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Well, I’m addicted to Path of Exile again

On Friday, January 15th, Grinding Gear Games released a new seasonal league for Path of Exile. This latest league, called Ritual League, is unlike most of the seasonal leagues we see Grinding Gear Games release for a couple of reasons. For starters, this league is arriving later than expected. Originally scheduled to launch on December 11th, Grinding Gear Games decided to delay the roll out of this league after Cyberpunk 2077 was delayed to December 10th, as it didn’t want to force players to choose between playing the new Path of Exile league and Cyberpunk – one of the most anticipated games in recent memory.

I’m guessing that most Path of Exile fans would have preferred to have Ritual League to dive into following the disastrous launch of Cyberpunk 2077, but in any case, Ritual League isn’t only special because its launch was delayed by a month. It’s also shipping alongside a new endgame expansion called Echoes of the Atlas, which adds further depth to an endgame progression that’s already shockingly extensive.

It has lapsed Path of Exile players returning in droves, too. While Echoes of the Atlas and Ritual League haven’t been filled with bugs like the previous league, Heist, was, Grinding Gear Games has noted that the new expansion has “seen 11% higher peak player numbers than any previous Path of Exile release,” resulting in server instability that is causing some players to experience multiple crashes.

I’m one of those players, but despite the crashes, I am once again all-in on Path of Exile after a weekend of playing. This is particularly surprising to me because I played Heist League extensively as well, so it was just a few months ago that I was also in the throes of Path of Exile addiction. Typically, I’ll take a few leagues (which last for around three months) off in between stints with the game, but it’s looking increasingly like I’m no longer just a casual Path of Exile player.

Don’t get it wrong, I’m still a hopeless noob when it comes to thoroughly understanding every aspect of this game, but that isn’t entirely my fault. Here at the beginning of 2023, Path of Exile is a game that’s packed to the brim with content. These seasonal leagues almost always introduce a new game mechanic that is added to the core gameplay rotation after the leagues end, and with roughly four new mechanics a year being added since 2013, there’s a lot to take in.

Path of Exile was not a simple, straightforward game to begin with, either. Even those who don’t play have probably encountered Path of Exile’s passive skill tree in the past, and you can see it as it exists in Ritual League (otherwise known as Path of Exile 3.13) in the image above. Every time you level up, you get a passive skill point to assign to that tree, and there are undoubtedly a number of people who have looked at that tree and decided to give Path of Exile a pass.

I used to be one of those people. After cutting my teeth on games like Diablo 2, Titan Quest, and the original Torchlight, it took me years to dive into Path of Exile because of just how intimidating that passive tree looks. In reality, it isn’t quite so complex – each class starts at a different area on that tree, which is why it’s so big, and though you can assign your points in such a way that you travel around the entire tree, in reality you’re more likely to limit a build to just one or two sections near where you start because those will have the passives that are most relevant to your character.

Still, there’s no denying that there’s a lot to familiarize yourself with when you dive into Path of Exile for the first time, and while the fact that the game is so packed might be a good thing for veterans, it can be downright scary for new players. If you take the effort to familiarize yourself with builds, the game mechanics, and that big ol’ passive tree, you’ll discover that Path of Exile is as popular as it is for very good reason.

I don’t know that I’ve ever played an action RPG as addicting (or as fun) as this one, and I say that as a Diablo 2 fan from way back in the day. ARPG fans like myself tend to give a certain reverence to Diablo 2, but these days, I think Path of Exile is the ARPG to beat. For so long now, Path of Exile has set the standard for ARPG games, and there have been plenty of other games that have tried and failed to do action RPG gaming better – some recent games that come to mind include Torchlight 3 and Wolcen, and it seems that neither of those can hold a candle to what Path of Exile has to offer.

Of course, it helps that Path of Exile is free-to-play, with Grinding Gear Games making its money mostly through cosmetic microtransactions. These days, they’ve expanded into the realm of quality-of-life microtransactions like dedicated stash tabs for certain types of items and premium stash tabs that can be used to list items for trade. The more I play, the more I consider those stash tabs necessary, so if you’re going to dive in, you might want to earmark a little money to pad out your stash a bit.

Really, the only major complaint I have about Path of Exile these days is that Grinding Gear Games now also uses loot boxes to sell new cosmetic sets, which ultimately means that those looking to complete a set will be compelled to buy more loot boxes. Those loot boxes aren’t cheap either, coming in at $3 per pop. The same can be said for all of Path of Exile’s cosmetics, as they seem to be priced a little bit higher than the microtransactions found in other games.

My gripes with the microtransactions don’t detract from the fact that Path of Exile is still a game well worth playing, especially if you like other action RPGs. Echoes of the Atlas will likely be the last major expansion we see for Path of Exile before Path of Exile 2 launches at some point next year, so now is the perfect time to dive in before Grinding Gear Games kicks off a new era.

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Origin Red Blackwidow Ultimate Review: Great For Typing As Well As Gaming

This partnership between Razer and Origin delivers the same quality as Razer’s own BlackWidow Ultimate, but with the benefit of a red color scheme and Cherry MX Blue switches.

Razer fans who love everything about the company’s keyboards apart from their eye-watering green-and-black color schemes are in luck. The company recently partnered with boutique PC builder Origin to offer a custom-branded edition of its popular Razer BlackWidow Ultimate keyboard.

You don’t have to game aboard a submarine to appreciate the red backlight.

I loved the feel of the Razer Green switches for gaming, due to the high actuation point—it was easy to double- or even triple-tap keys and get a quick response. On the other hand, I found typing on the Razer Greens a chore. Razer’s Greens felt similar to Cherry’s stiff and tactile MX Blue switches, but they had a tendency to bottom out—that is, strike against the base of the keyboard—easier. The typing experience was unpleasant to say the least.

Origin’s Red BlackWidow Ultimate has USB, mic, and headphone pass-throughs on its right-hand side. 

Cherry MX Blue switches are commonly held as the best for typists because you can learn to fly across the keys without actually bottoming any of them out. Learning to type without bottoming out can both improve speed and reduce hand stress. Origin’s BlackWidow Ultimate uses standard Cherry MX Blues rather than Razer’s custom switches, which makes it a dream to type on. The trade-off? A slight performance hit when gaming, due to the Blues’ lower actuation point.

Origin’s keyboard also ditches the green and black digs for a much more muted red-and-black scheme that helps preserve your night vision. You don’t have to game aboard a submarine to appreciate that. Even at full brightness, I found the Origin’s red backlighting far less distracting than Razer’s green offering.

Origin’s red backlight is as soothing as Razer’s green backlight is searing. 

Apart from those differences—and an Origin logo on the lower deck, where Razer’s writhing snakes appear—this is the same BlackWidow Ultimate you already either love or hate. There’s a row of five macro keys down the left side, with all settings stored in Razer’s Synapse software. You’ve also got a button for Game Mode, a button for on-the-fly macro recording, and quick access to media/volume keys across the Function row. These functions are all accessed by way of a modifier key that’s, for whatever reason, not backlit.

If you’re going to use all its pass-throughs, the Origin Red BlackWidow Ultimate will require two of your PC’s USB ports, its headphone output, and its mic input. 

Some of the secondary function keys, such as the volume and media keys, are also not backlit; so good luck remembering in the dark whether Play/Pause is assigned to the F5 or F6 key. And like Razer’s own BlackWidow Ultimate, the designators for Caps Lock, Num Lock, and Game Mode are backlit icons instead of dedicated LEDs. Residing under a layer of translucent plastic renders these symbols fuzzy and indistinct; it can be hard to tell which modifiers are engaged at a mere glance.

The red backlight, Cherry MX Blue switches, and this Origin logo are all that distinguishes this from Razer’s BlackWidow Ultimate gaming keyboard. 

I Rode An Electric Motorcycle For The First Time. Here’s What I Learned.

The Zero FX electric motorcycle is an exciting machine with a top speed of 85 miles per hour and enough acceleration to frighten yourself if you twist aggressively enough on the throttle.

But as a relative beginner to the motorcycle world, I didn’t ride it anywhere near its maximum speed when I had the chance to check it out for about a week in November. I’d never driven an electric motorcycle before, and a sense of curiosity coupled with pandemic-induced boredom urged me to try it out for rides in Manhattan (while another, very present feeling of caution urged me to do so carefully).

I’m not the only one hopping on a two-wheeler these days: Sales of new motorcycles and scooters are up by about 10 percent in the third quarter of this year, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. That bump is a smaller version of a large surge in bicycle sales.

If you’re curious about climbing onto one—whether as an alternative to public transportation during COVID, for fun, or some combination of those reasons and others—here’s what I learned as a beginner on a fancy new electric motorcycle.

The Zero FX

A standard-issue gas-powered motorcycle requires that its rider shift gears by pulling in the clutch with your left hand and changing gears with your left foot.

But an electric motorcycle strips away that requirement. Because you don’t need to shift, operating it is a cognitively easier task for a beginner like me. The Zero FX I rode, like other electric bikes, is operated simply by rolling on the throttle in your right hand. The rear and front brake controls are in their usual spots—engaged using your right foot, and right hand, respectively.

Because you don’t need to shift, accelerating is an easy, linear experience—twist that throttle and zoom forward. That allows you to zip away from any cars that you think might be encroaching into your space, but it also means that you can scare yourself if you twist it too much. Also, it’s very quiet—it makes a whirring sound when you drive it, and when you’re sitting still with it turned on, it’s completely silent. It’s wise to stay ready with the horn to warn others that you’re there. The common motorcyclist phrase “loud pipes save lives” doesn’t apply here.

The bike was taller than I initially felt comfortable with—the seat height is 34.7 inches—and when I was on it, I could only touch the ground with my toes; its height made swinging a leg over it harder than I expected, and backing it into a parking spot was also a little challenging. But I found that my initial intimidation with the machine faded as I rode it around my neighborhood, and the fact that it felt maneuverable and easy to swerve around with helped me become more comfortable on it.

The Zero FX ZF7.2 starts at $11,295. Zero Motorcycles

If you’re thinking of buying an electric motorcycle, here’s what to keep in mind: You’re obviously going to need to charge it. If you have a garage or other easy way to park and plug it in, that’s a simple problem to solve. If you live in a city—and the Zero FX felt great for cruising around one—then you’re going to need to think carefully. I live in an apartment building and parked the bike on the street, so had no way to recharge, meaning that I had to rely on what was already in the battery for the time I borrowed it. While the model I was using has an integrated battery, the same bike comes with a modular configuration. That means you can remove the battery to bring it inside and then charge it—but it weighs 42 pounds. That’s rough if you live in a walk-up.

Bottom line if you’re thinking about an electric motorcycle: It’s a great option for a beginner, because you don’t need to worry about shifting, and it can be a great way to commute or run errands around the city or suburbs, too. The range on the model I had was 91 miles, making short trips easily accomplished for days on end between charges, but of course you’re not going to easily take it on a road trip. Plus, the starting price is steep: $11,295 for the non-modular version. And beyond the Zero offerings, another famous electric motorcycle comes from a classic brand: Harley Davidson’s LiveWire, which begins as $29,799.

Keep in mind, though, that starter internal-combustion motorcycles are so much cheaper—they might cost you somewhere around $4,000 (like for a Honda Monkey) or $4,600 (for a Honda Rebel) or more, depending on what you want.

Getting started

Of course, a dual-sport electric motorcycle is just one option out of a myriad of two-wheelers out there, and they come in different types: The basic categories include standard motorcycles, sport bikes, dirt bikes, and others.

Riders should follow the ATGATT protocol when on the bike: Wear “all the gear, all the time.” Roselle Chen

“Unlike cars, motorcycles are very individualistic,” Yu says. Besides the issues of ergonomics, what you need it for, and the relatively new electric-vs-gasoline question, there’s also a question of style and even the culture of where you live. That individualistic nature is “kinda the joy of it,” she says. That differentiates buying a bike from purchasing a simple car like a Toyota Corolla or Subaru Forester—you’re thinking more about comfort, capability, and image than you do with a four-wheel vehicle.

Last but definitely not least, she recommends taking a safety class, which can pave the way for getting your license. A good place to look for those is through the Motorcycle Safety Foundation or the website for your state DMV. I took a basic class twice, so had plenty of time to learn in the relative safety of a small parking lot in Queens, New York. Those experiences helped me feel comfortable with the basics of operating a standard motorcycle like a Suzuki, but also jumping onto that zippy Zero when I had the chance.

Last month I had the chance to check out an electric motorcycle from Zero. Here’s a look at what it’s like to cruise around the block on it. (Note! Both the video and audio have been sped up more than twice as fast.) chúng tôi Rob Verger (@robverger) December 9, 2023

This story was originally published on December 9, 2023.

‘Dickinson’ Episode 1 Review: ‘Because I Could Not Stop’ Even If I Wanted To

It’s difficult to be too hard on a pilot of any series. At least, it should be, because more often than not a pilot is not indicative of how a show will turn out through the course of a season. I don’t know if that will be the case for Dickinson, Apple’s first comedy series for Apple TV+.

[Editor’s Note: This post will contain some minor spoilers for the episode, but this isn’t meant to be a total recap of the events that take place.]

First, the particulars: Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld) feels cramped in her day-to-day life helping her mother (Jane Krakowski) and sister, Lavinia (Anna Baryshnikov), with the chores. She tries to rage against the machine as much as she can, but there is only so much room she’s given as a young woman during that time period.

The first episode serves as a means to introduce most of the primary characters in the series. Screen time is provided to Sue Gilbert (Ella Hunt), Austin Dickinson (Adrian Enscoe), and Edward Dickinson (Toby Huss), and we get to see them all interact and bounce dialogue off one another.

The first episode was directed by David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Halloween).

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the episode itself. This is a half-hour comedy series, so you should expect there to be plenty of levity. And I can say that some of the jokes definitely land pretty well, at least for me. The first episode has a lot going on, and it tries to cram all of it in the 33-minute runtime, for better or worse.

We start with a history lesson on Emily Dickinson, telling us that the young poet was never published while she was alive, and her poetry was only discovered after her death. Over 2,000 poems were found, it turns out, most of them wild and far more imaginative than many would have believed for the time.

We then dive right in. Dickinson wakes up at 4:00 am to start writing, but she’s interrupted by her younger sister and told its time to do chores (in this case, get some water). She asks why her brother can’t do it and she’s reminded that he’s a boy, letting the audience know that women are tasked with the daily grind.

First, I just want to say that this show, despite the fact it starts with a history lesson, is not  historically accurate beyond the costume and production design. You aren’t going to hear any of the Dickinson family speaking in the colloquial American English of the 19th century, or anyone in the show for that matter. The prose has been updated for current-century dialogue, so if you were hoping for something else you’ll be disappointed. (Though, to be fair, the trailers for this show never suggested anything otherwise…see for yourself.)

This is only really an issue in my book when it comes to the music. It’s just so . . . out of place that it’s kind of distracting. Not that there’s a whole lot going on in the story department to be a real issue, but it feels like the episode itself could do without the rap or hip-hop scattered throughout. And this is not me railing against that genre of music in general, it’s just not the first choice I’d go with when dealing with 19th century America.

There’s a moment in the middle of the episode, where Emily’s father says he’s going to run for Congress and he brings up being against slavery. To this, Emily says, “Sometimes I feel like I slave” and I’m not entirely sure if this is meant as a joke or what, but wow. She’s immediately shot down by her mother, which is fine and all, but none of that felt okay.

Like I said above, the first episode of any series – even one that has every episode already shot for proper binge watching – can be pretty rough. Everyone’s just getting into the groove of their characters, adapting to the writing and the dialogue, and so forth. And Dickinson is not an exception.

However, I just want to point out that everyone in the first episode is doing solid work with the material they’re given. That’s especially true for Steinfeld and Hunt, both of whom are easily the most likable and watchable characters in the show. They’ve got a romance brewing between the two characters, made difficult not only by the time period but also by the fact that Sue (Hunt) is marrying Emily’s brother, Austin. As such the pair already have a bit more depth and more to work with than any other character in this episode.

The struggle of Dickinson’s life will be front-and-center throughout the ten episodes, and that’s a bit of a sticking point because, so far, it feels like there are two shows here trying to be one. There isn’t much of a coalescence between the humor and the drama, but, again, I feel like this might have more to do with it being the first episode rather than anything else.

Oh, and before I forget, we also get to meet Death in the first episode, an entity that Emily is infatuated with and hopes will “take her away” from her life as soon as possible. Just wanted to throw that in there because it feels out of place as it sounds, including the carriage pulled by ghost horses that she imagines showing up in the middle of the day when she’s surrounded by people.

There are some bright spots here, Steinfeld and Hunt leading that charge. All I can say at this point is that Dickinson is at least worth giving a shot, and that’s what I’ll do. I’ll also say that it’s good that these episodes are not an hour long, because then they might not be bearable.

As far as a rating goes? I’ll give the first episode of Dickinson, “Because I could not stop,” a half-hearted thumbs up and say that I’m really hoping for the best here.

Lg’s Mad Styler Shoecare And Shoecase Are The Gadgets I Didn’t Know I Wanted

LG says it is “revolutionising the at-home shoe care experience” with these new Styler models. Now, I don’t normally cover this kind of tech, and while I was aware of the original Styler, I didn’t imagine it would be repurposed for shoes to provide such an ‘experience’.

Despite this, I couldn’t help but want one while LG was demonstrating it on its sizable booth at the show, more so than the other shiny things on display including its bendy LG OLED Flex TV and MoodUP refrigerator (aka the ‘disco fridge’) with its illuminating panels. 

And I don’t even collect sneakers, boots or slippers. Heck, I don’t own many pairs of shoes at all. 

Chris Martin / Foundry

It’s perhaps down to the sheer enjoyment of seeing a totally new gadget, the fact I just bought a new pair of Vans, or that LG was displaying some Nike baby shoes and I’ve got a baby on the way later this year. Regardless, the technology here seems worthwhile. 

To explain, the Styler ShoeCare and ShoeCase are two different products in a modular system that can be used with each other in different combinations depending on what you want.

The ShoeCare is a sort of wardrobe for your shoes with up to four shelves, though fewer if you want to store something taller like wellington boots. LG uses its TrueSteam technology to keep your kicks fresh but in a different way to the Styler for clothes which gently shakes garments to freshen them up. 

Steam rises up from the bottom of the cabinet creating a sort of spa treatment for your shoes. An adjustable Moving Nozzle system dries out the inside ready for them to be worn. 

A small touchscreen on the front allows you to control the ShoeCare (although you can also use the ThinkQ app). This involves telling it what kind of shoes you’re putting in so it can adjust to the material. LG says it can handle leather, suede, sports footwear and more with 10 different ‘courses’. 

Only two different fabric types can be refreshed at the same time. On the standard course, the machine can refresh four pairs in just 37 minutes and do so at a whisper-quiet 37dB. 

Chris Martin / Foundry

The Styler ShoeCare also comes in a gorgeous dark green colour that just so happens to match my home decor, though other colours are available. 

Considering there’s space for up to four pairs of shoes, it’s perhaps a good job I don’t have a large collection, but I love the feel of new shoes and – we can all agree – ones that aren’t smelly or damp. 

If the ShoeCare can keep that feeling of new shoes last longer, I’d certainly consider parting with the cash. And it should mean I wouldn’t have to buy new shoes as often. 

Those who do have collectable sneakers will be more attracted to the ShoeCase. This does exactly what it says and is a display case for showing off one pair of prized kicks.  

Chris Martin / Foundry

LG has fitted it with clear panels on three sides which not only lets you view the shoes like they’re artwork at a gallery but protects them from UV light. Moisture protection is another benefit and there’s a turntable plus lighting so you can see the shoes from all angles at any time of day. 

The ShoeCase comes in a range of colours and also some funky editions (see above) in collaboration with artists. You can stack up to four ShoeCases on top of each other or put a single unit on top of the ShoeCare unit.

The latter would be my preference and perhaps if I did get one, it would be the beginning of a very expensive shoe collection. 

That’s unlikely though, as the Styler ShoeCare and ShoeCase are initially launching in Korea only (I live in the UK) and they may never launch anywhere else. Even then, the price is still to be confirmed and likely to be eye-watering despite an LG representative telling me it would be “reasonable”. 

For now, then, my Vans will have to live on the floor in the hallway with the rest of the collection, such as it is. And I’ll make do by keeping them fresh with a quick spray of Febreeze: I know my bank balance will thank me for it.

Find out what won our Best of IFA 2023 awards.

How I Spent My Holiday Break

Rest. Relaxation. Rejuvenation. We look forward to our holiday breaks as a way to refresh ourselves mentally, physically, and spiritually. We look forward to spending time with our families and staying at home adjusting to a new routine of no alarm clocks, no papers to grade, no lessons to plan.

When we come back from our holiday break, we’re ready. We’re going to begin a new unit plan, or we’ve adjusted an old one, or our guest speaker has been scheduled. The point is, we’re ready to be with our students and begin again.

Why then did students seem so tense, so anxious before their most recent holiday break? It wasn’t a sense of impending joy they were feeling, but more a sense of impending doom. 

I noticed that many students’ trepidation was on overdrive. About a week before our scheduled break, I stood outside my office during passing time. But this particular morning I noticed the hallway language. Sure, every once in a while one might hear a curse word said by a negligent student. But, one “bomb” after another was exploding in my little corner of the world. I found myself encouraging students to be aware of their language, be courteous to their peers, and be on their way to their next class. When I mentioned to a colleague that something must be up, he quipped, “Just a full moon.”

However, as the days wore on, it became evident there was more to this than just a full moon. The students were surly and fretful, and some were downright sad. While I was looking forward to all the wonderful things that come with time off, what could some of my students be looking forward to? I began to wonder.

As much as our students might complain about school, about teachers, and about homework, let’s not forget about all of the things that we do provide, things that can’t be measured in data-driven reports and standardized tests. Schools provide a routine, a scheduled haven from life’s curveballs. We provide directions, both written and verbal, on what to do. And let’s face it, on some days that may be all a student can do. We provide socialization, the opportunity to see friends and catch up on the latest news. We give students a reason to get up in the morning.

Therefore, the holiday break could be a stinging slap of change from the warm embrace of their reality. Their routine has now changed. A routine created by a bell system now allows students to do whatever they want; they are making decisions and perhaps allowing temptations too challenging to overcome. Directions are no longer clear to them, and it’s quite possible that no adult is home to offer important directives. Now the student becomes the adult taking care of siblings and in charge of household chores. Finally, socialization is cut off. Being at home may be a stressful—it may be a violent place where basic social skills are nonexistent.

As we move into second semester and into third quarter, I know another break is looming in the not too distant future. I can’t help but feel a little worried for some of them. How can one offer a sense of calm before what could be considered a storm of change?

I don’t have all the answers; none of us do. We don’t have control over our students’ parents, their households, or their friends. But we do have power over our words and actions. Here are some suggestions to help our students slide into a smooth transition that may not be too jarring or too sudden.

First, don’t oversell the break. Are you consistently referring to time off? “After break,” “don’t forget about the break,” “when we get back from break.” Perhaps too much “breaking” will cause our students to break beyond their limits. While we might need to refer to the time, let’s try to put it in the proper perspective.

Next, let’s offer students a list of pertinent websites or movies that they might enjoy reading and watching during this time. Appeal to your students—after all, you know their likes and dislikes. Also, offer students some hopeful, inspiring films you think they may want to watch. A positive message lets them know you care. 

Also, the value of reading could allow them to escape to another time and place. Offering some contemporary poetry anthologies to take home sends the message that you’ll be thinking of them.

Finally, a brief handwritten message offers a sense of belonging and connectedness. Let them know that you will be thinking about them with a personalized note.

As we move on toward third quarter, excited over all the possibilities of progress, we know how quickly time moves. Let’s take a few moments to reflect on those students who won’t be fortunate enough to enjoy what some of us might take for granted. Be mindful of our language in creating a sense of departure. Create those lists and compose those notes.

Hopefully, instead of hearing curses in the hallways, we might hear a joyful noise. What was once anxiety might be replaced by a sense of assurance that we will be together again, very soon—rested, relaxed, and rejuvenated.

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