Monday, November 07, 2022

Real Life Virtual Friends

Today I had the pleasure to showing two friends how far virtual reality headsets have come in the past 24 to 36 months. Both actually own slightly older VR systems, but it is a mark of how the technology has advanced rapidly watching their reactions. 

I've owned the Oculus Quest 2 since early 2021, and I love showing it to people who have never tried a VR system, or even play video games regularly. The shock and laughter of that first experience is already fun to see! Whether they're life long gamers that own a modern PC or the newest console but never had the chance to try VR before, or complete video game novices who's last experience with a game is on the Amiga, the reaction is always great! 

But showing the Quest to two friends who have played VR, and each own their own sets, but admit to not turning them on in over two years, it was really amazing how much they were surprised by this experience. 

The first thing was the freedom the Quest gives. As a self contained, all in one device, not having wires hanging off you of refreshing, and makes setting it up and getting into a game a snap. I could bring it over to my friends place, without needing anything extra, and share it with them in a long as it took me to sign into their WiFi. They were seriously impressed by that. Both lamented that one of the reasons their headsets are gathering dust is the effort it takes to get into a game, when they don't have a dedicated space to leave everything set up. 

Then there's the variety of play experiences. In the past two years, VR game development has lead to some truly astonishing experiences. I got to share a few rounds of mini golf, which is a wonderful introductory experience. People know how to play mini golf, so there is an absolute minimum amount of onboarding. It was so fun seeing my friends just losing themselves in a colourful, relaxing world for a while.

And then I turned on my newest purchase, Iron Man VR, and my friends were laughing and whopping with exhilaration! Flying through the skies, blasting drones is thrilling! But even that first time you suit up, setting the various armour pieces come forward you, instills such a childlike joy, that it's hard not to just laugh! 

In two short years, VR has changed so much, and the next two years look to be equally as huge! Eye tracking and face tracking are becoming standard. The new Quest Pro is just beginning to tease the possibilities of its full colour passthrough capabilities, a system that allows you to see the real world around you, while still playing a game. And the games themselves are just getting more and more imaginative! 

I can't wait to play with a friends headset in two years, and gasp at where things have progressed. 

Friday, November 04, 2022

You Smell Like Pixels!

 For reasons I don't feel like elaborating on, I wasn't feeling great this evening, so I excused myself and focused on trying to do some drawing on my iPad. A friend recently made some awesome pixel art, and I had asked for some tips, so he kindly streamed an hour long tutorial on Twitch. 

Unfortunately, I arrived into the stream minutes after he had wrapped the pixel art tutorial portion, but thankfully, you can save the videos on Twitch, and he kindly did for me. 

I watched the VOD a few weeks ago and had wanted to doodle around with something to practice, but just never set aside the time. Tonight, I decided to check the video again and try drawing a pixel portrait for a brightly coloured character.

I chose Bear, from the Henson Company's extraordinary puppet based series, Bear in the Big Blue House. Bear is a full body puppet with astonishing facial expressions, entirely from control over the eyebrows, nose and mouth. 

So, I grabbed two photos of Bear, one standing tall in a well lit promotional photograph, the other a screen shot of Bear happily smiling open mouth, but his colours are a little muted. 

Using both photos, I built a bright and varied colour pallet from the promo, and sketched the basic form from the screen shot, on a teeny tiny 64x64 pixel canvas. To put that in context, a canvas that is just the size of my iPad screen is 2388x1668 pixels, and my tablet can handle much bigger canvases than that with ease. 64x64 is really, really small. My brush for painting Bear was a single pixel, or as close as you can get on Procreate, the app I use. 

Below are my versions 0.1 to 0.3. 

V0.1 is very flat, just using a very limited pallet to set down the overall colour and form. 

V0.2 adds highlights and shadows, with gradients of colour. I achieved this using a Screen layer for the lighter tones, and a Darker layer for the...well...darker colours. 

V0.3 is where I stopped before writing this post, and mostly just tries to adjust Bear's eyes to less sad out sleepy, and more excited, or at the very least, happy. 

Not bad for a first attempt. 

Thursday, November 03, 2022

In The Palm Of Your Hand

When Star Trek originally premiered in 1966, voice controlled, pocket sized super computers were wild fantasy for the far distant future. 

Even in 1987, with the arrival of The Next Generation, handheld touch interface tablets were seen as science fiction, belonging in the 24th century. 

Yet right now I'm writing this very post on my phone, a tiny super computer that lives within my arms reach at all times. This device has access to the entire knowledge of humanity, and has over 100,000 times the processing power of the computer that landed the first men on the moon (and over a million times the RAM, for that matter). 

My phone has a camera capable of recording HD video at 60 frames per second, or snapping photos in almost any lighting condition in the time it takes to get it out of my pocket, and can send them to anyone on the entire planet I have contact with at the speed of light. 

And what do I use all this astonishing power for most of the time? Photographing my kids a dozen times a day, doomscrolling on Twitter and texting my wife. Occasionally, I'll set an alarm by shouting a command at it, which is supposed to feel like Michael Knight talking to his wrist watch, but never manages to feel as elegant. 

Recently, I've been wearing down my battery playing a mobile card game, and I've been known to hunt imaginary pocket monsters on this wondrous device too, but I overall, I think I'm vastly underutilizing this incredible package of microprocessors that just 40 years ago was unimaginable in our lifetime. 

What is to come 40 years from now? 

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

Kindergarten Kid

Connor started school this September past. Although still only for years old, his birthday is this calender year, so he falls in the 2022/23 intake. We had the option of holding him back one year, but he's ready. If he'd been our first, I certainly would have spent more time debating the benefits of keeping him home another year. He's so sociable and confident, and he's watched Ada for his entire life. 

He's been doing super, as expected. He's making lots of new friends, the first without his big sis. Up to now, Connor has mostly played with kids that we met when Ada was a baby. Covid means that Connor never really got to go to Family Place as a toddler and develop those friendships. 

So far, his only real difficulty with starting school is learning how snack works. During the first two to three weeks, we had to pack him more and more lunch each day, as he would eat everything he had and get hungry again later. Our boy is a healthy, growing Irish kid, who can eat and eat and eat. At one point, we were packing two full lunch boxes with him. Thankfully, things have settled down a bit over the weeks. 

If that's the worst we have to deal with this year, I'll be a very happy dad.

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

30 Posts For A Buck Fifty Apiece

It’s that most wonderful time of the year again when I post 30 times in a single month, and never again for the other eleven, despite promising to do better this time in the last post! I’d hate to break tradition now. 

I have much to discuss from this year. Life has thundered along at a blistering pace for everyone in my family. Along the way I have made cryptic notes in my phone to remind myself of things that at the time I thought would make for interesting posts. At one time in my life, I didn’t have to worry about that, as I would come home and write up the post that evening. That time, for now, has passed. 

Reviewing those notes, I have factual life stories, funny and fantastical short stories, follow-ups to previous years posts, and at least one post that I am completely convinced I’ve written at least twice already, yet cannot find any evidence of in my searches! 

It’s November. It’s Buck Fifty! An avalanche of typos and spelling errors are coming your way!

Enjoy the chaos. 

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Short Story: Dead Days

 I was dead. That much was sure. On the bright side, it must have been painless. I couldn’t recall how it happened, and looking at the body, it was fairly recent.

“Mr. Crayne?” 

I jumped out of my skin…so to speak. I turned to see a rather average looking woman. Not “average looking” in terms of attractiveness. She actually looked pretty nice. But no wings or horns. No spectral glow or ethereal smoke. Just a regular woman. Standing in my office. 

“So… are you my guide to the afterlife?” 

“You could say that.” She looked at the office door, then her watch, then my body on the floor. “What do you remember?” 

I took a moment to try to recall what I had just been doing. “Nothing unusual. I was waiting for an appointment. The last thing I remember is checking Twitter. I think the client was running late.” I walked closer to my body and leaned over. The skin was still fairly pink and flush. There was a wet mark on the carpet by the desk. Wow. I really hope I didn’t piss myself. “Do you know how I died? Was it a heart attack? Dammit. All that healthy living and exercise and Eddy outlives me on a diet of burgers and fries and Netflix marathons. He is never going to let me live this down.” 

“Yeah. Ah. Look. I just need to confirm a few things. Are you Thomas Crayne, Licensed Private Detective in the district of California?”

“That’s me, formerly at your service. I’m going to haunt my doctor for missing whatever got me.” 

It was dawning on me that I was taking being dead remarkably well. When Carla Friedman dumped me for Manny Keisic in fifth grade, I cried for the entire weekend and ate a whole two litre tub of salted caramel ice cream while watching Jurassic Park on cable. That was a rough night hugging the toilet bowl. I wish I could say at least I enjoyed the movie, but it was the third one, not the original.

“Do you recall working with a Mr. Miguel Park?” The woman hadn’t moved from where she was standing. “It would have been several years ago.”

“I don’t know if being dead voids confidentially agreements, but until I know for sure, I can’t discuss anything about past clients.” I stood up and looked around the office. My phone was in its charge cradle. There was an almost full glass of water on the far side of the desk. The rim had a slight smudge of lipstick. I touched my lips, and looked back down at my body. Nope. Definitely not me. 

That’s when I saw a second glass on its side under my desk. 

“How did I die, Mrs. Park?”

“Your expertise is required, Mr. Crayne. The situation is…complex. I had to expedite the initial requirements of your employ. Time is a factor in this case. It’s already taken you longer to materialize that I was told to expect.”

“You killed me? I don’t recall agreeing to that, as a requirement for my employ or otherwise. I enjoyed being alive. I’d been practising for 38 years! I was just getting good at it.” I lunged at Joanna Park, but was abruptly stopped by a very solid, very invisible, very firm wall. Pain must have a psychological aspect. I was pretty sure all my nerve endings were lying on the floor, but my present form still felt like it had just run full speed into a brick wall without inhibition. I bounced back and found myself on the floor of my office, gasping for air through apparent pain. My face was right in front of me. 

I was breathing. I mean dead me. My body. My body was breathing. I wasn’t dead. Maybe?

Mrs. Park looked down at me. “I really need you to calm down. You’ll be returned to your physical body once the contract is complete, regardless of outcome. My team will be here in a few minutes to remove and store your body. Your consciousness has been discorporated and tied to this device.” She held up her left arm, showing what appeared to be a smartwatch. 

“Yours has a bigger memory than mine, it seems. I hope it has a better battery too. I have to charge mine every night.”

She turned towards the door at some noise from the reception area. Glancing back over her shoulder at me, she tapped twice on the watch. A green circle appeared on the screen. “Remember when I said time was a factor?”

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Fourth Race Around The Track

My youngest turned four today. 

I'm not sure how that happened so fast. All at once, it seems so recent that I was showing Ada her new baby brother lying in the crib in the hospital room, and that it was months and months ago that Connor was learning to use the potty. 

Connor has been an absolute light in our lives for four whole years. 

Of course, some mornings, the light needs to be turned down for an extra hour or three. Like this morning, Connor was up and out on the couch at 5am... Let me say that again. The little monster was awake at FIVE AY EMM!! Sitting on the couch, playing Switch... Claire found him when she gave up trying to stay in bed with the pains in her shoulder. 

I cooked pancakes and crispy bacon for his birthday breakfast, but made the critical error of not having it done before he unwrapped his birthday present. His visiting grandparents got him a set of Hot Wheels race cars, and Claire and I got him a Hot Wheels track set. Once he laid eyes on that, nothing else existed in the entire universe. 

The track set we got him has a launcher system and ramps and my entire morning and early afternoon was to the tune of *slap, shunk shunk, slap, shunk shunk, slap, shunk shunk, "Yay! I did it!" slap, shunk shunk, slap, shunk shunk, slap, shunk shunk...* Mistakes were made. I needed painkillers by noon. 

We picked up big sis at 3pm and went to a nearby activity center for some fun and play, and then went out for dinner together. The visiting grandparents joined us for all this too. Cake was just before bedtime, which could have been another mistake, but exhaustion soon over and the birthday boy was asleep as soon as his tired little head hit the pillow. 

It's hard to imagine that I'm signing Connor up for school this year. Next September, my youngest will be starting kindergarten. What am I going to do then? 

So much freedom...