Virtual Reality on the Cheap

I found a refurbished HP Windows Mixed Reality headset for $160.  It’s the cheapest way to do virtual reality.  It does 95% of what the fancy/expensive HTC Vive does.  They keep the cost down by using cameras on the headset to sense the controller position instead of external sensors.  We cleared out a bunch of space in the living room and I temporarily moved my computer into there.  The more space you can clear, the better.  But being tethered to the computer with a cable is a pain.  You almost need to play barefoot so that you can feel the cable with your feet avoid getting tangled.

Anyway, it’s a lot of fun!  It really does a great job of tricking your brain into feeling that it’s real.  The Lab is an awesome free game where you walk around a lab and play a variety of mini-games…some of them hilarious.  Picking up objects and looking at them closely with even the light glinting off of them is really convincing.  Putting your head into physical objects is a weird thing to do because you’re thinking “collision”!
Google Earth VR is fun.  You’re like a giant walking around Paris or wherever you are.
Beat Saber is a music game that’s a big workout.  You use light sabers to cut through music blocks as they fly at you.  You also have to doge moving walls…kind of like a virtual reality Dance Dance Revolution.  You really feel the music.  Exercise with VR goggles and headphones is very sweaty, though.
Windows has their “virtual house” and Steam has theirs.  The Windows portal prefers everything to be Windows apps.  You can paste a giant Netflix app on your fake living room wall.  (Everything is houses instead of desktops.)  So it’s funny starting out in the Windows house and then loading the desktop as a big screen floating in the backyard.
I recommend going cheap on these things because electronics devalue so quickly.  I recommend a GTX 1070 videocard or better because some of the games got laggy on an AMD RX 580.
Sometimes, games are made with Vive/Oculus Rift in mind and the WMR controllers work by emulation or something.  Google Earth VR, for example, shows a virtual Vive controller with a button in a totally different position than the Windows controller.  It can be confusing when you look down at your hand and see a controller you’re not really holding.  Of course, your controller can look like anything.  In Minecraft, it’s a blocky arm.  (The Windows 10 Minecraft app didn’t use the normal teleport movement, so it borders on nausea as you move, but your real body remains still.)  In the Windows house, your controller is a realistic looking Windows controller with an added bonus of a virtual battery indicator on the underside.  In The Lab, your controller changes to whatever contraption you pick up.

After playing VR for a while, you can get a weird disembodied feeling with your hands…almost as if you’re wondering whether they’re really your hands.

Windows 10 Insomnia

After running for a little while with Windows 10 on our PCs at home, the most annoying problem is Windows 10’s insomnia.  It loves to wake up.  I run powercfg -lastwake or powercfg -waketimers to see what’s waking it up and it’s almost always Microsoft’s Update Orchestrator Reboot.  Try to disable wake timers on that scheduled task and Microsoft will just re-enable it.  It even wakes my wife’s laptop while it’s closed, which can’t be good as far as thermal issues.  I see other people out there are having the problem too.  Hopefully Microsoft fixes this issue at some point so you don’t find your PC awake every single morning?

You can talk to your computer or phone

Did you know that, more and more, you can just talk to your computer to do things?

Historically, computers have generally been difficult to use.  But they’ve recently gotten easier…you can often talk to them now.  So get out there and say “OK Google, Hey Siri, Hey Cortana” and see how many phones and computers you can get to respond at once.  You can’t get everything accomplished by talking yet, but it’s pretty impressive sometimes.

Android

On an Android phone or tablet, you can tap the little microphone button and say things like “navigate to Smiths”, “set a timer for 15 minutes”, “remind me to water plants in 1 hour”, “note to self: buy milk”.  Similarly, you can click the Microphone at google.com while using the Chrome browser.  You can also set these up to respond to you saying “OK Google”.

iPhone

On iPhone 4S and above, you can hold the Home button and talk to it.  (I think you can also set it to respond to “Hey Siri” or just hold it up to your ear too, assuming you have that set up.)  Then you can ask it, “how do I right-click in OSX?”.  (I never get tired of that joke.)

Windows 10

And now Windows is getting in on the game with Windows 10.  Once you get things set up in Windows 10, you can just say “hey Cortana” and say things like “start calculator”, “play music”, or “show me pictures of dinosaurs”.  For some reason, it doesn’t respond to, “shut down”.  I wonder why?

If you update to Windows 10 in the next year, it’s free.  This assumes that you have a laptop with a mic, a headset, or some other kind of microphone.  This won’t work if you have no mic.  Once Windows 10 is installed, click the little search bar in the lower left and set it up.  You might have to click the little microphone icon down there and set that up.  You’ll also need to set up voice activation by going to the start menu and typing Cortana to go to Cortana settings.  Enable the “hey Cortana” feature.  Once you do this, it’s pretty funny to say “hey Cortana” in a room with many PCs.

 

32's in the 64 folder. What's on second.

I had a problem where I would create data sources in BIDS but they wouldn’t show up in the ODBC administrator.  Today I learned that there are 2 ODBC administrator programs…one 32-bit and one 64-bit.  The 32-bit system files folder is called SysWOW64.  The 64-bit folder is called System32.  Of course it is.  (WOW stands for Windows On Windows.)  Making things worse is the fact that the 64-bit ODBC administrator executable is also called odbcad32.exe.

It's time to iron out your icons

Windows 8 tile icons are simple white icons on a single color.  Microsoft also reflected the look on their main site as well as in Visual Studio 2012.  PlayStation Store’s new look: the same hard-edged simple icons on a single background color.  A bunch of sites and applications are doing this…ironing out and de-colorizing their icons.  Is this good or not?  I guess the eyes scan such things quickly and they work better in peripheral vision…but color may convey some information too. Time will tell, I guess.

Old Windows icon

Let’s iron it out, shall we?

Windows 8: Half Windows, half iPad

Well, I tried it so you don’t have to.  I upgraded Sean’s machine from Windows XP to Windows 8 to try out the cheap $40 deal they have going on.  The most annoying part is that it assumes that because your old version of Windows was only 32-bit that you want the new version to be 32-bit.  Of course, you actually want the 64-bit version so that you can have more than 4 GB of memory if you want.  As far as actually using Windows 8, it’s snappy and responsive.  However, half the time it thinks it’s Windows and half the time it thinks it’s an iPad.  You switch back and forth with the Windows key on your keyboard.  In Windows mode, you have all the stuff you’re used to like a red X to close your programs and so on.  But in the iPad mode, you have apps from the *App* I mean Windows store.  They take up the whole screen and are weird to use with a mouse.  For example, you have to drag an app down to the bottom of the screen to close it.  Microsoft eventually wants all programs to become apps, going through rigorous Microsoft approval.  Some developers are telling them to get lost, like the Minecraft guy.  After 2 days, we’re seeing lots of driver problems with a legacy 4000 series AMD HD Radeon card.  The only official drivers out for it are Windows 7.  Here’s a video of the Windows 8 wackiness:

 

Windows 8's wacky new feature

Windows 8 comes out Friday.  It’s only $40 for the upgrade version (for a limited time).  We have a couple of XP machines that I may upgrade, but I’ll leave the Windows 7 machines alone.  I figure Windows 8’s at least gotta be better than XP.  I hear one of the most annoying parts is that they got rid of the red X that you use to close applications.  Instead, you have to grab the top of the window and drag it downward to shrink the window out of existence.  Cause, hey, everybody loves dragging.  Hopefully the Alt-F4 close shortcut still works.  Replacing a single click with click and drag sounds like they were too obsessed with the touchpad interface.  The start menu is now an entire start screen.  I guess I like that idea.  You can get to administrative tools with the Windows key-X shortcut, which is also good.  But if this turns out to follow the “every other Windows version is a lemon” rule, you should definitely get it if you’re on the Windows ME-Vista upgrade path.