My Search for Last Stars

In 2011, a few days after I bought my first and only DSLR, I was quickly running out of subjects to shoot. I had shot the garbage filled lake behind my house and the few birds that come to visit it. I had shot the trees and the crows that inhabit so many times that I had lost count. Lying down stewing in the oppressive humidity that only Chennai’s summer could offer I was rummaging through my head, trying to find a new subject to test the new camera’s capabilities. Then it struck me. What grander model can I get to pose for my camera than the night sky itself? And with that thought I took my camera and the tripod that came with it to shoot the night sky.

What comes to your mind when you think of the night sky? The full moon in all its glory? Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry night? A starlit sky? When was the last time you went out and looked at the night sky?

After multiple shots at varying exposures, and with every photo growing frustrated with what I was getting on my camera. I set the camera to the maximum exposure setting it had, 30 seconds and clicked the shutter button. The camera opened its shutter, the screen went dark and the sensor started capturing all the photons of light that came its way for the next thirty seconds. This is the image that I was staring at after the camera closed it shutter and finished processing what it had captured for the last thirty seconds.

It was only then did I look up and see the sky instead of giving it just a cursory glance.

Two questions popped in my mind with what I was seeing. Firstly, “Why is the sky orange?”. Secondly “Where are all the stars?”. The first question got answered when I turned around and saw the streetlights lining the road. Shining bright and orange, the sodium vapour lamps seemed to be everywhere, and were painting the sky a garish shade of orange.

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Dejected at not getting the shots I thought I’d have; I went back in and did some research and found out that the stars’ light were overpowered by the very sodium vapor lamps that were painting the sky orange. On further research I found a site which gave a visual representation of the amount of light radiated into the sky across the globe. And this is what I found.

The map is of South India and any place which isn’t black has some amount of light radiating into the sky, with red being the places with the most light. The areas marked green, had some light pollution but was still a problem to get a good shot from.

A few months later in 2012, I was at my grandma’s place for a family occasion, and as is the norm during these get togethers, me and my cousins were lying down outside the house at night, as there were way too many people to be accommodated inside. Tamil Nadu was going through a severe power crisis during that time and power cuts were an everyday occurrence. While the power cuts were scheduled in the urban centres, they were very frequent and unscheduled in the rural areas. And luckily one of these unscheduled power cuts happened during that night, and the power cut brought an instant change in the sky we were looking at in the cold January night. I was for the first time in my life, taking in the sight of an unpolluted(almost) night sky.

While staring awestruck at the sky, I noticed a small streak of silver running across the sky, which I happened to dismiss as a jet stream at first, and then it struck me. What I was looking at wasn’t a jet stream, but I was in fact looking at our galaxy, The Milky Way. While researching about the night sky in search of the perfect photo I had also stumbled upon the information that the Milky Way is visible from earth to the naked eye if the sky is clear, there is no moon in the sky and you are in a dark enough place. That was my first and till this date remains, sadly, my only live sighting of our galaxy.

Fast forward a year and a half in 2013, during my second year of college, where I was studying Game Development, I had somehow been made one of the two administrators of the college photography club called “Shooterz”, which was the seed for a Photography department to be launched in the college a couple of years later. Through that club I was enrolled into a competition called “International Photocross”, as part of a team of three people, which was a competition held across a few countries by a Russian college. We were given ten topics and two days to get a photo for each of the topic. One receiving the topics, we split the topics amongst ourselves and went to get out photos. One of the topics for that year was “Space Near Us”, and I knew exactly what I wanted to shoot for that topic.

I packed my kit, and went to my grandma’s place, a drive of around 200 kilometres. I arrived there in the evening and waited for night to fall and another unscheduled power cut to occur. Although night fell, the power cut never arrived. A few hours of waiting, and I needed to get back to Chennai for the next day. So, I went to the darkest spot I could find turned my camera at the sky and started clicking one uninspiring photo after another. Lady luck was not kind that night, I couldn’t land a single picture where I could even see a glimmer of the Milky Way on the display of the camera. Giving up hope I pointed the camera in the general direction of my grandma’s house, which was a few kilometres away from where I was shooting and started shooting photos.

Out of sheer luck the angle I was making placed the town of Neyveli in my shot. Neyveli for those who don’t know is the location of a state-owned thermal power generation station. And while it was busy generating electricity, the premises were lit up for the night shift to work, and it happened to be glowing against the night sky. While it was partially responsible for hiding most of the stars and the milky way from sight that night, the shot I had captured, with a few stars rising above the orange glow of a busy town, with streaks of light at the bottom provided by vehicles travelling along a highway, proved enough to be adjudged best in category.

I have barely touched my camera after finishing college, hardly finding time for it, this photo has remained the best photo of a night sky I have taken. My search for a place from which I can click a picture of the stars lighting up the sky with the milky way in the backdrop continues to remain in my bucket list.

Blissful Bir

“I wondered why it was that places are so much lovelier when one is alone.” Daphne Du Maurier

 

Going to Himachal Pradesh, India for a trip is like a treat to yourself. You’re sure to make memories that’ll be forever. Sometimes it is necessary to clear out the mundane things to fill it with nature and positive energy. And there’s no better place than Himachal to fulfil this need. And the best way to do that is to go to Himachal on a lone trip.

Bir Billing

Bir-Billing is in Himachal Pradesh and is known as the second highest take-off spot for Paragliding in the world.

Travelling overnight from Delhi, I finally reached Bir on Saturday morning where the bus stopped at the Tibetan Colony. As I stepped out of the bus, my soul immediately began to create a connection with a beautiful place.

We reached our hostel after a 10-minute walk. I started exploring the place once I was done with the check-in formalities, as the place really fascinated me with Its amazing sitting area outside. While I was having breakfast, the sight of colourful parachutes soaring high in the sky caught my attention and I started feeling butterflies in my stomach wondering- there I am going to be too in the next few hours.

After a while, we drove straight to the take-off site. The moment to glide over the snow- capped peaks of the Himalayas arrived. While my pilot was setting up the parachute, I rested there for a while being a bit nervous, scared and sceptical. But above all, I was ready for another level of adventure. My pilot was ready and so was I. This was the time when I wasn’t feeling nervous anymore but the thought of being airborne for the next 30 minutes got me super excited.

Up Up Up in the air!

From a scenic Billing, I jumped off the cliff. With not a very smooth take off, I was in the air in no time. It is another world from the top.

The ride was about 15-30 minutes long, and it was more thrilling than I had expected, as I got to fly up high above the beautiful mountains, soaring through the cool wind, making my way freely like a bird. Bir-Billing was the perfect place for me to experience the joys of paragliding, and it is no surprise that it is among the top ten paragliding spots in the world.

Trek to Billing

 

After the glide, I came back to our hostel, I joined other two travellers who were heading on a trek to Billing

It’s amazing how the weather switches when you are in the mountains, in the blink of an eye. Suddenly, I felt the cold air welcoming me as we got down and prepped to begin the trek.

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It’s just going to be 7 km,’ said our captain beaming a smile and trying his best not to intimidate us with the distance or the terrain. And we walked through the trail that hung to the mountains, with the valley that began getting steep on one side.

We made it to billing in 4 hours just as the sun was calling it a day, setting behind the gorgeous snow-capped mountains. I was able to get a glimpse of the trail sprinkled with snow. Not just that, it was a landscape dotted with powdery snow. The mountains topped with sheets of snow towered over the valley that stretched for miles. The clouds above these peaks tried to kiss adieu for the day with their colours changing by vibrant rays of the setting sun.

The serene valley witnessed the riot of colours in the sky. The backdrop changed like a slideshow from a bright yellow that turned pinkish, then becoming red and slightly purple, before turning grey and blending perfectly with the night sky.

The Sky Village – Camping site (Billing)

We were offered Maggi and Chai as soon as we arrived at our campsite– the best things to cherish after a hike! We sat by the bonfire as the passing night became colder. A delicious and wholesome meal was followed soon. The night sky was embedded with as many stars as you can imagine.

The next day I woke up to some amazing views of the valley and went for a short walk in the quiet woods nearby. We all joined for a scrumptious breakfast that included hot paranthas and Masala Chai. Later in the day, we took a cab back to our hostel.

The trek was truly an escape into the wilderness. It was especially the best experience for a traveller like me, who got a chance to meet amazing people and enjoy the experience without having to be concerned about safety or doubts about escaping to the wild!

Monastery

The other best thing about visiting Bir is its sprawling peaceful and welcoming monasteries. The monasteries are so welcoming that with your camera they barely deny you access to any place or click anything. They even allowed visitors to be part of their prayers and let them sit next to the monks. If you’re in luck, you might be able to share a cup of hot Tibetan tea or some of the snacks they make.

Local Market

Your visit to Bir Billing is not accomplished fully until you visit & shop from the famous Bir road. Its local stalls have traditional clothing and ethnic food is someplace you will surely appreciate.

It was a short trip, but I came back with so much

When you travel solo but find ‘friends’ to drop you to the bus to bid you goodbye: you had an excellent trip!

Best Augmented Travel Apps to use On The Go

Augmented reality technology has already proven immensely successful in the realm of gaming and entertainment. It’s also made forays into industries such as defence and the military. But it doesn’t stop there. AR is making some interesting inroads into the industries of transportation and tourism through more augmented travel apps.

Related post: What is Augmented Reality?

AR apps for public transport

One such example is illustrated by a new breed of AR-based apps for public transportation. These apps take pertinent information such as train schedules, delays, stop information and so on and overlay it on real world images. For example, fire up an app, point your phone at a train map in New York City, and immediately your display comes to life with information about train schedules, turnstile date and even how many people are in the subway.

 

 

 

 

 

This is exactly how an iOS augmented travel app called Tunnel Vision works. Pulling data from the Metropolitan Transport Authority, the app draws over your camera feed, giving the user real time information. It also provides complementary information such as rent prices or median incomes of various neighbourhoods, giving the user a unique depth of information. Quite a refreshing change from gazing at a static train map for a few minutes.

Related post: How AR is changing the way we travel?

AR apps to overcome the language barriers

Similarly, if you find yourself travelling in Switzerland, download the Departures Switzerland app. This one doesn’t even require a map. Just point your phone in the direction of the nearest station or stop and a digital destination board overlays your image. It sure beats asking for directions, especially if you don’t speak the language. Already, the updated Google Translate app now features augmented reality capabilities. Imagine pairing that with a public transport/tourism app. You could confidently navigate the intricate train networks of Tokyo or Moscow without fear of complexity or language barriers.

Related post: Augmented Reality Transport Improving Daily Life?

Virtual tours

Furthermore, existing AR apps that allow you to take virtual tours of your intended hotel or explore local attractions. That would be amazing transportation-cum-tourism app. Augmented travel apps have helped tourists navigate train lines, to assisting cyclists in urban traffic and improving logistics transportation optimization. However, augmented reality has significant room to develop in this industry and will do so over the coming years.

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Immersive Technologies – Museum visits made interesting

We have seen that use of immersive technologies enhances productivity, aids emergency response situations, makes education interactive and simplifies shopping. Augmented Reality and museum visits – sounds like chalk and cheese isn’t it? Well, it no longer is.
Several museums across the globe have successfully incorporated Augmented and Virtual Reality in their channels.

Museums have been using AR-VR to their advantage to bring exhibits and artefacts to life. Let’s look at how this has changed museum visits:

Promotes easy learning

The ‘Story of Forest’ art, in Singapore museum, had about 69 giant murals, housed in the museum’s glass rotunda. Visitors use an app and hunt for flora and fauna within the drawings. After hunting various drawings, the photos are added to a collection. Visitors can use this collection to know more information on the plant or animal variety. These kind of fun exercises and over-lay learning helps them understand on an animal’s dietary plans, species and other general information.

Brings display to life

Smithsonian Natural Museum of History, Washington D C, utilised Augmented Reality innovatively. They launched an app called ‘Skins and Bones’, which brought animals to life using AR technology’s super-imposed pictures. Users can scan and point the app at an animal bone in display and view it in flesh and movement. These kinds of activities enable visualisation of extinct animals or artefacts.
Virtual Museum visits

Furthermore, the app also provided an immersive experience to users who were unable to visit the museum. They provided enthusiasts with ‘trigger images’ (See picture below) that they can aim at and experience the same picture from home comfort.

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Hologram – Immersive walk-throughs

The Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, USA, brought former astronauts to life and enabled an immersive experience with them. Interactive pieces located throughout the building allow early astronauts and NASA legends to tell their stories.

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Hologram – Immersive walk-throughs

The Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, USA, brought former astronauts to life and enabled an immersive experience with them. Interactive pieces located throughout the building allow early astronauts and NASA legends to tell their stories.

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Interactive Learning

England’s Historic cities app serves as one-stop-AR interactive view of over 12 cities from Durham to Salisbury. This app is an example of learning while viewing. Users can know more on each city by clicking on the Augmented information on display.

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This is blog is a re-written excerpt from Smithsonian.com

A Culture of Trust Series: Japan

A few weeks ago, we were offered a spot in the Victorian Government’s 2016 Technology Trade Mission to Japan. For us, this presented an opportunity to make the most of a guided tour of a market that we have long admired. We have also always aspired to engage with this culture of trust.

To my luck, our diverse team holds a wealth of experience from past expeditions into the land of the rising sun. Having aggregated as much water-cooler knowledge as I could possibly manage – I embarked on my first visit to Tokyo. 

Lesson #1 – Trust and collaboration

The Japanese are inherently collaborative and trust-worthy – the locals are friendly and will offer whatever assistance they can. My first exposure to this was during an attempt to navigate the myriad of tunneled trains that make up the Tokyo underground. Multiple kind faces offered this confused tourist assistance in this endeavor – despite the lack of any linguistic alignment. I don’t speak Japanese, and a couple of my new friends didn’t speak English. But the encouragement of smiles coupled with the support of Google Maps multilingual support – made the local commute a cinch.

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This courtesy extends to professional life as well. The Japanese are approachable and happy to give time to visitors, sharing insights and discussing ideas. This was further evident from the number of meetings that were arranged as the Victorian Government did an exceptional job of arranging visits with a diverse slice of the local economy – ranging from potential partners to active prospects.

It’s no secret that the Japanese market is massive – with a population of 125 million – compared to Australia. However, the average consumer spend is up to 9 times more than the parallel statistic in China. This propels the economy to be at par with their closest neighbors to the west.

Lesson #2 – Little steps toward a larger goal

Kaizen – or a beautiful mindset balanced in patience and consistency towards continual improvement – is a practice evident in everything done in Japan. From the staff in hospitality, to the largest of corporations and in day-to-day life as well. It is an approach engrained in the local mindset – and is a key adjustment for any inbound business.

However, the approachability and open discussion of ideas – very often assumed otherwise – is no indication of a client win. Relationships must be built over time, respect must be earned and when trust is established, negotiations can begin.

The visit coincided with the NEC iExpo 2016, an annual event where regional team leaders and clients of the Japanese technology are invited to explore and experience the latest in their research. The expo was not open to the public – and we were thankful for the invite. It would undermine the experience to summarize it in a blog post. However, the overarching message that hit me was NEC’s impressive pursuit of social value creation and the use of technology towards this goal.

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Lesson #3 – Pursue social value creation

The cornerstone of NEC’s business is “Orchestrating a brighter world”. This indicates that even large organizations can consciously “strive to orchestrate projects with people around the world to “co-create” a society that is filled with hope and offers a brighter future for everyone.” NEC invests heavily in research and solutions for smart cities, artificial intelligence, etc, are well above par. With integrated end-to-end solutions, NEC offers a clear, holistic view on how digital transformation can support the population growth.

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In the realm of digital transformation, there is much to be learnt from Japanese business culture. The steady approach to understanding every facet of an organizations operations is critical. This allows more analysis on how technology such as Augmented Reality can serve as a medium to add value to a client. Similarly, change management forms a critical part of any transformation, as careful planning and contingency plans are unavoidably critical.

These three lessons are merely the tip of the iceberg from this visit, but are by far the most prudent. At Appearition we make it a point to share what we learn about business culture and values internally. We apply similar practices towards building a stronger value offering for our clients.

To outsiders, we may be just another statistic in the wave of technology start-ups. However, our philosophy is simple and we will not waver from it – respect stakeholders of your ecosystem and create real value for them – and success will come.

Thank you for taking the time to read today, and we look forward to sharing more in the near future.

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Staff blog: Using Augmented Reality Advertising to Drive Traffic

Written by: Andrew Erpelding

I’ve often wondered if other marketers look at a product and contemplate how they would position or drive traffic differently; as though marketing teams roam past marketing collateral and understand the way it is positioned and look for improvements. Driving an integrated marketing campaign involves so many different pieces, that marketers have to keep an eye towards new tools to elevate their advantage. The current new tool that is getting tremendous buzz is Augmented Reality advertising.

Augmented Reality is poking a sleeping giant. With a consumer base saturated with smart devices, the ability to engage with an immersive and engaging technology is at our doorstep.  Retail is one of the first markets to play this new tech is and has been changing the way marketers engage with their audience. Some of the greatest applications of AR to date occur in the B2C space. This is a logical step for retailers who have droves of printed material and are looking for an engaging way to drive consumers. Augmented Reality advertising not only captures audiences for a longer duration, but also funnels traffic to their web pages, and other campaigns. In this ecosystem, Augmented Reality advertising is bringing print to life and the applications are only growing.

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Marketing collateral is only impactful when it is viewed in a set place, and grabs a specific audience. Whether this is done in a coffee shop, mall, or any other brick & mortar, marketing campaigns are useful for only as long they as they have grabbed attention. However, with the function of Augmented Reality advertising, not only does it drive more call to actions, but it can live on a user’s smart device indefinitely in the form of app. GPS, geo-fencing and blue tooth beacons provide levels of sophistication to marketers that are still missing from more traditional forms of integrated marketing campaigns. Augmented Reality is still a shiny new tool in the eyes of most marketing teams. To be utilized effectively, consumers need to look beyond the novelty of this impression technology.  Augmented Reality is infinitely customizable and extends the shelf life of digital assets as they can have been moved from physical collateral and then tailored to Augmented Reality content.

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The real draw towards implementing Augmented Reality advertising into integrated marketing campaigns is how easy it is to implement an Augmented Reality advertising campaign. The best platforms cater to a range of clients and offer development along with an easy to use Experience Management System (EMS). A distinguishing feature is that instead of a content management system, marketers are creating a new experience for their audience. This feature is important to note as it stresses the importance of using a platform that can deliver seamless integration into an integrated marketing campaign, based on the level of the user experience. Using the EMS, content can be added, updated, or removed with a few mouse clicks. This level of flexibility allows for ease of use, non-dedicated resources, convenience, and simplicity of Augmented Reality delivery.

To see if you’re ready to explore how to utilize Augmented Reality advertising for your integrated marketing campaign, click here. Alternative, read more about how you can use augmented reality in your marketing.

 

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