Thanksgiving Hack: Cook Your Turkey Sous Vide

Thanksgiving Hack: Cook Your Turkey Sous Vide

Maybe you like your Thanksgiving turkey dry and bland. I get it. There’s something deeply traditional about leaving the bird in the oven for hours and hours. Maybe you like the symbolism of a big bird taking up oven space, or maybe your overcooked turkey gives you an excuse to overload it with gravy. Maybe you’ve given up on bird altogether (one year, my mom served lobster for Thanksgiving. “No one likes the turkey anyway!”). If you have beloved turkey-cooking traditions, that’s totally cool. But consider this: You can have a platter of turkey that’s juicy, flavorful, and delicious. You just have to cook it sous vide.

It seems counterintuitive, I know. Sous vide—a cooking method that involves sealing food inside a plastic bag and then cooking it in a water bath—seems ill suited for something as cumbersome as a Thanksgiving turkey. It seems too fancy and too French for a holiday that celebrates America. And for those who aren’t used to wielding a sous vide wand in the kitchen, the technique can seem intimidating, even overly precious.

Let me assure you: There is nothing easier or more foolproof than sealing your turkey into a plastic baggie, dropping it into a pot of water, and walking away. Really. That’s it. And when you return, you’ll have the best damn turkey you’ve ever tasted.

High-Tech Turkey

Sous vide is a fancy French way of saying “cooked in a vacuum.” You take some food, put it in a vacuum-sealed baggie (or, for the less pretentious chef, Ziploc works too), and leave it to slow cook in a bath of warm water until it’s tantalizingly tender. Unlike cooking by oven or grill, the bath method distributes heat evenly from edge to center, and the vacuum bag seals in moisture. You can cook everything from poultry to lobster to eggs to corn on the cob sous vide. But the method is especially well suited for turkey.

ChefSteps

“Turkey breasts are actually really tough muscle, so they’re a perfect candidate for sous vide,” says Grant Crilly, the head chef and co-founder of food and technology company ChefSteps. “Even as a chef, I used to hate turkey breasts. They’re just tough and a pain to cook. Ever since I’ve been cooking them sous vide, I’ve turned into a turkey breast man.”

Learning to cook sous vide is easy. You can find all sorts of sous vide immersion wands that connect with an app on your phone and simplify the method to pressing a button on your screen. (ChefSteps makes one such wand called Joule.) These sous vide wands, which contain a thermometer and a heating element, clamp onto the side of any pot filled with water and heat it to a precise temperature for a precise amount of time. All you have to do is bag the food, fill the pot with water, place the wand inside, and select the correct recipe in the app on your phone.

ChefSteps offers step-by-step instructions on how to prepare your turkey sous vide. Anova and Sansaire, which each make sous vide wands, also have dedicated guides. Whichever sous vide circulator you use, the basic concept remains the same: Quarter the turkey (if you’re doing this yourself, make sure to remove the ribs from the breast; otherwise, the sharp bones could poke a hole and rip the bag open). Place the legs in a large vacuum-sealed baggie, and cook those first. Then add the breasts in a separate baggie. Time and temperature will vary depending on your individual preferences, but Crilly recommends setting the temperature nice and low and cooking the bird overnight.

The sous vide method gives you a juicier turkey, because none of the moisture evaporates. You also get a more flavorful turkey, since you can marinate the meat for hours inside of the bag. (One pro tip from Chef Crilly: “Take a little pot of butter on the stove—this is before you cook the turkey—throw in thyme, garlic; fresh, beautiful herbs; peppercorns. Roast that and make this epic brown butter to dump in the bag with the bird while it cooks.”) Sous vide cooking gives you more control over the texture of each piece of meat: breasts and legs can cook at different temperature for different amounts of time, which ensures that everything comes out beautifully tender. Best of all, cooking your turkey in a countertop water bath frees up oven space for all the other Thanksgiving accoutrements: potatoes, casseroles, and pies. You can start the sous vide turkey the night before and focus on all the side dishes on Thanksgiving day.

One drawback: Poultry cooked sous vide often comes out looking pale and kind of gross. That’s no way to start your Thanksgiving feast. So, to get that nice, golden brown look, you can crisp up the outside in a number of ways: broil it, fry it, torch it, sear it in a pan, sprinkle on a little rub and pop it in the oven. You can crisp up the outside in whichever method you like without sacrificing that moist, tender meat inside.

I can understand that this method requires sacrifices by way of presentation. For some families, the very essence of Thanksgiving is bringing the whole turkey to the table and carving it right there. So if quartering the bird and cooking the hind legs separately from the breasts seems like some of savagery, I get it. But! You can also sous vide a whole turkey, provided you have a humongous pot to create a big enough water bath. (Chef Bruno Goussault has great step-by-step instructions here.) You can’t achieve quite the same cooking precision with this method, and it requires some oven time to brown the outside, but it does allow you to preserve the whole turkey without serving something dry, boring, and bland.

Source: https://www.wired.com/story/thanksgiving-hack-cook-your-turkey-sous-vide/

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You can get the best LG OLED TV for $700 off right now

You can get the best LG OLED TV for $700 off right now

An OLED television is likely to be high up on just about everyone’s holiday wish list, and thankfully, some awesome Black Friday deals will make that dream a reality.

LG is offering its acclaimed 55-inch LG OLED55B7A and the larger 65-inch LG OLED65B7A at their lowest prices yet. The smaller of the two will cost $1,500 and upgrading another ten inches will cost $2,300, according to CNET. This is a huge savings for each, bringing the price down about $700.

We’ve reviewed several LG-branded OLED televisions and they stand on par with Samsung’s, but well above what other manufacturers have put to store shelves. Compared to the LG OLED55C7, these discounted displays feature similar best-in-class picture quality and dynamic range abilities.

It’s difficult to decide between televisions, but if you’re on the hunt for an OLED TV in particular, this is all that you need to know: the 55-inch model is the cheapest OLED television available in this size range and the purchase window to take advantage of the deal is small. You’ll have to pull the trigger between November 19 and November 27, which is Cyber Monday 2017.

If you’re committed to purchasing one and are also in need of a smartphone. LG is holding a special promotion that can save you up to $400 on said television, or any other LG-branded appliance that you’re in need of.

Source: http://www.techradar.com/news/you-can-get-the-best-lg-oled-tv-for-700-off-right-now

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I tried to electrocute myself fitter

I tried to electrocute myself fitter

Electricity is an interesting thing. It’s powering the device you’re reading this on right now (unless you’ve printed it off to create your own TechRadar newspaper), but it’s also powering the thing in your head that’s allowing you to understand the words.

Your brain is a gooey ball full of electricity, and when you want to move a muscle in your body, your brain sends some of that electricity down through your nervous system to the muscle, and stimulates the muscle contraction. 

Okay, that might not be exactly how a scientist would describe it, because it’s “inaccurate” or “naive to the point of falsity”, but who needs those guys? It’s near enough that it makes sense, and I can keep talking.

So… Electronic Muscular Stimulation (EMS) is the technique of using electricity from a device to stimulate your muscles, an ‘outside-in’ method if you will. You can obviously get muscles to respond to electricity – but is it good for you?

From rehab to no-flab

The surprise answer is yes. Well, it can be. If you’ve got the time (and the interest) there are plenty of good Google Scholar articles on the benefits of EMS, but long story short, it was originally used as a method of rehabilitating patients with atrophied muscles. 

Of course, what makes a muscle grow for someone post-injury is going to also going to make a muscle grow for someone who wants to look hella-jacked, so it wasn’t long before the fitness industry caught on, which led to devices like Slendertone and this:

Exercise and electricity are both potentially dangerous on their own, so if I was going to combine the two I thought I’d save myself some risk (and save my sofa from getting sweaty) by going to an EMS gym. 

These gyms are starting to pop up all over the world, and they promise to get you fit in 20 minutes of exercise a week. Yes, you read that right: 20 minutes a week.

The principle is simple. You start by getting strapped into a suit that looks like this:

It’s got electrodes all over it that line up with your neural pathways, so that rather than just stimulating a single muscle belly (that’s what it’s called, don’t blame me), the suit can stimulate an entire muscle chain, meaning you get greater engagement from your muscles. 

You’re then led through a series of exercises that would be easy if you weren’t being electrocuted, but while you’re being electrocuted. So not only do you have to think about your form for your squats, you have to try to stop your legs from involuntarily doing the can-can underneath you.

There are different levels of intensity that your PT chooses for you, and you can really feel the difference when the intensity level goes up. It’s like being stuck inside your own reanimated corpse, wearing a superhero costume, doing squats, in front of someone who is fitter than you will ever be. 

DOM DOM DOMS!

If that sounds bad, it’s nothing in comparison to the pain you’ll feel in two days’ time when the ache sets in. One day after is painful; two days after, you can barely move.

The reason for this is actually really interesting from a biological point of view. When you stimulate a muscle externally, you activate the entire muscle, causing micro-tears (they’re a good thing) in all the elements of your muscle fiber. 

Given the amount of (positive) muscular damage that you’re doing, it’s easy to understand how you could maintain a low level of fitness with a single session a week – I know I wouldn’t be keen to do more than one session a week. 

If you’re interested, I went to a gym called Surge, but there are EMS gyms popping up all over the place. You’ll still have to eat well, but if you’re looking for a way to achieve big goals with minimal effort, an EMS gym might be for you. 

  • Andrew London is a laughable excuse for a human being, barely held together with string and sticky tape. In Tech Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself he will be sharing with you the different technology that he uses to try to pass for a proper functioning person.

Logo design courtesy of FreePik

Source: http://www.techradar.com/news/i-tried-to-electrocute-myself-fitter

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Which Amazon Fire Tablet is Best For You?

Which Amazon Fire Tablet is Best For You?

Amazon’s Fire tablets are seductive. Most of us already use Amazon, and they’re some of the only high profile tablets, affordable tablets released recently. The price seems too good to be true, and in some ways it is, but Amazon’s Fire tablets are also completely functional, capable devices. To help you decide if a Fire tablet is right for you, we reviewed all five of Amazon’s Fire tablets in the last month. These are our unfiltered recommendations.

What’s WIRED About All Fire Tablets

A Faucet for Amazon Content: If you subscribe to Amazon’s Prime service, you can listen to all the included music, movies, TV, and books, while also shopping for all the items you can get with its free two-day shipping or browsing your free Amazon photo storage. You can do most of the same things from an Android tablet or iPad, but the Fire OS interface is crafted specifically to deliver Amazon goods, with swipeable pages for each type of media Amazon sells.

Built ‘Good Enough’: Physically, Amazon’s Fire tablets are made of plastic, but they’re designed with enough care that the build quality won’t bother you too much. These are also some of the best-quality tablets for kids, encased in a rugged bumper. They also all have MicroSD slots if you want to add extra storage (we recommend this 64GB MicroSD card).

Cheap: Did I mention the price? They all cost $150 or less, which is a price that would have legitimately shocked you just a few years ago. They offer high value for the price. You can also to get them with Amazon lock-screen ads, which will lower your price by $15.

What’s TIRED About All Fire Tablets

Non-Amazon Content is Lacking: The greatest strength of these tablets is also their greatest weakness. If you aren’t an Amazon Prime subscriber, and plan to get your video, audio, or books from Amazon, the Fire tablet line is far less compelling. They do have Alexa now, so that could be a plus, but again, that’s tied deeply into Amazon’s content library.

You can download third-party apps like Netflix on Amazon’s Appstore, but the selection is far more limited than the apps available on Apple’s iPad or the Google Play store on standard Android tablets. Tech-savvy users have found ways to add the Google Play store or sideload apps, but these devices are built to serve up Amazon first and foremost.

Old Tech: The tech inside these tablets is also very old. They all run on processors that would have impressed 4+ years ago, but show their age today with small fits of lag and a general lack of power. But since many of the apps are built with these weak tablets in mind, you don’t notice it too much. The operating system is also several years old, which could hide some of the weakness. Amazon’s Fire OS is actually a modified version of Android Lollipop, which first came out in 2014. Amazon keeps updating its tablets to some degree, but hasn’t invested in upgrading the core version of Android they run on for several years.

Short Warranties: Only the Fire HD 10 comes with a full one-year warranty. Oddly, the smaller devices come with 90-day warranties.

The Best Fire Tablet

Fire HD 8 ($80 on Amazon)

Amazon

With a flexible screen size and incredible $80 price, the Fire HD 8 is our favorite all-around Fire tablet (read our Fire HD 8 review). It’s portable enough to take with you anywhere, but it’s screen is also decent enough that your eyes won’t hate you for watching Netflix on it. It’s an ideal size for older kids and for gaming, since you can hold it in landscape orientation and still reach the center.

The HD 8 has most of the benefits of the larger Fire HD 10, including Alexa (though you must press a button to use her) and stereo sound, not to mention the best battery life of almost any tablet at 12 hours. I also recommend you pick up Amazon’s magnetic stand-up case if you plan on watching movies or TV.

Avoid the Fire 7: Amazon’s cheapest tablet has a tantalizing $50 price, but you should probably cough up a little extra and buy an HD 8. Like I said in our Fire 7 review, the 7-inch screen will feel somewhat cramped and its screen resolution is noticeably pixelated. You won’t love the mono speaker, which is easily blocked by a single finger. Its battery also lags behind the other two tablets, and the 8GB of internal storage is pitifully small, mandating a MicroSD card from the get go.

The Best Fire Tablet to Use Around the House

Fire HD 10 ($150 on Amazon)

Amazon

If you mainly use your tablet for watching video, or want to shout commands at Alexa from across the room, the Fire HD 10 is the best Fire tablet for you (read our Fire HD 10 review). It has a far nicer HD screen and the larger 10-inch size is better for streaming at home. On the inside, it has a little more processing power than the smaller Fire tablets and 32GB of internal storage (upgradeable to 64GB), with a MicroSD slot if you need more space. I recommend you pick up the official magnetic standing case to keep it propped up for video binging.

The Best Fire Tablet For Kids

Fire HD 8 Kids Edition ($130 on Amazon)

Amazon

We compared the Fire 7 Kids Edition and Fire HD 8 Kids Edition, and the HD 8 Kids Edition won handily thanks to its larger, sharper HD screen. Our reviewer Adrienne So called it “the affordable tablet that will provide the maximum amount of enjoyment to the most members in your family.” It will work for kids of varying ages, and won’t make parents eyes burn as much during repeated Zootopia viewings. Older kids will also enjoy the fuller Dolby stereo sound and reduced lagginess when playing games. Then there’s battery life—like the standard HD 8, this gets 12 hours of battery life, far longer than the Fire 7.

Amazon Sells Older Fire Tablets. Don’t Buy Them.

Only buy a “7th Generation” Amazon tablet. For some reason, Amazon still sells many of its older Fire tablets, but you should stick to the five tablets we talk about in this article (also listed here). Its newer models will get software updates longer and may have other small improvements that aren’t noticeable at first.

If you’re gung-ho about buying an older device, the Fire HDX tablets pack the most power, but make sure they are priced lower than the new Fire devices. It’s a pain, but you should also cross reference the latest update available for the tablet you’re going to buy (find it on this sheet]with the latest version of Fire OS to see how up-to-date your software will be.

Source: https://www.wired.com/story/best-amazon-fire-tablet/

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Android phones set to follow Apple’s lead with 3D sensors

Android phones set to follow Apple’s lead with 3D sensors

The iPhone X has seen Apple moving from fingerprint sensors to advanced 3D face recognition sensors, and if a new report out of Asia is to be believed, Android manufacturers are going to follow the same path as 2018 unfolds.

A report in DigiTimes says the likes of Huawei, Oppo and Xiaomi are working on some 3D sensing technology of their own, the advanced face scanning cameras that make Face ID so accurate (and that make those Snapchat lenses so realistic).

Citing “industry sources”, the article says the suppliers who build the necessary technology are getting a steady stream of incoming orders, which means you can expect to see the same forward-facing scanning happening on many an Android flagship next year.

Your face is your password

While iris scanning and face unlocking has been available on phones for several years, the TrueDepth front camera fitted to the iPhone X marks a step up in terms of accuracy and precision – according to Apple, there’s a one in a million chance of a random face beating Face ID (compared with one in 50,000 for Touch ID and fingerprints).

Now it seems like Android manufacturers are eager to get the same technology installed on their own phones. We’ve already heard rumors that Samsung is planning to fit a 3D sensor into the front camera on the Galaxy S9 due out next year.

With Qualcomm working on more advanced sensors of its own, it looks like 2018 is going to be another good year to buy yourself a new flagship smartphone – and chances are it’s going to have some kind of advanced face unlock technology, no matter which manufacturer you decide to go with.

Via AppleInsider

Source: http://www.techradar.com/news/android-phones-set-to-follow-apples-lead-with-3d-sensors

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While You Were Offline: Steven Mnuchin Will Show You the Money

While You Were Offline: Steven Mnuchin Will Show You the Money

There might be no better sign of the state of the internet this year than the fact that a potential meme about the president awkwardly drinking water was quickly eclipsed by news of groping allegations against Democratic Senator Al Franken, and then that both of those stories were eclipsed by a tweet from the president. Pretty much 2017 in a nutshell. But how is everyone else doing? Well, perhaps we shouldn’t have asked…

Treasury Secretary Steven McDuck

What Happened: Just when you thought that the Trump administration was getting better with that whole “bad optics” thing…

What Really Happened: You have to give it to US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. At a time when Republicans are under fire for a tax overhaul that vastly favors the rich, he managed to conjure up a photo-op that made himself and wife Louise Linton look like cartoonishly insensitive wealthy buffoons.

Sure, there’s a context. It’s from a tour of the DC Bureau of Engraving, and the banknotes feature Mnuchin’s signature for the first time. But really, context only means so much when dealing with something like this, as Twitter was quick to explain.

Well, at least no Democratic congressman is using the image in advertisements to specifically link it to the ongoing tax debate to… Oh, wait.

The Takeaway: Who knew that laughing at ill-considered publicity photos of rich folk could be quite so therapeutic?

Another Verifiable Mess

What Happened: Twitter starts to finally clean house, and not everyone is excited.

What Really Happened: As anyone who’s been following this column for any length of time already knows, Twitter has come under fire a lot recently over its verification policies. Last week, after an uproar over the organizer of the Charlottesville rally getting a “verified” check mark, things began to change, much to the surprise of those whose accounts were affected:

(Note: That Twitter account has a bio that reads, in part, “American heart, European blood. #WhiteCulture.”)

So, what was going on? It turns out, Twitter might have been listening all along.

Oh. Twitter explained what was happening in, appropriately, a handful of tweets.

The loss of check marks for racists didn’t go unnoticed by the media, but unsurprisingly, not everyone is in favor of white supremacists and getting unverified—not banned, mind you, not censored, just unverified. (Bear that latter part in mind as you keep reading.)

The Takeaway: For those concerned about censorship on the platform, please consider this old parable.

Twitter Doesn’t Like Sean Hannity’s Chart

What Happened: Sometimes, when you’re trying to sell a complicated conspiracy theory, it’s good to make a mood board to help explain everything. But then, of course, the internet gets to make fun of it.

What Really Happened: Fox News’ Sean Hannity didn’t have the best week last week. First, his much-hyped ultimatum to Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore to explain his sexual abuse allegations or drop out of the race got nixed just one day later. Then there was this:

No, you’re not seeing things. That is, indeed, a complicated flowchart “proving” Hillary Clinton’s complicity in the Uranium One deal, an oft-debunked non-scandal that might, nonetheless, lead to a special counsel investigation. The chart is very complex. But Twitter, however, was not impressed by Hannity’s homework.

It wasn’t just social media that couldn’t quite believe what was going on, however; mainstream media got in on the act, too. And, really, who could blame them?

The Takeaway: Meanwhile, while Sean Hannity tries really hard to convince Fox News viewers that there is a conspiracy to be uncovered, Shep Smith on the same network is undoing all that hard work by … reporting the facts:

Sorry, Sean.

Define ‘Sexiest’…

What Happened: Who’s the Sexiest Man Alive? The answer might shock you! No, really; you might genuinely be surprised.

What Really Happened: It’s that time again! You know, the point where every single man in the entire world gets rounded up and placed into a Thunderdome-like conflict to decide just which one is the sexiest man alive! Previous winners have included Dwayne Johnson (2016), Chris Hemsworth (2014), and Channing Tatum (2012), but who’s the lucky winner this year? People magazine, don’t keep us in suspense any longer…!

…Oh. Well, yeah, I guess that’s a choice? But, it turned out, not one that was particularly popular online.

While the media took note of the upset—with a couple of outlets providing new reasons to be mad—Shelton took it in stride.

The Takeaway: The winner of this whole shebang? Let’s just give it to Stranger Things‘ David Harbour. He knows why.

Mate 4 Mate

What Happened: Australia declared that it’s ready for same-sex marriage.

What Really Happened: Let’s end this week with some news that made a lot of people very happy.

Before we all get too carried away…

Yes, the vote was actually only a postal survey, albeit one where the dramatic results pushed politicians into action.

In the year of tumult that is 2017, it’s good to know that sometimes things aren’t always terrible.

The Takeaway: Trust Nate Silver to put everything into perspective and say what folks were all already thinking. Namely, hadn’t Australia already done that?

Source: https://www.wired.com/story/internet-week-146/

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Exploring the High-Flying Spending Spree That Is the Dubai Airshow

Exploring the High-Flying Spending Spree That Is the Dubai Airshow

Every two years, the giants of the aviation industry gather at an airport an hour south of the largest city in the United Arab Emirates, and the center of a booming new air travel market. The Dubai Airshow is effectively a massive shopping spree, where nearly 80,000 people wandered between the massive indoor exhibit hall and the jumbo jets, business aircraft, and fighter jets lined up outside. Government delegations, airlines, and corporations wheel and deal with defense contractors and aircraft manufacturers—and this year, they dropped a collective $113.8 billion on new hardware.

In the gallery above, check out some of the action and moments that grabbed our attention this year in Dubai.

Source: https://www.wired.com/story/dubai-airshow-photos/

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Gift Guide: 15 Headphones, From Dirt Cheap to Damn Expensive

Gift Guide: 15 Headphones, From Dirt Cheap to Damn Expensive

In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re living in an audio-hungry world. You’re listening to Spotify and 2 Dope Queens all day, while thumbing through all the videos on Instagram and the latest on Snapchat Discover. You’re talking with Siri while The Daily plays in the background. Sometimes, when it all gets too much, the best thing your headphones can do is block everything out. Either way, treat your ears right.

Panasonic ErgoFit In-Ear Earbuds Headphones

Panasonic’s standard earbuds cost less than half what you’ll spend replacing your iPhone’s EarPods. They also sound better, come in more vibrant colors, and offer more isolation since they’re actually creating a seal in your ear. Get a pair for your gym bag, another for your car, and a third just in case, and you’ve still barely spent EarPods money. Buy for $12.

Panasonic

Panasonic’s standard earbuds cost less than half what you’ll spend replacing your iPhone’s EarPods. They also sound better, come in more vibrant colors, and offer more isolation since they’re actually creating a seal in your ear. Get a pair for your gym bag, another for your car, and a third just in case, and you’ve still barely spent EarPods money. Buy for $12.

KZ-ATE Hi-Fi Earphones

When it comes to bang for your buck, you can’t beat these buds. These Chi-Fi beauts look, feel, and sound so good you’ll think the price tag’s a lie. Sure, they’re a “borrowed” design and won’t blow your eardrums away—but they’re 14 bucks! Often even less! What is there to possibly complain about? Buy for $14.

KZ ATE

When it comes to bang for your buck, you can’t beat these buds. These Chi-Fi beauts look, feel, and sound so good you’ll think the price tag’s a lie. Sure, they’re a “borrowed” design and won’t blow your eardrums away—but they’re 14 bucks! Often even less! What is there to possibly complain about? Buy for $14.

Phiaton BT 100 NC

Despite their slightly odd aesthetics, neckband headphones (call ’em neckbuds) still have their appeal. Phiaton’s set puts plane-deafening noise cancellation in your ears, and keeps going even under a river of sweat. They’re also the rare wireless earbuds that accept a cable, so your music can keep going even after the battery gives out. Buy for $75.

Amazon

Despite their slightly odd aesthetics, neckband headphones (call ’em neckbuds) still have their appeal. Phiaton’s set puts plane-deafening noise cancellation in your ears, and keeps going even under a river of sweat. They’re also the rare wireless earbuds that accept a cable, so your music can keep going even after the battery gives out. Buy for $75.

Status Audio CB-1

Your standard set of great-sounding over-the-ear studio monitors costs north of $300. (See: the second half of this guide.) But if you want to get your Skrillex on but don’t have the skrilla for Beats, Status Audio’s cushy headphones will do the trick just fine. They don’t look like much, but nobody’s looking anyway. Buy for $79.

Status Audio

Your standard set of great-sounding over-the-ear studio monitors costs north of $300. (See: the second half of this guide.) But if you want to get your Skrillex on but don’t have the skrilla for Beats, Status Audio’s cushy headphones will do the trick just fine. They don’t look like much, but nobody’s looking anyway. Buy for $79.

Jabra Move Wireless

These ultra-popular cans are everyone’s favorite on-ear headphones. They sound and look better than you’d expect for the price, and the battery lasts at least long enough to get you across the Atlantic. They’re great for phone calls, too, and even count as a fashion statement—as long as you get the red ones. Buy for $80.

Jabra

These ultra-popular cans are everyone’s favorite on-ear headphones. They sound and look better than you’d expect for the price, and the battery lasts at least long enough to get you across the Atlantic. They’re great for phone calls, too, and even count as a fashion statement—as long as you get the red ones. Buy for $80.

Libratone Q Adapt

If you’re missing your headphone jack, and aren’t ready to live your best dongle life…you don’t have that many options. Libratone’s Q Adapt are some of the best USB-C earbuds on the market. They’ll control your music, cancel ambient noise, and let you access Google Assistant. And they don’t need a single dang dongle. Buy for $149.

Libratone

If you’re missing your headphone jack, and aren’t ready to live your best dongle life…you don’t have that many options. Libratone’s Q Adapt are some of the best USB-C earbuds on the market. They’ll control your music, cancel ambient noise, and let you access Google Assistant. And they don’t need a single dang dongle. Buy for $149.

Jaybird Freedom 2 Wireless

Jaybird’s latest wireless earbuds are about as versatile a pair as you’ll find. Enough tips and wings come in the box to fit in almost any head. Since Jaybird packed most of the battery and electronics into the in-line microphone, the buds themselves are light enough to keep in all day. You’ll get more bass and volume than you might expect, too. Buy for $150.

Jaybird

Jaybird’s latest wireless earbuds are about as versatile a pair as you’ll find. Enough tips and wings come in the box to fit in almost any head. Since Jaybird packed most of the battery and electronics into the in-line microphone, the buds themselves are light enough to keep in all day. You’ll get more bass and volume than you might expect, too. Buy for $150.

Apple AirPods

For the Apple enthusiast on your list, there’s no product more enticing than the AirPods. They pair effortlessly, dangle weightlessly from your ears, and work well for Siri and phone calls in addition to Apple Music. Best of all, you can pair them with an Apple Watch, and leave your phone at home altogether. Perfect for the smartphone (or Watch) addict in everyone’s family. Buy for $159.

Apple

For the Apple enthusiast on your list, there’s no product more enticing than the AirPods. They pair effortlessly, dangle weightlessly from your ears, and work well for Siri and phone calls in addition to Apple Music. Best of all, you can pair them with an Apple Watch, and leave your phone at home altogether. Perfect for the smartphone (or Watch) addict in everyone’s family. Buy for $159.

Beats Solo3 Wireless

Now that Beats is part of Apple, the company’s tech cred has skyrocketed. The Solo3 use the same wireless chip as the AirPods, ensuring the same easy pairing and strong connection. And the battery lasts for at least 40 hours of music, which is just ridiculous. Buy for $219.

Beats

Now that Beats is part of Apple, the company’s tech cred has skyrocketed. The Solo3 use the same wireless chip as the AirPods, ensuring the same easy pairing and strong connection. And the battery lasts for at least 40 hours of music, which is just ridiculous. Buy for $219.

Master & Dynamic MH40

Master & Dynamic is one of those companies that doesn’t skimp on anything. Not materials—these over-ear ‘phones are made from machined aluminum and genuine leather. Not sound—the MH40s are deep and broad. Not style—they have a retro look that’ll take you right back to an old-school studio session. Buy for $300.

Master And Dynamic

Master & Dynamic is one of those companies that doesn’t skimp on anything. Not materials—these over-ear ‘phones are made from machined aluminum and genuine leather. Not sound—the MH40s are deep and broad. Not style—they have a retro look that’ll take you right back to an old-school studio session. Buy for $300.

V-Moda Crossfade 2 Wireless

Arielle Pardes, one of WIRED’s editors, wears a rose gold pair of Crossfades at work every day. She wears them pretty much all day, taking phone calls and bumping “Despacito” for the umpteenth time. She loves them. Audiophile sound and all-day comfort in a decidedly more fashionable package—what’s not to love? Buy for $330.

V Moda

Arielle Pardes, one of WIRED’s editors, wears a rose gold pair of Crossfades at work every day. She wears them pretty much all day, taking phone calls and bumping “Despacito” for the umpteenth time. She loves them. Audiophile sound and all-day comfort in a decidedly more fashionable package—what’s not to love? Buy for $330.

Bose QC35 II

Hate Bose at your own peril: these are the best travel headphones on the planet. Nobody beats the noise cancellation, for one thing. Add in the monstrous battery life, the comfort, the touchable controls, the high-end construction, and you get why they’ve been the favorites of first-class flyers for years. Buy for $349.

BOse

Hate Bose at your own peril: these are the best travel headphones on the planet. Nobody beats the noise cancellation, for one thing. Add in the monstrous battery life, the comfort, the touchable controls, the high-end construction, and you get why they’ve been the favorites of first-class flyers for years. Buy for $349.

Bowers & Wilkins PX

B&W is another of those brands that’s always been a little more impressive and a little less convenient. But with the PX, the company’s first noise-cancelling headphones, B&W walks that line perfectly. Control the ambiance and EQ with your phone, or just throw on the metal cans and let them pour sound waves into your ears. Buy for $400.

Bowers and Wilkins

B&W is another of those brands that’s always been a little more impressive and a little less convenient. But with the PX, the company’s first noise-cancelling headphones, B&W walks that line perfectly. Control the ambiance and EQ with your phone, or just throw on the metal cans and let them pour sound waves into your ears. Buy for $400.

Shinola Canfield Over-Ear

Brand new, and made in Detroit, nobody sells headphones with a story quite like Shinola’s. The company has serious audio cred after hiring Audeze founder Alex Rosson, who knows his way around headphone drivers. But make no mistake: this is as much an industrial design story as an audio one. The leather and lambskin feel great, and give the Canfields a premium but natural look all their own. Buy for $549.

Shinola

Brand new, and made in Detroit, nobody sells headphones with a story quite like Shinola’s. The company has serious audio cred after hiring Audeze founder Alex Rosson, who knows his way around headphone drivers. But make no mistake: this is as much an industrial design story as an audio one. The leather and lambskin feel great, and give the Canfields a premium but natural look all their own. Buy for $549.

Sennheiser HD-800 S

If price is no object, size is no problem, and all you want is the absolute best damn headphones you can find, Sennheiser’s got you covered. The giant transducers and open earcups make them look like a prop straight out of Star Wars, and that’s a good thing. But fair warning: don’t even listen to them if you’re not ready to drop $1,700 on a pair for yourself. Once you hear it, it’s hard to go back. Buy for $1,700.

Sennheiser

If price is no object, size is no problem, and all you want is the absolute best damn headphones you can find, Sennheiser’s got you covered. The giant transducers and open earcups make them look like a prop straight out of Star Wars, and that’s a good thing. But fair warning: don’t even listen to them if you’re not ready to drop $1,700 on a pair for yourself. Once you hear it, it’s hard to go back. Buy for $1,700.

Source: https://www.wired.com/2017/11/gift-guide-headphones-bose-beats/

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A Crazy Supernova Looks Like a New Kind of Dying Star

A Crazy Supernova Looks Like a New Kind of Dying Star

In September 2014, astronomers saw a dimming point of light in a small galaxy half a billion light-years away. It looked like an ordinary supernova—a dying star that exploded and whose light was now petering out. But the following January, Zheng “Andrew” Wong, a student intern at Las Cumbres Observatory in Goleta, California, noticed that the light was getting brighter again.

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Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.

When he showed this odd turnaround to his supervisor, the astronomer Iair Arcavi, “his eyes grew,” Wong recalled. Arcavi soon convinced himself that the light source, designated iPTF14hls, must not be a supernova after all but rather a nearby pulsating (or “variable”) star superimposed by coincidence on the distant galaxy. Arcavi was so sure, he said, “I would have bet my car that that was a variable star.” Still, he helped Wong take a spectrum of iPTF14hls, measuring its color to reveal its chemical makeup. To their astonishment, the spectrum came out to be exactly that of a Type II-P supernova — the most common and well-understood kind of exploding, dying, massive star. When a Type II-P supernova explodes, its brightness rises, plateaus (hence the “P”) for about 100 days and then declines until it’s over. “We had never seen such a supernova decline and go up again,” said Arcavi, who, along with 52 collaborators, reported the discovery of iPTF14hls today in the journal Nature. “That’s when we understood we had something very interesting.”

From that moment on, Las Cumbres’ global network of robotic telescopes constantly monitored iPTF14hls as it continued to brighten and dim. The scientists discovered another strange thing about the supernova: The measured speed of the exploding material, which normally decreases over time as slower stuff deeper in the supernova becomes visible, stayed mystifyingly high. “This is one crazy SN,” Arcavi typed in the comment log for iPTF14hls on May 16, 2015, more than 250 days after its discovery. “Too bad it will soon go behind the sun.”

Surely then, the scientists thought, it would be gone for good. But when September rolled around and iPTF14hls crept out from behind the sun, there was its twinkle. In fact, the light was brighter than before.

“Someone is playing with us up there,” logged Ofer Yaron, an astrophysicist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel who is part of a global supernova project that includes the Las Cumbres Observatory team.

The distant light source iPTF14hls resembles a Type II-P supernova in composition,​ but no other supernova has ever been observed ​​brightening​ ​and​ ​dimming over a period of two years.

The Las Cumbres group was aiming to track 500 supernovas over three years as part of a broader mission by astronomers to develop a taxonomy of star deaths. The goal is “to synthesize some picture of what all the different stars of different masses and metallicities and rotational rates do when they die,” said Stan Woosley, a theoretical astrophysicist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Whereas garden-variety stars like the sun blink in and out of existence relatively­ ­­inconsequentially, massive stars—the kind that go supernova—are the engines of the cosmos, churning and processing matter in life and death. The explosions of these rare stars, which pack at least eight and as many as hundreds of solar masses, forge metals (what astronomers call all elements heavier than hydrogen and helium) and spew material into the surrounding galaxy, birthing the next, more metallic generation of stars. Meanwhile, their cores can collapse into black holes, super-dense neutron stars, magnetized neutron stars known as magnetars, or spinning magnetars called pulsars—but which paths arrive at which outcomes, and are there others? Knowing the full spectrum of stellar fates is crucial for understanding galactic evolution. Yet recent findings like the one from Las Cumbres suggest that stars die in more ways than anyone knew.

Iair Arcavi, an astronomer at Las Cumbres Observatory, led the discovery of iPTF14hls, an extremely long and erratic supernova.

Courtesy of Iair Arcavi

The researchers quietly monitored iPTF14hls for the next two years, discussing their strange sighting with a few select theorists in the hope that someone would have a clue about what they had found. Ideas emerged—the birth, during a supernova, of a magnetar giving off bright flashes called gamma ray bursts, perhaps, or a newly formed black hole swallowing the starry material around it — but nothing quite worked. “A theory could explain some stuff, but there’s a problem, and then another theory can explain this other thing, but then there’s a problem,” said Andy Howell, an astronomer at Las Cumbres Observatory and the University of California, Santa Barbara, who leads the Las Cumbres supernova team. “They don’t know a damn thing about it.”

What theorists do know is that massive stars typically go supernova when their cores run out of nuclear fuel. The drop in outward radiation pressure causes the core to gravitationally collapse (forming a black hole or neutron star), and the internal contraction creates an outgoing shockwave that thrusts the star’s outer shells of material into space, along with blinding radiation. With Type II-P supernovas, the “progenitor” star contains enough hydrogen in its outer shells to get ionized by the supernova shockwave and turn opaque. It steadily lets light out as it de-ionizes, resulting in the characteristic 100-day plateau in brightness. The hydrogen and iron detected in iPTF14hls’s spectrum exactly matched that of a II-P, and yet, Howell said, “What a II-P would look like at day 30, this weird one looks like at day 300.” Its progenitor star must have been unusually enormous, with never-before-seen levels of hydrogen, to shine for hundreds of days, but that still wouldn’t explain its mysterious brightening and dimming or the undiminishing speed of its exploding material. Whatever this was looked like a Type II-P supernova in composition but didn’t behave like one.

Stan Woosley, a theoretical astrophysicist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is one of the minds behind the theory of pulsational pair-instability supernovas.

Jim MacKenzie/UC Santa Cruz

In September 2016, Howell presented the Las Cumbres findings at a supernova conference in Garching, Germany, to an audience that included Peter Nugent, an astronomer who helps operate the Intermediate Palomar Transient Factory sky survey that originally spotted iPTF14hls. As Nugent and the other supernova researchers absorbed the details about the incredibly long supernova, they thought of a well-known theory developed by Woosley, the Santa Cruz theorist, and others. Woosley hypothesizes that stars with initial masses in the range of 70 to 140 solar masses will die in stepwise explosions called “pulsational pair-instability supernovas” (PPISNs), due to a quantum phenomenon that acts on a gargantuan scale. Rather than undergoing core-collapse, these huge stars burn so hot that their radiation spontaneously converts into electron-positron pairs, calculations suggest. As radiation pressure is lost in the switch from light to matter, the star suddenly contracts; when the compression causes fuel in the outer shells of the star to ignite, the contraction reverses and the star explodes. It then contracts, then explodes, in a halting heave-ho.

PPISNs have never been definitively seen before, but theorists believe that they would play out in diverse ways, while always sharing one hallmark feature: The stars would erupt erratically over the course of days, months, decades, centuries or even millennia, before their cores have reduced enough in size to stop experiencing the quantum pair-instability, at which point, finally, they gravitationally collapse into black holes. (If Woosley’s theory is correct, there ought to be an absence of black holes over a certain mass range, since stars that start out in that range shrink through pulsational pair-instability explosions. Astronomers are looking for this black hole “mass gap” with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.) In death by PPISN, each of the precursor explosions ejects many suns’ worth of mass—hiccups that create clouds of debris around the star and that are like mini supernovas themselves. As the ejected shells run into one another, the explosions appear to us as temporary brightening and dimming, as in the light signature of iPTF14hls.

In Garching, Nugent thought to check the historical record for evidence of precursor explosions from iPTF14hls’s progenitor star. He searched a vast archive of old photographic plates from the Palomar Optical Sky Survey that he knew had been digitized and put online. There was no sign of iPTF14hls in an image from Palomar’s 1993 survey, which Nugent checked first. But when he looked at an older, grainier photographic plate from the 1954 survey, amazingly, a point of light shone at its location. Supernovas are rare, and the chance that two different massive stars would explode within decades in the same small galaxy is slim. It’s difficult to estimate the statistical significance of a signal in a digitized image of a photographic plate, Nugent said. “But your eye doesn’t lie. You look at this and say, ‘OK, that looks exactly right.’”

The repeat eruptions suggest that iPTF14hls might indeed be a pulsational pair-instability supernova, the result of spontaneous quantum conversions, via Einstein’s E=mc2, from energy to matter, and back again. If so, the discovery would prove the bold PPISN hypothesis and add a major branch to the star-death taxonomy. But although Arcavi, Howell and their Las Cumbres colleagues offer the PPISN idea as the leading explanation for iPTF14hls in their paper, the theory is not without problems. “The explanation that we mention in the Nature paper doesn’t really work,” said Arcavi, referring to the current PPISN theory, “so we still don’t really know.”

For one thing, the immense energy released in the course of iPTF14hls’s known explosions (and there may have been more) already surpasses Woosley’s predictions for how much energy the pair-instability mechanism can muster. The theory also has trouble accounting for the considerable hydrogen in the strange supernova’s spectrum—earlier eruptions ought to have blown the star’s hydrogen envelope into space—not to mention the hydrogen’s bizarrely high speed, which shows no correlation with changes in brightness. (Woosley says he has “a notion” about how to explain the hydrogen measurements.)

The PPISN idea isn’t a perfect match for observations, but that might just mean that researchers need to improve the theory. Stars evolve in wildly different ways and are computationally demanding to model and predict. Often theorists can only do computer simulations of two-dimensional slices of stars and cautiously extrapolate to three dimensions. They might be underestimating the energy of PPISNs.

One piece of circumstantial evidence for the PPISN theory is iPTF14hls’s location in a “dwarf” galaxy; these consist of mostly hydrogen and helium and contain few of the heavier processed elements known as metals. The fresh raw ingredients in dwarf galaxies allow huge stars to form, like pumpkins in fertile soil. Stars can reach the mass-range required for death by pulsational pair-instability. The researchers point out that even if their super-long supernova isn’t a PPISN but something else not yet imagined, objects like it might have been more populous billions of years ago, when even galaxies like ours were hydrogen-rich and less metallic. “Probably in the early universe these were much more common, but it’s more or less extinct now,” Howell said. “So it’s a dinosaur or something.”

Now that iPTF14hls has been found and described, similar objects might start showing up. Their characteristics will gradually define a new supernova class, whether they’re PPISNs or something else. Continuous monitoring by Las Cumbres Observatory’s global telescope network has opened up a temporal view of supernovas, which could yield many more surprises.

After all, iPTF14hls is not the only odd supernova to have appeared in recent years. Astronomers have also spotted extremely bright so-called “superluminous” supernovas, whose cause and origin are also unknown. “Some of them are exceedingly luminous — 100 times brighter than ordinary supernovae,” Woosley said. “So they’re not just wrinkles on an old theme; they are beasts.”

One thousand days after its discovery, iPTF14hls is finally fading. Its light has attenuated to one-twentieth its peak brightness. But things could pick up again, the scientists said, as its shockwave expands and encounters shells of material from the star’s earlier eruptions. “The one we saw in 1954—it could be another 20 years before it’s going to run into that shell,” Nugent said.

Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.

Source: https://www.wired.com/story/a-crazy-supernova-looks-like-a-new-kind-of-dying-star/

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It’s a Living: Meet One of New York’s Best Professional D&D Dungeon Masters

It’s a Living: Meet One of New York’s Best Professional D&D Dungeon Masters

One of Timm Woods’ most precious possessions looks like something you’d find in the basement of a derelict castle, or maybe at a back-of-the-mall magic shop: It’s a notebook bound in leatherlike skin, covered with an upside-down, faux-gold keyhole and filled with handwritten, eraser-dusted passages featuring titles like “Ravenloft” and “Attack on Myth Drannor.”

Before he goes to work, Woods might spend an hour or more consulting the book, poring over its various charts and calculations, readying himself for another night as one of New York City’s leading for-hire Dungeons & Dragons dungeon master, or DM. “The book is how I psych myself up,” he says. “I tried to make it look like what you’d imagine is going on inside a DM’s head. And if somebody finds it, it’ll be very clear that it’s something I care a great deal about.”

Tonight, a cool Friday in August, the book rests on a cluttered table in Woods’ Brooklyn apartment, not far from an assortment of gaming figurines and a half-demolished bag of Oreo Mega Stuf cookies. The five players gathered around Woods—including a teacher, a fashion-company copywriter, a corporate car-service dispatcher, and a publishing-house editorial assistant—have spent the evening progressing through a D&D campaign mega-stuffed with skirmishes and creatures, including Valkyries and a plant monster known as a Tree Blight. As the three-hour session nears its climax, the team members find themselves facing down a tower on wheels that’s rolling their way, filled with skeletal beasties called Gnolls.

Woods sometimes spends three months preparing for a D&D session.

Chris Maggio for WIRED

Clearly, it’s time to send in the giant dinosaurs.

“All you need to roll for the ankylosaurus to hit the wheels is a measly 12,” Woods says. There’s a scattered chop-clunk as the die hit the table; soon a 12 comes up, and the dinosaurs are attacking with their whiplike tails. “Wha-chee!” Woods riffs in a playful falsetto. “You’re going to hamstring these towers.”

Woods, a 30-year-old with neatly floppy hair, is dressed tonight in a black button-down shirt and jeans. His DM performances—and being a dungeon master is a kind of performance—are often marked by excitable narration and winkingly melodramatic theatrics; at one point during tonight’s game, he gleefully pounds a hand into a fist, mimicking an arrow’s impact on an opponent.

He’s spent nearly three months preparing for this showdown, even hand-building a few model towers out of scrap wood and dowels. It’s one of the most elaborate adventures he’s crafted in his four-year career as a professional DM at schools and homes in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Sometimes, like tonight, the games are run in his apartment, where the bookshelves reach high with graphic novels and board games, and where the walls are decorated with full-color maps from D&D classics like Greyhawk and Isle of Dread.

Woods discovered the world of role-playing games, or RPGs, when he was about 10 years old, after finding a free Dungeons & Dragons demo game online. He cast himself as the DM, even though he wasn’t entirely sure what that entailed. He soon realized that the DM could function as a sort of semi-benevolent story-deity—the one who ignites the adventures, emcees the action, and ultimately oversees a fantasy world where new thrills or terrors can be unearthed with a roll of the die. After a few rounds, “I realized, ‘Oh, shit. You can do anything with this,’ ” Woods says.

He was hardly the first to have that realization. First introduced in 1974, Dungeons & Dragons soon become standard-issue equipment for geeks everywhere—not that they had a monopoly on the game. In its Reagan-era heyday, D&D was like convenience-store Schnapps or Jim Morrison lyrics: Everyone indulged at least once, usually late on a weekend night, and either become an instant devotee or spent the rest of their lives denying it ever happened.

There are seven different dice in Dungeons & Dragons.

Chris Maggio for WIRED

“I realized, ‘Oh, shit. You can do anything with this,’ ” Woods says.

Chris Maggio for WIRED

Now, though, D&D is in the midst of a striking comeback. In 1999, Hasbro purchased Wizards of the Coast, the game’s creator, giving D&D’s marketing and distribution a major proficiency bonus. Yet the game has also been around long enough to become a multi-generational pursuit. In recent years, older players have begun dusting off their Starter Sets, while curious younglings who’ve endured marathon binges of Stranger Things or Minecraft (or who caught 2011’s infamous D&D-centric episode of Community) were inspired to seek out the game that all but redefined how a collaborative, hands-on narrative could work. “People are either rediscovering or discovering for the first time how wonderful the experience is to create a story with people together at the table,” says Matthew Mercer, a voice actor and D&D whiz who serves as DM on Geek & Sundry’s Critical Role series on Twitch. “We’d kind of moved away from that, thanks to digital media and videogames. But now there’s a resurgence and appreciation for a more personal experience.”

Which is one of the reasons Woods is so busy these days. He’s currently overseeing nine games a week, all of them focusing on either Dungeons & Dragons, or the kid-friendlier, D&D-influenced game Dungeon World. His clientele is made up of an assortment of armchair-adventuring adults, students, and families (including one with a few Oscar wins, though he’d prefer to keep their identity a secret). He’s spent the past few years doing all of this while also working to earn an RPG-related doctorate (his dissertation title: “Anything Can Be Attempted: Table-Top Role Playing Games as Learning and Pedagogy”).

For the generation of kids who were raised on D&D in the ’70s and ’80s, finding a good DM often meant asking around the neighborhood cul-de-sac, hoping someone you knew had a wild imagination, an appreciation for swordplay, and a halfway-decent head for math. Decades later, the growth of RPG games, as well as the task-rabid demands of the online gig economy, make it much easier for players to bring in someone like Woods, who will show up at your place, notebook in hand, ready to start your campaign.

But while Woods is one of several DMs-for-hire out there, this isn’t his hobby or a side gig; it’s a living, and a pretty good one at that, with Woods charging anywhere from $250 to $350 for a one-off three-hour session (though he works on a sliding scale). For that price, Woods will not only research and plan out your game but also, if you become a regular, answer your occasional random text queries about wizard spells. “He’s worth the money,” says Kevin Papa, a New York City educator (and occasional DM) who’s been part of this Friday-night game for more than a year. “Being a DM requires a lot of brainshare. I don’t know how Timm absorbs it all.”

As it turns out, the very attributes that help form the core of every Dungeons & Dragons character—strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma—are the same ones needed to be a stellar Dungeon Master. Woods describes himself as “100 percent an introvert,” but the kind of introvert who doesn’t mind being the center of attention under the right circumstances. Which explains why he has been known to crack jokes in an elf’s voice or dramatically narrate castle-yard battles with cacophonous verve. When he was younger, Woods preferred to be alone, living inside his imaginary worlds; now he has a job in which, night after night, he must share those worlds with others. “Being a DM is very intimate,” he says. “In many ways, the people who watch me run a game have a more authentic sense of what’s going on in my head than many other people in my life.”

Woods grew up in New Hyde Park, Long Island, a suburb about 15 miles east of Manhattan. Like a lot of other intensely smart kids, he was drawn to fiction, especially the works of Lord of the Rings creator J. R. R. Tolkien. For a while, he thought about becoming a fantasy writer himself. “He’d always been interested in telling stories, and he always had a really vivid imagination,” his older brother, Brendan, says. The siblings discovered D&D together—they have long-running games to this day—and even in their earliest sessions it was clear to Brendan that his brother was best suited to play the role of DM. “It gave him a framework to build on: ‘Hey, here’s this guideline, but make it your own.’ And he liked the idea of having control over the story.”

Woods is currently overseeing nine games a week, all of them focusing on either Dungeons & Dragons, or the kid-friendlier, D&D-influenced game Dungeon World.

Chris Maggio for WIRED

But, as is also often the case with the intensely smart, Timm Woods preferred to go solo, spending hours designing D&D games, memorizing the famous conflicts and campaigns, poring over articles in Dungeon magazine, and learning hundreds of character names and powers. All that work was necessary for him to master a game that, for many, can be offputtingly complex. The bare-bones setup of D&D seems at least semi-easy enough: You create a character using a series of predetermined traits and skills, and then set off on a DM-guided and -designed adventure in which the outcome of each new interaction, from battles to conversations, is determined by multiple rolls of the dice. (There are seven different dies, from four-sided to 20-sided.)

Players work together—be they dwarf, elf, halfing, or human—and the DM serves as a sort of all-powerful cheerleader-slash-enabler. But the amount of institutional knowledge required to keep a game running smoothly is voluminous, as evidenced by the players’ version of “Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons,”, which runs more than 80,000 words and includes such subheadings as “Gods of the Multiverse” and “Ability Scores & Modifiers.” It’s not unusual for a group of rookie D&D players to spend their first night staring at a manual, lost in orc-induced confusion.

As a kid, Woods spent more time thinking about D&D than actually playing with others. This was partly because he didn’t feel comfortable approaching his peers about D&D. “I would do all the DMing craft, but I used to get almost depressed: ‘What’s it all for? I’m never even in the remote future actually gonna run games like this, because no one’s gonna play with me.’ ”

By the time he was in his teens, Woods was attending an all-boys high school that required each student to give a speech every semester—something Woods dreaded. So he responded by coming up with the most ridiculously showy presentations possible, at one point jumping up on a teacher’s desk while reenacting the iconic Gollum-Sméagol speech from The Lord of the Rings. “It was my way of getting a reputation as a class clown,” he says. “I was putting on a very self-conscious performance to make sure people would like me.”

This was in the early ’00s, by which point Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film adaptations had helped that series evolve from back-of-the-classroom classic to pop-culture-conquering sacred text. The success of those films—as well as a new wave of superhero movies, Star Wars stories, and lore-locked games like Magic: The Gathering—proved that nerdiness was now (and had perhaps always been) a wide-scale epidemic, and a joyous one at that.

“I need to be cracking jokes,” Woods says. “I need to be acting as though we’re just a group of friends playing D&D, because that’s the experience everybody wants.”

Chris Maggio for WIRED

When Woods runs a game, his style is part dorm-room hangout and part one-man show.

Chris Maggio for WIRED

It was only a matter of time before Dungeons & Dragons became part of that reappraisal-slash-reawakening. Woods noticed it happening around 2009, when he was studying writing and English at Loyola University in Maryland. By then he’d begun playing again regularly and saw that some of the people who would have once made fun of D&D were suddenly curious about it. At a time when it’s possible to mount a months-long Words With Friends battle on your phone—or play a days-long videogame with someone who’s not even in the same country, let alone the same room—RPGs are a sort of analog anomaly: They require you to put down your devices, pick up the die, and create a sort of IRL group magic.

After watching Woods DM one particularly intense session, a friend’s roommate approached him, wide-eyed. “He watched the whole game, and afterward he came up to me and said, ‘How do you do that?’ That’s when I realized that the people who’d always had a problem playing the game—the people who said, ‘In a million years, I could never do this’—could be my future customers.”

When Woods runs a game, his style is part dorm-room hangout and part one-man show. “I need to be cracking jokes,” he says. “I need to be acting as though we’re just a group of friends playing D&D, because that’s the experience everybody wants.” During the sessions, it’s not unusual for him to rise from his seat to readjust some figurines or plot out a distance on the map, only to remain standing for the next few turns, regaling players with details on the latest grotesque creature or mystic weapon. His voice rises giddily whenever someone comes up with a novel way to vanquish a foe, breaking into the occasional Oooooh! or Yess! Here, for example, is how he narrates the action after a wizard named Victor shoots a magic missile at a demonic hyena-like creature called a Shoosuva:

The Shoosuva starts flailing about a little bit, then gets back up, sits back down, and … AA-BOOM! It hits the ground for good, and its eyes slowly start to shut. Victor is very excited, and he says “ ‘Demonslayer’: I’m putting it on the résumé.”

It’s a highly entertaining way to spend three hours, especially if someone brings pizza. (Full disclosure: I met Woods last year, when I joined one of his D&D games; I had to drop out for scheduling reasons, meaning the further adventures of one Gnome Peterson remain temporarily on hold).

There were no beginner’s guides to being a for-hire, for-profit dungeon master when Woods started his career, four years ago. Back then he was working at Forbidden Planet NYC, a famed Manhattan comic book and collectibles store, where he was helping sell RPG merchandise. “Once a day, someone would come in and say, ‘D&D? I’ve always wanted to play that, but I don’t have a friend who will teach it to me.’” Inspired, Woods printed up business cards (“Timm Woods: Professional Game Mastery”), and within a week or so a frazzled parent approached him at work, asking if he knew someone who could run a game for her son and his friends. “That was my first gig: An 11-year-old’s D&D-themed birthday party,” Woods says.

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He still shows up once a year for that game, but for the most part those early days “were a mess,” he says. “I did not have any clients.” To make things worse, he found out he had competition. One day in the store, Woods heard about another NYC-based dungeon master—one so successful that he’d supposedly been flown out to California to run a game for a group of lawyers. “I thought, through gritted teeth, ‘Really? That’s great,’ ” he says. “I was so jealous.”

There was another, more unexpected obstacle: When Woods would mention his new job online, he’d often get harangued by other D&D players who were put off by the very notion of for-profit DMing. “They seem to view it as akin to someone sitting down to play Magic and saying, ‘I’m so good, you’ve gotta give me $20 if you even want to play with me.’ I’d make the argument that paid DMing helps the hobby at large by bringing people into the game.”

Mercer, the Geek & Sundry host, says there’s a respectable place for professional dungeon masters like Woods. “There’s an old-school gatekeeper mentality to some of the RPG community: ‘It’s unfair that somebody out there can make money on something that I worked so hard to make for free for my friends.’” he says. “But Timm’s able to make a living doing something he loves, and gets to bring joy to people who are excited to spend some of their disposable income for this experience.”

Woods did his best to ignore the trolls and kept his business cards handy. After several months of hustle, he picked up more clients. Many of them were kids—parties and after-school sessions being a staple of the for-hire DM economy—but each birthday or one-off adult game allowed him to hone his skills. An eight-hour session in Connecticut, for example, taught him that he needed to impose some time limits. “When you run a game for that long, you’re invariably straying off the map,” he says. And he realized the differences between kid players and their adult counterparts. “The kids will be very honest with each other,” he says. “They’ll say something like, ‘Well, if you do that, I’m just gonna kill your character. And I know it’s gonna ruin the game, but I’ll ruin the game. Watch me.’ With the adult groups, everybody knows that they’re there to have fun.”

Woods also learned, over the years, how to balance his DM duties with the expectations of the players. It’s a tricky dynamic: The people at the table are paying him to have a good time, but it’s hard to get repeat business if your customers are constantly in danger of being torn up by hyena-demons—or even if they’re simply nonplussed at their last few turns.

Papa remembers a game in which his character was up against a squad of hungry monsters, yet Woods eventually steered them away before they could finish Papa off. “It didn’t make sense, and I think it comes from an attitude of, ‘Well, he’s paying money, so I don’t want to upset him.’ But I’m a realistic kind of guy, and I couldn’t care less if my character dies. And the great thing about Timm is that if there’s something that’s not working, you can email or call him and be like, ‘Can we maybe change something?’ It’s more fun for us, and it helps him grow.”

Role-playiing games are a kind of analog anomaly: They require you to put down your devices, pick up the die, and create a sort of in-real-life group magic.

Chris Maggio for WIRED

“I’ve had people say they want me to be harsher as a DM, and I don’t always take that advice,” Woods says. “If I’m too much of a hardass, then they’re really gonna start questioning what they are paying me for.” So he adapts the game’s difficulty levels to his players’ wishes and skill levels. And while it is possible to be revived in D&D, it can slow the game down. In D&D, Woods says, “death and unconsciousness are relatively boring.”

Yet there’s another reason Woods might want to keep everyone at the table happy. When he was younger, Woods couldn’t find enough people to play with him, and wasn’t even sure how to find them; now he has enough D&D pals to fill out that ridiculously detailed notebook of his. “Before I start a game, I think, ‘I am not their friend, I am their Dungeon Master,’ ” he says. “And then, within 30 seconds of me walking in and someone saying, ‘Hey, Timm!’ I’m already like, ‘Oh, fuck it, I love these people.’”

One weekend early last month, Woods was standing in Manhattan’s jumbo-sized Javits Center. He’d bought a last-minute pass for the New York Comic Con—“a sea of introverts,” he says—where he was hoping to check out some booths and, if he got the chance, plug his DM business. While walking the floor, he was distracted by the sight of a giant dragon that had been equipped with a saddle. Earlier in the day, visitors had been able to pose for photos atop the beast, but by the time Woods arrived the dragon was closed.

“And I say out loud, ‘Are you kidding me? I wanna ride on a friggin’ dragon!’ ” Woods recalls. “And this guy who had been standing next to me starts talking to me about it, and I just jumped wholeheartedly into this conversation with him, in a way that I couldn’t have in high school or college. The thing that would have made me hesitate back then is dead now. I’ve murdered it through hours and hours of D&D.”

A few weeks before the con, Woods finished his dissertation—the latest, most seemingly grown-up victory in a decades-long campaign he’d begun when he was barely a teen. He was soon to be Dr. Woods, but he wasn’t yet ready to leave D&D for the far dicier world of academia. “This all started as me trying to figure out how I could get paid to run these games and survive on it,” he says. The plan, for now, is to keep adding more games, keep finding more clients, maybe even get some corporate gigs. To help his clients undertake their next battle-scarring campaigns, even if a few of them die along the way. To keep riding the friggin’ dragon as far and high as it’ll go.

Source: https://www.wired.com/story/its-a-living-meet-one-of-new-yorks-best-professional-dandd-dungeon-masters/

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