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No audio this week, because of a bad phone connection, but that didn’t stop Drex and I from talking about Bill Gates’ blog, and the VR video of his conversation with author Neal Stephenson.

We spent a good chunk of time talking about NOVA’s short video series, The Secret Life of Scientists & Engineers, which begins a new season next week.

Google Daydream, and its potential impact on the virtual reality space, was also discussed.

And while talking about the new Dyson V8 vacuum, we learned that the measure of a vacuum’s “suckiness” is called an airwatt. I’ve tried the new V8. I don’t know how Dyson engineers keep making these things better.

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This week, why Bill Gates is cool again, a look at Dyson’s new vacuum that is somehow better than it’s previous best-ever vacuum, and the secret lives of scientists. But first, Google does VR a bit better than Cardboard with Daydream.

Google’s going deeper into VR with Daydream

Google’s been playing around with VR for a while. Cardboard is the company’s DIY solution for anyone who wants to experience virtual reality cheaply; with it you can build a device that will hold an Android smartphone and provide basic VR.

Daydream is Google’s next step into VR, and it was announced last week at the I/O developer’s conference in California. The software part of Daydream is built with Android N, the codename for the next version of the mobile operating system.

Google hasn’t announced that it is making hardware for Daydream, but it is making it easy for other manufacturers to do so. And a reference design, which suggests to hardware companies how they might want to support Daydream, was also released at I/O. It includes a headset that holds a smartphone as well as a single remote control with motion-sensing capabilities.

Dyson’s cordless vacuums just keep getting better

Like many other software and device developers, engineers at Dyson are constantly looking for ways to improve on products. Perhaps the best example of this are the handheld vacuums, which run on digital motors.

The Dyson digital motor is, I was told by a spokesperson during a product demonstration in March, propelling the company’s innovation, in part because digital motors are more efficient than carbon-based motors. The digital motors are also much more, as evidenced by the new V8 handheld vacuum.

This is a cordless vacuum. At under six pounds in weight, it can be manipulated with only one hand. And it’s got more suction than the big machine I had to use as a kid to help clean the house I grew up in.

The motor in this thing spins at 110,000 rpm. It’s got a better battery life, providing 40 minutes of use on a charge, and it’s quieter (50% quieter if you’re measuring in decibels). You know how they made it quieter? In part it was by changing how the air flows through the vacuum. Dampening the air exiting the machine helps keep the volume down.

And the attention to detail is here, too. The buttons that are used to connect and disconnect attachments used to be on the main vacuum itself, but have been moved to the attachment, making it far easier to switch things out.

Even emptying the vacuum’s bin is easier than it used to be, which has always been a one-button push effort.

The new Dyson V8 vacuums are available now for $700 (V8 Absolute) and $600 (V8 Animal).

Bill Gates drives a Tesla while interviewing Neal Stephenson

Bill Gates is cool. Seriously, he’s got solid politics and he’s using his money to make the world a better place.

And I’m saying this as the author of a book, called Microman: What Life Might Be Like if You Were Bill Gates, that poked a lot of fun at Gates when he was a favourite target.

Maybe he needed to get away from Microsoft to come into his own. But he’s keeping a blog, called Gates Notes, where he writes about books he’s reading, and interviews interesting people. And because he’s Bill Gates, he gets to talk to some interesting people.

A recent post from Bill is about the book Seveneves, and it includes his conversation with author Neal Stephenson (they both live in the metro Seattle area). But it’s not just any video, this is one that was filmed to be viewed in VR.

And it was filmed while the two drove around in Bill’s Tesla.

I’m telling you, Bill’s getting better with age.

NOVA unveils the secret lives of scientists

NOVA is this amazing media group that is part of PBS. One of the projects to come from the producers is The Secret Life of Scientists & Engineers, a series of short videos that spotlight smart people.

Among the people profiled are some you’d expect, like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye, but there are other famous people you may not have known were in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

Take Blossom and Big Bang Theory actor Mayim Bialik, who is a neuroscientist.

Or former NFL cheerleader Mireya Mayor, who works as a primatologist.

Tom Scholz has a Master’s degree from MIT in engineering and is also a musician and the founder of the band Boston.

And then there’s Rachel Collins, who is a microbiologist, and also a professional wrestler, MsChif. Just watch.

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Last night, Drex and I talked about Google’s announcement of Google Assistant. Which led us into a conversation about the connected home, of course.

We also talked about how SFU is encouraging girls to get involved in science, technology, engineering, and math, and three female grade 6 students who are semifinalists for an international tech competition for a smartphone app they’ve created.

Oh, and I talk about how much fun Uncharted 4 is.

It all happens weekly on CKNW.

Listen up.

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This week, some girls in grade 6 code an app to help hikers stay safe, SFU looks to give girls an introduction to computer science and robotics, Twitter may exclude photos and links from the 140-character limit, and Google unveils its digital assistant. But first, the game Uncharted 4 brings the story of Nathan Drake to an end.

Uncharted 4 a fitting, thrilling finale for adventure series

In the Straight last week I reviewed Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, which I describe as being a fantastic movie.

Note that it’s also a game, but it’s a specific kind of game, and it’s important to keep that in mind when talking about it.

The Uncharted games and The Last of Us all come from Naughty Dog, and a studio they have focused efforts on giving players an opportunity to embody interesting characters who are involved in incredible stories.

It’s a very different thing from the open-world games like Destiny, Fallout, and Grand Theft Auto.

I really enjoyed Uncharted 4, by the way. It’s an incredible achievement for a studio that keeps setting the bar higher, and getting well over it.

Google announces Assistant and Home

At the annual I/O developer conference in Mountain View, California today, CEO Sundar Pichai showed off Google Home, a small speaker for the home, which will be powered by Google Assistant, a digital artificial intelligence similar to Amazon’s Alexa, or Apple’s Siri.

Google already has Google Now, which is a digital assistant you can talk to, but the company claims that the functionality of its Assistant, supported by years of data collection, will be superior to any other service being offered.

In a demonstration today, the company showed how Assistant can track a conversation with a user, so it’s not a simple “ask one question, get one answer, repeat” experience. Instead, users can ask follow-up questions and have a “conversation” with you.

And when used with Google Home, the Assistant can take care of home automation, also. It can talk to Google’s Chromecast device, and I suspect it will also work with the Nest products before long.

Twitter may be making changes to 140-character limit

It’s not a done deal, but Bloomberg reports that Twitter is going to make it easier to add photos and links to tweets.

The move would exclude links and photos from the 140-character tweet limit. Currently, images use up 24 characters while links use up 23 characters.

If the rumours are true, expect to see the change in the next couple of weeks.

SFU science faculty give girls a glimpse at a life in IT

Last weekend was the latest Girls Get IT event at Simon Fraser University (SFU).

The annual event provides females aged 9 through 11 with an opportunity to spend the day at SFU learning about what it’s like to have a career as a computer scientist or engineer.

My daughter took part this year, and reports that she had a great time. The group she was with spent half the day learning how to tell a story using Scratch, a project of the MIT Media Lab that makes provides a simple interface to program interactive stories.

The second part of the day they spent at the robotics lab which is equipped with VEX robotics components that can be snapped together to learn how to create robots and robotic applications.

Girls Get IT is a supported by SFU’s Faculty of Applied Sciences.

North Vancouver students named semi-finalists for tech competition

Technovation is an organization set up to challenge girls to build a mobile app to solve a problem in their community. This year, three students from Ross Road Elementary in Lynn Valley are semi-finalists in the international competition.

In their pitch video, which you can watch below, Madeline Williams describes her community as being “on the edge of the wilderness.”

The app designed by SEM Coderz (watch a demo of the app in action) is called Hike Safe, and is a response to the two million hikers that use the trails in the area every year.

Eleni McLaughlin and Saoirse Pontin round out the trio of developers. Their app will help hikers determine – before they begin their trek – whether they can finish safely before sunset. It takes into account the route being taken, the fitness level of the hiker, the time of sunset, and the time the hike is to begin.

Hike Safe is a practical, pragmatic, simple solution to a problem that North Shore Rescue confirms is one of the key reasons that hikers end up in distress.

And like any good development team, SEM Coderz have also planned updates to the app that would permit agencies like North Shore Rescue to broadcast information about trails and conditions. They’re also wanting to add language options, a good idea considering how many out-of-town visitors enjoy the local trails.

SEM Coderz were helped by Cher Main and the Vancouver chapter of Girls Learning Code.

Four teams of girls 14 and younger will be invited to the World Pitch Summit 2016 in San Francisco this July. One of those teams will receive US$10,000 to help launch their app.

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Last night on Drex Live, topics included Sunday’s segment on The Simpsons where Homer Simpson responds, live, to audience questions, the new fines for distracted driving that take effect in B.C. on June 1, the licensing deal between Steam and Lionsgate, and what makes Lego’s new Nexo Knights franchise something different.

Listen here.

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