To Build The VR Education of Tomorrow One Scholar Turns To The Past

on Wednesday, Jul. 13th

There are plenty of folks in the education technology field who are excited about virtual reality as the next great educational tool. One team in England, however, is reaching into education’s past to bring a lost technology—the ars memoriae or Art of Memory—back.

Before the mass production of written text was a thing the art of memory was used by orators, actors and others to memorize and contextualize vast amounts of information. The masters of the form took this far past rote memorization and party tricks. One sophisticated technique involving the creation of personal

“memory palaces” from which facts and speeches could be summoned up at will.

The examples of this in antiquity revolve around Roman senators memorizing the features of the Forum, and then mentally imprinting the contents of their speeches on the virtual versions of the space. Actors would do the same with the theaters they worked.

Fans of the BBC series Sherlock may also be familiar with the concept, as the modern-day version of the great detective played by Benedict Cumberbatch has his own “mind palace.”

As someone who relates to information spatially the idea that one can develop this trait into a workable framework for learning is exciting. Which is exactly what Dr. Aaron Ralby, the CEO of a company called Linguisticator, is doing with the Macunx project.

Earlier this month he launched a Kickstarter to fund the Macunx VR project. The idea: to build a VR sandbox that could be used to create memory palaces that could, in turn, be used to teach multiple subjects. I spoke with Ralby at length about his plan, which has its roots in his background as a linguist and medieval scholar. He has since applied the techniques he researched about the art of memory to educational projects with young students, some with learning disabilities, and says that they’ve helped them tackle subjects that had been difficult for them before.

The core system will be a toolset that lets anyone build their own memory palace on top of a Unity base. The development phases beyond that aim to build modules for specific subjects (e.g. languages, anatomy, history) and an instructor mode that would allow teachers to develop their own lessons and upload them into a global platform. As we’ve seen from other frontiers in technology the really interesting stuff starts to happen once you add user generated content into the mix.

The project is well on its way, having cleared its financial goal by almost double, and is going to be developed with the help of Westminster University. This means that the “free build” mode is guaranteed. As the project enters its final week the team is hoping to hit a stretch goal of £10,000— they’re a little over the halfway mark for that—and get subject modules built for the program.

While I’m excited about the prospect of tackling a language—maybe Japanese, which I’ve always wanted to learn—with the aid of spatial learning techniques my own selfish interests lay in the existence of the platform as a tool for organization and creation. As a fan of mind mapping techniques and data visualization I view a VR memory palace as the ultimate tool for teasing insight out of information.

Just another reason to be excited about our VR/AR future.

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Director Guy Maddin Summons The Souls Of Lost Films With ‘Seances’

on Friday, May. 27th

Not that long ago I accidentally found myself at the Tribeca Film Festival’s Storyscapes event. It was a happy fluke of scheduling: I’d hoped to go for years, but it was never in the cards. Without even realizing it I booked my first real vacation in two years to New York City during the exact dates of the festival, and while there a friend who was working on one of the projects invited me up to see the work and meet the filmmakers behind it.

The work in question is an interactive film piece produced by the National Film Board of Canada called Seances. The core filmmaker in question is arthouse hero Guy Maddin (Brand Upon The Brain, Saddest Music In The World). This being Storyscapes the project wasn’t a straightforward film, but a kind of interactive mad scientist experiment in the art of “lost movies.”

Seances is a film art installation that somewhat randomly generates a new film for each audience that views it. Never to be seen again. (more…)

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Two Moms, A Werewolf, And An Escape Room In A Box

on Thursday, Feb. 25th

You know that we dig escape rooms here at Turnstyle, and that we are also into crowdfunding projects, so when we heard tale of a Kickstarter project that promised to put an Escape Room in a box, you know that we had to find out more.

Juliana Patel and Ariel Rubin are two stay-at-home moms who met at a game night during their pregnancies at Patel’s weekly game night. Patel had become obsessed with escape rooms.

“The first time I did (an escape room) it was a chance to completely disconnect from everything,” said Patel. “You’re timed so all your focus has to be on going as fast as you can so you make it out on time. You put your phone away and there’s things that engage your mind in such a way that you have to be present and focused on what’s in front of you.” (more…)

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The AP Bets on VR with new AMD Partnership

on Wednesday, Feb. 17th

The Associated Press, the venerable news organization that has been part of the backbone of news gathering for nearly 170 years, launched a brand new virtual reality portal today. The company is partnering with Advanced Micro Devices, better known to all of us as AMD, to develop a new set of tools for developers working on VR and 360 video news experiences.

Last week I had the opportunity to talk with Paul Cheung, AP’s Director of Interactive and Digital News Production and AMD’s Sasa Marinkovic about the partnership, the platform, and what AP sees as the near horizon potential for delivering the news via virtual experiences.

“Our number one focus is to figure out how to tell stories in VR,” said Cheung. (more…)

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Designer Jinsoo An of Kokiri Lab is the mastermind of the VR eating experience Project: Nourished. Around thirty engineers, food scientists, chefs, and designers have worked with An on the project. (Noah Nelson/Youth Radio)

The One Where We Become A Guinea Pig for the Future of Food

on Friday, Jan. 29th

You’re probably tired by now hearing about how virtual reality is the next big thing for movies and games. But here’s one you haven’t heard yet: that virtual reality could be the next big thing for culinary experiences. Before getting into that, let’s get a little backstory.

Here’s the thing: I’ve got a problem, a fraught relationship with food. None more so than donuts.

In the interests of journalism I recently visited Sidecar Doughnuts, one of the best donut places on Earth, which had just opened up a branch in Santa Monica a few miles—thankfully—from NPR West.

This place is magical, with some study standards like the Butter & Salt that anchor a seasonal rotation of wonders like the Pumpkin Fool— a raised donut with pumpkin glaze, pumpkin custard, crème fraiche and a pumpkin spice streusel topping.

Uh, oh. Now I’m hungry. This report is already a disaster.

“Why is it that the good things are always bad for us?”

This sage question comes from designer Jinsoo An, and he might just have an unconventional solution to my donut problem.

“Maybe with virtual reality that doesn’t need to be the case?” asks An.

An has built a virtual reality eating experience that aims to let people eat whatever they want without the downside: be that because of a food allergy or just unwanted calories. He calls it Project: Nourished. To find out what it’s all about I visited his studio in Downtown Los Angeles.

“So we’re in the kitchen and we were actually making some sushi last night. I can show you some.”

He showed me a couple of semi-translucent cubes that have been molded to look like rice. They’re made out of agar agar—a vegan substitute for gelatin. Fun fact: agar agar is used both in Japanese deserts and by microbiologists in lab experiments. Which is what I was about to become.

“You’re actually one of the first ones to try this,” An told me as I sat down for my virtual meal. “You might be the first person outside of our team to try this.”

Before pulling the Oculus Rift goggles over my head I confessed to An that my guinea pig status made me giddy. Then it was time to chow down…virtually.

“Hello,” said the most soothing computer voice imaginable.

“Welcome to Project Nourished. Momentarily I will guide you through the culinary experience of a lifetime.”

Inside the goggles I saw a little table overlooking a zen garden. On the table is a plate with a tiny cube of sushi rice that looks like the one An showed me back in the real world. And then I actually smelled sushi.

That was thanks to the blast of an atomizer, a device usually used to mist medicine, but repurposed here to create that archetypal sushi restaurant smell. Finally, it was time to take a bite.

It tasted like fish.

Of course, it’s all an illusion. One put together with the help of restaurateur Nguyen Tran.

“We found that the two defining flavors of sushi— at least for the American palate— is Ginger and wasabi,” said Tran. “And the minute we put those in there and layered on top of just the simple flavor of dashi, rice and seaweed it was exactly like sushi for us.

As it stands it’s not exactly like eating sushi. The flavor is there, and at least at first, so is the texture. But past the first bite, the agar agar started crumbling into a sandy mush.

Right now Project: Nourished requires a touch of suspension of disbelief, but designer An sees it as an evolving “open canvas” for experimentation.

“Which means we can insert nutrients and take away nutrients. You can change the behavior of the food however you want, that’s what’s so magical about this. It turns food into a piece of code.”

So maybe one day we could pack all the nutrition I need into a virtual, guilt-free Pumpkin Fool donut. Until then, I guess you know where you can find me.

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AMD’s Roy Taylor: “VR is very, very much driving innovation” (VRLA)

on Thursday, Jan. 28th

While the movers and shakers of Hollywood were in Park City, Utah absorbing the Sundance VR buzz this weekend thousands of virtual reality enthusiasts and the curious descended upon the Los Angeles Convention Center for the VRLA Expo.

The more or less quarterly expo is the biggest VR event that is open to the general public. Not just in LA, but anywhere.

Scores of demos from startups and established VR companies alike drew long lines filled with eager explorers. The Expo was also the platform for some major announcements. StarBreeze, whose headset powers Overkill’s The Walking Dead VR experience had parked an entire RV inside the convention hall, announced that they are bringing a VR arcade to LA later this year.

This is just the latest sign that the momentum for virtual reality is strong. Even Apple’s CEO Tim Cook in this week’s investor call said that he believes that VR is not a niche market.

Yesterday I was able to speak to Roy Taylor, Corporate Vice President Alliances at Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), and Adam Levin, Business Director of the VRLA Expo, about the state of VR in 2016.

“I think this will be the year that will decide whether VR is really gonna fulfill its promise, or will become a fad,” said Taylor. “It’s a make or break year I think.”

Taylor isn’t talking about sales of head mounted displays, however. While the tech press, and even parts of the mainstream media, are looking to throw cold water on VR’s heat by focusing on sales numbers, the fact remains that the vast majority of people have yet to have a single VR experience, let alone a decent one.

As a computing technology VR is still in its infancy, with the activity focused heavily on the  content creation side of the market. Both the enterprise and consumer markets have barely begun to develop. If computing technology is going to take off the enterprise is a definite factor. Which is something we are just beginning to see with projects like Audi’s VR showroom.

“The ability for businesses to use them, or that consumers are satisfied with the experience will decide whether they go forward,” said Taylor That’s why I think it’s make or break. Even thought the total volume of headsets, I don’t believe, will be as large as some would hope. I don’t think that matters. I think what matters is how good the experience is going to be when they get them.”

What will make the market this year, according to Taylor, is groundbreaking content that wouldn’t be possible in any other medium.

“We haven’t yet seen anything—I don’t think any of us—that’s so compelling that we just can’t be drawn away from it. I believe that this year we will see something like that.

“I’m aware of so many projects that are so close, There’s a very talented young director in Hollywood called Kevin Cornish and he showed at VRLA an experience that is based on what’s called gaze activated content.”

Taylor described the experience to me as play on the liar paradox: two characters are presented to you, and it’s up to you to determine which one you think is lying. Based on who you spend the most time looking at—that’s where the gaze activation comes into play—the story unfolds from there. A subtle twist on the idea of “choose your own adventure” and one that adds a valuable tool to the inventive storyteller’s kit.

“There’s  never been anything like it,” said Taylor. “I think we’re going to find some content this year like that… something really compelling where we say ‘Wow. VR can do something you just couldn’t before.”

As one of the leading chip makers—both CPUs and GPUs—in the computer industry AMD’s interest in VR is far from academic. The company is the headline sponsor of the Expo, and has taken an active hand in shaping the technology within the VR industry on both the creation and consumption side of the VR equation.

That even extends to 360 video, because while there aren’t any chips in the 360 rigs themselves, there’s still a need for massive processing power as part of the workflow.

“Once you’ve caught the image you then need to stitch together the import from each of the cameras That stitching requires powerful graphics processors as well. So we have an interest in the content creation industry which is why we’re working with all of the major movie studios very, very closely right now.”

VRLA’s Levin sees the potential as reaching out being the scope of the major studios.

“Moore’s law is on the side of VR,” said Levin. “You can for $349 buy a Ricoh Theta Cam and shoot spherical video. These are things that were out of reach of the general public months and years ago and are now very, very easy. I think that we’re on the verge of seeing the same sea change in terms of creators that we did when the availability of easy to use smart phone video really catalyzed the YouTube creation explosion.”

According to Taylor, we’ve only begun to see what AMD has up it’s sleeve for VR. The company is readying the second version of its LiquidVR technology, which helps resolve latency issues. The heart of Advance Micro Device’s business, however, is silicon.

“In terms of the hardware, the chips themselves, we already have some parts that are nearly finished which were designed with VR in mind from the get go. Some completely new products that are just for content creation.”

The history of the computing business has been a series of virtuous circles with hardware innovation sparking software advances which spiral back to the hardware. Each side pushing the other forward. So I asked Taylor if something similar was already underway with VR.

“VR is very, very much driving innovation,” said Taylor. “Very much.”

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Facebook Über Alles: How A Note Broke My Hope For The Internet

on Wednesday, Jan. 20th

The platform wars are over, long live the platform wars.

If you are like most Internet users you will never read this message. It will be conveniently filtered from your version of consensus reality by the helpful algorithms that tailor your experience to an ever tightening checklist of your previous interests. Your ability to discover this post will be entirely dependent on a machine’s interpretation of your emotional distance from me. How many degrees of separation divide my mind from yours through friends, family, and coworkers.

Those of you who make your living negotiating with the priests of these New Gods—you social media managers who take afternoon-long Skype meetings with the bad sellers–already know what this is about. No amount of obfuscation on my part can conceal the keyword at the haunt of this lament: Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg’s network dominates all. (more…)

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Twitter: Some Modest Alternatives To A 10K Character Limit

on Tuesday, Jan. 5th

Today Recode reported that Twitter is looking into raising the limits on Tweets from 140 characters to 10,000 characters. Which promptly led to a hell of a lot of Twitter users asking: why? What’s the point of Twitter if not short and punchy interchanges.

Of course it is a little more complicated than a simple raising of the “speed limit.” The first 140 would be visible, according to Recode, and the rest would be behind a cut. Essentially turning Twitter into a really limited blogging platform.

This still misses the point of what makes Twitter cool. It would also lead to even more headaches as people complained about each other only reading the “headline” as opposed to reading the “whole tweet.” Which would surely be countered with folks calling the first 140 the Tweet and the rest an “article.”

You can see why Twitter is doing this. They are scared of Facebook’s power with instant articles. On one level they should be, but copying Facebook isn’t going to make Twitter stronger. It won’t attract people away from Facebook. It will only make current Twitter users who are also stuck in Facebook land thanks to the legion of friends and family who won’t climb out of the walled garden wonder why they are bothering to leave its confines themselves.

Not that there doesn’t need to be some change. (more…)

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Creative Jobs Site Zerply Wants To Bring Balance To The Work Force

on Tuesday, Jan. 5th

When you’re a journalist with one foot in the tech sector you wind up getting pitched about a lot of companies. Apps. Technology infused schemes that are certain to change the world.

I’m lucky, and I know it, that Turnstyle doesn’t have to chase the 24/7/365 tech press churn the way everyone else does. Shielded by our status within public media, and with our focus on creating radio stories I get to pick and choose who I write about. I get to set my filters a little tighter and meet with the folks behind companies I find interesting.

Late last year I got to meet with one of those people: Christofer Karltorp, the co-founder and CEO of Zerply.

Zerply has had a storied journey in Silicon Valley.  For a minute there they were looked on as a rival for LinkedIn. Before going any further, I better stop down and explain that.


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Pandora employee Adan Faudoa. Photo by Pendarvis Harshaw.

Pandora, Uber, And Beyond: Tech Comes To Oakland

Pendarvis Harshaw on Thursday, Dec. 3rd

A version of this story originally aired on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Adan Faudoa is 24 and grew up in the Bay Area. He didn’t always think he’d be a tech guy. His dad had other plans for him.“As a kid, my dad was a big gear head,” he said, “So, he was pushing me in the direction, like: ‘You have to be an auto mechanic, Adan, because that’s where the money is at.’”But over time, Adan began to see things a little differently. He noticed the people moving into his neighborhood were programmers and people working for tech companies. He decided he’d fight hard to become one of them, even though there aren’t too many people of color in the industry. In the end, he landed a job at Pandora, the music streaming service that set up shop in Oakland– –one of the first tech companies to do so.

Someone else who gambled on Oakland? Tech pioneer, Mitch Kapor. He says that, in the not-so-distant past, when he told people that tech would come to Oakland, they were skeptical. “Five years ago, people thought I’d grown a second head,” he said. (more…)

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We’re Closer To Our Photorealistic VR Future Than You’d Think (INTERVIEW)

A look into the virtual world of tomorrow with USC researcher Paul Debevec.



Prepare Yourselves For The Personal VR Video Revolution

Virtual Reality is rapidly approaching a watershed moment.

Ralph Echemendia

Spoiler Alert: Hollywood Isn’t Taking Cyber Security Seriously (LA Film Fest)

Tonight at the Los Angeles Film Festival, squeezed in between movies and red carpet events, a symposium on Cyber Security is being held at the Grammy Museum.

Gumroad Rentals H

Rent Video Straight From Social Media Via Gumroad

The people who brought the “Buy Now” button to Twitter are going all-in on film distribution.

Siegel's NOME meditation machine.

Hacking Consciousness: Silicon Valley’s Next Frontier

Is there something that lies beyond the quantified self movement?