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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, the BlackBerry brand continues to eke out an existence with the Motion handset, Dominos Pizza wants to half deliver your supper, Amazon’s Spot, the video capable Echo, comes to Canada, and God of War is an exceptional game.

BlackBerry tries again with Motion smartphone

The Motion Android handset doesn’t come from the BlackBerry you remember, but BlackBerry Mobile, operated by Hong Kong-based TCL Communications, which has the license to create BlackBerry smartphones. (BlackBerry is now a software and services company.)

The BlackBerry KeyOne, released in the spring of 2017, was the first under the new licensing agreement, included the physical keyboard that has set BlackBerry devices apart from other smartphones

The Motion, released in Canada last fall, doesn’t have the keyboard. It looks like many of the other premium handsets on the market with a 5.5-inch edge-to-edge display. It’s square edges set it apart, as does the soft textured back.

The key benefit to the Motion is the battery, which will give you about two days of moderate usage. It also has quick charging functionality, which can get you a 50 percent charge in a little over half an hour.

Some of BlackBerry’s software also distinguish the Motion. In particular, BlackBerry Hub, which consolidates notifications into one feed, and DTEK, a security overview.

Aside from that, the Motion is average at best. Average camera. Average storage capacity (32 GB). Average screen.

The BlackBerry Motion costs $600 unlocked, so it’s not exactly competing with the Samsung Galaxy S9 ($960) and Google Pixel 2 ($900). But when compared to other mid-range devices like those that come from Asus, Motorola, and OnePlus, the Motion lacks the same specs at a higher price.

Amazon’s Echo Spot comes to Canada next week

Alexa has been officially supported in Canada since the end of 2017, but the latest device from Amazon doesn’t arrive until next week.

The Echo Spot, which adds a screen to the digital assistant and speaker, is available for preorder now, and ships on April 25, 2018.

The Spots each cost Can$170, but for a limited time you can save $50 when ordering two.

You can use the Spot in the same way that you use other Echo devices, to make calls, play music, control smart home functions, and ask Alexa for information.

But the screen means that you can now make and receive video calls and you can see the weather forecast.

You can even use the Spot as an alarm clock.

Dominos wants to deliver you pizza in a self-driving car

Last year, Ford Motor Company started testing its autonomous vehicles in Ann Arbor, Michigan in partnership wth pizza maker Dominos.

The two companies are taking things further now with news that the program is being launched in Miami.

There are drivers in these vehicles but they will not be interacting with customers.

Really, this seems to be more about testing how well the vehicles, which have a special compartment in the vehicle that can be unlocked by customers with a code so they can retrieve their order.

Sounds fine for Miami, but I don’t know how well this halfway delivery will work in Winnipeg in December, or Vancouver in April.

Kratos grows up in new video game God of War

God of War is a game only a parent could make. And it’s a game only parents will truly appreciate. Read more about the PS4 exclusive in my review at the Straight.

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, computers try to learn how to paint, a new puzzle game celebrates Friday the 13th, and a t-shirt gives a glimpse at what’s inside our bodies. But first, Microsoft is going solar.

Microsoft moves to add more solar energy

We all love the benefits that come from cloud computing, but those data centres and server farms require a lot of electricity to function.

Microsoft has reached a company goal of having half of the energy requirements of its data centres powered by renewable energy.

Even having reached that goal, Microsoft continues to invest in sustainable energy sources. In March, Microsoft announced a deal with a new Virginia-based solar array with some 750,000 panels.

Ryan Creamer, the CEO of sPower, said that the Microsoft agreement means that his company can sell the rest of the energy generated by his facilities at competitive rates.

These AI-generated paintings are stunning, surreal, scary

Robbie Barrat is teaching computers to be artists. Or, more accurately, he has given computers the tools to teach themselves how to be artists.

And the results are as strange as you might imagine.

Barrat is using deep convolutional generative adversarial networks (DCGAN) to do this, which is a form of machine learning in which one computer system generates an image and another, the adversary, evaluates the image. The generator keeps making images in an attempt to fool the “discriminator”.

The two systems need a data set to start with, and Barrat has been using as his painting sources the artwork that is freely available online.

He’s used the process to create portraits, and landscapes with interesting results.

The artificial intelligence seems to be reasonably good at figuring out the landscapes, even if they’re a bit dreamy.

The portraits seem like they are examples of cubism or something that may have come from one of Dali’s students.

The nudes, though, are nothing short of horrific. Barrat explained that the paintings are the result of the computer systems not being able “to tell the difference between blobs of flesh and humans.”

As Barrat wrote on Twitter: I wonder if that’s how machines see us.

Get ready for some mayhem with Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle

A new game sending up the Friday the 13th horror movie franchise is being released this Friday. The keen among you will recognize that this Friday is the 13th of April.

Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle, from B.C.-based Blue Wizard Digital, both celebrates and pokes fun at the tropes to be found in the horror movies featuring Jason Voorhees, but at its core is a puzzle game. It just so happens that you complete the puzzle by helping Jason murder campers and camp counsellors.

The mechanics were developed for Blue Wizard’s earlier game, Slayaway Camp (available on most platforms including consoles). Players control the movement of the killer around an isometric board and have to cause the death of the bystanders either overtly, with all manner of weapons, or by scaring them into environmental hazards like campfires and wood chippers.

The levels get more difficult as you progress, and you might find yourself frustrated to the point you’re almost willing to commit murder if you’re not careful.

The game is a licensed product. In a release, Friday the 13th series creator Sean Cunningham said, “I​ ​loved​ ​the​ ​balance​ ​of​ ​horror​ ​and​ ​humor​ ​the​ ​Blue​ ​Wizard​ ​guys​ ​brought​ ​to​ ​Slayaway​ ​Camp,​ and​ ​I’m​ ​thrilled​ ​to​ ​see​ ​their​ ​take​ ​on​ ​Friday​ ​the​ ​13th.”

Blue Wizard was founded by Jason Kapalka, who cofounded PopCap Games and had a hand in creating Bejeweled, Peggle, and Plants vs Zombies.

Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle releases this Friday. It’s free to play for Android and iOS mobile devices, and also available on Steam.

Virtuali-Tee shows the inner workings of the human body

A t-shirt from Curiscope uses augmented reality to show the systems at work inside our bodies. The blue shirts have a graphic on the front that trigger a 3D animation on a smartphone or tablet (Android or iOS).

What you see is the inside of a body. There are icons you can tap to get a closer look at different systems, like the circulatory, digestive, and skeletal.

There are learning videos, too, that illuminate different aspects of the body’s interior.

The 100 percent tees are designed for kids, but also come in adult sizes. Order your Virtuali-Tee for US$30.

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Categories Corus Radio Network | Consumer technology

Last night, on The Shift with Drex, guest host Alex Carr and I talked about the changes Apple brought to personal privacy with iOS 11.3, Facebook’s announcement that more than 600,000 Canadians were been impacted by the data mining by Cambridge Analytica, how Facebook pays for music licensing in your posts, the Tapplock padlock that opens with a fingertip, and actor Andy Serkis’ incredible digital performance of Macbeth.

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