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Spicing up outer space

Review: Wing Commander: Secret Ops


Origin Systems have done very well out of their Wing Commander series of space combat simulators, Wing Commanders 1 through 5 and Privateer 1 and 2. Now they’ve released a version of Wing Commander free onto the Internet, and called it “Wing Commander: Secret Ops”. Let’s see if it passes the Gadget Four Question User Test…

  1. Is it ready to use? Well, first you have to download it. So you head over to, register for it after waiting for the Macromedia Flash web interface to download, and then download the core files, the speech pack files (if you want speech), the documentation, and any new episodes (they’re up to Episode 4, as of the time of writing). 130Mb and several hours later, you can run the installation, which is quick and easy. Secret Ops runs under Windows 95/98 with DirectX 5 or higher loaded, and supports most 3D video cards, such as the Voodoo or Direct3D-supported cards.
  2. Is it easy to use? If you’re familiar with the Wing Commander games, particularly Wing Commander 5: Prophecy, you’ll be able to play Secret Ops almost immediately. If not, it could be a while before you get used to the various keystrokes used for various functions within the game. You can play Secret Ops without a joystick, but it isn’t easy, so a joystick (preferably one with a throttle and lots of buttons) is highly recommended. The keystrokes are most suitable for a right-hander, but a leftie can get by too.
  3. Does it operate as advertised? As a space combat simulator, there’s very little on the market that can match Wing Commander. The graphics are excellent, especially with a 3D video card (I use a Diamond Viper V330), the screenplay is smooth even on a low-end 200MHz machine, and the feel of the various spaceships you fly is good, reflecting their differences. The sound is amazing, with your wingmen and the alien enemy shouting on the comm system, and the sounds of your weapon fire hitting other ships (OK, there’s no sound in space, so sue me), or the enemy hitting you. Unlike the other games in the Wing Commander series, there isn’t any action between missions. In the previous games, you would have video segments in between missions (and the video segments would take up several CDs worth of space), whereas in Secret Ops all the action is in your spaceship. Every week on a Thursday, Origin is releasing a new “episode”, basically a new batch of missions, with each episode being about 600kb in size, and you can get information relating to your missions on the web site.I had a problem with Secret Ops locking up my system, but it turned out that running my system in 32-bit colour instead of 16-bit colour fixed the problem; other than that, it has worked flawlessly.
  4. Is it value for money? Although Secret Ops is free, you have to figure in the cost of a phone connection to your ISP for several hours while you download it. If you download in non-peak hours, the cost shouldn’t be too high, and thus Secret Ops is a real winner in the “value for money” category – it’s at least as good as Wing Commander 5: Prophecy in most respects, and Prophecy sells for at least R300 (about $50) in most stores.

If you’re into spaceflight simulators, or even general flight simulators, this game is a winner.

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3D printed room-service? Visit the hotel of tomorrow

To mark its 100th birthday, Hilton predicts the trends that will change travel and hospitality in the next 100 years.

Intergalactic getaways, fast-food nutrient pills, 2-3 hour working days and adaptable, personalised rooms that can transport guests everywhere from jungles to mountain ranges. These are some of the predictions for the next 100 years that the Hilton hotel group has put together in celebration of its 100th anniversary.

In a report supported by expert insight from the fields of sustainability, innovation, design, human relations and nutrition, findings reveal the impact of the growing sophistication of technology and climate change on the hotel industry in the future.

Key predictions for the hotel of the future include:

Personalisation is King

  • Technology will allow every space, fitting and furnishing to continuously update to respond to an individual’s real-time needs – the Lobby will conjure up anything from a tranquil spa to a buzzy bar, giving every guest the perfect, personal welcome
  • From temperature and lighting, to entertainment and beyond, microchips under the skin will enable us to wirelessly control the setting around us based on what we need, whenever we need it

The Human Touch

  • In a world filled with Artificial Intelligence, human contact and the personal touch will be more critical and sought after than ever
  • Technology will free up time for hotel staff to focus on what matters most: helping guests to connect with one another and building memorable moments

‘Sustainable Everything’ – The Role of Responsibility

  • Only businesses that are inherently responsible will survive the next century
  • Sustainability will be baked into everything about a hotel’s design – from weather-proofed domes, to buildings made from ocean-dredged plastic
  • Hotels will act as the Town Hall of any community, managing local resources and contributing to the areas they serve with community-tended insect farms and vertical hydroponic crop gardens

Menu Surprises and Personalisation

  • Our diets will include more plant-based recipes and some surprising sources of protein – Beetle Bolognese, Plankton Pies and Seaweed Green Velvet Cake will be menu staples!
  • Decadent 3D-printed dinners and room service will provide unrivalled plate personalisation
  • Chefs will be provided with biometric data for each guest, automatically creating meals based on preferences and nutritional requirements

Futuristic Fitness and Digital Detoxes

  • Outswim a virtual sea turtle in the pool, or challenge yourself to climb the digital face of Mount Everest, your exercise routine will be as unique as you are. What’s more, exercise energy generated from workouts will be used to power the hotel, providing a zero-impact, circular system. Guests could even earn rewards based on reaching workout targets
  • Pick up where you left off with trackable workouts and holographic personal trainers
  • Offline will be the new luxury as we seek to find moments of tech-free time

“Since its inception in 1919, Hilton has pioneered the hospitality industry, introducing first-to-market concepts such as air-conditioning and in-room televisions. Last year, Hilton also became the first hospitality company to set science-based targets to reduce its environmental impact,” said Simon Vincent, EVP & President, EMEA, Hilton. “We enter our second century with the same commitment to innovation, harnessing the power of our people and technology to respond to guest demands. Our research paints an exciting future for the hospitality industry, highlighting the growing importance of human interaction in an increasingly tech-centric world.”

Futurologist Gerd Leonhard said: “In 2119 we will still be searching for unique experiences, but they will be more personalised than ever. As technology shapes our lives we will seek out moments of offline connection with others, including hotel team members who will help us truly get what we need from our stays. 100 years from now hotels will have to create opportunities to converse, collaborate and connect, delivering moments that matter, individually, to each and every guest.”

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Gadget ed to chair Digital Council

Specialist financial services provider Sasfin Bank has established a Digital Advisory Council to provide the market with industry-leading expertise and insights on trends shaping the use of technology in financial services.

Digitalisation is one of the most powerful forces for change shaping Finance today. This has turned Fintech into one of the most vibrant sectors in both information technology and among start-ups, generating billions of dollars in investment and development globally. The South African fintech space is dynamic, and Sasfin is playing a leading role in the transformation of local financial services and the resulting enhancement of customer experiences.

“We have been investing in fintech development in-house and acquiring or integrating fintech start-ups,” says Sasfin CEO Michael Sassoon. “Over the last year we have built further digital offerings, integrated via APIs into leading businesses and invested in fintechs. We built and launched B\\YOND, an innovative digital business banking platform and SWIP, a digital wealth and investing platform. We have invested in Payabill, an online SME lender and DMA, a digital trading platform. We recently announced our alliance banking relationship, leveraging open banking, with Hello Paisa to offer seamless banking to the unbanked. We feel that there is a huge opportunity to improve the experience of South African businesses and savers through using technology. We have therefore created an independent forum to assess how to even better improve financial services for South Africans by leveraging the digital economy.”

Arthur Goldstuck, founder of high-tech research consultancy World Wide Worx, editor-in-chief of Gadget, and a globally respected technology analyst has accepted Sasfin’s invitation to head up the Sasfin Digital Advisory Council, an independent think tank that will help Sasfin and its clients decipher the fintech present and future.

“The Sasfin Digital Advisory Council is broader than providing only the bank with a source of insight on how digital services are evolving and lessons from across the world,” said CEO Michael Sassoon. “Sasfin has been involved in fintech investing for many years and we are leveraging this experience as well as the experience of independent experts such as Arthur to provide insights and guidance to interested stakeholders in this space.”

The team appointed to the Digital Advisory Council is being selected for the breadth and range of knowledge they would bring to the table, with further appointments to the Council being announced soon.  There will also be room for the Council to co-opt specialist expertise as it is required.

Goldstuck, who has been covering the fintech sector as an analyst, commentator and columnist for many years, says he sees the role as a welcome challenge.

“There has been a long-standing need for a clear understanding of the impact being made by fintech today, and the exponential change it will cause tomorrow,” said Goldstuck. “My role will be, partly, to curate the wide spectrum of fintech and digitalisation knowledge and insights that the members will bring to the Digital Advisory Council, and help create scenarios that businesses and policymakers may use to navigate the future – both inside and outside Sasfin.”

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