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  • New Lenses for the Maesters

    Daeny is on her way to Westeros, Winter is here, the Mad Queen sits on the Iron Throne, and fanboys and fangirls are thrilled to have their R+L=J theory confirmed. But it must be said that while the last two episodes of the Game of Thrones delivered fine TV, season six is not best of the lot.

    Zealous fanboys and fangirls may disagree but think about it – from bad decisions to characters magically hopping from one place to the next – season six had its share of irregularities. What’s brilliant about this show though is that even in its inexplicable moments, it never fails to intrigue and fascinate.

    Take that epic score in the opening sequence for example, Ramin Djawadi is a musical genius for conveying a sense of calm and dread. The piano and the cello is not typical GOT music but it suited the series of scenes perfectly. That alone makes the season finale a standout.

    Another undeniable aspect of the show is its rich world-building. As a visual medium, GOT excels in this. The landscapes, architecture, and even clothing are crucial aspects of story-telling and in most cases, you must keep your eyes wide open to catch details.

    What was particularly striking in the finale though was the introduction of Old Town and the Citadel. That scene was only for a few seconds but even then and even with a computer generated landscape, the production team managed to evoke the grandeur of real-world history in this fantasy setting.

    Then we get a shot of the Library and its interior. This would have been a dull scene if not for that straightforward and somewhat crabby librarian (or receptionist). He stops what he’s reading and looks at Samwell Tarly quite unimpressed.

    Welcome to the Citadel. No women and children allowed. Welcome to the Citadel. No women and children allowed.

     

    Pay special attention to the lenses and you’ll realize why that librarian is a tad crabby. Those lenses are useful if you need focusing but it also distorts the surrounding areas. In the long run, reading miniscule texts through such lenses will wreck your eyesight and give you headaches.

    Biconvex lenses however, prevent such distortions and are recommended for stress-free viewing. Too bad the maesters have not invented them yet. Imagine if that guy had such lenses. Probably, he won’t be as testy as depicted. Then again, that does not make good TV.

  • Architecture Meets VR

    Image courtesy of Buzzle.com Image courtesy of Buzzle.com

     

    Virtual reality is fast proving itself to be a versatile tool for many industries. Tech-savvy firms, from advertising to media outlets, are aligning themselves with all the potential that VR can unleash in their respective fields. If there is any industry that can fully benefit from all that virtual reality has to offer, it would have to be architecture. Here are several good reasons why.

    Simulations can simplify

    Architectural renderings and blueprints can not explain themselves, especially to everyday folks. With VR, simulations can easily solve that. You won't have to provide a lengthy explanation of where certain structural details go, because the client can simply "walk around" the space and see for themselves which goes where.

    Exciting new innovation can give your branding a boost

    VR is already being used by many firms, but architecture still has to fully dive into the experience. It's safe to say that it's an exciting new innovation given all its potential for mapping out real-time spaces. Early adopters of this technology can have bragging rights about being at the forefront of a cutting-edge trend, while reaping the benefits of a brand that wisely knows which innovations to invest in.

    A visceral experience to offer clients

    The days of blueprints and rendered images to convince a client of how architecturally sound a structure is will soon be over. 3D renderings have worked fine for decades, but VR has the capacity to allow clients to really drink in the details of a room, home, building, or outdoor space. Virtual reality can offer a virtual walk-through. When a design appeals to a person's emotions, it is more likely to be chosen over a rendering that merely shows a lay-out.

     

  • Is There Room for Virtual Reality in a Newsroom?

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    Now that virtual reality has shed its initial "for entertainment purposes only" hat, the question seems to be: does journalism have a use for it?

    Almost like being there

    This can be answered with the launch of Project Syria, an ambitious yet timely piece of journalism involving immersive viewer experience on Syrians fleeing their homeland after a bombing. Launched in 2014, Project Syria was commissioned by the World Economic Forum as an effective way of telling the story of Syrian refugees, particularly of its children. The project's audio, video, and photographs are drawn from actual events.

    What Project Syria has accomplished in the name of journalism is to go beyond story-telling and well into a parallel reality that makes viewers feel as if they are going through the horrors themselves. This is immersive journalism. For as far back as we can remember, the bravest journalists have been in the thick of things, right in the middle of political or environmental upheavals, telling their stories in clouds of smoke or immersed in floodwater - all in the name of truthful journalism. Virtual and immersive reality have the capacity to make the audience see these stories in a more honest light because they can "experience" it.

    A tool for education and best practice

    After the stories are told, virtual reality can be used to educate people on best-practice methods for different important issues. For example, a collaborative work between the Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and an interactive digital agency called Secret Location is bent on producing a documentary on the Ebola crisis. In line with this, the project also aims to provide best practice strategies using virtual reality applications to educate viewers.

    Yes, there is room for virtual reality in journalism. Providing that emotional hook to engage audience more actively is one good reason to consider it in a newsroom context. News stories can be about triumph or defeat, local or international news, or anything in between, but with immersive journalism, all of them can be about empathy.

  • Virtual Reality in Today's Classroom

    That virtual reality holds a huge potential to be part of an educational setting isn't so farfetched. In fact, it's one of the biggest visions of VR and augmented reality pioneer Tom Furness, who exhibited the technology's potentials at the Air Force as far back as 1966. His work with research applications in VR has significantly contributed to social sciences, education, and medicine.

    With the leaps and bounds VR has undertaken in recent years, what other potentials does it have to offer in a classroom set-up?

    Heightened enthusiasm among students

    A VR device as a teaching aid also requires less of a learning curve and instructions, as today's digital generation is already familiar with the basics of its technology. The graphics appeal to the visual nature of younger pupils, while an immersive experience will set their imagination (plus decision-making and critical thinking) in motion in a non-passive way.

    Active engagement

    Dealing with the creatures of the nanosecond (AKA today's students) means attempting to broaden their attention span to that when they can actually learn something. VR has the capacity to do precisely this. It can engage students immediately without the dull preamble of many traditional classroom activities. Which also brings us to...

    More focus, less distractions

    The immersive experience that VR offers also means students soak up the experience with much more focus than, say, having someone lecture up front (while trying to hold their attention for at least an hour).

    Even more complex subjects and concepts can be explained better by virtual reality. Immersion is key in using this tool to further broach these subjects, and it helps students retain what they learn far better and for longer.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • The Yin and Yang of Virtual Tourism

     

    Jeremy Story Carter from RN raises some pretty interesting questions about virtual reality tourism, centered around Australia's recent 360 video efforts:

            "If anyone in the world can access immersive experiences of Australia without ever leaving their home though, might such campaigns                  actually dissuade tourists?

             'I'm sure Tourism Australia has thought about this—why come if you can experience it virtually?' he (Professor Jim Blascovich from the              University of California, Santa Barbara) says.

            'That's the yin and the yang of it. I'm sure they've also thought, "let's not give the whole store away.'

            Blascovich, who has studied virtual reality for decades, says the potential for similar virtual reality technologies to be applied for education         purposes is fascinating."

    We see virtual reality as a way to augment real-world experiences. Nothing will ever replace the feeling of fine, powdery sand between your toes, or the overwhelming experience of seeing the Three Capes Track in person.

    But with that said, an immersive experience could entice potential tourists into booking their next vacation in Australia. To paraphrase an old saying: "To sell the steak, show them the sizzle." And as a promotional tool, virtual reality gives one helluva sizzle.

    Photo credit: Sarah Ackerman Amazing Great Barrier Reef, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

    Australian Broadcasting Corporation's RN: The 'paradigm shift' of virtual reality tourism

    Also, check out a sample 360 video below:

  • How Will Virtual Reality Affect Social Media?

    VR gives men and women the first alternate gender experience. VR gives men and women the first alternate gender experience (Barcelona).

     

    When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that he was buying Oculus VR, a lot of people expressed skepticism. With over a billion users, what need does Facebook have for what a lot of people think is  a mere gaming platform, to enhance the social media experience?

    Many points have already been raised against social media - how it has made people unsociable, conversations more curt (or at least within a word count), and feelings, objectives, and intentions more filtered. Now with apps aiming to enhance social media interactions using VR, the question seems to be: will it make online interactions more fractured, or will it actually bring people closer?

    The advantage of avatars

    On the flip side, anonymity has allowed many social media interactions to become bolder, opinions louder, and in extreme cases, incendiary. Putting a face on these interactions using profile pictures and avatars help to "humanize" the interactions somewhat. Avatars and the best-looking head shots  in your stash of digital photos have now become a sort of first-impression armor - the facade that can either solidify your online persona or make it hard to take seriously.

    With VR avatars, the subtleties of someone's persona are more noticeable. These virtual versions of one's self, once let loose on a VR social networking platform, will become representatives of an online persona that aims to be more "tangible" in a way that a montage of travel, food, and OOTD photos and cryptic posts can't achieve.

    Real time still matters

    The term "seen-zoned" was born from the inadvertent hurt feelings caused by Facebook and other social media platforms' notification settings. A message was sent, delivered, "seen", and ignored - but a lot can be said about the amount of time people spend online, and a significant portion of that time not responding to a message.

    Apps that will contribute to virtual reality social media promise virtual destinations, hang outs, selfies, and all manner of interactions with other avatars. The difference is that these interactions will happen in real time, regardless of the "unreality" of socializing in a virtual world. Personal spaces are still defined, and social codes are set in place. Perhaps the bottom line is that physical presence is still required to interact in this new virtual space.

    New frontiers in interaction

    Then there are the infinite possibilities of deeper social interactions using virtual reality. For instance, a group of students from Barcelona created BeAnotherLab, a project that let male and female experiment participants swap bodies and visualize the experience in real-time. Called "The Machine to Be Another", the participants were given VR headsets which projected their counterpart's POV camera images, while asked to follow the same set of instructions. The experiment allowed people to explore another gender's experiences and identity while still maintaining boundaries to personal spaces.

    Mark Zuckerberg himself described virtual reality as a sort of social space, one that people will be using to share experiences in a new communication platform. All the attractions of virtual reality combined with the need to project the best possible version of one's self on social media could prove to be an irresistible and amazing experience.
  • Vintage Virtual Reality and Science Fiction

    Before virtual reality (as we currently know it) became an accessible concept, it was better known as a science fiction terminology in the early to mid-1980s. Video games, simulation, and other computer-generated scenario were the realms of VR. An artificial intelligence usually dictated the rules of virtual reality, with the human merely being a player or guest in its realm.

    "Disembodied consciousness"

    One such award-winning - nay, triple-award-winning work of science fiction was the 1984 novel  Neuromancer, by William Gibson. Neuromancer was a story within the cyberpunk genre, the first in the Sprawl trilogy, and winner of the Philip K. Dick Award, the Hugo Award, and the Nebula Award. It revolves around a down-and-out computer hacker in dystopian Japan, and the Matrix, which is described as "a disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination".

    "Virtuality"

    Theodor Nelson wrote "Interactive Systems and the Design of Virtuality" in 1980, whose terminology was believed to have inspired the term and scientific applications of "Virtual Reality", a guide written a decade later by Howard Rheingold. However, the term virtual reality is more popularly attributed to computer genius Jaron Lanier. Virtual reality had its use in computer science back then, but it was a term not tossed around casually as it is today.

    The somewhat muddled usage of the term decades ago has since been more or less agreed on as being a secondary reality. However, today's practical applications, including for business, games, medicine, the arts, and politics, has made the term and all its applications accessible - even for first-time users. VR has become more interactive than ever, but more importantly, it's become even more relatable.

  • Star Wars' VR Experience as a Storytelling Medium

    Last December, Star Wars Episode VII was released, and movie fans everywhere took a trip back to that galaxy far far away. The story of a young scavenger girl, a conflicted soldier, and a rebellion - sorry, we meant resistance -  was shown on thousands of screens around the world. That story played out primarily as a cinematic experience, but sometimes you need supplemental media to feel just how deep and vast that world is.

    star-wars-force-awakens-1500x1000

    Star Wars has always embraced multimedia when telling stories (Gen Xers will remember Shadows of the Empire, a story set between Episodes V and VI, and told through a myriad of books, comics, and video games), and this openness to new technology was apparent in the 360 virtual reality experience for The Force Awakens.

    In the interactive video, you blast through the barren wastes of Jakku while riding Rey's customized speeder. You can pan the camera (your POV) in any direction. Remnants of Star Destroyers loom. Stuff blows up around you.  It's an in media res story that requires you to fill in a lot of gaps. In theory, the experience sounds simple enough. It's an interactive video that's still somewhat passive.

    Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 5.38.02 PM

    But in practice, it actually adds to our overall experience of the movie. It, simply put, tells a story. It's not a deep story, but it gives the senses a lot to chew on- from the terrain littered with the remnants of the Battle of Jakku to marauding scavengers and pirates. It presents these fossilized bits of history from a more visceral perspective (you can almost feel the groan of those repulsors!), giving us an even deeper appreciation for the film.

    Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 5.38.13 PM

    Supplemental content such as this will become an even bigger part of the promotional push for big genre movies. The fact that it's a promotional tool doesn't take away from its storytelling possibilities. Star Wars The Force Awakens Immersive 360 Experience shows the potential for virtual reality as a story telling medium. We can't wait to see what comes next!

  • VR and the future of social platforms

    According to Mark Zuckerberg, who was present at this year's Mobile Web Congress (2010), virtual reality is the next social media platform.

    From techradar:

    "At Samsung's Unpacked event - where the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge were revealed - Zuckerberg explained about his fascination with VR and how he has been dreaming of using the technology since the age of 11.

    'I always thought there must be a way that's instead of navigating to 2D websites, you could actually be there," said Zuckerberg.

    'Today, thanks to this partnership between Samsung and Facebook that is going to happen and it wouldn't be possible to deliver this experience and price without Oculus technology.

    'One day you're going to be able to put on a headset and that's going to change the way you live, work and communicate."

    While the comment was about Samsung and Facebook (which bought Oculus Rift in 2014), it still pointed towards the potential for VR across different social platforms. While brands and media outlets (such as the Discovery Channel) are already harnessing VR, we're most excited about VR content created by regular people.

    Most DIY virtual reality content comes in the form of 360 videos such as the one below:

    We're still on the lookout for a social network that gives users the tools to publish VR content. With some of tech's greatest innovators on the case, we think it won't be long before such a platform arrives.

  • Virtual Reality Can Put Better Context to Museum Displays

    Art aficionados began to see the exciting possibilities of virtual reality when Disney announced that Salvador Dali's 1935 painting Archeological Reminiscence of Millet's "Angelus" will be brought to life using virtual reality. This hardly comes as a surprise since, as we wrote in a previous article, surrealism and VR blend seamlessly in countless ways.

    But what about the other, non-surreal contexts of museum and gallery displays? For instance, how does one contextualize an ordinary day in the Bronze Age, where no towering, skeletal figures against a backdrop of birdsong, crescent moon, and gloomy skies exist to fire up the imagination? What if museum goers need a real, immersive (and largely unexciting) experience to understand how our ancestors lived, survived, and carved history for themselves and for the rest of civilization?

    Enter the British Museum's 4000-year old roundhouse virtual reality project, which invites visitors to engage in the past in a more intimate way than merely ogling dusty artifacts under glass. The project was launched in the last quarter of 2015, with thousands of young visitors having taken part in the experiment in its first weekend alone. Located at the basement of the museum's Great Court, this first foray into virtual reality and digital interpretation of historical artifacts features three Bronze Age objects that were recently discovered. They are placed within their original context, and augmented with a series of gallery talks to further contextualize their possible purpose and function.

    “The technology is particularly useful for the bronze age, a difficult period for visitors to engage with and imagine museum objects in their original context,” the gallery curator Neil Wilkin said. And while the museum's senior staff admitted that the technology involved (a VR headset and a tablet) took some getting used to, younger staff and students embraced the experience more willingly and with more excitement.

    In the consequent immersions and talks that followed, some very interesting views and theories cropped up: that objects previously judged to be merely ornamental may have more practical functions, and that people did not necessarily "live in filth" 4000 years ago. Given a less "boring" way to look at these artifacts, museum-goers began thinking more critically and looking beyond first impressions, and crafting a more intimate experience of the past in different contexts.

    What was originally seen as something to exclusively augment the gaming technology now has a place in heritage use, thanks to the democratizing effect of Cardboard headsets and its various inceptions. As Salvador Dali once said: "Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision." Virtual reality is finally unshackling the limits of seeing and imagining, and the future is so bright, you gotta wear ---- VR headsets.

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