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    'Inside the Machine' VisualizesThe Electronic Age

    I've been reading Megan Prelinger's just-released book, 'Inside the Machine', a history of the visualization of electronics, as seen through the lens of commercial art and advertising. Prelinger, the co-founder of the Prelinger Library in San Francisco, is a cultural historian who previously explored the relationships between of art and technology in her first book, 'Another Science Fiction.' Her talks at the BoingBoing Ingenuity event and Nerd Night in 2013 offered early glimpses of this book, which is filled with beautiful 20th century commercial art from scientific journals and trade publications. That art is the narrative that explains how industry and the public perceived and grasped the emerging technologies of the electric age--the effects of which still permeate our visual lexicon today. For those of us who like touring through the intersection of art and technology, this book is an essential guide.

    And if you're in San Francisco, The Green Arcade bookstore is hosting a release party for this book on August 24th. I'll be there!

    The Light Field Stereoscope

    At this year's SIGGRAPH conference, researchers from Stanford's Computation Imaging lab introduced a prototype head-mounted display that eliminates the eye-focusing problem of "vergence-accommodation conflict." Essentially, the light-field display stacks two LCDs at different depths in front of your eyes to provide focus cues for a less straining simulation of depth-of-field--your eyes actually get to naturally refocus across multiple planes. The technology is far from ready for consumer VR headsets, though. Read more about how the concept works here.

    In Brief: How to Watch Netflix Remotely In Sync with Friends

    Remember the Xbox 360's Party Mode? It was a Netflix feature that let you watch streaming video with friends remotely, completely in sync. Microsoft removed that feature, and there was never any easy way to duplicate it on a desktop, other than to call your friend up on the phone and manually synchronize playback. Until now. Showgoers is a simple Chrome extension that lets you share a private URL to friends to automatically sync up playback, including pauses, fast forwards, and jumping to any point in the timeline. Super neat!

    MIT's Hermes Remote-Controlled Robot

    From MIT: "Researchers from MIT's Department of Mechanical Engineering have designed an interface that takes advantage of a human's split-second reflexes, allowing a humanoid to maintain its balance and complete tasks." The platform translates human-controlled movements from an exoskeleton to the robot, while providing physical feedback to the controller to adjust positioning and weight for maintaining balance.

    Tested In-Depth: Ultimaker 2 3D Printer

    Interested in 3D printing? Our rapid prototyping expert Sean Charlesworth has been testing the Ultimaker 2, and sits down with Will to review this new printer. Its prints are really great! We discuss how the Ultimaker 2 compares with other FDM printers and what you should look for when researching and shopping for a 3D printer.

    The Best Voice Recorder

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

    After 36 hours of research, testing eight different devices in a number of real-world settings and then playing the audio we collected to a four-person blind listening panel to evaluate its sound quality, we've determined that the best audio recorder for taping meetings, lectures, and interviews is the $100 Sony ICD-UX533. It recorded the most intelligible and truest-to-life sound clips of all the recorders we tested. It's easily pocketable and its intuitive, easy-to-press function buttons combined with a legible, backlit screen gave it the best user interface out of all the models in our test group.

    Who is this for?

    If you want to record a lecture, meeting, or interview, this pick is for you. It's ideal for students, radio journalists, and anyone who needs to record meetings for future reference. On the other hand, if you're a musician, a professional podcaster, a radio journalist or if you belong to some other profession that requires the use of a high-quality audio recorder on a regular basis, this pick isn't for you.

    In Brief: For the Love of Clicky Keyboards

    What's the best computer keyboard ever made? For me, an old favorite was Microsoft's Natural Keyboard Pro, but the 30-year old IBM Model M is the only answer for some mechanical keyboard enthusiasts. Wired recently profiled Brandon Ermita, who restores the Model M and sells the five-pound keyboards to diehards. And while it's not peculiar to have a favorite keyboard, there are also users who covet rare vintage keys. The story of the Cherry Red Doubleshot Esc key follows that obsession. But for those of you who want the feel of a mechanical key without the clickiness, Cherry and Corsair announced the MX Silent switch last week.

    Show and Tell: Remote Controlled Bionic Bird

    Remember the Tim Bird toy from way back? Its successor is the Bionic Bird, a remote-controlled ornithopter that flaps its wings to flight. This crowdfunded toy was created by the son of the original Tim Bird inventor, and works great indoors. It's kind of like a toy bat!

    In Brief: Updated Backblaze Hard Drive Reliability Report

    Backblaze just updated its failure report for the 46,038 hard drives in its storage cluster at the time of the report, adding data for 4TB drives and reconfirming some of the conclusions from previous reports. The big takeaways are to avoid 3TB Seagate drives, while 4TB drives are at the sweet spot for performance and reliability now. It's definitely worth a read if you're in the market for a hard drive, and if you have a 3TB Seagate drive, I'd strongly suggest replacing it ASAP.

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    Google Play App Roundup: Snowball 2.0, Cosmonautica, and GLITCH

    You probably want more apps, but more than that, you want the right ones. That's what we're here to deliver with the weekly Google Play App Roundup. This is where you'll find the best new and newly updated apps and games on Android. Just click the link to head right to Google Play.

    Snowball 2.0

    Google Ventures tossed some serious money at the messaging manager app Snowball late last year, but at the time its utility was limited. It's been evolving over time, and now v2.0 is out with a much more robust feature set. Not only does it make your messaging easier to deal with, it actually takes over for the stock Android notification shade to manage all your notifications.

    With the default settings, Snowball remains on top of your status bar all the time (alternatively, it's an invisible overlay), so the tinted status bar on Lollipop won't work. It does this to filter the icons shown there to only be "important." It's actually very unobtrusive and has all the proper icons and information. Frankly, it might be an improvement over the status bar UI on some phones. I haven't decided if I like that feature personally, but a lot of people don't care one way or the other.

    When you pull down the shade, you get Snowball instead of your device's usual shade. It has three tabs, with the middle one being the main Snowball notification manager. You will need to grant notification access to the app, but that only takes a moment. All the notifications that would be in the native notification shade are in Snowball, but it ranks them by importance. You can swipe to the right to clear them and to the left to either hide or mark something as important/not important.

    Apps that you decide to hide from the main notification list go in the right side tab, which keeps them from cluttering up the UI. The tab on the left is for settings and toggles, because you can't access the native shade at all with Snowball running. It has a brightness slider, WiFi, flashlight, a few app shortcuts, and more. There aren't any settings to configure the selection here, but it seems to work quite well by default.

    The other side of Snowball is all about messaging. The app used to rely on a floating bubble to contain all of your messaging apps, but now they're in the notification stream. The cool thing is that all of them have quick reply features -- Hangouts, WhatsApp, and even Gmail. Just tap the reply button and send your message. This is probably my favorite part of Snowball.

    The app is free and has some really interesting features. You should give it a shot and see how it treats your notifications.

    Hoverboards Are Real

    Yes, this is just a publicity stunt by Lexus. Yes, the technology to do something like this has existed for a long time, someone just needed to figure it out and build it. Yes, it is highly impractical compared to actual skateboards. I don't care. Thank you Lexus, for making my 14-year-old self's dream come true.

    Tested In-Depth: Pebble Time Smartwatch

    The second-generation Pebble smartwatch is here, and brings with it a color screen and microphone. We sit down and discuss how the new Pebble Time compares with the original, the Apple Watch, and Android Wear. All-week battery life is great, but this watch has many caveats, especially if you're an iPhone user.

    The Best Network-Attached Storage

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

    After three weeks of research, plus hands-on testing of a half-dozen finalists, we found that the QNAP TS-251 is the best network-attached storage device (NAS) for people who need one. It has a faster processor and more memory than most NAS near its price, and it has flexible, powerful software that does everything most NAS users need and more.

    Our three favorite NAS devices: Synology DS214 (runner-up), QNAP Turbo TS-251 (our pick), and Western Digital My Cloud Mirror (beginner-friendly).

    Who's this for?

    A NAS device is a small computer with an Internet connection, at least one hard drive bay, an operating system that's optimized for network storage. It's the best way to add terabytes of storage space to every computing device you own.

    A NAS is great for people with large collections of movies, photos, and music: you can store all your media in one place and stream them to computers, speakers, phones and tablets, and your home theatre system. You can also use your NAS to backup your computers, or it can act as your own personal "cloud storage" with remote access and smartphone apps.

    Most NAS can even act as email, database or VPN servers; BitTorrent boxes; website hosts; or as DVRs for surveillance cameras, while using about the same amount of energy as a couple of LED bulbs.

    How we decided

    Our ideal NAS has two hard drive bays. Dual-drive NAS devices support drive mirroring—the contents of one drive are copied to the other, so your data is safe even if a hard drive fails. It should also support hot-swapping—changing hard drives without turning off the NAS. It should have several USB ports, for backing up external drives to the NAS (and vice versa) as well as connecting printers or Wi-Fi dongles. Setup should be simple, and it should come with good mobile apps for media streaming and remote access.

    We focused on NASes that cost less than $350 (diskless). Cheaper NASes have underpowered hardware, only one drive bay or operating systems that are complicated or half-baked. More expensive NAS are overkill for most home use.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (July 2015)

    It's about to be fall phone season, and that means you need to be extra cautious about buying a new device. Getting a new phone can be a two-year investment (at least for most people). You don't want to get the wrong thing and regret it on a daily basis. What's a phone nerd to do? Well, let's try to figure that out.

    The Galaxy S6, LG G4, and what's on the horizon

    The days of carrier exclusives have not come to a close, but they're very much waning. There are several great phones that are available on all four major carriers, and more on on the way. Both the Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G4 are available everywhere right now, so we'll hit those first. But in just a few weeks the new Moto X Style will arrive direct from Motorola. After we hash out the "universal choices, we'll see if any carrier-specific devices stand out.

    Samsung is using a its customary Super AMOLED screen on the Galaxy S6 (and S6 Edge) and it's really just fantastic. It's a 5-inch 1440p AMOLED, which is small enough that most people should be able to use it comfortably. It's a stunningly beautiful screen, and I have no doubt it's the best you can get on a smartphone right now. It gets very bright, very dim, the colors are good, and it's extremely crisp. It's really impossible to find a fault with this display.

    LG has stuck with an LCD for the G4 as its AMOLED panels still aren't very good (you need look no further than the G Flex 2 to see that). The only unique thing about this panel is the slight top to bottom curve it has. It doesn't really seem useful to me, but it does look kind of neat. Its 5.5-inches and 1440p in resolution. LG has bumped up the brightness and colors compared to the LCD on the G3, which is a good thing.