6 Ideas for Lenovo’s New Modular Phone


Yesterday, Lenovo announced its newest addition to the Moto mobile phone line. The Moto Z is basically just a bigger and thinner Moto X, except for a very interesting addition to the back. Down near the bottom are 16 visible pogo pins, and a couple of invisible yet powerful magnets. Moto phones have had customizable back plates for years, but this data port enables the phone to snap on “Moto Mod” backs, accessories that add new electronic components.

LG introduced a modular phone earlier this year, but it required disassembly and a reboot to swap parts. Lenovo’s solution means that the Moto Mods just slap right on and power up. So far, the existing mods include a powerful JBL speaker back, a miniature projector back, and a basic extended battery. In order to encourage other developers to create backs for this new line of phones, Lenovo has offered a $1m prize for the best prototype, and Hasselblad has already announced a camera back. Let’s throw out a few ideas of our own, shall we?

1. Solar Battery Pack

While InCipio is already making a smart rechargeable battery back for the Moto Z, it would be neat to have one with a built-in solar panel. Previous attempts to add solar panels to phones have been unsuccessful for several reasons, mainly because a cell phone is usually in your pocket or being held in your hand or away from sun, because cell phones usually overheat when they are in the sun, and because a phone-sized solar panel doesn’t provide enough juice to power a phone.

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Must-Have CNC Machine Tools


Now that I’ve been working with our CNC machine for a little while, I’ve begun accumulating various tools to make my various jobs easier. I’ve tested a lot of different types and makers of bits, experimented with a bunch of different ways to mount work to the table, and here are several things that I use every day:

  • Freud Straight Flute bits: great for thinner sheet plastic
  • Countersink Bolts + Wingnuts: for attaching jigs
  • MDF & HDPEiolp;’./;


    Two young people from our church are getting married this weekend, and here’s a quick sign that I whipped up for the wedding. A nice v-carve bit and a few simple toolpaths made this a five minute job. I’ll be using a table saw to help make it go faster. If you are looking for a great table saw then check out these table saw reviews. Painting it will take more time than cutting it. When I first started messing around with this CNC machine, it seemed like everything it did could have been done faster by hand. Now that I’ve figured out my process a bit better, it’s obvious that the bottleneck was me.


Gun Control, Modern Manufacturing, and Arbitrary Laws

Ar15 Lower Reciever

Fact: private citizens are allowed to manufacture their own firearms, as many as they like, without having a Federal Firearms License, and without giving these firearms a serial number. It is only when transferring that firearm to someone else that it needs a serial number and paperwork, and so forth. Fact: the lower receiver is the part of the AR-15 that is legally classified as the firearm, and if that part is less than 80% finished, it is legally not a firearm. Many Americans buy these unfinished blank receivers freely on the internet, finish the machining themselves, and are technically the private manufacturers of the resulting firearm, which is perfectly legal for them to own.

Seems pretty simple, right? Not if you are the BATFE. Take the case of CA resident Daniel Crowninshield, who began renting out his CNC mill to folks that wanted to finish out their 80% lowers. In 2013, an undercover BATFE agent documented how Crowninsheild helped him build a jig for a lower, instructed him on how to fixture it in the machine and how to start and run that machine, and then (at the agent’s request) sold him more lower receivers. In 2014, Crowninsheild was charged with unlawful manufacturing and dealing of firearms, and five other charges. In 2015, the BATFE made a new ruling (2015-1) that more clearly defined Crowninsheild’s activities as unlawful firearm manufacture. Last week, he plead guilty to two charges, including unlawful manufacturing and dealing of firearms.

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Introducing the New CNC Machine


This is the CNC router that I’ve been working on for the last two months; the first one I’ve ever worked on. It’s a 4×8 PRT Alpha from Shopbot, and we bought it used, which means that it’s the older model, but it did come all wired up. That means that we got it up and running quickly, but it also means that I don’t really know what I’m doing when I have to find a wiring issue. If I’d wired all the connections from scratch, I might actually remember what things are. As it is, I find that I have to talk to tech support about once a week.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with this machine. In function, price, and capability, it sits somewhere between a DIY hobbyist tool and full-fledged production machine. It’s cheap (for what it is), and you are expected to be pretty handy with a multimeter and machine code to keep it working (I am not handy with these things). There is no hand-holding or helpful software wizards or internal digital diagnostic checks on this machine. On the other hand, it is a sturdy steel table equipped with fast and powerful stepper motors and a 4hp spindle that can do a lot of serious work.


Here are a few “starting-out” lessons I’ve learned that seem really obvious in hindsight. As you might guess, these are trial and error kinda lessons:

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Baby’s First Smartphone!


I generally cringe when I see tiny children with their attention glued to an iPhone screen, or when I read gadget reviews and see commenters asking if such-and-such a device would be a good first smartphone for a six-year-old. I guess that’s a little hypocritical of me now, since I just set up a smartphone for a three-month-old.

To clarify, however, James isn’t allowed to play with this phone. It’s basically the music player for his room, and his portable baby monitor, and it’s very handy. It’s also very cost-effective; I bought this Droid Razr M used on eBay, and after three years of very hard use, it was replaced by a newer eBay phone that Heidi bought me for Christmas. So what all can we do with this scuffed and chipped phone?

Baby Monitor

For the past month or so, we’ve been using the Dormi baby monitor app to keep an ear on James when he’s napping. It has all the features of a regular old analog baby monitor, but smarter. You’ll need at least two devices, one of which is set to child mode and listens for noise, and the other is set to parent mode and waits for alerts. Instead of listening to an infuriatingly constant drone of 900mhz interference, you only hear the baby when he starts waking up.

That means that it’s very data efficient, and very battery efficient. The two devices can automatically find each other when they are on the same wifi network, or you can set them up manually over the internet if you need more distance. The connection is encrypted, you can also have multiple parent devices listening to a single child device, there’s an option for two-way communication, and you can even use the phone’s cameras to see what’s going on.

Back to the Future’s VFX


Today is “Back to the Future Day;” October 21st, 2015. This is the day that Doc and Marty traveled to the future in Back to the Future 2. That film was a visual effects extravaganza, featuring incredible optical composites of future skylines and flying cars, matte paintings of ruined cities, detailed miniature and model setups, and incredibly complicated motion control shots that enabled actors to interact with themselves in old age makeup – all before the days of digital animation!

The original Back to the Future, on the other hand, despite being a classic sci-fi time-travel film, only has about a dozen visual effects shots. Its effects are basically limited to the lightning in the sky above the clock tower, the lightning bolts traveling along cables, and the sparks and comets that surround the DeLorean as it accelerates to 88 miles per hour to break the time barrier. All of those effects were managed by Industrial Light and Magic animator and supervisor Wes Takahashi, and then composited together by John Ellis’s team on ILM’s massive optical printers.

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A Bit About the RPG-7

Afghan Soldier firing RPG

Like the AK-47, the RPG-7 is a Soviet weapon that was developed shortly after WWII using lessons learned from direct interaction with German military theory, a weapon which rapidly became ubiquitous in modern war and has been widely used in most parts of the world for more than 50 years. If you’ve watched action movies or war news, you have certainly seen this weapon in use. If you’ve traveled in Africa or the Middle East, you’ve probably seen it in person.

RPG stands for Ruchnoy Protivotankovyy Granatomyot, which means “hand-held anti-tank grenade launcher.” In English we call it a Rocket Propelled Grenade, but the warhead is a little more complicated than your average grenade. It was built to defeat Cold War-era tank armor, and it uses a very focused shaped charge to penetrate up to 20 inches of hardened steel. You can see the powerful cutting jet that the explosive creates in this video:

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Smart Cruise Control

Self-driving cars are supposed to be the Next Big Thing(tm). Audi, Google, and Tesla have all exhibited and demonstrated vehicles with very impressive autonomous ability. The legal framework for self-driving cars is probably lagging behind the technological frameworks at this point.

At the moment, Tesla’s autopilot is legally limited to the car bringing itself to your front door in the morning, and a very adaptive cruise control that uses radar to detect other cars and cameras to read the speed limit off of road signs when controlling the throttle. It’s a complicated thing to implement, and it’s actually more than I want. I propose a simpler “smart cruise control.”

In essence, I’d like to have cruise control that takes RPM and MPG into account when setting the MPH. I don’t mind braking around other vehicles or keeping an eye open for speed limit signs, but I do get annoyed when cruise control suddenly downshifts and redlines the engine on an uphill to avoid losing speed or jams on the engine braking on a slight downhill to avoid gaining speed. Small, gradual changes to speed are preferable to large, rapid changes to the throttle.

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How a Few Simple Inventions Changed the Written World

Printer operating a Gutenberg-style screw press

Isaac has recently been doing some writing for the Live the Adventure Letter, and they just published his article on Martin Luther and the Printing Press. Have a look at how world-changing inventions didn’t actually change the word until the right men came along with the right ideas. The story of paper, the printing press, and the Reformation is also a good reminder that everything, even simple mechanical inventions, arrive in God’s sovereignly-appointed time.  One of the reasons I love being married to Isaac is that I am always learning things from him: interesting history, cool technology, and real life theology, and this article is no exception.

Blackmagic Design’s New Cameras

A year ago, BlackMagic Design announced their very first camera. Not being a camera company, they created a clunky box that was a short on ergonomics and frills, but being a top-flight digital imaging company, they built a sensor and processor package that shot excellent images. The Blackmagic Cinema Camera shoots a rather unorthodox 2.5k image on a standard 16mm sensor, accepts standard EF lenses and records to standard SSD drives. The 12-bit RAW image quality easily rivals that of the RED Scarlet, but the BCC ships ready to shoot for only $3000.

Blackmagic Design's 2013 Cameras

This year at NAB, they announced their second and third cameras. First, they unveiled an upgraded version of the BCC which shoots 4k video on a Super35 sensor through a global shutter. Like its predecessor, it comes with a free copy of daVinci Resolve (normally $945), and is still only $4000. As astounding a camera as this is, I found the announcement of the Pocket Cinema Camera even more interesting.

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