Posts Tagged ‘toys and technology’
You may remember that GeekDad Dave Giancaspro saw Hasbro’s remote control Millennium Falcon at the Toy Fair earlier this year. I saw it again at Comic-Con this summer, and finally got a chance to give it a spin myself. Turns out “give it a spin” is a pretty apt descriptionâ€”this is one Millennium Falcon that won’t be making the Kessel Run anytime soon.
On paper, it’s a great idea â€” the shape of the Millennium Falcon is perfect for putting in the twin-rotor mechanism. The body of the ship is made of very lightweight foam, with a small base on the bottom that contains the motor. You charge up the ship with a cable that stores in the remote, which uses four AA batteries. The flight throttle controls the speed of the rotors, and the direction throttle turns the ship left and right. There are also trim buttons to adjust the rotors if the ship rotates to the left or right â€” the manual notes that “trim will need to be adjusted each time you fly.”
In practice, though, the Falcon can fly for about five minutes after charging for half an hour, during which time you may spend the entire time trying to adjust the trim. What was especially frustrating is that the cockpit, while certainly a nice aesthetic touch, is just enough to unbalance the vehicle. I didn’t always have that much trouble with the ship rotating left or right, but I did have the pretty consistent problem that the Falcon always tipped a little to the right after take-off. If the vehicle is moving fast at take-off, you’ll crash into something well before you’re able to steer it back around. (And my attempts to counterbalance the weight by shoving a few pushpins into the opposite side didn’t appear to work, eitherâ€”then the ship was simply too heavy to lift off at all.) I’m seriously considering just cutting off everything but the ring with a utility knife â€” it would completely spoil the look, but maybe I’d be able to actually fly it.
Here’s a little video of me trying to fly it â€” this is probably the best flying I’ve gotten out of it, but as you can see it starts to lose altitude almost immediately, and this was after a fresh set of batteries and a full charge.
If only it were more like the real thing: “She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid.” Instead, we’ve got a ship that’s nothing more than a pretty face. I’m disappointed, reallyâ€”I’ve been thinking about getting a little flying R/C toy for some time and this seemed like it would fit the bill.
Wired: A remote control flying Millennium Falcon is an awesome idea.
Tired: Sadly, awesome ideas can sometimes lead to not-so-awesome reality.
Disclosure: Hasbro provided a unit to review.
The rest is here:
Review: This R/C Millennium Falcon Wonâ€™t Make the Kessel Run
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Finally a better use for two cameras than producing 3D movies. You may have heard of HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography before, but if you haven’t, it’s basically a technique that combines two or more photos of the same scene, taken with different exposures. An overexposed shot brings out the shadows and an underexposed shot leaves some detail in the highlights. The shots are combined in software to produce the final image, which can often look slightly unreal.
The technique has been around for a few years now, at first for the pros only, but then you could get “an app for that“, and now the latest version of the iPhone 4’s operating system bakes the HDR shooting right into the camera software, so it won’t be long before it’s everywhere.
Now a company called Soviet Montage Productions has developed a way of producing the HDR effect for video. They use a custom built rig including a beam splitter to send the video image to two Canon 5D Mark II DSLR cameras, one underexposing by -2e/v and the other overexposing by 2e/v, and the resulting videos are combined in post production to give the slightly erie effect shown in the video below.
There’s a great debate going on in the comments of their site as to the merits of the technique, but we’ll leave you to make up your own mind on that.
At Last, HDR Comes to Video?
Isabella Products, the makers of the Vizit digital frame referenced in my GeekDad post from last month, would like to give all GeekDad readers a special discount:
Just enter the promotion code “Geekdad” at checkout to receive this special.
To view the original post concerning this digital frame, click here: Upgrading a Boomer Dad: Gadgets
Discount offer good through 12/31/2010.
Read the rest here:
GeekDad Special Discount on Vizit Digital Frames!
Being a family of five, with three young children can make playtime a little fraught. There are moments when we all manage to sit down together to play something, but more often than not the kids all want to do something different. My daughter always opts for something less electronic while the boys are still in the DS-obsessed phase.
But the other day I came up with a cross over activity that keeps us all playing and talking about the same game world. It all stems from the recent influx of Harry Potter games â€” our kids are just reading the books and really loving them.
It was the discovery that there is both a real Harry Potter board game as well as the Lego Harry Potter DS games that game me the idea. As a reward for their (reasonably) good behavior over the school holidays I came home one day with three mysterious boxes.
I got the kids into the dining room and sat them all down before handing out their gifts.Â Harry Potter Hogwarts board game for my daughter, Lego Harry Potter DS game for the boys.
Whereas these sort of gifts usually end up with one or other of them wanting what they haven’t got, it seemed that with the shared theme they were happy with their lot. They also seemed happy to swap over now and again which was a miracle.
We spent a good few hours that rainy Sunday playing with the various Harry Potter Lego toys and talking about our favorite moments with the books. I know it wasn’t the cheapest way to spend an afternoon, but for us I think the expense was worth it.
It’s a few weeks later now and the kids are back at school and they are still enjoying their toys and have started re-reading the books – as well as inventing a whole host of Harry Potter Hogwarts board game variants of their own.
Read the original:
Harry Potter For Everyone
Images Courtesy of I-Wei from Crabfu Artworks
Ever want to take a picture of that cool insect you found on your last nature hike but all you had was your iPhone? Well I-Wei, a friend of GeekDad and the great mind behind Crabfu Artworks has a hack for you. By attaching an inexpensive field microscope to his iPhone case he was able to take pictures of the tiny world around us. Check out his video and pictures at The Crabfu Artworks Blog.
I’ve always been a big fan of I-Wei’s steam powered machines so make sure you check out Crabfu Steam Works for some awesome toys.
If you do make an iPhone scope remember to post your pictures to the GeekDad Flickr Group
See the rest here:
Need A Microscope For Your iPhone? Thereâ€™s a Hack For That
John is looking for a marvelous VEX robot that is cool, fun, and either autonomous or intuitive to control. It does not have to be all VEX but the key components should be VEX. I’d also suggest making it mechanically interesting. John is a mechanical geek and I am certain he’ll award bonus points for innovative mechanisms.
The winner gets a ï»¿ï»¿ï»¿ï»¿VEX Classroom Lab Kit with a Cortex Microcontroller valued at $850 so this could be a great way for an existing VEX team to get some parts or start a second team.
You can read the entire challenge at John’s blog.
Originally posted here:
The JVN Design Challenge: VEX Marvels
I picked up the Dungeons and Dragons Heroscape Master Set: Battle for the Underdark not long ago and finally had a chance to play with my son.I was surprised to find a game that we both enjoyed and has my friends (which are my age) scrambling to buy their own sets.
The basic game comes with different setup designs for a campaign type adventure, but we had more fun just picking up tiles and setting them up as we went. We then picked our teams. My six year old played the heroes that had a friendly troll at their side and I played the Drow of the Underdark with pet dragon.
There is two different types of play, an advanced and a basic. The basic game is understandable by anyone who can count to ten and read those same numbers. Each figure has a card which has a number of steps that character can take and how many dice are rolled to attack and how many are rolled to defend. The dice have red skulls, blue shields and a blank “wild” side. If the attacker rolls more skulls than the defender roll shields, then the defender is out (dead). My six year old had no trouble with the concept.
Finally, the other great reason to pick this line of products, as I alluded to in the first paragraph, is they can be incorporated into your regular RPG game. The figures are heavy duty plastic and already painted. The tiles can be used to create some great elevations to add that third dimension to you regular boring table-top game. Heroscape sets and expansion packs can be picked up at most major retailers. Here is a link to the main Heroscape page and here is the link to the D&D branded.
Box art from Wizards of the Coast, game photos by T.Sims.
View original post here:
Heroscape Proves Fun For All Game Types
After months of competing, the first MoonBots Challenge has come to a close with Team Landroids, a group from Livingston, New Jersey taking first place. The team is made up for five eighth-grade neighborhood friends named Karlin, Stanley, Brian, Gage and Jeffrey. The Landroids were captained by a dad: John Yeh. The winning team’s members are veterans of FIRST Lego League and are no strangers to science and robotic competitions. You can learn more about the Landroids and the protoypes they worked through by watching their documentary or visiting their Web site.
While the Landroids’ final run for the points makes the competition look easy (watch their video after the jump), it was anything but simple. All of their plans were nearly dashed asÂ problem after problem popped up for the Landroids. But in the end, all was good and the Landroids emerged victoriuous.
Master Lego robot builder and MoonBots judge, Steve Hassenplug, talked about what set Team Landroids apart from the others. “I am very impressed with the results from all the finalists.Â Clearly all the teams worked hard and had a great deal of fun, but it appeared Landroids approached the competition with a level of professionalism unmatched by any other team, and they truly earned first place. I enjoyed the opportunity to judge the excellent work the teams did.Â They were all very impressive.”
Also recognized were the Shadowed Craters, who captured second place, and Team Moonwalk, which grabbed third. The Shadowed Craters were profiled here a couple weeks ago and are from the Miramar area of San Diego. Team Moonwalk is another New Jersey team (with part of the team hailing from Connecticut).
Anousheh Ansari, another MoonBots judge, commented on third place winners, Team Moonwalk: “Two things stood out for me in this team. One was because they used their technical knowledge to outline the scientific benefits of space exploration but also looked into the social benefits of space exploration and the opportunity for different nations to collaborate and create a lasting peace. This was one of my personal experiences on my flight to ISS. This collaborative aspect of space is what most people forget about.”
The long road to the finals began with more than 200 applications from around the globe, but mainly located in the United States. These teams were tasked with creating a documentary about their team, creating a prototype using Lego Digital Designer, Google Sketchup or LDraw and create a Web site to share information about their team.
From there, the field was narrowed down to 20 teams for Phase Two. (You can review the documentary entries from the top 20 teams who made it into Phase Two here and here.) These Phase Two teams were given Mindstorms kits and a set of objectives to complete within a three minute time period. Based on the team’s performance and some other criteria, a winner was chosen by a panel. Judges for this final phase included Anousheh Ansari, Steve Hassenplug, Dean Kamen and Jeff Kodosky.
“Congratulations to all of the MoonBots winners and finalists,” said Jeff Kodosky, Cofounder and NI Business and Technology Fellow at National Instruments. “NI is proud to join with all the other MoonBots sponsors and partners in this incredibly innovative challenge that will help advance science, technology, engineering and math education throughout the world.”
Team Landroids will enjoyÂ the grand prize of a trip to Billund, Denmark to visit Lego headquarters, as well as aÂ kit and registration for either FIRST Robotics FRC or FTC. The Shadowed Craters receive a 64GB iPod Touch for each team member and a kit and registration for FIRST competition. Team Moonwalk receives a kit and registration for a FIRST competition too.
Thanks to all teams who entered. Every team did a fantastic job, according to William Pomerantz, Senior Director of Space Prizes for the X Prize Foundation. â€œThe work these students did this summer was truly spectacular. The mission very closely paralleled the work our Google Lunar X Prize teams were doing, so we greatly enjoyed watching those technical challenges worked out on a different scale. The new era of lunar exploration is being built on the contribution of people of all ages and nationalities, and it is clear that the MoonBots participants have what it takes to make important contributions.â€
See the rest here:
Results Of The MoonBots Challenge Announced â€” Houston, We Have A Winner!
It’s always nice to discover something new that you’d never heard about before, and immediately know that you’ll love it.
When I was younger, I spent hours playing The Incredible Machine, and have played various other contraption building games since then. Recently I learned about Whizzball!, Discovery Channel’s contraption-like game. The idea of the game is to create a path for a ball to follow where it will then hit a target. It’s harder than it sounds. Discovery has a free version on their website, and they also have a paid iPhone app. I have played with both, and both have their advantages and disadvantages. But both are fun and challenging, with a lot of replayability. I highly recommend them.
I first played Whizzball! on Discovery’s website. To play, you enter a username but no password, so if you want to play on a different computer, you’ll need to create another login. The site also lists your total score, and your ranking among players. From what I can tell, there are no official puzzles listed on the site, just options to design your own puzzle or to solve the puzzles made by others. There are hundreds of puzzles created by other people, so chances are you would never run out. They range from very easy to very hard, but the quality varies widely. Fortunately there are also puzzle ratings.
Where the website excels, however, is in creating your own puzzles. This is much better on the website than in the app because the screen is bigger, and you can use a mouse and be more precise. It’s much easier to move pieces around when you don’t have to attempt to see around your finger.
Next I played with the Whizzball! app. The graphics in the app look much nicer than those on the website. Your options here include playing community puzzles and creating your own puzzle, but you can also play the 30 official built in puzzles. Though they range from very easy to very hard, once you get to the medium level they are not trivial. You really have to think in creative ways to come up with solutions. There are also better ways to search for puzzles created by others. You can filter by rating, difficulty and date. This is much better than on the website, where you could merely sort by column.
Sometimes on the levels that are medium and up, you have to create a route where the ball runs through pieces more than once, using them in different ways, and coming at them from different directions. This intricate planning ahead can be hard for those of us that don’t play chess. It can be hard to plan that many moves ahead. So for these kinds of puzzles, I usually just put what fits where and then tweak it.
There are plenty of clues built into the game play. Since you can’t rotate pieces, their available orientation gives a hint as to how to use them. Also, the shape and orientation of the available spots on the board give you a clue. Sometimes certain pieces can only go in certain spots. So if you get stuck, start putting in the obvious pieces and see what is left. If you still aren’t sure what to do next, click for a clue. After a confirmation from you, this will spend one help token. The game then drops a piece into the proper spot, removing any others that happen to be in the way. Different levels have different numbers of clue tokens, with harder levels giving you more. Fortunately, if you use up all your clue tokens and you still can’t figure out how to solve the puzzle, it takes mercy on you and doesn’t leave you hanging. It will show you the solution. You get no points for that level, but at least you can move on.
The most obvious drawback to the app is that it is hard to see around your finger. You’re trying to place pieces in specific spots, and if you don’t get it just right, you have to try again. This is particularly hard for the pieces that are one unit in size. In addition to this difficulty, there are some odd quirks to the game.
The first odd quirk I noticed is that if you finish a level and then quit the game, the next time you start it up you have to go back to the most recent level and re-run the ball, or the game thinks you are trying to skip a level. This only seems to happen some of the time, however. Fortunately, this doesn’t really affect game play.
Another oddity is that, on some levels, if you make the ball hit the target without having it first run through all the pieces, it says something to the effect of, “Great job! But now go back and solve it using all the pieces.” They penalize you for efficiency! But on some levels, it has allowed me to finish a level without using all of the pieces, and it has also let me finish a level with all the pieces on the board, but without the ball running through most of them. I’m not sure what they intended here. Is it a bug or a feature?
Beyond these unusual behaviors, I came across one legitimate bug. I couldn’t solve one of the medium puzzles and asked for a clue. It placed a two unit piece on a one unit spot, with part of the piece hanging over the edge. When I later accidentally moved that clue piece, I couldn’t put it back, since it wouldn’t fit. I hope they fix this bug in a future update.
This is not a casual logic game. The directions and rules are easy, but these puzzles get hard quickly. While anything not tagged “Very Easy” might be too much of a challenge for small kids, certain kids will enjoy designing their own puzzles just to play around with them. My six year old son has spent many hours doing just that. Some of his creations have been very complicated. Designing or solving these puzzles encourages logical thinking, design skills and learning about cause and effect.
Wired: Tests your skill and cleverness with spacial relations. Create your own puzzles for enjoyment’s sake or to quiz others.
Tired: Has a few bugs that can be confusing, but they don’t usually affect game play.
Note: I received a free copy of this app for review.
Review: Test Your Contraption-Building Skills With Whizzball!