Joining a video chat from VR

My team at work has a weekly call, codenamed “Strategy Sync”, where we chit-chat and play a few rounds of Rocket League. This week, I joined the call from the metaverse via Bigscreen, which allowed me to beam my colleagues onto a giant screen in my virtual lounge room.

The best part was, they could see me, too! Well, my virtual avatar anyway. Here’s how I set it up.

What you’ll need

How to use Bigscreen camera as a webcam

  1. Install OBS Studio and OBS-VirtualCam
  2. Launch Bigscreen
  3. In the Bigscreen menu, select Tools > Camera > Capture Mode
  4. Launch OBS Studio, and select Tools > Virtual Cam
  5. Turn on Horizontal Flip, and press Start
  6. Launch your video chat application (I used Zoom), and select OBS as your webcam

Back in Virtual Reality, you should see your Bigscreen environment, and a selfie stick camera. This camera is now be your virtual web cam!

Holding an image in your mind

Further reflections on Chapter 4 of Jewish Meditation by Aryeh Kaplan.

Begin practicing visualisation meditation

Learn to focus on the patterns behind your eyes. Practice holding images there for longer periods. Meditations should last 20—30 minutes.

Introduce mantra meditation to enhance the clarity of the images. Ribbono shel olam is a Jewish mantra suggested by Rabbi Nachman. Practice until images become spectacular and vivid.

Begin conjuring images to hold in the mind’s eye. Practice holding images for longer periods, and controlling what the mind sees.

Advanced visualisation experiences

Visualising images which aren’t possible to see with physical eyes, such as the “lamp of darkness” which the Zohar speaks of, or intensified beauty of mental imagery beyond our physical perception.

Panoscopic vision, where one can visualise an object from multiple perspectives simultaneously. Ezekiel’s vision of four-faced angels who do not rotate as they move may be an example of a panoscopic experience.

Synesthesia may be induced in a higher state of consciousness. This is a mixing of the senses, where one sees sounds, hears colours, or feels scents. This may have been the experience of the people’s experience when the Ten Commandments were given. The Torah describes “All the people saw the sounds”.

Visualising nothingness. This is a phenomena less associated with transcendental meditation, and more with mindfulness meditation. It is the absence of everything, including self, and including blackness or space.

States of Consciousness

Reflections on Chapter 4 of Jewish Meditation by Aryeh Kaplan.

Meditative states are usually hard, often impossible, to describe. Language is created through shared experiences, and meditation is a purely internal experience, so it makes sense that we lack the vocabulary.

Even so, it is possible to understand varying degrees of consciousness by starting with two very familiar states: Sleep and Awake.

We can expand this further – sometimes we feel drowsy, sometimes we feel alert. So we can see that there are at least two wakeful states of being. Also, we know that there are two states of sleep: NREM (quiet sleep) and REM (active sleep). So, based on this, it’s possible to understand:

  • Active sleep state
  • Quiet sleep state
  • Awake state
  • Alert state

Now that at least 4 states of consciousness are obvious to us, it’s not impossible to imagine additional states.

I don’t think of these as a ladder, gaining higher and higher states of being. Rather, think of consciousness as a tree – we can tune in (or branch out) to being more perceptive, more focused, more creative, calmer.

It appears to me as though there are two main boughs to this tree, which I refer to as hot and cold meditative states. Being hot allows you to give your full attention to a single task, laser-focused to the exclusion of all else. Being cold allows you to clear and calm your mind, allowing positive emotions and creative solutions to surface.

I have experienced a hot meditative state many times while programming. Being “in the zone”, also referred to as achieving “flow”, is a common experience for software developers, who become hyper-focused – locked-on with the whole body and mind (often ignoring hunger, thirst, and even the need to use the bathroom).

There’s a whole subreddit (unknowingly) dedicated to being in a cold meditative state: r/showerthoughts. Often our best ideas come to us we’re relaxed, with a quiet mind, such as in the shower or drifting off to sleep.

Experience Design for the Blind

When creating VR games and experiences, we should design them so that they can be used by the blind.

VR for blind people may seem counterintuitive, but if you think it through it makes a lot of sense. The thought occurred to me after visiting the Notes on Blindness VR experience, followed by something Lucas Rizzotto said on the Research VR Podcast.

I hate buttons, and I hate two-dimensional interfaces… a Like button is exactly not the way to do it.

Lucas Rizzotto

It’s often said that VR is a visual medium, but with properly implemented spacial audio, VR can be an auditory medium too. There’s no reason why someone who experiences actual reality without any visual information couldn’t do the same in a virtual environment.

Thinking about our virtual worlds in this way also helps us to imagine interaction paradigms that fit better in a 3D space. For example, if 2D menus are out – what creative possibilities exist to replace them?

Some other examples:

  • If the user has no visual information to understand their position in the world, what audio cues can I provide?
  • Maybe there should be a lake rippling to one side, and the wind rustling the leaves in the trees behind?
  • How do I represent locomotion and movement with sound?
  • Are there any sounds reflecting the players status (health, stamina, or effects)?
  • How can I precisely position an obstacle or goal with audio cues?

Of course, thinking about our virtual worlds in this way will profoundly increase immersion for everyone.

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Putting Myself Out There

Some people have social anxieties, or one of a vast range of phobias. Me? I’m frightened of seeing myself on a recorded video.

So, when I decided that I wanted to start creating YouTube content (it’s important to balance creation and consumption), I had some serious YouTube-phobia to overcome.

Now, I adore the cinema (I saw 110 movies in 2017), and I’m obsessed with the potential of Virtual Reality. So it only seemed natural to start a VR Movie Reviews channel, where I can discuss what works (and what doesn’t) in immersive storytelling.

To date, I’ve created 6 videos, and planned quite a few more. I find myself improving the my video content skills with every try.

Gutenberg

The current WordPress editor is a little behind the time. It hasn’t really changed since 2009!

Thankfully, the WordPress community is working on a complete reimagining of content publishing. The Gutenberg project leap-frogs competitors like Squarespace and Medium, giving WordPress users the tools to create vibrant, modern, and engaging content experiences.

I believe Gutenberg has the power to herald in a kind of “Blogging 2.0”, as authors are inspired to build new forms of medium / long-form content, and their audience is excited about interacting with something more than a wall of text.

This is great news for the open and distributed web, which will soon have the opportunity to out-class walled-garden platforms in reader engagement.

I’ve been using the preview version of Gutenberg on this blog for around six months. Although Gutenberg is slated to be included in WordPress core by August, you can start using it today.

AirPods are Normal

On this day, AirPods stopped standing out to me as ugly white ear appendages.

Today, I saw a man walking with a suit, briefcase, and wired headphones, and the wires hanging from his ears struck me as odd. 

Shortly after, I boarded a train in Sydney, where AirPod density was noticeably high. 

I love my AirPods. I’ve been using Apple products since 1993, and these are up there with the original iPod and the colourful iMac range.