High Fidelity – A new metaverse – It’s here

A while back the original creator of Second Life (Philip Rosedale) announced a new ground up approach to shared virtual spaces taking in all the latest and greatest in tech. A few days ago I saw an email saying the alpha was live. The trouble was I thought it was an April fool joke. Not that I did;t believe it would come along but the timing was a bit odd.
However…. I registered (having been non the tell me more list since the beginning) downloaded the “interface” and voila….
High Fidelity alpha
I did swap my mini robot avatar for a full mean machine one. Though there are a few more human and cartoon ones.
This is an alpha, it is not the final product things will improve but it feels very full on.
There are stacks of developer menu options and full support for all sorts of inputs, kinect etc, and outputs, Oculus Rift etc. There is a stack of documentation and youtube videos on how it works too. All to be expected but nice to see at at alpha stage.
I will of course look at building, scripting and hosting in due course. Javascript appears to be the script language of choice here, but that obviously depends on what library we get to talk to. There seems to be lots of terence to nice industry standard 3d models like FBX etc.
I jumped to another hosted area, the obligatory Sandbox and set my display name to epredator too of course 🙂 I might be new here, but I have been here before too 🙂
High Fidelity Alpha Sandbox
Lets see where this exciting development takes us.

Kids,video games, parents and ratings

There has been a lot of press and discussion about schools in the UK writing to parents to warn them about young children playing video games. Also indicating that allowing kids to play games rated 18 when they are underage is a sign of neglect and will lead to the parents being reported to police. The BBC covered it here
As a parent, as a school governor, an instructor and long term gamer it seems that this raises a few much more complex issues.
Moody dark shot in Battlefield Hardline
An 18 certificate on anything helps flag up content of a nature regarded as adult. However it does not indicate which of the adult themes it contains. You may notice on films on TV it will say its 18 but whether it contains violence, drug use, nudity, etc. That informs the viewer if they are sensitive or prefer not to watch such things to avoid it.
A parent should know what is in a product that they let their kids loose on. The 18 should be a big flag warning that there may be something in there that is not appropriate. However not all parts of all games are really 18 worthy. It is a marketing ploy to get more adult gamers to slip a few things in sometimes to warrant an 18. It also is down to individual parents bothering about how notice if their kids are affected or going to be affected by certain things.
Make no mistake though, there are some things in games that are really properly challenging and grown up experiences. Sometimes they can sneak up on you and often come as part of a wider narrative. As an example in Red Dead Redemption, an 18, the vast majority of the game is spent riding around the Wild West on a horse. Yes there are gun fights and shooting. However it is no more or less than watching a John Wayne movie.

John Wayne - 1961.JPG
John Wayne – 1961” by 20th Century Fox – eBay. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Cowboy movies sometimes have to deal with complex issues but they come in many flavours. There is always lots of shooting and death but it is the core and the intent of the film, either being light and comical or the more gritty true to life versions that form the spectrum. RDR seemed in the most part to be the former. I grew up watching westerns and we all had six shooters for toys.However about 2/3 through as the character arrives in Mexico a story telling cut scene featured graphic rape scene. Usually you get a sense and feel for the spirit of a game as you play it. You spot that it might be a cert 18 because of the “violence”, this though seemed a shift.
Red dead redemption good deed
Now lets take Call of Duty (Bear in mind you can get Call of Duty Lego). The single player campaign game in all these games is a full on war film equivalent. However it is more Saving Private Ryan than Where Eagles Dare.


Both great films, but the former is realistic and disturbing, the latter is a playful romp. So single player you will experience some degree of story, probably torture, murder et al. Also some very strong language. It changes a great deal in multiplayer. Here teams of people online shoot at one another and work as teams to capture objectives. The violence is more Where Eagles Dare. It is frenetic and fast paced. The risk here comes from the other people, with headsets and voice turned on then all sorts of bullying and offensive language can take place, equally friendly banter and trash talk. Or, when done right excellent teamwork. The soundtrack itself features very little produced content. The narrative is what you make it.
In many ways the multiplayer COD is less worrying than what can happen on a Minecraft server. Minecraft as a game feature the ability for people to treat one another nicely or nastily. Whilst there is not usually voice you can spend ages building something for someone to come and mess it up accidentally or maliciously. It can also be a great place to learn online etiquette. Minecraft is not an 18. You kill things, but its regarded as cartoon and left alone. It has no story to warrant someone put in some nasty scenes to provide an emotion.
My point is that 18 is a flag, a warning sign. It takes a bit of effort to drill down if you are going to let kids experience the good parts of these.
I am happy for kids to shoot at one another in these games, it is just a twitch reaction game. I am not happy for them to play the single player experiences, those things crafted to shock and engage adults on adult themes. So I wonder if that makes me negligent? Being happy that kids can see some content that is put under an 18 certificate?
This of course is not what is going to happen. These warnings are to remind parents to be parents, to think about what they are doing, to help guide their kids.
Both the predlets are martial artists. They train in punching and kicking in ways that if used properly are very dangerous. They see punches and kicks all the time yet it is all done in a positive way, one that is not about the aggression of the will to dominate others. They are taught to not misuse what they learn in class. Does that mean that playing a fighting game with an rating over their age is not appropriate, often these at 16 like the UFC game or even WWE?

So all this comes down to context. To understanding when game does not mean light hearted play but intense narrative. It means understanding when competition is or isn’t healthy. It requires us as parents to understand a what is going on in these experiences and how we can find the appropriate path for our kids.
The age rating on these things is a relic of a past approach to media. It is very easy to classify 2 hours of celluloid, The 18 certificate is then a barrier to entry to a cinema when a person is selling a ticket, or even buying a DVD.
Games and their associated places are far more complex. They are playing fields where at different times with different groups very different things happen.
I am not totally sure how we can help all the parents out there. Many of course will just not bother to apply any thought at all and just let their kids on anything, on the basis it is easier.

A great week for science and tech, games, 3d printing and AR

There is always something going on in science and emerging technology. However some weeks just bring a bumper bundle of interesting things all at once. Here in the UK the biggest event had to been the near total eclipse of the Sun. We had some great coverage on the the TV with Stargazing live sending a plane up over the Faroe islands to capture the total eclipse. I was all armed and ready with a homemade pinhole camera.
Shredded wheat pinhole camera
This turned out great but unfortunately we were quite overcast here so it was of little use as a camera. I also spent the eclipse at Predlet 2.0 celebration assembly. They had the eclipse on the big screen for all the primary school kids to see. Whilst we had the lights off in the hall it did not get totally dark, but it did get a bit chilly. It was great that the school keyed into this major event that demonstrates the motion of the planets. So rather like the last one in 1999 I can certainly say I will remember where I was and what we were doing.(a conversation I had with @asanyfuleno on Twitter and Facebook)
This brings me on to our technological change and the trajectory we are on. In 1999 I was in IBM Hursley with my fellow Interactive Media Centre crew. A mix of designers, producers and techies and no suits. It was still the early days of the web and we were building all sorts of things for all sorts of clients. In particular during that eclipse it was some more work for Vauxhall cars. We downed tools briefly to look out across Hursley park to see the dusk settle in and flocks of birds head to roost thinking it was night.
It does not seem that long ago but… it is 16 years. When we were building those quite advanced websites Amazon was just starting, Flickr was 6 years away, Twitter about 7 years away, Facebook a mere 5 (but with a long lead time) and we were only on Grand Theft Auto II, still a top down pac man clone. We were connected to lots of our colleague son instant messaging but general communications were phone and SMS and of course email. So we were not tweeting and sharing pictures, or now as people do live feeds on Meerkat. Many people were not internet banking, trust in communications and computers was not high. We were pre dot.com boom/bust too. Not to mention no one really had much internet access out and about or at home. Certainly no wi-fi routers! We were all enthralled by the still excellent Matrix movie. The phone in that, the slide down communicator style Nokia being one of the iconic images of the decade.
NB. As I posted this I saw this wonderful lego remake of the lobby scene so just had to add it in this post 🙂

It was a wild time of innovation and one many of us remember fondly I think. People tended to leave us alone as we brought in money doing things no managers or career vultures knew to jump on. So that eclipse reminds me of a time I set on a path of trying to be in that zone all the time. I was back then getting my first samples from a company that made 3d printers as I was amazed at the principle, and I was pondering what we could do with designers that knew 3d and this emerging tech. We were also busy playing Quake and Unreal in shared virtual worlds across the LAN in our downtime so I was already forming my thoughts on our connection to one another through these environments. Having experiences that I still share today in a newer hi tech world where patterns are repeating themselves, but better and faster.
That leads me to another movie reference and in the spirit of staying in this zone. This footage of a new type of Terminator T-1000 style 3d manufacturing. 3D printers may not be mainstream as such but many more people get the concept of additive manufacture. Laying down layer after layer of material such as plastic. It is the same as we made coil clay pots out of snakes of rolled clay when we were at school. A newer form of 3D printing went a little viral on the inter webs this week from carbon3d.com. This exciting development pulls an object out of a resin. It is really the same layering principle but done in a much more sophisticated way. CLIP (Continuous Liquid Interface Production) balances exposing the resin to molecules to oxygen or to UV light. Oxygen keeps it as a liquid (hence left behind) and targeted UV light causes the resin to become solid, polymerization. Similar liquid based processes use lasers to fire into a resin. This one though slowly draws the object out of the resin. Giving it a slightly more ethereal or scifi look to it. It is also very quick in comparison to other methods. Whilst this video is going faster than actual speed it is still a matter of minutes rather than hours to create objects.

Another video doing the round that shows some interesting future developments is one from Google funded Magic Leap. This is a blended reality/augmented reality company. We already have Microsoft moving into the space with Hololens. Much of Magic Leap’s announcements have not been as clearly defined as one might hope. There is some magic coming and it is a leap. Microsoft of course had a great pre-release of Hololens, some impressive video but some equally impressive testimonials and articles from journalist and bloggers who got to experience the alpha kit. The video appeared to be a mock up but fairly believable.
Magic Leap were set to do a TED talk but apparently pulled out at the last minute and this video appeared instead.

It got a lot of people excited, which is the point, but it seems even more of a mock up video than any of the others. It is very ell done as the Lord of the Rings FX company Weta Workshop have a joint credit. The technology is clearly coming. I don’t think we are there yet in understanding and getting the sort of precise registration and overlays. We will, and one day it may look like this video. Of course it’s not just the tech but the design that has to keep up. If you are designing a game that has aliens coming out of the ceiling it will have a lot less impact if you try and play outside or in an atrium with a massive vaulted ceiling. The game has to understand not just where you are and what the physical space is like but how to use that space. Think about an blended reality board game, or an actual board game for that matter. The physical objects to play Risk, Monopoly etc require a large flat surface. Usually a table. You clear the table of obstructions and set up and play. Now a project board game could be done on any surface, Monopoly on the wall. It could even remove or project over things hung on the wall, obscure lights etc. It is relying on a degree of focus in one place. A fast moving shooting game where you walk around or look around will be reading the environment but the game design has to adjust what it throws at you to make it continue to make sense. We already have AR games looking for ghosts and creatures that just float around. They are interesting but not engaging enough. Full VR doesn’t have this problem as it replaces the entire world with a new view. Even in that there are lots of unanswered questions of design, how stories are told, cut scenes, attracting attention, user interfaces, reducing motion sickness etc. Blending with a physical world, where that world could be anywhere or anything is going to take a lot more early adopter suffering and a number of false starts and dead ends. It can of course combine with rapid 3d printing, creating new things in the real world that fit with the game or AR/BR experience. Yes thats more complexity, more things to try and figure out. It is why it is such a rich and vibrant subject.
Just bringing it back a little bit to another development this week. The latest in the Battlefield gaming franchise Battlefield Hardline went live. This, in case you don’t do games, is a 3d first person shooter. Previous games have been military, this one is cops and robbers in a modern Miami Vice tv style. One of the features of Battlefield is the massive online combat. It features large spaces and it makes you feel like a small spec in the map. Other shooters are more close in like Call of Duty. The large expanse means Battlefield can focus on things like vehicles. Flying helicopters and driving cars. Not just you though, you can be a pilot and deliver your colleagues to the drop zone whilst you gunner gives cover.
This new game has a great online multiplayer mode called hotwire that apps into vehicles really well. Usually game modes are capture the flag or holding a specify fixed point to win the game. In hotwire you grab a car/lorry etc and try and keep that safe. It means that you have to do some mad game driving weaving and dodging. It also means that you compatriots get to hand out of the windows of the car trying to shoot back at the bad guys. It is very funny and entertaining.
What also struck me was the 1 player game called “episodes”. This deliberately sticks with a TV cop show format as you play through the levels. After a level has finished the how you did page looks like Netflix with a next episode starts in 20 seconds down in the bottom right. If you quite a level before heading to the main menu it does a “next time in Battlefield Hardline” mini montage of the next episode. As the first cut scenes player I got a Miami Vice vibe which the main character then hit back by referencing it. It was great timing, and in joke, but one for us of a certain age where Miami Vice was the show to watch. Fantastic stuff.
I really like its style. It also has a logo builder on the website so in keeping with what I always do I built a version of the Feeding Edge logo in a Hardline style.
Battlefield Hardline Feeding Edge logo
I may not be great at the game, as I bounce around looking for new experiences in games, but I do like a good bit of customisation to explore.

Unreal Engine – an evolution

As you may have noticed I am a big fan of Unity3d. It has been the main go to tool for much of my development work over the years. A while back I had started to look at Unreal Engine too. It would be remiss of me to say Unity is the way I have always done things so I will stick with that 😉 My initial look at Unreal Engine though left me a little cold. This was a few years ago when it started to become a little more available. As a programmer, and with a background in C++ I was more than happy to take on the engineering challenge. However it was almost too much being thrown at me in one go. There was a great deal of focus on the graphics side of things. It felt, at the time, more like a visual designers tool with code hidden away. This was different from Unity3d that seemed to cross that workflow boundary offering either simple code, complicated graphics, or vice versa.
The new version of Unreal Engine, now fully free unless you make a lot of money building something with it, in which case you pay seems a much more friendly beast now. It has clearly taken onboard the way Unity3d does things. That initial experience and the packaging of various types of complexity allowing you to unwrap and get down to the things you know, but not get in the way on the things you don’t.
The launcher has access to the tool but also acts as a hub for other information and to the marketplace. I can’t remember this from the last time I looks at Unreal, but it is very obvious now.
Epic Games Launcher
The one document that leapt out is UE4 for Unity developers. This is addresses the differences and similarities between the two environments. Some of it is obviously a bit of “this is why we are better” and in some cases not strictly correct, particularly on object composition. However it is there and it does help. It recognises how huge Unity3d is rather the that slightly more arrogant stance that the toolset seemed to have as “we know best”. That is just a personal opinion and a feeling. That may seem odd for a software dev tool but when you work with these things you have a sense of who they are for and what they want to do. Unity3d has demo from humble beginnings as an indie tool grown to a AAA one. Unreal Engine, obviously had to start somewhere but was an in house toolkit that grew and grew making AAA titles then burst out into the world as a product. They both influence one another, but here it is the influence of Unity3d on Unreal Engine I am focussing on.
Also on this launcher are the quickstarts. Showing the roles of Artists, Level designer and programmer as different entry points. Another good point, talking the right language at the start.
Unity has a lot of sample projects and assets, some great tutorials. Unreal Engine now has this set of starter projects in a new project wizard. It is easy for more experience developers to sniff at these, but as a learning tool, or a prototyper being able to pick from these styles of project is very handy.
Unreal Engine Wizard
I had a number of “oh that’s how unreal works!” moments via these. First person, puzzle, 2d side scroller, twin stick shooter etc are all great. Unity3d does of course have 2D or 3D as a starting point for a project. Though I have always found 2D a bit strange in that environment, as I have build 2d in a 3d environment anyway.
The other interesting thing here is the idea of a C++ version or a Blueprint version. Blueprint is Unreal Engine providing a visual programming environment. Behavours and object composition is described through a programming facade. The blueprint can mix and match with C++ and shares some similarity with a Unity3d prefab, though it has more interactions described in visual composition than just exposing variable and functions/events in a prefab. Whilst blueprints may help people who don’t want to type c++. like many of the visual programming environments it is still really programming. You have to known what is changing, what is looping, what is branching etc. It is a nice feature and option and the fact it is not exclusively in that mode makes it usable.
Unreal Engine also seems to be happy to work on a Mac, despite much of the documentation mentioning Visual Studio and Windows it does play well with Xcode. It has to really to be able to target iOS platforms. So this was another plus in the experience.
The main development environment layout by default is similar to Unity3d too. All this helps anyone to have a look at both and see what works for them.
Unreal Engine Dev Env
I am not a total convert yet. I still need to explore the multiplayer/server side of things. The ability to interface with other systems (which all my work ends up needing to do). Though I am not quite so turned off by it now. It seems a real contender in my field. So just like all these things you have to give it a go and see how it feels.

Number 5 is alive (Unity3d 5.0)

Yesterday at GDC Unity3d 5.0 got released. As a long term, long time user of it this is an interesting time. Many of the fancier features around how graphic designers can make things look nice are not that high on my list of things I needed, however its all very welcome.
As a pro licence holder I also now seem to get some extra discounts in the store and a few perks which is nice 🙂
Unity 5.0
I had tried the beta of 5.0, but I was mostly on 4.6 as this is the version that every project I have worked in and also introduced the shiny new user interface pieces of code.
Before wrecking any projects with imports and checking all the old stuff worked I thought I would just throw together some things with the new basic prefabs and assets.
There is a nice ready rigged car and also a couple of planes in the kit bag now.
So…
I created a terrain, imported some SpeedTree trees from the asset store. Asked it to mass place the trees for me. I added a wind zone to make the trees blow around.
I then dropped the car prefab not the scene, made it blue. (That gave me the car motion on keys, sounds, skids etc.)
The camera I moved to attach to the car.
Just for fun I dropped a few physics objects in it. Spheres and blocks.
So now there is a car world to raz around in knocking things over.
All this took about 15 minutes. It is here (if you have a unity plugin) Make sue you click to give the world focus then the arrows work to drive around.
OK it is not quite Forza Horizon but as a quick dive into Unity3d it was a good test 🙂
I then built an HTML5 version. This is slightly more clunky as it is early days for this rather than the player. It is also 200mb as opposed to the 30mb of the player version. So rather than sit and look at a blank screen the version is here on dropbox. That makes sense as of course the HTML5 version has to bring its own player type scripts.
Even with Unreal engine now out there for free Unity3d seems much more accessible as a techy.
I am looking forward to exploring some of the new stuff like the mixing desk for audioscapes. I also seem to have Playmaker free to download as part of “level 11” on the shop. That lets you create more flow chart based descriptions of camera pans etc.
The extra elements in the animation system also look intriguing.
As Unity3d covers the entire world of work when it comes to games it is hard to be great at everything, but it does let anyone, techie, designer, musician, animator etc all have a look at one another worlds.
I think the next project, in 5.0 will be the most interesting yet.

Martial Arts, Science and Tech for Secondary School

Having returned for a great snowboarding and skiing holiday with the family,

I dived straight back into presenting and explaining science and tech. This was a slightly different request through STEMnet though. A local secondary school teacher asked if I could come and take about biomechanics and martial arts to try and help her students see why science is still an important subject to stick with.

I ran two sessions but built a new presentation specifically for this audience and reason.
Usually I am explaining tech, the future, metaverses etc but putting things like Choi Kwang Do and learning guitar into the mix to make things a little more human.
This time though the hook was martial arts. As Martial arts are not generally taught in school (though the should ideally be part of the curriculum) they are something that has a degree of intrigue to people. Choi Kwang Do in particular is based around a lot of ground up application of scientific principles. It is also not a combat sport, but a defence art aimed at improving your overall mental and physical well being. i.e. it’s idea; for this sort of talk.
I am not going to post the presentation as it featured a lot of video, very few words on slides and a lot of talking and demonstration.

The format though was….
1. Intro to who I am, what I do. I was wearing my Dobok and belt as part of the impact, but indicating my background and work as a techie. I also showed some custard pie throwing from The Cool Stuff Collective. My aim was to show that breadth of knowledge and experience is important and the ability to change is key.
2. I gave a potted history of CKD and showed some of the variety of people performing CKD. I showed predlet 1.0 in a video at a showcase event. It had all ages, sizes and abilities of people in it. The aim to remove the macho, teenage boys only, type of image and engage the entire class. I explained the classes that Master Scrimshaw runs in basingstoke too. I also had the values and pledge on screen to mention.
3. Next up was to talk about Psychology. In part this was about mental states. Dealing with the transition from relaxed, to wary to fight or flight. How the fight or flight state causes massive physical and chemical changes. How being aware of those changes, finding ways to avoid or positively use those is a fundamental part of any martial art. How being in the red and stressed when you don’t need to be will make you ill etc.

4. Physics was next. I pointed out that in a martial art Force = Mass x Acceleration is key. Learning ways to project as much of your mass as possible, as fast as possible is what the techniques are designed to do. Understanding forces and what they are apply to any sport, golf, football, tennis. However I also broke out into showing how we need to understand forces like gravity and cohesion in game development and animations. Here I was aiming to jump subjects to show that the same science and understanding is needing in something very physical and in something, like games development, that is more sat at a desk. The same science.
Also here I played a little trick. Whilst talking about the forces I suddenly jumped into stance and gave a very loud guttural kihap (Martial art shout). This made pretty much everyone jump. A fairly drastic pace change but the aim was to then remind everyone of the conversation about fight of flight earlier on. I pointed out that for me as the shouter, I had gained control, I had positive vibes and chemicals flowing and I was ready. For the class they were for a fraction of a second confused. Their body will have gone straight to code red, in fact jumping was part of fight or flight but almost taking them into tonic immobility, frozen in fear. A simple loud noise, out of context had caused metabolic changes in all of them. i.e. make the science personal and relevant.
Those that already did martial arts, there were a few in each class, were less bothered, seemed more relaxed as they were subconsciously dealing with the threat assessment.
5. I continued to talk about physics and relate that to biomechanics and anatomy. Understanding how to flow movements across your body to generate the acceleration.
6. This led to the neuroscience part. I shared how we learn patterns and sequential movement fits with the way the brain likes to absorb information. Moving from short to long term memory and able to operate when in flow mode works better if the thing you are learning has a completeness to it and a known pattern. In CKD we start and finish in the same place in most moves, we also follow a rounded non stressful sequence. Again I related this to video games and how we learn patterns to deal with situations in games. Discovering the pattern is the joy of play, followed by the mastery of that pattern, getting faster and better scores. Good games need to layer new patterns on old to avoid boredom. Likewise in CKD training we layer onto of mastered moves and patterns with new ones. At its root it all goes back to basics.
I also discussed contralateral movement, working the whole body on both sides for both parts of the brain to create cross hemisphere pathways as the brains neuroplasticity is exercised.
I used the example from Heston Blumenthal of the cinnamon and vanilla ice cream too. Again this was to break the subject, change the mental senses used by the group. With the ice cream made from both vanilla and cinnamon if you sniff cinnamon before tasting the ice cream you will only taste vanilla, like wise with vanilla sniffed first you will only taste cinnamon. This illustrates how you brain and neurochemistry is rigged to look for large changes. You brain filters things out to avoid overloading. The familiar is relegated in favour of the new.
I also discussed how the brain goes into an intense learning mode after a burst of exercise. This seems to be related to reflecting on what a situation was that caused you you be stressed and to escape, how you did it and how you won’t get eaten/killed/caught next time. So we can use our naturally evolved mechanism to increase out learning ability by piggy backing on that fight or flight calm down state.
7.Last up was metabolism. A basic example of the Krebbs cycle, the production and use of ATP as a mini fast access energy source in cells. I did not major on this but used it as a framework to discuss the 15 second bursts of exercise versus the 30 minute aerobic ones. In a defence situation you need to be explosive and able to release the ATP energy, quickly and efficiently and then get away. (Or not be there in the first place which is much better!)
Before heading into the last section I also shared the amazing journey of Sabunim Robbie Close. He went from a very quiet and shy teenage to an assistant instructor then a blackbelt and was then picked to go to Hanseo University in Korea to study a Degree in Choi Kwang Do. This martial art had transformed his outlook, and his life. We had the pleasure of him popping along to Basingstoke for a visit. As the class I was talking to was the age he was when he started it was great to have such a positive role model to share.

8.My final section moved more into the normal territory of discussion using the kinect to see how the body works. I related this again to biomechanics and then also to how we animate game characters and rig bones and joints. I ended up showing Microsoft HoloLens as a mandatory virtual world/metaverse, look here is the future and you can be part of it… the of conversation.
It was a very productive session I think on both occasions, and I hope to run some more. It covers all sorts of science and tech and it may help a few people see the relevance of science in life, or even better see the relevance of a martial art such as Choi Kwang Do.

Learning to teach – CKD and suppressing ego.

This weekend both @elemming and I, along with 140+ fellow Choi Kwang Do practitioners in the UK met for the annual instructors course led by Master Nigel Brophy (6th Dan Black Belt). @elemming has been promoted, along with her fellow cohort of willing students to an assistant instructor at Basingstoke CKD and so now wears a blue dobok. I along with 2 other fellow blackbelts were promoted to Chief Instructors and now wear black and gold.

We are all volunteers, but are willing to forego some of our personal training in order to help and explain Choi Kwang Do to others in the class. I think we all generally find that teaching, having to explain how something works, responding to questions and helping others is as rewarding as just getting on with your own techniques. IT is what makes CKD such a friendly and interesting environment to learn in.
Different people have different approaches to teaching, but everything we do is done in a positive way. This is about a journey, and meandering turns and detours are all part of it. We do have discipline, but it is more of a positive re-enforcement of the good. Who ever is out front guiding, teaching, calling etc is in charge.
One of the hardest things to work on, is not the punching and kicking, but the removal of ego. Watching and listening to Master Brophy I noticed it is possible to be a highly passionate speaker and presenter, an expert in an art form and yet not do it for the applause or the instant buzz of being the ‘star’. To motivate and educate a large body of people they have to believe in you. To do this you have to show your credentials, give them something to say, aha! they know what they are doing. If you truly have the skills, time served, awards etc that is really the easy bit. However it is so easy to tip over the top and let your brain, and mostly your ego, slip into a comfort mode of adoration, or celebrity.
When I do presentations, or evangelise about things, such as the metaverse or STEM in schools I have to switch to a more amplified version of me. If you are put in front of a camera on a TV show, standing on stage with a conference hall full of people, in a classroom full of pupils, you have to enthuse, you have to say look at this and look at me, otherwise it won’t be very interesting. I remember when I used to not want to stand up in front of people and talk. Thinking, well everyone must know what I know, I will just be boring them with the obvious. I also know the feeling of election that people do want to hear what you have to say. When what you are saying is getting a lot of traction and you are very much in demand. It is there you have to check yourself. Unless the thing you sell, enthuse etc is just your own fame and celebrity, in which case just carry on 🙂
So I came to CKD at a time when I had felt a lot of demand for me presenting, but the classes gave me a chance to empty the mental cup and just learn, just be part of a group with no specific responsibilty. It gave me time to practice the off switch.
The problem is, when I get something, when I believe in something and enjoy something so much I have to share it with others. I have forever been told I should be a teacher, but I prefer to not lecture but bring people along with me, help them discover their own path. Luckily, that is precisely what working as an instructor in CKD has enabled me to do. In class I get to both be part of the class, to switch off and focus, I get to teach individually or small groups and I also get to stand up front and do the whole thing. I feel the balance of expectations to please others, or duty to get it right and that little good part of the ego that gets fed by helping others and seeing them progress.
Master Brophy put it well, he mentioned the more you know the more you realise how much you don’t. That is the experts dilemma. He also tempered that with pointing out than when you stand in front of a new student in your blue suit or black suit to teach them something they have never done before, they may well look at you and think you are Bruce Lee.
I think the trick here is to use the fact your are Bruce Lee to them, without deluding yourself you are in fact Bruce Lee.
As with all aspects of CKD other than the physicality of the martial art it is a constant learning experience and evaluation of how we work as humans. The technology, in this case, is our bodies and minds. We explore what we can do with them, for ourselves and others. We deal with scary situations all the time. It may be not being able to remember a pattern, counting out load in Korean in front of others, wondering how to reach a distracted fellow student or holding a shield for a powerful kick. All these prepare the brain to deal with adversity. Teaching and instructing gives the scary part of ego to deal with.
So it seems to me the sooner we get people to experience this sort of thing, in schools and offices, the better. We have a cult of celebrity. This feeds directly to the ego, to the wow I want to be famous feeling. Either wanting to be a premiership footballer or a big brother winner seems to be many a kids ambition. The trappings of fame at a major level can be experienced and felt in a much simpler way, in a safe environment. Stand out in front of class and have everyone follow your every word, then stand back in the class with everyone, whilst the next person takes the stage. That I think teaches a little humility. Having felt that, the next time up front starts, just a little, to become more about the audience.
Whether you believe me or not, that is how I feel about all my evangelising, the TV show was that. I wanted to everyone to know how cool all this tech was, to feel it, to take it and do something with it. I had dabbled with the “fame” thing as one of the corporate poster children for virtual worlds. I had seen the jealousy that created in others. I felt the pressure of the spotlight. I also felt the waning of the “fame”. I dabbled with various ways of exploring my outward persona, trying very publicly to keep aligned with my private persona too, whilst also dealing with these conflicting pressures. It was a a feedback loop though, the more I had done the more I had to do to keep it going. That is not a bad thing though.
I see in Master Brophy a fellow evangelist, though one with much more experience!. Evangelists believe in something, know that its the right thing and the right way forward and want to help, really help, people to see that for themselves. What I hope to do is take my still fledgling knowledge of this martial art and make it as much a part of my willingness to share and enthuse as any of the other cool technologies. The tech I talk about has always been about how people can benefit from it, get some fun or productivity from it. Obviously I have written and blended a few time with the two like here and here. CKD is a scientific based martial art, from the neuroplasticity or the brain, to the biomechanics of the human form to the psychology of teaching and inspiring.
In all that, trying to keep that ego in check too 🙂 (though here is a picture look at me!)

Happy 6th Birthday Feeding Edge Ltd

It is now 6 years ago this month that I started Feeding Edge Ltd! 6, six, VI, Tasset, 3×2 etc etc. However you do the numbers the time has flown by. I like to look back at all the things that would not have happened, or would have been very unlikely if I had not left my then job of 20 years back in 2009. Of course I still do what I did then, with a lot more freedom to operate and explore. Of course it has downsides too. A corporate guaranteed regular high end salary pays for a lot of things, though you have no time to do them. A larger company has people able to cover you, to add to projects and to find other interesting projects. It does of course also have the chance to middle management to act in odd ways and for project scopes to be messed about by sales people.

So as a single person company I have to tread a balance between not over tendering or getting involved in too many projects, but also lay the foundations and seeds for other longer term chances. It is, as the photo about shows of my WWE wrestler a fight, with the chance of some scars 🙂
Right at the moment I am waiting on a multi year development project to kick off. Unity3d and lots of other stuff, it’s more of this. However, external organisations interacting, and being the end of the chain this process has dragged on since before christmas. It is my decision to stay with it, but commercially in the short term it is painful. It is a gamble as I could be spending time waiting for something that doesn’t happen. The previous phase of the project meant I had to technically leave Feeding Edge for a few months as the project did not accommodate “sub contracting”. This ended up just costing me personally as I got enrolled in a pension for a few months and I had left by the time I got any paperwork and never had a chance to reject the pension. Just one of those things.
However the worst feeling was not working for Feeding Edge. I was really, its still my company but officially on the tax books etc I was employed elsewhere on a sort of zero hours contract. I don’t think I will be doing that again. It just means more paperwork and less income 🙂
So while I am waiting I try and not go off selling my services or getting wrapped up in projects. I know full well if I do I will end up not being able to deliver either. There is no such thing as a short term piece of work for me usually as I get embroiled in the whole project very quickly. Quick contract coding no strings attached is not really my style.
So downtime between paying work is spent exploring, learning. I try to do something interesting and learn something everyday.
I am of course available to do other things like TV, Radio, Writing etc. In many ways they make the ideal counter balance for development work. When you are building things you tend to have to block time out to code. I gathered together all my Flush Magazine articles into a portfolio book recently. It was really interesting to see it as an entire body of work

That is only from a few years or writing, so maybe, just maybe I need to write a book after all? A different book to the one I expected to be writing about leaving corporate life 6 years again and telling all, and one that instead focuses on the style of writing I have arrived at with Flush, looking at past patterns and experiences and projecting them forward as a sort of Historic Futurism.
After an interesting twitter discussion with friends old and new today I was still as evangelical as ever about the metaverse and the exiting times ahead as VR and AR headsets demand virtual environments and it starts to become even more normal to expect that sort of interaction. It’s not going away, and neither am I!
Right time to go and get ready to learn and teach my chosen martial art Choi Kwang Do. For over 3 years now this has been a major part of my life and my families life. I have to share this picture as Sabunim Close came to visit Basingstoke CKD this week. He, at 17 was accepted to a Korean university to pursue a degree in Choi Kwang Do. He upped sticks and went there knowing full well it was the right path for him, as there rest of us did 🙂 It was great to see him return on holiday and come and visit us all. Pil Seung (certain victory)

CKD has provided the social contact that working at home and in isolation (despite lots of digital contacts) as well as re-enforcing my own guiding principles of trying to do the right thing and help people.
So, on top of. spending more quality family time, the freedom to operate, the chance to have done 3 series of kids TV, presenting to lots of groups of interesting people, exploring startup life, learning, exploring and building virtual environments I have achieved a life time ambition of a black belt (a life changing experience) and I also get to teach and mentor. Not a bad move was it in 2009 🙂

MergeVR – a bit of HoloLens but now

If you are getting excited and interested, or just puzzling what is going on with the Microsoft announcement about Hololens and can’t wait the months/years before it comes to market then there are some other options, very real, very now.
Just before christmas I was very kindly sent a prototype of new headset unit that uses an existing smartphone as its screen. It is called MergeVR. The first one like this we saw was the almost satirical take on Oculus Rift that Google took with Google Cardboard. A fold up box that let you strap your android to your face.

MergeVR is made of very soft, comfortable spongy material. Inside are two spherical lenses that can be slid in and out lateral to adjust the divergence of you eyes and get a comfortable feel.
Rather like the AntVR I wrote about last time, this uses the principle of one screen, split into two views. The MergeVR uses you smart phone as the screen and it slides comfortably into the spongey material at the front.
Using an existing device has its obvious advantages. The smartphones already have direction sensors in them, and screens designed to be looked at close up.
MergeVR is not just about 3d experience of Virtual Reality (One where the entire view is computer generated). It is, by its very name Merge, about augmented reality. In this case it is an augmented reality taking your direct view of the world and adding data and visuals to it. This is knows as a magic lens. You look through the magic lens, and see things you would not normally be able to see. As opposed to a magic mirror which you look at a fixed TV screen to see the effects of a camera merging with the real world.

The iPhone (in my case) camera has a slot to see through on the in the MergeVR. This makes it very difference from some of the other Phone On Face (POF – made up acronym) devices. The extra free device I got with the AntVR, the TAW is one of these non pass through POF’s. It is a holder, and lenses with a folding mechanism to adjusts to hold the phone in place. With no pass through it is just to watch 3d content.


AntVR TAW
Okay so the MergeVR is able to let you use the camera, see the world, and then you can watch the screen close up without holding anything The lenses make you left eye look at the right half and the right eye at the left half. One of the demo applications is instantly effective and has a wow factor. Using a marker based approach a dinosaur is rendered in 3d on the marker. Marker based AR is not new, neither is iPhone AR, but the stereoscopic hands free approach where the rest of the world is effectively blinkered for you adds an an extra level of confusion for the brain. Normally if you hold a phone up to a picture marker, the code will spot the marker, the orientation of the marker and relative position in the view then render the 3d model on top. So if you, or the marker moves the model is moved too. When holding the iPhone up you can of course still see around it, rather like holding up a magnifying glass (magic lens remember). When you POF though your only view of the actual world is the camera view of the phone. So when you see something added and you move your body around it is there in your view. It is only the slight lag and the fact the screen is clearly not the same resolution or same lighting as the real world that causes you to not believe it totally.
The recently previewed microsoft Hololens and the yet to be seen Google funded Magic Leap are a next step removing the screen. They let you see the real world, albeit through some panes of glass, and then use project tricks near to the eye, probably very similar to peppers ghost, to adjust what you see and how it is shaded, coloured etc. based on a deep sensing of the room and environment. It is markerless room aware blended reality. Using the physical and the digital.

Back to the MergeVR. It also comes with a bluetooth controller for the phone. A small hand held device to let you talk to the phone. Obviously the touch screen when in POF mode means you can’t press any buttons 🙂 Many AR apps and examples like the DinoAR simply use your head movements and the sensors in the phone to determine what is going on. Other things though will need some form of user input. As the phone can see, it can see hands, but not having a Leap motion controller or a kinect to sense the body some simpler mechanism can be employed.
However, this is where MergeVR gets much more exciting and useful for any of us techies and metaverse people. The labs are not just thinking about the POF container but the content too. A Unity3d package is being worked on. This provides camera prefabs (Rather like the Oculus Rift one) that splits the Unity3D view into a Stereo Camera when running into the right shape and size, perspective etc for the MergeVR view. It provides extra access to the bluetooth controller inputs too.
This means you can quickly build MergeVR 3d environments and deploy to the iPhone (or Droid). Combine this with some of the AR toolkits and you can make lots of very interesting applications, or simply just add 3d modes to existing ones you have. With the new unity3d 4.6 user interfaces things will be even easier to have headsup displays.
So within about 2 minutes of starting Unity I had a 3d view up on iPhone on MergeVR using Unity remote. The only problem I had was using the usb cable for quick unity remote debugging as the left hand access hole was a little too high. There is a side access on the right but the camera need to be facing that way. Of course being nice soft material I can just make my own hole in it for now. It is a prototype after all.
It’s very impressive, very accessible and very now (which is important to us early adopters).
Lets get blending!

(Note the phone is not in the headset as I needed to take the selfie 🙂

Another VR headset – AntVR

I backed a project called AntVR to produce another VR headset and it recently arrived. Whilst all these things may looks the same this is a slightly different approach the now famous Oculus Rift.
The box arrived via UPS, unfortunately there seems to have been a mistake on the shipping. Whilst this was included in the Kickstarter price I had to pay the delivery man another £35. That’s early adoption for you!

The main headset unit is about the same size and weight as a Oculus DK2. The main cables rather than passing over your back drop down either side of your cheeks.


The inside view is not two round lenses as with the rift but 2 much flatter rectangular lenses. It fits over my regular glasses (though being varifocals are not idea for any of these headsets)

The reason for the different in sense shape is quite fundamental to the entire design. The AntVR uses one screen inside the headset. The lenses direct the eye to focus on that screen. The Rift appears to have 2 screens one for each eye, each eye has a spherical image projected onto it. The AnyVR is really a regular monitor looked at up close.
Whilst the latter is a lesser experience it does have a major advantage. The AntVR has a mode button on it to let it just be a regular desktop screen. This makes for much less messing around (particularly in windows) with which monitor is which. Often with the Rift you find yourself trying to half look at the regular desktop when working in extended mode or swapping the primary monitor when an application doesn’t use direct mode.
So once in the AntVR you are looking at a big screen. The mode button on the unit lets you switch to side by side 3d. So anything, like youtube, that has SBS video you can watch straight away, looking at a normal view, navigate to the browser etc. Switch to full screen then press the button on the unit and you have 3d. I did find on Windows 8.1 internet explorer seems to refuse to show SBS video on youtube. The stub bar shows side by side images but the main window just the one. On chrome it was fine. Initially I though the headset was causing it but I think it was just the browser being the browser it is!
The unit has two sliders to move the lenses outward and inwards laterally to adjust for your own eye comfort.
The headset acts as a mouse pointer with the accelerometers in it moving the mouse around, which is not always very helpful to start with.
The kit then diverges from the Rift in what it provides.
Firstly it will plug into any HDMI source (needing USB to power it). Because it is not always in SBS 3D it doesn’t need the spherical processing the Rift has to do. Obviously that flexibility is a trade off with the field of view of the Rift and the comfort factor on the eyes.
The AntVR also comes with a peripheral. It is rather like some Klingon device, a few parts clip together and you have what looks like a gun controller.



This controller can also morph, with 2 handles plugged together, into a joypad. Both parts are charged by USB so are both active units.
In addition to the “gun” there is also a cleaning device, a small rubber bladder and nozzle for blowing dirt out of the lenses. They refer to this as the “hand grenade”.

All this came through the post from China. I suspect the delay getting here may have been some puzzled customs people.
There are demo games that are ready to download. These are designed to be 3d SBS, they are both horror/zombie ones. I am not sure if I configured things correctly, but the thumbstick on the back of the gun did allow me to move my character in an FPS environment. The gun trigger worked but it was a little odd using my head to turn and look at the bad guys but holding a gun that it didn’t matter where I pointed it. I think I needed to plug a few more things in.
Another interesting feature is a little sliding trap door underneath the headset that lets you peer down and see your hands. Great for typing !
So fr I have only tried the unit on my windows laptop. For gaming, Elite Dangerous for example the Rift DK2 with its head position sensor and spherical eye view is much more comfortable and immersive. However getting the thing running can be a pain with some many different ways windows likes to mess with graphics cards and extended monitors.
AntVR seemed to just work out of the box, the gun controller might be a bit over the top but the ability to work on anything and look at any content without too much hassle is interesting.
Next up I need to write about the two smartphone as a VR screen devices I have here, one of which was an extra thrown into the box with the AntVR.
We are creeping towards devices that anyone can use without too much faffing about but we have not got there yet. Then of course we need the content. The environments, the user interfaces and the new ways of engaging.