A few weeks ago, I got an email notifying me that I was eligible to apply for the TSA Pre program If you haven’t heard of it, TSA Pre is a relatively new initiative by the TSA to pre-screen people in order to speed them through the security process at some airport security checkpoints. When you sign up, the TSA runs a background check on you to ensure that you don’t have criminal record—certain felonies will flag you and prevent enrollment. If you pass the background check, you’ll be able to use the TSA Pre screening line for a simpler screening process at many airports around the country
I’m sitting on an airplane right now, and have just completed my first TSA Pre security screening, and I can tell you that the experience was wonderful.
The application process was relatively simple. A few weeks ago, I filled out an online form, explained that I had never committed any felonies, and took the first available screening appointment available in my area. The site instructed me to bring either my passport or the types of documents that you need to get a passport (birth certificate, Social Security card, etc), and show up to a place near the Oakland airport later that week. When I showed up for the screening appointment, I was surprised that it wasn’t at a government office, but at a company that does background checks and drug testing for jobs like EMTs and crane operators. The appointment took about 10 minutes. I just had to reaffirm that I hadn’t committed any felonies, then the interviewer scanned my passport, scanned my fingerprints, paid $85 to cover the cost of the background check, and we made idle chitchat while I enjoyed the stern warnings that photography was prohibited in the screening room.
It took longer to fill up my gas tank than it did to complete the screening process.
Two weeks passed until I received a letter in the mail from the TSA that told me I was approved and gave me my TSA Pre number, which is good for five years. I filled in the form on my frequent flyer programs and on our corporate travel service, and I was ready to go. When I loaded my boarding pass on my phone this morning, it had a little TSA Pre label above the bar code. I’m not sure if that label will always be present on my boarding passes now, or if it will only be available when I’m going to be at an airport with a TSA Pre line, but I guess I’ll find out in coming weeks.
As for the screening process? It was dead simple. The TSA Pre line is completely separate from the other lines, including the line for first class and folks with frequent flyer status. I showed my drivers license and boarding pass to the screeners, and walked to the TSA Pre line. Once I was there, I didn’t have to take my laptop out of my bag. I didn’t have to dig out my liquids bag. I didn’t have to take my jacket off. I didn’t have to take my belt off. I didn’t have to take my shoes off. I didn’t have to go through the millimeter wave scanner.
I put my bags on the belt, walked through a metal detector, and picked my bags up on the other side. From the first time I showed my boarding pass until I was walked to get coffee took less than 3 minutes. I didn’t even have time to read the signs telling me what I did and didn’t have to do.
Am I a fan of TSA Pre? Based on an admittedly small sample size, yes. Rolling back the security theater that has plagued air travel since 9/11 is a good thing, even though the TSA Pre system has had some issues in the past. If you spend a lot of time traveling by air, it’s probably worth the $17 per year price of entry to avoid the hassle of unpacking your gear every time you go through security. If you’re interested in signing up, you need to go to the DHS’s Universal Enroll site. If you want to see how my continued adventures with TSA Pre go, you should probably just follow me on Twitter.
It's time for another edition of Print the Mystery Object with the MakerBot! This week, Will gives an early hint but you're still going to be hard-pressed to guess what's being made by the Replicator 3D printer! Place your best guess in the comments below.
We're flying out to Austin for South by Soutwest tomorrow, and this would be something neat to try out. Photographer Matthew Vandeputte created this "hyperlapse" video from stills shot on a plane ride over Australia. As he explains on his blog, the hyperlapse is similar to a time-lapse, but instead of photographing a scene from a fixed location, his sequential shots are captured from different positions with the camera aimed at the same spot. In his case, the airplane did all the moving for him. With his Canon 5D MKIII, continuous drive shoots up to 6 frames per second, which is plenty fast for stitching together into 24fps video. I also liked the idea of his shutter clicking incessantly during the flight, and am curious how many shots it took to compose each short clip. Something to possibly fly on my plane ride tomorrow!
One of the things that excited me the most about about getting into 3D printing was the ability to make prop replicas. I'm sure Tested readers can relate! Lightsaber hilt, fertility idol, communicator badge, blaster, you name it and it can probably be printed. This technique is turning up more and more on The Replica Prop Forum (RPF) and is here to stay. Not that 3D printing is a replacement for traditional modeling and sculpting methods; it’s just another tool to get the job done and you pick what works best for the project. You may not have room for a workshop at home, but with some software, a bit of time and access to a printer, you can put a phaser in your hand--even custom fit for your hand!
I am not a prolific prop builder but I have done my share and will breakdown some of these projects over the next few months. I wanted to start with something relatively simple, so if you’re a Whovian, this project is for you. But even if you’re not of the Gallifreyan fan base, these design and printing tips may help your future projects.
I like Doctor Who and found a nice TARDIS model by Gossamer on Thingiverse, MakerBot’s online repository for sharing 3D models. This was a great starting point, but I wanted to add an LED at the top and this is where Thingiverse gets fun. Since most everything is shared via a Creative Commons license it can be downloaded, modded and re-uploaded as long as the original creator is credited.
Another user, nopoe, had already modded Gossamer’s model to have an LED hole! Perfect! It printed ok, but not great, on my old Thing-o-matic, and a friend put some rough stickers on it. I thought it would be cool to have the windows light up so I modded nopoe’s version to have open windows. Check out the video to see how it was done:
An ever-alluring science fiction trope is the conversational AI – the ever-convivial J.A.R.V.I.S in the film adaptations of Iron Man, or the frequently voiced-concern of Kevin Spacey's GERTY in the 2009 drama Moon. And who could forget 2001: A Space Odyssey's methodical HAL? We find these AIs fascinating because they demonstrate an intelligence seemingly on-par with our own, enough so they become characters themselves.
In the case of Spike Jonze's Her released last year, the AI character is also a main actor in the film, an operating system named Samantha, the titular her in Her. The film's other lead, a man named Theodore Twombly, falls in love with Samantha. That's how real she acts and sounds.
But realness is a struggle in today’s development of synthesized speech. Emotion is hard to fudge. And while mobile personal assistants and text-to-speech stop announcements on the bus are good at conveying information, they’re not so good at sounding like us.
Speech synthesis, particularly in the context of science fiction, is actually a multidisciplinary field – one that, according to a Microsoft Research paper from 2006, "spans Machine Translation, Information Retrieval, Natural Language Processing, Data Resources, and Speech Understanding." In other words, it involves a lot more than just, well, speech. If we're striving for perfection, suggested AT&T Labs in 2003, a computer can’t just be smart. It has to pass the Turing test (or the modern equivalent). To speak like a human a computer has to think like one too.
Today, however, we're mainly just turning text into speech, feeding lines into systems that spit them back out with verbalized indifference. The most prevalent technique is something called unit-based or concatenative synthesis – basically a copy-and-paste style of voice generation, wherein many, many hours of recorded speech are broken down into tiny utterances called phonemes, and put back together in new combinations that form synthesized words.
Will and Norm sit down to chat about podcasting equipment! While you can record really good audio with a USB microphone and free mixing software, our setup is a little more complex. We need equipment to accommodate multiple guests in the studio set, as well as being able to take the podcast on the road for recording in Adam's Cave or at conventions. But it's really not about expensive equipment; it's about know how everything works together. Here's what you need to get started recording podcasts on your own!
Yesterday, Roku released details for its streaming stick--a purple HDMI dongle it first announced at in 2012. The $50 Chromecast-like device works like any other Roku box; it'll run Roku channels like NetFlix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Vimeo, and others (though unsure if it has the capability to run Plex). You'll be able to control it with either an included remote or Roku's recently-updated smartphone app. The catch-all streaming service search functionality from the Roku 3 is also here. I've been increasingly using the Roku 3 as my primary set-top box of late, switching over to the Apple TV only for HBO Go because of Roku's incompatibility with Comcast. Its Wi-Fi Direct remote still makes it frustrating to use with the Logitech Harmony universal remote system, and IP control (like with the smartphone app) is still not as responsive as I'd like. The upshot is that there still isn't just one set top box that does everything. The content side is still just as messy--Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime all lay claim to several exclusives. LifeHacker's recent survey shows how each service stacks up today, with data that unfortunately may be obsolete in a few months as exclusivity deals renew or expire. Indexing services like CanIStreamIt are great, but the fact that we still need them shows what a sorry and confusing state streaming video streaming is still in today.
So the rumors of Microsoft naming its digital search assistant Cortana (after the AI character in Halo) are looking increasingly likely. According to The Verge's sources, Microsoft will replace Windows Phone's Bing Search functionality with a personality-based assistant that sources its data from Bing, Foursquare, and other contextual data sets. It's a bold repositioning of Bing search for mobile, but we'll have to wait to see if it's actually a smart one. But it made me think of the many neat research experiments being developed in Microsoft Research's labs, many of which never find their way into consumer products. The Interactive Visual Media group is of particular interest to me. Its where researchers came up new algorithms for smoothing pixel art, and then smart methods for downsampling images to create convincing pixel art. Two recent projects caught my eye: a method to auto-generate context-aware captions for personal photos, and a computer vision system to identify the make and model of a car from a single photo.1
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.
Sure, you could wait a few months and pick up a next-generation flagship Android device, but if you need a new phone now, there are plenty of great options. So many, in fact, that you might be a little overwhelmed. Not to worry -- we're here to help you sort through the dozens of Android phones on each of the big US carriers.
Prices are continuing to come down as new devices are on the horizon, and that means you can save some cash on a phones that's still really excellent.
Dashboard integration was something Apple teased at last year's WWDC, and it's finally being announced as CarPlay. Unsurprisingly, Apple isn't building the physical dashboard units for its partners, but providing a set of standards for iOS integration. Partners--the first of which are Volvo, Ferrari, and Mercedes-Benz--can support CarPlay by incorporating touchscreen and wheel-mounted controls to their vehicles, while iOS devices will pair with the cars over a Lightning cable. CarPlay is basically an H.264 video stream piped from the iOS device, which will display Apple Maps and other native apps on the dash. Google Maps support is unlikely. Third-party music apps like Spotify and Stitcher will also be supported at launch, with more app compatibility to be announced later. Volvo has also released a video demonstrating CarPlay integration on its upcoming XC90 SCUV, which you can watch below.4
The Play Store just keeps accumulating new apps and games. So many that you have little hope of finding all the good stuff just casually poking around. That's why we have the Google Play App Roundup. This is where you can come to find out about all the cool new stuff on Android. Just click the links to head right to the Play Store.
This week we get the next generation of launchers, a game with lasers, and more Chromecasting.
We've known Google was planning big things with its updated Google Now-infused launcher, but there's finally some movement. The official Google Now Launcher has shown up in the Play Store, but it won't work on all devices just yet. I suspect it's just a matter of time, though. This isn't app isn't technically the launcher itself, but it unlocks the potential already in the Google Search app.
The Google Now Launcher (GNL) comes stock on the Nexus 5, but this update adds all other Nexus phones and tablets running Android 4.4 as well as all current Google Play Experience devices. That's the OFFICIAL list, but it also sounds like any device running a custom ROM based on KitKat should also be able to get the new launcher from Google Play. There are ways to install this on almost all Android devices, but finally having GNL in Google Play is a huge deal.
The new launcher will offer to import your layout from the old launcher, so migration shouldn't be too bad. GNL only uses the number of screens necessary for what you keep there. To add more just drag an icon or widget to the right and drop it on the screen that appears. The far left panel is always the main panel, then there is Google Now one swipe to the left.
Having Google Now on the home interface might not seem like a big change, but it ends up getting a lot more use, at least for me. The swipe up gesture on devices with on-screen buttons still works as expected too. The "Okay Google" trigger phrase for voice search works on the home screen in addition to the search app. The Google panel can't be moved, but all the others can be reordered in the long-press menu. That's also where widgets have ended up.
For phones and smaller tablets, GNL works very well. You won't have as many options as with Nova or the other third-party apps, but it integrates Google search in a way unofficial apps can't. On 10-inch slates, it's kind of a toss up. The grid size seems a bit odd -- not quite taking advantage of the space. However, it feels a little more modern.
If you have a compatible device, this is at least worth checking out. The Google Now Launcher is Google's home interface going forward.
This week, Will shares his pick for an LED light bulb to replace the power-hungry incandescent and compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) bulbs that many people use these days. The 9.5W Cree bulb turns on instantly and is also dimmable using a normal room fixture.
Earlier this week, we showed you what grinding coffee looked like under the Edgertronic high-speed camera. Though mesmerizing, some of you weren't impressed. So here's a step up: grinding colorful peanut M&Ms under the same camera at different frame rates!
Size does matter, especially on the battlefield, and if you want to really shock and awe your enemies you’ll have to pick a bigger weapon. Today, we’ll spotlight ten of the biggest military machines ever constructed.
After a week of testing high-speed cameras, we sit down to discuss our findings and explain how these cameras actually work. Why is it that resolution has to be reduced to increase frame rate? Learn about the potential and pitfalls of consumer high-speed camera technologies, and our thoughts on the Edgertronic camera.
This morning, Intel announced it's latest line of solid state drives designed for use in normal computers and workstations. They sent over a couple for us to test, which I've been doing this week. Unlike Intel's last-generation 530 series SSD, which used a Sandforce controller, the new 730 series drives use a controller that Intel developed in house for use in their datacenter drives. By combining that knowledge with cherry picked controller and flash chips, the 730 series drives run at higher clock speeds than their datacenter equivalents and are effectively able to saturate the SATA 6Gbps bus.The big problem hasn't been performance--even cheap SSDs will blow the doors off of traditional hard drives--it's reliability. But while hard drives are well established technology at this point, some early SSDs suffered serious reliability problems. Drives using the Sandforce controller, in particular, suffered serious problems that lead to blue screens and even data loss. Intel's Sandforce-powered drives managed to avoid most of the problems that plagued other vendors using the same Sandforce controller.
Even without controller problems, the flash memory used in SSDs has a finite life cycle--the number of times you can write to an individual cell of memory is limited. While drives ship with some cells reserved to replace the cells that die, once enough cells stop working, the drive will be unusable. That's not necessarily a reason to avoid SSDs though. Even with the minimum average daily write ratings of 20GB, the flash memory in most SSDs will last more than five years. And because the price per gigabyte of SSD storage is still dropping quickly, it's unlikely that you'll be using the same SSD five years from now.
Where does the Intel 730 series of SSDs fit in? The drive comes in capacities of 240GB and 480GB, although Intel hasn't ruled out larger capacities if people want them. I was told to expect MSRP pricing around $1/GB. Both drives use 20nm MLC NAND flash. I was a little disappointed that these are standard 2.5-inch SATA 6Gbps drives. With pretty much every consumer-level SSD able to saturate the SATA 6gbps bus, there just isn't much room to improve performance. We won't see another big leap in SSD performance until you can plug drives directly into the PCI-Express bus, hopefully sometime later this year.
On paper, it seems like the biggest improvement to this drive is reliability. Both drives come with a 5 year warranty, and both are rated for a very large number of daily writes--the 480GB drive is rated for 70GB of writes a day and the 240GB drive is rated for 50GB of writes a day. That means the 480GB drive is rated for almost 130TB of writes over its lifetime.
Last December, Xbox Entertainment Studios announced that it would be producing a series of documentaries about the rise of digital entertainment. The first installment will be about E.T. the game, and screenwriter Zak Penn (X-Men: The Last Stand) is directing it. Wait a second…the Atari E.T. game? One of the biggest disasters in gaming history? Yep, and it’s actually a fascinating way to launch this series.
It would be much easier to make a documentary about a huge success in the gaming world. How about like how Tetris launched an industry? But success is very easy to take for granted. You can learn a lot more from failure, and it’s often way more interesting to dissect a flop in a post-mortem kind of way. The failure of the E.T. game is especially perplexing in that Atari just had its biggest year, and E.T. was at that point the highest grossing film of all time. How could something like this be on the biggest losers in video game history?
In 1981, Atari was riding high. The company had come a long way from the humble origins of Pong, and the company was growing by leaps and bounds. Atari was founded under its original name, Syzygy, by Nolan Bushnell in 1972. Their first games, Pong and Tank, were hits, and the company was doing well with sales in excess of $39 million in 1976.
It wasn't long before Atari was bought out by Warner Communications, but the first couple of years under the Warner umbrella Atari wasn’t making money. Once Bushnell was replaced by Raymond Kassar in 1978, the company finally took off. In 1979, Atari earned a profit of $6 million dollars, then the company scored nearly $70 million in profit a year later. Then in 1981, they hit a billion dollars in sales, with a profit of $300 million. As business reporter Connie Bruck wrote, “There had probably not been another company in the history of American business that grew as large, as fast, as Atari.”
Yet many will tell you that when a company explodes this fast, it makes investors nervous because it means they can go downhill just as fast. One person who knew Atari wouldn’t be a phenomenon forever was the late Warner chairman Steve Ross. Ross was one of the few naysayers who proclaimed that this kind of success wasn’t going to last, and many didn’t believe him.