RSS

Author Archives: Peter Nowak

Zamboni drivers: robots are coming for you

zamboni

From the “What Took So Long?” department comes news that a robot Zamboni has been invented. Paul Van Eijl, a resident of Winona, Minnesota, has come up with a system called the Ice Jet, which uses GPS coordinates to control multiple machines. The robot system can clear an ice rink in about a minute or so, according to the Winona Daily News.

“It’s really doing the same thing,” Van Eijl said. “You’re just basically making it eight times as efficient.” His co-engineer Kevin Christ summarized the Ice Jet’s benefits succinctly: “Quicker, faster, cheaper.”

The fact that a robot zamboni exists isn’t surprising, and it’ll be equally logical when arenas each rush out to buy one. The only puzzling thing is why they aren’t already in mass circulation. Read the rest of this entry »

 
Comments Off

Posted by on June 2, 2014 in robots

 

Review: Top marks for Boston Pizza’s Pizza Taco

pizza-taco

I sometimes get requests to try new fast-food concoctions, and who am I to deny readers? The latest in this cavalcade of artery-hardening goodies is the Pizza Taco from Boston Pizza. It just so happens that I love pizza, and I also love tacos, so how could I resist? Here’s the thing – this particular item is only available till June 1 so you’ll want to hustle if this review piques your interest.

I’ll admit to not having done my research on this one, which is why I was surprised to sit down and see not one but two Pizza Tacos on BP’s menu. There’s the Chipotle Chicken and Bacon Pizza Taco and the Pulled Pork Pizza Taco. I’m on a pulled pork kick of late, but I couldn’t help but gravitate toward the other option, mainly because it had more, more, MOAR! in its title.

Beyond the headline meats, the two are mostly the same, each filled with “fresh tomatoes, crunchy tortilla strips, lettuce, cilantro and red onions and drizzled with a creamy sweet chili sauce,” as per the menu.

Not being able to decide, I asked the waitress and she handily suggested the chicken-and-bacon option. My instincts were right. Read the rest of this entry »

 
Comments Off

Posted by on May 30, 2014 in Boston Pizza, food, pizza, review

 

Apple set to transform the world… with headphones?

beats-headphones

It has been a mostly inspirational week in technology, with a couple of tech titans showing off some truly amazing futuristic technology.

First up is Google, which on Tuesday took the wraps off its own self-built, self-driving car. While the search giant has been working on autonomous vehicles for some time, the difference with this one is that it isn’t a repurposed car with a bunch of tech strapped to it. Rather, it’s built from the ground up as a robot.

That means it has no steering wheels or pedals, just a start and stop button and a screen that shows its route.

Project director Chris Urmson outlined Google’s plans for the new vehicle in a blog post:

We’re planning to build about a hundred prototype vehicles, and later this summer, our safety drivers will start testing early versions of these vehicles that have manual controls. If all goes well, we’d like to run a small pilot program here in California in the next couple of years.

The company also released a vehicle showing seniors, children and even blind people going for test drives:

Not to be outdone, Microsoft also showed off some amazing technology on Tuesday evening at the inaugural Code Conference in California. The company is busy working instant translation into Skype, and appears to be having some success.

As shown during an on-stage demo, Skype vice-president Gurdeep Pall – speaking English – had a real-time conversation with another Microsoft employee, who was speaking German. The service itself translated their words into each others’ respective tongues, then read them aloud like a virtual translator.

The associated feature discusses how this sort of technology has been a long time in the making and the staggering challenges it has faced. It doesn’t work perfectly yet, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

Check out the video – things get interesting around the three-minute mark.

And then there’s Apple. The company finally made its purchase of Beats official on Wednesday, announcing that it has acquired both Beats Music and Beats Electronics for a combined $3 billion.

“Music is such an important part of all of our lives and holds a special place within our hearts at Apple,” said Apple chief executive Tim Cook in a statement. “That’s why we have kept investing in music and are bringing together these extraordinary teams so we can continue to create the most innovative music products and services in the world.”

To put the week in perspective: Google shows off cars that can drive blind people, Microsoft demos technology that allows people from disparate cultures to communicate with each other, and Apple buys some middling headphones and one of a logjam of music streaming services. Hmm. Okay.

Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference is next week. After being shown up in the innovation department by its two biggest rivals, the pressure cooker of expectations just got a whole lot more intense.

 
Comments Off

Posted by on May 29, 2014 in apple, Google, microsoft, music, robots, skype

 

Why I love R2D2 (and why you probably do too)

r2d2I had the good-timing fortune of being at Disney World in Florida a few days ago for a “Star Wars weekend,” the now-annual month-long celebration of the movies held at the Hollywood Studios park. Part of the festivities included a parade of characters from the movies and some of the actors who voiced them. While it was nice to see the likes of Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett) and Warwick Davis (Wicket) in the flesh, my favourite moment was when R2D2 wheeled down the parade route making his trademark beeps and bloops.

He was obviously being controlled remotely by someone nearby, but I didn’t care – seeing “him” made me giddy and even a little misty-eyed. It activated some sort of child memories in me.

Then I remembered that it wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. I had the same reaction the first time I saw Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace back in 1999. I couldn’t help but squeal with joy when R2 made his debut in the prequel, saving the day as usual.

Fans of the original trilogy had been waiting a very long time for more Star Wars, me included, and it turned out the thing I had missed most was that plucky little droid. Watching the parade at Disney World years later, I had an odd epiphany: I love R2D2. Read the rest of this entry »

 
Comments Off

Posted by on May 28, 2014 in movies, robots, Star Wars

 

Watch Dogs’ timeliness: is it luck or genius?

watch-dogs

Tuesday is a big day for video gamers as the long-awaited hacker thriller Watch Dogs finally hits stores. If the record pre-sale orders are anything to go by, the latest blockbuster from Ubisoft Montreal will doubtlessly be one of the biggest global releases of the year. Oh, it also might be helped by the fact that it’s an excellent game – check out my full review over at TheGlobeandMail.com.

As I mention there, Watch Dogs captures the zeitgeist of our era perhaps better than any other video game in recent memory. At a time when angst over security and government spying on civilians is at an all-time high, a game about the perils of having everything interconnected hits perfectly. It’s an amazing sign of prescience by Ubisoft developers, who started working on Watch Dogs six years ago, well before anyone had heard of Edward Snowden.

The protagonist is Aiden Pearce, a street thug turned hacker who is betrayed by his underworld colleagues. As a master hacker, Pearce can do just about anything with his smartphone – he can empty out innocent bystanders’ bank accounts, control the trains and traffic lights of the city and eavesdrop on conversations happening in private residences. He can enrich himself or set his enemies up for big falls, all with just a couple of apps on his phone.

Over the course of the past year, I interviewed some of the core developers behind the game on several occasions. It was interesting to see how their thinking and confidence levels about Watch Dogs‘ subject matter evolved, especially as the Snowden revelations unfolded starting last summer.

“We were looking at where the world was going,” lead writer Kevin Shortt told me a year ago, recalling the first creative meetings on the game back in 2008. “We were all in a room having a meeting and we all put our phones down on the table. We were all very aware of how connected we are. That was what interested us: how far are we going with all this connectivity?”

There was angst at the time about the promise and peril of uber-connectivity, but it still existed as something of an abstract concept.

“I don’t think we want to come away saying it’s a bad thing, we want to come away saying what does that mean for us?” Shortt said of the game.

Senior producer Dominic Guay also said at the time that the team’s confidence in what they were doing grew steadily as many of the topics they were covering became more and more commonplace in the real world.

“We saw it through development as confirmed, where every day I’m getting new emails from researchers about how technology being comprised or hacked somewhere else,” he said.

The first Snowden revelations broke just a few weeks after those conversations. I talked to Guay a few months later and his demeanour had changed. At the 2012 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, he found that he had to explain how interconnected everything was and why that might be a problem. A year later at the same event, the team was almost jubilant that they had been on the right path.

“[Snowden] made it a lot easier. We don’t have to explain what we’re talking about anymore,” he told me in March. “Most people have an opinion about it, which is awesome. That’s even better. It made our game more relevant.”

Call it luck or call it smarts – either way, Watch Dogs may turn out to be the most talked about game of the year since it turns the spotlight on a very real-world issue, which is unusual for a genre that often deals in space aliens and dragons.

The funny thing is, even though Guay and his colleagues have been knee-deep in creating a world where the downside of current technology is readily exploited by bad guys, he’s still optimistic about it in the end.

“The promise is outweighing the peril, otherwise we wouldn’t all be using those devices. We wouldn’t all be so ready to jump on our PC to simplify our lives,” he said. “But we need to talk about the flaws too. I’d be a lot more worried if no one was talking about the flaws. It’s the best way we have to keep our shield up and find our balance.”

 
Comments Off

Posted by on May 27, 2014 in privacy, ubisoft, video games

 
 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 268 other followers