The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Jun 2014

Google's Crusade Against Couch Potatoes

Last year saw the viral success of a short film called "I Forgot My Phone," in which a young woman goes through her day, blissfully phoneless, while all of her friends can’t put down their devices. 

It’s a familiar argument: the technology that, on the one hand, enhances our existence is simultaneously sapping the vigor from moments when we should feel most alive. Unless we all get brainwashed by a malevolent Silicon Valley guru, this debate will only intensify with technology’s continued proliferation.

No surprise then that Google, a company that has done as much as any other to ensure that so much of modern life is spent staring at a screen, would come up with a project to demonstrate that tech can be used to get us to reengage with the “real world.”

That’s the idea behind a location-based gaming phenomenon called Ingress, though the project’s ultimate value may lie in the way it fosters camaraderie among strangers, while forcing participants to get up off their asses.

When I met him in Santa Fe prior to the start of a local Ingress tournament, William Kilday, marketing lead at Google’s Niantic Labs, explained that Ingress is a kind of “virtual geocaching,” an app-based game where the playing field depicted on your screen is overlaid on actual locations all over the world. Deploying an arsenal of virtual weaponry, two “factions”(dubbed the Resistance and the Enlightened) battle for possession of “Portals”—usually structural landmarks like museums or public monuments.

From a fitness perspective, the most significant aspect of Ingress gameplay is that players must be physically present at Portals they’re looking to claim. You cannot lay siege to the Louvre from your basement computer, unless your basement happens to be centrally located in the 1st arrondissement, in which case, lucky you.

{%{"quote": "While most Ingress participants are unlikely to scale mountains or saunter through drug cartel strongholds for game-playing purposes, one of the alleged benefits of the game is that it motivates those with sedentary lifestyles to discover a city on foot."}%} 

Fitness can also be a factor when agents are looking to create new Portals for their faction. All potential locales must be submitted to Google for approval, and those in less accessible locations are going to be harder for the opposing side to usurp.

Thus, agents willing to go further afield are often of great benefit to their team. During the Santa Fe event, I spoke to Tim Shields (Agent name: Taaron), a computer engineer from Albuquerque and an atypically lithe member of the New Mexico Resistance faction. In the weeks leading up to the competition, he had scaled Wheeler Peak, Cabezon Peak, and Guadalupe Peak, and established a Portal in each spot.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/TK.jpg","size":"large","caption":" "}%}

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/Ingresszafo_fe.jpg","size":"large","caption":" "}%}

Of course, “less accessible” doesn’t have to imply physically arduous terrain. Hugo Marquez (Dovlek), another member of the Resistance who lives in Las Cruces, said he’d created several Portals in Juarez—perennial front-runner for Murder Capital of the World—a process that involved, as he put it, “smuggling Portal keys over the Mexican border.”

While most Ingress participants are unlikely to scale mountains or saunter through drug cartel strongholds for game-playing purposes, one of the alleged benefits of the game is that it motivates those with sedentary lifestyles to discover a city on foot.

One of the sub-categories on the app is “Health,” which allows agents to see how far they’ve walked while playing the game. As I was speaking to Kilday, we were passed by two heavyset individuals, clad in Ingress paraphernalia and making their way towards the starting location on Santa Fe Plaza. “See. That’s a perfect example,” Kilday said. “They’re going to walk for four or five miles today.”

But walking a city and discovering it isn’t necessarily the same thing, especially when you’re constantly peering at a tiny screen. I raised this point with Chris Pauli (TJinGuy), a computer and lab manager at New Mexico Tech.

He admitted that there were “heat-of-battle” moments when the digital side tended to take over, but was adamant that Ingress had led him to places he’d never have discovered on his own. He cited the “Shoe Totem” Portal in Albuquerque. “At first, I was like, what the hell is a shoe totem?” he said. Now, thanks to Ingress, Chris has seen a telephone pole decked from top to bottom in high heels, like a vertical homage to Imelda Marcos.

Ingress might provide the impetus for you to discover your city’s inner Shoe Totem, but its tech component is so pronounced that it’s difficult to see how that wouldn’t dominate every other aspect of the game. Gamers must worry about things most of us try to leave behind when we’re stepping outside for a hike or neighborhood constitutional—like battery life and cell signal. Many players had reserve battery packs attached to their belts like live ammo. Steve Ball (sct23), an electrical engineer from Salt Lake City, had simultaneous plans with three providers, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile, to ensure maximum coverage. He was still looking into AT&T.

Despite this tech-heaviness, the fraternity among its geek loyalists might be an argument for why Ingress is an antidote to our digital solipsism. Walking around Santa Fe, embedded among Resistance agents, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d witnessed a group of strangers work together with such seamless (not to say wireless) sophistication.

By means of a push-to-talk app called Zello, Tim, acting as de-facto general in today’s operation, was in continuous contact with other clusters of Resistance agents situated throughout the city. For further tactical efficiency, Tim also kept in touch with Julie, “the eyes in the sky,” who was monitoring the game’s progress on a computer in a nearby apartment.

{%{"quote": "Despite the tech-heaviness, the fraternity among its geek loyalists might be an argument for why Ingress is an antidote to our digital solipsism."}%}

This sense of fellowship also existed between warring factions. As we neared a particularly valuable Portal (referred to in the literature as a “Volatile”), a number of opposing agents were lying in wait. The West Side Story showdown I was anticipating ended up being played out in the bizarre spectacle of everyone furiously hammering away on their phones for several minutes and shouting things like: “Deploy! Deploy!” “It’s ours. Put mods on it. Quick!” “Heat-sinking? You fucker!”

Once the virtual smoke cleared, however, there was no animosity between the two sides. People actually spoke to one another. Rivals introduced themselves using their agent names, exchanged real-world handshakes, and launched into Ingress-lingo that reminded me of how little I knew about the game I was supposed to be reporting on: “We thought you guys were gonna Jarvis all four of these. Keep ‘em inoculated. How many resonators you got left?”

It was a little like I’d picture the ambiance at a "Star Trek" convention, if "Star Trek" conventions were competitive. (Are they?) And yet, no matter which side would end up carrying the day, there was a palpable sense that everyone was in this together.

Read More

Hey, Apple, We Love You, Too

As much as we love to spend our free time trekking through mountains or finding great road riding routes, us editors spend the lion's share of our weeks sitting at desks, staring at screens just like everyone else. Our technology is important to us.

For that reason, we closely watched the livestream from Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference keynote Monday—and realized our interest in Apple might not be one-way.

Apple kicked off the keynote with an announcement about its new OS X operating system, which the company named Yosemite. You'll remember that Apple named its initial OS X releases after exotic cats, like Snow Leopard and Mountain Lion. Last year, it bucked that trend by naming OS 10.9—which, if you're like the majority of Mac users, you're probably operating right now—Mavericks, after the famous California surf destination.

Fair enough. Apple employees presumably love to get outside like the rest of us, and it makes sense the company would gravitate toward the national park that's practically in its backyard—and maybe even read our recent national parks package. And, as it’s started to name its software after some of our favorite places, we've made big cats a priority, covering tigers in our June issue.

Okay, okay. All this cross-pollination could have been coincidental. Or at least, that's what we thought until Apple's CEO Tim Cook introduced the new operating system for iPhones and iPads—iOS 8. What's that we spied on the far right screen? Outside's logo and the header of our homepage.

We can't be sure if Cook or Apple's software guru Craig Federighi is reading Outside. It certainly seems like someone in that office is, though, and that the outdoors can allure even people who earn their keep with their eyes glued to screens. To demonstrate iOS's social capacity, Federighi showed how he'd use the software to plan a camping trip to Yosemite with his friends—an activity we're quite familiar with.

Of course, Apple also introduced some other features that really excite us, especially its new HealthKit application hub, designed to synthesize all your mobile health apps. We'll have more on that once we get our hands on the software, but for now, we're stoked one of the coolest tech companies around is showing its love for the outdoors.

So Apple, we love you too. Sergey and Larry, if you read Outside as well, now's the time to speak up.

Read More

Hoka One One Conquest

Hoka’s trademark giant foam polarized our test group. Some loved it, especially the way the rockered sole felt on long downhills. Others hated it.

But all noted how light, responsive, and stable the new rubbery injection-molded midsole material is, considering its elevator-shoe proportions. “There’s more bounce than squish in these Frankenstein midsoles,” one said, although the foam is firmer than you might expect. The upper drew similarly mixed opinions: some found it comfy and secure, while others found it underpadded and boxy.

Try it—you might love it, especially if you’re a hill climber or a long hauler. 12.3 oz; 4 mm drop 

$170, hokaoneone.com

Read More

Boring Days on Oahu's North Shore

I spend most of my winters in Hawaii because Oahu's North Shore is the epicenter of the modern surf world. Some days herald 15-foot, timeless Pipeline, but other days usher in nothing but stormy, windy waves. There's not a thing to do but watch TV or read a book.

On one of those boring days, five-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore and I decided to go out and shoot some underwater bodysurfing photos. Lo and behold, the beach in front of our house had crystal-clear water and enough surf to make for a fun time.

Gilmore let her body sway and move with the currents. This photo is rather unorthodox in that sense, as she is not riding a wave; she is letting her body conform to the aftershock.

Photos like this from days that would have otherwise been written off always remind me that there is a moment to be experienced and captured at any given time. You just have to find it. 

Read More

Free Newsletters

Dispatch This week's featured articles, reviews, and videos. Sent twice weekly.
News From the Field The most important breaking news from around the Web. Sent daily.
Outside GOOur hottest adventure-travel tips and trips. Sent occasionally.
Outside Partners Outside-approved deals and special offers from select partners. Sent occasionally.

Subscribe
to Outside
Save Over
70%

Magazine Cover

iPad Outside+ App Access Now Included!

Categories

Authors

Advertisement

$ad.smallDesc

$ad.smallDesc

$ad.smallDesc

Previous Posts

2014

2013

2012

Blog Roll

Current Issue Outside Magazine

Subscribe and get a great deal! Two free Buyer's Guides plus a free GoLite Sport Bottle. Monthly delivery of Outside—your ultimate resource for today's active lifestyle. All that and big savings!

Free Newsletters

Dispatch This week's featured articles, reviews, and videos. Sent twice weekly.
News From the Field The most important breaking news from around the Web. Sent daily.
Gear of the Day The latest products, reviews, and editors' picks. Coming soon.
Outside Partners Outside-approved deals and special offers from select partners. Sent occasionally.

Ask a Question

Our gear experts await your outdoor-gear-related questions. Go ahead, ask them anything.

* We might edit your question for length or clarity. If it's not about gear, we'll just ignore it.