Monthly Archives: March 2016

Jersey Hackathon – Phone Breakathon

I had a trip to Jersey this weekend, sponsored by Jersey BCS so that I could be an out of town judge at the #hackjsy game development event. The focus here was for teams to build something in 36 hours, game related. With my BCS Animation and Games specialist group hat/badge on it made a lot of sense to to and see what was going on.
I also treated the trip as a re-aquanting myself with travelling on business, the family getting a chance to see I am now there all the time, but just for a short first stint. I also thought I would test out the new clothes for travel comfort. That test worked, but in a way I was not expecting. I usually have been wearing combat trousers and my phone sits nicely in the leg pocket. Instead it was inside my new jacket/ waistcoat arrangement. As i parked the car at the airport and hoofed my overcoat on with a hunch of the shoulders, my iPhone 6s plus felt the urge to slide upwards out of the shiny new pocket and propel itself face down onto the floor. I knew it was not going to be too well but I was surprised at just how smashed it made itself.
So much for not having a screen protector
It was completely unhappy with any sort of interaction. I couldn’t power it off with a slide either. I tried the power and home button together for a few seconds and it shutdown. The Jersey flight is inly 40 minutes in a turbo prop but they don’t like phones being on. It is not so bad these days to be without a phone as if you have a laptop/pad etc wi-fi is readily available, so I let home know I was not going to be texting and Jersey know I was not going to be ignoring them if they called.
The hackathon was great though. 9 teams building stuff in all sorts of ways. javascript, node.js, python, unity3d, ruby, stencyl and a raspberry pi all featured across the projects and we had a hard time judging down to 1, 2, 3 and the special WTF award.
Whilst there I got to talk to a lot of people from all over the island in different industries. It was great to catch up with the guys from vizuality as they are making huge strides in the areas of installation experiences using VR. Tracking users in a 10x10m space and providing headset visuals as they wander around.
I spent the Saturday hacking too. I looked a little in IBM Bluemix and its Unity api for text to speech, using my own book quotes to see if it could cope. They all still have trouble pronouncing Roisin though 🙂 I also then spent a bit more time on my Vuforia AR covers for the books. I decided that Reconfigure should have the variant of the block world view that Roisin sees and builds in her own Unity application.
Joining in with the spirit of #hackjsy
Then on Cont3xt I explored writing a scene changer, so at certain intervals the models and view would swap. Initially I did that by toggling the image targets, but that did not trigger the re-viewing of them, as it expected the same target to have the same stuff on it. However, swapping the game objects attached in the tree, turning them on and off worked, just as the animation works. So I now have a little bit of authoring infrastructure that makes it easier to add multiple scenes and play through them.
I was going to do something with the leap motion sensor too, but that fitted more with having an AR headset to interact with the book covers, with a broken phone and other judging work to do I parked that one.
I also had a lot of conversations around IoT in various forms, and a bit of a chat about blockchain too. Jersey may only have 100,000 people on it, but there is a vibrant tech community there. It was a great trip, and the phone is now repaired (the Jersey shop wasn’t able to do 6s plus so Apple Basingstoke did it in 1 hour) It also now has a proper case. I had avoided that for ages, not having broken the phone before. Rather than take a picture of the phone in a mirror to show the case, I sparked up the AR unity, put the Reconfigure picture on the phone and then the mac did its thing and rendered Roisin, holding her phone with a view of the world that she sees.
AR reaching out of the fixed phone + cover
Just to re-interate the loops within loops here. I am rendering an AR representation using Unity3d and an Iphone onto a digital version of the cover of the e-book that contains a story about Roisin discovering a way to see the World in terms of position and labels that she expands on by writing an application in Unity that tuns on her iPhone. I will share this post on Twitter. The same Twitter (happy 10th birthday) that she uses to accidentally discover her new found abilities when she accidentally types into the wrong window. Meta enough ? 🙂
Anyway, well done everyone at #hackjsy, great organization, great participation, great fellow judges and a great island. See you all again soon I hope.

A big change, I am heading to something very exciting.

After seven years of employing myself here at Feeding Edge, I am making an exciting and very positive move and I have accepted a new role. This part of the adventure has been incredible and I have learned an awful lot, worked with some fantastic people and projects and ended up with something to remember these times by in the shape of the two sci-fi novels.
Feeding Edge as a company will be staying, as that’s the publisher of the books, I just won’t be working for it any more as an employee, issuing myself a p45. It may get to publish the third in the trilogy too, just not for a while yet 😉
What am I off to do? Well, I will be able to say in detail, and for who, in a few weeks when I officially start. I am still very much in the emerging technology industry, I will also be out and about a lot at conferences and various other events. I will also still be doing what I set out to do here, in ‘taking a bite out of technology so you don’t have to.’ I will also be doing lots of writing.
In all the variety of things I have experienced I have found a great deal of fulfilment in writing, both fictional and factual, historic, now and future. The sharing of the patterns and ideas that I get to experience feels like something I should carry on doing. Which is why this was just too good to pass up.
Each day here, I have found a little spark of something interesting to pursue. Some of those became small and intense flames of interest in a full project. With what is on the horizon, I feel a massive burst of energy ready and raring to power forward with. It is so interesting that whilst I don’t actually start for a few weeks I am already just getting on and doing some of the prep. It all builds on what has come before that is more about now having a sense of direction and purpose, and a team to belong to and not want to let down.
Team work and a something to rally around is important. I think it is Choi Kwang Do training that has helped me want to belong in a group again. We all help one another, and can identify still as very individual in our pursuits but part of a whole. I will of course carry on with that part of my life, as it is very important and a family bond too. With my new role I will be able to be both part of an organisation, a focussed team and with an individual focus too.
Did I mention Internet of Things? I will be very focussed on that, which is of course pretty much everything! As it’s an infrastructure and a concept that underpins the current wave of emerging technology. I have of course been in and around this since before the name got attached to it, so it’s all familiar, though ever changing. Just the way I like it.
I have one last semi-official gig with Feeding Edge this weekend, as I am honoured to have been asked to go to Jersey and judge a gaming hackathon Though this is more BCS Animation and Games dev and also a book tour.
Anyway, Thank you to everyone I have worked with over the years here, to all those opportunities that have been presented to me, for the support and believe in my abilities, and that I have learned so much from, and found this new direction to head in because of that.
Now I need to go and work out where all my little bio pieces are around the social web to get ready to update them. A nice problem to have, I think?

High end realtime CGI from Unity – compared to 1984 tech

Unity have released a short film created with the Unity3D Game engine. It shows some serious design talent at work, but is also remarkable because it is rendered in real time. Anyone who remembers the early 80’s when we use to try and ray trace on a home computer and had to wait 24 hours for one frame of shaded imagery to create a line at a time. Then in 1984 the Amiga had this realtime demo flying around of the animated Juggler.

Here is the new Unity trailer for a short film they have created to show off the lighting, textures, animation, camera effects etc. It is also quite a powerful piece that cuts through all that into feeling for the character.

Very impressive stuff I am sure you agree? That’s “just a game development tool” for you 🙂

Wearable Tech show London with added serendipity

Yesterday I popped along on just an expo pass to London’s Excel centre for the Wearable Technology show. Despite its name it is not all about wrist watches that check your heart rate. The organisers have recognised the wider implications of things getting more instrumented, more data flowing and more business opportunities in the Internet of Things industry pattern. I had several reasons to pop along, the main one there will be a little more on later. I alluded to some big changes in a tweet. I don’t mean to tease but I am going to anyway.
One of the reasons I went to the show was to see some of the sports tracking wearables though. This was more in keeping with the title of the show. I was interested in both the physical monitoring, taking it past heart rate, and how the coaching software was shaping up to make sense of the data. I was also interested in anything that helped track the type of movement. Both these are from my training and teaching in Choi Kwang Do. A lot of the newer body monitoring kit was being built into skin tight performance clothing. That seems a good idea in general, and for a martial art, not having things on our wrists, yet getting some great training and tuning feedback during cardio and PACE training is going to be useful. There was only really one body movement tracker, related to boxing. It was based on the accelerometer principle, combined with an app that told you how many punches you were doing and at what rate and also showed the speed of the punch. It is not out for a while but it will be interesting to try this version with our more unusual martial arts moves. It is called Corner
Another reason to go, just in general because it’s what I have worked with for years is the VR and AR aspects of the show. There were a lot of headsets, both full immersive Rifts, Gear VR and also lots of peppers ghost, not really a hologram, heads up displays. There were some interesting uses to track warehouse goods in a HUD and also using projection onto a surface to avoid the need for glasses at all.
One company I spent a bit of time talking to and taking the demo was vTime
Wearable tech show
The preamble was good, and the demo was great and I wish them all the best of luck. It is a 3d chat room, avatar based where the users choose lovely rendered scene to sit in and converse, soon to share pictures etc. It is claiming to be a sociable not social network application. It is targeted at mobile first. I kept hearing the zuckerburg quote about one day people will just sit around a virtual campfire. Of course I was taken back to 2006, but tried not to get all grumpy and remind them everything old is new again. The campfire was a key part of the imagery and the experience we had online back then. Though then we could get up and walk about in the free form environment. In fact we still can, and SL had VR support. i.e. two cameras one for each eye. I still liked this new application, and if people connect and enjoy it, then so be it 🙂 I would dive in but it was focussed onto Gear VR and I only have my iPhone (and a load of things to drop that into to get stereo vision)
virtual campfire
The full post this was in to date it is here
Also Rita J. King was our embedded story teller/journalist and wrote tales from the fire pit to explain the rise of the virtual community powered by people, avatars and Second Life. The PDF of the story is here, and should be useful reading for the next wave of virtual environments. Headset or otherwise. I would say it is essential reading in fact 🙂
The economist had a stand showing a great use of virtual worlds. They have a reconstruction, from photos and other data, of the Mosul artefacts that have been destroyed due to the conflicts in the middle east. The VR was a little old fashioned, but the principle and content was good.
It was fun talking to the marker based AR developers, as they showed me things like book covers coming alive. Once again, I had to let them know I new a little about it and of course I tried to sell the idea in my books to people. If I had though about it I would have had a stand to show sci-fi novels about VR and AR and IoT with Reconfigure and Contxt 🙂
I mentioned serendipity in the title. I had tweeted my location as I got to excel, but then not checked twitter as I was going around the exhibits. As I tweeted I was leaving I saw that my colleague from way back Martin Gale was at the show, speaking and presenting. It was fantastic to catch up and see how well he is doing, quote the Fast Show, ‘Ah Ted” multiple times. Thank you for the coffee :). It made a great end to a fantastic day out. A day in which I got to practice a little of what I will be doing in the very near future, around the subjects that I will be immersed in. I guess in startup terms someone would call it is pivot. There I go teasing again. Watch this space, if you are interested 🙂

Augmented Reality about Augmented Reality

I thought it would be interesting to revisit some of the Augmented Reality tools that have Unity3d packages for them. The first I headed for was Vuforia, now owned by PTC. I am using the free version. It all worked straight from the install, though there are a lot of features to tinker with.
I wanted to use an image marker of my own, so naturally I used the book cover. There is a lot of AR and VR in the story so it all makes sense.
For the 3d models I used the current trial of Fuse/Mixamo now part of the Adobe. It lets you build a model and export it in a nice friendly Unity3d fix format. You would be suprised how these various formats for models and animations hide so much complexity and weird tech problems though. Eventually I found a couple of animations that fitted the mood. This is not a full action sequence from the book, but it could be. I have some more vignettes in mind to experiment with. I am just upgrading my windows machine so I can use the Kinect 2.0 for some of my own motion capture again. Finding the right animation, and then trying to edit it is really hard work. The addition of motion, especially in humans, hits a different part of the brain I think. It makes lots of things look not quite right.
Augmented Reality on Augmented Reality
So here is the video of augmented reality on a cover of a physical copy of an ebook novel telling the story with lots of augmented reality in it, if thats not too meta. Roisin rather sassily taps her for while the Commander lays down the law to her.

Reconfigure and Cont3xt are available right now to enjoy, and if at all possible, PLEASE write a review on Amazon, it makes a massive difference to the take up of the books.

A successful freebie promotion? Some numbers.

How did the freebie week do then? A week of just putting both Reconfigure and Cont3xt out there for download for nothing. Firstly thank you to everyone who downloaded the book(s) around the World, I had figures from lots of countries not just the .com and Amazon sites.
In total there were 373 downloads in those 5 days. It put the book up in the free charts and made for a very exciting few days watching the graph rise. I felt I was surfing a wave of interest in the story.
The cost of that free promo, if i had charged the normal Amazon price where I get 35% of the 0.99p it equates to £130.55. You can see you have to shift a lot of books, or charge a lot more and still shift them to make any sort of money for a novel. The 0.99 price point an attempt at volume.
The free download though is way more effective, in my experience, than regular advertising. With that you pay if someone clicks on your advert, not if they buy you product. It is easy to spend hundreds trying to target the right audience. I even paid Facebook to boost my Reconfigure is free post for the week. That was £11 just to do that one post. It reached 1,018 people and there were 171 actions on it. It is hard to tell if those 171 actions were downloads of the book or not though. The systems are not so joined up as to be able to tell you that sort of intelligence.
Another interesting statistic is that 278 of the downloads were of Reconfigure, but only 95 for the follow up Cont3xt. Both were equally free, though I can understand in a series only grabbing the first. It may be that some of those 278 downloads might get read, and enjoyed and then come back for the sequel.
The World, characters and experiences I created didn’t exist before September 2015, and only started to be available for anyone else to experience in October 2015. Books take a long time to read, it is not a quick 1/2 hour TV series or a 5 minute YouTube. I now know there are lots of copies out there, ready to be taken to the next stage of discovery and enjoyment. That I count as a success. There are books that will ship 800+ a day, but that is a different league. My books can ship that many if need be, it is ultimately an on demand product and does not require me to do anything else to it. They are written, and I love what I have done.
With the excitement and the highs there is always a follow on low. As Amazon switches you from paid to free and back again the book ranking takes a bit of a hit. Obviously when you are free you are racking up free sales, when you go back again you are dropped back in having missed out on any sales, so it starts to tank. Unless lots of people rally and hear about the book and start buying it.As you can see below, the free book was getting right up onto the top line of the rankings in the top 1,000 of all books online, and top 50 of science fiction. Now the rank plummets, ready to start climbing again slowly.
Author rank
I was asked if this was a good way to make a living? Having a good quality product, as the books seem to be really enjoyed by people who get to read them, is only part of it. It is an essential part of course. The rest though requires a lot of luck. I am already very active of social media, and have been for years, and I am I willing to try a share things in an unusual way. I feel for those indie authors that have worked hard on their books and are now faced with trying to establish a social media presence in order to get the books noticed by people. It is why there is a huge industry of people charging money to do the advertising for you. I have explored some of those, the auto tweeting to hundreds of thousands of people. It’s effectiveness is debatable. However, you want to buy the lottery ticket, just in case.
Which convinces someone to download a book more, an advert or something mad like the Marmite jars.
#scifi Marmite
The answer may be neither, but I am having way more creative an intellectual fun trying these things out than the apparent mugging that occurs on regular online advertising. Well it was ONLY 373 and it was FREE so of course people would download it. That may be a though going through someone’s head. However, it is 373 downloads and everyone of them counts. Every potential reader, with it sat on their device, might get an fantastic kick out of reading it. Even one person loving it is a great result. If the book was not there, that would not happen. It is, they are, and it can.
I am still seriously considering how to tell the story in a way that fits the 21st century though. Game, machinima, Augmented Reality experience etc. That is because Roisin and her adventures are just freaking awesome 😉 Enjoy!

Bloxels – Physical game creation tool

Before the advent of the high end PC and Mac with all the wonderful graphics tools anyone doing any game like programming would be more than accustomed to used some pencil and paper tools to build their graphics. Small square lined paper was the main tool there. Shading in individual little pieces for 16×16 sprite. Usually then converting the rows into the binary, then hexadecimal values that would drop into the data structure to the make the on screen character. Pixel art is still a big thing though and a genre in its own right.
It was interesting to see the emergence of this game making/editing toolkit that abstracts that graph paper a little, not dealing so much with pixels but with larger block and constructs in a game environment. Family Gamer TV posted this video showing it in action.

It is the physical nature of the building and configuration that makes this different to the regular point and click builds, though it can be used for that too. Having a large number of plastic blocks in different colours means kids, or adults for that matter, can gather around the “graph paper” and chop and change their design on the table top. It is not totally clear how you go back to your source code though. Generally building something you have the base components always there. Here you will clear the rack and start again on the next one. Now if it could 3d print you the “source” if you wanted to start editing from a point in someone else’s rig that would be truly awesome.
It seems that Bloxels are doing something right as they can now only ship in the US due to a lack of inventory. I think it might make an interesting change and tool in primary schools though it suggests ages 8+ I know kids younger than that would get the concept pretty quickly.
One thing with graph paper, back in the day, if you knocked it on the floor you still had your design!