Month: May 2017

Oculus Rift

It’s Eurovision again.  I wonder how many Eurovision’s have been and gone since I started writing this blog?   Probably just two, but it seems like an awful lot more.  Surely once a year is maybe once too often to inflict a series of mundane but increasingly loopy pop songs upon us.  Maybe not.  The Euro lot seem to be loving it.  Anyway from one alternate reality to another………….

The husband got an Oculus Rift about 3 weeks ago.  Son No. 2 had spent two months debating whether to get one (unknown to us) and then took the plunge, at a hefty £700, plus a graphics card capable of handling the visual doodahs and various extra special USB sticks.  (If any computer experts out there find themselves unfortunately misdirected to this blog, maybe they could explain what I mean by ‘doodahs’ and ‘extra special’, ‘cos I have no idea.)

The son brought his Oculus home and set it up in the lounge.  This necessitated the bringing down of son No. 3’s computer, from upstairs, and hooking it up to the telly, where it sat marooned in the middle of the lounge floor looking very forlorn and out of place.  Then one VR sensor was placed on a table and the other perched on top of the mantelpiece.  The sensors detect head movement and also define the VR space, which appears to be 360o, being that you can turn all the way around.  I think that’s what the sensors do; it’s all something to do with LED lights and infrared and such like.  There were also two hand held controllers, around which your hands fit snuggly and quite naturally.

(Since I first used the Oculus I’ve become slightly worried about sitting within a field of radiation, whilst resting my peepers about a millimetre away from two screens (resembling a pair of really, really thick spectacle lenses) which must also be emitting some kind of awful radiation, and all the while encased in a claustrophobic, slightly heavy headset.  But such are the demands of embracing a futuristic lifestyle.)

Son No. 2 had prepared the way for VR via Facebook posts, in which he’d taken screen shots of his Oculus experiences and posted them.  I’d seen these images and been distinctly underwhelmed, forgetting that these images were in 2D.  When the Oculus was all set up I placed the headset on my head (obviously) and immediately found myself standing in a small room on what was obviously a spaceship, while a little Wall-E type robot hovered in the air a few feet away from me.  He was blinking his cute round eyes at me and then he waved, holding up a sign with a waving hand on it, beckoning me to wave back.  Now this was the first time I’d ever experienced a VR set-up and I couldn’t work out what had happened.  I lifted the headset from my eyes to check where I was.  Yes, I was in the lounge, facing the TV.  ‘I was on a spaceship,’ I said to no-one in particular.  I put the headset back on and there I was, standing in front of a sort of desk while my robot friend hovered.  I took the headset off again, my non-VR brain obviously unable to process what was happening.  ‘It’s a training thing,’ said son No.2, ‘it’s to teach you how to use the hand controllers.’  The headset went on again.

Someone else on the net must have drawn this comparison.  But do you remember the transporter in the old Star Trek series.  They’d all stand on round circles on the transporter, then a wiggly, shimmering light would cover their bodies and the next thing you knew there they were, standing on an alien planet which was conveniently full of oxygen.  That’s exactly what happened, minus the squiggly lines.  One minute, nay  one second, I was standing in the lounge, whilst the husband and sons sat around watching the TV screen, the next moment I was TRANSPORTED to another place.

Back on the dimly lit spaceship I got my bearings and began turning my head to look around.  There was a 3D printer to my left; a sort of old style computer to my right; drink cans littered the desk; there was a door behind me.  The robot handed me a floppy disk, which I had to place into the 3D printer, using my new ethereal, blue, VR hands.  On insertion the printer sprang into life and printed off a child’s rattle with bells.  I had to pick it up using my VR hands (difficult manoeuvre to get used to) and then spin it around – it made the sound of jingling bells!  Then butterflies appeared and I held out my blue hands, and a fluorescent pink butterfly landed on one finger.  I could fill this description of what happened with loads of exclamation marks, because if anything deserves the exclamation mark, it’s the Oculus Rift.

The husband had a go and was also transported, this time with delight and uncontainable excitement, when son No.2 loaded up something called Ultra Wings, which allowed the husband to fly a plane.  We rushed a kitchen chair into the room, so he could feel that he was actually sitting in the plane.  It must be said that the imagery on Ultra Wings is animated and very basic but it was as though the husband was in his own personal seventh heaven.  ‘I’m flying, it feels like I’m really flying,’ he kept SHOUTING.  This is a minor side effect of using the Oculus Rift.  When you’re in the headset you suddenly start shouting at everyone.  Being in a virtual spaceship, or plane, makes the brain think it really is on a spaceship, or plane, and therefore miles away from its present position, so you’ve got to shout from across the virtual miles.

This introduction to the Oculus Rift made the husband (and myself) determined to get one.  And luckily the price had come down (somewhat.)  We got the Oculus for £598 but then had to fork out £350 on a graphics card, but it was WORTH IT I say (and like I also say, VR makes you shout) – just so long as they don’t find any detrimental, mutant radiation affects in the future.

Since that first go, we’ve downloaded loads of FREE entertainment videos, because I like nice animated films (although it must be said that a lot of the films suffer from a tendency to be morbid.)  The husband has downloaded a few fairly innocuous shooting games.  And today I went on a tour of the White House given by Barack and Michelle Obama.  There I was, sitting in the loft, the home of our Oculus set-up, but virtually sitting on the lawn in front of the White House, which was lit up in a pink evening glow.  Son No. 3 was sitting next to me on his computer.

My chair gently glided through the doors of the White House and into a hallway with a lectern.  Barack Obama’s voice filled my ears, as he began the tour.  I looked up and down the red carpeted hallway and up at the ceiling.  It must be said here that the images on the Oculus are not always crystal clear, particularly objects in the distance, but at this stage in VR’s development that’s probably a minor criticism.  The screen then went black and a fraction of a second later Barack Obama was sitting directly in front of me, large as life and twice as natural, looking directly into my eyes and welcoming me to the White House.  I nearly fell of my chair.  AAAHHHHH!!!!  I screamed.  AAAHHH,  AAAHHHH – I took off the headset and started laughing hysterically.  Son No.3, who’d been watching the tour via the TV screen, joined in the hysteria, simply because his mother was HYSTERICAL.  ‘It’s Obama,’ I screamed, ‘he just suddenly appeared – he looks REAL!!’  I put the headset back on.  I could have reached out and touched him (I tried.)  He was still chatting on, pointing things out in the room.  ‘He’s so thin,’ I continued, ‘and he looks so nice,’  Then I was off again, materialising in the next room and the screen went dark again and suddenly I was sitting opposite Michelle Obama, at a highly polished antique table.  ‘She’s so thin,’ I said, repeating myself, inwardly noticing her nail polish, and her watch, and her hair, as she burbled on, pointing out pictures hanging in the room.  I was so taken up with the fact that I appeared to be in discussion with the Obamas that I didn’t take in a word either of them said.

It was an experience to rival the first time I’d tried the headset.  When it ended, I found another Obama experience which I feverishly downloaded, eager to be in the presidential presence again.  This time he was guiding me around Yosemite national park.

Well, Eurovision is nearly over and so is this post.  It looks like Portugal is going to win – has the world, or rather Europe, lost all musical sense?  And isn’t reality beginning to look just a little suspect?

Never mind, tomorrow I can put on my headset and escape back to the virtual world.

Afternoon Tea

I’ve been busy here and there, although ‘being busy’ is definitely a relative term when you’re a housewife.  For instance, I think going to Sainsbury’s means I’m ‘busy,’ or wafting a duster around, or going along to my various choirs.  It’s true that if you want something doing, ask a busy person; don’t ask me, you’re liable to give me a mini- breakdown, should you threaten me with the making of phone calls or the taking on of too much responsibility.  But I’ve been busy researching things and worrying about things (worrying is a full-time job) and not writing on my blog.

Joining various musical based activities means that, over time, you’re sometimes asked along to things non-group related.  And so I found myself going along for tea, or coffee, and cake, just over a week ago, with some of the singing ladies.  I didn’t want to go. I never want to go to group social thingies, especially when the other members have known each other for years.  But I made myself go.  And there I sat on a Thursday afternoon, round about 2.30 pm, while our hostess carried in a tray full of home-made fairy cakes (what a throwback that was, haven’t had a fairy cake in years), flapjacks and assorted biscuits.  She brandished a fairy cake in my face, urging me to take it.  ‘Sorry, I’m on a diet,’ I said, ‘due to having just had a holiday up north, where I stuffed myself with cake on an hourly basis.’  ‘Nonsense, take one,’ she urged.  And so the five of us sat around, on a couple of white settees and one accent, checked armchair, stuffing fairy cakes and measuring out our lives in coffee spoons.

The social chatter began with a whinging on about a recent Ofsted report (the ladies are teachers/assistants) which had unexpectedly criticised the staff’s efforts, causing a severe lack of morale.  I do a tiny bit of volunteer helping at the school and didn’t have a clue what, or who, they were talking about, but did begin to understand what stressful lives people lead, who actually do worthwhile jobs.  How they are so much at the mercy of ticking all the right boxes, of filling out mountains of paperwork, of doing their job, whilst under the scrutiny of inspectors taking just a snapshot of a school’s day to day life.  There must come a point when the teaching profession, as with so many other professions, becomes a thankless task.  The short time I spend in this school, on a weekly basis, is an experience entirely contrary to the results of their Ofsted report, which leads me to believe (in my complete ignorance) that Ofsted reports are a load of bollocks.

After a prolonged discussion concerning Ofsted and its effects on staff  – there was mass weeping in the corridors, which certainly seems counter-productive – and appropriate interjections by me, in the form of murmurs of sympathy (as though someone had died) the conversation suddenly moved onto Death, which seemed in keeping.

I’m still unsure how this happened.  One minute I was licking buttercream icing from my fingers and thinking ‘social gatherings aren’t that bad, I just have to nod and smile in the right places,’  when B, sitting to my right, mentioned that she was looking into donating her body to medical science, to spare her children funeral expenses.  This was apropos of absolutely nothing.  Her only problem was that Northampton, the place she was hoping to wind up dead, would only take bodies in possession of ‘most of their bits.’   ‘I’ve had two hip replacements, something put in my shoulder, bits of my elbow taken out and I just know my knees are beginning to go,’ she chimed enthusiastically, before excusing herself to rush to the loo.  As she left the room her exit was followed by four pairs of mystified eyes.  Suddenly, a revolting noise emanated from an imposing bookcase, lining one of the lounge walls, and those eyes, full of further alarmed mystification, focused in on the sound.  It came from a luridly green plastic clock, where several species of bird took the place of the numbers.  It was three o’clock and the noise was the grating and very loud ‘caw-caw’ of a crow, ringing out three times.  ‘Sorry,’ the hostess (A) cried and jumped across the room, ‘it’s my RSPB clock, makes different bird calls on the hour and half hour; that was supposed to be a woodpecker.’  ‘That was a crow,’ R informed her.  ‘It was, wasn’t it?’ said A, and fiddled about with a knob on the back, whereupon a gentle tapping sound filled the air.  ‘That’s better,’ A said, ‘and I’ve turned down the volume.’ Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.  ‘Can I take a flapjack,’ enquired R, her hand already outstretched, just as came back from the loo.  As though the previous conversation had never paused, B continued on with the saga of her missing bits and that she retained the hope that her knees might hold up, so that medical trainees could perform practice knee replacement surgery on her dead legs.  The fairy cakes A was continuing to ply me with were beginning to lose their appeal.   B made the point that her family were very upset with her for bringing up her future demise, but R, S and A all agreed that it’s something you’ve got to think about isn’t it?  (No.  I go with a policy of blissful ignorance regarding life’s two great subjects – Politics and Death – unknowingly I was about to be hit with the Politics.)  The thinking about it prompted A to give a heartfelt speech concerning her own death wish-list.

‘Have you ever looked into those Humanist burials?’  she chirped, her face positively beaming, as the clock on the bookcase also chirped (blue tit) – for it was half past three.  ‘There’s a new one where, when you die, they manoeuvre you into the foetal position (here I gently gagged on the remains of a flapjack) and then they put you in a sack and bury you in the ground.  Then they plant a tree directly on top of you so you’re helping the tree to grow.  I think that’s a lovely idea!’  R, B and S couldn’t contain their excitement, agreeing that this was a simply super idea.  I was still trying to get past ‘foetal position.’  ‘But there’s another even better one I think,’ A continued, from her hostess position of power in the imposing checked armchair.  ‘I recently went to a funeral, up on the hill, where they put you in a wicker coffin.  They’re beautifully made and look so much nicer than the normal ones (this rather requires the notion that when you’re dead, you’re aware of being in a ‘nice’ coffin. ) There were about five, laid out in a row, when we went.  They say a few words and then you leave before the coffins are put in the ground.  That’s much nicer don’t you think, than having to watch them being lowered into a hole.’  ‘I agree,’ said B fervently (we appeared to be on her favourite topic of conversation here) nothing worse than having to watch the coffins go into the ground and all that throwing of dirt and things.’   I took a swig of now cold coffee, in an attempt to divert my mind from the vision of five coffins in a row, even if they did look like  lovely wicker baskets.  Presumably the Humanists go in for job lots.

Sadly, there was no-one present with whom I could exchange sympathetic glances of mutual confusion and bewilderment, for all around me was an evangelical-type enthusiasm for Death.  Suddenly B reverted back to the school topic and asked if any of us remembered the awful loos back in the day.  Did they remember having to go in a bucket filled with some kind of chemical, and there were just a couple of loos for the entire school?  At this point all further thoughts of eating, or drinking, fled.  ‘I remember that!’ cried R (as though it were a cherished memory) and we weren’t bothered were we?  Didn’t even notice.’  I mentioned being completely unable to recall the loo situation at school.  ‘Ah, but you’re young,’ remarked R, ‘when did you start primary school?’  ‘About 1966.’ I said, (it’s a joyous moment when you’re considered ‘young’ at 56.)  ‘Ah, well, we were at school a good 7-10 years earlier, things had changed.’  Thanking my lucky stars that school toilets had not etched themselves into my memory, we were suddenly onto that other major Life topic of conversation – Politics.

B mentioned her hero Corbyn (in relation to school toilets I think; where the connection was I couldn’t begin to say) as a mournfully hooting owl announced that it was now four o’clock.  There was much blather about the current awful government, and much blather about our awful local government and their plan to build new houses on a patch of land dear to the ladies’ hearts.  I hesitantly mentioned that young people need houses too and A mentioned the local election coming up, where we’d be all having our say.  ‘What local election?’ I said, in an unprecedented and ill-advised move of stupidity.  Jaws dropped in unison.  ‘The election on May 4th, haven’t you had your cards through?’  (I probably had but they were probably lying abandoned in some drawer, never to surface again.)  ‘There’s a general election coming up too,’ A continued.  This was such news to me that unfortunately I repeated the former move of stupidity (which now had a precedent) and cried, ‘What general election?’   This was met by a silence so complete that the nightingale, announcing that it was now 4.30 pm, caused a collective jump.  There followed a lecture on the importance of being politically aware; on turning up to vote; on the suffragette movement (had I been to that movie about suffragettes, the one with Meryl Streep?  It was brilliant!) These bygone women had fought and died so I could have the vote!  You couldn’t argue with the righteous sentiments expressed.  R then left, having somewhere important to go and, after a rapid tour of A’s lovely garden, I left, before an eagle got a chance to announce that it was 5 pm.

I left with the feeling that I’d failed miserably, in terms of toilet-related repartee; in the formulation of funeral arrangements and in keeping up with current events; but very glad that housewives don’t get Ofsted inspected (I’d fail miserably) and with a yearning to own an RSPB clock.