Still waiting for a video game developer to win a Genius Grant

Every year since 1981, the MacArthur Foundation has handed out the "Genius Grant," awarding a handful of individuals $625,000 each in recognition of their creative skills and success in their chosen field. The money is no-strings-attached, designed t...

Twinkly 2.0 Digital Christmas Lights Review: Deck the Halls with RGB LEDs

Looking to take your Christmas tree lights to the next level this holiday season? While there are already plenty of LED light strings on the market, the ones I’ve seen in stores generally offer very basic color selections. Twinkly’s LED lights are designed to give their owner the ultimate in flexibility to make their Christmas light display truly their own.

I got my hands on a set of Twinkly’s latest generation lights to see what they could do. Each Twinkly light string is strung with dozens of bright RGB LEDs, and is fully-programmable using a companion smartphone app, letting you create your own color palettes and animated chase sequences with ease.

Setting up Twinkly lights starts out the same as other Christmas lights, but you have to be a little more fastidious in the way you string them for maximum control. It’s recommended that you wrap them from bottom to top, left to right for best results, though the app is smart enough to handle sloppy stringing as well. Once you plug them in, install the app on your smartphone then connect to the Twinkly via a direct Wi-Fi connection. Then you can tell Twinkly which home network you want them to join. I could only get the Twinkly to see 2GHz networks, but the amount of data being transferred to them doesn’t really demand a higher speed connection anyhow.

After the Twinkly string is connected to your Wi-Fi network, you go through a slick visual calibration process, which uses your phone’s camera and AI smarts to help the identify EXACTLY where each LED is placed on your tree. This gives you precision control over each and every light.

Out of the box, the Twinkly app comes preloaded with a variety of light patterns, including twinkling, chase sequences, firework-style bursts, and color fades. To load a pattern, simply tap on it and swipe left or right to preview it on the tree. But the real beauty is how you can go into any of the existing patterns and make it your own.

Create custom color schemes, change brightness, or speed to tweak the look of an existing animation, or go into the custom animation mode to draw your own light sequence. And when I say draw, I really mean it. Basically, you finger paint onto a map of your tree the exact pattern you want the lights to appear in. Choose a color, then paint. Assuming you followed the calibration step above, the lights will follow your finger like magic.

Once you design and preview a pattern you like, you need to save it to the Twinkly itself so the pattern can continue without your smartphone connected. You can also program the lights to automatically turn on and off at specific times, though the scheduler is very rudimentary, with only one on and one off time, and no ability to set daily schedules. You can also create groups of multiple strings in the app if you want to control multiple trees or a single tree with multiple strings.

The overall whiz-bang appeal and brilliant colors of the latest Twinkly light string are great, though the tester package I tested with only came with 105 lights, which was only enough to light up a 4 foot tabletop tree. To cover taller trees, they’re available in either 175 or 225 LED lengths, priced at $129.95 and $159.95, respectively, so the cost of having the highest-tech Christmas lights on the block can add up quickly. But if you’re a true Christmas junkie and a true gadget junkie, you’ll want a set or two on your tree this holiday season.

Fox Sports’ new virtual studio runs on Unreal Engine

It's no secret that Epic Games has enabled a number of gaming studios to create more-realistic visuals with its Unreal game engine. Since its debut in 1998, powering the first-person shooter Unreal, the technology has evolved to power hundreds of gam...

Mario Boo Ghost Bean Bag Chair: Boo Bean

If you are a fan of all things Super Mario, I just found the perfect seat from which to play your favorites games. This is the officially licensed Super Mario Bros Boo beanbag chair and it’s just the right throne for Super Mario fans.

Sadly it doesn’t play dead until you look away, then come up behind you so you can sit down. That would have been cool. The technology is almost there. I’m sure of it. This comfy ghost chair will cost you around $140, and measures about 38″ wide x 28″ tall x 38″ deep. Wait. That’s not big at all. How small is that child?

I was hoping this was a boo that I could sink into and relax. Oh well. If you are a tiny person, you’ll find this ghost more comfortable I guess. Myself? I demand a giant Boo bean bag chair. And not because I have to go on a diet either. I just like big Boos and I can not lie.

Boo is one of Mario’s cutest enemies. He’s supposedly a bad guy, but really he just wants to snuggle. And he’s shy. That’s why he freezes if you’re looking at him. This ghost is totally misunderstood.

The Kindle Paperwhite is ready for the bath

Sometimes you just want to read a book. Or maybe all the books. That's the promise of the Kindle line. Access to thousands of books in a form factor that's mobile and won't distract you with a litany of notifications about the world being on fire or...

We Go Up Close with LightZilla: Making Big Things with Light

We recently told you guys about LightZilla, a sweet giant-size Lite-Brite that I wish I could have in my game room. Alas, I can’t afford one for my house, but I did recently get a chance to play with a LiteZilla up close and personal, and it’s pretty awesome. I headed up North of Chicago to the awesome Abt Electronics to meet with LiteZilla founder and Chief Illumination Officer Adam Butlein to go hands on with the jumbo plaything, and to learn a bit about what makes the LightZilla special.

While the first prototype of the LiteZilla was something Adam built for his own home, he quickly realized that he’d have to spend some serious time and money refining the design if he wanted to build something that could hold up to countless kids playing with it in doctors’ offices, museums, toy stores, and other public places.

Rather than using plywood, each LiteZilla’s peg board is made from thick sheets of HDPE, a durable thermoplastic that can be cut more precisely than wood, holds up better to wear and tear, and can be drilled more smoothly. The latter is critical for preventing nasty splinters when a kid sticks his or her finger into one of the holes – which they surely will do. HDPE is also far less likely to hold onto germs, and is easier to clean than wood. Each hole is precision drilled using CNC machining, to ensure perfectly placed peg art every time.

Behind the face sheet of HDPE is an impressively large light box, which perfectly diffuses bright white LEDs so each peg is evenly lit. Then there’s the pegs themselves. Each one is precision cut from colorful acrylic, then flame-finished so they transmit light smoothly from end to end. The result is brilliant, bright color from every one of each LiteZilla’s pegs, which can be made in every color of the rainbow, as well as neon colors and opaque black for blocking out light for design flexibility. The pegs are also big enough that they don’t pose a choking hazard for kids.

Each LightZilla offers convenient storage bins at the bottom for spare pegs, and its power transformer is smartly placed behind a screw-off front panel, just in case it ever needs to be serviced. The whole LightZilla can be mounted directly on a wall using heavy duty Z-clips which are designed to take up to 4x the weight of the whole system, for added safety around kids.

LiteZilla sells its sweet light-up pegboards in seven standard sizes: 4’x5′, 6’x5′, 8’x5′,8’x6′, 12’x6′, 16×6′ and an enormous 20’x6′ version. Prices start at $9,999 for the smallest model, and go up to a whopping $45,999 for the biggest one. I’m sure a big chunk of that cost is making thousands of colorful pegs. They can also customize the board with a company logo, and custom colored pegs to match your logo as well.

At these kind of prices, the LiteZilla probably won’t find its way into too many homes, but it’s a great idea for public places of play and interaction. So far, the company has done numerous installations for doctors’ and dentists’ offices, churches and temples, children’s museums and they just did an amazing store window display for Hammacher Schlemmer in New York City, which is sure to draw lots of attention.

If you’re looking for an awesome piece of interactive art for any place where kids of any age congregate, you should definitely consider a LiteZilla. For more information or to place an order, check out the LiteZilla website, or call them at 1-833-LITEZILLA.