In Brief: The Making of Slimer for the New Ghostbusters

I saw the new Ghostbusters over the weekend and really enjoyed it. Especially the designs of the ghosts--which almost had a Disney Haunted Mansion feel to them (a good thing in my book). The nods to the original were a bit wearing at times, but I'm glad they brought back Slimer as a not-purely malevolent spectral entity. In the film, Slimer was all CG, but it turns out that the production hired Rick Lazzarini's The Character Shop to build an animatronic Slimer to use as a stand-in for filming. The build of that mech (along with a few spoilers) detailed here. It's a fitting tribute to the puppet Steve Johnson made for the original.

Google Play App Roundup: Storm it, Dead Venture, and Super Stickman Golf 3

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

Storm it

Some would argue that Twitter's main strength over the years has also been its main limitation. Tweets can only be 140 characters in length (at least for now). Every time the company has speculated about making tweets longer, the reaction from the community has been swift and negative. Still, there are times you might want to express an idea on Twitter that's longer than 140 characters. Posting multiple tweets is a pain, but "Storm it" makes the process easier.

The name of the app comes from "tweetstorm," which is the term often used when someone posts multiple tweets in quick succession on a single topic. The problem is figuring out where to split things up and posting them quickly enough that they'll appear nearby in the stream. Storm it does all the hard work for you.

After you log into your Twitter account in Storm it, you'll get a blank canvas upon which you can scrawl your ideas -- rant, rave, or just a thought that's too long for one tweet. The cool thing here it that Storm it will be smart about where to break your text up into individual tweets. It won't just stop mid-word, but your sentences will still get chopped in half if they don't fit in one tweet. It also adds numbering so people can tell which order to read the tweets.

Down at the bottom is a Storm it button. Now, I would have thought that this would give you some sort of preview of confirmation dialog, but it doesn't. When you press that button, all your queued tweets are sent. You'll get a status screen to show you as each one is posted. If you want to preview the chopped up version of your text, you can tap the eye icon on the far left of the Storm it button. It's probably a good idea to do that.

The settings are sparse -- all you have is the choice of two different formats for the numbering appended to your tweets. There's also a history menu that shows you past tweetstorms, both sent (stormed) and unsent (forecasted -- ha). Unsent storms can be edited and sent from this menu.

Storm it has admittedly narrow appeal, but it does it's job well without a bunch of added cruft. It's also free.

Dead Venture

Dead Venture is yet another zombie game (trendy) and it has low-poly graphics (so in right now). Despite starting with some pretty generic elements, Dead Venture manages to be a surprisingly fun game, and it's free to try.

This is an arcade-style game that can be played a few minutes at a time. You are in charge of a group of survivors in the zombie apocalypse, and it's your job to find what the group needs to stay alive. To make that happen, you have the family SUV. It's not much to start with, but with some modifications it will become a zombie killing machine that will tide you over until more powerful vehicles are unlocked.

Dead Venture uses a top-down interface, which is something we've seen before in driving games (Does Not Commute comes to mind). On the left you've got left and right turn buttons, and on the right are the gas and brake/reverse. It takes some getting use to the controls as the left and right buttons are always left and right for the car. The camera angle does not change. In each run, you have to take out as many zombies as possible while completing missions.

Your car only has a limited amount of fuel and armor. When one of those is depleted, you'll have head back to camp. What if you don't complete a mission? The coins you earn from killing zombies and completing missions can be used to upgrade your ride, making it easier to complete your missions next time. You'll also encounter more powerful zombies over time, each with their own special attacks.

Progress in the game feels rewarding, even though it can take multiple attempts to complete a more difficult mission. Dead Venture keeps throwing little missions at you to keep things moving as you beef up for the really hard ones. In general, the difficulty seems just right. There's no unnecessary grinding for coins, but you have to make the right upgrades to survive.

When you complete all the missions in a particular chapter, you'll get a neat convoy defense level as the survivors move on. This gives you a minigun and unlimited ammo to take out zombies as the convoy snakes it way through the level you've just been driving around in.

As mentioned above, this game uses low-poly graphics. That means lots of angular models and blocky environments. This done very well here with bright colors, and effective design that makes the different types of zombies easily discernible. I've seen no performance issues to speak of, even on modestly specced devices.

Dead Venture is free to play for the first few levels, and has ads after every few runs. It's really not bad, though. If you want to unlock the full game and get rid of the ads, it'll be $1.99.

Super Stickman Golf 3

Noodlecake Games had an unexpected hit on its hands with the original Super Stickman Golf, and the sequel wasn't bad, either. Now there's a third installment in the series, and it's got the same highly focused 2D golfing action (if you can call that action) with a few more outlandish elements thrown in. This is a free-to-play game, but the mechanics aren't bad -- we'll get to that later.

Presumably you know the basics of golf, so we can skip that part. What's important in Super Stickman Golf 3 is knowing the controls. For each stroke, you have to hit the button in the lower right corner to start the power meter swinging back and forth. Press that button again to set your power, but be careful. You can't change the power once it's set. You can use the arrows on the opposite side at any point before your swing to change the direction of your stroke.

When you're all set, hit the button one more time. You can also add spin to the ball after you hit it. This can be useful to nudge it into the hole or keep it from rolling off a ledge. If you have done well, your golf ball will end up near the hole in a few strokes. When you're close enough, you'll get a putter instead of a regular club, but the mechanics are the same. After a few holes, you'll have a good feel for the game's physics and style. It's very consistent.

The levels are usually far from what you'd see on a real golf course, and I don't just mean that it's all in 2D. Sometimes it feels more like a platformer as you launch the ball from one level to another, working your way to the hole. In general, I think the holes are designed very well. If you're careful, it's possible to get the ball in well under par. You can even take riskier shots on some courses to get a hole-in-one or just to shave a few strokes off. There are also some neat themes on some of the courses to mix things up, like the sticky walls in the third one.

All the holes in a course are played through like a single unit. If you restart, you have to go back to the beginning. The goal is to complete at or under par. Do so, and the next course will be unlocked (there are 20 total in the game). If you're under par, the game will also give you a pack of cards. Yeah, there are cards that you can buy for money (in-game or real). This is where the monetary aspect comes into play.

Card packs contain things like hats that grant you special abilities and cosmetic upgrades like new stickman looks -- mine looks like a pirate! There's no energy meter in the main game. There's a daily race mode that only lets you play once per day for bigger prizes. I guess you could consider that an energy meter of sorts. There's also a "premium" upgrade that includes downloadable courses, unlimited race attempts, and no ads (not that there are many of them).

For a free game, Super Stickman Golf 3 provides a lot of content. The in-app purchases aren't obnoxious, and most importantly, it's fun.

My Love Letter to Cosplay at 2016’s TED Conference

I was privileged to be a speaker at 2016's TED conference, which was held in Vancouver. You can watch my talk, which was about cosplay, here or scroll below.

I had a totally different talk prepared for TED this year, and I threw it out completely two days before I left for Vancouver.

Adam Savage speaks at TED2016 - Dream, February 15-19, 2016, Vancouver Convention Center, Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

Originally my talk was going to be about art and science, which is a talk I want to give someday, but it felt like a lecture. And I'm not a university lecturer. A week before TED I realized this talk didn't have the resonance that I wanted it to.

Art and science -- STEAM -- is a topic near and dear to me, but I wanted something more personal. More genuine.

Then my wife suggested I talk about costuming. She furiously workshopped the talk with me even after I left for Vancouver, spending dozens of hours with me on the phone. In the end, I wrote most of this at the TED conference itself.

Cosplay as storytelling is really personal to me. It's also probably the hobby I'm most embarrassed about. Even more than prop collecting, it's a weird thing to be driven to do. And yet it's important. I feel like in talking about it, I'm trying to be a permission machine.

Hence my TED talk and my upcoming panel at Comic-Con, where I will be joined by award winning costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Coming To America) and cosplayer Jay Justice. (By the way, yes, that's me as a kid. I made my own suit of armor. Didn't you?)

I hope people watch this talk or my Comic-Con panel and feel it's OK to cosplay. And if they do, I hope they Tweet me a picture.

See you at Comic-Con!

How To Get Started with RC Sailboats

I know what some of you are thinking: At a time when the RC hobby offers excitement such as speedy FPV racing quads, 20-pound gas-powered dune buggies, and even robots that fight to the death, how can anyone get jazzed about a silent sailboat meandering across a pond? I get it. I used to think the same thing. Although I've known about the existence of RC sailboats for decades, they never captured my attention enough to actually give one a try. I really should have known better after my similar experience with rock crawlers. I soon discovered that even though sailboats are not fast (relatively speaking), they offer abundant technical and skill-oriented challenges that keep drawing me in deeper.

RC sailing clubs are a great resource to get started in the hobby. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

Diving In

Once I had decided to give RC sailing a try, I didn't think twice about going at it by myself. After all, I was fairly competent with the Sunfish sailboat that I had as a kid. Plus, RC sailboats only require 2 channels to control. So how hard could it possibly be? As I'm sure you've guessed by now, the reality of my introduction to RC sailing was much different. It involved a few missteps, some humble lessons, and plenty of help from experienced sailors.

One of the things I learned early on is that there is a lot is specific terminology used in sailing circles. I'm still learning the meaning of most of these foreign-sounding words. For any of you experienced sailors who may be reading this, I'll ask your forgiveness in advance since I'll endeavor to use layman's terms whenever possible here.

Even though I knew that RC sailboats were only 2-channel machines, I lacked a fundamental understanding of how the controls worked. The various rigging that I had seen on some sailboats caused me to envision their control systems to be much more complex than they actually are. It turns out that most of the visible rigging on a sailboat consists of static lines that only serve to stabilize the sail mast.

RC sailboats have simple control systems. But until I had one of my own, the various rigging had me convinced otherwise. (Lewis Dunn photo)

The two main controls of a RC sailboat are the rudder and sail trim. The rudder is used to control the direction of the boat in the water. A single servo actuates the rudder through direct linkages.

Sail trim refers to the angle of the sails in relation to the boat hull. Both sails can pivot side to side about their leading edge. Rather than a rigid connection, the sail servo is connected to a pair of rope-like lines that terminate near the midpoint of the booms along the bottom edge of each sail. The servo controls the length of these lines, which subsequently determine how far out the sails can swing. At its shortest length, the sails may only have a few degrees of sway. With the line fully relaxed, the sails could approach 90-degrees of travel. Based on the direction of the wind and the orientation of the boat hull, sail trim is adjusted to harness the wind and keep the boat moving forward.

Aquacraft Paradise

The Aquacraft Paradise is a factory-built sailboat that includes a radio. After a shaky start, it became responsive and fun to sail. (Lewis Dunn photo)

Like so many other RC vehicles, sailboats are available in a wide variety of sizes, styles, materials, and degrees of prefabrication. The boat that I used to begin my sailing education is the AquaCraft Paradise. This 26"-long boat has a fiberglass hull and is mostly prebuilt. The only required items are eight AA-size batteries. Four are used in the boat and four go in the radio transmitter. I used rechargeable 1800mAh NiMH cells, but alkaline batteries can also be used.

The Paradise has been on the market for about 10 years, but AquaCraft recently upgraded the boat with a 2.4GHz radio system. Most RC sailing enthusiasts use an airplane-style 2-stick transmitter like the Tactic TTX410 that is included with the Paradise. Sail trim is controlled by up and down movements of the left stick. The rudder is controlled using side to side movements of the right stick.

A small amount of assembly work is required to get the Paradise seaworthy and no tools are required. Aquacraft includes a handy stand that keeps the boat upright for storage and maintenance. The keel and rudder slide into place and are secured with thumb screws. All of the rigging for the mast and sails is attached with factory installed clips on the end of each line. The clips are numbered, as are the hard points where each clip is intended to attach.

With the radio hatch removed, you can see the rudder (left) and sail trim servos, as well as the batteries that power the onboard radio gear.

An Uncertain Start

I performed my testing of the Paradise while visiting family in Florida. Assembly took me less than an hour to complete, but it was already too dark to head to the local pond. I was eager to try things out, so I did the next best thing. I setup a box fan to provide a steady breeze across the screened-in pool where I was staying.

My initial experience in the pool was not very promising. Yes, the artificial breeze made the Paradise move across the pool, but I never felt like I was in complete control of the boat. I repeatedly became pinned against the edge of the pool when I thought that I should have been able to make headway. My only recourse was to walk around and physically push the Paradise back to the middle of the pool. I tempered my frustration by convincing myself that my sailing experience would improve once I had real wind on an actual lake.

RC sailing requires a balance of equipment and skill to harness the wind effectively. (Lewis Dunn photo)

My uncle and I hit the pond the next morning with a nice moderate breeze blowing. Both of us had a go at sailing the Paradise in these ideal conditions. Surprisingly, the results were not much better than my pool tests. Sometimes the wind would grab the sails and tip the boat nearly on its side. Other times, the boat would point itself directly into the wind and nothing we did would convince it to turn and catch the wind.

There were moments of full control and impressive wind-induced sprints, but we were unable to repeat these episodes with any consistency. I'll just say that it's a good thing that we brought along a kayak. We took turns paddling out to rescue the Paradise when we felt like we couldn't return to the shoreline through control inputs alone. After about an hour of fumbling, the sail servo began to act funny, so we called it a day. Clearly, I still had much to learn about this RC sailing business.

Subsequent trouble shooting revealed that some water had found its way inside the sail servo. I removed both servos, then disassembled and dried them thoroughly. Once I had the servos rebuilt and back in the boat, I sealed the hatches that provide access to the radio gear using strips of vinyl tape around each perimeter. I have not had any leakage problems since.

Helping Hands

On my next outing with the Paradise, I visited the South Daytona Model Yacht Club. Phil Ehlinger and other SDMYC boaters at the pond that day were extremely helpful and accommodating to this newb. None of them had any personal experience with the Paradise, but it passed their informal dockside smell test. Phil gave me a few initial sailing tips and had me launch my boat.

I did a little better with the Paradise under Phil's tutelage, but I was still having many of the same problems that I'd experienced before. I just couldn't seem to make the boat go where I wanted it to. As I floundered around the water, other sailboats were leaving me in their aquatic dust…effortlessly traveling around in all directions with utter disregard for which way the wind was blowing.

RC sailboats come in countless sizes and materials. Phil Ehlinger's 36/600-class ship seen here has a balsa hull with carbon fiber mast and booms.

At some point, Phil suggested that we trade transmitters. I took over the electronic helm of his boat while he sailed the Paradise. This was an eye opening moment. Phil's sailboat was different in many ways from the Paradise. It was a littler larger and its handmade hull was constructed of balsa wood. These differences were of little consequence for my purposes. The overall layout and control systems of Phil's boat were very similar to my prebuilt ship.

I immediately noticed a significant difference in controllability with Phil's ship. Even though I made a lot of rookie mistakes while sailing his boat, it always did what I expected it to do. It didn't tip over very easily and it had plenty of rudder authority to turn even at ultra-slow speeds. This is how I had originally expected the Paradise to perform.

I'll admit that I was a little happy to see Phil having some trouble with the Paradise. Oh sure, his experienced hands accomplished much more with my boat than I ever had. But there were clearly differences between what the boat was doing and what he wanted it to be doing. Now I understood that my lack of success with the Paradise was due to my own inexperience…as well as shortcomings with the boat. I soon discovered that those shortcomings were relatively easy to correct.

A Happy Ending

Phil gave me a short list of things to try and improve the controllability of the Paradise. These ranged from subtle adjustments of the sails and rigging, to adding more weight to the bottom of the keel. I initially plucked only the low hanging fruit. I implemented the simple rigging and sail adjustments and returned to the SDMYC pond. Frankly, I didn't notice much difference in performance.

My next step was to add more weight to the bulb at the bottom of the keel. The intent of this weight is to counteract the tendency of the boat to heel over when the wind pushes on the sails. I scavenged about 5 ounces of lead tire weights and I attached them to the outside of the bulb using JB Weld. The result is not very pretty or hydrodynamic, but it was the best I could do away from my workshop…and it was adequate for testing.

I added about 5 ounces of tire weights to the keel bulb to counter the tendency of the Paradise to heel over when wind hit the sails.

I also fabricated a new rudder that has more than twice the area of the stock unit. I cut the rudder from aluminum sheet with a jig saw. The rudder shaft is just a scrap bolt that has approximately the same diameter as the stock rudder shaft. The rudder and shaft are held together with JB Weld. Not counting the time necessary for the JB Weld to dry, both modifications took less than an hour to complete.

I am happy to say that the added keel weight and enlarged rudder have completely transformed the Paradise! I no longer feel like it has a mind of its own. As long as there is a breeze, I can cruise downwind or tack upwind. I'm still no expert, but I finally feel like I'm in control. I even went back to my box fan/pool set up as a sanity check. I can now navigate to any part of the pool with no rescue shoves required.

I fabricated a new, much larger rudder to improve the turning authority of the Paradise.

The larger rudder provides much improved turning authority. I don't get stuck facing directly into the wind anymore. If I really get into a tight spot, I've found that I can actually propel the Paradise gently forward by rocking the rudder back and forth like a fish's tail. I'm sure some sailing purists will call such a maneuver cheating, but I'm not too proud to use it.

Next Steps

Once I had a boat that was more obedient, I really started to get a feel for the nuances of sailing. Finding that ideal combination of direction and sail trim that makes the boat effortlessly accelerate across the water is deeply satisfying. The same can be said of nailing the control inputs that command the boat through a sharp turn with fluid, uninterrupted motion.

Like so many aspects of RC, sailing is contagious. My father-in-law accompanied me on several outings with the Paradise and he took a shine to it. I left the Paradise with him when I headed back to Texas. I'll pick up another sailboat for me to use here. And now that I have access to my workshop again, I'm planning to fabricate a more refined keel bulb and rudder to ship back to Florida. Those types of modification projects are really fun to me.

I have a long way to go before I'll be good at sailing. It will be even longer before I fully understand the rudimentary design and set-up aspects of sailboats. What has already become clear, however, is that I don't need a speedy vehicle to hold my interest. RC sailing offers the same kinds of technical pursuits and skill challenges that so often draw me to flying models. I look forward to my forthcoming sailing education.

My sincere thanks to Phil Ehlinger and the South Daytona Model Yacht Club for sharing their expertise, their lake, and their boats to give this sailing rookie a head start. If you are interested in trying RC sailing, see if there is a club in your area and pay them a visit.

Terry is a freelance writer living in Lubbock, Texas. Visit his website atTerryDunn.organd follow him onTwitterandFacebook. You can also hear Terry talk about RC hobbies as one of the hosts of theRC Roundtablepodcast.