The Envy of the Village

Well, wasn’t THAT lovely? Heavens.

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By J. E. Kennedy

Old Mrs Bergman’s roses were the envy of the village. The bushes bloomed in a congregation of scarlet and coral, sun-flare yellow and delicious tangerine. They spilled over the walls and lit up the pavement with their scattered petals, like delicate wishes skipping along the breeze, destination unknown.

Mrs Bergman plucked and preened, watered and fed. She whispered sweet nothings. She told the roses all that she would have told him if he were here. And they bloomed.

At night she would take the fading telegram from the drawer: Missing in action.

And she waited to meet him again.

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Skyrim VR with Oculus Rift and Touch

As an interesting coincidence, and in a crappy mood because Dimwit Drumpf just won’t shut up and die already, I decided a few days ago to fire up Skyrim so I could wander around, be nice to Villagers, do a favor for a Jarl, kill some Bandits, and forget for a short while what utter shit that idiot is making of America Again.

Coincidentally, the very next day, one of my closer work buddies asked, “So, did you see that Skyrim VR is out on Steam?”

WHAT?!! OMG!!

So immediately upon getting home from work that afternoon, I went and bought it. Full price. None of this silly putting it on my Wishlist and waiting for a Steam Sale (which happen frequently). Bethesda absolutely deserves a premium price, given the (literally) hundreds of hours of enjoyment I’ve gotten from what has now really become a franchise in its own right. (Yes, it’s already part of the Elder Scrolls franchise, but it would seem that Skyrim has more “legs” than the rest.) Plus, I want to do my small part to encourage them to do more things for VR (or as I prefer to say, “which support 3D HMDs”).

First time trying it out, I got hung up with a glitch during the Character Selection and Modification subroutine… I ended up with a generic Nord with the name “Prisoner”. Figured I would just plow onward, going through the initial tutorial-ish chapter, just getting used to vastly different control mechanics. Then I’d start over and try to get the Character Setup stuff done correctly.

And so I did. Took me 3 tries, but finally figured it out. That’s one spot where the stuff that floats in front of your view doesn’t jibe. It’s a picture of a couple Vive Controllers blocking your view of the floating virtual keyboard, with cartoon thumbs, and some markings which seem to imply “You must type your name with the thumb joysticks.” And with Touch, at least, that ain’t true at all.

No – you must use the left-hand (odd) laser, and your forefinger trigger, to shoot past the foreground Vive Controllers image, to the dimmed keyboard behind them, and hit the backspace in the upper-right corner to erase “Prisoner”. As soon as you’ve hit the backspace once, the foreground crap disappears, so you can see what the heck you’re doing.

Anyway, on the 3rd try, I got it. So when I go to load the game, there’s one “Kleiven” and three “Prisoner” in there. LOL… I’ll have to figure out how to delete the Prisoners, which coincidentally was exactly what the Imperials are trying to do in the 2nd scene of the game.

Finally, I spent over an hour in Skyrim VR last night. I spent way too much time fussing over the Kajiit head-and-face characteristics. I think there’s no 3rd-person view.

My buddy says “No third person would make sense. Can you see your body in it?”

I replied, “Only time I could see my body was when making the character adjustments just before not cutting my head off.  Just see either floating Touch Controllers, or weapons if unsheathed. Don’t see arms, feet. But I see hands (fists, actually) if I’ve chosen no weapons, but am going to hiss and scratch the bad guy to death.”

Anyway, Bethesda made great choices for how to deal with turning, running, rendering. The thing that made me stop wasn’t any hint of VR sickness, but the brow getting tired of the pressure. If the Rift was 50% lighter, or the weight arranged such that it doesn’t need to press so hard on my brow, I could see playing like that for 3 hours easily.

I’m somewhat tempted to try adding a weight to the rear strap. I wonder if it were balanced back-to-front, though heavier overall, if it wouldn’t need to press so hard to stay in alignment. The weight could be borne by the top strap more than anything else.

Or maybe just tie a big Helium balloon to the front. It’s not like I could look more silly anyway. But I digress.

Skyrim VR is SO FUN! I hadn’t seen the game without make-it-more-beautiful mods in a long time. I’d forgotten how homely the NPCs are. But it didn’t take long at all to get used to that and ignore it, completely enveloped in the game. This is only my 2nd time starting from the beginning, and I’m consciously making different choices, just to experience it all from a different perspective.

Boy howdy, when suddenly set upon by a Wolf or Skeever, armed with a long-bow, it is not a simple push-a-button ordeal to start poking the beast with sharp, pointy things. I need to get into the habit of sprinting away, turning a 180, and THEN trying to draw the bow. Or just walk around with the sword more of the time. Derp.

SkyrimMilkDrinker

Welcome To The U.S. of A.

…or…

Why I Miss John Pinette

It was a minor cluster-f%@& at the McDonald’s drive-thru this morning.

I try to avoid getting breakfast at McDonald’s, but I knew I was out of granola at work, and wouldn’t be going to the grocery store until tonight at the earliest. So I made sure I had a fiver and a single in my shirt pocket before leaving the house, and 50 minutes later I had dropped off my wife, driven through and past to the opposite side of our state’s Capitol city, to the McD’s nearest my office by 06:37 (which tends to be just before the morning rush at that one).

First clue that there would be trouble: the first car in line was at the rearward (of two) order screens, with no cars visible in front of them (most particularly, not at the forward order screen. I was 3rd in line at this point.

Second clue: the 2nd car in line had left nearly a full car-length gap in front of her.

Third clue: once the 1st car moved, the 2nd car veeeeeerrrryy slowly crept forward. Can’t (or didn’t) read the sign, and did not pull up to the forward ordering screen. Sheesh.

Fourth clue: car in front of me is way wide of the curb and order screen. They have to shout to hear each other simply because of the extra distance. It’s taking unusually long (with so much gesturing and shouting). But after merely 3x or 4x the typical amount of time for a sole vehicle occupant to order, she pulls forward and around the corner. The 1st car is still at the 1st window, probably because the person at that window was so busy dealing with the 2nd car that they haven’t begun the monetary transaction yet.

Fifth clue: as I’m rolling by the rearward order screen to the vacant forward order screen, I hear a voice say “Does that complete your order?” Oh boy. Well I get to the forward screen, after a brief wait they ask for my order. “Number 2, Medium Coffee, Black.” Her voice replies, “That’ll be Five Thirty-Three at the first window.” Quick and simple.

Sixth clue: After the first guy finally pulls away from the first window, the woman in front of me slowly creeps forward, again staying very wide from the curb (at least 1.75 meters, maybe 2m, from McD’s window to Toyota Camry window). More gesturing and explaining. Some COINS are handed to the McD’s woman. More gesturing and explaining. The COINS are handed BACK to the Camry woman. The McD’s woman closes the window and disappears.

2… 3… 4… 5… 10… 15… 20 seconds or so later, Camry gestures and pulls forward. First guy has left the forward window with his breakfast.

Seventh clue: different guy at first window, asks me “Four Seventy-Nine?” I respond, “Nope, I’m Five Thirty-Three. Number 2, Medium Coffee.” I hand him exact change, speeding things up just a little.

No longer counting clues, it’s officially a cluster-f%@&. Now I’m waiting behind the Camry at the forward window, though she’s scooched a little closer this time. It looks and sounds like she’s only just now placing her order, to a McD’s manager I’ve seen a hundred times, and whose English is so-so (but I get by OK because I can speak a little Spanish, and I don’t place complicated orders). The cajoling and gesturing goes on for nearly a minute, then she hands him her Visa card.

Another minute  goes by, nobody re-appears at the pickup window. Camry woman gestures a big “I don’t know what’s going on” sort of thing, and drives away. Without her Visa card.

I pull up to the pickup window, and the same guy who had replaced the original gal at the pay window is now at the pickup window, and he asks, “Two Sausage Biscuits and a Hash Brown?” I reply “Nope, Number 2, Medium Coffee, Black.” But the poor guy is not at the register configured for orders, he’s at the screen configured for meal delivery. So he’s got nothing in front of him that says “Number 2.”

We finally clarify that a Number 2 is a Sausage McMuffin, With Egg.

“No hash browns?”

“Number Two – a combo meal – of course it has hash browns.”

“Oh. Sorry. Of course. Coffee, with Cream?”

“No. Medium Coffee, Black.” He turns around to pour a fresh coffee. Then as he hands it to me, he’s apologizing, and I’m reassuring him that it’s not his fault, “No, no, it’s not you, it was her. She screwed up everything.”

After I drive away with my meal (after double-checking everything is correct at long last), I suddenly get a pang that the McD’s guy might think I was criticizing the female McD’s team-member who first had to deal with Camry woman. The poor gal. Uff-da.

I got around to the front of the building, and the drive thru line now blocks the street, and then some. It’s at least 8 cars deep. I see no sign of the Camry in the parking lot. Again, uff-da.

Welcome to the USA, but regardless of how long you’ve been here…

If you have a complex order, “Get out of line!” as John Pinette would say. Don’t tie up the Drive Thru at morning rush. Go inside. That’s where you talk to the manager about the problem you had yesterday and your claim that they owe you a Coffee for free, or whatever it was.

If your English isn’t strong enough to deal with the horribly shitty audio quality of the McD’s Drive Thru order system, “Get out of line!” and go inside where you can point and nod at a picture menu.

If you’re so new to driving that you can’t pull up within earshot of the Drive Thru order system, “Get out of line!” and go inside.

If you’re so easily flustered that you’ll drive away and leave your Visa card behind, don’t leave home without (or with) it. Just don’t leave home alone. At all. I sympathize, and wish you happiness and prosperity in this great country. I hope you can find someone to bring you to McDonalds, help you order inside, and have breakfast with you. And I hope you get your Visa card back. But really… you’re not ready for the breakfast rush… Get out of line.

A Man Of Extremes

In some ways, I’m very difficult to peg.

Every time I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® test, I find myself recognizing when a particular question is trying to ascertain whether I am Introverted or Extroverted. And every time, I try to go with the first situation that pops into my head, but I immediately think of some other situation for which the answer is completely opposite. And in neither case is my answer iffy… it’s like a holy-crap-yes-strongly-agree or it’s OMG-no-no-no-strongly-disagree… for the exact same question.

So when it’s all done, the thing puts me a little nudge to one side or the other on the I-to-E scale, as if I had given middle-ish answers to all those questions. Nope. I gave extreme answers, but very polarized.

The same is true of the Red vs. Blue, R vs. D, Right vs. Left. If you tried to find an average of my views, you’d probably conclude that I’m a centrist. The most recent example of this is the 2nd Amendment. I honestly believe I would fight in a shooting-back-and-forth battle to defend my 2nd Amendment right. I own guns; always have. But I would also argue at the top of my lungs until I’m blue in the face that our current interpretation of the 2nd Amendment is completely screwed up, outdated, backward, misguided, and otherwise just freaking wrong.

Limit how many rounds may be in a handgun clip, or rifle magazine? Not an infringement, in my opinion.

Outlaw bump stocks? Not an infringement.

Require Universal Background Checks regardless of who sells what to whom? Not an infringement.

Raise the minimum age for purchasing certain classes of weapons? Not an infringement.

Outright ban on a well-defined (unlike last time) class of weapons? Not necessarily an infringement.

Waiting periods? Not an infringement.

Requirement to pass safety training? Not an infringement.

Requirement to pass skills test? Not an infringement.

Requirement to keep current liability insurance? Not an infringement. (And mind you, I hate insurance companies.)

Mental health screening? Not an infringement.

Confiscation of weapons when someone has made batshit-crazy remarks or credible threats? Not an infringement.

Yanking the tax-exempt status of the evil-dickweed NRA? Not an infringement. In fact, a damned good idea.

Putting firearm registration info into a computerized database, instead of those stupid index cards? Not an infringement, and also a damned good idea.

It’s Your Lucky Day, Sir

The freeway this morning was a little wet, but that has not typically caused a noticeable change in traffic speeds. Up near County Road J where I-35E Southbound is still only 2 lanes, it tends to be going around 79mph (posted: 70) at 6:15am M-F. Today, it was 72-ish, with more flickering of brake lights here and there than usual. I noticed it, but only barely. I mused as to why it might be, but only briefly.

I don’t set my cruise at 80 in that 70 zone because I think it is the best idea. I do so because I have learned that is the typical speed, both lanes (all 3 lanes a little further South), day after day.

I don’t have a MNPass thing on my windshield because I want to go 10-over. I have it because the other 2 (then 3, then 4) lanes as we approach Downtown St. Paul are fraught with unpredictability. And trucks. And Metro Mobility buses. And lots of regular old morons who follow too close, then JAM on the brakes when something happens in front of them, causing the moron behind them to have to jam the brakes on even harder… while I continue along at the speed the MNPass lane had been going all along.

So it turned out this morning that the reason the two lanes of I-35E were erratically going slower than usual was because there was a MN Hwy Patrol squad in the right lane.

When the MNPass lane finally appeared, I merged left into it. On a typical morning, I would see a few cars ahead of me merge into it and speed up to 80mph. On a typical morning, I would see a couple cars behind me merge into it and speed up to keep pace behind me. And we’d all continue at 80 until the posted speed drops by 10 approaching I-694, and all 3 (then 4) lanes go 70 at that point.

You know what you can’t do without getting involved in Road Rage incidents, and putting yourself in the midst of the most aggressive, conflict-laden, unsafe driving behavior? You can’t drive in the far left lane MORE SLOWLY than the lanes to the right, at any time, for any reason.

You know what else you can’t do? You can’t drive in the 2nd-to-left lane at 5-over, then merge across the double-white line to the MNPass lane just as the 2nd-to-left lane slows to 10-under.

If you’re going to use the MNPass lane, you need to get in it and stay in it, and go along to get along. Drive the same speed as the majority. Just try to not piss other people off… even while you’re wishing the majority was going 5-7mph slower than they typically do.

So the MN Hwy Patrol gentleman who pulled me over this morning asked me, “Do you know how fast you were going when you passed me?”

“No, I do not, but I could take a guess.”

“Go ahead and take a guess.”

I know they say you shouldn’t do this, but I gave him an honest shot, “Maybe 79.”

“That sounds about right.”

Then we had a nice chat about what my personal responsibilities are, and the conflict I’m trying to avoid, and society’s problem of aggression, and my contention that there isn’t nearly enough enforcement of the speed limit, “and quite frankly I’m glad you pulled me over, ‘cuz with your lights going, EVERYBODY is going slower, and that’s better for EVERYONE. I’ll take that hit. I’ll HAPPILY take that hit, sir.”

I swear, I practically begged for a ticket. He asked me “So what do you think should happen with you today, now that I’ve pulled you over?”

My response was, “Oh, I should get a ticket. Absolutely. I did all the things wrong, wasn’t paying attention, was just listening to the radio and following my habitual pattern, and didn’t look at the situation until I noticed I was passing you two lanes over.”

He went back to his squad with my license. Came back 2 minutes later and said, “Well it’s your lucky day, sir. My printer isn’t working, so I’m giving you a verbal warning for speeding.”

I thanked him, took my license back, shook his hand, and told him, “PLEASE be safe out there, you’re doing a great job. Thank God for you guys, seriously.”

And that, my friends, is how you trick a crooked cop into lying about his printer.

Art Is Dead

A near, dear, and wise fellow I know quoted some wise fellow he knows…

And art is dead. There’s been a sea change. Jack speculated that people have discovered looking at an image on their screen has become all they want from that image, and that’s a pretty good guess.

Ironically, that usually means looking at an artistic image of some sort on their iPhone, and Steve Jobs has been quoted as saying…

A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

My reaction to art can be very visceral. Oh sure, I have better color acuity than the average male, but it’s not like I’m on LSD or anything. Just for example, looking at a variety of “white” paint sample chips, I can spot the “warm” one versus the “cooler” one or “greener” one, just like my mother can, but my dad cannot. To dad, they all look just white. That’s why I had a successful career in Digital Prepress Color Correction, and can see subtle color hues like the average female can.

There’s no good way to judge to what extent my better-than-average sense of color plays into the following, but my hunch is “only a bit”.

I was in a museum in Winona recently. Got as close as sniffing distance (figuratively) from some great masters’ works. Most of them were images I’d seen before – some dozens of times, some hundreds. Some images were new to me. But here’s the thing – even the one I’d seen thousands of times before, this was the first time I’d seen it in person. I nearly wept. There’s more to it than you’d think.

Here’s my point: if you haven’t visited an Art Museum IRL and looked at a really great painting in person (not on your computer or iPad or iPhone), you don’t know that you want to… but you do. You really do.

See also: http://stanfellows.com

 

So Many XR Ideas – But For What Market?

I am not alone in this, certainly, but I have so many ideas for things that I think would be really cool, or really informative, or really compelling, or really je ne sais quois.

Here’s an idea that would appeal to me, and quite possibly to at least a dozen other people: VR Model Railroad. Imagine a Model Railroad enthusiast has gotten himself a 3D Printer so they can download models from thingiverse, print out little buildings, cars, whatever, paint them, and add them to that monstrous thing that takes up way too much of the basement. Or the garage. Or the club’s building. Or whatever. Well what if those buildings didn’t need to be really printed? What if the model railroad was assembled in Sansar, or HiFidelity, or some other VR platform, and the train was also virtual? All the valves. All the levers and knobs. The roaring and hissing and clatter… all within the Oculus Rift with Touch Controllers.

Or, in a more AR way, what about a model train locomotive that has 360° cameras, and there was an interface between Touch controllers and the Model Railroad controls? Pop on the Oculus Rift, and shrinkify yourself INTO the cab of your locomotive, and engineer that puppy around the plywood and styrofoam from the Engineer’s perspective.

And shouldn’t every major art museum be making a VR version of their spaces?

And shouldn’t every state’s History Society be hiring 360-cam operators and VR designers to get even more eyes on History? Well heck, that’d also be an interesting area to do AR. Walk into some historic house, then view it through your AR-enabled phone app, and see an actor-portrayal of whichever historical figure sitting at his desk in the study, engrossed in the business of governance or whatever.

There’s a great deal of potential, but the recent articles seem to indicate that the XR market is still quite small (though the ARKit stuff in the latest iPhones may sway those numbers quite a bit).