CyberEdge Journal

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Open in case of emergency

Managing communications in a crisis

It’s bound to happen. One of your major funders cuts you off. Your ED is accused of sexual harassment. The CFO makes off with your bank account. There’s a fire in your office. You’ve been hacked and your client records are exposed. Your reputation is at stake. Your funding is at stake. Every nonprofit may have to deal with problems like these at some time. How you deal with them can make a substantial difference in the health of your organization, and indeed, whether or not your organization survives.

Dealing with situations like these is called Crisis Management. How you handle a crisis is vitally important. Every member of the leadership team needs to be aware and involved, and those in Marketing and Communications can be vital to a successful resolution of the situation. In this chapter I’m going to offer a few tips, some of which are based on my personal experience managing communications during crisis.

First an anecdote. At a community-based organization (CBO), a surprise inspection by the fire marshall resulted in a notice to abate (meaning that they had to correct any problems with the building or cease operations). The landlord, the Board of Directors and the staff were near panic. What was going to happen? They had 5000 square feet full of stuff, a staff of 11, and limited resources.

“Information” got out quickly and created an immediate ruckus. One long-term volunteer started telling clients that the organization would soon close. She advised the staff to start looking for new jobs. Customers and staff alike were asking how long the organization would be in business and what its fate would be.

This was a classic example of the need to manage the message. The leadership team had to respond to the people who were calling, writing, tweeting, and emailing, all with increasing concern about the fate of the organization. A local newspaper ran an article with a headline announcing that the CBO was about to be evicted. All of this happened over a couple of weeks, and created an intense sense of urgency.

While this organization did not have a written crisis management plan, crisis management had been given a lot of thought and discussion. I don’t recommend being that casual, but that is, at the minimum, where to start with your own crisis management and communications planning.

The Board knew about the Order to Abate before the newspaper article appeared. Knowing that the situation sounded ominous, they went to work crafting a comprehensive, coherent and consistent message that everyone would use when talking about the situation. The Board worked on this message for several days, consulting by way of email and phone calls, until a short message that was accurate, truthful and calming was agreed upon. Immediately, the message was used in consistent response to emails and posted on social media accounts and the organization’s website.

In addition, the organization added a page to their website where they posted news and allowed the community to comment and talk among themselves. A GoFundMe campaign was started in response to the many people who had asked what they could do to help.

This turned out to be a successful example of how thinking about crisis communication management before an event occurs makes it easier to respond. Because the leadership team had started working on messaging early, the communications were effective, the panic quelled, the GoFundMe page raised several thousand dollars, and time was extended for compliance with the order.

Are you ready to handle a crisis? Let me share a few tips on handling communications during a crisis.

Don’t wait for an emergency.

“You have to anticipate a crisis in order to deal with it when it comes.” 
Daniel Kennedy, PR and MarCom authority

One of the most important aspects of dealing with a crisis is being ready for it. It is far easier to think about your emergency response in the calm before the storm.

An organizational crisis management plan should be prepared by every nonprofit. Developing this plan should be a collaborative effort involving your leadership team, the Board of Directors and other key stakeholders in your organization. The plan should include what to do in various types of emergencies, such as a fire, an earthquake, a tornado, a serious injury, a broken pipe or a heart attack, as well as unexpected media coverage or allegations about the organization, whether true or not. It should include a list of contact information for the people who may need to be reached in case of emergencies, such as the police, the fire department, your landlord, your insurance broker and others. Your plan should include managing clients at your site, evacuation procedures (and what triggers them), and other aspects of likely, and unlikely, events at your organization. Of course, you want to be certain that your overall crisis management plan recognizes the differing requirements of various situations and addresses them.

Your crisis management plan should be easily accessible and should be reviewed at least once a year to make sure that it is still up-to-date and appropriate. In the case of some types of emergencies you will want to have periodic drills to help the staff understand how to respond in various situations.
Every comprehensive crisis management plan should include a crisis communications section. It’s important to coordinate with your leadership team to make sure that communications efforts align with and augment the crisis management plans that have been adopted. It’s also vital that you are prepared to defend your reputation and to show that you are handling the situation well.

Let’s look at what your Crisis Communications Plan should include.

Crisis Communications Plan Checklist

Start with a general plan, and then think of special situations and what they will require. Here are some of the key items to include in your crisis communications plan:
  • The person, or people, who are authorized to speak publicly about an event or situation. Typically, designated members of the Board, the Executive Director, and/or a media specialist are the only people authorized to make public statements. Everyone else in the organization, including Board members and staff, should refer questions to the designated spokespeople. This is a “must do” and is critically important.
  • Try to anticipate the various types of situations that may arise. For example, there may be workplace violence, or a serious injury at the work site. There could be a fire, explosion, or leak of toxic materials. There could be a natural disaster, like a hurricane, tornado, earthquake or flood. There could be accusations of sexual or other harassment. Malfeasance on the part of your Board or staff leadership can occur, or merely be alleged. These types of situations, as well as the ones that are unique to your organization or location, should be evaluated, and appropriate responses prepared for those that are most likely. 
  • List the people or teams that will be gathering information and how that information will be provided to the communications team. Include people to talk with: an attorney, an insurance broker, an HR expert, or a CPA, for example. The board and staff leadership should develop an approval process, and that process should be evaluated periodically. The plan will include the approvals needed before releasing information. 
  • Your communication strategy should incorporate the right media for the situation: social media, your website, traditional media, external and internal communications channels. One of the biggest advantages of having a crisis communications plan is that your message placement is predetermined, enabling you to act quickly and avoid bad decisions. Even so, remember that every situation is unique, with unique communication needs. You’ll often have to adjust on the fly.
  • Include a list of local journalists that  you want to contact. List each with the topic/beat he or she covers. Be sure you have your statement ready before you contact the press, and get it first to those who have been friendly to your organization. 
  • In addition, have a list of your other stakeholders that you’ll want to contact in various situations, before you go public, if possible. For example, if there’s a fire, you may need to contact your staff and clients right away. As you draw up this list, consider priorities: who do you contact first, second, and on down the list? If there’s a political situation, you may want to contact your local representatives or department heads with whom you do business. Think about your bankers, funders, individual donors, advisory board, and anyone else who needs to hear what is happening directly from the organization. Be ready with an elevator pitch for Board and staff to use casually. Keep in mind that your loyal supporters can help spread your message – draft them as ad hoc boosters, and keep them informed of changes in the situation and the official messaging. This is a critical element in your plan for successfully handling a situation.
  • You also want to think about how you’re going to get information to your staff. Think about what will be necessary if they are at work, or not, and be ready to let them know what’s going on, and what is expected of them. Warn them against speaking to anyone, especially the media, about what is happening. Instead, emphasize that they should refer questions to the authorized spokespersons.

What to do when they unexpected occurs

Your communications plan gives you a head start on how you will be communicating in the event of a crisis. However, it’s impossible to preplan what you’re going to say. These pointers will help you be prepared when you need to act quickly. But remember – the situation will change, and you need to be ready for the unexpected.
  • Get the facts. Then act thoughtfully.
    When a crisis is upon you, you need to get in front of the story as quickly as possible, and you need to do that in a thoughtful way. Approach your information-gathering from a journalist’s point of view: Who, What, Where, When, and Why. Use those questions to guide you as you collect facts. Don’t jump to conclusions. Check back with people as the situation changes. They may have new information, and you may have new questions. Be sure you understand the situation and be aware that it may change rapidly. Stories evolve and change – everyone expects that. But retractions or major corrections can hurt credibility. 
  • Identify the people who are directly affected by the situation.
    It’s important to understand who the audience and stakeholders are in any given situation. Sometimes you need to collect information from them, sometimes you need to get information to them. Knowing your audience and stakeholders in any given situation is critical to effective communications.
    Develop lists of likely stakeholders and audiences who will have or need information in various situations.
  • Get expert help.
    Don’t rely just on yourself and your in-house team in a crisis situation. You may need to consult an attorney. You may want to talk with your insurance agent. You may have other stakeholders who can help due to specific knowledge of the situation or expertise in a specific domain.
    Be sure you talk to your experts before you craft your statement, because what they say might directly impact what you say. Remember, though it may evolve over time as the situation changes, you have only one chance to get the first  message correct, and to get in front of the situation.
  • Develop a list of advisors who you will contact in various situations.
    Work with your board and the other people directly involved to arrive at a consensus on messaging. Then, craft a statement that you will use consistently to explain the situation.
    Once you are confident that the situation is understood, and stakeholders identified, work together to determine how you want to talk about the situation; honestly, of course, but in a way that helps you manage the communications and the perceptions of what’s happening.
    Be sure to consider the impact of your statements on all of your stakeholders. Choose your words carefully. You don’t want anyone, especially your funders, to consider the organization unreliable or a bad risk. Express your concern and compassion, but don’t admit or assign guilt. (A caveat: If your organization has obviously done something wrong, admit it, explain your plan for correcting the problem, and discuss how you will prevent a reoccurrence.) Present the situation realistically, without being overly emotional, and without blaming people. Don’t make the situation look hopeless. Your reaction needs to be seen as appropriate, proportionate, and well thought out.
    Write down, and agree on, three versions of your official statement. These are used for different audiences and platforms – the short statement on Twitter, the mid-length one on Facebook, and the long one to the press, for example. (I usually start with a long version and edit down.) The written statement helps assure that your story is presented consistently, no matter who is speaking. This consistency helps your credibility.
    Distribute your approved statement to the Board and others designated to speak for the organization, and emphasize the importance of sticking to it. 
  • Roll out your message.
    • Your plan should include rollout timing. What’s the priority of getting the information out on different platforms? This will differ depending on the situation, but it’s important to pre-think so you can react quickly and precisely when you need to. Here are a few of the stakeholders that you will probably want to contact in almost any situation that you deem to be a crisis or emergency:
    • Proactively contact local media, especially if they have already started to cover your story, and offer to talk with them as soon as possible. Chose journalists who will report accurately and don’t have an axe to grind. Think about the impact of your language, and test it on a few people before you roll it out.
    • Contact your major funders and supporters. Let them know what’s happening. Provide the official statement and answer all of their questions. Do not wait for them to contact you.
    • Reach out to your staff and make sure that they understand what’s going on, what you’re doing to deal with the situation, and how it’s going to impact them. They rely on their jobs to pay the rent. It’s only reasonable to let them know how their employment might be impacted, or not, due to the situation. Be sure they know who the official spokesperson is and that they should refer all questions to her.
    • Your social community will want to know what’s happening. As you probably have noticed, bad news travels fast. You may be surprised at how quickly you start getting calls and emails from concerned stakeholders. These can include your clients, your vendors, and anybody you interact with. So be sure that you’re ready to get your information out through social media, including the possibility of an email blast.
    • Any other stakeholders that haven’t been covered need to be reached with your consistent messaging.
  • Be alert and be nimble.
    Your planning should acknowledge the fact that you can’t plan for everything. Any crisis situation can change rapidly. You need to be ready for that change and ready to adapt to it. New information may mean that you need to change your messaging or that you need to reach out a second time to the media or stakeholders. In any crisis, be ready for rapid developments, and be prepared to act quickly as the situation changes. If negative messaging occurs on social media or newspapers/TV, be sure to address it and get the accurate story, i.e. your thought-out messaging, to those individuals. Do not let their negative messaging go unaddressed.

After the storm has passed

After your crisis has passed, you need to mop up. Contact your press list and other stakeholders again with information that summarizes what happened, who was affected, and how the organization dealt with the issues. Talk about measures put in place to prevent such a situation from happening again, or how the organization will be better prepared to deal with it in the future. Remember to include your staff, so that they understand what happened.

Finally, do a debrief with your leadership team and Board to examine how well your planning worked. Make the necessary changes to your overall crisis management plan and to your crisis communications plan. And remember – review these documents at least annually.

When all this is done, you’ve earned a time to relax and unwind. But don’t get complacent. It could all happen again tomorrow.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Making Virtual Reality Events Worth Attending

In the past week I attended two VR meetups in San Francsico. In December I attended one in Santa Clara, in the heart of the Silicon Valley. Of the three, one was very useful. The other two were largely a waste of time.

Let me provide a little background. As a journalist and analyst, I have attended well over 100 VR conferences and meetings. These have ranged from SIGGRAPH in its heyday, with over 40,000 attendees and scores of VR vendors and scientists showing their wares, to groups of a dozen technicians working on standards and technologies. I have attended V R-themed meetings, trade shows, conferences, symposia and seminars in more than a dozen countries on three continents. I have been a speaker at many of these meetings, and a reporter at most. I think I understand what makes a successful meeting.

What made the Santa Clara meeting successful was the understanding by the organizers, SVVR, of how to provide value to attendees. What made the other two a waste of time was that they were misrepresented – they were not places to do business; they were parties with a VR Theme. They were loud, crowded and dark. One could talk only by screaming, and barely hear the response, thanks to constant, loud music. The rooms were so crowded you could hardly move. The light was dim, making it impossible to read name tags, business cards or literature. The vendors were overwhelmed, largely due to the extreme crowding.

Is this your idea of a good VR meeting?
On the other hand, the Santa Clara MeetUp was in a room that was large enough for the crowd, with food and drink in a separate space. There was room for the vendors to show their stuff, though the light was a bit dim. The noise level was manageable – there was a good buzz, but you could comfortably hold a conversation. There was a planned program, but it left plenty of time and space for networking. The venue provided plenty of parking.

Here is a fairly short checklist of considerations that every event planner should keep in mind. Specifically, for a VR event, organizers should:

  •  Make the purpose clear. Is this a party, a mixer, a demo night, or something else? Who will benefit from attending?
  •  Is the room big enough for the anticipated attendance? Two factors matter: Optimal Party Density (OPD), and enough room for vendors and others to do their business. (OPD requires that people be close enough that they MUST talk to each other. However, that can become too crowded, which makes people wary and hostile.)
  •  Plan circulation so that people don’t get bottlenecked. A big logjam at the door makes people frustrated from the start. A bar that has long lines can foster conversation, or just be annoying.
  • If you serve food, keep it tidy and easy to handle. Ave plenty of napkins and trash cans. People don’t like spilling food on their clothes and vendors don’t like people with sticky fingers handling their products.
  • Is there enough light and electricity for vendors to run their demos? A corollary: there should be enough light to read business cards and product literature.
  • If you play music, keep the volume low enough that people can converse easily. Your vendors will really appreciate this when they can still talk the next morning.
  •  Have a printed program. It doesn’t need to be fancy or big. Include vendor contact info and some clues to what people can expect during the event.
  • Make it easy to find and easy to get to. A hidden loft in a back alley may be a great place for a party, but is it appropriate for your event? Also, is there room for vendors to park and unload?
I know that I’ll be checking much more carefully when I decide if I want to attend VR meetups. I like a good party as much as anyone, but frankly, I attend these events to see new technology and meet people. If the setting is not conducive to that, count me out.

Finally, am I totally missing the boat on this? Would people today rather be in a loud, raucous environment to do business? Vendors, how do these events serve you? Please comment below and set me straight.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Faculty Positions (2) Available in the Department Of Computer Science

This opening just passed by in my email. Looks like good opportunities for the right people.

Please see the advertisement below for tenure-track faculty positions open at Virginia Tech. Although the position is listed as “artificial intelligence,” we are also looking for people in graphics, visualization, virtual reality, augmented reality, and gaming. 

The Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech ( seeks applicants for up to six tenure-track faculty positions in three areas: artificial intelligence/machine learning, software engineering, and data analytics/cyber security. Candidates should have a Ph.D. in Computer Science or related field at the time of appointment, a rank-appropriate record of scholarship and collaboration in computing and interdisciplinary areas, sensitivity to issues of diversity in the campus community, and will be required to teach at the undergraduate and/or graduate levels. Selected candidates are expected to travel occasionally to attend professional conferences and meetings.

The two tenured positions seek candidates who can present evidence of high-impact research and publications in top-tier conferences and journals, a strong record of garnering external funding for research and leading a strong research group, and national and/or international visibility through leadership and service in the research community.

Tenure-track Assistant Professor in Artificial Intelligence – Blacksburg, VA  Candidates with expertise in artificial intelligence, including but not limited to natural language processing, speech, computer vision and pattern recognition, perception, knowledge representation, humans and AI, game theory, reinforcement learning, machine learning, reasoning under uncertainty, or graphical representation of data including immersive (VR and/or AR) environments and/or gaming are encouraged to apply to this multiple position search. Candidates should have the skills to establish and grow a successful, multidisciplinary research group. Applications must be submitted online to to for posting #TR0140110. Applicant screening will begin on December 15, 2014 and continue until each position is filled.  Inquiries should be directed to Dr. Cliff Shaffer, Search Committee Chair, .

The Department of Computer Science has 37 research oriented tenure-track faculty and ~10 postdocs/research faculty.  There are a total 12 NSF/DOE CAREER awardees in the department. Research expenditures for FY2014 were $334 thousand per tenure-track faculty member (i.e., a total of $12.2 million); total research funding at the beginning of FY2015 was $42.8 million. BS, MS, and PhD degrees are offered, with a growing enrollment of over 610 undergraduate majors (14% women) and over 225 PhD/MS students. In 2010, CS@VT was ranked 5th in the country in recruiting quality of CS undergrads by the Wall Street Journal. The department is in the College of Engineering, whose undergraduate program was ranked 8th and graduate program was ranked 12th among public engineering schools in 2014 by U.S. News & World Report.

Early applications are encouraged. We welcome applications from women or minorities. Salary for suitably qualified applicants is competitive and commensurate with experience. Selected candidates must pass a criminal background check prior to employment.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

My Test Drive of Marriott’s Teleporter Virtual Reality System

Yesterday I spent a few moments on a beautiful sunny beach in Hawaii, and then, within seconds was looking down from a ledge many stories above the street in nighttime London.

No I wasn't traveling on the newest supersonic transport. I was experiencing Marriott hotels new Teleporter, a minute long virtual-reality experience presented at a Marriott Hotel in San Francisco.

The system looks simple, but provides a multi-sensory experience that not many VR systems can match. The system includes an Oculus Rift head-mounted display, and uses water vapor, aromas, and wind in your face, combined with a rumbling and tilting floor, to provide an interesting, unique, and surprisingly believable experience.

The experience starts by signing a waiver, having your picture taken, your date of birth recorded, and waiting in line for a while the people in front of you have their experience. An attendant asks if you have epilepsy, seizures or balance problems. You step into the booth through a Plexiglas gate that allows you to enter. The area of the booth is about a square meter with a waist high railing around the active space. The attendant helps you donned the headset and headphones, checks to make sure you're okay and turns on the system.

Preparing to visit Hawaii, virtually.

The experience starts in what Marriott calls their great room, which most of us would call a hotel lobby. While bustling with noise and the buzz of many people enjoying themselves, the room is oddly bereft of any images of people. Nonetheless the graphics are quite good, with a complex 3-D scene including several dozen chairs and a bar, hanging lights, windows showing a view of the outdoors, patterned rugs, a detailed ceiling, and lots of detail, that makes the scene almost photorealistic, and a good representation of a typical hotel lobby bar.

After you've had a moment to look around, the system transports you forward toward an abstract sort of map in a frame on the wall ahead of you. It seems you've moved about 50 feet while of course you haven't moved all, but the rumbling of the motion platform on which you're standing provides a realistic sensation of motion. As you approach the frame a different  noise is heard and the image of the map of Hawaii dissolves into an abstract, moving Kubrickian image represrentiung some kind of space/time warp, which deposits you on a lovely black sand beach somewhere on Oahu in Hawaii. The air is humid; you feel a breeze on your face, you hear the waves and the wind through the palms. All in all it's a very realistic impression of being on the beach. You can move your head in any direction including up-and-down. When you look down you see sand when you look up you see a beautiful tropical sky with a few wispy clouds. If only it smelled more like salt water you really believe you were in Hawaii (as I wish I were).

After about 10 or 20 seconds in Hawaii, the rumbling starts again and you're transported once more, this time backwards, through the teleport into the hotel lounge. The platform makes a virtual 90° right turn, rumbling and vibrating as it does so, and then starts heading between tables and the bar toward another frame, this one with a map of England with a circle, a sort of the target, showing where London is. As you approach the frame it again dissolves in a spacey pattern, and you pass through it. In this case find yourself precariously on a ledge on the outside of the building apparently 20, 30 or 40 stories above a nighttime London street scene.

I've been in hundreds of virtual worlds and this is one of the few that actually made me lurch and catch my breath. It really felt as if I was out on a ledge with nothing around me, that far up in the sky. It was more than a little disconcerting for a few seconds.

Unfortunately in London there wasn't much to see, as it was dark. You could look around at the city lights, and I assume that if you knew the London landscape better than I do, you would be able to recognize where you.

After few seconds in London, which didn't seem like long enough, you're whisked out again with the rumbling and shaking of backward movement, and turned another 90° to the right and deposited at a corner of the bar. That's where the simulation ends. The lights go out, the attendant reaches toward you and removes the headset and the earphones, and you're back in the real world.
I'm not sure what Marriott hopes to accomplish with this display of virtual reality. I do commend them for an eminently well done experience. The rendering of the virtual world is extremely well done – better than anything I've seen in a long time, though I have to admit it's been a long time since I spent much time in virtual worlds. The sound quality was excellent and the special effects provided by the motion platform, vapor spray, and wind were all quite good. Marriott says that there are smells in the system but I was unable to detect them. 

When you finish you are given the opportunity to post a video of your experience to a social network, or email a link to yourself.

However the big question is the quality of the visual display. There's no question that the modeling and rendering are top-notch. Fifteen years ago it would've taken $1 million computer to provide results like this, which is running on a common PC. However the quality of the Oculus Rift head-mounted display is really not much better than what we saw fifteen years ago. The image has softness to it that I found unpleasant, as if it was slightly out of focus. The “screen door” effect caused by the pixilation of the LCDs of themselves was quite apparent. Believe me, this looks nothing like an HDTV, unless you happen to be standing a foot away from it.

These display problems are nothing new, but frankly I was surprised that Oculus hasn't found a way to solve these problems. There's been a lot of efforts made to reduce the pixilation issue (the screen door effect) over the years, including various diffusion filters and lenses, but all of them degrade the image more or less. This is going to remain an issue for a long time, I suspect. The solution is ultrahigh resolution displays; perhaps the 4K displays that we are now starting to see on high-end phones will do the job. However, the overall quality of the Oculus Rift seemed good. The HMD is lightweight, and comfortable, I could easily wear it for hours.

So here I am again, evaluating virtual reality systems once more. It's been at least 10 years since I've had a head-mounted display on, and I must admit I enjoyed being back in the virtual world. With my new book on virtual reality coming out next week, I thought it was time to try out some of the new experiences and see what's changed, what's improved, and what remains the same. The Marriott Teleporter was a really good place to start this investigation. I'll report on other experiences as I discover them, and hope you find this useful. In the meantime let me put in a shameless plug. Please buy my book, Sex Drugs and Tessellation, which will be available on Amazon next week, the week before Thanksgiving 2014.

Marriot’s promo on the Teleporter:

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Friday, October 03, 2014

New book to reveal truth about Virtual Reality

 Did you ever wonder who built the first head-mounted display? Who first detailed a coherent theory of Cyberspace? Who wrote about cybersex and the challenges it creates? Who worried about addiction to VR? Did anyone ever cure cyber-sickness?

From 1991 to 1996, CyberEdge Journal covered these stories and hundreds more. CEJ was read in more than 40 countries by thousands of VR researchers, developers, vendors, and aficionados. Appreciated for its "No VR Hype" attitude, CyberEdge Journal was the publication of record for the VR industry in the 90's. Author Ben Delaney was the Publisher and Editor of CyberEdge Journal, and was one of the most respected commentators and presenters in the field, and went on to publish the industry-defining multi-year market study, The Market for Visual Simulation/Virtual Reality Systems until 2004.

Now that VR is enjoying a renaissance, it's time to understand where it came from, and avoid making the same mistakes that were made in the first golden age of VR, the 1990's. It's also a good time to remember the excitement and sense of adventure that characterized those time.

Sex, Drugs, and Tessellation describes not just some of the hot topics of VR, but also the origins, issues, and solutions that were chronicled in the pages of CyberEdge Journal. Complemented by nearly 100 photos and drawings, there is a surprisingly contemporary feel to these old articles. In addition, more than a dozen VR pioneers have contributed new reminiscences of their work in VR. Another treat, the book is introduced by one of the acknowledged leaders of VR research and industry, Dr. Thomas Furness, Founding Director of the world-famous Human Interface Technology Laboratory at the University of Washington.

If you are involved in VR or know someone who is, Sex, Drugs, and Tessellation: the Truth About Virtual Reality, as revealed in the pages of CyberEdge Journal, is a must-read. It will be available by Thanksgiving on Amazon.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Let us appreciate Randy Pausch

I just learned that my friend, Randy Pausch, has pancreatic cancer and is not expected to recover.

Randy caught my attention in 1991 in New Orleans. At the CHI ’91 conference, he was the talk of the town after his presentation, “Virtual Reality on $5 a Day”. Keep in mind that in 1991, a modestly usable VR system cost a cool quarter million, so Randy’s demonstration of building a system on the cheap was mind blowing.

Here is what I wrote in CyberEdge Journal #3, May/June 1991:
The next speaker was Randy Pausch, who excited the audience with his explanation of a home-brew VR-based system which cost only $5.00 per day. Lacking an adequate budget to purchase a VR system, Pausch built his own. He combined two mechanically linked Private Eye displays, a Mattel PowerGlove, and one Polhemus 3Space tracker. The system provides 720 by 280 spatial resolution and displays wire-frame graphics generated by a 80386-based, 2.5 MIP, PC clone system. Including the voice input which he intends to add, Pausch calculates the total system cost at under $5000, which when amortized over the typical three year life of the equipment, equals a cost of about $4.55 per day. He is now soliciting support to build 10-20 such systems, providing access to VR to an entire graduate class.

Here's Randy at CHI '91, demonstrating his home-made HMD.

In my effort to be a calm and cool journalist, this meager mention hardly reflects the excitement Randy stirred in the CHI crowd, and through the fledgling VR industry. While SGI and NASA were struggling to build systems that would fit into one room and cost less than a couple of houses, Randy built a usable system for less than $5,000. It was amazing, and he was the toast of the conference.

This was just a precursor of what Randy’s imagination and energy would enable him to do. He became quite the celebrity from the $5 a day VR system, and was able to leverage that fame to a position where he was able to lead the development of ALICE, an easy-to-use world-building package. He moved from the University of Virginia to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, where he established a well-respected lab, and continued to great work.

Drop Randy a line and let him know that he made a difference. I know I’m going to miss him.

You may have heard about Randy's inspiring "Last Lecture." Find it here: Randy Pausch's Last Lecture

To make a donation to help conquer pancreatic cancer, make donations payable to UPCI/Pancreatic Cancer Research/Liver Pancreas Institute. Add a memo to note that your gift is given in Randy Pausch's honor and to support the research of Dr. Herb Zeh. Mail to: Development Dept., UPMC Cancer Pavilion, Suite 1B, 5150 Centre Ave., Pittsburgh PA 15232. You can also contact Kambra McConnel in the Development Dept. for the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute at 412-623-4700.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Dassault Systèmes Acquires Virtools

Dassault Systèmes Acquires Unique 3D Behavioral Technology with Purchase of Virtools

DS to provide interactive 3D experience platform to give life to 3D

Paris, France, July 26, 2005 - Dassault Systèmes today announced that it has acquired Paris-based Virtools SA, a team of experts in 3D interactive web applications that give live behavior to 3D content, for approximately 12 million euros.

Virtools' applications allow users not familiar with 3D modeling to quickly and easily add life experience to any 3D object. As an example, using the company's technology, users can experience the shopping behavior of a typical consumer in a supermarket or visualize the ergonomics of a driver as he or she drives a car through a city.

Virtools' comprehensive software solutions enable companies to give life to 3D by creating applications with rich game-like 3D interactivity. Virtools has many production customers in industrial design, marketing, 3D web-based CRM applications, and multimedia applications as well as in video game development. Customers include Procter & Gamble, L'Oréal, Microsoft Game Studio, Electronic Arts, PSA Peugeot Citroen, and EADS.

"We chose Virtools several years ago to build our 3D real-time interactive applications, such as spatial mission experiences and the virtual cockpit," said Nicolas Chevassus, Corporate Research Center, EADS. "The combination of Virtools and Dassault Systèmes reinforces our strategic partnership."

With this acquisition, DS is adding to its R&D force a core team of expert pioneers in 3D Interactivity. Virtools brings to DS breakthrough technologies that will accelerate the use of 3D for all types of real-time, interactive consumer applications on the web. As a development platform, Virtools provides next-generation solutions for developing highly realistic 3D experiences with game-like" interactivity, as well as distributing and running 3D applications on the web. These solutions range from browser-based applications to large-scale 3D visualizations.

"The visionary R&D team at Virtools will be an immediate asset to DS as we execute our strategy of democratizing 3D," said Bernard Charlès, president and CEO, Dassault Systèmes. "By combining our assets, we will deliver the next-generation 3D web platform that will enable a wide range of users to imagine, share, and experience in 3D."

"I am delighted that Dassault Systèmes has chosen Virtools as a foundation of its 3D democratization strategy," said Bertrand Duplat, founder and CTO of Virtools. "We share the vision of market convergence with DS for extended use of interactive 3D."

"I look forward to the contribution that Virtools will bring to Dassault Systèmes," said Hervé Yahi, CEO of Virtools. "We will continue to serve our customers and will enhance and improve support worldwide."

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Kelly Dove named Editor-in-Chief of Computer Graphics World

Longtime Editor, Phil LoPiccolo moves to new position

July 11, 2005 Nashua, NH -- PennWell is pleased to announce the selection of Kelly Dove as Editor-in-Chief for Computer Graphics World magazine. The announcement of Dove comes after a two-month search to replace Phil LoPiccolo, who moved to the Chief Editor position at Solid State Technology, another PennWell title.

Ms. Dove brings both publication and client experience to her position at CGW. As Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief for 3D Design magazine, she was instrumental in the successful launch of this title for CMP. In addition, she developed and managed the corresponding website, the conference and exhibition, creating a unified media brand in the high-tech trade space. Most recently, Dove was the Director of Public Relations for a Boxx Technologies, a workstation manufacturer focused on the entertainment and digital content creation industries.

“I have been a fan of Computer Graphics World for many years,” says Dove. “It is a well-respected title among trade publications as well as the companies they serve. Karen Moltenbrey, Courtney Howard and the excellent team of contributing editors continually put out a top-notch magazine as the recent ASBPE Gold Award proves. I look forward to working with such a dynamic team.”

“We are thrilled to have Kelly join our team,” notes Associate Publisher Randy Jeter. “Her in-depth knowledge of the market, combined with her relationships and previous editorial experience in print and online publishing, will be instrumental as we continue to expand our leadership position.” Senior Technical Editor Karen Moltenbrey concurs. “I have known Kelly for quite some time, both on a personal and professional level, and I look forward to working with her. Her energy and knowledge of the industry certainly will be an asset to our publication. I anticipate exciting things ahead.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

CyberEdge On-line, First VR Website, Redesigned For Ease Of Use.

CyberEdge Information Services celebrates 10-year anniversary of website by re-launching with new content, navigation, design

The first, and longest continuously published website covering virtual reality (VR) and visual simulation (VizSim) was re-launched today with a new look, new content, and new navigation designed to make finding information faster and easier.

CyberEdge On-line went live in 1995, and since then has served hundreds of thousands of pages to visitors from around the world. The site features articles, links, a glossary of VR terminology, a Health and Safety Section, reviews of VR books, many illustrations, and much more. It provides one of the richest stores of VR and VizSim information on the Web, and all of the content is free of charge.

Said Ben Delaney, President of CyberEdge Information Services, Inc., “We are thrilled to see the newest incarnation of CyberEdge On-Line go live after several months of development. I can't think of a better way to celebrate the 10th anniversary of our website. The new design by CK Kuebel ( is outstanding, with easy to use navigation, and a clean, modern look that is attractive and functional. I think our new site will be even more useful to the thousands of visitors we welcome every month.”

CyberEdge On-Line also provides detailed information about CyberEdge Information Services, one of the leading sources of market data and marketing services for VR and VizSim companies. Publishers of the much-cited annual market study, The Market for Visual Simulation/Virtual Reality Systems, CyberEdge Information Services has provided consulting services, presentations, market research, and other communications services to an international who’s-who of VR and VizSim companies. Their clients include EDS, HP, IBM, Kodak, KPMG, LG Electronics, SGI, Siemens, SONY, SUN Microsystems, and many other well-known organizations.

CyberEdge Information Services invites you to visit CyberEdge On-Line at For more information, visit the website, email to “info at”, or call 510 419-0800.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Update on Immersion's Touchsense technology

I just got back form a visit to Immersion to take a look, er, feel, of their new TouchSense system, which I wrote about last week.

Mike Levin, VP Industrial and Gaming, showed me the system. In a word, or two, it works. I was amazed at how the touchscreen buttons felt like real objects when I pushed them. The demo was simple, based on a control panel for an automobile. Each button had a distinctive feel. Some were used to select functions, such as the heater or radio, which opened a second-level screen. The second-level screens replicated controls – volume, channel, temperature, etc. Each of these controls had a slide with detent feel, and they also signaled end of range with a different vibration. The system is slick and obvious, and to me, seems like an excellent application for haptic feedback.

While I was there, Mike also showed me a VibeTonz-equipped cell phone. This system replaces the simple vibration common in cellphones with tunable vibrations that can be attached to ring tones, used in games, or assigned by the user to different numbers, just as one assigns different rings. This system also works well, and seems definitelyy useful. The first Samsung phones with VibeTonz were released in April by Verizon Wireless.

(Disclaimer: I own a bit of Immersion stock and have consulted with them in the past.)