Tech Time Warp of the Week: The TVs That Gave People a Taste of the Internet in the ’70s

Internet TV is the new thing. Except that it’s really old.

Before Apple TV, Google Chromecast, the Amazon Fire TV, and Netflix—even before the mid-’90s glory of Microsoft’s WebTV—televisions were plugging into data networks, providing a means instantly grabbing digital goodies and communicating with people in distant places. Witness the video above, a news special from around 1979 or 1980 that explores the “Telefuture.”

Unearthed by video archivist Lauren Weinstein, the special begins with a look at new-fangled contraptions like the VCR, Laserdisc player, and Atari game console. But then it dives into information services like Ceefax and Viewtex. These services didn’t yet provide access to the internet—the open worldwide network we know so well today—but they did let people grab stuff like stock prices and weather updates. And they let people communicate with each other, providing an early taste of what the real internet would be like.

Ceefax was an over-the-air service offered by the BBC that delivered information and games to television sets, thanks to a special receiver could decode the signals and display the text on screen. A television station in Salt Lake City, Utah experimented with the same technology in 1978, as did a few stations in other cities over the years. The idea never took off in the U.S., but stuck around in the UK until 2012, when analog broadcasts were fully replaced with digital.

Viewtex, on the other hand, was a system that used phone lines to connect televisions with interactive services through either special set-top boxes or, eventually, desktop PCs. The most famous incarnation was Minitel, a service that was available throughout France until 2012, providing a wide range of information, plus e-mail, e-commerce and even cybersex. In the U.S., Viewtex services were largely overshadowed by similar, phone line-based such as CompuServe and The Source, a precursor to America Online, both of which launched in 1979.

Yes, it was computers, not television, that ultimately ushered in the networked age. But these services had the right idea—towards the end of the video, an RCA executive named Andrew Gasper says things like CeeFax may one day threaten the newspaper industry—and now the internet is coming back to television. In much bigger ways.

Anti-Taxi Campaign Shows Uber Can’t Afford to Play Nice

From left, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and TechCrunch Founder Michael Arrington speak onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt at Pier 48 on September 8, 2014 in San Francisco, California.

From left, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and TechCrunch Founder Michael Arrington speak onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt at Pier 48 on September 8, 2014 in San Francisco, California. TechCrunch/Flickr

Famously pugnacious Uber CEO Travis Kalanick almost sounded contrite during an onstage interview at Techcrunch‘s Disrupt conference earlier this week.

At one point, Michael Arrington, the founder of Techcrunch, asked Kalanick how he felt about being compared to Darth Vader. “I’m a Star Wars fan,” Kalanick replied, “but that’s a little intense.” He went on to describe the six years he spent in the startup trenches with his previous company, an enterprise software maker that he ultimately sold for millions, saying that success requires a certain amount pugnaciousness. “When you’re scrapping that hard, it requires you to be abnormally perfectionist, abnormally fierce.”

But that same spirit that serves an underdog so well becomes a liability when perceptions of a company change. A pit bull isn’t very sympathetic when it becomes the alpha. And these days, with its billion-dollar war chest and a presence in 200 cities, Uber looks like a top dog as it seeks to remake the way people hail cars and pay for rides. “You have to understand people look at you as the big guy now, not the scrappy guy,” Kalanick said. But, he acknowledged, that transition has been challenging for Uber to navigate. “You have to approach things differently. You have to communicate differently. And we’re not there yet.”

But if Kalanick’s goal is a kinder, gentler company, you wouldn’t know it from a new Uber-backed campaign to eviscerate the reputation of the traditional taxi industry. Unlike most other tech companies, Uber’s battle is unavoidably in the streets. For all Kalanick’s talk, Uber clearly doesn’t see playing nice as much of an option, especially with regulators once again circling. And it’s hard to see how “nice” would work anyway, if your goal is to turn the entire global transportation market upside-down.

Going Negative

I first became aware of Taxi Facts in a promoted tweet Friday morning (note to Twitter: hey, it worked!). “Is your cab safe?” reads one of the three tweets so far in the group’s feed. “Thanks to #BigTaxi, maybe not.”

On its site, the group paints the traditional taxi industry as a monopoly that uses its political clout to curb innovation, skirt safety standards, and take advantage of drivers. The latter two criticisms sound very familiar, because they’re the same charges the taxi industry levels at Uber.

Along with Uber, Taxi Facts is mostly backed by an assortment of tech industry advocacy groups, including the libertarian group TechFreedom and Texans for Economic Progress, which is chaired by Texas governor Rick Perry’s former communications director. The political bent of these allies may seem out of character in a Silicon Valley corporate culture that often aspires to the blandly apolitical. But Uber has stopped pretending its survival as a business doesn’t depend on mastering the political arena.

In announcing the hiring of former Obama campaign guru David Plouffe last month to head up public policy and strategy for Uber, Kalanick wrote: “We are in the middle of a political campaign and it turns out the candidate is Uber.” It was a talking point he reiterated on stage at Disrupt. Plouffe isn’t set to start at Uber until the end of the month, but candidate Uber’s campaign has clearly already begun, and it’s not afraid to go negative.

Push-Button Votes

Whether or not the taxi industry is the real impetus driving regulators’ anti-Uber stance, the company’s very real political battles are far from over. In a letter dated Monday, the California Public Utilities Commission—which regulates the state’s limousines and buses—sent Uber a letter warning the company that its new UberPool service likely violated state law. Riders using UberPool—which is currently available only in Uber’s home city of San Francisco—share the same car, but each pays a separate fare depending on where they’re going. The CPUC said this violates state regulations prohibiting “charter party carriers” from charging on an “individual-fare basis.”

In decidedly passive-aggressive language, the CPUC at the end of the letter warned Uber that unless it could convince state lawmakers to change the statute, it would have to act against UberPool. But as it has so often done in the past, Uber isn’t showing any sign that a warning from a regulator is enough to stop the company from doing exactly what it wants to do. “We welcome the opportunity to share with the CPUC the significant benefits of UberPool and how it really works,” Uber said in a statement to WIRED.

Keeping its cars rolling and new features and services rolling out has served Uber well in the past against California regulators. Both the city of San Francisco and the CPUC in the past have demanded Uber cease and desist operations, but the companies have kept going, and various compromises and accommodations—not always official—have been reached. In those victories, and the many it has achieved in other cities, Uber is spending a new kind of political capital. Traditional candidates bank on promises, charisma, and favor-trading to win votes. Uber’s constituents, by contrast, are its users, and they vote early and often, every time they open the app.

Commensal bacteria help orchestrate immune response in lung

Studies in mice demonstrate that signals from the bacteria that harmlessly -- and often beneficially -- inhabit the human gastrointestinal tract boost the immune system's ability to kill a major respiratory pathogen, Klebsiella pneumoniae, according to a paper published online ahead of print in the journal Infection and Immunity.

The research is yet another example of how important these "commensal" bacteria are to human health and physiology, says Thomas B. Clarke, of Imperial College London, UK, the lone author of this paper.

"Numerous studies have shown that changes in the composition of the bacterial groups which colonize our gastrointestinal tract are linked to numerous systemic diseases and conditions outside of the intestine," says Clarke, describing the rationale for this research. "What has often been missing is a mechanistic understanding of how these bacteria can actively shape the physiology of their host, and this is what I wanted to address. I was interested in finding out how commensal bacteria help protect us from infection by pathogenic bacteria."

"Alveolar macrophages are the lungs' first line of defense against bacterial infection," says Clarke. "I found that the production of reactive oxygen molecules by these cells was enhanced by these signals from the commensal bacteria."

Reactive oxygen molecules are highly toxic molecules produced by our immune systems to kill bacteria and help protect against infection, but they can also cause collateral damage to our tissues, says Clarke. This means their production must be tightly regulated, in order to kill bacteria without doing major damage to lung tissue.

"This work shows that signals from commensal bacteria are part of this regulation and help establish the appropriate level of immune activation," says Clarke.

Recent studies by others had shown that changes in the composition of the gut bacteria cause changes in the alveolar macrophages that boost allergic inflammation in the airway, indicating that alterations of the commensal bacteria could result in immune response gone awry.

In this study, Clarke gave mice antibiotics to kill most of the commensal bacteria in their gastrointestinal tracts. That, he found, reduced the ability of alveolar macrophages to kill K. pneumoniae, demonstrating that the commensal bacteria were somehow involved in this immune response.

In order to determine exactly what component of the commensal bacteria was needed to boost this immune response, Clarke gave the antibiotic-treated mice a series of different highly conserved compounds from bacteria, one at a time. He found that one particular compound, a major component of the bacterial cell wall, called peptidoglycan, boosted the immune response of these microbially-impoverished mice. Peptidoglycan is found in just about all bacteria, including commensals.

"Previously, it was generally considered that recognition of conserved bacterial components was a way for the immune system to detect the presence of pathogens. However, the work in this study is part of an emerging area of research that suggests that these bacterial molecules play an active role in constantly regulating immune function, even in the absence of infection," says Clarke.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Society for Microbiology . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Testing the Accuracy of the FLIR One


In my review of the FLIR One, I mentioned that this would be an excellent device for a physics lab. So, here is my first “lab”, hopefully there will be more posts like this. The FLIR One Tech Specs states the camera can detect temperature differences down to 0.1°C. However, detecting temperature differences and measuring temperatures are two very different things.

How Do You Measure Temperature?

This might seem like an easy thing to measure, but it isn’t. Here are three common methods for measuring temperature.

Thermal Expansion of a Liquid. When a liquid increases in temperature, it expands (true for solids and gases too). If you put this liquid in a tube, you can correlate the increase in volume with an increase in temperature. In the past, these thermometers were filled with mercury. However, mercury isn’t the best thing to have around if the thermometer breaks. Newer liquid thermometers have alcohol in them. How do you calibrate these thermometers? The typical method is to use at least two reference temperatures (freezing and boiling point of water) and then divide the scale into 100 pieces (for Celsius).

Electric Potential of Different Metals (Thermocouple). The basic idea is that two different metals can produce a change in electric potential when in contact with each other. This small voltage depends on the temperature of the two metals. That’s it. Just record the voltages for some known temperatures and use that to calibrate the device.

Measuring the Infrared Light. For any object, there are two sources of light. First, light (of any wavelength) could hit the object and then reflect off. This isn’t very useful for measuring temperature. Second, light is also emitted from objects. The wavelength and intensity of this light depend on the temperature of the object. We call this blackbody radiation (since a black body doesn’t reflect light). For most objects around you, the blackbody radiation is in the infrared region so that you can’t see it – but an IR camera can. By measuring this IR light, the camera can estimate the temperature.

Of course with all of these methods, there are problems. The thermocouple and liquid thermometer have to be in contact with the object to measure its temperature. This means that the location of the probe might be a different temperature than other parts of the object. Also, there is the calibration issue. In the end, measuring temperature isn’t as simple as you would like.

Comparing Temperatures

As a means for estimating the accuracy of the FLIR One, I am just going to set up a simple experiment. I will use a few different temperature measuring devices and compare the temperature values for water on a hot plate.

I Photo

Image: Rhett Allain

I have three thermometers to measure the water temperature. There is a hand held digital thermometer, a digital thermometer with a probe on a wire (I assume both are thermocouples) and then a liquid thermometer. My plan was to measure the temperature from 0°C to 100°C (the stated range of the FLIR One), but those two end points didn’t give the best data. Also, the liquid thermometer only goes up to 50°C.

For the FLIR One measurements, the device needs to recalibrate to obtain a temperature measurement. For each temperature reading, I would recalibrate at least 5 times and get 5 different values for temperature. This way I could get both an average and standard deviation for the temperature.

Let’s just get to the data. Here is a plot of difference in temperature of different devices vs. a reference temp. For the reference temperature, I am going to use the readings from the digital thermometer with the remote probe. The liquid thermometer is probably the most accurate, but it only goes up to 50°C.

Ok, how about the average deviation from the reference temperature for each device?

Clearly there are some problems with this data. Here are a few of the things I can think of.

  • It’s possible that the FLIR One is measuring reflected IR instead of IR from the water. I tried putting a box over the water to shield it and it didn’t seem to make a difference.

  • Both the digital thermometers and the mercury thermometer take some time to reach an equilibrium temperature. The reading might not yet be from the equilibrium temp.

  • The water isn’t all just at one temperature. I think the contact thermometers sort of average out any difference in water temperature by “touching” different parts. However, the FLIR one just looks at one spot.

Here is a quick video where you can see the temperature differences at the surface of the water.

You can see the problem of measuring temperature. However, notice that even if the FLIR One produces uncertainty in the temperature, you can still see relatively small temperature differences.

But what is the accuracy of the FLIR One? Based on the bar chart above, I can give the following conservative estimates for the accuracy.

  • FLIR One = +/- 2°C

  • Mercury thermometer = +/- 0.5°C

  • Digital thermometer = +/- 1°C

That’s my best guess on the accuracy of the FLIR One.

The Disappointing Design of Apple’s New Gadgets


Alex Washburn/WIRED

The leader in technology design just introduced three very good products that should have been great.

As ever, Apple’s software environment is innovative and clearly superior in cohesion and experience, but its industrial design is what we were all watching for this week at the launch of the iPhone 6, 6 Plus and Apple Watch. The centrality of Apple’s industrial design is Steve Jobs’ legacy; it is what dictates Apple’s brand dominance, its marketing storyline and its strong effect on every one of us.

Gadi Amit

Gadi Amit is the owner and principal designer of San Francisco-based NewDealDesign. Working with Silicon Valley’s top technology companies, he has created iconic products, including Fitbit, Lytro Camera and Google’s new modular and 3-D-printed Ara phone. Reach him @NewDealDesign.

And it is here where Apple went slightly wrong.

First, the iPhones

The two iPhones are more troubling than the Watch, as they deal with a known set of problems Apple has answered better before. These ‘6’ twins are large devices with much softer styling than the ‘5’ and ‘4’ predecessors. Consider the styling lineage of the iPhone family: first soft lines, then sharp, and now softer again… what is going on? What is the guiding principle?

Great brands seek to instill a sense of clear direction and progression in their design evolution. For example, good car companies use show-models to communicate purposeful orchestration of their evolving roster of products. With this flip-flop, Apple’s choices begin to look arbitrary.

Yet styling is the least of the issues with the large iPhones. A fundamental problem of usability affects people every moment they physically experience either object, namely, the conflict between a barely graspable object and the size of the human hand. Similarly, “pocketability” is already a known problem in devices of this size, especially for women. Now, Apple was exceptionally positioned to modify the UI to fit larger phones. The company was also singular in its ability to optimize the form-factor around the screen, minimizing access thickness, width or length. Yet none of that happened: the iPhone 6 twins are plain and seemingly technical, even tactical, in their design approach.

Is Apple leading from behind, or refusing to lead? Samsung or LG are trying hard to bend and morph screens to fit humans, and Sharp developed a truly zero-border screen with the Aquos Crystal… why won’t Apple?

The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus deal with a known set of problems Apple has answered better before.

A Watch for Everyone and No One

Apple’s watch is a very hard object to design. The Apple Watch must appeal to many people with many tastes, wrist sizes, and personal preferences regarding interaction, usage, and daily routine. It is also aimed at a market that is young and yet to coalesce around a clear culture of use (which means there’s a huge opportunity if it’s done right). It would admittedly be nearly impossible to answer such a broad spectrum of design issues with a single design. However, Apple made a strategic choice to try.

What Apple ended up with is an elegant, crafted and refined object in a limited color range with essentially a single form. It has an original and intriguing interaction paradigm. And it has an exciting user interface. The Watch is also familiar in an instant. But therein lies the first problem: Who is this elegant fashion object for?

When it comes to fashion, people seek to clearly announce their persona—whether it be subdued or overt. The Apple Watch is somewhere in the middle of an Apple–esque style universe, many miles away from either cutting-edge fashionistas or the middle of America. It’s possibly too feminine for some men and too masculine for some women.

As a rectangle rather than the classic circle—or the alternative square—the Watch is not exactly a watch. It is a micro-terminal on your wrist. Yet you already carry another terminal in your pocket—so what exactly is the task division between your phone and your “smart” watch? Apple could have answered this dilemma emphatically and set itself apart from the Android competition with a standalone device. It did not do that, opting for the same ambiguous dependency between the watch and the phone.

I’ll assume someone opted to keep the big questions open for mass-culture to decide, but then why not then excite us with some digital wizardry? Say, unique screen size or form, a curved screen, a wrap-around screen, no screen, gesture controls, wireless charging? Many of these ideas filled the blogosphere with renderings and rumors circulating constantly.

After all the expectations many had for true greatness, Apple delivered merely a very polished smartwatch. Yet, a watch among a pack of other smart watches is not what many—me included—had hoped for. Though the two iPhones and Watch are better than the competition, the trio is late, years after large phones became dominant and smart watches became the hottest trend in “wearables.” While each of these new devices presents us with superior craftsmanship and dexterous attention detail, none is exceptional, groundbreaking or outstanding in its approach to design.

On Death and iPods: A Requiem

Photo: Jim Merithew/WIRED

Jim Merithew/WIRED

Have you ever loved a car? Maybe it was an old truck you drove for hundreds of thousands of miles, or maybe it was your very first car: where you had your very first beer and your very first kiss. You can love a car and keep on loving it and as long as you don’t crash it. If you’re willing to maintain it, you can keep driving it basically forever. Maybe some day it’ll be old enough that you’ll get thumbs-ups from cool kids as you putter down the street in your charmingly vintage car. This is not the case with gadgets—even though, for many of us, our old gadgets were way more important than our old cars.

Gadgets come and go from our lives. Technology marches forward so rapidly that even if you could replace a broken part—which often you can’t—doing so just wouldn’t make any sense. Other times, the networks and services those gadgets depend on to keep running go away entirely. Gadgets die, even the ones we love.

When the 1990s were getting older, there was this crazy new music format called MP3. It wasn’t the greatest audio format, but it was good enough. It was compressed in such a way that it was easy to download, and yet sounded good to most normal people. Suddenly, you could download a whole album’s worth of music to your computer. And, for me at least, that music was free. (Because I stole it.)

“You can fit your whole music library in your pocket. Never before possible.” Holy. Shit.

Since its advent, recorded music had been a scarce commodity. You had to work hard to get money to pay for compact discs or cassettes or long play vinyl records. Even blank tapes cost money. That preciousness led to a kind of curation you don’t really see anymore. You had to make choices, because you couldn’t have it all. Your music collection defined you. It was your music.

But then the internet gave us FTP and then Napster and so, so many places to steal music. It fit so perfectly with the libertine zeitgeist of the turn of the millennium. Information wanted to be free! And music, organized into digital files, was just information. Now we could have it in limitless supply.

For most of us, MP3 was still a thing you played on your computer. There were a few attempts to liberate it—little flash players that would barely hold an album, or hard-drive based jukeboxes that were too big and too delicate to be useful. They were all awful.

Then one day in October 2001, Apple invited a bunch of journalists down to see some new thing it had. I was working at Macworld magazine at the time. (Which, like the iPod, died this week. Pour one out.) We all knew it was going to be a music thing, and were even expecting an MP3 player. I remember wanting to go, and being envious of the people who were selected to cover it. It was intriguing and mysterious. What would Apple do? Would they release some little flash thing, or a giant jukebox?

Apple keynotes weren’t such a big deal back then. Sure, they were great. Steve Jobs was already doing the things he would become famous for doing, but back then he was mostly talking about Macs and OS X and software nobody except a handful of nerds cared about.

But that iPod event—the Apple “music” event—changed everything else that would come after, for Apple and the rest of us too. Because like Steve Jobs said that day, with his dad jeans on, “you can fit your whole music library in your pocket. Never before possible.”

Holy. Shit.

Looking at someone’s iPod was like looking into their soul.

The other reporters came back with those little white MP3 players, and big boxes of compact discs. See, Apple pre-loaded the music players—the iPods, but you knew I was talking about iPods—with music from Real Bands. But they couldn’t legally give out the iPods with MP3s unless they also purchased a copy of every CD. So everyone got two copies of each album: one on the iPod, the other on a piece of plastic. Nobody who went to the event kept the CDs, they just piled them up on a table at the office. I still have one, Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends, because, while Apple design may be the coolest thing around, the company has always, always had shitty taste in music. (See also: U2.)

Nobody had seen anything like it before. It had a 5GB hard drive packed into a device the size of a pack of cigarettes. I didn’t even know anyone was making hard drives that small. To get through all your songs, it had this wheel that let you click and click and clickckckckckckckckckckck your way through thousands and thousands of songs.

It cost $400. Out of my price range, by a long shot. (I was a junior editor at Macworld trying to pay rent in San Francisco.) But I saved and saved until I could afford one.

Suddenly, they were everywhere. White earbuds on the bus. White earbuds on the plane. White earbuds on every street I walked down, in every city in America. Sometimes you’d go to a party, and the host would leave the iPod hooked up to the speakers, so everyone could take turns DJing. Click the wheel and rock the party.

Music changed. There was a very real sense that Apple was abetting music piracy, which only made it cooler. Who could possibly be buying 10,000 songs? And so Apple made its own store, and slowly we started buying music again. Our music. Our songs. We entered the era of the single and the playlist. The track mattered and the album did not. Whole genres just vanished into the maw of the playlist.

We made playlists that spoke to the lives we lived at the moment. Looking at someone’s iPod was like looking into their soul. In their music you could see who they were. You could tell if they were sophisticated or rough. You could see in their playlists the moments they fell in love and the moments they fell back out again. You could see the filthiest, nastiest hip hop in the little white boxes of the primmest people, and know their inner lives a little better than you did before.

The iPhone is about as subversive as a bag of potato chips, and music doesn’t define anyone anymore.

For ten years my iPod—in various incarnations—was my constant companion. It went with me on road trips and backpacking through the wilderness. I ran with it. I swam with it. (In a waterproof case!) I listened to sad songs that reminded me of friends and family no longer with me. I made a playlist for my wife to listen to during the birth of our first child, and took the iPod with us to the hospital. I took one to a friend’s wedding in Denmark, where they saved money on a DJ by running a four hour playlist, right from my iPod. And because the party lasted all night, they played it again.

Everyone played everything again and again.

And now it’s dead. Gone from the Apple Store. Disappeared, while we were all looking at some glorified watch.

In all likelihood we’re not just seeing the death of the iPod Classic, but the death of the dedicated portable music player. Now it’s all phones and apps. Everything is a camera. The single-use device is gone—and with it, the very notion of cool that it once carried. The iPhone is about as subversive as a bag of potato chips, and music doesn’t define anyone anymore.

Soon there will be no such thing as your music library. There will be no such thing as your music. We had it all wrong! Information doesn’t want to be free, it wants to be a commodity. It wants to be packaged into apps that differ only in terms of interface and pricing models. It wants to be rented. It wants to reveal nothing too personal, because we broadcast it to Facebook and we should probably turn on a private session so our boss doesn’t see that we listen to Anaconda on repeat and think we’re high at work. (Point of information: Why is he on Facebook at work?)

There’s an iPod Classic in the console of my car. It’s the third full-sized iPod that I’ve owned, and if I could, I’d keep it forever. But there’s no way to maintain it, not practically. One day it’s going to die. Its little hard drive will seize up, and cease. Everything on it will effectively vanish. I guess, really, it’s gone already—and it has been for a few years now.

I miss the time when we were still defined by our music. When our music was still our music. I miss being younger, with a head full subversive ideas; white cables snaking down my neck, stolen songs in my pocket. There will never be an app for that.

Destiny Is Great, if You Can Ignore Your Life

Mars_2 1500


Bungie’s Destiny is a wild, enticing new frontier, but it is no country for old men.

Released earlier this week amidst what is arguably the most buildup and fanfare to ever accompany a videogame release, Destiny is the next step from the creators of Halo. Whereas Bungie’s previous games (and indeed, most console shooters) were neatly partitioned into segments you played offline and online, Destiny is always online. As you pursue the game’s story missions, you’re playing in a world populated with others, and you’ll see other players running around and killing the same enemies you are.

Given Bungie’s history, you will not be surprised to hear Destiny‘s shooting mechanics are exceptionally well-polished. This is about as much fun as shooting a fake gun gets. The graphics can be beautiful, especially when Destiny‘s pathways lead you to some breathtaking vista on the moon that looks like something George Lucas would have dropped into a special edition of Star Wars. The music, by ousted Halo composer Marty O’Donnell, is gorgeous, and it’s used in an exacting way to heighten the tension.

All these things are great. Yet I don’t know how much more Destiny I can play.

As I discussed in my thoughts on Destiny‘s alpha test version, even though it has wide-open plains that beg to be wandered and explored, Destiny doesn’t seem to want me to Go Explorin’; there’s not much to find out there besides death. No, if you’re not on a linear story mission you’re supposed to be finding a mini-mission, a small number of clearly marked points on the map in close proximity to you. There also are “bounties,” which are not bad guys you must track down and arrest, but challenges that span hours of gameplay: Kill 100 enemies with headshots, for instance, or earn 9,000 experience points without dying.

There are first-person shooters and there are first-person shooters. That is to say: There are games in which you see through the eyes of a character and your primary input is firing a weapon, but within those games you might be tasked with all sorts of different activities (BioShock, for instance). And there are shooters that are pure, stripped-down exercises in target shooting, an unbroken series of increasingly taxing iterations exploring the art and craft of putting bullets into heads.

Halo and Destiny fall squarely into that category. Shooting is the game. Oh, there are missions that seem at first to require a more nuanced take on the art of interplanetary warfare, but these are (in my experience) of two types: “Run to a place and press the square button once” and “Run to a place and don’t press anything.”

Still, the role-playing aspects grafted on to the base gameplay give it an addictive appeal that the shooting itself might not. Shoot, kill, take loot, upgrade your gear, level up, repeat. Bungie has nailed that perfect Skinner box where the rewards come just enough to keep you on the hook for the next one.

You can choose to play Destiny‘s story missions with a small group of friends—and indeed there are some missions that require cooperation—but I decided to go it alone. Although I could see other players running around as I completed missions, I wasn’t really sure why it was so important that we all be in the same place instead of alone on our own game discs. We didn’t really interact. Sometimes someone would kill an enemy I was killing. Such moments are nice. But what does it matter, to me, that it was a human and not a friendly line of code?

Still, the fact all games of Destiny took place on a persistent online server has had one dramatic consequence: You cannot pause. Ever. How could you? And if you’re like me you may not realize how much you miss this feature until you realize you don’t have it.



All of this added up, the other night, to what was perhaps an inevitable conclusion.

I’d plowed through a story scenario that had lasted maybe half an hour. There was one final room. I knew this was the end because so far almost every mission had ended the same way: You find whatever MacGuffin you’d been tracking down, go up to it and press Square, and then your “Ghost,” a floating orb played by Peter Dinklage, tells you it’s going to take some time to do whatever a floating orb played by Peter Dinklage does, so while you’re waiting could you please fight off several more waves of increasingly powerful enemies while trapped in this room?

The difficulty level on Destiny had definitely been ratcheting up considerably as I played; even though I was a full two dings ahead of the recommended level for this scenario I was still eating it regularly. I died twice in rapid succession, respawning outside the room, the enemies alive again. But Destiny didn’t give me back any ammo when I respawned. So now I was at even more of a disadvantage because I had used up my rocket launcher and sniper rifle and had to kill everything with my weaker, primary weapon.

The third time around, even with less ammo in my pocket, I was really making a run at it. I’d somehow narrowly avoided death a couple of times.

The doorbell rang. Dinner.

Now I am yelling for my wife, who is in the other room in a meeting with a headset on. My yelling is becoming increasingly loud and frantic. I am shooting and yelling. I do not want the food man to leave. My wife hears me and gets the door. I again barely make it through this last, intense wave of unceasing foes. Suddenly a giant boss monster rears his purple glowing head. I cannot pause and clear my mind, catch my breath. I am doing a fairly decent job of avoiding his blasts and hitting his weak spot. But I’m too agitated, he’s too fast, the damage is too swift: He catches me out and I die.

And I respawn: Not at one of the many, many possible checkpoints in between the opening of the door and the final confrontation, but all the way back at the damned door, with no freaking ammo.

I stand, throwing my arms in the air. “Who is this for? Whose life does this fit into?” I ask. I am, at this moment, incredulous. We are about to have a baby; I cannot even answer the door. The combination of this blink-and-you’re-vaporized difficulty and an inability to pause the action, it seems to me, restricts Destiny‘s audience to people who can afford to shut off the world for vast stretches at a time. This is not a game that wants to fill the odd hours in my life, it demands all of it.

“The game is always afoot,” a representative for Bungie said. “Can’t pause Destiny. Can’t pause Twitter. Can’t pause life.”

Yeah, see, there’s the problem. What if Destiny is successful to the point that this is what big triple-A console games become? Does that just cut me out entirely? You can’t pause life, but this ain’t life. There’s a reason we call this place Game|Life, with the big line down the middle. Destiny, for all its appeal, crept over that line a little too far for me.

This Custom Typeface Isn’t Perfectly Legible, and That’s the Point

One of the biggest perks of creating album covers (sadly, a dwindling subgenre of graphic design work) is how few restrictions there are for designers. “It’s a fantastic platform for expression,” says Jon Forss of graphic studio Non-Format. When you work with other artists, “there’s an expectation to push things, and you can’t just rely on everything being legible.” In this case, that meant a font that was deliberately hard to read.

When Amy Kohn, a musician whose effervescent sound was once described by Pitchfork as “fit for people who think Steve Reich should be writing showtunes,” approached Non-Format to design the cover for her new album, PlexiLusso, she didn’t send any more starter material than just a few pictures. “A photographer had taken some photographs of her and we weren’t convinced they were strong enough to stand alone as the album cover art,” says Forss, the Twin Cities-based half of Non-Format. “Apart from that all we had was the album title and the track listing and all the credits and the lyrics so it was really a case of trying to find a way of expressing the spirit of the album” with just those elements.


The cover and inside jacket of Amy Kohn’s new album. Non-Format

Forss decided to create a new typography from scratch. The disjointed font that breaks some of the most basic rules of type-making: For one, there’s no fixed height for the lowercase letter ascenders (the taller strokes on letters like ‘h,’ ‘k,’ or ‘l’). And because all letters are fixed on a central axis, the topography of each word is a bit random. The result is a geometric, handwritten effect. To create room for the new type, Forss adopted a layout trick from Duran Duran’s cover for Rio , which features a shrunken piece of art, and therefore extra space for lettering.

Still, even with a little extra legroom, Forss’s new typeface is marginally legible, and that’s entirely by design. “If the brain has to work a little it’s more likely to stick with you,” he says. “If you use Helvetica the brain doesn’t even notice, doesn’t even register or read it. The part of your consciousness that wants to be entertained is hardly even tickled.”

OS X Yosemite: Handy Tips and Tweaks to Customize Your Experience


Screenshot: WIRED

Apple’s latest desktop operating system, OS X Yosemite, won’t officially come out until sometime this fall. But now that its public beta is open, both developers and a large number of Mac owners are able to use a preview version of the landmark OS.

For those who’ve just started using the beta, or are just anticipating its launch later this year, we’ve got some tips on how to best take advantage of the redesigned OS and its many new features. In this edition, we’re going to take a look at some new settings and customizations you can make to your system in Yosemite.

One of my favorite new tweaks in Yosemite is Dark Mode (System Preferences > General > Theme > Dark). When you make the switch, the translucent chrome at the top and bottom of the homescreen switches to a pleasant dark grey. Normally, you need to go into System Preferences to toggle this setting on, but you can also use a utility called Lights Out that lets you schedule Dark Mode to switch on at certain times of the day (like evenings).

If you don’t like Yosemite’s ubiquitous menu bar transparency, you can go into System Preferences > Accessibility and select “Reduce transparency.” Personally I like the translucent style, which shows up prominently in Messages and Calendar, but some people may find it distracting.

In Yosemite’s Safari, Apple stopped displaying the entire URL in the address bar. The company did the same thing in iOS 7′s mobile Safari, and the decision has some early users upset. In one of the latest developer previews, though, there’s an option to undo the default setting. In Safari’s Preferences pane, go to Advanced. There, you’ll see a new “Smart Search Field” option which you can check to show full website addresses.

And for those that end up dealing with lots of files, like photographers, there’s now an easy way to batch rename files using Finder. Just open up Finder, select the group of files you want to rename, then select “Rename items” from the pop-up menu. From there, select Format from the dropdown menu on the left, and then select the name format for the files—the text you want them named, plus a number appended to the end that increments for each file. For example, this lets me name a series of screenshots I’ve taken YosemiteImage1, YosemiteImage2, and so on.

Got any other favorite settings tweaks in Yosemite? We’d love to hear them in the comments.