Tech round-up for November 2: Apple shows off new MacBook Pro, Swift Playgrounds can teach coding for free, the problem of sexual assault in VR

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This week, a new, free app called Swift Playgrounds can help kids learn to code and the dark side of virtual reality gaming. But first, the new MacBook Pro was revealed last week during an Apple press event.

Apple updates MacBook Pro with new Touch Bar feature

In a press event in Cupertino, California last Thursday, Apple revealed a new MacBook Pro. The company’s line of laptop computers hadn’t been significantly updated since 2012.

The keyboard on the new MacBook Pro replaces the row of function keys at the top with a “Touch Bar” which can be configured to display any number of actions. The on-stage demonstration used a series of emoji, but you could use the Touch Bar for media playback or editing keys. At the far end of the Touch Bar is a Touch ID “button”.

The Force Touch trackpads on the new MacBook Pros are also significantly larger, and the Retina display is brighter and has more contrast compared to previous models.

There are two models with the Touch Bar, 13- and 15-inch, each noticeably thinner and lighter than previous MacBook Pros with the same screen size. They will be available in “Silver” and “Space Grey”.

They will be available later in November starting at Cdn$2,299 (13-inch) and $2,999 (15-inch).

Apple also announced a new version of its video editing software, Final Cut Pro X, which will take advantage of the new Touch Bar functionality of the MacBook Pro.

The dark side of virtual reality gaming

Anyone who’s played games online and with strangers knows it can be not so much fun. The language alone used by many people makes it difficult. Some people out there are not very nice in general. For people who can be identified as female, it’s often inappropriate and abusive.

So I can’t say I was surprised to learn that there are people committing sexual assault on other players in online multiplayer virtual reality games.

Jordan Belamire details her assault while playing QuiVr, a game for the HTC Vive in which players shoot zombies with arrows.

“Suddenly, BigBro442’s disembodied helmet faced me dead-on. His floating hand approached my body, and he started to virtually rub my chest,” writes Belamire. “… even when I turned away from him, he chased me around, making grabbing and pinching motions near my chest. Emboldened, he even shoved his hand toward my virtual crotch and began rubbing.”

This is no joke. What Ms Belamire experience was sexual assault. And because it took place in virtual reality, where things seem more real than they are, such encounters can result in real trauma.

She said she’d been playing the game for less than three minutes. That’s how long it took for some mindless, inconsiderate, sexist moron to ruin things for someone else.

CNN reports that the name Jordan Belamire is a pseudonym.

She’s not the only woman who’s had a negative experience in VR. Here’s another.

Developers are moving quickly to try and address the problem. The creators of QuiVr have written about their reaction to Belamire’s story.

Because so many developers are male, many didn’t even consider the possible experiences of female players. “How could we have overlooked something so obvious?” writes Aaron Stanton, one of two developers of QuiVr.

Stanton and his partner have implemented a Power Gesture in their game that forces any other players out of your personal VR space. It’s a start.

Swift Playgrounds now available for free on Apple’s App Store

We’ve all been hearing a lot about how important it is for kids to learn to code. Certainly, being familiar with how computers are programmed to do the amazing things they do is something that can benefit everyone. And this new iPad app from Apple is providing a fun, engaging way for kids to explore that coding looks like.

Swift Playgrounds includes lessons that are presented through challenges and puzzles. Kids will learn about variables and conditions in coding, how to issue commands and create functions, and how to set up loops. These are all things that professional developers use when creating programs that we use everyday.

And Swift, the programming language, is actually used by these same developers. In fact, Swift Playground projects can be exported and turned into iOS and Mac software.

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