All posts by kirsch

The MKX® Copa América Tour

Our original Copa América plan was overly ambitious:

  • Day 1: Costa Rica vs Paraguay in Austin
  • Day 2: Hurricane Harbour in Houston
  • Day 3: Argentina vs Ecuador in Houston
  • Day 4: Canada vs Jamaica in Dallas
  • Day 5: Six Flags in Dallas
  • Day 6: Austin FC vs NYFC in Austin

That’s a lot. Finally we skipped the Austin FC match which was lucky since it was delayed over an hour due to inclement weather.

I will skip photos of the Argentina vs Ecuador quarterfinal match. Those deserve its own post.

Eclipse

We were incredibly lucky to have a total solar eclipse right over us on April 7, 2024. I was lucky to be there for 1991, but this was as a child in summer camp, and the staff wouldn’t let us all just go out and watch directly during totality. So in a way this is the first one.

We drove about an hour away to Smithville, TX in order to get a bit more time in totality. It was totally worth it. Our hosts were wonderful too and we had a great time. The clody weather turned out to not be a big problem as it was windy enough to give us nice clear views every now and then.

The photos are crappy phone pics with no tripod or anything. But they are my crappy phone pics for my own souvenir purposes. Go elsewhere for awesome shots.

Apple Vision Pro

Anyone still reading this blog (👋) knows Apple entered the AR/VR market with a very expensive headset called Apple Vision Pro. The don’t call it that nor “Mixed Reality”. They call it “Spatial Computing”, maybe it catches on.

Being the absolute sucker for gadgets that I am, and more specifically slick and shiny Apple gadgets, I drove yesterday to the Apple Store to sign up for a ~25 minute demo. Here’s my experience, I’m sure you’re dying to read about it.

The line outside of Apple Domain Northside wasn’t long like in the old iPhone days before preorders became a thing, but possibly the longest since. There were two lines: one for those picking up their preorders and one for those signing up for demos. Thankfully all you had to do is sign up, get a slot, and come back later for it. Later Apple allowed people to sign up online BUT I HAD TO BE FIRST.
Employees getting the finishing touches in their training before opening time.

So I went home, finished my coffee, got work done, had lunch with my kids at school, got more work done… and finally: demo time.

Apple Vision Pro in its glorious pristine display glory. They had a guy guarding the display who would politely ask me to stop touching it and then proceed to wipe it clean.

The fact that Apple will let you spend half an hour on a demo is notable. I don’t know how long this will be the case, but they put an enormous effort into this. Surely they know they’ll have people buying it on the spot because it’s so darn cool, but I suspect they are also banking on schmucks posting about it on Social Media (or a few old-timers writing a blog post… in 2024!). Good investment, I think.

Apple even had special couches made for the demos and little trays to bring out the headset. They have a machine to measure your prescription glasses (if applicable) so they can bring out the corresponding Zeiss lenses. Lots of work.

On to the device itself.

Apple Vision Pro is impressive hardware. It has all sorts of cameras and sensors facing out to the world around you, facing down to your mouth and hands, facing in to record your eyes. LIDAR, speakers, tons of processing, a 4K display for each eye… it’s crazy.

Once you put it on and tighten it, the device adjusts the screens to match the distance between your eyes. This is motorized and really surprised me! Then you see the world around you as if you were seeing it through glasses. But it’s actually the screens. I’ve tried several other AR and VR devices (1, 2, 3, 4) in the past and let me tell you – they are nice tries but do not compare.

This headset works just like you would imagine it. You can barely make out the pixels. The outside world looks convincingly real, as opposed as if it was coming through a screen door and everything is ever-so-slightly laggy, making you ever-so-slightly sick.

You start out by calibrating eye tracking. This is done by looking at dots presented around you and making a pinching motion with your index and thumb whenever you put your eyes on the dot. And this is how you use it for the most part: Look at something instead of “moving the mouse”. Move your fingers instead of “clicking”. It works.

Well, there’s a “digital crown” (like the Apple Watch) and you use this to bring up the Home screen with all the icons for the app. After that, it’s basically like using an iPad but you can have multiple windows for multiple apps and you can move them around. And wherever you place them, they stay there, solidly put even if you move around. Very well done.

Now some quick impressions:

  • I could see a bit of the real world under the headset. In order to make that go away, I made it tighter which helped but didn’t cover it completely. Maybe I got the wrong light seal, maybe my nose is too big. Or both.
  • It gets warm after a while.
  • Audio quality of the built-in speakers is excellent. Things sound like they are where you see them.
  • There is an outwards facing screen that doesn’t seem very useful and even feels a bit creepy. I don’t think it’s worth the cost and weight and will probably be gone in the next generation. But then again, Apple tends to double down on things for a while so who knows (Touch Bar?).
  • The UI is easy to use. You look at something and you pinch. You can flick to scroll, you can move things around. I realized in the demo that I use peripheral vision on my Mac/iPad for a lot of things and that won’t work here.
  • You can twist the digital crown to go in and out of “immersion mode” which replaces the real world you are in with a scene from a place you probably would rather be in. The visual quality is crazy and the immersion is 360 degrees. Wow.
  • They keyboard is better than I expected, but I wouldn’t type much on it. Get a bluetooth keyboard for work or use dictation for longer things.
  • 3D movies look really, really good. Better than a 3D TV (RIP) or in a movie theater. And you can make them to look as big as in a movie theater! They showed a clip from The Super Mario Bros. Movie which was a bit of a surprise. I would have expected something from Pixar!
  • I was not allowed to watch the few spatial movies I’ve recorded with my iPhone. Bummer. But the ones they demoed look cool as heck.
  • Panoramas look even better. The photo surrounds you completely. I have a lot of panoramas taken in stadiums that I’d love to see.
  • They have something called Apple Immersive Video. It’s like a super-sharp 3D Omnimax. They showed 3 seconds of a soccer match and I laughed out loud it is so cool. Broadcasts like these would be a game changer.
  • People complain about the field of vision. I didn’t even notice it nor think about it until after the demo, so there’s that.
  • I went off-script and asked to try the famous Encounter Dinosaurs app which was present but not part of the demo. The 3D rendering is all live, the dinosaur follows your gaze and moves if you try to touch it, and it looks super realistic. I flinched like an idiot when it turned and almost hit me with its tail.

The Mac was not the first computer with a mouse and windows, but it was the first to get it right and now all computers work like the Mac. The iPhone was not the first phone with a touchscreen, but it was the first to get it right and now all phones work like the iPhone. The Apple Watch was not the first smart watch, but it is still the only good one? I think a similar thing may happen with the Apple Vison Pro. Companies have been trying to do consumer VR since the 90s and they’ve gotten close. But this really feels like they got it right.

At $3,500, it’s hard to think this will reach mass market. This is clearly a first generation product. Painfully, I am not going to be buying one for now. Remember, it’s $3500 but you have to factor in the price for the case, the extra memory capacity, Apple Care Plus, and the divorce. But as they refine it and bring down cost, weight, and size… it will be hard to resist.

Regardless of whether you think this is the future of computing or not, or the social implications of sticking a computer up your face… this thing is a super impressive technological achievement from just about every angle. And I hope it’s just the beginning since I’m a sucker of slick gadgets. If you can, go check it out.

BONUS CONTENT

I was not allowed to use FaceTime during the demo. You may wonder how you can FaceTime if you have a computer directly on your face rather than a camera looking at you.

Well, this thing has mutliple cameras looking at you. The way they made this work is by creating a 3D representation of yourself and using the cameras looking at your eyes, hands, and mouth to animate this 3D representation to match your movement. Reviewers are panning it so my expectations were low.

What do you know, one of my better looking friends got his Apple Vision Pro on day one and called me. While it looked obviously fake and well within the Uncanny Valley, I thought it was fairly acceptable. The motion well synchronized and the model is fairly expressive. You just get used to it. I can see this getting better with time and I am unsure (like with the whole device) if it will catch on. We shall see.

It looks better in motion, but I won’t post a clip because our conversation was deep and private.

Austin FC Starting XI

My boys, who you may have heard are gigantic Austin FC fans, were invited to be in the Austin FC Starting XI for the last match of the season against none other than defending champion LAFC.

For those who don’t know, this means they come out to the field before the game with the players for the national anthem. Needless to say they could barely contain their excitement – just like their parents!

Ilán walked out with LAFC captain Ilie Sánchez. Ari walked out with Canadian National Team’s goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau.

We’re so thankful to the person that made this possible, we owe you some quality BBQ!

That’s none other than Italian international Giorgio Chiellini on the left of the photo.

Manuel Antonio

We went to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for a family vacation earlier this month. Manuel Antonio is a small tourist town near Quepos, about a 3 hour drive away from San José. It’s on the beach by the rain forest.

We stayed at a small hotel. It was far from fancy, but unlike most of the hotels in town, it had direct access to the beach, a huge advantage. It also had monkeys everywhere, including many loudly jumping on the roof at night.

We had a very full schedule of outdoor water activities and extreme sports and my adrenaline-addicted children loved it. A few of the things:

Manuel Antonio
The beach at Manuel Antonio. Incredible natural beauty.
monkey on a sign
Monkeys! Monkeys everywhere!
pick up soccer game in Manuel Antonio
Of course we had to find the one soccer field in the town and go play pick up soccer with the local kids there. Every chance we had.
Catamaran
The largest Catamaran in Manuel Antonio.
Beach soccer
Beach soccer was good, too.
ATV
ATV riddng.
waterfall swimming
Swimming in a waterfall.
playing with sand
More beach.
hanging bridge
Ziplining in the jungle. It is so much fun.
snake head closeup
Snake in Manuel Antonio National Park. Lots and lots of cool animals.
white water rafting
White water rafting. If you look closely, my two kids are in there.
making chocolate
We learned how chocolate is made. And we ate a lot.
parasailing
Parasailing
small airpliane
We took a very cool short flight back on the way back.

Real Madrid vs Manchester United

We took a quick one day trip to watch the ultra-overpriced friendly match between Real Madrid and Manchester United in Houston, which happened last night. This is what a good father must do with two soccer-crazed boys.

Fortunately the game was entertaining and the two goals were extremely high quality. Seriously, look at that bicycle kick.

At NRG stadium.
Nathán, ever present in all happy soccer occasions.

This is the first time I see Manchester United play live. But it’s the second one for Real Madrid: as we all remember, I watched them get their butts royally kicked back in 1990 by a much superior squad.

GPT-powered spam

Wherever there is a website that allows user comments, there is comment spam. The problem is fairly old and something even regular blog owners like myself need to deal with.

The idea is: a computer program adds comments with links to some website that makes money – by selling something or by showing advertisements. Having links to said website helps the website’s ranking on search engines, because they use links as one of the signals for relevance.

The comments are usually fairly obvious. Here’s one I got 10 days ago:

Russian name? ✔︎
With a misleading homepage? ✔︎
Generic comment? ✔︎
On a bad joke post from 9 years ago? ✔︎

Nobody falls for that.

But this week I got a bunch of interesting new spam comments:

Wow! These almost look like a human read the blog post and had relevant feedback. There are still many obvious giveaways, of course, starting with the fact that they came from “someone” using the same email address all within 4 minutes. But I do think this is an interesting escalation in the never ending arms race between legitimate website owners and evildoers.

The thing about all this amazing ML-powered AI technology like Chat-GPT and other similar tools is that they have huge potential to benefit society, but they also have huge potential for misuse. The misuse always comes faster. We saw what misinformation and propaganda can do in the last two U.S. Presidential elections. Just you wait to see how the next one goes, given that LLMs and image generation tools are readily available and add to that how poorly important Social Media platforms are being managed. Buckle up.

COVID-19 II

On Thursday I woke up not feeling well. Body aches, slight headache, stuffy nose. Got worse throughout the day and I was eventually reduced to a human pile in bed. At night I tested:

Well, that blows.

So now I’m locked up in my room. Thankfully, Friday was a lot milder and I was mostly functional as a human. And most importantly, nobody in the family nor people I hung out with recently have tested positive or shown any symptoms so far. Saturday so far… still better on the body ache front but a weird dizzyness that I hope goes away after my coffee. We shall see.

This is the second time I get it, but the first time I was 100% asymptomatic and only tested because my kid tested positive.

I have no idea where I caught it and needless to say, there go my weekend plans. I’m so grateful to Shlomit and feel so bad that she needs to take care of locked up me in addition to both kids by herself while I’m quarantined… including on Mother’s Day. I’ll make it up!

Omega Mart

We took a quick trip to Las Vegas with the kids last month. We heard a lot about Omega Mart being a good place to visit. I was a bit shocked at the prices ($50+ per person) but we went ahead with it.

It’s really cool and unique and worth the admission; and it’s better if you know less about it when you visit. So if you think you may go anytime soon then stop reading.

What is it? You start out in a fake supermarket, playing the part of a new employee going over orientation. As you start looking closely, you will see things get progressively weirded. Eventually you find secret entrances to the back – where you are in the corporate offices but also in some sort of other dimension. It’s huge and super well made.

Your goal is to find clues and figure out what the heck is going on, it’s like being inside a giant interactive Black Mirror. We stayed there for almost 3 hours and couldn’t get to the bottom of it but made lots of progress. Maybe with older kids that don’t get cranky when hungry?

Recommended.