My first experience of VR was in 2014, when I donned a bulky Oculus Rift headset and rode a virtual rollercoaster in the middle of Katie Schuering’s apartment. It was pretty fun, in a “this is a novelty now but I’m sure this will be huge in a few years” kinda way, so I’m actually surprised that it’s taken until 2021 for my second VR experience at a team offsite event this week.
The technology’s gotten better in all of the obvious ways, and I thoroughly enjoyed blasting zombies to death with my team. It’s still a long way from photorealism, but I felt suitably nervous when walking around virtual ‘corners’ and jumped when a member of the undead snuck up behind me. As demonstrated by the virtual ‘walking the plank’ experience (pictured) it really doesn’t take much for the human brain to feel itself to be in mortal danger despite obviously ‘knowing’ that you’re a mere 1cm off the ground rather than walking off the top of a very tall building.
There’s an irony in meeting your colleagues again after nearly two years and then jumping straight into virtual reality, but it was incredibly lovely to see everyone in person. Special thanks to Tomas for staying up late in the hotel bar for an impromptu session on system architecture and/or Russian geopolitics.
And now, as I write this, there’s only one more sleep to go before Randi and I finally make it back to the States! This is a trip which we’ve planned, cancelled, re-planned and re-cancelled so many times that I won’t believe it’s happening until my feet are planted firmly on Californian ground. Yesterday morning, however, we cleared the pre-flight negative Covid test hurdle so we are almost there.
Forgive me, then, if the rest of this post has a bit of a helter-skelter vibe as I race through the last few weeks. Way back on Halloween we welcomed Andy and Bonnie for their long-delayed introduction to our flat, and just as they were leaving the first in a pleasing flurry of trick-or-treaters started to arrive. One group was so large I think we’ve now met an entire cohort from the local primary school, and there were some impressive costumes to boot. Of course, I withdrew all trick-or-treating services later that evening to focus on the start of the new, serialised season of Doctor Who, which in general is working really well with this more old-school format.
I’ve also enjoyed a night at the Captain Kidd pub with Eric, a Zoom pub with Simon, Ellie, Oliver, Robert and Steve at which we argued about who was responsible for us not being at a real pub (I tried!) and an impromptu evening of takeaway Nando’s and long-overdue catching up in Chelmsford with my honorary big sister Abbi. Meanwhile, Randi and I practised our patented two-step North West London hop from my mum’s to Josh and Anna’s to celebrate Cora’s first birthday. Key discoveries: (a) Cora has entered a talkative phase, albeit not yet in a language which any of us are able to understand, and (b) Cora seems to have picked up a disturbing NIMBY attitude towards tower blocks and will smash them all down at the earliest opportunity. A worrying personality trait.
A week later, just when she thought she’d gotten rid of us, we turned up at the North London Tavern in Kilburn for Anna’s surprise birthday party. Randi led the charge to buy helium balloons for the occasion with infectious enthusiasm for a giant floating caterpillar – money well spent – and I accidentally ordered way too much food. So, obviously, we had a great time. Happy birthday Anna!
Finally – in a quick break between packing and panicking about something going wrong – we popped over to Tash and Cormac’s tonight for a delicious (and finessed!) Friday night family dinner. We’ll see you all on the other side!