Tech round-up for August 14: Whose Land illuminates maps, deepfake turns Bill Hader into Tom Cruise, new Kindle Oasis has an adjustable light, NHL 20 improves shooting

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, Bill Hader’s impressions are even more amazing with video trickery, the new Kindle Oasis makes it easier to read at night, and NHL 20 improves the puck shooting experience. But first, Whose Land shows what borders used to look like.

Whose Land? website and app redefine borders and maps

There’s nothing permanent about a map. The borders that might seem so intractable are nothing more than lines and they are erased (or ignored) and redrawn more frequently than you might imagine.

Whose Land? is a new initiative that dispenses with the political lines that we’re familiar with in favour of the territories that were in place before colonialism.

The website is supplemented by a smartphone app for Android and iOS.

The information about the traditional territories of the indigenous people is supplemented with videos of people from these communities talking about their history and reciting land acknowledgements.

The resource is an educational tool and a good reference for anyone who is interested in including a land acknowledgement, to make sure that information and pronunciations are accurate.

If you are planning an acknowledgement, it’s wise to consult with the community you’re acknowledging. Whose Land? will help with that, too.

Bill Hader’s impressions are even more realistic thanks to machine learning

A series of manipulated videos posted to YouTube demonstrate just how convincing deepfakes have become.

A deepfake, a blend of the terms deep learning and fake, uses generative adversarial networks, or GANs, to map “skins” onto existing videos.

And a creator who goes by the handle Control Shift Face is creating some very convincing blends.

The most intriguing clips that “Tom,” the name he gave the Guardian in an interview has been posting feature comic and impressionist Bill Hader.

This one, posted earlier this month, features Hader with David Letterman. In the segment, Hader does impressions of Tom Cruise and Seth Rogan, and when he’s doing the voices of other people his face actually turns into those people.

It’s so seamless you could be forgiven for thinking that Hader was actually turning into the people he was imitating.

In this one, Hader morphs into Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And here’s Al Pacino and Schwarzenegger again.

These videos are utterly compelling in how Hader’s face becomes the face of others.

And they demonstrate just how accurate fake videos have become.

While some think this is outright dangerous, it’s possible that deepfakes will transform societal sense of truth. Right now, there’s a tendency to believe that what we see must be true. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea for us to be thinking that everything we see is a fake, and have to work to establish the truth for ourselves.

New Kindle Oasis adds an adjustable light

The latest iteration of Amazon’s ebook reader, the Kindle Oasis (it’s “all new” to distinguish it from the previous model) is its best yet. With a crisp, 7” Paperwhite display it comes pretty close to giving you the resolution of a printed book.

This thing is so light you’ll never have difficulty holding it with one hand for extended periods, and it’s got a battery that will give you hours of reading. It’s waterproof, too, so you don’t have to worry about having it in the bath or at the beach.

Perhaps the best new feature is the adjustable light, which gives you control over not just the brightness but also the colour, so you can go with a warm yellow backlight when reading at night. And with 25 LEDs delivering the illumination, the lighting is smooth and even across the screen.

There’s no headphone jack, just a USB port for charging, but it does have Bluetooth connectivity so you can pair some wireless headphones for audiobooks.

I still have difficulty with the screen refresh when I’m looking at anything more complicated than text, so it’s a bit of a pain browsing your library of covers.

It’s not cheap. The new Kindle Oasis is $330 with an 8 GB drive, $360 with a 32 GB drive, and $430 if you want your 32 GB model to come with free cellular connectivity.

That’s more than double the cost of the Kindle Paperwhite and nearly three times the cost of the base model Kindle.

Whether the adjustable light and waterproofing is worth the extra cost is up to you.

Take to the ice with NHL 20 on September 13

The new NHL season doesn’t officially begin until October 2, but gamers will be starting their leagues in mid-September, thanks to the Burnaby based developers at EA Sports and the release of NHL 20, available for PS4 and Xbox One.

Toronto Maple Leaf star Auston Matthews is the cover athlete of the North American edition of the game, while Jets sniper Patrik Laine will be on the cover of the Finnish edition, and Canucks rookie of the year Elias Pettersson graces the cover on the Swedish edition.

Every year, in continuing efforts to improve the simulation, the developers focus on a few features in the game. For NHL 20, one of the key improvements is in the way players take shots in the game.

The technology innovations in the game’s engine allow for more realistic shooting, especially for those players who have unique shooting styles.

Auston Matthews is known for the toe-drag wrist shot, for example, and this is something the virtual player will be able to do in the game.

The shooting improvements extend to all of the virtual NHLers through what EA Sports calls “contextual shooting”. So the exact way the player takes a shot will depend on their distance from the net, where the puck is in relation to their body, and how their body is positioned in relation to the net.

So all shots are going to be more realistic, and more unique.

It all leads to a hockey simulation that is even more incredible than ever.


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