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    How and Why of Aluminum Cans

    This video is interesting on two fronts. It explains the physics and logistics forces that shaped the design of the ubiquitous aluminum can with incredible information density. (via kottke)

    How I Turned Raspberry Pi 2 into an Audiophile Music Streamer

    I was all set for for a Raspberry Pi Model 2 server experiment until somebody asked me if HRT's dSp would work with a Raspberry Pi. Good question. The dSp is a DAC: a Digital to Analog converter. It turns the zeros and ones that make up a digital audio file into the analog signal a pair of headphones or speakers pump into your ears. A good DAC is a critical step in making your audio files sound amazing, and some third-party DACs are much better than the ones built into your smartphone or even your PC.

    That's when I remembered the cable hanging off the back of the amp and speakers in the warehouse. Nothing wrong with plugging that ⅛" jack from the amp directly into a phone or audio player, especially if it meant not using the cheap Bluetooth adapter that's usually plugged in there. But hey, what about turning the Pi 2 into a badass audio box that anybody on the network could use to stream their tune to the big speakers?

    Suddenly, I had a project! A D-I-Y SONOS, if you will. (I love the SONOS system, we run three of 'em at home, I'm just not ready to buy one for the office speakers!)

    And I have DAC issues. Or at least I could spare a DAC for a while. Within arms reach I've got a HeadRoom Micro DAC and Amp ($650) I used for headphone testing for several years, a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 for recording podcasts, the AudioQuest DragonFly 1.2 ($150) that replaced the HeadRoom DAC for testing, along with the headphone jack on my laptop. I've also, as of late, received that HRT dSp for testing, and, because I was curious, ordered a $42 HiFiMeDIY Sabre USB DAC to see how it compared to the DragonFly, which, rumor has it, features a Saber DAC.

    The differences from a the headphone jack on your PC and one of these USB DACs can be subtle. Beat-up earbuds that came with your phone, low quality streaming audio (or those 128 Kbps MP3s you got off your uncle's old laptop), the sound of the bus engine coming through your feet--all of these things make it difficult to hear the goodness that an excellent DAC can bring. But when you can actually hear it, it's like being in the room where the recording engineer placed the microphones. That's a good thing.

    The audio built into the Raspberry Pi model 2 (or 1) is not that impressive. The hot ticket for serious Pi audio geeks is an i2s card that plugs into the pins on the Pi, but I figured USB DACs I already had (and could use for something other than a Pi) would have to work.

    How to Get into Hobby RC: Testing Ares Quadcopters

    In my recent look at starter FPV quads, I had an opportunity to log some flight time with the Ares Ethos FPV. I'll admit that I wasn't really familiar with Ares products prior to pulling together that article. I later found out that Ares is a house brand for Hobby Town, a chain of brick-and-mortar hobby shops across the US. Until very recently, I didn't have a Hobby Town within 100 miles of my house. I guess that explains my knowledge gap. Regardless, I was impressed by the Ethos FPV. So I decided to investigate some of the other quads that they offer.

    The quads in the Ares lineup vary greatly in size, but they are all geared towards beginners and sport flyers. While some carry cameras, none have gimbals or GPS that would be necessary to make them serious aerial photography platforms. These machines are primarily for the sole enjoyment of flying. I tested three models: the Spectre X, Ethos QX 130, and Ethos HD.

    This family portrait of a few Ares brand multi-rotors illustrates the significant size differences between quads that were tested.

    Spectre X

    The Spectre X ($89.99) is a mini-quad meant for indoor flying. With a diameter of 120mm, it is in the same league as the Heli-Max 1SQ and Hubsan X4 that we have often recommended as starter quads. While the Spectre X is not Ares' smallest quad, it is the smallest with a camera.

    The camera records video at 640x480 at 25fps and photos are 1280x960 JPEGs. With those specs, you won't be shooting any documentary scenes with the Spectre X. But the camera is a fun little novelty to play with. A 2GB micro-SD card for the camera and USB card reader are included as well.

    The included transmitter is a medium sized unit with conventional layout. In addition to the two joysticks and trim levers used to control the quad, there are four buttons on the face of the transmitter. They allow you to start/stop video recording, take a still photo, switch between low, medium, and high control rates, and initiate an aerial flip. It runs on four AA alkaline batteries, which are included.

    The Ares Spectre X offers very sedate handling, making it ideal for new pilots.

    A 1S-700mAh Lipo battery is provided with the Spectre X. This is good for about 9 minutes of flight. The 500mA USB charger takes about 1.5 hours to charge a dead battery. The battery is housed in an enclosed compartment of the quad.

    The hinged door of the battery compartment kept falling off every time I opened it. The piece that is supposed to hold the door's hinge pin just didn't fit tightly enough. To correct this, I began by adding a thin layer of grease to the hinge pin. With the door in place, I then filled the gap in the plastic pin holder with Household Goop adhesive. The grease on the pin prevents the Goop from bonding to it.

    The first time I flew the Spectre X, I appreciated how sedate the controls are. Many other mini-quads have overly sensitive controls, which makes them difficult to fly for beginners. Sure, most of them can be adjusted to make them more docile. But the Spectre X is the first I've seen that is configured this way out of the box. On low rates, it is really docile…just what new fliers need.

    Tested In-Depth: Panasonic Lumix LX100

    This week, we test Panasonic's Lumix LX100, a fixed-lens camera that equipped with a micro four-thirds image sensor. It's smaller than other mirrorless cameras, but doesn't exactly fit in the compact camera category like the Sony RX100 or Canon G7X. Still, the photos we were able to take with this camera were pretty great.

    The Best Bluetooth Kit for Every Car

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    If you want Bluetooth in your car but don't want to spend the money and/or time to install a new head unit, you have three options, depending on your car's setup and whether your priority is making phone calls or listening to music. If your car has an aux-in (headphone-jack) setup, we recommend iClever's Himbox HB01 ($30). If you don't have an aux-in port and value call quality over sound, Motorola's Roadster 2 ($80) clip-on speakerphone is the best pick. If you don't have an aux-in jack, and music quality is more important for you than phone calls, get the Mpow Streambot Y FM transmitter for $37.

    Our picks, from left: iClever Himbox HB01, Motorola Roadster 2, Mpow Streambot Y.

    We spent 20 hours researching the latest version of this guide, comparing 10 new units to the 11 we originally tested, to find the best in each category. If you'd like to dig in deeper into what features to look for in a kit, how to deal with whiny audio cables, or you simply want additional picks besides the three mentioned here, visit our full guide.

    How we decided

    The most important thing we looked for when testing was ease of use and how close each kit came to a built-in-Bluetooth experience.

    The most important thing we looked for when testing was ease of use and how close each kit came to a built-in-Bluetooth experience. With that in mind, we set out to find the most promising candidates for each of the three types of kit. For aux-in kits, we eliminated any that required you to use your car's accessory-power outlet for power without also including a USB charger with at least 1-Amp output for charging a phone at the same time; we also eliminated any that didn't have phone-answering functionality, as well as those that had downright awful user reviews. For speakerphones, we focused on units with FM-transmitter capabilities, native voice commands, and the capability to auto-pair. Finally, dedicated FM transmitters were easier to narrow down because not many people make them anymore, and few have positive reviews; we tested only the ones that earned high ratings.

    Testing: Samsung Galaxy S6 Smartphone

    The new Samsung Galaxy S6 released last Friday sure looks more like an iPhone than any of Samsung's Galaxy phones before it. Unibody aluminum construction, glass front and back, and nary a screw or chunky piece of plastic in sight. Is the design an egregious rip-off? That's for lawyers to argue. But it is absolutely a concession by Samsung that the design ethos we've seen from Apple since the iPhone 4 has merit: a beautiful unibody phone is worth the omission of "power-user" features like a user-replaceable battery and memory card slot. And in this case, I think the tradeoffs may be worth it. There's so much to like in the new GS6.

    I picked up my Galaxy S6 from Best Buy when it was released and have been using it for the past three days. That's not enough time for a thorough evaluation of its technical performance and nuances of long-term use, but enough to share some impressions of the attributes that stand out. Let's run through those, starting with the design.

    The GS6's Design is Beautiful

    Regardless of how Samsung came to the design of the Galaxy S6, they ended up with one of the best-looking and feeling Android phones I've used. It looks especially fetching in white, where the illuminated menu and back buttons fade into the glass of the front face. But it's less about the glass on the front and back of the phone than it is about the aluminum band wrapped around the phone. Yes, from the bottom, it looks very much like an iPhone 6, speaker grille, headphone jack, and all. But the aluminum on the long sides of the phone is a flat edge, making it much easier to grip than the fully-curved sides of the latest iPhones. The GS6 is light, thin, and doesn't make me worry that it'll slip out of my hands when typing single-handed.

    Using glass for the phone's back may be the most questionable design decision for this phone. Glass may be prettier than aluminum, but this is a phone that will shatter if you drop it on concrete. I'm not going to get a case for it, but I am definitely treating it more carefully than the OnePlus One and Moto X I was using before. And no, I'm not going to try to bend it to the point of breaking.

    Milling Time: Testing the Roland MDX-540 4-Axis CNC

    Previously, I've talked about testing the Othermill--an out-of-the-box work horse--and the Shapeoko 2--a CNC kit ripe for re-invention. Today, I'm going to talk about a big boy, examining a CNC mill that's bigger, pricier, and commands a steeper learning curve. That's because we're adding another axis!

    This is the MDX-540 with a rotary axis made by the Roland DGA Corporation. A 4-axis mill can do everything an X, Y, Z machine can do, but it can also rotate the cutting material around an 'A' axis. Essentially, this mill combines the functionality of a typical CNC and a lathe. With that additional axis, you're able to create complex double-sided objects and components with undercuts.

    Three cork "bottles" milled using different settings.

    I'm fortunate enough to work at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program , where we have a bunch of incredible tools and machines. The MDX-540 is our latest addition to the shop and we're just beginning to experiment with it.

    For all of my testing I mounted material in the rotary axis exclusively.

    3D Robotics Announces 'Solo' Quadcopter

    3D Robotics, the US company responsible for the Pixhawk multi-rotor flight controller and several DIY and RTF kits, today announced its latest quadcopter: Solo. This ready-to-fly quadcopter looks like 3DR's most consumer-friendly product yet; it's a self-contained package utilizing 3DR's own transmitter, app, and GoPro camera gimbal. If that sounds a lot like the RTF quads we've seen over the past year, it's not surprising--big multi-rotor companies see a lot of value in the RTF market for first-time quadcopter owners and aspiring aerial cinematographers.

    To that end, 3DR's Solo has some automated video shooting features that may allow a single pilot to fly and film complex aerial shots. For example, a "cable cam" flight mode allows you to set two anchor points for the quad to fly between, and either manually control the GoPro between them or program the camera's position at those endpoints for automated panning. The quad's app also taps into the GoPro for camera setting changes on the fly--no more pressing the record button before taking off. Flight time is estimated to be 20 minutes with a GoPro attached, and 25 minutes without the gimbal.

    Solo goes on sale this May, with a price point of $1000 for the quad and transmitter, and $1400 for a gimbal (no GoPro included). 3D Robotics is also touting a generous return policy and warranty. If you crash Solo and it's your fault (according to flight data), 3DR will sell you a refurbished unit at a discount. If the crash was Solo's fault, you get a free replacement. My recommendation: don't buy any of these $1000 quadcopters if you plan on relying on a warranty. Practice flying with a smaller and safer quad first. But we'll be testing one of these as soon as possible.

    Google Play App Roundup: Office Remote, Corridor Z, and Dragon Hills

    It's time once again to find out what's going on in the Play Store. This is the Google Play App Roundup where you can come every week to find out what's new and cool on Android. Just hit the links below to head right to the Play Store on your device.

    This week Office gets official remote control, the zombies are coming, and dragons erupt from the ground.

    Office Remote

    Microsoft has lately been all about expanding its products beyond the consistently underperforming Windows Phone platform. The latest feature to reach Android is the Office Remote app, which can be used to access and control documents in the Office 2013 desktop suite. You'll need Bluetooth on your PC and a full version of Office, but the results are neat.

    Office Remote connects to Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. The idea is that you'll use this as a way to control a presentation, which is mostly a PowerPoint thing. However, anyone who has ever sat through meetings as part of the daily grind know that there's not always time to turn something into a Powerpoint. As such, it's nice there's support for all three of the core Office apps.

    Setup is fairly easy -- turn on Bluetooth on your Android device and PC, then install the Office Remote add-on from Microsoft. The app will send you a link to download it. That places an Office Remote tab in your desktop Office apps. Just go there and enable remote access to your open documents. Next, you need to pair your devices, which can be fussy depending on your setup. You might need to manually pair your PC and phone from the system menu before it will show up in the list of available devices in the Office Remote app.

    If you're connecting to Powerpoint, you get the most options including advancing slides, thumbnail view, and virtual laser pointer control using the phone's screen (this is more fun than you think). With Excel, you're basically moving around the document in various ways. You can jump between worksheets, go to named objects, filter data, and more. Word lets you scroll around, zoom, jump to comments/headings, and a few other things.

    Once you're connected, Office Remote seems very stable and reliable. I did have some issues getting it to refresh the list of open files, but closing and reopening the app seemed to fix it. If you ever have to show an Office document to others, you should definitely consider using Office Remote. It's much easier than most of those third-party presentation management apps out there. It's also free, aside from the cost of Office.

    Show and Tell: Nixie Tube Clock

    For this week's Show and Tell, Norm shares a recent purchase: a relatively inexpensive Nixie tube clock that makes for a beautiful desk display. This clock makes use of Russian IN-14 cold cathode tubes paired with a simple control board with RGB LEDs for color accents. The only thing not included is a cheap 12V power supply you can easily get online.

    Apple Watch Hands-On Demo Impressions

    The Apple Watch is finally available to try in person, so we book the very first appointment at our local store to get a demo and check out the hardware. Norm, Jeremy, and Gary share their impressions from trying on the different models and bands and discuss navigating the UI with the digital crown.

    In Brief: Dropbox Adds Office Online Integration

    Microsoft and Dropbox today announced further integration between their two web services, Office Online (Microsoft's free document editing web apps), and the Dropbox website. In the former on Office.com, you're now able to create and edit Word, Excel, and Powerpoint documents and have them saved directly to Dropbox, as you would previously have done with OneDrive. That's a little more convenient than manually exporting a local document file when working with something like Google Docs. And when browsing your files on Dropbox.com, recognized Office files can not only be read, but opened and edited in Office Online and saved back to your Dropbox. You have to link your Microsoft and Dropbox accounts to enable the feature.

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    Testing: Zoom Q8 HD Camera for Podcasting

    I've been looking for the right camera for our mobile podcasting setup ever since we started recording video podcasts away from our studio in 2012. When we first started Still Untitled, we used a GoPro HeroHD 2 to record the show. Over the years, we've upgraded those GoPros to newer models, but have remained pretty dissatisfied with the cameras--they just aren't meant to be used for long videos with lots of talking.

    The action cameras I've tested have a hard time maintaining a consistent clock over long videos, which isn't a problem when you're recording a ride down a mountainside or your first time skydiving, but when you need to sync separate audio and video tracks, it's a huge pain in the ass that involves stretching the duration on either the audio or the video. Most action cams also lack viewfinders, so it's difficult to reliably frame your shot, and all this is compounded by the fact that action cameras simply aren't designed for long shoots. The camera have overheated over 40 minutes of runtime, which causes lost or corrupted video. It isn't a great experience.

    We've tested pro cameras for podcast use before too, including the Panasonic cameras we use in the studio and the Sony PXW-X70 that Joey had on loan from B&H in January. Our aging Panasonics are tied to the proprietary P2 storage cards, which require a special (and very expensive) P2 deck to grab footage from. The Sony camera produced great video and integrated easily into my Premiere Pro-based workflow, but it is much more expensive than I was looking for and is frankly overkill for long, static shots.

    On paper, inexpensive point and shoot cameras seem like the perfect middle ground between inexpensive action cameras and fixed lens prosumer models. We've used Norm's Sony RX100 Mk III for the last half dozen or so episodes of Still Untitled with reasonably good results. However, it's not an ideal solution either. While it's capable of maintaining a constant clock (making A/V sync easy), most point and shoots lack line-level audio inputs and they are universally limited to 30 minute maximum record times, either due to sensor overheating issues (rare) or strange European tariffs (common).

    Enter the Zoom Q8. The Zoom Q8 was designed for exactly the situation we shoot Still Untitled in every week, longer fixed shots where audio is really important. Zoom specifically calls out podcasters, YouTubers and folks who want to record live music from the audience as potential users of this camera. While I can't speak to the latter, the two former use cases are spot on. I've used the Q8 to record three episodes of Still Untitled, and the results are exactly what I was looking for in this type of camera.

    Projection-Mapped Fight Choreography Performance

    We're only scratching the surface of the potential of 3D projection-mapping for live performances, but the demos we've seen--whether it's with motion-controlled robots or human faces--are spellbinding. Large scale projection mapping performances, like this choreographed martial arts dance at the Hamdan International Photography Awards, would be lovely to see full theatrical shows or even at theme parks. This one was designed by Pixel 'n Pepper, and it reminds me a little bit of those Flash video animations I used to watch on Newgrounds. (h/t Laughingsquid)

    A Glimpse Inside Aviation Artistry

    I am of the opinion that airplanes are themselves a form of functional art (even the ugly ones). Perhaps that is why I also think that airplanes are great subjects for more conventional art mediums. I recently had an opportunity to speak with three noteworthy and successful aviation artists. They create drawings, paintings, and photographs covering all genres of aviation. As you will see, my interviewees are all lifelong-airplane fanatics and multi-talented artists. Between them, they can claim two long-term Smithsonian exhibits and an Emmy award. I learned a lot about how each found success, the challenges of their chosen mediums, and the other forms of art that they create.

    Lloyd S Jones - 3-View Drawings

    I first became familiar with Mr. Jones' work when I was still in elementary school. I was given a copy of his book 'US Fighters', and it immediately became my favorite source of bedtime reading material. Whereas my peers may have preferred searching for Waldo or reading the adventures of the Berenstain Bears, I indulged in topics such as the development process of the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. As much as I enjoyed learning the history, my favorite part of 'US Fighters' was the collection of 3-view drawings within: at least one full-page drawing for every subject airplane (well over 100).

    DJI Announces Phantom 3 Quadcopter

    It's long been rumored, but quadcopter and aerial camera gear manufacturer DJI today finally announced the Phantom 3 drone. The follow-up to last year's popular Phantom 2 Vision+ comes in two SKUs, the Phantom 3 Professional ($1250) and Phantom 3 Advanced ($1000). The most expensive model is equipped with a gimbaled camera that can record video at 4K 30fps (or 24fps), while the latter records 1080p at a max of 60fps. These are also using new sensors for improved image quality (last year's Vision+ camera was a little worse than GoPro 2), and the f/2.8 optics have a field of view of 94 degrees--no crazy fisheye here. Both models shoot RAW photos at 12MP, and there's no word of a model without a built-in camera--yet.

    The Phantom 3 line also gets features previously introduced by the Inspire 1 quadcopter. Transmission and reception is all handled through the included remote, so there's no separate Wi-Fi extender for the video feed--it's all done through DJI's proven 720p Lightbridge tech. GPS precision in this third-gen quad is also increased through expanded satellite tracking, as Phantom 3 will triangulate with signals from Russia's GLONASS satellites in addition to GPS. More importantly, Phantom 3 will utilize the ground-facing visual positioning system from the Inspire to allow for stable indoor flights, which also allows for auto take off and landing. DJI is emphasizing user friendliness and a low learning curve with this generation. Battery life is expected to be 23 minutes, and its unclear if the new batteries are in a 3S or 4S configuration.

    At its New York press conference, DJI also showed live streaming capabilities of the Phantom 3, which can clip and send footage directly to YouTube. The company's own Youtube channel has several pre-recorded clips shot with the new quads, if you want to get a sense of image quality.

    We were big fans of the Phantom 2 Vision+, and have had a lot of fun flying Adam's Inspire 1 with its awesome tech. The Phantom 3 line brings those capabilities to a much more affordable price point, and should be attractive for photographers and cinematographers who want to experiment with aerial photography. We'll definitely be testing one when it goes on sale in the coming weeks.

    In Brief: Stanford's High-Performance Aluminum Battery

    Stanford University recently revealed the work of scientists and students at its Precourt Institute for Energy. Their invention: an aluminum battery that they claim is fast-charging, inexpensive, flexible, long-lasting, and resistant to damage. These are all advantages over Lithium-based batteries we use in electronics today, but the experimental Aluminum batteries are only capable of outputting low voltage--about 2V. That's still more than an AA battery, and about half the output of typical lithium ion batteries. The researchers' breakthrough was pairing graphite for the battery's cathode with aluminum for its anode. A brief video explaining their battery is below.

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