Jul 25

Star Trek Beyond

The U.S.S. Enterprise crew explores the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a mysterious new enemy who puts them and everything the Federation stands for to the test.

Trivia & Production Notes

  • Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci co-wrote the previous two installments for director J.J. Abrams, who is also in negotiations to produce Star Trek 3 through his Bad Robot shingle (Hollywood Reporter, 8/5/13).
  • The third film in the rebooted Star Trek blockbuster franchise.
  • The film will mark the 50-year anniversary of the television launch of the landmark science-fiction series. The TV series debuted on Sept. 8, 1966.
  • The film will be digitally re-mastered into the immersive IMAX format and released in IMAX® theaters worldwide beginning July 22, 2016.
  • The Star Trek franchise has earned more than $850 million since the release of J.J. Abram’s Star Trek in 2009.

Genres: Action | Adventure | Sci-Fi | Thriller

Director: Justin Lin

Writers: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban



Jul 21

Far Cry Primal

Walking through a moonlit forest, I see a glowing orange light in the distance. Curious, I head towards it. But then I notice that it’s heading towards me. It’s a bear, and it’s on fire. I leap out of the way and the beast thunders past, roaring in pain. It disappears into the undergrowth and I hear human voices approaching, echoing through the trees.

Hiding in the shadows out of sight, I watch a group of hunters from a rival tribe chase after the bear. I follow, hidden, until they corner it. A fight breaks out and the bear—which is still very much on fire—mauls the hunters to death. It’s one of those beautiful, absurd moments of colliding AI, and I can’t bring myself to finish the weakened bear off despite its pelt being a valuable crafting material. Far Cry Primal is a very silly videogame.

It’s also one you might have played before. Ubisoft have taken the structure, systems, and general feel of the previous two games and transplanted them into the year 10,000 BC. There are no guns, obviously, but you soon find yourself settling into a familiar routine of hunting, crafting, and missioning. Even so, it’s amazing how neatly the Far Cry formula fits into such a wildly different setting.

The setting is Oros, a fictional valley somewhere in primeval Europe. It’s a lush, beautiful expanse of grassy plains, redwood forests, sleepy villages, and cascading waterfalls. Hazy sunlight pours through gaps in the trees by day, and moonlight drapes the world in a pale, ghostly luminescence at night. It’s also teeming with wildlife, and feels more alive than any previous Far Cry setting.

The air is filled with the strange calls of ancient, long-extinct birds and everywhere you look there are animals including the distinctly prehistoric saber-toothed cat and wooly mammoth. In terms of world-building, atmosphere, and evoking a rich sense of place, it’s one of Ubisoft’s best open-worlds.

You play as Takkar, a hunter who’s fighting to restore his scattered tribe, the Wenja, to its former glory. Ubisoft worked with linguists to create a convincing prehistoric language, and as such the entire thing is subtitled. One notable departure from previous games is the lack of a central villain, and with no Pagan Min or Vaas Montenegro to drive the story forward, it feels a little thin.

Two rival tribes, the cannibalistic Udam and the fire-worshipping Izlia, are your antagonists. Your allies are a cast of oddballs including Tensay the shaman, Jayma the hunter, and Karoosh the warrior, who must be located and convinced to join the tribe.

Takkar’s particular field of expertise is taming animals. Perhaps to make up for the lack of guns, animals can fight alongside you. Toss some bait near whichever beast you want to tame and you can creep up on it while it’s distracted and magically make it your friend. Early on you’ll be limited to smaller creatures like wolves, but later you can tame (and ride) mammoths and saber-tooths. It’s an enjoyably silly idea, and one of the few ways in which Primal feels distinct from its predecessors.

Your arsenal is comprised of Stone Age favourites like clubs and spears, as well as the staple Far Cry bow and arrow. Occasionally I yearned for the deadly rattle of an assault rifle, but the new weapons, while comparatively limited, are fun to use. Tossing a spear and hearing it thud into an unfortunate cannibal’s chest has a gruesomely satisfying weight to it.

I also love their attempts to make prehistoric versions of modern weapons, like the sting bomb ‘grenade’, which is basically just a small bag filled with angry bees. Attacking an enemy camp with a mammoth by your side, a flaming club, and a pocket full of irate bees is hugely entertaining.

Instead of binoculars, you have an owl, and this is an example of a system being improved on. Rather than being stuck in one place you can fly around freely as you scout the area and tag enemies. Later, with upgrades, you can use the owl to drop bombs, attack enemies, and free angry animals from their cages. It’s such a powerful tool that I hope all future Far Cry games feature it, even if they have a modern setting.

Otherwise, it’s business as usual. You brutally kill thousands of animals to craft gear and weapon upgrades; you light bonfires to reveal more of the map; you attack enemy outposts; you have trippy dream sequences; you complete story missions that steadily unlock more stuff. It’s Far Cry, basically, but in the Stone Age. But as much as I love Oros as a setting and all the animal-based tomfoolery, I can’t shake the feeling of déjà vu. If you’ve invested significant time in Far Cry 3 or 4, you’ll find your enjoyment of Primal dampened by its deep-rooted similarity to those games.

Feb 11

Western Australia Tests Self-Driving Electric Bus

Perth will become the first city in Australia to test self-driving electric bus.

Dean Nalder, West Australia’s Transport Minister, announced that the trial for the driverless bus will start at the Royal Automobile Club’s driving center, but the bus will make its way to Perth’s roads sometime in 2016. The test will involve a single electric shuttle bus, which will be equipped with “multi-sensor technology.”

The electric bus is built by a French transport company called Navya SAS. The bus uses semi-autonomous radar and camera-based technologies already found in many autonomous cars. It will be completely unmanned and rely on 3D perception for mapping its nearby environment, identify road obstacles and understand traffic signs.

The bus will be able to carry 15 passengers at a time. It can travel at a maximum speed of 45 kph (28 mph), but it will drive at an average speed of 25 kph (16 mph).

“By giving Western Australians the chance to see the technology, to eventually use and experience it, we are learning more about the technology and working towards WA being ready for driverless vehicles,” says Terry Agnew, CEO of RAC. “Increasing levels of automation in vehicles are an inevitable part of the future, and the notion of them being on our roads is not a question of if, but when.”

Agnew added that that the test run is one of a kind in Australia and the trial will establish when the technology can be widely adopted in public spaces in the near term.

Nalder says that the Department of Transport is working closely with the RAC for ensuring compliance with vehicle and road safety standards.

“It is not a matter of if this technology will come to WA, but when it will, and that time is fast approaching,” says Nalder.

 The transport minister says that it is important that West Australians are aware of the novel technology because the trial is a step towards achieving its goals of providing the best integrated and intelligent transport services and solutions for the state.

The increasing level of air pollution adds to global warming, that is why government agencies as well as environmentalists are working hard to find ways to reduce emission of harmful gases. The trial of the fully-electric bus in Perth highlights Western Australia’s contribution to this cause.

The self-driving bus test in Perth may encourage other states in Australia to develop and try the latest technology, which will help the country as a whole to limit emissions.

Feb 11

Apple TV expanding voice controls

The latest beta version of Apple TV’s upcoming software also includes support for Bluetooth keyboards and the ability to organize your apps into individual folders.

You’ll soon be able to dictate text to your Apple TV streaming-media box.

The third beta version of Apple TV operating system tvOS 9.2, launched Monday for third-party developers, includes voice dictation. Blog site MacRumors, which has seen the beta in action, reported that instead of needing to use a remote control to enter each character for your username, password and other words, you can simply speak them.

You just enable the dictation feature, and the search bar gives you the option to dictate text by holding down the button for digital assistant Siri. As you speak, a sound meter appears on the screen so you can make sure your dictation is being heard, MacRumors said.

You can already talk to your Apple TV using the Siri, which was added when the latest Apple TV launched in September. But right now you can only use Siri for certain functions, such as asking for a weather report or sports score, opening specific apps, or finding TV shows and movies on Netflix or Hulu. Voice dictation extends Siri’s utility on Apple TV.

Changes to Apple TV come amid upheaval in the way we consume television. Viewers now have lots of options beyond basic cable, a dramatic shift that centers on streaming video services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus and HBO Go. As this has happened on the programming side, the traditional set-top box has been giving way to Internet-ready devices from the likes of Roku, Amazon, Google and Apple.

Besides voice dictation, other new features are part of the beta as well. You can connect to the Apple TV through a Bluetooth keyboard. You can search the App Store using Siri. And you can organize your apps into individual folders just as you can on an iPhone or iPad.

The beta adds support for iCloud Photo Library, so you can view synced photos and videos. You can also check out Live Photos shot with your iPhone 6S or iPhone 6S Plus, which can show you moments just before and after the photo was taken, both with video and sound.

Apple TV users are likely to get the public release of tvOS 9.2 sometime in the spring. Apple is reportedly prepping a March 15 event at which it may demo the new Apple TV software as well as updates to its iOS software and the Mac operating system. Rumors allege that the company may also unveil a new iPad Air, as well as a small-screened iPhone 5se and new bands for the Apple Watch.

Jan 01

Samsung’s working on a chip that may finally make fitness trackers useful

Next up on the Korean electronics giant’s plate: A bio-processor that can detect useful health details like body fat and stress level.

Fitness trackers are a hot holiday item, and there’s a chance you got one as a gift this year.

But how long will you actually stick with the device? Most only track simple stats like the number of steps taken and calories burned. Smartwatches like the Apple Watch can keep tabs on your heart rate. I stuck with my Nike FuelBand (R.I.P.) for two years, but at some point even I decided it wasn’t really that useful anymore. (My wife had given up a year earlier.) For more dedicated athletes, a fitness tracker may not be enough.

Samsung, the Korean electronics conglomerate, wants to take it up a notch. The company said Tuesday that it’s working on a so-called “bio-processor” packed with sophisticated measuring tools that can track metrics like body fat, stress level, skeletal muscle mass, heart rate and rhythm, and skin temperature.

The additional capabilities could turn fitness trackers from a simple gift into a more integral health-tracking device that can provide specific data useful to more than just athletes. Samsung is looking to capitalize on our increasing obsession with health and well-being.

That obsession is borne out in the products that dominate the burgeoning market of wearable tech. The top player is fitness tracker Fitbit, followed by the Apple Watch and China’s Xiaomi, a smartphone player that also makes an inexpensive fitness tracker called the Mi Band. Total shipments of wearable devices grew 198 percent in the third quarter over a year ago, according to IDC.

This chip may give Samsung’s own smartwatches an edge over the competition. The company fell out of the top five players in the third quarter, according to IDC.

It won’t just be smartwatches. Samsung said it has created mock devices, including a wristband and patch, to demonstrate how the chip could be used. The company stresses the small size of the chip, especially given all of the sensors packed inside, as a key advantage.

Samsung said the chip is in production now and will be available for fitness and health devices in the first half of 2016.