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This week, make a donation to fight for racial justice and get hundreds of dollars of books and games in return, diving into the history of Neil Young, the Playstation 5 has been revealed, PS5 games to look forward to, and a review of The Last of Us Part II. But first, using an iPhone Shortcut to document interactions with police.

Using the Shortcuts app on your iPhone in the event you are interacting with the police

Plenty of attention being paid to police activities and methods, particularly use of force. I acknowledge lots of privilege as a white, cis-gendered male, and I’ve never felt threatened by police, but I sure appreciate there are people who do.

Documenting your interactions with them could be important, and the Pulled over by police shortcut was created for this purpose.

With this shortcut enable, you can say, “Siri, I’m being pulled over,” and your iPhone will pause music, go into “do not disturb” mode, dim the display, and start recording using the front-facing camera. After you’ve stopped the recording, the video is automatically sent to someone you’ve set as a contact.

For this to work, you need to have an iPhone (or iPad) running iOS 12 and with the Shortcuts app installed on your device.

Visit the link to Pulled over by police with your iPhone and it will install as an action in your Shortcuts app.

Another tip if you’re in an interaction with authorities and you don’t want them to use your fingerprint or face to automatically open your device: You can disable Face ID and Touch ID in seconds by holding the sleep/wake button and either volume button at the same time.

You can also use that button combination to make an emergency call to 911. Depending on what’s going on, though, that might not be the best idea.

“Fight for Racial Justice” Humble Bundle filled with games and books

For only Cdn$43 you can get more than 50 video games, including indie favourites like Darkest Dungeon (made in Vancouver by Red Hook Studios) and Baba is You, as well as Company of Heroes 2 (from Vancouver’s Relic Entertainment) and Bioshock Remastered, and the remakes of System Shock and System Shock 2.

It’s all part of a Humble Bundle package, Fight for Racial Justice with all proceeds going to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Race Forward, and the Bail Project.

The bundle also includes 24 books, including the anthology Resist, Canadian author Nalo Hopkinson’s “Falling in Love with Hominids”, and Solomon Northup’s “Twelve Years a Slave”.

The bundle is only available through this weekend, so don’t wait.

Neil Young Archives an online home for everything about the Canadian rocker

Neil Young’s dropping a new album on Friday. While Homegrown was recorded in 1974 and 1975, it went unreleased (Young reportedly released Tonight’s the Night instead).

But you can listen to the songs on the new/old album right now at the Neil Young Archives.

The website is the home to all things Neil Young, including streaming music, clips from concert films like Rust Never Sleeps, lyrics, photos and posters, and a link to the merch store.

There’s also a blog that curates articles from elsewhere on the internet about topics of interest to Young. It’s also a place where Young is writing about things like police reform and Black Lives Matter.

One of the things that distinguishes the Neil Young Archives is the technology that’s being used to deliver the music. You’re not getting MP3s, but a different format the site calls “Xstream”. This is how the Archive can stream master-quality audio.

Whether you can hear master-quality sound depends on your computer and speakers, the speed of your ISP connection and your in-home network, and the other processing demands on your computer at the time.

Built into the website dashboard is a meter that shows you your streaming rate and resulting sound quality.

One of the cleverest ways to navigate the Neil Young Archives is through a timeline, which starts in 1960 (Young was born in 1945 but formed his first band, the Jades, in January of 1961) and includes significant world events like when the cassette tape became part of the music industry (August 1963) and when John F. Kennedy was assassinated (November 22, 1963).

Now we know what the Playstation 5 looks like

At the Future of Gaming event broadcast online, Sony revealed the design of the Playstation 5, the new video game console expected to be released in the 2020 holiday season.

It’s a white, curved box with black accents and blue LED highlights, and given the size of the USB ports on the device, the PS5 is larger than a bread box. While it is designed to work on its side or vertically, most of the images Sony has released have the console on end.

There will be two models, one with a 4K ultra HD Blu-ray disc drive, and a Digital Edition without.

Also revealed last week were accessories for the PS5, including the “Pulse 3D” wireless headphones, an HD camera, a charging station for the DualSense controllers, and a remote control for media.

The accessories all share the white with black colours of the console.

Sony did not share pricing or release dates for any of the hardware, games, or accessories.

PS5 games to look forward to

In the event last week, Sony showed a number of games that you’ll be playing on the PS5 in the next couple of years. Here are some that caught my attention.

There are two titles coming from Insomniac Games, which is now part of Sony Interactive’s Worldwide Studios system.

Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales (Insomniac Games) comes straight out of the amazing 2018 game that featured Peter Parker’s Spider-Man working to stop Mister Negative.

Insomniac also has a new game in the Ratchet & Clank series of action platformers. In Rift Apart, the Lombax, Ratchet, and his sidekick robot, Clank, will be moving between worlds and dimensions.

Two games making use of the repeating day trope. Returnal, from Finnish studio Housemarque, in which the world changes in some way every time your character dies and is reborn.

And Deathloop, from Arkane and Bethesda, in which your character has to keep looping back to the beginning until you successfully complete your mission. The catch is that there’s another assassin out there trying to take you out.

Bethesda also has Ghostwire: Tokyo coming next year.

The game I’m most excited about, though, is Horizon Forbidden West, the sequel to Horizon Zero Dawn, which is still my favourite game from this last generation of consoles.

The Last of Us Part II is storytelling at its best

The Last of Us Part II is for people who like stories. It’s for people who appreciate characters struggling to survive, struggling to understand what humanity is, and who occupy the grey zones of morality when making decisions. Decisions – and consequences – are, of course, fundamental to story.

This is a story about the apocalypse. It’s about how the human race is nearly annihilated by a fungal plague that turns people into gibbering horrors that attack the uninfected. It’s also about the decisions survivors make in the act of survival, and it’s about the consequences of those decisions.

And this sequel, which takes place in the years after the first game, shows us a world that remains brutal, even while there are moments of breathtaking beauty.

In 2013, The Last of Us introduced us to Ellie, who is immune to the fungus. At that time we played as Joel, who was hired to escort Ellie out of a quarantine zone in Boston. He ends up alongside her all the way down the east coast and then west to Colorado and then Salt Lake City. The majesty of the first game was in how the two characters changed and grew close. Ellie became the daughter Joel lost in the early days of the plague; Joel the parent Ellie seems never to have had.

That game ended with Joel making a moral decision that placed his needs above those of the human race.

As in all good stories, there must be a reckoning.

In Part II we play as Ellie, who is no longer a young adult. She’s fully her own person, now, making her own decisions. She decides she must travel to Seattle, where much of the game takes place. I’m not going to detail any more of the plot, because there’s too much that intertwines and it’s a story that needs to be experienced.

What I will say is that in telling this story there are flashbacks to earlier times, new characters are introduced, and more of the larger world is revealed to us.

The mechanics of movement, combat, and crafting are serviceable; satisfactory without being satisfying. But you’re not playing The Last of Us Part II for the mechanics. You’re here for the story.

You don’t have to be a gamer to appreciate what director Neil Druckmann and the developers at Naughty Dog have crafted in here. These characters transcend the medium in part because they’ve been scripted well, but also because the performances are superior. Ian Alexander (Lev), Laura Bailey (Abby), Troy Baker (Joel), Stephen Chang (Jesse), Jeffrey Pierce (Tommy), Shannon Woodward (Dina), and all the other supporting cast are note-perfect.

And your heart will break for Ashley Johnson’s Ellie, who is fierce and tough and a vulnerable wreck. She is a product of violence and trauma and consequence, and she confronts her life as a survivor. In so doing she battles against infected antagonists as well as human ones using melee weapons and firearms, crafting what she needs for supplies scrounged from the detritus of 20th century civilization.

To be sure, this is a violent game. While the systems exist to use stealth to avoid interactions with enemies, it’s often not easy or practical to do so. Ellie and the others characters in this game are killers.

The savagery is staccato, interspersed with stretches of quiet, and I took it slow, savouring those moments of wonder, like in the first game when Ellie and Joel come across a giraffe that had escaped captivity and was wandering the countryside. This is where the story shines, because this is when the characters have real conversations filled with meaning and subtext and emotion.

The problem is that when these moments to happen, The Last of Us Part II stops being a game and becomes a movie. The number and length of cut scenes will keep some people from ever giving this game a chance, because ultimately we have no agency over the story or the characters. We’re simply embodying them for a little while.

This is characteristic of Naughty Dog games, so it’s not a surprise that they decided to use that approach here. I’m glad that Druckmann’s getting a chance to bring these characters to television, and I’m curious to know if we’ll still care about them so much when we’re not becoming them.

There are other decisions that he’s made about how to tell this story as a video game that I’m desperate to explore but I can’t talk about here for fear of spoiling the experience. In the same way stories are about characters making decisions, telling stories requires that choices be made. And while I’m not sure that all of the choices made by Druckmann and the developers at Naughty Dog are the best, I’m sure glad to have had the chance to become these characters again. As with The Last of Us, playing this game is permanently affecting.

If you like stories and don’t mind playing a game where sometimes you need to sit back and watch, The Last of Us Part II is storytelling at its best.

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This week on The Shift with Drex I talked about the hand signal developed by the Canadian Women’s Foundation to be used by women threatened by domestic violence, the lineup for TorCon 2020, which starts today, Hilton’s smartphone app, the remastering of Tony Hawk Pro Skater, and the new escalation coming to free-to-play Dauntless.

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This week, get your sci-fi and fantasy book fill with online TorCon 2020, Hilton’s smartphone app gives you control over your stay, Tony Hawk Pro Skater games are getting remastered, and free-to-play Dauntless is getting a new expansion. But first, a new hand gesture has been developed to be used by victims of domestic violence.

Canadian Women’s Foundation creates hand gesture as alert to domestic violence

One of the dangerous consequences of sheltering and isolating at home for some people is that it increases the risk of violence occurring to them there.

In an effort to help women who are threatened by gender-based violence, the Canadian Women’s Foundation created a simple hand signal that can be used to ask for help. The idea is that it could be discretely shown while on a video call with someone.

Accompanying the video that demonstrates how to form the signal are ways that people can safely check in with people in abusive relationships.

The campaign has since been adopted by dozens of other organizations including the Women’s Funding Network in the U.S.

TorCon 2020 an online celebration of sci-fi and fantasy authors

Starting tomorrow and running through Sunday evening, website Den of Geek is partnering with publisher Tor Books on TorCon 2020.

It’s another virtual fan convention, but this time focusing on books and authors, including conversations between Christopher Paolini and Brandon Sanderson, Neil Gaiman and V.E. Schwab, and Cory Doctorow and Nnedi Okorafor.

There’s also a group viewing of Night of the Living Dead, the classic George Romero, followed by a panel discussion moderated by Daniel Kraus, who co-wrote with Romero, The Living Dead, a new book set in the same world.

These events are all free, but you have to register for them in advance.

Hilton’s smartphone app give you independent control over your hotel stay

When I was last travelling for work – way back in early March – I stayed in two Hilton hotels, which gave me the chance to try out the company’s smartphone app

I loved it then, and in this new world of physical distancing, it’s even more outstanding.

It works a lot like airline apps. The day before I arrived I was able to check in to my hotel room and even select the specific room I wanted.

So when I arrived at the hotel, I didn’t even need to talk to anyone at the front desk. I just went to my room and used the app to unlock my door.

That same app allowed me to unlock the fitness centre door, the side doors where the more convenient parking was located, and everywhere else I needed to access.

And when it was time to leave, I used the app to check out.

It is the kind of easy convenience that will be essential for hotels in this new world.

Legendary Tony Hawk video games are getting remastered

Skateboarding exploded as a sport and an activity in the nineties and Tony Hawk was one of the most recognizable names and personalities. That’s one reason why he was the name attached to the video games developed by Neversoft and published by Activision.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video games were acclaimed by critics and fans, and are so beloved to this day that gamers have kept the titles alive with an online reconstruction called THUG Pro.

Activision’s licensing deal with Tony Hawk ended in 2015, but the company still has rights to the Pro Skater property, and in May revealed that the first two games in the franchise, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 (1999 and 2000), are being fully remastered – in 4k – and released as a single package for PS4, Windows, and Xbox One.

The game will include online and local multiplayer and the Create-a-Park and Create-a-Skater modes. The complete roster of skaters who were included in the original games are back, and many of them are also appearing with their current looks.

Because Tony Hawk is now 52.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 will be released on September 4, 2020. Anyone preordering the digital version of the game gets access to the Warehouse demo.

Summer expansion brings more depth to free-to-play Dauntless

Tomorrow, a big expansion will be released for Dauntless, a video game developed at Vancouver’s Phoenix Labs.

The free-to-play game turns players into hunters, tracking and taking down massive creatures called Behemoths. Like similar action role-playing games such as Destiny and The Division, Dauntless leverages the online space to connect players, letting them do things together that they couldn’t do alone.

Available for Nintendo Switch, PS4, Windows (through the Epic Games Store), and Xbox One, Dauntless is also fully cross-platform, so you can play with friends regardless of what system they’re on. And you can progress your characters through the game on different platforms, too, playing on the go with your Switch and picking up on your Windows box when you get home.

Call of the Void, releasing on June 11, introduces a new Behemoth called Thrax and also a new approach to the narrative of the world. The game takes place in the Shattered Isles, floating segments of land that encircle a planet that cracked open, and where the story has always been present in Dauntless, it’s been static. With the new expansion, things that happen will impact the world permanently.

That adds to the stories that players have been creating and telling themselves within the game. Each player’s character becomes an extension of themselves, with armour and weapons that they prefer.

Another mode coming with Call of the Void is Training Island, where players can go to try out different weapons and practice their moves. It’s an essential addition that makes it easier for new players to get comfortable with the fighting mechanics, and provides enough information on attack and combos that seasoned hunters can refine their fighting tactics. The training arena will also become a place where veterans can mentor rookies, which is important for the overall longevity of the game.

One of the most exhilarating aspects of Dauntless are the Escalations, where teams of players face a series of Behemoth battles that increase in danger and intensity, complicated by hazards and mutations. Call of the Void brings a new Escalation called Umbral, which culminates in a battle against the Behemoth, Thrax. Defeating it will leave hunters with powerful legendary weapons.

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This week on The Shift with Drex I talked about tech companies moving to permanent work from home, how we can support Black-owned businesses online, a new Flourish graphic showing the deadliness of covid-19, Samsung’s new outdoor TV, the Terrace, and Clubhouse Games for the Nintendo Switch.

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This week, going online to support businesses owned by Black people, data visualization shows how deadly covid-19 is, Samsung’s got a TV made to be outside, and Clubhouse Games digitizes 51 board games. But first, big tech wants to make working from home permanent.

Tech companies talk about moving to remote workforce

In responding to the coronavirus pandemic, many companies were able to keep employees working from home.

Now, some of them plan to make the shift permanent.

In early May, Jack Dorsey told employees of Twitter and Square that they could work from home “forever”.

Then, on May 21, Tobi Lutke, the CEO of Shopify announced on Twitter that the Canadian business would be “a digital by default company”.

On that same day, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told employees that he thinks within 10 years, half of its staff could be “working remotely permanently”.

One of the key benefits to having staff work from home is that there’s no need for the massive cost of office space and supplies. The bigger the company, the more it pays in rent, computer terminals, and water coolers.

It could also open up the job market, because there may be really good hires that just don’t want to move to where the company is based.

A key stumbling block, though, will be how to compensate employees. How will two software engineers with the same skills and position be paid if one lives in rural Manitoba and the other in Silicon Valley?

Going online to support businesses that are owned by Black people

On the subject of Shopify, one of the company’s staffers who interviews Shopify users, Dayna Winter, started a Twitter thread listing businesses with Black founders.

Supporting these businesses is one way to help close wealth gaps and improve representation in our communities and the economy.

Another Twitter thread curated by Jade also lists businesses that are owned by Black people.

Shopify pledged a million dollars to be divided between three different organizations: the Black Health Alliance, Campaign Zero, and the Legal Defense Fund.

Critics, however, note that the Shopify software and systems are used by racist and white nationalist organizations, like Brietbart.

Graphic demonstrates just how deadly covid-19 is

Want proof that the novel coronavirus is worse than the seasonal flu? It’s right here.

What this shows is what people worldwide have died from between January 1 of this year and May 24.

More people have died from covid-19 than anything else so far this year. the number is close to 350,000 people.

Samsung’s outdoor television

When I lived in Arizona, I’d frequently drag my old cathode ray tube television out onto the deck to watch TV at night. It was nice being outside in the desert evening, and out of the air conditioning.

Samsung’s just released a TV that’s designed to be outside.

The Terrace is a 4K OLED television that is resistant to water and dust, and has an anti-reflective coating on the screen which the company says will ensure you can still see what’s on even in daylight.

It’s also been configured to deliver sound in an outdoor environment. And if you want even better sound, there’s the accompanying Terrace Soundbar ($1200), which will be available later this summer.

The Terrace QLED comes in three sizes:

  • 55-inch for $5,000
  • 65-inch for $7,000
  • 75-inch for $9,000

At those prices, we’re unlikely to see a Terrace in a bunch of back yards. But it is a solid option for all those restaurants and bars that are looking to build out their patio and al fresco options as they start opening up again.

Playing classic games with friends on your Nintendo Switch with Clubhouse Games

If you’re running out of things to play with the family, Clubhouse Games is a collection of digital versions of 51 different board games that you and the gang can play.

Yes, you could play the actual board games, but who’s got space to store 51 boxes?

Clubhouse Games has something for everyone, too. There are the expected things like chess, checkers, backgammon, and go. And there are lots of things you can do with card, including some basic poker games (blackjack and Texas hold ‘em) as well as speed and president. And there are puzzle and strategy games, like dots and boxes and shogi.

There are dozens of games in this package that were new to me, too, coming from different cultures and regions of the world.

You can play with up to four people, you can connect multiple Switches to play, too. With some games, Mosaic Mode turns four units into one larger play space. With the slot car game, for example, you can rearrange how the four Switches are arranged to get bigger and more varied tracks.

Clubhouse Games is the perfect companion to Animal Crossing for these days of isolating at home. To play them, you’ve gotta get a Switch.

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