Book Review – Just A Geek by Wil Wheaton

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I picked up Just A Geek based on the recommendation of various people, and I can say I do not regret doing so.

Just A Geek is the memoirs of Wil Wheaton, of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Stand by me (and Big Bang Theory) fame. It is an honest and brutal look at his rapid rise to fame as a young teen and his subsequent and dramatic fall thereafter. He goes into a great deal of detail describing his love\hate relationship with Wesley Crusher, the character he portrayed on Star Trek: The Next Generation, as well as the doubts and self loathing he experienced as a result of him deciding to leave Star Trek.

In the book he writes of his time as a struggling actor who could hardly find work, to him discovering comedy and being part of a successful sketch comedy group and later starting his blog, WilWheaton.net. Starting his blog resulted in him learning HTML and teaching himself Linux and also helped him rediscover his love for writing. The rediscovery of this love helped Wil redefine himself as an author, helping him find balance and success in his life.

Just A Geek is a really enjoyable journey, starting with a young boy on the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation, more interested in Dungeons & Dragons than Star Trek, to a normal guy dealing with the complexities of everyday life, like paying bills and working on the relationship with his wife and step-sons.

Just A Geek is an inspiring and feel good book that I would really recommend. It shows how life hardly works out how we plan, but even so great things can come from the most unexpected places.

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Book Review – Just A Geek by Wil Wheaton

Google Cardboard: V1 vs. V2

In a previous post, I has a look at the original Google Cardboard or the version 1 as it is now known. The version 1 of the Google Cardboard was initially released in 2014. It was very well received with over 5 million units sold. In 2015 a new updated and improved version 2 was released, so how does the Google Cardboard version 2 measure up to the amazing version 1? Let us take a look.

Firstly from a fit and comfort perspective the version 2 has significant improvements compared to the version 1. The nose hole on the version 2 is much larger and has foam padding around the rim, which greatly improves the comfort of using the headset, especially for longer wear times.

The version 2 also comes bundled with head-straps, whereas with the version 1 they had to be ordered separately upon initial release.

Another difference between the version 1 and version 2 is how they interact with VR applications. Both have an action button, but how they function is very different. They version 1 has a magnet which slides up and down and triggers an action on certain android smartphones similar to a screen tap. The problem with this magnet based action button is that it only works with certain android phones and not on iPhones, thus limiting the Cardboards’ functionality on all but fully supported phones.

The version 2 on the other hand utilises a lever based design which presses a conductive pad against the phones screen, fully replicating a finger touching the screen. This works on all touch screen smartphones, including iPhones, and is a great improvement over the version 1, especially for people using non-Android Smartphones.

The version 2 is also designed in a manner that holds a phone more securely, thus reducing the anxiety resulting from the fear of having your phone fall out mid VR experience.

Additionally the version 2 contains much larger and better lenses, which are fitted more securely and flush, than the version 1.

Use is made of protective plastic tape in the version 2 where your forehead comes in contact with the headset. This protects the headset from damage due to sweat, a common complaint in the version 1.

So, up to this point the version 2 has clearly taken the lead. But there are however 2 key areas in  which the version 1 outperforms the version 2.

The first of these key areas is price. The version 1 costs approximately half what the version 2 does.

The second area is the support of Augmented Reality Apps. The version 1 has a cut out where the phone camera is located, whereas the version 2 does not. Without this hole for camera access, Augmented Reality Apps can not function due to their reliance on the phone camera.

Even considering these 2 areas, except if you are extremely price sensitive or dead-set on AR apps, the version 2 is a much better option, especially if you have an iPhone or any other non-Android phone. 

The improvements and design changes made in the version 2 are all vast improvements over its predecessor. Although the price did roughly double it is still not a large amount of money, and in my opinion the version 2 is well worth the extra cost.

As an iPhone user I am very happy with the Google Cardboard Version 2 and how it was enhanced for better support of non-Android phones.

If you have never owned a Google Cardboard, I would definitely recommend picking up the version 2 over the version 1. And even if you already have a version 1 I would still recommend upgrading to the version 2 due to its improvements and better phone support.

The Google Cardboard Version 2 is a great upgrade to an already great product, so pick one up, for the money you won’t regret it.

Google Cardboard: V1 vs. V2

DIY VR – Part 1

In this post we will look at ways to experience VR at home for the lowest cost possible. In Part 1 we will look at using your smartphone and a Google cardboard compatible headset to stream computer games to the phone in stereoscopic 3D. Basic “head tracking” will be achieved by linking the mouse look in the games with the gyroscopic sensors of your phone.

There are many applications available to achieve the above mentioned and we will look at a few options available, comparing features, performance and price. All of the mentioned software have free trial versions available in the event you want to give them a try. All you will need is a smartphone (iPhone or Android), a PC capable of running some Direct X 9 3D games and a Google cardboard compatible headset (one with head-straps will work best).

All my testing was done on an iPhone 6S, a 2012 MacBook Pro Retina (Nvidia GeForce 650M 1GB) running windows 7 using Boot Camp and a SensofinityVR headset.

The games I used to test were Doom (original), QuakeHD, Dear Esther, Subnautica, Minecraft and Fallout New Vegas.

We will be looking at 3 different products (All of which consist of a phone app and a server windows application) that stream computer games to your phone and also link the games mouse input to the phones gyroscopic sensor. They are TrinusVR, KinoVR and IntugameVR.

First let us look at Tridef3D, a software product that will be required for the best results by all the before mentioned VR Streaming software products.It converts the game screen image into stereoscopic 3D before it is streamed to the phone.

Tridef3D

As mentioned above Tridef3D converts any Direct X 9/10/11 game into stereoscopic 3D, and I can say this software works great. Just note that its website states that it does not support VR headsets, but this is not the case if you enable windowed mode using this script. Tridef3D sells for $39.99 directly on the company site, however there is a free trail version available.

Most of the games I tested worked best in windowed mode except for Doom and QuakeHD, which only worked in full-screen mode.

Now let us have a look at the VR streaming software options. Firstly with all the mentioned software products, one of the most important things to configure correctly is mouse sensitivity. This is extremely important as getting this wrong can result in slow or jerky head-tracking which can cause the user to feel sick.

TrinusVR

Of the 3 products looked at TrinusVR was by far the best from an interface and general usage perspective. I also found it to be the most stable with the least amount of issues. At the time of my testing there was however no support for USB tethering in iOS.

I did experience issues connecting the phone to the hotspot created by the TrinusVR server software, and it appears that the phone is not assigned an ip address.

When I connected the phone to my MacBook via my home Wi-Fi network performance was extremely slow and unplayable.

I got around these issues by creating a Wi-Fi hotspot on my phone and connecting my MacBook to it. The server software and client app could then see each other and performance was really good and games highly playable. This configuration delivered the best results of all the tests performed.

Just note that in the TrinusVR server settings, on the Main tab, there is an option called “Capture mode”. For most games the best results are achieved by setting this to “Fast”, except for Minecraft that only works when this is set to “Compatibility Mode”.

TrinusVR sells for $9.99 on the respective App Stores (Apple App store and Google Play Store), but as mentioned earlier trial versions are available and the server software can be downloaded for free from the company website.

KinoVR

KinoVR does claim to support USB tethering in iOS, however in practice the results were far from perfect. The client app continuously disconnects from the server software every 15 seconds or so and then takes approximately 5 seconds to reconnect, thus rendering this feature unusable.

When connecting the phone to my MacBook via my home Wi-Fi network the performance was good, even with a good level of graphic details configured in the games.

KinoVR is however found lacking from a user interface and ease of use perspective.

KinoVR Pro sells for $9.99 on the respective App Stores (Apple App store and Google Play Store), and once again there is a free trail version. The server software is freely available here.

IntugameVR

Of all the VR streaming software I tested, IntugameVR is the only one I could not get to work properly. It does not support USB tethering in iOS so once again I configured it to connect over Wi-Fi. Irrelevant of what setting configuration I used the image rendered to the phone display was distorted and squashed. I cannot comment on the performance of this product, as I just could not get it working in any way that was even remotely usable.

IntugameVR Premium is also available on the respective App Stores (Apple App store and Google Play Store) for $9.99 with a free trial version also available. The server software is once again available for free from here.

So given all this, what were my findings? And would I recommend this as a low-cost VR solution?

Well, as long as you do not expect an experience on par with the Oculus Rift or HTC Vibe, you might be pleasantly surprised. Given the low cost of giving this a try, assuming that you have either an iPhone or Android smartphone and utilize the trial versions of the software products mentioned, the cost of this experience will add up to $10 for a Google cardboard compatible headset. Although I would recommend splashing out and getting a plastic headset with padding and better head straps, which you should still be able to pick up for under $20. This will greatly improve the experience from a comfort and usability perspective.

Many people have not had the opportunity to try a premium VR product, such as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vibe or PlaystationVR, and this solution is a great deal more accessible and affordable.

So my recommendation is to give it a try. Who knows it might even convince you to invest in one of the premium VR products available at the moment.

Watch out for DIY VR Part 2, which will be coming soon. In Part 2 I will show how to construct a custom-built VR headset, but in the meantime a few other posts are lined up for your reading pleasure.

DIY VR – Part 1

Quick Update

Just a quick update on what I have been up to and what upcoming posts are coming in the future.

In the later haf of last year I decided to commit myself to some serious strength and fitness goals in-order to push and motivate myself more in training. I decided to compete in a few events, including a few runs in 2017, including a full marathon, and a full iron man in 2018.

My training had been going well and in early december I went to an organised run. In the first 300 meters of the run another runner fell and I stumbled to not step on him. When this happened I felt a sharp pain in my right leg, but pushed through and finished the run. The following week the leg was still sore and I assumed I pulled a ligament or a muscle.

For the next month I kept training; running, cycling and doing Crossfit. In early January the pain had not gone away and I went to a physiotherapist to have it looked at. Long story short, I eventually went for x-rays and it turns out I broke my Fibula that day on the run. So I am now in an air-cast and recovering.

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So Given the situation above I have had a bit more time to play a few games. I finished Sherlock Holmes and the Devils Daughter and really enjoyed it. I also enjoyed the previous game in the series Crimes and Punishment and feel that these games are a little under-appreciated. They really remind me of the old Lucas Art or Sierra Adventure Games.

I also played the new DOOM which I loved, Watch Dogs 2 which was ok, a lot better than the original Watch Dogs but I fell that once you’ve played GTA V all other similar games struggle to measure up, so Watch Dogs 2 didn’t really hook me.

I am currently playing Yakuza 0 and it is amazing. It is the first game in the Yakuza series I have played and I am coming to the realisation that I have been missing out.

Now for some upcoming posts. I am working on a few posts and have quite a few more planned on a wide variety of subject. I am currently working on a 2 part post on DIY VR. The first part will look at smart phone based options, using specialised software to stream from a pc to a smart phone and the second part will look at a full custom build I am working on, this will utilise a 5 inch LCD display, an Arduino Nano 3 with a MPU6050 Triple Axis Accelerometer and Gyro (6DOF). The first part of this Article will be landing soon. I am also working on a few gaming based posts, some book reviews and so posts on ROBOTICS. So watch this space for more posts coming soon.

Quick Update

FITBIT CHARGE 2

In a previous post I took a look at the Fitbit Flex and the Fitbit Charge HR, which were the two fitness trackers I had previously used. So due to a misadventure (I took a swim with my non waterproof Charge HR) I was in the market for a new Fitbit, and because I loved the Charge HR I decided to give its brand new successor, the Charge 2, a try.

So firstly the Charge 2 is once again not waterproof, it is however water resistant and should be able to withstand splashes, rain and sweat. This is a shortcoming I really wish they would have addressed. The second shortcoming is that the big bright beautiful new screen is very prone to scratches. Now that we have the bad out the way let us take a look at the good.

All the standard functionalities of the Charge HR are present in the Charge 2, such as a heart rate monitor, stop watch, as well as step, floors climbed and calories burned counters. Some functions have also been enhanced, such as the call notification with the Charge HR which now with the Charge 2 also shows text messages received as well as calendar reminders.

Various exercise modes have also been added (such as run, bike, interval training, etc.) which can easily be activated due to the larger screen and can also be customised.

The biggest improvement that was included, and which I love, is the connected GPS functionality. This is where the Fitbit uses your phones GPS to map out runs and bike rides. This can be configured to push straight to Strava. I use this functionality numerous times a week on runs and mountain bike rides and it is great not having to mess around with your phone to get Strava started before you start running or cycling.

I really am a fan of Fitbit, this is now my 3rd fitness tracker from them and I think the Charge 2 offer enough improvement over the Charge HR to make it a worthwhile upgrade.

FITBIT CHARGE 2

Dev Day 2016

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On the Tuesday 27 September 2016 the first Dev Day occurred in Johannesburg South Africa. Dev Day is best described on their twitter page as “A community-owned and driven gathering of technologists, investors, hobbyists, engineers, artists, students and anyone with a strong sense of curiosity”. And I was invited to showcase some of the robots I have been working on. The event was extremely well organised with various people and Maker groups showcasing what they were working on as well as numerous speakers including Uncle Bob (Robert C. Martin). I really enjoyed the event and the experience of showing some of my work and the feedback and questions I received were amazing. It really was a great experience getting to talk and interact with similarly minded people. Many thanks to the organisers for a great event, hopefully one of many to come.

Here are some photos of my stand and the event.

Dev Day 2016

Book Review – Fun Inc. Why Video Games are the 21st Century’s Most Serious Business

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Fun Inc. Why Video Games are the 21st Century’s Most Serious Business by Tom Chatfield is an interesting look at the ever increasing importance of video games in our culture and society.

This book is not your typical “video game” book, but rather covers topics such as the history, finances and growth of the video game industry  as well as the impact video games have on various other fields such as economics, epidemiology, education and even  the military.

The book draws interesting comparisons to other mediums, such as film and literature, and illustrates  similar growing pains experienced by these mediums and video games throughout history.

This book also addresses and clarifies numerous misconceptions relating to video games, such as that only males play video games and that video games carry no academic benefits.

I found this book extremely interesting not only from a video game perspective, but also from an economic and general societal perspective. I would really recommend this book not only to people interested in video games, but anyone interested in modern society in general. Fun Inc. is a worthwhile read and defends the place of video games in our culture and society. I wish my teachers could have read this book when I was still in school.

Book Review – Fun Inc. Why Video Games are the 21st Century’s Most Serious Business