Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Jul 10 2017

The rude restaurant is gone.

Over the last few years when I have business in Neihu in the afternoon, I’ve gotten into the habit of taking the metro to the end of the Green Line at Songshan Train Station. Before I hop on a bus on out to Neihu from there, I usually have lunch at Songshan, usually at the Doutor restaurant in the first-floor mall there.

Doutor, you might know, is a large chain, so why would I go to that particular one again and again? I can tell you it wasn’t because of the service. The woman behind the counter seemed to be actively trying to keep me from eating there. One day I’d be told that the sandwich I’d become accustomed to having would take half an hour to make (It never took that long in reality), and the next day the sandwich was “sold out.” Then it wasn’t on the menu any more, so I switched to another sandwich. Every time I walked in I swear the woman was trying not to roll her eyes at my appearance. Her “Can I help you?” was always uttered in the same tone as “You again?”

At one point not long ago I had misplaced my Kindle, and thought I might have left it there.  When I asked them about it, I was told, “Can’t you see we’re busy?” I found the Kindle elsewhere, but damn.

So why did I keep going there? It was, odd service experiences aside, a comfy little cafe with a nice view of the people walking by inside the mall and out on the sidewalk. The food was always fresh and good, especially the bread, and I was addicted to the sour salad dressing they used there.

But when I walked through the mall the afternoon, it was gone. In its place, under the large Doutor sign, was a huge billboard reading “Coming soon – Tomod’s Pharmacy.”

Though there’s plenty of other restaurants in the area, I’m going to miss that place, rudeness and all.

posted by Poagao at 3:40 pm  
Jun 27 2017

Distances

Panai, Nabu and Mayaw were planning a special “119” concert on the 119th day of their protest, and they invited me and David Chen to participate. Day 119 (“119” is the emergency number in Taiwan, just as “911” is in the U.S.) was a Wednesday, so I brought my trumpet to work in my gig bag, and waded through the sweltering heat of the day to the park, where they were setting up the performance space in the square in front of the 2/28 Museum. One by one, the groups did soundchecks in the reverse order of the performances. David and I came up with a couple of suitable songs for guitar and trumpet, one slow and one faster. Well, David did, I just listened and played where I thought I could add something.

People showed up to the square as the park fell into night. The performances ran the gamut from traditional indigenous nose flute to classical violin. There was even a smoke machine.

Mayaw was last before we had to leave the square. The show had to end before 10 p.m., and the remnants of the crowd flowed back to the metro exit protest site, where I saw Thomas Hu and Ah-zhi, the accordionist I played with back in ’09 when we toured Taiwan with the Heineken beer band. Panai and Nabu sang; it is always a joy to hear them sing, Nabu standing with his cane, at once chanting, singing, shouting, as Panai sits by his side, singing like the mother of our dreams. They’re strong people, but it’s hard to see how little attention their efforts are getting, especially by an administration that has professed to have their interests at heart.

The next Saturday I led a group of my students on a photowalk around Qingtian Street. Chenbl was busy with work, so I had to assume some of his duties, but it went well despite the heat. I used to live in that area back in my free days, back when I started this blog in fact. I’d thought I was struggling then, but it wasn’t real struggling. I’d find that out later. So much time has passed that I end up reminiscing about reminiscing, and that gets old fast. Now I make mental notes as I go, but don’t dwell on it. It’s just too much.

After we cooled off at the traditional iced fruit shop across from the NTU campus, I walked over to the Treasure Hill community with the remainder of the students to view the display of the remains of the Kategelan Village there. People had gone out to the empty, open lot out in Neihu where the police had dumped all of the people’s belongings and recovered most of the art, and made it into a display at the foot of Treasure Hill along with a wall of photos. I found one of my photos and one of the rocks I painted, though badly chipped from its journey.

I took the students around the area, noting where we had filmed our movie there so many years ago, how it’s now all art spaces. Again, meta-reminiscing. After the students left, tired from the day, I waited until all the protesters had left as well, and sat quietly staring at the space and remembering the village as it had been. It seemed appropriate.

I was walking back out towards Gongguan when I spotted Mayaw and some others waiting for their car to be liberated from the temple parking lot. I had planned to go home, but they invited me to the bakalan, a kind of celebration of accomplishment, at the metro station protest site, so I tagged along with them to find tables of food, people singing, playing guitars, people dancing, people playing badminton. I played a couple of sets. Panai was asking everyone, “Can you play badminton? I mean, are you any good?” Because she is actually very good. It’s been years since I’ve played, but I enjoyed it. Damn, I really need to get back into some kind of shape.

The gathering was comforting in a way I’d all but forgotten. There’s been so much distance in my life lately, it was nice to get close to something for a change.

But I had petty things to do. Always, the petty things.

posted by Poagao at 11:33 am  
Jun 12 2017

Enter Post Here

It’s been a weird spring. Lots of rain after the Dragonboat festival, which is strange enough. The whole world seems to have gone awry. Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe things are normal for everyone else.

Chenbl and I led a photowalk on Saturday along Dihua Street, a kind of warm-up to this fall’s event. The students have become a large, friendly group, though they still have some bad shooting habits I’ve been trying to wean them out of. Still, lots of improvement. We looked at some promising exhibition/workshop locations there. The photography scene here is still so underdeveloped, it’s difficult to get people to see the value in such activities; baby steps are still steps. The gentrification of the area is spreading apace, into the alleys and northward towards the less-developed sections. This is a much better sign than these old buildings being torn down. As is usually the case in Taiwan, a bunch of people had to do it first, prove it was profitable, before anyone else joined in.

After the photowalk we went to City Hall, where the Stage show was being held. The Ramblers were mostly assembled in our tent behind the stage, awaiting our Red man as usual. The sky had been darkening into a threatening grey-black all afternoon. Chenbl got a message on his phone that our friend Chi Bo-lin had died in a helicopter crash. We told another mutual friend, Shen Chao-liang, who said he’d also just heard. The Stage show is Chao-liang’s idea, along with his schoolmate. The skies got darker still as the half-naked women mounted the jeeps and swung around on metal poles as lightning flashed, tempting fate.

The rain began as we waited for the other bands to finish, pelting down in large drops and creating a small river running through the tent. The downpour made it through our dual-stage stage as we went through the soundcheck, spraying us and the instruments and the electrical wiring. The world was water. So we waited for it to stop.

It took its damn time. I sat back in the tent, my feet up on a chair as the water rushed underneath, halfway listening to everyone around me talking about things I didn’t care anything about. I was already tired from the hot sun of the morning.

Eventually the rain let up a little, and we went on the stage to salvage our gear and play. The audience was enthusiastic. The people who would dance to anything danced to us; a conga line infiltrated the crowd. I was in the middle of a solo when I saw stage crew running towards something to my left, but I couldn’t turn from the mic to see what it was. Was someone trying to rush the stage? Was Sandman doing something untowardly? But when I could turn, I saw smoke and fire as the crew pulled a heavy electrical cord from the wet ground.

Fortunately it was our last number. No encores. I heard that they were planning to light up all the stages at once at 7 p.m. but this turned out to be a lie. Chenbl and I waited in front of city hall until after 8 p.m. before deciding to leave the thumping, soggy scene. We found refuge from the humidity and our hunger at the ancient McDonalds near Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, wolfing down salty burgers and pseudo-chicken.

I wanted to rest on Sunday, but I had to get my hair cut. It’s past time. I could have just shaved my head, as I tend to do in the summer anyway, but instead we decided to splurge, going up to Shilin to pay for Auntie #2 to massage our heads for half an hour amid the various forbidden delicacies on display. Lunch was Vietnamese, served by the boy we’d seen grow up over years that seemed like minutes.

The skies were threatening rain again as we went back to Chenbl’s to pick up my instruments, so I took a nap on the sofa. The news of Chi Bo-lin’s untimely demise had taken over the news, on repeat, with all the grisly, awful details, including suspicions of shenanigans. He exposed huge corporations’ constant and continuous rape of the land, and he was making a sequel. But yeah, it was probably just an accident.

I wanted to take the subway over the the music hall where we were practicing, but Chenbl said a bus would be quicker. I hate buses. I hate that I have to wait and hail one down, haul my stuff on board and be jerked around with abrupt starts and stops. I hate people looking at me flailing around on the bars. I hate the smell of fresh piss on the floor.

But I did get there on time. Practice was enlivened by the presence of a traditional Chinese instrument player. He could recreate the Mario theme on his sheng. I was playing too softly, and had to break out that awful marching-band blare, which left me vented and somewhat empty; I just wanted to go home, but what would I do there? Sleep has been uneasy lately. The whole world is a water curtain cave.

posted by Poagao at 12:52 pm  
Apr 30 2017

To Fukuoka

I’m sitting in a small room in a hotel in Fukuoka. Though the flight was at 5:15 p.m., getting here was an all-day affair. Of course I left all of my preparations to the last minute, so the morning was spent frantically throwing things into a backpack before meeting up with Chenbl at the new Airport MRT station.

Finally! We have an airport metro line. It was the first time I’d taken the “express” train to the airport, and I was disappointed to find not only that the seats were less than comfortable, but it wasn’t terribly fast. For some reason, even though eating, drinking and smoking are prohibited on board, small trays with round indents in them that could have been either for very low drinks or ashtrays were installed in the walls of the train. But all in all it’s a huge leap from that dirty old bus.

The day was brilliant…if I hadn’t been traveling I would have liked to have taken a bike ride by the river or something. We got the airport and breezed through the almost completely automated process. The only thing that remains a pain is the security line, but it wasn’t too bad. I’m thankful that it’s not as barbaric as it is in the U.S., though.

Though we had a leisurely lunch and took our sweet time about it, we still got to our gate so early the last flight hadn’t left yet. So we occupied a couple of lounge chairs and waited, Chenbl snoring and me posting random images to Instagram, before our flight was at last ready to board. I got a brief talking-to on the subject of photographing the stewardesses (mainly, don’t do that), but the sunset was lovely.

As it turns out, there is no metro station at Fukuoka’s international airport (haha, take THAT Japan!), so we had to take a bus to the domestic airport to get on the metro into town. I had to supress a small squeal of glee when we got on the metro, because I’ve always loved Japanese metro cars, with their comfy carpet seats, heating vents and the general 60’s vibe. It’s been a while (three years, actually) and I’d missed them.

Since we’ve got a small portable wifi network with us this time, it was a snap to find the hotel via Google Maps, and after putting our things away and marveling at the small size of the room, we went out to make our way through the drunken mobs of Tenjin to have some dinner at one of the little portable food stands. It was delicious, and we talked with a group of Koreans who spoke Mandarin. In fact, it seems that most of the people around here speak Mandarin; it’s a little disconcerting.

We have no idea what we’re going to do tomorrow. I guess we’ll figure something out.

posted by Poagao at 12:13 am  
Oct 27 2016

From Granada to Sevilla

A couple of good nights’ sleep has me feeling better, or perhaps I just like Granada. Despite the sub-par Alhambra experience, I still have warm fuzzy feelings for this city. Even though I can’t claim I really know it at all.

The weather was a bit cloudy as we checked our bags at the hotel and set out in search of breakfast. We ended up at the cafe where Ray, Gordon and I ate seven years ago, just as the sun broke out in full, blasting our table with lovely light and making the meal full of wincing, and not just because the waiter accidentally spilled Ewan’s coffee all over the table. Another waiter rushed over to help, but the first one just shouted at him. I assume there’s some kind of ongoing argument between them. The food was good when it came, however, and I managed to take a panorama without anyone having two heads for once.

After breakfast we split up, the girls and Ewan going shopping or something, while Carlos, Chenbl and I caught a bus up the hill opposite Alhambra. We got off halfway up and walked the rest of the way up to the observation deck, where a small band was playing and a group of schoolchildren were lined up on a wall, reading. Alhambra lay across the valley, shrouded in mist so that little more than its silhouette was visible. We bought some castanuelas and got instructions back down the hill.

The stream that runs down the valley is lovely indeed, and if I were to move to Granada, I’d definitely consider something in that area. We got some pomegranate juice and met up with the others in front of the cathedral before settling down in one of the many squares in the belltower’s shadow for some delicious paella. The restaurant was called “El Doseo” and the manager couldn’t have been nicer.

The walk back to the hotel helped some with our digestion, and I found myself, as I usually do when I’m about to leave Granada, that I’d like to stay. Perhaps someday I will.

But not this time. Instead, I got on a bus with the others and went to the bus station, where we switched to a long-haul vehicle for the trip to Sevilla. This was a surprisingly strict process, and I wondered if they have a serious problem with people getting on buses they haven’t bought tickets for.

On our way through the town, I could see that Granada is not just the old town, the suburbs are far less entertaining, which is no suprise. I passed the time taking photos of the truck drivers we passed on the highway and looking out at the scenery, rough landscapes gradually becoming tamer as we went. The driver had neglected to tell us what the wifi password was, and there was a sign over him that read “Do Not Talk To Driver,” so we were stuck enjoying the trip the old-fashioned way, something that was made more difficult due to the nonstop static-y radio that played the whole time.

When we arrived in Sevilla, we were first told there was no bus from the bus station to the train station except for the airport bus, which makes no sense at all. Then we found that there was a bus, but it went a bit out of the way. None of this constituted a good first impression.

When we finally got to the area where our hotel is located, I was reminded more of southern China than Spain: Blocks of apartments, tiled sidewalks…I even caught a whiff of stinky tofu, but I think I might have simply walked through someone’s sneeze.

We took a bus into the old part of town, but we hadn’t gone far when the driver pulled over, hopped out and ran over to a police van. He brought the cops over, and they escorted a guy off the bus. After talking with him for a while, they told us to go get another bus, so I assume the bus itself was guilty of some crime and needed to be interrogated. Carlos said that this kind of thing was a common occurance in his native Guatemala. When we got to the old part of town, we went in search of a restaurant someone had heard of online, but when we found it, the waiter/manager yelled at Carlos to get the hell out. I suppose they really must be making too much money, and we decided to help them out of this predicament by not only not eating there, but leaving our impressions on various online sites as well. We did manage to find a decent place in yet another square. We’d gotten halfway though our meal when a cello and guitar group set up on the sidewalk, played a tune rather badly, and then the guitarist went around with a hat for donations. When he came to our table Chenbl just stared at him. “No? Fine,” the guitarists said in a huff as the cellist struggled through arpeggios.

When we told the restaurant manager out our troubles at the previous place, he actually gave us free drinks. So there’s that.

 

 

posted by Poagao at 7:07 am  
Oct 24 2016

In Spain

Heavy rain greeted us in the morning in Shanghai at the Hotel With the Mysteriously Uneven Floors. Breakfast was a meager lineup of food in metal canisters, eaten to the Australian twang of the tourists at the next table. They were complaining that they had no choice of hotel, but please, if anyone had a choice they wouldn’t choose that one. Command economy FTW.

The bus back to the airport was nicer than the one from the airport, but the scene that greeted us as we forged our way into customs was utter chaos. Immigration was insanely crowded, but the security line was a huge crowd of people stuck in what passed for a line, with Chinese people cutting in line left and right, occasionally being shouted at by the officers. Chenbl’s luggage fell over and scared a small Chinese girl, who immediately went into hysterics mode. The whole thing was the most impressive display of incompetence I’ve seen at an airport, and that, sir, is saying something.

Thankfully we’d arrived at the airport three hours ahead of schedule, so we were on time when we took the escalator downstairs from the semi-civilized airport lounges into the cattle pen that held everyone not deemed good enough to board their planes directly from the gates. A bus took us out to the tarmac and dumped us into inches of water in the pouring rain, leaving us to fend for ourselves on the way to the stairs, which weren’t even covered, though several other covered stairways stood by a little ways away, unused.

The plane was nicer at least. I watched a long series of movies as we flew over Russia’s flyover country (in this case all of it), trying to stay awake so I could defeat jetlag in Madrid. Towards the end of the flight I was nodding off, though.

Customs and immigration in Madrid were quick and easy. We met Carlos at the airport and got on the subway into town, against Carlos’ better judgement because the station near our hotel was closed. This turned out to be a bad idea, as it was raining hard in Madrid as well. The whole world, it seems lately, is undergoing a deluge of biblical proportions. Taipei, Shanghai, Madrid…it doesn’t matter where we go, it’s always soaking, sopping wet.

I wanted to go right to bed, but Chenbl had other ideas, so we all went out and walked around the neighborhood. I was dragging my feet, nodding stupidly at any inquiries made in my direction, and there was no way I could have written a journal entry, so I just passed out instead.

That was yesterday. Today we awoke early in the morning to….more heavy rain. We headed out anyway, having breakfast at a 24-hour joint across the street where they have nice donuts and ham sandwiches. Then we stopped into an old church, and then visited a large flea market where the stall owners were kept busy trying to keep the rain from collapsing their tents. A marathon was being run nearby, the police keeping things in order; one pedestrian tried to cross illegally, and was escorted by an officer right back to where he’d been.

Then we took a bus to Segovia. A nice bus, and after going through a tunnel and over some mountains, actual sun came out. We spent some time on logistical bs before making our way downtown to see the big aqueduct, and then climbing up to see the big cathedral and the castle. It was quite impressive. When the tour guide mentioned Queen Isabella giving Christopher Columbus a bunch of money for his trip, I added, “…so he could begin hundreds of years of exploitation, slavery and genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.”

“The bitch,” Carlos added helpfully. The birds there have calls that sound like laser guns. Having skipped lunch, we feasted on ham and cheese with a whole damn pig before rushing back to get the bus back to Madrid. We were stuck in traffic for two hours, but I spent it asleep.

There are many more details about the day that I’ve forgotten because we’ve been rushing around and I didn’t have the chance to write them down. Just FYI, it’s that kind of vacation, so don’t expect too much from this account.

posted by Poagao at 6:01 am  
Aug 17 2016

The Ghost Money Index (GMI)

Upon crossing the bridge this afternoon and being confronted with a huge ghost-money fire in front of a spectacularly bad, yet inordinately expensive restaurant there, I realized that there is a massively useful metric for telling whether a given company’s products will suck or not. In retrospect it seems obvious; I’m surprised nobody has thought of it before. Simply put:

The amount of ghost money a company burns is inversely proportional to the quality of its products and services.

There are many reasons why burning ghost money is bad, bad for public health, bad for the environment, bad for safety reasons, etc. But just concentrating on the business aspect, we can see why this particular relationship cannot be denied:

  1. A business that burns a lot of ghost money is willing to spend money on something of no practical use. This speaks volumes about its budgetary priorities, especially failing businesses or small businesses that really can’t afford to literally burn money. What does it tell you that they would rather spend their limited budget on a mountain of ghost money rather than better equipment or training? Such a company is more likely to engage in slip-shod, half-assed, temporary stop-gap measures to cover up problems rather than making effective changes to resolve issues.
  2. The business doesn’t care about its employees or its patrons. The decision to force employees as well as customers to inhale the fumes from toxic fires casts serious doubt over any aspirations of the employers to take even the most basic care of their staff and environment. So why should they care about their products or post-sales service? If they’re willing to compromise their sanitary standards in this fashion, allowing ask and other dangerous chemicals in their environment, do you think they will care about other safety and health standards in their workplace?
  3. The business is not willing to make concrete efforts to improve its situation. If the company is utilizing this method to fix its problems, it’s obviously either not serious about improving or is so incompetent that its products are most likely to be full of problems they didn’t care about fixing or were simply unable to fix. You can tell the entire mindset of a Taiwanese business by how it conducts itself in this fashion.
  4. The business isn’t really thinking about what it’s doing or its future, merely going along with established norms without thinking about it. If those running the business were truly interested in innovation and breaking the mold, they would have realized that a scam burning ghost money is, and would be spending their precious time and efforts on improving their products and services. Otherwise, they obviously aren’t looking ahead, but are simply going along with current business trends and following others’ leads without taking the initiative. Do you want to invest in a company that is only capable of bowing to peer pressure and slavishly copying others?
  5. The business is not green, sustainable or in any way interested in protecting the environment. Being “green” and “sustainable” have become catchphrases in Taiwan lately, but you can tell which company is serious about these areas just by looking at the amount of ghost money they burn. Small industry has ruined much of Taiwan’s pristine environment over the course of many decades, and the only ones worth supporting are those that have made real commitment to sustainability and the environment.

Therefore, I propose the formulation of a Ghost Money Index (GMI), where not just the general public but interested investors, would-be customers, employees and patrons can access this information directly. Businesses and other groups would be required to disclose accurate information (which would be directly observable in any case), while investors could see immediately which companies are the most forward-looking, innovative, and thoughtful, while job-seekers could pick out those companies that have their best interests at heart. Environmental Protection Agency personnel would have an easy time telling through such algorithms which companies are inherently likely to commit large-scale acts of environmental damage. Smartphone apps could show travellers which restaurants have better food, which recreational facilities are safer, which parks are cleaner. Schools and universities could use the data to track business trends and improve the general economy. Even real estate forums could establish a database of homes located further away from high-GMI areas for those who value their health and comfort. Resale values of homes and other buildings could be more accurately estimated based on whether or not their surroundings are high-GMI or not. Hospitals in low-GMI areas could even tout the fact in their descriptions.

The best part of the GMI is that the data isn’t buried in confusing statistics and hard-to-understand graphs; though a scientific system of measurement allowing for the precise ratio still needs to be developed, the basic principle is right out there on the street for everyone to see.

Start using the GMI today!

posted by Poagao at 7:48 pm  
Jun 14 2016

SF6

Yesterday was brilliant again. I was determined to join at least one photo walk this time, so after a nice breakfast at a nearby crepe place, I walked over to the golden gate park to meet up with the group at the Deyoung museum. After quickly browsing the tiny Davidson show there, we headed off through the park. The breeze coming in off the ocean was brisk, and for once I was glad that I’d brought my heavy police jacket. The drum circle was rather than usual, they said, but the hippies were there in force, as were the roller skating people. We ended up at the Haight street fair, where everyone pretty much disbanded, though we bumped into James and a few others on the way through. I don’t generally like event photography, but there was one guy there with two Olympuses (Olympi?) around his neck, so I figure it was covered.

After that, Ken drove us down to Joe’s work, where I chatted with him and others for a bit before taking a short tour around the area while the wonderful light lasted. The sound of a bottle breaking just behind me made me wonder once again about the general level of sanity in that neighborhood. Down at the town hall, the colors of the homeless people lying on the lawn matched the flags flying above.

After Joe had locked up, we caught a Lyft down to meet Ken at a sushi place, We Be Sushi, which was delicious and fresh. Our non-Japanese waitress was still learning the terms and pronunciation; it was cute. We talked until late and then headed home.

posted by Poagao at 3:16 am  
Jun 08 2016

SF1

I’m sitting in my little room at the Aida Hotel, listening to police sirens going up and down Market Street. Today is apparently the big California primary or something, but I’m not sure if that has anything to do with it.

Packing was a mad, last-minute scramble, as usual. I wasn’t really in the mood for a trip, actually, but here I found myself entering that world of travel, step-by-step, from station to station, whereupon one surrenders ones local identity and becomes A Traveller. Afraid of being late, I took the HSR to Taoyuan and a bus to the airport, but I needn’t have worried; Eva Air, I was told, had sold all the good seat a year ago already. While I doubt this was true, I still ended up in a middle seat from Taipei to San Francisco. Granted, it was exit row, but that just meant that I could have my stuff with me, with nowhere to stow it. The woman next to me watched the same episode of Downton Abbey over and over throughout the flight. She also ate spicy crisps and filed her nails. The. Whole. Time.

But it was nice not to have to change airplanes. When I got to SFO I purposely avoided white immigration and customs officers, and thankfully everything went smoothly this time. Lines were long,  the Bart took forever, but eventually I found my way to my hotel. It should do.

There are photo events happening here and there throughout the week. We’ll see how it goes.

posted by Poagao at 2:46 pm  
Dec 14 2015

VR

I’ve been interested in the prospect of virtual reality for some time now, but only recently have I been able to actually experience it for myself. The first opportunity I had to try it out was at one of the stores on the ground floor of the new tech shopping mall next to the Guanghua electronics market. They had an Oculus Rift Development Kit 2 rig set up there, where one could experience a roller coaster ride as well as a solar system demo. As it was my first experience with VR, it was bound to be impressive. I gripped the stool with one hand and tried to right myself as well as I could while the roller coaster tossed and turned, climbed and dove. I could look around, which was novel. I’ve always been interested in the little corners of video game environments that nobody else paid any attention to, and VR provides the potential for people like me to explore those corners better than any previous system has been able to so far. I like the exploring part of these environments far better than the shooting part. I’d turn on the god mode of FPS games just so I wouldn’t be distracted by all the killing and playovers, letting me just walk around and look at things. That was one of the main reasons I preferred PC gaming to console units back in the day.

The solar system demo was also impressive, sitting in a little cart jetting around based on eye movements, but somehow too abstract to convey the real experience. I found myself thinking, if I could just see some more detail in these massive things, I’d have a better idea of their size.

But what the Oculus DK2 set provided was just a glimpse of what VR could offer. The main feature was the low latency; at no point did I feel sick or dizzy, though I’d think providing chairs with actual backs wouldn’t be a bad idea for people trying out VR for the first time. What it didn’t provide, what it was sorely lacking in fact, was sufficient resolution to really make the view believe that they are seeing these things for real. Also, it felt limiting to be constricted to sitting in one spot and be led around by the program. It’s not the way we operate in reality, so it feels somewhat at odds with the concept of virtual reality. There’s movement, but you don’t feel it with your body; there’s no inertia to be overcome, no real sense of the movement involved. Also (and this is not an inherent fault of the Oculus), after being tried by so many people, the DK2 headset was kind of ratty and smudged. It felt very much like wearing dirty goggles.

My next opportunity with this technology came at a recent Taipei tech show, where I was able to try out HTC’s Vive setup. This meant waiting in line for a period of time before being ushered into a black room with a solitary chair. I put on the headset and found myself in a large white space. The controllers on the virtual floor matched their actual position at my feet so exactly that bending over and picking them up was completely natural. “Ok, we’re going to start the first demo,” the HTC people told me through the headset’s speaker.

And immediately I was on the deck of a sunken ship. Yeah, I’ve read about this demo, but it really can’t be described. The Youtube videos of it don’t come close to matching the experience. It’s really…almost…like you’re there. Unlike with the Oculus, I could walk around, to a limited extent. I walked over to peer over the side of the ship, down to the bottom, and the handlers said, “Be careful, you’re about to run into a wall.” The detail was far better than that of the Oculus DK2, as was the field of view.

This! I thought. This, I’ve got to have. But maybe not; in the first quarter of 2016, not only will the Vive arrive on shelves, but the new Oculus, which has better resolution, etc. as well as Sony’s Morpheus, which plays with an updated version of the PS4 called the Playstation VR, and Samsung’s Gear VR, which can be used with your phone (Your phone, not mine. I’m still using an old iPhone 4, which is pathetically unable to handle such things).

I don’t have a powerful PC set up, but I have been thinking of getting a console, so it might be that the Morpheus and a PS4 would work better for me. If the Vive plays well with my iMac, I might go that way. If the Oculus lets me move around, maybe that. Who knows? Nobody knows, at least for the moment; it’s a free-for-all, and it might not go anywhere if the developers don’t over the problem of integrating physical motion in games. Many, if not most of the proposed game demos feel like ordinary games forced into a VR medium, and don’t really take advantage of anything VR has to offer. Who wants to be in a cart the whole time? I’ve seen rigs with a guy standing on a movable plate and harnessed into a ring around their waists, but that seems half-assed to me. What would be better? I  have no idea, but I have to admit the idea of making my living room into a VR space just for games, where I am free to move about in a roughly five-square-meter area, appeals to me. The games would have to be specially designed to fit these limitations, though. How would that work? Would all of the rooms be of that size or smaller? Would you have to turn around at each door? Will longer distances necessarily be done on little hoverboards, etc.? Could a special chair be made to simulate motions in the game? Shouldn’t the controllers be more like gloves and have force feedback inside? For now, it seems they’ve got the head motion tracking part down, including binaural audio feeds. Improvements from here on out will be in resolution and field of view, as well as the mechanics of physical motion in the games.

How well will MMORPGs work with VR? Who wouldn’t love to simply wander about the Enterprise, or Mos Eisley spaceport, or the bath house from Spirited Away, or Hogwarts? Even if there were nobody to fight, no challenges or anything, just spending time in those worlds would be fascinating.

Interesting times lie ahead. But I can’t help but wonder how much of their lives people will invest in these environments. Surely within a few short years they will become perceptibly indistinguishable from reality, and if we can choose to inhabit crafted worlds, what happens to our ability to deal with the actual physical world? What happens if the populations of more affluent nations are mostly immersed in these worlds, while everyone else has to deal with reality? What happens if there’s a point where everyone is in these worlds, and not in this one? Will it be mandatory? Will reality become unpopular, or even illegal to experience, or both? Will there be a backlash? If so, will anyone care? I suspect we’re going to find out.

posted by Poagao at 1:05 pm  
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