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    In Brief: How to Photograph an Atomic Explosion

    The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently interviewed film archivist (and early ILM visual effects artist) Peter Kuran, who literally wrote the book about How to Photograph an Atomic Bomb. Kuran, who also directed a 1995 documentary about nuclear weapons testing, runs a website and YouTube channel dedicated to restoring and archiving films from American atomic history. Kuran talks about the current digitization efforts of nuclear research film, and what scientists and historians can learn from re-examining the footage. The HD video that Kuran and his team archive are also a resource Hollywood filmmakers tap into when needing to show footage of atomic explosions--like in this year's Godzilla.

    Norman 1
    Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 vs. Nvidia Tegra K1: The Value of 64-bit on Android

    Odds are good that if you buy a high-end Android device in the next few months, it's going to be packing either the Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 or Nvidia Tegra K1 SoC. We're at a pivotal moment in Android hardware as OEMs begin gearing up for the switch to 64-bit architectures, but only one of these chips has a 64-bit option. Let's take a look at where Nvidia and Qualcomm are going with their respective platforms, and whether or not you should hold out for a 64-bit device.

    ARM, but not from ARM

    The overwhelming majority of computing hardware in Android devices is ARM-based. Intel has successfully muscled its way into the market with updated x86 Atom parts. Android supports x86 and a few OEMs make tablets with Atom, but it's nowhere near as popular as ARM. All throughout the recent history of mobile devices, ARM has been the core architecture, but not all ARM chips are created equal.

    When we're talking about ARM SoCs (systems-on-a-chip), we're actually talking about more than the CPU component. There's also the GPU, memory controller, digital signal processor, and more. We'll get to that later--the first point of distinction between the Snapdragon 805 and the Tegra K1 is in the way they implement the ARM architecture.

    Chip makers have the option of licensing ARM's Cortex cores and building a chip around them. That's what Samsung and many smaller firms do. Qualcomm has for a long time licensed the ARM instruction set, which is ARMv7 for 32-bit and ARMv8 for 64-bit. These licenses are considerably more expensive than just getting a stock ARM core, but it allows Qualcomm to design its own custom CPU core for SoCs, and that's just what it's been doing ever since its Scorpion core for the original Snapdragon SoC in late 2008.

    In Brief: Microsoft Announces $200 Fitness Tracking Band

    Microsoft's answer to Apple's watch isn't a watch at all. It's a $200 fitness tracker dubbed the Microsoft Band, and was announced today as part of Microsoft's new cloud-based Health Platform. The band, which looks more like a Nike Fuelband or Jawbone Up than watch, has a thin rectangular display with Microsoft-style tiles that show information like step counts, notifications, and the time. 10 sensors on it track heart rate, calorie burn, and sleep quality--it's something Microsoft wants users to wear all day. It'll work with Android and iOS devices, but Windows Phone users will get access to Cortana integration for voice queries. Microsoft strongly emphasized that this is not a smartwatch, so it's not going to buzz constantly like the Pebble of Android Wear watches. The Microsoft Band is available now, and Microsoft Health will soon have an SDK and support for cross-platform applications.

    Norman 4
    Color Grading Breakdown for a Beauty Commercial

    Joey shared this awesome video with us yesterday, a time-lapse screen capture of post-production colorist < ahref="http://www.colormeup.de/">Andreas Bruekcl's work on a L'Oreal beauty commercial. The three-minute clip shows about 30 minutes of realtime grading of video shot with on an Arri Alexa, and gives just a taste of the incredibly complex task of tweaking colors and lighting of video for production. It's far more complex than the developing of RAW photos in Lightroom, for example, because the colorist has to mask and track moving elements for video. Something to keep in mind: this is a process that almost every shot of every produced live-action commercial, television show, and film goes through today, to some extent.

    Everything You Should Know About Android 5.0 Lollipop

    Google took the unprecedented step of offering an early developer preview of Android L (now Android 5.0 Lollipop) last spring. We knew this version of Android was going to be a big shift, something for which developers would need to plan. However, it wasn't until the recent official announcement that it became clear how massive this change would be. Android 5.0 is a break from the past, and in many ways a complete reinvention of the platform.

    Here's what you need to know about Android 5.0, the most significant update the platform has ever seen. It's enough to change what most people think of Google's mobile operating system, and I'm really excited about it.

    Bye-bye battery woes

    If you can recall one of the long-time complaints about Android, it's very possible Android 5.0 addresses it. For example, don't you hate how Android phones always seem to have questionable battery life unless they're equipped with a huge battery? Well, no more. Lollipop is supposed to improve battery life noticeably.

    I've been testing the latest developer preview of Android Lollipop, which is API-complete according to Google. Both the Nexus 5 and Nexus 7 are managing at least a third more battery life than before. This is thanks to Google's so-called Project Volta, an initiative in Android 5.0 to address those nagging battery life concerns. Granted, this is not the final version of Lollipop, but the difference is astounding.

    A major component of the battery life improvements have to do with a better system of managing background processes. Android does multitasking by permitting any app to wake the phone and keep it awake so it can perform an action. In the event of an error or incompatibility, these "wakelocks" can last too long and drain the battery. I tend to follow the sleep stats of my devices closely because I have to install so many apps on a daily basis. Android 5.0 appears to keep things running incredibly smoothly. When devices are in sleep mode, the processor is in deep sleep (i.e. not wakelocked) about 90% of the time. Absolutely amazing.

    Android 5.0 also includes an approximation of remaining battery life in the settings and on the lock screen when charging. After letting the Nexus 7 calibrate for a few cycles, it reports a full week of standby time, and I believe it. In the event you do run low on battery life, there's a new system-level battery saver mode that disables animations, background data, vibration, and lowers the screen brightness.

    Chris Hadfield Explains His Space Photography Techniques

    Adam tweeted this link to a great Q&A with Chris Hadfield from the Dark Sky star gazing festival happening right now at Canada's Jasper National Park. The former astronaut spoke a bit about Earth-gazing, and explains in this video how astronaut take advantage of the micro-gravity environment on the ISS to steady and position their cameras to photograph long-exposures of the Earth. No tripods needed in low Earth orbit!

    In Brief: Amazon Announces Fire TV Streaming HDMI Stick

    Amazon today announced the Fire TV Stick, an HDMI streaming stick with the capability of Amazon's $100 Fire TV set-top box. The $40 stick is positioned against Google's Chromecast and Roku's Streaming Stick, and Amazon is boasting its technical specs. It runs off of a dual-core Broadcom A9-based SoC, has 1GB of RAM, and 8GB of internal flash storage--higher than Google and Roku's options. Dual-antenna MIMO Wi-Fi may also give it a leg up in homes with spotty wireless connections. Of course, it's software and the video player platform that matters the most, and we didn't find Amazon's Fire TV to be more compelling than the Chromecast or Roku. You don't get access to Fire TV's voice search feature, either, unless you spring for the $30 Fire TV remote. Amazon is also promising HBO Go support by the end of the year. We'll be testing the Fire TV Stick and comparing it with the the Chomecast and Roku Streaming Stick early next month, but Amazon has discounted the launch price to $20 if you're a Prime subscriber, through Wednesday. I also believe that if you sign up for a 30-day trial of Prime, you would also be eligible for this discount.

    Norman
    Google Play App Roundup: Inbox, République, and Deep Loot

    A new week has dawned, but you can ease the transition with some new apps and games. You've come to the right place, too. This is the Google Play App Roundup, the weekly feature where we tell you what's new and cool in Google Play.Just hit the links to zoom right to the Play Store.

    This week email is changing again, they are watching, and there's treasure to be found.

    Inbox

    There is no denying that Gmail completely changed the way we think about using email, but that was all the way back in 2004. It's about time for Google to take another shot at improving email communication, and Inbox is it. Google has been working on Inbox behind the scenes for a while now under the codename Bigtop. This service plugs into your Gmail account and applies many of the features and algorithms used in Google Now to make your email less about when messages arrive and more about what they mean.

    Inbox is based around bundles, or types of messages that fall into general categories. If you use the Gmail categories that were added last year, this is a similar idea, but much more expansive. For example, you've got a bundle for purchases where all the messages you receive that look like receipts will end up. Maybe a meeting invitation will produce a handy calendar reminder with Inbox. When emails come in, you can open the thread from your main inbox view, but something in a bundle opens the full bundle as a timeline (today, yesterday, etc). Using Inbox is definitely an adjustment--there's no doubt about that.

    All your labels from Gmail are there, but they are of secondary importance in Inbox. The bundles can't really be altered as they're looking for specific things in your email to categorize. Inbox also pulls out relevant information in a very Google Now sort of way. For example, you could get tracking information for a package right in the main inbox screen. You can add conversations to any of the bundles, though. Anything you think is particularly important, be it bundled or not, can be pinned in the app. Those pinned messages and reminders can be accessed by toggling the pin switch at the top of the app.

    Managing your email with Inbox is also atypical of a traditional email app. You can't delete anything with Inbox. Instead, it has options to mark things as done or snooze them. Done is essentially the equivalent of archiving in regular Gmail, but triggered with a swipe to the right. It basically treats emails as tasks. You can also snooze an email with a swipe to the left. That will present options to have it reappear at the top of Inbox at a certain time.

    The app itself is very in-line with Google's new material design aesthetic. There's a floating action button for composing new messages, the slide-out nav menu, and plenty of bold colors. On Lollipop devices, it also has the full hero color up top for the status bar and app switcher header (but not in the dev preview build). Interestingly, some of the Android L animations are missing from the buttons.

    Inbox is currently invite only, but Google is handing out quite a few now and all current users have three invites each. I feel like Inbox could make a lot of sense for those who don't get a ton of email or who haven't worked to organize their mail already. If you've already got a system of labels and actions in place to deal with a large volume of email, Inbox would be more of an adjustment.

    Show and Tell: Quicksilver's Stereobelt Replica

    For this week's Show and Tell, Norm visits our 3D printing expert Sean Charlesworth in New York to learn about a prop replica project. Sean has faithfully recreated Qucksilver's "Stereobelt" from the most recent X-men movie, a prop that is actually based on a little-known portable cassette player that predated Sony's Walkman. A little bit of A/V technology history, rapid prototyping, and obsessing over film props--everything we love! (More details about this project here.)

    Testing the Form 1+ 3D Printer

    Norm visits New York to check in with Tested's 3D printing columnist Sean Charlesworth, who has been testing the new Form 1+ 3D printer. Unlike 3D printers like the MakerBot and PrintrBot, the Form 1 uses a laser-based resin curing system that can produce prints up to four times the resolution of FDM printers. But as Sean explains, this printer was a bit challenging to get working properly.

    Tested In-Depth: SmartThings Home Automation

    Will's been testing the SmartThings system since its successful Kickstarter campaign, and shares his experience setting up home automation for his family. SmartThings lets you set a house up to be contextually aware of a variety of events, with no reoccurring fees. We discuss what aspects of home automation may make sense for most people, and how home control works via the app.

    In Brief: iPad Air 2 Has Tri-Core CPU, 2GB of RAM

    The first reviews of Apple's new iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 went online yesterday, and they're looking mostly positive. The consensus on the Mini seems to be that it's not worth the $100 premium over the now-$400 Mini 2, just for TouchID and the gold color option. But the improvements made to the iPad Air line is pretty significant. iPad Air 2 is Apple's first tablet with a tri-core SoC, the A8X. It's not just a clock speed bump over the iPhone 6's A8, and synthetic benchmarks peg performance far above the latest iPhones in both single-core and multi-core usage. iPad Air 2 is also Apple's first iOS device with 2GB of RAM. According to some reviewers, it's as fast an old MacBook Air (at least for web browsing). Those devices aren't really comparable, since their core users buy them for very different reasons and usage scenarios. While I'm not excited for the new Mini, nor am in the market for a new full-size iPad, I think it looks promising as an upgrade for my parents' 3rd-generation iPad (the heavy one that got the Retina display). They can't stand the small screen of the Mini, and will appreciate the sub-1 pound weight of the new Air 2. But the best thing for them is that they will be able to get 128GB of storage at the previous 64GB price--essential for photos. They're the kind of people who use their iPads as their sole computers, and never delete or move photos off of them. My guess is that there are a lot of iPad users who fall into that category too.

    Norman
    Tested In-Depth: Moto X (2014)

    After testing the new Moto X Android smartphone for a month, Will and Norm sit to down to discuss how its three most important features: the display, camera, and battery life compare against today's top Android phones. How does Motorola's spin on Android compare to the stock version? Plus, does the custom wood back look and feel any good?

    Research Robots Versus the Volcano

    The last time NASA scientists sent a robot into the crater of a volcano was 1994.

    It’s name was Dante II, an autonomous, eight-legged crawler packed with video cameras, lasers and other sensors. It was designed by scientists from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute to rappel and hobble down the inside of the active Alaskan volcano Mount Spurr – a proof-of-concept for encounters with the types of hostile environments that NASA robots might deal with in space.

    Photo credit: Phil Hontalas/NASA

    But a tumble towards the end of Dante’s mission and subsequent helicopter rescue offered a stark reminder that “the possibility of catastrophic failure is very real in severe terrain,” the robot’s designers wrote. Even with today’s technology – we have self-driving cars now! – there hasn’t been another Dante since.

    “To get a robot to go over the varied and often difficult terrain is very challenging. Robotics has come a long way since Dante, but […] it’s just not quite at the level where they can handle volcanic terrain yet,” explained Carolyn Parcheta, a volcanologist and NASA postdoctoral fellow sponsored by Tennessee’s Oak Ridge Associated Universities. It’s part of the reason that the U.S. Geological Survey still believes that "experienced volcanologists are a better and more cost-effective alternative for monitoring dangerous volcanoes” than robots – at least, for now.

    In a volcanic environment, there are myriad materials of different sizes and shapes. You’ll find small round rocks where each step is like walking on the shifting sands of a beach. On the more extreme end of the spectrum is lava that’s sharp and jagged, making it near impossible to find space both flat and wide enough for a human foot. You’re always walking at an angle. In the middle, you have what Parcheta describes as “the slow, oozing, ropy looking stuff” that’s still difficult to walk on, but less so than the jagged stuff.

    Photo credit: Phil Hontalas/NASA

    “Volcanic terrain is much more complicated than just a set of stairs or an inclined slope, because it’s often all those different things combined,” Parcheta explains. “There’s no regular pattern to the landscape. It feels random. And to the robot it will be random. It needs to learn how to assess that before it can take its steps, and humans do this on the fly, naturally.” This is, as you might expect, difficult – and one of the big problems that Dante’s designers had. So, for years, humans have instead sufficed.

    But there’s also another reason that volcano crawling robots haven’t exactly been subject to pressing demand. According to Dr. Peter Cervelli, associate director for science and technology at the USGS Volcano Science Center, his agency has had “limited need for ground based robotics” – in large part because the majority of volcanoes in the United States don’t presently pose a threat to human volcanologists.

    Racing Mini-Quads with FPV Control

    Looks like the speeder bike chase on the forest moon of Endor, but it's really FPV quad enthusiasts racing their mini-quads in a fairly dense park. FPV flying is thrilling, but somewhat of a controversial practice when it comes to the quadcopter hobby. It's one of the things that the FAA is looking to heavily regulate. Still, the high-speed flights (and crashes) make for great video. Now imagine if these were shot with very wide-angle lenses, allowing for Parrot Bebop-style VR support.

    Tested Asks: How are Holograms Made?

    While in New York, Norm stops by Holographic Studios, one the last remaining independent holography galleries and holography studios still operating. Its founder, Jason Sapan, has spent almost 40 years practicing the art of holographic imagery. We figure he's the best person to explain to us what exactly is a hologram, and how they're painstakingly made.

    Google Play App Roundup: Potential, iPollute, and Talon Plus

    It's that time of the week again. Time to shake off the weekend vibe and get back to work. But you can probably spare a few minutes to check out some new apps. This is the Tested Google Play App Roundup, which is where we tell you about the best new and newly updated apps on Android. Just follow the links to Google Play.

    This week your battery has a new best friend, clay gets dirty, and Twitter gets pretty.

    Potential

    As the cost of Android devices come down, it's increasingly likely that you might find yourself in possession of more than one of them. However, have you ever picked one up to find the battery is dead? Well, that won't happen if you install Potential on them.

    Potential runs a background service that syncs the state of your battery between devices. Just open Potential and you get a card for each of your connected devices (you need to make an account) with the battery level and state of Bluetooth and WiFi. Each device should sync the battery percentage on a regular basis, and the length of time since the last update will be listed on each card.

    You can remotely toggle WiFi or Bluetooth on and of your devices to save power, but that's as far as the direct interaction goes. Well, you can choose a name for each phone or tablet. By default it's just the device model ID.

    The above functionality is free, but a small in-app purchase is required to enable what I would say is the coolest feature of Potential--push notifications. In the settings of Potential you can choose a battery threshold at which you'd like to be notified. When one of your devices hits that number, you'll find out about it no matter which one you're actively using. So if you've got your phone handy during the day, Potential will let you know if your tablet is running low on juice.

    The app itself is nice and clean. I've already mentioned the cards, but Potential also includes a few Material Design animations and UI elements. There aren't a ton of options yet, but the developer cautions it's still a beta product. With that in mind I'd also note there have been a few instances where one of my devices decided it was going to stop syncing. For the most part, though, Potential is a solid app.

    Show and Tell: Bluetooth Hands-Free Car Adapter

    For this week's Show and Tell, Will shares his current solution for playing back music and making calls from his phone in his car. While his car has an auxiliary audio jack, he prefers using this Kinivo hands-free receiver as an intermediary. Its decent audio, built-in micrphone, and music playback controls are why it's Will's pick for an aftermarket car Bluetooth solution. What do you use to listen to music from your smartphone while driving?