Playing with HoloLens

Few days ago I got chance to play with HoloLens. Here's the clip I shot from HoloLens in my bedroom during first few minutes with the device. The video posted directly from the HoloLens to YouTube, no postprocessing, and it's very close to what I was seeing:

Few things that surprised me was how easy it was to just put on the HoloLens and start using it. No calibrations or other complicated settings required! My 3 year old and mother-in-law could take turns without modifying any settings. You can operate the whole device pretty much by using just two gestures and it took about 30 seconds to learn them. Given that how often gesturing fails, I was actually more impressed by its accuracy than almost every other feature. I can even type on virtual keyboard, although it does get tiring.

I put HoloLens through the battery of tests, some in low light environments like in above video, others around untextured walls and still more in outdoors with relatively large areas and bunch of trees. In all cases, virtual objects maintained their poses in real world and HoloLens knew its own pose fairly accurately. I can put an object in one of the bushes around my home, quickly look away, go around the corner and come back from totally different angle and it's there just like I'd put it! Beyond this simplistic tests to see how well SLAM and feature matching algos worked, I also tried out apps like HoloTours and shootout game. In HoloTours, you can see places in Rome and Peru rendered around you in 360-degree! It absolutely impressed me that even though glass is transparent, I can't actually see objects in real world when these 360-degree video was rendered. This is like having VR instead of AR and the black actually looked fairly black. However this is true only for reasonably lit environments. If you have a bright lights in the background, you can "see through" the virtual environment and "VR mode" is not convincing any more. In this VR like environment, I thought resolution was fairly good. It's not as if you are watching HD but still it felt better than SD and not falling short for the VR-like experience.

Things can get pretty real though. I put a roaring dragon spewing fire on the floor and gave HoloLens to my 3 year old to view it. He took one look and said he didn't wanted to see that scary thing again! This was absolutely mesmerizing and addictive. I also checked out galaxy and solar system apps that you often see in Magic Leap demo videos except that you can actually try out in HoloLens right now! I can totally see how this can become indispensable educational tool with well made apps.

So the question in everyone's mind: what about field of view? At first I noticed it quite a bit but then got used it. The bottom line is that the whole experience is so magical that you will forget about it pretty soon and your brain seems to adjust to it. It's like when first TVs came out and they were small and black-and-white and low resolution but hey, you are seeing moving images in your home and people still can get immersed in it! In fact, the more bothering thing for me was the color bleeding when you move your head around. I'm suspecting if that was the reason I often started to feel bit of headaches after 30 minutes of use. Still having completely untethered device that can do such heavy computational lifting on single battery charge is just totally amazing.

Mazda RX-8 Review

I guess it's the time to write down bits about Mazda RX-8 for the benefit of future buyers. This is the car we bought in year 2004. I've heard that the 2005 model is exactly the same but I haven't checked it. Anyway lets start the engines!

  • This car is a real head turner. I mean REAL. People see BMWs and Mercedes SLK350 and go ahh. This car is beyond that. Here, people not just go ahh but they literally stop you, tell you that they just went ahh and ask details about the car. And by "people" I mean complete strangers of all age and all types (even those truck and SUVs fans). It's not unusual for us to get one such stranger encounter every other week.
  • RX-8 has got automatic plus semi manual shifting called "sport" mode. In sport mode, you can shift gears right on the steering wheel! Also this mode is safe even if you tend to screw up when driving manual.
  • This is a rear wheel drive and that means it really sucks on the snow. Actually it sucks more than average rear wheel drives. The semi-manual shifting doesn't help in snow because it looks like the automatic vehicle stability controls is turned off when you switch to manual so it's even more dangerous to manual on snow. When it was snowing heavily for couple of days, I preferred to park my car in parking lot and take the train.
  • It's little more above then ground (with those big tires, of course) then most sports car. This helps a lot when you on dirty-rocky road. However you may not cross lanes by going over divider lines like those SUVs do. On the plus side, it doesn't flip over like those SUVs do.
  • This car has rotary engines, not cylinders. So terms like V4, V6 doesn't apply to it. It simply doesn't have any pistons. It's fun to explain this to people when their first question for sports cars is "oh, is that V8?".
  • The coolest feature that might get peoples jaw dropped for this car is suicide doors. They are extremely cool. We have seen car passing us by and then backing up to us asking "what is that?".
  • It's even more fun when you try to get insurance for this car. "How many doors it has?" the agent might ask. It's technically neither 2 door or 4 door! This car defies the common mold.
  • Many reviews I'd read said the trunk space is small. So far we didn't had problems putting our stuff including telescope, guest luggage, caving gear and what not.
  • If you frequently go outdoor places, GPS is not optional. In early 2004 model, the factory installed GPS had really bad software so we didn't took it and bought after market Garmin. However Mazda has upgraded this software in December, 2004 and it's as good as any after market GPS. I believe GPS is probably the most important thing in the car after steering wheel, gas and breaks.
  • RX-8 has cool design for in-between seat space. You get two cup holders in front and back, 3 big storage compartments, and two cigarette lighters. Totally worth it.
  • You want the red one.
  • The seat design and covers has star trekee looks. The covers are made from washable and really wear resistant special material. This means you can put heavy stuff like big luggage bags with pointy corners on the seats without worry.
  • This car is a huge gas guzzler. I guess it consumes at least 30% more gas then typical 4 door cars of similar size. We need to refill typically after every 5 hours of drive. And just so you know, this car only likes to have 93 octane premium gas.
  • On another luxury preferences of this car, you can only tow it on a flat bed. Other towing may damage the car.
  • RX-8 has powerful big breaks. Infect its breaks have same specs as Porsche Carrera GT. You might also notice that tires do not have wheel covers allowing faster cooling of those big breaks. The bad part is that lots of rust gets in to those parts and sometime it looks awful. However Mazda engineers have let us know that this is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about.
  • R8-8 dimensions are very similar to Porsche Carrera GT.
  • There are no rear wipers.
  • So far I've took it to 110 mph (higher speed isn't easy in tri-state area). High speed is pretty natural to this car.
  • RX-8 has rotary engines and it makes unique pleasant sound then engine with cylinders. The main advantage seems to be their super compact size and disadvantage being they are gas guzzlers.
  • Apparently only Mazda makes cars with rotary engines. They had released RX-7 about 8 years ago and the RX-8 is new incarnation with more compact and efficient engines. Check out RX-8 club which has tons of rotary engine fans.
  • It has almost enough head rooms for 6 ft people.
  • It has dumb headlights - totally manual, no photo sensors.
  • It doesn't have dumb doors (the ones you need to slam hard couple of times to get them shut).
  • This car requires mirrors to be perfectly set to avoid blind spots. It's more important than other cars. That means, if you are a couple, you both should be of nearly equal height people so if you switch seats, you don't have to reset the whole thing again.
  • Unlike typical 2-door sports cars, this car is excellent for new couples planning to start family in near future because you get the extra seats behind with own their little doors :). This car perfectly fits the title of "family sports car".
  • Other goodies included are digital speedometer and outside temperature. There is no compass.
  • One of the biggest thing I dislike in this car is non-standard stereo. The factory installed one is pretty low end and you can't replace it with after market ones because it's non standard! That's huge deal. It's a shame for Mazda because cars with half the price now comes with MP3 CD player and FM with text. The 9-speaker BOSS system is less them impressive when it comes to sound quality and to me it looks like waste of money. Actually 9 speakers are pretty much useless anyway because Mazda system can't play audio disks with DVD-A encoding which are specifically designed for surround sound experience. Mazda does sell proprietary MP3 replacement player, however, for $350 only.
  • Like most other cars, you would be required to heavily negotiate with dealers for pricing. In 2004, I kept hearing price tag of $29,000 (without tax) when I started looking and finally bought the car for $24,500 inclusive everything. The Wayne Mazda is an excellent dealer and service shop if you are in NJ.
  • Because RX-8 is pretty new, it's hard to tell anything about engine life and resell values. But I believe both are pretty good if you look at RX-7.
  • One of the problem with this car is that after you start the engine and then if you need to shut it down without driving, you have to step on gas while still in park mode and "rave up" the engines and then shut it down. Not doing this step causes something called flooding reported by many people.
  • RX-8 doesn't have 5 star safety ratings.
  • You get pretty powerful xenon headlights, sun-glass holder, automatic tire pressure indicator and no-traction indicator.

Electrons Are Out, Photons Are In

Our custom made PC based "media center" just got its new replacement screen: Dell 2300MP Projector! Short review: It rocks and totally worth it (especially playing PS2 games wired with 5.1 sound system and WinAmp Visualizers on a big screen). And here are more tidbits for you geeks:

  • Dell 2300MP is new line of DLP projector which (I guess) came out in Oct 2004. It has whooping 2300 lumens and 2100 contrast ratio and cost me $1165 including shipping. It's native resolution is 1024X768 which exceeds many plasmas. Projector of this class used to cost almost twice a year ago.
  • PS2 even with S-Video connector gives pretty cool quality. Through 5.1 surround sound system with games like Grand Theft Auto and you can hear cars passing by around you as if you are on real road.
  • This projector doesn't have DVI connector (for digital video from PCs) and component video/RGB connection (for high resolution DVD movies or 1080i HDTV format). That means you can only go as good as S-Vide. Also it has only one S-Video port. I don't think this is a huge disadvantage because more resolution offered by these connectors can't be displayed by projector anyway.
  • It comes with lots of wires (though short in length) and a slick case. Remember projector wiring and screen is a significant portion of total projector cost. A 25ft VGA cable alone can cost easily over $50.
  • One big limitation of most projection system is that you can project only a specific size picture from specific distance. So say if you have have 85" diagonal area available project on be able place projector at around 10-12 ft from the wall. No more no less. And yes, you must buy enough long wires to hook up all your PS2s, cable TVs and PCs.
  • This projector is super bright and it looks terrific even on our direct white wall projection without using any screen at all. It’s so bright that we don’t even feel needed to turn off our lights. On the daytime, if you have really bright room (no curtains on big glass wall), picture would appear washed out – not good enough for DVD quality but still pretty good for talk shows like quality.
  • Because of high lumens and contrast, the most suitable screens for this projector are matt white screens with the gain 1.0 or even lower. This eliminated need for high gain screens means you get wide viewing angle just like usual TV set and uncompromising colors.
  • Many people complained about circular "rainbows" that appears when watching B&W movies. It doesn't seem to appear so far with us but I guess it might popup if you are watching high contrast black and white movie for a long time.
  • Because of high contrast, darker scenes in the movie would feel darker. You will need to mess around with settings for this for a while (Dogma=3 works for us pretty well). BTW, we run at only 40% of its maximum brightness.
  • When projector is not placed right at the center of screen but on lower or upper side. You get a distortion called keystone. This projector has built-in key-stone elimination feature which works great but it doesn't have any way to shrink picture horizontally or vertically or compensate for horizontal center-off alignment. If you are planning to project on for more than 100", you should consider exact center ceiling mount.
  • If you still don’t think projector is a best bet for a screen, do a math on movie tickets. And even then if you don’t get convinced, go watch Step into liquid on 85" screen projected by this little toy! It's brilliant!

The New Synthesizer

I finally bought my new keyboard synthesizer - something I wanted since last few months. It's Yamaha EZ250i from InstrumentPro (they seems to be the only one bundling the survival kit along with). This one is suitable for beginners as well as advanced users who needs a perfect piano experience. Infect it's the ultimate machine available for learner in the market. This one is an upgrade over EZ30 and has just arrived in last July. It can be connected to computer right away, has 400+ voices, accurate Grand Piano sounds, built-in Education Suit among several other things. Sweeeet!

Things To Remember When Building Your PC

I recently upgraded my custom build 2.5 year old beast. When I started out that time, I wanted to make something really powerful, enviable and which kind of had everything. After burning $3500 in this endeavor I enjoyed owning something that exceeded what Microsoft and others just recently "innovated" as Media Center PC. But this time upgrade wasn't easy and I kept messing up things many times and calling up other gurus. So here's the list for the benefit of someone not-so-skilled: 1. Usually motherboards have 3 special screws that would touch the chassis and provide the grounding. Don't mix up (aha, screw up) those screws. 2. When you lay PC on its side (motherboard top facing you), remember all IDE cable's red-line side faces you but floppy's faces down. If you mess this up, drives won't be detected and you might keep thinking that you blew up power supply and run to buy another one. 3. Power cables to all IDE drives would have yellow side facing you and red side facing IDE cable's red-line. Usually you can't plug other way, unless, uhhh... you push really hard! 4. It's important to see which drive is master and which one is slave (ALWAYS look at the jumper settings before you put drives in bays wire everything up). I didn't bothered and just keep trying until they all were detected (real reason being I'd lost my flashlight). This won't blow up your drives but it's very unreliable. 5. Don't forget to connect CD digital and DVD SPDF connectors to sound card. Former allows digital ripping of audio CDs in MP3s and later allows Dolby Digital sound if you have the card that supports that and have hooked up to Home Theater system. Also if you want to listen modem noises on speakers (or home theater as in my case), don't forget to connect modem and sound card. Many cheap modems don't support this any longer however. 6. If power light blinks then probably you have power supply set on 230V (European style) rather then 115V (US style).

The Better Giving

A year ago it took me around 6 months before I felt it was the perfect gift to give it to my cousins. But the trouble was that by the time they received it they got confused whether it was for last year's occasion or coming year's! It's an art to find a gift that's unique, hard to find, memorable and the one matching with person's personality and need. Here are some of those tips and places that I came across over time to help you out this holiday season. 1. The premier destination to get the unique gift idea is surprise.com. A must visit if you are still in the complete darkness. 2. Check out my collection of gift links. You will find things ranging from Kamasutra weekender kit to Astronomy's cool gift ideas. 3. To find out what's latest and coolest, check out Scientific American's Top SciTech Gifts of 2002. This one is a real good contemporary compilation. 4. If you still didn't found you were looking for, view my collection of shopping links. Specially check for Diversity Stores section. 5. Instead of giving gifts to someone who already has too much, you might want to ask them if it's ok to give some donations to non-profit organizations instead of giving them yet another gift that would be anyway useless to them. Click here for some charity organizations in my links collection. 6. Finally here are my personal favorites and non-favorites for this year: Quicktionary, Book light (both are perfect if a person is an avid reader), external hard drive (perfect for heavy laptop users because they always run out of space), handheld GPS (for outdoor person), Lego Mindstorm robot kit (absolute perfect gift for kids), DVD/MP3 players, HP49 calc (perfect for mathematicians), model air plane kit (prefer unassembled ones). And now the things that sucks as gifts: fragrances, cloths, pocket PCs and palms, organizers, CD players, pocket MP3 players, RC cars, PS2. These gifts totally suck. Finally it's not necessary to go overboard. Infect being a follower of 'Grinch philosophy' I'm supposed to hate all give and take of gifts. May be it's just enough to send a web card with few clicks to let someone know that you still remember.

The Pen With Dictionary And Voice

Now this is something I was absolutely looking for. A device which scans the printed word in a book and tell you it's meaning and pronounces it through voice! Sure there are lots of hand electronics dictionaries for this but it's still work half done because you have to cut your chain of thought and type in word in it. Guess what, there a pen shaped hand held scanner that does the same thingy - you just move it over a text and in seconds it gives dictionary entry and pronunciation! It's called QuickLink or Quicktionary handheld scanner pen. The mfg site is at http://www.wizcomtech.com but sadly isn't available at stores like Best Buy. All of the e-tailers including buy.com and amazon.com I tried were mysteriously out of stock and the manufacturer has kept their direct prices higher then any retailer (this really sucks). I will be buying a version called SuperPen - that one you can also use for storing lines of text you have jotted down and transfer to your PC later. Also it can translate scanned text in to many languages. very cool! Past few months I came across many many cool books and I wished if had this thing...

Gizmos - Backup Drive, USB TV, External Dolby Sound Card

Here's some of the very cool gizmos I've found: I was looking for a backup device for a long time. I've some 200 gigs of stuff scattered around and I realized much of it isn't really junk!! So gave thought on DVD writers but I have no wish to carry 20 DVDs around. And then suddenly I found this 120GB external hard drive. It's perfect. One from Iomega comes for around $290 and it's 7200 RPM (look in Amazon). Another thing on my wish list was portable TV tuner card which I can connect to my laptop or home PC. It might surprise you but I've gave up on those "idiot box" type TVs since around year and half. I've Radeon All-In-Wonder showing TV on my 20" PC screen. And then there's Creative 5.1 Dolby card which sends sound signal from my PC to 600W home theater system. Neat, isn't it? I can use sophisticated program search, record program on my huge hard drives in MPEG, take stills and even view all channels at once (very slow though). But my PC died few days ago. It won't power up because of that buggy CLSUS II motherboard bug. And now I'm missing South Park and Seinfeld. And so I realized I need to have something that I can plug in to my notebook on the go and watch TV! And I found more the what I asked for. For $80 you can get KWorld external USB TV tuner device which is also an FM tuner! It works on PAL also so good for travelling with laptops to UK and India. Watch out for few others like WinTV - they don't have these things. Yet another thing that I was looking for was external Dolby 5.1 sound card. For those who have bought expensive computer speakers, well, guys you wasted your money. You can always get 600W home theater system (i.e. amplifier and speakers) and connect it to Dolby 5.1 compatible card. Until last year only such card was Creative Live! 5.1. Now there are many but I guess Creative still rules because they give you optical as well as SPDF outputs. The beauty of external card is that you can carry it with your notebook and instantly start a sort of night club wherever you can find amplifier and speakers (say, your friend's bachelor party) streaming out your favorite MP3s. As you might know, most non-geeks who have home theater systems don't know how to connect it to PC.

Garmin eMap GPS System

gps_emap

Description

The GPS device keeps contact with satellites and tells you where exactly are you (usually with accuracy of 20m or better) in detailed street level map. You can ask it to go somewhere and it will show you arrows pointing direction where you should move. It can even tell you where are the nearest restaurants, restrooms, shops and so on!
Note: Many map related features may available only for USA.

PlusPoints

This model from Garmin is one of the most advanced pocket GPS. Maps are really accurate sometime showing even very small corner shops! It tell you at what speed you are moving, how much time it would take it to reach destination. You can type the mailing address and it will locate it on map and direct you there!! You can make a search on nearest gas station, hotels, tourist attractions, night clubs, hospitals an so on. It will tell you where exactly it is, it's phone number, how far is it and an real time arrow showing how to get there. It even gives you phases of sun and moon. You can zoom and pan the map. You can mark points on map and name them (it's called waypoints) and you can even record where you are passing through and trace it back to get home! You can type in the mailing address and/or zip code and get there. Or you can know the postal address of place you are standing on! The built in memory can store street map of one of the US state. But fortunately it's expandable and I usually keep maps of NY, NJ, PN always there. These features are important, don't buy without them!
Note: Many map related features may available only for USA.

MinusPoints

I wasn't able to find a way to mark your current location as a waypoint (bad if you want to come back there again and you didn't knew how did you got there). There is NO real time built in compass - the biggest drawback compared to Magellan's model. However latest problem I've faced since last few months is that the power switch doesn't work on random occasion (no! I didn't do anything!). It really sucks when you keep pressing that button when you really need it and it doesn't turn on!

Cost

GPS + extra 64MB memory + Metro guide CD + PC cable + car adapter + leather pouch = $450, December 2000

BetterThenThis

There is equivalent model from Magallen and it has buit-in electronic compass but then some other features were missing. But I guess Garmin eMap is the best available general purpose GPS for this price as on December, 2000. There are other models with color screen but very pricy and less on features.

Rating

4

Links

GPS info site
GPS City
Also check out target="new">amazon.com, garmin.com and magellen.com.

Category

GPS

Shops

I bought it from www.getfeetwet.com/. Fast response, good price but barely acceptable site.