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    FPV Quadcopter Racing at the 2015 Drone Nationals

    The California State Fair recently hosted the first ever Drone Nationals--a FPV quadcopter racing competition that brought together pilots from all around the world. After two days of races and freestyle stunt performances, we chat with the event's director and the competition's eventual winner about the developing sport of FPV aerial racing.

    Hobby RC: Testing the AquaCraft Cajun Commander

    Last summer, I reviewed the AquaCraft Mini Alligator Tours RC airboat. While not a powerhouse, it was (and still is) a fun boat that can go where most other boats dare not venture. The Mini Alligator Tours even inspired me to build a propeller-driven vehicle from scratch.

    The AquaCraft Cajun Commander is styled after full-scale swamp-running airboats. You can add to the scale features if you choose.

    AquaCraft recently released a new airboat design, the Cajun Commander ($280). This boat is considerably larger and has much more relative power than the Mini Alligator Tours. It definitely provides a different kind of RC boating experience.

    What's in the Box

    The Cajun Commander is prebuilt and features a camouflaged plastic hull. The only assembly steps are to remove the parts from the box and install the required batteries. The proportions of this boat are quite similar to the full-scale airboats I've seen roaring around the waterways of Central Florida. To enhance its scale appearance, two seats are included. Human figures to fill the seats are not part of the package, but I suppose that a properly-sized action figure or two would do the trick.

    If you're really into the scale aspect of RC boating, AquaCraft also offers 3D print files of other scale accessories for download. As you will see, I'm not much into making my boats life-like. So, I didn't bother adding action figures or printed items.

    The Cajun Commander is powered by a brushless motor with a 9" diameter 3-bladed propeller. A metal cage surrounds the propeller to keep aquatic vegetation and your fingers from being pureed. I really like that the cage has a built-in handle for carrying the boat.

    Hackers Take Remote Control of a Jeep SUV

    In a video for Wired, writer Andy Greenberg invited security engineers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek to hijack a stock Jeep Cherokee over a hacked internet connection. The two were able to control various functions on the Jeep--even its steering and brakes--by tapping into a vulnerability in the car's internet-connected entertainment system. Chrysler has just issued a fix for this vulnerability--a software patch that must be manually installed.

    In Brief: Testing the Usability of Electronics in Water

    Craig Hockenberry's post about testing the waterproof claims of the Apple Watch is a good read even if you don't own a smartwatch. He dives into what affects electronics in water use, and how waterproofing works in modern touchscreen devices. There are some interesting UI implications for wearables in underwater use as well, which may inform how smartwatches adapt input and output for different environments in the future.

    Norman
    Testing: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Laptop

    A few months ago, Lenovo sent me their ThinkPad X1 Carbon laptop to test. While I ran it through our usual suite of benchmarks at the office, I've been waiting for a proper place to test it in the field. That opportunity came during Comic-Con, where I brought the ThinkPad along to complement my 12-inch MacBook. The MacBook, which has been my travel computer for the past few months, has been serviceable for most daily activities--web browsing, writing, and image editing. But I knew its Core-M processor would slog over more intensive tasks like exporting hundreds of photos at once or rendering video clips. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon's Broadwell-U processor--a Core i7-5600U in this loaner unit--was more suited for the job. And what a difference it made. After months of working on low-powered systems like the Core-M MacBook, UX305, and even the Atom-based Surface 3, this laptop reminded me of the joys of computing on a workhorse laptop.

    And a workhorse is exactly what a ThinkPad is supposed to be. The ThinkPad X1 line, which we first tested in 2011, has been in a awkward and elongated transitional period where it's straddled the line between Ultrabook and workhorse. What's the difference? A workhorse laptop is designed around performance and battery life, with ports galore and business-friendly features like fingerprint readers. They're no-compromise laptops--essentially the anti-2015 MacBook. Ultrabooks, though, are an Intel classification, denoting the use of a low-wattage Core CPU along with a thin-and-light chassis. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon line, with its tapered unibody design and non-removeable battery, has been more Ultrabook than workhorse--at least in the eyes of some ThinkPad enthusiasts. That was definitely the case with the previous ThinkPad X1 Carbon generation, which had a controversial keyboard redesign and touch function key strip.

    This year's generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a return to form, at least for the Carbon line (Wirecutter still recommends the ThinkPad T450s for business users). It's still very Ultrabook-y, with no replaceable battery and a intentionally slim 3-pound chassis. And while the laptop is equipped with HDMI and DP video output and two USB 3.0 ports, there's no internet SD card slot. Ports like Ethernet and VGA are reserved for adapters that plug into the wide power+I/O jack. The 14-inch 2560x1440 screen may not be as overkill as the 3200x1800 QHD+ screen found in Lenovo's Yoga Pro line, though I still think 1080p is a sweet spot for a laptop this size. This X1 Carbon also has a fantastic backlit chiclet keyboard with ample travel and a smooth glass trackpad. The trackpoint nub is still around, too, which complements the touchscreen for precision cursor control. Elements of ThinkPad remain, balanced between the design constraints of Ultrabooks. But what tips the X1 Carbon more toward the workhorse category is its performance. This laptop is fast.

    The Best iPad Stylus Today

    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

    We spent 10 hours testing a total of 11 iPad styluses with a graphic designer and independently arrived at the same conclusion: The best stylus for most people is Adonit's newly redesigned Jot Pro ($30). The Jot Pro's unique clear plastic plastic tip allows for precise input; it doesn't block the iPad's screen like other rubber-tipped styluses so you can see what you're drawing as you draw. It's also comfortable to hold, and a number of small details, such as a spring-loaded tip that better mimics the feel of pen on paper, make the overall experience a pleasure.

    How We Decided

    You want a stylus with enough weight and glide to move freely, but with enough friction to be predictable. The idea is to replicate the feeling of pen on paper. We tested each stylus by navigating a maze, tracing the alphabet, sketching a variety of items, and tapping around a tablet. After our initial assessment, we started all over again, testing the pens in a different order to reduce any chance that becoming acclimated to a stylus might have skewed the results.

    In Brief: Five Interesting Things Today

    After a week-long exhale from Comic-Con, we're back to a regular schedule and looking forward to upcoming events, product testing, and more projects! Here are some stories currently sitting my browser tabs that I thought were worth sharing. First, Russian billionaire Yuri Milner announced that he would be spending $100 million over the next ten years to amp out the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. Steven Hawking's on board. I also enjoyed this NPR story about the research into the curious sound of screaming. Windows 10 comes out in a week, and Microsoft has released an invite-only beta of its Cortana app for Android--Arstechnica has tested it. Boingboing's exploration of vintage Star Wars clothing collecting strikes a chord. And the best custom LEGO build in recent memory may be David Szmandra's enormous RC construction crane. "Massive erection" indeed.

    Norman 1
    Show and Tell: TinyCircuits Micro Arcade Cabinet

    This week, Norm shares a microcontroller system that's designed to run truly tiny electronics projects. Tinycircuits is an Arduino-compatible hardware platform with stackable expansion boards that allow you to make wearable lights, a simple smartwatch, or even a tiny arcade cabinet. It's really neat!

    Google Play App Roundup: Native Clipboard, This War of Mine, and Redden

    Another week is upon us, and that means it's time to check out the state of the Google Play Store. Your phone is only a shadow of itself without the best apps, so it's a good thing we're here to save the day. Just click on the app name to pull up the Google Play Store so you can try things out for yourself.

    Native Clipboard

    There was a time some years ago that copying and pasting on a mobile device was a big deal. Now you can pretty easily select, copy, and paste text on Android and other mobile platforms, but nothing much has changed in the last few years. Native Clipboard is an app that tries to beef up your clipboard, and it does a nice job of it. If you're got the root-only Xposed Framework, it's even more powerful too.

    Native Clipboard will need to be added as an accessibility service after installation, which allows it to read the contents of your clipboard. So it can see all the text you copy, but it's open source and nothing shady is going on. The basic idea is that if you need to paste some text, you can double-tap in a field and Native Clipboard will pop up at the bottom of the screen.

    The UI will cover up the keyboard, but you can drag it up out of the way if you need to type something before dismissing it. Your recently copied items will be in cards inside the Native Clipboard interface. Tapping on any of them will paste it into the selected field, and a long-press will expand it so you can see the full text of a longer snippet. From the expanded view, you can also pin something. Pinned text will remain at the top of the list (if you've selected that in the settings) and won't be automatically cleared. A swipe will clear any non pinned card in the list.

    There are a lot of customization options in Native Clipboard, including full control of the theme/colors. The size of the text, height of the pop up, and number of items to save are also configurable. For Xposed users, you can use the Native Clipboard module to blacklist certain apps, edit clips directly, and use the app inside a web browser. Note: regular users can use Native Clipboard in the address bar of a browser, just not within the page itself. That's coming to 5.0/5.1 devices soon, though.

    Native Clipboard is completely free and there are no in-app purchases. There's definitely enough functionality here to charge money for, so it's pretty cool that you can use it at no cost.

    Testing: Pebble Time Smartwatch

    The recently released Pebble Time is Pebble's third smartwatch, after the original Kickstarter model and the Pebble Steel. That gives the company a leg up on other smartwatch makers--its large backer and customer base has informed Pebble about usage patterns on the watch, so follow-ups can play on its strengths. And in the case of Pebble Time, the relatively few changes to the platform indicates that Pebble is confident in its core strength: putting your smartphone's notifications on your wrist. That's something that Android Wear watches and the Apple does too, but with Pebble, it's the most important feature, and one that's streamlined with physical button interactions.

    Get notifications, and then be able to respond to or act on them. That's what I need a smartwatch to do well, and the Pebble Time excels at it. I've been using the $200 watch for the past month instead of my Asus ZenWatch, and have taken it on numerous work trips, including last week's Comic-Con. But I'm ready to go back to Android Wear. Despite differentiating features that Pebble Time brings to the table, the hardware makes some glaring missteps. Let's start by going over some of those new features.

    The Color Display is a Step Back

    The big "improvement" in Pebble Time is the color display. The original Pebble used an always-on memory LCD, which, like an e-paper display, was only readable with an external light source. Pebble Time's new memory LCD is a 1.25-inch display with the same resolution as the original (144x168, for app compatibility), but now can display 64 colors. That may not sound like a lot, but with dithering, the palette extends to a few thousand color. It's essentially the resolution and quality of a Nintendo Game Boy Color (which actually had a 15-bit display), but squeezed onto a 1.25-inch screen. I thought the range of colors is good, but images look muted and flat because of the way the memory LCD works. When used properly, the images look good, but this is something meant for displaying pixel art, not photos.

    While there's nothing inherently worse in using the color memory LCD over the black and white screen, visibility is actually worse on Pebble Time. Pebble Time's screen needs a good amount of light to read clearly, and more importantly, that light needs to be reflected at a good angle. Unfortunately, the sweet spot for reflection is limited--angle the Pebble off-axis by 30 degrees and the screen becomes difficult to read. Unlike any backlit display, you're actually trying to angle the screen in a position to get the most glare for readability.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Preflight Tips and Tools

    The first flight of a new RC model is always an exciting event. Whether you've spent ten minutes or ten months getting your aircraft ready for this moment, you're bound to feel anxious – and probably a little nervous. The best cure for a case of the pre-flight jitters is having confidence in the mechanical, electronic, and aerodynamic soundness of your model. In this article, I will explain the baseline inspection steps that I execute before flying any new model.

    The steps shown here are primarily intended for multi-rotors and airplanes. Helicopters are a special case. The concerns are the same, but the techniques for addressing them are quite different. Even excluding helicopters, there are far too many variables among the different types of multi-rotors and airplanes to strive for a one-size-fits-all strategy. Rather, consider these steps as cornerstones of an individualized inspection routine that you can create for your specific model. It is often helpful to create a checklist to guide you through the process.

    Don't Harsh My Vibe, Man

    Vibration is bad news on RC models. It causes premature fatigue of mechanical and electronic components, distorts camera images and wastes onboard energy. For models with piston engines, some degree of vibration is unavoidable. You just have to isolate the fragile components the best that you can and live with it. On electric-powered models, however, there is no excuse to not find and eradicate all sources of vibration.

    The most common cause of vibration is an unbalanced propeller. Always assume that any new propeller is off-kilter. Most of the propellers I have ever used required some degree of tweaking to make them balanced. The good news is that balancing a propeller is usually a simple process.

    The key to eliminating vibration in electric powered multi-rotors and airplanes is to balance the propeller(s)…even brand new ones. This magnetic balancer works well with most RC propellers.

    The balancing device that I use in my shop is the Top Flite Power Point magnetic balancer. It suspends the prop magnetically, with the axis of rotation perfectly horizontal. This set-up allows you to detect very small balance deviations. This is especially helpful when working with small propellers.

    Bits to Atoms: 3D Printing a Mercury Capsule Miniature

    Shortly before this past Christmas, I was contacted by Lauren Oliver, an extremely polite gentleman who had discovered my Buckaroo Banzai Jet Car on The Replica Prop Forum. He reached out to inquire if I would be interested in building a NASA Mercury space capsule for a short film he was writing and directing. I was most definitely interested.

    Lauren's short film, "T-Minus", is a fictional account of the 7th manned Mercury mission, which was cancelled in favor of moving on to the Gemini program. His plan was to shoot on 35mm film, using nothing but scale models and practical effects. My background is in film production--almost everything I ever shot was on film and I grew up in the 70's and 80's (the heyday of practical effects). This was my kind of project!

    For the film, Lauren intended to build a 1/24 scale Atlas rocket, including the launch gantry (more on this later) but needed the capsule and other parts made. My initial response was, "not to put myself out of a job, but can't you just use an existing model kit?"--I figured there must be a ton to choose from. There are, in fact; that was his original intention, but none were detailed enough and/or at the right scale.

    I have to confess, I know more about Star Wars ships than I do about our real-life NASA fleet and there are as many Mercury capsule versions as there are TIE-Fighter models. So, I was very pleased when Lauren presented me tons of reference photos, blueprints and detailed the differences between them all -- he knew his stuff. Interestingly enough, at the time he was not aware of Tested and all the space goodness that goes down here--but I made sure to fill him in. My job was to build the capsule, the escape tower (the red rocket assembly at top), and the adapter, which attached the whole thing to the Atlas rocket.

    Photo Gallery: Adam Incognito with Astronaut Chris Hadfield

    Here are some photos I took of Adam and Commander Chris Hadfield prepping for their Comic-Con incognito walk, roaming the convention show floor, and randomly bumping into "The Martian" author Andy Weir! You can actually see the exact moment when Andy realizes that the two 2001: A Space Odyssey astronauts must be Adam and Chris!

    Google Play App Roundup: Hooks, Atomas, and Quadrush

    It's that time of the week again. Time to shake off the weekend vibe and get back to work. But you can probably spare a few minutes to check out some new apps. This is the Tested Google Play App Roundup, which is where we tell you about the best new and newly updated apps on Android. Just follow the links to Google Play.

    Hooks

    There's a whole world of information out there, and your phone probably has an active internet connection all day long, If only there was some way to get notifications about all those events sent to your phone. That's exactly what Hooks is for--it's a notification service for multiple services and data sources. Want to be notified when a new episode your favorite show airs or when it's going to rain tomorrow? Hooks can tell you that.

    Hooks feels like a bit of a mix between Pushbullet channels and IFTTT. It's not a configurable as IFTTT, but it's somewhat more flexible than Pushbullet. To create a new notification, you have three columns that present different options. There's a full list of all available notifications, one of suggested notifications, and one with the most popular notifications.

    The notifications available in Hooks usually have a few settings you can tweak, but you're mostly at the mercy of the developers with regard to the selection. There's a pretty good list so far, though. You've got feeds that can watch for newly released movies with a certain rating, nearby concerts and events that match certain keywords, weather alerts, sports scores, popular news from various sources, and various tag/keyword alerts for social networks.

    The main screen in Hooks is a timeline of what's been going on in your account lately. It shows recently added notifications, as well as all the notifications that have been triggered. When something pops up, it appears in the notification shade and links you to Hooks. From there, you can open the relevant content in the browser or another app if you want more information.

    Individual notifications can also be edited after you've added them. Maybe you want to change a keyword or alter the rating threshold for a movie alert. You can also enable and disable notification sounds for each one.

    Hooks is a mostly material app. It looks fine, but there's no colored status bar for some reason, and the use of two separate slide-out nav menus seems confusing. Still, it's a neat way to track various events on your phone without wasting battery. Since Hooks is sending push notifications, it's only active when something actually happens. It's free, so give it a look.

    Show and Tell: Palette Modular Controller

    For this week's Show and Tell, Norm shares a new custom modular controller he's been testing for photo editing. Palette is a system of programmable buttons, dials, and sliders that tap into Adobe's suite of apps like Photoshop, Lightroom, and Premiere Pro. It's proven pretty useful for processing convention photos!

    Comic-Con 2015 Show Floor Walking Tour (Single Long Take)

    If you've never been to San Diego Comic-Con, it's difficult to get a sense of just how massive and packed the convention floor really is. Using a stabilized camera on a handheld gimbal, we give you our walking tour of comic-con, shot in a single 20-minute long take! We wade through the crowd to show you how the convention is laid out, step into a few of our favorite booths, and run into a few friends!

    Testing: Palette Modular Controllers

    I was recently sent Palette, a modular controller system designed to assist with photo and video editing. The freeform system, which raised funds for development and production on Kickstarter, just launched pre-orders to the general public. I've been testing it with my Lightroom photo editing, and found that it's sped up parts of my workflow. Additionally, it's changed the way I think about some photo-tweaking settings, like color temperature, for the better. Here's how it works.

    Palette is a system of physical buttons, dials, and sliders that, though its Mac or Windows desktop software, tap directly into keyboard shortcuts or compatible Adobe apps. Its innovation (and cost) lies in the modular design--each module is housed in a beautiful and lightweight aluminum chassis. An OLED-equipped core power module is the only thing that plugs into your computer via USB; the rest of the modules snap together with magnetic connections. Each module has one data connecting side that needs to be adjacent to another module for the daisy-chaining to work, but the result is that the system is fairly freeform. Up to 16 modules can be powered off of one power core.

    On the desktop side, the companion app actually recognizes the physical arrangement of modules, showing your configuration on screen. From there, you can create profiles for compatible (or custom) programs, assigning functionality to each of the modules, as well as adjusting the color of the module's LED light border. For example, in my Lightroom profile, I assigned one arcade-style button to toggle a zoom, another to alternate between original and edited photos, and the sliders and dials to various Develop tools. The physical design of these modules dictates their purpose to three basic types of control: the button is suited for toggling functions, the slider for adjusting a limited range, and the dial for bi-directional adjustment of incremental values. The upshot is that Palette works best if you are already familiar with the tools in your Adobe apps and have an idea of how where your workflow can be optimized.

    The Best iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus Battery Case

    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.

    We've spent more than 140 hours testing 21 different battery cases (18 for the iPhone 6 and three for the iPhone 6 Plus), and we think the best battery case for most people is Anker's Ultra Slim Extended Battery Case. It provides an above-average 117 percent of a full charge to the iPhone 6—one full charge plus another 17 percent—and at only $40, it's by far the least expensive. The result is the highest ratio of charge percent per dollar and the lowest cost per full iPhone recharge out of all the models we looked at. It's also the lightest and thinnest battery case we tested.

    Anker's Ultra Slim Extended Battery Case.

    Why you might want a battery case

    Depending on how you use your iPhone, draining its battery during an average day can be easy. If you rely on your phone to last a full day, and you don't have the time (or physical access) to plop down next to a wall outlet, a battery case—which puts a moderate-capacity rechargeable battery inside a bulky iPhone case—can be a smart choice. In the best circumstances, a battery case can double the battery life of your iPhone and then some. And unlike with stand-alone battery packs, you don't need to bring a separate cable or figure out how to carry both devices together. You just slide or snap your iPhone into the battery case to get protection and power in a single unit. If you're looking only for some protection, we can also recommend a regular case.