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Categories Consumer technology |

This week, another reason to praise the Internet as writer Josh Friedman posts some of his Terminator work, how incoming students at the University of Chicago used an alternate reality game to ease into their life in college, and how you can use augmented reality to appreciate the imagination of David Bowie. But first, a look at a new indoor antenna for your television.

New indoor TV antenna uses cellphone technology to improve reception

On the long weekend I installed a new indoor TV antenna and gave it a try. The Smartenna+ from Channel Master (US$89).

I live in close proximity to where many of the local stations broadcast from, Seymour Mountain. Unfortunately, there’s a ridge between those towers and my house that blocks signals.

What makes the Smartenna+ different from other indoor antennas that capture television signals “over the air” is that it includes a processor that delivers “active steering” of the signals using a special processor. The effect is, Channel Master says, that the Smartenna+ can “eliminate over 90 percent of indoor reception issues that are commonly due to placement and movement.”

It’s also got a signal amplifier and comes with two coaxial cables (6 foot and 16 foot) with push-on connectors (which is more amazing than you might expect).

When I first set it up, it ran a scan of the room to determine where signal interference would be coming from.

Compared to other antennas that I’ve tried the Smartenna+ set up more quickly and delivered available signals better than any other, and I suspect it’s the new standard for indoor TV antennas. The device is $20 to $30 more expensive than other indoor antennas, though.

Writer Josh Friedman shares archive of The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Here’s yet another reason the interwebs are amazing. Writer Josh Friedman, who works in television and film, has posted a bunch of materials that were created while he was producing The Sarah Connor Chronicles (TSCC), a television show set in the universe of The Terminator, that ran for two seasons in 2008 and 2009.

That series was set a few years after the events of the second film, when John rescues his mother, Sarah, from an asylum and they seemingly put an end to the apocalyptic future in which computers become sentient and Skynet attempts to eliminate humanity.

With Lena Headey (now popular for playing Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones) as Sarah Connor and Thomas Dekker as John, one of the unique aspects of TSCC was that one of the primary terminators is a teenage female, played by Summer Glau (from Firefly and Serenity fame).

Included in the materials Friedman has made available are a show bible (a document laying out the universe and characters to be used as a reference), a fictionalized interview Friedman wrote to pump the pilot before the show was picked up, and a plan for Season Two he created to secure a renewal.

Friedman’s brainstorming about what the show could be:

The Sarah Connor Chronicles show bible, written by Josh Friedman:

Synopsis of season two:

This alternate reality game is a better way to ease into university

Next month, many of the Grade 12 students in Canada will be writing exams and doing all the fun and tedious things that come with graduting from school. Those that are heading to university or college in September are already making plans, and one of the things they’ll be thinking about is how to get to know their new school.

The transition into post-secondary education is not always easy, and institutions have come up with programs to make it easier for incoming students. Depending on the school there are tours and seminars and workshops and clubs.

Last fall, the University of Chicago invited the more than 1,800 new students to play an “alternate reality game (ARG) they called The Parasite”:

ARGs are set in the real world and are designed for groups of people to come together to play. They contain puzzles and role-playing, and require players to do math and find clues and search for answers.

As with earlier ARGs like The Beast and I Love Bees, these game experiences are notable for getting groups of people who may not even know each other to work together to achieve a common purpose.

With The Parasite the designers were intentionally trying to “make first-generation, low-income, queer, and otherwise marginalized students feel more accepted” by providing an environment to explore and become familiar with.

David Bowie’s style remembered in augmented reality

You can look at this New York Times website in a computer browser, but the experience won’t be the same.

Really, you want to use a smartphone equipped with augmented reality (AR) features, because that’s what makes it feel like what you’re seeing is in the room with you.

In this case, what you’ll see are some of the costumes that defined David Bowie and his various alter egos. The impetus is the traveling exhibit, David Bowie Is, conceived by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and which is at the Brooklyn Museum now. (The show was at the AGO in Toronto way back in 2013.)

Using my iPhone 8+, which is equipped with Apple’s ARKit, I was able to see iconic Bowie outfits in my kitchen, including the harlequin costume from Ashes to Ashes and the outrageous pantaloon jumpsuit from Aladdin Sane.

The New York Times also has an AR feature showing some of the U.S. athletes who were competing in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, LG really wants you to get a G7 smartphone, Ubisoft travels to Montana with Far Cry 5, Facebook’s first transparency report, and a website lets you mix music.

LG giving away a free TV with every preorder of a G7 smartphone

In an effort to spark sales of its new G7 ThinQ handset, LG is giving away TVs.

The limited time offer is available between May 18 and 31. The smartphone is being released on June 1.

After completing the online claim form, you’ll be able to take your proof of preorder purchase to a participating retailer to get your smart TV. You’ll have until July 31 to claim the bonus.

The screen that LG is offering up is a 43-inch, 4K television that supports high dynamic range. It’s got a retail value of $600.

Far Cry 5’s fits and starts in Big Sky Country

Ubisoft’s latest instalment in the Far Cry series is set in Montana and hinges on a religious cult. While the mechanics of the game are fun, the narrative leaves something to be desired. In trying to tease out the complexity around point of view and perspective, Far Cry 5 ends up being a bit silly.

I’d contrast what I think the developers were trying to do with the six-episode documentary, Wild Wild Country, airing on Netflix, which details the true-life story of the Rajneeshees and their attempt to create a community in Oregon.

Facebook reports on how bad the conversations really are

Facebook is trying to regain some credibility with the first Facebook Transparency Report, something the company says will become standard operating procedure.

The first report is another eye opener. More than 800 million posts were deleted in the first three months of this year, 2.5 million of which were related to hate speech, 1.9 million were considered to be terrorist propaganda, and 3.4 million contained graphic violence.

Most of the content removed from Facebook was considered to be spam.

The report also shows that Facebook deleted 583 million fake accounts in the first quarter of 2018.

Facebook is mostly using computers to do the screening, and the company says part of the problem is that the AI being used are not able to comprehend nuanced language.

None of this has anything to do with protecting the personal information of Facebook users, though, which is what the recent scandals have been about. That remains your responsibility, it seems.

Website demonstrates creative experiment with sound and music

The website In B Flat has been around for nearly ten years, but I’ve just discovered it. The Internet can be an amazing place.

It was created by musician and composer Darren Solomon, and the conceit was simple. He asked people to submit videos of them playing music in the key of B flat.

He chose 20 submissions, then he assembled them in a grid of embedded YouTube videos.

Each video is a performance on a different instrument with its own tempo. There’s a Nintendo DS, guitars, a clarinet, keyboards, a muted trumpet, a violin, and even a toy horn.

When played together they create a soundscape that is absolutely unique.

Because of the curating that Solomon performed, visitors to the site can click on the links in any order and at anytime, even adjusting the volume of the different videos, to create a unique mix of music.

You’ll lose hours playing around at the site, but here’s one person’s arrangement so you can get the idea.

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Categories Consumer technology |

This week, Google’s going to make your appointments for you, how you can surround your phone with art from the Broadbent Sisters, and new smartphones from LG, Razr, and Sony. But first, researchers at MIT have invented a device that appears to read your mind.

Mind reading device revealed at MIT

AlterEgo appears to be straight out of science fiction, but it’s an actual device that’s been developed at MIT’s Media Lab.

It allows users to interact with a computer system verbally, but without speaking out loud.

The device is a little strange to wear. It clips over an ear and touches the face at the jaw and chin. Electrodes in the device are able to register the activity of the facial muscles that we use when we “say” words inside our head. Software then matches those signals to to words.

The computer responds to you using a bone conduction speaker that keeps ears open to other sounds.

The idea is that you could use the AlterEgo to interact with computing systems when and where you might not otherwise be able to, such as in social situations or loud environments.

Google Assistant is going to make your appointments for you

Google’s annual developers conference is happening right now, and at yesterday’s keynote address there was lots of talk about how artificial intelligence was being used to do lots more for us. Google’s using it to help us take better pictures, to serve up “real” news that is aligned with our interests, and to write emails for us (Smart Compose).

But the thing that dropped jaws in the crowd was a demonstration of Google Assistant making a phone call to a hair salon to book an appointment for its user. The person at the salon taking the call did not appear to know that they were talking to a computer. That’s because it didn’t sound like they were talking to a computer.

It’s all delivered by Google’s advancements in AI. The company calls the work they’re doing with conversation Google Duplex.

Toronto’s Broadbent Sisters put art onto Pixel 2 smartphones

Google makes it easy to personalize your Pixel smartphone with Live Cases. With that service you can use a host of different designs, including some by notable artists.

Toronto artists, the Broadbent Sisters, have dropped a dozen designs into the Live Cases store. The duo actually used Google Pixel phones to take the photographs used to create the artwork. They talk about inspiration and the process at the Google Canada blog.

The cases are available for $50.

New smartphones from LG, Razr, Sony

When it comes to mobile handsets, so much attention is focused on the big three: Apple, Google, and Samsung.

But there are other smartphones being produced and released, each trying to diffferentiate themselves from the crowd. In the coming weeks, a couple of new ones are coming available.

The Razr Phone comes from the game computer and peripheral company and is marketing itself as the phone for gamers. It’s got a massive 4,000 mAh battery, nearly double the size found in other phones, but the big feature here is the 120 Hz screen, which is the fastest refresh of any handset. The Razr Phone costs $900 and is now being sold in Canada on Amazon and at Best Buy.

On May 29, Sony’s Xperia XZ2 arrives. What makes this device different is software that will upconvert standard video, whether downloaded or streaming, so they look closer to high definition. It also has what Sony calls “Dynamic Vibration System”, which “makes you feel what you hear”. The Xperia XZ2 will cost $1,099 and is available through Bell and Freedom Mobile.

Then there’s the G7 ThinQ from LG, which becomes available on June 1. Like other premium handsets, the G7 makes use of artificial intelligence to improve photography including the new portrait mode. LG claims the “Super Bright Display” is the best available, too, and supports the screen with different viewing modes to provide the best settings depending on what you’re doing with your phone, whether it’s watching movies or playing games. But it’s the ability of the G7 to produce rich, full sound without needing speakers that sets the G7 apart. The G7 ThinQ is coming to all major mobile carriers in Canada; pricing hasn’t been announced.

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