bjoreman.com

May 20, 2018

Göteborgsvarven 2018

Suddenly it was that time of year again: a long and cold spring had given way to a surprising explosion of early summer and the town was once again being flooded by runners. The week of Göteborgsvarvet was upon us, and since last year was all good I found myself on two starting lines again.

Trailvarvet

Trailvarvet turned three years old, and once again the organizers had made it more of a trail. The race took place on a hot summer evening, but my main worry - well above exhaustion or heat stroke - was falling and hurting myself. I rarely run on trails these days, and when I do I tend to stumble once or twice at some moment where I am getting tired and imagine that I have things under control. Thus, my mantra during the whole race was "Do not relax! Do not relax!" I still fell once, but it was pretty gentle for a fall and left no marks.

The organizers had indeed managed to make the trail tougher. Despite looking about the same on the map and being the same distance they had managed to sneak in a surprising amount of additional hills. They had also marked the trail even better and clearer than the last time, I never had to wonder where I was going (something which happened a few times last year), and when I got to answer a few quick questions right after finishing I had not even realized that there was a point where I could have gone the wrong way.

So the trail was tougher, but it was still fun. I did waste some energy running up hills where I should probably have walked, but otherwise I am completely happy with how and what I did. Especially for a one-off trail which I made no effort to prepare specifically for. I imagine just a little bit of preparations could make a big difference, just doing some trail running every now and then and seeking out the odd hill to run up and down would make all the rocks and roots feel a lot more familiar.

Göteborgsvarvet

Trailvarvet has always been just for fun. With Göteborgsvarvet I ended up competing with myself a bit too much and lost the enjoyment for a couple of years. But the fun came back the last few years, and the sunny Saturday found me standing in the shadow as much as possible, determined to have fun and to make as enjoyable a run as possible. And I did. I think my ultra running experience came out in that I concentrated on feeling good and balancing my energy. As the day was so sunny and decently hot, this came out as a focus on managing heat and getting enough to drink. It was a great success in that I never felt seriously close to overheating. If anything, I could perhaps have stopped a little bit less and ran a little bit faster. But then, I would certainly not have felt as good afterward. As it was, I think I got something to drink and - just as important - pour over myself on all but the very last few stations. The water was wonderfully cool, and it probably was my wettest run so far. Another great sign of things going well was that - possibly for the first time ever - some of the kilometers felt very short. There usually is a point around 16 kilometers at the very latest where someone starts to sneak in extra kilometers between the signs. This year, it seems like they managed to lock that person up. The kilometer signs kept flowing by at a steady pace all the way to the end, and I finished feeling tired but not exhausted.

One clear difference to most other years was that I got passed a lot. Starting in group three was perhaps a bit too early for my level, people kept flowing past me throughout the whole race. I am used to being in a group where I keep to the left and keep passing people most of the time, so being passed takes some adjustment and makes me wonder if I am going super-slow or something. Having a watch measuring speed and other factors is a great help combating this. It also felt good that I had energy left toward the end and got to catch up with a few more people - a nice bit of validation of my focus on staying cool and feeling as good as possible.

I think I have run fewer long distances preparing for this year's Göteborgsvarvet than previously, but I guess I got enough in because writing this on the day after the race I feel nicely worn, free of blisters and generally quite in balance. With some more long runs, and perhaps a few more intervals, I might have been able to finish even faster, but I think I nailed the wellbeing-to-result-ratio for my amount of exercise.

Best Göteborgsvarvet ever in that way?

(Yes, thoughts of working harder to be even faster next year are circling around. I will do my best to fight them down and have a good time next year too. (Not running next year? Strange concept …))

April 28, 2018

Spring forward

I found myself a podcast focused on VR gaming, thanks to Spotify of all services. I do not use Spotify for podcast listening at all, but the recommendating engine throws podcasts in with other recommended listening. And so I found myself listening to the soundtrack of Wipeout omega collection, my gaze sliding down to recommendations and noticing a couple of podcast episodes mentioning the game. Pretty nice! I just wish Spotify let me listen at more than agonizing 1x speed … Anyway, The PSVR life podcast has been a fun listen so far. Not only have I picked up game tips and rumors, I have also learned of using the word "flat" to describe non-VR games. Such a good way of putting it, immediately clear and leaving no doubt as to which version is the more immersive experience.

The daily keyboarding update is that Pok3r allows you to hit fn+x to toggle its LED:s on and off. I do not use it often enough, but I still enjoy it as much every time I do and I tell myself I am learning something in the process. All aspects of keyboards and keyboarding have truly become a running theme in my life recently. I just found myself toying with the idea of trying Dvorak or Svorak (or Colemak, but seems I might as well go all the way were I to switch things up at all), and it felt more plausible than ever before. Interesting times! Arrowing around on Pok3r using caps lock and ijkl now feels quite natural and fast even though I use it so irregularly, so there is clearly enough brain capacity to handle more variations in keyboard setups.

(The latest on the keyboard thought front is split keyboards, especially when I sit down and use a laptop's builtin keyboard for too long.)

April 12, 2018

VR, one year later

I bought my Playstation VR later in the year than I recalled, but I got to try it and started thinking about it earlier. Thus, I feel I can start saying I have been playing VR games for a year pretty much any time I want between now and July.

The vast majority of my time in VR has been on said Playstation VR, but I have also had chances to try the Vive and can play as much as I like with Daydream and Gear VR on a Samsung galaxy S8+.

The Playstation VR is by far my favorite of the platforms. Not just because I have spent the most time with it (although that surely is a big factor too), but because it is so well built for what it is. It may have miles of cables, but it works well and provides a really good experience. When I use the Gear VR or Daydream, they feel in about equal parts like unrealized potential and limited by hardware. The Playstation VR threw in extra cables and demands a decently placed camera, but those things provide value. The Playstation VR is by no means made for walking around like the Vive, but the camera tracking along with the other sensors mean you can lean in to look closer, tilt your head and move to the sides to change perspectives subtly. I think those little things play a huge part in that magical feeling of looking at a miniature landscape which feels physical around you. With the mobile-based platforms, I always feel firmly stuck at one point. Sure, I can look freely in all directions, but the viewpoint remains jarringly stuck whenever I try to lean in. Sure, the feeling of depth is better than when watching a "flat" 360 video on Youtube (it fascinates me how much less immersive they feel), but the Playtation VR is another big step above and beyond.

Controls

When I play games, I like to be comfortable and efficient. I prefer tried and true controls with precision which let me sit in any way I like to fun gimmicks. Sure, give me wiimotes, shakes and tilts, but only when they really provide something extra. Thus, another thing I really like about the Playstation VR is the fact games have access to a proper controller and are using it in sensible ways to play really well. I was wondering right from the beginning how to best control first-person VR games, and Doom VFR has proven classic FPS controls work brilliantly and feel great. No need for awkward point-to-point teleportation or other strange limits, free movement works just as well as I always hoped it would.

Isolation mode

Yes, it feels a bit antisocial to shut myself in and play VR when other people are around, but the feeling someone is going to sneak up on you and scare you to death by placing a hand on your shoulder is never there. No more so than when listening to good music in headphones anyway. I almost always play wearing over-ear headphones as well, so I feel I have pushed that limit about as far as it will go.

Retro factors

The other day I found myself sitting on the carpet in front of the TV. Cross-legged, playing an amazingly cozy platformer. In VR. A sort of retro-present wonder-combination. Moss is really a great game, with slightly clunky controls, and totally worth adjusting your setup to play well. So yes, there is another exception to the rule of wanting to be comfortable. Again, sometimes it is worth it.

Polybius was the first game to push the retro-present amazement off the scale for me. It feels so classic, yet at once so totally perfect for VR. And despite being such a simple game at its core, it is undeniably greater and purer in VR than in any other mode.

But it is not alone. Moss is another example, Tiny trax another. Perhaps fear of motion sickness and complex controls brought these things along, perhaps it was something else. In any case, it is surprising how much VR adds even to experiences which are viewing a world from a static position, things which one might expect to play very much the same on a 2D screen. The combination of your head being tracked in 3D along with a proper sense of depth and scale is working its magic.

The mobile options

I probably have not given Daydream and Gear VR enough of a chance. They do have the huge advantage of not tethering me. It is pretty amazing to be able to stand, sit and turn freely. They also both have little remotes which I like surprisingly much.

Unfortunately, that is where the strong points end. I have found fewer things I enjoy, the experiences are clunkier (especially getting the phones in and out of headsets while trying not to hit any buttons), power is more limited, you get temperature warnings and feel the heat on your face … Oh, and no head tracking as I mentioned above.

Land's end was a great experience, very well suited to the medium. You should definitely buy it and play it. But I still would have enjoyed it more on a stationary platform with head tracking.

Is there enough?

I let some friends try VR the other weekend. One comment was "Well, I never want to play games in 2D again." I wholeheartedly agree to that. Given the option, I always pick VR, and I use VR availability as a quick, harsh filter for which games to consider. There are of course exceptions, but it works well for me. Happily there are definitely enough VR games to keep me occupied, especially during my all too frequent gaming lulls. That said, I do want many more. All games should have a VR mode, plain and simple.

Keep in mind that I write this as someone playing on a first-generation Playstation VR connected to a non-pro Playstation 4. With more power and resolution 2D will fall further behind, but even now there is no doubt which I prefer.

(Wipeout gained VR support while I was somehow looking in the wrong direction! And it works! Truly, there is no excuse for any genre not to go VR.)

March 17, 2018

Books I have read

Books and other literature I have read, in, somewhat uncertain, reverse chronological order. The list starts from the summer of 2008, and my main purpose with it is to be able to see what I have actually been reading. I do feel that I read many quite good books, but I never seem to be able to recall what I have recently read when asked for recommendations.

March 10, 2018

Pok3r

I think I may have a keyboard problem.

Pok3r Pok3r

This is the Pok3r. It is a wonderful-feeling keyboard featuring blue Cherry MX switches. It clicks and clacks, giving that feeling of typing important things. The size is also pretty awesome. Pok3r is a so called 60% keyboard, meaning it not only lacks the numerical island to the right, but also function keys, arrow keys and even the duplicate Windows/command keys. I love the size in itself, but the thing definitely has a learning curve. To arrow around, and perform a whole lot of other keypresses such as home, end, page up and down, and so on, you need to use the fn key. Pok3r places the arrows on I, J, K, and L, which I realized is right where Vim users want their movement. Additionally, the fn key is placed on the lower right, meaning using arrows requires folding the right thumb below the hand or some other contortion.

This was the major stumbling point for me starting out, and I initially thought this was proof my keyboard size was full or tenkeyless but no smaller.

But as so often, sticking wiht things just a bit, some reading and some talking to people with more experience quickly made little dents into my hesitation.

First, I started reading up, checking out some reviews and looking into just what people used all the programmability of the Pok3r for. Pok3r lets you have three programmable layers in addition to the default keyboard (where the keys do what they say), and it also has a set of little switches underneath to alter the layout. Most of them are about layout: you can go change between the standard Qwerty, Dvorak and a third one I keep forgetting. There is also a switch to allow free remapping of almost all keys (by default some can not me changed). Finally, and most importantly to me, the last switch changes caps lock to also work as the fn key.

That one change made all the difference to me. No more twisting my right hand to arrow, I now have the fn key right below my left pinky, right on the home row. It still requires more key presisng than on a standard keyboard, but perhaps having all the keys needed right on the home row makes up for that in the long run? I can not deny that it feels neat to do, even though I am still much slower moving the cursor this way.

Pok3r next to 12-inch Macbook keyboard Pok3r next to 12-inch Macbook keyboard

Also required was Macos builtin ability to switch the position of the command and alt keys. While par for the course when using any non-Mac-adapted keyboard, it had an added bonus on the Pok3r. The kebyoard is so tight they chose to only put one command key on it, on the left side, but they kept alt on both sides. I rarely use the right-side alt since I am on a Mac where there is no alt-gr, so now I got two command keys again instead. Big win.

I loved the look and feel of the Pok3r right away, but in the beginning I seriously doubted I would give it much use. One week later, I am surprised at how well I have adapted, and I still enjoy typing on it just as much. This might just be the beginning of a long, happy story.

(Unless sensitive ears around me forbid its use.)