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Hoping to build a computer this year…

Still waiting. You know, for 2016. Because you know what happens in 2016? Presidential election! But, more interestingly, the Oculus Rift will be released! (If everything goes as planned, I guess.)

(Sorry in advance for the materialistic nature of this post. Thinking too much about money and materialistic crap may be harmful to some readers’ souls. Reader discretion is advised.)

I spent some time researching the computer I’ll need to power the Rift, and honestly I’d like to have it ASAP so I can start fooling around with game programming with Unity 5. (As I said before, my current computer runs Unity 4 too slowly, and my OS (Vista) is not even officially supported, so trying to learn Unity on here is a bit torturous.) I’ve used this site as a sort of guide for what I’ll need, so I’m basically looking into building the computer myself, which, for all my interest in computers, will be my first time actually building one from individually purchased parts. Fingers crossed that it’ll go well. Anyway, my plans currently don’t deviate much from the parts listed on the aforementioned site. I’ll probably look into different cases as I’d prefer one with a bit more personality (such as a window), but that’s only if I can find one at a good price with some good space for future upgrades should I want them. Hard drive wise, I’d like to look into perhaps getting both a solid state drive to store the operating system and an old-fashioned mechanical hard drive with 1 or 2 TB’s for some good storage. (Composing music can take up a good amount of space when you’re storing some big audio files, plus games in general can take up some significant chunks themselves.) I’ll have to research how to set that up.

Altogether, my current estimate is that the computer will cost $1,200. Of course, when the time comes, I’ll search around for deals and save every bit I can. I’ll probably also search some nearby stores and see if I can pick up anything in person; having to wait for parts in the mail will be torture for my weak impatient soul (though that will probably be the cheaper option). Anyway, I won’t have to worry about it yet; still gotta save the actual money. (It’s tempting to just use my credit card and buy it all now, but I guess I’ll resist.) With the debts I’m still paying off, my phone bill, and my Netflix addiction, it’ll probably take around three months, give or take. I’m currently about 1/6th of the way there, $200 saved of $1,200. So only $1,000 short.

It’s aggravating having to wait; my mind’s been obsessed with dreaming about VR and a new rig all week. Everything I do feels like something to fill the time while waiting. And while that hasn’t really helped me be more productive in any way, it has actually been a bit cathartic; it’s helped relieve some of my overly-self-conscious “is this a good use of my time?” anxiety that just makes me angry when I feel like I wasted some time, which just makes me waste more time.

I’ve also been looking forward to YouTube’s upcoming game-streaming platform, their answer to Twitch. Maybe I’ll even try streaming some gameplay of my own, though that’ll have to wait until I build that new rig, because I doubt my current Vista-powered computer would stream very well.

I’m also looking forward to the upcoming game for PS4, The Last Guardian, showcased not long ago at E3. I’ve been waiting at least 6 years for this game; it was originally intended as a PS3 game, but it’s been in development for so long that PS4 is now their target console. Check it out:

I don’t have a PS4, but I guess I’ll need to buy one just for this game. Unless I get trapped in my Oculus Rift.

Waiting for the Oculus Rift

It was computer gaming that inspired me to self-learn GW-BASIC programming in elementary school. I wanted to make games. For the past decade, I’ve meandered from that interest, more towards music composition, writing fantasy, and even a couple years studying character animation. I’ve also been interested in 3D images since a young age, when ViewMasters and those Magic Eye books were popular. I’ve loved 3D movies at the theater since they’ve become feasible. I pity those who get motion sickness from the experience, but I’ve never understood any other sort of objections to them. (I, on the other hand, get motion sickness when trying to read in a car, which stinks. I usually have to look out the front window to avoid sickness. Of course, when driving, I have to do that anyway.)

So I’m super excited for the Oculus Rift, the virtual reality gear set to come out sometime near the beginning of 2016. That also gives me time to save up the money to buy it, along with the new computer I’ll need to power it. (And which I need anyway now that my 2009 Alienware laptop is practically useless outside of safe mode thanks to a failing hard drive, and my 2008 Vista-powered desktop is almost out of hard drive space and is outdated a quite a few other regards.) The Rift may get me obsessed with gaming again, and of course I’ll also want to explore developing my own projects with Unity 5. (My current desktop doesn’t even support Unity 5, and Unity 4 runs so slowly that it’s a bit agonizing to use.) The wait is a bit agonizing, but I’m definitely looking forward to it.

Beyond gaming, I can’t help but think about other possibilities the VR gear may make possible. Could I write a novel in a VR world, inspired by fantastical scenery and drowning out real-world distractions? Could I compose music by moving around blocks of notes or something instead of having to click notes into a scoring program? Could I watch a movie (perhaps a 3D one?) in a virtual movie theater so that it’s like watching the movie on a big screen in the distance?

How might VR gear transform websites themselves into virtual experiences? Could I browse books on Amazon as an enormous epic bookstore? Could I make a VR world for my blog?

What about chatting and VR hangouts in virtual worlds?

And then of course there’s Oculus’s Story Studio which I’ve already blogged about that is exploring fascinating possibilities.

I can’t wait to see what awesome new worlds VR technology may make possible!

A movie I’d like to make someday

If you Google around, you can see their are quite a few “personal 3D viewers” available.  They look a bit like a virtual reality set, except they’re for watching movies or playing video games; that is, moving your head around doesn’t do anything.  Personally, I’d love to try watching a 3D film with one of these.  (Not sure I’d use one in public though; I’d rather be aware of my surroundings in public.)  They’re expensive, close to a $1,000, which is a bit out of my price range.

Anyway, wouldn’t it be cool to produce a 3D first-person perspective film to be viewed in one of these 3D viewers?

I know I’m probably not the first to have the idea, but I don’t know of any films produced that are 3D, completely first-person, and designed to be watched with a personal 3D viewer.

I’d also use binaural recording for the sound to really immerse the viewer.  Wouldn’t that be awesome?  Imagine a horror movie produced that way.  Or a newscast.

So… something I’d like to do someday.

NotateMe, notation software for mobile devices

This looks like an interesting tool:

It won’t work on my current phone, but maybe I can try it on my next phone, or if I ever get a tablet. I would love to be able to write music on a mobile device. (At least, I think so. I’ve never actually tried it.)

Maybe the creators would like to buy my melody generator technology? I am selling it for only $1,000,000.

What online video needs


I was thinking about the differences between TV and YouTube.  Some differences are obvious.  YouTube’s videos are mostly far shorter than an average TV program, and YouTube’s offerings have very low production value, being made by home users who simply wish to share a small comment or piece of art or something.

But the experience of watching a YouTube video is also different.  Not just because it’s watched on a computer screen rather than a TV screen, but the experience is framed differently by audiences.  That is, audiences expect a different experience when clicking on the TV and when watching a YouTube video.  Even though YouTube vids are short and have low production value, it takes audiences more work to get to them.  They have to load up the browser, go to YouTube, and search or click around for their desired vid.  TV, however, only takes the click of one or two buttons on a remote.  TV broadcasters are continually pumping out content.  TV audiences often ignore a lot of TV content, leaving it on in the background, or tuning in when they are bored, just to “see what’s on.”

So, if online video is to compete with traditional TV, we need an online service that will pump out video automatically, without the user having to make a conscious effort to decide what to watch specifically.  Online video needs a way for audiences to just “see what’s on.”  A first-time user could setup a custom channel depending on his interests, and YouTube would load the selected videos automatically.  If the user doesn’t like them, he can go find his own videos.  Meanwhile, there are plenty of people settling for boring stuff on TV simply because it’s more convenient, because it takes less work to get to.  It’s worth competing for their attention.

So somebody go make that.

Distraction: some random thoughts on Internet media

I’ll be spending the next several weeks really diving into developing my ideas for a cartoon series (which I’ve mentioned every now and then on this blog for while). I’m putting together a pitch and will try my best to sell it. If that doesn’t pan out (it’s a super-competitive market, after all), I might look into Internet distribution.

Two things got me thinking about the Internet as a form of video distribution. First, there was this post on Cartoon Brew. I myself have often wondered about the possibilities of marketing cartoon content on the Internet. No one has really figured out how to monetize videos yet, except in very limited ways (ads on YouTube, mainly, which don’t pay nearly enough to guarantee an income for someone just starting out; making a living off of YouTube ad revenue takes a combination of continuous hard work and luck; that is, you can’t guarantee a ton of people will see your work like you can if your work appears on a popular TV channel).

I was also recently thinking about the art of film editing after having watched The Cutting Edge – The Magic of Movie Editing. The documentary makes mention of the fact that audiences today seem more capable of handling (or are more hungry for) extremely fast-paced rapid cuts (such as during chase scenes and fight scenes). And I took particular note of something director Martin Scorsese said about this:

What I’m afraid of is the tendency for everything to go by quickly and I’m afraid of what it does to the culture… a sense of consuming something and throwing it away as opposed to being enveloped with something, taking the time to see and experience time in a different way.

If you take a look at what sorts of comedy videos become popular on YouTube (such as Fred, The Annoying Orange, Smosh, etc.), they share one main important feature: short length. These video creators do not ask viewers to become involved in a story the way TV shows and movies do. They are short and gag-driven.

Why is this the case?

It is my theory (not that I’m the only one to have this theory, of course) that it is because when viewers watch videos on the Internet, they are close to their keyboards. They are ready to type chat messages with their friends on Facebook. They are ready to watch the next video on the side of YouTube. They are ready to load up a new website. It’s just so easy to be distracted, to go on to something else, that they are probably not going to sit through a 22-minute or 43-minute or 90-minute video narrative of something they’ve never seen before. (By narrative video, I mean a fiction-story-driven video, not a documentary or a lecture or an interview, etc.)

If they want to have that sort of longer video watching experience, they’ll go to the TV, where they have a more comfortable seat, a better viewing distance, and less distractions. Or they’ll turn their TV on while they do something else and use the TV’s narrative as a background experience. (Which really isn’t great for your mind, but if you’re working on something dull, like folding laundry or history homework, it can help the time go by.)

If you want the best distraction-free narrative viewing, you go to the movie theater. The lights are dimmed, people’s cell phones should be off, there’s no rewind button, there’s no house phone, there’s no refrigerator for you to get a drink from, there are no commercials… it’s just you and the movie. You go there to be absorbed entirely in the story of the movie.

So… my point is that if we’re going to try to monetize the narrative video viewing experience on the Internet like it’s monetized with advertising on the TV, we have to take into account all the possible distractions people have while they sit on their computers. If you want to distribute a 22-minute cartoon episode (or really anything over 5 minutes), maybe force full-screen? Er… I’m not sure I can think of anything else that might help counter the distraction problem at the moment, but I think that’s what video distributors need to be thinking about: how to stop viewers from being distracted. Until then, I think the classic TV in the living room will remain the dominant distribution method for longer narratives.

That said, Internet TVs will, I think, certainly change things. At least they have the potential to as they become more popular. It will be interesting to see whether they make longer narrative videos more popular on the Internet or introduce more distractions into the normal TV-watching experience. Or both. But I think that’s the boat to be on. I think YouTube is simply too distraction-driven for longer narratives to find potential audiences.

(That said, even with Internet TVs, there will still be no guaranteed way to make money off your content; the competition is simply too strong. Luck will always be a factor, no matter the content or the manner of distribution. We can not hold up something like The Annoying Orange and claim it became popular for some innate reason. Likewise, we can not hold up some video that failed to become popular and claim its unpopularity was due to some innate flaw or some sort of artistic ignorance. Success simply can’t be mathematically manufactured; it is a product of a social system far too complex to design for.)

VUDU looks useless

This article seemed interesting. I guess the movie studios are really hating not being able to capitalize on Netflix’s streaming success (which, quality-wise, isn’t even that great):

At a press conference today in Los Angeles, the company announced that, as rumored, it’s launching a new program called the Disc to Digital service. Starting on April 16, anyone can bring their DVD collection into a Walmart store, and copies of each movie will be loaded onto your account on VUDU…

To make this happen, Walmart is partnering with 20th Century Fox, Universal, Sony Pictures, Paramount, and Warner Bros., and it sounds like the program will include any DVD released by those studios. (Executives from all five took the stage at Walmart’s event.) The system will also integrate with the UltraViolet digital locker platform that the studios have been pushing, making UltraViolet titles available through VUDU.

Um… I guess that’s nice, but are they really loading your movies on to VUDU, or just unlocking access to them? And if they’re just unlocking access to them, should that really cost so much?

I personally prefer to watch blu-rays on my laptop. A movie theater provides the best movie-watching experience (though I wish I could help them get the sound and focus at just the right levels), but a blu-ray on the laptop is the next best thing. Then DVD. Then streaming. Streaming is awful, quality-wise. VUDU says it allows HD streaming to TVs via various devices, but I’m not sure most Internet connections can support that yet, at least not around here; and even if they could, it seems like a terrible waste of resources. And it doesn’t support HD streaming to PCs. And it doesn’t support mobile Android devices.

And the prices to rent or buy digital content from them are ridiculous.

So, as far as I can tell, this is pretty much useless at the moment. I’ll stick to buying blu-rays, or renting them from Netflix.

E-books need a subscription service

I would think an ideal business model (from a consumer perspective) would be a monthly or yearly fee (I’d probably be willing to pay up to $20 a month) for unlimited access to hundreds of thousands of books. No need to digitally recreate the “library check out” process that places artificial limitations on digital resources. You pay the fee, you get access. Once you stop renewing your subscription, no more access. Your monthly fee goes to the service to keep it running, and to the publishers of the books you spent the most time reading (or flipped the most pages of, or something).

Unfortunately, just as movie studios are stingy about letting audiences have too many streaming options, I doubt most publishers would be willing to allow such access to large catalogues. And this sort of business won’t work if the size of the catalogue isn’t vast enough to attract audiences. It must compete with physical libraries after all.

For now, the only thing that could pry me away from small stacks of physical paper would be easier access to a vaster selection for a cheaper price.

The Singularity is near… ?

Jürgen Schmidhuber at Singularity Summit 2009 – Compression Progress: The Algorithmic Principle Behind Curiosity and Creativity from Singularity Institute on Vimeo.

Also check out: Formal Theory of Creativity & Fun & Intrinsic Motivation

“Someday computers will be artists. They’ll be able to write amusing and original stories, invent and play games of unsurpassed complexity and inventiveness, tell jokes, and suffer writer’s block.” ~Scott R. Turner

P.S. Notice this is exactly the same kinda thing Feynman was saying in that video I posted last week.