Tech News

Monday, 29 December 2014

Essential tech experience

As everything starts to wind down towards the end of the year, it’s easy to forget just how much has happened over the past 12 months.

Within the technology space, we’ve seen a good deal of interesting innovations throughout 2014. To ensure you don’t miss out on anything, we have compiled a little list of things that you should try out, especially if technology is really what gets you going.

Counting on crowd sourcing

Sometimes coming up with a good idea isn’t enough — you also need sufficient resources to make it a reality. But it need no longer be that way, thanks to crowdsourcing.

Leveraging on the power of the Internet, crowdsourcing allows you to seek the help of other people so you can obtain the resources you need for a desired project or campaign. This can come in the form of tapping another’s abilities or talents, seeking donations of physical items such as food, raw materials or money, or even intellectual support to solve a complex problem.

Popular crowdsourcing platforms include Kickstarter, Indiegogo and the Malaysian equivalent, PitchIn. To get started you need to create a page that is publicly accessible and describes the nature of your project or campaign. You also need to set targets that you want to achieve over a fixed time frame and invite viewers to contribute towards your cause.

Practically anyone can contribute or participate in your project, and the benefit of this is that you can draw on the resources of not just your personal contacts, but also strangers who have similar interests or values as you.

However, in order to attract the attention of others, you have to provide good reasons to back up your campaign. As this is one of the most crucial aspect of crowdsourcing, enough effort and planning have to be put in to reap the rewards.

Many people create short videos to showcase their project and to convince others of the viability of their cause.

Crowdfunding is one of the popular forms of crowdsourcing, and is focussed on getting monetary donations. Typically, project owners will offer contributors something in return, either in the form of rewards, repayment with interest or a stake in the business or venture.

Go 3D

Three-dimensional printers allow you to create 3D objects by printing them layer by layer. While this isn’t really a new concept, it’s only recently that it has started to become more accessible to the public.

This is due to prices of 3D printers becoming much cheaper over the past year or so. In fact, some like Singaporean-based company Pirate3D have made it their aim to build 3D printers that are smaller and more affordable. Pirate3D has even sought support for its efforts via crowdfunding.

You can print with a variety of materials, including plastic, metal and wax. Also, it’s now possible to print with more than one material at the same time.

There is also a variety of printing methods you can choose from nowadays. Among them is direct 3D printing which uses inkjet technology, and binder 3D printing which uses two materials (a type of powder plus a liquid substance which acts as a glue) to print the layers and hold them together.

The binder 3D printer is said to produce faster prints than direct 3D printing and can make use of more types of materials. Besides this, there is also photopolymerisation where ultraviolet light is used to convert liquid plastic into solid.

Another alternative is sintering which melts plastic powder to produce solid printed layers in a similar manner to how toners are melted to adhere ink to paper in laser printers.

Printing in 3D has opened up a wide range of possibilities for many industries, including education, medicine, engineering, manufacturing, scientific research and development. For consumers, it affords them lots of room for creativity in terms of what they can make within the confines of their own homes.

And even if you have yet to purchase a 3D printer, you can very easily engage businesses to convert your digital objects into real life ones.

Eye of the beholder

Augmented reality lets you experience the best of both worlds: your real-life environment as well as virtual enhancements. Through the use of a camera and computer generated sensory input, the technology lets you immerse yourself in a different world.

An example of this is where digital images are superimposed on top of real objects. For instance, viewing a business card through the screen of a smartphone that’s running augmented reality app will make the video play automatically or a 3D image to pop up.

This is similar to the functionality that Malaysian company, WIA Global Technology developed for its PlayMe app.

For a completely simulated environment, also known as virtual reality, there are two popular options — Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard.

Oculus Rift is a head mounted display meant for gaming, and Google Cardboard, as the name implies, is made from simple stuff such as a cardboard and two magnifying glasses.

Many developers and device manufacturers have begun experimenting on the possibilities that they have to offer, usually for entertainment and videogames.

The Oculus Rift was developed by Oculus VR and features 360° head tracking technology that allows you to “look around” while wearing the device. It runs on Linux, Mac OS and Windows operating systems.

The software development kit (SDK) is open source, allowing anyone to obtain, modify and share the code behind the device. A HDMI port or DVI video-out port is required in order to use the Oculus Rift with a PC.

A developer version can be purchased now and a consumer model is expected to be out by next year.

Locally, companies such as Spacepup Entertainment are making use of this technology to enhance the games they are developing like Tell No One.

The Google Cardboard, on the other hand, can be made by yourself using standard materials or purchased online but will require an Android smartphone to work.

Filename : cardboard.5627f110430.original.jpg - To go with Volvo to offer virtual test drives (published on 2014-11-13 19:13:00)
If you own an Android smartphone, the Google Cardboard is probably the easiest and cheapest way to enjoy virtual reality.
If you manage to make or buy one, head over to the Google Play Store page that’s dedicated to showcasing apps that you can download to be used with Google Cardboard.

Game plan

When the first Bayonetta was released it garnered critical acclaim but very few people played it, if the sales numbers are anything to go by.

According to its designer Hideki Kamiya, there wouldn’t be a sequel had Nintendo not rescued the game from obscurity and ordered a sequel.

And what a sequel developer Platinum Games delivered, exclusively for Nintendo’s Wii U console.

Sure, you get more of the same, but in this case, it’s a good thing — Bayonetta 2 is perhaps the most satisfying and funniest action game you can get this year.

In terms of gameplay, it’s similar to another one of Kamiya’s famous creations — Devil May Cry — but improved with a power called “Witch Time”. Dodging attacks at the very last second will slow down time and allow the player to deal more damage.

The story itself is intentionally ridiculous and over the top but it’s all done with such glee and heart that it’s impossible not to smile or laugh out loud at some of the sequences.

Just to give you an idea how ridiculous it can get: Bayonetta’s weapons are attached to her heels and most of her magical powers involve the manipulation of her hair.

We know most of you probably don’t have a Wii U but if you do, then you have to try Bayonetta 2.

Next up is Child Of Light . It’s hard to deny that it’s an impossibly beautiful game, looking more like an impressionistic animated film than a 2D platformer.

Child of Light
Child of Light is one of the prettiest games of the year.

Built on the same Ubi Art Framework engine that Ubisoft used to create the cartoony (but equally beautiful) Rayman Legends and Rayman Origins, Child Of Light mashes together two different genres and wraps it up in a package that looks almost like a watercolour painting.

In terms of gameplay, it mixes puzzle platforming with turn-based RPG (role-playing game) battle system.

The result is something we rarely see these days — a truly innovative game that not only looks good but plays very well.

Our final recommendation is Middle-earth: Shadow Of Mordor, an open-world action RPG that is more akin to Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed and Warner Bros Interactive’s Batman: Arkham series than it is to other Lord Of The Rings games before it.

In the world of games, Shadow Of Mordor can be compared to the first Matrix film — nobody heard much about it during development and it practically came out of nowhere, yet turned out to be surprisingly good.

You play a Ranger named Talion with the powers of a Ring Wraith for turning invisible and even controling the minds of Orcs.

The game’s selling point has to be the Nemesis System which remembers all the interactions the players have had with certain enemies — if, for example, you disfigure an Orc and it escapes, it will remember you the next time you meet, and will tend to be more aggressive towards you.

The game is solid but probably didn’t get the attention it deserved thanks to a variety of reasons — apparently, reviewers were asked to agree to onerous terms that only allowed positive reviews to get an early copy.

Bite into Bitcoin

In 2014 Bitcoin went from a niche digital currency used by techies into something more mainstream, with a little help from a ton of media coverage.

While digital currency is still in its infancy and is little understood by the non-tech community, its influence is growing. It’s now accepted by thousands of outlets around the world as a form of currency and is even listed on the popular currency converter website XE Currency (www.xe.com).

According to the latest numbers from coinmap.org, six outlets in this country accept Bitcoin as a valid form of payment, from a Shell Petrol station in Jalan Raja Chulan to a nasi dagang stall in Damansara Utama.

However, while it’s perfectly fine to get Bitcoin to try out and purchase stuff, you should think twice before using it as an investment.

The extreme volatility of Bitcoin prices means that your investment could be worth a lot or little in a short space of time.

Attack of the drones

It come in all shapes and sizes today and even a South Park episode was dedicated to it.

We’re talking about drones — those flying quadrocopters (sometimes even hexacopters, if they have up to six propellers) which usually have a remote camera attached to them.

Today, flying a drone has become a bona fide hobby, like playing with remote controlled cars and choppers.

Music on the move

Nowadays hardly anyone listens to CDs but the days of MP3s are also numbered with the rise of music streaming services. If you haven’t tried it yet, have a go at Spotify, Deezer or Soundcloud, all of which offer free subscriptions but with ads.

Streaming services not only give you access to vast number of songs but also offer recommendations based on what you are listening to. We discovered some of the best music this way.

Also, by using a streaming service you can easily avoid having to use up valuable space on your devices — this is particularly handy for mobile phones, as space is limited. Sharing playlists with other devices, as well as on social media networks, are also much easier.

Wearables get smart

Wearables are also not new but this is the year they have gone mainstream. If you are trying to lose weight or stay healthy, it’s time to get a fitness band to help monitor your progress.

Garmin, Jawbone and Fitbit make some of the best bands to help count your steps, measure calories burnt, monitor your heart rate and analyse your sleep pattern.

If you want something more then a smartwatch is a better bet. Most of the smartphone makers, including Samsung, Motorola and LG, make smartwatches for Android smartphones.

If you are using an iPhone and don’t want to wait for the Apple Watch which is slated to come out early next year then we recommend the Pebble.

A smartwatch will give you almost all the benefits of a fitness band and then some. Depending on the model, you will be able to read and reply text messages, answer calls, shoot photos and play games.

Tags / Keywords: Science Technology , technology , 2014 , experience , crowdsourcing , 3D printing , augmented reality

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