Entries related to technology.

#PCWM8 Notes: VR Goggles.

Often at conferences, or even unconferences like Podcamp Western Mass, some of the best discussions take place away from the sessions, and this year at Podcamp Western Mass 8 was no exception.

For me, it was talking with Maria from Hypergride Business who brought her Virtual Reality viewers with her. They ranged from cardboard headsets which you can find on Amazon for six bucks up through many different sets in the twenty to thirty dollar range.

There were three different features that seemed important to me. One was sturdiness and how well the phone fits. Sets made out of actually cardboard just don’t seem all that sturdy. Perhaps some of that is based on my own experience of making sets out of cardboard when they first came out.

A second feature that was really important to me was how well the control works for them. With Google Cardboard, a magnet near the phone signals the apps. With the sets I’ve made and even with off the shelf cardboard viewers, I’ve never had a lot of luck with this. Some viewers require a separate Bluetooth controller. There are a lot of neat things you could probably do with a Bluetooth controller for gaming, but for most apps simple signaling is probably all you need.

The device that I found my Samsung Galaxy 4 worked very nice in was the Viewmaster VR. It was also nice to have a similar user experience as the Viewmasters from my childhood. One thing that was missing was straps. To really get into virtual reality viewers, the ability to strap the viewer on your head and have your hands free is probably really helpful.

Maria particularly recommended the FIIT VR headset, which has straps but requires a Bluetooth controller. I might get something like this at some later time, especially if someone gaming moves forward with a nice VR glove.

Yet what I was more interested in was talking with Maria about producing VR media. There is the game development side of things which still seems a bit cumbersome. I would like to simply build something in OpenSim which you could easily experience with VR goggles. Even OpenSim would be cool. These seem to be coming, but aren’t really there yet.

For making VR pictures or movies, you can take pictures which get stitched together fairly easily with a cellphone. Or at least I managed to do so with my Samsung Galaxy 4 back when Google Cardboard first came out. Stereoscopic movies seem a bit more difficult. I have friends who have made them and I’ve been kicking around the idea of doing something similar. To see some stereoscopic movies you can view with Google Cardboard style headsets, go to Youtube and search on “yt3d sbs”.

Another VR format is 360 video. These are videos that you can change your perspective. As you turn with your phone, or click on buttons on a computer, you see a different view. A nice example of this is MythBusters: Shark Shipwreck (360 Video).

You need to either use some software to stitch together the different perspectives, or use a camera that does this for you. There aren’t a lot of cameras out there that do this yet, and most of them that do are in the thousands of dollars range. However, Maria mentioned the 360 Fly. It is a relatively inexpensive and easy to use camera for getting started in 360 video. Of course, this is for monoscopic 360 video. Stereoscopic 360 video is a whole different issue, and I haven’t found a good option for that.

I also haven’t been able to find out if it is possible to connect a 360 Fly to a computer to use it as a webcam, or if it is possible, how to do it. I would love to see this done as an interesting way of doing a video conference of a panel. Could you feed a 360 video into a system like Zoom? Could you stitch together different videos from a system like zoom into a simulated room as if all the presenters were seated around a table and you look at different presenters

It looks like 360 cameras are coming into their own and it is probably about time to get one and start testing them.

#PCWM8 Pregame

In about twelve hours, I’ll be hopping in my car and driving up to Podcamp Western Mass. Instead of rehashing what a Podcamp is, I’ll start off by pointing people not acquainted with podcamps to some of my older podcamp posts:

A good starting point is probably:
Understanding Unconferences - #pcct #swct

I’ll also recommend:
What is the Difference Between a Good Podcamp and a Great Podcamp?


#pcct - What Makes for a Good Podcamp Session?

These get into the sessions and the experience. People who know me from Podcamps know that I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to Podcamps. I’m not a big fan or presentations or Powerpoint and podcamp. I like organic discussions.

At Podcamp Western Mass over the past few years, there have been a lot of introductory sessions which provide great value for newcomers but also have the potential of obscuring something really important about podcamps, that everyone is a rock star.

There are also a few things that I miss from some of the older podcamps. Back in the day, there would be lively discussions online about what topics people were interested in. This hasn’t happened as much in recent years. One nice exception this year is that Maria Korolov‎ posted about doing a show and tell about VR headsets. Maria knows her stuff about VR and if she comes and does the show and tell, it should be really good. I just hope that it will be a discussion where lots of people get to contribute.

Things that I’m interested in include

MOOCs, Moodle, and Rhizomes: The future of digital pedagogy.

It’s all about the content: Creativity, Spirituality, Politics, and everything in between.

The Darknet

Private or corporate social networks.
Anyone doing anything with Slack? I have set up. Let me know if you want to use it. If you do use slack, especially with any integrations, I’d love to hear about it.

Workflow tools: Some of the things I learned about at previous Podcamps included IFTTT and Evernote. These days, I’ve been playing a bit with Workflowy. Check it out.

Augmented Reality Gaming:
Any Ingress players going to Podcamp? Anyone play other games like Ingress?

What’s New:
I always love a What’s New session. Everyone mentions a new social network, mobile apps, or things like that which they are really enjoying. What new things are you finding exciting?

So, share your thoughts this evening about what you’re looking forward to. Then, let’s have fun tomorrow!

AI, Health Care, Genomics, Fitness Apps, Mobile Apps, Social Media and Beyond

It was probably in the 1970s that I first read Richard Brautigan’s poem, All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace. I grew up working with computers; I like to speak of myself as a digital aborigine, yet it seems like now, we may be moving closer to Brautigan’s poem.

This isn’t without its concerns. One recent article had the headline, Our tech future: the rich own the robots while the poor have 'job mortgages'.

This reminded some of my friends online of Fritz Lang’s Metroplois

In a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class and the city planners, the son of the city's mastermind falls in love with a working class prophet who predicts the coming of a savior to mediate their differences.

Yet I’m not so sure the future is quite as bleak.

I work at a health center that focuses on underserved populations. It probably isn’t a typical health center of this time because we are very interested in how we can use technology to improve health outcomes for everyone. This has led me to keep an eye on a bunch of developments, and here, I’ll do a little bit of my own sci-fi futurist writing.

Recently there has been a lot of interest in Google Deepmind’s Go match against Lee Se-dol. Yet it is important to remember there are other AI’s. IBM’s Watson comes to mind. Of course, so does Wintermute and Neuromancer, but that’s a whole different blog post.

Watson is interesting to me for a couple reasons. Watson has been doing a lot of interesting stuff in health care. (See some of the episodes of Conversations on Health Care for more on this.) Watson is now branching out into Social Media.

Some interesting work in the nexus of health care and social media includes Linking social media and medical record data: a study of adults presenting to an academic, urban emergency department

So, what might Watson, looking at health care and social media be like? Artefact has its ideas, described in What iPhone-Based Health Care Could Look Like In 10 Years. They talk a little bit about fitness monitoring apps connected with sites like PatientsLikeMe or 23andMe, but the article doesn’t talk about artificial intelligence.

Meanwhile, North Face is adding IBM Watson to its shopping app. So, imagine an AI connected to social networks, genomic data, fitness data, marketing information, and anything else it can get to, all with a proactive, Siri like interface…

“Good morning, Aldon. It looks like it should be a nice day today, and you didn’t get much exercise yesterday. You should really try to take a walk down Main St at lunch time today. You don’t have anything in your calendar conflicting with that, and there are several Ingress portals you can capture…Before you get to work, I want to make sure you’re aware of these articles about the health center, opioid addiction, and telemedicine… Later in the day, if it doesn’t get too crazy, you should get in touch with your old friend Bill. He seems to be having a rough time right now… You should read his Facebook posts and reply or give him a call.”

“Thanks, Watson. Can you post something uplifting on his Facebook posts for me? “

“No problem, Aldon. By the way, I don’t want to nag, but it is really time to have your vision checked again. Do you want me to check your calendar and set up an appointment for you?”

“Yes please.”

With that, I get up and make my oatmeal.

Blogging the Alphabet - Ingress Agent Stats

A long week comes to an end. There have been lots of things going on. Time demands, technology malfunctions, other stresses. I have various blog posts in partial completion, but none that I feel ready to complete this evening.

One idea, has been to reflect on what Chrome thinks I’m most interested in. Type a letter, and see what website Chrome thinks I want to go to. I’ve thought about doing an analysis of this, what percentage of letters go to what type of websites. But that would take more time than I’m up for, so instead, I’ll start blogging the alphabet, typing in a character, and using it for a blog prompt. If the blog prompt isn’t all that compelling, I may use a couple letter, or look at the other suggestions for a given letter.

So, let me start with ‘A’. The most common website for me beginning with the letter ‘A’ is This is a website that has statistics about various scores in Ingress, the augmented reality game I like to play on my cellphone. As an aside, this has not been a great week for playing Ingress either. I haven’t had good walking days, which may contribute to it being a long week.

For my agent stats, I am level 16. That is currently the highest level you can get in Ingress. I have 54 million AP. That a basic score used for getting to higher levels. In Agent Stats, there are close to 5000 agents who have reported an AP score. Two of them have scores over 300 million, and I rank at about 1000th.

I believe my highest ranking on these boards is for recharging, where I currently have 241 million XM recharged. That puts me at 129 out of about 2200. The highest is 877 million

Agent stats also calculates when you are most likely to get your next badge. On Sunday, I should get my Onyx sojourner badge, for hacking 360 days in a row. My next badge is predicted to be platinum liberator, which I should receive at the end of May.

Shaping Ava

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. Happy New Year! We perform our rituals, say our incantations in hopes that, somehow, this year will be better. For a day, we forget the quote attributed to Einstein, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”, and make the same resolutions.

This year, I’ve been seeing a quote attributed to Mark Twain making the rounds, “New Year's Day--Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”

Last night, we had a YouTube Riff Off. This is a game we play where one person plays a song on YouTube, and the next person riff’s off of that tune, selecting some other tune the first tune made them think of. We go around and around as one tune leads to another and one mood gives way to the next. It is interesting to observe what emerges.

We started off with Auld Lang Syne and went to songs about children growing up, Cat’s Cradle, Circle Game. We went to the sending off phase of Black Parade and Carry on my Wayward son, to remembrances, in “Will you remember me”, “Box of Rain” and “Ode to Billie Joe” The Riff off culminated in a nod to religious coexistence in The Kennedys’ song Stand.

Perhaps it reflected some of the themes for the coming year, as Fiona potentially heads off to school and I explore more deeply my religious calling.

Afterwards, we watched “Ex Machina”. I’ve been interested in AI’s for a long time and remember a saying that AIs would end up looking like their creators. Back then, the folks working on AI were nerdy engineers. In Ex Machina, the guy creating the AI is a reclusive genius. The software for the AI is the large search engine he has created and made his fortunes off of.

It is an idea that has fascinated me for a long time. What if our search engines and social networks are the new AIs, or at least the source of information for these AIs about social behavior? Seem unlikely? It’s already happening.

IBM's new Insights service harvests data from millions of tweets and uses Watson to analyze them for sentiment and behavior

IBM'S Watson Can Figure Out A Lot About You—Just By Looking At Your Social Media

IBM Is Using Watson To Psychoanalyze People From Their Tweets

Matters Of The Mind: Mass. Computer Scientist Creates Technology To Read Emotions

So, are we now just pawns, nodes in some giant AI? Are the results of the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign already predetermined? Does it matter who gets elected anyway? Are we just amplifying echoes in the social media echo chamber when we like or share messages about Trump, Bernie, or Hillary?

Can we shape Ava? If so, how?

It seems easy to be discouraged when you look at all the issues our country and our world faces. Will what I write help shift the direction of climate change? Will what I write help bring an end to oppression; to racism or sexism?

I chose to remain optimistic. I think Robert Kennedy’s quote provides some insight.

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Here, we could go off into a long discussion about whether sharing posts that reflect our political or religious views counts as standing up for an ideal. We could talk about slacktivism and whether we are just going back to paving the road to hell. Yet that, too, most likely leads to hopelessness and inaction.

Instead, I think David Foster Wallace presents a more useful way of looking at it in his commencement speech, This Is Water

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

Perhaps this is the real challenge, for the new year, for each day, in shaping Ava, to challenge the default settings, to pay attention, to be aware, not only to the trending topics on Facebook or Twitter, but to the simple things around us, the beauty of the squirrel running in the woods, probably the same squirrel that has been raiding your bird feeder, the common humanity of the homeless guy you see on the street.

Happy New Year.

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