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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, what Ikea Canada and Best Buy Canada are doing for Black Friday, the amazing Asus Zephyrus G15 laptop, Mass Effect is getting remastered, and Miles Morales is the best Spider-Man. But first, Apple has introduced the new generation of Mac computers built with Apple Silicon.

Apple introduces new computers with its own processing chips

In an online event on Tuesday (November 10), Apple showed the first computers that are being released with the company’s Apple Silicon processing chips.

Apple says the new MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and Mac Mini computers have major boosts in performance while keeping to the same price point of the comparable Intel-based systems, which industry analysts say are no longer being manufactured or sold by Apple.

Apple Silicon is already being used in iPhones and iPads – the A14 Bionic chip – and the new computers begin the transition to what the company calls a “new generation of Mac”.

The Apple M1 chip is a “system-on-chip” which means it does the jobs that computers used to have multiple chips performing, including computing, input/output, and graphics. What distinguishes these systems is that they can deliver high performance while needing less energy to operate.

The M1 has an 8-core CPU, up to an 8-core GPU, and a 16-core Neural Engine. In combination with the new macOS, Big Sur (which releases tomorrow), Apple says the new computers will run faster, quieter, and have better battery life.

Apple also says that it’s focus on security is built into the M1 chip as well as the Big Sur operating system.

While software developers will have to make modifications to apps to accommodate the M1 chip, that software will also run on Intel-based Macs. A video played during the briefing showed developers of various programs talking about how easy it was to adapt software.

The new MacBook Air (starting at $1,299) is up to 3.5 times faster than the Intel-based MacBook Air, and when configured with the 8-core GPU visuals are processed up to 5 times faster, which leads to better resolution and frame rates for gaming and video. Even SSD drives run faster with the M1 chip, according to Apple.

And because there’s no fan, the MacBook Air is completely silent.

The MacBook Air also has dramatically better battery performance, up to 18 hours on a single charge.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro (starting at $1,699) with the M1 chip will deliver up to 20 hours on a charge, more than 10 hours compared to earlier model in addition to speed and processing improvements.

Similar improvements are found in the Mac Mini (starting at $899) compact desktop computer, which Apple says will be faster than most Windows towers.

The new Mac computers are available to preorder now, and will be shipping next week.

What to expect when shopping for tech on Black Friday 2020

Black Friday is coming up on Friday, November 27 and a couple of companies are doing things a bit differently this year.

Ikea Canada has good quality and low-cost wireless speakers in the Symfonisk speakers and speaker lamps (created in partnership with Sonos) and wireless charging solutions including desk lamps.

But on Black Friday, the company is inviting Canadians to sell back Ikea products that they no longer need or want in exchange for up to twice what they normally would receive through the “Ikea Sell-Back program”:

Customers taking part get in-store credit, and the gently-used products get sold on at a discount or donated.

Best Buy Canada, meanwhile, is confronting the realities of the covid-19 pandemic by starting Black Friday early. Reduced prices on a number of products are already in place, and the company has pledged that if you buy something and the price subsequently drops, you’ll get the difference refunded to you.

And anticipating lineups, Best Buy has created a system where you can join the queue digitally so you don’t need to be in a crowd while waiting for your chance to enter the store.

Trying to get rid of the impetus for lineups in the first place is why Best Buy is only selling the PS5 and Xbox One S/X online and not in stores.

And if you want to have your order delivered, the company has turned its stores into fulfillment centres so Best Buy can commit to next-day delivery in major cities, and two-day shipping almost everywhere else in Canada.

Hands on with the Asus ROG Zephyrus G15

Sure, there’s been lots of talk about the PS5 and the Xbox Series S/X. But there are other things you can play games on, and one of the best is the new Zephyrus G15 from Asus’s Republic of Gamers line of laptop computers.

The ROG computers are designed for performance, and the G15 has top line and current components including an AMD Ryzen 7 processor and Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 2060 graphics card, and the slick 15.6-inch display has an anti-glare coating, a minimal bezel and a refresh rate that can get to 240 Hz. It’s not a 4K display – 1920×1080 instead – but that’s acceptable for a laptop to keep costs down because most Windows gamers have an external monitor with higher specs.

It’s extremely portable, too, weighing just over 2 kg (4.6 pounds) and with a thickness of only 19 mm.

While the manufacturer says you can get some 15 hours of battery, that’s when it’s not being used, and gaming is power intensive. You can expect about three to four hours unplugged, depending on the game you’re playing. But you can also use portable battery packs to power the machine through the USB-C port.

Other ports include an rj-45 ethernet, three USB-A, HDMI, and a headphone jack.

I’ve been using the G15 to get into my Steam library, to play games on Google Stadia, and also to play games from Microsoft, by loading them onto Windows, and also by playing Xbox games in the cloud using the new Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.

But I’ve also been using the G15 for work, and the crisp keyboard has made it easy for me to write and edit audio. The subdued design means that if I’m ever able to visit clients again, I can still look like a professional. The only thing that’s missing is a webcam.

The Zephyrus G15 delivers great performance for the price.

Edmonton’s BioWare confirms remastered Mass Effect

On Mass Effect Day 2020 (November 7), BioWare general manager Casey Hudson announced that a remastered version of the Mass Effect trilogy is in the works.

The Legendary Edition from the Edmonton studio is not a remake, but a remaster, cleaning up the art so the three games and DLC all look good in 4K.

At first the release will only be for PS4, Windows, and Xbox One, but Hudson said that there is a plan for PS5 and Xbox Series S/X.

Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales a completely new experience in a familiar setting

If you played Marvel’s Spider-Man, the 2018 game that I really loved, you should know that there’s not much new here.

This makes sense, as the sequel from Insomniac Games is set in the same New York City, uses a similar mission and collectible design, and has the same combat mechanics.

But we’ve got a diffferent story with a different Spider-Man. Here, Miles Morales is given responsibility for protecting New York while Peter Parker goes overseas to work as a photojournalist.

Miles has his own story, his own subset of super powers, his own way of moving, and his own world within this familiar New York City. And because we’re in Miles’ world, this game feels different.

He can become invisible and he’s got bioelectric powers, which adds some nuance to how he fights (the finishing move animations in particular are incredible).

This game isn’t quite as expansive, in terms of story or side missions, as the 2018 game featuring Peter Parker as the Webslinger, but it’s just as much fun to swing through the city.

If you played that first game, you might want to play expansion, The City That Never Sleeps, which introduces Miles as a character.

But you don’t need to have played as Peter if you just want to step into Miles’ shoes. Because there are a bunch of small detail things that set this game apart.

There’s mural art all over the city, including one for Black Lives Matter. Miles communicates with the artist using ESL, and he and his mother slip between English and Spanish the way bi- and trilingual families do.

There’s a respect between the characters – even between the enemies – that is often missing from games that are so reliant on conflict and combat.

Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a humanistic video game, and it’s exactly the kind of game we need right now.

Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales will be available on November 12 for PS4 and PS5. If you pick it up on PS4, you can move to PS5 when you’re ready, and you can take your save file with you. Rated teen.

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, online animations show how coronavirus spreads and what you can do to stop it, the Canadian government looks to regulate streaming services, an investigation into Cadillac Fairview malls shows the company did not get required consent from shoppers, and Torchlight III is a light-hearted dungeon crawler. But first, Twitter and Facebook on election night.

How social media companies managed on the night of the U.S. federal election

Twitter and Facebook both had to intervene in Trump’s accounts in the past 24 hours.

The President posted to both platforms on the night of the election claiming that Democrats were trying to steal the election.

The two social media platforms added labels that the claim was misleading.

It got worse when Trump actually falsely claimed victory early on Wednesday morning.

While this seems simple, for Facebook it’s somehow less obvious. Earlier on Tuesday,
Facebook said it would not intervene if anyone prematurely declared victory in state contests as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Web animations clearly demonstrate how the coronavirus spreads through the air

The graphics recently published by Spain’s El Pais newspaper to its website are stunningly clear.

The animations demonstrate how covid-19 spreads through the air when people are gathering in three indoor contexts:

  • in a living room
  • in a restaurant
  • in a school

The simulations were created based on the lastest information from scientists studying how the coronavirus is transmitted.

They show how the rate of infection drops dramatically when people wear masks and when the ventilation of our indoor spaces is improved.

As case counts go up around the world, it’s important to remember the basics that can do so much to save lives: keep your distance, wear a mask, and wash your hands.

Netflix, Spotify to be regulated by federal government if new bill passes

Yesterday, the Canadian government introduced a new bill which will amend the Broadcasting Act so that streaming services are considered broadcasters.

This would mean that media companies like Netflix and Spotify will be treated the same as traditional broadcasters when it comes to regulations and penalties.

These “online undertakings” (that’s the government’s term of choice) would also be expected to pay into Canadian content funds.

“Canadians have a right to recognize themselves in the music they listen to and the television they watch,” said Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault in a statement. “We are proposing major changes to the Broadcasting Act in order to ensure online broadcasting services that operate in Canada contribute to the creation, production and distribution of Canadian stories.”

If passed, the bill will also give the CRTC “new powers to regulate online audio and audio-visual services”.

Cadillac Fairview malls did not meet the standard for meaningful consent when it recorded images of customers

Back in August of 2018 I wrote about how Calgary’s Chinook Centre and Market Mall were found to be using facial recognition software in digital map kiosks without any notification to customers that they were being recorded.

Those reports triggered a joint investigation by the privacy commissions of Canada, Alberta, and B.C.

The report from that investigation was filed this week.

It turns out that the digital kiosks that were recording video had been installed in 12 shopping malls across the country, and some five million images of shoppers were collected without their knowledge.

In a statement issued by his office, Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Daniel Therrien said that the biometric data that was collected by Cadillac Fairview, “is a unique and permanent characteristic of our body and a key to our identity.” 

Cadillac Fairview claimed that decals on the entrance doors to the malls with references to its privacy policy should have been sufficient warning to customers, but Therrien said that did not qualify as “meaningful consent”.

The real estate company has deactivated the cameras, but they remain in place.

The malls which used the facial recognition software and collected biometric data are:

  • CF Market Mall (Calgary)
  • CF Chinook Centre (Calgary)
  • CF Richmond Centre (Richmond, B.C.)
  • CF Pacific Centre (Vancouver)
  • CF Polo Park (Winnipeg)
  • CF Toronto Eaton Centre (Toronto)
  • CF Sherway Gardens (Toronto)
  • CF Fairview Mall (Toronto)
  • CF Lime Ridge (Hamilton, Ont.)
  • CF Markville Mall (Markham, Ont.)
  • CF Galeries d’Anjou (Montreal)
  • CF Carrefour Laval (Laval, Que.)

Torchlight III brings some fun to cooperative role-playing adventuring

After being in early access for a good chunk of 2020, Torchlight 3 is now in final release, and is available on Nintendo Switch, PS4, Windows, and Xbox One.

The release of this third game is as much a story about how it came to be.

The first Torchlight (2009) was a single-player dungeon crawler developed by Runic Games, which was founded in part by Max Schaefer, who had helped to create Diablo.

Torchlight II, which introduced multiplayer, came along in 2012.

In 2016, Schaefer left Runic and created Echtra Games as a subsidiary of Perfect World, which was the majority owner of Runic. Before 2017 was over, Perfect World had closed Runic, and the Torchlight rights went to Shaefer’s Echtra.

Fast forward a few years, and Torchlight III is a reality, and while plans to turn the action role-playing game (ARPG) into a massively multiplayer experience were abandoned, what remains is a game that will scratch that dungeon crawler itch.

Another shift was to lighten the tone of the game, and Torchlight III is delightfully goofy at times, without becoming a parody of itself.

It’s presented with an isometric top-down view, and you’ll enjoy exploring the various environments, killing the baddies and looting gear. You’ll get to choose a pet to fight alongside you as before, but you’ll also have a fort that becomes your base of operations, a place for you to return to when you want to swap out your weapons and armor.

But the killer feature in Torchlight III remains the cooperative multiplayer. Being able to play with my younger kids – who aren’t quite up for the darker storylines of Diablo – is amazing.

Torchlight III is available now for Nintendo Switch, PS4, Windows, and Xbox One. Rated teen.

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, learn from Trump’s Twitter mistake, Baldur’s Gate 3 may be worth getting early, and Watch Dog: Legion takes to the streets of London. But first, a new report finds that Canadians are worried about what businesses do with their private info.

Canadian consumers are concerned about their confidential info and this has implications for businesses

A new report, based on a survey conducted by Ipsos on behalf of Shred-It, found that 83 percent of Canadians are worried about companies they do business with having their personal information online.

And Canadian consumers are not very trusting, either, with more than half of those surveyed believing that not all data breaches are reported.

Companies need to have their physical and digital security in place or consumers are unlikely to deal with them.

The report differentiates between physical risk of print materials, laptops, and hard drives being lost or stolen, and digital risk, like malware, ransomware, and phishing attacks.

The Shred-It report also found that while businesses agree that data security is a priority, they are more vulnerable than ever, especially with the prevalence of work-from-home.

One of the key recommendations is that companies need to do better at creating information security policies and making sure that employees understand and adhere to them.

Especially since remote work is likely to be the norm for some time.

Trump’s Twitter account hacked; get a password manager

A Dutch digital security researcher claims that he hacked Donald Trump’s Twitter account last week after guessing the password: “maga2020!”

The claim was reported by the Guardian.

Twitter said in a statement that there was no evidence such a hack occurred, but it’s not difficult to imagine that the password on Trump’s Twitter would be so obvious.

So let this be a reminder to all of us that we should:

  1. Have different passwords for all our accounts.
  2. Change our passwords regularly.
  3. Use a password manager to make all of this easy.

My favourite is 1Password.

Baldur’s Gate III is a great early access option

Baldur’s Gate III, the eagerly anticipated role-playing video game, has been released. Kind of. It’s in early release, which is to say that the software runs, and a lot of the pieces are in place, but it’s not exactly finished.

With early release, developers – most of them are smaller, independent studios – are hoping to get their game in the world to raise a bit of money and create a bit of buzz. The money helps keep development going as the game is polished, and the buzz helps to generate more sales when the game gets its final release.

So it is with Baldur’s Gate 3, developed by Larian Studios and very much in the world of Dungeons & Dragons (the Fifth Edition). While the game is available on MacOS and Windows, I’ve been playing the early release on Google’s Stadia streaming service.

Larian says that what’s available now is about a fifth of the final game. Given that this early access will give you between 20 and 30 hours of gameplay, you’ll get a sense of how massive this game is.

Despite that, this is a fully realized world with a compelling narrative that will appeal to old school D&D fans. The dialogue options are extensive and this is how much of the story is told. It’s also how you can recruit companions to be part of your adventure.

While you choose your actions, sometimes the game will literally give you a rolling D20, which is a nice nod to the tabletop origin of the game.

You can play as one of six classes: cleric, fighter, ranger, rogue, warlock, or wizard. Multi-classes will be part of the game later, but are not available yet.

Because this is an early access, there are some bugs and glitches, but fixes for these things will be rolling out regularly.

Whether you want to dive into Baldur’s Gate III early will depend on a couple of things.

If you don’t want to wait for the full game – it could be a year away – you might want to give yourself a chance to enjoy this rich world.

But note that your saves will not carry over, so any characters you create and advance now will not come with you when you start playing the final release. So if you become attached to your creations, or you don’t want to spoil any of the early story, maybe you should be patient.

The streets of London are a great setting for Watch Dogs: Legion

Watch Dogs: Legion starts, like all good stories, with a conspiracy. And a catastrophe. In this world, London will never be the same again.

The third game in the franchise from Ubisoft, with development led by the studio in Toronto, is, like its predecessors, a game that centers concerns about the surveillance state.

The first game, set in Chicago, was released in 2014. The second game, 2016’s Watch Dogs 2, moved to San Francisco. Those games were set two years later than the release dates, and that near-future context is true of Legion, too, even if the year isn’t specified.

There’s a straight line between Brexit and Black Lives Matter and the climate crisis and the London created for Legion, which is victimized with a terrorist attack which leads to the militarization of law and order and creeping fascism.

Connected cameras and drones are persistent in this world, and the private corporation of Albion has been handed control of it all.

Resisting are the people who come together in DedSec, the hacker group which has been part of the Watch Dog games since the beginning.

And it’s the people where Legion becomes an entirely different game than the previous Watch Dog titles and distinct among standard open-world role-playing games. Because any character that you see on the street can become a playable character in your game.

Much of the delight here is in finding new characters to recruit, as each person has skills that they bring to help the collective effort, and some of those unique characteristics could be essential to completing missions. There’s enough flexibility in this sandbox to use a variety of methods to accomplish the same task.

You won’t always be successful in recruiting people, and not everyone is open to recruitment. You’ll figure all that out as you go.

Along the way you’ll confront Albion, increasing in power, as well as other factions – the criminal underground, for example – that are trying to control what happens in the city.

Combat is passable, but Watch Dogs is less about beating someone down and more about sneaking around and using your tech tools to complete objectives. And as you build out your own DedSec, you’ll be able to combine your operatives and their skills in completely unique ways.

The London created for Legion is essential to the game. It’s a huge city, and each of the eight districts built out for the game has its own personality. There are, as with all open world games these days, plenty of tasks to take on and items to collect. I didn’t get the same sense of boredom from this as I have from other open worlds that were overwhelming with the number of things to do and mind-numbingly the same.

In part that’s because this city is as maze-like as the real London, too, with everything somehow flowing with the Thames. It’s a treat to simply be in the world, with its bright neon tint and cacophony.

One mechanic I didn’t have a chance to explore is the permanent death option, which removes characters you’ve recruited from your roster if they are killed in the game. It’s the kind of creative fluidity that means that no two games are ever alike, and I believe would make me very cautious about how I play the game and the decisions I make about the characters I play.

Another way that Legion differs from the earlier two Watch Dogs games is in its tone of irreverence. While the game’s themes are serious, the game itself doesn’t take itself too seriously. This “taking the piss” attitude comes through in the dialogue, in the top-notch voice acting that is at times incomprehensible, and in the bizarre and hilarious masks that the characters wear when on missions to circumvent facial recognition. This is the country of Guy Fawkes, after all.

When the world we’re living in seems more like a video game each day, what else can we expect from the video games we play?

Watch Dogs: Legion is now available for PS4, Stadia, Windows, and Xbox One, on November 10 for Xbox Series S/X, and on November 12 for PS5. Rated mature.

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