Nic and Seamus catch up face-to-face at PAX Australia 2019 live in Melbourne to talk about the show, what they saw, what they did, what panels they were taking part in, plus a bunch of tangents are explored along the way.
I got a new car recently. By recently I mean a year ago. I like cars, but I’m not a ‘car person’. I do my research ahead of time, but then I pretty much make my final decision based largely on how it just feels to be sitting in that driver seat taking things for a spin.
I like to think about car reviews when I think about how the tech I’ve often reviewed – phones, TVs, laptops – can get too caught up in year-over-year changes. Those of us living in the thick of the new things can get caught up in the tiny differences. But most people are upgrading a model they’ve owned for many years. My old car was over ten years old! For these buyers, almost every new model – including the inexpensive ones – will blow their minds.
When I bought my car (a Honda Civic), I didn’t pay any mind to features like cruise control. Any time I’ve driven a car with cruise control I’ve only ever tested it for the sake of checking what it feels like.
And I think it feels terrible.
I’m all for self-driving cars, and look forward to just having driverless cars on demand in our future. When cars truly drive themselves why should we even own them? But cruise control is the awkward teenager of vehicle automation. It takes the joy out of driving while putting you into a terrible realm where the car is speeding along without your feet being involved at all. Scary stuff.
Anyway, yes, my Civic has cruise control. But amongst the same set of controls, I discovered it also has a Limiter. And I adore it.
I use the limiter every single day, every time I’m in the car, and I tweak and twiddle the setting constantly. It’s brilliant.
So what’s a limiter? Like cruise control, you set a speed you want to ‘cruise’ at, except now it’s a speed you simply don’t want to accelerate past. With this setting in place, you are still doing all of the driving. It just stops the throttle from letting you push past the magic number.
Maybe that doesn’t sound too different, but it really is. Because while you would never use cruise control in a 50 or 60 zone, the limiter is perfect for these environments just as it is at home on the freeway at 110.
The limiter has helped me to do the single most important thing while driving. To keep my eyes on the road, surrounding vehicles, and overall conditions around me.
Having to constantly glance down and check speed to maintain a speed limit without speeding is a constant dance of the eyes. It’s fine, it’s doable. But now the limiter worries about that for me. I can just drive the way drivers should.
The limiter doesn’t brake for you, it only controls the accelerator, which means it can slide past the limit you’ve set if you are going down a hill. But if you do go three clicks above the limit you set you’ll get an audible alert to let you know it’s happening so you can react accordingly. And if you plant your foot hard to the floor it will also override the limit.
I feel like the limiter makes me a more active driver. My eyes are where they should be, and when I change speed zones I quickly tap and adjust the limit to reflect the change. Once set I can tap up and down to tweak the exact limit I’ve set, or cancel and reengage to whatever speed I’m driving at.
And, seriously, it makes me feel like an F1 driver leaving pit lane when I have my foot down cruising at 60 and get to cancel the limit as I enter a freeway on-ramp and feel the car just take off at the push of a button.
It also keeps my drive at a more constant, smooth speed than ever before, across all speed zones. I live outside the city, so I’m rarely stuck in traffic like some people. But I’m also in a regional town, so it’s not pure cruising. Over the last few thousand miles my fuel economy sits at around 6.3L/100km (a little ahead of the Honda claim of 6.4L).
I think no car should have cruise control. And I think every car should have a limiter. It’s active, it helps keep our eyes where they should be, and it helps maintain a smoother drive. I love it.
Check your car settings. Maybe you already have one too?
Join Nic Healey and Seamus Byrne (yes, that’s me) for the new Byteside podcast. We chat tech, games and culture, staying out of the weeds of the weekly news to explore new things, old things, fun things, sad things, whatever things just make us desperate to mull them over each week (ish).
For the first show we explore Fallout 76, D&D, esports corruption, Vampire: The Masquerade, Neal Stephenson’s latest, and that goose the whole world is talking about.
Enjoy the first episode and we’ll be back again with a show from PAX Australia this weekend!
It’s no spoiler to point out that the new Dungeons & Dragons campaign book, Descent Into Avernus, leads a party of heroes from the mean streets of Baldur’s Gate directly into the first layer of Hell itself.
But how does it happen? And what happens when we get there? I want to avoid anything that spoils the story, but still give you a sense of whether the new expansion is a worthy experience for your table.
TL;DR: Yes. Yes it is.
Who it isn’t for: a group that wants pure, high fantasy D&D as the focus of its adventuring experience. Descent Into Avernus deviates from the classical fantasy tropes and instead embraces a Hell that invokes metal album covers and Mad Max vibes. War machines powered by souls roam this battlefield, and your group will have reason to get involved in these shenanigans.
There will not be green and pleasant lands to tromp through. There will not be relaxing taverns to rest in. Good will not necessarily triumph at the end of the day.
When you read this book, it feels like a D&D creative team that is really enjoying its work. And they are delivering adventure books that are utterly epic in proportion.
The current model of campaign design gives us stories that are for characters starting from the ground floor and heading off on journeys that have world shaping consequences. Descent Into Avernus is an exemplar of this model. It says it is for characters starting at first level and takes them on a journey through to level 13.
When you think of traditional ideas of visiting other planes, it is usually treated as the stuff of high level campaigning. Here, it doesn’t take long to find your character out of its depth in the middle of the blood war between devils and demons. And being out of one’s depth in combat terms means characters need to think smart and use their wits to not die. Always a worthy challenge.
Ahead of the launch, folks like Chris Perkins pointed out that there was a lot of work put into making you really feel like you’re in Hell. That everyone in Hell is, well, in their own Hell of sorts, so the scene setting does a lot of work to ensure you know your character is not having a nice time. But there’s a very important distinction here. One that means “my character is in Hell and having a rotten time” and “I, the player, am having a great time dealing with my character being in Hell” are all part of the experience.
The stakes in this storyline are vast. I am curious to see in the D&D canon after this campaign has been around for a while whether official lore will change to accommodate what is suggested by this story. Outcomes will vary based on what your party does, but with stakes like these it’ll be fun to see whether the lore keepers declare one outcome or another as having eventuated.
Early on I did hold some concern that this campaign might not suit younger players. But this feels like a fun conceptual space that has gross demonic and devilish things happening but can be delivered in a way that gives it all a laugh and a gross out without being nightmarish. Barovia is a far more troubling place for younger minds that this version of Hell.
The inclusion of deeper detailing of the city of Baldur’s Gate is great fodder for any Forgotten Realms campaign, as is the core mapping and detailing of the inhabitants of Avernus. If you never run this as a full fledged campaign, your table could still be a lot richer for having the source material available. There is a menagerie of characters and monsters here that would slot in nicely whatever kind of game you happen to run – as long as you’re ready for a side order of Hell to slot them into.
Descent Into Avernus is a bargain with the devils you should sign up for. No blood required.
Today’s Apple event, launching iPhone 11, Apple Watch Series 5 and a new iPad, really did feel like the beginning of a new era. It’s been eight years since Steve Jobs passed, and a couple of months since Jony Ive left the building. But today was the first major event where the dulcet tones of Ive were no longer present to explain to us why a device was worthy of our hard earned.
That connection between the voice of Ive and the mind of Jobs was a long and powerful thing. And there was something about Ive’s presence in the design department that made it feel like Steve was somehow still around, especially when the tone of launch events continued to include that warm British voice that was allowed to say the word ‘aluminium’ inside an American company. He had Permission. He oozed Authority.
So today was the first time it felt like we had a truly Tim Cook keynote event. Yes, he’s been calling the shots for a long time. But no more Jony meant we had a full slate of produced videos telling the stories of the latest devices. Not a narrated piece of tech porn that upheld an Apple tradition.
These new videos reflect a style that has started to move further into the foreground in Apple’s new era of brand identity. Videos that aim to tug at the heartstrings around ‘The Power Of Apple Technology’ while also having a healthy dose of whimsy.
Here’s the official Apple summary of the event, for example:
There’s an air of fun. We’ve had skits at other recent events like when Cook tweeted ahead of the event as if something had gone wrong, a lead in to the intro video of someone racing to deliver him something.
We’ve had fun videos at WWDC about the hidden life of code compilation that only developers understand.
And we’ve had energetic ’60s cinema vibes proclaiming the joy of a new Apple announcement.
There’s a clear sense of fun mixed into the polished delivery under Tim and his team. Here’s two more from this year:
A fun take on why privacy matters? It works. No one else is having ‘fun’ with privacy messaging. And two more from today:
Jobs had a sense of humour, but his focus at a launch was on gravity. That whatever was being announced that day was the pinnacle of technological innovation up to that moment.
Today we saw an event that did miss the gravitas of an Ive introduction. And the new devices are evolutionary in a way that might suggest Ive knew the age of consumer tech revolution has run its course (for now). So it was hard to think what his voice would have added to today’s line up of designs.
It does mean the devices must stand a little more on their own. The renowned Reality Distortion Field era is over. It was heavily attached to Jobs but Ive carried that torch a little beyond his direct presence.
What becomes clearer is that Cook adheres to classic Apple secrecy as much as possible but come launch day he likes to show his working. We don’t just get “A13 Bionic is the fastest chip in a smartphone ever”. We get a detailed breakdown of what it does and why it does it, a kind of surface level proof that this chip is the bees knees. A pitch not just to the casual fans but some extra talking points for those who know they’re going to have to justify why an Apple phone is worth the extra bank.
Tim Cook’s Apple feels more personal. It remains high-end – sometimes wildly so – but it has a clear sense of how every person, every pocket, every household, is a little bit different. On stage, Cook doesn’t try to command the audience. He shares the stage with various Apple product leaders and development partners. It’s not all about him, it’s about the people who run things telling you why their thing is a cool thing.
Apple is in the midst of a shift toward being a more and more service driven company. Remember that during Cook’s time macOS has gone from a product we had to pay for at each upgrade to a platform we get for free. The hardware is a gateway to an Apple software and service ecosystem. Privacy itself is becoming a service offered through Apple software and service options (when compared to its advertising-driven rivals).
All this is to say that, with the voice of Ive now removed from the Apple launch process, the last vestige of the old order is gone. Today we truly see the future of Apple.
The best lesson I’ve ever had in what I should try to take pictures of, and how I should take them, was when I spent a week scanning over 5,000 family photos from across my childhood to young adult life.
Hardware talk: Epson FastFoto FF-680W
I recently tested the Epson FastFoto FF-680W photo scanner, an impressive system that makes quick feeding large sets of photos a breeze. It uses a sheet feeder system, rather than a flatbed, so you can drop in stacks of photos at a time – roughly in line with a roll of film worth of prints.
Over thousands of photos it jammed just a small number of times, never damaging the photos in the process, just a quick open, check and reset the remaining prints. It easily adjusted all final outputs so that any time a photo was slightly askew or in a different ratio or format it came out in the scan with the image captured just right.
The included software made it easy to give each batch of photos metadata related to content or theme, and date data could be applied either as a specific date or as a month/year or even a season (though the season system was northern hemisphere specific so best stick to months if you’re using this down under).
One particularly clever feature was to also scan the reverse side of the photos, with sensitivity settings available to help tweak how sensitive it should be to automatically identify whether there was something worth capturing, like handwritten notes. Lots of false positives here but easy to delete those (captured as a second ‘b’ image) while it was lovely to have a few of those notes captured alongside the photos in question.
The biggest nuisance was some all too frequent nagging from the software to keep cleaning the scan head. But it’s a valid nag. Old photos carry plenty of dust and a quick wipe with the included cloth seemed to help ensure things stayed as clean and clear as possible.
Overall, this $699 unit is an impressive option for quickly getting through those family archives. As mentioned above, in that one week of effort I got through five boxes of old photos, with a final tally of well over 5,000 photos scanned.
It’s one of those jobs that’s just too easy to keep putting off (even with the scanner here I spent a month not getting around to it), but now it’s done it feels great to have those memories in digital format, ready to share with family and enjoy again. And it gives a warm fuzzy feeling to know that they’re backed up in a secure cloud storage (not from Epson, my own cloud service) ready to stand the ongoing test of time.
The photography lessons
What I thought I was going to learn was really just a question of scan quality and scanner performance. But as I went through the photos I found myself critiquing the decisions I had made at the time I was taking those photos. The photos that seemed were the ‘right’ photo at the time felt too obvious and over composed now. And today my favourite photos were the ones that captured life warts and all.
So here then are the things I came to realise about how I should take photos today having explored the photos of my past…
1. More people The places I’ve visited over the years have been beautiful. It’s nice to still have those images of the cities and countrysides I backpacked through and visited all those years ago. But all those shots with no one I care about in them feel sterile.
Unless I captured the perfect frame, they’re just empty. It makes a lot of sense why selfies have become such a big deal today. Memories are a lot more interesting when we put ourselves in the frame.
2. More normal life So many photos, entire rolls of film, were focused around fancy parties and dinner functions, large gatherings of friends dressed up in fancy clothes. It’s nice to have some of that, of course. But so many?
What I didn’t see as much of was time sitting at home with friends and family. But when I did see those moments, unposed normality, so many more memories came flooding back. The unanswered questions of everyday life – Which house is that? When would that have been? What were we looking at? What music was playing?
The parties had clear answers but few memory triggers. Normal life delivered a flood of half remembered sound, scent and scene that made my brain work to rebuild the moment. It was magical and I want more of that in my future and for my children’s future.
3. Less generic wide shots When we were shooting film, our own images were one of the best ways to remember the places we’d travelled and the things we’d seen. But now a quick search can reveal thousands of photos of anywhere we like.
Memory triggers run like water on the web. But details are personal. The things that catch our eye that only we will care about, or the weird things we noticed that made us laugh. A photo of a detail that means nothing to most people is the kind of photo that means a lot more when we capture it for posterity.
4. Stop forcing those smiles It doesn’t take long skimming old photos to notice that same “I’m happy” pose appear again and again and again. The photos that feel special are the ones when we’re acting a bit silly, or pulling a stupid face. A jump. A twist and look. A Blue Steel. The ones where we did anything but stand carefully to deliver generic attention to the camera. These are the photos that bring a real smile to my face here in the future while looking back on the past.
5. Take more photos We have more photos now than ever before. But I’ve realised that I’m still mostly taking photos of what feel like photo moments. I’m going to try to make a habit of capturing things just because. To make a quick snap a better fidget response than pulling out my phone to check social media.
If my phone is in my hand, look around for something to capture. Not to share immediately. Not to send a friend. To treat my photo library like a time capsule of random moments that might not mean much today, but might make an older Seamus, when his memories begin to fade, smile at a half-forgotten moment that didn’t seem like much at the time.
We chat to the DM and Vinnie from liveplay D&D podcast “I Speak Giant” about the show. Where it started, how it has evolved, what it’s been like working with Wizards of the Coast on the Avernus preview campaign, and we even dig deep into their personal histories playing RPGs for the first time.
I’ve been running a newsletter for a few months now, so thought it was time to say it loud and proud. If you like someone else to find all the most important nerd news that may have slipped through the cracks, I’m doing it.
So far I’ve tried not to make it too OTT, just around a dozen links to interesting and valuable content from across the tech and digital culture domains.
Starting August 10, incredible Augmented Reality (AR) experiences will be offered in six major cities around the world in a collaboration between Apple and New York’s New Museum.
The AR[T] project sees special experiences available as a walking tour from Apple Store locations in San Francisco, New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo, featuring artists Nick Cave, Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg, Cao Fei, John Giorno, Carsten Höller and Pipilotti Rist.
According to Apple:
The three new sessions include an interactive walk featuring works by some of the world’s premier contemporary artists, an in-store session that teaches the basics of creating AR using Swift Playgrounds and an AR art installation viewable in every Apple Store worldwide.
While these installations are in select locations around the world, every store can experience a work called “Amass” by American artist Nick Cave.
iOS 13 has some particularly exciting new AR tools coming to iPhone and iPad, which will make creating experiences more accessible than ever. So the timing feels particularly exciting to encourage people to see what’s possible and explore ideas of their own.
I first covered Gogoro nearly four years ago for CNET while in Taiwan for Computex. The Taiwanese electric scooter company was designing beautiful scooters but had also devised a battery swap platform around the city to make charging a non-issue.
At the time the company was open about trying to make its battery service something that other companies could interoperate with. In countries where scooters are everywhere but no one has a garage to do their own recharging, it was a great idea and if it operated independently across different makes and models it would be a great service for all.
Now Techcrunch reports that Gogoro has new partners on board. Yamaha, Aeon Motors and PGO are all about to launch new scooters to work with Gogoro hardware.
I’ve always hoped the company would succeed. Such a great concept and it would be a shame for others to fight to control end-to-end instead of join forces and make EV more viable for the scooter industry across South-East Asia.