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To Heck With ‘The Daily Show’, The Sharpest 2016 Political Satires Are Games

on Wednesday, Sep. 21st

As a culture, America loses its mind every four years as every bubbling tension is brought to the surface in the emotional outpouring/long term strategic planning scrum better known as the Presidential Election.

No corner of the culture is safe from this, seemingly increasingly sadistic, ritual. Social media is the eye of the storm, while cable news, comedy, and dinner table conversations create an inescapable cage of mental pain.

Not even video games are safe from the touch of the campaign. There are scores of products in the iOS App Store looking to make either a quick buck or a “real difference” by marrying gameplay with this election’s troupes. There’s plenty of options for playing Flappy Bird or Whack-a-Mole clones with Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump skins, if you’re so inclined.

What you won’t find in the App Store are some of the sharpest satirical takes in game form. That’s because The GOP Arcade, home to interactive hot takes like Trump Toss and the topical Epipen Tycoon was rejected by the App Store.

“We were supposed to release it as an app,” said Brian Moore, one of the small group of friends behind The GOP Arcade. “Apple rejected us because of the content of these games.” (more…)

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The Algorithm Is Not Our Friend

on Thursday, Sep. 15th

How did we get so stupid?

This is the question we will be asking ourselves in 2022, assuming we’ve still got enough active brain cells left to collectively come up with the thought. The answer will be simple: we let algorithms do our big thinking for us.

We should have seen it coming. Hell, we did see it coming.

From James Cameron’s Terminator to Bill Joy’s grey goo prognostications we collectively saw the threat that out of control technology poses to our society. Only we were on the lookout for killer robots and nanoparticle clouds that consume everything in their path. What we really should have been looking for is the zombie virus that is eating away at our neocortex: those friendly, neighborhood algorithms.

Melodramatic? Sure. But when was the last time you were conscious of just how much of your everyday life is being shaped by sleepless, flawed mathematical formulas that are continuously sifting through data in order to present back a picture of reality to you? Maybe you’ve been bit by a the same bug I have, and it happens to you every time you open up—usually under duress—Facebook.

Facebook has built an empire on the strength of algorithms. Much in the way Google did before it. It is on Facebook, however, with the sheer amount of time online users spend within its garden walls, that the broken nature of algorithms becomes apparent. (more…)

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Virtual Reality’s Distribution Frontier Is Heating Up

on Wednesday, Aug. 31st

One of the more interesting things about virtual reality is that it is going to be the first consumer medium whose distribution platform is native to the internet.

Oh sure, websites are native to the internet, but the web pages of which they consist are riffs on print pages with embedded elements. We saw plenty of those during the CD-ROM era of multimedia efforts. While every other form of media—from music to video games to movies—have developed distribution ecosystems to either supplement or replace their traditional channels VR is starting online by default. Even “out-of-home” VR attractions are powered by networked solutions.

A lot of the lessons of what does and doesn’t work in internet distribution have already been learned. That’s true if we’re talking about streaming services like Spotify and Netflix or App Stores like Apple’s. The long term smart money is on whoever can establish strong content distribution platforms for VR.

There will be those who will try and own the ecosystem from top to tail the way Apple does with the iPhone. It’s been a lucrative path for them to say the least, but it’s not the only one. Some of the current tension in the high end at-home Head Mounted Display market comes from the battle between Oculus and HTC/VALVE to have the superior store for game content. HTC/VALVE entered the battle with a leg up: they had Steam, which is pretty much the personal computer video game marketplace. Oculus has Facebook’s cash reserves and reach into a billion-plus internet users lives in their back pocket.

Who controls the hearts and minds of early adopters of high end HMDs is important, but it is far from the only battleground. Games and other deeply interactive experiences will have enough variables within their technical requirements that the distribution platforms for them will likely see a tighter integration with the hardware makers. Or to put it in plain terms: platform exclusive games won’t be going anywhere for a few years, if ever. Sorry, fellow gamers.

Straight up 360 video experiences, on the other hand—whether they are music videos, feature length films, or live streams of unfolding events—will benefit from some cross-device standards.

Which brings me around to Jaunt. (more…)

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Awesome Rocketship's G8 VR installation.

VR’s Future: At Home and Abroad

on Wednesday, Aug. 24th

This piece needs to start with a confession.

Despite being completely enamored with virtual reality for the past three years I still don’t own a Head Mounted Display. Part of the reason is the cost: a top-of-the-line kit can run a few grand when all is said and done. That’s if you want to bet it all on one of the available HMDs. With two strong contenders in the market—Oculus’ Rift and HTC/Valve’s VIVE—it’s difficult to choose.

Over the next few months the choices are just going to get murkier: Sony has PlayStation VR, Google is spinning up their Daydream project, and who knows what 800-pound aluminum and chamfered edged unibody gorilla Apple might be forging in their secret laboratories. At least the Oculus/HTC battle will be a little clearer come this fall when the former’s motion controller solution is made available.

Yet what VR HMD to buy is pretty much the definition of a first world problem. Still: the relative shallowness of the consumer market at present didn’t stop 1.1 billion dollars being poured into the VR and Augmented Reality industry in the first two months of this year alone. (The largest chunk of that being put in the still in stealth-mode AR company Magic Leap.) At times it feels like no investor wants to be left behind on what has been foretold as the absolute future of media.

Which is why I was lucky when I got a chance to talk to Michael Yang of Comcast Ventures last week. Yang heads up that group’s efforts in the VR/AR space, and his dance partners are some of the best in the business. On the content side of things Comcast Ventures has backed Felix and Paul Studios and Baobab Studios, and they’ve made a bunch of strategic investments in social VR, live stream technology, and AR hardware. (more…)

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Copyright Marisa Allegra Williams (@marisa) for Twitter, Inc.

Let’s Enjoy Twitter While We Still Can

on Friday, Aug. 12th

It’s Friday, and our head writer is supremely caffeinated. Time for a rant about social media.

It’s a day of the week, so it must be time to mourn the imminent demise of Twitter. I know, I know, we’ve bene doing this for at least half of the lifespan of the social media platform, but this year feels different. 2016, after all, is the year that everything good and decent has collapsed into a singularity from which no hope can escape.

In so many ways it is also the year that saw the triumph of the worst of Twitter culture seize control of the mainstream. American political headlines read like a celebrity’s mentions gone toxic. Meanwhile, the actual headlines, and the Facebook trending topics that people actually bother to read, focus on all the celebrity mentions that have gone toxic.

Those of us who have been on Twitter since the early years have watched the company stumble through one lame product launch after another, all while bleeding out users. This week saw a fairly brutal expose by Buzzfeed News that relied on ex-Twitter staff to pretty much lay waste to the company’s failed efforts to curb harassment. The core assessment: that the platform is basically optimized for trolling.

It’s almost impossible to argue with that. (more…)

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Five Things I Took Away From VRLA

on Monday, Aug. 8th

This past weekend I spent some quality time at VRLA—which all spelled out is Virtual Reality Los Angeles—the largest expo of its kind, boasting of 6000 attendees. Lines were long for the summer edition on Saturday—which is when the public had access to the show floor—as enthusiasts and the curious came to check out the latest in VR experiences.

It’s funny, now that VR headsets are available commercially you might think that the demand for VRLA tickets would wane. However, it’s still a lot cheaper to buy a day pass and spend some time standing in line to get a taste of the future than it is to invest in a computer capable of running VR software and the head mounted display that makes it all possible.

Here are five things I walked away from VRLA knowing. (more…)

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Visionary VR’s Mindshow: Virtual Reality’s Future Emerges In LA

on Friday, Aug. 5th

It has taken just a handful of demos to convince me of the potential of virtual reality.

The first was at E3 2013, when I had my first Oculus experience in the CCP booth. It was the demo that would become their game Valkyrie, which is pretty much the starter Pokemon of VR games. That experience opened up my eyes to the possibilities of the modern age of VR.

Weeks later came the second: as I stood in the Los Feliz living room of a developer and walked around a VR environment for the first time with my own legs. The third was my trip to Nonny de la Pena’s lab, where I saw how journalism could be revolutionized through recreations of powerful events. The fourth was in my own living room as I held a Google cardboard shell to my face while wearing Bluetooth headphones and found myself standing on a stage surrounded by U2.

The fifth great demo happened just this week, some 40-odd stories above the streets of downtown Los Angeles in the offices of Visionary VR. (more…)

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

There are plenty of folks in the education technology field who are excited about virtual reality as the next great educational tool.

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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.

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Prepare Yourselves For The Personal VR Video Revolution

Virtual Reality is rapidly approaching a watershed moment.

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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.

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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.

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