Honest Trailers: Game of Thrones

http://p1cdn01.thewrap.com/images/2014/04/Honest-Trailer-Game-of-Thrones-618x400.jpgI’ve been spending entirely too much time over at Youtube lately. Have you seen those comments sections? If there was ever a reason for misanthropy, that would be it! But one can always find plenty of nuggets of awesomeness while navigating through that sea of virulence, and Honest Trailers is often the source. Below is the video for Game of Thrones they released a few months back to coincide with the release of Season Four.

!Warning! As it says in the intro, this video contains spoiler material for anyone who hasn’t viewed the first three seasons of GOT. But at this point, I got to assume that’s nobody, right? Or at least nobody who would care about this video. Anyway,  enjoy the video, and pay close attention to the inside joke at the end  (R+L=J, I can’t believe I got that reference. I am SUCH a nerd!)

Revolution in Virtual Reality: Google’s Cardboard Headset

cardboardgifWith the acquisition of the Oculus Rift headset, Facebook appeared ready to corner the market of the new virtual reality market. But at its annual I/O conference, Google declared that it was staking its own claim. At the end of the search giant’s keynote address, Sundar Pichai announced that everyone in attendance would get a nondescript cardboard package, but was coy about its contents. Turns out, it’s the firm’s attempt at a do-it-yourself VR headset.

Known as Cardboard, copies of the headset were handed out as part of a goodie bag, alongside the choice between a brand new LG G Watch or Samsung Gear Live smartwatch. Intended to be a do-it-yourself starter kit, Google Cardboard is a head-mounted housing unit for your smartphone that lets you blend everyday items into a VR headset. With a $10 lens kit, $7 worth of magnets, two Velcro straps, a rubber band, and an optional near-field communication sticker tag, you can have your very own VR headset for the fraction of the price.

box-of-cardboard-google-io-2014You can use household materials to build one, and a rubber band to hold your smartphone in place on the front of the device. Assembly instructions, plans and links for where to source the needed parts (like lenses) — as well as an SDK — are available on the project’s website. Google hopes that by making the tech inexpensive (unlike offerings from, say, Oculus), developers will be able to make VR apps that hit a wider audience.

According to some early reviews, the entire virtual reality experience is surprisingly intuitive, and is as impressive considering how simple it is. And while the quality doesn’t quite match the Oculus Rift’s dual OLED Full HD screens, and it is lacking in that it doesn’t have positional tracking (meaning you can’t lean into something the way you would in real life), the Cardboard is able to create the 3D effect using just a single phone screen and some specialized lenses.

google_cardboardMeanwhile, Google has created some great demos within the Cardboard app, showcasing the kind of experiences people can expect moving forward. Right now, the Cardboard app features simple demonstrations: Google Earth, Street View, Windy Day, and more. But it’s just a small taste of what’s possible. And anyone willing to put some time into putting together their own cardboard headset can get involved. Never before has virtual reality been so accessible, or cheap.

And that was precisely the purpose behind the development of this device. Originally concocted by David Coz and Damien Henry at the Google Cultural Institute in Paris as part of the company’s “20 percent time” initiative, the program was started with the aim of inspiring a more low-cost model for VR development. After an early prototype wowed Googlers, a larger group was tasked with building out the idea, and the current Cardboard headset was born.

google_cardboard1As it reads on Google’s new page for the device’s development:

Virtual reality has made exciting progress over the past several years. However, developing for VR still requires expensive, specialized hardware. Thinking about how to make VR accessible to more people, a group of VR enthusiasts at Google experimented with using a smartphone to drive VR experiences.

Beyond hardware, on June 25th, the company also released a self-described experimental software development kit for Cardboard experiences. Cardboard also has an Android companion app that’s required to utilize Google’s own VR-specific applications, called Chrome Experiments. Some use cases Google cites now are flyover tours in Google Earth, full-screen YouTube video viewing, and first-person art exhibit tours.

google_cardboard2As Google said a related press release:

By making it easy and inexpensive to experiment with VR, we hope to encourage developers to build the next generation of immersive digital experiences and make them available to everyone.

Oculus Rift is still the most promising version of virtual reality right now, and with Facebook at the helm, there are some tremendous resources behind the project. But with Cardboard, Google is opening up VR to every single Android developer, which we hope will lead to some really awesome stuff down the road. Even if you can’t lean in to inspect dials in front of you, or look behind corners, the potential of Cardboard is tremendous. Imagine the kind of not only experiences we’ll see, but augmented reality using your phone’s camera.

But Cardboard is still very early in development. Its only been a few weeks since it was debuted at Google I/O, and the device is still only works with Android. But with availability on such a wide scale, it could very quickly become the go-to VR platform out there. All you need are some magnets, velcro, rubber band, lenses and a pizza box. And be sure to check out this demo of the device, courtesy of “Hands-On” by TechnoBuffalo:

cnet.com, technobuffalo.com, engadget.com

China Blocks Google for 25th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square

tiananmen-square-1989-tankIn preparation for the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre (aka. the June 4th Incident), Chinese authorities decided to begin blocking Google. It’s believed that the blockade is tied to this week’s 25th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre where the People’s Liberation Army cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrators. Each year, the Chinese government censors the web in an effort to limit protests against the thwarted uprising.

Aside from Google, several internet services were blocked or censored in advance, including social networks and other web communication tools. Though the Chinese government has not yet confirmed this, countless Chinese users have discovered Google’s services to be inaccessible since the last week of May. In addition, a report from GreatFire.org claimed that the government appeared to have begun targeting Google Inc’s main search engine and Gmail since at least the last week of May, making them inaccessible to many users in China.

chinese_hackerThe report added that the last time it monitored such a block was in 2012, when it only lasted 12 hours. At is states:

It is not clear that the block is a temporary measure around the anniversary or a permanent block. But because the block has lasted for four days, it’s more likely that Google will be severely disrupted and barely usable from now on.

Asked about the disruptions, a Google spokesman said: “We’ve checked extensively and there’s nothing wrong on our end.” And Google’s own transparency report, which shows details about its global traffic, showed lower levels of activity from China starting from about Friday, which could indicate a significant amount of disruption. Other major social media sites – such as Twitter and Facebook and Google’s own Youtube – are already blocked in the country.

A Google logo is seen at the entrance to the company's offices in TorontoOf course, this should come as no surprise, given the way this anniversary is received by Chinese officials. For the ruling Communist Party, the 1989 demonstrations that clogged Tiananmen Square in Beijing and spread to other cities remain taboo, particularly on their 25th anniversary. When June rolls around each year and the Tiananmen Square Massacre is commemorated around the world, including in Hong Kong, China’s ruling party typically conducts a web crackdown.

It’s not uncommon for Chinese censors to block certain comments from being made even on China-based company services, like Weibo, China’s own version of Twitter. And China also applies pressure to search engines like Baidu in their country in order to ensure that censorship filters are in place. And as with previous years, the run-up to the anniversary has been marked by detentions, increased security in Beijing and tighter controls on the Internet.

tiananmen_square_vigilThis year, the detainees included prominent rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and Chinese-born Australian artist Guo Jian, a former Chinese soldier who last week gave an interview to the Financial Times about the crackdown. And as usual, the Chinese government made a statement in which it once again defended its decision to use military force against the pro-democracy demonstrators who gathered in the Square twenty-five years ago.

The statement came from Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei during a daily news briefing, in which he said:

The Chinese government long ago reached a conclusion about the political turmoil at the end of the 1980s. In the last three decades and more of reform and opening up, China’s enormous achievements in social and economic development have received worldwide attention. The building of democracy and the rule of law have continued to be perfected. It can be said that the road to socialism with Chinese characteristics which we follow today accords with China’s national condition and the basic interests of the vast majority of China’s people, which is the aspiration of all China’s people.

tiananmen_square_vigil2On the subject of why Google was being targeted, Hong said only that the government “manages the Internet in accordance with the law”, which is consistent with the state’s position with all web-based censorship. When asked about the jailing of dissidents, Hong replied that “In China there are only law breakers — there are no so-called dissidents.” He also stressed once again that all departments of the Chinese government “consistently act in accordance with the law.”

For years now, Google has had a contentious relationship with China, which began with the company had once offering its search services to the world’s second largest economy. However, due to issues over censorship, Google decided to move its Chinese search engine to Hong Kong, effectively allowing them to operate outside the rules and regulations of the Chinese government. But as China demonstrated these past few weeks, it still has the ability to block the flow of traffic from Hong Kong into the mainland. 

tiananmen_square_vigil3It also aptly demonstrated just how much it fears the specter of Tiananmen Square, even some twenty-five years later. From clamping down on their people’s ability to learn more about the massacre, to clamping down on even the possibility of protest in advance, to continually denying any wrongdoing and suppressing information on the number of people killed, the legacy of Tiananmen Square continues to expose the blatant hypocrisy and denial of the Communist Party of China.

If history has taught us anything, it is that the fall of a dictatorship usually begins with one terrible mistake. The state of China committed that mistake a quarter of a century ago, and since then has relied on state-sanctioned economic growth in order to justify its existence. But in so doing, they’ve essentially created a Catch 22 for themselves. Continued economic growth ensures greater material wealth for more and more of its people. And a burgeoning digital-age economy means more and more access to information for its citizens.

In short, the CPC is screwed. And I for one would be happy to see them gone! Lord knows they deserve it, and the Chinese people would be better off without them, no matter what they try to insist. So on this historic anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, I invite the CPC to EAT A DICK! And to the people still living under their hypocritical rule, please know that you are not alone. Hang in there, and wait for the day when these bastards join all the other reprehensible dick-heads on the ash heap of history!

Sources: cnet.com, reuters.com, (2)

The Starving Games

kinopoisk.ruJust learned this little gem is available for watching online. It’s called the The Starving Games, a not-so-subtly named satirical take on The Hunger Games. In addition to spoofing that sci-fi, dystopian YA hit, they also tackled franchises like The Avengers, Harry Potter and Oz the Great and Powerful to pop culture characters and celebrities like Taylor Swift, PSY, LMFAO and Honey Boo Boo.

Directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, the people who brought us Spy Hard, Scary Movie, Date Movie, Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans, Disaster Movie, and Vampires Suck, this movie promises to be entertaining for people who don’t mind seeing popular franchises being slammed, and don’t care much about good writing, acting, or coherent story lines.

Enjoy the trailer, and then check out the full movie (if you’re so inclined) over at Youtube:

New Movie Trailer: Interstellar

interstellar-teaserposterI came across this trailer recently, thanks again to my bud over at Ellipsis Media. And although the clip is short, it does manage to intrigue and fascinate. And as the name would suggest, the movie is all about space exploration in the not-too-distant future, where humanity suddenly finds itself able to bridge the vast distance between the stars for the first time ever.

Here is the commercial description, courtesy of MOVIECLIPS:

Interstellar chronicles the adventures of a group of explorers who make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage.

The movie is set for release in November 7th, 2014. Christopher Nolan is the director (Inception, Dark Knight trilogy), and the film has an all-star cast that includes Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace and Michael Caine. Enjoy!

Judgement Day Update: Google Robot Army Expanding

Atlas-x3c.lrLast week, Google announced that it will be expanding its menagerie of robots, thanks to a recent acquisition. The announcement came on Dec. 13th, when the tech giant confirmed that it had bought out the engineering company known as Boston Dynamics. This company, which has had several lucrative contracts with DARPA and the Pentagon, has been making the headlines in the past few years, thanks to its advanced robot designs.

Based in Waltham, Massachusetts, Boston Dynamics has gained an international reputation for machines that walk with an uncanny sense of balance, can navigate tough terrain on four feet, and even run faster than the fastest humans. The names BigDog, Cheetah, WildCat, Atlas and the Legged Squad Support System (LS3), have all become synonymous with the next generation of robotics, an era when machines can handle tasks too dangerous or too dirty for most humans to do.

Andy-Rubin-and-Android-logoMore impressive is the fact that this is the eight robot company that Google has acquired in the past six months. Thus far, the company has been tight-lipped about what it intends to do with this expanding robot-making arsenal. But Boston Dynamics and its machines bring significant cachet to Google’s robotic efforts, which are being led by Andy Rubin, the Google executive who spearheaded the development of Android.

The deal is also the clearest indication yet that Google is intent on building a new class of autonomous systems that might do anything from warehouse work to package delivery and even elder care. And considering the many areas of scientific and technological advancement Google is involved in – everything from AI and IT to smartphones and space travel – it is not surprising to see them branching out in this way.

wildcat1Boston Dynamics was founded in 1992 by Marc Raibert, a former professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And while it has not sold robots commercially, it has pushed the limits of mobile and off-road robotics technology thanks to its ongoing relationship and funding from DARPA. Early on, the company also did consulting work for Sony on consumer robots like the Aibo robotic dog.

Speaking on the subject of the recent acquisition, Raibert had nothing but nice things to say about Google and the man leading the charge:

I am excited by Andy and Google’s ability to think very, very big, with the resources to make it happen.

Videos uploaded to Youtube featuring the robots of Boston Dynamics have been extremely popular in recent years. For example, the video of their four-legged, gas powered, Big Dog walker has been viewed 15 million times since it was posted on YouTube in 2008. In terms of comments, many people expressed dismay over how such robots could eventually become autonomous killing machines with the potential to murder us.

petman-clothesIn response, Dr. Raibert has emphasized repeatedly that he does not consider his company to be a military contractor – it is merely trying to advance robotics technology. Google executives said the company would honor existing military contracts, but that it did not plan to move toward becoming a military contractor on its own. In many respects, this acquisition is likely just an attempt to acquire more talent and resources as part of a larger push.

Google’s other robotics acquisitions include companies in the United States and Japan that have pioneered a range of technologies including software for advanced robot arms, grasping technology and computer vision. Mr. Rubin has also said that he is interested in advancing sensor technology. Mr. Rubin has called his robotics effort a “moonshot,” but has declined to describe specific products that might come from the project.

Cheetah-robotHe has, however, also said that he does not expect initial product development to go on for some time, indicating that Google commercial robots of some nature would not be available for several more years. Google declined to say how much it paid for its newest robotics acquisition and said that it did not plan to release financial information on any of the other companies it has recently bought.

Considering the growing power and influence Google is having over technological research – be it in computing, robotics, neural nets or space exploration – it might not be too soon to assume that they are destined to one day create the supercomputer that will try to kill us all. In short, Google will play Cyberdyne to Skynet and unleash the Terminators. Consider yourself warned, people! ;)

Source: nytimes.com

When Trolls Get Really Nasty

trollIn my life, I’ve gotten into many heated debates. The majority were intelligent, but some were painfully stupid. In the former case, many were face to face, civil, and almost always resulted in some kind of resolution. In the latter, they all took place over the internet, were quite pointless, and generally resulted in me losing that much more faith in the human race.

Might sound harsh, but consider this most recent example. Over at Goodreads, I joined with a number of people in debating the merits of the Ender’s Game boycott. Without getting into the details too much, let me just say that these people and I were of the same mind and we successfully and intelligently debated against numerous people who’s point of view ran contrary to our own.

troll3Then came along a man named… let’s call him Igor! Igor began by debating with us and telling us we didn’t know what we were talking about, even though we routinely backed up what we said with direct quotations and citations. After awhile, i chose to call him on his unwillingness or inability to acknowledge what we were saying, and that’s when things got personal.

This coincided with him engaging in name-calling to a number of people in the thread. His words of choice were stupid, dishonest, trolls, and the like. For this, we called him petty, childish, and hypocritical, since he routinely would make insults in one breath and then claim we were the bad guys in the next. In no time at all, he chose to get really personal, and started attacking me on my author’s page.

troll6Yes, as if insulting my colleagues and I in an open forum was not enough, he chose to begin rating every book I’ve listed on Goodreads with one star. He even started a shelf especially for them, entitled “Sci-fi authors who hate science.” Naturally, we all wondered just how stupid he was, seeing as how any review can be flagged for abuse, much like posts.

At this point, I cut the lines of communication, but he continued to rail on in the forum against everyone. And when my colleagues all came to my defense, good people that they are, he claimed he was merely criticizing my books because of scientific inaccuracies he saw in them. Naturally, everyone called BS on that and told him he was just doing it out of spite.

troll2Not only was it abundantly clear he hadn’t read a single book in my list, the reviews were all made within a day of his opening salvo of insults. Nevertheless, he kept coming back to the forum claiming that he was a scientist and that he’s taking a stand on ethics, and even claimed my attempts to have his reviews flagged was some kind of censorship.

At this point, I just have to wonder, who does this? What kind of person decides to get back at a person who’s debating them by giving their work terrible ratings? What kind of person then has the nads to show their face again and make incredibly transparent excuses for doing it? What kind of person persists in claiming they are somehow the victim when they are the one constantly on the offensive?

troll4But of course, Goodread’s moderators have been slow to respond. Apparently, this individual has flagged every member of our group as well for abuse, and seems to think he’s in the right and will be vindicated. Worse yet, we know for a fact he trolled by the profiles of the other members in the group. But since they do not have original material posted there, he had nothing to work with.

An upside to this spiteful episode is that it made my colleagues in the group realize I was a writer. Somehow, it just never came up, and my friends were not one to troll my profile looking for something to use against me. Now, however, they’ve all taken an interest, and one was even sure to start reading my books and gave them all very high ratings (5 stars each!)

Facebook Reece ElliottBreaking my communications embargo just long enough to thank him, I let Igor know that his little explosion of pettiness actually did me good. I was also sure to let him know that as soon as his trollish one-star reviews were removed, I shall have several five star reviews to take it place. I hoped he could appreciate the irony, or at least incredibly foolish. That will be our last communication, as I have no interest in indulging this individual further.

One thing is for sure, though – Goodreads needs to seriously consider its terms of use! It’s getting like YouTube over there, with the people at the shallowest end of the gene pool setting the tone and ruining it for the rest of us. Wasn’t it supposed to be a site dedicated to literature and intellectual pursuits? Yeah, and they said that the internet would bring the world together and create a “Global Village”. Look how that turned out!

In the meantime, if you’ve got any interesting troll stories you want to share, please feel free to share them. Nothing beats the misanthropic blues like knowing that there are other people out there who can’t stand pettiness, stupidity, and general jackassery, the very stuff that trolls are made of. And in the meantime, remember…