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13 Best Gifts for Tech-Savvy Globetrotters

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Nothing beats a nice winter escape during the pre-holiday season madness. Unfortunately though, some of us can’t afford to send our favorite jet setter on vacation. However, you can give them tech-savvy gifts […]

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First Student-Designed Rocket Reaches Outer Space

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The University of Southern California Rocket Propulsion Laboratory made history last month.

At 8 a.m. on April 21, Traveler IV surpassed the world altitude record for student rocketry teams, reaching 340,000 feet and successfully passing the Kármán line.

Named after Theodore von Kármán, a Hungarian-American engineer and physicist, the so-called line is an attempt to delineate a boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space.

There is no international law marking the edge of space; the U.S. Air Force and NASA define the limit as 50 miles (264,000 feet) above sea level.

Flying a whopping 340,000 feet (with a margin of error of +/- 16,800 feet), RPL has not only broken its previous record, but fulfilled its founding mission: to launch and recover the world’s first entirely student-designed and fabricated rocket into outer space.

“We can say with 90 percent certainty that RPL’s latest spaceshot, Traveler IV, passed the Kármán line,” Neil Tewskbury, lead operations officer at RPL, said in a statement.

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It wasn’t always smooth sailing, though.

Predecessors Traveler I and Traveler II—victims of a mid-flight solid motor explosion and a carbon fiber casing failure, respectively—are among the mangled metal corpses strung up from the lab’s ceilings.

The disastrous launch of Traveler III, meanwhile, left the missile in pieces too small to display.

Still, RPL members remained cautiously optimistic about their next-generation spacecraft.

“Against the roar of the 8-inch diameter, 13-foot-tall rocket erupting out of the launch tower, hushed gasps could be heard from spectators, who had been ordered into silence to allow communication between the operations team, the avionics team, and the rocket itself,” according to a dramatic USC press release.

“Everyone remembered Traveler III and the miscommunication issues that had obliterated that rocket in the Nevada desert last September,” the University said.

Four time’s the charm.

Traveler IV accelerated to its top speed of 4,970 ft/s, or Mach 5.1, during its 11.5-second motor burn, then cruised the remaining 140 seconds, before reaching maximum altitude.

RPL’s custom-built avionics system recorded the flight using onboard sensors and deployed the vehicle’s parachutes at apogee, allowing the rocket to safely glide to Earth.

USC RPL’s Traveler IV, fully recovered after its record-shattering flight (via Neil Tewksbury/USC RPL)

The triumphant flight lasted only 11 minutes.

“The ability of this team to overcome setbacks and continuously innovate new technology has been inspiring,” chief student engineer Dennis Smalling said in a statement. “I’m so proud of what this lab has been able to accomplish so far and I’m incredibly excited to see where RPL goes from here.”

His sentiment was echoed by USC Viterbi Dead Yannis Yortsos, who boasted about the laboratory’s “indomitable spirit of innovation and perseverance.”

“This remarkable moment is a testament to their ingenuity and dedication,” he said.

The students don’t have time, though, to delight in their accomplishments: RPL has already begun design on the next mission—a liquid-fueled vehicle aimed at its own world record.

The team is also working hard on future projects like CubeSat deployment, active rocket stabilization, and new solid engine designs.

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Ears-On: The 4th Gen Astro A40 TR Headset + Mixamp TR Improves Upon Perfection

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If you’ve ever shopped around for a gaming headset then you’ve surely heard of Astro Gaming. For years, the company has released some of the very best headsets on the market. Its most famous product is the Astro A40 TR, which professional players swear by. The company recently released the fourth generation of its classic headset, also named the Astro A40 TR + Mixamp TR. I was sent a unit for review and put it through its paces. I’ve tested out many headsets in recent years and can easily say the Astro A40 TR is the best headset on the market.

The Astro A40 TR + Mixamp TR comes in an oversized box containing the headset, the mixamp, and a detachable boom mic. You’ll also find a 3.0m Micro-USB Cable, 2.0m A40 TR Inline Mute Cable, 3.0m TOSlink Optical Cable, and 0.5m Digital Daisy Chain Cable. Technically, users only need to plug the auxiliary cable directly into their PC or console of choice to use the headset. However, to get the most of out the A40, you’re going to need all of those other aforementioned cables to use with the mixamp. Note that the mixamp only works with PC and PS4.

The headset is lightweight and feels great to wear, even during extended gaming sessions. Two metal tubes connect the ear cups to the headband and you can slide the ear cups up or down as needed. You can swap out the ear cushions, microphone, headband, and speaker tags. You can replace all of these parts with a separately sold modkit to give your headset a more personal touch. I really liked how the headset felt on my big head. The soft cushion ear cups that envelop one’s ears are especially comfortable. They don’t cancel outside noises as well as other headsets, but it wasn’t an issue for me. I don’t like completely cutting myself off from the outside world when gaming.

Aesthetically, the A40 TR is both stylish and practical. Black plastic surrounds the headband and ear cups, while the metal tubes connecting them are silver. The metal tubes resemble antennas and give the headset a somewhat retro vibe. On the sides of the ear cups are glossy removable speaker tags with the Astro logo on one, and the A40 logo on the other. Both look sleek and discreet. The speaker tag with Astro emblazoned on it has a hole for the boom mic, which you can use on either ear. I like how minimalist the headset is. It looks good resting on your head or sitting on your desk.

To get the most out of the A40 TR, you’ll need to use the Mixamp TR. This small box has two large knobs on top. The bigger of the two is for adjusting the overall volume, while the smaller knob lets you balance between chat and game audio. There are four presets between the buttons, though I found the “AR” preset works best. The back contains a number of ports, the most important being the optical and USB ports. There’s also a switch in the back that lets you swap between PC and PS4. Professional players will appreciate the daisy chain ports that let them connect multiple mixamps. The stream port lets you connect to a PC or capture card to capture all of the audio into one source. You can do a lot via the Mixamp.

The USB and optical cables for the mixamp are lengthy. Since I had the mixamp next to the PS4, I ended up with a jumble of cables on the floor. However, if you can’t have the mixamp near your system, you’ll appreciate the cables’ lengths. Unfortunately, the inline cable you plug into the mixamp isn’t as long as the USB or optical cables. I had almost no slack while playing, requiring me to sit closer to my TV than usual. If you play using a monitor on your desk, this won’t be an issue, but it was for me. It isn’t a deal breaker, but I kept worrying I’d yank the mixamp if I moved too much.

To test the sound quality, I played The Division 2, Days Gone, and the Castlevania Collection on PS4. On PC, I played Doom and Sonic Mania. The headset does a fantastic job of transporting you into the open worlds of The Division 2 and Days Gone. Every sound came through clearly, including softly blowing winds, chirping birds, running rivers, and wandering animals (both friendly and otherwise). When the action ramped up, gunfire, explosions, and screaming came through with crystal clarity. Retro games sound great as well, even if they’re not as aurally complex.

One downside in the audio department is there’s no inline volume control. You can only adjust the volume through the mixamp, meaning you’ll either have to pause the game or wait for a lull in the action. If the mixamp is far from you (as was the case with me), the issue becomes more prominent. Every game has different sounds so you’ll need to find a balance where you hear every subtle noise but don’t have your ears blown out when the action picks up.

This is a gaming headset but you can use it to listen to your favorite tunes either at home or on the go. Though sound quality is excellent for video games, I find it comes up lacking for music. There’s a decided lack of bass, which makes music sound thin and less impactful. If you’re on the road or inside a train, you probably won’t notice this, but you will if you’re in a quiet room. I suggest using the A40 for gaming as intended and to use a different headset to listen to music.

The boom mic captures one’s voice perfectly. A lot of headsets tend to make your voice sound thin and trebly. The A40 has some of that, but definitely not as much as I’ve experienced before. I recorded myself on my PC and liked what I heard. Friends who I played The Division 2 with also said I sounded better than I do when using my beloved Hyper Cloud II headset. If you’re a full or part time streamer, you won’t have to worry about your voice sounding crappy with the A40 TR.

I can’t speak for the original version of the Astro A40 TR + Mixamp TR but I find its current iteration absolutely brilliant. It looks great, feels good to wear, and really pulls you into whatever game you’re playing. At $249.99 (available on Amazon), it is an expensive peripheral. However, if you’re a professional gamer or just a really dedicated enthusiast, it is worth every single penny. The A40 is now my default headset and I highly recommend it.

Get it at Amazon.com

Get it at AstroGaming.com

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