VR: Looking the other way

Erik Bjäreholt
Status: Completed

About a month ago, Oculus VR announced their Oculus Development Kit 2 and on the same day Sony announced their Project Morpheus. While the jury is still out on who will lead the future of VR (although the current leader is without a doubt Oculus) things are definitely not progressing slowly in the space. Outlooks are promising, most reviews are positive and there is a growing anticipation in the game-developer community, concerned about how they have to adapt, what will be the first “killer app” and how to create it.

But while some people dream about fully immersive successors of Skyrim and sci-fi space games I suspect that in the shadow of their hype lies far more than has yet to reach the minds of ordinary people hearing about the technology. One that I’ve personally been thinking some about since the announcement a few days ago is replacing monitors with virtual workspaces in VR. Now the reason why this might not get much traction initially and does at first glance seem very unlikely to become hyped is that to most people monitors aren’t cool. Skyrim is cool, so it’s easy to imagine that something even cooler than Skyrim must be pretty cool. But something cooler than monitors? Well, monitors aren’t cool so not much to compare with. Lots of people consider their smartphones cooler than their desktops or laptops.

But what if I told you that monitors can be cool? A couple of months ago this post about 4K monitors appeared on Hacker News and it didn’t take me long to crave one. Now, I might be a little biased with a 1680*1050 and two 1280*1024, one on each side, as my desktop setup.
Most people don’t have it as I do, and I quite frankly wonder why (because it is amazing) but I guess I can understand they never felt the need or perceived the benefit, I mean which ordinary person knows that adding a second screen can increases productivity with 9 to 50 percent? I remember when we made the transition from 1280*1024 monitors to 1680*1050 and 1920*1080. Power users drove early adaption and the rest promptly followed.

The trend is pretty clear, resolution is increasing, more people use multi-monitor setups and when resolution increases so does monitor size. But where will this end? Well, the extreme scenario should be pretty obvious given the title of this post, fully immersive workspaces.

One attempt has been made, Ibex. While a good start and the creator certainly has the ambition sought after in the space there is still plenty of room for competition and variants. There might even come out a dominant one if someone jumps ahead of the competition.

There is still a lot of work to do, but nothing we can’t handle. I am convinced that VR will be the PC of the 20th century that will forever change what we mean by reality.

Michael Abrash put it perfectly:
“We’re on the cusp of what I think is not The Next Big Platform, but rather simply The Final Platform ― the platform to end all platforms ― and the path here has been so improbable that I can only shake my head.”

While I think that The Final Platform will be a BCI of some form, it would not seem totally implausible if primitive BCIs found their way into VR as an extension that ultimately removed the need for a screen, but that’s probably a couple decades away (or am I being too optimistic?). That is, of course, before (and if) mind uploading becomes a possibility, and I’d rather not call the hypothetical computer, on which we will exist, a platform.

To make VR happen in all it’s glory is now in the hands of a few companies and perhaps also you, the reader, and me (if I can find the time).

It would be an understatement to say that we have an exciting future ahead of us.

What would you do with your data?

Erik Bjäreholt
Status: Completed

If you had the log of your entire life. Your mood, the foods you ate, the things you did and when you did them, everything. What would you do with it? Could you do anything cool, perhaps even incredible?

I’ve been thinking about this for the past couple of weeks, and it seems the answer is yes. We humans are flawed, we run on corrupted hardware, we are difficult to motivate, we are in almost every aspect at least a bit flawed. We go through our daily lives trying to fix our imperfections. Sometimes we make progress, but our flawed memory, our skewed images of ourselves and our remarkably limited understanding of the world makes me incredibly pessimistic about the pace at which we improve. But what if we had the log of every change we made that we thought would improve us, every philosophy, every skill, every Art. What if we could see how they actually changed our lives for better or worse?

We are not very good at being honest to ourselves, especially when we aren’t honest to others. “The part of yourself that distorts what you say to others also distorts your own thoughts” as Eliezer Yudkowsky put it in Twelve Virtues of Rationality. It’s not that we are inherently dishonest, our brains are just incredibly good at tricking ourselves, and the brain believes what we say whether we really think it is true, or not. Akrasia is a very real enemy, and it is incredibly difficult for us to know when we’re one step closer to defeating it, and what it was that caused our progress.

Allow me to give an example, regarding the remarkable industry of self-help books:

“Self-help books are written to sell, not to help. Most books are structured around a gimmick that will sell well. The authors usually show no interest what-so-ever in testing to see if their advice actually works. In fact, I sometimes suspected the book was being written to get people motivated without actually giving them good advice so that when they failed to achieve their goals six months later they would assume it was their fault but look back positively on their initial motivation, and then buy the next heavily-marketed self-help book to come out the pipe.”

― Luke Muehlhauser, The Best Self-Help Book of All Time

After reading this, you’re probably a little sceptic about self-help books in general (if you weren’t already). But some of them might actually work, how could we really know which books lead to the greatest improvement? Well, we could log the variable we tried to improve before we read the book, collect more than a few datapoints, and then read a self-help book and apply what is in it (if it even gets us that far). We keep logging, and after a while we have established a pre-state and post-state. If our records show we made progress since the book was read it would be in favor of the books efficacy, if not, well that’s too bad for the book (or rather, its author). There is a problem however, your dataset is now as biased as it can get. The proper way to do this would be to tell other people to do the same and report their results, you’ll find that your results vary, but the average speaks volumes. You might even take it to the next level and see what kind of person benefits the most from what book, but that’s a challenge I leave to the skilled data scientist.

The same applies to how much sleep you need (and how much is too much), the efficacy of diets/supplements/drugs, what music makes you more productive and so on… There are incredibly many unexplored avenues to take this further, and the value it would provide could be incredible.

I’ve been logging much of my own life for the past month. Mood, productivity and alertness 3x daily, the activities I’ve engaged in (coding, studying, training, reading, writing, etc.) and the insights I’ve gotten are many. Logging what activities I engaged in accidentally enabled the Seinfeld method which turned out to work better than expected. It also happened to have the same method as the non-zero days system introduced to me by ryans01 in this wonderful post. I’d encourage you to try it, it doesn’t take much time and is even surprisingly fun. I use Google Spreadsheets, and while it works well, there are limitations and possibilities that call for a specialized service. But for exploring, a spreadsheet works well.

I’d love to show you how I’m doing it and the discoveries I made, but that will have to wait for another time as I am still discovering the possibilities and the limitations of my (relatively) simple spreadsheet. In the meantime, cheap ways to gather data that would otherwise be expensive to gather includes services like RescueTime which logs your computer activities. I’m sure there are others out there, leave a comment if you find one!

Log on!

Humble beginnings

Erik Bjäreholt

So, here it is, the first post of my possibly first serious blog.

I have a few plans on what kind of posts that will appear here, but my interests are quickly changing (although they seem to be in the process of converging) so we’ll see what ends up here in the end.

In the meantime, check out the about page!