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This week, why you should be playing Borderlands 3. Plus, a settlement has been proposed for class action lawsuits against Yahoo in the U.S. and the Canadian winners of the James Dyson Award. But first, the U.S. continues investigating the big tech companies for possible antitrust violations.

U.S. government asks tech big four for documents

Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google have been asked to provide internal documents to the subcommittee on antitrust for the U.S. Congress House Judiciary Committee.

The tech companies have until October 14 to provide information about operations. Associated Press reported last week that the internal communications of executives has also been requested.

What the subcommittee is wanting to establish is whether the four companies are using their market position in ways that prevent competition and exploit consumers.

Canadian winner of James Dyson Award announced

Every year, the James Dyson Award is given to student inventors who are solving problems. The Canadian winner and runners up for 2019 have just been announced.

A team of four from the University of Toronto wins $3,000 to continue developing what they call a “wearable hot water bottle”.

Undu was designed to help with menstrual cramps. Charlie Katrycz, Robin Linton, Katherine Porter, and Graham McLaughlin came up with a thin, reusable heat pack that is comfortable and worn within special underwear that has a lining to hold the heat pack.

The two runners up are:

  • interpretAR, an app that translates speech into American Sign Language in real time and then displays the signs in augmented reality (McMaster).
  • Aeroflux contactless brake, a braking system for aircraft that uses magnetic fields to stop the wheels (U of T).

The three inventions will now be considered for the international shortlist, 20 innovations chosen from around the world by a panel of Dyson engineers.

Settlement proposed by Yahoo to wrap up security breach class action lawsuits in U.S.

Yahoo had a terrible time between 2012 and 2016. In each of those years, the company was subject to major security breaches. In 2013, for example, hackers got the records for every Yahoo account worldwide. Three billion users had their names, email addresses, birthdates, passwords, and security questions and answers stolen.

Last week, a settlement in a class action lawsuit against Yahoo was proposed for citizens in the U.S. and Israel.

According to the settlement website it will provide defendants with:

  • a minimum of two years of Credit Monitoring Services to protect Settlement Class Members from future harm, or Alternative Compensation instead of credit monitoring for Class Members who already have Credit Monitoring Services (subject to verification and documentation)
  • Out-of-Pocket Costs for losses related to the Data Breaches
  • Reimbursement of some costs for those who paid for Yahoo premium or small business services

The settlement is supported by a $117,500,000 fund that Yahoo will create.

Borderlands 3 a solid sequel that turns gamers into Vault Hunters

Mayhem indeed.

It’s the promise of Borderlands 3, developed by Gearbox and published by 2K and now available for PS4, Windows, and Xbox One. And while your enjoyment of the game will depend on your appreciation for shooters and your exact definition of mayhem, it’s safe to say that Borderlands 3 has its share of bedlam.

In terms of story, the game kind of picks up where Borderlands 2 left off. I say kind of because the end of the main Borderlands 2 mission ended with the Crimson Raiders, a resistance force that includes players’ vault hunters, in possession of a map.

A couple of months ago, a final chapter of Borderlands 2 was released as downloadable content. In “The Fight for Sanctuary,” the Crimson Raiders actually (spoiler alert) lose the map. Borderlands 3 begins with you trying to recover it.

The Calypso Twins are the wise-cracking villains here, portrayed as millennial video streamers. The Twins are more annoying and insufferable than the malevolent and cruel (but hilarious) Handsome Jack of the previous game. Depending on your age, this may make them even more worthy of punishment. To me, the Calypso Twins are insufferable.

You can play as one of four Vault Hunters, each with their own unique combat styles and equipment. It’s significant that two of the characters, Moze and Amara, are female (Amara is portrayed as South Asian). The skill trees are much more complex than before, providing you with numerous ways to integrate the abilities into your play style.

As with previous Borderlands games, part of the fun is in opening boxes to collect loot, endlessly searching for the best weapons and deciding which ones to use, and learning how to strategically use them in tandem.

In addition to the campaign activities there are side missions to take on. Some of them are repetitive and banal, but they illuminate the world and the characters a bit, providing a bit more flavour to the experience.

My major complaint with the game is in how Gearbox has chosen to display the map that you use to view and navigate the worlds. For some reason, it rotates every time you go into that interface which makes it impossible to orient yourself. There’s a reason that mapmakers lock “north” to the top of the damn page, people.

I’m a confessed fan of the first two Borderlands games. I’m very happy that Borderlands 3 has been released, because for the next few weeks, that’s what I’ll be doing.

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, what do you do if your fingerprints are stolen? And a look at Gears 5, the latest shooter from Vancouver studio, The Coalition. But first, all the announcements made by Apple in Cupertino yesterday.

Apple TV+ coming in November, Apple Arcade next week

Apple TV+, the company’s video subscription service, will cost $6 a month when it begins broadcasting on November 1.

Anyone purchasing an AppleTV, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, or Mac computer, though, will get a year for free.

There are nine original series that will debut when the service bows, including Oprah’s book club, For All Mankind, from Ronald Moore, who rebooted Battlestar Galactica, See, starring Jason Momoa, and The Morning Show, produced by and starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston.

Apple Arcade, a subscription service that delivers gaming experiences to AppleTV, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, and Mac computers, also costs $6 a month, and launches on September 19.

Notable titles available on that date include Pac-Man Party Royale, the platformer Rayman Mini, and Super Frogger, an updated version of the classic game.

Sayonara Wild Hearts comes from Simogo, which created Year Walk and the wondefully odd Device 6. Skate City is a skateboard game from Toronto’s Snowman, which made the Alto freerunners. Noodlecake, from Saskatoon, has created The Enchanted World. And Vancouver’s RAC7 gives gamers a chance to become a hairy beast in Sneaky Sasquatch.

New iPad, three new iPhones, and Apple Watch 5 unveiled by Apple

iPhone 11 will come in three flavours when it releases on September 20.

iPhone 11 is the base device, coming in six colours starting at $979. It has a 6.1-inch Liquid Retina display and is equipped with an improved Face ID authentication. There are two cameras with wide and ultra wide lenses that can shoot 4K video and high dynamic range.

The iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max add a telephoto lens and the three cameras are designed to work together to deliver better photos and much improved low light performance.

The Pro models use a custom OLED display, 5.8-inch on the iPhone 11 Pro and 6.5-inch iPhone 11 Pro Max. The handsets use Apple’s A13 Bionic chip and promise improved battery life by up to four to five more hours over the iPhone Xs counterparts.

Pricing starts at $1,379 for the iPhone 11 Pro and $1,519 for the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

Apple is also updating it’s basic iPad. Priced starting at $429, the seventh-generation tablet gets a bigger screen, 10.2-inch, and supports the first-generation Apple Pencil and smart keyboards. It will be in stores on September 30.

The big feature of Apple’s new wrist computer, the Series 5 Apple Watch, is that the display is always on (although dimmed until you raise your hand). The models with cellular also allow for emergency calling in over 150 countries without needing an iPhone close by or the cellular watch plan having been activated.

Apple Watch Series 5 comes in a range of case styles and materials, including titanium, aluminum, and ceramic. Pricing starts at $529 for GPS and $659 for GPS and cellular and they will be available on September 20.

Biometrics data collected by European law enforcement and financial firms left unprotected

If your password is compromised, you can change your password. What do you do if your fingerprint or facial recognition data are hacked?

You can’t very well change those.

The Guardian reported last month that two security researchers in Israel found a database being used to store biometrics data was “unprotected and mostly unencrypted”.

Details about the breach were published at vpnMentor: “Instead of saving a hash of the fingerprint (that can’t be reverse-engineered) they are saving people’s actual fingerprints that can be copied for malicious purposes.”

Gears 5 opens up the world of Sera while delivering heart-pounding action

Anyone with an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription has been playing Gears 5 since September 6. Everyone else playing on Windows or an Xbox One got access to the game yesterday.

It’s outstanding.

Coalition studio head Rod Fergusson said that Gears of War 4 was intended to honour the franchise and find new fans.

Gears 5 expands on that intent by delivering the story and gameplay that is expected of a Gears of War game, but also introduces some new elements that modernize the series.

There are elements here that will be a comfort to those for whom the franchise is beloved. Gears 5 is filled with clever writing, witty dialogue, and rich characters that burst from the screen. It delivers the intense, cover-based combat that gamers expect, with a variety of enemies to defeat and an assortment of weapons to wield.

But the latest game in the series that includes five previous titles also introduces some new things that open up the experience a little bit. The most obvious is the addition of open world exploration in some of the game.

It’s very similar to what Sony’s Santa Monica Studio did with 2018’s God of War. In Gears 5, two of the game’s protagonists, Kait and Del, are free to explore the countryside, engaging in side missions as well as discovering the story’s path.

They roam using a wind-powered skiff that is a joy to control. Like a dog-sled with a breeze-catching parachute at the front, the developers at the Coalition use visuals and sound to make you feel like you’re really zipping along.

The plot picks up where Gears of War 4 left off and reveals more of the dark history of the planet Sera and the creatures which populate it.

In addition to the campaign, which can be played solo, cooperatively online, or locally with up to three players, there are three other multiplayer modes available.

Escape features three players trying to get out from within an enemy base. Versus pits teams of players against each other, with one side playing as COGs and the other as Swarm. And Horde has a group of five friends holding out against increasingly powerful waves of enemies for as long as possible.

Visually, Gears 5 is stunning. The game was built to deliver high-resolution graphics and dynamic range, and the artwork and animation capitalize on that opportunity. Vistas are breathtaking, character faces and facial movements are extraordinary. Combined with the dialogue and acting, Kait, Del, and the rest of them become real to us, facing the kinds of world-ending problems that the heroes we like to play must confront.

We can only hope there’s more where this came from.

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, Google finds an iPhone vulnerability and handcuffs Huawei, two new games use live-action video in unique experiences, and Shure’s new microphone is actually a full-on video production kit.

New Shure microphone makes it simple to record audio

I first got to know Shure because of the company’s excellent earbuds. Shure was the one of the first manufacturers to supply quality listening experiences with in-ear devices and I got my first pair nearly 15 years ago.

Today I’m astounded by the quality of a microphone, the Shure MV88+.

In fairness, this is much more than a mic. The “+” in the product name signifies the video kit accessories that come with the latest version of the Shure MV88 condenser microphone.

Altogether, the kit is a full on portable audio/video production studio for your smartphone – whether Android or iOS – and I think it’s easily worth the $329 price tag for anyone who’s recording audio or video.

In fact, I’ve started using it to whenever I’m on air with Drex.

A sturdy, ball head tripod provides stability whether you’re hand holding or placing the setup on a surface, and it means you can adjust the position of the microphone.

A strong but flexible bracket keeps your smartphone in place and can be used facing either direction, so you can be only a camera operator or take on a dual role and be on camera, too.

You can even plug in a headset to monitor levels while you record.

The mic works with an accompanying smartphone app – ShurePlus Motiv – that allows you to change the settings in the microphone itself, whether you record in the Shure app or not.

And quick setups in the app make it easy to record speech, music, or any other audio no matter whether you’re in a controlled setting like a studio – use it bidirectionally to record two-person conversations – or in the field. It’s light, it’s useful, and I’m a fan.

You can find the Shure MV88+ at Amazon, Best Buy, and Long and McQuade.

Huawei’s Mate 30 phone is about to be released, but it’s likely to be hobbled

The Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei is on the verge of releasing its new Mate 30 handset, but because of the restrictions placed on American businesses by the U.S. government, Google is preventing the company from using the full version of Android and any licensed applications for the operating system.

Instead, Huawei will reportedly be using the open-source version of Android. And users, depending on what territory they’re in, will have to manually download Google apps that are allowed in those regions.

Technical support from Google may also be restricted or not allowed.

The continuing economic battle between the U.S. and China continues.

Hackers create websites that can attack your device if you visit them

Google’s “Project Zero”, which is a team of security analysts who are tasked with finding zero-day vulnerabilities, uncovered an initiative that was able to use websites to deliver code to iPhones that allowed hackers to access photos and messages.

The problem was an issue for some two years. Google informed Apple earlier this year about the vulnerability, and Apple has since patched iOS 12 to fix things.

Two new interactive experiences prove the ingenuity of game developers

There’s something vaguely uncomfortable about watching the videos that make up Telling Lies (iOS, OSX, Windows). But as that’s what the game is all about, you’d better get used to it.

The game, published by Annapurna Interactive, is a database of video clips. Writer and director Sam Barlow also created Her Story, which used the same approach to revealing a story.

But Telling Lies is a bigger and more sophisticated experience. Some of the videos are one side of online conversations (you may or may not be able to find the other side of the conversation). Some are videos shot by the characters on smartphones, documenting what’s going on. They are intimate and voyeuristic and they are utterly compelling.

The experience is all about piecing together a narrative out of what you watch, and you discover the various video clips by conducting simple word searches. You’ll start off with single words, but as you collect information you’ll start combining words and searching for phrases.

You glean meaning from the videos, watching the nonverbal cues and listening for subtext, but understanding also comes from the settings the characters are in, and the dates and times associated with the videos.

There are hours of video branching into several storylines featuring characters that are all connected, somehow.

And all the while you see the very subtle reflection of the woman watching the videos. Her life periodically interrupts your voyeurism, and while you’re trying to piece together the story from the videos, there’s another narrative you can’t escape: who is the woman and why is she searching the database?

Erica (PS4) comes from Flavourworks and London Studio and was published by Sony Interactive Entertainment and it also makes use of live action video.

But the real differentiator with this game is in how you control it. While your basic game controller is supported, Erica was developed for players to use a smartphone (Android or iOS) to play with.

It’s essentially a thriller movie with a branching narrative in which you get to have some control over the actions of the protagonist a young woman named Erica.

It’s an interesting experiment, to be sure, and the gestures I was making on my iPhone screen made sense in the context of the world. But I wanted to have more impact on what was happening in the story than Erica allowed.

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