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This week, what we know about the Nintendo Switch, why Bill Belichick hates computers, and why the Internet was down last week. But first, Microsoft reveals some new hardware, including something we haven’t seen before.

Microsoft, riding high, reveals Surface Studio desktop computer

Microsoft stock is worth some $60 a share, the highest its been since the last century. What a perfect time to roll out some new products.

At a press event in New York today, Microsoft announced a number of new things, but the highlight is the Surface Studio, a desktop computer that is unlike any desktop computer you’ve ever seen.

The Surface Studio is an all-in-one computer with the components built into the display stand. The display, 28-inches across, is thin and light and constructed with a touchscreen. The entire assembly is hinged, so with the touch of a finger you can recline the display and work on it with a stylus.

The Surface Studio is priced at US$3,000, $3,500, and $4,200 depending on the configuration you want. And there won’t be too many available. In fact, they may not actually be available in Canada this year.

The Surface Dial is an interface device for Surface hardware. It’s a dial, natch, that can be placed on a Surface screen and that can be used to select colours while in a paint program, for example.

Microsoft also announced an update to its premium Surface laptop. The Surface Book with Performance Base will be released on November 10, and is available with up to 1TB of hard drive space. The new model adds 30 percent to battery life, has double the graphics capability compared to the existing Book, and uses Intel’s i7 processor.

The company, which is already working on an alternate reality headset, HoloLens, is also working on a VR headset.

Bill Belichick is your grumpy old uncle

Speaking of Microsoft’s Surface devices…

The company has a deal to supply tablets to the NFL, but not all coaches are happy about it.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, for one.

In a conference call with reporters last week, Belichick spent more than five minutes talking about why he hates computers. For a guy with a penchant for one-word answers, that is an epic monologue.

Belichick’s going back to his old fashioned picture playbook. Unknown whether the pictures are in colour or black and white.

What exactly is a DDoS attack and why did it hang up the Internet last week?

Last Friday, a swath of the Internet was unavailable to people because of a DDoS attack on a DNS host.

That’s a lot of acronyms. Here’s what they mean.

  • DDoS: distributed denial of service; a DoS uses only one computer, but a distributed attack leverages many, most of which are being used illicitly
  • DNS: domain name server

To understand what happened last week, let’s use old fashioned letter mail as an analogy.

Think of the DNS as the post office. A DDoS attack is what would happen if a post office received a billion pieces of mail at the same time. Staff at the office wouldn’t be able to process anything because they would be crushed under all of the letters.

That’s essentially what happened last week. These attacks, in which computer systems are overloaded by a flood of simultaneous requests, are nothing new. What was new about last week’s DDoS was that it didn’t exploit computers, but ohter devices that are connected to the Internet, such as webcams and digital video recorders.

As more of our devices become connected – the Internet of Things is upon us – the security of those devices becomes more critical.

Nintendo reveals its new gaming console, Switch

Nintendo’s new console is called Switch, and it’s being released in March.

The Switch is a gaming system that can be mobile when you need it to be, or a home entertainment device when you want it to be.

At the core of it all is a tablet. It can be placed into a dock connected to your living room television set, or transported around. Enabling mobile play are the “Joy-Con” controllers, which attach to either side of the Switch, which is similar in look and function to the main Wii U controller.

But the Joy-Con controllers can also be removed and used as split controllers, with one in each hand, or as seperate controllers for multiplayer gaming.

Nintendo will also be selling Pro Controllers to use with the Switch.

You’ll also be able to create ad-hoc networks with mulitple Switch systems to allow for face-to-face multiplayer gaming.

In the promotional video, which you can watch below, a number of games are teased, including the new Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart, Skyrim, and Splatoon. But there have been no official announcements of titles that will be released for the Switch.

Nintendo did not provide a specific launch date, or reveal pricing of the console or its peripherals.

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This week, how you can watch live events on social media, how you can see some crazy funny photos of wild animals, and how you can become Batman. But first, how you should not take a Note 7 on an airplane.

Taking a trip? Do not try to fly with your Samsung Galaxy Note 7

Samsung is setting up booths in airports because airlines and transport authorities are outright banning the device from being on their planes, on or off.

I’m not surprised. An enclosed box 35,000 feet in the sky is no place for a small fire.

There aren’t trade-in booths at any Canadian airports that I know of. Maybe there should be.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve been on some planes, and in just a couple of days, the warnings from flight attendants went from, “Please ensure that your Note 7 is turned off,” to, “You are not allowed on the plane with a Note 7.”

Transport Canada has officially prohibited the Note 7 from being in checked or carry-on bags.

Samsung Canada says in a statement that Note 7 owners should “return their Note7 device to where it was originally purchased in advance of their trip”.

The company is offering cash credits on top of a new replacement phone, too. $100 if you trade for a Galaxy S7 or S7 edge, or $25 if you get a straight refund or opt for a different manufacturer’s handset.

Keep in mind that it’s only the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 that is subject to the recall and bans. Samsung’s other Galaxy handsets, the S7 and the S7 Edge, are not considered problematic, nor are previous generations of the Note handset.

There are reports of travellers mistakenly handing in the wrong device and some airline officials not distinguishing between the different models and model names.

How social media is getting in on the live experience

The last U.S. presidential debate took place tonight at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

In the past, people would be gathered around television sets during the event, but this U.S. federal election is different in many ways, including how people can watch it.

Both Facebook and Twitter streamed the debates live, and Facebook gathered questions from Americans for the first debate in September.

Twitter is also streaming NFL’s Thursday night games this season (except in Canada, due to territorial rights).

The cool thing about watching these events in your social media channel is that you can also engage in conversations with others about what’s going on. It’s like having an office water cooler right in your home.

And the bathrooms are way cleaner than at your local pub.

Reason we love the interweb #642

There’s always been awards for fantastic photography, but in the past the only people who could see the amazing work were those who knew about them, those who bought the magazines, or those who happened to live in a place where the images were being exhibited.

The Internet changed all that. Now we can all appreciate the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

It’s an initiative of U.K. media company, the Guardian, and it is the kind of thing that can make a bad day so much better.

My favourite? The water buffalo. We’ve all been there.

PlayStation VR is the easiest way to get into virtual reality

Sony’s PlayStation VR released last week, but unless you pre-ordered, or you were standing in line the night before the release, you might be waiting a bit to get one.

If you want to get a taste of what’s in store, you can check out one of a number of demos that PlayStation Canada are staging across Canada.

The Batman and Battlezone VR experiences are pretty solid, but the VR game I’m most looking forward to playing through is an on-rails shooter called Farpoint. And EVE: Valkyrie is as close to flying a spaceship as I’m ever going to get.

There’s also a Tomb Raider VR experience that you can get with the Rise of the Tomb Raider 20 Year Celebration edition.

If you’ve got a PS4 and a PlayStation Camera, you can get virtual reality with PSVR for $550. That gets you the headset, headphones, and all cables.

If you don’t already have the camera, it’s $75, and some games use the Move Controllers, which come in a two-pack for $130.

All in, you’re looking at $750 on top of the price of your PS4. But that’s still considerably cheaper than the two other decent VR options.

The only other thing to keep in mind is that you’ll need space for PSVR. PlayStation recommends a 10 foot by 10 foot space for your VR play. That might be the trickiest obstacle to overcome for many.

But I’ve been in there. It’s worth it.

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This week, life’s not so good for Samsung, but Gears of War 4, developed in Vancouver, is fantastic. Plus, you can now purchase Sonos speakers at Apple Retail Stores, and all about the new Roku media streaming devices. But first, the New York Times is automating comment moderation. In a way.

How good of an online comment moderator are you?

A few weeks ago I wrote about how National Public Radio (NPR) in the United States had opted to dump the ability of audience members to leave comments on articles at

The New York Times is going the opposite direction.

“Times readers have spoken, and we’ve been listening: You want the chance to comment on more stories, and you want your comments approved more quickly,” writes Bassey Etim.

One of the ways that the Times aims to approve more comments more quickly is using new technology from Google. Jigsaw is a team of people at Google parent company Alphabet who “view the world through the lens of technology”.

Jigsaw is helping the Times build a new system that will allow for “robot helpers” in comment moderation.

It’s a big job, moderating comments for the Times. A team of 14 people routinely handle 11,000 comments every day. And to show how difficult it can be to do that job, the Times has created a quiz so you can see how well – and how fast – you can moderate five comments.

Take the Times moderation test.

Samsung stops production of Galaxy Note7 handsets, recalls every one they shipped

Well, after praising Samsung for being quick to own the poor quality control for the Note7 handset, I’m eating those words. Samsung has cancelled production of the devices and is recalling them all, worldwide.

This due to new reports of replacement Note7s catching fire, even when not plugged in.

Which makes me think that the problem with the handset wasn’t the battery after all, but something else. Because putting new, improved batteries into the devices hasn’t seem to have helped.

If you’ve got a Note7, call 1-800-SAM-SUNG to arrange for your refund.

There is no confirmed evidence that any other Samsung device is a problem, so anyone using a Galaxy S7 should be fine.

Which is one good reason that these products should have better naming conventions, because the general public is sure having a hard time telling the difference between the Note7 and the S7.

Meanwhile, Apple is quietly selling it’s iPhone 7 to everyone who’s returned a Note7.

Sonos wireless speakers now sold at your friendly, neighbourhood Apple Store

Just in time for the holiday buying season, it’s become easier to kit out your home with wireless Sonos speakers.

Two of the company’s speakers, the PLAY:1 and larger PLAY:5 are now being sold in Apple Stores. Starting on November 2, they will also be available at Apple’s online store.

Apple’s sweetening the deal, with a three-month suscription to Apple Music with every Sonos speaker sold until the end of the year.

Apple Music became available on Sonos speakers earlier this year.

New media streaming devices from Roku get you ready for 4k and more

If you’re moving into streaming video, there are options beyond AppleTV and Google’s Chromecast.

And Roku has just released four new models of gadgets that are sure to suit every possible context.

The Roku Express ($40) is, the company asserts, the smallest player they’ve developed. Despite the size, the Express delivers high-definition (HD) video through an HDMI cable. The Roku Express+ ($50) sends the signal using a composite cable which are still found in some older televisions.

The step up is the Roku Premiere ($90), which is for those who have made the move to 4K HD video. It also upscales HD video to 4K.

The Roku Premiere+ ($110) adds support for high dynamic range (HDR) and includes a remote control with a headphone jack.

The top line Roku player is the Ultra ($140), which builds on the impressive features of the Roku Premier+ and adds an optical digital audio port and Dolby Digital surround sound.

One of the things that sets Roku streaming devices apart from the competition is that they are agnostic as to where the movies and TV that you want to watch are located.

The Roku operating system will show you where content is available, and will rank your options in order of price, starting with what’s free, and going up from there.

Roku streaming video devices are as plug and play as you can get.

Gears of War 4 releases this week

I’m so happy to get back to Gears of War. Vancouver studio the Coalition, led by Rod Fergusson, has delivered a game that honours the series that came before, but stretches just enough to carve a new path for a new trilogy.

(Read my profile of Rod Fergusson in the Straight’s Best of Vancouver.)

The story campaign is better written than some of those earlier games, and the voice talent – Liam McIntyre as J.D. Fenix, Eugene Byrd as Del Walker, Laura Bailey as Kait Diaz, and John DiMaggio as Marcus Fenix – bring their characters to life with dialogue that is delivered with a natural cadence.

Gears 4 also gives you co-op play through the campaign, as well as standard player-versus-player and the breathless Horde 3.0, which pits groups of five players against waves of enemies. New to Gears is the ability to build defenses to help keep the creepies at bay.

Releasing tomorrow (Tuesday, October 11) for Windows and Xbox One/S, Gears 4 is a “play anywhere” game, so picking it up for one platform also gives you the game on the other.

And if you’ve got an HDR-compatible television, you’re going to want to have an Xbox One S, because the new console is able to deliver a nuanced picture unlike anything you’ve seen before.

Gotta go. Gears 4 is waiting.

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This week, a look at the game that will never end: No Man’s Sky. Plus, a look at the new portable speaker from LG and the smart Canadians who are up for a prestigious award. But first, Google announced some new things yesterday.

Google’s got some new neat things coming

Google held a press event yesterday and showed off a bunch of new gadgets. And these were all designed by the company.

The Google Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones, for a start. These are the first handsets actually designed by Google (they are being built by HTC) and one of the key features is that they will work with Google’s Daydream virtual reality (VR) headset, something else revealed at the event.

The Pixel handsets, which are available for preorder from Canada’s mobility companies, will have many of the features we expect, including a fingerprint sensor (on the back). They also have a top-line camera, and Google’s throwing in free, unlimited storage on Google Photo for Pixel owners. They are priced starting at Cdn$849.

The Pixels will also run Google’s new Assistant software, which is also at the core of Google Home, the smart home interface that is akin to Amazon’s Echo. You can talk to these devices, assking questions and getting into on things like the weather.

Daydream View is the VR headset, which will work with any headset that can run the Daydream software. You can get on the waiting list. for the headset, which will cost $99 and arrives in November.

Google Wifi is a new multi-point network system that will have you placing routers throughout your home, and Google also announced a new Chromecast device that supports high-dynamic range and 4K video. The Ultra will be priced at $90.

Google did not announce Canadian availability for Google Home and Google Wifi. But they did promise both were coming to Canada at some point.

Canadian nanotech engineers shortlisted for James Dyson Award

An ingenious project from three engineers from the University of Waterloo in Ontario is in the running to win the prestigious James Dyson Award.

The smart contact lens platform was conceived by Harry Gandhi, Huayi Gao, and Maarij Baig. The lens is constructed to monitor glucose levels in the tears of diabetics, sending the information to the individual’s smartphone so they can monitor their glucose levels without needing to test blood.

The idea has already picked up a bunch of awards and as the national winner from Canada, earned the trio US$3,500. They are among 20 projects that are being considered by Dyson himself, who makes the final decision.

The overall international winner picks up $45,000 plus $7,500 for their university. Dyson will announce his decision on October 27.

LG’s new Bluetooth speaker provides good sound, good value

I like to listen to the radio in the morning when I’m making lunches for the kids. But who’s got a radio in their kitchen anymore?

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been using a new Bluetooth speaker from LG to catch up on world events. The Music Flow P5 is small – it’s only six inches long – but provides plenty of sound to fill my quiet kitchen.

It’s got a rechargeable battery, too, so I can place it over the sink without having to worry about wires getting in the way. LG says the battery is good for up to 15 hours, and I can verify that. In almost two weeks of using it for between 15 and 45 minutes every weekday, I haven’t had to charge it yet.

It connected to my iPhone quickly and simply, it starts up fast with the touch of a button. And it can connect to more than one Bluetooth source, so when my wife wants to change stations, she can connect her iPhone to the speaker.

Pair two Music Flow P5s and you can have them give you stereo sound, and if your mobile device doesn’t have Bluetooth, you can plug it in with a 3.5 mm audio cable instead.

This is an appealing speaker because it’s lightweight and portable, it provides decent sound, and it’s priced at only Cdn$150. Great value for the money.

Explore an entire universe with No Man’s Sky

What to say about No Man’s Sky?

The space adventure game, developed by Hello Games and recently released for PS4 and Windows, has been unfairly judged against what fans hoped it would be, instead of its own merits.

No Man’s Sky is not for everyone, that’s for sure.

It’s what I imagine being a true explorer would be like: sometimes breathtaking, often boring.

It is repetitive, it is tedious, it is bland.

And I love it.

I sat down to turn it on and play through the opening sequence, which involves you becoming aware of your surroundings on a strange planet.

I looked up again six hours later.

In that time I explored a planet and its moons. I catalogued alien flora and fauna, and mined resources that I used to craft and trade. I learned snippets of an alien communication and tried to use them in conversation.

No Man’s Sky is almost meditative.

There is a story anchoring the experience, but frankly, I ignored it, choosing instead to take my time and go where I wanted to go, instead of where the game sent me.

I’m getting glimpses at the narrative, and it seems a bit thin. But it’s a great framework for the imagination, providing just enough detail so that you have a sense there’s something bigger, but vague enough that each player will be able to bring their own story to the game.

You can do some trading and you’ll get involved in some basic space battles, but really, No Man’s Sky is exactly what was promised: a neverending exploration of a vast galaxy.

Since the game was announced, I’ve been joking that No Man’s Sky might be the last game I ever need to get. I’m not sure it’s a joke anymore.

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