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    Studying How We Type with Finger Tracking

    Aalto University recently conducted a story about the correlation of finger and eye movement with performance (speed and accuracy) for everyday typing. 52 tracking markers on subjects' fingers were recorded at 240 frames per second, alongside 30fps eye-tracking data to analyze which fingers are used to press which keys, and the differences in typing strategies. The researchers found several surprising results, including that self-taught typists can reach the performance of touch typists, even when using fewer fingers and "hunt-and-peck" techniques.

    In Brief: The Physics of OK Go's Zero-G Music Video

    Yesterday, OK Go dropped their latest music video, Upside Down and Inside Out, which was shot entirely in an airplane making parabolic flights. The result was a stunning choreographed performance in simulated zero-gravity, running over three minutes long. Watching the jaw-dropping video isn't enough to give you an appreciate for the amount of prep work and logistics that was needed to film the piece--three weeks in Russia (by the Cosmonaut Training Center) to design, rehearse, and perform the video. OK Go shared the making-of process in the music video's FAQ page, which explains how each take of the video consisted of eight periods of weightlessness, lasting 27 seconds each. For the physics of how a production team could film with those constraints, Wired's Rhett Allain and Slate's Phil Plait each explain the science of the music video stunt. Astronauts on the ISS, the ball's in your court.

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    Destroying a Soda Can with a Ping Pong Ball!

    We're introducing a new series this week demonstrating Simple Feats of Science! Kishore and Norm are joined by Zeke Kossover from San Francisco's Exploratorium science museum to show how you can destroy a soda can with a ping pong ball moving at almost the speed of sound! (Thanks to the Exploratorium for sharing with us these experiments.)

    What it Takes to Keep a B-29 Superfortress Flying

    Last month, we looked at the dedication and financial resources that are required to keep a WWII-era P-51 Mustang in flyable condition. It is definitely not for the meek or frugal. As civilian-owned warbirds go, the P-51 probably represents the middle of the road in terms of overhead. Many aspiring warbird owners seek former trainer and liaison aircraft because they are generally much easier and less costly to maintain and operate than fighters. At the opposite end of the scale are large, multi-engine transports and bombers. While there are a few of these pricier treasures in private hangars, they often demand resources that only a diverse and well-funded organization can provide.

    When it comes to WWII airplanes, few are bigger and none are more complex than the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. I recently had an opportunity to get an up-close look at FIFI, the only airworthy B-29 in the world. The airplane was at the Vintage Flying Museum in Fort Worth, Texas undergoing off-season maintenance. Just by seeing the huge airplane in the hangar with its massive engines uncowled, it was immediately obvious that it takes a tremendous operation to keep her flying. I later spoke with Kim Pardon and Brad Pilgrim from the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), the nonprofit organization that has owned and operated FIFI for more than 40 years. They were able to provide an insider's perspective of what's involved to keep FIFI in the air year after year.

    Rininger – Keeping FIFI airworthy is a huge financial commitment. All things considered, each hour of flight costs about $10,000. (Photo courtesy Tyson Rininger/Commemorative Air Force)

    Learning About FIFI

    The CAF has numerous WWII-era aircraft operating from various airports around the country…including other 4-engined bombers. Yet, FIFI is the only airplane in your fleet that has a full-time crew. What is it about this airplane that demands the extra resources?

    Brad Pilgrim - FIFI is probably the most maintenance intensive airplane in the CAF's fleet. In order to keep up with the required maintenance and the flying schedule, we have to keep a couple of full-time mechanics on staff.

    Kim Pardon - FIFI is also the only CAF aircraft that generates the kind of revenue it takes to sustain this level of maintenance. Most other CAF aircraft rely primarily on volunteer maintenance. The organization has a lot of dedicated and talented volunteers. Because we (the B-29 crew) travel almost 24 weeks a year we rely heavily on our paid maintenance staff to travel with us and help us fulfill all of our tour obligations.

    Beastcam Photogrammetry Rig Scans Live Animals

    Biology processor Duncan Irschick of UMass Amherst introduces the Beastcam, a four-camera rig that can rapidly take photos of live animals for generating 3D photogrammetry models. The rig, which was conceived of when Irschick found it challenging to 3D model a live shark, can shoot 60 photos in about 15 seconds. The photos are sent through software like Autodesk's 123D Catch and used to study body form in animals and complex movements. Irschick hopes to take it back to Florida to test it on a shark!

    Competition to Make Real-Life Star Trek Tricorders

    The technology imagined by science fiction has driven lots of innovation and interesting research. The Tricorder XPRIZE is a competition to create a device that replicates the functionality of Star Trek's medical Tricorder--one piece of hardware that can diagnose and monitor health conditions.

    Steve Erenberg Collects Scientific Instruments of Yore

    From Science Friday: "For more than 30 years, Steve Erenberg has collected early scientific and medical objects and instruments. Packed with shelves and displays brimming with Victorian medical masks, surreal anatomical models, and futuristic test prostheses, Erenberg's store/museum in Peekskill, New York offers a whirlwind tour of long-forgotten devices. While some items were shams devised by quacks, others represent the best possible treatment for their time. Regardless of its actual function, each item in Erenberg's collection has a unique aesthetic value."

    Tested Chats with Dr. David Miller, NASA's Chief Technologist

    Earlier this year, we had the privilege of chatting with Dr. David Miller, NASA's Chief Technologist, on our Still Untitled podcast. Dr. Miller joined us as part of the Bay Area Science Festival's trip to Alcatraz, where we recorded this podcast episode in front of a live audience. We discussed a wide range of topics, including Dr. Miller's role at NASA, the technological challenges of a Mars mission, the search for Earth-like planets, and much more. Below is a transcript of our conversation, edited for clarity. You can also watch the video of this podcast recording here!

    Will Smith: Welcome to Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project. I'm Will.

    Adam Savage: I'm Adam.

    Norman Chan: And I'm Norm.

    Will Smith: Joining us today we have a very special guest from NASA. We have the CTO of NASA, Dave Miller, joining us. Thank you so much for coming by, Dave.

    David Miller: Thanks for having me, and I can't think of a better place to talk about space exploration than The Rock.

    Norman Chan: Dave, you are the Chief Technologist of NASA--the CTO. Can you give us a little explanation of what you do and what you oversee?

    David Miller: When I first arrived, they told me it's an up and out organization, and I had no clue what that meant. But it really means that is that I focus on long-term strategy and things like technology transfer, how we interact with other companies and transfer the technology we do. We also track emerging space. We also roadmap the various technologies we're going to do. Probably most important, is advising the administrator on all things technology. There's a good, sort of, comparison I can make from The Martian... Who's seen The Martian? Who's read the book? Even better still, that's good. In there, I think he declares himself a space pirate, so let me use that as a way to describe who I am.

    I think of myself as the parrot on the pirate's shoulder. I provide advice to the leadership in the agency, and as long as I keep giving good advice, I stay on that shoulder.

    Adam Savage: It's like, "Awk, want to use ion engines!"

    Return to The Rock - Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project - 12/22/15
    On our recent trip to Alcatraz, we recorded two episodes of Still Untitled in front of a live audience. This second episode features a very special guest: Dr. David Miller, NASA's Chief Technologist. Dr. Miller joins us to talk about the search for Earth-like planets, NASA Spinoffs, and the technological challenges of space exploration. He also shares some weird astronaut stories! (Thanks so much to NASA, Dr. Dave Miller, the US Parks Service, and the Bay Area Science Festival for making this episode possible.)
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    The Challenge of Building Straight Roads on a Spherical Earth

    I drove to Mojave and back from San Francisco for MythBusters recently and took an extra few hours to meander on the beautiful and meditative backroads of California's central valley. Every now and then straight roads that were many miles long would jog one way or another. It didn't even occur to me to ask why, but Dutch photographer (and 2015 artist-in-residence at Wichita's Ulrich Museum of Art) Gerco de Ruijter did, and the answer is freaking cool.

    See what I mean in this Travel and Leisure article about de Ruijter: Mysterious Detour While Driving? It Could Be Due to the Curvature of the Earth

    © 2015, Gerco de Ruijter; Courtesy of the Ulrich Museum, Wichita, Kansas

    If you've learned anything about maps, you'll know the difficulties making flat 2D representations of our planet's compound curved, 3D surface. It's why Greenland looks so freakishly huge on most world maps (the limits of the Mercator projection). Turns out that the problems aren't limited to looking at the Earth from afar. A long, straight road has to eventually correct for the curvature of the Earth, as do property lines.

    I love stuff like this: the macro made tangible by something as mundane as a road we drive on.

    Kevin Dart's Science & Nature Art Show at Gallery 1988

    Artist and friend-of-Tested Kevin Dart passed along word that he has a new show opening this week at LA's Gallery 1988 pop art gallery. Even if you aren't familiar with Kevin's art, you have probably seen his design work in the videogame sequences of Spike Jonze's Her, the Gear VR experience Colosse, and in concept art for Disney's Big Hero Six. Tested fans may best know his art from those awesome NASA-inspired screenprints I've shown displayed in my own home and those Japanese creature t-shirts I've worn in videos. Needless to say, I'm a huge fan.

    Kevin's new art show is called Science & Nature, and is a collaboration between him and six artists: Chris Turnham, Jasmin Lai, Josh Parpan, Justin Parpan, Sylvia Liu, and Tiffany Ford. He describes the theme as "a visual celebration of mankind's scientific endeavors and the natural world from which they are derived." Over email, Kevin elaborated a little further:

    "My primary goal with this show was to draw a visual link between the fields of science and the beauty of nature which inspires all of those scientific achievements. The two things are so inextricably tied together - all science is based on observations made in nature. It's like a never-ending quest to understand everything around us, and so many people have made unbelievable sacrifices to further that goal. I was thinking about this idea for over a year and how awe-inspiring the universe is and wanted create something that would communicate that sense of wonder I feel when I see how hard people are working to help us understand the world we're living in.

    I came up with the idea to compose a bunch of images with the exact same template using a centered circle, so that there is an immediate visual link between everything whether it's an astronaut's sun visor or the neck of a heron. For the other artists in the show, I asked them to think about the same things and create an image of their own interpretation showing how science and nature go hand in hand, and they've all chosen really different and cool areas to focus on!"

    Those ideas are best illustrated with samples of the artwork, which Kevin shared and are embedded below. Science & Nature opens this Friday night, and will run for about two weeks at Gallery 1988 East. If you're in the LA area this Friday, you'll want to stop by and see the pieces in person, and maybe pick up a few screenprints!

    TRANSCRIPT: Adam Savage Interviews NASA's Dava Newman

    Adam Savage: Hey! Welcome to The Talking Room. We have borrowed all the elements from The Talking Room, including my dining room chairs. Even Winston the Beaver, the patron saint of the Talking Room, is here. He's holding on to the card that says who our next guest is. She's a hero of mine. She's an astronaut assistant, aeronautic assistant, an MIT professor, a doctor, and recently a deputy director of NASA. Please welcome to the stage Dana Newman.

    Dava Newman: Thank you. Thank you.

    Photo by Dallis Willard.

    Adam Savage: You know, I have to tell you, in preparation for your arrival we had to have lots of discussions about how many of my spacesuits we should actually transport over here. You are also a spacesuit designer, of the future of spacesuits.

    Dava Newman: Going to Mars. We're going to Mars.

    Adam Savage: We're going to Mars.

    Dava Newman: But back to the beaver mascot, what a great mascot. That's the world's engineer. You've got a beaver up here!

    Are We Alone in the Universe?

    This weekend in The Guardian I came across a fantastic interview -- "Are We Alone in the Universe?" -- between two of my favorite people: astronaut Chris Hadfield and cartoonist/former NASA physicist Randall Munroe.

    Listening to two of my favorite minds when they get together is genuinely thrilling. Their banter makes me feel like I can see just a little bit wider. I love that they're both seeking ways to articulately communicate the incredible scales they understand things on.

    Composite: David Levene, Josh Andrus for The Guardian

    I also love how excited they are about what they don't understand. And that might be the best part: their humility and generosity. I know this of Chris; I'm lucky to say he's a friend. I've gleaned it from Randall's incredible, prolific body of work.

    I wish I could interview people like this.

    Episode 328 - Embrace The Splurge - 11/26/15
    Norm is joined by Tested's Senior Science Correspondent Kishore Hari and Senior Rapid Prototyping Correspondent Sean Charlesworth to talk about NASA's announcements, Designer Con, Gear VR, and the holiest of consumer holidays: Black Friday. Plus, we give our reactions and analysis to the new Captain America: Civil War teaser trailer. Prepare for a comics knowledge bomb! That and more on this week's episode of This is Only a Test. Have a happy American Thanksgiving, everyone!
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    Building The Worlds of SyFy's "The Expanse"

    This past Monday, SyFy network released the first episode of The Expanse online, with the rest of the season airing in mid-December. It's an ambitious show--an adaptation of a popular novel series that's already on its fifth book. One of the reasons for the books' success is its realistic depiction of space travel 200 years from now. Given the conceit that mankind has invented a spacefaring technology that allows for regular travel between Earth, Mars, and the Asteroid belt, the story is about the relationships between the cultures that have formed on Mars and asteroid colonies, and their relationship with Earth. What happens when you have generations of humans living on a mining Asteroid, and Martians who are more invested in the development of their planet than the interests of Earth? Thoughtful world building makes for compelling science fiction.

    The production values of the show are impressive as well, with the need to tell an intertwining story from three very different types of environments. I got on the phone with Seth Reed, the production designer of The Expanse, to learn a bit about how set and production design contributed to that world-building.

    Thanks for chatting with us, Seth! To start things off, can you talk about the role of a production designer and what your responsibilities were in the production of The Expanse?

    Seth Reed: As the production designer, my responsibilities included designing everything that was behind or around the actors. That included all of the set decoration, scenery that we built, all the colors and fabrics and textures--pretty much the world. The props were within my department--the propmakers were pretty independent, and always are, but it all happens through the production design department. We provided all the graphics and everything that appears on those props as well.

    (Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)

    The show is set around three basic areas as we switch between the three main characters. There's Earth, Ceres Station, and outer space on board different ships. Can you talk about how you and your team built out the look of each of those locations?

    Well for Earth, we haven't really seen much of it [in the first episode]. We saw Avasarala's place, her office, but not that much. You see a few visual effects shots, which I was involved in, for setting up the look of Earth [200 years from now]. Earth is a more crowded place, with tall buildings designed with soft and geometric edges--a lot of times with points or simple spires at the top.