Virtual Reality

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Back in 1999 I was just finishing my Masters degree at Victoria University of Wellington. I needed a subject for my research paper and I chose what was then a hot topic, Virtual Reality (VR). At the time, the computing resources that were available to most people were, by today’s standards pretty limited.

17 years ago we measured RAM in megabytes, and disk space in gigabytes. The Internet was not as pervasive as it is today, and most people, if they accessed the Internet at all, used dial up modems. Broadband was for most people, still in their future. As were smartphones and all the technology that we immerse ourselves in today.

Exploded view of a personal computer
Exploded view of a personal computer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As could be imagined, this limited the effectiveness of VR. If you were trying to set up a VR session between two geographically separated places, then the VR experience could be somewhat limited by the low resolution, the speed of updates of the views that the users experienced, and the lags caused by the (relatively) slow connections.

Nevertheless, research was taking place, and Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) and VR gloves were researched and developed. The HMDs provided the user with displays of the virtual world around him/her, and the gloves provided the tactile element to some extent.

English: zSight HMD by Sensics, Inc.
English: zSight HMD by Sensics, Inc. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These devices have their current descendants of course, though more is heard of the HMDs than the gloves. The HMDs range from the highly developed devices like the Oculus Rift right down to cheap devices like Google Cardboard which literally that, a head mounted device consisting of a cardboard body and a cellphone. The cellphone’s screen is divided into two and different images are provided to each eye for the 3-Dimensional effect.

It was evident, back in 1999 when I wrote my paper that VR was a technology looking for an application, and it still is. Some TVs have been made which incorporate 3D technology, but the production of these appears to have tailed off almost completely. Apparently the added ability to experience movies in 3D which involved wearing special headsets, wasn’t enough to offset the necessity to wear the headsets.

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People just used their imaginations when immersed in a program or movie and didn’t feel that they needed the extra dimension, and the headset added a barrier which prevented experience of shared movie watching that forms at least part of the entertainment value of watching movies with friends and families.

My paper was about diffusion of VR techniques into everyday life, and it mostly missed the point I think in retrospect (though the paper did help me get the degree!)  My paper used a Delphi Technique for the research. This technique involves posing a series of question on the research topic to a number of specialists in the field. Their answers are then summarised and passed back to the whole panel. Any subsequent comments are then also summarised.

English: Temple of Apollo in Delphi
English: Temple of Apollo in Delphi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obviously as workers in the field my panel was positive about VR’s then prospects, as you would expect. They however did sounds some notes of caution, which proved to be well founded. I’m not going to do a critique of my paper and the panel’s findings, but I will touch on them.

Specifically, they mentioned that my questions were all about fully immersive VR, which is basically what I’ve been talking about above, the HMD thing. Augmented VR, where our view of the world in not (fully) obstructed by the technology, but the technology enhances our view of the world is used much more in practise, and was when I wrote my paper too.

Augmented reality - heads up display concept
Augmented reality – heads up display concept (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Augmented VR is things like Head Up Displays (HUDs) and Google Glass where information is added to the user’s field of view, providing him/her with extra information about the world around him/her is much more common. HUDs are common in planes and the like where the operator cannot spare the time to go and look up important information so the information is projected into his field of view. Google Glass was similar but allowed the user to feed back or request information, but unfortunately this did not really catch on and was dropped.

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I mentioned in my questions to my panel that maybe the speed of the Internet was a barrier to the introduction of VR into everyday life. The panel were mostly sympathetic to this viewpoint, but in summary thought that fibre, which was on the horizon would significantly reduce this barrier to the everyday adoption of VR techniques. In fact people do not use the extra bandwidth for VR (except in a way that I will touch on in a minute), but for other things, like streaming TV shows and downloading music.

English: Screenshot of NcFTP downloading a fil...
English: Screenshot of NcFTP downloading a file Category:Screenshots of Linux software (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I envisaged it, a typical VR setup would consist of someone in, say, London, with VR set interacting over the Internet with someone in, say, Tokyo who also has a VR set. They could shake each other’s hand, and view and discuss three dimensional objects in real time, regardless of whether the object was in London or Tokyo. Although I had not considered it at the time, a 3D printer could duplicate a 3D object in the other location, if required.

This has not happened. Teleconferences are stubbornly 2D, and there is no call for a third dimension. Some people, myself included, would not miss the 2D visual aspect at all, would quite happily drop back to voice only!

English: Washington, DC, August, 14, 2007 -- T...
English: Washington, DC, August, 14, 2007 — This FEMA video teleconference with the FEMA regional directors, state Emergency Operations Centers and Federal partners concerns Hurricane Flossie which is expected to pass just south of the island of Hawaii and Tropical Storm Dean which is building in the Atlantic and moving west toward the Caribbean Sea. FEMA’s National Response and Coordination Center (NRCC) is activated at Level 2. FEMA/Bill Koplitz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In one respect, though, VR has come and has taken over our lives without us realising. When we interact with our smartphones, texting, sending photos, emails and so on, in real time, we are immersing ourselves in a new sort of VR. When we are chatting about something and someone gets the cellphone out to google the Internet to check or look something up, we are delving into a new Virtual Reality that we could not have envisaged way back in 1999.

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So when I look back at my paper from that era, I could easily update it and make relevant to the current era, but only in the respect of that limited view of VR. That has not really eventuated, and most likely will have limited application (remote appendectomy anyone?), but it could be considered that facebook/twitter/google/gmail/dropbox and all the other tools that we use on our smartphones has opened up a different alternate Virtual Reality that crept up on us while we were not watching.

facebook engancha
facebook engancha (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


English: Cumulus cloud above Lechtaler Alps, A...
English: Cumulus cloud above Lechtaler Alps, Austria. Español: Nube cumulus sobre los Alpes austriacos. Deutsch: Cumuluswolke über Lechtaler Alpen, Österreich. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Clouds are collections of water droplets suspended in the air. A cloud is formed as the water vapour in the air condenses onto particles of dust or other water droplets. The water in a cloud weighs tonnes! It’s a good job that the droplets don’t have time to coalesce into great balls of water before they reach the ground, but I suppose that to insects a droplet is a huge ball of water, and able to cause havoc.

As anyone who has flown in an aircraft is likely to know, clouds are not well defined, and in fact they could be described as nebulous or hazy. From a mathematical point of view they are fractal and the fractal dimension (a measure of their fuzziness) varies depending on the cloud.

Fractal plant curve, made using an L-system
Fractal plant curve, made using an L-system (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A common pastime on a summer’s day is to imagine shapes in the clouds. That one may look vaguely like a car, that one like a dog, and so on. But really, the only shape that clouds have is “cloud-like“.

There are many types of cloud shape, depending on the conditions and the altitude where the cloud is forming, but the usual depiction of a cloud generally looks like a cumulus type. This type forms the usual shape like piles of cotton wool in the sky, with mountain, canyons, and even castles.

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There is always water vapour in the air, even if it doesn’t form clouds, although we cannot see it. As I said above, clouds are formed when this water vapour condenses on small particles in the air (and other conditions are right). Sometimes there are attempts to make rain by “seeding” a cloud with small particles to increase the rate of condensation and thus increasing the size of the water droplets.

At a certain  size the droplets become to big to be buoyed up by the air and start to fall, picking up more moisture as they do. As I understand it, this cloud seeding process is limited in its success, but I may be wrong.

Cessna 210 (OE DSD), rebuilt for cloud seeding...
Cessna 210 (OE DSD), rebuilt for cloud seeding, with 2 silver iodide generators (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Clouds sometimes form at ground level, if the conditions are right, and then we call them fogs or mists. This often happens when light rain is falling and there is a lot of moisture in the air, but it can happen simply because the conditions are right.

Living where I do, I occasionally have reason to visit the local airport in Wellington. The airport is situation on a section of land that was brought up by a an earthquake, so that it is on a narrow stretch of land between two sets of hills. Over the hills to the East of the airport is the entrance to the Wellington Harbour.

English: Aerial view of the Miramar Peninsula,...
English: Aerial view of the Miramar Peninsula, Wellington, New Zealand. Wellington International Airport is visible and the beach just above the left-hand end of the runway is Lyall Bay. Downtown Wellington city, the harbour and port can be seen in the distance. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On several occasions I have seen sea mist roll in from Cooks Strait to the South and extends tongues of thick mist over the airport and the Harbour entrance. This causes the airport to shut down until the conditions have cleared, spoiling the travel plans of hundreds of people.

Other clouds which are familiar to many are the stratus clouds. These clouds are layers which cover all or most of the sky under some conditions. They often presage rain or other forms of precipitation. Stratus clouds range from light to dark and in many cases might cause a drop in one’s spirits.

English: Stratus undulatus clouds. I took this...
English: Stratus undulatus clouds. I took this picture out the car window on the way to Vancouver. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Certainly the dark stratus has that effect on me, and there is little that is more spectacular than breaking through a layer of cloud in a plane. The tops of the clouds will be brightly lit by the sun, and sometimes whorls or rivers of cloud can be seen from above.

The tops of the clouds can be quite lumpy and cumulus-like, and descending into the clouds is like descending into mountains and canyons and the lumps and bumps of the cloud can whizz past like scenery on a train, until the plane finally breaks through the greyer, darker ceiling of the cloud layer.

English: "The two main cloud types are St...
English: “The two main cloud types are Stratocumulus mixing with Cumulus in the foreground with Cumulus beyond” ~ Identified by (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, broken stratus clouds are the clouds which produce amazing sunsets as the sun drops through the layers and gaps in the clouds. Very often a beam of sun breaks through a stratus layer and lights up the water droplets or dust producing what looks like a column of light. These rays are known as crepuscular rays.

Add to that the amazing colours that result from the breakthrough sun beams and the dust and water droplets and sunsets can be very beautiful, even if the sun light is in fact refracting or reflecting from pollution in the air.

Crepuscular Rays and over
Crepuscular Rays and over (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the sun has gone below the horizon, it can still illuminate clouds above the horizon causing them to glow with an orange light, as the blue light is absorbed by the thick layer of atmosphere these rays which are almost tangential to the earth’s surface have to pass through.

Cumulus clouds are often sought out by glider pilots, since they are often formed by an up welling of air over a particularly warm piece of land. The up welling of air provides the glider pilot with extra lift, which allows them to travel vast distances, but a downside is that some clouds can be chaotic and turbulent. Birds will often guide a pilot to the up draughts there is no cloud.

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Another totally different sort of cloud has appeared over recent years, and that is the Internet cloud. The Internet cloud is also somewhat nebulous, and allows us to take a photograph on one device (computer phone or tablet) and view it almost immediately on another device.

The cloud (often the Cloud) also allows for automatic backups for devices – if your device implodes or is lost or stolen, your data is safe. Mostly. For if you sync (synchronise) your device with the Cloud, and then delete a photograph, it will shortly be removed from the Cloud and lost.

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To prevent data loss, you can backup to somewhere else on the cloud, so there are two (or more) cloud copies, or you can backup to a local computer or local storage, so that if you delete something by mistake you can always get it back. As anyone in the computer business will tell you, one backup is never enough!

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Love Actually….

(I’m running late this week. I hope to be on time next week).

English: Beautiful scenery beautiful love story.
English: Beautiful scenery beautiful love story. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Love. The word is thrown around with gay abandon, people claim to be motivated by it when they do extraordinary things. It’s been the subject of literature, from classics to stuff which perhaps should never have been written. Atrocious poetry attempts to define it and celebrate it, and sublime poetry achieves its heights for the same reasons.

There are many sorts of love, man for woman, woman for man, and also the love of a person for another of the same sex. People love animals and people love children, though there are certain loves of these kinds which are strange, bizarre, or wrong. There are the loves for team mates or squad members which strengthens the team or squad, to the extent that in wartime a squad member may sacrifice himself for the sake of the others in the squad.

Team GB
Team GB (Photo credit: the_junes)

People love things. The new Maserati, Holden or Ford. The latest iPhone. An iPad, or other tablet. A new dress, new shoes, new Gucci bag. A new hairdo, new sneakers or a nice juicy steak.

I love a good lie-in in the Morning. Some (who in my opinion are slightly insane) love to be up with the lark. Some love a tropical beach, others an alpine traverse. Some love to run, to the extent where sometimes they will run for hundreds of kilometres.

New York Marathon 2013
New York Marathon 2013 (Photo credit: jaroslavd)

Most people love a challenge, a crossword puzzle or Sudoku. Some love competing with others, some love to challenge themselves by jumping out of a plane, or climbing a high peak in the mountains.

Maybe some would quibble that I have used the word ‘love’ above where others would have used ‘like’. I make no apology for that as the one shades in to the other. But what are the characteristics of love? I’d say that no one definition fits all cases, as is common with any human characteristic.

Cherub (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Love primarily is understood to be most simply defined by the (usually) male/female couple. In a marriage ceremony, at least in the Christian rites, the couple pledge to love each other, (amongst other things). In other religions where marriages may be arranged by the parents and the couple may not know each other very well at the time of the marriage, I do not know what pledges are made. Of course, it is not unknown for marriages to be arranged in countries that have adopted the Christian religion. If fact it is probably more common than people realise. The opposite probably holds in countries where the religion is not Christianity.

Rahul's Arranged Marriage (2005)
Rahul’s Arranged Marriage (2005) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m aware that the above is horribly full of unwarranted assumptions and suppositions about culture of which I know little. Someone once joked that in a Hollywood love story, boy meets girl, they fall in love, and get married. In a Bollywood (Indian film industry) love story, boy meets girl, they are married, they fall in love.

A quick scan of the synopses of both Hollywood and Bollywood shows that the truth in much more complex. The Internet Movie Database like 50 Best Bollywood films, and the teasers for the films show plots which would not be out of place in a similar list of Hollywood love films, with only minor amendments. The Hollywood films tend to replace parental pressure with a societal one, but much else remains the same. The gloriously over-generalised Hollywood love story is boy meets girl, they are forced apart because perhaps one is one is from the wrong side of the tracks (a Hollywood favourite), or they initially hate each other, or they are about to be married to others, or they somehow misplace each other. Finally they resolve whatever difficulties separate them.

V.V.Pukirev - The Arranged Marriage
V.V.Pukirev – The Arranged Marriage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perhaps there is only one love story, across all of mankind – boy meets girl, difficulties keep them apart and either they resolve them (happy ending) or they don’t (tragedy). Now I come to think of it, most love stories apart from fairytales are of the second sort – the films “Love Story”, “Titanic” and perhaps “Gone with the Wind” bear this out.

But what is love? It is something some people spend all their lives looking for, and something which others find easy to find. Spousal love seems to be a binding force. It creates an unbreakable team and gives a couple extra power over adversity through synergy. Spousal love can lead to a long lifetime together and passing on within hours of the second spouse when the first dies.

Long Wedding Dress for Couple with Flowers
Long Wedding Dress for Couple with Flowers (Photo credit:

Love in unidirectional. One can love someone without being loved back, but if one is loved back a positive feedback is achieved. Love is happiness, except for the case where the love is not returned, not even recognised. Love is eternal, except when the love ends. That is, if one loves one cannot conceive of the love ending. Love is generous, gentle and giving, unless the love of the loved one is claimed by another, in which case love engenders hate and loathing. Love is unselfish, unless the love is such that family and friends are cast aside. Love is selfish when the lovers are so engrossed in each other that worldly events pass them by.

love is not selfish
love is not selfish (Photo credit: Leonard John Matthews)

The Bible says this about love:

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

This verse from 1 Corinthians 14:4-7, which is often used in marriage ceremonies in Christian churches only gives the positive aspects of love which is returned. Misdirected love has caused everything from domestic disputes to full scale wars. The mythical Trojan Wars were supposed to have been about the love of Helen who was already married to Menelaus for Paris. The story may have been based around true events which may have separately happened over some time around 1190BCE.

greece - scene of the trojan war
greece – scene of the trojan war (Photo credit: Xuan Che)

One can paraphrase the writer of the Epistile and say “Love is impatient, love is unkind. It is envious, it boasts and is proud”, because often it is. Love is not always good. But when it conforms to the Epistile writer’s definition, it is the oil that helps to make the world go around.

Love Actually
Love Actually (Photo credit: nehuenmingote)