1.0 On the VeRGe/ Exploratorium (2/8/96 - 7:30pm)

San Francisco is my town. I get parking tickets here. Lots of them. I know shortcuts it might take you years to find. I can catch air on any of a half dozen hills. I know how to screw up suspensions and smoke brake shoes real good. Basically, I like to move. I don't like to stop.

All day and night today, Rick Smolan and a mass of photojournalists all around the world were doing this 24 Hours in Cyberspace netcast thing. Earlier in the day, Clinton signed the way too dubious TeleCom Bill. Figured the time was right to do a little documentation of my own; catch the gone world in action. And maybe, if the action was any good, I'd make a web page for Howard's Zeit the Geist thing. One just like this. So here we go. Another night in Downtown Cybertown.

7:00 and I'm late again. I pick up Mark Olson and borrow his Casio QV-10 digital camera for the night. I have to drop him off at 3rd and Evans, cause his car's bust. On the way, we pick up Dianna Rawleigh. She's gotta dry her hair. Cool. I get acquainted with the camera. Then she's ready.

We drop off Mark at 7:20 and jam full across town to get to the Exploratorium for this meeting of the VeRGe/ Virtual Reality Group. The evening is being hyperbolically promoed as "Jackin' In: The Wetware Interface" Still, they've got some good presenters lined up, and I thought maybe we could gnaw away on an insight or two. Get there at 7:40 and the crowd is packed outside trying to get in.

(Didn't exactly get a lot of faces in this shot, did I?)

The crowd is clever-looking, friendly, and geek-powered way deep into the third-dimension. They probably don't get out enough but hey, they're GIFTED!

Linda Jacobsen, she does the monstrous mistress of ceremonies thing, fast and loose, in close adherence to pARTy/SCIENCE precept number one:

"First, I have fun, and then maybe WE can have fun together."

So, after chitchat and announcements, Ben Knapp from BioControl Systems is introduced. They've got this product line they called BioMuse. I saw it demoed in 1990 at the first CyberArts conference in L.A. Their big idea involves developing different types of movement-monitored input control devices. They currently have three different species of gear that are used mostly in biomedical research with the severely handicapped . The systems all measure electrical impulses at the muscular level. Arm straps measure forearm tension. Play music that way. Face 'trodes measure the electrical charge of eye movement. Control a mouse that way. A godsend for the disabled. Cool Stuff. No website. Tsk-tsk.

VR Scuba-Doo

Next, Mark Pesce talked us through a video of a VR installation by a Canadian artist named Char Davis. This must have been one smokin' experience. The user straps on a body vest that monitors their breath. The view in the head-mount is navigated by your breath, as if you were scuba diving. You breath in and go up, you exhale to go down, you lean forward to go forward, you pull back to move back. Soft otherworldly vistas open up and transform into each other. Twelve different dimensions centered around a world tree. Think about it. Breath-based input controls. VR Yoga. Watch out, puppynoses.

Rendering Time

9:08:52 Superscape does slick work. They're smart, they're together, they run fat stuff fast on Pentium 90's. Inside the world, light switches dim lights, click on a slide projector for a mini-presentations, while wall clocks keep real-time.
After a short break, the virtual architects from Planet 9 showed the Virtual SOMA project as well as a new model of the proposed new baseball stadium. They promised cool features soon, supportable by VRML 2.0.

Bringing the Body to the pARTy.

The evening wrapped with a presentation by Midwest artist, Rita Addison, whose first VR piece DETOUR: Brain Deconstruction Ahead sprang from her experiences with a head injury following a car crash.She didn't show that piece, but she did show a video of a piece called Synesthesia, where two users in an immersive VR theater (the CAVE) are monitored for breath and pulse. Projected on the walls is a web grid. The breath signal raises or lowers the web, while the pulse signals sends ripples through the grid.

Rita also talked about her next piece called Red Rock.. It will be based on her experience as a ten year old girl on a runaway horse across a New Mexico mesa through a thunderstorm. As rain drops bounced off the parched clay, and a dark cloud pulled across the sky, a lightning bolt spooked her horse. Having no saddle, she clutched at the mane while lightning flashed around her turning tumbleweeds silver.

Gradually, as she lost her panic, she was able to see with an odd detachment the incredible electric experience that would always remain beyond words.

It was an impassioned story, and one supported by a strong desire to see the body set free in VR, rather than constrained. She introduced her collaborators, who turned out to be some friends, Paul Godwin and Amy Evans. It just so happened that I had taken a shot of all three of them at the break.

Rita provided an uplifting close to the swoopy cyber-eve. Turning the "Jackin' in" theme around, it was clear that this crowd was enthusiastically behind anything that got humans out in front of the technology rather than slavishly following behind it. If you don't quite see the difference there, look again. Ultimately, it must be the user experience that leads the way. How do we stay that course? Who can say. Dialogue, trust, and an open mind, perhaps? At least that was the optimistic hope in the air, as Dianna and I headed for the car to get across town to another party, already in progress.

Back on the street again....