Lunch and Learn: Virtual Reality with DenVR

A few Friday’s ago I had the pleasure of hosting a “Lunch and Learn” with my colleagues at Cognizant Accelerator in Boulder. I brought my team from DenvVR,  Ben Tyson and Morgan McIntosh, who run the VR artist collective to help show the amazing potential of virtual reality.

Bud Anin Aminof with Cognizant at the DenVR Lunch and Learn

Goals

  • Share with the team about the history of VR and the tech
  • Introduce DenVR, how they leverage this technology and use it in new ways
  • Share use cases of how VR is being used today by multiple industries

The Day

DenVR at Cognizant Accelerator w/ Morgan McIntosh, Ben Tyson, Anthony Catanese

We brought in our HTC Vive room-scale setup with our main gaming PC rig.

Throughout the day, people could book up to 15 mins of time to try out the Vive with 1:1 guidance and explore a list of apps. (pro-tip: we used Calendly.com to book everyone). In total there were  32 people who had a chance to try it out first hand. The apps we used were:
– Google Tilt Brush
– theBlue by Wevr
– Google Earth VR
– QuiVr
– SUPERHOT

The Talk

[During the talk Morgan painted in Tilt Brush while we projected her view on to the main wall. ]

A year ago I found myself at this odd little bar in LoDo Denver called the Syntax Physic Opera where my friends Ben Tyson and Morgan McIntosh were throwing a party….a VR art and music party. Ben has an infectious way of inspiring people to try off the wall stuff, he used his powers to get me to travel across the country (Jacksonville, FL to Denver, CO) to see what his new group, DenVR, was up to.

What I found was a sold-out show of people from all walks of life: a ton of college students, parents, grandparents, a conductor of the symphony all watching one of the first VR art events of its kind happening. At the back of the venue, I watched and overheard someone with excitement saying, “Is this where the VR stuff is?” ….nobody knew what this show was about, but the room was full of amazement. My hope is to bring that same feeling I had to you.

Today’s Lunch and Learn will introduce you to the DenVR team, get a brief history of VR, and get into the fun stuff of what’s happening today in this world.

1. What Are We Talking About

There is a lot of “alternate” reality hardware and software players in the world today, which makes it confusing to navigate. Companies are all pushing for their version from the Google Cardboard to Microsoft Hololens to the Oculus Rift. Apple has even jumped on board with the release of IOS 11 making nearly every iPhone from 5s to X capable of augmented reality.

{Great article to explain Virtual vs Augmented Reality: https://www.foundry.com/industries/virtual-reality/vr-mr-ar-confused }

There is a big debate about which of the technologies will win. Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality…the fact is they are completely different tools and each has its place in the world for both.

The screw did not displace the nail.

Today we are talking about room-scale VR. This allows a user to experience the application with more freedom than ever before.

Room-scale VR – photo provided by SteamVR Room Setup

Vive’s blog does a better job of explaining it:

“360° Roomscale VR leverages positional tracking technology allowing you to use a play area of up to 5 meters diagonally across as a stage to walk inside the virtual environment. By being able to seamlessly move around, your state of presence is heightened letting you feel fully immersed in the virtual world you’re exploring.”

We’ll dig into the tech in a bit. First, let’s talk about how we got here.

2. History of VR – The Beginning

Since the earliest parts of human history, we’ve used pictures and drawings as a way to share experiences. Throughout the early 1900’s as moving pictures and photography were becoming more accessible, there were many experiments to draw the audience deeper into the artist’s world.

In 1935 Pygmalion’s Spectacles was release and is considered one of the earliest representations of VR as we think of it today. It shares a story of the lead character using hardware to have a fully immersive experience of a world not in reality.

A bit more detail on the origins and history of Virtual Reality.

3. First Wave

The first wave of consumer products hit in the 1990s. They typically had 3 traits. They were terrible experiences, very expensive and had zero adoption. But…who cared! They were awesome.

I was in my teens all throughout the 90s. It was my formative gaming years with consoles galore and PCs breaking into the market.

Nintendo had always led the way in creating deeper gaming experiences with the Power Pad and later with the cool but not so great Power Glove. One of those attempts created the Nintendo Virtual Boy. I remember as a kid wanting one of these so badly. They would bring you right into the game. When I finally got a chance to play with one, I found myself staring inside a headset with only a red LCD screen. It felt like my eyes were bleeding.

Growing up in Florida my family spent a lot of time at Disney’s Epcot, especially at the Innoventions section of the park.  During one of our visits, there was a blank door on the outside of the building that had a queue set up in front of it. We had never seen it before and we went to Disney…A LOT.

We spoke to the cast member and they asked if we would like to test out an experimental attraction that only a few others have tried. Heck yes! we would. I was 11 at the time. What I was about to experience was one of the first people to test Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride for the new digital theme park Disney Question. It was awesome and mind-blowing to be a part of. (more details on the ride/park). Down the rabbit hole, I went… real VR.

This is the same attraction Randy Pausch worked on while he was an Imagineer.

During the late 90’s there was also a handful of movies that helped propel the movement forward (all but the Matrix were all pretty bad):

During the mid-2000’s things on the VR front began to wind down.

5. History of VR – Second Wave

2011 and 2012 the surge of new energy re-entered the VR world with the release of the book “Ready Player One” that inspired the immensely successful Kickstarter of the Oculus Rift.

Years later in 2016 while on a road trip with my wife, we went to Cedar Point and got to experience the new line of VR…while on a roller coaster. Yeah, VR while riding a roller coaster. At Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH they were testing out the tech on their Iron Dragon roller coaster. It was an amazing concept. During the First Wave, the hardware was used to mimic a roller coaster. Now the hardware was to enhance an existing roller coaster!

6. The Technology

So, what’s changed? What technology has made it possible for VR to make a comeback?

This part of the talk was more of a conversation with the team talking through the lighthouses that enable room-scale, controllers, headset, and PC specs etc. Here’s a good overview: http://www.realitytechnologies.com/virtual-reality  

If you were to compare VR to video game consoles, the Vive (in my opinion) is about where the Nintendo64 was when it was released. It shifted all future platforms. There’s a lot of room for improvement, but it will be around for a while.

7. Why is VR Here to Stay – Empathy

The immersive experience of VR is unmatched with any other tech that I’ve experienced. When you’re in the virtual world, your mind believes it’s in the place, situation, or interacting with the person/thing in front of you. It’s weird…

Note: At this time we had a volunteer (a pro mountain biker) come up and try at Richie’s Plank Experience – https://youtu.be/ImbhUHhWmSM

 “Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.”

Let’s talk about Empathy – where the magic happens.

During this part of the talk, we covered companies that are leveraging the immersive experience of VR to…

  • Training employees – KFC has a bizarre training game, the US military with Homeland Security developed simulations to help teachers respond to school shootings
  • Presentations in court cases – Lawyers have used 3D modeling and headsets to build cases. In High Impact in Denver is a great example: https://highimpact.com/
  • Bringing people home – DenVR partnered with Project Worthmore to bring refugees back home for an evening using Google Earth VR.
  • Prototyping – Companies are able to create super fast rapid prototypes, like Keanu Reeves who uses it to build custom motorcycles (yeah…him!)

7. What’s Next?

  • Screens are getting better – 4k per eye will be the standard soon
  • Wireless all-in-one systems (with Inside-out tracking) will be a big part of this year (Oculus Go)
  • Streaming VR – 5G network will 100x download speeds allowing multiple 4k streaming capabilities (AT&T is testing in 12 markets this year)
  • Expanding past the current hardware – companies like Neurable are trying to use brainwaves to help control the environments of VR. It’s the same tech people use to type on virtual keyboards and move artificial limbs.

The hardware is interesting, but the questions that the technology creates is even more interesting:

  • Such as… what is the future of storytelling? Directors have limited control what the user decides to look at, they’ll have to use techniques from full world games (Fallout)

What questions does VR create for you?

Anthony Catanese photo by Joe Valley

Anthony Catanese photo by Joe Valley


BALL PARK MUSIC – WHIPPING BOY

Google Tilt Brush Music Video

Podcast: Monday Morning Mimosas

Back towards the end of 2017, my friend Sarah Bettencourt asked for me to join her on her podcast to chat about entrepreneurship. It posted this past Monday! We covered a ton of topics and the one I wouldn’t shut up about was Slack.

Monday Morning Mimosas with host Sarah Bettencourt

Here’s why I think Slack is interesting. There are a bunch of hidden communities around the world leveraging Slack as their communication channel and a place to cultivate an audience. The trick is you already have to have an audience to get the channel going, and you’ll need well over 100 people to use it often to bring in enough interaction.

Joining a Slack channel can be near impossible or extremely easy if the host allows it. Either way, the application creates a lot of engagement and opens up the door for a new kind of online social experience.

Side note: Discord is another chat app that falls in this same world, but with a focus on the gaming community. What’s amazing is their onboarding experience…holy moly it’s frictionless.


Instead of a music video, you get the lovely Sarah’s voice:

How Slack Can Help You Be A Better “Preneur” With Anthony Catanese

A Letter to Enterprise Product Development

Dear Enterprise Product Development,

I hope this letter finds you well and development on that 3 year project is moving smoothly. I understand you’re very busy, so I’ll make this short.

Do you remember that small company that you read about a year ago on TechCrunch? It was run by 3-4 guys, they only had a few hundred thousand dollars in funding, and were charging only half the normal price of the industry.

Remember how we joked about how all the startups in San Fran operate in a bubble, only provide services for each other, and just exchange each others resources.

I thought you should know they just landed one of your competitors top clients.

You may be saying, “Ok, now what?”

I say IgniteWithUs.

Sincerely,

Anthony Catanese

———————

I heard feedback that this didn’t make sense. Maybe I tried to be too deep and obscure. I thought of this letter when I read about a startup that’s starting to make headway and it happens to be in a similar space as the company I work for. A year ago I read about them and I shrugged it off. They’ve grown, pivoted, and now they are competing with our competitors head-on…they’re changing the industry conversation.

That’s where the the last 2 lines of the letter come in. You say, “Ok, now what?” As in, what can I do about it?  Make better PowerPoints? I say you create a new group that innovates, which is what we do: IgniteWithUs.

———————–

Le Loup – We are Gods! We Are Wolves!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCzUW38zv0E&w=560&h=315]

Tales of a PO: Week 7 – Hacked…Growth Hacked

During the last few weeks, the hot topic around the office has been focused on growth hacking. We’ve each been learning as much we can through researching, experiments, and  sharing how the latest startup was able to pull it off. These articles were the most helpful so far: 21 Actionable Growth Hacking TacticsGrowth Hacking, Email and Mullets and then there this is one: The Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking.

The following is what stuck out to me the most, especially since I work in a intrapreneurial startup incubator:

There are some areas of growth hacking that larger companies cannot get away with. Some growth hacking tactics flirt with the boundaries of either legality or good citizenship, that are really only employable when you are small, scrappy and easily forgiven.

It’s all so Machiavellian, growing users by any means possible.

Machiavelli

It then struck me…I’ve growth hacked in the past. It was 16 years ago, but whatever…. I did it like a CHAMP! In the span of one day I grew the users of my first website by 900%.

This is the rest of the story.

It was 1997ish when my family bought our first REAL computer, a Micron. I remember it really well because it came with a PC game that absolutely blew my mind, POD. My interest in PC games quickly grew from there, as well as my interest in learning to build websites.

Building pages became my life. Making text flash, marquee, and animating GIFs was the jam, as well as using MIDI files to set the page’s mood. I hosted on either AOL or Geocities, and I remember the first time I had to upload everything to a site… with no clue or understanding of what I was doing. I thought I was essentially building a complicated MSWord document.

Age of Empires Horse
Animating my own GIF’s. One of my life passions…one pixel at a time with screenshots

The site was called “The Basement” (I so wish I had some kind of screenshot). It encompassed everything I knew about my favorite PC games; Command and Conquer, the Neverhood, Age of Empires, Resident Evil, and Diablo. I posted cheats, videos, saved game files, and there was even a hosted crack for Paint Shop Pro  6…dumb kid.

What does this have to do with growth hacking?

With all the content, tips and tricks, and even cracks I was sure somebody was going to find it. But how could I tell? Google Analytics didn’t exist yet.

The answer was a sweet/tacky web counter.

A week into having the counter, I reached a whopping 7 hits. I’m pretty sure they were all me too.

Really…7….I didn’t get it. The page covered lots of topics, provided great content. I even had an amazing navigation system using frames 😉 I was so sad.

I was now focused on one measure, how many hits can I get. I started posting links in chat rooms, forums, and spamming every source I could find, but it wasn’t working.

While researching (cheat codes for Quake) in the school library, it hit me that security on the schools computers nearly didn’t exist. Operation: Get Hits, was now in effect. There were a ton of library workstations and students used them constantly.

My solution, change the Internet Explorer homepage on every computer in the library to point to my site. BOOOM!

That evening my counter read 108. I was a happy guy…until the pesky IT guy in the library realized what happened and changed the security.

I didn’t care though…I started getting regular visits from kids in school and even made friends from it. It was my first growth hack.

Lesson learned

Act as if…..you were a 14 year old kid who has nothing to lose.

Diablo – Soundtrack

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcTAVQYMZv0&w=560&h=315]

Okinawa

I recently changed the name of my blog…I’m now on version 4.0….that’s right, 4. Here they are in order:

  1. Zoozical
  2. Catknees
  3. Anthony Has Ideas
  4. OkNowWhat

Each name represents a different phase in my life, but I was never really happy with any of them until now. Why? What’s in a name?

What “is” in a name? Who really gives a crap?

I do.

I was very proud of the “Anthony Has Ideas” moniker…because it was given to me.  But, it was given to me…something felt fundamentally wrong about the title “Anthony Has Ideas” and it wasn’t my idea. It was more like “Anthony Rides On the Waves of Others.”  I was really self-conscious about it. I felt like Jimmy from Seinfeld, and  it went against one of my life learnings – if you have to say you’re cool, you’re probably not.

That brings us to the current name.

The other night I introduced my wife to the original “Karate Kid” and the wisdom of Mr. Myagi (Pat Morita).  It’s awesome to re-watch movies that you grew up with. You pick-up meanings and stories within the main plot that weren’t caught originally. In the Karate Kid, there’s a subtle but important point about the origin of Karate, Myagi, and Okinawa.

That’s when I was able to use my super powers and mishear Okinawa as “Ok Now What”. Yes!…that’s it!

It felt right, especially when the following lines came up during the bonsai tree scene.

Mr. Myagi:  “Trust the picture.”
Daniel: “How do I know if my picture is the right one?”
Mr. Myagi: “If it comes from inside you, always right one.”

Then I knew it was right.

Bat For Lashes – Daniel

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00ZHah-c0hQ&w=560&h=315]

Dirty Deeds…Thunder Cheeks?

For the last 10-12 years I’ve had the pleasure of being invited to my best friends family reunion every summer in Welaka, FL. It’s a small town outside of Palatka, FL, which is equivalent to comparing grains of salt by size (they’re small).

Every year it’s a blast. There’s lots of food, friendly people, and boats….ohhhhh the boats. We ski, tube and enjoy way too much food. It was great every year, but one year I gained a super power. The power to mishear things.

{Flashback}

About 5 years ago I was enjoying this yearly outing as much as any other. We had good beer, lots of food, and we even decided that in our old age of 24 we would go tubing. Three person tubing to be more accurate.

What you think tubing looks like.
What you think tubing looks like.

We climbed in ready to go. Three best buds holding on for dear life while our good pal towed us around the glassy lake.

Reality of tubing
Reality of tubing

We lasted about 40 seconds.

We regrouped and this time we had a game plan. We would work together as a team and ride this thing out. We would defeat them.

It started off fantastic. First turn, check. Second turn across the wake, no biggie. Third turn, no sweat. Fourth turn, WTF is that! A sea of churn laid before us. Four foot swells bouncing around the lake waiting to launch us. Our so-called friend kicked in high-gear and raced towards the waves at about 30-40 mph. I said screw that. I bailed…I jumped out to take the safe route. Why would I want to smack my face against my buddies skulls or why would I want break my neck? I bailed to be safe…

FishEar

I should of stayed on. When I ejected myself from the tube I happen to hit the water at the perfect (sucky perfect) angle and I blew my right ear drum out. 1/3 of the sweet little drum gone. Fish food. Sweet sounding fish food. Makes me wonder if the fish that ate it now have impeccable hearing as I once did (that’s not true…)

How did this give me a super power?

Well I now have an awful time mishearing things and it cracks my wife up to no end. She can say, “pass the butter” and I’ll think, “Are you a globe trotter?”

Lyric’s are the worst. I mishear things on the radio and instead of thinking, “that lyric makes no sense.” I try and explain why it would make sense.

For instance (a real world example mind you) ACDC – Dirty Deeds. The lyrics are, “Dirty Deeds. Done dirt cheap.” Which makes total sense. Or you can go with my thought of, “Dirty Deeds. Thunder Cheeks.”

What the hell is a thunder cheek? I thought it was maybe a motorcycle gang who were up to no good. Maybe they were riding big Harley’s and their cheeks would thunder down the road…because that’s what any rock band would sing about, dudes that are jerks with jiggly loud butts.

After surgery and a few years later, things are a bit better, but the moral of the story is…don’t be a quitter…(or avoid water sports where the purpose is to hurl you across a lake).

AC/DC – Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PepRBMXKCFs&w=420&h=315]

My Brown M&M

This post is dedicated to Sean, who is more productive and has more ideas then 27 people combined when chemically charged with coffee…according to himself.

Do you remember Van Halen? Stupid question, but do you? Well they were much smarter than they dressed. Back in the day they were known to make ridiculous requests of venues that they played at, but it turned out to be a test and not just weird:

Van Halen had a notable effect on the modern rock music tour with their use of the concert technical contract rider. They were one of the first bands to use contract riders to specify a “wish list”, a practice now used throughout the music industry. They pioneered extensive requirements including power availability and stage construction details. The band’s demands were not limited to technical issues; their now-infamous rider specified that a bowl of M&M’s, with all of the brown M&M’s removed, was to be placed in their dressing room. According to David Lee Roth, this was listed in the technical portion of the contract not because the band wanted to make capricious demands of the venue, but rather as a test of whether the venue had actually read and properly honored the terms of the contract, as it contained other requirements involving legitimate safety concerns. If the bowl was present, then the band members could safely assume the other, legitimate, items in the technical rider were being fulfilled to their satisfaction. Conversely, if the bowl was missing, or brown M&M’s were present, then the band members would be within their rights to have the venue inspect the work, ask it be redone, etc. Their concern for safety was real, as in their earlier tours, not only was equipment damaged, but several members of their road crew were nearly electrocuted, both due to inadequate safety and preparation on the part of the local venue.

I was going to go through and explain this whole bit, but Wikipedia did a fantastic job summing it up. Thanks guys!

What does this have to do with me? Well I too have a brown M&M up my sleeve and I didn’t realize until it was pointed out to me today. It’s my first name. Long explanation or short explanation?

Long Explanation

and reasons why not to name your child  Jr. or III

I’m a junior. I’m actually really close to being a “III”. My grandfather is Robert William Catanese, my dad is Robert Anthony Catanese, and I’m Robert Anthony Catanese Jr. It’s really complicated, but my Gpa goes by Bob, my dad goes by Tony, and then somehow I end up with Anthony. No biggie right? Just a generational suffix. They are used every day.

This made growing up confusing. I knew my name was Anthony, but I had no idea what the deal with Robert was or that it really even existed until I was about 10. That’s when when standardized state tests started. What’s the easiest question on that test for you? “What’s your first name?” For me it wasn’t. I just stared at it and had no idea what to put. If I put the wrong name, Florida would say, “Who’s this kid and why isn’t he at NASA?! He’s a genius!” Maybe a bit exaggerated…as you can tell by my overuse of elipses and spelling errors.

For awhile I thought Anthony was a nickname for Robert like Chuck for Charles. That made sense to me that my dad had a nickname for a nickname, but not the other way around. See this is why NASA was a big LOL earlier.

This came in handy when I hit about 19. I was living in Orlando and was living off pb&j and sleeping on my friends floor for a few months. I had a tiny bit of extra money, but this usually went to beer. I was 19…what more did you expect. Each week my bank account kept getting dangerously close to over-drafting. So I came up with a solution that the bank didn’t like and I later found out was a no no. When my account would get down to $3 or so and I needed money for a few more days, I would go to the ATM and withdraw $100. Instant personal loan and I would pay it back in a couple days when I got paid. Big learning moment for me. This worked for about a month and then the bank started charging me enormous fees. They suggested I take out an actual personal loan that would act as overdraft protection. How could I possibly qualify for this?

This is where the magic of the suffix comes in. They pulled my credit and BOOOM! I apparently owned a bunch of homes, a few boats, and credit that was as old as me. They were confused, but I knew what was up. My dad’s credit had been cross-wired with mine and I now had the best credit in the world. This literally saved me. I was a very hungry teenager and luckily I had already learned my lesson about owing money.

Keep reading for the rest of the explanation…

Short Explanation

How does my first name correlate with the brown M&M’s of Van Halen? It’s because I actually go by my middle name and not my legal name of Robert. This is a test for the people that I know. Whenever I signup for a service I make sure to tell the person that I go by Anthony. In the system they list me as Robert, but when they know me they call me Anthony. This is how I know whether I’m receiving automated emails, snail mail, or a personal message from the people I know. It helps me filter the people who abuse the system and the people who actually do a good job about knowing their customers. If they are thoughtful enough to remember what I go by then I can trust the information is probably good stuff.

I always feel like I’m in a disguise when people call me Robert. It’s a really weird feeling, but it’s what makes me Anthony.

You knew it was coming: Van Halen – Jump (released the year I became Robert)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNy3-6ooMTc&w=420&h=315]

It’s April, Fools

I love pranks, but I’ve gotten away from being able to pull them off for some reason. It’s probably due to a lack of time, but for now I thought I would share my most memorable April fools moment.

Well actually there was two. One made me really mad actually. I was in 6th grade and saw that Taco Bell bought the Liberty Bell. I thought the US were the biggest sellouts. April Fools to me.

The other was also played on me, by my parents.

When I was a kid I pretty much never got “dressed” until it was time to go outside and play at like 10am. It was this way until I was probably around 11. I would sit around in my tighty whities, watch the X-men cartoon show, and play BattleToads. My parents hated this. They always yelled at me to go put clothes on, but who wants to do that? Not I!

Around this same time in my life I had just changed schools and started to notice girls. The one I fancied the most actually happen to be friends with a neighbor of mine and they sometimes hung-out. Well  one Saturday I’m down loving life, watching Wolverine get himself into trouble and the doorbell rings. No biggie. The door bell always rings. It’s probably for my sister. Then the next thing I hear is my mom say, “Anthony, yep he’s here and would love to play. Come on in.” Then my mom comes down to the tv room and says, “He’s just in here. Anthony, there is a girl here to see you.” OH NO!!!!!! I’m in my briefs!!!! OH NOOO!

I ran! I booked it. I felt like lightning. I don’t think I’ve ever traversed stairs so quickly. I was like a frightened cat….and all I could hear in my wake was laughing in the background from mom and dad. After that I never left my room without a pair of pants on.

So Happy April Fools Day. I hope your day was better than that day for me.

Daily tune: Animal Collective – Banshee Beat

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jj-0vMrZJbo&w=420&h=315]