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Mike Yawney – Gadget Guy: Game Review: The Last of Us – PS3

bt.calgary | posted Sunday, Jun 16th, 2013

The world as you know it is over. A fungal virus has swept across the US completely devastating society. Everyone who has breathed in the toxic spores has turned into a mindless, zombie-like creature, hell-bent on feeding off the flesh of the living. In an effort to contain the outbreak, entire cities have been bombed. The handful who survived the devastation now live in fear, not only of the horrific creatures which prowl the streets, but of other survivors who will stop at nothing to ensure they have enough supplies to make it on their own, even if it means killing others.

I know what you’re thinking; you’ve heard it all before. In fact, you’ve probably played many games with similar zombie-style plots. Let’s get one thing clear, they’re not like The Last of Us, quite possibly the PlayStation 3’s swan song.

You play as Joel, a veteran survivor. Joel remembers what life was like before the outbreak, unlike Ellie, the young girl you stumble upon. Ellie was born after the devastation, and her knowledge of what life was like before the virus and the bombings is limited. She is naive, although not stupid, and she holds a secret, one which even Joel can’t ignore.

The game plays out as a massive escort mission; Joel and Ellie making their way from city to city across the continental US. While the cities and landscapes appear to be sprawling, it’s a bit deceiving. Yes, maps are large, but for the most part your path is fairly limited. Barbed wire, barricades and downed trees keep you on a set path, often preventing you from exploring areas which are out of bounds. That’s not to say there isn’t a chance to explore. You’ll spend hours searching abandoned buildings looking for supplies and items to help craft weapons.

Your choice of weapons is limited but by no means boring. You’ll start off with a simple hand gun, but as you make your way through the game you’ll stumble upon more powerful weapons such as a shotgun, assault rifle, bow and arrow and flamethrower. You’ll need them. Enemies are fast and fierce, taking multiple shots to put them down, unless of course you can pull off a head-shot on the first pull of the trigger. This is where Ellie can be a huge asset. She can fend for herself, and isn’t afraid to jump in on the action, firing a pistol and jumping on an enemy’s back to deliver a glass bottle to the head. Yes, she is one feisty sidekick.

The Last of Us is far from a straight forward shooter. You choose if you want to take on your enemies with firepower or stealth. Ammunition is limited so sometimes it’s best to sneak up on your opponents. Enemies are smart and are attracted to sound. You can pick up bricks and bottles to throw to confuse your enemy, or you can sneak up behind them to take them out. It’s the stealth component of the game which will really get your heart racing. Enemies known as Clickers can’t see very well, but they can hear you. Hence their name, they emit an eerie horrifying clicking sound, one which will give you nightmares. You will want to crawl out of your skin as you sit quietly hoping they will pass without noticing you.

As you progress through the game you will have the opportunity to upgrade not only weapons, but your skill set as well. Upgrades are based on points which come in the form of gears found scattered inside drawers and other hidden areas in homes and warehouses. Players will have to decide whether to use the points on increasing weapon attributes or giving themselves abilities such as quicker healing or faster crafting of weapons. The system is fair and there are plenty of gears to find even on your first play through.

While the enemies are plentiful, and the action intense, by far the most enjoyable part of the game comes from the dialogue and story. Joel and Ellie form a very quirky, likable relationship, one rarely seen in a video game. The voice acting is superb which breathes life into these characters. You truly begin to care for them and those they encounter along their journey.

While the dialogue is engaging, the game does have a few weaknesses. Ellie’s AI doesn’t quite live up to expectations. There are times you’ll be hiding and Ellie will be running around the room even as an enemy nears. What’s even stranger is the enemy won’t react, almost like they are programmed not to see her. Other times Ellie will disappear all together with no trace of where she went. Fortunately she always seems to show up near the exit to the next area.

The other issue is with the rules the game itself creates. Sound plays a key role in the game, yet there are times when the game simply ignores this. There are sections where you must sneak up on Clickers. Remember, these are the creatures that can’t see very well but they have a tremendous hearing. Joel is somehow able to choke them to death one by one even if another Clicker may be only a few feet away. If Clickers can hear so well don’t you think it would hear the struggle?

While Naughty Dog doesn’t reinvent the action adventure genre with new styles of game play, it does elevate this type of game to another level we haven’t seen before. Characters you care for and feel for is somewhat of a rarity in games, and Naughty Dog has accomplished just that.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced ultra-gory zombie shoot em’ up then you’ll want to stay clear of The Last of Us. Instead what you find is a well-paced, smart adventure with characters so life-like you feel like you are playing a blockbuster movie. The Last of Us is one of those rare games you’ll be thinking about long after you put the controller down.

The Good

Character development
Beautiful environments
Simple and fair upgrade system

The Bad

Ellie’s AI certainly has its moments
Game breaks its own rules

The Last of Us – 9.5/10

Leah Sarich – Health Specialist: Seasonal Allergies

bt.calgary | posted Thursday, Jun 13th, 2013

It’s that time of year again. Your nose is itchy, your eyes are watering. It’s allergy season. The grass pollen is set to explode as soon as it really dries out and gets hot and windy. Symptoms are starting now and getting progressively worse, peaking right around Stampede.

Allergist Dr. Joel Doctor says the first line of defence is the over the counter antihistamine. And if those meds are not giving you enough relief, see your doctor about a prescription for nasal sprays and eye drops. Dr. Doctor says most allergy sufferers will get relief with this combination of antihistamines and prescription sprays and drops.

For the 10 percent that don’t get enough symptom relief, in the past, the only other option was allergy shots. Allergy shots work really well, they’re just a huge commitment. It’s a desensitization process, so patients need to get shots at their doctor’s office weekly, then monthly for 3 years. But after that time, they’ll have a permanent 70 percent reduction in symptoms.

However, now, there is a good intermediate option. If a patient isn’t ready to commit to allergy shots, they can now try a new pill for grass allergies. This a daily pill placed under the tongue and it can be done at home. While the pill dissolves, patients will likely feel some tingling and itchiness in the throat and mouth, but these symptoms will subside quickly. Then patients will have a 30 percent reduction of symptoms. Patients have to start taking the pill 4 months before the season starts and two months into it. So in Alberta, patients would start taking this pill in February, and finish in July. And if a patient were to do this therapy for 3 consecutive years, like allergy shots, they would have that 30 percent reduction of symptoms permanently.

Bottom line according to Dr. Joel Doctor, those who suffer from hayfever should not have to suffer. Just find the treatment options that works best for you.

Leah Sarich – Health Specialist: Sun Safety

bt.calgary | posted Thursday, Jun 6th, 2013

There is no safe tan. This is the message Dermatologists want to get across for Sun Awareness Week. Dr. Lynne Robertson says people know a sun burn is bad, but they don’t realize a sun tan is still damaging the skin cells. She says rates for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, are still on the rise. Dr. Robertson says people need to understand these skin cancers are largely preventable by protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful UV rays.

The best way to stay safe is the sun is to wear sunscreen, the Canadian Dermatology Association recommends at least an SPF of 30, wear protective clothing including a hat and avoid the peak sun hours between 11am and 4 pm.

Also when applying sunscreen make sure you use enough. Dr. Robertson says a palm sized dollop should be used for each limb and sunscreen should be applied every 2 hours. And don’t forget the ears, back of the neck and top of the head!

It’s also important to regularly get your moles checked. Dr. Robertson says most people should get their moles looked at by their family doctor at their annual physical exam. Those who are high risk including people with red and blonde hair, those with a personal or family history of skin cancer and those who have 50 or more moles may need to get their moles checked more often.

If you would like to get your moles looked at by a Dermatologist, there is a free public screening at Eau Claire Market on Thursday June 14th from 10am until 1pm.

For more information about staying safe in the sun visit:

http://www.dermatology.ca/skin-hair-nails/skin/sun-safety/

For a list of sunscreens approved by the Canadian Dermatology Association:

http://www.dermatology.ca/programs-resources/programs/recognized-products/

Leah Sarich – Health Specialist: UV Protection for Eyes

bt.calgary | posted Tuesday, Jun 4th, 2013

Most parents put sunscreen on their kids before they head outside. But are they insisting on sunglasses too? For Sun Awareness Week we ‘re looking at the importance of protecting our eyes from harmful UV radiation.

I spoke with Optometrist Dr. Farrah Sunderji and she says we should be protecting children’s eyes from the sun as early as infancy. She explains children are three times more susceptible to UV damage because their lenses are immature and unable to block as much UV radiation. Also, children spend more time outside than adults. And by the time a child is 18, they have absorbed 80 percent of the maximum UV radiation that you can safely.

If parents fail to get their kids to wear sunwear, the UV damage can lead to some serious eye problems down the road. Dr. Sunderji says prolonged UV radiation in the eyes can lead to early onset of cataracts (clouding of the eye lens,) age related macular degeneration (the leading cause of blindness in Canadians over the age of 50,) photokeratitis or a sunburn of the eye and even cancer of the eye, eyelid and surrounding area.

Dr. Sunderji recommends buying sunglasses for your kids that have 100% UVA and UVB protection. If the sunglasses they use don’t have this 100% protection, their eyes are dilating behind the darkened lenses allowing even more UV penetration.

A couple of tips to make sure your children actually wear the sunglasses:

– allow the kids to pick out their own styles

– if your child already wears glasses, have them wear photochromic lenses, like Transitions or Photofusion lenses so they don’t have to switch out glasses or carry two pairs

And finally, do make sure everyone is wearing their sunglasses year round. Reflection is a big issue in every season. Water and snow both reflect 85 to 100 percent of UV radiation.

For more information about protecting your eyes from the sun visit:

http://doctorsofoptometry.ca/children-sun-damage/

Leah Sarich – Health Specialist: Breathing Right

bt.calgary | posted Thursday, May 30th, 2013

We breathe 20 thousand times a day without realizing it. But often we can be breathing incorrectly. If we’re feeling sad, happy, angry or stressed then we may start breathing wrong. And if we’re feeling a certain way for a long period of time, for example if we’re stressed for several weeks then an incorrect breathing pattern can set in. And according to physiotherapist Jessica DeMars who is a specialist in breathing retraining, these negative breathing patterns can lead to a whole host of health problems.

Jessica says we can experience shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, muscle pain, digestive upset, poor concentration and an increase in pain levels.

So what Jessica tries to do is teach patients to return to a natural breathing state. This means breathing in through the nose and right into the belly and slowing it all down. She says many of us only breathe into the upper chest which can trigger the ‘flight or fight’ response, when in fact breathing into the belly triggers the ‘rest and digest’ response. We need both responses in a balanced state to achieve optimum wellness.

If you visit Jessica to assess your breathing, she’ll do a patient history, an assessment, and then use a computer program to look at your respiratory chemistry. She’ll then educate you about breathing properly and teach you some exercises which you need to practice to change your breathing patterns.

Breathing naturally will help you feel better and help you cope with life’s certain stresses.

For more information visit:
http://www.breathenaturally.ca/

Mike Yawney – Gadget Guy: 5 Things You Didn’t Know About the BlackBerry Q10

bt.calgary | posted Thursday, May 16th, 2013

q10

What goes into designing a successful smartphone? Turns out there’s a lot more to the design process than many realize. Take the BlackBerry Q10 for example. The design appears to be quite simple. In fact, some may say it shares the same design as the Bold, or any other classic qwerty style BlackBerry device. Take a closer look.

“There are millions of decisions that go into every Blackberry.” says Todd Wood, SVP of Design for BlackBerry as he sat down with me at BlackBerry Live, the annual developer conference in Orlando, Florida. “It’s a creative process. It’s about teamwork. It’s sort of a village raising a baby if you will”

More than 100 people helped design the latest BlackBerry device, spending countless hours discussing the shape, form, look and feel. A lot of thought went into every single aspect of the device. Wood let me in on some of the secrets of the BlackBerery Q10’s design. Here’s a few things you may not know about the Q10.

You helped Design the BlackBerry Q10

BlackBerry likes to listen to customer feedback on its devices. If you’ve ever reached out to BlackBerry to complain about a feature you didn’t like on one of its smartphones, there’s a good chance the company listened carefully to what you said.

“We involve a lot of customers. We do a lot of interviews with end users. We do a lot of testing” Wood tells me.

Waterloo, Ontario is home to BlackBerry’s head office, but hidden away on campus is a facility many people don’t know about. BlackBerry has a production line where it creates first run handsets right on site. BlackBerry can physically create each prototype for testing, and then not only gives them to engineers to test in the field, but also to avid BlackBerry users who agree to help in the testing process under strict non-disclosure agreements.

“The first run is always internal but we do bring in end users. They have to sign an non-disclosure and all that stuff.” Says Wood. ”There’s always some glitches or bugs and you can run down to the production factory and deal with it right away. Once it’s mature we can hit the send button and send the software of this is how you make a certain BlackBerry to manufacturing plants all around the world.”

The Keyboard Frets Play Tricks with Your Mind

Nestled in between the rows of keys on your keyboard are metal bars BlackBerry refers to as frets. While many would guess these are placed there for aesthetics, these frets actually play a trick on your brain, making you think the keys are really further apart on the phone than they really are.

“They separate the rows of keys. That visually makes it simpler. It’s like putting a bunch of books on a shelf” says Wood.

One way to think about it is like frets on a guitar. Wood says guitarists find it easier to play music with an instrument with frets. However you take the frets away and it becomes much more difficult to play. The same goes with typing on a keyboard whether it’s physical or virtual.

“There are 35 keys but the graphic read is quite simple. That makes it much more approachable.”

The frets on the BlackBerry Q10 also act as a structural component. If you look at the side of the phone you’ll notice the frets intercept with the outer frame. This is known as a dovetail, a common technique in furniture making.

“One of the designers who worked on this, he’s a wood worker and he was thinking of the structure of this and how we can get these edge to edge keys to work together to create a strong and efficient structure. It’s a very jewellery like detail.”

You may also notice there is a fret on the rear of the phone. While you may think this is for design, the fret serves a purpose. Wood says the fret actually keeps the lens of the rear camera off the surface you place your phone on, helping to prevent scratches. Who knew.

The Mystery Behind the Font

A lot of thought went into the font you see on the keyboard on the BlackBerry Q10. It’s known as Slate Pro and it was developed right here in Canada by 66 year-old Rod McDonald, who lives in Lake Echo Nova Scotia.

“It’s a sans serif font if you geek out about fonts. It’s a very functional font but it’s also humanistic. It has these very subtle lines and curves to it that you might now notice at first but after you live with the font you begin to notice these things.” says Wood.

The font was originally created back in 2008 and was one of two typefaces BlackBerry considered for the Z10 and Q10 smartphones. Slate Pro is also used on the virtual keyboard of the Z10, giving users a seamless experience.

The Back of the Phone is made from Glass

One of the first things I noticed when I picked up the Q10 was how it felt in my hand. The device is not only comfortable to hold, it has an unmistakeable silky, smooth grip. But it almost didn’t turn out that way.

“The first prototypes were made with carbon.” says Wood. “We tested the carbon and it turns out it interfered with the radios so we said, hmmm, we like the look, can we do a material which still has all those properties”.

Wood says engineers at BlackBerry spent years developing a special type of black glass which was woven to create the back panel you see today. It was inspired by extreme sports such as Formula One racing, boat paddles and Skis.

“Structurally it’s like re-enforced concrete. The fibres create the tension and the resign create shlep with compression so all the forces are managed in a very sophisticated system”.

Startup Screen Easter Egg

Like any computer, you have to wait for smartphones to boot up once they are turned on. Wood let me in on a little secret. BlackBerry has baked a tiny easter egg into its start up so you can get an idea of how long the start-up process will take.

“When the system boots up it’s actually going through all types of sophisticated things, checking its secure, decompressing data to boot up.” says Wood.

If you place your finger on the BlackBerry logo you will see a percentage show up on the screen, letting you know when the device will be ready to use.

“We made it entertaining. It’s like being in Disney Land and you’re waiting in line for a ride and a band comes along or some sort of entertainment comes a long to help you pass the time.”

If you look at the shape of the logo, you’ll also notice it resembles that of the track-pad used in the latest Bold devices.

Mike Yawney – Gadget Guy: BlackBerry Q5

bt.calgary | posted Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

q1

It may look like the recently launched BlackBerry Q10, but don’t confuse this new handset with its higher end cousin. The Q5 is a completely different, budget friendly phone, designed for emerging markets. So how does it compare to the Q10? I got my hands on one to see the changes BlackBerry made in order to keep the costs down on their latest smartphone.

The first thing you’ll notice when you pick it up the Q5 is the material it’s made from. You won’t find any metal on the Q5, it’s essentially all plastic (minus the screen). The smooth, matte plastic feels quite light in your hands and significantly cheaper than the Q10. The buttons along the sides are made from plastic and when you flip it over you’ll notice there is no back cover. BlackBerry decided on a non-removable battery to keep costs down.

The screen is surprisingly nice. At 3.1-inches, this touchscreen is not only the same size of screen as the Q10 but it also has the same resolution (720X720). What’s different is the tech inside the screen. The Q10 sports an OLED display while the newer Q5 has LCD technology.

Flipping the phone around in my hands I also noticed the lack of an mini HDMI port. A BlackBerry rep on hand confirmed there is no video out on this model.

Like the Q10, the Q5 has a front and back camera. The front camera is rated at 2 megapixels, while the rear camera has been downgraded. Instead of an 8 megapixel camera, BlackBerry opted to put in a 5 megapixel camera. I did take a few photos with the device and certainly noticed a difference, between the photos taken on the Q5 and my Q10. The room was somewhat dark which made some photos slightly soft. Unfortunately there is was no easy way for me to get the photos off the device so I can’t share them with you.

For those interested in the tech specs, the Q5 sports a 1.2 GHz dual core processor compared to the Q10’s 1.5 GHz dual core chip. I didn’t notice a huge difference in performance, however the phone wasn’t loaded with many apps so multi-tasking opportunities were limited.

So where else did BlackBerry cut back? Memory! The Q5 will come with half the memory found in the Q10. Yup, only 8GBs of built-in memory.
Yes, the BlackBerry Q5 will come in a variety of colours including red, white, black and pink

Yes, the BlackBerry Q5 will come in a variety of colours including red, white, black and pink

The BlackBerry Q5 may come across as a budget smartphone but it’s actually seems quite nice. Sure it doesn’t have the polish of the Q10, or the Z10 for that matter, but at least it will give users the BlackBerry 10 experience at a fraction of the cost. How much it will sell for remains to be seen.

The Q5 will come in a variety of colours including red, white, black and pink. Emerging markets such as Asia and South Africa can expect to get their hands on the Q5 this summer.

Mike Yawney – Gadget Guy: BlackBerry Announces New Q5 Smartphone

bt.calgary | posted Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

bbm1-1024x768

Good news for those who have traded in their BlackBerry but are still missing their beloved BBM. The popular messaging service is coming to iOS and Android.

BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins made the announcement to a room full of cheers at the company’s annual developers conference BlackBerry Live in Orlando Florida.

“BBM was a key element why people were going for Blackberry” says Thorsten. “We feel this product is ready to stand on its own legs. Now is the time to release BBM on a different level and let it flourish on its own.”

The app, which will work on iOS 6 and Android (Ice Cream sandwich and above), will initially only support text and group features, but expect it to include BBM video, screen share and the new Channels feature in the coming months.

“it’s a statement of confidence. We are confident for BBM to become an independent multi-platform solution” Thorstein told the crowd.

BlackBerry Messenger currently has 60 million monthly active users. More than 10 billion messages sent and received through BBM every day, most read within 20 seconds of being received.

BBM for iOS and Android will be free when it launches closer to summer.

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