Saturday, July 23, 2016

What Will Virtual Reality Look Like in the Future?

"In the slums of the future, virtual reality junkies satisfy their violent impulses in online entertainment. An expert player discovers that the line between games and reality is starting to fade away. 3DAR’s latest short film explores the frightening potential of our next technological revolution. Behind the scenes coming soon! Stay connected, but not too much ;)"

Commentary by Louis Shalako

What does the future of virtual reality look like?

It’s a complex question and one well worth asking.

But when the cat is scratching at the door to come in and it looks like a Pokemon, that would be one logical outcome for those with the desire and the cost of admission to a whole new world, one that is an artificial overlay on all that is real.

In Vernor Vinge’s award-winning Rainbow’s End, people wear ‘augmented reality’ glasses and other hardware, which allows them to superimpose whatever gloss they want upon their present surroundings. In a case like that, one person might live in a perpetual Disneyland, while another might prefer a world where every person or object is modeled on the Flinstones. If you like Clint Eastwood and scenes of people on horseback riding across the Painted Desert, you will be able to superimpose that sort of thing onto your present circumstances. A really good system would give everyone a western drawl. 

You could take a really interesting vacation and never even have to leave home.

In a world of increasingly grim inequalities, virtual reality might mean that whatever shoes you’re wearing look like Guccis rather than a ratty old pair of runners, long since due for replacement. When you take off the goggs or shut down the implant, reality comes back. 

But then, reality has always been perception--and now we will be able to control those perceptions a little better than we could before.

In a proper game-space, where all the machines, ‘wearables’ or implants even, would all be talking to each other, how we present ourselves to others would be a matter of choice, (just as it is to some degree now). The other person, similarly-equipped, may see that we are wearing Gucci footwear when really, we’re not.

People of all ages are sort of living in the Pokemon Go world now. They’re not even wearing special goggles. They seem intent enough on the relatively small screens on their smart-phones, to the extent that they’re stepping out in front of buses and falling off cliffs already.

They’re walking around with their faces down and their attention elsewhere. Virtual reality might be somewhat less dangerous because it will be totally immersive. In this virtual future, a person might choose to have city buses appear as charging rhinos. In a virtual world, one would hope that peripheral vision would be roughly as good as our own natural vision. The odds are that we won’t be stepping out in front too many charging rhinos, chugging diesel fumes and squealing the brakes, going down Main Street U.S.A. anytime soon. Let’s hope not, anyways.

Virtual reality is not just for fun and games. Scientists will use virtual reality in a number of ways.

Sensorama, 1950s. Photo Minecraftsyco, (Wiki.)
A robot equipped with enough sensors will be able to show all angles as it enters a nuclear reactor facility under meltdown and show outside observers exactly what’s going on in there.

Observers will be able to slip on a headset and look up, down, all around at no risk to themselves.

With improved medical imaging systems, a surgeon might be able to ‘make himself really small’ with virtual reality. They will be able to stand beside a tumour deep inside the brain and direct laser beams, micro-scalpels, or a small cluster of nano-bots to more accurately excise a tumor for example.

Soldiers will train on virtual reality renditions of sensitive targets without having to build an expensive, and rather insecure mock-up, which will become increasingly difficult to hide or camouflage from space-based observation as time goes on.

I have minimal experience with virtual reality. A few years ago, a buddy had a set of FatShark goggles and a camera aboard a model airplane. The aircraft was equipped with a video transmitter, and he had an antenna and recording unit on the ground, with the goggles plugged into the system.

He could fly the plane from the point of view of the aircraft itself—the only real complication being that when he swiveled or panned the camera, tilted it up or down or whatever, it was easy to lose that centred, forward view. The field of view was also quite small. There was a learning curve and it involved not just adrenalin, but some disorientation as well. The field of view is limited, but makers are continually improving the product. When you move your head inside of a proper game-space, the view changes, just like in real life.

I was wearing the goggles when he finally brought it in for a landing. With the ground, real enough, coming up at me, I literally braced my feet for impact and tottered back and forth, heart pounding, as the machine hit the grass.

It’s also pretty amazing when the plane is rolled, looped or spun. Reality, or a real model airplane flying in a real atmosphere, isn’t even really necessary to the equation. There is nothing real about World of Warcraft. People become totally immersed in a violent and convincing rendition of a battlefield. There is the sound and the fury, the flinch as a spear or sword comes at the player. The only thing lacking is blood, but there might even be some real fear in there, once a player has really let go of their external circumstances.

In terms of history, and many other applications, VR might be a useful teaching tool or a 
learning experience.

It’s real enough, or it certainly could be and the peaceful uses of virtual or augmented reality are presently being explored. It may be possible to plug directly into the brain, in which case the deaf might hear and the blind might see, a case of a parallel technologies, based on many of the same principles as VR. The real difficulty there is the brain/electronic interface, another problem that science and manufacturers are working on.

In the future, virtual reality, like all tools designed and built by humans, will be weaponized.

It will be used to save lives, to improve lives, and ultimately, no doubt used to take life as well.

As for the author, I have to get back to the game. Them other dogs are beating me at poker (again) and I need to sting somebody for cab fare at the very least.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Culture Shock: Violence and Cop-Killings

Photo by Shaffeem, (Wiki.)

Louis Shalako

Culture shock.

In the old days, if a local cop got shot it would definitely make the local and regional papers. It would undoubtedly make the evening Canada,

Canada has a population of about thirty-five million. But the U.S. has a population of 330 million. Previously, if a cop got shot in San Fransisco, readers in New York probably didn't see it in the paper, because there simply wasn't room to print all of those stories.

Even a big paper like the NY Times has only so much space and much of it will be dominated by local news. They leave out stuff that doesn't directly interest (or have an impact upon) their readers. The same is true of U.S. television news. There simply isn't enough time to report everything, even on CNN or whatever. What those guys do is cream off the top, that is to say, that which is most shocking (multiple killings, unusual events such as well-equipped snipers), or perhaps most relevant. The other thing is, a print report might take up a couple of column inches: sniper kills cops on the other side the country, for example.

It could be any kind of violence. It would still only get a couple of column inches, perhaps not even a photo. This could never have the visceral impact of a constant bombardment of such stories.

Many stories are video, some stories are live as it happens. 

People are on Facebook for hours and hours at all hours of the day. It is a news-feed that never just goes on and on and on.

The impression, after a while, is that the nation is swamped in blood—and maybe it is.

Maybe it is, or maybe this is just the first time Americans have really had this kind of information about their country.

No wonder they are shocked, and no wonder the extreme reactions from both ends of what is a spectrum of public opinions.

Things really are different now. 

The difference is one of perceptions.

Now we have all this information. And quite frankly, if a cop gets shot in some small town in Alaska, now we are going to hear about it. 

Once you have a few friends on Facebook, then you potentially have friends all over the world, all of them literate, savvy in some degree to social media, and active to some degree on social sharing platforms.

On Facebook, with 1.6 billion people feeding in links, now we hear about every shooting--and every kind of shooting. It's not surprising that people are shocked at the level of violence. They simply didn't know that it existed before.

It’s not like some citizens didn’t already fear their neighbours, for their lives, families and property.

At the risk of appearing callous, this is social experiment on a grand scale.

And no one can really say what the effect will be—ultimately, perhaps people will become so sickened by what their country is and what it has become, that we might even see some real social progress.

The danger is that all of this information could be feeding paranoia, which is never a good basis for decision-making.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Maintenon Mystery Number Eight: Death of a Nudist.

Louis Shalako

“See who that is.”

“Ah, yes, sir.” Tailler moved to the front of the cabin, and they could hear him talking to somebody out there.


The other voice was barely audible, being outside and the pair moved to follow him into the living room.

“Yes? Can I help you?”

 “Hello. Is Marko there?”

“Ah, no. Not really. Would you care to leave a message?”

“Um. Nope.”

Mouths open, they listened intently, Maintenon moving to the window and peeling back the curtain on the side furthest from the door so as to peek out through a small crack on an oblique angle.

The little girl was totally nude except for pink flip-slop sandals. She might have been nine years old.

There was a strange sense of guilt and one’s heart pounded for some reason. Yet it was hard to imagine what else they might have done—

“When’s he going to be home?”

“Ah, I don’t know.”

“What’s your name?”

“I’m Emile. What’s your name?”

“I’m Judith. What are you people doing here?”

“Are you with your parents? What’s your last name?”

The little girl regarded him solemnly. A strange man in a suit in a community of naked people must have set some kind of little bell ringing in her head and her caution spoke well for her intelligence.

“Why do you want to know?”

Maintenon snorted quietly, and now Larue was squeezing in for a look, so he stepped back.

“Look, I’ll tell him you were looking for him, okay? So, uh, what’s your mommy’s name?”

“Sylphie. Sylphie Courtenay.”

“And your father?”


“Okay. Well, then, ah…goodbye now.”

Tailler gently but firmly shut the door in her face and turned to face them as Maintenon watched the girl turn and walk slowly away, towards the park and what he thought was a pool and shower complex.

It was like any public pool—they would make people take a shower, with plenty of soap and hot water, before getting into the pool.

“It really is a bit disturbing, isn’t it?” Larue had this odd look on his face. “Quite frankly, I think the Inspector was having a real hard time with this one. I reckon that’s why he called you. That’s one reason, anyways.”

The Inspector, as he put it, was a devout Catholic and a pretty die-hard conservative politically as well as in the social sense.

Tailler put his handkerchief away after dabbing sweat from his forehead.

His eyes sought out Maintenon.

“Yeah, I hear you, Larue.” He’d seen his own kid naked, of course, getting them ready for bed, in the bath and all that sort of thing. “Ah. Gilles. I was thinking—we’d better have a look at that camera—and all of that exposed film.”

Maintenon nodded grimly.

Tailler was right, but Gilles already knew about Monsieur Dubzek and his kind.

He’d been in trouble for that sort of thing before.

Sort of.



“We could really use any guidance or assistance you can give us.” Larue was professional enough to know they were a little out of their depth here. “We’re only too happy.”

The local detachment had about forty men, spread over three shifts with a small, senior staff on daylight hours. Most had nowhere near the training of the big-city police just a few short kilometres away and Larue was candid enough to bring it up early in the dialogue…as he put it.

Maintenon nodded grimly.



“Get over to the office. Use the phone. Call Chiappe—don’t let anyone put you off. Tell him we need a complete forensics team here.” He looked over to Larue. “No disrespect to your people—and we can only pray that we haven’t contaminated the scene beyond hope. But Monsieur Dubzek is known to me. And I’ve got a real bad feeling about this one.”

“What sort of feeling, sir?”

“A sick feeling, gentlemen. One very sick feeling.”

And if his theory was correct, perhaps some small smidgeon of sympathy for the killer.

That wouldn’t stop him from doing his job, but it might make it a little harder. It’s not like anyone ever really enjoyed it—it simply wasn’t that kind of a business.

One of the keys to solving any homicide lay in remaining objective—and yet, here he was, with all kinds of thoughts.

It would be wise not to jump to conclusions.

“And in the meantime, sir?”

Maintenon shrugged.

“Seal it up again. And then we wait.”

It was terribly unorthodox, and could play absolute hell with any eventual prosecution.

What were they supposed to do, though?

Larue swallowed, understanding the implications.

“There’s a pretty good little hotel in town. The food’s not bad, and it’s clean. A bit of a disclaimer, ah, my cousin owns it.”

“That will do, Detective. That will do. In the meantime, we keep our mouths shut as best we can, gentlemen.”

“Yes, sir.”


There were certain questions they could ask, of course, and it would be unusual if they didn’t.

The place to start was with the neighbours. The people on the west side of Number Eighteen weren’t home, although the place was currently occupied judging by wet towels on the line and windows thrown open to the breeze. There was an older female at home on the east side, Number Seventeen. 

With no buildings on the other side of the laneway, the chalets were numbered odds and evens, which seemed a bit unusual.

Maintenon was sitting on a bench in front of the tall, V-shaped glass front of the chalet. Fanning himself with his hat in the unusually hot late June day, he let the younger detectives handle it.

Tailler took the lead, with Larue listening and observing his style rather intently and taking copious notes.

“So. Madame, ah, Bouvier. What was your neighbour like? Can you tell us if you saw or heard anything unusual, over the last two or three days, perhaps?”

Thankfully, the woman, safe in the privacy of the chalet, had elected to answer the door wearing a thick terry-cloth housecoat although her feet, veined and skeletal, were bare, with the nails painted a hideous scarlet. Why did ugly people take such pains, one had to wonder sometimes.

“Oh, I don’t know.” She blinked in the harsh sunlight, seemingly reluctant to invite them in. “They say he was a medium, though, and some said a genuine warlock.”

“A warlock?”

She laughed nervously.

“It was all bullshit, though. Mostly, I think, he was just entertaining. A most charming man, when he wanted to be.”

“You mean, like when he wanted something?”

Larue scribbled away.

“Yes, exactly.” She seemed a little more involved now.

The lady took a breath and let it out.

“If nothing else, it was at least quiet over there. Some other people are just mad, you know, what with all the noise and the music and the shouting. There was big fight a while back—a domestic dispute as I believe you call it.” She went on. “This was a while back.”

“What unit?”

“Ah, eleven, I think.”

So she wasn’t exactly stupid, then. Keep it to the point.

“Did he have any particular friends here in the park?”

“I don’t know about that. We all know each other of course, but people came to stay with him from time to time. For the most part, they kept to themselves…”


“Do you know what this is, Monsieur?’

Maintenon held an exposed roll of film in his palm.

“Ah, yes, sir. That would be an ASA 125, 120-millimetre, thirty-six exposure roll of Agfafilm…”

“That’s not exactly what I meant.”

The gentleman coloured.

“Then what do you mean, sir?”

“Did you know that Monsieur Dubzek had a camera.”

“Well, I sort of presumed so—he did purchase film from time to time.” Monsieur Delorme straightened up with a sigh.

He had an account book open on the desk in his private office, along with the guest register, what looked like employee time-sheets and a very small number of punch-clock cards. A grandfather clock ticked loudly in a corner and there were three cats sprawled about in various states of indisposition. 

The cats did not appear to be unhappy, merely unable to move a muscle for anything less than the apocalypse…the wall looking out into the shop was all glazed, and the desk was positioned to have a good view. In winter season, when there were very few guests, one or two people would have to look after everything, including the cooking. There were newspapers, a magazine on nudism or two, and an empty coffee cup. He seemed to like plants, for there were a number of them scattered about.

Larue cleared his throat.

“Er…” He blushed furiously. “But with all of these naked people around…”

There were laws about photography, especially without consent, or for blackmail and badger games.

The gentleman uttered a deep sigh.

“May I remind you gentlemen, that nudity is not illegal. This is a private club, on private property. It is part of the charm of the lifestyle, naturism, that people are not particularly self-conscious. Parents take pictures of their children, and each other. We have a few pictures up on our bulletin board. It’s not all that unusual.”

“So, how many people, what percentage, have cameras?” Larue glanced at Maintenon who gave him a faint nod as Tailler looked around for a seat, notebook open. “When was the last time Dubzek bought film?”

“I would say that a good half of them have cameras. Not all of them use them very often, but one of the kids had a birthday a while back and I saw a few then.”

He considered the second part of the question.

“Monsieur Dubzek might have bought a couple of rolls of film. I wasn’t on the counter but I see all the receipts, you understand.” According to him, people could charge to an account and settle up at the end of their stay, especially if they had been long-term members of the club.

“Hmn, I see. And so—”

“Yes, well, in general. The 120-format is a little bit expensive, a little bit big for the average person, who mostly have those little cameras that were all the rage a few years back. The Pixie, I think they called it.”

“Very well.”

A lady came out of the back room and looked at him inquiringly, but Larue put her off with an upraised hand. It had been decided to put lunch off until they got a properly-trained technical team onto the murder scene. She was just turning away when the bell over the door rang and a couple of small boys came in, their penises tiny and hairless. These ones didn’t even have sandals on. One was carrying a small change purse and they made a beeline for the sweets counter as Larue struggled on.

“Ah, did Monsieur Dubzek have company often?”

“Yes, certainly.” Delorme seemed imperturbable, eyes occasionally straying back to his books.

“What sort of people were they? Anyone stand out in particular in your mind, sir?”

Maintenon looked at his watch, stomach rumbling. Turning at the sound of gravel crunching under wheels out front, he was rewarded with the sight of a long black car with the unmistakeable look of the department. His jaw momentarily dropped. The men in the car were ogling a girl, a jolly nice girl, unfortunately one who looked to be about fifteen years old. They were taking their bloody time about opening up and coming in. Finally one door opened hesitantly. It was that honey-golden tan, of course, that and not being overweight—and walking barefoot maybe. She was the picture of health and innocence. Possibly even the Garden of Eden, considering the verdant colours and the bird life. 

The clouds, the sunshine and the sky, always different outside of the city limits.

“Oh, I don’t know. Just people.”

“Male or female?”

“Both, I should think. Guests are allowed to have guests, although there’s a limit of eight per cabin, if people are staying overnight.” That was due to fire regulations, and in his experience, people who might not otherwise have been able to afford it—it was quite expensive compared to regular camping holidays, so people put together a party of like-minded people and split on the cost of accommodation. “They have to register, which means showing proper identification. If there’s one speck of trouble, I throw people out and they never get in here again.”

That seemed pretty firm.

Finally Maintenon spoke.

“We would like to speak to the maid—the one that discovered the body, anyone who might have gone in there for any reason. I mean the staff, of course.”

“But of course, ah, Inspector.”

(End of excerpt.) 

Part One.