Thursday, October 1, 2015

Facebook is Preparing us for Virtual Reality

Capture from Star Wars 360 Video
Last week's announcement by Facebook that they are adding support for 360 degree video and the release of the 360 degree Star Wars video are certainly intended to help prepare us for the upcoming release of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

I watched the video on my desktop computer which is a different experience than a fully immersive headset. You can look in any direction and see what is happening by dragging the screen with the mouse, but I am sure it would feel more natural if the direction of view happened automatically when I turned my head.

However, I question whether video can ever be a fully immersive experience. While it is interesting to be able to look in different directions, in the real world you could also change the speed and direction of travel. Changing the direction of view only leaves me with the feeling of being an observer rather than a participant.

What are your feelings about the 360 degree video capability?

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Michigan Panoramic

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Panoramic
We are regenerating in the woods of Michigan this week.  This is a panoramic we captured at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Capturing the Faces of War

Afgan Girl by Steve McCurry
Afgan Girl by Steve McCurry
The "most recognized photograph" in the history of National Geographic magazine was a young Afgan girl whose face appeared on the cover of the June, 1985 issue. American Editorial Photographer Steve McCurry captured the image in a refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan.

After becoming interested in photography at Penn State University, McCurry started taking pictures for the Penn State News Paper then worked at Today's Post in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania before leaving for India as a freelance photographer. Just before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, he crossed from Pakistan into Afganistan disguised in native garb. He has continued to cover armed conflicts around the world for more than thirty years.

McCurry records the consequences of war as reflected in the human face. “Most of my images are grounded in people. I look for the unguarded moment, the essential soul peeking out, experience etched on a person’s face. I try to convey what it is like to be that person, a person caught in a broader landscape, that you could call the human condition.”

Kodak Kodachrome was McCurry's favorite film for capturing portraits and in 2010 Kodak asked him to expose the last roll manufactured. That roll was processed by Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kansas and the 36 slides will be housed at George Eastman House in Rochester, New York.

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Thinking Your Way to Happiness

Cognitive Triangle via Ellen's OCD Blog
Cognitive Triangle via Ellen's OCD Blog
During my weekly drive from Columbia to Springfield for the last few weeks I have been listening to one of the Great Courses by Professor Jason Satterfield on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. While the practices described in the course were originally developed as a treatment for depression and other mental illnesses, they can be useful for anyone interested in improvement and change.

Most people would like to feel happy and avoid unpleasant emotions like fear and doubt. But it is almost impossible to control emotions directly. Instead, our feelings and emotions result from our thoughts and actions. Cognitive Behavior Therapy teaches that the best way to change our feelings is to change the way we think about situations.

In his course, Satterfield outlines a number of tools and techniques that can directly affect our thought processes therefore indirectly influencing how we feel. He teaches that it isn't important whether our thoughts are true or false or good or bad. What matters is whether or not they are helpful in moving us toward the change we want to make and the way we want to feel.

How do you want to feel today?

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Household Inventory Control

I don't want one of these!
Terri and I have just completed a move from a fairly large home several miles from town to a much smaller place near the city of Columbia, Missouri. We decided that we would prefer to be nearer to the District where the festivals, galleries and restaurants are located.

We are excited about our new home and even though it is smaller, it has plenty of space for everything that we enjoy doing on a regular basis. Over the last few months, we have been aggressive at selling, donating and throwing away furniture and other large things that obviously would not fit into the smaller house.  Our challenge has been parting with the smaller things: books, musical instruments, tools and heirlooms that were stored away. A smaller house means less storage.

In business, excessive inventory is expensive. In addition to the capital tied up in the inventory, it costs money to warehouse the items, insure them, maintain them and keep track of them. That is why most successful businesses have standardized parts across models and implemented just-in-time inventory systems.

Excessive personal inventory is expensive too. To handle the storage overflow we could rent a storage unit, build a storage shed in the back yard, or continue to reduce the items being stored. In the long run, the least expensive option is to reduce and simplify.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

On the Cover of the Rolling Stone

John Lennon and Yoko Ono by Annie Leibovitz
John Lennon and Yoko Ono by Annie Leibovitz
In the 1970s, the best way to wind up on the cover of Rolling Stone was to be photographed by Annie Leibovitz. Strongly influenced by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Richard Avedon, Leibovitz developed her unique portrait style as the chief photographer for Rolling Stone for 10 years followed by a position at Vanity Fair and numerous personal and commercial projects.

In a body of work filled with famous iconic images, one of the most iconic was the last picture ever captured of John Lennon with Yoko Ono only hours before his assassination in New York.

Self portrait by Annie Leibovitz The Blues Brothers as captured by Annie Leibovitz
Self portrait by Annie Leibovitz
The Blues Brothers as captured by Annie Leibovitz
The Blues Brothers as captured by Annie Leibovitz
Leibovitz is a master at finding unique poses, sets or situations than bring out the individual character of her subjects. She usually meets with her subjects a day or more before the photography session to find out first hand what makes them who they are and what they care about. That insight gives her work an feeling of intimacy that sets her apart from other portrait photographers.

Some of her most interesting recent work includes celebrity portraits as characters from Disney classics, Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz.

Which Wizard of Oz character would you like to be?

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Leibovitz captures Keira Knightley as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Like 1992 Without the Supercomputers

Oculus Rift headset image by Rebke Klokke
Oculus Rift headset image by Rebke Klokke
Last week I attended the SIGGRAPH conference at the LA Convention Center. The name is an acronym for the Special Interest Group for Graphics, one of the largest special interest groups in the Association of Computer Machinery. 

For me, the SIGGRAPH conference is one of the most educational and inspirational experiences of the year. It is the best place to learn what is technically possible in the field of imaging as well as how the technology works.

Every SIGGRAPH seems to have one overwhelming theme and this year the focus was on Virtual Reality. It  was like 1992 all over again, but without the supercomputers. I remember being awed 23 years ago by the demonstrations with ten pound headsets tethered to computers that were larger than my office. Despite the hype at the time, there were few applications that could justify the expense of the hardware and the content development.

This time, the headsets are smaller, lighter and driven by the GPU board in a desktop computer or by a smartphone. In a session titled The Renaissance of VR, Ron Azuma of Intel Labs gave three reasons why virtual reality will be successful this time:

  • Performance - The graphic performance of the new generation of devices is high enough to provide compelling immersive experiences.
  • Price - The new hardware is cheap enough that many people will be able to afford and experience virtual reality first hand.
  • Investment - The huge investments being made by several large companies will lead to high quality hardware and content.

Interestingly, Azuma concluded that augmented reality might have an even bigger future than virtual reality.

In what reality would you like to be immersed?

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