Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Jun 02 2016

Enter Player Here

I went over to the SynTrend Building to attend a VR/AR “Show-n-tell” gathering hosted by the Taiwan Start-up Stadium. I’d been told about it by Holly Harrington, who works there, and she has been very busy lately. It was on the 11th floor, welcomely air-conditioned after a long hot day. Stylish people were milling around the snack bar and a few headset setups. I met a co-worker of mine who is soon being sent to New York; she didn’t know anything about VR/AR, but her future boss had told her to study up on it, which is interesting.

The conference room where the show-n-tell presentations were held was packed, standing-room only, though the adjacent room where the meeting was being broadcast on a large screen was empty. I stood for a while at the back of the room being bumped by the photographer, who was none too subtle about changing lenses and using flash, before retiring to the other room to sit down.

One of the VR teams had an idea about creating and manipulating music in VR, which was interesting. The other seven teams seemed to only be shoehorning VR into existing procedures such as interior design and online shopping. Also, the videos nearly never worked at first, which was troubling. Someone introduced a 360-degree camera. But these things have never interested me that much. Is it 3D? How could it be with only one lens? It’s all just wallpaper, not a world.

Afterwards I chatted a bit with Justin Hendrix, who heads up the NYC Media Lab, and he seemed to agree with my conjecture that we’re currently in a similar phase with VR that movies were when they were new, and all anyone did was plop a camera in front of a stage play and call it a movie. They didn’t realize the potential of the new technology yet, “movies” didn’t really come into their own until they decided to throw out all of their stage-play constrictions and work in the new medium. Justin then told me that he’d heard of people in the nascent VR world referring to traditional movies as “flatties”, which I find fascinating, in that they’re already ready to move on…but to what? He hinted that the next generation of VR devices would most likely not only improve on resolution, refresh rate and viewing angle, but they’d become untethered as well, which would be huge. “2018 is the year everything will come together,” he predicted.

As far as Taiwan’s participation goes, however, I have my doubts about the content side. It’s wonderful that we’re trying to grow a start-up culture, something that is sorely lacking in this Confucian nightmare of Office Politics, but we have a long way to go before a truly innovative employee can easily gain the attention he or she deserves. Valve made a wise choice in choosing HTC for their hardware, but I haven’t really seen anything on the software side that could be termed revolutionary.

Then again, what do I know? Mssr. Hendrix is immersed in this stuff 24/7, and has been for years. I’ve only sampled a few VR experiences, and everyone’s different. That said, I still think that the trick to immersion will be making the player feel like a part of the world, not just physically, but also mentally and interactively, which means strong predictive AI. As much as I’d just gush over being able to wander around Hogwarts castle or the Enterprise, it’s going to be the interaction with other people and the characters that will being people into the world. No forced framing or close-ups; the environment will have to accomodate an almost-infinite number of paths. Forcing film-like narratives into a VR experience seems counterintuitive, and Jason got me thinking when he suggested that perhaps going back to the idea of stage plays, where every performance was live and therefore different, could be one way of thinking about it.

posted by Poagao at 11:21 pm  
Apr 22 2011

TEN YEARS!

Ten years ago today, I sat down in front of my computer in my little room on Xinsheng South Road overlooking the park and wrote the first entry in this blog. I was working at Ogilvy & Mather then, which was still on Minsheng East Road at the time. A visit to San Francisco to see my friend Mindcrime a few months prior had convinced me to start my own blog, which was incidental to my photography website back then.

Ten years!

I won’t say it’s hard to believe, as it definitely seems like an eon ago. I’ve moved several time, had several jobs, and visited many other countries over the last decade. Wrote a book, made some films, bought a place, sold my bike. It’s been an interesting ride. Alas, I’ve been remiss in updating things here, simply because the day-to-day details are so much easier to recount in places like Facebook and Twitter than compiled here.

I will continue to write here, but I need to find a way to update the site. I have too many blogs now, and the design is outdated. It needs simplification, and the latest version of WordPress, which I can’t install because mySQL is too old or something. I have no idea. I’m hesitant to lose the gray-on-black format, as black backgrounds are so much easier on my eyes than white ones, which are like staring full-on at a light all day. I might even implement some kind of photo-of-the-day site here, but to be honest, all of that is way beyond me.

Anyway, more things are afoot. I now have an agent in New York for the army book, I’m looking into publishing a photobook, and who knows, the long-delayed movie might even see some progress for all I know.

In any case, here’s to the next ten years!

posted by Poagao at 4:32 pm  
Jul 26 2008

The Two Worlds

A while ago I wrote about how the Internet could eventually be combined with our physical reality in some fashion, overlaid so that our surroundings would basically gain all of the features of the Internet, including searchability and physical context-related information. At that point, a few mobile devices had GPS, but now that the new iPhone 3G is out and apparently selling like hotcakes, there are a slew of applications being made available these days that take advantage of the phone’s GPS to bring the virtual world of the Internet closer to our physical world. Basically, these devices know where you are (yes, I know it’s a scary thought, but I wonder if people might not be as frightened of this as it becomes more common), so information about everything around you is available through the device, a real-world Wikipedia: That interesting building across the street was built in 1903 and was the scene of a political assassination. There’s a tea house up this alley, but people say the Oolong is bit dodgy. Some got a really good picture of this empty house. There’s a squall moving in, we’d better get inside. That kind of thing.

Another aspect of this is that your phone not only knows about the physical world around you and your place in it, it will, through such (still rather sub-par) programs as Fire Eagle, Buddy Beacon, MyLoki, Britekite and the like, know where other people are, where they’ve been, even where they’re headed. This is a cool application, but I’m pretty sure I would lose a few friends when they see how I turn off my location beacon or hop on a bus as soon as they approach. Another strike against this will be not being able to send a text message I often send to people I’ve got appointments saying, “I’m almost there, just a few minutes!” when they can plainly see I’m still at home, in the bathtub, and I haven’t even scrubbed behind my ears.

Those little pixelated badges I’ve seen in the corners of a few websites recently confused me for a while. It turns out that they’re scannable QR codes that point your mobile device to a certain place on the Internet. Apparently they’re often used in Japan, and you can even make a badge to wear with such codes on it. If this kind of technology takes off, and it seems that businesses are designing these things into graphics, it will be another way the physical world is connected to the virtual.

Most of this interaction, so far, has been one-way, of the physical world being described and adjusted to by the virtual, but with the advent of 3D scanners, touch screens, interactive displays and even shape-shifting buildings, I wonder when and if the balance will tilt the other way, making the physical world “programmable” to a certain extent.

Every square foot of this planet has a history, whether people figure into it or not. Choose any street corner in your city and try to imagine all of the things that happened to all of the people standing in that very spot over the years. Now that we’re in a position to actually record these things and make them known, sooner or later a filter will be needed to deal with all of the massive amount of information that piles up. A good example of this is Panoramio on Google Earth: Eventually maps will be so covered in blue dots that you won’t be able to see the actual places unless you turn them off. Who will become the arbiter of such information? Who will decide what gets seen and what doesn’t? Now that’s the scary part, especially given the frightening, ongoing crackdown on personal photography in places like the US and UK, even as more and more CCTV cameras are put in place for the “official” version of the world. Give it 20 years, and the virtual world people have come to rely on overlaid onto and even able to change the physical world will be completely manipulable by those in control of the resources to do it. When that point comes, which reality will you believe?

posted by Poagao at 6:40 am  
Mar 19 2008

Arthur C. Clarke

Sir Arthur C. Clarke is gone, just after his 90th birthday.

I love Clarke’s work, especially 2010. 2001: A Space Odyssey, came out the year I was born. His earlier work was his best, though, and I’d like to forget all the crap he co-wrote with that pretender Gentry Lee later on. But no amount of co-written sub-par SF can make a dent in the enormous impact this gay Sci-fi author has had on the world and our society. He embodies all the reasons we must explore space, and though he’s gone now, we still need, now more than ever, to get off our asses and do it. NASA has proved that it’s not going anywhere, but there’s still hope, as it seems that a few private companies may still have the guts and the agility needed for true space exploration.

RIP, Arthur. All these worlds are yours…

posted by Poagao at 3:39 am  
Jun 02 2007

New worldviews

Two new tools for exploring the world have become available recently as Microsoft and Google fight to see who will become known as the one to go to when you want to have a look around the planet (Yahoo’s pitiful maps don’t seem to even cover anything outside of the US, so they’re not even in the running). Microsoft’s Virtual Earth, which seems like a copy of Google Earth, now includes 3D structures, so that you can see a city’s buildings from any angle A cafe in Dalllas shown in Windows Live Viewlike a poorly rendered Duke Nuke’m-era video game (full disclosure: I usually play first-person shooters in order to explore the interesting environments rather than for the actual shooting; I’m weird that way). Cities like San Francisco and Seattle are well covered. Even Dallas has quite a bit of 3D coverage, with ordinary buildings and houses presented very nicely. The lack of trees or anything besides the buildings makes every place appear very stark, however. Perhaps that will be improved upon, but it’s still very cool.

Even cooler than this, however, Google has added street-level views to its maps site, so that you can walk around some major cities and even zoom in on cats in windows if you like (some people don’t). This, I feel, is particularly wonderful as my idea of a good time in just about any city is just walking around with my camera. I could spend hours just “walking” around these virtual places looking at the stores and houses.

My hope is that these two services will somehow be combined, or that elements of one are implemented in the other, resulting in a photorealistic and navigable 3D environment that can be expanded outwards from the handful of cities presently included. I wonder, however, if people will be able to block certain sites for security or privacy reasons, resulting in a a big billboards with “404” printed on them scattered around.

I also wonder how these services will impact “documentary” photography, i.e., pictures that simply show a place but without any other photographic merit. Won’t all of that simply become redundant and go the way of realistic paintings upon the advent of photography? This is fine with me, of course, as I don’t usually take pictures of things just to show people places. But if you can call up any street scene in the world, with you in them should it ever go real-time, what would be the point of taking such pictures on your vacation? Maybe digital cameras will become less ubiquitous in such a society, used by a few photography enthusiasts simply for “art shots” or abstracts rather than to shoot Deloris next to the quaint Taco mart. As with other art forms, when everyone has the capacity to be “special”, the art form will be forced to change. Into what is anyone’s guess.

In any case, these technological leaps are making the world more accessible to anyone with a computer, and if the new surface computer interfaces are anything to go by, sooner or later we’ll be able to be anywhere at any time. At that point, I’ll probably just want to get away from it all and won’t be able to.

So relish every time you get lost. It could be your last.

posted by Poagao at 12:29 am  
May 29 2007

On the Internet, everyone knows you’re a dog

I was late to a lunch date today. As I rode the subway into town, I thought about how this day would go if it were a couple of years down the road, and technology had kept up its current rate of development. My guess is my friends would look my position up on their GPS phones, see that I was still in Bitan, in my apartment, at noon. They’d see me leave, walk down the street, and then turn back to my apartment. My Twitter 2.0 service would flash “forgot my damn umbrella” and a real-time weather bureau layer would confirm that it was now pissing rain in my neighborhood. They’d watch me cross the bridge, just miss one train and wait for another, and then see me go one stop too far. T2.0 message: I’m tired of getting off at Taipei Main Station all the time. Then the little dot labeled “Poagao” on their screens, should they check it during their already-proceeding meal, would wander through some alleys in the vague direction of the restaurant, and (I’d like to think) they would make space for me at the table just before I walked in the door.

The rain in Bitan was incredible, I should add. I could see the heavy rain approaching and leaving, the white froth advancing in a line across the bridge at a good clip. My feet and legs were soaked, and it was a good test of my semi-waterproof shoes (verdict: kinda). To the north, the city was bathed in sunlight. The rain missed it completely.

But what I’m curious about is this: If everyone has access to our whereabouts, paths, even our hitherto-private musings typed into a wide-distribution services, will it make us more allowing for human nature? Before, we’d just come up with an excuse: “Traffic was bad” or “There was a sale on gold bullion” or “I was attacked by monkeys” or something that may or may not have happened. When it gets to the point where everyone can see what’s happening, and we all witness the chicanery that we all do and don’t tell anyone, will such shenanigans cease to be the social faux-pas that they currently are? Or will everyone just know, and not even bother mentioning them?

I guess we’re about to find out.

posted by Poagao at 2:57 am  
May 29 2007

On the Internet, everyone knows you’re a dog

I was late to a lunch date today. As I rode the subway into town, I thought about how this day would go if it were a couple of years down the road, and technology had kept up its current rate of development. My guess is my friends would look my position up on their GPS phones, see that I was still in Bitan, in my apartment, at noon. They’d see me leave, walk down the street, and then turn back to my apartment. My Twitter 2.0 service would flash “forgot my damn umbrella” and a real-time weather bureau layer would confirm that it was now pissing rain in my neighborhood. They’d watch me cross the bridge, just miss one train and wait for another, and then see me go one stop too far. T2.0 message: I’m tired of getting off at Taipei Main Station all the time. Then the little dot labeled “Poagao” on their screens, should they check it during their already-proceeding meal, would wander through some alleys in the vague direction of the restaurant, and (I’d like to think) they would make space for me at the table just before I walked in the door.

The rain in Bitan was incredible, I should add. I could see the heavy rain approaching and leaving, the white froth advancing in a line across the bridge at a good clip. My feet and legs were soaked, and it was a good test of my semi-waterproof shoes (verdict: kinda). To the north, the city was bathed in sunlight. The rain missed it completely.

But what I’m curious about is this: If everyone has access to our whereabouts, paths, even our hitherto-private musings typed into a wide-distribution services, will it make us more allowing for human nature? Before, we’d just come up with an excuse: “Traffic was bad” or “There was a sale on gold bullion” or “I was attacked by monkeys” or something that may or may not have happened. When it gets to the point where everyone can see what’s happening, and we all witness the chicanery that we all do and don’t tell anyone, will such shenanigans cease to be the social faux-pas that they currently are? Or will everyone just know, and not even bother mentioning them?

I guess we’re about to find out.

posted by Poagao at 2:57 am  
Mar 15 2007

online/offline

The more time I accumulate navigating the online world, the more I find bits of that mindset popping up in The Real World. I’ll be reading a book and want to find a certain section and automatically think, “I’ll just do a search” before realizing that there is no search. I’ll see an unfamiliar Chinese character on a sign and some part of me will try to mouseover it to see what it means. I’ll be looking at a building or a car and thinking it would look better in a different color or shape and mentally prepare to adjust the hue or morph it. The other day I noticed that one of my favorite posters, Thomas McKnight’s “Riviera Coast” was covered with scratches due to multiple moves over the last few years, and I thought to myself, “No problem, I’ll just use the clone tool and it’ll be as good as new.”

Thankfully this kind of thinking doesn’t extend to wanting to jump off buildings because you can fly in video games or anything like that. It mainly concerns a desire to have the same level of access to information IRL that I do online. You get used to being able to look anything up instantly, having your entire world indexed, searchable and adjustable. Now, 3.5G mobile devices with Wi-fi and GPS are starting to provide more information to us when we’re out and about, but not to the degree we’re used to online, not yet. Virtual environments are still laughably oversimplified and clumsy, but at the rate hardware and software are improving it’s really only a matter of time before they will resemble the actual world that we live in to such a degree that they’ll seem just as vivid.

I don’t believe, however, that such virtual worlds will draw people into them. I think that what people really want is to go the other way, and rather than taking themselves into some virtual word, instead bring all of the benefits of a virtual environment to everyday life via an interface for the world that we already inhabit, a personal browser that gives us accessibility to information about the real world to the degree that we are privy to online. Searchable literature. Objects, even buildings, that can change color. Or perhaps glasses that can scan and search what we see, or even change the world to look differently to each person (they could call the product “Rose”). If Twitter is anything to go by, I can imagine people doing nothing all day but looking out of other people’s eyes. Of course, if everyone does that, there won’t be anyone left actually doing anything for anyone else to watch.

I suppose that the downside to living in a society where we can make everything Just So would be that people might become so unaccustomed to seeing and dealing with things that they didn’t like, that we would lose any shred of adaptability that we have left, leaving us completely vulnerable to the slightest unexpected change in our environment. Some argue that we’ve already reached that point with iPods and the Internet. As we retreat from “traditional reality,” our ability to deal with it will naturally atrophy, but this has been going on since history began; who among us wouldn’t have trouble adapting to life a hundred years ago? In any case, the trend of acquiring greater access to information isn’t going to stop, so we’re going to have to deal with it somehow. And, somehow, I think we will.

And of course, there’s always the brain-plug thingy, just in case.

posted by Poagao at 4:57 pm