Today Seamus speaks with Distinguished Professor Genevieve Bell AO. She’s a cultural anthropologist who spent two decades at Intel and is known as one of the most important thinkers on technology and culture. She returned to Australia in recent years to create an entirely new school of research at ANU, named 3Ai.
We explore the aims of the new school, why it matters, and what the big issues are for technology in society today. And like any conversation with Professor Bell we get anecdotes from the past to help us understand that where we’re going next isn’t all that new… if only we can learn from the history lessons that can help pave the way…
This week Seamus and Nic explore ten years of iPad, how Sonos is struggling to kill old products, and the return of the Motorola Razr… all somehow revolving around questions of how our tech is meant to evolve, to last and to be the right tool for the right job.
On the ten years of iPad, we think about how we both dismissed it at launch but have had very different perspectives on it in the years since. Has the tablet market grown? Have laptops changed?
Seamus is a massive Sonos nerd so he’s right in the thick of the tension between the need to kill old tech in the name of new features but the faith Sonos lovers have in the company always supporting its speakers. Is there something unique about audio tech that makes it feel wrong to see it die?
Motorola’s new folding screen Razr hits the market in February so we debate if it’s the right kind of folding screen or not, and whether folding screens really are the future.
Plus a look at Activision Blizzard’s new YouTube deal for its esports broadcasts – is this going to hurt Twitch?
Send us your thoughts on our amazingly accurate predictions and opinions, or ask us for our thoughts on something that is on your mind. Email via firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out on the socials. @byteside on Twitter, /byteside on Facebook and @TheByteside on Instagram.
The newest Byteside podcast kicks off with an interview with David Gaider, one of the key minds behind some of the greatest characters and moments in Bioware roleplaying games.
At Bioware games, Gaider worked on Baldur’s Gate 2, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, and the Dragon Age series of games, before setting out on his own after 17 years at the studio.
In 2019 it was announced that he was co-founding a new studio based in Melbourne, Summerfall Studios, and at the time we spoke in October we only knew the first game was set to take the adventure genre somewhere surprising. The game launched a crowdfunding campaign less than two weeks after our conversation as part of his keynote address at PAX Australia.
We spoke in October 2019 ahead of the official announcement of Chorus: An Adventure Musical.
Let’s start at the end. Looking back on Hearthstone’s Year of the Dragon, for the general mid-tier player (like me), the game has had its best year yet. Entertaining expansions, a more agile approach to nerfs – and buffs – and a smart distribution of events and adventures to keep things fresh for more weeks throughout the year.
The Galakrond’s Awakening Adventure takes us back to the style of adventure we last saw in 2016 with One Night In Karazhan. It’s wild to think it’s been so long! But anyone wondering if Hearthstone just ran out of ideas can set their fears aside. The Awakening turns out to be the perfect finale to the game’s ambitious shift toward telling a year long ‘story’ through the medium of digital cards. And holds to the classic idea that they’ve taken a past format from the past and imbued it with many lessons they’ve learned since last using it.
I had the chance to play through the entire adventure ahead of full release and the journey was so much more than I expected it to be. You can get all the card breakdowns and meta discussions elsewhere, but for Byteside I’ve focused on playing through everything in Normal mode to see what the story delivers.
Ever since the earliest days of Heartstone the team has talked of giving players ‘story moments’ through the game. That was really about how games play out in exciting and fun ways, and that random factors create tension to deliver unexpected fun.
But here in Galakrond’s Awakening, Hearthstone leaps into actual storytelling – and does so with panache. I never expected a Hearthstone experience to deliver actual story beats, with so much voice performance you could probably paste it all together to release an audiobook of the events that take place.
An Adventurous Journey
The adventure is split into two halves – the EVIL and Explorer paths. It feels a little confusing to not be given a suggestion of which side to play first, as the stories do entwine in ways that make certain story points appear unexplained on one side while getting the full story from the other. Having taken the journey, I’d suggest playing the first round of each side before playing the second, and so on, as that will align each game with the opposing story to see how each moment fits together.
In Normal mode, every game is a custom deck featuring a significant character from the stories we’ve seen through the Year of the Dragon. Many characters get their moments, and many fun new Hero Powers have a moment to shine.
Opposing characters go through various dialogue moments, triggered by start of game, by certain turns, by reaching health numbers, or even by certain card interactions that on some plays you might not even see – it’s well worth taking a slow run through after your first to make a game run long to see what you may have missed the first time around.
Some matches are fast and fun with wildly overpowered decks at our disposal, while others do offer surprising challenges. And if you’ve enjoyed the characters Hearthstone has created over recent years, there are so so many moments that make this truly feel like an Epic Finale to a TV series – with high stakes for all involved.
Hearthstone concludes its best year yet with a fitting final chapter. It’s exciting to think about what’s coming next. I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t make another grand sweeping story this year. I can only imagine it took a great deal of work to pull the Year of the Dragon off in such style.
Byteside Prime is back for a new year, nay, a shiny new decade! Seamus and Nic are back together to discuss just how different this 2020 we’re now living in is from the 2020 we expected in our childhoods, plus a whole lot more.
The TV they watched over the holidays, the robotic limbs they don’t have, and why CES is a bit confused about what we actually need in our lives and our homes. Sorry, Ballie – you’re cute, but we’re not your biggest fans.
Plus some thoughts on where we’re going next, from AI to privacy to the fun and free Internet we’ve lost along the way.
Send us your thoughts on our terrible opinions, or ask us for our thoughts on something that is on your mind. Email via email@example.com or reach out on the socials. @byteside on Twitter, /byteside on Facebook and @TheByteside on Instagram.
LIFX is one of the biggest names in the world around smart lighting. Big enough that a lot of folks might not realise they’re an Australian brand!
With that in mind, and with Australia Day just around the corner, we decided to have a chat with Marc Alexander, co-founder and CTO of LIFX, about the journey so far, his thoughts on how to get started with smart home and smart lights, and where things are heading next.
Why did you decide to get into smart lights at the very beginning?
We had this incredible – at that time) idea in 2012, to be able to use your smartphone in your pocket to change a light around you, and have that light so vibrant and colourful that it was better than any light before it.
That was the beginning of smart home for us and many others. We already had great app and hardware product development experience in the team, so it really felt like we could do it. We prototyped it, made a video for Kickstarter, and were blown away by the public response from around the world.
How big a deal was access to crowdfunding at that time?
Being able to access crowdfunding was one of the best things to kick us off. The launch was outstanding, going almost overnight from a small home invention to become a globally recognised business and leader in the smart lighting industry.
We benefited from ten thousand or so backers and pre-orders, were noticed by global retailers and were able to file patents and unique IP to our designs.
When I look at coverage of LIFX, colour seems to be a standout for your gear – why is that? What are you doing to make that a key LIFX feature?
We’ve always been passionate about the depth and richness of colour, how people feel about it, and what we do to achieve it.
Everything from special LEDs across LIFX products, having colours and whites mixed from four ‘channels’ of light blended together, to how high in quality and brightness our white light selection is.
With our new firmware, our lights show more than a trillion different colours (I’ll spare you the maths on that!), and thousands of tones of white. We have the deepest, richest colour spectrum among all our competitors. More vibrant reds, deeper blues, and we can also reach true cyan and a realistic warm incandescent white and amber, for example.
In technical terms of colour space, we have the largest CIE 1931 colour space of any consumer light we have seen or tested. And LIFX lights are modulated at a high frequency to support natural photography or videography without the usual flicker or rolling stripes seen often in other LED smart lights.
What’s been the biggest success for smart lighting so far? Has there been a ‘breakthrough’ moment yet or is that still ahead?
Beginning with our 2012 combination of Wi-Fi and internet-connected smart lighting “that works from any smartphone”, our step in growth was from zero to a global, Australian founded business, in our first year.
We’ve overcome a lot of tech challenges, and we are proud to have created a significant number of patents – in Wi-Fi and wireless smart connected lighting, thermal management, user interface, power control, and other smart home product categories (some yet to come to market).
Then we made more advances in our second and third generation of products, making them more compact, cost-efficient, faster, 30% brighter, and now using 30% less electricity than competing products.
Now we’re into our fourth and fifth generation of products, and have added unique feature lighting, blended colour zone Z Strips, Beams and Tiles. And, of course, we’re continuing to work closely in voice operation with Apple, Google, Amazon and many other smart home partners.
How do you explain where to begin to people who are still a little uncertain about where to start with smart lighting?
Start with just one light. With LIFX, you don’t need network cables, a hub or a bridge to set up your lights – so it is the perfect way to easily and affordably kickstart your smart lighting journey.
We suggest opting for a Mini Colour and experiencing it first in a lamp. It’s a perfect way to play around and feel how you can control your lighting near you and around you.
From there, expanding your collection is easy – just add to your smart lighting light by light, room by room.
Are straight up bulbs the most popular area still or are strip lights or tiles or other new product areas the biggest?
For gamers, LIFX Z strip lighting is very popular, and for our average customer, standard lights like our Mini Colour are the most popular.
Home decorators and people doing amazing things with their home’s rooms or an apartment will often use LIFX Beam or Tile as a special feature.
What’s the craziest setup or smart trigger arrangement you’ve heard about in the use of LIFX kit?
We’ve seen some very creative applications of our products, from practical uses that assist with accessibility to simply jaw-dropping desk setups.
One example of a very impressive smart trigger arrangement was from a customer who is hard of hearing. He had a lot of triggers set up, including flipping his phone over to trigger a dim light on, which then allowed him to talk with his wife! We are constantly learning about new ways our customers automate our products.
So what’s the ultimate mission? Every light a smart light or something else?
Part of our ultimate mission is to have every light a smart light – but with a purpose. To transform the space around you, share incredible experiences with light, and save energy with efficient design and automation.
Marc also sent me these links to some of his favourite office/gaming setups too. Now I want to run off and get the Byteside setup looking this cool.
The 2010s changed everything in tech. A little prior to the start of the decade we saw the launch of the iPhone and Facebook, but it was during the 2010s they took over the world. TVs got bigger, thinner and higher res, networks got faster, the cloud became a storage norm.
In 2010, we talked about tech in terms of what we gained in each new version, with big year over year gains in processing power and features. Reviews discussed tech for its own sake. But things have slowed down, and – with the exception of cameras in smartphones – it’s the software that drives innovation today.
Today, there’s a very good argument that over this past decade we let that magical combination of smartphones, networks and social platforms eat our attention and our presence. I don’t need to litigate that idea here. We feel it, whether in ourselves or those around us.
Tech should be a tool, not a time vampire. It should enable, not distract. So here’s a few of my own resolutions for the new decade.
1. Scroll less Mindlessly exploring streams of content has come to be defined by a single action – scrolling. Tech shifted from page-based exploration to endless scrolling, taking away that natural moment when we think “have I browsed far enough?” Let’s start using the search box more – every good service has one – to find things we specifically want to see. Search a topic on Twitter. Look up specific friends on Facebook. Just stop the fidget response and start using services with a little more intention.
2. Read deeper We’ve become a society of skim readers. Glancing at headlines and opening lines before we jump in and share our own random and poorly informed comments about stories we think we have the gist of. Or maybe you’re the type who opens that story in a new tab and promises you’ll go back and read it later (that’s me). Let’s vow to read what we click, from start to finish, when we click it. If you don’t have time to read it, why were you skimming those headlines in the first place? Make time to actually catch up on news, and actually read what you find.
3. Track what matters Use good tools to track your work, or your fitness, or your personal projects. I’ve been a big user of Todoist for quite a few years now. It works across phone/browser/PC so I have a trusted spot where anything I think is important gets written down so I know I don’t have to manually remember what needs doing. I also use fitness and food tracking tools to keep myself on target in those domains. I’m not religious about them, but I’ve learned that tracking what matters really does help to measure success and keep myself honest.
4. Be bored I want to have more guilt-free downtime, when my mind can rest and explore that ‘default mode’ the pundits have started talking about. In my house we’re starting up screen-free Saturdays as a scheduled way to embrace this. For you maybe it’s a different day, or just one evening each week. Or maybe it’s just taking your lunch break and ignoring your phone while you do it. Just let yourself relax, and do it often enough that you stop feeling anxious about what you’re missing while you try to do it…
5. Stop being ‘busy’ “How are you?” “Oh, so busy.” “Yeah, same, really busy.” Let’s stop ever using the word ‘busy’ to answer a question about how we are or how work is going. And when we’re feeling generically ‘busy’, let’s try to step back and double check what we’re doing right now and what we could be doing better or doing less of to make a little more time to let ourselves and our commitments breathe. I’m aiming to reduce distractions and have more focused time, while also adding more honest downtime into the mix of my day so I can let my mind rest guilt-free. This will help me to do more of the above – to read deeper and to be bored.
THEN GET SPECIFIC
6. Kill notifications Notifications are, by definition, interruptions. We should only allow notifications in our lives for things that are emergency-level information. I’m going through my settings on my phones, tablets and desktops to ensure I’m only allowing the most essential tools to demand my attention in real-time. Then I’m deciding for myself when the right times are to go to those apps and services to find out what I need, when I need it.
7. Check the defaults While we’re checking those notifications, we should be checking a lot of other default settings too. What are the privacy settings doing with my information? Can I enhance the security of this tool? Can I make the icon a nicer colour? Worst case, you learn a little more about how something works. Best case, you save yourself from misuse of your personal information.
8. Run the backups For anything important, I’m checking that backups are working, that they are happening regularly, and that the backup itself is effective. And I’m double checking regularly. My cloud storage. My local network storage. And while I’m at it I’m consolidating backups – cleaning up some of the random USBs and drives that have been lying around for years, and getting photos and videos into modern, universal formats so I know I’ll have them for the long term.
9. Subscribe on purpose Video streaming. Music streaming. Software and storage services. I’m checking my subscriptions and I’m turning off auto renewals anywhere I can. I’m making a bookmark folder of things I’m subscribed to so I can go in and switch things on and off and stop paying my monthly lazy tax for things that I don’t use all that often. I’ll cycle through different video services – Netflix one month, Stan another, etc. If you cancel, the sub continues until the end of the paid month. Then pay again the next time you’re actively about to watch something. Even if that just saves a few days here and there, over a year across all services that’ll probably be an extra month or two of things you didn’t give free money to.
10. Rediscover email I’m done with chasing Inbox Zero, but I’m also done just letting email become a waste basket. Using the tools now built into Gmail and desktop mail apps I’ll embrace email as a place where I let things arrive for my attention on purpose. I’ll delete the random repetitive junk mail lists I’m on and I’ll sign up to more things that deliver me things I know I want to see. This also means I’ll stop fidget checking email – just like social media – and give it due time in my daily routine so I ‘do email’ like I mean it each time I go there.
One year ago to the day, I stacked it getting off a bus. Tripped over. Had a fall. It hurt.
I jumped up quickly, looked around embarrassed, dusted myself off and wandered off.
Half an hour later my shoulder was pretty sore. 10 hours later I was in agony and took myself to emergency.
The story has a few more twists and turns. To get to the point, I had a broken collarbone and, shortly thereafter, a very badly frozen shoulder. I’d never had anything like it. The collarbone took three weeks to heal, the shoulder has taken all year.
In those first weeks I couldn’t sleep. I’d wake up in agony if I tried to lie down, even with a heavy dose of prescription painkillers. It literally ruined Christmas, and my summer was turning into a waking nightmare.
Bob Ross hosted a TV show, The Joy of Painting, that ran on US public broadcasting for 31 seasons from 1983 to 1994. The final episode aired on May 17, 1994, and sadly Bob died due to complications from lymphoma on July 4, 1995.
His show was designed to encourage others to paint, and to show that anyone can create landscape art through his use of a wet-on-wet oil painting technique. But its popularity was thanks to Bob’s incredibly positive, joyful presence, his soothing voice, and the way the whole experience becomes repetitive in both its warmth and pleasantness.
When the show ended, the web was still just emerging. Six months after the show ended, Netscape 1.0 launched. When he passed away, the idea of watching video streamed online was a pipe dream. As far as he would have known, his impact on the world was limited to a devoted but niche audience of American viewers who would admire his legacy of spreading happiness through art.
On what would have been Bob Ross’s 73rd birthday, 20 years after his death, streaming platform Twitch.tv launched its Twitch Creative platform with a marathon stream of every episode of The Joy of Painting. Over nine days, 5.6 million viewers tuned in to enjoy the stream and ever since the twitch.tv/bobross channel has streamed seasons of his show every weekend as well as running marathons again most holidays.
The channel now has 1.4 million followers, and a devoted community of fans who tune in each weekend to chat as if Bob was still with us, streaming in real-time.
While I hunted for anything to help me rest, I ended up propped on the couch at night, looking for shows, videos and streams to soothe my brain a little if sleep was not going to find me.
It turned out Bob Ross was the salve I was looking for.
His voice – so calm, silky smooth, deeply comforting. I’d seen Bob before. He was a meme well before I’d spent any serious time actually watching his show. But to let Bob wash over me, one pleasant 30 minute episode at a time, was a balm for my brain.
Alongside his wonderful voice, it was also the way the recordist on the show also picked up every brushstroke. Tapping, swishing, gliding sounds as the bristles crossed the canvas.
I suddenly realised Bob Ross is like an OG ASMR guru. And I was far from the first to grasp that idea. It turns out the custodians of his legacy at Bob Ross Inc were well ahead of me.
“He’s sort of the godfather of ASMR,” says Joan Kowalski, the president of Bob Ross Inc. “People were into him for ASMR reasons before there even was an ASMR.”
Bob soothed my mind and sent me into a kind of meditative state. I felt rested as I dozed in and out of conscious thought. Part painkillers, part dulcet tones and sounds coming from the TV.
But the marriage of Bob Ross and Twitch was essential to my bliss.
Every episode of Bob Ross is available on YouTube. And there are some collections of episodes available on Netflix. But both of these put the onus on me to choose something I want to watch. Where do I begin? Which episode? Which season? I don’t want to see the same thing every time, so I have to actively make a choice.
Bob Ross on Twitch is a stream in the same soothing way Bob talks about painting a stream. When you need it, it’s just there, ready to flow over you and refresh the mind. Sliding into stream, finding Bob in full flight is exactly what I needed. Not choosing what to see, just being surprised by whatever it was that weekend had to offer.
The internet needs more serendipity in this algorithmically controlled era. Everything is being programmed to immediately serve our taste for active engagement.
Bob is serendipity incarnate – the perfect passive engagement. The thing I didn’t choose, that wasn’t pre-programmed to suit my specific algorithmic tastes. It was the thing I never knew I needed and wasn’t being asked to lean into.
For the first 10 weeks of my recuperation, three nights a week Bob carried me to rest. Sleep was still fleeting, but Bob placed my mind into a meditative ASMR space that helped me get up in the morning and feel like I had enough energy to participate in life.
Now my whole family adores Bob. We tune in for at least an episode or two most weekends. We quote him when we’re not watching. But when we do, we sit back, we smile, and we let the Bob Ross experience wash over us.
After 5 years, The Game Awards has carved out its patch as an end of year celebration of the games industry that has the pretence of Hollywood awards shows while delivering marketing opportunity after marketing opportunity to viewers everywhere. And we’re really mostly here for the ads.
Who doesn’t love new trailers and ‘surprise’ announcements at a time of year when we’re normally only being bombarded with suggestions for what to buy right this very second? Isn’t it more exciting to get teased about stuff that might be ready for the end of 2020?
I love good trailers, I love good teasers. And games now seem to tease better than filmmakers – too often they show us 5 minutes of the best bits of a 100 minute experience. Games are vastly longer interactive experiences, so a teaser can only set a mood and give us flavour, and they’re getting very very good at doing that job.
So what stood out? Here’s my 10 favourites.
Xbox Series X
What a terrible name. But then, every Xbox sequel has had a weird name – 360, One, One with a letter, Series with a letter… But what it lacks in name quality it makes up for by, well, by telling us what it’s going to be called so journalists can start talking about it with a proper name. It’s just good to get this well ahead of E3 2020 so we’re all on the front foot together.
Hellblade II: Senua’s Saga
Look, this could easily be ‘bullshot’ footage, but it’s always cool to see something that is being developed for a platform that isn’t here yet. Then we can watch this video again once the game is out to discover how much they had to pull back or get rid of to make it actually work on people’s actual home consoles.
D&D Dark Alliance
It’s been SO LOOOOONG since the last Dark Alliance – 15 years since the PS2 / Xbox game! That fundamental concept of “Diablo but in the D&D universe” is so much fun, and I’m all for more console action RPG set in my favourite tabletop RPG. As a long time slayer of bugbears, ankhegs and illithids, and as a fan of the classic Drizzt Do’Urden books and the Icewind north of Faerûn, I am incredibly eager for this.
This new IP from Gearbox, makers of Borderlands, sees Playstation 5 get its first confirmed title, and in many ways this is pitched as “What if Borderlands but hitting things instead of shooting them?” Yes, I want to play that game.
No More Heroes III
Suda51 is an icon of the games industry and he has loved messing with people about when or whether we’d ever get another No More Heroes. In 2015 he said it would probably be 15 or 20 years before NMH3. Yet here we are, getting a trailer 10 years ahead of schedule?
WolfEye Studios has serious pedigree, sprouting from the brains behind Dishonored and Prey. A twisted dark fantasy / sci-fi in the West? Count me in.
Theros Beyond Death
I just LOVE seeing Magic the Gathering sets get cinematic trailers! If this is the primary gain from having concurrent releases of sets in both digital and physical forms, keep it coming!
New cards? Cool. A new MMORPG set in the universe of all things Magic: the Gathering? Intriguing! This is coming from Perfect World Games, the team that also makes the D&D MMO Neverwinter that’s been going strong for six years.
The star of E3 2019, Nakamura is a bad ass art director on Bayonetta and The Evil Within games and was last in charge of the gorgeous looking Ghostwire Tokyo before exiting earlier this year, much to the dismay of fans. So it was a delight to see her on stage here to award Best Art Direction award to Control. You can now find her on Twitter talking about how she’s considering lots of offers of where to work next.
Reggie retired from Nintendo earlier this year but he is still one of the most iconic business leaders the industry has ever seen. When he got up to deliver the Best Indie Game award, he did it with the emphatic style we’ve always loved him for.