

    How we picked

    …the most important spec for SD cards is write speed.

    The most important features of an SD card are speed, price, reliability, and warranty. Full-size SD cards are most commonly used in cameras for storing image and video files as you shoot them. Because most cameras can take photos faster than they can write them to storage, images are first saved to a small-but-speedy buffer. Once the buffer is full, the images have to be written to the SD card before you can shoot more photos. Many DSLRs have continuous shooting modes—a.k.a. burst shooting—that fill the buffer much faster than the camera can clear it. The faster the card, the faster this buffer clears and you can start shooting again. Therefore, the most important spec for SD cards is write speed.

    Read speed is useful for reviewing photos on the camera and emptying the card onto a computer with a USB 3.0 reader. It’s not as important as write speed but is often faster, so manufacturers like to brag about the read speed on the label.

    Our finalists, all the SD cards we tested.

    Because an SD card holds the only copy of a photo between the time you take it and when you copy it to a computer for editing, it’s important to get a card from a reliable manufacturer with a strong warranty in case anything goes wrong. Many SD cards come with a lifetime warranty.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Upgrading Your Car and Batteries

    In my previous article, I talked about my experience with the ECX Ruckus monster truck and how it brought me back up to speed on current RC technology. One of the challenges that I faced with the Ruckus was that I thought it was too fast for my son to handle. He spent some time driving a slower car and soon had the skills necessary for the Ruckus. That gateway car was a Duratrax Evader BX buggy (which is no longer produced). It was a perfect starter car for him. It was slow enough to keep him out of too much trouble while he honed his driving reflexes. Yet, it was fast enough to get him excited about the hobby, challenge him on occasion, and satisfy the dirt-slinging ambitions of a pre-teen. Once he became comfortable with the Ruckus, however, it was clear that we needed another fast vehicle to keep both of us entertained.

    The modified Evader is slightly smaller than the Ruckus, but its performance is on par. Both are powerful and fast.

    The simplest route would have been to install a more powerful brushed motor and a new set of high-traction tires on the Evader. After briefly considering that option, I decided to modernize the buggy completely. I added ball bearings, a 2.4GHz radio, a brushless motor system and a quasi-monster truck makeover. Let's walk through that upgrade.

    Many RC cars include bronze bushings on their moving parts rather than ball bearings. They work okay for beginners, but they eventually wear down and the tolerances between moving parts get loose. Then things get sloppy, noisy, and draggy. Upgrading to ball bearings reduces quite a bit of friction, but also maintains the same tolerances throughout the life of the car. I purchased a set of ball bearings for the Evader and guided my son through the steps to install them.

    Ball bearings reduce friction between rotating parts, but they also maintain consistent tolerances over time. The bushings included with many starter cars eventually become sloppy and wear out.

    To install the bearings, we had to disassemble the whole transmission. This was a good opportunity for my son to get a look inside the gearbox and get a feel for what it does and how it works. There are also bearings for the rear axles and front wheels. It probably took less about an hour to do the whole thing.

    The radio that came with the Evader worked just fine. However, I wanted not only a 2.4 GHz radio, but something with more adjustability to help control the power I expected out of the souped-up Evader. I ended up with a Futaba 4PLS 4-channel radio system. What a radio! I’ll cover its range of features in the upcoming computer radio overview. But I can say that this is by far the nicest surface radio I’ve ever owned and probably the last one I’ll ever need.

    11 Essential Tweaks for Your New Samsung Galaxy S5

    The Galaxy S5 is finally here, debuting new hardware and software from Samsung. Even those who have owned a Galaxy phone before are sure to find a few unexpected treats in this device. Samsung has traditionally engineered one of the more extreme Android skins, but TouchWiz has come a long way since its early days of iPhone cloning.

    There are some excellent features you'll want to take advantage of, and some you will want to hide as best you can. Let's get your Galaxy S5 in shape!

    Kill Bundled Apps

    Unless you've picked up the unlocked international Galaxy S5, there are going to be some carrier apps cluttering things up. Even the unlocked version will have a couple Samsung services you probably won't want or need. Luckily, Android supports disabling included apps that can't be uninstalled. They still take up a little space, but they won't run in the background or accumulate data.

    Just take a peek in the app drawer and decide what needs to go. Open the main system settings and find Application Manager. Slide over to the All Apps tab and scroll down until you find the app or apps you want to disable. It'll probably be things like bundled navigation apps, caller ID services, security suites, and other unnecessary junk. Open the desired entry and tap "Turn Off." Other Android devices label the button Disable, but it's the same thing.

    You can find all the disabled apps in a tab to the far right in the Application Manager called (predictably) Turned Off. You can go there to turn things back on if you need them.

    The Best Entry-Level DSLR Today

    The Nikon D3300 is, simply put, the best low-end DSLR on the market. It combines some of the best image quality we’ve ever seen at this price with excellent battery life, easy to use controls, and a guide mode to help you learn to use it—all for the extremely reasonable price of $650. Mirrorless cameras are still more portable, but if image quality is your focus, you can’t beat the D3300 for the price.

    Photo credit: Flickr user hrns via Creative Commons.

    Last year, when we put together a previous version of this recommendation, we begrudgingly said the Canon SL1 was the best pick. But honestly, none of them were really worth it as they were all too expensive, lacked image quality, or didn’t have the features we wanted. That has now changed thanks to the D3300. Just look at these comparison photos—it’s not even close.

    But, for a lot of people, a mirrorless camera will do just as well as a DSLR.

    But, for a lot of people, a mirrorless camera will do just as well as a DSLR. If you’re looking for something smaller, lighter, and more affordable, an entry-level mirrorless camera will provide you with the same sharp, bright images as this camera. You just won’t have an optical viewfinder or quite as many lenses to choose from.

    Tested: SaneBox Email Prioritization

    Email has a unique problem. In the beginning, when the Internet was new, email’s general usefulness increased as each new person created an account. It was inexpensive, relatively easy to use, and faster than the alternative. But email had a fatal flaw baked in, it was designed for use on a network where every node was trusted. For a while, the general guidelines that evolved from users for acceptable behaviors on the service were good enough. But as more people connected to the service and the stakes for taking advantage of email's weaknesses increased. Eventually email’s ubiquity became its downfall, and spammers and marketers destroyed the signal-to-noise ratio of the service. Behind every single real email message you receive from someone who you actually want to hear from, there are a dozen or two email newsletters and updates from services and likely several hundred unsolicited spam messages.

    Over the last twenty years, the email problem has gotten progressively worse, until it’s almost beyond the ability of people to imagine. There are dozens of services designed to help people manage their email problem, tools that are built into popular email services, and third-party clients designed explicitly to help you manage email. If you have a common address, you regularly get urgent email from people you've never communicated with before, or your email is posted publicly on the web (like mine is), your email situation is probably even worse. Over the last decade, I’ve tested dozens of different tools to manage email, and I’ve found a service that has made a huge positive impact on my email use.

    The service is called SaneBox. SaneBox filters messages into folders based on relative priority. Messages from users that require immediate attention stay in your inbox, while less urgent emails are moved to a separate folder for you to look at at your convenience. SaneBox monitors your inbox and learns which emails you open quickly, which emails you delete or archive, and which emails you ignore. You can also filter emails into more specialized folders—I’ve added a folder for newsletters and press releases and another folder for notification emails from social networking services, online stores, and financial institutions. SaneBox automates the daily triage that I’ve been doing on my inbox for years, and the big benefit is that I’m able to glance at the contents of these folders quickly, read and act on the email or two that I need from them, and mass archive the rest in just a few moments. Consider me a fan.

    SaneBox also adds a feature that should be part of every email service, the black hole. Move an email to the Black Hole folder and you’ll never see anything from that sender again. Getting marketing spam you didn’t sign up for an can’t unsubscribe to? Black hole it. What about emails from your college’s alumni association? Yup. Once you add it to the black hole, you’ll never see it again. I even use the black hole for PR people who continually blast me with stuff that we’re unlikely to cover—enterprise switches, for example. Of course, if you accidentally add something you need to the black hole list, you can remove them manually. SaneBox also includes a variety of other options, including email-based reminders (bumping messages back into the inbox after a specified length of time) and attachment management (automatically removing attachments from your emails and saving them in a Dropbox or Box account).

    After a week of training, the sorting and prioritization from SaneBox worked better than Gmail's new filtering tabs, with only an occasional mistake. After a month of regular use, I trust it implicitly. It's saving me time, it helps me answer more urgent queries from both people I know and people I don't know.

    SaneBox works on the server side with any IMAP email provider, which is both a pro and a con for the service. On the positive side, it means that the service is totally client-agnostic—it works on desktop clients, web clients, mobile devices, any client that can move messages between folders on an IMAP server. You don’t need to transfer settings between different machines, since all of the settings are stored on SaneBox’s servers. Of course, running on the server side raises some problems as well. The biggest problem, at least from a security standpoint, is that you have to give SaneBox access to your email accounts in order to use the service.

    SaneBox's pricing seems unnecessarily convoluted. They price based on the number of accounts you want to cover, as well as the number of special folders you want to use, and some other special features. The $100/year plan was the one I chose because it would cover my two email accounts. I also have access to the attachment stripping service and reminders, which I didn't find particularly useful. While I initially thought $100 a year was pricey for this kind of service, dealing with email is one of my least favorite tasks, and the time saved has already justified the cost. For what it's worth, with a service that's as important to me as email, I'd much rather pay for the service than use something that was trying to monetize my most private data. If you want a free two-week trial and a $5 credit, you can click my referral link to sign up. (Full disclosure, I get a $5 credit for everyone who signs up using this link.)

    If you don't constantly struggle with email, SaneBox probably isn't worth paying for. For my fairly unique circumstances, it's an incredible tool.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Car Basics and Monster Truckin'

    After a few months of lightly tapping, it’s finally time to pound the drum about RC cars. Of course, there are countless styles of cars that you can get into. For now, I will focus on the type of cars that I recommended for beginners in the first article of this series: 2-wheel-drive, electric-powered, monster trucks.

    Just like every other facet of RC, cars have benefited from recent advancements in radio, motor and battery technology. As I looked over my aging collection of well-used cars, I realized that none in my fleet reflected any of these modern advancements. So I took a two-pronged approach. I procured a new monster truck and I also modernized one of my older cars. Between this guide and a follow-up next week, I will cover my experiences with both projects.

    The Case for RC Cars

    I received my first RC car, a Kyosho Ultima, when I was in middle school. I really just wanted something to play with, but the Ultima turned out to be much more than a toy. Hobby-grade cars like the Ultima are meant to be worked on, and actually require some maintenance. As time went on, I found that I enjoyed wrenching on the car as much as driving it. It was also fascinating to make adjustments to the car and see how they affected its performance. That poor car endured countless modifications at my hand. Some ideas worked, but many didn’t. The Ultima always emerged relatively unscathed, and I got a little smarter each time. More than 25 years later, I still have most of the parts for that Ultima (in working order).

    If a chemistry set is an ideal toy for aspiring chemists, then RC cars will cultivate the minds budding engineers.

    If a chemistry set is an ideal toy for aspiring chemists, then RC cars will cultivate the minds budding engineers. Sure, they can teach you many lessons that carry over to full-size cars, but there is so much more. I learned about 2-stroke engines, electric motors, batteries, gearing, torque, and above all: the value of working with my hands. Countless times while working on space hardware in my professional career, I was able to apply a lesson learned from that Ultima. If, like me, you have a young tinkerer in your house, RC cars may be just the thing to let them explore relatively risk free.

    The Best Wi-Fi Router (So Far)

    If you need to pick up a new router today, you should get the Asus RT-AC56U. It’s not the absolute fastest router on the market, so why do we like it? It turns out that most Wi-Fi tests are performed using technology that even the absolute latest laptops won't see for years, and the speeds touted on the box and in many reviews don't actually reflect real-world speeds. Most of us don’t own devices that would take advantage of that extra technology—even if you own the latest MacBooks, Lenovos, or iPads, according to our (light) tests—so you'd be paying extra for performance you're not likely to experience. Future-proofing yourself at twice the cost (or more) today is not only a bad idea—specs often drift over time—it's also more cost-effective to just upgrade your router again in the future when you get newer technology.

    According to our research, the RT-AC56U offers the best overall performance for the price, and it has an easy-to-use interface to boot.

    The Zoidberg Project, Part 10: Mold Finishing and Foam Latex

    The primary mold for the Zoidberg sculpture is complete, but there are still a few things to do to make this mold functional for casting masks. The first thing I need to do is to drill the bolt holes and add T-nuts to the flange of the mold (the flat parts around the outside that connect the two halves together). Because of the rigidity of the flange, I don't need to put a gajillion bolts in it to keep the mold stable. I start by drilling in a few typical places: near the bottom at the end of the flange, in the middle (corner of the neck) and up at the top of the head (one on either side of the large registration key).

    When I'm placing my bolt holes, I need to pay attention to how close/far away from the sculpture they are. I like getting them as close to the sculpture as possible to keep the mold tight, but keeping in mind the outside of the mold--meaning that if I put the hole too close to the sculpture, I won't be able to get a bolt through the flange. This usually ends up being about an inch or inch and a half from the sculpture. Sometimes, my process leaves a bunch of extra land on the flange, but I like having that extra land for when I'm prying the molds open. If the flange is too short, you can barely get a pry bar or screwdriver in between them to get any leverage for prying. It's all about finding happy mediums.

    To make the mold easier to open and close, I love using T-Nuts. These are little nuts with a flat flange and teeth on them. This makes it so I can glass them onto the outside of the mold and then they won't spin. Since I don't have to fumble with the nuts when bolting and un-bolting the mold, I have the t-nuts permanently attached on the back side. To do this, first I brush a little wax onto the bolt (just to ease the removal) and tighten the T-nut onto it. I cut small squares of the glass cloth and mix up a small amount of freefrom air dough. By spreading the weave a tiny bit in the center of the square, I can push it over the T-nut and laminate it onto the flange with a little Epoxamite 102. Then I'll take a tiny bit of dough and put it around the T-nut and laminate one more square of glass to sandwich it all together. Once this is set up, I'll trim any glass that might be hanging over the edge, and back the bolts out and sand off any glass or resin that is still sticking up where the bolt used to be.

    The Best Portable Hard Drive Today

    After 30 hours of research and nearly 40 hours of testing, we determined that the 2TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim is our new favorite portable hard drive. It’s slimmer, lighter, and faster than our previous pick, the WD My Passport Ultra. However, you should not buy the 4TB version, also known as the Seagate Backup Plus Fast. Though it may seem like a better value, it’s not as reliable (more on this later).

    The 2TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim weighs just 0.33 pounds and is one of the thinnest portable drives out there, measuring .48 inches thick. The Slim also bests our previous pick, the WD My Passport Ultra, in speed, and the drive’s plastic case doesn’t flex or creak under pressure like the WD’s case. The 2TB model is less expensive per terabyte than the 1TB and 500GB models, making it the best value aside from the 4TB Seagate Backup Plus Fast, which you should avoid.

    Photo credit: Flickr user linsinchen via Creative Commons.

    But the WD My Passport Ultra is still a solid alternative should our new pick go out of stock. If you’re in need of a ruggedized drive, our previous recommendation, theSilicon Power Armor A80, is still the best shockproof and waterproof option available. And for professionals or those who know they need a Thunderbolt connection, we still recommend the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt.

    Who should(n’t) buy this

    If your external hard drive is just going to sit on your desk all the time and never budge, you’re better off with a desktop external because it’s faster and you can get more storage for less money. For example, our desktop pick—which isn’t the fastest desktop hard drive out there—has faster read and write speeds by about 30 megabytes per second and is about $20 cheaper per terabyte than our portable recommendation at the time of writing.

    You’ll be paying more per terabyte and sacrificing some speed, but a portable hard drive can be the perfect backup solution for your laptop.

    But if you need an external drive that can be (carefully) tossed in a bag and used on the go, a portable hard drive is just what you’re looking for. You’ll be paying more per terabyte and sacrificing some speed, but a portable hard drive can be the perfect backup solution for your laptop or a way to store photos and other data while traveling or commuting.

    Most portable externals use 2.5-inch hard drives, which are powered entirely by the USB or Thunderbolt connection. This means that portable hard drives don’t need an additional power adapter, unlike desktop external drives, and are consequently more convenient to use while traveling. Portable hard drives are usually much smaller and lighter than their desktop counterparts.

    However, most portable hard drives have smaller platters and slower rotation speeds, which translates to slower read and write times and longer waits for file transfers. The 2.5-inch HDDs typically found in portable drives currently max out at 2TB, compared to 3.5-inch desktop external drives that go up to 4TB. So if you need more than 2TB, you’ll be stuck buying multiple portable externals versus a single desktop drive. Again, portable hard drives are also generally more expensive per terabyte than desktop options.

    The Art of Photogrammetry: Replicating Hellboy’s Samaritan Pistol!

    We’ve gone over the basic concepts and photography techniques on how to capture ideal images for photogrammetry 3D scanning. Now let's get into the meat of the subject and start processing our data so we can see some results. The case study we're going to use is a replica prop from the movie Hellboy, which I found at the Tested office. I spent an afternoon photographing the prop, and processed it using PhotoScan software. Here's how that process went, and what you can learn from it.

    Step 1: Inspecting Your Photos

    For this photogrammetry scan, I used the turntable method to capture photos of the prop pistol, the “Samaritan” from the movie Hellboy. Since the prop is an irregular shape, I didn't put it on an actual turntable or Lazy Susan. It’s propped up on the end of a C-stand pole, which allowed it to be turned a few degrees between shots. I took one "ring" of pictures from slightly above the prop, and another one below. That gave me about 45 photos total. Click here for an example of how one full rotation of photos looked.

    Since the front and the back of the gun aren’t visible from the main sequence, I took another set of photos of the front, and another of the back of the pistol.

    How To Control and Manage Your Android Phone from Your Desktop

    Your smartphone may very well be the hub of your digital life, but there are still times we all need to sit down at a computer to get some work done. At times like that, you don't want to constantly pick up the phone to check notifications, retrieve files, and send messages. There are ways to avoid that by installing a few apps that let you control and manage your Android device from a computer. Your options vary a bit based on how you balance control and convenience.

    Notifications

    One of the core features of Android is the notification framework. Google has added some awesome new features in the last few revisions, but there is one that doesn't get a lot of praise -- the notification listener. This feature was introduced in Android 4.3, so you'll have to be on that version or higher to take advantage of most of these apps and services.

    The notification listener provides a secure way for an app to mirror notifications in both directions. That is, duplicate the notification from the system UI, and also tell the system when a notification has been dismissed so you don't see it in the regular notification shade as well. This framework can be used to duplicate notifications anywhere -- even on a desktop.

    There are a few apps that can be used to monitor all your Android notifications on a computer, but the most popular might be Pushbullet. This app is good for more than just keeping track of your notifications. It can send text, links, addresses, and files between your devices as well. To set up the notification service, just make sure you have the Pushbullet extension running in Chrome or Firefox (yes, that's required) and enable Pushbullet on the phone or tablet you want to monitor.

    The Best Utility Knife Today

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

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

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

    The Zoidberg Project, Part 9: All About Molding

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

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

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

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

    Bits to Atoms: 3D Modeling Best Practices for 3D Printing

    So you’ve managed to build your first 3D creation using modeling software. You send it to the printer and it comes out looking like something sent through a cosmic spatial anomaly. What the heck happened? Building your model on the computer is just the first step to ensure a proper 3D print. Today, we'll go over best practices for modeling and how to prep those models for a good print.

    Photo credit: Tony Buser

    Neatness Counts

    Taking the time to sculpt a neat, clean computer model will prevent headaches down the road. This is particularly true of polygon models where deleting an edge, face, or vertex can quickly make a model unprintable. Using boole operations (adding and subtracting part together) is often used while building models, but can lead to messy models since two pieces of geometry are being combined or subtracted from one another.

    Sloppy modeling can easily occur just in the process of figuring out how to build something. I will often build a quick, rough model to work through the layout, what parts need to be made, and how to build them. I will rebuild the whole thing as a much cleaner model based on the rough version. One of the best pieces of advice I got from my modeling mentor is, ‘don’t be afraid to rebuild something’. It sounds like a drag but rebuilding a model from scratch always goes quicker than the original and it will be a cleaner model, using what was learned from the first version.

    If modeling with polygons, it’s in your interest to keep the mesh in quads (each face is four-sided) and avoid “n-gons” (in modeling, any polygon that is not 4-sided). Modeling with quads makes adjusting the model much easier, whereas n-gons will kind of mess things up. In general, any modeling program will make it easy to model in quads since any primitive (cube, sphere, cone, torus, etc) created will automatically be made out of quads.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Radios and Motors

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

    Putting the “R” in RC

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

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

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

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

    The Best Computer Speakers Today

    If someone asked me what’s the best all-around buy in a 2.0-channel computer or desktop speaker system today, I’d recommend the M-Audio Studiophile AV 40. It offers sound that’s competitive with everything we’ve heard under $300, yet it’s readily available for just $119.

    That said, the AV 40s can be a bit large and not very nice to look at, so we have some alternative picks as well. The Audioengine A2+ is sleekly designed, super-compact, and sounds fantastic, although it isn’t real loud and doesn’t have a lot of bass. The Grace Digital GDI-BTSP201 sounds good (although not as good as the AV 40 or the A2+) and adds Bluetooth wireless plus a user-friendly design and control layout. The Edifier Spinnaker has a cool, cutting-edge design with a handy wireless remote, Bluetooth, and pretty good sound.

    Photo credit: Flickr user mikeporesky via Creative Commons.

    Unfortunately, while all these speakers have okay bass response, if you want really big bass, you’ll probably want a 2.1 system, which will include a separate subwoofer. (It’s difficult or impossible to add a subwoofer to most 2.0 computer speaker systems.) We expect to test 2.1 systems soon.

    The Best Standing Desk Mat (So Far)

    If you use a standing desk, you should also be using an anti-fatigue mat. This will provide support for your feet and relieve pressure on your heels, back, legs, and shoulders, which in turn helps you stand for longer. After hours of research and weeks of foot-on testing, we recommend the Imprint CumulusPro for just under $100. We found it was the most supportive out of the dozens considered and five tested. What’s more, it won't off-gas toxic chemicals, has a ten-year warranty, and feels great to stand on.

    And if our main pick is sold out, we recommend the WellnessMats Original—it’s a little less supportive than our main pick, but it’s a good alternative if you need to buy something now.

    The best way to keep your body happy and healthy while working and reduce the risk of ailments caused by sitting on your butt all day is to split your work day between sitting and standing. You can read more about the dangers of constant sitting in our standing desk guide and blog post about how to stand at your desk.