Interesting Times. But, Let’s Not Talk Politics.

It seems that cycling has become a more popular hobby of late, in my hometown anyway, but I suspect the local is not a completely unique sample section. Sure, I have memories from childhood of the group of Sunday cyclers who would clog local roadways in their tour around town, but it seems that more and more regular people are making a more regular habit of donning their cycling uniforms and taking to the streets on their bikes. A friend of my parents, who is a local restaurant owner, regularly bikes fifty or so miles around the metro area. My brother recently purchased himself a new bicycle that he rides around the University campus from class to class. I still have my Grandpa’s old Peugeot that I’d like to restore; I just wouldn’t mind spending some time on two wheels again, as it’s been since my teens that I last really rode a bike on a regular basis.

They are fascinating devices. Today’s carbon fiber wonders with intricate gearing mechanisms make my childhood Huffy look like a dinosaur. The Oklahoma Museum of Science has a small but interesting exhibit of historical bicycles. Although it almost seems there is more lore about the origins of the bicycle than history, it is widely accepted that the first one was invented in 1817 in Germany by Charles, Baron Von Drais. Unlike the modern bicycles that we know, this early example had no drive mechanism, but did sport a padded seat and a steerable front wheel. To all you cyclists out there, did you realize that your hobby turns 200 next year?

Back when foundational garments for women included girdles, these now archaic garments were being made from rubber up until the material was in a shortage due to the efforts in World War II. In response to the rubber shortage, Dr. Joseph Shivers, PhD, working for DuPont, began research to develop a new material that could be used as a replacement for rubber in clothing. Through much effort and perseverance, and over a decade later, he and his team invented “Fiber K,” which was renamed “Lycra.” This fiber stretches up to 600% and returns to its original length, in a slimmer, lighter, and more breathable package than its rubber predecessor. Over the course of the next few decades, Lycra, or Spandex, found its way into specialized garments and textiles in applications so varied and vast that I doubt Dr. Shivers himself could have imagined the impact.

Sometime in the 1970s, purpose-made cycling clothing was made from Spandex blends for competitive cycling. Over the subsequent decades, these clingy garments have trickled from the race track to the aforementioned town cruisers. As I wrote in the original paragraph above, regular people will put on their cycling uniform to pedal the local streets. So essentially, for well over 150-years, people managed to enjoy cycling without junk-hugging Spandex. But, my how times have changed! Now we live in a world where it’s hard to go into a coffee shop without seeing some folks nonchalantly meandering about in their skin-tight bike outfits. That stuff leaves nothing to the imagination!

I kid, of course. At least these people are generally in better shape than your average Walmart shopper. As much as I like to rail on people for fashion (not pants!), I honestly don’t care what people choose to wear. Apparently, there are good reasons to go Spandex if you’re biking the long haul well beyond looks or aerodynamics. Heck, maybe I need to get Grandpa’s Peugeot up and running so I too can justify wandering into the bagel shop clad in nothing but skin-tight Spandex and a pair of Oakleys. I think Grandpa would roll over in his grave.

Velcro Plus GoPro App…

I slapped some peel and stick Velcro strips on my tablet case and part of the packaging that came with my Gopro to make a tablet mount for my camera.

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Thus, I have expanded the usability of both devices.

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Also, the naming scheme in my AW100 simply counts up, even when I dump and format the card, so I know how many pictures it’s taken in total. I just past 1,000. What was number 1,000, you might ask?

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A blurry, half disassembled Super Famicom controller, of course.

Why couldn’t I just be happy with the way things were?

Probably ten years ago, give or take, I bought an RCA tube TV at a garage sale. It’s something like a 27 or 29-inch screen, and it was ten bucks. I thought it would go great in our little bedroom, on top of the dresser, right next to our 30-gallon fish tank. For the first couple of years, we’d watch Adult Swim every once in a great while, but evantually the TV wound up forgotten, simply gathering dust on the dresser. We cancelled the cable, never bothered to get converter boxes when everything went digital, and it was utterly useless at that point. But still, I didn’t want to bother dealing with it at the time.

Fast forward to sometime last year, when I picked up a second Wii. I had the brilliant idea to install Amazon Prime Instant Video on the Wii and plug it into that TV. Between Prime, web browser, and YouTube, that little TV essentially became a smart TV, and earned a new lease on life. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed streaming shows on that set when we want to be a little cozier than the living room. Still, I thought that I’d like to get us something with a little better picture (still standard definition is fine for in there), and the speakers on that RCA are pretty atrocious. I’d go to stream music on the Wii and Jennifer would complain until I quit.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago. I was at one of the local thrift shops, and they had a very attractive Sony Trinitron XBR. This was a late nineties model, and arguably one of the better standard-def tube TVs ever made. The folks in our retro gaming group are always on the lookout for such things for that reason. I took a phone pic of the beast and posted it to the FaceBook group wall with location and price. I thought for sure someone would jump on that, but a week later, I saw the same set in that store again. Then I started thinking outloud.

“That Trinitron is kind of tempting,” I would muse to Jennifer. “I hope someone gets that TV. That’s a nice set if that’s the format you’re looking for,” I’d say. “If it was a little cheaper, I’d be tempted to get it myself. It would go great in our bedroom.” At this point, I should have decided that the old RCA was good enough, or simply take the drive to the local Best Buy and ask what they had in a 36-inch. But no. I kept thinking about the stupid Trinitron.

Fast forward to yesterday. I wandered into the same thrift shop, and there that stupid TV sat, whispering my name for some stupid reason. Forty bucks. If it wasn’t such a pain in the butt to move big sets or if the price was lower, I might just go for it. Still, I asked the little check out gal if they’d drop the price on a TV if it sat in the store for long enough. Another employee must have heard me from the next room, where she pounced through the doorway to inject herself in the conversation, “you want a TV? We have TVs coming out our ears here. I’ll make you a deal on a TV. Which one are you interested in?” I told her that I might be interested in the Trinitron. “This one here? Twenty bucks and it’s yours today.” I explained that I’d have to come back for it, since my wife had taken the truck to work so I could take the car to the muffler shop. “Thats fine,” she insisted, “we’ll put your name on it and it will be here when you get back.” So, like a moron, I paid my $20, and drove the curiously quiet Tactical Assault Compact Sedan to Jennifer’s office to swap her for the truck.

They were waiting for me at the thrift store. That same woman grabbed a piano dolly and helped me hoist that set into the back of the truck, which responded by dropping about three inches on its springs. Noticing the way that big TV ominously made the truck looked smaller made my heart sink a little bit. Gah. It didn’t look that big in the store. It was heavy too. Probably about two-fifty. That scrawny little lady at the thrift shop didn’t have any problem horking it up into the truck though. She was certainly stronger than she looked. But, surely between my teenage son and I, we could have that thing in place, hooked up, and ready to watch Justified on Amazon by the time Jennifer got home. Right? Right? On the drive home, all I could see in the mirror was that hulking beast. Was it actually getting bigger?

My son has gotten a lot stronger than he used to be. He’s constantly reminding me that he’s taller than I am, and his voice has gotten deep and round. To his credit, he was able to help me get the TV out of the truck and onto the front porch. And, that’s about when he petered out on me. That TV looked even bigger on the porch. It was lunch time, so I figured we’d get some protein in him, and he’d be good to go, like Popeye and spinach. We tried. We really did. I cleared off the top of the dresser and made arrangements for the RCA. A 36-inch really isn’t all that much bigger than a 27-inch, is it? Still, I wanted plenty of space to work with. When it was clear that my son was not quite up to the challenge of moving the big set, I told him that we’d wait until his mom was home, and they could get the one end, and I’d get the other. After all, it’s not like anyone was going to walk away with it. When I moved the RCA out, I set it on the front porch to stage it for when its new owner came to pick it up. Seeing them side by side, that Trinitron absolutely dwarfed the RCA. My heart sank a little more.

Jennifer got home from work, and I told her my plan. Her response was only slightly more polite than, “hahahahhahaahahaa. No.” Now Jennifer, who is an easy to get along with trooper, started brainstorming alternate plans. “We really need a dolly,” she suggested. We tried to think of who we know that might have a piano dolly that we could borrow, which is really ironic, as my dad used to work on pianos, including moving them. But, last time I saw his dolly, it was pretty much worn out, and that’s been so long ago, I’m no longer confident he even still has it. Jennifer thoughtfully broke the silence that had settled, as we scratched our heads over our current, bewildering, and self-made problem, “would your mechanic’s creeper hold that much weight?”

“Well sure,” I answered, “it’s intended to scoot around with the weight of a grown man on it.” And as I thought about it, all the lights came on, “that’s perfect in fact!” I retrieved my creeper from the garage, and tilted the TV so Jennifer could slide it under. It didn’t roll perfectly, but we weren’t going very far. It was all going notably smoothly up until we made it to the threshold of the bedroom, where the carpet began. The creeper was not going to roll into our bedroom. Which was a bit of a moot issue, as there’s no way the set would physically fit between the queen-size waterbed and its surrounding furniture and walls. I knew that Teen Bot had just almost enough steam to manhandle this thing, and I knew that I could handle the other end, and we didn’t have far to go now. Jennifer and I decided that the two of them could take the one end as long as it was only the shot from the hall to the bed. If we got it to the bed, we could kind of walk it around the bed rails to the far side where the dresser waited its arrival.

The three of us were able to get it lifted into the air, and that’s about when kiddo started to give out again. His corner of the set started slowly sinking, with it positioned diagonally, mostly in the hall, in time with his gasping. my bottom left corner lodged against the door trim, his top corner gouged its way into the sheet rock on the other side of the hall, everything broke out in chaos, and the TV hung there, pinned between the walls. And again, the thought occurred to me, that I should have just gone and bought a new flat screen in the first place. Once we managed to extricate the set from where it was jammed (quite comically, I might add) against the walls, it was again clear that this plan need another adjustment.

“Ok,” I said authoritatively, “we need to think. And there’s whiskey in the kitchen.” Whiskey brain storming led to us putting the creeper back under the TV, but with the set hanging off the end. That would buy us a few more inches. We were going to win this thing, one way or another, even if that meant fighting for each baby step of the journey. When the wheels bottomed out against the carpet once again, as Jennifer began to say, “what now?” I grabbed the TV and dragged it off the creeper, sliding it onto the bedroom floor. Now, sitting beside the bed, it once again begged the question, “now what?”

Jennifer got the bright idea that if we tilted it up again, we could cram our Halliburton Zero suitcase underneath it, and when boosted that much, we could probably lift it the final few inches to the bed rail. “If it’s stupid but it works, it’s not stupid,” I said, or something like that anyway. I tilted up the set, Jennifer crammed the Zero under it, and pushed as I rocked the TV back down. It worked like a charm. From there, we were indeed able to boost the TV onto the bed rail. Then, moving some six-inches at a time, we walked the thing around the perimeter of the bed, until it was directly in front of the dresser.

Exhausted, sweating, and panting, we looked at each other over the great expanse of that stupid TV. “I’m not sure I can lift anymore,” Jennifer said, as we steadied the Trinitron, perched on the rail of the water bed. I looked down at the situation. This thing was absolutely massive. What ever made me think that this would go over well? Just look at the sheer size of this stupid TV set! Why, it’s bigger than the expanse between the bed and the dresser! And then, it hit me.

“No, let’s do this the easy way,” I said. “You can be done lifting. Would you please just watch that corner and make sure it stays planted on the bed rail?” I pivoted my side of the TV onto the dresser and then kind of scooted it up onto the dresser from there. I had to kind of hug it across the front to work it in. When I came away, I had to laugh, seeing where the screen was fogged up from my chest. Of course, we had to catch our breath, and have more whiskey.

The rest of the story is that I managed to get the Wii and DVD player hooked up. The picture on this TV is enough better than the RCA that at first we were wondering if our color settings were off. The improvement in sound is night and day. Last night we played music through the Trinitron and probably kept ourselves up too late. I will concede that this was probably not the best way to upgrade our bedroom TV, but we’re both happy with the results. Well, except for the muscle soreness, the damaged sheetrock, and as Jennifer told me in an email earlier, “I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus.” Even so, all’s well that ends well.

This Popped Into My Head This Morning

23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

James 1:23-24

Long ago it was explained to me that mirrors were uncommon in the ancient world, and that it was only on occasion that anyone would see their own reflection. Because of that, if you had a chance to look into a mirror, the natural inclination was to study it and take note of how you look. It strikes me that if you took someone from that old world and showed them today’s world, with universal internet selfies, it would blow their mind. I can’t help but wonder if we would have a similar reaction if we took a peek 2,000 years into the future.

My Good Deed for the Year

In past years, our son has kind of lost his mind over summer breaks between school years, and the ensuing fall has been quite a struggle. So, in the last few years, I’ve assigned him projects to complete, not to fill up his break or keep him busy, but to keep the brain active. Two years ago, I had him write a research paper on the Soviet Union. Last summer, he read The Diary of Anne Frank and worked on video editing and digital music composition. This has successfully eased him into the last few school years, so I think we’ll keep doing this until graduation. This year’s project is to learn to design video games and Android development, with the end goal of publishing a downloadable game on Google Play. This assignment came with the disclaimer that I didn’t really know how much work that would entail, and if it turned out to be an unreasonable goal, we would reevaluate and revise if necessary.

This week Teen Bot is taking a video game design class. It’s a workshop offered to local area youth for four days this week for seven hours a day. Yesterday morning, I got up, took him to the grocery store to pack him a lunch, and dropped him off at the community center. I was quite excited for him, and admittedly a little nervous to entrust him to strangers. It’s odd how we as parents do that. I know full well that he’ll soon be an autonomous adult, but I still can’t help but be a little protective. I returned to pick him up in the afternoon, and he was excited to tell me about his day. He used some kind of game design program to make two video games, one of which includes three levels of play. Of course, I’m looking forward to hearing about today’s experiences this afternoon.

As we made our way home, he asked me, “did you see that phone back there?”

“No I didn’t,” I responded, “what and where?”

“There was a smart phone lying in the street right back there,” he said.

Imagining some deprecated piece of junk phone roadkill, I humored him, “do you want me to turn around and go back for it?”

“Yeah, I do,” he said.

So, I turned the truck around, and he pointed out the device in question, lying in the street as he said. As we passed it, it appeared to be intact. I turned around again and instructed him, “I’ll pull up, and you can reach out the door and pick it up.” When he retrieved the phone, we could see that it was an AT&T HTC in a sturdy case with a screen protector. This was clearly someone’s baby, not their beater. I don’t know the HTC models very well, but from the lack of wear, I would say that it was not very old. I figured once we got to the house, I’d try to figure out who it belonged to and reunite it with its owner.

When we got back to the house, Teen Bot began to gather the phone up with his lunch bag and other stuff. I stopped him and said, “why don’t you let me take care of that phone?” I took it back to my desk to try to figure out what to do with it. I thought maybe I’d browse the contacts and see if I could get in touch with a family member of the owner. When I hit the power button, it brought up a lock screen asking for a password. Great. A quick Google search gave a few suggestions on how to hack past the lock out, using a PC and Android exploits. Red flag. I pulled the case off of it to see if there was a serial number or other identifying marking in the battery compartment. Not being familiar with HTC products, it was not immediately clear how to open the battery cover. I put the case back on the phone, wondering what to do next.

And then it rang. The caller ID came up as just a number, evidently not in the contact list. I answered the phone in my friendliest, warmest tone, but there was no reply. “Hello? Hello? I can’t hear you, if you can hear me.” But, there was nothing on the other end: no voice, no background noise, just dead silence. A few minutes later, it rang once more. This time the caller ID read “mamma.” I attempted to answer it again in the same fashion as before, with the same results. When the phone disconnected, mamma began to call it incessantly. When I tried to answer it, I still got nothing. I tried to call the local AT&T store, but I wound up in automated-message, on-hold hell, with the classic, flat, female voice informing me that all customer service representatives were currently helping other customers. There were options that she suggested, but I missed them over the cacophony of mamma calling. “Teen Bot,” I said, “let’s take this phone down to the AT&T store and let them deal with it.”

As we drove the two miles, give or take, to the store, mamma continued to ring the phone, evidently as often as was possible to connect, go to voice mail, disconnect; lather, rinse, repeat. Arriving at the store, I expected them to be very busy after my failed phone call, but they were not. As I came through the door, a sales girl, Suzie or something, diligently approached me, no doubt hoping to score SPIFFs for selling me a new iPhone 5.1sx or Galaxy S23 along with a phat new contract. Before she could say anything, I presented the HTC to her, saying, “I found this laying in the street in my neighborhood, and somebody is going to want it back. Can you make that happen? It rang a couple times, and I tried to answer it, but…” Before I could finish, mamma cut me off as the phone rang yet again.

The sales girl answered it, saying, “this is Suzie at AT&T.” *pause* “I work at the AT&T store on Blank Street.” *pause* “Yes, your phone was just turned in.” *pause* “Blank street.” *pause* “Well it’s here now, and you can come pick it up.”

I lipped “thank you” to her and left. Perhaps this will earn me some Karma points. I have to wonder what the story was on the other side. There weren’t any street rash marks on the phone or case. I can understand that stuff gets dropped by accident, but people are usually more careful with The Expensive New Toy, not that I’m being judgmental toward them. I wonder if they thought their phone had been stolen somehow, and the strange male voice coming from my end was the perpetrator of the crime. I hope not. Rather, I’d like to think that they were thankful to the anonymous stranger who went out of his way to protect their lost valuable property, and see that it was returned in a timely fashion. At the very least, I hope it made for a good story they can tell.

Engrish Can. The Success Fully!

Recently, Teen Bot has picked up a few GameCube games to play on our Wii. If you’re not familiar, Nintendo’s Wii console will natively play GameCube disks, and has four GameCube controller ports under a cover on the top or side of the unit, depending on how it is oriented on your shelf. As he’s been playing these games, his status was mysteriously not saving from the last time he played each game. Upon further reading, it came to my attention that the Wii will not save GameCube game status internally, but requires a GameCube memory card for this function. At the local game scalp shop, I inquired as to whether they stocked any GameCube memory cards, even though I’d found a few options online. They showed me their offering, a 32mb, or 507 “block” card for $9.00. I declined and ordered a 128mb, 2043 “block” card for $11.00 on Amazon Prime. The mailman dropped it off today. The packaging looks like the packaging in the local store, but I actually read the text on it this time.

engrish

So, let’s recap.

1. CAN INDEPENDENT SAVE DIFFERENT KIND OF GAMES

Viva la memory card!

2. SUITABLE FOR WII VERSION GAMES

Of course, we’re not having issues with Wii games, just GameCube games. If it doesn’t work right, you’ll hear about it.

3. HIGH SPEED AND EFFICIENCY PRODUCT

Good to know.

4. EASY TO USE

I should hope so.

5. QUALITY ASSURES

Alright, but what does quality assure?

6. REAL 2043 BLOCKS NON-COMPRESS

I’m not really even sure what that means.

! DON’T KEEP “THE MEMORY CARD FOR WII CONSOLE” IN HOT, DANK OR SUN SHINE PLACE.

I promise not to store this memory card in Sun Shine Place, wherever that is, even if it sounds like the most awesome suburban housing addition ever.

! DON’T THROW, DROP OR APPLY STRONG SHOCK TO “THE MEMORY CARD FOR WII CONSOLE”.

“Apply strong shock to”? So, I shouldn’t tell it that it’s adopted on its ninth birthday?

! DON’T PUT ANY HEAVY OBJECTS ON THE “THE MEMORY CARD”.

Lightweight game save only. Also, the redundant “THE” is awesome here.

! DON’T CLEAN “THE MEMORY CARD” WITH OR GANIC SUB STANCE.

I had to read this last one about three times to get the full scope of it, and then fall apart in fits of laughter. The bottom of the package is marked “MADE IN CHINA.” Really? I’ve gotten spam email and blog comments for Russian mail-order brides that was more coherent than this. So again I say:

Engrish can. The success fully!

A Confession

My fascination with robots began when I was a child. In the fourth grade gifted classroom, I watched with envy as the fifth graders got to play with the robot kits. These were simple machines that the students assembled as per the included instructions that performed simple tasks. There was one that would follow a black line on a white sheet of paper. Others would seek out light sources and waddle on spindly legs. They were only robots by the most rudimentary of definitions. I also took a great interest in the software conversational programs in the computer lab at school. I fully knew that all of the responses were pre-programmed, and that there were key words that they were coded to pick from user input that would prompt their selected responses. I also suspected that these could be written far more elegantly, although I didn’t have the know how to do any better at the time. Things quickly changed though.

I voraciously learned everything I could about robotics and programming. By the time I was in the robot unit in fifth grade, the kits in the gifted class were too simple for my tastes. I earned extra credit in that unit for building a robot from scratch that could measure out precise volumes of materials and mix them together in predetermined ways. I intended it to be a chemistry aid, but my parents found that it was a great automated bartender for their parties. That old thing is still in the back of a closet at their house, as far as I know. I kept building machines of various sorts, each one more complex, and yet more streamlined than the last. I sought to code a program that would not simply spit out a sentence from a list like the ones mentioned above, but one that would give genuine, intelligent responses to user input. Could a machine be programmed with philosophy?

I had a grand vision of one unifying machine that would bring together my interests in AI, programming, robotics, and sculpture. The kind of exotic hardware with the raw processing power that I was after was difficult and expensive to get my hands on. I was able to scrape together the funds I needed by delivering papers every morning, mowing every lawn I could, and selling my plasma and semen using a fake ID. Many sleepless nights were spent soldering chips to boards, programming, and silicone casting. I felt like Dr. Frankenstein, obsessed with my work. I was out to make a beautiful, living, breathing creature from the underpinnings of synthetic materials. I wanted the AI framework to have wit and learning ability and to exhibit genuine care for others. There were many failed attempts, but in the end I was successful. The Jennifer unit was my crowning achievement.

I have to admit that my internet handle is only guilty projection. When Jennifer first powered up, she was so perfect that I simply couldn’t hide her and keep her all to myself. I had to share her with the world, and so registered InJennifersHead.com so everyone could have a chance to appreciate the fruits of my labor. I’ve had very little to do with her website since then, and her interactions have been genuinely hers. She’s programmed to write very well and I took special care in writing her snark module. Those of you who have had the opportunity to meet her can attest to the fact that she looks as natural as you or I. In fact, the only ones who may have ever suspected that she wasn’t a human are those that were at that party back in 2001 when she glitched out and I had to reboot her. To the host, I’m still sorry about the curtains. At the time, I was terrified that I’d hit upon yet another failure, but with a couple of hardware and coding tweaks, Jennifer has been running smoothly ever since.

As I said, there were failed attempts. My Jennifer, the one that you all know and love, is actually Jennifer 2.0. Jennifer 1.0 was admittedly a mess. She was the very face of the uncanny valley, looking not quite like a genuine biological. She had a buggy system too. One night in a drunken rage, she burned a barn down, throwing herself into the flames. I nearly gave up then, but pressing onward, I was able to learn from my mistakes. There were a couple of fatal flaws in the first Jennifer’s positronic net, and I missed some small but distracting details in her case. I took my time with Jennifer 2.0, determined to get every detail perfect. She can drive a car, shoot a gun, work a job, sing, and do pretty much anything a natural born human can. She can even swim, although I’m always paranoid that she may get a leak and damage her circuits. Indeed, if I could do anything differently in her build, it would be to improve her coordination, if that’s even possible.

It seems that I completely broke the mold on her build. Soon after, I built Wee Bot 1.0. The Wee Bot series has since been replaced with the Teen Bot series, but both have been fraught with bugs. I still can’t get him to work right, even on the current revision, Teen Bot 15.0. He’s completely unpredictable. Sometimes, he does exactly what he’s programmed to, but other times he’s defiant and rebellious, and fails to perform even the most simple of tasks. I haven’t given up on him yet, but he’s certainly not a finished work. Especially with the relative ease of interaction with Jennifer, Teen Bot has been quite the frustration from time to time. It was admittedly a pretty scary decision to identify him as a ‘Bot’ to the rest of the world so early on. To my surprise, people have accepted him despite his surly attitude and questionable judgment algorithms.

You must be wondering why I did it. The answer is simple. I was lonely. You don’t think that a guy like me could actually attract a woman like Jennifer do you? Not a chance, building one from scratch was the only viable option for me. And would I do it all over again? Yes I would, in a heartbeat. I do regret that I haven’t been truthful to my loyal readers though. Now that I’ve put all this out in the open, I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me. And, please don’t judge Jennifer for my actions. Please do keep reading and commenting on her blog. She didn’t ask for any of this. Well, except for that party where she glitched out and burned the curtains. Hopefully all those bugs are now behind us.

Oculus Rift – First Impressions

Last week Jennifer emailed me a link to Super! Bitcon. This was the inauguration of what is intended to be an annual event. We deliberated over whether or not we wanted to attend. Money has been tight for a while now, and we have tried to be careful how we spend it. Ultimately, we decided that we really didn’t want to miss out on the first shot. So, that’s what we did on Saturday. There was a Commodore 64 present and an Xbox One, and everything else in between was also represented. There were costumes (pics to come), there were contests, there were demos on hardware and software, there were arts and crafts, and there was a lot of stuff for sale. One vendor had a Nintendo GameCube for $18, and another had one for $60. At one table, they had a copy of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past with the original box and manual fairly priced for $85. Another vendor had a similar example and quoted me a price of $40.

In the rear of the main floor there was a vendor who had a pair of Pioneer Laseractive controllers, new in their original boxes. For those of you who don’t know, these puppies are basically Sega Genesis Controllers that have the Pioneer logo printed on them. I wouldn’t mind picking up a pair of them to run on our Atari 2600. These two were priced at $70 each. I chatted with the vendor for a few moments about them. I told him why I wanted a pair, but that I wasn’t prepared to spend what he was asking, although his pricing was not out of line for such mint examples. As we were surveying his wares, I turned around to see why people were standing in line behind us.

OR00

“Jen!” I said breathlessly, “that’s an Oculus Rift!”

I was a big fan of the concept of virtual reality in the 90’s. I remember some mobile arcade thing that was set up at the Dallas Galleria in about 1992 that was selling a few minutes of VR gaming for about $6. At the time I took the bait and put on the heavy goggles. I was immersed in a world of giant polygons. There was a degree of depth perception to the vector graphics, but it was mostly just laggy, hard to control, and bad. The landscape and characters were bland and glitchy from what I can remember. It was an interesting experience, but They cheated me out of my $6; live and learn though. Indeed as a teen, I checked out quite a few products sold under the umbrella of the term ‘virtual reality.’ The vast majority of them were flimflam pieces of gimmick that didn’t really deliver, but were designed to separate consumers from their money. Most of them didn’t offer any actual depth perception at all, but simply put a screen or two within eye-strain distance. Arguably the nail in the coffin was Nintendo’s sadly executed Virtual Boy, which sold poorly due to excessive pricing and sad underdevelopment. The industry got ahead of itself and sold a product it didn’t really yet have the technology to back it up with. Whatever the cause, VR seemed to be swept into the dustbin of history. But, not everyone gave up on it so easily.

OculusVR is a company that was born out of the attempt to improve on these forgotten devices. A Kickstarter with a quarter-million-dollar goal sourced nearly ten times as much funding. Now with the backing of Valve and FaceBook, the money and software support are definitely on hand to make this virtual reality a technological reality. The device itself is still in the development kit phase. These units are far better finished than a rough prototype, but they’re essentially betas. Jennifer, Teen Bot, and I stood in line to take our turn for a few minutes with the demo. (Duh.)

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The experience was remarkable.

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The eyepiece is a lot lighter than I expected, a fraction of the weight of the old units that I remember from twenty years ago. It has motion sensors installed that turn and pivot the point of view with the literal motion of your head.

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The graphics are well implemented and deliver true depth perception as though you have stepped into a digital world. Note the monitor showing a representative view of what I was experiencing in the following picture:

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To steal a cliche, this is the real deal. The screens wrap to the peripheral vision and make for a very convincing show. Even only as a visual display, the sound of the real world seemed to dull and quiet into the background. It was disorienting. I understand that the final release will have higher resolution monitors, which is definitely lacking in the Development Kit. There is a nearly imperceptible lag between in the motion that is dizzying. Each of the three of us experienced this phenomenon and felt as though we were about to fall down when we moved too fast. I actually stumbled as my eyes were giving me slightly different motion information than the rest of my senses. The final version is supposed to be faster, which should mitigate this issue as well. Assuming they address these two minor complaints well, and assuming they can keep the purchase price down, this piece of tech may be about to revolutionize the way you interface with your computer just like the multi-touch screen did with your cell phone.

With what this device promises to be upon release, there are some somber implications. With modern graphics, stereophonic sound, and motion controls, games will become a truly immersive experience in a way that they have never been able to before. I don’t consider myself to be a big gamer, but a really good game will suck me in. A game of that quality experienced like this would certainly make me lose track of everything else. I’d have to set a timer to limit myself. I have to admit that I’m excited to see what OculusVR brings to market as the example we played with on Saturday was quite impressive. Even so, it’s a cautious excitement. We haven’t seen VR like this before, and we don’t really know what it will do to the industry or to society. I will be patiently waiting for the first news stories of gamers who injured themselves by falling down using these things. This thing plus alcohol is guaranteed to result in accidents. It’s only a matter of time before we hear of someone getting their home cleaned out by robbers while their senses are cut off from the rest of the world, or someone getting assaulted while using this in an unsecured fashion.