Middle-Aged Women Experience VR

 Definitions don’t always give you the real picture. For example, VR is defined as “an artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli (as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one’s actions partially determine what happens in the environment.” That’s a flat and joyless way to explain VR. It’s a lot more fun than Merriam-Webster implies.

After reading about virtual reality (VR), my wife, Kimber, and I were eager to try it ourselves. I was given an opportunity to review an inexpensive Google cardboard viewer and jumped at the chance.

Google cardboard viewer

QPAU Virtual Reality 3D Glasses Google Cardboard

This is the one we have, but there are plenty of viewers out there. Just read the reviews and choose the one you think will work best for you.

It took very little time to set up the viewer. It arrives flat. Fold it up, attach the headstrap, and you’re good to go.

Also, remember sound is imperative to fool your mind–and trickery is an integral part of VR. This is true even with a 360 degree still image. For example, an image of rippling  water with sound seals the deal in convincing you that you’re there. Use earbuds (wired or Bluetooth).

Next, you’ll want to download some VR apps into your smartphone. (Mine is a Samsung S5–not every smartphone will work with the device). Carefully slide the phone into the viewer, making sure that the phone is secure. Then keep your hands around the viewer edge, so the phone won’t fall out. Trust us. Once the experience starts, you’ll be less aware of your movement, and you don’t want your $500 phone sliding out and crashing onto the floor.

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Google Cardboard Demo

The first app we tried was the free Google Cardboard Demo app. (NOTE: Go to the iTtunes store if you’re using an iPhone to get the app.)

We realized immediately that this was something we’ve never experienced. There were lots of exclamations of “Wow,” “Oh my,” etc.  (One thing I’ve realized is that it’s weirdly isolating to have someone in the same room with you viewing VR when you’re not.) “You sound like you’re having sex,” I remarked to Kimber when I first heard her reactions.

Tutorial is brief. Pretty much it tells you how to click and tilt to maneuver through an app.

Google Earth might be the coolest thing on this app. You can spend a lot of time here. Play around with it and enjoy the sensation of flying. We were thrilled to end up in Chicago. We honeymooned there and are familiar with the city, so it was a treat to fly down Lake Shore Drive and over to the Bean.

Tour Guide includes a short tour of Versailles with a historical narration. These are still 360 degree photos. Kimber has been to Versailles, and this was very similar to standing in the rooms. Can’t wait until they upload a garden tour.

Exhibit is a kind of silent slideshow where you can view masks from all angles.

My Videos provides a way for you to watch videos you’ve created.

Photo Sphere provides a way for you to view Google Photo Spheres, either your own or someone else’s.

Welcome Video is short but gives you a flavor of VR.

Sisters

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We will review other VR apps in the future, but I do want to mention a free app titled Sisters. It was a good intro into the emotional potential of VR. You feel it. Although I’m not a fan of horror films, I’d read good reviews. It’s an animated short that packs a punch. It really did scare me, and I’m positive my heart and pulse raced. I also laughed a lot. In fact, my involuntary reactions were so disturbing to the dog, he left me and went to his other mom to tell her I was having a conniption.

A Few Notes to Help Your Viewing Experience

It’s a good idea to remain seated when you first experience VR. It’s disorienting, and it’s conceivable you could fall or bump into something. You don’t want your first VR experience to result in anything broken, including you.

The viewer can be uncomfortable to wear–the cardboard dug into the bridge of my nose, leaving a little indentation. This can be alleviated by raising the viewer slightly as you hold the edges to prevent your phone from sliding out. Or you can retrofit with a cotton ball. It’ll make you look even cooler. Really.

If you wear glasses, you may need to experiment to find your best viewing experience. I have poor eyesight and find that wearing my glasses works best. However, my wife wears bifocals, and she prefers her reading glasses with the Cardboard viewer.

Turn off your phone’s notifications. They can ruin the immersive experience.

Make sure your phone is fully charged because viewing VR sucks up the juice. A lot.

Finally …

There were a few glitches with some of the apps we tried. Many times the time the images were somewhat blurry. Sometimes the apps stalled or wouldn’t start.

Still, the Google cardboard viewer provides an inexpensive introduction to VR. The technology will get better and more comfortable. This is new, people. Keep trying. You’ll be glad.

Next time …

We’ll write about our experience using the Google Cardboard Camera app to create our own VR images. Very, very cool.

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Five Thoughts On Virtual Reality

On January 6, 2016, Oculus tweeted: “We’re excited to announce that is available to pre-order on ! .” This is big news and will do much to make virtual reality (VR) part of our lives in the near future. We’ve  come a long way from Nintendo’s 1995 Virtual Boy, one of many VR failures.

Remember when the Internet and the smartphone industry became mainstream? The same thing will happen with VR, and some are predicting 2016 will be the year, especially with the long-awaited arrival of the Oculus Rift, a VR system for the masses.

VR has similarities to the Internet and other emerging new technologies, especially in terms of how quickly it will become a part of everyday life, but another industry provides better insights into how VR will evolve. As a former student and teacher of film history, I see clear similarities between VR and the early cinema industry.

 

  1. New technology proponents are often convinced (or pretend to be) that it’ll be a boon to education. For example, Thomas Edison thought film would change the educational system. “It is possible to teach every branch of human knowledge with the motion-picture,” he said in 1914. “Our school system will be completely changed inside of ten years.” He also thought films would make school more appealing to young people. “Sort o’ swing the education in on them so attractively that they’ll want to go to school. You’ll have to lick ’em to keep them away,” Edison said, even earlier, in 1911.
  2. New technology is often touted for educational purposes, but is almost immediately used for pornography. Early filmmakers quickly realized there was a market for risque content. Le Coucher de la Mariée featured a strip-tease by Louise Willy in 1896. Its success was followed by many other films with sexual content. The same thing will happen with VR, and the porn and sex industry will eagerly integrate VR into their products.
  3. New technology is scary. A new invention could be the end of civilization as we know it. Or at least create unforeseen individual and societal problems. Civilization is, of course, never static. Post-industrial society is dependent on change. Still, in the early days of cinema, some wanted to censor or regulate the film industry in an attempt to “protect” members of society from themselves. In the case of VR, it’s easy to see that it could become addictive. Some will prefer VR to life and become dependent on the experience. We all know people who spend too much time on Facebook and other social media and ignore family and work life. We’ve even heard of people who play video games and ignore, sleep, food, and other basic necessities. There’s no question VR has the potential to become like a drug, but, truly, just about anything that’s halfway enjoyable can turn into a drug for the right (or wrong) person.
  4. Tremendous technological innovation will be the hallmark of early VR. Like film, VR relies on illusion or tricking the brain, and equipment is key. Unfortunately, equipment in a new technology’s early days is often unrefined. This means innovators will be forced to invent new tools and techniques. This includes headsets (even the Rift is too big and unwieldy), controllers, and even cameras. I recently took a Udemy course on making virtual reality films, and many filmmakers are developing their own cameras and other equipment, so they can customize technology to fit their needs. It reminds me, again, of early cinema when pioneers like the Lumiere brothers tinkered with their own cameras because they were unhappy with what was available.
  5. It will be interesting to watch how VR content evolves. Early film theorists argued about the purpose of cinema and wondered such things as whether film should reflect reality or provide an experience that is outside reality. Thomas Edison and the Lumiere Brothers were interested in documenting reality. One of Edison’s early films was correctly titled Fred Ott’s Sneeze. The Lumiere Brothers first film was Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory. And that’s exactly what it was–a bunch of people walking out of a factory. Other filmmakers, most notably Georges Méliès took a different direction. Méliès, a magician and theatre director, successfully used illusions and special effects to depict worlds divorced from reality. By the way, as with film, we’ll also likely end up with college courses and majors on VR theory, history, etc., as VR becomes its own field of study.

 

In the last month or so, I’ve been talking a lot about virtual reality to friends and family. Most of them first respond by asking, “What is VR?” After the Rift ships in March, other VR systems are likely to follow. Next year at this time, in January 2017, few will be asking “What is VR?” Instead, they’ll be asking questions like “Which VR system should I buy?” or “Seen any good VR lately?”

It’s fascinating to contemplate the tipping point when VR becomes mainstream. Without a doubt, augmented reality (AR) in real life (IRL) is our future.

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Read My New Orley Farm (Anthony Trollope) Teleplay

Anthony Trollope is one of my favorite writers, and I wanted the challenge of adapting one of his novels. Especially in his bicentennial year.

For one thing, I’ve never written a period piece and wanted that experience. Also, since I’ve written crime novels in the past I specifically looked for one that featured crime. My first choice would have been The Eustace Diamonds because it not only involves crime but also has a great female character, Lizzie Greystock. If you haven’t read it, please do. It has one of the best opening lines ever: “It was admitted by all her friends, and also by her enemies,–who were in truth the more numerous and active body of the two,–that Lizzie Greystock had done very well with herself.” But it has already been adapted for television. Twice.

Orley Farm impressed me when I read it, and it definitely had a crime theme as well as another great female character in Lady Mason. I wanted a challenge, and I got it. Since the novel was originally serialized, there was much repetition. I write big and then go smaller, and I spent many drafts deleting and honing. However, perhaps the biggest problem I faced was continuity issues. Trollope’s timeline didn’t work for the adaptation, so I needed to play around with several scenes, moving them around until the story flowed.

Trollope didn’t make many mistakes, but I found a key plot point that was never explained. (Hint: it involves Lady Mason, Miriam Dockwrath, and her father, Mr. Usbech). Rather than leave it a loose end, I wrote a scene that provides an explanation.

Orley Farm was Trollope’s favorite work, though he considered it flawed. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and hope you like the adaptation. I also hope that someone likes it enough to option or purchase it.

Michael Williamson, Chairman of London’s Trollope Society, graciously agreed to read the script and then offered the support of the Trollope Society. I am grateful to Mr. Williamson and the Society. I’m also grateful to the Goodreads book club who read Orley Farm with me and provided interesting insights. I learned a lot.

I envision the adaptation as a teleplay that will be divided into six to seven episodes. The attached PDF (424 pages) is the entire adaptation. It is registered with the WGA West Registry, and I reserve all rights.

Orley Farm Teleplay

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Gardein Crispy Chick’n Patty Review

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Many years ago when I was a little kid living in Streator, Illinois my parents occasionally took us to the local Dog n Suds. One of my favorite meals was the pork tenderloin. Although I haven’t eaten meat since the 1970s I still have a strong memory of what that sandwich tasted like.

I’ve never found any vegetarian foods that were remotely similar to the pork tenderloin, but Gardein’s Crispy Chick’n Patty comes closest. I guess it’s the breading more than anything. Frankly, I don’t usually like vegetarian chicken because there’s something kind of gross about the texture (too much like chicken perhaps), but Gardein’s Chick’n Patty has become one of my favorite sandwiches.

It’s easy to make. I cook it on parchment paper (got mine from the Dollar Tree) for about thirty minutes in the toaster oven (turning once) and then eat it on a Publix potato roll (by the way, has anyone else noticed that Publix’s bakery is not what it once was?) with mayo, spinach, peppers, and sometimes cheese. Gardein isn’t kidding when they say it’s crispy. It’s also very tasty and satisfying.

The Gardein link says the patty is 180 calories, but my bag says it’s 160. Not sure what’s going on there, but the sandwich is definitely vegetarian (vegan too) and uses non-GMO ingredients. They come in a package of four and can be pricey, so I wait until Publix offers them as part of their weekly BOGO sale.

Five out of five stars

http://gardein.com/products/crispy-chickn-patties/

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Arvixe

I have been an Arvixe customer for some time. At one time, the company was a great web host. However, if you regularly visit my site, you’ve no doubt noticed that my site is down more than it’s up. Customer service is abysmal and gets worse every time I have to deal with them. Numerous websites have reported serious issues with the company, and I don’t see anything improving.

I am looking for a reliable, reasonably priced website host that will help me transfer my website. Please contact me if you know of a company that meets that criteria.

 

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LezPlay Names Contest Winner

Resolution, a play co-written by Nancy Nyman and Heather McNama, is the winner of Pride Films & Plays’ (PFP) 2015 LezPlay Contest. Congratulations to both writers, and best wishes in the future.

Allison Fradkin, LezPlay’s Literary Manager, put together a reading team of forty-three theatre, film, and television professionals who judged the contest. They evaluated the scripts for structure, plot, dialogue, and character development and then chose five finalists.

My teleplay, Black-Hearted Bitch, received a reading on Friday, September 11. Six of Chicago’s most talented actors participated: Kelsey Colburn, Ellen Dunphy, Nire Nah, Rolo Rodriguez, Elise Soeder, and Bea Cordelia Sullivan-Knoff. Director Eileen Tull, also an actor, did an amazing job adapting the teleplay for a staged reading.

I had a blast in Chicago and thoroughly enjoyed my experience. It’s a definite highlight of my career, and I learned a lot. Thanks to Allison and David Zak, Executive Director of PFP for making the event possible.

https://filmfreeway.com/festival/LezPlay

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Black-Hearted Bitch Gets Staged Reading in Chicago on September 11

I’m thrilled to announce that my TV pilot, Black-Hearted Bitch, adapted from my crime-fiction novel, was a winning script in the LezPlay 2015 writing contest.

According to the press release, “The judges have named five finalists, including a teleplay and four stage plays. and these writers will have their scripts presented as staged readings during LezPlay Weekend, which runs September 11-13 at the Hoover-Leppen Theatre of Center on Halsted.”

This is particularly exciting for me because I grew up in the Chicago area and can’t wait to return.

http://pridefilmsandplays.com/lezplay-2015-features-5-new-works/

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Rocksmith, Accessories, Etc.

gibson SGYes, it’s well past the time for me to update my guitar adventures. My wrist has finally healed after a visit with my wonderful physician, Dr. Wodecki. He put me on an anti-inflammatory (Sulindac), and after two weeks or so, I was able to play guitar pain-free. The wrist is still a little stiff, but I’m back to playing guitar one to two hours a day. And loving it.

For my 58th birthday, Kimber got me a real guitar–a Gibson SG (see above). We got it through Musician’s Friend Stupid Deal of the Day (subscribe at http://www.musiciansfriend.com/stupid), and I have no regrets. It’s wonderful, especially for someone like me who has small hands. Does it make me a better player? Yes. There really is a difference between a cheaper guitar and a thousand dollar one (mine was significantly discounted). They’re easier to play and sound better. I’ve come a long way from the first guitar, the Squier.

Someone asked about accessories. I gave away the amp when I passed the Squier on to my nephew, and replaced it with a Sawtooth ST-AMP-10 ( http://www.amazon.com/Sawtooth-ST-AMP-10-KIT-1ST-AMP-10-KIT-1-10-Watt-Electric-Sampler/dp/B00FDU4XS2). It serves my purposes, but most people probably consider it a starter amp. I also recently purchased a pedal through another Stupid Deal but have not yet had a chance to play with it.

Most of my time is spent playing Rocksmith (http://rocksmith.ubi.com/rocksmith/en-US/home/index.aspx) on the PC. I love this game and have both versions. I should spend all my time on the lessons because they’re quite good, and I’m sure I’d be much better by now. But it is way too much fun to play the songs. I especially like playing the blues stuff (B.B. King, Howling Wolf, Bobby “Blue” Bland, etc.) and old rock (Chicago, Aerosmith, Rolling Stones, etc.).

One problem with Rocksmith is that it makes me feel like I’m a better player than I am. The illusion is nice, but right now I’m much more comfortable playing with Rocksmith than soloing with the guitar and amp.

Do I want to be in a band? If I continue to play, I’m sure I will eventually want to jam with other musicians. I’m not brave enough for that yet–gosh, I still wear headphones when I play, so Kimber and the dogs won’t hear me. But it seems a natural thing one day, mainly because I’m sure I can learn so much from others.

That’s it for now. I’ll try to be better about updates in the future.

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Trader Joe’s Paneer Masala Naan Review

img125We call this Indian pizza, and it’s become a hit in our household. For one thing, it’s super easy to prepare. I heat the toaster oven for ten minutes at 400 degrees and then cook the frozen naan for five or so minutes, flipping once.

The crust is wonderful–crunchy, soft, and flavorful. Unlike a regular pizza, the filling is inside, rather than on the top, and it’s more like a paste. The satisfying mixture includes paneer (Indian cheese), onion, coriander leaves, spices, carrot fiber,  green chili, and ginger. Sometimes I put a small amount of butter and salt on it, but it doesn’t really need it.

Each piece has only 230 calories and four grams of fat, but it tastes like it has a lot more. We eat one piece each as a snack or as a small meal, but if you wanted to make a more substantial meal you could prepare two pieces, and the result would be comparable to a small pizza.

The package contains four pieces. Because they’re handmade, they’re not uniform, and it may at first appear that the package contains less than four. Relax. They’re all there.

You can find Paneer Masala Naan in the freezer case at Trader Joe’s for $2.29. We usually buy two packages at a time.

If you love pizza and Indian food, you’ll love this.

Five out of five stars.

http://www.traderjoes.com/digin/post/paneer-masala-naan

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New Kindle Prices on Crime Fiction Novels

I have recently completed a TV adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s Orley Farm and am shopping it. In celebration of a new chapter in my writing career, I have reduced the Kindle prices of my crime fiction novels.

The two novels in the Kell Digby crime novel series, Black-Hearted Bitch and Killing Rosa, are $3.99, and Tighter, Tighter and Relative Innocence are now only $2.99.

In addition, the new lower Kindle price for We’re Here: An Investigation Into Gay Reincarnation is $2.99.

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