Archive | June, 2013

Venice Beach’s Magic Walk Streets

30 Jun

I was scheduled for a midday meeting in Santa Monica recently, so I decided to take advantage of the favorable timing and location to spend the morning doing something nice. For me, this usually means trying to find a great local place to enjoy a cup of coffee and absorb a new neighborhood. Having grown up in Southern California, I always had a fondness for Venice Beach which happens to have a number of well-regarded cafes so I made my way to Intelligentsia on Abbot Kinney Blvd. I probably hadn’t been to Venice Beach in at least 10 years, and the visits from my college days were usually punctuated by all-hours visits to bohemian dens such as Van Gogh’s Ear or daytime boardwalk serenades from rollerskating, electric guitar wielding, portably amplified djinn. Abbot Kinney is . . . different from all that, but still uniquely Venice. That said, after abandoning any hope of comfort and slothful assimilation into Intelligentsia’s decidedly unergonomic furnishings, I found myself successfully caffeinated and seeking more dynamic stimulation. I had a nice time browsing the various shops, but I figured I had time for at least one adventure. I temporarily became one of those annoying people who becomes completely absorbed in using their phone while trying to move through a public space, and a bit of serendipitous internet searching led me to a walking tour of “hidden” Venice. I read the section on the “walk streets” of Venice with interest and looked up and noticed that I was literally at the corner of Palms & Electric Ave. which marked the beginning of the walking tour. Coincidence?

Not much traffic.

Speed Limit: N/A

As directed by the above post, I sought the “narrow pathway through the bushes and trees,” feeling like some kind of urban conquistador, and believing that it was very possible that I was the only person on earth who knew about this secret passageway. I found myself on a “street” that was just about wide enough for 2-3 people. Most people would probably consider this a sidewalk, except there weren’t any of those tedious automotive streets adjoining it to lend the critical “side” appellation. On either side, were actual front gates that led to actual front yards and houses with actual street addresses. It was narrow enough that in some stretches, the trees and bushes on either side created a living archway of shade and natural beauty.

Traffic Circle

Traffic Circle

Emerging from one of these walk streets into the “real world” was a bit of a shock to the senses. Not that any of the surrounding streets are particularly congested or busy, but strolling the walk streets just feels “right” and everything else just feels “wrong.” It’s as if we really missed the mark as urban planners on a global scale, and that this is how we were actually meant to live, build, and grow communities. All I wanted to do was to get back into that outdoor corridor cocoon; so I did, finding the entrance to another one of the streets so that bliss could once again ensue.

The architecture on these streets is the typical mashup of styles that one expects from certain coastal communities — a bit eccentric, generally inconsistent, but with a satisfying coherence from the shared values of comfort and uniqueness. A treehouse here, a lost dog sign there, an empty patio ready to welcome drinks with friends at sunset; it feels like life is being lived here, not that this is some novelty or sideshow. As I wandered, my mind felt more at peace, and I felt able to shelve my thoughts, forget about my phone, not obsess over my meeting, and actually just enjoy being in the moment. I realized that this special environment, literally hidden in plain sight and free for anyone to explore, transported me to an inner place where I could observe my surroundings in a pure state of wonder and reflection. It is the quintessence of the type of immersive experiences that I seek in travel, installation art, themed entertainment, transmedia, etc., and a vital inspiration for the immersive experiences that I hope to create for others to enjoy.

Having completed a circuit and finding myself more or less where I started, I noticed that I had lost track of time. I ordinarily abhor being late to meetings, especially with people I’ve never met, so I dashed off a quick text, “running late. inexcusably detained by local magic.” The reply came back momentarily, “no problem. magic is good.” I knew it would be a good meeting.


AWE 2013 Highlights – Part 1: Epson Moverio

14 Jun

I made the journey from Oakland to Santa Clara to attend the Augmented World Expo (AWE 2013) last week, and enjoyed a day dedicated to the magic of Augmented Reality (AR). AR is a rapidly developing technology that has the potential to be a real game-changer in the development of immersive experiences and entertainment. There was a lot to absorb and discover and I will be sharing some of my personal highlights over the next few posts.

First some background. AR is hardly mainstream; it has only been deployed in a commercial context in the past few years. AWE is only in its 4th year, and the event has an electric air of excitement, novelty, and discovery to it. I attended it last year, and I was surprised and happy to see how much it had grown in terms of attendees and exhibitors since then. At last year’s event, I had been hoping to try a Heads-Up Display (HUD), which is basically a fancy term for futuristic eyewear that allows you to experience the world like Tony Stark or The Terminator.


As seen at AWE 2029.

The development of a high-quality, consumer-grade HUD is the type of holy grail achievement that would have a dramatic, transformative impact on the mainstream engagement with AR. In my opinion, as it’s currently conceived, Google Glass will not provide the type of game-changing, HUD-enabled AR that I am referring to. However, based on the attention that it’s getting, despite the fact that it’s not even for sale yet, it seems clear that this concept is captivating the public’s collective delight, or disgust, depending on your perspective.

To my recollection (and disappointment), there was not a single eyewear exhibitor at the 2012 event. This year though, an entire section of the expo was dedicated to eyewear and the topic of wearable computing was very hot. What a difference a year makes! I made a point of visiting every single eyewear booth, and attempting to try on every single product I could get my hands on. For pure entertainment potential and application, I was most impressed by the Epson Moverio.

Somehow, not that cool.

Epson Moverio BT-100: Not quite cool.

Don’t get off your horses just yet — this is not the grail, but it does seem like a step in the right direction. When you look at this image, remember: this represents the best effort from the marketing department of a multi-billion dollar, global corporation to make their product look cool. If they can’t pull it off, it’s probably not there yet. Does he look relaxed in that picture? Actually, he’s just rendered slightly immobile by the sheer weight of the glasses. OK, it’s not quite that bad, but it basically takes quite a bit of hardware to pull off what is otherwise a very impressive experience. The glasses project video content so that it looks like you’re watching a screen from a few feet away. The gear also natively supports 3D content without any additional enhancements or hardware. I could almost, almost look forward to a long airplane flight if I had this handy, which incidentally is probably one of Epson’s most compelling use-cases.

However, the glasses are essentially see-through, so that when you’re not watching any content, you can still see the world around you. Enter AR. Epson has been working closely with interested partners to support the integration of aftermarket components with some impressive results. Rig up a standard-issue webcam and load up a custom application on the Android-powered hardware that ships with the glasses, and you have a very compelling wearable AR solution. In fact, Scope Technologies was exhibiting alongside Epson and was demo’ing an impressive AR-driven training solution that was built on their “hacked” version of the Epson platform. Although I was only watching a monitor of what the glasses were projecting, and was not able to experience it myself, it was a promising glimpse of something real which I’d previously only thought of in conceptual terms.

In general though, this integration was a mess. Cables everywhere. 3rd party accessories mashed into each other and poking out at odd angles. A bit of showmanship and legerdemain to create the illusion of a seamless experience. One developer had to integrate an Android tablet into his setup to provide some missing functionality in the Epson-supplied box. The end result was . . . cosmetically challenged — about the furthest thing you could get from the elegance of an iPhone or the milligram design precision of Google Glass. However, there was a DIY sensibility to it that was driven by the fire of wanting to touch the future NOW, and not when some massive corporation hands it down to us from on high. I loved it!

In Part 2 of my posts about AWE 2013, I talk about some of the smaller exhibitors who are breaking exciting, new ground.


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