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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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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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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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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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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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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This weekend the New York Times shipped a special surprise out to its subscribers: a little piece of the future. Specially a Google Cardboard viewer, which lets people turn their (sufficiently powered) smartphone into a VR viewing device.
If you’re one of the people who got a viewer this weekend—or perhaps, like me, you bought one of the View-Master branded plastic versions for kicks—you might be wondering just what you can do with it.
That’s where this little overview comes in.
The NY Times VR app features a few smartly produced 360 video documentaries, and it’s that format of virtual reality content which is starting to really take off. It turns out that being able to “teleport” into a far off location can be immensely compelling, and filmmakers have begun to develop enough of the grammar of the form to tell stories.
Below you’ll find reviews of some of the apps that are available for Cardboard viewers on Apple’s iPhone platform. Almost all of the ones discussed below can be found in the Google Play store as well—and the Android platform actually has a lot more versatility when it comes to Cardboard apps. (Google is the one who is pushing this form, after all.)
All of the following apps are free, and I recommend using with nothing short of an iPhone 6.
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The Security and Exchange Commission has come to terms with the reality of equity crowdfunding–aka small dollar investing–and set out a whopping 685 page rule set. Which is almost as long as the last RPG I bought off Kickstarter. Only these rules are designed to make you money.
That’s the idea at any rate.
Last week we talked with Ryan Feit of SeedInvest about what he was looking for from the rules. A quick check in with him on Friday found him giving the new set a “thumbs up.” Make no mistake: the rise of equity crowdfunding has a chance to make a significant change in the way that venture capital is raised in these here United States. It’s exciting–for reasons good and bad–and with the risks of investing come the chance that the playing field of venture capital might just get a tiny bit more leveled out. Maybe. (It’s worth the shot, anyway.)
VentureBeat has run down the top things you might want to know about the rules… but we are, as always, interested in how this is going to impact the creative fields. Here’s the short answer: it shouldn’t affect individual creative projects but it might come in handy when starting a studio or a production company. Why?
Because anyone who thinks they’re going to make a quick buck off of investing in a single creative project–like an indie film–is out of their minds.
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The Security and Exchange Commission is due to finalize the rules in Title III of the JOBS Act this Friday, a long awaited event that will change the dynamics of equity crowdfunding.
How exactly it will change them is a cause for both hope and consternation amongst crowdfunding observers. The equity rules could shift the way that the bulk of tech and business related crowdfunding projects are structured, and open up whole new avenues for small dollar investors to get involved in a start-up scene that has until now legally been barred to them.
(What it will do to creative crowdfunding is a whole other argument we won’t breach at the moment.)
One of the companies that has been advocating the SEC on how to structure the rules is SeedInvest. We talked with its CEO Ryan Feit, about what he’s looking for—and hoping to avoid—in this week’s announcement. (more…)
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Twitch–pretty much the undisputed king of Internet video game streaming no matter what YouTube wants to have happen–has begun to spread its wings into other categories. Today they launched Twitch Creative, which features artists live streaming their creative process, and a whole bunch of Bob Ross painting videos for your ASMR needs. (Bree Bouwer of Tubefilter has a good breakdown of the features.)
Here’s the funny thing about this: Twitch got its start as an outshoot of Justin.TV, the first livestreaming/life logging site that began with one guy streaming (pretty much) everything he was doing online. It gathered a lot of mainstream press attention and launched a few other live streaming celebrities–like iJustine–but Justin.TV as a platform under that name never took off the way Facebook or Twitter did. There just wasn’t enough bandwidth on the one hand and the lack of focus in terms of content didn’t help.
Yet there was a core group of gamers on Justin.tv, and that part of the site was spun off and branded as Twitch.tv.
Twitch proved to be way more popular on its own than Justin.tv ever was. Twitch exploded thanks to the rise of MOBA-style games like League of Legends. The rest is known: rising popularity, Twitch Plays Pokemon becomes a media phenomenon, and Amazon comes knocking with moneyhats for the founders. Justin.tv is transformed into Twitch Interactive and made to disappear like a magic trick.
So to find Twitch opening up a landing page for Creative streamers is, in a sense, to see Twitch return to its own roots. A long twisty road dotted with some happy little trees.
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