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    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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    The Best Mechanical Pencils

    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 .

    After talking to a half-dozen experts, surveying more than a thousand readers, researching 127 different models, and going hands-on with seven of them, we've discovered that the best general-use mechanical pencil for most people is the $5 uni-ball Kuru Toga. Thanks to an innovative internal mechanism, it'll never get blunt as you write, meaning your words and diagrams will always be at their sharpest and most defined.

    But we know that there are various ways in which people use mechanical pencils. If you have other needs, we have a couple other picks below, and even more in our full guide at the Wirecutter.

    How we decided

    We consulted with aficionados from the thriving network of stationery bloggers, interviewing a half-dozen pencil experts who between them have 36 years of experience covering all manner of writing utensils. We combined this with a survey of more than 1,000 readers to get an idea of what really mattered to people, and between the two methods were able to narrow down from hundreds of pencils on the market to just a handful, each of which were useful for different situation.

    Google Play App Roundup: Infinit, Tetrobot and Co, and DuckTales: Remastered

    The time has come again to shine a light into all the shadowy corners of Google Play to find the best new and newly updated stuff for your phone or tablet. The Google Play App Roundup is where you can come every week to see what's cool on Android, and this week is no exception. Click on the links to head right to Google Play and download for yourself.

    This week we look at sending big files, a robo-puzzler, and a classic game remastered.

    Infinit

    So you've got a file on your phone or tablet, and you want it somewhere else? You could upload it to a cloud storage service, send an email, or set up a local WiFi share. A new app called Infinit promises to handle all the legwork for you, and do so super-fast.

    You need to sign up for an Infinit account before you can use it, which isn't uncommon. However, the app only allows you to use an email address or Facebook. Google sign-in would be appreciated. At any rate, the app itself is very straightforward to use. It's arranged into a series of tabs, with the main one being a list of files you've transferred. There's a floating action button to initiate file transfers (the only real material element in the app).

    After choosing a file, you have the option of sending it to your own devices (Android and desktop) or to any of your contacts. This is one of the cool things about Infinit. You don't need to have other people set up with the app ahead of time. When you send them the transfer request by email or SMS, they will get a unique link to download the app and link their account with yours. After this first transfer, they will just receive a notification for each new transfer, which can be accepted or rejected.

    Infinit claims its transfers are faster than simply using the cloud, although that's what it uses most of the time. What I suspect they mean is that the app is smart enough to know if two devices are on the same local WiFi network. If that's the case, they will connect over the local network for a much faster transfer. Another advantage, according to the developers, is that there is absolutely no limit on the file type or size you can send. That really makes it stand out from most file transfer tools.

    The functionality seems to all be there, but I feel like the app could use a redesign to look more suited to Android. The icons and styling look a little too much like iOS for my taste. The FAB only helps a little. Still, this is worth checking out if you need to send big files with a minimum of hassle.

    10 Extreme Places Photographers Have Gone For Shoots

    They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but is it worth risking your life? That’s the question we pose with this gallery, which documents ten of the most hazardous spots on the planet Earth where shutterbugs have gone to snap incredible images. From active volcanoes to the bottom of the sea, here are ten totally extreme locations.

    10 Upcoming Products That May Change Modern Life

    It’s an exciting time to be alive – the pace of human progress is faster than it’s ever been, with fantastic scientific innovations hitting the market seemingly every day. Just as the Internet and other technologies have changed the world in our lifetime, some upcoming products might just do the same. Here’s our guide to ten technologies that could be near-future gamechangers.

    Living with Photography: Motion Time-Lapse Test Rig

    Lately, I've been thinking a bunch about time-lapse videos. They're the opposite of slow motion, and a cousin of stop-motion. If high-speed camera videos are a microscope for time, then time-lapse videos are the time machines of cinematography. And my favorite thing about them is that they're just so versatile. Time-lapse apps and even Apple's built-in time-lapse camera feature has made shooting these videos easy and accessible, but that's just grazing the surface of what you can do with a camera shutter on an intervalometer. There's adjustments of camera and lens settings, post-processing, and of course, motion control rigs.

    My favorite field of time-lapse is the use of motion control--the ability to move and preposition your camera framing to simulate a smooth motion throughout the time-lapse period. Two years ago, I tested the Radian, a Kickstarted motion time-lapse device that put your camera on a stepper motor for smooth pans. The secret sauce of the radian wasn't just the hardware--you can hack together a similar device with a stepper motor, programmed control board, and time-lapse trigger like Alpine Labs' Micron. What made the Radian so easy and fun to use was the phone app that let me pre-program a motion time-lapse's essential variables, including interval ramping and HDR bracketing. And using the Radian with my DSLR allowed me to make pretty videos like this one below:

    But after shooting a bunch of videos with the Radian, I realized that this one axis of motion didn't really satisfy my needs. It was great for panning around landscapes and rooms, but this basic camera panning setup was built for showing time passing through a large swath of space. It wasn't useful for focusing on a single subject. If you take the time-lapse element out of it, it was just like the swivel motion of a camera on a tripod. A camera pan looks outward around the circumference of a circle; I wanted a time-lapse setup that looked inward.

    So I started thinking about the other kinds of time-lapse rigs you can buy, and the camera motions you can get from those setups. There are pricey tme-lapse devices that pull cameras along roped tracks or wheeled dollies, which again gives you linear motion perpendicular to a plane. The camera (and shot) moves across a scene, not directed at one. Eventually, I sketched up a system that I thought could work, using the Radian and some simple and lightweight camera brackets. Here's what I built, and results of testing it.