OK, folks, I honestly don’t know how I feel about this, but it’s definitely interesting. A company called Wireless Lab has a new app called FaceApp. It uses the power of a neural net to modify photographs. They can add a smile to a portrait where the subject wasn’t smiling. Other filters make a face young or old, or change the gender from male to female or vice versa. In a statement, the company said, “Prisma changes the style of a photo, but keeps the content. FaceApp changes the content, but keeps the style.” Wireless Lab is using a neural net, meaning your image is uploaded to their servers where a bunch of computers apply the filters. In my quick tests, I found the Smile filter works stunningly well. You’ll see me and Jeff Gamet below both look like women with the Female filter, but it doesn’t handle our facial hair very well. And—much to my chagrin—neither of us look any older with the “Old” filter, but their own examples are markedly different. The short version is that FaceApp isn’t perfect, and it’s little more than a novelty at this stage, but humans are getting really, really good at altering images in stunning ways. FaceApp is free. [Update: I reached out to Yaroslav Goncharov, the founder and CEO of Wireless Lab, who told me the underlying technology with use. He said, “Users already sent us photos some of our filters struggle with and it helps us to fine tune our neural nets.”]
I’m something of a typography and print nerd thanks to my time in the printing industry, but I can’t hold a candle to my friend Glenn Fleishman’s devotion and knowledge on the topics. That’s why I’m so excited about his new Kickstarter campaign called Hands On: the Original Digital. Glenn is hand-crafting an amazing book about the history of print and typography as only he can, and he’s creating 100 numbered and signed letterpress books. You can follow along as the project goes from design to print to binding on the special backer’s website, which no doubt will be a fascinating process. Pledging US$100 or more gets you the limited edition book, plus the ebook version and more. Lower pledge levels get you the ebook along with other perks. When I checked last about half of the printed books were spoken for—and yes, I’ve already pledged for mine.
Stylized robot designs have a special place in my heart, and ThinkGeek has one that’ll tug at my heart strings with its forlorn song. The robot is called Orpheus and its a built-it-yourself wooden kit that’s also a music box. It’s posable, lights up, and plays its sad song–Cycle of Happiness–when you wind the key on its back. Orpheus costs US$29.99 and is available only in the US for now. I know, so sad.
I found a new tower defense game called Defense Zone 3 Ultra HD. I love the tower defense genre. I’ve written up the Kingdom Rush franchise many times, for instance. Defense Zone 3 is similar, but it uses photo realistic graphics with modern and slightly-futuristic weaponry and enemy soldiers, tanks, and aircraft. Mindless hordes of enemies rush headlong down a path, and your job is to stop them. in some ways, it reminds me of a tower defense game crossed with Galaga/Galaxian. One of the things I like is that it’s difficult. I personally “need” to get through every level without losing a single health point (letting an enemy through), and that is frankly tough. There are only eight maps, but each one is long. Very long. YMMV, but I enjoy lengthy scenarios where I get to keep building and improving my defenses. This game is US$2.99—there are in-app purchases for boosts, too, but I enjoy the challenge of getting through these games without such boosts. I’ve already played this one for at least 10 hours, and it’s burning a hole in the back of my mind even now. Map 4 is killing me. One last note, it’s a hybrid app for iPhone and iPad, but I can’t imagine playing it on an iPhone. Maybe a Plus, but I love this game on my iPad Pro (9.7-inch).
What does the actor who plays a character who faces dragons, monsters, magic, and even his very own father fear in real life? If it’s Peter Dinklage—Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones, we’re talking about, it’s his iPhone 7. Mr. Dinklage gave an interview to CNET to promote Rememory, a SciFi film debuting this week at the Sundance Film Festival. In that interview, he said, “I just got an iPhone about six months ago, friends made fun of me. I’m afraid of it.” There’s a reason, though, and that’s concern over how tech is changing the way humans interact. To wit, when people approach him, the interaction has become solely about the selfie-with-Peter. He said, “We’re not even allowing a memory to sink in. They’ll have proof of meeting me, but […] there wasn’t anything to remember, because all you did was just take a picture.” It’s an interesting perspective on this particular concern.
I’m all about how Apple ditches legacy technologies. Headphone jack? Haven’t missed it on my iPhone? Floppy disks? LOL. FireWire? OK, I miss that one (or the 5th generation we should have had by now), but I get it. Besides USB-C is pretty nifty. Magsafe, though, is a bit harder to understand. It has saved my MacBook Air uncounted times, and it’s so easy to plug it in. But, MagSafe is gone. So be it. There’ve been a few third party magnetic USB-C adapters, and I saw one on Kickstarter that’s getting some traction. It’s called MagNeo, a magnetic USB-C adapter that allows charging, data, and video, too. That makes it useful for applications beyond charging-only, which may be why it’s already raised $115,000. It’s a two-piece device machined from a solid piece of aluminum. One half goes in your MacBook or MacBook Pro, and the other half goes on the end of the cable you want to use it with. Watch the short video for more. Funding options start at $59 as of this writing.
Many photographers and designers who rely on digital editing tools seem to favor gadgets like the Wacom tablet. With good reason; it’s a device that lets you edit photos and manipulate graphics with a stylus. This allows for greater precision. But if you have a Wacom tablet along with an iPad, you may find yourself juggling the two devices. An app called Astropad Studio can turn your iPad into a Wacom tablet. It lets you mirror your computer screen on the iPad, so you can make good use of the Apple Pencil, along with more powerful configuration than the Wacom. I tested the app on my iPhone and I may write a review of it in the future.
Curious what the planet would look like if all the world’s ice melted? Let’s just say the topic has been on my mind lately. National Geographic did the math, with pictures to help us wrap our heads around it. If all the world’s ice melted—an extreme eventuality that would require thousands of years—sea levels would rise an estimated 216 feet. Unsurprisingly, what we know as “coast” today would become “offshore.” In North America, the Atlantic seaboard is gone, as is Florida. In my novel (set in 2139), the Philly Bay is a thing, but that was based on a model of just 22 meters (72 feet) in sea levels rising. In Nat Geo‘s more extreme model, the Central Valley in California becomes a giant bay. San Diego goes bye, bye, as does a little town in Texas called “Houston.” Nat Geo has detailed maps of all the continents, including the desert formerly known as North Africa, the desert formerly known as Australia, and parts of China that are currently home to some 600 million people. As noted above, this map represents the ultimate extreme of global warming, including melted Antartica ice sheets that have survived previous warming periods. The point, though, is that it’s fascinating to see what it might look like.
Today Apple shared some free design resources for iOS developers with an update to its iOS Human Interface Guidelines (via 9to5Mac). The resources include UI and template materials to make it easier to design iOS apps. Apple says the design resources are “comprehensive and accurately depict the full range of UIKit controls, views and glyphs available to developers using the iOS SDK.” The files are available in Sketch and Photoshop formats. This is a change from the Sketch-only files in the past. Interestingly, both light and dark UI elements are given. It adds a small amount of fuel to the fire for a rumored Dark Mode.
The promise of Thunderbolt has always been to eliminate the need for internal expansion slots. But it wasn’t until Thunderbolt 3 and its 40 Gbps speed that having a second, external, high end graphics card would become a practical reality. For example, if you’d like to augment your new 2016 MacBook Pro with a Radeon RX400 series or an Nvidia Geforce GTX 10, now you can do that with this $379 TB3 expansion box from PowerColor called the Devil Box. Here’s a review to whet your appetite for some serious graphics power.
Check out Kult of Ktulu: Olympic. It’s a textual narrative game, but what hit me were the gorgeous graphics backing up the narrative. Players take on the avatar of a young girl named Elena on a ship crossing the Atlantic in the early 20th century. Elena is investigating the Kult in a world built from H.P. Lovecraft imagery. I haven’t played it yet, but it looks lush and delicious. It’s currently in the App Store as a free download with in-app purchases. It’s in Google Play, too, if that’s your poison.
Civilization Vi got its first expansions Wednesday with the release of the Poland Civilization & Scenario Pack and Vikings Scenario Pack. The Polish pack includes the full Poland civilization, which includes the ability to take over tiles by fortifying their borders. The Poland scenario is a 60-Turn game where you defend Poland, Prague, and Vienna from Teutonic Knights and Ottoman Turks! Sounds awesome. The Viking Scenario includes new City-States with new benefits, and a 100-Turn game where you invade England, take Paris, find Vinland, or raid the Mediterranean. I’m slacking off from work just thinking about it. Each pack is $4.99, and is available through both Steam and the Mac App Store version of the game. Civilization VI itself was released in October for $59.99, and Wednesday’s update includes a variety of bug fixes, balance changes, AI tuning, and a new Earth map (standard size).
Former Apple engineer Bob Burrough has been arguing that CEO Tim Cook has made Apple boring. In a combination of tweet storm and an interview with CNBC stemming from said tweetstorm, the engineer said Mr. Cook has eliminated conflict within Apple, sapping its vitality in the process. Mr. Burrough argued that Steve Jobs ruled with ever-shifting chaos, where product triumphed over hierarchy. Under Tim Cook, he said, Apple is siloed, smooth, and essentially complacent. Former Apple wunderkind Tony Fadell coincidentally tweeted just last week that Steve Jobs did not manage through conflict, and others have taken issue with Mr. Burrough, too. The reality is that any one person’s perspective never tells the whole tale, but his opinions make for an interesting read. You can see the whole tweetstorm in this tweet and in the CNBC story.
— ᴮᵒᵇ ᴮᵘʳʳᵒᵘᵍʰ (@bob_burrough) January 16, 2017
Samson announced Monday the QH4 4-Channel Headphone Amplifier. It’s built to support four headphones at the same time, each with its own volume control. Desktop musicians and bands recording in a practice space or a garage should check it out because it offers a compact way for four musicians to monitor themselves. It also has a master volume and can flip between stereo and mono. It’s powered by an included power supply, and has two 1/4” balanced and one stereo 1/8” unbalanced input. The QH4 is priced at $69.99 and is available now.
You may have heard of the Mother of All Demos, especially if you’ve studied, or even read up on, computing history. But have you seen it? There is a video of this legendary event (via Reviewed.com), and I personally find it fascinating. Here’s why this is a thing. The demo was given by Doug Engelbart in 1968, when punch cards were how you interfaced with a computer. But in this demo, the world was shown (list via Wikipedia) windows, hypertext, graphics, efficient navigation and command input, video conferencing word processing, dynamic file linking, revision control, a collaborative real-time editor, and the computer mouse. The freaking computer mouse! None of these things existed outside the circle of people involved in the demo. It was huge. No, it was enormous. And many of the people in the demo went on to be involved in the Xerox PARC, which played a major role inspiring Jef Raskin and Steve Jobs for the Mac. The Mother of All Demos resonated through tech culture for decades, and it took decades to make most of that list above mainstream. If you like tech history, you should book some time to watch this. And if you do, think about the context of the times and be amazed. One last note, the typed story at the beginning explains how the movie itself was made.
Apple has new spots out with the tagline “practically magic.” The spots focus on a young dancer taking a Stroll through a city scape using AirPods to enjoy “Down” by Marian Hill. There are four spots in the series, the longer one below and three short ones. Two of the short ones focus on Siri and Pairing, while the third one is called Notes, and uses AirPods to represent notes on a staff. Stroll takes a whimsical look at the power of music by showing the dancer defy gravity. I think the imagery is compelling and the message simple and straightforward. Check it out.
Feral Interactive announced Friday that ROME: Total War – Barbarian Invasion would be coming to iPad in March! This was originally an expansion for ROME: Total War on Mac and PC—Feral ported that game to iPad late last year. I’ve played ROME: Total War on iPad, and it’s an amazing conversion to a touch interface. Feral and its developers did a remarkable job. Barbarian Invasion was a terrific expansion of the original game, too, and I can’t wait for the iPad launch to suck ever more hours out of my life. 😂 Barbarian Invasion is set three centuries after the campaigns of the original game, and players can play either a barbarian commander out to bring Rome down, or a Roman general defending the empire. The game will be exclusively in the App Store in March at £3.99/US$4.99/€4.99.
Can you kick it old school enough to remember DONKEY.BAS? It was one of the first racing games on DOS, and it was coded by a young tech exec named Bill Gates. Maybe you’ve heard of him. In any event, XVision has recreated this game on iPhone and Apple Watch, and they call it DONKEY.APP. It’s a, “super simple but frustratingly hard retro arcade game, inspired by Bill Gates’ one-and-only DOS game.” The player is a old-fashioned race car, only there are beasts of burden standing on the road. The player taps to change lanes to avoid the beasts, making it a game all about precise timing. It’s not particularly easy, either. Retro gaming is all the rage, and you can revisit this slice of tech history for US$0.99. I’d love to know your thoughts.
Opera thinks the current state of web browsers kind of sucks, and they’re pretty much right. Instead of just complaining, however, they developed a now browser concept where they can experiment with different interface ideas. They’re calling the browser Opera Neon, and it’s available for Mac and Windows users to try out. Neon does away with familiar elements like tabs in favor of bubbles that float at the edge of your display. Performance is a little slow right now, but it’s a concept platform and not a finished product. You can download Neon for free at the Opera website.
Pascal Leggert has posted amazing concept art for a next generation Mac Pro you’ll wish was real. It builds on the stunning industrial art in Apple’s
three and a half year-old absurdly ancient “Trash Can” Mac Pro, but makes it useful. It would offer 22 teraflops of computing power, more ports than you can shake a stick at, user-replaceable storage (four of them!) and user-replaceable GPUs, and a handle, for goodness’s sake. I’ve included a couple of his pics, but click through to see several more. This is the kind of drool-worthy hardware we’re craving from Apple right now.