We just had a wonderful trip to Beijing and for the first time had a chance to do some side trips to Pingyao. Was fun to take the bullet-train in china for the first time, it’s about 3.5 hrs to Pingyao from Beijing West Train Station. The little town is beyond charming and surrounded by a centuries old wall and towers. We saw no western tourists at all (winter season likely had something to do with it) and stayed in a delightful boutique hotel called Jing’s Residence. The hotel is right in the midst of the old town, with delightful set meals and comfy beds. A bit on the pricey side for the town, but *well* worth it. Highly recommend Pingyao as a Beijing side-trip, as others had recommended to me!
By the way, we hired a private car and driver in Beijing and absolutely loved this service. Eric runs a very good operation, our driver was super awesome, punctual, drove very safe, was in easy contact over WeChat to find and organize drops/pick-ups. Will be recommending to all my friends that visit Beijing.
Here’s some shots from Pingyao:
Ok this is the discovery of the trip, a local specialty called Kau Lao Lao, a oat-based pasta arranged in a honeycomb pattern, with toppings of various kinds (pictured with lamb and a tomato broth of sorts, which tasted of lamb-raggu but didn’t look like it). This was the best new food i’ve had in maybe a decade! Where have you been all my life, Kau Lao Lao?
Standing on the west-gate above the bustling streets below:
Walking around the perimeter of the wall, probably a good 3+ mile circumference although some construction kept us from looping the entire city.
Buy a japan-rail pass before flying to japan, activate it at Narita or other JR Rail station. Huge savings over buying tickets individually or locally in japan after arrival, 7 or 14 day passes, you can make reservations for multiple trips at any JR Rail station and have nice comfy chairs, reserved seats, and tons of fun. Riding the bullet trains never gets old, great fun and way to get around the entire country. lots of google ads take you to vendors who sell the passes, all are licensed, but i used this one.
Amazing Tsukiji market tour and private cooking class, this was insanely good. We did this before the move of the market out of central tokyo to god-knows-where. But this company was top shelf, and the experience insanely good. Best sushi meal of the trip, and fun for family with 2 teenagers not easily impressed: http://www.tsukiji–market.jp/
Really reasonable great location boutique hotel. Cheap/great-value, and good location. I’ve stayed in 5+ hotels in Kyoto that were all more $$ and lesser locations. Very, very small rooms, but comfy. Kyoto Granbell Hotel.
Phenomenal 6-person, michelin-star sushi restaurant, best i’ve had in Kyoto, well worth the $150 fixed price experience for 3hrs of entertainment and close-magic-cooking. Sushi Gion Matsudaya.
Great Kyoto cooking class in a private home with a woman-chef who has pro-kitchen experience overseas. Great english, great tour of the market before or after to buy directly from vendors (in the big central Kyoto market), great location, really neat small private home with good kitchen. We spent 3-4 hours with her, were entertained, and great meal. Very price reasonable. Contact Midori Nukumizu at her email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Insanely good coffee, several locations, be prepared to wait in line for 15-30 minutes… worth it and fun to wait in line in expectation of great coffee!
Do a day trip out and back to Nara, amazing walks from train station to dozens of temples including insanely old/awesome/etc.
If you have the JR Pass, consider taking a morning side-trip from Kyoto on the bullet train to the city of Himeji, to check out the Himeji castle. OMG, insanely awesome… apparently the best/oldest/original castle in the country. So. Cool. Better day/morning trip than others from Kyoto IMHO.
Before or after the castle go to the rope-way and up to a hiking area for a 2-3 hr trek around some old temples that were used in several films including the tom cruise japan film about samurai. Shoshazan Engyo-ji Temple, via the rope-way called Mount Shosha Ropeway
Onomichi – coming soon
Fukuoka – coming soon
Miyajima Island – coming soon
Kanazawa – coming Soon (Kiragawa Go, Takayama day trips)
Just unboxing a Kandao Obsidian R VR Camera, this is going to become my personal VR blogging / testing camera, i really like the form factory and the quality of shots is excellent.
First observations which are important to others considering buying:
Box includes the camera, and a PPOE power injector. And not much else.
NO included LP6 Canon Batteries (2 required to shoot with battery power)
NO micro SD memory cards. they recommend U3 class, 100mb speed cards. I have ordered a set of 6x64gb to start
The power cable for the PPOE adapter is a european plug standard, useless in the USA. This camera was purchased from Kandao directly and drop-shipped from China… perhaps ordering from other sources will yield the proper power cable.
Not much else in the box. The nice carrying case is kind of overkill, i plan to carry this around with me in a wrapped towel in my luggage so it can go on/off planes with me easily.
Our papa Emilio Casanueva passed away Friday May 25th, 2018, at the Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara CA. He was surrounded with love and affection with family. Emilio was born in Chile in 1939 and immigrated to the USA with his young family and eventually settled on the west coast in Marin County CA. Early in his career he opened Campolindo, an innovative health-food store in San Anselmo in the 1970s, and he maintained a life-long interest in health foods and active living. He was the founder of La Barraca de Zapallar and Zapallar Sustentable, and a designer/builder of dozens of delightful homes in Chile, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Santa Barbara. One of Emilio’s greatest passions in life was ocean swimming. He was a founder of swimming clubs and events including the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Org, and social swimming groups Patos del Mar / Ocean Ducks. He published a book on innovative cooking recipes using Cochayullo.
Emilio was a loving and active father to his 5 sons: Luis Andres, Santiago, Forest, Joaquin, and Roberto. He was an adoring and fun-loving father-in-law to Laura and Cristina. He was a cool and relaxed grandpa to Emilio Jr (and wife Andrea), William, Camila, Carlos, Caetano, and Ava. He had the joy of meeting his first great-granddaughter Nyla this year. His dearest friend and big-brother Catucho survives him, together with his wife Angelica and their many children and grand-children, who knew Emilio intimately and delighted in his company. His nephews Carlos and Diego Casanueva were very dear to his heart, as were Andrea, Angelica, Mario, Cote, Maria, and their partners “Gordo”, “Caco”, Luz Maria, and “Negro”. Emilio’s former wives and co-parents remember him fondly and with great love and affection: Maria and Jane. In Emilio’s last years of life, he had the incredible fortune of returning to Zapallar where he lived some of his most joyous moments together with Francisca who he absolutely adored.
He was beloved and he loved his many friends in the communities in which he lived. He was particularly fond of his life-long friends in Chile and in the USA that shared his passions for swimming, good company, and positive outlooks.
Our family is planning a memorial for Emilio in Zapallar to be held at a later date. His in memorium facebook page is a place to post photos and memories of him.
My 2017 Ford Focus RS (mk3) is a joy to drive and i like its styling. I’m a first time Ford owner, and got in on the “made in USA” car thing just in time for Ford to discontinue all future sales of car vehicles (except for Mustang) which might work out just fine for me, as I think of this project car as a long-term toy to use for track and occasional car outings. Now it will also be the last ford hot-hatch made for a long time?! Bonus.
When i looked over the exterior stylings of the car one of the things that stood out for me as a eyesore is the blue on white stock “billet badges”, the thing on the hood and the trunk that say “Ford” in the classic font. I found a custom fabricator and design shop called Billet Badges that had awesome designs, and when i contacted them they assured me that as long as I was patient and gave them time (turned out to be about 4 months) to design and spec the new billets, they’d be happy to do a custom design. I went with “Fury” in the same Ford font, which feels playful and true to the original mark, but unique and a tribute to the awesome heroine Furiosa from the last Mad Max Fury Road film.
The badges came a few weeks ago and I got started on install over the last day and wanted to post my findings/process for others thinking of this kind of mod.
Here’s the first headline: Be warned, the Ford Focus RS mk3 (2016-2018) front billet badge (“ford emblem” on hood) does indeed have screws that need to be removed from inside the engine bay. Floss and a heat gun alone will get you nowhere!I was unable to find any videos or posts that correctly showed this install challenge. Floss alone will rip and hurt your hands–this job requires unfastening two screw bolts from under the front bumber/face of the hood.
Let’s jump right to the problem piece. Using a heat gun (to warm up the pieces and make the glue that binds them to the surface a little looser/easier to manipulate) is a great first step and I’ve used to remove several outer badges on this and other cars. Then, using tooth-floss, you can shimmy the floss between the surface and the badge, with a back-and-forth motion gently bitting into the adhesive and releasing the bond, eventually leading to the piece/badge popping right off.
But not with the front badge, which looks like this:
You can see the removed emblem and the fasteners. Note the thick plastic screws that are fused to the emblem and are threaded. Those little fasteners are threaded onto the end of the two outer plastic aligners. DO NOT try to rip/pull this off, you’ll damage the body fender/bumper. Instead, go in through the engine compartment, get behind the badge, and use some pliers to twist/turn the fasteners off. Then the piece will come off with some gentle tugging and the floss/cutting of the glue-binding. When off, you’ll see this:
There is lots of adhesive to break down. A little elbow grease, some Goo Remover fluid, and some gentle scrubbing and fingernail work, and voila:
I then placed the new billet badge in the slot to see if the fit was right, and was amazed at *perfect* fit. Flush to the hood, perfect depth, oval size, etc.
Now onto the back tailgate. Turns out the badge in the back is NOT fastened, rather, is simply pushed in through some alignment holes. here’s what the piece looks like removed, with some floss to loosen the grip, and some gentle tugging.
And the tailgate hole after some cleanup:
I did have a fit problem with the back, you can see here that i could fit a US 1 cent penny in the gaps that remained around the badge, to be flush with the body of the tailgate:
Here’s the same view, from flush above, without the penny in place:
I contacted the friendly folks at Billet Badges and they said to send back and they would grind down the width of a penny, i think we agreed on a few mms. When it came back a week later, perfect:
So in summary, here below are (left) the FRONT badge, which has screw fasteners and needs to be loosened from inside the engine bay, the (right) rear badge, which has alignment push-in plastic protrusions (can simply be pulled off after loosening the glue bond), and the back of my new badges which are smooth, with the Made in the USA sticker (thanks again BilletBadges.com!)
And here is the front after it is fully installed:
And a wider shot, with my now more recently added decal stripes:
These people (including some that aren’t pictured):
Just shipped our first baby, Pixvana SPIN Studio:
Pixvana SPIN Studio is an amazing new tool for storytelling with video for Augmented and Virtual Reality. The suite has a lot of components still to come, but our MVP is something we are super proud and excited by–it provides workflow support for optimizing and publishing high quality VR videos to both our SPIN Play SDK and SPIN Play. Login to Pixvana SPIN Studio here.
Our SPIN Play SDK is in the hands of our partners who are building their own branded players, the first of these to be live is Valve’s Steam 360 VR Video player, in beta now. Many more to come. Learn more about the SPIN Play SDK here.
The video player component of the Studio is called SPIN Play. SPIN Play is available on Steam for download for use with both Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. This is the player for reviewing and sharing VR videos–think of it as a b2b player (it is not a consumer portal for videos!) . Versions for other platforms including Gear VR and Daydream VR, coming soon to Google Play and other Android app stores.
We just got back from a lovely spring break in Zapallar Chile visiting family. We took a Omni VR Camera Rig with us and spent a day shooting the areas along the Zapallar-to-Cachagua coastal area and upon my return and review of the footage i’m really excited by how it looks. I’ve got my 15 year old cineast son working on building a ~5m piece for VR which we’ll master at 8k+ using Pixvana’s software.
For now i wanted to post a few photos and production stills:
Just getting going with the equarectangular 4k elements… really exciting project.
Here’s a rough play-out of all shots:
And here’s an extremely rough, early version of the footage. Carlos will be doing a proper edit, sound design, effects, titles, giving it narrative cohesion, etc. Then we’ll master at full 8k and publish with Pixvana’s SPIN Studio. But here’s a preview of work in progress:
Seattle fine artist Jesse Link completed a commissioned piece for me to adorn the Pixvana office. He completed the piece and dropped by our office last week, and my colleagues and I are totally psyched.
My wife and I came across Jesse’s work in various Seattle cafes and first asked him to paint a piece for our home a few years ago. As a fan of his work, he immediately came to mind when we moved into our new Pixvana office on Stone Way in Fremont/Wallingford, and I looked around at the walls longing for some inspirational art and color to liven things up.
At work we have frequently talked about our journey and Pixvana’s mission/vision as a company focused on building a Virtual and Augmented Reality storytelling technology platform. We often use the 1933 classic film King Kong as a metaphor/framework for our own journey, because the film is (a) an absolute classic of the cinema, and (b) the movie contains a meta-story about film-making and pursuing a journey of discovery.
We named Jesse’s protagonist “Sofia” after Sofia Coppola, an inspiring film director. Our Sofia is seen packed and ready to go with her VR Camera, VR headset, and tools for her adventure into the great adventure that lays ahead.
Thank you Jesse–your art piece will be a constant companion to us on our journey in the years ahead.
@Pixvana this week we announced our Virtual Reality Video platform, now known as SPIN VR. The word SPIN has obvious connections to the new VR and AR medium, namely, the ability to “spin” or otherwise adjust your point-of-view to perceive the experience from different perspectives and angles.
The photograph image of “spinning” fireworks was a direct inspiration–it captures both the beauty, power, and chaos of the VR industry and VR Video as a medium, in fall of 2016 (at ground-zero!)
The first two components of Pixvana SPIN will be our SPIN Player and SPIN Publisher. SPIN Player is both our own cross-VR-headset (eg: Android, Windows, Web) playback engine which connects to the Pixvana SPIN cloud to playback VR videos, as well as a set of tools for developers to implement support for SPIN’s video capabilities, in their own applications. SPIN includes a plug-in for Unity development, as well as a full-reference player so that media brands can build and distributed their own branded applications for VR Video. The SPIN Publisher is our cloud publishing toolset to load, encode, optimize, and stream vr-videos from Pixvana’s AWS hosted infrastructure. Videos created with SPIN can be hosted on Pixvana’s system, or, published to your own IT/cloud, for integration with your existing video delivery pipeline and resources.
I’ve worked on naming many products in my software career (Microsoft Expression and Silverlight, Puffin Design’s Commotion, Pinnacle Systems’ CineWave, and for better or worse, buuteeq!). With SPIN we went after a inspiring term for our broad platform for virtual, augmented, and mixed reality storytelling. SPIN aims to cover extensions such as SPIN VR, SPIN AR, and SPIN MR (eg: virtual, augmented, and mixed realities). I know it will be a great container brand to graduate all the way up to SPIN XR (as in “x”-reality).
There is a lot more coming from SPIN. We will be releasing technical previews, the full product, and other news about SPIN’s capabilities.
Too fun. So in 1999 some buddies and I put together a series of instructional video tapes (that we shipped out on VHS) called the Masters of Visual Effects series. The series had originally intended to have some true masters of visual effects, eg: Scott Squires, John Knoll, Eric Chauvin… real veteran / gurus of the industry.
Unfortunately we only got chapters 1 and 2 produced and we ran into some production $$ overruns, and long story short we never got the real masters in front of the camera. What we do have in this historical record, thanks to a remnant VHS copy that was found and digitize by my buddy Matt Silverman, is a time-capsule of vfx and post-production issues from 1999, immortalized by the presenters. I may get take-down requests from some of them so i will leave their names out of the meta-text here, and submit, humbly for your viewing pleasure.
It is interesting to me now in 2016 how many of these issues from 1999 are becoming issues again in the age of VR video production. Post-production has become relatively effortless in 2016, with basic laptops easily being able to handle UHD 4k video editing and effects. However, doing full immersive VR content requires some of the same proxy-resolution workflows that we employed in 1999 to deal with the film-video-digital steps of that era. Everything old is new again!
Masters of Visual Effects – 1.1 – Introduction
Masters of Visual Effects – 1.2 – Film as Digital Images
Masters of Visual Effects – 1.3 – Post Production Basics
Masters of Visual Effects – 1.4 – Pre-Viz and Editing
Masters of Visual Effects – 2.1 – Compositing Concepts Part 1
Masters of Visual Effects – 2.2 – Compositing Concepts Part 2
At Pixvana we use a company culture mini-pulsing product from one of my favorite seattle startups, TinyPulse. Each week the tool asks our team a fun question that can be answered anonymously via browser or iphone and usually takes less than 1 minute. The surveys invite a participatory, transparent, proactive company culture. I’ve written about TinyPulse use at buuteeq, but since Pixvana is a new company, we are enjoying it anew with our 12 person team.
This last week’s question is a really fun one, and I thought i’d share. Photos of the animals were added by me (not the team member who submitted)–i hope it captures the intent of the suggested animal!
If you had to describe Pixvana as an animal, what animal would it be, and why?
Pixvana is like a baby elephant. Although we may be small now, eventually we will grow up to be very big. Elephants are one of the most intelligent animals in the world due to their large brains. If you combined all the brains at Pixvana, it would be like one big engineering elephant brain. Elephants learn to use tools in creative ways without being taught first, which is something that we are doing at Pixvana. They have excellent communication skills and work together to make sure their entire family is successful. Elephants are also snack lovers, and can be found constantly grazing on delicious healthy snacks such as bamboo, leaves and bananas.
An eagle. We need to have incredible vision like an eagle to spot the emerging VR market trends and keep our focus sharp. Also, we need our pixels to be in clear focus like an eagle’s vision. Eagles aren’t the biggest but they move fast and can stay on target. Be nimble, be quick:)
A viper snake that is green and stealthy, because we are currently a relatively stealthy, hidden in the grass kind of animal… that has a lot of venom to unleash when we are ready to strike.
Ants... we’re small (but in a good way) and we work well as a team.
“Known for their massive intellect orca whales often use complex sounds to communicate with each other and coordinate their activities among the group very effectively. They are also formidable problem solvers.”Pixvana would be an orca whale calf. With superior intellect, curiosity, and communication skills it is exploring the uncharted oceans of XR storytelling.
Owl. it’s has great vision and is swift and can turns its head 360!
We should be an Owl.
* like owls we are far sighted in that we can see VR is going to be big and we are running to be there when it happens
* Owls are traditionally thought of wise in stories and we have a gang of wise old men (Paul,Mike,Bill,Suki, Forest, Scott, Sean) [sorry, yea you guys are old :)]
* Owls are a bird of prey. We will prey on the competition
* Owls can swivel their necks and and view the world behind them just as VR video opens the world behind the viewer
* Owls are stealthy just as we are silently building a killer
Chimera – adaptable to any situation.
Parrot– because they are smart adaptable animals able to use a foreign language from a different species, can fly which allows it to be extremely nimble. Parrots don’t get the credit they deserve as avians.
Kudos to Aaron Rhodes and Sean Safreed for the first of many Pixvana videos that outline some of the unique challenges, and solutions, to making great stories and experiences using video in Virtual Reality. This video tackles the unique challenges to working with *really* big video files, on relatively under powered devices and networks. This general approach is something that we think of as “field of view adaptive streaming”, in that unlike traditional adaptive streaming where multiple files are used on the server/cdn to make sure that at any given time, a good video stream is available to the client device… in VR we have to tackle the additional complexity of *where* a viewer is looking within that video. The notion of using “viewports” to break up the stream/video into many smaller, highly optimized for a given FOV, videos, is something we are firing away on at the office these days.
So, should we call this FOVAS for short, for Field of View Adaptive Streaming. ? It is kind of weird, but it makes a lot of sense… i’m using the term regularly, maybe it will stick!
We’re having a lot of fun at the Pixvana working on various VR storytelling technologies, what we have termed “XR Storytelling” as we are thinking broadly about both AR and VR but also xR, such as virtual reality caves, and other as yet to be conceived of immersive platforms which will require similar tools and platforms. One of the key challenges we are working on is how to deliver absolutely gorgeous/high-quality adaptive streaming 360 VR video.
Last week we combined our love for food with our love for VR, and shot a rough blocking short film that we intend to turn into a higher quality production in a few more weeks, when we can bring a higher quality camera rig into the mix. Aaron blocked out the shots while the team at Manolin, the f-ing awesome restaurant next to our office, was prepping for the day. Here is the rough cut:
Then, we threw it into our cloud elastic compute system on AWS and produced several variations as a series of “viewports” which when viewed on a VR headset like the HTC Vive (the best on the market so far) produces some pretty darn immersive/awesome video at a comfortable streaming bandwidth that can delivered on demand to both desktop and mobile VR rigs. Here’s a preview of what the cumulative render “viewports” look like in one configuration of the settings (we are working on dozens of variations using this technique, so we can optimize the quality:bandwidth bar on a per-video basis):
Looking forward to sharing more of what we are up to with the public in the near future–for now, if you are a seattle friend, stop by for a demo, and, delicious dinner at Manolin Restaurant!
Here’s some really clear images and videos that illustrate a VR Video assembly process using a 6 camera go-pro rig. This isn’t meant as a comprehensive how-to, rather, just a visual only guide that I will be using in presentations to walk folks through the process.
A lot of my friends have asked me why i’ve plunged into starting a new company, and, why / how i chose building a VR Video Platform specifically as an area for software innovation? I think i can succinctly summarize as: VR Video is *magical*, and things that are truly *magic* are f8cking cool and rarer than unicorns. I see a unique confluence in time for me, my skills, my passions, and a market need and opportunity. It’s only been about 90 days since I put on my first vintage 2015 VR headset (like many i had tried the 1990s era stuff which just made me vomit), and my Pixvana Co-Founders and I gave birth to our VR Video startup Pixvana this week.
When i put on a HTC Vive headset for the first time and experienced the demos Valve has been showing in summer of 2015, i experienced a profound, complete, pervasive feeling of what I knew immediately to be what the VR industry calls “presence”. The sensation was right there with other must-try-in-a-lifetime, hard-to-describe-to-someone-who-hasn’t-done-it-yet experiences: falling-in-love, skydiving, scuba, sex, certain recreational mind-expanding drugs, finishing a marathon, watching my wife give birth to our boys… Specifically, for me, I experienced a sense of outer-body time and space travel: time stopped functioning on the normal scale of my daily routines, my body perception was replaced with something “virtual” that was not quite real but not quite fake either, and i was taken to far away imagined worlds–underwater, into robot labs and toy tables and several other places that while not photo-real in their rendering, felt and behaved in ways that were significantly real enough that it WAS REAL.
When i took the goggles off after that first experience, it took me a good 3-5 minutes to “come back”–just like landing in Europe after a long flight and sensing the Parisian airport as different than my home city departure equivalent, coming back from the virtual world took me a moment of reflection and introspection to balance the “wait a minute, where am i now”? It made me think of existentialism and some of my favorite Jorge Luis Borges short stories–my mind immediately considered “wait, am i still in VR and i am just perceiving another layer of possible reality, waiting to take off another set of goggles within goggles?” This wasn’t a scary thought or psychotic split, rather, a marvel at the illusion that i had just witnessed, like a great card trick from a magician–only it was my own mind that had played the trick on me…
In addition to the Steam VR experience (HTC Vive is just one hardware implementation, what I was really marveling at was Valve’s SteamVR vision and software–not the hardware form factor) in the last few months I’ve tried most of the other mainstream 2016 expected delivery VR experiences: Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear, Playstation’s VR, and a variety of configurations of Google Cardboard and various phones. In terms of delivering “presence”, without a doubt the Vive is on a completely different level–i’d rate it a 10 on a scale of 1-10, the DK2 Rift and Sony VR a 5, Samsung Gear a 3, and Google Cardboard a -5 (i’ll write more in detail about Cardboard in the future–suffice to say it is antithetical to creating any sense of presence, and it does VR an injustice to have so many of them floating around out there, suggesting a inferior experience is to be expected to all the unknowing consumers who have tried it and think they have seen what is coming in VR). But these distinctions between hardware systems this early in the market is really inconsequential. I believe that just like with mobile devices or PCs, within 5 years the hardware will become pretty uniform and indistinct (is there really any difference at all between a iPhone 6 and a Samsung Galaxy 6?), and the real business and consumer differentiation will be in the software ecosystems within the app stores and developer communities that will rise, as well as in the software applications that will be fantastic but will run cross-platform on all of these devices.
So for that reason, i’m much more interested in the content and software enablement systems that need to be built to enable creators to build cool shit that will be compelling and magical for consumers. The more magic experienced, the more VR consumption and headsets will be sold, and a virtuous business cycle of new content, demand for that content, more content creators, repeat….
It is clear to me that there are two (2) canonical types of content for these devices–3d CGI environments, and video/still image photography based content. 3D CGI material is very attractive and inherently magical, as it can fully render images that track the users head movement side to side and even at “full room scale” if she walks around and freely explores the environment. A pretty mediocre piece of VR content in 3d CGI on the Vive is pretty darn amazing. A great piece of CGI VR is astoundingly cool (eg: WEVR’s theBlu Experience.
On the other hand, even a really great VR video can be pretty darn “meh” on any of the VR headsets, and pretty darn awful and nausea producing on a bad VR headset (‘wassup Google Cardboard!). But it won’t be that way for long–this is more a reflection of the nascent state of VR video than of a fundamental problem with the medium. VR Video Content and the technology to shoot, prepare, fluff, and deliver for playback of VR video will follow a rapid improvement cycle just like other new film mediums have enjoyed. Consider:
In the late 1890s when motion pictures were being introduced, Vaudeville was the mainstream performance art form and most early cinema consisted of “filmed vaudeville”. Within 20 years, unique storytelling technology and production and editing techniques were introduced with films such as the Great Train Robbery, and various intercutting techniques between very different camera compositions (wide shots, close ups, tracking shots, etc.) started to tell stories in ways that bore no resemblance at all to vaudeville’s tropes. This transition from Vaudeville-to-cinema was ~1900-1950 phenomena which included the addition of audio in the 20s and color in the 40s and large format wide aspect ratio spectaculars like VistaVision and Cinerama in the 1950s.
Television came next and introduced live broadcasting and recorded programs which were stored on tapes in both professional (and later) for consumer distribution on VHS/Beta. Editing was done as “tape-to-tape” transfer, cumbersome and time consuming and actually slower than just cutting film pieces together on a Moviola.
In the 1990s when i worked at Industrial Light and Magic, the first digital effects and digital post-production projects were just being introduced. When Jurassic Park was made in 1993 there were less than 30 digital effects shots with CGI creatures, but 5 years later there were films being made with 1000s of shots and some that were color graded digitally and thus 100% processed through computers. In that same timeframe non-linear editing tools like the Avid made it so much quicker and time efficient to edit, that editors started to cut films in a whole new style that was much more rapid and varied–it is incredible to watch a sampling of films from the 1985-92 period, and compare them to those from 1996-2000. My teenage sons see the earlier films as i might see a 1922 film pre-sound/color. The analog-to-digital-cinema production transition was perhaps a 1990-2009 transition that started and ended with James Cameron films (The Abyss was the start, and Avatar as the culmination in its perfection of blending digital and analog content seamlessly).
In the 2000s the web was the big disruptor, and technologies like Quicktime, Flash, Silverlight, Windows Media, and the enabling web infrastructure have pushed televisions which were once broadcast reception devices, into on-demand streaming playback screens for web-content and DVR playback. My household is now dominated by Youtube (which consumes my teenagers free time at all hours of the day on their phones) and Netflix and HBO GO (which dominate my wife and my evenings). Early web-video was mostly inconceivably small and crappy looking, but by 2010 was of the highest quality and matched master recordings in resolution and fidelity.
Which brings me to VR Video. It is clear to me that VR Video will disrupt other forms of video consumption and viewing in a similar manner, and following the trend of other media tech adoption, will do so in a much shorter time frame. There is so much to do, so much to build, so many creative problems to solve. I’ll write more about that soon–but for my friends that have asked, now you know the context for my excitement about VR Video.
I’ve got a new favorite word that i’m investing energy in imbuing with greenedness: Pixvana.
Pixvana is evocative of video delivery and virtual reality, and has its very own domain at http://www.pixvana.com. I really like the combination of the pixel and nirvana concepts, as in the place pixels grow up and get to go when they achieve enlightenment. I’ve chosen this lovely photo of green tea that i enjoyed while at a bamboo garden in Japan last spring to capture the feeling that Pixvana gives me. Here are some more evocative images of Pixvana, in a bamboo forest. I hope to grow Pixvana into a little bamboo garden just like this, someday.
My Family and I just completed a marvelous 9 day expedition on the Colorado River from Lees Landing launch, down through the marvelous Grand Canyon National Park. We used Hatch as our expedition outfitter/organizer and we were absolutely thrilled with them, our crew, their end-to-end service, and of course, the amazing experience and majesty of the canyon/river. I wanted to post a few thoughts here for the benefit of others considering the trip, and, Hatch as an outfitter for your adventure on the Colorado/Grand Canyon. Hatch was FANTASTIC.
Here’s what we did:
From Las Vegas, we took a regional small plane flight from the city of Boulder to Marble Canyon (not really a town per se, more like a landing strip for the plane and next to a bridge that crosses the Grand Canyon in the “Marble Canyon” area of the park). The flight was arranged with the help of Hatch expedition folks but was a cost separate from the expedition itself. Here at the upper North-East of the Grand Canyon National Park we met our group which totaled 16 family members, some of whom took their own cars to park at this location, or, who took shuttles from Las Vegas by land. We all stayed the night before departure at the Cliff Dweller’s Lodge, a very nice little motel on the side of the road with clean updated rooms, with a nice little restaurant and supplies shop for food/water/snacks.
We awoke early and met the Hatch Expeditions team at our hotel, loaded up in a van, and 15 minutes later we were at Lee’s Ferry, the departure point for the trip (where we met our boat, boat captain, and “swamper” who would assist the boat captain–thus making our total boat party 18 folks).
We then boarded out boat and started our journey down-stream which comprised of 9 days 8 nights. The trip can be configured to be 7 days or as long as 15–in our case we were in a motorized boat (small outboard engine powered the vessel through rapids and long stretches that would require some real paddling effort), we saw other groups that were in mixed use paddle/cayak configurations… i can imagine any and all configurations to be great fun, but the motorized option was definitely optimal for our group that included children ages 10, 12, and 14, as well as several 60-70 year olds in various states of good conditioning (but not strong enough to be paddling a boat for 4-6 hours a day every day).
Each day consisted of a routine of (a) rise with the sun, (b) breakfast and break camp usually before 7:30am and on the river (c) a mixture of river rapid ridding, short stops for short walks, and longer stops for side-canyon hikes that lasted upwards of 3 hrs round trip, (d) lunch break mid day usually in a shaded river-edge spot, (e) more rapids and or hikes in the afternoon, (f) make camp landing by 4pm, set up camp, relax a bit before (g) dinner and then lights out with sunset.
All camping is on rivers edge on sandy beaches that have mix of rocks/bushes–very very comfortable camps on cots/tents as needed, but we slept outdoors with no cover all nights and enjoyed the stars. Warm temperatures in July averaged 80+ at night and 100 during the day. No mosquitoes, very pleasant lack of nuisance bugs of all kinds, with exception of red-ants that re everywhere but only bit 1 in our party 1 time…
Fantastic meals and snacks entirely organized and prepared by our captain and swamper. Our responsibilities as passengers included helping unload/load the boat, and setting up our own camp and sleeping equipment. We participated as a group in helping with cleaning post-meals, but largely were taken care of by the crew (i don’t know how they did all that cooking–but they did). Meals were *VERY* good and complete with mixed preparation, sauces, sides, etc…. we were NOT wanting of food comforts, ever!
End of trip involved being picked up in a helicopter and flown out in groups of 6 to Bar10 Ranch, from where we had our first showers in 10 days, before boarding a small plane and being returned to Las Vegas area (this flight is included in the expedition fees from Hatch).
In summary–absolutely great experience for all in our group, it truly is a once in a lifetime, one place in the world kind of experience. Where else can you travel 180+ miles through a national park, take in the absolute majesty of millions of years of natural geology, and never see any cars/villages/cell-phones, etc.? I now understand why this trip is on so many people’s lifetime “bucket lists”… surprisingly, it wasn’t on my list before taking the trip, but upon returning, i would highly recommend to anyone who enjoys nature. Hatch was a wonderful outfitter and I will strongly recommend to my friends who consider the same trip–their attention to customers, professionalism, great equipment, and real meaningful multi-generational commitment to the park and river guiding (grandpa Hatch started the company in the 1950s) is evident in the excellent service they deliver.
I changed the kidney grill “bib” from the factory chrome to a matching black; this is apparently pretty common cosmetic upgrade/change, and it was ultimately pretty easy to do–however, i found the online documentation/help to be a bit confusing so I thought I’d pass my learnings forward herein for others, feel free to post a question if I can help you out with more details.
First, I bought from IND who were very good with customer service, prompt on delivery, and super knowledgeable when i called a few times with questions before and after purchase. Highly recommend. Here’s the F80 Front Grill Surround part that i ordered.
Here’s what the part looks like:
IND provides a DIY video tutorial which is generally correct, but, it was not sufficient for me to succeed with the installation. Here’s the video:
And here’s what was wrong / additional information needed to be successful:
In addition to a Torx 27 tool to remove 6 screws that hold the top of the bumper to the frame (which need to be removed in order to lift the bumper forward to gain access with your hands to the rear where 8 separate tabs snap the plastic of the cover to tabs on the bumper), there are 2 ADDITIONAL screws that require a Torx 25 screw driver. It may be possible to complete the project without pulling these additional Torx 25 screws, but I would not recommend as it would put needless pressure on the plastic bumper element. See photo for location:
With all screws removed, the next step is correct in the IND video, but grossly oversimplified. it is VERY tricky to find and remove the 8 individual snap/pressure points to get the original grill off the bumper. After 20 minutes of fidgeting and trying to figure out what to do, i found this very helpful and more accurate video illustration that correctly captures the effort and steps needed:
Despite being much harder/trickier then the IND video made the project look, it is actually only a 10 minute project and very DIY… just a little tighter space to work with and some small hands come in handy given the tight spaces.
I love the result and i think it is a great cost/benefit upgrade, much better looking!
Here’s some additional photos in the process which i wish I had as reference, hope they help you out:
In photo above: try to get one grill off first by starting with top 3 fasteners, then either the left/right one which allows to start to pull out of frame (as seen in picture, where top 3 and left 1 (so 4 of the 8) have been unfastened), with the right 1 and the bottom 3 still to go. Once all 8 of them are unsnapped, the piece just pops out. And THEN, the other grill is easy, as you can now stick your hand through the empty space you created, making for a much faster remove of the 8 snaps. It took me 10 minutes to do the left grill, and less than 1 minute to repeat for right side.
Photo below: shows both grills removed. Inserting the new grills is a simple push/snap gesture, takes 2 seconds each. So all the work is in getting the existing grills to pop-off!
I sold my Apple Watch after 1 week of use, here’s why!
After a sordid 1 week fling with the Apple Watch, i decided this AM that I had had enough and i posted it for sale on my internal company bulletin board. I hope to unload it quickly to a lucky colleague so that she/he can have at least a week of fun, if not a lifetime!
Here’s my experience with the Apple Watch, starting with the many cons/problems that led me to such a rapid falling out of interest for what otherwise should have been an exciting new product for a ultra geek early adopter like me! :
Another device that needs to be charged every night and that with any kind of active use during the day, runs out of battery before dinner time (and thus creates more battery anxiety that governs the use of the device during the day!)
Another USB cable to take on business trips or vacations, with a completely proprietary charging end which thus requires that this cable be taken anywhere if the watch is going to be used for more than 1 day!
I’m not a watch guy to begin with–haven’t worn a watch for 10+ years, and only started to have a time-piece on my wrist in the last year because of my interest in activity trackers (i’ve owned 3 to date, and found myself liking having the time on my wrist again and not needing to reach for my phone to get the time throughout the day). But the Nike Fuel Band, FitBit v1, and FitBit Surge (the 3 trackers i’ve owned) are all much better casual time-checking tools as they are smaller/lighter and or can be charged 1x per 7 days. This is a huge tradeoff for me–i can take a business trip and not need another cable, and, they use a standard cable that works with other things besides themselves.
The daily activity app is lame. I like the visualization with the cool colors and wheels, but am totally disinterested in tracking “minutes of activity”, “number of hours in the day where you stood for at least 1 minute”, and “calories”. I’m much more interested in tracking miles walked/traveled, stairs climbed, points against an index of activity (such as fitbit steps or nike fuel), etc. type metrics
The exercise tracking app is lame. I’ve had a lot of experience with FitBit and Strava apps as well as MapMyRun. All much better than the app on the watch which does not integrate with any gps/map functionality despite its dependency on the phone? Or if it does, after 1 week of use I couldn’t figure out how to do that, which means it is an impossibly confusing and hard to use device which is just as bad! The heartbeat tracking on the watch is very intermittent (not continuos throughout the day, like the FitbitSurge), which makes it just a “approximate” tracker of heartrate at best, and at worst a waste of battery since it read my heart rate at 180 beats per minute for a contiguous 30 minutes today on a run (which is at least 10% too high as that rate of beats would have killed me!)–i sense the heart rate reader is just crap bad (maybe they can fix with a future software update).
The UI for finding and loading apps is lame. It has a dedicated button to get to “friends” screen, which in 1 week i didn’t use once. When i want to IM or call a friend I reach for my phone. However, when I want to use the various apps on the Watch (which I did often) such as the exercise, music play controller, Strava app, stock picker, settings menu, New York Times reader, etc. you enter into wacky land of hunting and pecking with tiny screen real-estate and the scrollable nob. I found that by the time i found the app and got it to load (very slow to load apps, eg: 3-5 seconds per app) i could have much more quickly reached to my pocket and pulled out phone and gotten to the information/app i wanted.
The actual “killer apps” for me on the Apple Watch turned out to be…. none. there is nothing that i found myself using the watch for that was actually useful, or fun, or exciting, or … anything other than “meh!”. That coupled with the hassle of taking it off to shower (it is not water proof), taking it off to charge each night, and having to look at yet another cable to drag with me everywhere I go so it can be charged… wow, really underwhelmed.
Just to state some positives for fun, and to practice being a positive person:
Its cool how it lights up the screen when it senses i’ve raised my wrist or otherwise gestured with the intent of looking at the screen. it works most of the time–only a few times did I find myself having to tell it to turn on by touching the face
several nifty/cool UI concepts at play that with iteration could really be fun/work.
lots of support from 3rd party apps–good for apple to being such a powerhouse monopoly with the attention of phone app developers… there were almost TOO many applications, i found myself almost wishing there were fewer so i could focus on a few great ones (most of them are not that interesting)
the band fits really nicely, doesn’t chafe, and snaps on/off easily but securely.
The dictation voice-to-text is good, you could use to send text messages to friends without pulling your phone out of your pocket (if you aren’t a total Dick Tracy want to be dweeb!)
The talking to the thing as a microphone/speaker to answer a call works if you are Dick Tracy and don’t mind being a dweeb!
So i’m going to go back to my FitBit Surge–charges 1x a week, tells the time, is a better health tracker for both casual activity (walking around) and exercise (has GPS and more accurate distance and performance tracking, and a great community of friends that use fitbit, and integration with Strava which I use for more serious training for marathons and such). Here’s a photo of the surge next to my apple watch on its last day of use (when i wore them both to compare the data they generated).
I actually am not sure who the Apple Watch is for other than people that really like watches? If the battery life approached 5-7 days on 1 charge, it was 50% thinner, and the physical buttons or other macro gestures could be linked to the 3-4 apps I actually care about (so it was faster to get it to load the info/app that I want when i want to use it), i would give it another try. Otherwise, this is the first apple product in 15 years or so that I wish I hadn’t bought (last time that happened was… wait, that has never happened!?)
God forbid anyone would buy a product like this and pay $10k+ for the Gold Edition. I can’t think of a less practical way to spend that kind of money–the shelf life on this thing, at very best, will be 1 year. Apple desperately needs to make a v2 of this product that overcomes the many, many, many v1 deficiencies that I think make this a product strictly for super-fan-boys and or fetishist of watches.
Update: after a day on my company bulletin board i had no offers–i guess the demand amongst my peers is zero? So i ran it over to the Apple store and was given a full refund, no questions asked–A+ customer service Apple, once again.
I’m training for the Copenhagen Marathon in May of this year (2015), and have been using Strava and a new Fitbit Surge device to track my runs. Unfortunately the two systems are not compatible (update May 2015–they are now compatible, details towards end of this post), and I can’t use the heart-rate readings from the Fitbit Surge as health data inside the surge app. I just completed a 15m training run and I thought I would post the side by side data that the two apps gathered in hopes this might be of use to other runners considering using either of these two systems.
Some immediate observations about the differences in the data that was gathered:
The GPS tracking of the Strava, which is running on my iPhone 6, is much more accurate than the location readings on the Fitbit Surge. The Strava/iPhone readings are really precise and show small variations in my 4 laps around the lake. The Fitbit Surge GPS is almost comically “loose”, suggesting a meandering variation on each lap, sometimes straying into the lake itself or across non-existent streets.
The splits/pace information is pretty consistent. I tried to start both devices tracking at the same time, but the differences in the splits and the total distance and time of the run may be as a result of slight differences in start time, and, when I paused for a 40 second water break mid-way i manually paused the fitbit clock, but the Strava was on auto-pause and may have taken a different sense of that timeframe. That would account for the 2:05:08 (fitbit) v 2:05:34 (strava).
No idea how to rationalize the 15.01m Fitbit distance vrs. the 15.3m for Strava, which results in the pace discrepancy: Ftibit says i had a 8:20 overall pace, Strava 8:13 pace.
My sincere desire is that Strava and Fitbit will get their systems connected, not sure who has the burden to do what work, but certainly can’t be very far from core to their missions to support as many devices/APIs as possible in this connected health tracking wearable category? Strava is focussed on community, Fitbit on devices–let’s go guys!
Later update (March 10 2015): I’ve continued to run 4-5 times per week using both Fitbit Surge and Strava and can add some new data:
The Fitbit Surge is VERY inaccurate in terms of distance travelled on a run, whether that be a 3 mile or a 21 mile course, on road/path or on a treadmill. I’ve seen a consistent 15-20% under-report of distance run in both free-run (GPS tracking on) mode and “treadmill” run mode. In Treadmill mode the distance travelled is under-reported almost comically–the device is just pretty much worthless in accuracy on a treadmill. I would think that the device’s software could compare my GPS enabled and not-enabled runs and correct itself to a better estimate of my gait/pace based on the other data its sensors are gathering. Alas, the software is clearly NOT doing that kind of comparison of the data and optimization to individual user performance.
The Fitbit Surge is VERY inaccurate in terms of geo-location in GPS mode, and as a result, the pace readings during a run are absurd as well. While running at a 8:15 minutes per mile pace the surge will report anything in a range of 7:45 to 9:30–ostensibly because it has no idea where i am physically on a map. The readings that come back from my runs are hilarious–showing me running through buildings, into lakes, etc.–yes, it is approximately correct, but nowhere near accurate enough to track distance and therefore useless for pace and overall splits.
While i have no second heart rate monitor tool to compare the readings to, i’m also confident that the hear rate readings are wildly inaccurate, as during a long run where i’m in a steady state zone of pace/energy/effort, the heart rate readings will ramp up and down by 10% range which is attributable to inaccuracy of the device’s readings, not variations in my heart rate load.
Here is a recent run that Strava reported as 21.1 miles, side by side with Fitbit. Notice the accuracy of tracking on Fitbit Surge leaves much to be desired–which makes the device pretty useless as a serious fitness device:
Give my first 2 months of experience with the Fitbit Surge, i would not recommend as a health tracker–way too inaccurate. I’m actually now very curious about the Apple Watch which is shipping soon, given that it will rely on the phone for measurements which i’ve found to be much more accurate (via Strava).
Update May 2015. So a few things happened next for me. On a 15 mile run i tripped and fell face first into a ditch. At the time i had enough natural endorphins pulsing through my body that I just got up and kept running–but within 24hrs i was in incredible pain along my left rib-cage. For next 5 weeks I have been laid up and haven’t been able to run, alas, the travails of training for marathons (this seems to happen to me 50% of the time I train). So i missed my marathons (i had rescheduled my target run to the San Luis Obispo race, since I was ready for a earlier race than the originally planned Coppenhagen). At this point, i’ll be re-starting my training for a late summer date tbd.
But, in that timeframe a lot has happened:
Fitbit released a patch to firmware that some have asked/suggested might improve accuracy. I have yet to try (will update once I do).
Fitbit got their act together and there is now compatibility with Strava, http://strava.fitbit.com, which seems to push performance data back and forth between the two systems. Yay for fitbit. I’m going to try soon, have linked my accounts but am not yet pushing real miles through the system so need to get my runs up to 5+ miles for the data to be interesting.
i got an Apple Watch, and have started using it as yet another ecosystem of data and sensors.
So, here’s my first impressions of the Apple Watch as a fitness and performance sports tracker:
I miss my Fitbit. Apple’s passive tracking focusses on 3 key performance indicators (KPIs)–how often you stand for 1 minute in an hour of each of 12 hours of a day, how many minutes of “activity” you have in a day, and how many calories you burn in a day. I miss the Fitbit Surge’s focus on steps and distance and stairs/steps, which felt more accurate and meaningful to my daily “activity” goals. The Apple Watch notion of standing for 1 minute of each hour leads to several little notifications throughout the day while i’m at work at the end of a 60 minute meeting that has run over a few minutes… when suddenly not only I, but the other geeks in the room with a new Apple Watch, all get this little buzz on their wrists. I feel like a lemming! The little concentric circles in the UI of the watch, each representing one of the 3 KPIs, is *very* cool visualization, but the KPIs that are being tracked are not for me!
As a distance/performance tracker, i’ve had limited experience but the Apple Watch application with the green circle and a figure running, which offers tracking for various walk, run, swim, row, pedal type sport workouts, is really pretty lame. It allows distance, calorie, or time targets or Open setting to just track–but it doesn’t track GPS activity on the watch or give splits or any other serious feedback on performance. I think apple will add more integration of this data in the future, or build a companion app for the iPhone… but for now, this is pretty much useless.
Strava does have a nice handy companion app so that you can start/stop and get other workout data from the watch, while the phone in your pocket running Strava does the real work. This seems likely to be my continued preference, and also gives me a remote on the watch face to control the playback of my iPhone spotify account (which i couldn’t do before without taking the phone out of my fanny pack on long runs). So i thin the Apple Watch is going to be a great REMOTE to control my iPhone, but not a self-contained tracker to replace a wrist worn GPS tracker or activity tracker of any kind. Weird, yet another thing to put on my wrist/pocket while i run which also does NOT actually do all the things I want!
Ok so here we go, 4m run using all three: fitbit surge and Apple Watch on my wrist, Strava running on iOS on my iPhone 6 in my fanny pack:
Apple Watch exercise app says I ran 3.83m, 32:54 time, 288 calories (active), 61 cal (resting–no idea what that is because I was running the entire time, must be part of run where my heart rate was in a lower range, nay, incorrectly reading as low as I was running fast first mile), 349 total calories, 8:34 pace, average heart rate 175bpm (yikes, i’d be dead if that was true–i’m 44 years old). Pretty poor and inaccurate data.
Fitbit Surge says i ran 4.00 miles, 32:38 time, 8:09 pace, calories burned 474, and average heard rate 160 bpm and of the 33 minutes heard rate was in “peak” range 30 minutes, cardio range 2 minutes, fat burn 1 minute (seems like much much better heart rate readings than the apple watch.
Strava says i ran 4.00 miles, 32:40 time, 8:01 pace, burned 686 calories. Not sure how I get the strava/fitbit data to sync, i don’t see the fitbit heartrate data in the strava app… nor did either app post to the other in any other way that I can see. Hmm…
So, 3 pretty messy and different reports. The time differences have to do with me not being able to exactly start and stop them all at once as I had to fiddle with each device. I like the mileage reading from strava+fitbit now showing exactly same figure, which i know from measuring on google-maps to be accurate! that’s an improvement on the fitbit surge with the new firmware (it has never previously reported this run as 4.00m). Here’s the mapping data from fitbit and stava side by side, which looks much better than previous runs (i would still like to test on a longer run and with more varied route, but this does look like it has been fixed by the firmware update last month to fitbit surge!)
In figure above the Strava track is on the left, Fitbit on the right. I can definitely see huge improvements in accuracy and much more frequent samples in the Fitbit Surge data, which actually caught a few subtle route details that were missed by the Strava plot. This is a huge improvement.
Based on this run’s data, if Fitbit and Surge data integration is actually working (still tbd how to make that work) i think i might sell the apple watch to a colleague at work who wants it, and go back to using the combination of fitbit and strava. The apple watch is a turkey–too little battery life (1 day), not enough useful functions, and crappy sports tracker.