Category: Found on the Web

May The Pork Be With You: Angry Birds goes Star Wars?

If you believe, like the classic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials told us, that “two great tastes go great together”, you’re going to love what Rovio has in store for you.

Especially if two of your favourite things happen to be Star Wars and Angry Birds.

Maybe Rovio’s recent sequel to their record-breaking game “Angry Bird Space” got their designers in the mood, or maybe, just like legions of other gamers they too are Star Wars fans. Whatever the reason, it looks like the next instalment of the birds vs. pigs game will feature the sights and sounds of the most influential science fiction movie of all time.

At least that’s what we’re (ahem) forced to conclude after checking out the company’s new Tumblr blog and the accompanying animated GIF:

angry birds star wars teaser

So readers, does this little tease have you shivering in anticipation, or are you playing it Han Solo cool?

[Source: Rovio via TechCrunch]

Apple's new ads are basically Genius

Only in a world where one company has established a reputation not only for ground-breaking gadgets, but also the ads that promote them, can we legitimately write a tech post about Apple’s new ads.

These aren’t just the latest ads promoting the new iPad or iCloud or the new MacBook Pro. Those ads have a very Apple-esque feel and are precisely what we’ve come to expect from Apple’s agency ever since they put the wonderful Mac vs. PC campaign to bed a few years ago.

The ads I’m referring to are the brand-new “Genius” ads just launched in the U.S. and man do they ever live up to Apple’s once heavily promoted motto “Think Different.”

As the name suggests, these ads centre around the Apple Genius – the guy or gal at the back of every Apple store, clad in a blue t-shirt and sporting a distinctive silver doodad on a lanyard around their neck. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that these “geniuses” are the people you go to when you have an Apple-related question, no matter how big or small.

Perhaps in an attempt to talk to those of us who have indeed been living under rocks, Apple’s new campaign tries to impart a personality to the otherwise nameless geniuses that staff their stores. But does it work?

It’s hard to say. The campaign has kicked off with three new spots. The ads are funny, but not in the laugh-out-loud way that Mac vs. PC tended to be. The actor cast as the Genius is likeable – you can almost see the briefing to the casting director: “Find us Matthew Broderick.” Watching all three spots you can clearly catch glimpses of the famous actor from his roles in 1980s era classics Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, War Games and LadyHawke.

And yet, you kind of get the feeling that the ads are trying too hard. Ken Segall, in his Observatory blog describes the campaign as “[…]something Best Buy would do. Maybe even Dell. Between the writing, casting, directing and production, this campaign has a very “local” feel to it. It doesn’t have the feel of quality that has defined previous Apple advertising.”

Readers, what do you think? Has Apple kept up its reputation for top-notch advertising, or is this latest campaign a mistake the company should quietly (but quickly) walk away from?

Update, August 7: Apparently Apple has pulled the Genius TV ads. Though their agency,  TBWA/Media/Arts Lab claims the plan was always to give the ads a short run, clearly the overwhelming negative perception surrounding the spots was a big influence on their decision.

Watch as quadrocopters play the theme from James Bond

I’m a sucker for remote controlled helicopters. They’re a blast whether you use them indoors to terrorize your colleagues or outdoors to terrorize your neighbours. But as cool as remote helis are, they don’t hold a candle to remote quadrocopters, or quad-rotors as they’re sometimes called.

Especially when said quadrocopters are remotely controlled by a computer to execute a complex yet beautiful set of manoeuvres. Did I mention there’s also music involved?

Check out this amazing video that demonstrates the potential of these tiny machines. The performance was created by Vijay Kumar and his team at the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) Lab at the University of Pennsylvania and presented as part of Kumar’s TED2012 talk. This group of engineers studies how swarms of robots such as these quadricopters can work together – sensing each other in real time and reacting appropriately.

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I’m not the first person to make the connection between this performance and the zany musical exploits of perennial YouTube favourites OK Go, and for good reason: each takes music performance to a whole new level.

If you’re curious, do a few searches for quad-copter or quad-rotors on YouTube – you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find. These four-rotor machines are supremely maneuverable and can hover in one spot with a greater precision than a single-rotor craft.

When we attended CES 2012 earlier this year, we had a chance to see the latest version of the Parrot AR.Drone, a quadrocopter with some unique features and a price tag that is within reach of most hobbyists: Approx. $300 USD. While not quite as powerful or precise as the models being flown by the team from GRASP, the AR.Drone is still a fantastic piece of robotic tech.

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Let’s just hope we never anger the computers controlling these flying machines, or we might be the next to be terrorized!

Google 'Let It Snow' for a Christmas Easter Egg

 

The gang at Google are at it again, or so it would seem. On the eve of Google Canada’s 10th birthday, they’ve added a fun feature to their wildly popular search engine.

If you’re running Chrome, Firefox or Safari (sorry IE/Opera users), simply head on over to google.ca (or use your browser’s built-in search field) and type “Let it snow.”

Voila! Instant snow fall on your computer monitor. The first time you do it, the virtual flakes continue to accumulate until you can no longer see the page of results. Thankfully Google also provides a “Defrost” button once things hit semi-white-out conditions, so you can resume your search session with just a smattering of flurries.

Let It Snow is just the latest in a line of Easter eggs the search engine has created for people’s amusement over the past few months.

Want to make things even more interesting? Once the flakes have started to fall, go into the search box and type “Do a barrel roll” and then grab the edges of your seat as the web page does a full 360-degree roll around the inside of your browser.

Have a taste for the slightly off-kilter? Type “askew.”

[Source: FoxNews]

Samsung Galaxy Nexus hits Bell, Virgin on December 8th

Given that it’s going to be the first device in Canada to come equipped with the latest version of Android – Ice Cream Sandwich to those of you in the know – it’s fair to say there’s a good amount of anticipation surrounding the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which was confirmed to be arriving on Bell and Virgin’s networks.

And now we know when and how much: December 8th is the date you’ll be able to take your place in line at participating retailers to grab one of these smartphones before the holidays and it will cost $159.95 on a new three-year term.

I know, I know – another line. I’m not a big fan of lining up either. Heck, I will intentionally wait weeks after a movie opens if it means I can avoid a line up for tickets.

So I’m a little intrigued by this new concept (at least I think it’s new) that Bell has cooked up called a “Bell Twitter line up.”

It works like this:

If you want the Samsung Galaxy Nexus on launch day, but you do not want to go and physically line up at a store, you can do your lining up a week earlier, and from the comfort of your home or office. But you’ll need a Twitter account and reliable internet access to do it.

On Thursday December 1st, hit Bell’s sign-up website between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. EST. If you’re one of the first 100 people to sign-in, you’ll be given a pre-populated tweet that you will then need to tweet from your account immediately. You must then check back in to the site every hour that day until 10 p.m. and repeat the process. This is how you will “stay in line.” At 10 p.m., if you’ve successfully tweeted the required tweets during the day, Bell will get in touch with you and arrange the shipping and payment.

Follow this process to the letter and your Samsung Galaxy Nexus will be shipped to the (Canadian) address of your choice and arrive the same day as the phone goes on sale (December 8th). No line ups, you don’t have to take the day off work or leave your kids or even miss your favourite TV show, and you’ll get your phone on the same day as those who had to line up. Not a bad option.

So Sync readers, does this idea of a virtual line up work for you? Or will you go the tried-and-true route and take your chances at a retail location?

Disclosure: Sync is owned and operated by Bell Media, a wholly owned subsidiary of BCE Inc.

Westboro Baptist Church plans to picket Jobs funeral

It’s been a bad 18 hours.

Last night, while finishing dinner and settling into some homework with the kids, I got the call I knew would come sooner or later: Steve Jobs had died.

Needless to say, when you’re a tech editor, this is the kind of event that propels you into action mode – making sure you’ve got all the facts and then doing your best to tell readers what they need to know and helping put it all in context.

That’s what we did last night, and the process continued this morning and throughout the day.

And it wasn’t restricted to the media. As we watched the wires and Facebook and Twitter, it became apparent that the Internet itself was in a state of mourning for the man who, perhaps more than any other, had helped make it the thriving world of communication that it has become.

Some tributes were grand – whole websites dedicating their homepages to the visionary – others were small but no less powerful, like the Asian design student who artfully married the iconic Apple logo and a cameo of Steve Jobs into an elegant statement that Jobs himself would have found delightful.

But as is so often the case, there’s the one or two people (or groups) who choose to take a tragedy like the loss of Steve Jobs and turn it into an opportunity for grandstanding. That’s what the Westboro Baptist Church did when member Margie Phelps, the daughter of the church’s founder tweeted this:

It’s hard to know what to say to something like this when your brain is struggling just to understand the mentality that created it. But that didn’t stop the twitterverse from pointing out the irony, not to mention the hypocrisy that Phelps had used an iPhone to send her message.

To which she eventually responded:

Yeah, we’re apparently going down that road and it isn’t pretty.

While part of me is angered beyond words that Phelps would manipulate Jobs’ death in this way (along with the distress such a message must surely cause Jobs’ family) I couldn’t help but notice the strange flow of logic that she created. Is it just me, or does Steve Jobs end up being God as a result of creating the iPhone? If so, I think I could live with that. I might even become a fan of Intelligent Design. No one more than Steve Jobs proved that there is such a thing.

Rest in peace Mr. Jobs. You’ve earned it. Millions of times over.

[Source: The Toronto Star]

YouTube launches movie rentals in Canada

Known simply as YouTube Movies, the service which launched in the U.S. earlier this year, is now ready for a Canadian audience.

Similar to other online rental options such as iTunes, YouTube Movies lets viewers choose from an ever-increasing catalog of titles ranging from new releases such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I and Battle Los Angeles to older favourites like Superman II and Roxanne.

Pricing for the rentals, which will be viewable for 24 to 48 hours (depending on the title), will start at $3.99 for older releases while the most current titles will cost $4.99. The rental period begins the first time you hit play.

YouTube, which will be competing with established powerhouse Netflix, has no plans at the moment to offer a subscription price plan for unlimited viewing.

Another challenge for YouTube Movies is a lack of integration with popular home entertainment devices like Sony’s PS3, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Nintendo’s Wii, all of which have embedded Netflix options to let users watch movies on their big screen TVs.

At launch, the only way to get YouTube Movies on your TV is to connect your computer to it, preferably with an HDMI cable. Auxiliary devices like D-Link’s Boxee Box and others that offer full web access might provide another alternative.

But viewers may be fine sticking with their PCs or small screen devices like iPads: for the moment, all YouTube Movie titles are in standard definition – roughly the same quality as a regular DVD.

The Canadian version of YouTube Movies will offer many more Canadian productions than its U.S. counterpart: Google has established partnerships with several distribution companies such as Alliance Films in order to differentiate themselves in the market while also making it less likely that CRTC will want to regulate them over a lack of Can Con as some journalists have suggested might happen to the nascent online video space.

To rent movies from YouTube, simply sign-up for a Google account (if you are already a Gmail user or are registered with one of their other products you can use that account) and provide the company with payment information in the form of a credit card.

The Photopic Sky Survey: One man captures the cosmos

A zoomed-in detail from the Sky Survey. Image credit: Nick Risinger, skysurvey.org, click for full-size.

Ever wonder what drives someone to undertake an enormous challenge? I sure do. I wonder what drives people to climb mountains, run across deserts or swim vast tracts of ocean. Frankly, most of the time I’m suspicious of their level of sanity. That’s because the only way you’ll ever get me to run any distance is to set a pack of wild dogs on me.

I’ll never really understand what pushes them – these incredible feats of physical endurance can only be accomplished through a personal determination that few of us can relate to.

And as impressed – and often awed – as I am by these exploits, I’m also somewhat saddened that there are only two products of these kinds of monumental endeavours: a deep sense of personal achievement for the person who completed the effort (and anyone who helped them) and – not to be underestimated – the inspiration their success provides others.

But sometimes, a monumental effort can lead to an enduring legacy that can be shared by all. The Photopic Sky Survey is a great example.

The Survey is a 5,000 megapixel photo of the entire night sky and the largest, all-sky, true-colour survey of the visible universe ever created. It exists online and can be viewed from any angle, with or without an overlay of constellations and major stars and nebulae.  And it was done by one man – with a little help from his dad.

Go ahead, check out Nick Risinger’s work, I’ll wait.

Prepping the cameras for a night of shooting in Colorado. Image credit Nick Risinger, skysurvey.org, click for full-size.

The Survey was brought to my attention by a colleague, who simply sent me an email with a link to the interactive page. He didn’t give me any background or other info. Just the link.

My immediate thought was, wow, I just love that organizations like NASA or the European Space Agency pull together images from the Hubble Space Telescope or other multi-million dollar observation platforms and compile it in such a way that we can zoom all over the starry skies with nothing more than our laptops. Ain’t science awesome?

But shortly after that I clicked the “about” link, and that’s when my jaw dropped.

This gorgeous and humbling experience wasn’t created by any government-funded scientific organization, or even by a well-endowed private think-tank. It was assembled, as a labour of love, by a single person with a personal determination that few of us can relate to.

The hundreds (thousands?) of hours it took Mr. Risinger to complete his task, the endless nights he spent monitoring the progress of his equipment as the custom-built camera rig traced the passage of stars across the sky, capturing photons that had been travelling billions of years before reaching earth – you can read about all of this on his site. It’s nothing short of amazing.

Thanks Nick Risinger. Your incredible effort has left an enduring legacy that can be shared by all.

Now, Nick I hate to sound ungrateful, but any chance you could make it iPad compatible? It was meant for that device. :-)

Angry Birds now free on the web

How’s this for some super-smart marketing?

Let’s say you’ve got a web browser that competes with the number one player in the market. And let’s also say that your name is Google and your competitor is Microsoft. Now, if you wanted to provide people with a strong motivation for switching from the other guy’s browser to yours, what would you do?

Most reasonable answers would include:

  • Make your browser faster
  • Make it more secure
  • Have it be compatible with more websites
  • Don’t force people to upgrade from one version to another to get new and improved functionality – just add those features invisibly in the background
Angry Birds from Rovio, now a free web game for Google's Chrome browser.

Angry Birds from Rovio, now a free web game for Google's Chrome browser.

Google has done all of that.

Yet Microsoft’s Internet Explorer continues to dominate the browser landscape, albeit with a smaller position than they once enjoyed.

So what to do? Well, how about you reach out to Rovio, the software publisher responsible for the most successful time-waster since Solitaire, namely, Angry Birds – and convince them to offer a free version of the game that can be played on the web – but only in your browser.

Done and done.

If you happen to use Chrome, steer your browser over to the Chrome Web Store and pick up your free copy of Angry Birds (complete with some Chrome-inspired web-exclusive levels).

And of course, if you don’t use Chrome, I’m sure Google is hoping that this was the incentive you were waiting for.

[Source: Techland]

Update: Well ok here’s what happens when you don’t quite do all your research… Despite the fact that nowhere on Rovio’s blog announcement does it say this, it turns out this game works just fine in IE 9, Firefox 4 and Opera too. So, feel free to ignore all of the not-so-clever explanation above and just enjoy all of the Angry Bird goodness, regardless which browser you happen to be using.

Updated: TypePad blog posts suddenly sport mysterious title

Is it a hack or just a platform-wide glitch? It’s hard to tell at the moment, but here’s what has happened:

A few minutes ago, one of our sister blogs, blog.yourmoney.ca noticed a strange story had crept into their RSS feed entitled: “Your best friend calls you and tells you he/she’s really sick? How do you show you care?”  Given that yourmoney.ca is a personal finance blog, it was immediately obvious that this was not an article written by any of the blog’s contributers. The article was swiftly removed by the team, but a deeper investigation has revealed that yourmoney.ca was not alone.

A Google search for the same title first produced 74,000 results, and then 3 million results minutes later. Update: When you surround the search in quotes, you get 47,100 results.

In each case many cases, the new title has replaced the title of an existing blog post.

Because this title has been absorbed by the RSS feed of each blog, it has now been tweeted and Facebooked as well, with some tweets having been affected as long as 23 hours ago.

If this is indeed a hack, it’s a weird one. I can’t fathom why anyone would want to do this – especially with such a random title. A quick inspection of some of the affected blog posts doesn’t indicate that any other information was added or modified. And yet, it may have been done deliberately as a proof of concept – perhaps someone trying to prove they could do it without leaving any clues as to who had done it.

On the other hand, it could simply be a glitch on the TypePad system that will be fixed shortly.  At least no user data appears to have been affected by any of this.

So far, no indication that TypePad is aware of the problem – at least there’s no mention of it on their official blog.

Update, 1:34 p.m.: TypePad doesn’t think this is a hack. A SixApart SayMedia representative who replied to my inquiry says “That specific title was used as a TypePad Conversations post starter, so that’s why there are so many of those posts in Google. We are investigating the cases where the post titles changed from the originals. Right now, though, we don’t believe this is a hacking situation.”

Update: 4:58 p.m.: Just got a response from Jeff Reine, GM for TypePad. He says ‘…most of the posts carrying this title are legitimate answers to a sponsored “TypePad Conversation.”‘ TypePad Conversations are a sponsored feature on the TypePad platform where TypePad ask their users questions on behalf of a sponsor in order to “spark conversation.” He also points out that an implementation of their Conversation widget may have caused some of their users to inadvertently use this title as the title of their posts. I’m not completely convinced that this explains what we’ve been seeing, so I’ve asked for more information if they can provide it.