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Cool idea: Bring your roadtrip vacay into the 21st century with VR

Google cardboard and the virtual reality landscape that comes with continues to get more refined and user-friendly and it couldn’t happen at a better time.

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children and entrepreneurship

As American as apple pie

When I was kid and we were trapped in a car going somewhere I don’t know what I did to pass the time. Probably just stare out the window and keep my mouth shut (that’s what happens when you’re the youngest of five kids) but I do fondly recall at least once when I got my hands on one of my brother’s ViewMaster which for awhile was all the rage. The ViewMaster was a cheap stereoscopic viewfinder that had a circular slide with enough 3D “movies” to keep you occupied for awhile. The content was usually based on comic books and travel documentaries but TV shows started to pop up over time as well.

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What’s old is [kinda] new again

With that in mind I couldn’t help but smile when I started hearing about VR headsets and how they are catching on with kids. It seems like a logical extension of the ViewMaster but obviously a lot more high-tech and with a much higher price tag.

The principal is the same though: Google cardboard and the entire virtual reality landscape that comes with it will continue to get more and more refined and more user-friendly for kids (and adults) and before you know it we’ll have another interactive tool that keeps us occupied and amused and busy (especially when the kids are in the car and you’re going to visit Grandma who lives a couple hundred miles away).

It’s all good and I say it’s about time.

Affordable fun

I have a few options for headsets I’d recommend (but for the record, there are literally a ton of options out there so your own mileage may vary):

  1. Least expensive: Google Cardboard – We’re talking basic fun in a box here. Get it, fold it and look inside to enter the world of Cardboard. It’s that simple and really, really affordable. Once you have it, you can explore a variety of apps that unfold all around you. And with plenty of viewer types available, you’re sure to find one that fits you just right.
  2. Mid-range: Samsung Gear VR – True 360° virtual reality will transport you to new worlds in a way you never imagined. Look up. Look down. Look around. It’s all yours to explore. Where will you go first?
  3. Standard: Oculus – A serious step up from the cardboard model. The Oculus Rift or Gear VR radically redefines whatever perception you had of digital entertainment. It’s not so much the breadth of games you can enjoy; it’s the ability to really get deep inside the 3D world. I’m thinking the kids will not want to get out of the car with this one.
  1. Luxury: Playstation VR – Don’t let that hefty price tag scare you. This is for those of you who want to have it all. Just plug and play. Created with gamers in mind, PlayStation delivers a new world of unexpected gaming experiences through PlayStation VR. Seamless visuals keep you connected to a virtual world. Makes reality seem so…boring.

 

More games and movies than you know what to do with

Trying to find a “few” VR games or movies that already exist and will make for a kickass summer is an understatement. Contrary to what some naysayers want you to think there is a significant amount of content out there. Here are a few that jumped out at me (Get it? That’s a VR joke)! And go to Wearable for an in-depth article on even more games, demos, and apps.

Dead Secret – A mystery thriller in which you get to play detective/reporter as you investigate a suspicious death of Harris Bullard, with four main suspects. It’s very good at keeping things tense with spooky sound effects, disturbing clues to discover and head scratching puzzles to solve. Not one if you’ll get impatient reading notes, documents, blackmail letters and maps but for everyone else, well worth the money. Dead Secret is also coming to PlayStation VR.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes – KTaNE is an example of a game that’s designed for a bunch of you to play. Only one person needs to wear the Gear VR and the rest give the headset wearer instructions (via pages and pages of a printed manual) to defuse the bomb they’re trapped in a room with. Also on Steam but comes into its own in VR.

Land’s End – Ustwo’s first VR game is pretty damn mesmerizing and that’s no surprise. It’s a slow, relaxing puzzle game over five chapters (for now), which makes lovely use of the Gear VR’s head tracking as controls. Serene sunsets, blocky mountains and a range of easy to head scratching – but always mysterious – puzzles. It’s best played while standing or on a swivel chair.

Gunjack – It’s a great little arcade space shooter with big attention to detail, you get a body to look down at in your fixed cock-pit and there’s cracks in the glass as you get hit by enemies.

Oculus Arcade – This is another virtual environment in which you do things in 2D but hey, it’s a virtual arcade so shut up. Play Pac-Man, Sonic, Galaga and more in three arcade rooms. Everything is free for a bit but you have to pay to unlock unlimited play.

Dreadhalls – First person is where VR really comes into its own and the Gear VR is no exception. The journey through creepy dungeons in Dreadhalls, picking locks, opening doors, keeping your lamp going and checking behind you is damn scary especially considering how long it makes you wait to get attacked. Then you run away, heart genuinely pumping. Super terrifying. Also being developed for the superior Oculus Rift.

DarkNet – An arcade-style, strategy hacking game with lovely visuals and a stern voice giving you instructions, Darknet sees you spread viruses through a network of nodes, banking the Bitcoins and causing carefully constructed mayhem.

Only the beginning

Like all technology that has been labeled as the Next Best Thing, VR headsets will surely become more and more user-friendly and more affordable while at the same time the amount of content will no doubt become staggering.

If we could any closer to the action we’d be inside it. I mean “really” inside it. I’m sure that’s coming sooner than we expect!

#VRRoadtrip

Nearly three decades living and working all over the world as a radio and television broadcast journalist in the United States Air Force, Staff Writer, Gary Picariello is now retired from the military and is focused on his writing career.

Tech News

New Apple Watch is awesome, but past watches could be just as good for cheaper

(TECH NEWS) The Apple Watch Series 6 is a ridiculous display of self-flattery—but that doesn’t mean people won’t line up to buy it in droves.

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Apple Watch being worn on wrist showing weather for Montreal.

The Apple Watch has been the subject of everything from speculation to ridicule during its relatively short tenure on this planet. While most have nothing but praise for the most recent iteration, that praise comes at a cost: The Apple Watch’s ghost of Christmas past.

Or, to put it more literally, the fact that the Apple Watch’s prior version and accompanying variations are too good—and, at this point, too comparatively cheap—to warrant buying the most recent (and expensive) option.

Sure, the Apple Watch Series 6 has a bevy of health features—a sensor that can take an ECG and a blood oxygen test, to name a couple—but the Series 5 has almost everything else that makes the Apple Watch Series 6 “notable.” According to Gear Patrol, even the Series 4 is comparable if you don’t mind forgoing the option to have the Apple Watch’s screen on all of the time.

More pressingly, Gear Patrol points out, is the availability of discount options from Apple. The Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE are, at this point, budget options that still do the job for smart watch enthusiasts.

Not to mention any Apple Watch can run updates can utilize Apple’s Fitness Plus subscription—another selling point that, despite its lucrative potential, doesn’t justify buying a $400 watch when a cheaper option is present.

It’s worth noting that Apple is no stranger to outdoing themselves retroactively. Every year, Apple’s “new” MacBook, iPhone, and iPad models are subjected to extensive benchmarking by every tech goatee around. And the conclusion is usually that buying a generation or two behind is fine—and, from a financial perspective, smart.

And yet, as the holidays roll around or the initial drop date of a new product arrives, Apple invariably goes through inventory like a tabby cat through unattended butter.

The Apple Watch is already a parody of itself, yet its immense popularity and subtle innovation has promoted it through several generations and a few spin-off iterations. And that’s not even including the massive Apple-specific watch band market that appears to have popped up as a result.

Say what you will about the Series 6; when the chips are on the table, my money’s on the consumers making the same decisions they always make.

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Tech News

Microsoft acquires powerful AI language processor GPT-3, to what end?

(TECH NEWS) This powerful AI language processor sounds surprisingly human, and Microsoft has acquired rights to the code. How much should we worry?

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Code on screen, powering AI technology

The newly-released GPT-3 is the most insane language model in the NLP (natural language processor) field of machine learning. Developed by OpenAI, GPT-3 can generate strikingly human-like text for a vast range of purposes like bots and advertising, to poetry and creative writing.

While GPT-3 is accessible to everyone, OpenAI has expressed concerns over using this AI tech for insidious purposes. For this reason, Microsoft’s new exclusive license on the GPT-3 language model may be a tad worrisome.

First of all, for those unfamiliar with the NPL field, software engineer, and Youtuber, Aaron Jack, provides a detailed overview of GPT-3’s capabilities and why everyone should be paying attention.

Microsoft’s deal with OpenAI should come as little surprise since OpenAI uses the Azure cloud platform to access enough information to train their models.

Microsoft chief technology officer Kevin Scott announced the deal on the company blog this week: “We see this as an incredible opportunity to expand our Azure-powered AI platform in a way that democratizes AI technology, enables new products, services and experiences, and increases the positive impact of AI at Scale,” said Scott.

“Our mission at Microsoft is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more, so we want to make sure that this AI platform is available to everyone – researchers, entrepreneurs, hobbyists, businesses – to empower their ambitions to create something new and interesting.”

OpenAI has assured that Microsoft’s exclusive license does not affect the general public’s access to the GPT-3 model. The difference is Microsoft will be able to use the source code to combine with their products.

While OpenAI needs Azure to train these models, handing over the source code to another party is, to put it mildly, tricky. With the earlier GPT-2 model, OpenAI initially refused publishing the research out of fear it could be used to generate fake news and propaganda.

Though the company found there was no evidence to suggest the GPT-2 was utilized this way and later released the information, handing the key of the exponentially more powerful iteration to one company will undoubtedly hold ramifications in the tech world.

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Tech News

What is UI/UX? Take a little time to learn for free!

(TECH NEWS) For the all-time low price of—well, free—Invise gives you the option of learning a few basic UI and UX design techniques.

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Woman browsing web, made easy with UI/UX

There’s no denying the strong impact UI and UX design has on the success of a website, app, or service—and, thanks to some timely altruism, you can add basic design understanding to your résumé for free.

Invise is a self-described beginner’s guide to the UI/UX field, and while they do not purport to deliver expert knowledge or “paid courses”, the introduction overview alone is pretty hefty.

The best part—aside from the “free” aspect—is how simple it is to get a copy of the guide: You enter your email address on the Invise website, click the appropriate button, and the guide is yours after a quick email verification.

According to Invise, their beginner’s guide to UI and UX covers everything from color theory and typography to layout, research principles, and prototyping. They even include a segment on tools and resources to use for optimal UI/UX work so that you don’t have to take any risks on dicey software.

UI—short for “user interface”—and UX, or “user experience”, are two critical design aspects found in everything from websites to app and video game menus. As anyone who has ever picked up an outdated smartphone knows, a janky presentation of options or—worse yet—a lack of intuitive menus can break a user’s experience far faster than slow hardware.

Similarly, if you’re looking to retain customers who visit your website or blog, presenting their options to them in a jarring or unfamiliar way—or selecting colors that clash for your landing page—can be just as fatal as not having a website to begin with.

The overarching problem, then, becomes one of cost. Hiring a design expert is expensive and can be time-consuming, so Invise is a welcome alternative—and, as a bonus, you don’t have to dictate your company’s vision to a stranger and hope that they “get it” if you’re doing your own design work.

2020 probably isn’t the year to break the bank on design choices, but the importance of UI and UX in your business can’t be overstated. If you have time to read up on some design basics and a small budget for a few of the bare-bones tools, you can take a relatively educated shot at putting together a modern, desirable interface.

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