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This week, David Byrne shows us that protest songs have always been around, and Amanda Palmer is unflinching in her response to violence against women. Plus, a new permanent exhibition of digital art has opened in Tokyo. But first, Columbia Sportswear uses technology in its clothing design to keep you warm and dry and Amazon announces the location for new headquarters.

Amazon reveals decision on HQ2

Amazon’s second headquarters, HQ2, is actually located in two cities: New York and Washington, D.C.

Not only are there two locations for HQ2, they aren’t actually in those major centres. The New York location is in Long Island City, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, and the D.C. location is Crystal City, in northern Virginia. But each city is very close to the major metro centre they will be known for.

Urbanist Richard Florida saw this coming.

Florida is also among those who think the promotion around Amazon searching for a second corporate centre was a ploy to win major tax breaks by pitting cities against each other. Marketing professor and author Scott Galloway called it “a ruse”.

This is from Derek Thompson’s article at the Atlantic: “Companies often decide where they want to go and then find ways to get their dream city, or hometown, to pay them to do what they were going to do anyway. For example, Amazon is a multinational company with large media and advertising divisions. The drama of the past 13 months probably wasn’t crucial to its (probable) decision to expand to New York City, the unambiguous capital of media and advertising.”

Florida thinks that Bezos and Amazon have an opportunity here: “Realizing that accepting such excessive public funds may create a backlash that could cost its brand dearly, Amazon could reject incentives and pledge with its new and old headquarter cities to address pressing issues and challenges like transit, homelessness, and housing affordability. The gains to its brand would far outstretch the actual monetary value of any incentives offered by the cities which, relatively, scarcely add to Amazon’s massive value and profits, anyway.”

Technological advances improve wearability of Columbia outdoor clothing

I’ve been covering technology for quite a number of years. It’s been a bit breathtaking at times in part because of how quickly things change, but also because of how technology is impacting so much of our lives.

Case in point: the technology used to make our clothes better.

Portland’s Columbia Sportswear, for example, has always been pushing to make clothing better, and was one of the first companies to use reflective technology to provide more warmth to people wearing Columbia clothes.

But that’s only one technology Columbia is improving on. The company is also making waterproof jackets better with OutDry Extreme, which combines a waterproof exterior with a wicking liner. For those of us living in the Pacific Northwest, this is essential.

Yes, it rains here quite a bit, but we don’t let that stop us from getting outside. And when we get outside, and active, in a wet or humid environment, typical waterproof jackets keep the rain out, but we end up wet anyway because we sweat inside the jacket, and all of that moisture is also trapped.
Columbia sent some things to my family to try out , and they arrived just in time for the first pineapple express storms of the season to hit metro Vancouver.

I put the OutDry Ex Stretch Hooded Shell and Conspiracy III Titanium ODX Eco to test over more than a week at a half-dozen soccer sessions up here in North Vancouver where I’m a coach for my daughter and son’s youth teams.

The jacket and shoes kept me dry, from the outside as well as from inside, and they also kept me warm. I didn’t need anything more than a t-shirt under the jacket even when the temperature started dropping into the single digits.

In the past week the rain’s let up but the temperature has dropped precipitously, and the Titan Pass 2.0 Fleece with Columbia’s Omni-Heat Thermal Reflective 3D technology has kept me toasty during early morning walks with the dog.

My daughter takes off the stylish Canyon Point II Shirt Jacket only long enough to wash it. And she’s been loving the Lookout Crest Jacket because the longer styling keeps her legs dry, too, on those wet walks to school.

I do have one criticism about the Columbia gear my family tested, and it has to do with the cut and styling of women’s outdoor clothing.
While men’s jackets are pretty straight, women’s jackets are all tapered through the torso. The straight cut is easier for different body shapes to wear. Women should not have to purchase a men’s jacket in order to find something that fits comfortably.

But in terms of the technology being used by Columbia to keep people warm and dry, Omni-Heat 3D and OutDry Extreme materials are excellent.

David Byrne’s protest song playlist

A few days before the U.S. midterms, musician and artist David Byrne presented his list of “protest” songs.

In part the list was his response to journalists and media wondering why there weren’t any protest songs (perhaps nostalgic for early Dylan, maybe).

“They never went away—in fact, they now come from all directions in every possible genre—country songs, giant pop hits, hip hop, classic rock, indie and folk,” wrote Byrne. “Yes, maybe there weren’t many songs questioning the wisdom of invading Iraq, but almost every other issue has been addressed.”

He’s curated 49 songs that include Dylan (“Hurricane”) among a diverse and eclectic mix that also includes Kendrick Lamar, Bikini Kill, and Kesha.

You can listen to all of the songs streaming at Byrnes’ website.

Artist Amanda Palmer releases music video for “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now”

I can’t comprehend the experience of women and girls who suffer and survive violence and abuse. That seems to epitomize fear.

This era of #MeToo feels to me like there’s enough of a groundswell to change the world.

People like Amanda Palmer are that change. The composer, musician, and activist released a music video for her song, “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now” on the first anniversary of the publication of the investigation into Harvey Weinstein by the New York Times.

Palmer posted the video to her Patreon page, but has set it to public so it can be viewed by anyone.

The video is accompanied by an article in which Palmer writes about the context of the song and the creation of the video.

The cast and crew consisted of “over 60 women crew & performers in Brooklyn”, many of whom “had never acted, performed, or been in a video”.

Cast member Alex Woodhouse said, “We didn’t lip sync – we sang our fucking guts out. The energy in the room was palpable and radiant – strong enough to move fear and shatter the emotional entrenchment, the forced compartmentalization and the shame. This wasn’t just a video production – this was change happening at the most fundamental level.”

It’s not safe for work. And be warned that it’s triggering. As Palmer wrote in an email to subscribers, “It is not an easy video to watch … How could it be, given what we are discussing?”

But it is an important and powerful video that deserves to be watched and shared.

Digital art exhibition Borderless looks stunning

This summer in Tokyo, the world’s first digital art museum opened. Borderless contains unique artworks by Japanese art group teamLab, which have been displayed at exhibitions around the world and now have a permanent home.

In the 10,000 square foot space, artists use 520 computers and 470 projectors to create immersive, 3D experiences that aim to allow “visitors to melt into the art and become part of it”.

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, Toshiba is selling TVs again, new Fire TV products from Amazon, and Roku adds Prime Video to its streaming devices. Plus, a video game convention in the GTA this weekend, and a review of Red Dead Redemption 2, which is a masterpiece.

TCL’s TV line comes to Canada, bringing high tech for low cost

In mid-October, a brand of televisions was quietly offered for sale through Amazon Canada. The screens, from TCL, quickly moved to the list of top selling devices, and the two most expensive models sold out.

“We’ll have more in stock soon,” assured Chris Larson, the senior vice president of TCL North America.

Larson was speaking with me at a hotel in downtown Vancouver where he and his colleagues were set up and showing off the televisions which have been disrupting the industry in the United States since they started selling there in 2014. In that time, TCL has gone to number three in the TV space south of the border, behind Samsung and LG.

When it comes to high-quality picture for a reasonable price, no other brand or manufacturer comes close to TCL. The company’s “6 Series” includes 4K resolution and supports Dolby Vision and full HDR. They also have a number of additional features and technology to improve colour and contrast performance, as well as local dimming (called “Contrast Control Zones” by TCL).

While similar TVs from other brands cost in the neighbourhood of $2,000, TCL’s two sizes of 6 Series TVs are a fraction of the price, costing $849 for the 55-inch and $1,249 for the 65-inch.

TCL also has two other models coming to Canada, with slightly scaled back features. The 3 Series models cost $209 and $309 for 720p and 1080p resolution, while the 4 Series models, starting at $390, have 4K and basic HDR support, but none of the

While the cost of TCLs televisions is less, the quality is on par or better than other manufacturers.

Larson explained that TCL is one of only three TV brands that manufacture their own components. Other TV brands have to get components from other companies, or even have other companies construct their TVs for them. TCL has turned this advantage into an opportunity to undercut the competition.

Using a TCL is also a better experience because the company has partnered with Roku to provide the software for the TVs. Roku’s director of communications, Mike Duin, explained that his company takes care of the entire platform for TCL, including the operating system (OS) and programming.

The OS is not simply a port of the software Roku uses for its streaming devices, either. The Roku OS for televisions is a separate product, and Duin said that in developing the software, Roku prides themselves on “taking stuff out instead of adding things.” For example, the small and simple Roku remote control does not have an input button because anything plugged into one of the TCL TV ports appears on the TVs home screen.

Steven Abrams is the leading TCL’s push into Canada. He said that what makes the market here so unique is that consumers are very polarized. They either want the cheapest TV they can get, or they want the best thing available on the market.

TCL believes they have TVs that are both at the same time.

Amazon Fire-enabled TVs coming to Canada courtesy of Toshiba

Toshiba is back in the TV business.

In 2015, the tech company got out of the North American TV market, but as of this fall Toshiba sets will be sold in a partnership with Amazon.

There are two models of Toshiba Fire TV Edition, one which delivers 4K images and one displaying at 720p.

Fire TV is Amazon’s streaming media player and it’s also available as a Stick 4K ($70) that plugs into an HDMI port on your existing television. It’s selling with a new Bluetooth remote with Alexa voice functionality. You can also purchase the remote on its own for $40.

Amazon Prime Video now streaming on Roku

Roku also makes media streaming devices, and now you can watch Amazon Prime Video on them.

Prime Video is the streaming video service from Amazon that comes with every Prime membership. Popular shows on Prime Video include American Gods, The Man in the High Castle, and Goliath.

New shows include Homecoming, starring Julia Roberts and directed by Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail, and the Jack Ryan series with John Krasinski in the title role.

Next Level video game convention in Mississauga this weekend

If you’re in the greater Toronto area with time on your hands this weekend, head out to the International Centre in Mississauga for the Next Level Video Game Convention which includes tournaments for Gears of War, Call of Duty, and more. Also appearing are local indie game developers, tabletop games to play, and a Magic card game tournament.

The event runs Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $30 for a day and $45 for the weekend.

Meditative Red Dead Redemption 2 a masterwork

You may find the first hours of Red Dead Redemption 2 somewhat ponderous. The game’s introduction and tutorial levels are intentionally slow. Players are locked into a linear experience, during which time you learn a bit about the person you’ve become, Arthur Morgan, and his role as a lieutenant in the criminal gang of Dutch van der Linde.

If you played Red Dead Redemption (2010), some of the characters in the gang are familiar, because they appeared in that game as antagonists. In this prequel, though, they are part of your family.

I bristled a bit at the lack of independence, but realized that was how the developers at Rockstar Games got me to recognize that this open world game is not like other open world games. It’s more of a simulation. The systems in place are intricate and intertwined, the world existing whether you engage with it or not.

And the pace doesn’t change much after the world has opened up. You’ll spend hours on horseback simply riding from place to place. You won’t be looking to the map for side missions, because you just discover them occurring where you happen to be. The slower gait of the game gives you time to appreciate the attention to detail and the exquisite characterizations and dialogue, time to meditate on the themes of expectation, honour, and freedom.

Available for PS4 and Xbox One, Red Dead Redemption 2 is set in a fictionalized version of the American frontier in 1899 and is carefully constructed to peel away the myth and romance of the Wild West.

The role-playing and crafting systems in the game are a bit arcane, and the controls of the game are soft, much the same as they were eight years ago.

But if you don’t mind a game that plays things slow, it’s easy to be at peace with those limitations.

And for an open world game, this one has value. The game’s epilogue is almost as long as the fifty-hour narrative itself, and it all concludes with the map opening up even more. The world of Red Dead Redemption 2 is one you will want to continue exploring long after the game is done with you.

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