Doing Virtually Nothing or, How Not to Treat Your HIT Lab Job

Rodney, DO-IT Scholar

It was a warm September evening when I made my way to the University of Washington's HIT Lab at Fluke Hall. I had a meeting with one of the project's directors, Dr. Tom Furness. I was seeking employment there on a sort of Work from Home basis, perhaps writing things and then later programming "virtual worlds" for use with their hardware.

The interview was interesting, and I explained my abilities and interests with Dr. Furness. My first assignment was to write an article which was to be more of a review of my experiences during the Summer at the HIT Lab. For those of you who may not know, as part of the DO-IT Summer Program, all sixteen of us were invited to the HIT Lab to experience the primitive, however quickly developing, technology.

Those of us who were sighted got to be taken on tours of small and simplistic universes, and those of us who were visually impaired got to experience virtual sound source positions. That is, a pair of earphones were worn and sound came through them as if it was coming from above or below. What made this even more notable is that if you turned your head the sound would stay in the same spot.

I was given the mission of writing a review of my experiences. The following are a few excerpts from my article to illustrate further my impressions, but mostly just to take up space: "Overall, I left Fluke Hall ... with the feeling that this had all the elements to a classic upstart of a new and promising technology..." The difference between my flight simulator and virtual reality is that when I'm doing the old reliable Gates Learjet cruise from Chicago to Seattle, and during the flight I turn my head to the left, I see the clutter of books on my table, the back side of my radio, and in the distance I can see my closet with all my clothes. When I turn my head to the right I am facing a wall and I can see this poem I had tacked to it that I've never bothered to read, the naked 5-month-old on my Nirvana poster, and my phone--in the distance I see nothing, because, alas, my x-ray eyeglasses are missing. However, in the virtual world so graciously demonstrated that evening by the HIT Lab, if I turned my head to the left I saw the wall of the room that I was "virtually" in. There were a few floating animals in this room, and there were--if my memory serves me correctly--a few plants on the ground one might find in a fish tank. And if I turned my head to the right I could possibly see that elusive fish I was supposed to catch swimming away. This is the magic I see in virtual reality.

And now getting down to an explanation of the title of this article, well, the piece I was assigned to do for the HIT Lab Review is pretty much all I've done thus far. The moral of the story is, when you go all the way up to Seattle for an interview with someone who can give you a good opportunity, and they do, try accomplishing more than a short little write-up...