R/C Redux

30. April 2015 12:04 by Steve Leigh in Technology News  //  Tags: ,   //   Comments (0)

When you’re a kid, it’s almost impossible to think that anyone could have more fun than you’re having at any given moment. But eventually you get older and notice the world changing around you. All of the “simple” knick-knacks you grew up with are replaced complicated pieces of machinery that you can’t even begin to comprehend. But even as you resign yourself to letting the new kids have their fun, you’d give anything for one of your childhood favorites to make a comeback.

Well, one such classic toy is evolving with the times: the radio-controlled (R/C) racing car. Created in the 1960s, the R/C car was an electronically-assisted step up from the self-propelled toy cars kids used. It became a staple of neighborhood playtime in the ‘80s and early-‘90s, despite a few glitches (close proximity with other R/C could allow a user to commandeer control someone else's car). As the new millennium dawned, rising prices drove the R/C to become a niche item.

That hasn’t stopped the smart device generation from resurrecting the R/C in a bold new way. They’re even looking to some of their favorite movies and tv shows for inspiration.

Bat-tastic!

There have been films about Batman nearly as long as there have been films. Though the producers may change and the details may evolve, one lasting detail of the Caped Crusader’s cinematic exploits is his use of iconic custom-made vehicle, the Batmobile. 

The first is a 29-inch model based on the design used in the 1989 blockbuster Batman. Though not fully R/C, it does allow the user to remote-control the car’s lights and machine gun turrets that activate on command. If you prefer a more modern design with a bit more control, you can try the 1:12 scale model version of “The Tumbler” from Batman Begins. It’s fully R/C, allows you to control both the lights and doors, and even features a 480p on-board camera that allows you to view driving from your mobile device.

At starting prices of $1,000, neither of these models is very cheap. But if you’re willing to spend the dough, you can indulge the Dark Knight in your life.

Batman-RC-Tumbler.jpg
(via Gizmodo)

Tokyo Drift Away

The success of the Fast and the Furious movies caught nearly everyone by surprise. What started with a low-budget racing film has evolved into a seven-film franchise for which the revenues have only increased with each subsequent entry. The most recent sequel recently became the fastest film in history to gross $1 billion in revenue during its initial release.

Although you might not have the money (or the insurance coverage) to try out the films’ stunts in actual cars, you can still get a kick out of this tribute video the Falkan Tires company made with R/C cars. The nearly three-minute video uses R/C cars over dry ice to simulate “drifting”, a driving technique popular in Japan and introduced to western audiences via the film The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Because who said every film you act out with R/C cars had to be a superhero flick?

Dark Side Drones

By now, it’s safe to say that you’re aware of a new Star Wars film coming out this December. Well, one enthusiastic fan decided to combine his love of the classic trilogy with his new hobby. Oliver C has made quadcopter drones designed to resemble ships used by The Galactic Empire. His latest creation is the Star Destroyer below, following his TIE Fighter design and his Millennium Falcon model.

No one knows if he’s going to design another soon, but with the new film half-a-year away, he’s got plenty of time to decide.

Star-Wars-Star-Destroyer-drone.jpg
(via Gizmodo)

And the Beat Goes On

23. April 2015 11:48 by Steve Leigh in Technology News  //  Tags: ,   //   Comments (0)

radio.jpg
(via Gizmodo)

 

In an earlier entry, we mentioned how the 2009 digital television transition not only changed how television was transmitted, but it also helped kick off a streaming television revolution that shows no signs of slowing down. Many of the world’s largest countries have already made the transition and it’s expected that – with few exceptions – every major country will have completed their own transitions by 2021. On a similar technological note, this week Norway announced that in 2017 they will become first country in the world to cease FM radio broadcasting in favor of fully Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB).

Although the potential pieces are in place for a major change in radio, there are still many mitigating factors standing in the way.

Bit by Bit

Although the audio format MP3 was created in 1995, it didn’t catch on until the digital music boom years later (thanks, in part, to the controversial file-sharing service Napster). With the introduction of the Apple iPod in 2001, people slowly began to accept the idea of carrying their entire album collection right in their pocket. But even as the convenience of portable musical quantity grew, the quality of the audio sharply declined. Experts agree that the often-low quality of MP3s – which can be as low as 1/11th the quality of CDs – and the equally low quality of earbuds that are packaged with iPods and iPhones have led to the average consumer typically experiencing sub-standard audio. Not only has this diminished the work of the creators, but it’s also led to a rise in hearing loss – particularly amongst adolescents.

Although several strides have been made in recent years to increase audio quality on consumer devices, the issues of price and storage space remain major obstacles. Whereas the typical DRM-free MP3 can be as small as 3.5MB, a high-quality audio file can be 34.56MB, leaving little room for multiple files on a single device. What’s more, devices specifically created to play high-quality audio – such as Neil Young’s Pono Player and Sony’s high-quality digital Walkman – are often priced too high for the average consumer.

Who gets What?

Complicating matters further is the possibility of exclusivity. Just as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu have begun producing their own original content, it stands to reason that music services like Pandora, Spotify, and Rhapsody could do the same. The question then arises as to who will get what. This past autumn, pop star Tayor Swift very publicly pulled her music from Spotify after claiming she wasn’t being appropriately compensated. She then became one of several high-profile musicians to put her music on the streaming service Tidal, owned by rapper Jay-Z. Similarly, Apple – which last year purchased Dr. Dre’s Beats Audio company – has begun its own streaming service with Beats Music. The service is also exploring the possibility of exclusive content with well-known musicians.

But as appealing as these exclusives appear on paper, they may be less so in practice. This is most apparent with Tidal, which has suffered a string of negative service reviews since being launched in March. Although both it and competitor Deezer boast having CD-quality sound service, both have been criticized for their expensive $20/month subscription prices. With similar services also active or on the way – including YouTube’s Music Key – the consensus appears to be that comfort, pricing, and ease-of-use are higher priorities than exclusive content or audio quality.

Tune In

Although the Norwegian digital changeover is still two years away, and the United States has made no announcement that it intends to follow anytime soon, it isn’t a far-fetched possibility. According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2012 more than 90% of Americans still listen to AM/FM radio on a weekly basis, but are beginning to warm to internet-based services. With more and more traditional services switching to digital each day, it seems only a matter of time before the old-fashioned radio follows suit. How you get what music remains to be seen (or rather heard).

Are you using an online streaming service? Let us know in the comments.

Democracy by Design

16. April 2015 13:16 by Steve Leigh in Technology News  //  Tags: , ,   //   Comments (0)

There’s no escaping it: campaigning for the 2016 presidential election has officially begun. Although the election is one year and seven months away and two major parties have only four candidates thus far, those four candidates have spent years building up their reputations and solidifying their positions. But despite all the work they’ve put in and the sheer variety of issues they address, one of the real challenges is truncating those positions into easy-to-remember slogans and eye-catching logos.

The role of design is often underestimated in politics. When done right, it can define a generation. When done wrong, it turns into the sort of regrettable faux pas forever stamped in the public consciousness.

In the Information Age, reactions are instantaneous and often very strong. Such was the case with the start of campaign season. When each of the four candidates announced their nominations, reactions to visual aspects of said campaigns were as sharply divided as opinions about the candidates themselves.

WSJ-presidential-campaign-logos.jpg
(via Wall Street Journal)

The Clinton logo – whose font has already been parodied – has been compared to a road sign or delivery logo. The Cruz logo features the stars and stripes in the shape of a flame, an image with which some have taken issue. The Paul logo has been compared to that of an oil company, while Rubio logo’s use of the mainland United States to dot the “i” in his name has been criticized for its exclusion of Hawaii and Alaska. In short, none of the logos have been met with much immediate acclaim.

Still, it’s important to note that the impact of these logos on the campaigns is, like the campaigns themselves, still in its infancy. As such, it’s impossible to determine the long term effect they’ll ultimately have. Yet the reactions have ultimately proven the importance of design in the digital world and necessity for brand recognition in distinguishing oneself. As Wired design writer Liz Stinson points out: “A political candidate’s logo isn’t just a static thing that gets slapped on the side of a bus. It’s a symbol that will be deployed in all sorts of different material, potentially in many different forms.”

When one wishes to lead one of the most powerful nations in the world, the strength and influence of that symbol cannot be underestimated.

Crazy Cardboard Crafts for Kids

Have you ever had to watch after a child? If you have, then you know that even if you aren’t a parent, it’s a challenge to keep them occupied for very long. They seem to have unlimited supplies of energy, their small size allows them to get into areas you can’t, and the more of them you have around, the more exhausted you’ll be by the end of the day.

Fortunately for you, a child’s energy is matched only by their curiosity. It can be tempting to simply drop them in front of some electronic device or another to keep them distracted. But with a child’s developmental years being the most crucial, this is an opportunity for parents and guardians to help children channel their curiosity into creativity.

If you’re worried about not being able to afford the latest hot toys, don’t worry: here are a few craft projects that can be done with something you probably have all around the house. These projects will teach your children not only how to use their imaginations, but also how to make the most use out of discarded materials. All it takes is a little cardboard.

Ringing Endorsement

It’s easy for a kid to look at their parents’ shiny baubles and want to try them on. It makes them feel grown up and fancy. It also might be expensive, so a parent isn’t likely to just let a kid go through their jewelry box at their leisure. Luckily, there’s a way for kids to get fancy without you getting expensive. Try making cardboard rings.

All it takes is a collection of thin cardboard (cereal boxes will work just fine), scissors to cut them with, paint, brushes, a hot glue gun, and a marker. You and the kids can design them in whatever shapes come to mind, then show them off to everyone you know.

PBS-cardboard-rings.jpeg
(via PBS.org)

Tall Wall

Once you have kids, doesn’t it seem as if you’ve suddenly wound up with enough toilet paper rolls to reach the roof? Well, now you can do that by making your own stackers.

You can use the empty rolls from toilet paper or paper towels. The only supplies you’ll need are scissors, paint, and paintbrushes. Once again, the design is whatever your child can imagine. Paint the rolls as bright as you want and stack them as high as they can go. Just be sure not to let your kids try to climb it.

PBS-tall-wall.jpg
(via PBS.org)

Very Fine House

Rings and walls are nice, but what if your child is looking to build a home all their own? They might want to take a shot at building the cardboard neighborhood.

Once again, you’ll need cereal boxes and a hot glue gun. You’ll also need a pencil, paint, a ruler, string, and scissors. Now your children can actually build the houses they go past every day.

cardboard-houses.jpg
(image via Rudy and the Dodo)

Crazy Cardboard Crafts for Kids

Have you ever had to watch after a child? If you have, then you know that even if you aren’t a parent, it’s a challenge to keep them occupied for very long. They seem to have unlimited supplies of energy, their small size allows them to get into areas you can’t, and the more of them you have around, the more exhausted you’ll be by the end of the day.

Fortunately for you, a child’s energy is matched only by their curiosity. It can be tempting to simply drop them in front of some electronic device or another to keep them distracted. But with a child’s developmental years being the most crucial, this is an opportunity for parents and guardians to help children channel their curiosity into creativity.

If you’re worried about not being able to afford the latest hot toys, don’t worry: here are a few craft projects that can be done with something you probably have all around the house. These projects will teach your children not only how to use their imaginations, but also how to make the most use out of discarded materials. All it takes is a little cardboard.

Ringing Endorsement

It’s easy for a kid to look at their parents’ shiny baubles and want to try them on. It makes them feel grown up and fancy. It also might be expensive, so a parent isn’t likely to just let a kid go through their jewelry box at their leisure. Luckily, there’s a way for kids to get fancy without you getting expensive. Try making cardboard rings.

All it takes is a collection of thin cardboard (cereal boxes will work just fine), scissors to cut them with, paint, brushes, a hot glue gun, and a marker. You and the kids can design them in whatever shapes come to mind, then show them off to everyone you know.

PBS-cardboard-rings.jpeg
(via PBS.org)

Tall Wall

Once you have kids, doesn’t it seem as if you’ve suddenly wound up with enough toilet paper rolls to reach the roof? Well, now you can do that by making your own stackers.

You can use the empty rolls from toilet paper or paper towels. The only supplies you’ll need are scissors, paint, and paintbrushes. Once again, the design is whatever your child can imagine. Paint the rolls as bright as you want and stack them as high as they can go. Just be sure not to let your kids try to climb it.

Very Fine House

Rings and walls are nice, but what if your child is looking to build a home all their own? They might want to take a shot at building the cardboard neighborhood.

Once again, you’ll need cereal boxes and a hot glue gun. You’ll also need a pencil, paint, a ruler, string, and scissors. Now your children can actually build the houses they go past every day.

cardboard-houses.jpg
(image via Rudy and the Dodo)

You Won't Believe It's LEGOs!

2. April 2015 13:06 by Steve Leigh in Arts, Crafts & DIY Projects  //  Tags: , , ,   //   Comments (0)

They’ve been one of the world’s most popular toy lines for over 60 years. They’re found in the toy boxes of children all over the world. They’ve inspired video games, TV specials, and even an award-winning film. There are few brands as beloved or as easily recognizable as LEGO. It’s a shame that they’re just for kids.

Or are they? In the past two decades, LEGO appreciation has almost become as renowned for uses by adults as by children. Popular uses include sculptures, recreations of movie scenes, and even functioning science projects. What was once merely a staple of nurseries is now the basis of one of the world’s most popular hobbies. And a few enthusiasts have taken that hobby and applied it to items we use every day.

In the Bag

Taking their enthusiasm for the brand past mere playtime, a company called Agabag has created a line of jewelry, purses, and bags from actual LEGO bricks. Though not officially endorsed by the toy company, all of the items sold are made from genuine repurposed LEGO bricks around satin interiors. The line also includes cufflinks, brooches, and flash drives.

LEGO-purse.jpg
(via mental_floss)

Lego Laptop

Not only do LEGO exteriors make great for handbags, they also work great for that most customizable of devices: the laptop computer. A new Kickstarter recently went online for a laptop attachment known as The Brik Case. The attachment fits on the back of your laptop and is compatible with a variety of childhood block toys. These include K’Nex, Tyco, Mega Blox, and of course, LEGO blocks. An early pledge even comes with a “bag o’ bricks” to help you customize the plate the way you want it. And if you don’t think there are many ways to decorate the plate, take a look at the promotional video.

LEGO-case.jpg
(via Wired)

Lego-puter

Sure, bags and laptops are one thing, but both of those are just for decorative purposes. The mastermind behind the website Total Geekdom has used LEGOs to create a fully functioning desktop computer. The exterior LEGO design is just as customizable as the hardware inside. With a base price of $999, you can upgrade the design and the functionality as you see fit.

LEGO-PC.png
(via Gizmodo)

With its appeal nowhere close to slowing down, let these projects serve as inspiration for your own LEGO projects.

Field of Streams: How to Have TV without the Cables

26. March 2015 22:11 by Steve Leigh in Technology News  //  Tags: , , , ,   //   Comments (0)

Earlier this week, Amazon made a noticeable upgrade to the Fire Stick, their device that enables internet content – including broadcasts – to appear on your television. The upgrade now allows the Fire Stick to act off of wi-fi signals, specifically the inexpensive services often found in hotels and university dorms. This announcement comes right on the heels of the much bigger announcement that Apple will be upgrading its Apple TV to have the ability to carry full-fledged streaming tv service.

These developments are just the latest in what many tech experts have been expecting for years: a full integration of television and the internet. With the rise of services like Hulu, Redbox, and Netflix’s streaming service, more and more consumers are getting their favorite shows and movies through their internet providers rather than traditional cable and satellite services. In fact, a great many have chosen to "cut the cord" altogether and cancel their tv services outright. This move is only strengthened by the fact that Netflix and Amazon are now producing critically-acclaimed original series.

 TV-on-a-tray.jpg
(via Gizmodo)

But before you take the leap to get all of your content online, you should know what services are available, what companies provide them, and what obstacles still remain.

The Big Speed Bump

The most prominent obstacle on the road to freedom from cable is dealing with the cable companies themselves. If you plan to end your service with a company, you should review the specific protocols to do so. You might be able to simply allow your contract to expire and choose not to renew. Your provider is almost guaranteed to have a penalty for early cancellation, so be sure you know the correct methods of service termination. Also know that you are within your rights and can file complaints when the provider or its representatives harass you over a change in service.

Still, you may be limited in what high-speed internet providers are available in your area. Currently the Comcast Corporation has the largest cable/internet service in the United States; a service that could expand with a proposed controversial merger with their largest rival, Time Warner Cable. Doing research on standalone internet providers in your residential area is the first step towards moving past cable or satellite.

What’s Available?

In 2009, the United States initiated the digital changeover, in which all analogue television transmissions (the method used since the creation of television) was immediately replaced with digital signals. Cable and satellite customers barely took any notice, as their services were uninterrupted. But for those who still watching tv with antennas, they quickly found themselves left in the dark. Fortunately, a number of solutions had already been put into place, and they just might help you if you plan on changing the way you watch tv.

The most notable (and inexpensive) option introduced was the digital antenna. A 21st century update to the traditional "rabbit ears", a digital antenna is able to send full high-definition network television directly your screen. Like the rabbit ears, the antenna is subject to signal range, but it remains one of the most viable options for catching all of your favorite network shows the old fashioned way.

But what about the new-fashioned way? In addition to the aforementioned services by Hulu and Netflix, recent years have seen tv staples as eclectic as HBO and WWE Wrestling launch their own standalone subscription streaming services. These services have proven very popular and have inspired other channels to do the same. The future of television will provide a wider range of options than ever before thought, and it's only just begun.

However, it's worth noting that as varied as these options are, they don't come for free (at least, not the legal ones). A bundle of services – each with their own monthly subscription – could run you anywhere from a total of $60 to $200/month, which isn't all that far from a typical cable bill one would pay now. Add to that the fact that many channels are either running their own services or offering exclusivity to certain providers, and the task of cancelling cable or satellite can seem more trouble than it's worth.

It becomes a question of what you the consumer can and can’t do without in terms of television: do you want OnDemand services, do you want to watch live television and sports, do you want premium movie channels? Deciding which programs mean the most to you and the people in your household will make it easier for you to make these important decisions.

Static-Free

There's no arguing that the television landscape is changing, and that many long-held institutions in the industry are fighting to hold on to their power at all costs. But in the end, the real power – much like the remote control – lies in the hands of the consumer.

Low Tech, Lots of Fun

It seems as though whenever a flashy new product is released, people revert back to their juvenile forms. Everyone has to have the brand new toy that parents think costs too much and might very well be forgotten once “the next big thing” comes around. This question becomes all the more pressing once you actually have kids; you don’t want them thinking that impulse purchases are all there is to life. Fortunately, the following craft projects will inspire you to put your own homegrown spin on high-tech fads.

The Watch Redefining Touch Screen

You’ve probably seen the announcement of Apple’s new smartwatch all over the news. It plays music, tracks your exercise, accepts e-mail and text messages – all that and it even actually tells time. But what if your little one doesn’t know all of their numbers yet? That won’t be a problem with these felt Apple Watches. Created by artist Hiné Mizushima, the watches will soon be for sale on her Etsy page. Mizushima’s website details the progress of creating each watch by hand.

More...

3-D Printing our Missing Pieces

3-D printing continues to be one of the most prolific modern technologies, used in everything from art and cuisine to construction and space travel. Yet the extent of its possible uses is only beginning to be explored. We’ve already mentioned how the technology has been used for controversial means, such as printing weapons and “transporting” items, but there have been just as many inspiring uses. With the recent news of scientists using 3-D printing to create living tissue, there has been movement to create missing body parts for those in need.

More...

Political pixels.

5. March 2015 13:01 by Steve Leigh in   //  Tags: , ,   //   Comments (0)

It should come as a surprise to no one that given the seemingly limitless reach of the internet, it can be used to influence politics and public perceptions in ways never before considered. Celebrities and politicians reach their constituencies quicker through social media, political apps are becoming election game-changers, and these technologies have given a voice to the people in the midst of full-blown political uprisings. The number and use of these apps and systems are as varied as the political opinions for which they’re used.

More...

Month List