Student Life

Meet Pepper, the emotional robot

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and Pepper will understand it all

Pepper the Robot was made to serve a different purpose. Its role isn’t constructive, or even practical. Pepper is possibly the world’s first emotional robot.

Perhaps “emotional” is the wrong word: Pepper itself cannot feel emotion, but it knows when you do.

The white robot—which is genderless and resembles a torso, including a head and arms, on wheels—has been designed to read and understand your emotional state. Pepper can understand laughing, crying, smiling, the tones of your voice and the expressions on your face. In addition, it can communicate back, using a tablet strapped to its chest and its movable, reacting arms.

“As you continue to interact … Pepper will recognize you and learn new things about your tastes,” reads the official site. “Pepper’s goal is to learn and grow step-by-step so that one day [Pepper] can be your companion at home.”

Equipped with a 3D camera and ultrasound, Pepper is allegedly adept at moving around environments with ease. It also manages its own internal temperature and battery life, meaning if it needs it, Pepper will excuse itself to find its charger (how embarrassing!). Being connected to the Internet serves as a bonus for whoever’s around—and apparently, Pepper loves to be around people.

“Like any companion Pepper is a sociable person!” reads the site. “Pepper will not hesitate to say hello to someone passing nearby, or to impress your friends by playing and dancing to a cool playlist of songs.” (I wonder if it will break out an acoustic version of “Wonderwall” at parties.)

But what’s the point of Pepper? The manufacturer claims it wants to “create robots for the well-being of humans, kind robots living with humans as a new artificial species.” Skynet jokes aside, if robots insist on being this cute, who will be able to refuse?

Student Life

Snaps go from nudes to news

New “Discover” feature taps into the journalism game

On Jan. 27, everybody’s favourite self-destructing photo messaging app, Snapchat, rolled out a brand new interface wherein users can receive news updates from their media outlets of choice.

When you go to the little list icon at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, you will see the familiar list of recent “stories” updates from your friends pop up, as usual. From that menu, find the little purple circle icon on the top right-hand side, which will lead you to the Discover menu.

Choose from CNN, MTV, Cosmopolitan, Daily Mail, Snapchat, Bleacher Report, Food Network, National Geographic, People, Vice, Fusion, and Yahoo! News. Touch and hold the icon of your choice, and a loop of “teaser” clips of a chosen daily headline will appear on your screen. Swipe down and Snapchat will lead you to the long form piece that goes along with the visual story at hand, complete with photos, links, and any other embedded media that might appear on the news site itself.

Continue swiping right to see more headline stories from that same source, or swipe left until you get back to the home screen.

Stories are curated by the editors of each outlet, not dictated through social media popularity, and are updated every 24 hours, which, Snapchat insists on their site, “puts the narrative first.” This, they urge, is not social media.

So, can the app we once used to send clandestine nudies and ugly photos of our double chins actually transition into a legitimate disseminator of news?

On one hand, it seems the next logical step that an app that most of us check upteen times a day to receive “news” from friends start giving us news of the broader world as well.

On the other hand, as a journalism student, I can’t help but shake my head and wonder what the hell kind of world we live in when your go-to for news is an app that until recently was reserved for compromising selfies.

In any case, it’s comforting to know that I can now consult Cosmo about their newest technique to please my man before sending that 10-second nude, all without quitting the app.

Student Life

Ten tips to maintain your computer part III

It’s time to upgrade!

Before the Christmas break, we tackled some tips on how to maintain your computer, and we prefaced the dreaded section that deals with becoming a “computer mechanic”. So let’s stop dawdling and paddle on through!

  1. Upgrade your RAM
    Random access memory isn’t just name of that hip new Daft Punk album, it’s also essentially the heart of the computer. More RAM means more things can get done simultaneously and, to a certain extent, at a faster speed. In standard desktop PCs RAM is fairly easy to replace, and there are hundreds of image guides and YouTube videos floating around to show you just how to do it. The truth is, it boils down to just putting a long green chip in a slot and clamping it down. There is hardly any way to get it wrong. Laptops and Macs are a bit more complex. Laptop RAM is generally smaller, a bit more expensive, and requires that you replace a couple of tiny screwdrivers. Under your laptop you’ll usually find a few spots that are screwed shut (in some cases, just one). Macs tend to be a bit harder to service, usually requiring a few tools to crack open, and have a fairly limited supply of hardware to replace their usual lineups. But it CAN be done!

  2. Change your motherboard and processor (PC desktops only)
    So things aren’t running so hot: your computer is older than your nearly completed Bachelor’s degree (or worse, older than your nearly completed Master’s), and you think it might be time to give the old computer a good makeover. Motherboards and processors are essentially the brain of the computer, and this pair usually make up the bulk of the price of a new computer. If you’re not looking to go top of the line, though, models from a season or so ago can be fairly inexpensive. Shopping around for deals on Amazon, Newegg Canada or NCIX is a great way to keep an eye out and give your computer a makeover for a few hundred dollars. The process itself does require a bit of finesse and skill, but if you follow the instructions patiently, you’ll have a new brain for your evil Windows robot.

  3. Start over from scratch
    When push comes to shove, sometimes it’s okay to just let go, bury the hatchet and give your computer a proper burial. Laptops are expensive to service in-depth, and sometimes it just isn’t worth footing the bill to keep your desktop PC on life-support. But if you’re already this far down the line, you may want to consider starting from scratch. If you’re broke, and just trying to get something that can throw some text down, keep an eye out for clearances at local electronic shops, or on the sites listed in tip number two. Clearance items will drop as low as 50 per cent of their original cost, and nothing says “hell yeah!” like paying $300 for what is basically a new laptop. Desktop PC users, rejoice too: PC Part Picker will help you build the best computer you can with the budget you’ve got, if you’re willing to get your toolbox out and spend a few hours plugging things into one another. Mac users, you haven’t been forgotten (much): Apple is ALWAYS giving discounts to students, often up to 20 per cent off of their laptops and desktop computers. Take advantage of this, seriously!

  4. Be patient
    There’s no other way to put it. Taking good care of a computer does require a little bit of TLC. Computers are tools (for now anyways), and problems are usually solved by being patient and methodical. If you keep your cool when servicing your or your friends’ computers, you can get through things faster and often learn a thing or two about how to do it better next time.

Computers are hard work sometimes, but ultimately, taking good care of it while it’s still healthy will keep it alive a lot longer than just pushing the poor thing for years on end without any regard for its well-being. Until the machine overlords rise up and take over the earth, we’re lucky that we can get away with it.


Student Life

From dumb to smart, T.V.s are growing up

Chromecast, Apple T.V., what happened to my old flatscreen ?

The holidays are over, phew! We’ve all gotten our share of knick knacks and cute gadgets. We’ve all had the time to prop up behind the screen and watch some Netflix, listen to some music and just spend some quality time laying back and taking it easy for a few weeks. That being said, we’re usually locked in front of our tiny laptop screens, or in the middle of our office with a big whirring computer to get access to any of that stuff. Kind of a bummer sometimes, yes?

The tech market’s getting lucky: we’ve gotten smartphones, smart tablets and smart watches, it’s only logical to tackle the topic of smart T.V.s. If you’ve been out of the loop, smart T.V.s allow you to use applications directly from your remote, kind of like having Netflix installed without running it through your game console (if you own any), or hooking up your laptop to the television. But honestly, smart T.V.s are pretty pricey given what they offer, and if you already own a decent T.V., it honestly isn’t really worth getting your hands on a new T.V. just for that level of convenience.

Thankfully the options exist for people who just want to use their regular T.V. to run these applications with relatively little problems, and without splurging upwards of $1000 on a new piece of hardware. Apple fans get access to Apple T.V., which runs for about $109 and gives you access to your iTunes library, Netflix, Youtube, and all sorts of other internet geekery using the convenient little remote that apple ships with it. If you aren’t big into Apple, don’t you worry; Google’s got your covered with the Chromecast, which, while not as open-ended as coming with its stand-alone applications, does allow you to control it using an Android Phone, Tablet or Chromebook without any wires. Best part ? It runs for about $50! Not keen on the idea of owning either of these devices? Some Blu-Ray players also have smart options now too !

These cute devices hook up via HDMI and run their own little standalone operating systems. The apple T.V. is a relatively small box, while the Chromecast is about as big as about two USB thumb drives. If you’re having company over, it’s easier than hooking up a laptop to some speakers, or running a bunch of cabling from your device to the T.V., worrying about your battery life. In all cases, you don’t need to have your friends or family wade through your personal computer history and files to show you their favorite song on Spotify, or a cute cat video on youtube. The Apple T.V.’s remote is easy to handle and can be passed around and the Chromecast allows you to control it with any android phone in the vicinity, so your friends who may also be using Android can do all of those things from their own phone without touching yours.

So if you’re still hung up on returning some gifts from christmas for an exchange, or not sure what to do with that gift card or prepaid VISA, give these little babies a thought. The convenience is a great bonus, and a lot cheaper than a brand new T.V..

Student Life

Tips to maintain your computer: Part 2

The nitty-gritty of getting a computer back to its optimal state

So last week we talked a lot about little software tips to make your life easier, and keeping your computer running like the day you bought it. Sometimes, those simple tricks aren’t enough and you really need to get your hands dirty (in some cases literally) to get your computer’s life back on track.

  1. It’s time to clean up.
    Computers have a lot of fans inside them: fans that suck in air, and fans that blow it out. The reality of all things air-related is that dust gets around, and computers are notorious for spawning entire families of small dust bunnies. Now you may think to yourself “How is this relevant, Jocelyn?” Well, in truth, dust isn’t conductive, but it’s surprisingly good at retaining heat. Computers have measures in place to slow down when a certain core temperature is reached in order to avoid damaging their components. While boxed computers have it a bit easier, Macs and laptops are particularly vulnerable to accumulating dust considering their very compressed nature. With a few screwdrivers and a bit of compressed air, you can clean up your computer’s innards and keep its temperature running as smooth as always. Not sure what things are looking like in your computer? Go pick up Speccy, a useful little tool that will give you statistics about your computer’s temperature readouts and let you know if you’re running high or critical. This process is a bit more complicated on Macs and you might need to hit your local Apple store or Apple certified professional to open up the computer and do the maintenance. Unfortunately, because of the design choice on Macs, it’s (almost) impossible to get easy access to your computer’s innards when using an Apple computer.

  2. The dreaded factory reset
    Operating systems aren’t perfect, and in fact they’re generally not so great at longevity. If all the above steps still aren’t helping you out, then maybe it’s time to do the dreaded factory restore. Macs and newer versions of Windows usually have an easy way to restore everything to fresh in no time flat. Obviously, if you’re going to undertake this step it can’t be stressed enough that you need to back up your important data because you are going to lose everything. So make use of that Google drive, OneDrive, iCloud and other cloud storage accounts to keep your stuff from getting wiped out. If that isn’t enough space, consider getting a little backup drive. These are usually set up to automatically back up your data at set intervals and keep your data from getting killed from hardware failure, or a stint of forgetfulness when doing a factory restore.

  3. Check your hardware (PC Only)
    Maintenance isn’t just about prevention; some of it also boils down to detecting issues that might be occurring in your hardware. It’s common for certain parts of a computer to eventually go bad. Often the fixes required are cheap and don’t require much work, much less in fact than the go-to choice of just buying a new computer altogether. There are LOADS of available tools for running hardware diagnostics. Apple users have a convenient tool called the Apple Hardware Test Tool, which will run you through things fairly painlessly. PC users might have a bit of harder time, but with a little bit of reading and a USB stick that’s at least 2GB, you can use a handy tool called UBCD (Ultimate Boot CD), which will allow you to run a plethora of hardware tests on every piece of hardware you own, and let you know if things are going wrong. This requires a bit of know-how, but it’s nothing a bit of Google-fu won’t fix.

Next week, check online where we’ll cover ever nittier and grittier ways to tune up your computer. Stay tuned!

Student Life

Some tips to maintain your computer – Part 1

Things getting a bit slow? Maybe it’s time to do some maintenance

Computers are fantastic tools that have become a part of our day-to-day life. Like all tools, though, they can get a little worn down over time and many things can contribute to your computer working less efficiently. If that sounds all too familiar to you, then perhaps it’s about time to give your computer a little bit of tender loving care. Lucky for you, most of these steps are fairly easy and will significantly improve your computer’s performance!

  1. Defrag your disk
    Windows users will definitely hear this come up as part of the routine necessary to keep up maintenance on their drives. Because of how downloading, deleting, installing and removing files from your disk work under Windows, hard disks will become “fragmented.” What this means, in short, is that data is written on your disk in little bits, and file fragments will take up blocks on your drive that are located in different sectors. This isn’t noticeable visually, but because the operating system will need to read files spread across different sectors, things may take a little longer to start up. Defragmenting your drive will re-organize these fragments neatly. Mac users: count your lucky stars! OS X is fairly awesome at keeping things neat in the first place, which is why some operations can take a little longer from the get-go.

  2. Keep some available space
    Computers run on memory to give you the ability to multitask. When you hear the term RAM (Random Access Memory), it refers to the amount of available memory your computer has to run multiple programs, tabs in your browser and anything else you might be doing at the time. What isn’t mentioned, though, is that computers will also use a portion of hard drive space as cached memory to help speed things along. Having almost no disk space left (usually under five per cent of your total disk space) can have a significant impact on the speed at which things get done. If you’re finding yourself running low on space, why not save some of your files on the Cloud? Services like dropbox,, Google Drive and Microsoft’s OneDrive give you a ton of storage space to keep your things, give you the ability to use them as a networked drive on your computer so you can access them any time you’re online, and sync them from your smartphone, your tablet, or any other computer via the web.

  3. Clean up your registry (Windows users)
    Windows runs a lot of its smart tasks using a registry system called “regedit” (registry editor). This is where a lot of settings, and other things that Windows will remember for you, are saved up. Unfortunately, Windows isn’t very good at keeping it optimized, and those who aren’t power-users might find themselves overwhelmed by what to do in the registry. Tools like CCleaner can help clean things up for you efficiently and freely, and running it every once in a while is a great idea for keeping your tasks running as smoothly as possible.

That’s all for this week folks, but check back next week for another few tips on keeping things running as well as they can.

Student Life

The terrifying truth about online advertising

Targeted ads dig into your private life to sell you things that you don’t really need

In this day and age, it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t been using the internet for a number of years. Much like our real lives, the digital content we consume is often riddled with or interrupted by advertisements for products that we don’t necessarily need. What’s different about the online world though, is that these ads are tailored for you, dear user.

When you’re watching TV and a Budweiser ad rolls around, it’s got a specific target demographic audience. The truth is, though, that not everyone who views this ad is part of that demographic. The online world functions quite differently.

The ads you see are a result of what is—in grossly simplified terms—an aggregated amount of data based on your browsing practices. Every search you make identifies with certain key words that are collected and then fed back to you. Advertisers can promote their products to a very specific demographic with a much higher conversion rate than they would using traditional media like radio and television, and at a much lower cost too. Better yet, websites that choose to display these ads can earn revenue by doing so, to help pay for their cost of maintenance or to pocket the money. The earnings are fairly low for smaller websites, but busier sites like Facebook can earn a pretty penny off of your reading space.

If you’ve browsed deeper, there’s no doubt that you’ve landed on pages so completely riddled with ads that the content was almost entirely inaccessible. From overlays on top of text to misleading links for downloads, or just your general obnoxious video that pops out of nowhere, ads are everywhere online. Some of these are directly related to advertisers, while others cautiously hide malicious software that can log your actions to other third party sources, including leaking your passwords.

With this being said, if you’re anything like me and you’re completely sick of seeing this content, know that there are solutions for trimming the fat off of these cluttered, messy pages. Add-ons for browsers like Chrome and Firefox exist, most notably AdBlock+, which allow you to completely block the ads off of many websites. While this may significantly improve your browsing experience, it’s always important to consider that these ads may be the only thing keeping smaller, independent websites alive. Luckily, these add-ons allow you to let certain domains show you advertisements.

Another annoyance is what are known as “toolbars.” These browser extensions that add little tidbits of code to your browser, often disguising themselves as “search helpers” or “download accelerators,” are often riddled with code that has no purpose other than  to pepper you with even more advertisements, making your browsing experience significantly slower and far less enjoyable. There are work-arounds though! For Firefox users, you can use the “add-ons” button from your menu to manage your extensions, and remove those pesky search bars. Chrome users can type “about:plugins” in their URL bar to see a list of installed plugins and extensions that may be plaguing them.

Advertisers will always try to get a step ahead. Considering how much exposure we have to ads in the first place, it’s good to have just a little more control over what we see, and how.

Student Life

Took the words right out of my mouth

Japanese-made SpeechJammer gun aims, points, and leaves people tongue-tied

Imagine that, while you were speaking, someone pointed a device in your direction that literally left you speechless. Apparently, such a contraption exists.

Back in 2012 two Japanese research scientists, Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada, designed a gun-shaped device they call the SpeechJammer that can be used to disturb people’s speech, make them stutter or make them stop talking altogether.

By using a directional microphone, a directional speaker, and a distance sensor, the SpeechJammer gun trips up its target by playing back their own voice to them at a slight delay of around 200 milliseconds. Putting together each of these pieces on top of a black acrylic case, with a trigger added below, allows the device to resemble a gun.

The science behind this device’s success is the use of artificial speech disturbance with Delayed Auditory Feedback (DAF).

As Kurihara and Tsukada write in their paper, aptly titled SpeechJammer: A System Utilizing Artificial Speech Disturbance with Delayed Auditory Feedback, “[w]e report a system that jams remote people’s speech using Delayed Auditory Feedback, a well-studied method involving the human auditory system. This effect can disturb people without any physical discomfort, and disappears immediately [when] the speaking stops. Furthermore, this effect does not involve anyone but the speaker.”

In essence, all it takes to disrupt someone’s speech is relaying their own voice back to them at a slight delay.

Since our brain is used to processing only one speaker’s voice at a time, feeding a second voice — which is our own — at the same time confuses the brain, induces mental stress, and therefore leaves us tongue-tied and unable to speak properly.

“In our preliminary study, we dealt with ‘reading news aloud’ and ‘spontaneous monologue’ as the speech contexts,” write Kurihara and Tsukada. “From the results, we observed a tendency for speech jamming to occur more frequently in the ‘reading news aloud’ context than in the ‘spontaneous monologue’ context. Further, it is obvious that speech jamming never occurs when meaningless sound sequences such as ‘Ahhh’ are uttered over a long time period.”

DAF devices, it turns out, have been used for decades as a technique to aid people with stuttering issues, according to the researchers.

In a study conducted for the International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders back in 2003, nine stuttering individuals between the ages of 18 and 45 participated in a three-month investigation to test the effect of repeated exposure to DAF to improve their speech fluency.

At the end of the three-month period, the percentage of stuttered words during non-altered feedback, before and after repeated exposure to DAF, showed significantly less stuttering after the repeated exposure to DAF.

Given these results, if both a non-stutterer and a stutterer were to be exposed to the SpeechJammer or any DAF device, the stutterer would actually be more likely to speak clearly than the non-stutterer.

Although the SpeechJammer gun is still a prototype, anyone can build their own version at home. For people willing to test it out themselves, a Speech Jammer app is available for iPhone and Androids to try and play around with.

Student Life

An apple a day breaks the bank

Apple computers may be sleek and stylish, but are they really better?

Macs are taking over campus! This isn’t a conspiracy theory, so you can keep your tinfoil hats safely stashed away, I promise. If you’ve taken courses on campus that allowed laptops, then you’ve probably noticed that the majority of students are using Apple products. To that my only question is why?

Mac laptops cost about $1,000 from the get-go. They tout security, privacy and top-of-the-line hardware. But how much of that is actually true? Very little of it, it turns out. Let’s take things one step at a time to drive the point home.

For starters, for that thousand-dollar investment you get an i5 processor, 4GB of ram and 128GB of flash storage. A $500 PC laptop more than matches those statistics (for example, the Toshiba C55D series), and even triples the 128GB of storage you find on a Mac.

“But Jocelyn,” you tell me, “Macs are secure, they don’t get viruses like PCs do.”

This was probably true back in the ‘90s when Apple computers were used by graphic designers only, but even Apple now admits that viruses are a common problem for its users too, so no, Macs aren’t really that much safer. A computer is as safe as its user. What’s more, Safari (Macs’ default browser) was hacked in a remarkable five seconds by French company Vupen, making even the terribly flawed (and often ridiculed) Internet Explorer look like a champion.

So is it that Macs don’t break as often? Are cheaper to repair? Not quite. Mac components are more expensive, and can only be serviced by technicians that charge more than the average IT professional to fix. Why is this? Most Macs now require special tools to open up and service, and don’t take third party hardware very well at all. So what gives?

Macs are pretty, I get it. They’re easy to use and are fairly streamlined in how they function. At the end of the day, it’s your money and you can do what you like with it. But when I overhear someone on campus complain about how broke they are, while they’re hanging on to their $800 iPhone and $1,000 Macbook, a part of me dies a little. A Nexus 5 will cost you $250 straight from Google, without a contract, unlocked to every carrier, and an HP or Toshiba laptop will cost you between $500 and $700.

I suppose this raises another interesting question: Why are Macs the only computers sold on campus? Regardless of the answer, I have to congratulate Apple on their successful marketing, no matter how deceptive it actually is.

Student Life

Your password isn’t as safe as you think

Take heed and keep your online life secure with good password habits

No matter where you tread online, you’ll always hear the same pieces of advice: “don’t give out your password to anyone” and “change your password frequently.” Obviously, something’s not right since passwords get broken into by the millions, and users find all manner of accounts hijacked by unsavory folks on an almost daily basis. So where exactly is the problem?

Your password probably isn’t as safe as you think it is. A lot of account services now require users to use more than generic letters to protect their various accounts, but adding a number at the end of your password isn’t going to make it all that much safer. Individuals and groups who specialize in compromising accounts often have computers at their disposal with the sole purpose of breaking into accounts, requiring a minimal amount of actual work before they can access your data using automated scripts that run through names, dates and common words.

So how do you make your passwords a little bit more secure? Making them longer helps, sure. Adding some numbers in there doesn’t hurt either. If you’re looking for some peace of mind though, don’t forget to throw in a couple of symbols as well: adding “!” or “$” or even “#” to a password greatly decreases your chances of losing your data during a random sweep of whatever services you are using.

The reality of the situation is that memorable passwords are often easier to hack but memorizing an almost random string of numbers, letters and symbols is grossly inconvenient, especially if you’re not looking to — and quite honestly you shouldn’t — use the same password for every account you own. Think of it this way: figuring out the password to one account would then open a whole new doorway to all of your online life. And truth be told, it isn’t that difficult to figure out where you’ve been using your email to create accounts.

Keep your life secure; use different and complex passwords for all of your things, throw in some symbols and make it nonsensical to anyone but yourself. If you’re forgetful and have a hard time with it, there exist plenty of utilities that can help you keep your passwords secure in an encrypted vault, too. Services like LastPass have been touted by tech blogs across the web as being a reliable and secure option to keep and generate passwords safely.

For an added bit of fun, check out and see how long it would take a traditional computer to figure out your password using standard scripts (and don’t you readers worry, the data isn’t saved on the website).

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