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This week, an app for skiers and snowboarders comes to Android, Star comes to Disney+, and an Anishinaabe world comes to Minecraft: Education Edition. But first, the danger of rumours being spread on social media.

Social media posts about abductions in Vancouver area are concerning for a number of reasons

Global News reported this week that RCMP in Coquitlam are warning the public to ‘stop spreading unproven rumours’ about missing women and alleged abduction attempts.

There’s a few things going on here, and I think things that are quite different are being talked about as if they were the same.

In recent weeks, there have been two women from the Lower Mainland who have gone missing. As is often the case, media coverage of those cases has largely ceased when there was nothing new to report about them. The police haven’t shared much, either, in the past while.

Which has got some in the community wondering what, exactly, is going on.

In B.C. there’s a dismal history when it comes to missing and murdered women and girls, and this is understandably a sensitive topic.

It’s also true that violence against women and girls is a problem. It is a problem that is systemic. It is a problem that needs to be addressed, and should be discussed openly.

The concern expressed by the RCMP, however, is justifiable, because “scarelore” that is perpetuated by social media is well documented and potentially dangerous.

Snopes fact checker Bethania Palma wrote in December 2019 about the white vans abducuting females hoax and reported that social panic that was triggered by the spread of this kind of misinformation resulted in incidents of violence in France and the U.S., where the innocent driver of a white van was shot and killed.

Just because the media has gone quiet and the police aren’t releasing any information doesn’t mean there’s a cover up, or a conspiracy, and it certainly doesn’t indicate that a serial killer or human traffickers are to blame.

The police should do better at being transparent with information, even when there’s nothing new to reveal. But potentially creating a panic in order to start a conversation is irresponsible.

It is possible to honour and respect the lived experience of women and girls who are victims of violence and to work for change without creating phantoms. In fact, it’s arguably more important to make sure that men who are actually the perpetrators are named and held accountable.

Slopes app now available for Android devices

Last year I discovered Slopes, an app that tracks me when I’m downhill skiing, and I love it.

As of last week, Slopes is available on both Android and iOS devices.

Developed by Curtis Herbert, an independent programmer, Slopes has a database of ski resorts around the world, providing trail maps and other information about the hills, including weather and snow reports.

Users of the app can report snow conditions, too, so you’ll get a real-time read before heading up.

What I love about Slopes is that it records my days on the hill, tracking what runs I take, how long I’m standing in line, and even how fast I ski. The app automatically selects the hill I’m at so I can be recording my day with a couple of taps. I can even configure it for voice control.

And this is all available for free.

The iOS version of Slopes has been around for a few years, and has a few more features that warrant considering paying for premium access to the app, which includes offline trail maps and health stats if you have an Apple Watch. You can also add friends who are also using Slopes and see how your shredding stacks up against theirs.

The pricing for premium makes sense for skiers, too. A day pass is $5.50, a week pass is $21, and an annual pass is $33.

Disney+ increasing Canadian streaming library, bumping subscription cost as a result

On February 23, Canadian subscribers to Disney+ will have a lot more to watch on the streaming service.

The company is adding more than 150 series and 500 movies through its Star brand. Among the titles that are being added are a bunch of things that come from 20th Century Fox, which Disney acquired in 2019.

This includes TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and spinoff Angel, 24, M*A*S*H, Hill Street Blues, and The X-Files.

The Alien films, Grosse Pointe Blank, Moulin Rouge, Romancing the Stone, and Speed are among the films that will be available.

Disney+ is also upating the parental controls available through the service so families can limit access to age appropriate content.

New titles are also being added in the form of Star Originals, which include Solar Opposites, a new adult animated sitcom from the co-creator of Rick & Morty and Only Murders in the Building, which stars Martin Short, Steve Martin, and Selena Gomez.

The bigger library comes with a bigger subscription fee, up $3 to $12 a month. You can save by paying annually, $119 a year, up from $90.

But if you subscribe before February 23, when Star debuts, you can lock in the cheaper price for six months.

Anishinaabe world launched in Minecraft: Education Edition

Today, Microsoft Canada revealed a new world inside the education version of Minecraft.

Manito Ahbee Aki is a representation of the the Whiteshell area of western Manitoba as it existed prior to European contact. It will be available to download on February 15.

It was all created in collaboration with members of the Louis Riel School Division’s Indigenous Council of Grandmothers and Grandfathers, including Chickadee Richards, as well as Knowledge Keepers from the Manitoba Anishinaabe community, and scholar Frank Deer.

The digital world includes plants and animals that are unique to Manito Ahbee Aki and the avatars of the characters populating the world are modelled after the Indigenous consultants who helped create the experience.

Minecraft: Education Edition is available to all teachers and educators whose school districts subscribe to Microsoft 365 for Education.

In a release, the Louis Riel School Division said that Manito Ahbee Aki translates to “the place where the creator sits” and the hope is that the Minecraft experience will help people “develop a deeper understanding of an Indigenous nation in Canada.”

One of the consultants on the game was Bobbie-Jo Leclair. “Not only will this game inspire and engage Indigenous students who don’t see themselves reflected in games, it provides an opportunity for all people to learn how Anishinaabe people respected the earth and all living things,” Leclair said in a release.

The Louis Riel School Division plans on creating additional Minecraft worlds that represent other Indigenous communities, including Cree, Dene, Oji-Cree, Ojibwe, and Dakota.

Christian Michalik, superintendent of the school division, said during a press event that one of the inspirations for Manito Ahbee Aki was Te Ao Māori, a world developed to explore traditional Māori culture by New Zealand game developer Piki Studios.

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This week, Imagine Van Gogh projects the master’s artworks on a massive scale, Google shutters Stadia development studios, Mass Effect Legendary Edition gets a release date, and The Medium brings an interesting mechanic to a horror adventure. But first, Nokia has two new budget smartphones available in Canada.

Two new Nokia smartphones released in Canada

Once upon a time, Nokia made the most advanced cellular phones available. That aspect of the Finnish company’s business was sold to Microsoft to jumpstart Microsoft Mobile, and Nokia would continue advancing telecommunications infrastructure, and is a key player in the 5G mobile standard.

Nokia smartphones are a thing again, though, through another Finnish company, HMD Global, which bought the mobile business from Microsoft.

Last week, two new Nokia Android devices were released in Canada.

The Nokia 2.4 is a budget smartphone priced at $230 and available at Best Buy Canada.

It’s got a battery that should last you a couple of days, passable camera lenses, and a fingerprint unlock.

For those in Quebec, Videotron has the Nokia 3.4 ($280), which has a better Qualcomm processor, an extra wide-angle camera, and biometric face unlock functionality.

Imagine Van Gogh exhibition arrives in Vancouver

This presentation of art by Vincent Van Gogh has already been in Toronto, and is scheduled to open in Vancouver in March.

Imagine Van Gogh takes the Dutch Master’s paintings and projects them on the surfaces of large spaces, essentially painting the walls, floor, and ceiling and immersing audiences in his art.

The exhibition is accompanied by a soundtrack of classical music from composers including Prokofiev, Bach, Mozart, and Satie.

Imagine Van Gogh takes over the Vancouver Convention Centre starting on March 19 and scheduled to run through April 23.

Covid-19 protocols are in place so masks are mandatory, and a limited number of people are being allowed into the space at any one time. Tickets are being sold according to a schedule.

Ticket pricing is $45 for those aged 16 and up, $40 for ages 4 to 15.

Google shutters Stadia game development studios

Google may have deep pockets, but the company doesn’t seem to have the patience required to make a video game.

Gaming website Kotaku broke the news on Monday that Google Stadia was closing its development studios.

Editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo, reported that studios in Los Angeles and Montreal were closed, and game executive Jade Raymond was leaving Google.

Stadia general manager Phil Harrison wrote in a blog post that the Stadia service would continue to deliver games streamed from cloud servers to user devices, but that Google would focus on “business partnerships” to get games on the service, instead of making games themselves.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition releases on May 14

Mass Effect, a legendary trilogy of action role-playing games, is soon to be available for an entirely new audience.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition will be available for PS4, Windows, and Xbox One, and on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S through forward compatibility. The collection releases on May 14.

Included in the Legendary Edition are all three games in the original trilogy that began in 2007 as well as some 40 downloadable content packs that were released, all remastered in 4K, ultra high definition.

Mass Effect was groundbreaking in a number of ways. It gave players the opportunity to choose the gender of their protagonist. It allowed players to form relationships with characters of any gender. It blended action, shooter, and role-playing elements in ways that had never really been tried before.

And the story, a space opera about humanity finding a place among the stars and all the other creatures that live there, is compelling.

I don’t really replay games. Who’s got the time? But I’m looking forward to becoming Commander Shepard again.

Horror adventure game The Medium introduces intriguing split screen world

A new psychological horror game makes use of an interesting split-screen display to tell the story of a woman with the abiilty to see and interact with the spirit world, an eerrie mirror to her own.

The Medium was developed and published by Poland’s Bloober Team. It’s available now for Windows and Xbox X/S and is part of the Xbox Games Pass program.

Marianne is the medium of the title and is able to interact with spirits. After helping her foster father pass on, she finds herself exploring a deserted Polish resort where some kind of massacre led to the abandonment years before.

The innovation that the Medium introduces is the split-screen view, so that we can see Marianne in her world and her spirit-world analogue in that world. She can force herself into an out-of-body state in which she leaves her real world body behind and can move freely through the spirit world, but she can only do this for a limited time before she can’t get back to her real body.

The swapping back and forth between the two worlds provides an interesting method to solve the environmental puzzles that block your path through the game. Sometimes you need to interact with an object in the spirit world and come back to the real world. Other times you need to go fully into the spirit world to find something you need to clear an obstacle in the real world. And at times, you need to protect yourself from a danger in the spirit world that doesn’t even appear in the real world.

The split-screen display, though, posed a problem because you can only really focus on one world at a time. Especially in a survival horror game where the cues you see or miss can make the difference between life and death, having to attend to two worlds at the same time is too difficult.

There’s no combat in the Medium, but there are moments when Marianne needs to escape from a malevolent force at the heart of the danger, and these chase sequences are also challenging because there are not enough cues to help players understand what they need to do to escape. Instead, these sequences require endless trial-and-error which is frustrating if you have to replay too much of the game.

The atmosphere created here is suitably unearthly, the characters are interesting, and the narrative comes together in the end, although it requires players to work to find some of the connections along the way.

The Medium will satisfy fans of psychological horror who don’t need to fight their way through the scares. If you’ve got a subscription to Xbox Game Pass, it’s absolutely worth trying.

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This week on The Shift, Shane Hewitt and I talked about Apple’s update for iOS and iPadOS, Microsoft’s backtrack on price increases for Xbox Live Gold subscriptions, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra smartphone, the Life in a Day 2020 documentary, and the Maiden demo for Resident Evil Village.

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This week Apple has an update, Xbox backtracks on a price increase, Life in a Day 2020 is internet crowd sourcing at its best, and I played the Resident Evil Village demo, Maiden, so you don’t have to. But first, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the flagship of all flagship Samsung smartphones.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is made for shooting videos

Samsung’s got three models of the Galaxy S21 smartphone coming, but the Ultra is the flagship. The frame shares the new approach that integrates the camera array on the back into the metal housing, but the Ultra stands out with its glass back and 6.8-inch screen that can hit 120 Hz.

It’s also compatible with the Samsung S Pen stylus, which is a first.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is equipped with four lenses:

  • 12 MP ultra wide
  • 108 MP wide
  • two 10 MP telephoto lenses, one with a 3x zoom and one with a 10x zoom

The two telephoto lenses have been designed to work together, delivering a zoom that is effectively 100 times.

There’s a laser sensor that is used for auto focus, and you can shoot 4K video at 60 frames per second video using any of the lenses.

The new Director’s View feature that really sets the line of S21 smartphones apart. I played with two different ways of using this. With what Samsung calls “vlogger” view, I was able to shoot split screen, with the front camera capturing our family dog jumping around in the snow, and the rear camera capturing me describing what was going on. You can also do this as a picture-in-picture if you prefer.

Even cooler is the ability to see the scene you’re shooting through all the lenses at the same time. I was filming my son skiing, and the display showed me what it was looking like through all of the lenses, and I was able to switch from the wide to the telephoto just by tapping on the thumbnail view.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is available in three configurations:

  • 12 GB of RAM with 128 GB of storage for $1650 in black or silver
  • 12 GB of RAM with 256 GB of storage for $1720 in black only
  • 16 GB of RAM with 512 GB of storage for $1890 in black only

Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra, Galaxy S21, and Galaxy S21 Plus all ship on Friday. If you pre-order the Galaxy S21 Ultra before tomorrow, January 28, you’ll get a set of the new Galaxy Buds Pro wireless earbuds and a Galaxy SmartTag locator.

Critical update for iPads and iPhones released

When the director of cybersecurity for the Electronic Frontier Foundation tells you to update the operating system on your iPhone, you do as you’re told. And that’s exactly what Eva Galperin did on Tuesday.

Apple’s information about the update to iOS 14.4 and iPadOS 14.4 is prosaic, but it suggests that the operating systems were recently exploited, and until the update is installed on your iPhones and iPads, your device will be vulnerable.

My advice? Be like Eva Galperin.

In abrupt reversal, Xbox Live Gold pricing to remain the same

At six o’clock in the morning last Friday, Microsoft announced it was increasing the price for Xbox Live Gold subscriptions.

By nine o’clock that evening, not only had the company cancelled that plan and pledged to keep pricing the same, Microsoft is also dropping the Xbox Live Gold requirement for free-to-play multiplayer games.

What a difference a little community outcry can make.

The price increase seemed nominal: $1 USD for a one-month subscription, $5 USD for three-month subscription, and $20 USD for a six-month subscription. But the response from gamers was rapid, and the Xbox team at Microsoft knows how important it is to keep people happy, especially with new consoles – the Xbox Series X and Series S – in the world.

The Xbox Live Gold requirement to play games like Fortnite is not going away immediately. The Xbox team said they were, “working hard to deliver this change as soon as possible in the coming months.”

Life in a Day 2020 showcases crowd sourced footage of lives around the world

If you want evidence of how technology has changed our lives, look no further than the documentary films, Life in a Day.

Directed by Kevin Macdonald (One Day in September, Touching the Void) and produced by Ridley Scott, the idea behind the films is to collect submissions from people around the world, all of whom uploaded their footage through the internet.

The first Life in a Day was released in 2011, and back then, Macdonald had some 80,000 clips to comb through.

For Life in a Day 2020, more than 300,000 people submitted videos for consideration, in more than 65 languages. The footage all came from people’s lives on July 25, when the world was grappling with things like the covid-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests were confronting systemic racism and violence against Black, Brown, and other racialised people.

The film will premiere on February 1 as part of the Sundance Film Festival. It begins streaming on YouTube on February 6.

Resident Evil demo sinks gamers into a mansion where the atmosphere is decidedly creepy

The eighth game in the main Resident Evil series is called Village, and it releases on May 7 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.

But if you’ve got a PS5 and you’re keen to get a sense of what the experience is going to be like, you can download the free demo now.

It’s called Maiden, and in it you become a poor soul trapped in a dungeon. Your goal is to escape.

The demo will take about twenty minutes, depending on your approach. I found myself crouched in a corner for minutes at a time, dreading what was coming.

In Maiden you’ve got no weapons and there’s no combat. And while you’re moving through the mansion space that is part of Resident Evil Village, you aren’t actually playing the game itself.

It’s plenty creepy, though, and it certainly gives you a sense of what to expect from the game when it comes out on May 7.

The Maiden demo is available for PS5 only, although Capcom says a demo for all platforms will be available this spring.

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