Michael Ballaban test drives a Tesla with the new autopilot system →

October 15, 2015 |

Michael Ballaban reviews Tesla’s new autopilot system:

And it really is eerie at first, to be sitting in the driver’s seat and see the wheel moving itself. You see massive trucks to the left, and suicidal taxis to the right, and you know, you just know, that you’re going to smash into one of them and face a very apologetic Tesla representative in the passenger seat.

But you don’t. In the dash in front of you, the car actually gives you a display of what its onboard computer is seeing. You see displays of ultrasonic sensors firing off to the left and right of you, you see a generic illustration of the car in front of you halfway out of its own lane, and the car essentially reassures you – “it’s alright, I’ve got it, I see the chaotic trash soup surrounding us, and you’re not going to hit anything.”

Just crazy. Check out the accompanying video to get a better idea of how the system works:

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Alex Kantrowitz takes a look at “M”, Facebook Messenger’s new Virtual Assistant →

October 15, 2015 |

Speaking of the future, this exchange between BuzzFeed’s Alex Kantrowitz and M, the new Virtual Assistant in Facebook Messenger, is so good it’s actually spooky. Its context awareness is extremely impressive, and its natural language parsing appears to be flawless.

The fact that you can explicitly tell M not to save your personal information is another nice touch, especially considering this is Facebook we’re talking about. Of course, it would have been even better had it been the other way around — if M didn’t save your data unless you explicitly told it to.

That said, I don’t think we should expect things to be this smooth during uncontrolled exchanges in real life, but if Kantrowitz’s experience is anything to go by, I’d say M is off to an excellent start.

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Tesla unveils autopilot system →

October 15, 2015 |

Check out the latest futuristic technology from Elon Musk’s Tesla: starting on Thursday, many Model S owners will be able to have their cars steer and park themselves.

Alexandria Sage, writing for Reuters:

New “autopilot” features, designed for cars built after September 2014, will be available for customers in the United States, Tesla said. European and Asian owners must wait another week. Tesla will provide the features through an over-the-air upgrade.

Musk cautioned that autopilot functionality was in beta mode and full “hands-off ”driving was not recommended.

“We’re being especially cautious at this stage so we’re advising drivers to keep their hands on the wheel just in case,” Musk told reporters at the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters. “Over time there will not be a need to have your hands on the wheel.”

When other people say “over time”, I hear “on an infinite timescale”. Musk, however, has no patience for that. This is a person hell-bent on ushering in the future way before it’s due. I’d be surprised if full hands-free driving took more than a few months to be fully operative.

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Zeiss announces new 28mm f/1.4 Otus lens →

October 14, 2015 |

Zeiss today announced a new member of their highly acclaimed Otus family: the new 28mm f/1.4 Otus lens. Together with the 55mm f/1.4 and the 85mm f/1.4, this lens completes the trio of Otus manual focus lenses, which provide exceptional image quality for Canon and Nikon users.

From the official press release:

The lens consists of 16 elements in 13 groups. One of the lens elements has an aspheric optical surface and one element is aspheric on both sides. Eight other lens elements are made of special glass. The basis of the optical design is a Distagon. The special glass has anomalous partial dispersion, as is typical for an apochromatic lens. This corrects the longitudinal chromatic aberrations superbly, which therefore lie considerably below the tightly defined boundaries. Bright-dark transitions in the image, in particular highlights, are depicted almost completely free of color artifacts. The floating elements design (the change of distances between certain lens elements when focusing) allows for unrivaled imaging performance along the entire focusing range, from 0.3 m (11.81”) to infinity.

Retail price for the upcoming 28mm f/1.4 Otus lens is still unknown, but if you’re thinking so much “special” glass sounds expensive, you couldn’t be more right. Otus lenses have traditionally been priced in the several thousand-dollar range, with the Nikon mount version of the 55mm f/1.4 coming in at a hair under $3,850, and the 85mm f/1.4 at a little under $4,400. Both Canon mount versions are a few hundred dollars cheaper, but still comfortably over the $3,000 mark, so not exactly cheap either.

By all accounts, fine glass is expensive, but in the case of the Otus family, it really doesn’t get any better than that. If you’re a working photographer that needs the absolute highest quality possible this side of Medium Format, this is where you’ll find it.

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FX Developing a TV Series Based on ‘Y: The Last Man’ →

October 14, 2015 |

Great news over at The Mary Sue. It appears one of my favorite graphic novels is going to make its way to the small screen soon. Jessica Lachenal:

For those of you who don’t know, Y: The Last Man is a series of graphic novels revolving around a singular premise: a mysterious virus has killed all men on Earth except for one man. It’s an amazing novel, one that you absolutely should pick up reading now, with a really gripping story that explores the dynamics of gender roles in a world where there are no more men.

Yep. I can’t wait.

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Sony announces the new RX1R II Full Frame camera →

October 14, 2015 |

Today Sony announced the new RX1R II, the next Full Frame camera in Sony’s RX1 series. As the previous versions, the new RX1R II sports a fixed Zeiss Sonnar T* 35mm f/2 lens. The new version, however, also sports a back-illuminated 42.4 MP sensor and the world’s first optical variable low-pass filter, which can be tuned to reduce moiré and color artifacts, or to maximize resolution.

Additionally, there’s an advanced AF system with 399 phase-detection points that cover a wide area of the image, and a retractable EVF with an impressive 0.74x magnification.

All in all, the camera is an impressive technological feat, but there’s a catch: the RX1R II will be released in November for a whopping $3,300 in the US. Ouch.

That’s a pretty steep price point for a fixed lens camera, no doubt, although one could argue that, since you’re getting a superb piece of glass included in the package, it’s ultimately not as terrible a deal as it may initially seem.

Indeed, the RX1R II’s price translates roughly to paying $2,300 for the body and $1,000 for the lens, which are both much more reasonable amounts, especially considering that this is practically an A7R II with a fixed lens and without the 5-axis IBIS — which, to be honest, is not really a must-have at this focal length.

At the end of the day, this is yet another excellent camera from Sony, and at this point I’m starting to lose the count.

The new Sony RX1R II is available for preorder at B&H.

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Jason Snell reviews the new 4K iMac →

October 13, 2015 |

Jason Snell:

Apple says that the display in this 4K iMac, as well as the revision to the 5K iMac that was announced the same day, offers an expanded color space. Thanks to new red-green phosphor LEDs, the displays can display a wider range of red and green light than before, allowing them to display 25 percent more colors.

In a demo at Apple, I was able to detect subtle differences. The new displays can offer more color detail and more vibrancy than the display on the older 5K iMac models. I’m a little red-green color blind, and even I could detect the differences. If you work in graphics or video, you’ll probably be happy to have access to a display that’s capable of displaying 99 percent of the P3 color space. But for most people buying the 4K iMac, the real difference will be the mind-blowing jump to Retina.

Besides this, it’s worth noting that all the 21.5-inch iMacs, including this one, use Intel Broadwell processors. The 27-inch iMacs, on the other hand, use newer Skylake processors, which should provide improved performance.

Also, don’t forget to check out Jason’s reviews of the new Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad 2 over at Six Colors.

As a side note, reading Jason’s reviews I’ve found out that the new accessories require Bluetooth 4.0 to work, so my Early-2008 iMac is not compatible with them. Perhaps it’s finally time to buy a new iMac, after all.

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Apple updates the iMac family →

October 13, 2015 |

Apple today updated the entire iMac lineup, launching a new 21.5-inch model with a 4K Retina display and extending the 5K Retina display to all of the 27-inch models. From the official press release:

Apple® today updated the entire iMac® family, bringing a stunning new Retina® 4K display to the 21.5-inch iMac for the first time and the Retina 5K display to every 27-inch iMac. The new Retina displays make photos and videos more immersive and true-to-life thanks to a wider color gamut and spectacular image quality. The updated iMacs also feature more powerful processors and graphics, two Thunderbolt® 2 ports and new storage options that make the high-performance Fusion Drive even more affordable.

So far this update seems like a typical yearly upgrade. But wait, there’s more:

Apple today also introduced a new lineup of wireless accessories including the all-new Magic Keyboard™, Magic Mouse® 2 and Magic Trackpad® 2. The Magic devices have been redesigned to feel more comfortable than ever, and feature rechargeable batteries that completely eliminate the need for disposable batteries. The new Magic Trackpad 2 also brings Apple’s revolutionary Force Touch interface to the desktop, adding a new dimension to the iMac experience.

At first glance, those new accessories look uglier than the ones they’re replacing, with the sole exception of the Magic Mouse, which remains nearly identical. That said, I’m still curious to try them. Force Touch is an interesting feature, and Apple seems to be betting big on it for the future.

Another great feature is the built-in rechargeable battery that all three accessories have. I never remember to keep spare batteries around, so this is definitely a welcome addition for me.

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Playboy magazine will stop publishing nude photos →

October 13, 2015 |

Sebastian Anthony, over at Ars Technica UK:

The Internet has claimed one of its highest profile victims yet: As of March 2016, Playboy magazine will no longer feature fully nude models. This follows on from August last year, when the Playboy website also stopped publishing nude photos and videos. Yes, you’ll now be able to read Hugh Hefner’s flagship publication, which published its first nude centrefold way back in 1953, just for the articles.

Speaking to The New York Times, Playboy CEO Scott Flanders explained the reasoning behind the change: “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.” Basically, Playboy stems from a time when nudity was racy and exciting; today, it’s de rigueur. The circulation figures illustrate that fact nicely: from a peak of around 5.6 million subscribers in 1975, Playboy is now down to around 800,000.

Surprising, to say the least, but also understandable. Nudity used to be edgy, but clearly it isn’t anymore. The real question is, will Playboy be able to reinvent themselves convincingly enough to be successful in this new, highly competitive, digital-first era?

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