Saturday, September 24, 2016

Real Life Through Virtual Reality

Real Life Through the Lens

Virtual reality isn’t just about entertainment — it’s also about helping people understand the world around them. By Heather Millar

Real Life Through the Lens
Illustration by Phil Foster

I’m standing in the lab of Professor Jeremy Bailenson, the founding director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University. The 20-by-20 room is state-of-the-art: A “haptic” floor of aeronautic metal will vibrate and move to simulate the physical world. Speakers all around the room will immerse me in surround sound. A ring of cameras will track my every move. I put on a headset that fills my whole field of vision. It’s connected to a supercomputer that, reacting to my movements, will redraw my virtual environment 75 times a second.

In this program, I’m a superhero who flies. When I put my arms above my head in a classic Superman pose, I shoot off the ground. The floor rumbles, simulating the feeling of taking off in an airplane. My heart skips a beat. “Wow!” I exclaim involuntarily. When I move my arms to the right or left, I fly in that direction. As I get the hang of navigation, I zoom around an imaginary city. This is what I imagined during all those years of childhood cartoons.

When I take the virtual-reality headset off a few minutes later, I feel awesome. Invincible, really. Ready to take on the world. When can I do it again?

Sooner rather than later, it seems. In late March, Facebook released the Oculus Rift headset, an immersive virtual-reality setup intended for mass-market use priced at $599 — or about $1,500 with a bundled computer. The first 30 Rift games have gone on sale, with another 100 to follow by the end of the year. On the cheaper end of the spectrum, Google Cardboard headsets are $15, and many virtual--reality apps are free to download.

As with all new, paradigm-shifting technology — radio, TV, internet, social media, smartphones — there are lots of grandiose predictions of how this will change everything. Commentators muse upon what piles of cash it may generate and what dangers it may pose to traditional media.

In this respect, virtual reality may indeed be different. Studies in Bailenson’s lab have shown that virtual reality can feel so real, it actually may have an impact nearly as profound as reality itself.

“We have demonstrated for over a decade that virtual reality is a powerful tool to promote empathy, by having one walk a mile in the shoes of another, virtually,” says Bailenson.

A whole series of studies in the Stanford lab have shown that if you can create a person’s doppelgänger — a virtual twin — in virtual reality, you can change that person’s behavior. People who fly like superheroes, as I did, seem to be more helpful afterward. And these effects hold true in many contexts. For instance: If you show a doppelgänger slowly losing weight as it exercises, the person who’s had that virtual-reality experience will actually work out more in the following week. If you show the doppelgänger growing older in virtual reality, the person who’s seen that will save more money for retirement. If a person cuts down an old, grown redwood tree in virtual reality — feeling the vibration of the chain saw and the crash of the sequoia as it falls — that person is more likely to conserve paper in the future. If virtual reality presents the doppelgänger as slightly more attractive, the person who experienced that will become more socially confident.

“When virtual reality is done well, the brain treats these virtual experiences in manners similar to real ones,” explains Bailenson, whose Ph.D. was actually in cognitive psychology.

Virtual reality can also transport people to realities that aren’t readily accessible, creating a deeper understanding of issues that are difficult to communicate.
For instance, one study in Bailenson’s lab took on the issue of ocean acidification: the problem that greenhouse gas emissions are changing the pH of the seas, making them more acidic, and devastating ecosystems like coral reefs. This is, of course, a complicated topic. Researchers found that if you showed people a video, they didn’t identify with the issue nearly as much as if you gave them a virtual-reality experience of a coral reef changing from a vibrant ecosystem into a damaged, acidified one.

“The virtual-reality platform allows someone who has never even been in the ocean to experience what ocean acidification can do to marine life. We are visual creatures, and visual examples can be very striking,” says Kristy Kroeker, an assistant professor of ecology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who helped with the coral-reef study.

Bailenson likes to emphasize that how we use this virtual-reality technology is really up to us. “People can do anything in virtual reality,” he says. “While it’s great to do things you couldn’t do in the physical world, we should avoid the types of experiences you wouldn’t do in the physical world.”

I’m trying not to worry too much about the more negative scenarios. I’m just waiting for my next chance to be a superhero and save the world.

American Way Magazine, August 2016

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Beatles: Eight Days A Week -fab four, fab film!

Culled from more than 100 hours of rare news footage, fan material and the Beatles’ own personal archive, this documentary by Ron Howard about the early years of the band works on two levels. Firstly, it’s a meticulously researched account of an unprecedented global phenomenon. But perhaps more importantly, it places us right there, in the audience of tearful teenagers, for some of the gigs that changed music history. It conveys the thrill of discovery and kinship that electrified a generation. It turns us into giddy fans. A triumph of deft editing and extraordinary access, this is likely to be the most important music documentary of the year. The best music film I've seen since Buena Vista Social Club. Unmissable! You will feel as if you had been there!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Benefits of Reading

According to writer and philosopher Alain de Botton and those at The School of Life, books are valuable because they expand our knowledge and understanding, validate our feelings and actions, and inspire our lives.

If you’re one of the non-book readers that says, “I watch the news, I read stuff on the Internet, I scan a magazine article once in a while, so I don’t need no stinking books!”, maybe I can change your mind with these 10 psychologically beneficial reasons to start the habit.

1) Reading saves you time

Sometimes it may seem like reading is wasting time, but it’s actually the ultimate time saver because it gives us access to a range of emotions and experiences that it would take years and years to experience in person. Reading is the best reality simulator because it takes us through so many more situations than we will ever have time to see for ourselves.

Reading also acts as a time machine. By picking up and opening a book we can hear great people and writers from the past speaking to us, mind-to-mind, and heart-to-heart.

“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.” ~William Styron

2) Reading gives us opportunities to experience other cultures and places

Reading reveals aspects about the lives of people in other places like India or Ireland, giving us insight into many ethnicities, cultures, lifestyles, etc. By reading, we become more aware of different places and the customs of those places.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” ~Dr. Seuss

3) Reading builds compassion

Reading books takes us into another person’s world and allows us to see through his/her eyes. Books give us truths about human beings – their behaviors, their emotions, how they interact – that’s hard to get any other way other than reading about it. Not only that, authors can relate their experiences, feelings, and knowledge about these things because it goes into what they write.

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours” ~Alan Bennet

4) Reading improves creativity

Reading about the diversity of life and exposing ourselves to new ideas and more information helps to bring out the creative side of our brain as it absorbs new ideas and ways of thinking.

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” ~Stephen King

5) Reading helps reduce feelings of loneliness

We often can’t say what’s really on our minds, but in books we amazingly find descriptions of what we think about. In the best books, it’s as if the writer knows us better than we know ourselves, finding the words to describe the delicate, weird, and unique goings on inside of us, which helps with feelings of being the only one that thinks like that. And being entertained through reading can help us forget about our own troubles for a while.

“We read to know we’re not alone.” ~William Nicholson

6) Reading cures boredom

If we’re feeling bored, all we have to do is pick up a book and start reading. What is bound to happen is that we’ll become interested in the book’s subject and stop being bored. Think about it, if we’re bored anyway, we might as well be reading a good book, right?

“Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book.” ~Jane Smiley

7) Reading prepares us for the future

Many books are about life’s challenges and ways of dealing with it and the people around us. They’re a tool to help us live and die with a little bit more wisdom, graciousness, and sanity. More often than not, reading a book has made the future of a person.

“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.” ~Margaret Fuller

8) Reading engages the mind

Reading uses our brain. While reading we’re forced to reason out many things that we’re not familiar with, using more of our grey matter. Plus, reading improves vocabulary. While reading books, especially challenging ones, we’ll find many new words we wouldn’t see, hear, or use otherwise.

Reading also improves concentration and focus because with books we focus on what we’re reading for longer periods of time compared to magazines or Internet posts that only have bits of information. And since we have to concentrate when reading, like a muscle, we’ll get better at it. Similarly, reading helps stretch memory muscles so it also improves memory. Research shows if you don’t use your memory, you lose it.

“Think before you speak. Read before you think.” ~Fran Lebowitz

9) Reading increases self-confidence

The more we read, the more we learn. With more knowledge, our self-esteem builds.  Strong self-esteem helps with self-confidence. It’s a chain reaction. And being well read, people will look to us for answers, which makes ourselves feel smarter.

“A word after a word after a word is power.” ~Margaret Atwood

10) Reading always gives us something to talk about

Reading books keeps us out of embarrassing situations where we don’t have anything to talk about. We can chat about the latest Stephen King book we’ve read or discuss the stuff we’re learning in the business or psychology books we’re reading. The possibilities of sharing become endless.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Practise your English in Spanish Bars

10 bares de Madrid para aprender idiomas

Practica una lengua extranjera mientras haces nuevos amigos

¡Ya no hay excusa! Cada día de la semana tienes una cita en algún local de la capital donde poder hablar inglés, francés, alemán o japonés mientras te tomas una caña. No necesitas un nivel mínimo y es mucho más divertido que ir a la academia. ¡Dónde va a parar!
En una ciudad tan cosmopolita como Madrid no es de extrañar que se haya impuesto la moda de los bares de idiomas para practicar conversación en grupos reducidos. El inglés sigue siendo la lengua más hablada, aunque cada vez hay más opciones. Echa un vistazo a los locales que te proponemos y planea una noche diferente mientras cenas o te tomas una copa haciendo amigos en un ambiente distendido. GUÍA DEL OCIO