Friday, April 24, 2015

Virtual Reality

The Chicago Virtual Reality Meetup group was founded last March (2014) and had its first meeting in June. Gotta love being a ten-minute drive from the meeting place for a change. I love Meetup and have gone to Drupal meetings downtown and out in St. Charles. WordPress meetup in Elmhurst. But to meet in Glen Ellyn was wonderful. Extra bonus points for seeing where the Cubicle Ninjas hide out. I'd first heard of them during my job hunt five years ago but never had the opportunity to meet anyone. Josh Farkas has been a great host and they have a terrific facility with powerful workstations (Mac and Windows) by which to power their Oculus Rift development kits. (They have the original DK1 and two DK2 kits.)

The Ninjas are working on an application for virtual reality environments. I don't know how much more I can say about it but it ties in nicely with my avocational side. Combined with my interest in Second Life, this Meetup group held high expectations for me. I geeked it and wore my old Atari Jaguar shirt, which got noticed. Virtual Reality headgear first got mentioned back in the early 90s and the Jaguar console was hyped as the beneficiary of that technology. It all disappeared as quickly as it bloomed. Twenty years later and with much more powerful computers, we have the money of Facebook backing the Oculus Rift as well as other big-money players throwing in. The shirt was a reminder how these things can fade away.

Josh expressed a lot of enthusiasm for my Second Life expertise and we've been talking about getting together since that first June meeting. It happened, kinda, last December 23 after I got off of work and hustled over to their offices. After fiddling with settings for twenty minutes, I was operating my son's old avatar, using the beta viewer that supports the Oculus Rift. I tried to take a picture but that functionality is not available. I have links to videos. The immersion was impressive: The framing parts of the User Interface (UI) floated just above and below and to the sides so that you faced the full three-dimensional aspects of whatever SL sim you visited without their distraction. With the headgear, you have no view of your hands and therefore need to experiment with placing your left hand over the WASD keys to move around. It took me a few minutes to get the mouse cursor to appear in my view and then I was able to work the menus and click on items.

About five weeks later, I visited again for a longer exploration of Prehistorica and some other Oculus-friendly sites. It's pretty exciting what is going on.

Time passed quickly but it was enough for me to feel like Linden Lab has done a good job of utilizing the OR. I want more! And Josh has promised that I can visit on my own to use one of their stations. I've also tempted him into taking charge of that avatar to begin his own explorations. My feeling is that VR and applications like SL are a major frontier for doing business in the near future when OR headsets (and competitors' versions) go commercial.

I am getting ready to explore High Fidelity as well.

Monday, April 20, 2015

New Musical Horizons Via Sonos

When we moved into our house twenty years ago, I imagined using yards and yards of cable to set up speakers in our family room on one end of the house to the stereo system located in the living room a fair-sized dining room away. A few innocuous holes drilled into the floor in a corner would keep everything hidden, running the wires along the basement ceiling. The basement is quasi-finished, but this was not a solution my darling wife would accept. So we never had music in in the living room unless it played on the television or off a separate music system. We talked for years about getting a wireless system, but the reviews of such systems were not promising.

For Christmas 2014, we gave ourselves a Sonos system. I went to several stores and asked questions, concerned about being able to retire our CD Player and hundreds of CDs over time but to be able to use it with a new system. We needed a component called Connect that would tie into the Players (not called speakers) and the CD Player. The system cost around $1,200. Considering we hadn't bought speakers in more than thirty years (Bose is all it's cracked up to be, although too rich for us to adopt in this scenario), and no new components in a dozen years, we didn't consider this a splurge in any way. Jessie came along and chose the top-of-the-line spea--er, players; one for each room. We could have bought eight inconspicuous players (Player 1) and spread them all over the house, but there's greater quality in the Player 3s we chose. We didn't go with the Playbar or Sub, either, since we don't need to be knocked out of our chairs by explosions on the television. Or add another $700 to the cost.

The setup is not well explained in the manual that comes with the system even though it's very straightforward once you've survived it. You plug the Connect module into your home Wireless system via a LAN cable. It adopts your wireless network. When you plug in a Player, it sends a ping to your app and you name it. The app allows you to play different music on each Player or to combine them to play the same thing. The app recognizes music services (anything you have installed: Spotify, Pandora, Slacker, Calm, etc. as well as Amazon and Google accounts that store your digital music) as well as Internet Radio. This latter took me completely by surprise and has been a wonderful source of discovery for us these past few months. You have at least two dozen genres of music with dozens of stations for each category. Yes, a lot of them would love to have you subscribe but if you can handle the ads--it's radio the way an old-timer like me understands it--you can change channels, endlessly once an ad has worn out its welcome.

While we actually knew that the system is run via a mobile app, it didn't occur to us until I had it set up that Jessie didn't have a smartphone and her three-year old Nook couldn't handle the Sonos app. So her Christmas bonus was a Kindle Fire HD 7 and they lived happily ever after. Another interesting thing to note: Windows Phone doesn't have a free Sonos app, but something called Phonos. It lets me do thumbs up/down with Pandora, something Sonos app doesn't do, and just about anything else it does. You should test it using Free Trial, which is a nice aspect of all Windows Phone apps.

What we thought we were buying was a replacement for quite a few electronic components: Amp/Receiver and speakers in a cabinet in our living room. Now there's just a pedestal with the Sonos Player on it. (I'll get them over to Best Buy or somewhere for recycling when the weather improves.) Now for the first time in twenty years, we can walk from the family room through the dining room or kitchen and emerge in the living room listening to the same music. The icing on the cake was the vast resevoir of musical services the Internet provides. The real irony of it all is that with so much new music to listen to, we rarely go through the effort of turning on the CD Player--the app doesn't do that although it does have a Line-In option for listening to the CDP once you've chosen a CD and turned it on. (We could have saved $300--the cost of a Player 2 by skipping the CD connection of the Connect. I had hoped, although no one promised it, that the Connect would also work with our SmartTV but that requires the $699 Playbar.)

As I pondered in a previous post ripping our CDs seems very worthwhile with the accessibility to digital media so simple.