Disruptive Review: The HTC Vive VR Headset

Of all the VR options about to go mainstream, the HTC Vive is in the expensive collection. At $799, this headset is not inexpensive. And that’s without the PC you need to drive it. So, not exactly a toy. At least for the mainstream.

Yes, you can experience VR using your mobile phone. From the cheap, and decidedly uncomfortable Google Card that holds your mobile phone, to the Samsung VR, a dedicated headset for Samsung Gear S smartphones. Somewhere in the middle of that is the Wearality Sky, that provides a 150 degree FoV (Field of View).

But frankly, apart from short YouTube style videos, or precomputed data, you’re not going to use your mobile phone. For one thing there’s comfort, the phone is heavy, at least heavier than a display. For another there’s battery life, not to mention performance. Moore’s Law hasn’t yet provided a mobile phone that’s as powerful as a desktop computer. And finally, it’s your phone. Quite apart from calls, if you’re anything like me, you’re using it all the time.

No, in-depth, long term, immersive VR is going to be with a dedicated system. I’ve tried two of them to date, the Oculus Rift (Dev II) and last week, the HTC Vive. The Oculus certainly exploded my mind in terms of potential. The Vive on the other hand blew me away.

Translating Physical to Virtual

Both of these devices are wired to a grunty PC, so movement is restricted. This needs to be overcome. I forsee some dedicated backpack Alienware or HP Omen type product. (Kickstarter anyone?) Something that lessens the weight and repositions this across your back so as to become transparent to the user.

Where the Vive totally trumps the Rift, however, is in the room managment system. Essentially there are 2+ depth sensing cameras & headset tracker that project a virtual grid within the VR experience to let you know you’re about to walk into a physical wall. This frees you from sitting in front of a PC and using controls to move around the virtual space. You can actually turn and walk IRL, and the movement is translated into the VR world. From an immersion perspective, this is insanely powerful.

Vision

The resolution of the Vive appeared much better than the Rift. Admittedly I’ve only worked with developer kits of both, but the difference is marked. This goes a long way towards immersion. Seeing pixels is a sure fire way for your brain to remind you that you’re not exactly in Kansas anymore.

I’m really keen to see the Avegant in this regard.

My first experience was called “Blu Encounter” where you’re placed on the deck of a shipwreck. Even as a Dive Instructor, this experience was uncanny. Watching the surface (about 18m above), the rays, and the fish was amazingly realistic. Just without needing a regulator. And when the Blue Whale swims past you get an experience of scale that you simply couldn’t recreate any other way.

Here are opportunities for:

  • Simulation and training,
  • Practice and preparation for extreme activities
  • Desensitizing someone’s fears – E.g. Heights, snakes, agra- or claustrophobia, the list is probably endless
  • Physical environment A/B (C-Z) testing

Sound

You can plug in headphones. But why would you? Far better to set up the VR space with a decent surround sound system. If you’re hearing directional sound from afar, this is going to be a far more immersive and less intrusive experience.

This also comes into play when you have more than one person in the space at the same time.

There was sound underwater, but this really came into play in the “Robot Repair” (as did heart stopping impressions of scale. We all know the power of surround sound to drive immersion in movies. This takes the experience to a whole new level of nuance and subtlety.

Control

The final difference right now is how you can use your hands. With the Vive you get two controllers. Both of these appear in within the VR space. Not as effective as perhaps gloves with taptic feedback. But they give an astounding level of control.

I used these in my final experience of my too short time in VR. Tilt Brush is a 3D painting experience. With the left controller you get a pallette of brushes and colours. With your right hand you ‘paint.’

The brushes range from traditional pigment applicators (paint, charcoal, pencil, pen, marker etc) to various forms of light. There’s plasma, electricity, snow, bubbles etc.

O.M.G.!!

I cannot adequately describe the experience. Part sculpting, part drawing, part dancing. All of the above. For the creative your mind explodes with possibilities. It takes a while to get control of the tools, then some time to translate 2D to 3D, and then…

…then you realise anything is possible. You can create anything. You could create a maze, describe scene, become part of the creation.

I wanted to stay in VR and learn this new craft. I wanted somehow to keep what I’d created and share it. I wanted to synchronise it to music. To play an instrument and express emotions through light, colour, sound, and motion. I wanted to dance with joy, and weep from the depths of my soul.

All this with the crude tools of a prototype in a development kit. When these tools evolve with more scope, nuance, and control… …perhaps art and science will meet religion.

Business Opportunities

I had <30 minutes in VR, just a taster really, and in that short time the Vive won me over. Imagine having an empty warehouse with the Vive setup then:

  • Taking customers through x renditions of a new physical space adn observe their behaviour? A/B testing of spaces, branches, shop fronts etc. without having to build them physically.
  • Allowing people to view your house for sale, without having to clean it for an Open Home (this is a current bugbear of mine). You could let them see it with their own decorations and furniture.
  • Creating limitless tests and challenges, from puzzles to “Escape Room” experiences.
  • Role playing and induction training.
  • Preparing for critical missions – everything from a wreck dive, to hostage rescue.
  • Training spaces – learn how to sell a mortgage, or perform in front of a stadium.
  • Visualise massive sets of complex data
  • Interview someone and let them demonstrate their skills.

In short: “Any Experience as a Service”

 

Ride Review: Ducati Scrambler

 

Of the 4 variants, this is my favourite
Of the 4 variants, this is my favourite

Recently I took the┬ánew “retro” styled Ducati Scrambler for a test ride. This bike is aimed squarely at the hipster crowd. Sure it’s a ‘dangerous’ motorbike, but it’s also hip, colourful, and reminiscent of Europe in the 60’s.

A Man's Man
A Man’s Man

The styling is that of the old Triumph Scrambler that Steve McQueen used to ride (barechested and helmetless no less), mashed with technology and colour to make it relevant. I’ll be honest, I’ve wanted one of these since their global launch. They just look like so much fun!

And for sure, this is a fun ride. Like the Monster, this machine lacks any complications. Where there is pretension, this is all cosmetic. The bike itself is very basic.

It rides well, although I found the handle bars too high on the Scrambler. After the Monster I felt a little like Goldilocks: This one is too low, this one is too high… …and so on. You do get a lot of leverage in the corners though and flicking the bike around is a lot of fun.

Despite it’s off-road livery, you’re not going to do any serious off-roading or even touring (even for a week-end) with the Scrambler. For one thing the seat is way too hard. After 20 mins I was missing the Monster’s saddle let alone the Multi’s. From a ride and reliability perspective, I reckon this may enjoy a beach (certainly Instagram seems to indicate) but I don’t see anyone contemplating the Long Way Down or anything beyond about 30 minutes in the saddle.

I had a Yellow Scrambler just like this one for my 15th Birthday
I had a Yellow Scrambler just like this one for my 15th Birthday

It’s an 800, so not suited to the learner crowd. Which is a shame, because it is so reminiscent of the Suzuki Scrambler 50cc that was my first ever motorcycle. And it has all the hallmarks of a great learner bike. Light, uncomplicated, forgiving, easy to ride at low speeds, unlikely to get to (serious) high speeds. Great in traffic, and a good looker. (Always important when you start riding.)

Would I buy one? Um, no. Just not my style. My hair is too long, and beard too short. I don’t drink coffee at all, let along a single origin, soy, vanilla latte, my man. But mostly, I ride wa-a-a-y too much for a bike like this. If I was to get something just for pottering around the city, it would probably be the Sachs MadAss 😂😂

IPad Pro in Anger: Day Eight – Flying

Flying Home

There are many reasons for using a tablet on an aeroplane:

  • Entertainment
  • Creativity
  • Learning – and –
  • Work

Entertainment

As an entertainment device, the iPad Pro has no equal. The screen, both from a real estate and resolution perspective, is phenomenal. Also the brightness. I was next to someone watching a movie on a Surface Pro today. He asked me to close the window shade because of screen glare. The Pro was plenty bright enough to not need this.

Then there’s the battery life, which even without in-seat power on my recent SYD-SFO flight, lasted the whole flight.

Quite apart from purchasing iTunes movies and TV shows, you can get the OPlayerHD App, or VLC, or any number of video players. Simply copy movies in any format to the device, and et voila, your movie collection comes to life.

Creativity

Photo-20160201235906145.jpgIt is true that the iPad lends itself to creative tasks. Just today on two short haul flights between Sydney and the Gold Coast (1 hour flying time) on the iPad Pro I:

  • Used calligraphy to handwrite a thank-you note
  • Blogged
  • Edited video
  • Edited photos, and
  • Sketched

Of course there’s plenty more I could’ve done from creating music to building websites.

Udemy Course on Drawing
Udemy Course on Drawing

Learning

Here Udemy, iTunesU, Kindle, Kahn Academy, DuoLingo, and iBooks are my friend. So many options for learning, there is no longer an excuse for not finding the time to learn your next skill.

Work

Ok, the biggie. Can you really do real work on the iPad Pro, in an economy seat on an aeroplane?

Of course, that’s determined by your definition of real work. So let me say, for me, the compute tasks I need to do to conduct my work when travelling include:

  • Email
  • Reviewing & authoring documents (PDF’s & Word)
  • Reviewing, creating and delivering presentations
  • Reviewing spreadsheets
  • Research, both primary (mostly Interviews), and secondary (mostly Internet) which I need to collate, synthesise and share with colleagues
  • There is administrivia, like timesheets, expenses, booking travel, the leave and payroll system, and occasionally procuring equipment. All of these systems are web-based, and even with last years 108 days of travel, I can do these back in the office (or on a PC at home)

In the last two weeks I’ve flown 4 times – two 14+ hour flights to and from San Francisco, and two 1 hour flights to and from the Gold Coast.

On the Qantas 747-400, there is no problem doing serious work in economy. Both flights I was on the aisle (44C and 48H), in a seat behind another (so people reclined seats onto me). With the seat reclined, it was tough to use the iPad Pro on the in-seat table. There’s not quite enough room to extend your arms for the keyboard, without standing the Pro upright. However, there’s no problem at all with the keyboard on your lap.

If the seat in front is upright, the table is the way to go.

On the Virgin 737-800 I was in a window seat (29A) and found it pretty cramped. Once the seat in front reclined, there wasn’t really enough room to type comfortably. On the Embrauer 190, however, also a window seat (9F) there was room to type comfortably on the table, even with the seat reclined. I think the extra elbow room on the E190 contributes to this.

On all four flights I cleared my email, mostly before take-off.

Travelling to San Francisco saw me reviewing some 10 deep technical abstract papers, and summarising these for a calibration workshop. I also worked on a client PowerPoint presentation, and another client PoC Proposal (Word).

On the flights too and from Coolangatta I continued work on the Word proposal, and the PowerPoint presentation.

Of course it was hard to review anything without Internet Access, but I did read the pages I had clipped into Evernote prior to the flight.

I’m collaborating with others on both the Word and PowerPoint files, and as soon as I connected to the web again, MS Office365 OneDrive synced my changes to everyone else.

Added Bonus

There are five added bonuses for using the Pro as a travel work device:

  1. As it’s not a “laptop” you don’t need to remove it from your carry-on at security
  2. As it’s not a “laptop” you can use it (in airplane mode) from gate-to-gate
  3. LIghtning Connector – you can charge it in-flight on most long haul carriers. Not to mention everyone has a Lightning cable, and on the odd occasion you sit next to an Android Afficionado, you can pick up a cable in every airport. If you start with a charged device, you won’t need this on all but the longest flights
  4. No fan noise, or overheating.
  5. Integrated 4G means you can stay connected until the doors close, and reconnect as soon as you land, allowing you to send all of those queued emails, and post those blog’s.

Drawbacks

There are a couple of drawbacks:

  • That damned Pencil design. I’ve lost the magnetic lightning connector cap. It came off in a seat-back somewhere over the pacific, and is no more.
  • Also, the Pencil dropped during a meal, and rolled back 2 rows. This saw me using my iPhone torch at 3am somewhere to try and recover the device. (I recovered it). Seriously Apple – A CLIP WOULD BE NICE.
  • None of the Office Products are fully featured. This is particularly irksome on PowerPoint, especially if you’re trying to create graphics. Word is okay-ish: It’s ok for most text styles, and even tables. Just not ideal for graphics (e.g. No aligning function, no multiple select etc.) The workaround is to open the documents in Pages, or Keynote, and edit them with the rich tools there, then save them as Office formats. Either that or only do work that requires limited editing functionality.

The Answer?

Uniquivocally…

“Yes!”

I took both the laptop and the Pro with me for the last two trips, and didn’t need to use the laptop for all but the most obscure reasons.

 

The Roaring Tiger – Review: Triumph Tiger Explorer 1200

If the BMW R1200GS is the “Hummer” of bikes, and the Ducati Multistrada the “Porsche Cayenne,” then the Tiger Explorer must surely be the “Landrover.” It's not the Range Rover with a million modcons, but it certainly has it where it counts.

I picked the bike up in the pouring rain, and immediately the solid feel inspired confidence. Within a block of the bike shop I rode over a couple of wet metal plates (a little wee may've come out) and two blocks later I was on the 280 South with cars passing me at 70mph.

The triple cylinder doesn't quite have the torque of the boxer, or v-twin, but is no slouch either. From a pure “fizz” perspective I'd place this between the “sedate solidity” of the GS, and the “licence eating” thrill of the Multi. The throttle is certainly more responsive than the German bike, but slower getting to speed than the Italian. It is both fun, and confidence inspiring.

You don't get anywhere near the gizmo's of those other bikes. This is very functional. Like the GS, an analoque tachometer, with digital everything else. Speed, gear, fuel, range, and economy. That's it. But that's enough.

The dash and windshield are set far forward very much like the GS, although here the windshield isn't adjustable. This puts a bunch of turbulent air right on my brow. I found using the peak with goggles on my Explore-R helmet resolves this. There's something about peak helmets that seems to smooth airflow at speed.

Talking about speed, on the highway this bike really shines. Solid but not cumbersome. In 6th, fully loaded with luggage, a blip on the throttle accelerates from 70 mph (110 kph) to overtake pretty much anything.

I found the brakes take late. Much later than the Multi. There's seemingly nothing for-ev-er, and then you're suddenly stopped with your heart in your mouth. It takes a little getting used to, giving a LOT of pressure through the lever up front. Although at least you do have a good back brake. Possibly the best I've experienced on a bike. Riding in the rain for the last two days means I've been riding speeds that really don't need a lot of brake.

The seat-to-peg height is shorter than expected, and that combined with un-electronically adjustable shock absorption gave me a numb bum after about 2 or so hours in the saddle. Nothing that wouldn't be cured with a little adjusting, and a lot more riding.

All in all this is a great bike, and an affordable compromise to the Multistrada and GS. If you're crossing continents, you'd do a lot worse than getting one of these.