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Last Wednesday, on The Shift with Drex, Drex and I talked about the drone show during the PyeongChang 2018 opening ceremonies, the ski jackets and pants that have battery-powered warming worn by athletes there, the story of Amazon’s Alexa assistant ordering cat food while listening to a TV commercial about cat food, and how facial recognition technology is racially biased.

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This week, how athletes at the Winter Olympics are staying warm and how drones were used in the Opening Ceremonies. Plus: the racist nature of facial recognition technology and what to watch out for if you’ve got an Amazon Echo in your home.

Battery-powered ski jackets and pants keep athletes warm in PyeongChang

The temperatures in South Korea haven’t been too apocalyptic. On average, it’s been between -10 and -15 Celsius, For many Canadians, that’s only moderately cold.

But if you’re spending your entire day in that weather, and you’re competing against the best athletes in the world, you want to stay warm.

To that end, Canada’s downhill ski team has battery-powered pants to keep warm in between runs.

And the American team wore self-heating jackets during the opening ceremonies. The battery-powered apparel was designed by Polo Ralph Lauren, and were available to the general public for the reasonable price of US$2,500. They are sold out.

At least one athlete has been using a Lungplus which is a heat recovery device similar to those you’ll find in energy-efficient homes. This is intended to minimize the heat lost during breathing.

There hasn’t been any research to prove whether using the Lungplus can result in an improved performance. But if an athlete is more comfortable being in the cold, there could be at least a psychological effect.

Your computer is racist. Who’s at fault?

Joy Buolamwini is working on a PhD at MIT’s Media Lab. An African-American, as an undergraduate in computer science she had the experience of facial recognition software not working with her. The systems didn’t even recognize her face as a face, she told the New York Times.

In new research, the Rhodes scholar working under a Fullbright scholarship, has demonstrated that facial recognition technologies in use around the world are racially biased.

She had various programmes look at 1270 “unique faces” and make a determination of gender. White males were correctly identified 99% of the time. Darker skinned females were correctly identified 65% of the time.

Even guessing, there’s a 50% of getting the answer right.

Part of the problem is the programmers. Artificial intelligence learns as it crunches data and makes errors. It turns out that many data sets being used to “teach” computers facial recognition use photos of white (80%) males (75%).

Buolamwini’s paper is published in Proceedings of Machine Learning Research.

Ad agencies are salivating at the possibilities after Alexa tries to place an order for cat food

A British man’s Amazon Echo Dot accidentally ordered cat food after overhearing a TV commercial for Alexa, which featured a man asking it to buy Purina pet products.

Drones steal the show at opening ceremony of 2018 Winter Olympics

If you watched the opening ceremonies last week, you saw an impressive aerial presentation that included images of a snowboarder and the Olympic rings.

Those images were all created by LED-equipped drones. More than 1200 of them, each about a foot long and weighing 8 ounces.

The performance was courtesy of Intel and its Shooting Star division.

What we saw on TV was recorded earlier. There were plans for a live performance, but they were scrapped. No official reason was given, but it was likely due to the cold, windy weather.

There are regular live performances, with a smaller number of drones, that are occurring during medal ceremonies.

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Last night marked my return to being on air with Drex as part of his new, cross-Canada show, The Shift with Drex.

We talked about the early reviews of Apple’s HomePod smart speaker, Google’s “search with your selfie” feature that is part of its Arts & Culture app, the battery monitoring functionality coming soon in the iOS spring update, and the curious experiment that is Nintendo Labo.

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This week, how you can find out what oil painting you look like, more info on how you’ll be able to monitor the battery on your iPhone, and what Nintendo is doing with cardboard. But first, Apple’s HomePod arrives on Friday if you don’t live in Canada.

Apple’s HomePod hits the shelves on Friday but not in Canada

If you’re in the U.S., the United Kingdom, or Australia, you can find out what Apple’s HomePod is like on Friday. Reviews from media outlets in those markets are coming in, and the verdict seems to be that the smart speaker really delivers on sound quality, but leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to the artificial intelligence.

Which classic painting character do you resemble?

Facebook feeds have been flowing with selfies juxtaposed with slices of classic paintings lately. They come courtesy of Google and a smartphone app called Arts & Culture (Android, iOS).

The app also has a website companion. It’s all about showcasing, well, arts and culture. The content includes things like features on visual artists from throughout human history, articles on themes like “What is contemporary art?” and “Fashion in focus”.

You can use Arts & Culture to find galleries and museums and learn what’s being exhibited there.

The app also includes “Search with your selfie,” which uses “computer vision technology” to compare a photo of you with thousands of pieces of art located in galleries around the world.

New features to monitor battery performance coming to iPhones in spring iOS update

The software update that will give you more visibility into the status of the battery on your older iPhone (6, 6+, 6s, 6s+, SE, 7, and 7+) is coming soon.

The update, detailed in this support article, will give you information about your battery health, its capacity, and its capability.

If you find that your iPhone is needing a replacement, Apple has reduced the cost of a battery replacement to $35 (from $99) throughout 2018.

Nintendo Labo will have gamers crafting with cardboard

High on the success of it’s Switch gaming console, Nintendo is pushing a new, experimental mode of playing it calls Labo.

The kits include cardboard models that you build into various props that you use with your Nintendo Switch and its Joy-con controllers. The result is a mini piano or a makeshift fishing rod you use while interacting with a video-game experience.

The two maker experiences that will be available on April 20 include the Variety Kit ($90) and the Robot Kit ($100). Each kit comes with the required Switch software.

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I’ve got a new gig on terrestrial radio.

Starting tonight (Wednesday, February 7, 2018), I’ll be a regular contributor on The Shift with Drex, a new, nationally-syndicated talk show hosted by, well, Drex.

I’ll be on every Wednesday to talk about consumer technology and video games.

Part of the Corus Radio Network, The Shift with Drex airs on the following stations across Canada:

  • Calgary: 770 CHQR
  • Edmonton: 630 CHED
  • Hamilton: 900 CHML
  • London: 980 CFPL
  • Toronto: 640 Toronto
  • Winnipeg: 680 CJOB
  • Vancouver: 980 CKNW

I’ll be linking to my segments here.

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