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    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Car Basics and Monster Truckin'

    After a few months of lightly tapping, it’s finally time to pound the drum about RC cars. Of course, there are countless styles of cars that you can get into. For now, I will focus on the type of cars that I recommended for beginners in the first article of this series: 2-wheel-drive, electric-powered, monster trucks.

    Just like every other facet of RC, cars have benefited from recent advancements in radio, motor and battery technology. As I looked over my aging collection of well-used cars, I realized that none in my fleet reflected any of these modern advancements. So I took a two-pronged approach. I procured a new monster truck and I also modernized one of my older cars. Between this guide and a follow-up next week, I will cover my experiences with both projects.

    The Case for RC Cars

    I received my first RC car, a Kyosho Ultima, when I was in middle school. I really just wanted something to play with, but the Ultima turned out to be much more than a toy. Hobby-grade cars like the Ultima are meant to be worked on, and actually require some maintenance. As time went on, I found that I enjoyed wrenching on the car as much as driving it. It was also fascinating to make adjustments to the car and see how they affected its performance. That poor car endured countless modifications at my hand. Some ideas worked, but many didn’t. The Ultima always emerged relatively unscathed, and I got a little smarter each time. More than 25 years later, I still have most of the parts for that Ultima (in working order).

    If a chemistry set is an ideal toy for aspiring chemists, then RC cars will cultivate the minds budding engineers.

    If a chemistry set is an ideal toy for aspiring chemists, then RC cars will cultivate the minds budding engineers. Sure, they can teach you many lessons that carry over to full-size cars, but there is so much more. I learned about 2-stroke engines, electric motors, batteries, gearing, torque, and above all: the value of working with my hands. Countless times while working on space hardware in my professional career, I was able to apply a lesson learned from that Ultima. If, like me, you have a young tinkerer in your house, RC cars may be just the thing to let them explore relatively risk free.

    In Brief: Diagnosing iOS Battery Drain

    Scotty Loveless, an ex-Genius Bar employee, recently posted this comprehensive guide to diagnosing and solving iOS battery issues, based on his two years working for Apple and hundreds of Genius Bar appointments with users complaining about their iPhone's battery. There's a lot of practical advice here, such as how to test your iOS battery drain rate by noting down usage and standby times, but Loveless also offers some very specific tips that he claims make a big difference. Disabling Location and Background App Refresh for the Facebook app tops his list, but the most useful recommendation may be to stop manually quitting apps in the multi-tasking view. Apps that don't use Background App Refresh don't actually pull power when they're in the background, and quitting them just means that your iPhone will have to use more power to relaunch them the next time. There's also the tip to turn off battery percentage to stop getting freaked out about battery, but I don't think that's a tip that's going to stick. Regardless, the guide is well worth reading and bookmarking.

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    Tested Explains: What Does it Mean to Call on a "Secure Line"?

    If decades of televised White House dramas and Hollywood espionage thrillers have taught us anything, it's that barking "Get me a secure line!" into your phone is about all it takes to establish a private, encrypted call.

    Alas, security is rarely so simple – and for decades, encrypting phone conversations actually took a great deal of work. Only in recent years has encryption become more accessible, and it's still a lot more effort than pop culture would have you believe.

    The secure line's earliest days can be traced back to the development of a machine called SIGSALY at Bell Telephone Laboratories during World War II. It was meant to replace the seemingly scrambled, high-frequency radio communication then–employed by the Allies – which, it turned out, eavesdropping Axis forces had already managed to decrypt.

    So what was SIGSALY? "Consisting of 40 racks of equipment, it weighed over 50 tons, and featured two turntables which were synchronized on both the sending and the receiving end by an agreed upon timing signal from the U.S. Naval Observatory," according to the National Security Agency's historical account of the device.

    The two turntables played identical copies of randomly generated noise that was mixed into a call. "One would mix in noise, and the other would basically subtract out that noise. And anybody listening would just hear noise," explained Matthew Green, an assistant research professor at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute. "But somebody who subtracted out the noise would hear the phone call."

    The system, of course, had its flaws. There were only a handful of SIGSALY machines scattered around the globe, and synchronization between the two ends records required millisecond precision. That was even assuming, of course, that the person you wanted to call had the most up-to-date record, or key – delivery, understandably, "always a problem" recounts the NSA.

    "It was basically what we call a one-time pad," says Gord Agnew, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo's school of electrical and computer engineering, where his past research has focused on communication and cryptography.

    Testing: Adobe Lightroom Mobile for iPad

    You could hear my cheers resonate throughout my house last night when I read that Adobe had finally released a mobile version of its Lightroom photo processing application for iOS. This wasn't an unexpected move--there were leaked mentions and details of this program back in January--but it's still exciting to finally see and use it in person. Lightroom mobile is currently an iPad-only app (iPhone version coming soon, but no word on Android) that's available to download right now from the app store. I've been testing it since it became available last night and all this morning, and wanted to run through its features and share my initial thoughts.

    Before last night's release, I had been looking for a good way to incorporate my iPad into my RAW photo workflow. Back when I was shooting JPEGs, the iPad was a great device to import photos, using the SD card accessory to transfer full-res JPEGS onto the tablet and Apple's Photostream to get those on my desktop PC. When I started saving hefty RAW files, the iPad became much less useful. Yes, you can import RAW photos using the camera card adapter onto the iPad, but the native Photo app isn't smart enough to differentiate between JPEG and RAW duplicates, so you end up with two copies of every photo (I still save JPEG for fast reviewing purposes). iPhoto for iOS could ingest RAW files, but editing was slow, even on the new iPad Air. Plus, there was no easy to to get those RAW files back to my desktop.

    My photo processing workflow then became desktop-oriented, using Adobe's Lightroom to manage all my photos, pushing the ones I wanted to share to Flickr, and manually downloading some to my iPad to review in full-resolution. For the purposes scanning through my photo library, I had been using Moasic Archive, a paid web-service that works as a plug-in in Lightroom, uploading your library to its servers to review and make metadata edits on an iOS app. It wasn't for photo editing; it's just for photo reviewing and tagging. Mosaic has a free option that syncs previews of your latest 2000 photos to review online or through its app--I used it as a PhotoStream substitute.

    But now there's Lightroom mobile, which does offer RAW photo editing capabilities. Well, sort of. Lightroom mobile uses the same Smart Preview system that I love about Lightroom 5. Basically, whenever you import a RAW photo into the desktop version of Lightroom, you have the option to automatically create a small 2.5MB DNG file--a digital negative--that's a resized version of the original photo. Its limited to 2560 pixels wide, but you can edit them just as you would the original RAW file, and Lightroom will sync those edits. Smart Previews are how I can sync up my Lightroom library between multiple computers in Dropbox, so edits made on my Macbook Air appear on my desktop library, where the originals are saved. Lightroom mobile works in a similar way, but instead of using Dropbox to sync those Smart Previews, it uses Adobe's Creative Cloud storage system.

    Yes, Lightroom mobile requires that you have a Creative Cloud subscription.

    The Best Wi-Fi Router (So Far)

    If you need to pick up a new router today, you should get the Asus RT-AC56U. It’s not the absolute fastest router on the market, so why do we like it? It turns out that most Wi-Fi tests are performed using technology that even the absolute latest laptops won't see for years, and the speeds touted on the box and in many reviews don't actually reflect real-world speeds. Most of us don’t own devices that would take advantage of that extra technology—even if you own the latest MacBooks, Lenovos, or iPads, according to our (light) tests—so you'd be paying extra for performance you're not likely to experience. Future-proofing yourself at twice the cost (or more) today is not only a bad idea—specs often drift over time—it's also more cost-effective to just upgrade your router again in the future when you get newer technology.

    According to our research, the RT-AC56U offers the best overall performance for the price, and it has an easy-to-use interface to boot.

    Rise of the Patent Troll

    Kirby Ferguson, the filmmaker behind the excellent "Everything is a Remix" video series, produced and directed this new short explaining the US patent system and the rise of patent trolling companies that target small businesses and individuals in costly litigation. It's an important PSA about a topic most people don't think about, even though patent trolling threatens the growth of our economy and stifles innovation. Adam Carolla's podcast show is currently being sued for allegedly infringing on a patent for a "system for disseminating media content representing episodes in a serialized sequence"--essentially podcasting. Carolla has a legal defense campaign set up to fight this lawsuit, and you can find out more about how to encourage government to reform the patent system here.

    In Brief: Gender Responses to Virtual Reality Simulations

    While the internet has a laugh over the White Guys Wearing Oculus Rifts Tumblr, there's some genuine discussion about the potential differences in the way that biological factors may affect a person's experience of virtual reality. To put it bluntly, there's the possibility that women may not be as responsive to current virtual reality tech as men. Danah Boyd, a researcher at Microsoft Research and Assistant Professor at New York University, recently shared the results of a 2000 study she conducted about the how individuals respond to the 2D cues that virtual reality systems use to simulate 3D space. Boyd, who had poor experience with her university's CAVE system, found that biological men were more likely to prioritize one type of VR cue--motion parallax--than women, who were more susceptible to shape-from-shading as a spatial cue. VR tech relies heavily on motion parallax, which could broadly explain why Boyd other female research subjects were getting disoriented more easily in her tests. The results aren't by any means conclusive about gender differences in VR use, but Boyd's point is that more research should be conducted by companies like Oculus so that they can take these factors into consideration.

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    Living with Photography: Testing the Fujifilm X100s Digital Camera

    It's been a while since I've done one of these columns, and that's not because I haven't been taking photos or thinking about photography. On the contrary, I've taken about twice as many photos in the past month than on an average month (just past 22K photos in Lightroom!), both from going to week-long events like SXSW and from testing a bunch of new camera gear. Some of that gear includes new smartphones, like the HTC One M8 that I've been testing, but also new cameras and lenses that I've been lucky enough to get on loan from BorrowLenses. I sent back the Sony A7 full-frame mirrorless camera that I brought to Austin, an experience that made me want to continue testing compact cameras with respectable image quality.

    That lead me to the Fuji X100S, the successor to the X100 mirrorless camera that Matt Braga reviewed for us back in 2011. Matt had a lot of good things to say about the camera, including its use of an APS-C sensor in a very compact body (at the time), which when paired with Fuji's 23mm microlens (35mm equivalent) produced really great photos. The X100S, which was released last year, supposedly addresses some of the problems X100 users had with it, including slow auto-focus speed and a finicky focus ring. It's still $1300, which is a steep price for a mirrorless camera when Sony has cameras like the A6000 and RX1 that also combine a large image sensor with a compact body.

    But three years after the X100 was released, there are still features that make the Fuji's rangefinger-tribute unique, such as its hybrid viewfinder and full manual controls. Its those features that got me curious about this camera, since I had never shot with a Leica or true rangefinder before. This felt like it could be a good stepping stone to go from DSLR to rangefinder, when most veteran photographers migrate the other direction. But my interest in the X100S was cemented when Adam relayed an anecdote from a professional photographer friend of his--a portrait photographer for Wired--who now swears by the X100S as his go-to camera. The BorrowLenses rental order was soon on its way, and I've been shooting with this camera for the past week.

    This won't be a review of the X100S, however. You'd do better to find image quality comparisons on DPReview or dedicated photography sites. For this column, I wanted to talk about my new experience shooting with the manual controls of the X100S, and attempts to frame shots using its off-center optical viewfinder. (Yes, I've included some photo samples too.)

    Testing: DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ Quadcopter Drone

    For the past week and a half, I've been testing DJI's new Phantom 2 Vision+ quadcopter. The RC quad, which was officially announced yesterday at the annual NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) convention in Las Vegas, is the first real prosumer quadcopter I've flown. And in my testing time with it, I've become completely addicted to flying it. Days and nights are now framed in my mind in terms of when I can find time to take it out to fly, and how many battery recharge cycles I can fit into an afternoon. Sunny weather is quad flying weather, and I'm constantly combing through my visual memory of San Francisco and Bay Area geography to think about where I can take the quadcopter flying.

    I wasn't kidding when I teased it in last week's podcast: not since the original iPhone and Oculus Rift have I been so impressed with a new consumer technology and its potential mass-market appeal. This isn't just an extremely fun toy for hobbyists and early-adopters: quadcopter technology is at a tipping point where it's ready for mainstream users to fly, hack, and utilize to do amazing things. We've been told that drones are going to change the world, but this is the first product I've used that really makes me believe it.

    We're going to talk about our experience with the $1300 DJI's Phantom 2 Vision+ and its underlying technologies in-depth in a video this week, but I wanted to flesh out the salient points from that conversation and explain why I'm so excited about the quadcopter. I've also included a few videos shot with the Vision+'s onboard camera, as well as some stills comparing its image quality with that of the GoPro Hero 3's 1080p video. Let's get started!

    Shooting Amazing 360 Degree Spherical Panos

    Like a real-life rendition of Super Mario Galaxy, Jonas Ginter has built a mechanism that lets him capture 360 degree sperical panoramas using mostly off-the-shelf mechanisms. You can find out a bit more about the process on his site (it's in German) or download a variation of the mount he's using from Thingiverse. I hope he posts more about the process, so we can see how he manages to remove the tripod from the shots. (h/t to )

    In Brief: Google Reportedly Developing Android TV Set-Top UI

    Over the weekend, The Verge posted screenshots and details from a document they claim to show Google's next foray into the living room set-top device business, an interface called "Android TV." The screenshots of the purported platform show a tile-based interface very similar to what you'd find on the Roku, Apple TV, or even Xbox One: large and colorful shortcuts to apps and videos. According to The Verge, Google's vision for Android TV are far-removed from the ambitions laid out in their failed Google TV platform; Android TV is explicitly described as not being a platform, but an "entertainment interface." And while The Verge claims that Android TV is impending (June's Google I/O would seem like a good time to announce it), their report doesn't say whether Google would be making Android TV devices itself, and whether it would be integrated with the popular $35 Chromecast dongle.

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    Google Play App Roundup: Javelin Browser, AirFighter Pro, and Inkling

    A new week means a new batch of Android apps and games for your consideration. This is the Google Play App Roundup, which brings you the best new and newly updated content in the Play Store every week. Just hit the links to head right to the Play Store and download for yourself.

    This week we have a new browser that might become your default, a game for the best pilots, and an app that makes books more interactive.

    Javelin Browser

    Chrome for Android is better than it once was, but it still doesn't perform perfectly on some devices. There are many alternatives in the Play Store based on AOSP, but Javelin Browser isn't just another clone. This app offers some interesting functionality and a very modern UI. What's more, you can check it out for free.

    Javelin is based on the open source fan favorite Lightning Browser, an Android browser optimized for tablets that has a very minimal footprint and clean UI. Javelin beefs up the feature set of Lightning a bit, but it also maintains the responsive performance. The most noticeable change for anyone who is accustomed to Chrome on Android will be the exposed tab bar up top. You can tap on the plus button to add more, and move between tabs with a tap. There is also a two-finger swipe gesture to move one tab left or right. The interface takes advantage of the transparent nav and status bars in KitKat as well.

    As for loading speed, it seems about as fast as Chrome Beta, possibly a little faster when you have a few tabs open. Javelin isn't doing as many things in the background -- there's no cloud syncing or Google account control, so naturally it can get things done slightly quicker. There is also a reading mode that strips out all the ads and superfluous bits sort of like Readability or Pocket. As for the quality of regular page rendering, I have no complaints. Javelin is running a standard version of mobile WebKit, so there should be no issues with things looking wonky.

    The free version of Javelin includes basic browsing capabilities, but your homepage is locked to the default Javelin page. Not that there's anything wrong with that -- it's just a pretty picture and a search bar. Javelin pro also allows unlimited tabs, but the free version has a generous limit of 10 tabs. Pro will also include (eventually) Android Wear integration.

    So this is all pretty conventional browser stuff, but Javelin has another cool extra -- a built-in VPN. You have to pay a monthly fee of $1.99, but there are free VPNs out there if you don't care about quality. The VPN service in Javelin can get around web blocks and hide your traffic, bu it's also very fast. which makes a VPN actually worth using. I saw no degradation in speeds when connected to the VPN, and latency was only a bit higher (about 90ms vs. 60ms).

    Javelin does a good job as a free browser, but the extra stuff is there via an in-app purchase if you want it. Oh, it also has built-in ad blocking, if that's a thing you're cool with. Javelin Browser is definitely worth a look as an alternative to Chrome.

    10 Ways To Lifehack Your Next Flight

    There are few things quite as time-consuming and annoying as airline travel. Sure, it’s miraculous to jet through the air at over 800 miles an hour, but all the stuff that goes along with it can really get old. Here’s a guide to using your scientific and technology know-how to lifehack that airline experience to be much more bearable.

    FTL: Advanced Edition Adds More Space and an iPad Version

    One of my favorite games of 2012 was FTL. It's a space sim roguelike-like unlike anything The game is deceptively simple and endlessly entertaining. In it, you control the crew of a starship on a desperate mission to stop the rebel alliance, or something like that. The upshot is that you control the crew, assigning them tasks like ship repair, arming the weapons, or cranking up the engines while traversing system after system. Because the game has roguelike elements, each time you play, the map changes. So while you'll likely encounter friendly merchants, hostile insect aliens and deadly plagues on one playthrough, your next trip across the galaxy will probably be very different.

    Yesterday, FTL: Advanced Edition was released as a free upgrade for Mac and PC owners, as well as a brand new iPad edition. I spent some time playing both versions over the last few days, and I can unequivocally recommend them both. The iPad version is a lovely translation of the PC game, with a touch interface that works well on even the smaller screen of my IPad Mini. The game performs wonderfully on all the devices I tested, and the touch interface complements the pause-and-issue-commands nature of the game perfectly.

    MakerBot Mystery Build: Keep it Toasty

    It's Friday, so time for anther episode of our MakerBot Mystery Build! This week, Will finds a tool to print that will help us around our office, especially in the mornings. Place your guess as to what's being printed in the comments below!

    In Brief: Start Menu returns to Windows 8, Cortana Is Real

    During the epic three-hour keynote presentation at BUILD, Microsoft's annual developer conference, the company highlighted a handful of tidbits that will be of interest to normal users, in addition to the developers in the audience. The biggest announcement highlighted updates to Windows 8.1, which leaked earlier this year. The update will be available on April 8th, and will feature better integration between traditional desktop apps and Modern-style apps that were introduced with Windows 8. You'll be able to run Modern apps in a window on the Desktop, they'll shop up in the taskbar, and you'll be able to minimize and maximize them. I haven't been able to confirm details, but it also sounded like traditional desktop apps would be available for purchase and download in the Windows Store. Also, later this year Microsoft will quietly bring the Start Menu back to Windows 8.1.

    Microsoft also demoed Cortana, which is Windows Phone's answer to Siri and Google Now's voice search. While the extended on-stage demo was repeatedly plagued by flubbed recognition, it appears to fall somewhere between Siri and Google Now in terms of functionality. With APIs for third party apps to tie in and more granular support for personalized information (your inner circle, your interests, etc) than either Google or Apple give right now, Cortana could offer unique benefits for Windows Phone 8.1 users if it works better than it did on stage at BUILD. We won't really know how it fares in the real world until we have phones with our info on them to test, but I'll have a chance to spend some time with Cortana later this week.

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    Bits to Atoms: Designing and 3D-Printing Tested Nametags

    Sometimes a project pops into your head and keeps popping up--on the subway, at work, during meetings, while making dinner, laying in bed trying sleep, etc., until you just have to do it in order to purge it. It occurred to me that the Tested logo would be perfect for a 3D print! With its simple geometric parts as well as the opportunity to demonstrate a variety of printing techniques, I couldn’t resist. I had made name badges before for my booth at Maker Faire and thought it was a good idea for the Tested logo--the guys need to represent!

    The first step was to simply sketch out how the logo would break down into parts for printing. Since the Tested logo is made up of simple shapes the break down and modeling were relatively simple.

    In the TARDIS article I mentioned using a backdrop picture to build on top of and Norm supplied me with some Tested logos files, not knowing what purposes they would be used for! A dimmed down version of the logo was used in the top view and the geometry was built right on top of it. Since mechanical precision wasn’t needed, a simple cube was stretched out and modified by eye to match up with each piece.

    The ‘Tested’ text could easily be built from scratch since it’s so blocky, but there’s an even easier option if you can find the actual font, which is free at one of my favorite sources, dafont. Most modeling programs will have a text tool that will allow the letters to be extruded into 3D models which saves a ton of time.

    In Brief: Amazon Releases Fire TV Set-Top Box

    A little late to the set-top party, Amazon held an event this morning to announce its own living room console, the Fire TV. It's everything you'd expect from a modern set-top box, a $100 machine running Android that will run the most popular streaming apps (aside from HBO Go and Vudu), play games, and connect to mobile devices like Amaon's Kindle Fire tablet. Amazon emphasized the hardware specifications of its console--it runs on a quad-core Qualcomm Krait 300 SoC with a dedicated Adreno 320 GPU, has 2GB RAM, and dual-band MIMO Wi-Fi. (Its remote connects over Bluetooth, but it's not confirmed to work with Logitech's Harmony system.) The mid-range smartphone processor supposedly lets Fire TV launch apps much quicker than competitor boxes, and run voice search that Amazon claims "actually works." Of course, Fire TV also has strong ties to Prime Instant Streaming, IMDB, and Amazon's FreeTime content-gating feature for kids. We're getting one in this week to test.

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