BCS Animation and Games group AGM

Last night I popped down to Southampton Solent University for our BCS Animation and Games specialist group AGM (for which I am the chairperson). More on the BCS and the group is available We had the usual formalities and reports to make at the start but then I had to switch into performance mode to give another talk. Obviously I can’t keep doing the same one and the same subjects 🙂 I had created a new one that was about all the upgrades, and things that have come to fruition of the past year. Xbox One, Leap, Oculus Rift, Rocksmith 2014.
I was pleased to see a very large audience, some BCS members but a lot of students from the games design course at Southampton Solent. With an audience that are into games and tech it is hard to not tell everyone things they already know. However I took a lot of demo kit with me. In particular the Oculus Rift went down a storm as an experience.
I also like to share things that happen in life, so the anecdotes are useful as they are either a vehicle to help people hear about something new, or if they know about it to relate to shared experiences.
I had a brave audience member some up and use the Rift whilst I talked about it. Getting audience participation is always good fun for everyone.
Thankyou to everyone for coming, for all the great discussion and feedback during and after the session. I feel very lucky to be able to get such a buzz out of enthusing and sharing the tech that is part of my life.
As usual the pitch was more show and tell than slides but here are the slides anyway.
The videos are replaced with links to blog articles with videos embedded too.

Bcs Review 2013 tech in 2014 from Ian Hughes

The future of tech education – ICT upgrades to open source

In the final show of Cool Stuff Collective series 3 I put forward my wish for 2012, which actually occurs at 20:12 in the show that ICT in schools needed a revamp (there a few days left before this rotates from the player, I don’t have the rights to youtube it AFIAK yet). Now I am not the first person to say this about ICT, and I was adding to the many voices both of the various tech industries, reports to government UPDATE* The Royal Society have just release a report too here* and those teachers bypassing some of the ICT curriculum to get kids actually skilled in computer science and building with technology. Yesterday the government minister for education Michael Gove gave a public speech at the BETT education conference that indicated that all the pressure was working. Admitting that ICT was not working, was boring the kids and was leading to a crippling loss of hi tech skills in the UK.
There is a full transcript of what was said here and of course it features general political sound bites. yet the core of it is positive as far as I can see.
Two things stood out for me.
1.”That’s why, rather than focusing on hardware or procurement, we are investing in training individuals. We need to improve the training of teachers so that they have the skills and knowledge they need to make the most of the opportunities ahead.”
2. “An open-source curriculum

Advances in technology should also make us think about the broader school curriculum in a new way.

In an open-source world, why should we accept that a curriculum is a single, static document? A statement of priorities frozen in time; a blunt instrument landing with a thunk on teachers’ desks and updated only centrally and only infrequently?

In ICT, for example, schools are already leading the way when it comes to using educational technology in new and exciting ways – and they’re doing it in spite of the existing ICT curriculum, not because of it.

The essential requirements of the National Curriculum need to be specified in law, but perhaps we could use technology creatively to help us develop that content. And beyond the new, slimmed down National Curriculum, we need to consider how we can take a wiki, collaborative approach to developing new curriculum materials; using technological platforms to their full advantage in creating something far more sophisticated than anything previously available.”

1. Is about people, teaching teachers, industry getting involved to help and
2. is an amazing alteration in the view that the processes and interactions are open source as much as the actual technology itself. Something many of us in the emerging tech and open source world already know and share.

It could be seen as dropping responsibility for ICT but I think this will work out, as most collaborative ventures as activists with clear positive ideas making changes and that will naturally drag everyone along.

As you know I try and not just talk about things but do take a bite out of technology so you don’t have too and this has all coincided with some observations and activities by my kids, aka the predlets. Predlet 1.0 is 8, Predlet 2.0 is 5 (just about). Yesterday Predlet 1.0 was not well in the morning so ended up not going to school. Rather than veg out in front of the TV I put minecraft on for her. Yes a game, but also with some other properties.
With a few hours of focus she got to do things other than just build blocks. She tried survival/crafting mode for a while and learned how hard it was to manage resources, this made her appreciate the open world of creative mode where all the blocks and resources are available to you all the more. Having switched to creative mode she started to explore the functioning blocks. Minecraft has mechanical and electrical components in it. Very soon there were switches and pressure plates opening and closing doors, mine carts propelled by red ore repeaters on rails, some needing more power to go up hill etc.
When Predlet 2.0 came home from school he was keen to join in so it was time to get computers running and a local minecraft server. This then meant the two of them were in their own virtual world, together. Where the actions of one impacted the other. They talked about it a lot and started to build a house. This was a collaborative build in a location they felt was best for the house. By a river near some mountains with a lush forest around it. 1.0 the showed 2.0 how the switches and mechanisms worked on doors.
This is the result. Viewed from my minecraft as I too can attach to our server and see how things are getting on.

Here there is a pressure plate in front of and behind the door to “automate it”
The small room has a bed each and also notice a bookcase as books are important

Whilst running this multiplayer setup across our network there was a crash. I was on a call so tech support was closed for 30 mins. They used their initiative and got the server going again, though were foiled by passwords on the clients, so instead switched to offline play on their own individual worlds until I was free.
Now this may not be a regular lesson, I am not a teacher. Yet this covered an awful lot of ground.
a)In world they were moving around in 3d space, aware of one another. There were creating and removing 3d block objects, choosing from inventories. So the mechanics of a metaverse, just like being in Second Life or OpenSim were in full use.
b)They were collaborating on a single project, dividing the tasks up, one did the walls whilst the other did the floor.
c)They chose a location near water and other resources, which to all intents and purposes is a geography lesson!
d)They shared how to start to build machinery, basic physics and mechanics and to some degree electronics, and implemented those together.
e)When there was a tech failure they attempted to resolve it, understood there was a server component that was brokering the 2 clients. When that did not work they worked out a fall back resolution. They now also are starting to ask about general systems management and how interconnected processes need to be kept running.
f)They enjoyed it immensely.

For me seeing a multiplay sandbox creative environment like this running is yet more of the same that we had with Second Life back in 2006 when we started to use the environment to communicate and share ideas. Back then we wanted our own servers for privacy and control. That spun out into things like Opensim which exists today. The pattern is the same with minecraft though it has more of a game feel and reason for existing, yet this creative mode becomes about building. Why build? well answers a) to f) above should be a good reason.

We are obviously a tech g33k family, and social exclusion from technology does worry me. However… put this sort of thing in schools to get kids interested in the first place? Those that like sys admin will gravitate towards the power of running servers. Those with a design eye will build interesting things, the engineers will make machines and understand cause and effect. Then of course there is the growth of 3d printing, the digital things can also become real products. Online social skills and etiquette will grow. It does not have to be minecraft, there are lots of ways to do this. It does not even have to be a specific tailored experience.

These things are there, available, not science fiction. There are also those of us out here ready to help because we have tried some things out. So the future looks bright doesn’t it?

Hassle your teachers to ask to learn to… program – programme

Happy new year everyone. n.b. I updated the title to use program and programme to avoid confusion as my not so subtle play on words 🙂 This new years eve over on CITV was the last in this series of Cool Stuff Collective. It is running for the next month on ITV player here
It was notable for a double custard pie on the wall of fame but aside from that we did a different future tech. I was intrigued what was going to make the edit as we could have done an entire show I think with all the things Vicky and I went through.
I talked about Robotics in 2012 and covered Asimo, Nao and also exo-skeletons. This was a general robotics discussion and its spin offs, plus a small piece about artificial intelligence. We did this as a talking piece with footage played in between of the various things as they were going to be impossible to squeeze into the school. In transport I also talked about the Toyota car with a giant OLED customisable surface. All very big things.
I finally got to talk about Maker Culture too, and spin off from the open source ideas to things like Sugru that let you hack things better. i.e. physical hacking.

I have my headphone mute button that I enhanced a while ago and I demonstrated altering a PS3 controller button using it. It is wonderful stuff and fits nicely into maker culture.
However the closing statements were my wish for the year. To paraphrase….
Education and teaching of computer programming needs to be done properly. We have got stuck with ICT, which is important, but it is about using computers not building with them. All the gadgets we show and all the block buster games we talk about need to be built. So I want everyone to hassle their teachers to ask to be taught computer programming as it is one of the most important skills that will be needed in the future. Without it we will not be making the next generation of gadgets or fantastic games. (That of course also relates to other business areas, banks, medical establishments etc….) Knowing how to build is important, knowing how things work not just being a user is important.
A much used quote that was a bit too heavy for the show “if you are not programming you are being programmed”
I think 2012 will be a year many more things drive this point forward to build on all the work people have been doing up to know to get this message across. So if we can keep pushing we may have a chance to save the economy and everyones future, and have a rewarding career for people too. It’s all good !
Anyway thats this series done. I may do a new year retrospective on all the pieces of the puzzle that I have talked about this series, but its all on this blog 🙂
It’s also a major part of my speaking engagements for the next few months at least.
More TV for me? Well I hope so, it is a great honour to be able to share all this stuff on all sorts of media. Lets see what 2012 brings (BTW I am my own agent at the moment 😉 )

Merging Cool Stuff Collective and Second Life for the BCS

Last night I was invited by the BCS Berkshire branch to give a follow up presentation to my Washing Away Cave Paintings but this time do the pitch in Second Life. It seemed a great time to join some dots. I offered to talk both about the experience and content in Series 1 of The Cool Stuff Collective, and at the same time show some other ways to deliver information in a virtual environment to a mixed audience of new SLers and some very experienced ones.
Also it was a goto time to use Robert Gittin’s Bangor university sim where an auditorium and BCS office is located. Robert is treasurer of the committee that we have with the BCS Animation and Games Development specialist group and a long time fellow metaverse evangelist. He very kindly came along too to chaperone and help what turned out to be quite a large group. Gatherings in SL of 5-6 people are manageable, but once you get to up to 20+ as we did it is good to have more than one person helping everyone.
I was busy talking and presenting so I did not take very many pictures, though in the post event mingle I snapped this one.
For me this was almost a flashback, having been in virtual worlds so long it is refreshing to see new people come and try it. Whilst there is sometimes some embarrassment from new people to an environment it is nice to be able to settle those nerves and show that we are all new to this and there things for anyone to discover, ways to work, things to see that are just as easily spotted by someone new as an old hand.
I opened up with some traditional powerpoint, just a few slides on a single screen. Mostly about the BCSAGD, but primarily it was about the simplest way to present, replicate real life.
I then rezzed a giant Cool Stuff Collective poster, the aim to start filling the virtual space and start the line of conversation about the technology and some anecdotes about the show.
In order to start to be a little more extreme in presentation terms I rezzed a shot of the cool stuff website hovering horizontally across the floor. This page is a grid of thumbnails and labels for each of the pieces of tech I presented on the show. Rather than a static image behind me I made it a phantom object which allowed my to walk around in and on the image. Using the avatar as a pointer and having the image cut through me is a very basic way to break the real world illusion. A reminder that things don’t have to mimic real life.
Here I started talking about Lego universe, and its similarities in building and programming to Second Life.
As I went on I started to use more in world rezzed props. This started when I explained how I rehearsed the very first show items using my own virtual world. I have written about this before but this was the first time I had talked about it in world and live. In order to get the points I needed to make in the piece when talking to Sy I built some small plinths in my local Opensim to represent the key points. I then walked past them in turn making a mental note. It meant when I was talking about it in the concise 3 minutes I had a visual cue of where I should be and what was next in my minds eye. In the pitch last night I started to build some of those plinths live to demonstrate how easy these visual sketches can be. You can see the remnants of that quick live build in the top photo in this post on the left.
I had two other main props, my Parrot AR drone, which was another quick build but a physical item in SL. I rezzed to of these and was then able to lift them up, hover them over the audience (just with edit tools), and then describe how the emergency cut out works on the device and how it drops to the ground. Which I did by dropping into the audience. Again its quick and easy and much more effective when you are telling a story or getting a point across. The other prop was my Kinect in SL, which I built when this was called project natal.
Project Natal SL Style
A nice piece of reuse as I built this back in June 2009 ! Part of the conversation about Kinect was about the rise of the Kinect Hacks and how important it was that people shared what they did and that the web and social media is a powerful force that, when used to share, makes things happen really quickly. This was an excuse to rez the old favourite, the giant hands attached to my avatar and explain and show how that can have a different impact on a pitch.
My final quick prop was about audience participation. I rezzed a physical sphere and kicked it into the audience. As a presenter it is hard to know if people are listening, the visual cues and feedback from an audience is hard to judge, but when you throw a ball into the audience and people start kicking it around it is a very obvious reaction. That is not to say I did not think my audience was engaged, they were, we had some questions both voice and text, but it seems better to get people using their avatars, either doing things that make them look around and cam around, click on things, or in the case of the ball have a kick around.
I finished up on using web pages, with the Cool Stuff Collective website as an example. Of course at this point the older residents of SL pointed out they were using different clients, so I kept that a bit more brief but tried to explain to those new to SL how web on a prim works, and how it can be confusing.
After the official end of the hour lots of people stayed to talk and ask questions, we also formed a BCSAGD group in SL, open to anyone as we are very keen to have more presentations and gatherings and build on the BCS work that Robert has been doing.
I really enjoyed doing this pitch, for me being able to talk both about the technology and gadgets, about the future, whilst referring to the experience of the TV show and at the same time demonstrate some ideas of how to engage people in SL was such a multi dimensional conversation that it really got the adrenalin flowing. I have obviously be enthusing about virtual worlds for years now, but still the spark of human connectedness, the ability to be open and natural whilst still in a quirky virtual environment is fascinating. If you have not tried to demonstrate something in ways other than powerpoint, do on give it a go 🙂

Flyer for BCS Animation and Games Development SG – Bangor

The British Computer Society Specialist Group for Animation and Games Development has its first meeting on Wednesday, that all are welcome to in Bangor. As an update to that here is the flyer that has been produced.
Whilst this meeting is not being held in Second Life (yet) Bangor University has an island that you may like to visit here



If a BCS member, joining the proposed BCS Annimation and Games SG is possible now via the members area

Anyone, whether BCS member or not, may now register to attend (free of charge) the inaugural meeting of the SG at 14.00 on Wednesday 28 July 2010 at Technium CAST, Parc Menai, Bangor LL57 4HJ. Booking possible via: www.bcs.org/events/registration

At the business session, at 2pm, the constitution for the SG will be formally adopted and the nominees for the committee voted in. This will be followed by the state of the art, ‘3D Environments and 3D Power Wall’starting about 2.30. The event is expected to finish at 16.00.

Hopefully see some of you there, or failing that at some of the events around the country.