Spaaaace, part 2

Well, I’ve figured out why my “theory” of dark energy doesn’t work. I had the false impression that electromagnetic force’s effects worked differently at long ranges than gravity. If I’d made it to Physics 102, I’d probably have been better acquainted with the concept of the Inverse-square law.

Until next time!

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Spaaaace

I’ve been thinking of astrophysics lately due to Hawking’s passing. I challenged myself to come up with explanations for dark matter and dark energy. These are of course just thought experiments for fun. I ain’t no genius.

Dark energy: we know that gravity weakens at a distance, and that light travels infinitely if in a vacuum. Let’s assume our collective knowledge about the big bang is also true, including the fact that the universe was once a singularity. Photons actually exert a tiny, tiny amount of pressure. Isn’t the natural conclusion that dark energy is photons, continually and always exerting a tiny bit of force “outwards,” because at certain ranges they will eventually overpower gravity resulting in the acceleration of the expansion of the universe? Obviously not, because the nature of dark energy is one of science’s great mysteries… so, why not? Have we already run those calculations through a computer and determined its an insufficient explanation? Do we even -have- the means to calculate something at that scale? Heck, would I even be able to understand the answer to “why not” without getting a PHD in physics?

I’m still mulling over dark matter (gee, ya think?) though I feel like black holes are in some way related — the problem is that quantum mechanics seems to inevitably get involved in my attempts to explain it, and I just cannot wrap my head around that stuff. Physics at a large scale is far, far easier to comprehend. I can come up with vague theories that I could halfway believe if Hawking radiation does not actually exist, but I’m not about to make such a bold claim.

Whenever I start to dig deeper into topics like these, I run into equations that make my head spin and my eyes glaze over. It’s much easier to think about from a philosophical / pseudo-sciency standpoint than to think about it via actual numbers and equations. I guess that’s one of the reasons I’m grateful for the Carl Sagans and Neil DeGrasse Tysons of the world. They’re essentially translators for those of us interested in astrophysics but without the time or intelligence to devote to it.

My Vive Library So Far

Title — Short Description — Letter Grade

A-10 VR — shoot bullets and lasers at robots floating towards you — (B)
Audioshield — Music rhythm game — (B+)
Fantastic Contraption — Physics puzzle game — (B)
Final Approach — air traffic controller simulator + more — (B+)
HoloBall — Pong in VR — (C+)
Irrational Exuberance — drug trip simulator? — (B+)
Job Simulator — comedy-guided “job” simulator, little replay value — (B-)
Project CARS — driving simulator (fairly realistic and rigid; don’t get if looking for an “arcade racer” like I was) — (B)
Space Pirate Trainer — similar to A-10 VR but with more emphasis on dodging — (B)
Surge — free VR music video — (B-)
The Lab — well polished set of minigames — (A+)
theBlu — interactive “underwater” demo — (A-)
Tilt Brush — nifty drawing app — (A+)
Universe Sandbox — play God and fly around space, but very limited features in VR mode — (C+)
Vanishing Realms — adventure game / first person RPG — (B+)
Water Bears VR — well-polished Pipe Dream-ish puzzle game — (A)
Windlands — grappling hook simulator — (A-)
ZenBlade — basically fruit ninja in VR — (C-)

The HTC Vive Brief Review — on a barely qualifying computer

When I purchased the HTC Vive, I did so knowing that my computer barely met the minimum requirements (in particular, my GTX 960 graphics card is a bottleneck of performance). I also ordered a powerful new computer to dedicate completely to Virtual Reality, but until it arrives I’m having to make do with what I’ve got.

So, up front? If you have $800 to spend on a Vive but not enough juice to power it, it’s probably not worth the trouble. It’s a demanding, not always user-friendly setup that is going through the growing pains of early technology. Job Simulator is unplayable (dropped frames), The Lab and Audioshield frequently crash or freeze, and I have been experiencing frequent audio glitches. The technical difficulties just break immersion too often.

More general comments: If video-watching is your preferred activity, you might want to invest in Google Daydream devices instead — there is no native support for YouTube yet (though surely it’s coming), and generally videos don’t look all that hot on the Vive. Rendered environments (such as those in games or simulators) look much better, and the quality of software seems to depend a lot on how well they utilize the controllers.

My biggest complaint about the hardware is that it’s very difficult to properly fit the headset on in a way that fits well comfortably for long-term use. Adjusting the straps, getting your eyes in just the right position, all of that stuff is actually quite a challenge… and even once you get it right, you’ll still be pretty hot “inside” that thing and may want a fan blowing on you.

So how does the room-scale stuff pan out? Well, from my experience you want to do VR in one of two ways: Sitting down, or with the full recommended area. Playing with a half-room to walk around in just feels clunky. It’s totally worth moving that couch to get the extra meter of space.

So, yeah, I’m getting a pretty watered-down experience so far… and I must say in spite of all that, it’s been super fun! I’m getting the impression that the Vive is the best VR option available -if- you can clear out a whole room, but otherwise the Oculus and PS VR might win out. I hope I can find more content besides Audioshield that I’ll actually want to revisit.

VR: The HTC Vive

Over the past several days I’ve managed to watch most of this 11 hour long video reviewing the HTC Vive on the day of its official launch:

There’s a lot of potential, but it seems not very many developers willing to commit a lot of resources yet so the content is lacking. The reasoning isn’t hard to come up with: at this point in time, someone developing a VR app or game doesn’t know which of the VR hardware is going to take off. Do you assume the user has space to walk around or will be sitting down? Do we assume they have access to hand sensors or not? Nobody’s gonna want to sink a lot of money into making a game hardly anyone can play. There is definite mutual interest between the various companies developing VR to make their stuff work on each other’s hardware, but I don’t think we have terribly coherent organization in this industry just yet.

I may be interested in the second or third generation of the Vive, assuming more content becomes available down the line. The fact that it must be wired is quite a large downside, all other things considered.

Smaller cities still adapting to WiFi

I went to the local Seasons of Japan for a steak bowl. They advertise (with great big posters) their free WiFi. Well, long story short, the employees were unable to figure out the password, so it was of absolutely no use to me. This is something to consider for those trying to stick to WiFi usage in smaller towns and cities. Statesboro can pass itself off as medium-sized these days, but I was still not at all surprised to have this happen.