Redirected coffee

April 1st, 2021

Yesterday Stefan made an astute comment regarding my post about Future Furniture. If your physical furniture has rounded corners, but your virtual view of it doesn’t, then you might miss the table when you try to put down your coffee mug.

We can tackle that problem by adopting techniques earlier used to help people walk around in VR without bumping into walls, by developing redirected walking. The basic idea is to show you a modified reality that keeps you away from obstacles. When you walk within a VR world you might believe you are turning around a 90 degree corner, but in fact you are turning 70 degrees or 110 degrees.

Other researchers have since applied these ideas to reaching for and picking up objects. In mixed reality, you can give people an altered view of their hand and arm position (and therefore the position of the coffee cup they are holding).

So they can think they are putting down their coffee on the corner of a sharp-cornered table. But in reality they are placing the cup down a slight distance away — within the safe confines of a table that has rounded corners.

Future furniture

March 31st, 2021

When you design a table or a chair, you need to worry about a number of different things. How sturdy is it? Is it going to look pretty in your kitchen or dining room or restaurant? How resistant is it to rips, scratches, spills and other mishaps?

But if you didn’t need to worry about the appearance of your furniture, you’d have an easier time of it. You would only need to be concerned with its mechanical properties.

If we assume that people will generally be wearing their extended reality glasses in the future, then furniture design becomes easier. The raw appearance of your table or chair won’t matter, because nobody will see it in its naked state.

Suddenly your choice of materials and methods of construction widens. Manufacturing becomes easier. And you can change the color of your furniture — as well as your wallpaper color for that matter — in a moment.

Of course you could choose to take off your extended reality glasses and see the naked reality beneath. But I suspect that may not be something people in the future will be doing in polite company,.

Virtual pets

March 30th, 2021

We are getting ever nearer to a time when many people will be wearing mixed reality eyewear, and nobody will be thinking about it anymore. This is the next step in a technology evolution that currently has everyone carrying a SmartPhone in their pocket.

When we are all seeing a shared cybernetically enhanced world with our own eyes, a number of things will change. One of those things will probably be the proliferation of virtual pets.

Real pets are delightful, if somewhat hard to take care of. They keep us company, surprise us, often show us affection, and give us a living being to take care of and nurture.

But if you need to go away for two weeks, you can’t just leave your pet at home. You need to find a way to take care of it, to feed it, to make sure it is ok.

So when the technology makes it possible to have virtual pets roaming around that can be seen and interacted with by all, I wonder how many people will choose that option. Of course it won’t be the same as a real pet, but it doesn’t need to be. It will be its own thing.

After all, a movie is not the same as a play, but people still go to both. One does not replace the other. Rather, each has the potential to enrich our lives in its own unique way.

Exceptions to the rule

March 29th, 2021

Things will go better when you are well rested
A rule old as time and very time tested
But I’ll gladly admit that I’d be a fool
To ignore the exceptions to the rule
To these exceptions one must not be blinded
Today it so happens that I’ve been reminded:
Sometimes, when there is a deadline to keep
You don’t really need to get quite enough sleep

Hidden commercial agenda indicator

March 28th, 2021

It has been said that 98% of information you read on-line is actually mis-information. Whoever put it up is trying to sell you some service or product. The only reason they are posting their “helpful info” is so that you will be more likely to purchase their product or service.

Here is something I would really like: For any information on any topic I can see on the Web, I would like some free on-line tool that provides an analysis of the hidden commercial agenda behind that information.

Alas, I suspect that whoever wrote that software will probably had some hidden commercial agenda that led them to offer it for free. So I suppose I will end up at some point running that software on itself.

I wonder if that will work.

Reality haiku

March 27th, 2021

you won’t realize
reality has changed, until
it already has

Writing workshop

March 26th, 2021

Today I am participating in a writing workshop. It is aimed at people writing about science for a lay audience, but the lessons we are learning are universal.

My primarily take-away is that less is more. Writing words on paper is a lot like making a movie. You can shoot all the footage you want, but your message really only comes into focus in the final edited cut.

We tend to think we need to spell everything out in detail, but the art of writing largely consists of understanding how to trust your audience by leaving out what is unnecessary. If you write clearly, the reader is perfectly capable of reading between the lines.

After all, what is the art of editing? Whether one is editing text or editing a movie, it is really the process of knowing how to trust your reader or audience.

This question of trust is very clear in a medium such as the graphic novel or comic book, in which you can plainly see the space between the panels. That space is where much of the action happens. And as we know, even a child will understand that artful elision.

Take away: Trust your reader. Write less.

Production versus research

March 25th, 2021

One of the funny things about University research is that not all the “research” we do is research. Some of it would more properly be referred to as “production”.

Pure research can tend to be difficult to explain to people. It concerns itself with pushing the envelope in a particular area that is important, but directly understood by only a few people.

And those people are often not the people in two key groups: (1) the people who can provide the funds to continue the research, and (2) the people who have the wherewithal to bring your work to a larger world where it can be useful to millions of people.

Here’s an analogy. Suppose you are working on a modification to a car engine that will make cars run faster with less fuel. You can show people detailed diagrams and simulations that demonstrate your achievement. But that doesn’t really get across the importance of your achievement.

But what if, on the other hand, you put your modification into an actual car. You then drive the car across the country in record time, using very little fuel. Now people are paying attention.

So it is often worth taking the time to build productions on top of your research. And you might very well learn interesting things in the process. Also, it can be fun to drive a car that you built yourself.

Imagining future teaching

March 24th, 2021

I have been trying to imagine what teaching will be like in the future. I am starting with the premise that I can do everything that I used to do when teaching in person, together with everything that I can now do over Zoom.

So it’s sort of a combination of super-powers. On the one hand, there is the super-power of true physical presence. This includes, among other things, eye contact, body language, the comraderie of physical gathering and the ability to “read a room”.

On the other hand, there is the super-power of being able to present an entire world, as well as scribble on and program that world, right before your students’ eyes. When you get the hang of it, Zoom can be a very powerful tool for doing that.

I’m assuming that some time in the next five years or so, the technology will have matured to the point where I can seamlessly combine together those two sorts of super-powers. I am looking forward to that.

Trains, planes and automobiles

March 23rd, 2021

After the pandemic is over, we will no longer need to hold our meetings over Zoom. But meanwhile, people are getting better at using Zoom, and the app itself is continually improving and adding new features.

In addition, competing platforms are showing up, trying different ways for people connect on-line. Now that there is a huge audience for such things, these apps are finding sweet-spots in user preferences that in more normal times might not have been on anyone’s radar.

So by the time the pandemic is over, the landscape for meetings might look very different. People will probably choose to meet on-line in situations where, a year or so ago, they would have chosen to meet in person.

We might be entering a permanent rearrangement of “in person” versus “on line” for both business and social interactions. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. For one thing, I suspect we will be burning a lot less fuel for travel on trains, planes and automobiles.