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    Building the Perfect Desk Part 3 - Beginnings Are Tough

    My desk is progressing nicely, thanks for asking. After absorbing last week's feedback from a bunch of people, I made some modifications to the initial design for my legs and made triple sure I was good with the height of the tray, the desktop, and the overall dimension of the desk. Assuming everything continues to go well, I'm set on the design, I just need to build it.

    I started actual construction this week (we'll have video up on the site in the next week or two) with the wooden top. After consulting a few people, the universal suggestion was to start with the piece I was most comfortable with, which will then serve as a template for the welded steel frame.

    After I put together my cut list I realized I could build the entire top out of a single sheet of plywood. I went down to our local hardwood supply shop, MacBeath Hardwood, and picked out a lovely sheet of A/C maple plywood. But I'd forgotten how tough actually making the first cut is. After measuring, remeasuring, squaring everything and spending as much time as I could delaying, I finally made the first cut. While I didn't get quite as much done as I'd hoped on the first day, I did managed to completely break down the sheet of plywood and get the first few pieces glued, and I did one of the trickier bits of carpentry that will be required. I have a bit more gluing to do next week, when I'm back in the shop, and then it's on to welding.

    So, what are you working on this weekend? Are you working on a project, cooking something, playing board games, or something else? Post your weekend plans in the comments below!

    The Best $500 Projector Today

    If I were in the market for a $500 projector, I’d buy the Acer H5380BD. I base this on 40 hours of research and objective testing with over $20,000 of test gear and side-by-side comparisons with the main competition. The H5380BD offers the best overall picture quality in its class; minus a slight resolution bump (720p down from 1080p), our pick here is surprisingly comparable to our $1,000 projector pick. The H5380BD is bright, has a decent contrast ratio, and its color accuracy is similar to other projectors in its price range

    Fed decent video content (like Blu-ray), the H5380BD puts out an extremely watchable image. And its input lag is low—faster than most TVs and high-end projectors—making it a good choice for gaming.

    However, the difference between several runners-up was very close. The H5380BD is very similar to the $389 Vivitek D557W and $604 D803W. All perform reasonably well, given their prices, and each has its own picture quality issues. So while we feel the H5380BD is the best for reasons we’ll explain in this guide, the difference between it and its two main competitors is very close.

    The Acer H5380BD compares well to our favorite $1,000 projector for half the price. It’s bright, has good contrast ratio, and has great overall picture quality.

    If for whatever reason the Acer becomes unavailable temporarily, we recommend getting the aforementioned $389 Vivitek D557W. It doesn’t look quite as good, with slightly more washed out colors and a lower contrast ratio, but its picture quality is fairly similar, just as bright, and a bit cheaper.

    If you’re susceptible/hateful of the DLP artifact known as “rainbows,” check out the Epson 730HD. It’s brighter than our pick but has a much worse contrast ratio, so it doesn’t look as good overall. It’s LCD, though, so no rainbows.

    If you have a small room or want a “short throw” projector that only needs to be a few feet from the screen, consider the $589 Optoma GT760. It puts out a similar image to the Acer and Vivitek, but isn’t as suitable for a more traditional projector/screen placement.

    Living with Photography: Eyes Up Here

    Going to run through a simple but practical tip today--something I've been trying out lately and has been working well. It's about being able to properly focus on your subject when you're using your camera's autofocus system. As I've mentioned before, one of the reasons I prefer using a DSLR over a mirrorless camera is the optical viewfinder. The clarity of the real-time image you see through a DSLR's lens, by way of mirror, cannot be matched by an LCD or EVF, even though those systems let you see exactly what the camera sensor is registering. It doesn't matter if your camera's LCD or EVF has 3.8 million dots; the resolution of reality is only limited by the rods and cones in your eyes. That degree of clarity is a tremendous help with finding focus, with the trade-off being that you don't get the same kind of digital overlay that you would get on an LCD, like edge peaking.

    My method for finding focus is a pretty standard one--using the center focus point in one-shot AF mode to find my focus and then reframing the shot to get the composition I want. There are a few reasons I choose center focus instead of full-on autofocus, which may apply to your shooting style. The first is that DSLRs have a limited number of autofocus points. On the Canon 6D, that number is on the low side, at 11. A high-end model like the 5D Mark III has many more (61 points), which makes autofocus much more useful and accurate as a guiding tool. But even with many auto-focus points, not all of them have the same abilities. The autofocus points on a DSLR are phase-detect sensors, but some of them can only detect contrast along one dimension (either vertical or horizontal), while some are cross-type, meaning that they can detect details across two axes. The center autofocus point is also typically the best at doing its job, with the center point on the 6D rated to detect detail at a full stop of lower than its siblings.

    Additionally, the array of autofocus points on a camera sensor are usually grouped toward the center of the frame, in a cross-like pattern. You're not going to get autofocusing ability near the edges of the frame, much less the corners. So while you can manually set which specific autofocus point (or grouping of points) to use in a specific shot, that's only going to work if the subject you want in focus is covered by that array. In the simulated viewfinder image below, the auto-AF system wouldn't be able to focus on either of the players' faces, or even the basketball. Even if your subject is withing the AF grid, manually selecting that point can take precious seconds away from the shot, and compromise your ideal composition. By default, DSLRs require that you press the AF Grid button before tapping the directional pad to select your AF point. But even when you turn this off in the camera's menus, I find that it's not as fast as using center focus and then readjusting the framing .

    Image credit: DPReview

    The problem with using the center point autofocus method, though, is that you leave yourself susceptible to losing that focused point through the simple act of reframing.

    The Search for the Perfect Desk—Redesigning

    Last week, I told you about my plans to build a custom desk for myself and asked for your feedback. Boy did you have feedback.I thought about the design most of the week and sat down last night to work on an updated design before deciding to simply start over from scratch. I kept the desk's top itself basically the same, but I removed the monitor stand because several people suggested that attaching articulated VESA mount arms to the wall is cheaper and less wobbly than desk mounts. I was bummed to lose an excuse to learn to weld, but c'est la vie. I also ditched the solid wooden sides--while they looked cool in a render, I don't think they'd be as awesome in real life, and they'd make the entire desk crazy heavy. I talked about routing holes out of the wood with a couple of people, but that didn't particularly appeal to me, it seemed like it would be difficult to duplicate on two sides, and it would waste a ton of material. Even if I wasn't using some fairly expensive plywood for the desk, a design that wasted a third of my material doesn't appeal to me.

    Eventually I realized the answer to my leg problem included welding, and I was much happier. I realized that I could make the desk's frame out of either 1-inch (as sketched up now) or maybe 3/4-inch (if 1-inch is crazy overkill instead of just overkill) square steel tube. And best of all, because it's my desk, I could make the legs exactly the right height for me--they don't need to be adjustable.

    With that figured out, I was able to move forward quickly. I designed the desktop to rest atop the steel tube frame, held in the appropriate place by a couple of notches. I also built a sliding tray with a rigid fold-down door that mimics the one on my wife's desk, which I've long admired. I currently have the keyboard tray mounted to the square steel tubes, but I may actually attach it to the wooden desk top itself. It will require a little tweaking and may be slightly more difficult to make, but I'd be able to convert the entire desk into a flat work bench just by lifting the top off. Without a monitor resting on the top surface, my thought is that this should probably be easier than it sounds.

    As before, I'd love feedback. I still need to add a couple of shelves and figure out cable management. I'm planning on adding at least two shelves--one hanging shelf designed to fit a decent-sized mid-tower PC case plus a wide but shallow shelf sized to fit a power strip, network switches, USB hubs, consoles. Since I'm mounting my monitors on the wall, I'll likely run the cables needed for them through the wall itself, but that will require the addition of a HDMI switcher and a few other tricks. Even with the additional hardware, mounting two monitors on the wall will be cheaper than a single articulated arm designed to be mounted on a desk. What do you guys think? I'm planning on starting construction next week, so my next step will be planning materials, sketching my cuts on a piece of 4x8 plywood, and, you know, learning to weld.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Boats Boats Boats!

    Although I’ve owned a few RC boats over the years, they are my least familiar RC vehicle by far. In many regards, writing this guide has been an example of “learning by teaching”. Looking back to the first article of this series, you may recall that I recommended the AquaCraft Reef Racer 2 for anyone just starting out in RC power boats. I own a Reef Racer myself--three of them actually. They’re a little addictive. I recently stepped up to a brushless-powered speedboat as well. And both boat types have been unexpectedly fun in unique ways. Let’s take a look.

    The AquaCraft Reef Racer 2 is an ideal boat for beginners. It is not very fast, but it is extremely nimble.

    Inside the Reef Racer 2

    The Reef Racer comes as a complete package with the boat, a pistol-grip radio, battery, and charger. It is available in six different colors. Each boat color also represents a different radio frequency, so you can operate different color boats simultaneously. The Reef Racer also comes completely assembled as well. All that you have to is charge the battery and head to the nearest lake.

    The drive system for the boat is very simple. An electric motor near the front of the boat is connected to a shaft that runs towards the back of the boat and out through the bottom of the hull. This shaft is contained within a tube that is filled with grease (called a stuffing tube). The grease in the tube provides lubrication and also prevents water from entering the hull. At the end of the shaft is the propeller.

    With the top shell and watertight covers removed, you can see the layout of the components within the Reef Racer’s hull. Note the on/off switch that I felt was unnecessary and removed.

    To keep the motor running relatively cool, it is wrapped with a coil of aluminum tubing. This coil is connected with flexible tubing to a water pickup in the bottom of the hull. As the boat moves forward, water is forced into the pick-up and through the coil to provide conductive cooling of the motor. Once through the coil, the water is dumped overboard.

    Steering for the Reef Racer is accomplished via a completely submerged rudder placed just behind the propeller. A shaft on the rudder protrudes into the hull where a small servo actuates it in either direction. It is a very simple and effective system.

    How To Make Your Own Giant Papercraft Head

    If you saw us at Maker Faire this year, you may have caught us bumbling about wearing big versions of our heads, giving high-fives and confusing children. A bunch of people we met asked what these masks were made of, and how we built them to look so much like our own heads. These paper heads were constructed using a combination of cool techniques and software: photogrammetry with PhotoScan, modeling in Maya, and papercrafting with Pepakura. The heads took about about two weeks to build from start to finish, including several long nights of paper cutting and gluing, right up until the morning of Maker Faire. They were laborious to make, but it's technically a project that anyone can do without previous papercrafting experience. Of course, knowing what I know now about the process, I would've done several things differently to streamline the build. Having just a few more days of time for putting the heads together would've gone a long way to making them look so much better, but I think they still turned out great for the first attempt.

    So for anyone who wants to build their own giant papercraft heads, I'm going recap the steps of the project from start to finish, guiding you with tips that I learned from time around. Photogrammetry expert Brandon Blizard, who did the modeling work on this project, also has some tips for how to image your visage for use in Pepakura. And for those with more experience with this kind of Pepakura papercrafting, please share your own tips in the comments below.

    Step 1: Capture Your Head with Photogrammetry

    The first thing we needed to do was get a digital copy of our heads. This could've been done a few different ways, ranging from a completely manual process to a fully-automated one. On one end, we could have sculpting a model from scratch in a CAD program like Maya or Sketchup, which requires 3D sculpting skills we didn't have. This method also doesn't give us an image texture for our faces. On the other end, we could have generated a computer model of our heads using a 3D imager, like a hand-held laser or optical scanner. 3D Systems makes one, but these tools are generally pretty expensive.

    We went with a middle ground--somewhat automating the modeling with photogrammetry. That's the process of generating a 3D model computed from the processing of numerous photographs, all taken around one subject from a multitude of angles. Photogrammetry apps like 123D Catch would've worked for our needs, but we invited Brandon to our office to take high-resolution photos using a DSLR rig to import into a piece of software called PhotoScan.

    We've previously detailed the basics of Photogrammetry software and hardware along with some best practices for taking your photogrammetry pictures in these guides.

    The Best Cheap Camera Under $200

    If you want to buy a decent, basic point-and-shoot for less than $200, you’ll probably be best off buying the $179 Canon 340 HS (the IXUS 265 HS elsewhere). It combines extreme ease of use with sharp photo quality, complete with vibrant colors and low noise levels. This means you’ll be able to just flip this thing on and take a good photo without having to fiddle with manual controls (good for situations where you won’t have time or patience to focus much on your camera, like outings with friends or kids’ birthday parties). The 12x zoom capabilities and built-in Wi-Fi that can sync photos to your computer are nice features to have as well.

    This is a replacement for our pick from last year, the Canon 330 HS, that manages to fix some of the more frustrating problems with that model. Notably, the old 330 HS had a major battery life bug that made it just about unusable for recording videos.

    The Canon 340 HS can fit in your pocket, has a 12x optical zoom, and the automatic image quality to ensure that, really, all you have to do is point and shoot.

    But the 340 HS isn’t perfect: Though better than its predecessor’s, its battery life leaves something to be desired. Photos taken while zoomed in all the way at 12x can be fuzzy due to the nature of shooting at full zoom. And its high-burst mode, while useful, can’t shoot at full resolution, meaning you’re sacrificing speed for image quality if you shoot in that mode.

    The Most Comfortable Ergonomic Keyboard Today

    If buying an ergonomic keyboard to keep my wrists and fingers comfortable while typing for hours on end, I'd get the ~$71 Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic keyboard (there’s also a ~$84 version with a mouse). Out of 15 ergonomic keyboards I researched and the nine I tested, the Sculpt was most comfortable thanks to a great wristpad design, a removable negative-slope attachment and chiclet keys that should feel familiar to anyone who owns a laptop today. When I'm not gaming, I'd rather use this keyboard than any other keyboard I've ever owned or tested.

    The Sculpt Ergonomic isn’t perfect, though. The keyboard’s keys don’t feel as good as mechanical keys, though they’re still much better than most membrane keys. The function and escape keys are also smaller than I’d like, and not everyone is a fan of the split-off number pad, though I think this is an important trade-off for the keyboard’s ergonomics, as it allows you to place your mouse closer to the main keyboard (which we discuss later on).

    The Best Business Laptop Today

    If I had to get a no-BS, reliable laptop for everyday work—and an ultrabook just wouldn't cut it—I'd get the Lenovo Thinkpad T440s. It's fast, durable (military-specification certified for ruggedness, among other things), highly configurable, and user-serviceable. And it has ports and features that business people need and ultrabooks generally lack. But if you don't need all the ports, the hot-swappable batteries, or the bulk of the ThinkPad, consider the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro. If you dig ThinkPads, want something smaller, and our main pick is no longer available, we also like the ThinkPad X240.

    How we picked/what is a “business laptop” anyway?

    For most people, an ultrabook like the MacBook Air or the Acer Aspire S7-392 is the right laptop. Most people don’t need hot-swappable batteries, upgradable components, a VGA port, a SmartCard reader, or any of the other mainstays of business laptops. Unless they do, in which case our regular ultrabook picks just won’t cut it. They need something else, something we’re calling a “workhorse” or business laptop. (We discuss more on this later in the “What makes a good workhorse laptop?” section.)

    Workhorse laptops are for road warriors and business people who need decently equipped laptops they can count on.

    Workhorse laptops are for road warriors and business people who need decently equipped laptops they can count on. A good workhorse should have enough battery life to last you an entire cross-country flight. It should be rugged enough that you don’t need to baby it, but portable enough that you don’t feel like you’re weighed down. It should be fast enough to deal with normal office workloads—no gaming and minimal video editing required. This means we’re looking for a current-generation Haswell ULV processor with integrated graphics, 8GB of RAM, and as much solid state storage as we can get.

    It needs a high-quality, high-resolution screen—1920×1080 is the sweet spot—and a rock-solid keyboard and trackpad. It should have fast, reliable Wi-Fi. You should be able to plug it into an external monitor, an Ethernet cord, a USB 3.0 flash drive, or a projector without hunting around for an adapter. Basically, it has to be good at everything. Ideally it’d have a 13- or 14-inch screen and weigh less than four pounds.

    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.