Virtual Reality Is Almost Too Real

Virtual reality is likely the closest one can come to experiencing something without experiencing the actual thing. If somebody wants to see the constellations without taking a trip to the middle of nowhere to escape light pollution, virtual reality provides that opportunity. The biggest question is why not just look up a constellation on your computer?

The answer is because virtual reality just seems so much more real.

It’s hard to explain what Virtual Reality is without experiencing it for yourself. In a sense (or perhaps all of the senses), VR is another reality. I remember it was difficult for me to distinguish between sounds from the helmet and sounds from the “real” (whatever that means to you) world. My vision was completely replaced by what was displayed to me on-screen. I became the agent that operates an avatar without the disconnect of a computer screen or a keyboard. It really felt like I was taking a more active role in controlling my character to the point where I was becoming my character.

One thing that is scary, though, is that there is no concept of time. I found it difficult to anchor myself to the “real” world because the taps of the controller were all I had to keep me in reality with my peers.

Although VR technology is still in its early stages and has much room for growth, the potential is unlimited. The controls are intuitive and become second-nature quickly. Indeed, it is easy to feel that you are in complete control until the red warning sign flashes and reads “Low Battery,” and then, of course, you realize that there is a controller and it needs the right batteries. The more time I spent exploring, though, the more I was immersed in the virtual world. The scenery is extremely vivid and it’s easy to get lost in the details just by looking. The controller becomes inconsequential and it does feel like you can move around how you want to.

In addition, so many programs and games have already been developed. I could not possibly hope to explore all of the options in one sitting. In order to create a useful list of what parts of virtual reality could potentially be useful in a classroom, we should explore each program individually to learn the details of the program. Programs that demonstrate finer attention to detail and accessibility are more useful and are likely easier to teach to others as well. My time with VR was limited, and I did not get an opportunity to use the education apps available. However, the games helped me grasp the controls quickly and understand just what VR was about.

Also, VR is definitely a bit weird when you look at it from the outside. I remember taking my VR helmet off and seeing others waving gray sticks and swiveling around. If I had not been doing VR myself, it would definitely have looked odd.

Otherwise, I feel like there’s not much to say, but go try it out for yourself!

Have fun!

By Brendan Ly

Brendan Interviews The Quietest Member of HPC Support

Brendan Interviews the Quietest Member of HPC Support
Brendan Ly interviewed Sabina Kou in April, asking how her background fits for HPC Support, and what have been some of her experiences so far.

 

Sabina Kou (Pomona, Economics) and Brendan Ly (Pomona, Computer Science)

Sabina: I decided to apply for HPC because I needed an on-campus job and this one was the one that appealed the most to me. In high school, I did a lot of Computer Science (I was the founder / president of the Hack Club and the Computer Programming Club) and I took classes in AP Computer Science and whatnot.

When I applied for college, I applied specifically for Computer Science, but that changed when I got to Pomona because I heard mixed reviews on committing to Computer Science and I didn’t want to make that sort of commitment. Now I am an Economics major and a Math minor.

Last semester, I was trained to use the 3D printer and VR equipment, and I also got to show some people the lab. I was on the Bio-Art project but when school became busy, I was unable to do much for it. I decided to stay with HPC because I like the type of boss Asya is, and I actually do enjoy our meetings and projects.

HPC actually helped me learn how to communicate better and manage myself and time better.

Evan Von Oehsen Interviews Max Rose To Learn About His Experience with HPC Support

Evan Von Oehsen Interviews Max Rose To Learn About His Experience with HPC Support

As a new hire in HPC Support, there is a lot to learn and catch up on. To help me gain a better understanding of HPC, and give me some insight into his experience, I interviewed a team member –  Max Rose (PO ‘22).

Evan: What was your experience/interest with technology prior to working with HPC?

Max: Coming into HPC I had taken a class on Python, a few courses on EDX, and I was in the Science Math and Technology magnet at my high school–I had lots of tech in my background.

Evan: Why did you join HPC?

 Max: I actually couldn’t get my computer to work, and Daziah [Turner], who was a student worker in ITS, helped me fix my PC. She ended up telling me all about HPC, and I applied the next day.

Evan: How long have you been a part of HPC and how has your experience been?

Max: I’ve been here since around early September. It’s a really cool job; there have been some fascinating projects coming through here for a lot of different departments. We’ve been doing stuff with geology, economics, even linguistics that I never would normally get to see, because I personally am very math and computer science oriented, and it’s really cool.

Evan: What projects have you worked on so far/plan on working on?

Max: I got to help set up a new server called the Epyc server. I basically shadowed, so that’s a good example of being able to participate in things you had no prior knowledge of, as I’d never set up a server before. I just watched, and although I didn’t have any experience with it going in, I came out of it having learned a lot. I watched some materials from an Intel conference on extreme performance. I went through the slides and made notes. Currently, I’m working with a modeling software called COMSOL with the geology department. The professor I’m working with is named Eric Grosfils, (Grosfils recently received a $450,000 grant from NASA). I met with him and we talked about how he can use HPC going forward. A lot of times, you get into a spot where you approach a professor and start talking about their project, and eventually you have to wait for them in order to move forward with it.

Evan: What are your favorite types of projects to work on and why?

Max: I like working with projects that are technical. Rather than writing, I like doing things that involve specifically technology, whether that be involving programming or numbers or software, rather than filming or writing. The good thing about our group is that we have people that like to do that, and aren’t as interested in the number side of things. It’s good that we have both because, if we only had people like me, we’d have nobody that would like to document. And if we only had people that liked to do things like filming projects, there would be nobody to do the more technical research projects.

Evan: Have you involved any knowledge gained in Pomona classes in your HPC projects?

Max: In my intro to Python class, while it wasn’t quite up to par with the skills we need for some of the projects, it definitely gave me a foundation for the basics such as arrays, lists, etc. A lot of the things we do here in HPC can be confusing if you don’t know the basics.

Evan: As a part of HPC, have you learned anything about other disciplines through any projects you’ve worked on?

Max: When working on research projects for different programs we do sometimes learn about them in the process, but it’s more so about making their software compile and run and produce results. If I’m working on a project with geology models, for example, it’s not necessarily my job to create a geology model–I’ll be focusing on making the software work well. Even if I took that geology class, I still would need to be focusing more on the technology aspect and making everything work smoothly for the research. That said, understanding the content never hurts–having that common understanding when you’re discussing a project can only be beneficial!

Evan: What are some of the challenges of working with HPC?

Max: Really the great thing about working at HPC is that you can shape it to work with you as much as necessary–if I’m going to have a busy week, I’ll take less jobs, but when I have more free time, I’m able to take on more projects and get them done. So thus far, I haven’t run into any challenges besides those that come with what we’re specifically working on in our projects.

Evan: What is your favorite part of working with HPC?

Max: Working at HPC allows me to utilize technologies that I wouldn’t normally have access to–like the computing power we have in there, we have a couple of servers which cost way more money than any student like myself could afford, and we have access to a lot of fancy VR equipment and VR laptops where I couldn’t spend $800 on a headset but I get to play with one in the lab. The same goes with other things like 360 cameras and 3D printers. It’s a plethora of really cool hardware that we’re very fortunate to have access to.

Evan: What has been your biggest takeaway from working at HPC so far?

Max: I’ve learned a lot technically–I’ve learned a lot more software and I’ve developed a much broader understanding of computers as a whole. Computer science can be really nitty-gritty and you might not know how to get big projects done after even a few years of classes. But with this job, I’ve learned to see the broader picture, how to actually do something you need to do rather than just know how to write code and not know how to deploy it. More abstractly, I’ve learned that technology jobs and computer science don’t necessarily go hand in hand; I think there’s a difference between information technology and computer science. You could take four years of computer science and have no idea what HPC is all about, or you could learn a lot about HPC and have no idea how to code. But I’ve learned how to connect that and realize I need to know all of these things if I want to be successful.

 

Heal Your Ficus! Or North Plant Monitor Review

Ed: Part of what we do in the HPC Support group is exploring new technologies. This is Addy Yu’s first experience with a plant sensor.

The North plant monitor is a compact plant health tracker system that targets a very niche group of consumers, at the intersection of people who are not knowledgeable enough about plants to upkeep and water a plant, people who still want to have real and healthy plants at home, and people who are interested in sleek, techy designs. It is basically a Nest for plants! Luckily, I fell under this category and I was ecstatic when Asya gave me one to try.

I did a little digging about this product and found that the North Plant Monitor system is not the only one of its kind. There are various other WiFi Plant Watering Systems. Online tech blog Postcapes ranked the Edyn Garden Sensor Kit first. Upwards of a $160, the Edyn Garden Sensor Kit is targeted for outdoor plant use and can be integrated with a water valve to trigger watering when soil moisture levels are low. In comparison, our lowly North Plant Monitor is just under $15. North is a Minneapolis based company with their stated mission as wanting to make “your life easier and a little more fun.” Other products they sell are charge docks, action cam gimbals, WiFi outlets, and activity trackers, a surprisingly wide and discursive range of products that all had a similarly sleek look reminiscent of Apple products.

The North plant monitor came at a time when I was still mourning the death of my previous fiddler leaf plant but I had just decided to buy a new ficus plant. While my ficus plant has not blossomed wildly, I do report back that yes, it is still alive, and yes, it is thriving (with fresh new leaves popping out at the bottom)! During my period of experimentation, I tested its water, light, temperature, fertilizer tracking capabilities. The North plant monitor wirelessly connects to mobile devices through the plant monitor application you must install along with turning on the device. The database of plants includes over 5000 different species, with data on soil moisture, optimal temperature, optimal fertilizer level, and optimal lighting level. I had realized that my ficus plant was being deprived on all fronts—except for temperature; it was meant to be an indoor plant. I immediately took to watering it, getting it to the right soil moisture level. Sunlight was definitely an issue and I am still working out the best place to place my plant. My room definitely does not get enough light but I have moved it to the sunniest spot. And finally, the soil fertility, the one I was most skeptical about, was the last thing I adjusted with. I got some plant food spikes from Asya and I buried it into the soil and watered it over a span of a few days. And low and behold, my soil fertility was finally at a happy level.

While the North plant monitor has accomplished all the capabilities it said it would do and for under $15, I should not be asking for more. However, here are some critiques… The application could definitely be improved upon more. First off, the interface is simple and does not put relevant information first. When first getting on the app, I am greeted with a barren list of plant monitors I have, which is just one. After clicking on the specific plant monitor for my ficus plant, I still do not immediately know what my plant needs. Only after clicking each individual bar, for soil moisture, soil fertility, light intensity, and temperature am I able to know what this monitor advises me to do. There are two features that I would love North to add to a future update of the app, too. A common problem with many plant keepers is not being able to remember when to water them. Buying a monitor should at least serve a purpose in reminding the plant keeper when the plant is not in good shape! The app should have a feature where users would be notified if soil moisture levels fall under a specific level, or that average lighting level is not sufficient during the day, or whether the plant needs to be fertilized soon. I would have also loved a feature in which I can track the progress of my plant and perhaps get a weekly report to see what days lack what elements.

This is not to say this is a bad product, just updates that North should implement in the future to make their application equally as sleek and nice as the physical product. If you happen to fall under that niche category, try it yourself!

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By Addy Yu

Feeling Hopeful

Amirah Adem

Joining HPC made me feel hopeful in the career choice that I wanted to make. I found that there were endless possibilities with technology that are connected to multiple disciplines such as humanities and economics. At the beginning of this process, I was filled with excitement. I did not know where to start.

In the first few meetings, I was told to make accounts for various things. And resources that I should be aware of. It was a lot to absorb in the beginning, but truly just a way to get organized that I was not used to doing yet.

I found myself interested in doing VR with first learning how the systems worked. I also asked myself how could I connect this interest with pressing topics that are most often talked about here at the colleges. I began thinking about a project that would be beneficial for people to experience. This experience would be from another perspective. I began to think about micro-aggressions. My time in the HPC team allowed me to brainstorm ideas that I would have not been sparked. However, as the semester went by I realized I was not able to uphold the time in the team like I thought I would have been able to due to school interfering. I had unexpected events pop up in my life, and had to take time away from some activities, and being in the HPC team was one of them. Part of being in this has also taught me the importance of communication. Communicating with the head of the team was essential to account for the fact that my time would be limited. This skill is essential for both college and when entering a workplace.

Joining has also given me a deeper interest in majoring in computer science.  I was inspired to learn more about the lingo around HPC and being creative with the tools given. Especially as a woman of color, I have not been given this opportunity until now and it opens a lot of opportunities for me that were not given to me previously. As the semester is ending, I am planning my next semester accordingly that would allow me to give my time to the project that I want to look deeper into and to learn skills that I would not be able to learn inside the classroom. But while the semester ends I am glad I am still able to be in the loop of the team by checking up on the updates that are given in Slack.

By Amirah Adem

Exciting Tech Trends in Museums

During my SURP in Paris, I noticed the growing presence of technology in cultural spaces.  In the midst of my SURP-induced doubt and panic, it was incredibly comforting to see that what I was researching wasn’t a completely obsolete and outlandish topic. 

I was overjoyed when Stéphane Berne (huge art history/culture/television figure) announced that there was to be a “Loto du patrimoine” a huge national lottery to finance national cultural heritage that is at risk, or whenever I saw an ad for an escape room event at the Opéra Garnier or the Louvre.

The Atelier des Lumières exhibition, where animations of Klimt artworks (among others) were projected on the walls and floors of a large warehouse, was a great way of gauging some people’s reaction to tech in art.  It became a controversial conversation topic: some found it too expensive for an exhibition where there was no physical art by Klimt, and others thought it was innovative and fresh!

The Musée des Arts Décoratifs is an amazing museum really up to date with technological developments, and they regularly collaborate with graduate students and start-ups.  This is a touch screen in one of their rooms, where you can learn more about objects by clicking on them.  Next to it is a photograph of a scent diffuser that was part of an exhibition of the perfumes of China at the Musée Cernuschi (again, controversial: you could select a scent that would have been used in an object on display, and it would send out a little jet of perfume.

People usually have strong opinions about these topics, because it’s connected to art and culture, and a lot of the time a sense of national pride.  When I visited the Château de Rambouillet, they cleared their usual furniture (probably at risk of festering under the summer heat) to make a place for a contemporary art exhibition in partnership with the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (very worth it!).  I enjoyed it very much, and there were a lot of tech elements: the picture with the blue animals is a projection you see when you stick your head into a mound of fur pelts.  There was a little feedback notebook at the end of the exhibition, and my lord were there some real treasures:

 

By Ariane Lo

“Lucy! We have to go now, you’ve been in there for over half an hour.”

This is JOY as he drew himself in VR

I reluctantly took off the headset and blinked my eyes a few times to try to come back to the present reality, my mind still whirring. This was it this was IT. Memories of my childhood dreams of virtual realities were flashing through my mind. What had started as a confusion watching someone talk to thin air, asking if they were referring to me (although apparently Asya also did the same thing to me), anticipating as I was putting on the headset and ready to be transferred to a new reality— my enthrallment was completely by surprise. There was somewhere there. I met a human, through my goggles. An Oculus, to be exact.

This past week I went to a Spatial Reality: XR exhibition at the Space Gallery at Ayzenberg in Pasadena. My response to the event on Facebook got quite a few reactions from my friends. “Who do you think you are, XR exhibit??” But after I came back, I was the one full of smiles as my friends listened to my adventures in VR and AR.

Let me introduce myself, perhaps that’ll give some context. I’m Lucy, and I’m currently a senior Economics Major with a Psychology Minor. What am I doing in HPC you might ask? I have very little tech background – besides the interest in video games and appreciation of gadgets that let us communicate with others around the world. I’m hoping to go into HCI next year. Human-Computer Interaction, that is. On first thought, you might take that as I’m an econ major gone rogue, but honestly, the endpoint is the same. Econ, psych, and HCI all deal with humans, and their behavior. Now I’m just missing a bit of that technology – I’m hoping to integrate them all, to enhance maybe even just one more person’s life in the future.

Mingling through the different activities and exhibits was a lot of fun — but they were just missing a little bit of…..something. I found that missing bit in the virtual reality art museum walkthrough — through JOY (John Orion Young, but he said he liked being called JOY). Human Interaction. JOY is a VR artist, who works primarily in Oculus Medium on a yellow PC he built himself. JOY and I had some virtual drinks as he walked me through his artworks; he sells his artwork on Blockchain, where each artwork he creates starts at the lowest denomination (1 cent I believe), and someone (a collector, but anyone can be an art collector) can buy the art, and then that person owns that artwork until it is bought by someone else, who must pay a higher price than the previous. Talking to JOY, who was currently in Oregon, while he was showing me his art around a museum in the VR headset was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had this semester. Using the nunchuck, I could move around the museum, go INTO the art, and chase JOY.  It’s super cool to be transported around to places in the comfort of Project Room C or, in that case, in a room at 39 E. Walnut St., Pasadena, California.

Endnote: never underestimate the influence of a pair of goggles and another human 🙂

By Lucy Jiang

First weeks: Joining the HPC team

Doodling about VR

First HPC meetings: I am bombarded by foreign terms and concepts like version control, the demand for scientific gateways, the stability of Linux, the advantages of using resin or ABS for 3D printing, the conversion from STL to G-Code, and the XSEDE network of supercomputers. I was completely overwhelmed, but as soon as I got back to my room I spent the rest of the evening experimenting with VR apps and videos on YouTube.

My own Google Cardboard!

I quickly noticed that VR museum tours are not filmed by the institutions but by visitors walking through exhibitions.  To this end, I let someone walk me nauseous around the British Museum (I’m tempted to test what makes a good VR museum tour, maybe in the Pomona Art Museum?).  Another super exciting thing: there is a growing number of articles on VR artworks and on VR as a means of viewing art or enriching a museum experience.  I wish I could have experienced Hayoun Kwon’s L’Oiseleuse at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, it looks beautiful.

A bit of bricolage!  I used the left-over grip tape from when I fixed my bike, and biscuit box cut-outs, to personalize my Google Cardboard.  Finally, a way to justify my chocolate and biscuit wrapper collection.

I’m slowly getting to know the HPC team. We have yet to all attend the same meetings, but there is already a growing camaraderie (and the jitters of excitement over potential projects).

By Ariane Lo