The VR Show

One of the things If I had got the visa on time for Debconf 15 (Germany) apart from the conference itself was the attention on VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) . I had heard the hype so much for so many years that I wanted to experience and did know that with Debianities who might be perhaps a bit better in crystal-gazing and would have perhaps more of an idea as I had then. The only VR which I knew about was from Hollywood movies and some VR videos but that doesn’t tell you anything. Also while movie like Chota-Chetan and others clicked they were far lesser immersive than true VR has to be.

I was glad that it didn’t happen after the fact as in 2016 while going to the South African Debconf I experienced VR at Qatar Airport in a Samsung showroom. I was quite surprised as how heavy the headset was and also surprised by how little content they had. Something which has been hyped for 20 odd years had not much to show for it. I was also able to trick the VR equipment as the eye/motion tracking was not good enough so if you put shook the head fast enough it couldn’t keep up with you.

I shared the above as I was invited to another VR conference by a web-programmer/designer friend Mahendra couple of months ago here in Pune itself . We attended the conference and were showcased quite a few success stories. One of the stories which was liked by the geek in me was framastore’s 360 Mars VR Experience on a bus the link shows how the framastore developers mapped Mars or part of Mars on Washington D.C. streets and how kids were able to experience how it would feel to be on Mars without knowing any of the risks the astronauts or the pioneers would have to face if we do get the money, the equipment and the technology to send people to Mars. In reality we are still decades from making such a trip keeping people safe to Mars and back or to have Mars for the rest of their life.

If my understanding is correct, the gravity of Mars is half of earth and once people settle there they or their exoskeleton would no longer be able to support Earth’s gravity, at least a generation who is born on Mars.

An interesting take on how things might turn out is shown in ‘The Expanse

But this is taking away from the topic at hand. While I saw the newer generation VR headsets there are still a bit ways off. It would be interesting once the headset becomes similar to eye-glasses and you do not have to either be tethered to a power unit or need to lug a heavy backpack full of dangerous lithium-ion battery. The chemistry for battery or some sort of self-powered unit would need to be much more safer, lighter.

While being in the conference and seeing the various scenarios being played out between potential developers and marketeers, it crossed my mind that people were not at all thinking of safe-guarding users privacy. Right from what games or choices you make to your biometric and other body sensitive information which has a high chance of being misused by companies and individuals.

There were also questions about how Sony and other developers are asking insane amounts for use of their SDK to develop content while it should be free as games and any content is going to enhance the marketability of their own ecosystem. For both the above questions (privacy and security asked by me) and SDK-related questions asked by some of the potential developers were not really answered.

At the end, they also showed AR or Augmented Reality which to my mind has much more potential to be used for reskilling and upskilling of young populations such as India and other young populous countries. It was interesting to note that both China and the U.S. are inching towards the older demographics while India would relatively be a still young country till another 20-30 odd years. Most of the other young countries (by median age) seem to be in the African continent and I believe (might be a myth) is that they are young because most of the countries are still tribal-like and they still are perhaps a lot of civil wars for resources.

I was underwhelmed by what they displayed in Augmented Reality, part of which I do understand that there may be lot many people or companies working on their IP and hence didn’t want to share or show or show a very rough work so their idea doesn’t get stolen.

I was also hoping somebody would take about motion-sickness or motion displacement similar to what people feel when they are train-lagged or jet-lagged. I am surprised that wikipedia still doesn’t have an article on train-lag as millions of Indians go through the process every year. The one which is most pronounced on Indian Railways is Motion being felt but not seen.

There are both challenges and opportunities provided by VR and AR but until costs come down both in terms of complexity, support and costs (for both the deployer and the user) it would remain a distant dream.

There are scores of ideas that could be used or done. For instance, the whole of North India is one big palace in the sense that there are palaces built by Kings and queens which have their own myth and lore over centuries. A story-teller could use a modern story and use say something like Chota Imambara or/and Bara Imambara where there have been lots of stories of people getting lost in the alleyways.

Such sort of lore, myths and mysteries are all over India. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are just two of the epics which tell how grand the tales could be spun. The History of Indus Valley Civilization till date and the modern contestations to it are others which come to my mind.

Even the humble Panchtantra can be re-born and retold to generations who have forgotten it. I can’t express it much better as the variety of stories and contrasts to offer as bolokids does as well as SRK did in opening of IFFI. Even something like Khakee which is based on true incidents and a real-life inspector could be retold in so many ways. Even Mukti Bhavan which I saw few months ago, coincidentally before I became ill tells of stories which have complex stories and each person or persons have their own rich background which on VR could be much more explored.

Even titles such as the ever-famous Harry Potter or even the ever-beguiling RAMA could be shared and retooled for generations to come. The Shiva Trilogy is another one which comes to my mind which could be retold as well. There was another RAMA trilogy by the same author and another competing one which comes out in 2018 by an author called PJ Annan

We would need to work out the complexities of both hardware, bandwidth and the technologies but stories or content waiting to be developed is aplenty.

Once upon a time I had the opportunity to work, develop and understand make-believe walk-throughs (2-d blueprints animated/bought to life and shown to investors/clients) for potential home owners in a society (this was in the hey-days and heavy days of growth circa around y2k ) , it was 2d or 2.5 d environment, tools were lot more complex and I was the most inept person as I had no idea of what camera positioning and what source of light meant.

Apart from the gimmickry that was shown, I thought it would have been interesting if people had shared both the creative and the budget constraints while working in immersive technologies and bringing something good enough for the client. There was some discussion in a ham-handed way but not enough as there was considerable interest from youngsters to try this new medium but many lacked both the opportunities, knowledge, the equipment and the software stack to make it a reality.

Lastly, as far as the literature I have just shared bits and pieces of just the Indian English literature. There are 16 recognized Indian languages and all of them have a vibrant literature scene. Just to take an example, Bengal has been a bed-rock of new Bengali Detective stories all the time. I think I had shared the history of Bengali Crime fiction sometime back as well but nevertheless here it is again.

So apart from games, galleries, 3-d visual interactive visual novels with alternative endings could make for some interesting immersive experiences provided we are able to shed the costs and the technical challenges to make it a reality.

24×7 shopping in Maharashtra, Learning and Economics

Dear Friends,

My broadband connectivity (ADSL) by BSNL was down for a month and a bit more hence couldn’t post any blogs. In account of road-work there had been digging and numerous accounts of stealing thick copper cables which can be resold to different people and even melted to extract copper. Optical fiber for communication prices have dropped tremendously , the only expensive and tricky part is splicing and termination of the strands. There is a lobby which has clout and incentives to continue with this outdated and outmoded technology, which is why it continues, although this take discussion from the main topic.

I could have cheated and made a blog post in bits and pieces, something I hope to do this week-end but there has been some encouraging news and views which prompted me to post this blog post –

Mumbai 24/7: Shop, dine and play all night long in the city from today
and
Hotels And Restaurants In Maharashtra To Remain Open 24×7

One of the motives apart from being part of Debconf itself which is a valuable incentive to learn new things, is to see Taiwan shopping 24×7, it is the night market bit that the Taiwan team has shared, something I looked up and was a bit hooked up when I saw what’s it all about.

Of course if things go my way would probably would have to do bit more of research than what I have shared above.

The real meat (figure of speech) of today’s announcements was a discussion on CNBC Awaaz

Posted the youtube link above of the discussion – is in Hindi, the crux of the discussion while was about Mumbai (while I live in Pune, about 250-300 kms. in the neighboring city) the implications are for all those places which have restaurants. small kirana stores which had been facing lot of competition from e-tailers. One of the things being envisaged are places to eat and shop at unearthly hours at discounted rates which will drive people interested in such products and services. Also lot of retail services which depend upon such services are also reckoned to grow bringing more stability and multiplier effects to the Indian economy. Maharashtra ( one of the 29 States/Provinces in India) has been a bit contributor to the Indian economy over decades but hasn’t had its share of investment vis-a-vis what it gives to the national exchequer in terms of various fees and taxes. There are figures and beliefs which both support the argument. I haven’t shared as the blog post would still balloon up without adding anything but if needed can still share it in comments.

It was also shared that it would increase tourism but that got mixed reviews that it might not unless and until liquor timings, licenses are loosened up a bit.

I would contend though that there should be substantial increase and flexibility in domestic tourism and businesses as people would be able to make amicable plans for both parties ( a giver and a receiver.)

If one were to specifically talk about Mumbai, both Marine Drive, Grandstand as well as some other places in Colaba and elsewhere have been/were open all night. But with this shift of policy the civic infrastructure which already was in deficit might increase more as it comes under more pressure while law and order would need to be more beefed up and adequately trained, both of which are under strain as well. What was shared this policy would also end the lower-rank corruption by police officials who used to ask for protection money if shops were even a little late in closing up.

There is also a possibility that traffic congestion might be in night as well but it may reflect into a bit less traffic congestion in the day-time. Again all of this is a bit of imagination, conjecture at this point in time. People like me who can’t stand Mumbai’s humidity in the day-time would find a bit more excuse to be there at night if more budget restaurants were to be open late at night.

Also it is not a blanket thing for everybody, there are restrictions on shops in residential areas which might be expected to be relaxed a bit once things happen in the open. One well-known name which cropped up was the ubiquitous 7-11 stores. There would certainly be lot of interest if such convenience stores opened up all across the city/state.

I am excited to see if this happens.

Although, this has happened in India years ago, just it was ‘illegal’ and now it is ‘legal’. When I was in my college, around 1993 – 1994 I had shared also in 2016 Debconf the net/web had just started in India and I was lucky to be able to see/view the net using a service called NIIT Computerdrome.

Just to be explicit, NIIT is and was a premium offering for students who wanted to learn about programming and various MS-Windows technologies as there were already signs that IT (Information Technology) would be a disruptive force. Although nowadays they have also moved into management and administration courses as local IT industry has yet to grow up and lot of H1B-Visas under scanner.

It was a fancy name for what is now known as a cyber-cafe but we used to get net access at discounted rates. Now this place was about 4-5 kms. from my place so I had to be really careful in planning, figuring out as I had to buy coupons which had an expiry date and everything.

Couple of years later, came to know of a service much closer to home, in the basement of a place called Sagar Arcade. Now for those of us who were addicted to web access either for porn, or net technologies, or net gaming, IRC, Video chatting all used to throng there. At that time, NIIT had an 8 Mbps leased line which was a big deal and still is.

While wholesale bulk bandwidth rates have hit rock-bottom, last-mile connectivity still seems to be an issue. Because of Reliance Jio’s aggressive pitches some of the retail bandwidth rates have softened up but still have miles to go before I could say we have adequate bandwidth. Dropped calls (on mobile and landline) are still an issue while bandwidth tapering off every now and then seems to be endemic behavior in both public and private sector ISPs (Internet Service Provider) most of which are Tier-3 ISPs, the only tier-1 ISP Indian ISP I know is Tatas, see this FAQ as well –

World’s largest wholly owned submarine fibre network – more than 500,000 km of subsea fibre, and more than 210,000 km of terrestrial fibre
Only Tier-1 provider that is in the top five in five continents – by internet routes
Over 24% of the world’s internet routes are on Tata Communications’ network
400+ PoPs reach more than 240 countries and territories
44 data centres and co-location centres with over one million sq. ft. of space
7600 petabytes of internet traffic travels over the Tata Communications’ internet backbone each month
15+ terabits/s of international bandwidth lit capacity

– From Tata Communications FAQ .

but came to know they are merging their end-user business with Airtel (another Tier-3 ISP) while their under-sea fibre optic cable business(see above) will still remain with them but this again is taking outside the current topic.

Back to topic on hand –

I am guessing that there was practically no work being done after hours so NIIT might have in-turn leased some of the capacity to the cyber-cafe.

The cybercafe owner had two rates, normal rates which were comparable to any other cyber-cafes and night rates which were half or one-fourth (happy hours) which extended from 2300 hrs – 0500 hours. In order to indulge into net curiosity/net addiction me and few of my friends used to go there. Few days/couple of weeks later a chinese take-away and then a juice/tea/coffee shop came to serve the cybercafe customers.

This whole setup was illegal as according to laws of the time, no commercial establishment (only exceptions being Railway stations, Police Stations, Hopitals, some specific Petrol Pumps and Medicine dispensations shops were allowed to remain open 24×7 ) But even in the case of Medicine shops and Petrol Pumps there were very few who had got permission (looking back might have a combo for Business/Political patronage to it which were not apparent when I was a teenager.) I also came to know much much later that what we were doing was illegal as in using a commercial establishment after hours even though it was in connivance with the owner. see The Bombay Shop Act, 1948.

Comically, the Bombay Shop Act which has now been superseded by the Maharashtra Shops and Establishments Act 2017 has never been in the syllabus of Commerce Students even when we were graduating with Business Administration as one of the optional subjects. The Act and surrounding topics should have been there in the books and creative discussions and consultations with students being taken up. This was in 1994, a full 46 years after the Act came into being.

But as has been shared on this blog before, this is a dream which seems shall not be realized at least in the immediate future.

While reading today’s newspaper I came across this editorial which also opens up a window what the elitist institutions have shrunk in their collective responsibility. While it only talks about social sciences, another article for students of UPSC Mains which was shared by a student friend of mine. It actually took me back to the term Dismal Science as I came across the term and understood the implications years ago.

While it is too early to state/predict whether it would change things in Pune and Maharashtra as a whole, but am hopeful as it would generate both direct and indirect employment. After years of jobless inflationary growth it would be welcome departure especially as youngsters without adequate job skills are joining the unemployed in millions.