Star Wars: Rogue One to Digitally Revive Deceased Actor

TarkinThe next official full-length Star Wars film, Episode VII: The Force Awakens, is scheduled to hit theaters in December. Leading up to that release, the Disney/Lucasfilm hype machine has been running at full speed. One facet of this promotional juggernaut is a film called Star Wars: Rogue One, the first part of an ongoing Anthology Series that will compliment major Star Wars releases in the future. Rogue One tells the story of brave Rebellion fighters who capture the secret plans for the first Death Star, ultimately leading to the destruction of that space station in Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope. Given how close Rogue One and Episode IV are in the Star Wars timeline, it would be necessary for some characters to cross over. But there’s a logistical problem here because Episode IV was released almost forty years ago, in 1977. Of course, some characters could be recast with contemporary actors who look/sound enough like their Episode IV counterparts. But in one case, the producers of Rogue One are doing something else.

Even the most casual of Star Wars fans will remember the character of Grand Moff Tarkin, portrayed stoically by famed British actor Peter Cushing in Episode IV. Tarkin was the commander of the first Death Star and one of Darth Vader’s most trusted allies. He was only seen on screen a handful of times, but the character has endured as a fan favorite. (In fact, a recent Star Wars novel is dedicated to the telling of Tarkin’s backstory.) Peter Cushing died in 1994 at the age of 81. There’s no way he can reprise the role of Grand Moff Tarkin. But Cushing’s likeness will appear in Rogue One thanks to modern CGI techniques.

It has been said that this type of special effect is like “bringing dead actors back to life,” and it is somewhat eerie to consider. If Cushing can be replicated thru CGI now, then in theory, any person whose ever appeared on film could be resurrected in the same way. In the case of Tarkin, the character is arguably more integral to the Star Wars franchise than the actor who originally portrayed him. The mind begins to reel at the possibilities within future Star Wars films alone. Why not make a new movie based around Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia, but instead of using the actors that portrayed those characters as they appear today, using CGI-rendered versions of the actors as they looked forty years ago? I guess the fan reaction to computer-generated Peter Cushing will be a good gauge for how far Star Wars producers can stretch this idea in the future. But it seems likely that this is the first step in that direction.

MLB Manager Chided for wearing Apple Watch

MLB logoThe use of “assistive devices” is nothing new to Major League Baseball. For decades, pitchers have snuck things like sandpaper or razor blades onto the field to alter the way baseballs reacted to different kinds of pitches. Major League officials have cracked down on these shenanigans over the years, and for the most part, they’re a thing of the past. But the drive to cheat the system will never die. And it’s in this spirit that Major League Baseball banned players and coaches from using smartphones in dugouts during games. But smart technology is moving beyond phones and into wearables, creating a new potential for team members to access data that might give them an unfair advantage during games.

This led to a reported questioning of Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost, who’s been wearing an Apple Watch in the dugout during games. MLB officials wanted to make sure Yost wasn’t using the electronic device to somehow gather information on opposing teams during games. But in the end, it was determined that Yost wasn’t actively pairing his Apple Watch with an iPhone, meaning the watch was pretty much just… a watch. Aside from being able to tell time, Yost could also get basic weather information thru the unpaired device. That’s it.

Overall, this incident was really just a friendly reminder to Yost (and all other MLB players and coaches) that they can use wearables like the Apple Watch during games. They just can’t let those devices communicate with the rest of the connected world. Professional baseball sure has come a long way from the spit ball and the corked bat!

Public Outcry Over New Spotify Terms of Service

Spotify logoSpotify, the Sweden-based media streaming service, received some negative press earlier this week because of some recent changes to its terms of service. Initially, it looked like the company was getting a bit too grabby with users’ personal information. The ToS was updated by adding this language:

With your permission, we may collect information stored on your mobile device, such as contacts, photos, or media files. Local law may require that you seek the consent of your contacts to provide their personal information to Spotify, which may use that information for the purposes specified in this Privacy Policy.

The new terms were first brought to the general public thru a Twitter post by former Minecraft developer Notch. This led to a response from Spotify CEO Daniel Ek. From there, Spotify went into damage control mode, starting with a blog post that’s supposed to clarify the situation.

And while these new terms do look a bit overreaching, the key part to remember is that Spotify won’t be doing anything with your information without your consent. Still, the company could’ve done a better job of clarifying exactly what it’s planning to do with your photos, contacts, and other information.

Considering so much recent news in the tech world has revolved around hacks, leaks, and privacy breaches, all companies doing business online need to be super transparent about these kinds of things going forward if they want to maintain (and grow) their customer bases.

GNC #1054 No Web Privacy

I cover all the latest tech news including the big news yesterday on data release on the AM hack. I talk deeper on web privacy and the web being non-existent today. I also cover my trip to NYC.

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Android Wear smatwatches get new interactive faces

Android LogoOn the heels of today’s Pebble Time update, Google will not be outdone. The search giant is continuing to try and improve on its Android Wear line of smartwatches. LG, Motorola and others have leaped into this market and Apple is there now as well.

One of the big things is watchfaces. They can be handy, especially when they show current temperature and conditions as Pebble does.

Now Google is rolling out a new line of them, bringing all sorts of features to your wrist. “Today, we’re launching interactive watch faces, making it easier (and more fun) to stay connected, right from your wrist. Now, with just a tap, your watch face can change its design, reveal more information, or even launch a specific app”.

The new updates are coming now. Google states “Today’s updates are rolling out to all Android Wear watches in the coming weeks. So pick your favorite watch face, or pair up with your favorite person, and start wearing what you want”.

So which smartwatch, if any, will you choose? I’m personally using Pebble, but considering a possible change to either upgrade, or switch altogether.

Major Apple TV Revamp Could Be Coming

Apple LogoApple’s set-top box, the Apple TV, has always been a bit of a curiosity. The so-called “hobby” device has been around for years. Originally, the Apple TV was envisioned as a home theater hub, shipping with built-in apps for media streaming as well as an internal hard drive for local file storage. But Apple stripped the device down in later iterations, removing the hard drive and slimming the Apple TV down to the familiar hockey-puck shape we see today. Speculation has run rampant over the last year that the Apple TV would see a major update, and it looks like Apple will be delivering the refreshed device next month.

Highlights of the new Apple TV:

  • It’ll run iOS 9 on an iOS Core
  • Siri Support
  • App Store
  • New remote control

The items on this list that are most interesting are the switch from the current Apple TV OS to iOS and the inclusion of the App Store. Independent media producers have been clambering for a long time for Apple to truly open up the Apple TV to third-party developers. Current Apple TVs host a limited number of apps, all of which are curated by Apple. The new Apple TV will truly be open to anyone who wants to get onto the platform. And now that the device will rely on iOS hardware and software to operate, it’ll be even easier for developers to bring things like games to the Apple TV.

While these are great developments, it looks like the new Apple TV won’t be shipping with quite everything consumers have been hoping for. One of the biggest rumors that’s been swirling around the Apple TV is Apple’s supposed Internet TV service that would truly unbundle cable TV once and for all. Apple is allegedly still negotiating with content providers for this new TV service. Regardless, the new Apple TV looks like an exciting revamp of a product line that looked like it had almost been abandoned not too long ago.

OnePlus 2 Unboxing

Never SettleMy personal phone has been the OnePlus One for nearly a year and I’ve liked it a great deal. In terms of performance, screen, storage and price, it’s hard to beat. I was never a great fan of the styling, particularly regarding the flat metal trim round the screen, so when I saw the OnePlus 2 had really upped the design, I was in straightaway for an early invite…

…and the new 2 arrived a few hours ago. I restrained myself enough to take a few unboxing photos as I went for GNC readers tech gratification.

Unlike the original One, which came in a flat slip case, the 2 comes in a more traditional shoebox style case. OnePlus has stuck with the vibrant red.

OnePlus 2 in box in wrap

Let’s whip the shrink wrap off.

OnePlus 2 in box

Opening the box reveals the OnePlus 2 itself.

OnePlus 2 box open

Taking the phone out, there’s a “Getting Started” guide underneath and below that is the charger (UK model) and the flat USB cable.

OnePlus 2 under tray

Looking more closely at the USB cable, it’s fully reversible with USB A on one end and new-fangled USB C on the other.

PICT4632

A few gratuitous close ups. Here’s the rear camera.

OnePlus 2 Rear Camera

The Alert Slide. Best idea ever. Hold on, didn’t the Palm Treo 650 have one of these?

OnePlus 2 side

The fingerprint sensor and the USB C port at the bottom of the phone.

OnePlus 2 USB C

Top of the phone and the audio jack socket.

OnePlus 2 Top

I bought a case too. I really wanted a yellow one but it was out-of-stock. :-(

OnePlus 2 Case

The cases replace the rear cover using OnePlus’ StyleSwap feature. The case and rear covers have little clips that click into the back of the phone. Anyone who had a Nexus 10 and genuine flip cover with recognise the way it works. It’s neat and means that rear covers don’t add any bulk and cases become an integral part of the phone. You can also see the dual SIM carrier.

OnePlus 2 StyleSwap

Finally, here’s the OnePlus 2 snug in its new case, ready for setup.

OnePlus 2 in case

That’s it for now. I’m still loading all my apps and getting it configured the way I like it. I’ve still to get my SIM card swapped to a nano SIM too. Early impressions are good, especially in terms of the styling. Fingerprint sensor is pretty cool.

Disclosure – this was a personal purchase though the early invite was enabled by OnePlus’ PR team.

Using Siri to Call 911 Could Save Your Life

Siri logoA young man from Middle Tennessee used Siri to make a 911 call that saved his life. The story is making the rounds across news websites today in part because it’s an interesting story. At the same time, the story inadvertently emphasizes how useful Apple’s virtual assistant can be.

Sam Ray is an 18-year-old from Middle Tennessee. He was working on his truck when a jack collapsed. As a result, he found himself pinned under the 5,000 pound truck. This incident occurred in what the Chicago Tribune describes as “a location where he couldn’t be easily seen or heard”.

Fortunately, Sam Ray had an iPhone. In his struggle to get free, he somehow activated Siri. When he heard Siri activate, he said “Call 911”. The dispatcher who received the call thought it was a “pocket dial” at first, but then heard screaming. Sam Ray was able to tell the dispatcher the address of where he was located, and was rescued by volunteer firefighters about 40 minutes later.

He ended up with broken ribs, a bruised kidney, cuts, a concussion, and burns on one arm. It could have been worse, especially if he was not able to make that 911 call.

Siri is available on iPhone 4s or later, iPad (third generation or later), iPad mini, and iPod Touch (fifth generation or later). It is unclear whether or not Sam Ray was using iOS 8, which allows users to go into their settings and activate the “Hey Siri” function. Once that it turned on, a person can activate Siri by saying “Hey Siri”. They wouldn’t have to touch the phone to get Siri’s attention.

In July of this year, The Verge reported that if you ask Siri to “charge my phone 100 percent”, Siri calls emergency services. Siri gives you a 5 second window to cancel the call.

The reason seems to be that Siri reacts to a request that includes a number with the word “phone” after it as though the user intended Siri to dial that phone number for them. I can see where a person who is in a domestic violence situation could ask Siri to “charge my phone 100 percent” as a way of calling for help without the abuser being aware of it.

Twitter DMs Can Now Go Over 140 Characters

Twitter logoTwitter has removed the 140-character limit from Direct Messages (DM). This allows people to use Twitter’s Direct Messages feature to chat with their friends without having to curtail their thoughts to fit within the 140 character limit. This change does not affect publicly posted Tweets, which must still be 140 characters or less.

The removal of the character limit for Direct Messages started being rolled out on August 12, 2015, on Android and iOS apps, and on Twitter.com, TweetDeck and Twitter for Mac. Those of you who cannot wait to try the new, longer, Direct Messages should make sure your using the latest version of their apps. Twitter’s blog also notes that sending and receiving Direct Messages via SMS will still be limited to 140 characters.

Those of you with a lot of verbose and loquacious Twitter friends may be fearful of the length of the messages they might send you. Or, maybe you are looking forward to sending exceptionally long Direct Messages to some of the people you follow.

Personally, I suspect that it is only a matter of time before spam accounts and brand accounts take advantage of the longer Direct Messages. Now might be a good time to go into your Twitter settings and uncheck the box next to “Receive Direct Messages from anyone”.

Safeguard Against Water Damage with D-Link’s Wi-Fi Water Sensor

D-Link LogoHumans have done much over the centuries to try and control the flow of water around us. And in many parts of the developed world, we’ve created intricate water distribution systems that have helped to create a baseline quality of life unparalleled by anything in history. And while most modern indoor plumbing is generally reliable, sometimes it breaks down, potentially causing all kinds of damage. When plumbing leaks start, a quick response is crucial to avoid excessive water damage. But what do you do when those leaks occur in the middle of the night, while you’re asleep? Or when you’re not at home? D-Link has provided a solution with its new Wi-Fi Water Sensor.

The concept behind the D-Link DCH-S160 Water Sensor is pretty simple. Just place the sensor in an area of concern for potential water problems (near a sump pump or water heater, next to a washing machine, etc.) and plug it into a wall outlet. When the sensor detects water in its vicinity, it will immediately send an alert to the mydlink smartphone app, letting you know you should check out the situation. D-Link’s Wi-Fi Water Sensor can also be paired with a Wi-Fi siren to assure you’re alerted in the event of a water problem.

The D-Link Water Sensor retails for around $75.00 and can be found at most electronics retailers.