Show and tell

Sometimes I really love my job.  This afternoon, the university’s HITLab (which stands for Human Interface Technology, for the uninitiated) had an open day.  And as we have quite a bit to do with them (we collaborated on the CityViewAR app, for example), our boss suggested we go and have a look around the other projects they’ve been working on.  So we basically got to spend the afternoon playing with cool toys.

And some of the toys were very cool indeed.  I got to try out Google Glass – amazing technology, but totally doesn’t work if you’re short-sighted.  It seems counter-intuitive, because the projector thing is right in front of your eye, but there must be some sort of lens arrangement that puts the focal point further out, because the image appears to be floating about a metre or so in front of you, and for me was just as out of focus as something would be at that distance in the real world.  So I could see shapes, but couldn’t really read the text.  And because the Glass has to be a certain distance from your eye, I couldn’t wear it over my ordinary glasses.  So it’s a contacts or nothing deal.  The guy running the demo also mentioned that although the Glass seems quite comfortable to wear at first, he’d found that if you have it on for any length of time the weight of the battery (which lives in one of the arms) resting on your ear gets quite painful.  So yeah, seriously cool concept, and I can totally see the potential, but it’s not quite there yet.  It kind of reminds me of the early days of mobile phones, when those massive bricks with no battery life weren’t exactly practical and seemed like just an expensive toy, yet were only a couple of generations away from something really useful.

Other cool things we got to play with:

  • Soccer playing robots.  It turns out I’m just as bad at sports when played via a robot as in real life – I had enough trouble getting the robot to even walk up to the ball (it kept getting confused and falling over because I gave it too many instructions at once), let alone actually kick it towards the net!
  • Augmented reality software that can be used to cure arachnophobia.  You put your hand in front of a camera, and on the screen you’d see spiders crawling over the desk and onto you.  You could even interact with them, picking them up and moving them around (squishing them didn’t work though, to my disappointment!).  The idea is that by interacting with them in a safe, controlled environment, you can gradually increase your exposure until you get comfortable with them.  It’s weird – even though you can look down at your hand and see there’s really no spiders there, it’s still incredibly creepy seeing them crawling over you on screen.  I could almost feel them scuttling!
  • Another augmented reality programme (available as an app) that lets you colour in pictures (on paper), which if you take a picture of them with your phone, then come to life in 3D (some of them were even animated), incorporating your colouring-in into the image.  It’s aimed at kids, but there were more than a few adults around the table industriously colouring in and being greatly entertained by the resulting images :-)
  • A weighted pen/mouse/pointer sort of thing that gives you physical feedback.  It was set up to play a simple little game where you could move a ball around the screen to interact with a rubber ducky floating in a pool of water.  When you moved the ball through the air the pointer thing moved freely, but if you moved it through the water, there was resistance – it felt kind of like the pointer suddenly got a lot heavier. And when you pushed the ball against the duck you could feel it sort of pushing back (I’m doing a terrible job of describing it, aren’t I?).  It added a whole new level of realism – I could see how it would be incredibly useful for microsurgery and things like that where having physical feedback alongside the visual would be so helpful (plus of course it would be brilliant for gaming).
  • An earthquake simulator, used in a similar way to the spider AR to help people traumatised by the quakes get over their fear by re-experiencing them in a controlled environment.  It worked through a combination of an Oculus headset (I was in geek heaven, getting to try both an Oculus and Google Glass!) and a shake table.  I was a bit concerned before I tried it that it might freak me out (given that I have been known to get scared by the earthquake simulator at Te Papa), especially as just feeling the vibrations of the shake table coming through the floor was bad enough.  But although the sounds and visual movement were very realistic (though the images were pretty lo-res), and the shaking was just as realistic, in combination they weren’t, so I wasn’t scared at all.  Talking about it afterwards with one of my team who had a similar reaction, we worked out that the problem was that the intensities didn’t match.  The sound and pictures were those of a very large earthquake, similar to February 22, that should have knocked you off your feet.  But the movement of the shaking table felt more like a magnitude 5 – biggish, but not huge.  And that disconnect between what your eyes and ears and your body were telling you was enough to break the illusion.  So the effect for me was nothing worse than a slight nausea from the VR.  An interesting idea, though, and apparently it’s shown some success with treating people.

There were a lot of other displays as well, but those were the ones that caught my attention.  Definitely a fun way to spend an afternoon – especially when you’re getting paid to do it!


We actually had a bookcrossing meetup in Christchurch this week.  I know, totally amazing!  It was only a small one – just four of us – but at least it was a meetup.  I really should put some effort into contacting new members (or maybe even releasing some books so we get some new members…), but I’ve kind of had other things on my mind this year (as well as being a bit discouraged by the long-term members who never make the effort to turn up).  Maybe now that life has settled down I’ll be able to put some energy into it again.  Anyway, it was a good night, and many books and much news was exchanged.


Unexpectedly, my new cabinet got delivered on Wednesday night.  I didn’t expect to get it until tomorrow, so that was a nice surprise.  It fits the space perfectly, and looks wonderful, too.

I haven’t quite decided what’s going to sit on top of it yet – the current arrangement is just temporary while I’m trying different ideas out.  Oh dear, I may just have to go shopping to find the perfect piece… :-)


Another new pretty: I saw this artist‘s work on the Works in Progress blog, and couldn’t resist buying a print.  She captures the flash of colour of a kereru (wood pigeon) so perfectly.

Now I’ve just got to find a suitable frame.  I miss my old go-to framing place – they always had such wonderful choices.  Unfortunately, another casualty of the earthquakes :-(


And a pretty that brings me joy every year – my flowering cherry has once again transformed my scruffy front yard into a spectacular display:

I’m so glad it held off on flowering until after those winds last week!


And finally, why you should never leave a bin of fabric in a sunny spot:

I’d been looking through some fabrics the other day, planning out a wee project I’ve got in mind, left the room for five minutes and came back to find Parsnips installed in what was obviously the best seat in the house.

Productive and fun

I had a very enjoyable and most productive day today.  Most of the morning was spent, as has become my Saturday morning tradition, with housework.  And yes, I count that as part of the enjoyableness – I’ve got it down to a routine where I put on some loud music and get to work, and can generally get everything done within two CDs.  It’s still enough of a novelty to be able to play whatever music I like without criticism (to be fair, H would rarely overtly criticise my music choices, but he nonetheless made his distaste sufficiently clear, to the point that I pretty much gave up putting any of my own music on when he was home) that that’s a big part of what makes my Saturday ritual fun.  Plus there’s the nice buzz from the energetic work of cleaning, and finally the sheer pleasure of sitting down at the end and knowing that my home is clean and tidy and just how I want it to be.

The rest of the morning was spent sitting in the sunroom with a cat on my lap (actually, two cats, but they changed shift part-way through, so I was spared having to try and fit both on my lap at the same time :-)), reading a book and watching a flock of wax-eyes catching insects in the lemon tree.

Then this afternoon Harvestbird and I undertook part two of the great furniture shopping expedition, visiting many many many furniture shops in search of the pretty.  We quickly established there were two types of shops – those who catered to those like us, and those who catered to the “more money than taste” brigade.  The latter were identifiable by their preponderance of overly shiny metal, and small occasional tables starting at $1000.

The expedition was definitely a success – best win was a fantastic glass-fronted cabinet that will fit the hallway perfectly, in a gorgeously distressed dull red lacquer-type finish.  Again I’ll have to wait until next week for it to be delivered, but there’ll definitely be photos once it is.  I also managed to find a floor lamp I liked (the shade is pretty dull, but I’m sure with the application of a little craftiness I can rectify that) and that sits perfectly alongside my nice chair, and (bargain of the day) an $8 second-hand table that, with a little ingenuity, I should be able to turn into the perfect base for my mosaic coffee table.  Pictures of both once I’ve finished them.

And of course the expedition was rounded off with tea and cake, for the perfect end to a lovely day.

Culture, wind, and a blast from the past

Got a surprise on the way home last night – I was walking across the campus when l heard someone call my name. The person talking to me looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place him.  But then, I met a lot of people while I was doing union work, so I’m used to people recognising me even when I’m not sure who they are. But as we chatted, it suddenly clicked into place and I realised where I knew him from: the science fiction club I was in coughty-cough years ago as a young undergrad!  Amazing that he recognised me after all these years!


Christchurch is known for its strong nor’west winds, but I’ve never seen any as strong as on Tuesday night. The met service was reporting wind gusts of 133 km/h at the airport, and I reckon they hadn’t slowed down much by the time they reached my house. The bedroom window (which the wind was pretty much hitting face on) was shaking and creaking so much that I went through to the lounge and slept on the couch just in case it blew in and showered me in glass. Then the power went out, which of course made the wind sound so much worse – funny how the dark can do that :-)  It was well after midnight before the wind quietened down enough that I could get to sleep, so it was a very long and tiring day at work on Wednesday (made even more exhausting by the fact I spent most of it training our new staff).

Thankfully there was no damage to my place, but there’s a lot of people around Christchurch who can’t say the same.  Trees down all over the place (I counted at least 5 big trees on my way to work, including one that had fallen across the road around the corner from me, resulting in the road being closed for two days while they cleared it), and roofs and fences blown away.  At this rate there’ll soon be nothing left of the city at all.


The Arts Festival is on at the moment, and I’ve managed to get to a few things.  The highlight so far was Gifted, Patrick Evans’s new play about Janet Frame.  Those of you who heard him talk at the Christchurch convention will understand when I say he managed to capture her voice incredibly well.  I was actually a bit aprehensive going to see the play, because the last play of his I saw wasn’t that great (Lytteltonwitch, I think you went to that one too?  This one was so much better!).  It was such a relief to actually enjoy it, so when I ran into him at work the next day I could genuinely tell him how much I liked it :-)

Another highlight was Rosemary McLeod’s talk about her book With Bold Needle and Thread.  Sister-in-law gave me the book for my birthday, and it’s absolutely gorgeous – full of beautiful photographs of vintage crafts and McLeod’s recreations of them with modern materials.  So it was great to hear her talk about the project and the book – she even had a little show and tell of some of the original objects.

I’ve been to a few non-Festival talks lately too.  One was the Royal Society’s Rutherford lecture, given by Margaret Brimble.  She talked about the process of discovering new molecules that could potentially have medical use, taking natural products as their starting point – it’s a lot more complex than I ever imagined!

Another fascinating lecture was by Craig Stanford, who works with the Jane Goodall Research Centre.  He was talking about primate behaviour, and the many environmental (and political) threats to the great apes’ survival.  As well as being interesting, he was a really entertaining speaker, which always helps.

So yeah, life is busy.  And good.

Three

Three years ago tonight, at just about this time, I was sitting in Wellington airport with a storm raging outside, wondering if my weather-delayed flight would be cancelled, and whether I should just give up and ring EdwardStreet to beg a bed for the night. When the wind finally died down enough a couple of hours later for planes to start departing, I was so relieved – much as I’d have enjoyed an evening in Wellington (I’d come up early that morning for a meeting and had spent the whole day closed up in the union offices without a chance to see anything of the city, let alone visit friends), I’d been feeling my usual paranoia that the big one would hit while I was visiting NZ’s most earthquake-prone city. It was such a calming moment (despite the still-buffeting winds) when the wheels left the runway and I was no longer on potentially unstable ground. And even better when we touched down in nice safe, rock-solid Christchurch.

Yes, well, we all know what happened a few hours later. Irony much? 7.1 magnitude earthquake right under our feet, which Wellington folk felt (if they even woke up for it) as a slight tremor. Not that we realised at the time that it was so close – my thoughts (like I’m sure many Cantabrians) immediately sprang to the dreaded Alpine Fault, and I hoped my family down near the southern end of the faultline were safe. If it’s this bad here, it must be terrible at the epicentre. I fully expected that once the power came back on we’d hear about the destruction of Arthur’s Pass and massive fatalities on the Coast.

After a long night sitting in the doorway reading by torchlight (too many aftershocks to go back to sleep), our first contact with the outside world – a text from my brother, asking if we were ok. I asked the same of him (thinking still it was the Alpine Fault), and only then learnt that it was centred on Christchurch (or, at least pretty close). And then, mid-morning, our power came back on, and so began the surreal experience of watching the news coverage from just a few km away, with that weird feeling like it was just some locally-shot disaster movie, but with special effects so spectacular we could actually feel the aftershocks the actors were reacting too. It never really felt real.

Even now, three years on, after so much more destruction, it still doesn’t seem real. I work with images from the earthquakes every day, I’ve talked to people who lost family, friends, homes and jobs, and I’ve been all over the city and seen the damage first-hand, but somehow I can’t quite bring myself to believe it actually happened here. Although the empty city centre has become familiar and almost normal, I still half expect to go into town one day and it’ll all be back how it was. Like I’m just visiting this alternative-universe Christchurch, and somewhere out there is the real Christchurch, where disasters never happen and boy racers are our biggest concern.

It’s been a weird three years.

In search of spring

It was a gorgeous sunny day yesterday (as it is again today), so I went for a long walk with my camera, looking for spring. I think I found it:

 

Part of my walk took me through the Staff Gardens at the university (where the earliest rhododendrons are just starting to bloom).  It’s quite a dense garden, with narrow paths between trees and tall bushes, so you never quite know who else is in the garden until you suddenly round a corner and bump into them.  Hearing voices but never seeing their owner isn’t uncommon either, as the winding paths take you within earshot but not sight. It’s also surrounded by student accommodation.  So when I heard what sounded like a rooster crowing, I assumed it was either some student’s alarm clock in an open window (it was nearly lunchtime by this point, but students…), or someone in the garden with a novelty ring-tone on their phone.

It was a bit of a surprise, then, to find the owner of the sound around the next bend:

I’ve got no idea what a rooster was doing wandering around a garden in the middle of suburbia (apart from having a wonderful time digging up grubs under the rhododendron bushes, that is).  But he seemed happy enough, so after pausing for a few photos I left him to it.

I wonder if he’s a friend of Yetzirah’s?


I did intend to spend today sewing, but so far I’ve spent way too much of it just sorting and editing photos!