Celebrating Apollo Moon Landing 50th

I am old enough to remember the moon landings, just… I was just coming up to 2 years old and I remember wearing a cardboard box on my head bouncing around the lounge in front of the TV. Every time I see images of the event or hear the radio transmissions I still get a shiver down my spine. It seems a general thing that we don’t remember much before 7 years old unless they are very impactful. For some reason this stuck with me and even if it is just because I have been told it happened I can still see it and feel it and it still triggers a wave of emotions. It’s pretty much what started me on the “how does this work then?” that led to whatever it is I am now as a Doctor of Technology 🙂 It is why I write lunar lander programs as a first thing on any platform or language to see what they can do. From the ZX81 and C64 onwards. It was impossible to resist getting the Lego creations lunar lander model when it popped up.

To celebrate 50 years since the moon landing
Apollo 50 Lego

I spent this Sunday building this. Lego is very therapeutic and of course whilst I was building it was having this waves of memories and feelings and thought about how important space travel is to science in general.

There are a lot of pieces to this build and I thought it might take me a couple of days, but I started for a few hours in the morning, then we popped off to a very energy sapping Choi Kwang Do black belt tag martial arts grading (as you do) and I carried on after that. So I think the total build time was about 5-6 hours. Back in 2011 the Millennium Falcon I got after it had been on our TV show (Cool Stuff Collective) took me over a week several hours a night, but that was because it had already been built and then broken down so the pieces were not in the usual number bags to divide them up.

Millennium falcon pieces

This went on to be played with by very young predlets and did not survive the process with the Lego being mixed into the general pile I believe 🙂 The Lunar Lander will not suffer that fate.

Apollo 11 Lander Lego build

It is a wonderful thing to build and it is amazing how much of its detail gets hidden away, but you see it as a builder. As much a journey as a destination.

It eases you in building the lunar surface with the crater.

Apollo 11 Lander Lego build

Then the main lander base with its legs that was eventually left on the moon. Some nice fuel tank detail that eventually almost disappears.

Apollo 11 lander Lego
Apollo 11 lander Lego

In the side pods are opening doors to show the camera that captured the descent down the ladder and the retroreflector that was left on the surface of the moon to allow scientists to determine the range of the moon by firing a laser at the device.

The core habitable command unit is the last piece, which includes a hatch for the crew to get in and out of the piece that would eventually take them back up to the orbiting platform before being jettisoned to orbit the moon and finally crash land again.

The end result with its sticker and the gold bricks representing the gold foil works really well.

Apollo 11 lander Lego
Apollo 11 lander Lego

The full build step by step (well chunks of it) are in this album on flickr.

That wasn’t the only reminiscing this weekend either as my Kickstarted GoCube arrived too, taking me back to the 80’s this time instead of the last 60’s.

GoCube

This wonderful version of the puzzle is instrument and knows where all its pieces are and what way up it is, an app can guide you to solve the puzzle, set you specific challenges, time you or even play tunes with it. The teaching though is really good. Much less frustrating and more rewarding than the original 🙂 Yay for tech and IoT 🙂

VR is now finally normal in our house with Oculus Quest

Clearly VR has been sort of normal in our house for many years but it has generally needed me to have left something setup or be asked to get it ready to experience. A while back I got rid of the spare bed in my office and put up a bunch of shelves to clear space specifically to let me have the Oculus Rift and it sensors permanently and easily available (I have a new desk for the windows laptop now BTW. However the Rift is still on a PC that needs to be logged into and the chair I sit and work on all day need to be wheeled out of the way and, well I am pretty much always in the room working or not there to help because of work travel. So we have high end great quality VR, but it’s not used very much by anyone else. It would get used if I set it up in the kitchen (pretty much the only other space clear enough room scale VR, but that setup had to be transient, making it a bit of a pain.

3 days work. Much better room now. Still not finished
Full sweep of room setup

The Oculus Go got a bit of interest a while back but because its only 3DoF it is not as engaging as full VR once you have tried that. It is still great for watching movies though.

Oculus Go

The Predlets have seen VR and got to use it since the original Oculus DK1 over 5 years ago they are 12 and 16 now !

We have the PSVR, but the PS4 tends not to get used very much in favour of the Switch and the Xbox. We do have some more recent accessible VR on the Switch with the Labo kit. Which has proved a fun thing, but not getting everyday use as there are other things to do on the Switch.

Nintendo Labo VR for Switch
Nintendo Switch Labo VR camera.

So I was very pleased when the Oculus Quest arrived on release day back in May that it got a bit of family interest.

Oculus Quest

It is a very impressive piece of stand alone VR kit. It may not have quite the grunt of the £1500 gaming laptop and Oculus Rift but it has the same feel and smoothness with full wire free standalone 6DoF VR along with full hand controllers.

It has an almost permanent place sitting charged and ready to go in the Kitchen. Here it is next to the toaster.

Oculus Quest in situ

It has become popular with elemming and the Predlets all just occasionally picking it up and having a go. A firm favourite is of course Beat Sabre but Predlet 2.0 likes Job Simulator, he even asked me to get that one specifically. Also Box VR get used a fair bit as we are all being meeting our movement rings on our apple watches. Predlet 1.0 favourite not the Rift was The Climb and I am happy to see it is due to make an appearance not the device. I am still very enamoured with SuperHot VR. It along with Beat Sabre are some of the best VR experiences I have had.

Is it worth the £400? I would have to say very much a yes. It adds nicely to the collection of 10 or so headsets I have gathered over the years and is very much a state of the art expression. The pick up and play nature of it (it even remembers the guardian set up after you take it off and put it down somewhere else (the guardian is the boundary you draw around your play area to let it warn you if you are near a wall). This all adds to it just working and being a family friendly device.

The only downside at the moment is that it uses only 1 facebook logon, i.e. mine. Some fo the games then assume there is only one user and don’t have multiple slots for save games. So yes all those high beat sabre scores are obviously mine 😉 I am sure they can fix that and I hope they do.

Anyway well done Oculus. Love it!

Cooking with insight

I just took delivery of a new kitchen gadget, this MEATER+ thermometer.

IoT cooking with connected oven thermometer

I had been meaning to get one for a while but was reminded about them during a conversation with predate 1.0 about what IoT actually is and what I cover in my job as an analyst.

It’s a clever piece of kit, it sits in a joint of meat or fish whilst it is being cooked and tells an app remotely what the internal temperature is, so you can get things just right. It is actually a bit more clever than it may seem though. It is really two thermometers one inside the meat and one outside testing the surrounding ambient temperature. That means it can do some calculations and present on the app predicted the predicted time a temperature is reached. It factors in resting time too in the time and the ready indicators. I cooked a chicken breast yesterday for the first time with it, and it had around 5 minutes of resting time once it came out of the oven where it was clear to see the meat was still cooking and getting hotter internally. The chicken came out brilliantly juicy and perfectly cooked. The external temperature sensor is also good because clearly a simple dial on a cooker setting may be a few degrees off one way or another so this instrumentation is providing an actual not a would like to be temperature.

What is also clever is that the wooden block the unit sits in when not in use is also its charger. For the the + version I opted for this block also acts as a bluetooth and wireless repeater, so you don’t have to stand next to the oven with your phone and app to check it. That is a bit frivolous but I like the idea that the holder was also a bit more functional.

The girls are away on New York for a few days for Predlet 2.0 and I have the place to ourselves, and I can experiment a bit more to see what difference it makes with a few smaller meals.

I do a lot of cooking of all sorts of type but I have never cooked a Beef Wellington, but now I think I have to to fully test this gizmo. Beef Wellington is of course notorious for being over or under done as the meat is encased in pastry and you can’t give it a little slice to see if its ok. I will wait until the family are all in one place to do that though.

This may sound like some sort of advert, but I just bought this myself because I like cooking and I like tech. It’s been around a couple of years I believe. Hmm, I am hungry now. Which is a pity as I am back not the Fast 800 track for a few weeks 🙂

Headbanging Easter

I had not got around to posting for a while despite lots of interesting things happening in the World. Primarily this was because on Easter Sunday whilst cooking a roast dinner somehow I managed to slip on oil on the kitchen floor and head butt the work surface on the way down. I/we think this is what happened as I was pretty concussed and the family did not see me go over. They just knew I was on the floor and there were garden peas all over the place. I seem to have been heading to drain the saucepan, but didn’t quite make it.

I knew I was not OK but kept saying I was in my confusion. There was no blood and the bump had not formed yet, but I was driven too Basingstoke Emergency room. I was seen very quickly as head injuries or the level of confusion I was exhibiting need sorting out quickly.

I was asked what happened, but I didn’t really know, also if I had been drinking, which I hadn’t except for a sip of a G&T. I was too busy preparing a meal for 6 of us. I got sent straight to a CT scan and when that was all clear I was discharged but told to not be left on my own for the next 48 hours in case of any complications

The advice was to rest, and so I went from doing lots of exercise ever day to almost nothing.

Slight break in activity
Not much activity!

That first week was a very strange experience. I likened it to being stuck on a very long flight and sort of zoning out. I watched loads of movies as I couldn’t face playing any video games. However, I can’t actually remember which movies I watched, or if I can I can’t think what happened in too much detail. It is hard to tell if this was the brain impact or the stress of thinking about the incident.

Even more strange was the following weekend I realised I had missed buying Mortal Kombat 11 on release day. I went to get it and saw that I had in fact bought it during the week at some point. I then had to check my credit cards to see what else I may have purchased. Luckily not anything else!

Mortal Kombat 11
Mortal Kombat 11

That made for a doubly troubling state to be in. I was busy trying to piece to gather the gap in my memory of Easter Sunday, and the following days. Working in a job as an industry analyst where we need to remember what we see and hear it felt a bit like being a footballer breaking their leg. You know it will get better but will it work quite the same.

I started back doing light exercise, but didn’t go to Choi Kwang Do classes for a few weeks. In part this was to ensure that I did not get any bumps on the head (not that I would normally) but also I was not feeling up to driving.

Luckily with work it was a bit easier to do bits and pieces. Eventually things seems to be pretty normal. I was/am still wary but got back to it.

My first big test was driving 100 miles to Coventry to present to the BCS branch there. The driving was not the worry as much as just not being able to enthuse and deliver a presentation. However, it was game related and on a subject I live all the time too. It seemed to work, I was still able to do that. I drove home right after. When I got home I was totally shot though. Usually presentations take a lot of energy out of me because of the way I do them, but this was quite heavy.

The next big test was a conference in Cork. Flying really had me thinking, wondering if being pressurised was going to trip something. I was lucky it was a short flight though, less time to freak out about that. Also on arriving I was there with Christian Renaud, and we went out for a meal and a chat so I got to exercise my brain a bit in a normal situation. I did find I forgot a few things more than usual in general chatter but in part that probably always happens. Every slight stutter in my though patterns though I was analysing.

At the conference I was on a panel at one point and had to do some quick fire answers on artificial intelligence and industrial IoT. That seemed to work too though I think. The rest of the event went well. I took copious notes rather than relying on any short term memory.

One eventing we went and watch the awesome John Wick 3 and I can say I remember everything that happened in that still. So that’s a good progress marker.

Cork

The following weekend was my daughter’s 16th Birthday so a lot of things going on including a meal out to celebrate with her and some of her friends too. I don’t think I went to weird chatting.

Then I was back on a plane again and an 11 hour flight to California. I was off to the 10th Augmented World Expo. A full on event chatting with vendors and also meeting friends from a long time ago, back in the 2006 Metaverse days. My enthusiasm for the space of course carried me through, but equally made it all a bit tiring. Luckily I could pop back to the room in the hotel and just take 5 mins every now and then.

Reconfigure and Cont3xt were also free for the week so I did let everyone know 🙂 too.

#AWE2019 San Jose augmented world expo
Headset museum (extra exhibit at AWE2019)
#AWE2019 San Jose augmented world expo
#AWE2019 San Jose augmented world expo

The hotel on the last night had a fire alarm that had us all out on the street at 1am, which is never good. No-one was hurt and about an hour later we were back inside.

I got back on Sunday afternoon, so Monday was mostly jet lag and doing expenses. No idea what happened Tuesday either. Wednesday I wrote a report which flowed nicely. The tiredness of jet lag masks most things. Yesterday (Thursday) though I had a hectic morning with doing a school run twice, early morning food shopping too. Then I had 2 back to back inquiry calls, where our customers pay to talk to us. So you have to be with it for that. At the end of the second one I couldn’t remember the name of a few companies, and then felt a little off. In part I thought this was because I was also trying to get back onto the diet regime again and maybe that was too soon. I ate a bit more healthy food and went to Choi. That all seemed to be OK but still felt a little off. Again, this may not be related but you start to doubt yourself I think. I felt a little off this morning too but dived into a report and avoided too many distractions. I think this will pass and is just another kick form the jet lag. It makes sense that it takes as long to clear jet lag as it does for the amount of time you are away.

Anyway, well on the way to normality again, whatever that is. I think like all injuries there are elements of feeling recovered but then overdoing it but exercise seems to be a good thing, lots of blood flow to the brain and positive thoughts.

All in all this could have been a lot worse, if I had still been 20 stone instead of 15 (and less soon) then the angular momentum of that additional weight might have knocked even more out of me.

Watch out out for oil on the floor. It reminded me of this public safety film, one of the many we had to watch in the 70s

Maybe time to bring these back ? 🙂

Games programming – 1984

A wonderful hashtag #MyFirstGamesJob has been doing the rounds. Whilst I am not totally in the games industry, I am not exactly not in it. I tweeted that my first games job was writing a C64 lunar lander that was selected to be printed as a listing in the magazine Computer and Video Games. I had be reunited with a copy of it back during the Wimbledon days at IBM (15 odd years ago and hence lost again!) but now it is sitting online in the wonderful Archive.org

the first 2 pages
the last page

They appear in the issue 28 from 1984 ! the full document is here https://archive.org/details/cvg-magazine-028

I got a whole £10 and a copy of the magazine. The C64 was my second home computer after the ZX81 and really set me on the way to being a programmer and doing al the things I have done in my career.

I had a different back story to this xmas gift one but that’s OK, the writers and producers did what they needed to 🙂

I still lover the analogue nature of gravity simulation and thrusters in Lunar lander. It was a go to genre to try and learn any new machine or language. Also in this version I couldn’t;t get the sound chip to do a long booming noise, it kept only clipping and making a splutter, so I changed the description to say it was running out of fuel. (Need must sometimes 🙂 )

So here’s to 35 years of being officially being a techie, a programmer, a geek and of course a minor celebrity 🙂 I am going to have to get this into book 3 somehow.

(UPDATE 10/4/2019- Thankyou so much to Mark Hardisty for spotting this link to the game with images and a listing 🙂 the internet is fantastic isn’t it !) Going to go get and get the emulator running!

C64 Planet Qwarrk

Target Met

Its March 29th 2019 and I am really happy to have hit my initial weight target after my 800 Kcal/per day plus loads of exercise especially my Choi Kwang Do training. My use of Nutracheck on my iPhone to track everything, my Nokia/Withings Wifi connected scales tracking weight and body composition, my Hykso punch trackers keeping my punch power tracking and my Apple Watch keeping the rest of the activity recorded and my heart rates all logged. In addition I have been eating many of the same things I have always eaten and having little impact on the cooking I need to do for the family. All there to get me to 94.8Kg down from 120Kg at Christmas.

Now I switch to 5:2 – 2700Kcal 5 days a week and 600KCal on two other days, plus the constant exercise. Another interesting experiment in the journey.

I have been really interested in seeing and feeling my speed and power increase in my Choi training and the image below shows the increase in contact speed in general over the last few weeks. I had stepped up training before my 2nd Dan Black belt a while back but this is even more significant as my mass is decreasing and Force = Mass * Acceleration. The indicative impact speeds have gone up due to more to the speed than to the application of weight. Here the total across both my hard pressing PACE drills (2min,1min, 30sec, 15 sec) and my general training and experiments in tweaking technique sees the total average impact speed over the year rising. So it’s gone from 9.5Mph to just over 11Mph. The leap Jan to Feb was higher too.

The individual sessions here below on days right to left and timed top to bottom as the full on impact drill (with kicks too that are not tracked) show a general overall increase balancing number of punches and speed. The last bottom right session dropped a little but that is something to work on next time. The last 15 seconds are at max heart rate when already worn out from the previous sessions. It was still 25 punches (plus some kicks) making contact in 15 seconds.

Having all this tech is awesome 🙂 Lots of IoT measurements to tweak. Now with a new Apple Watch (series 4) I bought to celebrate I will get even more accurate data too on the rest of the moderate exercise and impact on heart rate etc.

Looking forward to a bit more food during the day on 5:2, it seems an awful lot to eat now!

A decade of Feeding Edge – 10 Years? Really?

In February 2009, after 20 years at IBM, I left. It is one of those sliding doors moments (or I should say Russian Doll given the latest Netflix sensation) where I took a particular path which led me straight to creating Feeding Edge. It is now a full 10 years, an entire decade since that moment. Which is utterly amazing to think as its 1/3 of my 30 year career so far that I have had this site and written and shared what I see and feel in emerging tech.

This 0xA or 0b1010 number of years has for the most part been full of unusual, interesting and rewarding (intellectually more than financially) experiences. It is coming up to 3 years of being an analyst at 451 Research, which seems to have flown too. It is always fun to do an intro where we share our various experiences to people as I get to throw in kids TV shows, sci fi novels and virtual hospitals, as well as the 20 year IBM career and being officially a metaverse evangelist in the previous wave of VR and AR.

On of the really cool things for me is that I have had all things virtual as a consistent part of my work and play for a very long time. The Second Life and Eightbar movement from 06-09 was a follow on from work in at the start of the century and that in turn was influenced by my engagement with games back in the late 70’s. Thinking about it I go to experience the rise of the video game, as a gamer from my formative years, plus as I started work in 1990 it was the beginning of the web (which celebrates 30 years this year). All the wonderful tech and experiences still seem fresh to me, and I still get a buzz out of helping people come to terms with the new without, I hope, being too world weary about it all.

This year, again, I was at MWC in Barcelona and I was really pleased to be able to be able to take part in the analyst event as part of the release of the Hololens2. So give or take a few days this was the 10th anniversary of this metaverse evangelist striking out on his own and I got you see this kit in action for real.

MWC 2019
Hololens 2 – Fresh out the box

There could not really have been a better present, and I thought of of all the things I wrote in Reconfigure and Cont3xt as I experienced the various demos. It was personally enthralling. So I can still be a Fan Boi 🙂

There are so many other cool things happening such a mass of fantastic gaming experiences too. Going back to those early days of asteroid and space invaders and now we have Read Dead Redemption 2 et al. It’s utterly wonderful. Of course not everyone does this stuff, many people are still worried about new tech or any tech. That is a shame because there is so much to be learned and gained from it.

I am still finding that being able to measure heart rate, weight, food intake etc. is working really well as a motivator for my massive weight loss program. Just for the record I am now down to 36 in trousers from 42 inch in 8 weeks. Down from 120Kg to 98kg. Oh, and punching harder and faster according to my punch trackers and my Choi Kwang Do training 🙂

Punching test post workout
After a hard workout I tracked doing one of each of out main punches, 12-16 mph impact 🙂 very happy not wasting away !

I have no idea what the next decade may bring, but with a wonderful family with me, good health and fitness, a couple of novels ready to be a Netflix series and eternal optimism it should be a blast.

May the multiverses keep on being fun whichever route I take. Thanks for reading 🙂

Options :)

Life in the old dog yet – plus some tech!

As we rolled into 2019 I realised that whilst have a decent fitness level in being able to practice and train in Choi Kwang Do it was getting a lot harder because lifestyle and work travel had led to me putting on an awful lot of weight. I am not one for New Year’s resolutions but on Tuesday Jan 15th I thought it was time to do something, making sure I had avoided that dreaded 1st of Jan starting point.

What did I do? I installed and paid for an app, as that always helps doesn’t it! However, I had decided to not only ramp up my exercise (which is relatively easy to do as I already train 3 nights a week in Choi) but also add the challenge of diet alteration. I have never dieted in 51 years but we already eat a pretty varied and healthy selection of freshly prepared food that I cook regularly. Though I was eating lots of late night snack and crisps to go with glasses of wine.

The last time I decided to cut anything out was a few years ago about 7 months before my 1st Dan blackbelt grading and I was certainly a lot better equipped to deal with those rigours. For the 2nd Dan I was a lot later getting ready and it was certainly a challenge to get through. In year or so it will be 3rd dan time. Which, is 1st Dan and 2nd Dan combined in one grading. So I have a decent goal to be ready physically and mentally for that, all training and exercise can therefore not just be for the sake of weight loss or a personal guilt trip.

I took up the moderately trendy Fast 800 diet, buying the Kindle version of the book to support a fellow author :). The facts and figures were well worth taking a look at as a degree of reassurance. As of Jan 15th I took to a carefully calculated 800Kcal a day intake with high protein and low carbs and sugar. The app I subscribed to was Nutracheck’s Calorie Counter that I found instantly useful being able to scan the barcode of products to add to the diary or to craft multi person recipes and get my 1/4 of that. It also records fat, sugar, water intake etc. I therefore had some numbers to play with and a game to play in effect. What could fit into 800 a day?

I was happy to find that almost all the recipes I do and the things I cook off spec were ideal for things like a 400Kcal evening meal if I left out the Pasta/rice/bread etc and replaced them with things like baby cauliflower instead. This was important as it meant the family were not having to deal with my fad, and decreased the amount of extra effort that might cause me to not bother. I also started drinking lots more water, I was already a water drinker, I like it and always have. I dropped alcohol (having given that a go since new year in a non-resolution way. Also gone are evening snacks have gone completely, often in favour of things like Japanese roasted rice and matcha tea. I know if I do have a snack I fail my daily target in my app and blow the game I am creating for myself. Obsession is an interesting technique I find.

Another key part in the technology of this experiment is using my Apple Watch. I already use the Under Armour Record app during Choi classes and home training to keep an eye on heart rate and recovery, but I have also taken to the Apple Rings and managed to complete Move, Exercise and Stand each day since I started. The dietary app, the exercise app and the rings all feed into the Apple Health app to track the intake and the exercise and help me look at trends in things like protein. The idea is to stay on 800 for as long as possible up to 12 weeks, then switch to a 5:2 approach. Five days of normal calorie intake and 2 non consecutive days at only 600KCal. This gives the body a bit of a kick every now and then to not get comfortable and static.

I mix and match the exercise, I am not a runner so a fast walk outside, or on our treadmill watching The Punisher on Netflix with the heart rate up nicely on the watch for 45 mins or so is a regular feature, often after the light lunch. Mornings or evenings is Choi, some flexibility training and some speed, strength and power depending on the evening lessons and what feels right. At home I use my Hykso punch trackers that record the effectiveness of punches (not kicks) and provide a way to structure workouts. I often use a high intensity or PACE approach of 2 minutes on the bag and Bob dummy working at about 80% effort, 2 mins rest, 1 minute on at full pelt, 1 min rest, 30 seconds really flat out, 30 seconds rest then 15 seconds working at the edge of being worn out completely. My average punch velocity, just in 2 weeks has risen from 8mph up to 12mph.

The other piece of tech in this the Withings/Nokia wifi connected scales. These also feed my Apple Health app, though I manually enter the weigh-in I do each morning into the calorie counter app as part of the ritual and mentally tracking and typing the weight loss.

So how has it gone so far then? Well in the 17 days so far (apart from one odd blip) I have lost weight every day, a lot of weight. So far I have dropped 10.4Kg/1st8/22.6lbs. I have a couple of dumbell weights I sometimes use to between punch training that are just 5kg each, they feel pretty heavy when I pick them up but that’s how much I have dropped already.

Last night I was put through my paces in Choi class doing coloured belt, 1st Dan and 2nd Dan speed drills which I am sure I would not have been able to do a few weeks ago quite so well, and yet that was at the end of the day having not yet had the extra 400 KCals of evening meal.

I am not finding myself particularly hungry, and I am enjoying trying a few things to slot into my rotating recipe collection that I work up each night. Lunch is also more interesting as I am mixing that up with more oily fish, like sardines, lots more poached eggs and the odd Avocado.

All this will meet a major challenge as work travel kicks in a week on Sunday I head to Raleigh, 2 weeks later is Barcelona and MWC. However, I may be able to work the 5:2 in as text and possibly come back to 800 between trips. I don’t tend to take gym kit or go to hotel gyms but the hotel rooms, in the US anyway, are big enough to do complete sets of Choi workouts, to at least keep the heart rate going.

So it seems, with some tech and some self direction I may be able to make this thing work! Fingers crossed. I also hope this may help as a bit of inspiration for anyone else, though of course make sure you consult Doctor’s etc. as needed.

As we say in Choi – Pil Seung! (certain victory)

The Northern lights virtual and real

The end of a very busy travel year in 2018 which included work trips to Barcelona, Madrid, Santa Clara, Boston, Shenzhen / Hong Kong and holidays to Japan and Portugal ended with a holiday trip to Sweden and up into the arctic circle in search of the Northern Lights.

This trip was a birthday president for my wife from back in August and I had booked the IceHotel for a couple of nights and then a trip to Abisko mountain (one of the best places in the world to see the Norther Lights.

Like all natural wonders, especially ones that depend on weather conditions we were not certain to see the lights so it was really interesting that serendipity kicked in just before we set off not the trip and wonder Forza Horizon 4 released its DLC – Fortune Island just before we set off. In this expansion the scenery is a remote crazy island north of Scotland and amongst other things, as night draws in you are treated to a wonderful display of the northern lights. So I took a few screen shots to take with me on holiday almost as a lucky charm.

Forza horizon 4 northern lights
Forza Horizon 4 Northern Lights
Forza horizon 4 northern lights
more Forza Horizon Northern Lights

Before the full northern lights trip to Abisko the Ice Hotel near Kiruna was our destination. (No kickbacks of benefits here but the trip was booked through Discover The World)

We stayed our first night in the IceHotel 365 where out room was at -5C, we did have a warm bathroom out back but spent the night in a thermal sleeping bag sleeping on reindeer skins on ice in a victorian themed room.

Ice hotel room
Ice Hotel 365
Ice hotel room
Ice Bed

This was quite an experience, yes its cold, but its quite nice sipping champagne from ice goblets in an icy work of art.

Ice hotel room
Goblets

I had to apologise to the hotel in the morning though as I sat on this Ice Chair and it decided to break as I leant back gently on it.

Ice hotel room
Ice Chair

It was -25C outside in the morning, so the Hotel felt tropical

-27c on frozen lake
iced up

Whilst there was a tiny bit of light (more of a dusk) we were far enough north for it to always be dark, as my sun cycle on the Apple watch showed

Untitled
watch

We had a great trip out on the snowmobiles from here on the night we slept in a warm hotel room, which was a good call I think!

On this trip we did see or first inkling of the norther lights which as you can see is not the most spectacular picture ever.

Northern lights
Faint northern lights

However, things improved greatly when we headed up to Abisko for the night, with a cable car up to the top of the mountain a nice meal and wine, then we heard shouts of “wow look at this” from one of our fellow travellers. He dashed in with a photo, that I thought was, like my earlier one at the start of this post, from a game or a fake. Eventually we finished eating and donned our polar suits and stepped outside. It was pretty amazing.

Northern lights
Northern Lights Abisko
Northern lights
Northern lights
Northern lights
Northern lights

The complete set I took are below and here on Flickr in a group (yes I am sticking with Flickr with a pro account)

Northern Lights Abisko 2018

All the photos are taken with an Iphone App “Northern Light” that helps set the exposure and camera settings, this is because they lights do not look this green to the naked eye, but you need to have a long exposure to see them on a camera, which enhances the green, and other colours sometimes.

What you see is a greyish wisp of cloud hanging in the sky that as you look at changes shapes and swirls, fast enough to notice its changed not slow enough it does not seem to. The guides suggest that it takes 30 mins of darkness for you nigh vision to kick in, but any light then resets that. We were all busy taking picture then looking at them so maybe we did not see the colours quite as much as possible if there is no light, but it was like an instant version of sending pictures to be developed, you see a swirl, you snap, you look and see more of this intense green blast on the screen. Look up and it’s a different shape.

I think the several hours of display we got was pretty much as good as it could possibly be. The entire group was in awe of it, and you can see, like many natural wonder, why it yields do many tribal folklore stories of ancestral ghosts, magic fox tails and gods battling.

So the real thing was definitely better than the virtual but the virtual you can see with the naked eye. It is also fascinating that every image we or film shown of the Northern Lights its effectively an image enhancement of the real thing. In reality its a subtle and ethereal thing rather than a full on fireworks display to our naked eye, but both are equally wondrous and fantastic.

I nearly forgot to mention another funny piece of detail in the Ice Hotel room artwork. I only just about noticed it, but on one of the bedside tables was an ice glass carved and placed, but it seemed to have something in it. Very clever 🙂

Ice false teeth on bedside cabinet
Icy False Teeth

The joy of exploration in game virtual worlds – Forza Horizon and Read Dead Redemption 2

Game worlds just keep getting better and better. The time and effort that goes into the environments in free roam games is certainly worth it, as a consumer and gamer. Two examples of free roaming but very different game types and narratives are Xbox’s racing game Forza Horizon 4 and the western epic follow up from the creators of GTA V, Read Dead Redemption 2.
Forza is about racing cars around, hundred of types, lots of customisation, on and off road. In Horizon 4 this time environment has moved to the UK. The huge game area represents areas of the UK, with cotswolds, lake district, Edinburgh all blended into the experience. It is not a 1:1 of the UK, but it doesn’t need to be. Also the game engine represents time of day changes and each week the seasons change which radically changes the look and feel of the game. There is also an incredible set of radio stations to listen to as you drift, speed, jump and crash around. You don’t have to stay on the roads either. The cars, as usual, feel great, but its augmented by the arcade madness of of os the challenges, of which there are many!
With all these free roam games the scenery is really important, the sense of wonder and space that they give really adds to it, hence you can just go for a drive as a digital tourist, not even engaging with the challenges of the game.

Also you can custom paint the cars, as I have often written and talked about.
Here the scenery is into winter, with a wonderful sky and my custom scooby with Choi and Reconfigure decals hurtling along. Pretty much anything you can see you can reach.

Forza Horizon 4 Scooby Snow

Here I am parked up at one of the houses that acts as a base, but the sky is the star in this photo. Remember this is a razzing around in a car game!

Forza Horizon 4 Sunset

The simulation elements of the cars are realistic but the antics don’t have to be. As you can get a lot of air

Forza Horizon 4 Jump

Forza Horizon 4 Bikes

The attention to detail in the sky and environment is just wonderful though

Forza Horizon 4 Sky trails

With Red Dead Redemption 2 the environment is even more detailed and huge. It also is even more key to the experience as you are a person in it, not a car razzing around. You trot around on your horse, or walk. It is full of wildlife and plants and trees of all sorts. Like Forza the night and day cycle, and weather fronts make a big difference. The immense map area transitions from mountains to plains, from desert to forest, swamps, lakes and rivers also feature. Once again if you can see something off in the distance, you can usually get there. The work id populated with lots of other characters and your gang help you drive the story forward, if you want to that is. It is fun just to go off on an adventure, just to see what you can find.

Here, as on of the initial camps the gang forms to get the story going you can see rich vegetation but off in teh far distance snow capped mountains.

Red Dead Redemption 2 Rich vegetation selfie

After a long ride you can find yourself up in those mountains (Making sure to change into a warm coat so you don’t freeze to death!)

Red Dead Redemption 2 mountain selfie

On the way, or in other adventures you get to see sights like this waterfall

Red Dead Redemption 2 waterfall

Dramatic skies

0_0-6Red Dead Redemption 2 sky

Even double rainbows !

0_0-Red Dead Redemption 2 rainbows

What is amazing is that many of these sights and sounds and experiences are unique to the player. With such a huge world being in a certain place at a certain time adds to the magic of exploration. On top of all that the games have brilliantly designed stories or things to do with set pieces that who the entire world to you in many different ways.

These are not the only two massive free roam games, but they are some of the best of the current crop especially in $K Ultra HD. With Just Cause 4 arriving next week we can expect even more free roam goodness with fantastic gameplay thrown in. The last one was 2016. In it I got to do silly things like this.

You see games, and in particular massive virtual worlds have a whole lot to offer 🙂