Parsing the Magic Leap Schadenfreude

Ms. Knowles-Carter was here.

I’ve noticed that a significant number of VR pioneers react to bad PR from Oculus and Magic Leap with glee. The Germans came up with a word for taking pleasure in another person’s suffering, schadenfreude. Most of us indulge in it from time to time, as when we revel in the career stumbles of various celebrities, make jokes about politicians’ gaffes, or chuckle when someone slips on a banana peel. It’s part of human nature.

Yesterday, The Verge ran a story with the provocative title, Beyoncé reportedly tried Magic Leap, and thought it was boring. Eva Hoerth posted the link on Facebook and the comments filled up with digs at the secretive company. (Incidentally, I have learned that  Beyoncé tried the device at the Georgetown Magic Leap offices during a recent Seattle tour stop.) Continue reading

Horribly Written Article Announces Release of Apple AR Device

A website called VR Status, which I assume is operated by intelligent, talented, and well-meaning people who are worthy of love, has broken the news that Apple is set to release an augmented reality headset. What most surprised me about this article was how poorly written it is.

Look, I am as guilty of typos as anyone, and I understand the corners one cuts to get a piece of writing out quickly. Anyone who bothered could dig into my archives and uncover misspelled words, sub-optimal syntax, verb tense snafus, and the occasional dangling modifier. I do not claim to be the best writer in the world. Far from it.

But come on, VR Status. This?

After many rumours and alligation it seems that the news is official now. It is asserted that Apple is readying to launch Mixed Reality goggles, which will be the result of joint work with Carl Zeiss, a German partnership of optics. As a Zeiss affirmed the two renowned companies has collaborated for the upcoming AR smart goggles.

A far-famed blogger and enthusiast of VR Robert Scoble, who just a week ago has firstly made known about this news, has noted that the new Apple device will be ready this year. But this is not officially approved yet by device creators.

Reportedly the new glasses will be runned with iPhones cordlessly. Using Augmented Reality, enjoyers will have a freedom to see various images, as well as other materials with the Apple goggles on.

  1. “Rumours” is either the British spelling of “rumors” or is the title of a Fleetwood Mac album.
  2. It’s “allegations.” Spell-check.
  3. “It is asserted” by whom? Passive construction.
  4. “a Zeiss” what? Spokesperson? Robot?
  5. “has collaborated” > “have collaborated”
  6. What does “far-famed” mean?
  7. “who just a week ago has firstly made known about this news” is word salad.
  8. “runned” is not an actual word in the English language unless you are a toddler.

More problematic is the image used to illustrate the article. I’m going to re-use it here with impunity, because apparently that’s what VR Status did.


Whoa, is that the new Apple AR headset? One could be forgiven for assuming as much, given that this article purports to be about the new Apple AR headset. And yet a quick Google image search reveals that this same image has been used to illustrate articles about Magic Leap. Is it even an actual device that exists in base reality? Here’s a screen shot of search results for this image:


Again, I’m all for a degree of latitude when it comes to the English language. There are typos in books I’ve published. But if you’re going to share fairly ground-breaking news about the VR/AR industry, the least you can do is make sure the article is run through spell-check.

I checked out the About page of VR Status and began to suspect–and I am absolutely not joking–that the site is written by SEO robots. Or maybe it was written in another language entirely then translated with Google translate with zero human oversight. How else to explain the following? “No matter what virtual reality headset do you use VRstatus handy filters will allow you to find the pleasant content which you need the most. Android and iOS applications make it available to reach VRstaus more comfortable.”

And: “VRstatus team is highly motivated and straightforward who is ready to work hard for becoming the largest independent VR market for the upcoming short period of time.”

If you work at VR Status and are reading this, I urge you to please hire an editor. You are endangering your own livelihoods by producing such shoddy content.


Moon Shots and Sky Muse Studios

On Saturday, Stanwood’s Sky Muse Studios screened a documentary called Fight for Space about NASA’s somewhat checkered history. The feature included archival footage of various missions and launches interspersed with commentary from astronauts and public scientists like Neil Degrasse Tyson and Bill Nye. Directed by Paul Hildebrandt, the film is a plea for reinvigorated interest in a space program that sent men to the moon but nowadays does little to capture the public’s imagination.

All the music and sound for the film was produced at Sky Muse under the guidance of founder Ron Jones. Before the screening, Ron spoke a bit about how the studio was conceived two years ago and how he assembled a team of young engineers and musicians from area community colleges. His audience of twenty or so guests sat in fold-out chairs on risers in the room where the film’s music was recorded. Continue reading

Virtual reality is art. Treat it accordingly.

Writing about virtual reality, for me, is really just an excuse to hang out with artists. My paternal grandfather was a commercial artist and landscape painter, and some of my most treasured early memories are of sitting on his lap with a big pad of paper in front of us, drawing pictures together. I loved that moment when a collection of lines magically turned into a dog, a house, a little person. If he were a young man today, I suspect my grandfather would be enchanted with Tilt Brush and Paint Lab. Continue reading

Check Out the New Seattle VR Events Calendar

The calendar looks nothing like this. has a nifty new calendar to help the community keep track of all the demos, workshops, conferences, meetups, hackathons, and myriad other events going on all over town and beyond. Trond Nilsen, one of the intrepid brains behind, announced this change yesterday via Facebook and is encouraging anyone with questions or feedback to message him there. You can also use the Seattlevr contact form to submit events and to request posting permissions. If you use an app like Outlook or iCalendar, you can even sync your own calendar and integrate events into your daily schedule. Pretty darn convenient.

Speaking of events, those wily visionaries at SIXR are hosting a free Teens in Unity workshop tomorrow at CoMotion Labs, at 10 am. You can also sign up for a month-long Unity for Teen Creators class for a more intensive learning experience. This sounds like a fantastic opportunity for young people who want to dive into the world of game design and 3D graphics.

Have an event you’d like to see listed? Just use the contact form.




A Virtual Border Wall

What if we built a model of Donald Trump’s border wall in virtual reality? Hold on, hold on, hear me out on this.

I started thinking about a VR wall after I watched this reality check of a clip from John Oliver:

It occurred to me that Google Earth VR would be the perfect place to erect an imaginary wall. One could simply define the U.S.-Mexico border and overlay an architectural mock-up of the wall on this rendered landscape. You could zoom in on portions of the wall, hover over it, lean a virtual ladder against it. It could be as tall as it is in Trump’s imagination, and would do just as good a job at protecting America from imaginary threats.

Better yet, we could let visitors to this virtual wall leave their mark on it via an app like Kingspray Graffiti Simulator:

Imagine, you zoom along the Rio Grande as a multitude of virtual vandals deface this  symbol of paranoid nationalism with art and messages of dissent. But why stop at graffiti? What if we allowed visitors to our VR barrier to smash it with virtual sledgehammers and knock down portions of it with virtual bulldozers?

Over time, the wall would turn into the world’s biggest canvas, a cathartic, collective art project to unite people instead of dividing them. And I bet we could build it for a lot less than $20 billion.


Don’t Mess with Bezos

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has pledged to fight Donald Trump’s immigration ban. This could be a get-out-your-popcorn clash between two business leaders who couldn’t be more dissimilar, a battle of the billionaires, if you will.

If you just followed that last link, it’s okay if you want to take a moment or two to get your bearings on reality. Good luck.

I worked at Amazon from 1998 to 2000 as a customer service representative, and again from 2004 to 2007 as an editor on the Media Merchandising team. I was in maybe half a dozen meetings with Jeff Bezos. The first time was in 1998, when he spoke to a group of CS reps in a cramped conference room. The media was in love with Amazon in those days, and we all knew we were changing the world. Bezos spoke about how important it was to wake up every morning convinced that everything would fail. We hung on his every word and once we were dismissed we practically raced back to our desks, excited to field as many calls and emails as possible. He inspired us to want to make him proud.

To work at Amazon was to live inside Jeff Bezos’s innovations. I toured the first distribution center and knew I was witnessing something of historic importance. I volunteered to join a secret team that developed Amazon’s Auctions site, which quickly turned into the lucrative third-party seller platform. During my first stint at Amazon, the company opened British and German sites and branched out into selling CDs, DVDs, and even VHS cassettes. When I came back in 2004, Amazon had expanded considerably and its by-any-means-necessary startup spirit had evolved into a sometimes brutal workaholic culture. If the company was libertarian in its approach to business, it was also socially libertarian, with enlightened policies on domestic partner benefits, for example. I worked alongside developers from India, China, and the Middle East. We were all Amazonians.

My complaints about Amazon over the years have been complicated by a reverence for the company that I can’t shake. As an author, I’ve taken issue with how Amazon relates to the publishing industry. I’ve questioned whether its policies are good for writers, and I’ve been concerned that it gives pitifully little to the local arts organizations whose programs help attract Amazon’s employees to Seattle.

After speaking out to management about how they had treated some of my colleagues, I was fired in 2007, and it took nearly a decade for me to sort out my feelings about the company. I was surprised to find that I had made peace with the company. I realized that I gained much more than I’d lost in the five years I spent there. One, I got an education in the art of innovation–embrace a bias for action, constantly experiment, cycle through lots of things quickly, and exapt failed experiments into successes.

Two, at Amazon I picked up something I like to call motherfucker skills. These include expecting the absolute best, relentlessness, and calling out bullshit. You can’t use motherfucker skills without stepping on toes and making enemies, and you don’t become a company bigger than your eight closest competitors combined without using motherfucker skills.

Now it would seem that America is in dire need of motherfuckers to take on this president. I can think of no motherfucker better suited to this task than Jeff Bezos.

As founder of a company that relies on foreign tech talent secured with H1-B visas, Jeff Bezos stands to lose a lot with Trump’s America-first approach to immigration. I also have to believe that as a resident of a multicultural, progressive city, Bezos takes issue with Trump on cultural and moral grounds. Trump is no fan of Amazon, either. And Bezos’s ownership of the Washington Post puts him in direct conflict with the notoriously press-hating president.

But there’s another aspect of this story that’s going to be really interesting to follow. In 2014, Amazon started building a $600 million cloud for the CIA and 17 other intelligence agencies. This means that the intelligence community depends on systems that Jeff Bezos and his army of engineers developed. I have no idea what the implications of this might be, but it would seem to place Bezos close to the growing conflict between Trump and the intelligence community.

Jeff Bezos didn’t make his fortune peddling steaks, beauty pageants, and fake college degrees. He innovated everything he touched, changing commerce forever, upending entire industries, and seized the potential of the World Wide Web. He’s cunning, superhumanly driven, and has surrounded himself with brilliant people. While inventing e-commerce secures his legacy alongside Edison, Jobs, and Gates as one of America’s great visionaries, his finest hour, as a destroyer of fascists, may soon be at hand.