Immersive Augmented Reality

“‘History is all around us. The voices of the past thicken the air, calling out for your attention. When it all gets too much, pull the ear-buds out, stop, and look at where you are with fresh eyes, in the new silence…’ Augmented reality, as currently instantiated, for the most part focuses on the visual through clumsy interfaces with mobile devices. This paper suggests that that a better way to ‘visualize’ history is to focus on augmenting ambient sound, tying the annotated geography of Wikipedia to physical location through earbuds. A prototype will be presented, allowing us to hear the thickness, the discords, of history. The presentation will explore the cognitive loads of various kinds of augmented reality, and the psychology of immersion, and the findings of user interface design to suggest that, for history at least, aural augmented reality is a more effective way of writing history in physical space than the visual.” — Historical Friction: Using Auditory Augmented Reality for Creating Sense of Place, via 5 Intriguing Things

One abstract for a chapter in a book on “Seeing the Past: Augmented Reality and Computer Vision in History,” premised on the idea that “history is a way of seeing.”

Think about how much “thicker” our experience of everything from museums to graveyards can be with such immersive augmented reality. Imagine taking a walking tour of an historic part of New York with noise-canceling headphones and hearing the sounds of the 1840s city. Or walking Confederate battle sites and hearing a distant rebel yell. Or driving through the New Mexico desert and seeing through augmented glasses smoke rising from a Pueblo Indian campsite.

This is the sort of stuff conservancies and historical societies, especially, should be keeping a close eye on. It could help them become some of the most fascinating and plain fun civic organizations that exist in years to come.

Time, As We Know It

Right now, on the top of Mount Everest, time is passing just a little bit faster than it is in Death Valley. That’s because speed at which time passes depends on the strength of gravity. Einstein himself discovered this dependence as part of his theory of relativity, and it is a very real effect.

The relative nature of time isn’t just something seen in the extreme. If you take a clock off the floor, and hang it on the wall, Ye says, “the time will speed up by about one part in 1016.”

That is a sliver of a second. But this isn’t some effect of gravity on the clock’s machinery. Time itself is flowing more quickly on the wall than on the floor. These differences didn’t really matter until now. — NPR, New Clock May End Time As We Know It

So much of what we think of as “real”—that is, what is objectively true in the physical, even scientific sense—turns out to be the product of human thinking rather than a concrete reality. Tom O’Brian, “America’s official timekeeper” at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, nails it: “We can measure time much better than the weight of something or an electrical current, but what time really is, is a question that I can’t answer for you.”

Sleeping Together

We sleep together not because it’s fiscally responsible, but because we are affectionate beings. Our minds need rest, but our minds also need camaraderie and intimacy and whispering. Anxiety and stress seem less intimidating when discussed with a partner while wearing pajamas. It’s important to talk about our days lying side by side, discuss children and household situations, gossip about neighbors and colleagues, plan for tomorrow in the confines of private chambers. We cuddle. We laugh. At the end of each day we remove the onerous cloaks we’ve donned to face the world, and we want to do this lying next to our best friends, to know we’re not in it alone. — The Atlantic, Why We Sleep Together

Fascinating piece delving into the changing uses, attitudes, and customs of sleep and shared lives.

Mount Nittany Conservancy’s ‘Story of Mount Nittany’

The Mount Nittany Conservancy released two professionally produced podcasts last month highlighting the stories of Central Pennsylvania’s most famous mountain. I did a write-up on them for Onward State where I attempt to connect how cultural and physical experience meet to create culture—a bit of this is excerpted below and the entire piece is here.

In “The Legends of the Nittany Valley,” folklorist Henry Shoemaker records some of the American Indian and settler stories that provide much of the cultural and historical basis for Penn State mythology, including Mount Nittany as our sacred symbol and pristine retreat, the love story of Princess Nittany and Lion’s Paw, and even the reclusive Nittany Lion.

Yet stories alone have no independent life to speak of; their significance grows from the affection, tenderness, and patience of the reader, from the moments spent in solitude or near friends with the words of a long-dead peer over a coffee at Saints or W.C. Clarke’s. Herodotus or Dante would be nothing without the gift of time and attention paid in gratitude by the living reader. It’s through that gift that we reverence something culturally significant, and make something from the past a part of our present time.

This is what tradition is, if distilled — the continuing act of encountering the past, helping it come alive again in some way, and then in due course becoming a part of the past ourselves as we look to the future. This beautiful notion is encapsulated in an even more beautiful practical, example: The singing of Robert Burns’s 1788 “Auld Lang Syne” every New Year’s Eve. It’s a literal and lyrical Scottish injunction to remember our friendships and honor days gone by on the eve of a new time.

This helps explain why Mount Nittany, by all accounts an ordinary Pennsylvania mountain, is nonetheless sacred for Penn Staters and the people of the valley. As with the stories of the past, we’ve infused the Mountain with a distinctive meaning. …

What Qualifies as Innovation?

I’ve really enjoyed Alexis Madrigal’s daily “5 Interesting Things” since subscribing a few months ago. He writes today about moving to Fusion, and his perspective on the future:

My animating belief is that politicians and bullshitters and ideologues have taken the idea of societal change and replaced it with a particular notion of technology as the only or main causal mechanism in history. Somehow, we’ve been convinced that only machines and corporations make the future, not people and ideas. And that’s not true. …

This is not to denigrate the importance of technology out there in the world or call for a return to pre-industrial or pre-Internet society. Because all the other types of change are being mediated by our phones and networks, artificial intelligences and robots. And those dynamics are really important.

But if you really want to know what the future is going to be like, you can’t just talk about the billions of phones in China or paste some logarithmic growth charts into your Powerpoint. You have to go to the places where people are experiencing bits of the future—living the changes—and use that reporting to weave together a multivalent portrait of our possible futures. You have to get the many ways of thinking about the future into the same space, so you can see how they fit together.

I recently read Peter Thiel’s Zero to One which presented his thesis about general social stagnation. Thiel has also touched upon something like Alexis’s theme that our definition of “tech” is today far more narrow than it was in the past—that today “tech” basically means “info tech” whereas it once meant everything from computers to rockets to energy, etc.

What neither Thiel nor Madrigal say explicitly is something that’s probably implicit, but I think is worth stating anyway—that is, that what can help our “future building” endeavors increase their chance of success is a rootedness in historical learning. In other words, in a fluency in the liberal arts.

I think innovation and progress are most authentic if they’re consciously built on the foundation of human experience, and there’s no better place to become acquainted with the human experience than in the record each generation has left us through the study of the humanities.

Personifying Alma Mater

I was reading up on the phrase Alma Mater recently for something I was researching, and discovered the personifications of Alma Mater erected on the campuses of the University of Havana and University of Illinois. Alma Mater above welcomes students at the University of Havana.

Columbia and Yale are at least two other universities with such statues. It would be great to see Penn State erect such a statue at some point in the years to come. It would make a great Senior Class Gift as a lasting symbol of the university as the source of learning.

The statue of Alma Mater at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign bears the following inscription on its pedestal:

Alma Mater
To Thy Happy Children
Of The Future
Those Of The Past
Send Greetings

What a good encapsulation of everything a place of learning exists to achieve—bringing the reality and wisdom of the past alive in the present, so it can do the same for the future.

Running the Mount Nittany Marathon, Again

The Mount Nittany Conservancy hosted its second Mount Nittany Marathon on Sunday, and I ran it for the second year. Running last year’s inaugural Mount Nittany Marathon was also my first marathon. This year was different; most noticeably I was more at ease through the whole run. Now familiar, the 26.2 mile course and its highs and lows felt more manageable.

I tweeted that out after the run, and it turns out I finished just a bit faster than I thought, in 4h:34m:35s, placing 119th of 193 finishers. Consistency is reassuring, so I can’t complain.

Like last year, the marathon started and ended at the intersection of Beaver Stadium and Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. A key difference in the experience of the run from last year was the sky opening up and pouring blankets of heavy, thick, warm raindrops just as the race began and continuing through Mile 12 or so. The marathon also began at 7am, an hour earlier than last year—so coupled with the rain, the entire thing felt much funner since more of the run was in less of that late summer dead-heat sort of weather.

The course was largely the same as last year, except for a change between miles 14 to 16 that took us off of Atherton and through Scenery Park. This was much nicer, though in talking with John Hook afterwards apparently meant that stretch’s terrain was a bit more difficult.

2014 Mount Nittany Marathon

I’m planning to write up something more for Onward State, but for now I’ll highlight what I wrote last year and still applicable:

It’s safe to say that the Mount Nittany Conservancy really succeeded with the Mount Nittany Marathon, bringing people together from across the community to put on a great new event. A takeaway from Conserving Mount Nittany: A Dynamic Environmentalism is that this is the epitome of the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s founding mission—it’s meant not only to steward the Mountain, but also to create cultural experiences that enhance through first-person experience the magic of the Mountain.

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 5.41.23 AMI was again grateful to Jerry Harrington for capturing the runners as we neared Mile 17 where we crossed Atherton Street. For whatever reason in both years I’ve managed to be mid-blink for these photos, but this one does give a good look at how wet everything was even late into the race.

I wasn’t sure if I’d run the Mount Nittany Marathon again, but I’m glad I did. A substantial motivator was the CrowdRise campaign I launched at Arts Fest to raise ~$1,000 that will support the Centre Foundation and local civic life. Every supporter came to mind over the course of the run, particularly Gavin Keirans’s comment:

Pace and certainty will get you to the finish line.

It did.

Platonic Love: Longing Without Lust

Following on from my post over the summer on Roger Scruton’s 2009 BBC documentary Why Beauty Matters, I want to highlight another part of the documentary. Ours is a generation where practically everything seems sexualized—to the point where two men or women cannot demonstrate an abiding friendship without sexuality being raised. But at the ~26 minute mark in Why Beauty Matters, Scruton highlight’s the Platonic vision of love, which is “longing, without lust.” He explains:

Sexual desire presents us with a choice: adoration or appetite. Love, or lust. Lust is about taking. Love is about giving. Lust brings ugliness. The ugliness of human relations in which one person treats another as a disposable instrument . To reach the source of beauty, we must overcome lust.

This “longing without lust” is what we mean today by Platonic love. When we find beauty in a youthful person, it is because we glimpse the light of eternity shining in those features from a Heavenly source beyond this world. The beautiful human form is an invitation to unite with it spiritually, not physically. Our feeling for beauty is, therefore, a religious and not a sensual emotion.

This theory of Plato’s is astonishing. Beauty, he thought, is a visitor from another world. We can do nothing with it, save contemplate its pure radiance. Anything else pollutes and desecrates it, destroying its sacred aura.

Plato’s theory may seem quaint today. But it is one of the most influential theories in history. Throughout our civilization, poets, storytellers, painters, priests, and philosophers have been inspired by Plato’s views on sex and love.

Scruton illustrates his point by citing Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus at the 29 minute mark. Venus looks upon the earth from “a place beyond desire.” Scruton explains Venus as “beauty to be contemplated, but not possessed.” I think we live in a time when our existence is seen as predominantly transactional, and so to see anything as something to “contemplate but not possess” is a step toward recovering a more human, timeless perspective.

What Distinguishes the Elite

An insight from Tocqueville came through this National Review piece, specifically relating to how the French ruling class came to become so detached from the reality of revolution that was stirring around them:

At the almost infinite distance from practice in which they lived, no experience tempered the ardors of their nature; nothing warning them of the obstacles that existing facts might place before even the most desirable reforms; they didn’t have any idea of the dangers which always accompany even the most necessary revolutions. They did not have even the least suspicion of them; for the complete absence of political freedom had made the world of action not merely badly known to them, but invisible. (Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the Revolution, Book III, chapter 1, “How Around the Middle of the Eighteenth Century Intellectuals Became the Country’s Leading Politicians, and the Effects Which Resulted from This”)

When I walked through the streets of Paris this month two years ago I looked up at some of the great monuments created by the French during their earlier period of monarchy and aristocracy.  I felt a bit sad that the people had reacted so violently to separate themselves from that era through their bloody revolution. This excerpt from Tocqueville balanced that perspective through its point that the ruling class has a responsibility of attentiveness to reality.

Angelo Codevilla’s The Ruling Class was a primer for me a few years ago in thinking about whether or not America’s political/social/culture elite is disconnected from most ordinary citizens’ reality. As we debate income inequality and the disparity between America’s top one percent that captures something like 40 percent of available income, I wonder whether we might substitute Tocqueville’s observation about a “complete absence of political freedom” making most of society invisible to the ruling class. In our time it might be more appropriate to describe wide swaths of the ruling class as having a “complete absence of social experience” in terms of real, day-to-day life challenges.

Why a Penn State Leadership Association?

I wrote last week about the Penn State Media Association, and this week I want to write about a sort of companion group. Similarly chartered as an affiliate of the Penn State Alumni Association, my friend Gavin Keirans created the Penn State Leadership Association to bring together students and alumni of Penn State campus government and leadership groups.

We were both involved at Penn State with the University Park Undergraduate Association, the student government which is coming up on its ten year anniversary. Generations of students and alumni have passed through it and many other campus government and leadership groups. But no single group exists to connect those diverse constituencies of leaders behind a coherent vision of service, mentorship, or giving back as alumni. It’s presently pretty factionalized into narrow interest areas, which corrodes the ability of alumni to have a larger impact on campus.

The Penn State Leadership Association is an attempt to bring together students and alumni with the hope of developing a wider, coherent vision for service and mentorship. I’m excited to see where it goes, and hope it can be a long-term way for students and alumni to make an impact. From the site:

The Penn State Leadership Association supports student leaders at The Pennsylvania State University, provides mentorship opportunities, fosters fellowship among alumni, and encourages an ethos of lifelong University community leadership and service. The PSLA connects alumni, particularly past presidents and executive board members, of campus groups including student governance bodies, student organizations, and student societies. As an affiliate of the Penn State Alumni Association, the PSLA promotes cross-generational activities and relationships as a way to build up the University for the future:

Fostering active relationships between students and alumni to strengthen the cross-generational culture of the University community;

Providing alumni of Penn State curricular and extracurricular organizations a means for fellowship across a range of activities;

Serving as a voice to Penn State student, faculty, and administrative bodies for comprehensive and holistic solutions for supporting student leadership endeavors and opportunities;

Advocating collaborative alumni development efforts to better support diverse student leadership endeavors.