09192020 Redneck NASA Virtual Reality

Goddard engineer Tom Grubb manipulates a 3D simulation that animated the speed and direction of four million stars in the local Milky Way neighborhood.

By David Kittredge

In our new pandemic reality, we have gone from experiencing coronavirus cabin fever to anti-climactic staycations. Our television shows with real life actors have morphed into virtual reality shows with computer generated characters such as the last season’s final episode of “The Blacklist.” We have gone from a dearth of sporting events to games with, piped in, virtual crowd noise with cardboard cutout visages of fans in the stands. And now, last and most certainly least, we will be expected to endure virtual holiday parades. That is, parades with no people actually attending, no high school marching bands, no twirling of batons, and no folks being tugged about by giant helium balloons. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade was canceled for three years during World War II due to a shortage on helium to inflate the iconic balloons. Although the New York City parade is on this year, it will be in virtual mode. The Snoopy balloon will most certainly be there, along with Big Bird, and Sponge Bob being towed along the Manhattan streets by vehicles this year. That is, if Thanksgiving is still on the calendar, at all. I wouldn’t be surprised if the radicals get the religious holiday in their self-righteous sights and try to put the ole kibosh on the celebration of the harvest altogether.

I tuned in midway through the Patriots game Sunday when I realized Cam Newton was playing quarterback. He was an exciting player to watch back in his college days at Auburn, running the option play with the gracefulness of a gazelle. As I watched the game it dawned on me that the crowd noise was a recording over the loudspeakers. I admit it did add to the game although it was synthetic. Crowd noise probably won’t be a deterrent for the visiting teams anymore as they try to call audibles at the line of scrimmage. Frighteningly enough, the roar of the fans at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City has been measured at 142 decibels which is louder than a rock concert or an aircraft carrier deck launching warbirds. During the game on Sunday I realized that some crowd noise is mandatory because it helps to drown out the loud cussing, at times, by the players.

The players on the field were not wearing face masks, as the facial coverings would hinder the gargantuan men sucking in the needed copious amounts of oxygen before the next play. Unfortunately, that also means that the participants are also expiating large volumes of air in the vicinity of their compatriots. I am afraid that the NFL will be realizing a shortened season leading into the playoffs due to the fact that one or more of the teams will be hit with the pandemic or flu and will have to miss a few games. To keep everything fair, all teams should play the same number of regular season games whether it be the normal 16 games or a few less. If a team contracts coronavirus during the playoffs, the season will either have to be halted altogether or extended well into the spring season, which is a more likely scenario, Superbowl Easter Sunday, anyone?

Quizzically, the referees had masks on even though they do about as much running as the players. It then occurred to me that somehow, with the masks on, they still had to blow whistles to stop the plays, which was happening.

But how?

Answer: electronic whistles with push buttons in their hands. There is some trepidation on how the referees will handle situations of player melees or finding the ball during player pile-ups as the combatants fight over the ball trying to snatch it from the rightful owner by any means necessary, which includes punching or biting, a regular street brawl can ensue.

Virtual vacations became the norm earlier this year as we were in lockdown mode. The best thing about this mental mode of transportation is that they are credit card free, as of now. I wonder if Smell-O-vision will make a comeback from the early 60s and perhaps be included in a staycation package? Maybe for a small fee the olfactory sense could be titillated with aromas wafting through your living room as you attend a virtual Hawaiian luau while savoring the smells of roasted pork, pineapple and the fragrance of hibiscus dancing in your head. To magnify the Smell-O-vision, the aromas shouldn’t be chosen by the virtual vacationer, rather they should be emanated by surprise for pronounced effect. Of course, if you have decided on a virtual tour of a metropolitan zoo, you might want save yourself some coinage and opt out of the odor option, and instead purchase a bag of actual cotton candy to accompany you on your mental meanderings.

A good old-fashioned way to experience an artificial reality is through escape literature. This is experienced via an adventure novel that enables the reader to forget their surroundings and everyday problems, immersing you in an alternate reality.

I remember my first winter break from college, back in January 1971, I purchased the novel “Papillon” by Henri Charriere. I looked forward to reading a book of my choice after my first semester at college, where we students had been swamped with assigned reading on the secondary school level. The book proved to be just the ticket for a virtual reality staycation during the dead of winter with most of the book’s settings taking place in the tropics. Papillon, Charriere’s nickname, meaning butterfly, one of which he had tattooed on his chest, was a French safecracker who was framed for murder was sentenced to a life of hard labor in French Guiana. The “autobiographical” account of his time and escape attempts from the penal colony of Devil’s Island off the coast of French Guiana is considered to be one of the greatest adventure novels of all times according to fellow French novelist August Le Breton. Unfortunately, it was found that Henri Charriere never was on Devil’s Island; apparently, he was experiencing some virtual reality himself. The plot of the book is consuming, nonetheless, and is a perfect example of escape literature, especially in the wintertime.

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