games


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 🙂

Forza and Bond a perfect combination

The upcoming release of the Xbox flagship car brand Forza, with Horizon 4 has given the developers some great fodder to advertise with. Horizon is a free roaming driving game and 4 is set in the UK, apparently with lots of seasonal activity, just like the real thing. You know, rain, and well… rain. 🙂
An actor James Bond car pack brings models of classic Bond cars to the series, complete with some gadgets.
In this brilliant advert, using the actual game engine they have combined the music of Bond, and recreate vignettes of Bond scenes with his car and the bad guys too.
I am a big Forza fan, having advertised my book via it.
Reconfigure book paintwork on a lambo
Also cool stuff collective,feeding edge and eightbar in various ways seeing it grow like this and be this good is awesome. Enjoy.

Stack of new tech to catch up on! Games, watches, Mocap and old age

Yes its been a few months, but as I write for a living about tech elsewhere it is a bit of a busman’s holiday to blog, but I intend to keep going, Sept and Oct were just very busy, travel and more holidays. All that and turning 50 at the end of August! What the hack happened there, where did that come from? Thanks all for all the comments and best wishes on Facebook and Twitter. Plenty more years left yet!

One of my presents was a trip with predlet 2.0 to the NFL game at Wembley, I had got him playing Madden on Xbox and he was all up for the game and how it worked which was fantastic.
NFL london
The game was a weird one full of incredible errors on both sides and the favourites, the Dolphins lost, which was quite amusing. Though all teams were supported, as you can see some cheeseheads in the background.

My kickstarted watch arrived yesterday, the Mykronoz Zetime. Now I do have an Apple Watch, but didn’t;t when this was first an thing to invest/preorder. This swiss based watch is a traditional watch with real hands, a good solid engineered feel to it too. However under the hands is a screen that can display watch faces and information. Regular buttons and/or touch screen interaction work. It paired with my iPhone and its apps so pretty much just works. When you get a message and need to read it the hands file to 9:15 to not obscure the text, then wind back to the time when you exit. It is supposed to have a 30 day battery life as a watch and 3 days burning smartwatch features. Heart rate monitor and movement sensing are all part of it too. I thin it will be more of a posher dress watch or just to show off at IoT conferences 🙂
Just arrived
Mykronoz smartwatch
Mykronoz smartwatch
Mykronoz smartwatch

Today my Enflux motion capture suite arrived too. This top and trousers stretchy contraption has every sensors that track body movement and connect to blender and unity3d on Windows using BLTE. I am not posting pictures of me wearing it just yet, need to loose a few stone first ! However the connection and mocap calibration just worked straight away. I will see how well it works to record Choi, compared to the Kinect experiments of old
Enflux mocap suit
Here is how it records in unity3d

I had an interesting time ate the Augmented World Expo in Munich a few weeks ago too. AR is really getting embedded in a lot of enterprise solutions and the future is rosy for that as the user interface for IoT 🙂
I did get to appear (just) in the Meta headset demo on stage.
I am sitting here in the meta workspace demo #ar #awe2017

Also I got to see and feel the very clever effect of the light field displays from Avegant in a private showing.

On the games front. Wow, we are in the midst of a bumper crop of interesting things. Forza 7 on the Xbox is brilliant as usual, and they have kept the importing of the custom car gfx which means I get to quickly repaint my cars 🙂 Only picture I have handy is a stock paint set in the rain.

Mordor and Assassins Creed follow ups both giving a good deal of baddy bashing and climbing up things. Both huge games and probably never to be finished.

Double Mario on the Switch, first the turn based strategy mashup with the Rabbids, which proved to be far better than I expected and one of my favourites now, and a few days ago Super Mario Odyssey, giving Zelda a run for its money, though obviously more arcade like.

These need their own posts and comments but I think I will wait until the arrival of the Xbox One X in a few days hopefully.

I have had some really nice comments about the books too, still a few billion people to sell them too and a third one to find the time and energy to write 🙂

Nintendo Switch – fancy but fun

Friday my dark grey Nintendo Switch arrived. I had not bothered with the Wii U, in fact it marked the first console I had not bought for a long while. The Switch however, well it looked too good to pass up. Especially the gadgetabulous transforming nature of it. Of course there was also the new Zelda, getting rave previews for being such an engaging open world evolution too. I figured with all the work travels I do now it would be good to have some quality gaming in my backpack.
Nintendo Switch

The Switch is an iPad sized screen with a few buttons on it, but it comes with a docking station that HDMI’s it into the TV. Two small controllers slide and click and slide onto the sides of the screen making it very good for gaming, unlike an iPad where no tactile response, or simply your hands being in the way destroy the experience in anything other than turn based combat. The controllers are also not just buttons, but gyro and vibration sensing with very intricate rumble packs for feedback too. One of the appeals of the controllers is that whilst you can use them together, either on the unit or slid into a joypad frame, they can also be used by two different people. So you have an instant 2 (or more with the various combinations available) player setup on a small screen that can prop itself up on a table with a little kick stand.The clicking and unlocking, changing and switching around is a key part, it feels like a Klingon battle ritual making weapons from their armour

We spent Sunday afternoon playing the party game 1 2 switch in which mini games are presented such as quick draw, or gorilla dancing, the motion elements of the controller being exploited. The games are places facing your opponent, with all the action prompted by audio or vibration cues. Multiplayer face to face with imaginary scenes is a new twist. The Switch screen is just there to show the score afterwards. One very nice example is having to guess how many marbles are in a box, the box is your joycon, as you move it the vibrations feel like a number of marbles bumping into one another. Its very subtle and very clever.

Afternoon of family fun with 1-2 Switch and snipperclips

All these are good fun party games, very Nintendo and I look forward to lots more. However there is serious gaming too. The Legend of Zelda – Breath of the Wild is just a stunning achievement.

Zelda - Switch
(One of the first views of the sprawling landscape, which is much bigger than this too!)

The environment is huge and varied, the crafting and puzzle solving needed gives a real feeling of adventure. The heart stopping moments when you stamina disc is decreasing but you are climbing higher up a tower and only just make it by the last little blip, it goes on. It has taken from many other games, but kept is Zelda with Link running around saving Hyrule. There are towers to climb to unlock maps (like most Ubisoft free roamers), there are find the area by a photo, there are horses to not just catch but gradually tame, plants to collect and meals to cook with special properties, clothes to buy and dye, paragliding, bow and arrow and I assure a boomerang will turn up soon for me too. Dotted around the land are shrines, more in keeping with the Zelda themes these puzzle rooms let you use your fancy powers (one gained) to move and manipulate the World. Rather like Portal 2 did it makes you think you are stuck, then you try something odd, it works and you feel clever. One puzzle (no spoilers) use the motion controller, and my solution was just smirk inducing, a truly memorable gaming moment.

I had assumed it was all cartridges and no downloads, but its not. All the games are digitally downloadable. I had order Bomberman, Switch 1 2 and Zelda on carts, but Amazon were not able to deliver Zelda on release day so I cancelled it. When the parcel arrived I downloaded Zelda, and I wish the other 2 games had been digital now as the cartridges are so tiny they are annoying. I bought a 200gb memory card as the 32gb in the machine is half full already with Zelda, but that is much better than having to cart carts around. Also the battery is only 3 hours or so playing Zelda, not ideal for long plane journeys, but I will have to test that out later. Either way its a great addition to the console family and has exclusive titles. So thats all fine by me.

Life in IoT, Pokemon, AR, Micro:bit, reports and scifi

I has been a few months since I wrote anything here. My new role at 451 Research has kept me doing a lot of writing about a lot of interesting subjects related to IoT. It is an interesting change to be on the receiving end of briefings where people tell me why their implementation or product direction is of interest, yes that’s bit poacher turned game keeper, but it is good to be able to share and build upon all my previous experience. The Internet of Things is huge and diverse, because like the internet it underpins everything. The great thing is it also include how we as people understand what is going on in a system, which lends itself to being able to discuss virtual and augmented reality. I had started to cover some VR and just posted a longer report spotlight on AR when Pokemon Go hit. It was only a matter of time before a mass market awareness thing happened, but few of us knew the form it would actually take. Most of what I write is behind the paywall for our customers, but somethings make their way outside. Firstly our AR report (as this was with @xianrenaud 451 Research IoT research director) made the home page and some free access to all. I was not in a position to write a whole report on Pokemon Go or its lack of real AR, but I did write an analyst note (our briefest piece of content). Which now is also on the homepage and free (linking back to the AR report). The VR report is still locked away but you can sign up for a trial account.
AR and VR also featured in at the end of a recent IoT Webinar on Brightalk that Christian and Brian did. I provided a couple of pictures for that. I take the position that VR is great but it is an extension of current screen technology at its heart. A screen for each eye. AR is a new departure, sensing the world and projection/translucent displays is a whole different ball game and one that had many more industrial and enterprise uses.
VR and AR diverge
Interestingly lots of AR tech is being retro fitted to VR. Nothing is ever clear cut, but its good to spot a trend or find a theory to explore.
Of course my IoT VR and AR experiences blend into the books Reconfigure and even more so the follow up Cont3xt and the adventures are still selling and being downloaded at $0.99 around the World. A few more reviews would be great. In some of my briefings some of the elements I have used start to get a little closer to reality, but it was always supposed to be near real sci-fi.
I have not thrown away my tech hands on approach to things though. Yes there is a lot of writing but the predlets still need to get the opportunity to learn their craft and this morning my/their BBC Micro:bit arrived. A fascinating Arduino like controller but loaded with LED’s, compass, bluetooth and gyroscopes. It will be great to see what they get up to with it. It is a full IoT endpoint when it comes to it.
At last BBC micro:bit #iot
Its not all work, though a lot of my play is work related too. However, we invested in a Wheel for the Xbox One, having had one on the 360. It was part present for predlet 2.0 getting a great school report and a pen licence. This time I also got a proper stand for it the Wheel Stand Pro V2. It makes a huge difference to all the driving games, particularly the rock hard Dirt 2 and Forza 6. Of course there is a prime example of where VR works, and I believe the PC version of Dirt now has headset support. If they sort it out for the Xbox, well I am in 🙂
Just keeps getting better #forza6 #thrustmaster #wheelstandpro
Another addition and a rather fantastic one was my Father’s day present of next generation slot(less) racing with Anki Overdrive. These fascinating cars read the track as they race on it, making any layout they will autonomously drive around mapping the reach first they you get to race using you phone/tablet. Switching lanes and controlling speed and virtual weapons and defences. They are fast and frenetic, and when they go off track they razz around trying to find it again. Watching the robot cars drive is pretty magical too. I know how they work, I know what they are doing, but…. wow. Once again another IoT style twist in the tail. Alluding to where the World is going, first liberating the ideas from play, just like Pokemon Go has.
If you want to see the diverse list of 451 Research reports I have been doing look here, thats not including all the press articles and conferences presenting I have been up to in just a few short months.
If you have anything industrial, enterprise or just plain quirky you would like to talk about please get in touch I am @epredator and do take a look at the books for some summer reading 🙂

Jersey Hackathon – Phone Breakathon

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

Need For Speed – My stuff in their video

We like cars in this house. Car games are also a big favourite, naturally. I really enjoy the analogue nature of continuous adjustments as you hurtle around a track. Need for Speed has undergone a transformation over the years, it, and its genre, clearly influenced films like Fast and Furious and now it seems to have come full circle in the latest game. It feels like a side plot of the Vin Diesel epic action movies.
The racing and missions, the customisation and the heavy use of NoS are all pretty standard in this version of Need for Speed. I was surprised, though, to see live action cut scenes. These sort of acted out mini parts of the story, with real people, used to be something that was tried years ago, and generally failed. They did not feel part of the game. To go from a live action real world then blend back to a not quite so real digital view jarred. Also many times the acting was not all that. The alternative was only FMV, with a few digital overlays. That gave a lack of freedom, flicking to new video links at decision points.
This Need For Speed has a full on racing crew with all their baseball caps in reverse and dungarees in place. It feels interesting to hear them talk. Though it is still a little odd IMHO. What blew me away though was the car customisation. The principle is the same as in Forza. Using decals and colours, shapes and some basic tools to morph those, you are able to wrap your car and make it your own (or download someone’s hard work). This makes sense in the game engine it is just generated graphics, so why not? When a cut scene started in the garage and my custom car was in the full motion video though I gave a little cheer. The video show some of how it appears. The car has Reconfigure and Cont3xt written on either side, or course.

Digital compositing into live video is something that is hitting our TV screens in ways we may not ever actually notice. This is the first time I can recall it being so done in a game FMV in quite this way. They also don’t do it all the time, it is not a major feature they shout about. I had to do some tricky missions to try and find one that I could record that included this. It does work though. The car is really your avatar in the game, even though there is a first person camera view for your character in the FMV. I found it added to the experience, seeing my stuff in their video. Makes me want to make a film even more 🙂
Read the book Cont3xt available for download here

Lucky 7 years – Feeding Edge birthday

Wow. It is seven years since I started Feeding Edge Ltd. That is quite a long while isn’t it? The past year has been a more difficult one with less work in the pipeline for most of it. It has meant I have had to take stock and look to do other things, whilst the World catches up. It does seem strange given the dawn of the new wave of Virtual Reality, and Augmented Reality that I have not managed to find the right people to engage my expertise and background in both regular technology and virtual worlds. In part that was because I was focussing on one major contract, when that dried up suddenly there was no where to go. It is starting from zero again to build up and sell who I am and what I do.
My other startup work has always been ticking along under the covers, as we try and work the system to find the right person with the right vision to fund what we have in mind. It is a big a glorious project, but it all takes time. Lots of no, yes but and even a few lets do it, followed by oh hang can’t now other stuff has come up.
On the summer holiday, I had a good long think about whether to give this all up and try and find a regular position back in corporate life, I was hit with a flash of inspiration for the science fiction concept. It was so obvious that I just had to give it a go. That is not to say I would not accept a well paid job with slightly more structure to help pay my way. However, the books flowed out of me. It was an incredibly exciting end to the year. Learning how to write and structure Reconfigure, how to package and build the ebook and the print version. How to release and then try and promote it. I have learned so much doing it that helps me personally, helps my business and also will help in any consulting work I do in the future. I realised too that the products of both Reconfigure and Cont3xt are like a CV for me. They represent a state of the virtual world, virtual reality, augmented reality and Internet of Things industry, combined with the coding and use of game tech that comes directly from my experiences, extrapolated for the purpose of story telling.
Write what you know, and that appears to be the future, in this case the near future.
This year I have also been continuing my journey in Choi Kwang Do. This time with a black suit on as a head instructor. It has led me to give talks to schools on science and why it is important, with a backdrop of Choi Kwang Do as a hook for them. I am constantly trying to evolve as a teacher and a student. Once again the reflective nature of the art was woven into the second book Cont3xt. I did not brand any of the martial arts action in the book as Choi Kwang Do as that may mis-represent the art and I don’t want to do that, but it did influence the start of the story with its more reflective elements, later on a degree of poetic licence kicked in, but the feelings of performing the moves is very real.
I have continued my pursuit of the unusual throughout the year. The books as a product provide, rather like the Feeding Edge logo has in the past, a vehicle to explore ideas.
I still really like my Forza 6 book branded Lambo, demonstrating the concept of digital in world product placement.

If you have read the books, and if not why not? they are only 99p, you will know that Roisin like Marmite. Why not ? I like Marmite, again write what you know. It became a vehicle and an ongoing thread in the stories, and even a bit of a calling card. It is a real world brand, so that can be tricky, but I think I use it in a positive way, as well as showing that not everyone is a fan. So the it is just another real world hook to make the science fiction elements believable. So I was really pleased when i saw that Marmite had a print your own label customisation. It is print on demand Marmite, just as my books are print on demand. It uses the web and the internet to accept the order and the then there is physical delivery. I know its a bit meta but thats the same pattern Roisin uses, just the physical movement of things is a little more quirky 🙂
Http://www.cont3xtbook.co.uk meets #marmite
I have another two jars on the way. One for Reconfigure and one for Roisin herself.
I am sure she will change her own twitter icon from the regular jar to one of these later as @axelweight Yes she does have a Twitter account, she had to otherwise she would not have been able to accidentally Tweet “ls -l” and get introduced to the World changing device @RayKonfigure would she?
All this interweaving of tech and experience, in this case related to the books, is what I do and have always done. I hope my ideas are inspirational to some, and one day obvious to others. I will keep trying to do the right thing, be positive and share as much as possible.
I am available to talk through any opportunities you have, anytime. epredator at feedingedge.co.uk or @epredator
Finally, last but not least, I have to say a huge thank you to my wife Jan @elemming She has the pressure of the corporate role, one that she enjoys but still it is the pressure. She is the major breadwinner. You can imagine how many 99p books you have to sell make any money to pay anything. She puts up with the downs whilst we at for the ups. Those ups will re-emerge, this year has shown that too me. No matter how bleak it looks, something happens to offer hope. I have some new projects in the pipeline, mostly speculative, but with all these crazy ideas buzzing around something will pop one day.
As we say in Choi Kwang Do – Pil Seung! which means certain victory. Happy lucky 7th birthday Feeding Edge 🙂

Using the Real World – IoT, WebGL, MQTT, Marmite, Unity3d and CKD

All the technology and projects I have worked on in my career take what we currently have at the moment and create or push something further. Development projects of any kind will enhance or replace existing systems or create brand new ones. A regular systems update will tweak and fix older code and operations and make them fresher and new. This happens even in legacy systems. In both studying and living some of the history of our current wave of technology, powered by the presence of the Internet, I find it interesting to reflect of certain technology trajectories. Not least to try and find a way to help and grow this industries, and with a bit of luck actually get paid to do that. I find that things finding out about other things is fascinating. With Predlet 2.0 birthday party we took them all Karting. There was a spare seat going so I joined in. The Karts are all instrumented enough that the lap times are automatically grabbed as you pass the line. Just that one piece of data for each Kart is then formulated and aggregated. Not just with your group, but with the “ProSkill” ongoing tracking of your performance. The track knows who I am now I have registered. So if I turn up and rice again it will show me more metrics and information about my performance, just from that single tag crossing the end of lap sensor. Yes that IoT in action, and we have had that for a while.
Great fun karting. Yay for being faster than 9 year olds :)
The area of Web services is an interesting one to look at. Back in 1997, whilst working on very early website for a car manufacturer, we had a process to get to some data about skiing conditions. It required a regular CRON job to be scheduled and perform a secure FTP to grab the current text file containing all the ski resorts snowfall, so that we could parse it and push it into a form that could be viewed on the Web. i.e. it had a nice set of graphics around it. That is nearly 20 years ago, and it was a pioneering application. It was not really a service or an API to talk to. It used the available automation we had, but it started as a manual process. Pulling the file and running a few scripts to try and parse the comma delimited data. The data, of course, came from both human observation and sensors. It was collated into one place for us to use. It was a real World set of measurements, pulled together and then adjusted and presented in a different form over the Internet via the Web. I think we can legitimately call that an Internet of Things (IoT) application?
We had a lot of fancy and interesting projects then, well before their time, but that are templates for what we do today. Hence I am heavily influenced by those, and having absorbed what may seem new today, a few years ago, I like to look to the next steps.
Another element of technology that features in my work is the ways we write code and deploy it. In particular the richer, dynamic game style environments that I build for training people in. I use Unity3d mostly. It has stood the test of time and moved on with the underlying technology. In the development environment I can place 3D objects and interact with them, sometimes stand alone, sometimes as networked objects. I tend to write in C# rather than Javascript, but it can cope with both. Any object can have code associated with it. It understands the virtual environment, where something is, what it is made of etc. A common piece of code I use picks one of the objects in the view and then using the mouse, the virtual camera view can orbit that object. It is an interesting feeling still to be able to spin around something that initial looks flat and 2D. It is like a drones eye view. Hovering or passing over objects.
Increasingly I have had to get the Unity applications to talk to the rest of the Web. They need to integrate with existing services, or with databases and API’s that I create. User logons, question data sets, training logs etc. In many ways it is the same as back in 1997. The pattern is the same, yet we have a lot more technology to help us as programmers. We have self defining data sets now. XML used to be the one everyone raved about. Basically web like take around data to start and stop a particular data element. It was always a little to heavy on payload though. When I interacted with the XML dat from the tennis ball locations for Wimbledon the XML was too big for Second Life to cope with at the time. The data had to be mashed down a little, removing the long descriptions of each field. Now we have JSON a much tighter description of data. It is all pretty much the same of course. An implied comma delimited file, such as the ski resort weather worked really well, if the export didn’t corrupt it. XML version would be able to be tightly controlled and parsed in a more formal language style way, JSON is between the two. In JSON the data is just name:value, as opposed to XML value. It is the sort of data format that I used to end up creating anyway, before we had the formality off this as a standard.
Unity3d copes well with JSON natively now. It used to need a few extra bits of code, but as I found out recently it is very easy to parse a web based API using code and extra those pieces of information and adjust the contents of the 3d Environment accordingly. By easy, I mean easy if you are a techie. I am sure I could help most people get to the point of understanding how to do this. I appreciate too that having done this sort of thing for years there is a different definition of easy.
It is this grounding in real World pulling info data and manipulating it, from the Internet and serving it to the Web that seems to be a constant pattern. It is the pattern of IoT and of Big Data.
As part of the ongoing promotion of the science fiction books I have written I created a version of the view Roisin has of the World in the first novel Reconfigure. In that she discovers and API that can transcribed and described the World around her.
This video shows a simulation of the FMM v1.0 (Roisin’s application) working as it would for her. A live WebGL version that just lets you move the camera around to get a feel for it is here.

WebGL is a new target that Unity3d can publish too. Unity used to be really good because it had a web plugin that let us deploy applications, rich 3d ones, to any web browser not just build for PC, mac and tablets. Every application I have done over the past 7 years has generally had the web plugin version at its core to make life easier for the users. Plugins are dying and no longer supported on many browsers. Instead the browser has functions to draw things, move things about on screen etc. So Unity3d now generates the same thing as the plugin, which was common code, but creates a mini version for each application that is published. It is still very early days for WebGl, but it is interesting to be using it for this purpose as a test and for some other API interactions with sensors across the Web.
In the story, the interaction Roisin starts as a basic command line ( but over Twitter DM), almost like the skiing FTP of 1997. She interrogates the API and figures out the syntax, which she then builds a user interface for. Using Unity3d of course. The API only provides names and positions of objects, hence the cube view of the World. Roisin is able to move virtual objects and the API then, using some Quantum theory, is able to move the real World objects. In the follow up, this basic interface gets massively enhanced, with more IoT style ways of interacting with the data, such as with MQTT for messaging instead of Twitter DM’s as in the first book. All real World stuff, except the moving things around. All evolved through long experience in the industry to explain it in relatively simple terms and then let the adventure fly.
I hope you can see the lineage of the technology in the books. I think the story and the twists and turns are the key though. The base tech makes it real enough to start to accept the storyline on top. When I wrote the tech parts, and built the storyboard they were the easy bits. How to weave some intrigue danger and peril in was something else. From what I have been told, and what I feel, this has worked. I would love to know what more people think about it though. It may work as a teaching aid for how the internet works, what IoT is etc for any age group, from schools to boardroom? The history and the feelings of awe and anger at the technology are something we all feel at some point with some element of out lives too.
Whilst I am on real World though. One of the biggest constants in Roisin’s life is the like it or love it taste of Marmite. It has become, through the course of the stories, almost a muse like character. When writing you have to be careful with real life brands. I believe I have used the ones I have in these books as proper grounding with the real World. I try to be positive about everyone else products, brands and efforts.
In Cont3xt I also added in some martial arts, from my own personal experience again, but adjusted a little her and there. The initial use of it in Cont3xt is not what you might think when you hear martial art. I am a practitioner of Choi Kwang Do, though I do not specially call any of the arts used in the book by that name as there are times it is used aggressively, not purely for defence. The element of self improvement is in there, but with a twist.
Without the background in technology over the years and the seeing it evolve and without my own personal gradual journey in Choi Kwang Do, I would not have had the base material to draw upon, to evolve the story on top of.
I hope you get a chance to read them, it’s just a quick download. Please let me know what you think, if you have not already. Thank you 🙂