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This week, will new home roofs be made of solar panels? Plus, the AC Conversion card is made for world travelers, and the annual video game glut has arrived. But first, Microsoft Teams looks to take on Slack.

Microsoft announces communication and collaborative tool in Microsoft Teams

If you’re young and hip and a technophile, you may be using Slack as a tool for communication.

Well, as part of its continuing reinvention of itself into something relevant and super useful, Microsoft has released a similar communications tool it’s calling Teams.

And for anyone with a commercial subscription to Office 365, the company’s suite of office productivity tools, Teams is a free application.

Teams includes chat functionality, as well as collaboration tools for working on projects, documents, and spreadsheets.

And Microsoft is opening up Teams to developers so they can integrate their software and services. Hootsuite, which helps organizations manage social media, will work with Teams.

Air Canada and CIBC have a solution for world travelers

Sending your kid on a gap year experience? Doing some traveling of your own to visit some faraway places? You don’t have to play around with credit cards or travelers cheques anymore. A new account at CIBC and supported by Air Canada will let you use up to 10 different currencies.

The AC Conversion card is a prepaid Visa account that can be used with a card or your mobile device. You can use your account online, at retailers, and to make withdrawals from ATMs.

The 10 currencies are active in 45 countries. They include:

  • Australian dollars
  • British pounds
  • Canadian dollars
  • Euros
  • Hong Kong dollars
  • Japanese yen
  • Mexican pesos
  • Swiss franc
  • Turkish lira
  • U.S. dollars

The crazy season of video games has begun

Released in the past week are a host of video games that are among the year’s best. Battlefield 1 is a first-person shooter set during the First World War. Titanfall 2, another shooter, is about a pilot and his artificially intelligent bipedal tank.

Dishonored 2 is a game in which players can decide how they want to play, ranging between sneaky or guns blazing. Watchdogs 2 is set in San Francisco, and is an open world adventure that puts players in the guise of a hacker trying to take down a city-wide surveillance system.

And then there’s Pokemon Moon and Pokemon Sun, two versions of the same game that feature some different “pocket monsters” to collect and train.

This is also the week that Sony releases the PlayStation 4 Pro, a new edition of the game console with beefed up specs, and Nintendo drops the NES Classic Edition, a cute little device that is a mini replica of the Nintendo Entertainment System released in 1985, and which comes loaded with 30 games built in to the system.

It’s barely November and there’s already too many things to play.

Elon Musk and Tesla show off roofs constructed of solar panels

So the next phase of Elon Musk’s master plan has been revealed. It involves turning all roofs into power generating surfaces.

But he’s not talking about putting some solar panels on your roof. He wants the roofing tiles to be solar panels. That’s the idea behind Solar Roof and there are four styles of roof tile being offered: slate, smooth, textured, and Tuscan.

The roof panel idea is a product of SolarCity. Musk is the chair of that company and Tesla Motors has made an offer to purchase it, all part of the plan to integrate the power generation with the power storage and use.

The Solar Roof, you see, would be connected to Tesla’s Powerwall 2 battery system (priced at US$5,500 each).

Eric Wesoff, writing in Greentech Media, cautions that providing roofs for homes is “not a semiconductor, mechanical, or financial engineering problem”. It is, said Wesoff, a construction, building, and distribution problem.

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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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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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