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DeskScapes 11: A Guided Tour

Thursday, May 6, 2021 by Frogboy | Discussion: Stardock Blog

DeskScapes is a program designed to make it easy to have really cool Windows desktop backgrounds.  It doesn’t just manage wallpapers - it integrates native animated wallpaper support into Windows. 

Version 11 includes a bunch of cool new things that make it pretty compelling for every PC user.  Here is a quick tour of some of those features.

Part 1: The interface

Once installed, you access DeskScapes by right-clicking on your desktop.

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The interface is designed to make it easy for you to access wallpapers that are already on your computer, as well as ones in the cloud.  DeskScapes 11 seamlessly integrates into the cloud, giving users access to hundreds of thousands of desktop backgrounds, both traditional and animated.

Part 2: The Cloud

I am generally a minimalist.  That’s why I use Fences to keep my desktop as clean as possible.  In my case, I stare at a lot of different monitors but even on a laptop, I like to occasionally switch my background.  The problem is that I can never remember where I put cool backgrounds I found.  That’s where the cloud helps.

I’d be the first to agree that this should be part of Windows.  But it’s not, so here we are.

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I can type a word in and it goes out and finds desktop backgrounds I want.  I can pick between normal (static) or animated ones. 

But more commonly, I’ll see what the current most popular ones are.

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While DeskScapes is often thought of as an “animated desktop” program, the Stardock team looks at it as a background is a background is a background.  So it makes both easily available.

Part 3: Clever backgrounds

A bunch of really clever backgrounds are already installed with DeskScapes 11.  Not just pretty pictures, but backgrounds that you could imagine being their own apps.  Let’s take a look:

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Colored lights is one of my favorites.  It just changes throughout the day.  It’s like having a mood ring as a a background. 

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Blurry blobs is another background that you could imagine being its own app.  It is kind of like having a lava lamp.  It’s super subtle and interesting.

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Desktop Earth is one I always run on one of my machines.  Except I don’t have the earth rotating.  Here’s why:

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It slowly changes over the course of the day.  Based on your Windows settings, it shows where you are in the world and you can slowly see when nighttime comes. 

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Desktop Collage is one of my favorites.  Basically, it just places pictures from target folders onto the background.  Here at work I have pictures of my daughter from ages 0 to 14 that are placed on my desktop.

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Moving wallpaper is pretty neat.  That said, I have it move very, very slowly. I don’t want to be distracted.  So it takes images and such and gradually rotates through them in a kind of Ken Burns type effect.

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Photo Dream is similar to moving wallpaper, but it treats the backgrounds at 3D images.  I usually have this one running on on my my monitors, as it’s one of my favorites.

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Stars is one I often run. I typically have the stars running very, very slowly. Like, you can barely tell they’re moving.  These work via DirectX, so unlike, say, a video of stars running, these basically use no resources.  At night I will run these on all my monitors at times.

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Part 4: Playlists

Depending on the day and the time of year and other considerations, I will run a given playlist.

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Playlists are super easy to make and once you make one, it’s basically the same as it is with music. 

Part 5: Customizing

So you’ve got a normal desktop background.  As I write this, it’s Spring.  So I have applied a normal background.

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But look at the buttons in the upper left.  The first one down lets you customize the background.

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There are a lot choices to apply, which would require an entire article just to go over them.  The one I find myself using the most is “porthole".  It makes the edges of a background dark.

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Should this be part of Windows? Probably.  But it’s not.  This feature makes almost any desktop background useful.  But there are lots of other ones too that are very interesting and helpful.

Part 6: Universal Resolution Support

Windows has a few fit options for backgrounds.  But not nearly enough.  If you’re someone who runs a monitor with an unusual aspect ratio (or have a rotating monitor), you already know how limited the options are.

DeskScapes has a lot of options.

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And this is super useful if you get a background that doesn’t support your desktop’s resolution, but still looks cool.

Part 7: Colorization

Apple, Microsoft and others make some great default wallpapers.  Unfortunately, they tend to be a particular color, which is fine - until it’s not.

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These are great wallpapers, to be sure. But I tend to like my backgrounds a little less saturated.

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You could also make it a totally different color.

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You can also mix it with the customizations to get something totally different.

Part 8: Creation

DeskScapes 11 includes DreamMaker Pro, a full-on animated wallpaper maker.

Now, personally, I lack the artistic skills to make something cool.  But I’ve used Adobe After Effects enough to know I can take create something from something else that’s cool.

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If you’ve ever used an art program of any kind, you already know how to use DreamMaker Pro.

When you’re done, just Export it as a DeskScapes file and voila.

I tend to use this for games I play a lot and have those as my backgrounds.

Conclusions

So where can you get DeskScapes? Right here: Animated Wallpapers for Windows : Stardock's Deskscapes

DeskScapes 11: Preview Guide

Tuesday, May 4, 2021 by Frogboy | Discussion: Stardock Blog

I like wallpapers.  Or desktop backgrounds, if you prefer.  But what comes with Windows is really…lacking.   That’s why I use DeskScapes. It adds a ton of features that arguably should have been part of the OS.  Millions of people use DeskScapes already, but there were a number of missing features that I think kept it from becoming a “gotta have” app.  DeskScapes 11, I believe, adds those killer features.

The new features

Below I’ll highlight some of the bigger features we’ve added:

Cloud Integration

I have a confession to make: I generally prefer normal backgrounds.  By that, I mean non-animated.  I mainly use animated wallpapers when I want something behind me if I am streaming or doing a demo.  But typically, I don’t run them.  This is why I, and others like me at Stardock, felt that DeskScapes 11 needed to become absolutely compelling for anyone who just likes regular static backgrounds.  Hence, cloud integration.

Bing Integration

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Bing has an image of the day.  You’d think Microsoft would incorporate this into Windows directly.  I don’t mean a web link to an app or something, I mean right into the background UI.  DeskScapes does.

 

WinCustomize Cloud

Another obvious feature is being able to use the cloud to instantly search and get new desktops. 

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You can even do a search:

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You can also subscribe to popular artists:

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You get the idea.  It’s like your favorite music streaming service, except for desktop backgrounds.

 

Background Tweaking

When you go to apply a wallpaper there are a bunch of tweaks you can make to it.

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If  you look over on the left, you will see some tabs. Here you can apply (and mix) a bunch of cool effects.

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One of my favorite features here is the portal effect:

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Even the noisiest (but pretty) background can be made usable by simply putting it in a portal.

Check this out:

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You can also do color blending here too.

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Here I made a weird, muted desktop background if I want to reduce the amount of color I’m looking at.

 

Playlists

Another feature new in DeskScapes 11 are the playlists.  The easiest way to create them is to do this:

Step 1: Create the Playlist

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Step 2: Go to your installed tab

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AND RIGHT-CLICK on backgrounds.

Step 3: Add them to your playlist

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Step 4: Apply

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I have mine change every hour.  And you can specify which monitors you want them on and so forth (I only have playlists changing monitor 3 here).

 

DeskScapes Wallpaper Creation

What if you want to do something a bit more advanced? Imagine you have a wallpaper a favorite game or something.

Let’s start with Star Control.

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When you go to apply it choose this:

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This will open up the DeskScapes Creator.  It’s extremely powerful.

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Let’s go ahead and add some light sourcing and glowing…

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So here all I’m doing is using the brush on the green and white “lights” already in this image.  It turns these dots into light sources.

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And each affect has a bunch of options available to it.  Did I mention it supports layering too?

Just as a fun tool by itself it’s pretty amazing and you can use this to create any background effect you can imagine.

And naturally in the untalented (like me) you can do all kinds of obnoxious stuff too.

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If you’re familiar with something like Photoshop you will have no problem here. 

When you’re done, hit EXPORT:

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Then just fill out the fields, hit export, and voila.

 

Just the tip of the iceberg

These are just a few of the new features.  DeskScapes 11 is basically a rewrite of the app designed to be a must-have for anyone using a Windows PC.  There are dozens of small tweaks and enhancements to make customizing your desktop easier and more fun.  It also uses hardly any background memory or CPU (Admittedly, we can thank modern GPUs and CPUs for a lot of that since everything DeskScapes does now is accelerated).

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What little memory it does use is actually the desktop background (multiple monitors X resolution) which previously would have been used anyway via a svchost process or something.  In the above example, it’s running an animated desktop called “Shapes” on 3 4K monitors.

 

Availability

DeskScapes 11 went into beta on Object Desktop, Stardock’s full suite of desktop enhancements that includes programs like Fences, Groupy, Curtains, Tiles, etc.  It will be available as a stand-alone program later this Spring.

Share Your May Desktops with the WC Community!

Monday, May 3, 2021 by Island Dog | Discussion: WinCustomize News

It's May and that means it's time for another monthly desktop screenshot thread in the forums! Are you getting a summer desktop ready yet, or sticking with more of a spring theme? Let us know and post your desktop in the forum and lets us know what skins you are using!

Post your desktops to the monthly thread here: https://forums.wincustomize.com/504755/

(This is a news thread and will be locked. Screenshot taken by 2of3)

Are you a streamer? We have some software that can help!

Thursday, April 29, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

If you had told me twenty years ago that the world would get to a point where thousands of people could tune in and watch people play a video game live just about anytime you want, I’d have called you crazy.

And I definitely would have been wrong.

When I pause to consider online streaming and all that it’s become, it really does just sort of leave me awestruck. I can’t believe how “on demand” things are now, from video and movie streaming services, all the way to streaming as a more general rule - not just for video games, but for other things like art, cooking, or “slice of life” vlogs.

If you had told me six or seven years ago that I’d be able to do streaming as a piece of how I’d make my living, I definitely would have thought you were blowing smoke out of you-know-where. The odds of making it “big” on a streaming platform are astronomical.

Again, I’d be wrong.

I haven’t made my whole life all about streaming so that I make my entire living off it or anything, but I picked up streaming almost as soon as I came to Stardock and it’s become an integral part of my job over the last five years. In addition to doing it at work for all of our major releases, I sometimes stream some of my favorite games that I play during my leisure time, just for fun.

Because streaming is something I do often in both my work and home life, I’ve picked up a few tricks and things that help my experience run smoothly for both myself and my viewers. Specifically, a few pieces of software that make my life a lot easier - let’s take a look at them!

Groupy

I talk about Groupy a lot, but it’s because it deserves to be talked about! I don’t have the space or the resources to have three or four monitors on my desk - I have two. Obviously, one of those monitors needs to be dedicated to running the game itself; the problem that I have is that I need to be able to view too many different things than can comfortably fit on that second monitor.

I need to be able to monitor the chat on my Twitch channel (or in the case of streaming for work, the chat on Steam). At the same time, I need easy access to my X-Split so that I can change scenes or make adjustments to my sound or troubleshoot any other stream problems. Depending on what I’m playing, I might need a guide open or have to occasionally reference an outline so I remember all of my talking points. I also tend to keep Discord open, especially if I’m playing a team-oriented game and need to be on voice chat with my friends.

Cramming all of this on one monitor without having to waste a bunch of time squinting at my task bar (my eyes are getting old) and trying to find the right thing to maximize from a minimized state is impossible! Enter: Groupy. It makes my life so much easier and allows my streaming process to run smoothly. I can easily switch through my tabs using hotkeys, or trail my mouse over there to click on the one that I need to look at. If I need to grab an asset for my stream, like an animation or an image, Groupy’s organization makes it so much easier to find.

Fences

Fences is another program I talk about a lot, and that’s mostly because it has really helped me personally. I have never been great at organization (both on my PC and off of it!), and Fences makes it possible for me to organize in a visual way that I find appealing and easy to navigate.

While Fences doesn’t serve the same practical “in action” purpose that Groupy does for my streaming, the work it does is still essential to my sanity. I have all of my frequently used programs organized into specific Fences on my desktop, which includes a fence for gaming (it contains mostly games and game-adjacent programs, like Battle.net) and also a fence for streaming.

I know right where everything is because they are neatly categorized (and even colored differently), so when I’m ready to sit down and stream I don’t have to spend a bunch of time hunting down everything I need - it’s all right there ready to go!


Multiplicity

I only have one PC here at home that I use for streaming. I built it a few years ago, and although it’s probably due for some upgrades, we designed it specifically so that it could handle the load of running a game and the streaming software, plus other things, all at once. Some people don’t have that luxury, though, and that’s where Multiplicity comes in!

With Multiplicity, you can have one PC do the heavy lifting of the processing and running the streaming software while the other focuses on the game. You can control it all easily with one keyboard and mouse, so you don’t have to fight with a bunch of hardware covering your desk.

If you have a laptop, Multiplicity can create a “docking station” for it, so that you can utilize it easily while you stream. Being able to pull up a Twitch chat or stream preview on the laptop without having to lean over and use its keyboard or mouse pad is a luxury I enjoy whenever I use it myself. Above, I'm showing my buddy Spencer's setup, since it's shinier than mine (and I don't want to clean my desk off for a pic right now ).

These programs have worked great for me for a number of years and are now an integral part of my streaming process, especially at home where I have more limited space and resources. 

Do you stream games at all? Share a link to your channel with me in the comments! If you’re interested in seeing what I stream during my leisure time, feel free to toss me a follow over on Twitch.

Microsoft is Looking for their Next Default Font

Thursday, April 29, 2021 by Island Dog | Discussion: Personal Computing

Microsoft has commissioned five new custom fonts that could be the new default fault going forward. 

"Calibri has been the default font for all things Microsoft since 2007, when it stepped in to replace Times New Roman across Microsoft Office. It has served us all well, but we believe it’s time to evolve. To help us set a new direction, we’ve commissioned five original, custom fonts to eventually replace Calibri as the default. We’re excited to share these brand-new fonts with you today and would love your input. Head over to social and tell us your favorite. And don’t worry if the font you love best isn’t chosen as the next default; all of them will be available in the font menu, alongside Calibri and your other favorite fonts in your Office apps in Microsoft 365 and beyond."

Read more here: Beyond Calibri: Finding Microsoft's next default font - Microsoft 365 Blog

They are going to be evaluating them over the next few months and getting feedback from their social channels to decide what the next default font will be. It seems they will all be available to use, and it looks like they can already be downloaded and used now.

 

AMD Ryzen 9 5900X Dominates CPU Sales on Amazon

Trouble for Intel?

Wednesday, April 28, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Personal Computing

I haven't been looking into building a new computer or upgrading the one I have recently, but that doesn't mean I haven't been hearing the buzz about all of the hard-to-find CPUs that have hit the market over the last year or so.

I know, for instance, that AMD's Ryzen 5000 series has been fairly impossible to find. A few of my friends have been looking and the only luck they've had locating it is with a pretty inflated price tag attached. These processors have been around for a little while now, with its mid-range and high-end CPUs powering popular desktop PCs like the Alienware R10 Ryzen Edition or gaming laptops like ASUS ROG Zephyrus Duo SE. 

TechRadar, Hot Hardware, and other sites all report that AMD's sales of this particular card are extremely high on Amazon. Despite it selling for $800 USD - which is well above the MSRP of $549 - it has reached the number one sales spot on the online retailer's site, proving just how much demand there is for this particular card. 

According to Tech Radar, this could spell some bad news for Intel, which finds itself out of the top six sale spots on Amazon's CPU best seller's list. All of the spots are dominated by AMD chips, and only three spots in the top 10 happen to be Intel processors. Intel's most popular CPU on Amazon at the moment is the Intel Core i7-10700K, a 10th gen 8-core processor that sells for around $319 USD.

Historically, Intel has dominated the market on places like Amazon, so it's a bit of a surprise to see AMD doing so well in one of the largest retail markets in the world. Their lead could slip as time goes by, since Amazon's best-seller list is constantly changing, but it does seem to bode well for the Red Team right now.

Tech Radar has a pretty thorough review on the Ryzen chip here. I have been trying to learn more about the tech lately - I admit that a lot of this is above me since I don't really live in PC hardware on the daily - so I'm curious about the experience of all the PC enthusiasts out there. What CPU do you use, have you been thinking of upgrading? Where does this chip fall on your priority list? Share with me!

 

Check Out the Latest WindowBlinds Skins from 2of3!

Tuesday, April 27, 2021 by Island Dog | Discussion: WinCustomize News

Master skinner and long-time WinCustomize member 2of3 has been sharing some awesome WindowBlinds skins, and I wanted to feature some of them in the news this week. 

Thanks for creating these wonderful themes, and we can't wait to see more!

 

Gekko

 

Sovereign

 

Cole

 

Radiolux

 

Check Out These Electric Tangerine Skins!

Monday, April 19, 2021 by Island Dog | Discussion: WinCustomize News

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a trending color called Electric Tangerine. I think it's a beautiful spring and summer color, and I think at least a few of you agreed. 2of3 and don5318 have released WindowBlinds skins that have some of that color integrated in the design.

These are both fantastic skins so be sure to check them both out!

Cole by 2of3

 

Tangerine II by don5318


Thanks for taking time to create and share these skins with the WinCustomize community!

 

Spring Cleaning for your Windows PC

Thursday, April 15, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

I don’t worry too much about constantly tidying and organizing my PC - until it gets annoying, anyway. By then it’s too late, and I spend all sorts of time sorting icons and renaming folders. I’ll admit that I am pretty much the same way with my house - the idea of ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’ has never really resonated with me.

This creates a special sort of chaos, which is fine - until it isn’t. I know that if I had a system in place for where everything goes and just followed it, I wouldn’t have to do frantic cleaning later when I have company coming - or when my disc drives start screaming at me that they’re getting too full.

I’ve discussed my love for Fences and how essential it is in some previous blogs over the last year, and I’ll be honest - it’s gone a long way toward preventing massive bouts of “Where the heck did I put that file!?” that I used to be prone to rather frequently. Even with an organizational system in place, the occasional “spring cleaning” is still called for - let’s take a look at what can help with that!

Fences

I’m sure it comes as no shock, given the above paragraph, that this powerhouse of an app is the first one on our list. At face value, creating fenced in areas on your computer to organize your icons is useful enough, but did you know that you can customize and sort icons automatically?

You can! In the Fences settings, you can actually dictate which fence certain types of files filter into. All of the images I save on my computer filter automatically into my “Pictures and Media” fence, while any documents go to another fence that I am setting up for my Spring cleaning binge.

Your Fences can also become Folder Portals, which lets you see all of the files you need at just a glance, but won’t clutter up your desktop with tons of unsightly folders. Being able to roll up my fences also makes for a clean desktop. You can control how fences snap and resize when you move them, too. I don’t get too nitpicky with my settings personally, but the point is - if you want to, you can!

SpaceMonger

Although I sung the praises of Fences first, this is probably where you should start for your PC spring cleaning! Using SpaceMonger, you can scan, map, and manage your computer’s storage. 

When I built this PC with my friend Gus a couple of years ago, I repurposed some of my old hard drives. The C drive, however, is small - which is different from what I was used to. Previously, I would just save everything to my C drive and never really saw any space issues. This isn’t the case now, and my computer started yelling at me about limited space a few days ago.

I pulled up SpaceMonger and used it to determine exactly what was taking up so much darn space. SpaceMonger made it easy for me to isolate the major offenders and move them to other drives to free up some space. You can click on the categories that are to the left of the pie chart in order to bring up a list of all those types of files at the bottom of the screen.

In addition to running SpaceMonger, I also remembered to go into my Windows 10 settings and change where my files and folders default download to, so I should hopefully be able to alleviate any space issues before they even happen.

Tiles

Another great way to make sure you get the most out of your desktop space is by using Tiles. If you’re unfamiliar with the software, Tiles lets you create multiple desktops of related programs, files, and links through the use of a customizable sidebar on your Windows desktop. You can drag programs onto the sidebar by holding the shift key, then it will create a thumbnail of that application so that you can find it more easily.

This program works pretty well in conjunction with Fences and actually completely interfaces with Groupy (another one of my favorite workflow organization tools). You can adjust the settings in Tiles so that certain Tiles categories show only maximized or minimized Windows, as well as customize where you'd like the Tiles bar to appear on your screen.

Tiles is made to help manage apps that you’re running - which, while it doesn’t help the overall organization of your apps and icons on your PC, still goes a long way toward feeling more organized overall, especially when you’re multitasking and trying to do a lot at once. 

Start10

I have made no secret of the fact that I really dislike the Windows 10 Start menu interface. I feel like I can’t find anything half the time - so that’s why I installed Start10. It lets me choose a Windows 7 or Modern look, making it much easier for me to find what I need. 

It interfaces directly with Fences, too - it will show all of your Fences (and the colors you’ve assigned to them!) right in the Start menu. Custom searches also make for a much more organized feel for your PC, because even if all of your files and folders are organized, sometimes you just can’t remember where you put something - so just search for it right within the Start menu. Start10 and Fences, specifically, are absolutely indispensable for me. 

All of the programs I mentioned above are available individually on our website, or all together along with several other awesome apps in our Object Desktop suite.

How often do you “clean up” your PC? What are some of your favorite organizational programs? Share with me!

Mars Ingenuity Helicopter's First Flight to Occur Soon

NASA says it will launch no earlier than April 14th

Wednesday, April 14, 2021 by Tatiora | Discussion: Life, the Universe and Everything


Image courtesy of NASA

Back in February, NASA's Perseverance rover landed on the surface of MarsPerseverance is equipped with all sorts of amazing tools and gadgets - including the first ever Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity.

Originally, the helicopter was scheduled to attempt its first flight early Monday morning, but data that NASA scientists received late last week have caused them to postpone the flight to no earlier than April 14th (that's today - wonder if we'll get an update soon?). In any case, whenever this little 4-pound helicopter does attempt its inaugural flight, you'll be able to watch via NASA's livestream.

Last week, scientists at NASA located a spot on the surface that was flat enough and free of obstructions and plopped Ingenuity there to prepare for its first flight. Mission controllers have spent the last several days making final adjustments to prepare, including a test of the motors and the releasing of the helicopter's motor blades.

The JPL team will transmit flight instructions to Perseverance, which will then relay the info to Ingenuity. There were many factors that could potentially delay the flight - including high winds or other inclement weather - but according to NASA's press release, there was a different reason for holding off on the launch.


Image courtesy of NASA

"During a high-speed spin test of the rotors on Friday, the command sequence controlling the test ended early due to a “watchdog” timer expiration. This occurred as it was trying to transition the flight computer from ‘Pre-Flight’ to ‘Flight’ mode. The helicopter is safe and healthy and communicated its full telemetry set to Earth," NASA said in a release on their website.

"The watchdog timer oversees the command sequence and alerts the system to any potential issues. It helps the system stay safe by not proceeding if an issue is observed and worked as planned."

During a press conference, Ingenuity operations lead at JPL Tim Canham said that we should expect about 40 seconds worth of data. Ingenuity is equipped with a downward facing camera that will snap photos during the flight, snapping images about 30 times a second. The camera, in addition to documenting the flight, will serve as an altimeter to help mission planners localize the chopper's landing spot. The Perseverance will also attempt to capture images of the test flight via its Mastcam-Z camera.

Assuming the flight goes well, this the first time in history that NASA - or any other space agency - has successfully attained power controlled flight on an alien planet. The success of this mission could introduce an entirely new dimension to exploration of the Red Planet.

If you want to make sure you don't miss the test flight, you can keep an eye on NASA's official schedule here. I know I'll be keeping an eye on it - how about you? Science is cool!


A concept art piece of Ingenuity in flight. Image courtesy of NASA

 

 




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