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    In Brief: Valve to Show VR Hardware at GDC 2015

    Well this is shaping up to be an interesting month in virtual reality, but maybe not in the way we were expecting. At next week's Game Developers Conference, we had anticipated showings from Oculus and possibly Sony, given last year's Project Morpheus debut and speculation of a Oculus VR controller. But Oculus acolytes will be disappointed to hear that we may not see any new input at all this month, as Oculus founder Palmer Luckey implied in a Reddit post. It's more likely that the massive booths Oculus has planned for the GDC show floor will be to demo the Crescent Bay prototype. But Valve Software, which has been working on its own secretive VR hardware, today announced that it would be showing that system off next week, alongside new Steam Machine living room devices and a refined (final?) Steam Controller. We haven't seen the Steam Controller since last year's GDC, and my hope is that it's been redesigned with VR in mind. (h/t PC Gamer)

    Norman
    In Brief: The First Demo of Magic Leap's Augmented Reality Technology

    Microsoft's HoloLens may be the first headset to bring augmented reality to the masses, but Magic Leap's technology may be more interesting. The secretive startup's product--which we've only been able to speculate on with inferences and patent filings--gave its first demo to press for an MIT Technology Review profile. The impressions indicates that Magic Leap's AR display will be more akin to Avegant's DLP-based retinal display than a projected image reflected on glass, as is expected in HoloLens (and Google Glass). The whole report is worth a read.

    Norman
    Using 3D Printing to Prototype Hollywood Costumes

    For a segment on movie production and video games, UK's Sky News visited Shepperton Studios to speak with different propmakers about the use of 3D printing for Hollywood costume. 3D printing as a tool for prototyping helmets, armor, and weapons is something that both professional and amateur propmakers have been tinkering with in recent years, and it's neat to see familiar props from films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Prometheus at these workshops. Aside from the Objets in use at fabrication shops like IPFL, many of the tools users are available to consumers. For example, the AgiSoft's photogrammetry software we used for our papercraft head models last year is the same used at FBFX for modeling actors for digital prop fittings.

    Google Play App Roundup: Palabre, Swap Heroes 2, and Draw Slasher

    Android devices do a lot of neat stuff out of the box, but you can always load them up with new apps to make them do more stuff. And maybe some games for good measure. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what's new on Android. Just hit the links to head to the Play Store.

    This week RSS is prettier, heroes are swapped, and pirate zombies are slashed.

    Palabre

    A number of feed readers have appeared to fill the void left by Google Reader, but Feedly seems to be one of the top options. The Feedly app is okay, but it's not yet updated for Android Lollipop's design features. Luckily, Feedly supports third-party apps like the newly released Palabre. This feed reader lets you add sources as standard RSS within the app, or access and manage a Feedly account. Plus, it looks great.

    This app comes from LevelUp Studio, developer of the mega popular Beautiful Widgets. When you open it, you can immediately start adding feeds or log into your Feedly account. The app's layout is straight out of the material design playbook. We're still early enough in the Lollipop era that this is a fine approach. Maybe in a few years the cookie cutter approach to material design will feel a little dated, but for now it's a very pretty app compared to the competition.

    Your articles are shown in a grid of cards by default, but you can switch it to a list view. I actually feel like this could be a little nicer as some of your articles might have tiny thumbnail images that don't look good blown up to a full-width card. Whichever way you go, tapping on one of the articles loads up at least part of the article. Most sites only put part of posts into the RSS, so you'll have to click through to get the full version. Palabre has a fine built-in webview browser, though.

    You can navigate through your various sources and groups using the navigation drawer on the left of the screen. I like that you can mark all the articles in your current view read with the button in the action bar. Make sure you check the drop down menu at the top to set your view as all, unread, or saved. This is the only slightly clunky part of the design.

    Palabre has a clean teal and white interface with yellow accents. There are material animations everywhere, as well as a proper status bar and hero color. You'll only see that stuff on Lollipop, though. There's also a dark UI mode in the settings that flips from a white to black background. Additional features hiding in the settings include refresh interval, navigation, and notifications.

    Palabre is free to use without limitations, but there will be occasional ads in your feeds. They aren't too annoying, but it's worth the $2 upgrade price.

    In Brief: Lenovo-Installed Superfish Malware Breaks Secure Websites

    Lenovo's in the news because Superfish, a piece of pre-installed crapware the company shipped on some computers last year, breaks the secure connections between web browsers and web servers of banks, online stores, social media sites, and more. That means when affected users use sites that rely on SSL to encrypt sensitive communications those connections aren't secure. If you want to know more, Ars Technica has done a great job explaining how Superfish works. And if you bought a Lenovo PC, especially if it was manufactured between October and December of 2014, you should probably go see if your PC is infested with Superfish. As an aside, this is why I recommend doing a clean install of Windows whenever you buy a new PC.

    Will 7
    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Racing Quad Buyer's Guide

    Back in December, we put together an overview of ready-to-fly quad-rotors. I intended to follow that article with a similar piece that focused on racing quads. It quickly became apparent, however, that racing quads are a very different kind of beast and would require an altered form of presentation. What I provide here is a beginner's buyers guide for aspiring quad racers. I’ll cover the components that you’ll need, some of the different equipment options, and a few recommended retailers for you to get started.

    Before We Get Start

    It should be noted that racing quads are not for beginners. They are small, fast, and maneuverable. Those traits are what make racing quads fun, but they also exaggerate the difficult aspects of learning to fly multi-rotors. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that racing quads are rather expensive as well. You can easily spend $1000 for all of the equipment that you’ll need to get started.

    I’ve preached my suggested route for beginners several times, so I won’t repeat it here. I’m just starting to explore racing quads myself, so I’m hardly qualified to make any skill-level recommendations. However, I can say that I would personally feel uneasy about trying racing quads if I didn’t already have significant experience flying slower quads outdoors (without GPS aids) and with First Person View (FPV) gear.

    Most modern racing quads are in the 250mm class, although it isn’t uncommon to find models ranging from 230-270mm. This measurement denotes the distance between the propeller shaft of a front rotor and the propeller shaft of the rear motor on the opposite side. At less than 10”, a 250mm racing quad is rather small compared to a DJI Phantom 2 or Blade 350 QX. In fact, they are only slightly larger than many of the beginner-oriented mini-quads. The difference is that racing quads pack a lot more relative power into a very small footprint.

    RACING QUADS ARE SMALL, FAST, AND MANEUVERABLE. MAKE SURE THAT YOUR FLYING SKILLS ARE UP TO PAR BEFORE DIVING IN. (BENJAMIN BRETH PHOTO)

    In general, racing quads are offered as kits that must be assembled. Some vendors offer only specific components such as frames or motors. Other shops provide everything you’ll need in one box. In a few instances you will find stores that offer pre-built and flight tested racing quads. Keep in mind that quad racing is a contact sport, so crashes and repairs are inevitable. This spawns two schools of thought regarding pre-built racers. On one hand, the education and familiarity provided by building your quad will be useful assets when the time comes to fix it. On the other hand, going pre-built removes the variables posed by rookie set-up blunders. Choose your poison.

    Before shopping for a racing quad, I suggest that you seek out other quad flyers in your area. See what equipment they are using and what works for them. Having access to someone with first-hand experience is one of the best ways to sort through the overwhelming array of options. Locals can also help you clear any hurdles you may experience during the build and set up of your racer.

    5 Lollipop Problems Google Should Address in Android 5.1

    Right from the start it was clear Google had big plans for Android 5.0 Lollipop. The entire UI had been rethought and some long-awaited features were finally being added. Sure, there were a few gripes over this or that minor feature, but Lollipop looked like a win. Now that we've got the advantage of hindsight, let's look back at Lollipop and see what Google still has to fix in the impending Android 5.1 update.

    The Infamous Memory Leak

    Google's initial deployment of Android 5.0 seemed to be going swimmingly. Mere days after Nexus devices got their customary updates LG, Nvidia, and Motorola started sending out the first wave of OTAs. Then things got weird and the updates slowed to a crawl, and from what I've been told it was because of memory usage.

    Most Android devices still ship with 2GB of RAM, and that's more than enough most of the time, but Lollipop has a particularly nasty memory leak that doesn't show up in system process tracking. Basically, RAM is not being reclaimed properly after process are closed, leading to a memory constrained environment. Background services that you want running (ex. music playback) are mysteriously closed and the home screen redraws frequently. A device like the Nexus 6 with 3GB of RAM seems to be immune from any ill effects, but it's an ongoing issue for many others.

    This bug has been reported to Google thousands of times and is one of the most "starred" items in the public Android issue tracker. While Google has marked the defect as minor, it's the sort of thing that can ruin a user experience if a build of Lollipop isn't specifically designed to avoid it. This is probably one of the main reasons the Lollipop rollout has stalled for months. OEMs were waiting on a fix, and now there is one.

    Google has listed this bug as "future release," meaning it should be patched in the next major release. That means Android 5.1, as long as it was done in time.

    Tested In-Depth: LG Ultra-Widescreen 21:9 Monitor

    Will reviews a new ultra widescreen computer monitor from LG--the first we've tested that's both a 21:9 display and also curved. We discuss what you can do with that extra screen real estate, software that helps manage your desktop, and what movies and games look like at that aspect ratio.

    What You Should Know about FAA’s Proposed Drone Rules

    Drones, quadcopters, multi-rotors…call them what you wish. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prefers the term sUAS (small Unmanned Aerial Systems). As businesses anxious to use the technology have been awaiting guidance from the FAA on what will be legal practice, the agency’s actions have hinted that they intended to rule commercial sUAS users with an iron fist. In response, the drone industry and its advocates have been circling the wagons in preparation for a looming battle against the FAA.

    Even under recent congressional pressure, FAA personnel refused to indicate when they would release their sUAS rules. It therefore came as a surprise when the FAA suddenly announced a media conference call to unveil the details of their sUAS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). That the call was hastily set for Sunday on a holiday weekend only stoked fears that the government’s hammer was about to fall. Yet, when the FAA laid their cards on the table, drone enthusiasts had more to praise than to complain about.

    Cliff Whitney is the owner of Atlanta Hobby, one of the busiest multi-rotor dealers and repair shops in the country. In a phone interview following the FAA announcement, Whitney said “The proposal got a lot of things right. The FAA has obviously been listening to the feedback people have been giving them.”

    Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) must be maintained at all times!

    Multi-rotor manufacturers are breathing a sigh of relief as well. Jon Resnick, a policy and marketing representative for DJI, echoed a common response seen all across the internet, “Overall, while it's not perfect, the proposal is far less onerous than many of us expected.”

    The FAA’s proposal is just that--an offering. It will take some time before actual laws are in the books. The proposal will first be published to the Federal Register, where it will be open to public comment for 60 days. The FAA will then need some time to review the comments and incorporate any changes. Optimists estimate that we could see the proposal become law as soon as late 2015. Until then, here's how we feel about the specifics of the proposal.

    The Best Smartwatch (For Now)

    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

    A good smartwatch connects to your smartphone, but it actually untethers you from nervously checking that phone. The smartwatch (for now) that best augments your Android or iPhone, and looks good doing it, is the Pebble Steel.

    After more than 40 hours of research, wearing and comparing nine smartwatches, and keeping a close eye on battery life and Bluetooth connections, we found the Pebble Steel to be the most adaptable watch for most wrists and lifestyles. Its battery lasts nearly an entire work-week—the longest of any we tested—it has the most useful apps, and it holds up to abuse.

    How we decided what to test

    We tested smartwatches primarily on how they did their main job: showing notifications from your phone, and controlling a few parts of it. We also put a good deal of weight on the visibility of the screen, the interface of the watch, and the ability to keep running all day.

    But looks matter, too, when you wear something every day. The size, heft, and visual appeal of each watch was considered, as well as its bands and clasps. We fastened our smartwatches on many friends' wrists, male and female. And we considered the external experience with each watch: the connection-managing app that came with every watch, the charging dock and cable, and the third-party apps and tools compatible with each watch. Our full guide has more details on what we did to narrow down the field and test smartwatches.

    Experimenting with Fluid Assembly Furniture

    The latest from MIT's Self-Assembly Lab: "Fluid Assembly is part of a series of investigations by MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab looking at autonomous assembly in complex and uncontrolled environments (water, air, space etc). In this experiment a number of components are released into a tank of turbulent water. Each of the components is completely unique from one another and has a precise location in the final structure. The process was filmed over 7 hours, after which a full assembled, precise chair was created." More details on this project here. (h/t Wired)

    In Brief: Sony Releases Its SmartEyeGlass Developer Kit

    Sony is making available the first developer kits for its SmartEyeGlass initiative, with the hopes that developers will make apps for it ahead of a commercial release. The glasses connect to an Android smartphone and integrate numerous sensors to display data in the wearer's line of sight, via a monochrome translucent display. This isn't the SmartEyeGlass Attach prototype we tried on at CES, but the version that debuted in late 2014. That Attach prototype had potential for consumer use, but the glasses available today are for industrial applications. Given our experiences with the Google Glass Explorer's Edition, we're unlikely to be purchasing this developer's kit for testing. But I'm curious to see what the response will be and what kind of apps the devs who do purchase it will make.

    Norman
    CoeLux Artificial Skylight Mimics Sunlight

    Unveiled at a lighting conference late last year, CoeLux is a lighting system that simulates a natural light through a skylight. And based on initial impressions and photographs, it's a convincing representation of the kind of scattered natural light you would see through a window. The artificial skylight will cost over $65,000 to install, and the current product consumes a whopping 340W of power. The next versions will bring power consumption and cost down with the use of LEDs, and CoeLux is also looking to allow users to adjust color temperature (golden hour on command!) and the angle of illumination. This is awesome and scary technology; the photography implications are exciting, but I can't help but imagine how it'll affect the design of dense high-rises (and prison cells) of the future. (h/t Petapixel)

    In Brief: Tactus’ Shapeshifting Keys for Your Tablet

    Touchscreen keyboards on our smartphones and tablets are totally serviceable, but there are still people who prefer the tactile response of physical keys. For example, if you have long nails, it's still easier to type on a Blackberry than it is on a small touchscreen. One technology that may give users the best of both worlds is transforming screens, which spring pronounced keys on command for typing, but can lay flush when not in use. Tactus Technology has the first consumer product using this kind of technology, in an iPad mini case called Phorm. As Wired explains, Phorm's pop-up keys are like small bubbles embedded in a thin transparent panel (akin to a screen protector). Switching it on pumps microfluids into those bubbles, propping them up for tactile typing. The whole process is hydraulic--it doesn't require batteries because the switch to activate these buttons is basically a pump on the back of the iPad case. And while Tactus' products will initially be tablet and smartphone cases, they're also experimenting with making their own tablets with integrated transforming screens for more than just key typing.

    Norman
    Jamie's Racing Spiders, Episode 2: The Build

    Just before leaving for his tour in Australia, a delighted Jamie stops by Kernerworks to see an early comp of his racing spiders design in action for the first time. For additional behind-the-scenes footage, Jamie's original build notes and project photos, click here.

    Google Play App Roundup: Lock Me Out, Limbo, and Grey Cubes

    A new week has dawned, and with it comes a new list of great things happening on Android. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what needs to be on your phone or tablet right now. Just click the links to head to Google Play and grab these apps for yourself.

    This week we lock you out, leave you in limbo, and drop some cubes.

    Lock Me Out

    Self-control is not something we all possess in abundance at all times. That's especially true when you account for these tempting little supercomputers in our pockets with an endless supply of games and information. Sometimes you just need to get things done, and your phone can get in the way. Lock Me Out helps by removing the temptation.

    First thing's first--this app with really and truly lock you out of your phone for the predetermined length of time. All you'll have access to is the lock screen, widgets, and emergency dialer. You can also answer incoming calls while Lock Me Out is active.

    It does this by using the Android accessibility service to change the PIN code on your device. Lock Me Out chooses a random PIN when you trigger the lock. After the timer counts down, the PIN will be changed back to the one you have set. If you don't set one, the PIN will be disabled completely.

    This app works remarkably well because it's not relying on any third-party locking mechanisms. Non-native lock screens are almost universally broken and easy to circumvent. With Lock Me Out, the only way to get around the lock would be to reboot the device, which removes the lure of instant gratification. Removing the Lock Me Out app without authorization would require booting into safe mode to disable admin rights, which is also more trouble than it's worth.

    You can use Lock Me Out free for up to 10 minutes at a time. To set a longer lockout than that, you need to pay $0.99 via an in-app purchase to upgrade to the full version.

    Show and Tell: Seek Thermal Imaging Camera

    For this week's Show and Tell, Norm tests out a thermal imaging camera accessory for his Android phone. The Seek Thermal camera connects to a smartphone over microUSB to gauge the temperature of anything in its sights--like Predator vision! The image resolution is a little low, but we've been using it for laptops, tablet, and phone testing.

    Tested In-Depth: Sling TV Streaming Service

    Sling TV is a new live video streaming service from Dish, which may be interesting for people who want to cut their reliance on cable subscriptions. We discuss what you get in the basic $20 package, Sling's device compatibility, and the viewing experience. It's a step in the right direction, but also could use much improvement.