Archive for January, 2008

Volker Blanz and Thomas Vetter from the MPI for Biological Cybernetics, Tubingen, Germany, describe a morphable model for the synthesis of 3D faces. It is easy to imagine the integration of this technology with massive multiplayer worlds such as Second Life. A lot of us who deal with the creation of avatars that closely resemble their real world owners especially for ‘serious’ applications will certainly find this approach a huge time saver and most likely to yield far better results. There is already wind that Linden Lab, the makers of Second Life, is working right now on how to increase the realism and fidelity of avatars by looking at a range of technologies involving three dimensional cameras (Mitch Kapor speaks about Second Life from Davos).


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The following clip describes how it is possible to create a virtual out of body experience. The phenomenological sense of “self”, the sense of “being”, the sense of  one’s place in space, our sense of what constitutes our body among a lot of other assumptions about our “self” and its relationship with everything else appear very obvious to most of us. This simple experiment illustrates how such feelings are malleable and, in my view, supports the proposition that our phenomenological understanding of the “self” does not necessarily mean that there is such a thing as a “self” entity that can be studied as such.

Another experiment that could be tried is to get hold of two persons with similar body dimensions and structures, wearing the same clothes, have one person wear a pair of spy cameras (one above each eye) and have another person wear a head mounted display. The person wearing the head mounted display will then have access to a first person view of the person wearing the cameras. I imagine the quality of the experience will be similar to the one experienced as an avatar in the highly realistic virtual worlds of the future. It will be interesting to investigate the degree of empathy that the person wearing the display will feel, and whether they will actually feel pain if the person wearing the cameras hits an obstacle by accident. I imagine reflexive avoidance behavior will be observed in the subject wearing the head mounted display. What would be more interesting is to see if the subject also momentarily experiences pain before the realization that there is no pain and it is probably the other person that is feeling the pain.

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A lot paranormal experiences can be generated by simulating the temporal lobe using magnetic fields. Dr Michael Persinger, a behavioral neuroscientist, has been creating such effects on demand in his laboratory. So are we going to find coin operated devices in malls promising us access to such experiences? A lot of well known religious figures have described visions of the world beyond, or interactions with God, and it is fair to ask whether such experiences are indeed mere illusions resulting from temporal lobe malfunction. So here again, we find that it is easy to understand what God is not and incredibly difficult to  grasp what God is.  You decide:


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I am a big fan of very simple experiments that generate significant results. This seems to be one of them.

BBC NEWS  Health  Big Brother eyes ‘boost honesty’

A Newcastle University team monitored how much money people put in a canteen “honesty box” when buying a drink. They found people put nearly three times as much in when a poster of a pair of eyes was put above the box than when the poster showed flowers.

Dr Melissa Bateson: “Although it was just a photocopied black and white poster, we know that people’s brains are set up to process faces and eyes, and that is probably because it is very important for us to know if we are being watched by other people.”

According to the University of Newcastle press release (28 June 2006):

UK scientists have found a way of making people behave more honestly in an experiment that could aid strategies for tackling anti-social behaviour. A team from Newcastle University found people put nearly three times as much money into an ‘honesty box’ when they were being watched by a pair of eyes on a poster, compared with a poster that featured an image of flowers.

The researchers say the eye pictures were probably influential because the brain naturally reacts to images of faces and eyes. It seems people were subconsciously cooperating with the honesty box when it featured pictures of eyes rather than flowers.
They also say the findings show how people behave differently when they believe they are being watched because they are worried what others will think of them. Being seen to co-operate is a good long-term strategy for individuals because it is likely to mean others will return the gesture when needed.

The two pictures below show a sample of the two conditions under comparison.



So now you know what to do, if you want to encourage folks to comply. Why not slap a picture of a couple of eyes on top of your tip jar on your web page? I wonder how many such images are needed before desensitization kicks in, before nobody cares what the picture is about. Is this a subliminal, unconscious effect? Pitch in if you have more information.


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soap homepage

Soap is a pointing device based on hardware found in a mouse, yet works in mid-air. Soap consists of an optical sensor device moving freely inside a hull made of fabric. The first thing that came to my mind when I saw this is the track ball. A Brief History of the Personal Computer Trackball. In any case, here’s a video describing what it is; make up your mind whether it can be useful to you. The video documents the building process which is fairly simple. Try to build your own, may be you might tweak things up a little bit and come up with a new design.

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Johnny Lee of the Poor Man’s steady cam fame (Purchasing a Poor Man’s Steady-Cam) has a neat demonstration of how with a little tinkering you can turn any surface into a whiteboard. Well not all surfaces really, for example, this arrangement will not work on a flat screen TV because of the interference between the IR from the TV screen and the IR from the pens that are being tracked. The approach is very similar to that used in Mimio (Interactive whiteboard, virtual whiteboard, whiteboards, Sanford Brands – mimio) but hey, there is much more satisfaction in implementing something like that yourself.

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The tangible interface movement started as an effort to move away from  virtual graphic user interfaces to more organic ‘touchable’ interfaces. And the two interfaces below attempt to illustrate that. While they intrinsically provide opportunities for collaborative interactions, for e.g. you could have 2 more DJs move the balls, I think putting balls in holes to trigger optical switches might not necessarily be a plus. I think it would have been far easier to have have small windows that could be flicked, or slid open and shut with tiny finger movements, rather than having to pick the ball and place it in the right hole. Having flickable switches on a board could be easily mounted on top of a synthesizer and guitar and allow a musician to create loops in real-time. The two designs shown will not be able to be used as an overlay on a musical instrument.

Peter Bennett – Projects

Bubblegum Sequencer – Making Music With Candy

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