1. Barham Ink

    Earlier this week, I officially announced that my novel Fragments: Alora’s Tear, Volume I would be published this summer. In the same post, I also promised more information shortly. The response I’ve received so far has been wonderful. Thanks for every share, like, favorite, retweet, and comment that you sent along. Each one means a lot.

    In the process of creating the necessary files, researching proper book design techniques, and generally learning about self-publishing, I established Barham Ink: the company name under which all of my personally published works will appear. Along with that, I spent a great deal of time and care creating an online home for Barham Ink and the books that will soon appear there.

    One of the things that I found incredibly important in making this site is that it include more than just gigantic links that help direct readers to places where they might purchase books (there’ll be some of those, too). Specifically, readers should be able to find information about writing, the process of creating and publishing one’s own work, and of course, information about the world, characters, and details of the Alora’s Tear series.

    So without belaboring the point too much, today I’m announcing BarhamInk.com. Much of the aforementioned material is available on the site already (day one!). And anything that doesn’t appear there is only left out because it might compromise the upcoming story (no spoilers!).

    My two current favorites are the back cover text for Fragments and the excerpt from the Fragments Prologue. I highly recommend checking them out first.

    Please, take a moment to have a look around. I’d love to hear your comments. Twitter’s great for this sort of thing. Find me there @natebarham. Also, the contact form on BarhamInk.com would be a great way to test one of the shiny new website features.

    Special thanks to Benjamin Brooks for his notes on the site design, Isis Sousa for the brilliant artwork (no cover reveal just yet, but the world map is there if you look for it), and my brother Alex Barham for some of the site’s stunning photography.

    Next up, cover art.

     


  2. A Long Expected Party

    Three years ago, I decided to take my opinions about gaming and tech to a public, published place on the web. Big-name writers like John Gruber inspired me. Along the way dozens of others have kept me going. Think Critical was a leap, a bet that an audience existed on the internet who would read the semi-clear thoughts of a guy from Idaho who more than anything just didn’t know anyone personally who cared about this sort of thing.

    Today, the leap goes on.

    Those paying close attention will have noticed my mentions of the novel I’ve been working on for the last several years. I try to refer to it only occasionally, as it’s not necessarily what an Apple blog reader or a videogame podcast listener signed up for. Now, I can hint at it no longer.

    Earlier this year I made the decision to self-publish the work that I’ve poured enormous amounts of time and effort into for far too long. It was time for me to take control of the book’s destiny instead of hoping for destiny to sweep it off its feet and into some publisher’s hands in New York. I immediately hired an editor and booked a cover designer (both of whom were my first choice). Since then, I’ve been working harder than I’ve ever worked on any single project to bring the book to market.

    In the coming weeks, that plan goes into action. Today is the beginning: this very post.

    I am ridiculously excited to announce that the book’s release is now only weeks away. Written in the epic fantasy tradition, and inspired by all the genre greats, Alora’s Tear, Volume I: Fragments will be available on iBooks, Kindle, and in paperback by the end of the summer!

    If you’re reading this, thank you for following my writing here. I sincerely hope you continue to do so. Keep an eye out on this space for news concerning the book. Like I said, this is just the beginning. There’s more, a lot more, and it will be here sooner than you might think.

    Or, if you’re the RSS type, subscribe here (it’s a special non-Think Critical feed). You’ll get the updates as soon as they go live.

     


  3. Recommended - Overcast

    Much has been said already about Overcast, the new podcast player app from Marco Arment. Out of the gate, I’ll tell you this: I like the apps Marco makes. They tend to solve problems in a way that fits with my mental model, in a style that aligns with my sensibilities. Overcast is much the same in this regard. Additionally I’ve seen comments from people about the release cycle or release machine of big name independent developers like Marco. If this review makes me a cog in the machine, so be it. Think Critical exists as an outlet for me to share the things I like, dislike, find interesting, and think that others will find interesting. If you don’t, my apologies. I call it like I see it.

    First things first. If you listen to podcasts, go download Overcast and give it a try. There’s very little reason not to considering the app is free for its basic functionality—including quick trials of the headline audio features. If nothing else, it will help you to better see the design choices you like best in your personal favorite podcast app.

    Since I have already addressed the app’s pricing, that leaves just three specific design points I’d like to discuss.

    First Run Experience

    When you fire up Overcast for the first time, you’re treated to a smooth and personal setup process that is the second reason I recommend downloading it right now. Not only does it cost nothing but time, getting started with shows and subscriptions in the app is as seamless as I can imagine it being. Right of the bat, you set up an Overcast account, complete with the Skeptics FAQ which I found particularly entertaining. It’s a lighthearted take on the heavy privacy language that software so often presents to users. You can see the dense language if you prefer, but I for one was happy to see a realistically readable version.

    After signup the import process impresses. You get a list of possible podcast players that you might be using, then specific instructions for exporting (for me it was two taps) and you’re off with Overcast. All the imported shows show up, though as far as I can tell, the state of specific episodes (half-played shows start from the beginning) is not preserved.

    Once your subscriptions are imported, the main show and playlist selection screen appears. This is probably the most foreign screen for me as an Instacast user. The mix of text-only playlists and the all shows list with its thumbnails makes the screen seem a bit unfinished. It makes sense to have ended up with this look, but there’s still something about the playlist section that feels hollow.

    From there, most users are likely to end up in the playback screen.

    Playback

    So much of Overcast is (apparently) designed for use in the car. Almost all of my podcast listening happens in the car, and though I avoid using the phone (especially for any kind of messaging), features like play, pause, and skip ahead are welcome in Overcast where buttons are larger, better spaced from other controls, and kept to a minimum number. Some podcast apps fill the playback screen with myriad controls and options, horrible for in-car use. Overcast keeps it simple and clear. For that alone, I’ll be keeping it as my default app.

    Part and parcel of playback are Overcast’s headline features: Smart Speed and Voice Boost. The latter of these excels, again, in the car. Voices are clearer, more present, and more consistent than with the standard sound settings (or even with the spoken word EQ in the iOS settings). The former feature, Smart Speed, is a bit more controversial. Up until Overcast I rarely listened to podcasts with any playback speed modification. Voices sounded rushed, with unpleasing artifacts and an unnatural cadence. Only in the greatest of need did I use these features (though often with my own shows, where I mostly needed to listen for content concerns). With Overcast’s Smart Speed, I’ve tried to listen with the option both on and off, and I honestly prefer all of my favorite shows with Smart Speed on. It’s not that the shows play faster (though they do), they sound better. The feature tightens up dead time, but not by simply cutting it out, which is one reason that the stock speed options for podcasts sound so awful. Smart Speed shortens pauses, but takes into account that negative space is important in conversation. Personally, I’d love a podcast editing app that used the Smart Speed feature as a starting point, a sort of “Magic Edit” to highlight areas ripe for trimming and with suggested trim amounts (but I digress). Unless you’re an absolute purist, Smart Speed is great.

    Typography

    Overcast’s typography is clear while still retaining that Marco Arment personality. Generally it reminds me more of the choices in The Magazine than in Instapaper. The secondary heading used for dates on the main screen seems oddly angular and stilted, with letter spacing that sometimes makes it difficult to read. The primary heading used in show titles is clear and legibile, pleasant to read and quick to recognize. It’s likely that these are the same font, but that the uppercased and differently spaced dates gives them a contrasting feel.

    Overall, this is an excellent 1.0. I’ve noticed some bugs with playlist building (mysteriously vanishing items mostly) and organization, but when it comes to clarity and personality, I’ve yet to see a podcast app that balances the two quite like Overcast. And, more importably for me, it seems to be an app designed with my use cases in mind: mostly listening in the car, appreciative of sound quality and content, but not militant about applying tasteful effects. I’m very interested to see where things go from here. You might be, too. Try it for yourself.

     


  4. Guy English, a guy with some actual game industry experience, on Apple’s new graphics API:

    Metal and the investment Apple’s made in its development and support shows that the company’s now taking gaming very seriously, indeed.

    I hope he’s right. It’s no secret that I’ve been a big supporter of iOS gaming since the beginning. And while casual gaming is great, and keeps iOS in the gaming picture, the more traditionally graphics-intensive titles are what Metal is going to boost the most.

    One of my favorites, Republique, runs on Unity, so I’m hoping for some Metal magic in upcoming episodes. A guy can hope, can’t he?

     


  5. Matt Gemmell on first world problems:

    Dismissive behaviour is usually a mask for envy, moral outrage, character judgement, prejudice of some kind, or even the speaker’s own state of stress. Those are all understandable as reasons for an emotional response. They’re just not excuses.

    I often hear this phrase used amongst friends (most often on podcasts, actually) as a play at humor. Gemmell addresses this usage, but the one I find more concerning is the way I see “first world problems” used by certain groups on Twitter and other social media, where it’s generally a bludgeon against an opposing viewpoint, a sort of trumped-up, condescending “nuh-uh.”