Saturday, October 04, 2014

Google Cardboard

I tried out google's cardboard virtual reality (VR) system this week. It was awesome!

I have always been a big google fanboy, mostly because they make life cheaper and easier. And most of their applications are free. What is to really be admired though is their commitment to lateral thinking and cool science. For the uninformed, google cardboard is one such project. A couple of google employees took some time out to write an application that ports google maps, photos and youtube to a stereo display format on supported android devices. They then designed a simple cardboard mount to hold the phone to be viewed through lenses on the mount. They even put a cute little magnet contraption on the side of the mount to act as a switch detected by the phone. And then they released the app and the mount schematics for free. 

I had heard of some upcoming sophisticated VR devices that are apparently poised to take humanity a lot closer to The Matrix. So when google announced this cheap cardboard app, I wanted to try it out. I was skeptical however. You see, most of my specialized viewing experiences have been less fun than expected. Stereo images make my eyes water and 3D movies give me a headache. I still grieve the day I spent $17 on a that awful remake of Clash of the Titans (in 3D!) that looked better without the glasses. I spent a weekend playing Super Mario 3D land on the 3DS console and it was OK because I turned off the 3D function. But a gadget-geek coworker encouraged me to try it out just as a craft project, so I bought in. The schematics were simple enough and in no time I had the pieces ready. Getting the lenses was a little tricky but I managed to find what I needed ($2.52) from the local hipster hardware store. I had a couple of spare magnets lying around for the switch contraption.

Assembly was a breeze and I had the mount ready in ten minutes. The phone app was quite big and I was concerned if my faithful old galaxy nexus would handle the beast but it loaded fine. 

I turned on the app and a playstation-like menu popped up and I could navigate through it by looking around. The dual viewing paired with the lenses worked well enough and I could see just one image; the measurements from the schematics weren't too shabby. I magnet-contraption-clicked on the street view (street vue) option and within seconds my mind was blown. 

It put me on a car driving through a European city in full speed where I was free to look around and it rocked! I am a big google maps user and I spend about half hour everyday taking virtual tours through the world on it. This was that experience on steroids. I spent a good ten minutes on the ride after which I tried the other options, that were mercifully slower paced. The earth option puts you on a stationary spot in a few selected locations and surrounds you with google's 3D building models to look at. You can even fly off to space and look at the earth from above. Tour guide does the same with some select spots in Versailles and adds voiced descriptions. Photosphere allows you to explore you own photosphere images. While all these options were more like trial versions than full fledged virtual worlds, the youtube app seemed more open. It put you in a theater-like surrounding with the video of choice running on the big screen and more videos on the side to look at and click on. Some of the videos seemed related to my viewing history on youtube, so I suspect that it may have a longer lifetime than the other app options. 

It was a fun home project. Overall, the experience was brilliant cheap fun and has me lauding the google engineers that came up with it for their smart work. Thumbs up gentlemen, keep up the good work!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Cedar Bluffs

There are a good number of established trails and state parks around south-west Indiana. Cedar Bluffs remains one of the less discovered locations. I like trails that are less manufactured and more rugged and Cedar Bluffs gets a 8/10 for that. It is lush green, has water bodies, plenty of small creatures and hardly any noise.

It was a nice warm day and we drove south along S Ketcham Rd until we saw a tiny black board marking the entrance to Cedar Bluffs. It is basically a protected nature preserve and you are cautioned to not go off trail and ruin its delicate fauna. 

Ramya had been there before so she was to guide me through the trail. 

The trail started out pretty and innocuous. I let Ramya lead our party and used my camera to cover the walk in google glass-like fashion.

We walked until we hit the stream that goes along the trail. A number of people seem to come here for fishing.


On the other side of the trail was this rocky cliff that we had to get to later. 

At one point the trail turned to the left but we decided that we knew better and ended up making our own trail. That is when the fun started.

The trail got a lot less trail-like and we had to now find a way to get to the cliffs from there. So we turned left and headed uphill. 

The place was now a maze of spiderwebs and trees. Note: You will have to leave your arachnophobia at home to come here.

Lost. Yes.

No we were totally off.

After unwillingly and unintentionally destroying a dozen spider homes, we compass-ed our way back to the true trail and we decided to stick to it from that point on. 

Win. And we learnt something.

The trail is actually a smaller stream that joined the one we walked along.


Not trail

A little farther on, Ramya found some parts of the trail that she actually remembered!

Like Ariel's grotto but with snakes.

We stayed along the trail until we could get back on the hillock we had seen and walked down the other side of it back to our car. Overall a pretty fun place. I recommend it.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Aggressive passion

The new X-men movie came out last Friday and I am excited about it. Not so much for what it is but what it promises for a sequel - Apocalypse - one of my favorite comic villains this side of Darkseid. He is simple enough to sum up - immortal, all-powerful, violent and intellectual to a fault, with an obsession with the survival of the fittest. You know, evil god material. Like all evil gods he has scary henchmen on horsebacks too. Four of them, the four horsemen of Apocalypse - War, famine, pestilence and death. Inspired by that here are some recent thoughts on passive aggressives.

Actions do speak louder than words but inaction speaks volumes of its own. Especially pseudo-inaction where I do all but act. I pull the trigger and let you release it. Passive aggressiveness is a whole lot worse than actual encounters simply because it is hard to counter and contend with. The deal is simple, I bait you into action, you carry the weight of it and I simply watch it unravel and play my cards in slow retaliation. Except that is only good as a board game strategy; dealing with people in real life like that makes you a major dick.

There are several common examples of passive aggressives. I have four specific horsemen here.

War - There is not to much to understand about how a team works. Do your part and share the spoils. The essence is to always keep the focus on the team and not your personal share in the spoils. Unfortunately a team is viewed differently by one set of individuals - it is a bunch of people independently performing for a common leader. The cause isn't the team's cause, it is what your personal share is going to be. While it is not wrong to want your effort to be productive, it is a choice that needs to be made before you pick the team. A team, like in individual situations does not always guarantee spoils for every piece of effort, it only promises support, that is if everyone buys in. Unfortunately the horsemen of war cannot swallow that. They are not going to be the ones that take one for the team. They will draw the others to bite the bullet, take their share and eat it alone in their rotten holdings.

Pestilence - The next time you feel sympathy for the melancholy "nice guy" that just can't seem to catch a break for all the niceness he his doling out, slap yourself. Maybe twice. Good. Now slap Mr. Nice guy. And what is a nice guy anyway? Nice is what you call the weather outside and even that could change in a matter of minutes. Nice is most everyone when you are in a good mood. The ideal to work towards is kindness - where you do a good turn because good. These individuals instead will dole out a series of unrequited good turns and never let you forget about it. Of course they will do it passively, with easy heartbreaks, sad faces and guilt water splashed on your face. If you are doing a good turn expecting tangible returns in a very near future, you are doing it wrong; it breaks the concept of doing good. You are not kind, just entitled. And yes that makes you a bad person. I used to be one.

Famine - Some of these horsemen are summed up as fauxminists. There exists a related group of individuals that use odd terms to define themselves. The have faults but those apparently exist for a good cause. Like that serial killer who only kills the bad guys. Except that was fiction as is their defining term. Fiercely independent for example. I guess one could be independent. And fierce. But fiercely independent is where you are making the wrong mocktail. We are social animals that depend on each other by design. The closest someone could get to being completely independent is when they not only mange their living independently but also have extremely high emotional stability. Basically, you shouldn't be fierce about it if you want to be independent. Unless you are being assaulted in an alleyway. Where you should keep calm and pepper spray. 

Death - Here is my quick test for decency. Do you see race? No? Indecent. 
A lot of civilized society banks on the idea that they do not want to be part of the problem. And they ensure that by fitting the world design to easy boxes they could tick in quick time. It is easier to not see race at all. Or gender, or disability, or pain. Since empathy requires too much effort, they choose ignorance instead. But we are all defined by not just our choices but also our stories and backgrounds. It is all part of an identity and to ignore that is to take away our identity. It is invoking a convenient recess where false equivalences is established to keep their minds small while your defining factors are ignored. 

"What was your name again? OK, I'll just call you Bill"

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


I spend a good amount of time at work wading through microscopy images of concentrated proteins soaking in salt syrups that should hopefully tease them into forming innocent pretty crystals (that I can mercilessly shot with X-ray guns but that part is another story). It takes just a glance to figure an image out. So with a few thousand conditions and a few images per condition the whole process takes just a few thousand times a few glaces.

Rarely do you get to see something that has crystal written across the image with zoom-in zoom-out effects. The image on the right is a UV light image of the same drop.

Less rarely, you get to see misshapen gunk that has meh written across the image with sound effects that say 'really'?

Then you can spend some time perfecting the syrup recipe until you have something that is workable.

What you see most of the time is either clear boring drops or drops that contain what looks like shredded snakes or alien foetuses.

This one actually looks like the alien from alien.

An that is the scary part. You wade through enough of these crap-drop images that you start seeing mind-game things. Like smiley faces.

Or flirty botched plastic surgery-lips.

Or hand-bags.

Spend enough time and you really start seeing crazy things. Like stars.

Or the Batman.


I am headed out for some soup, sports and grounded sanity. Peace.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Gen Y - mercifully just one thought

Way too much is being scrutinized and said about the poor little rich kids that are generation Y. They have a bazillion problems but they all truly want the same thing that you want. Here is the one thing that can set a lot of those problems right and clear a path to wade through the messy choices and escape algorithms available to you yuppie. 

Slow down. Realize that you DO NOT have to and CANNOT do it all in a day. Or a week or a month. You could just shave your pencils today and start writing tomorrow. But make sure you focus on just shaving them today and shave them to your best ability. And DO NOT expect to write the next big epic. Just expect to write a short one page story. Or a single line if that suits you. And then store it away. Do this for a few years. Then put it together and look at it. It will be a wonderful story that is your life.

What gen Y needs positively reinforced is patience. That you cannot get it all on your fingertips even though google promises you that about viral videos and movie synopses. You stagnate when you encounter situations where you do not have the instant completion tools and so, you end up only committing to and doing short-term tasks that can get done within the fingertip attention span. Which is why you hate cleaning but would rather clean than learn to code. The thing is you DO NOT have to think about the whole task all the time. The task DOES NOT owe it to you to be something that can fit your fingertip method of functioning. The only thing guaranteed is that with time, it will be worth it. The journey itself will be beautiful and rewarding in short and sweetly unexpected bits. 

It is not the ADD, it is not the overload, it is just impatience. That will be all.