8 years of Feeding Edge

It is odd that the amount of time it takes the earth to revolve fully around the sun has so much significance to us, but it does. It is 8 years since I started Feeding Edge.
Birthday presents and cake
Of course now it is a little quieter as it has no employees as such just me as a director. It sits as an archive of lots of experiences once I left corporate life and something I am very proud of. A year ago I was just publishing Cont3xt the second novel after Reconfigure and I was in a holding pattern hoping the role I have now as an IoT analyst at 451 Research was going to come to fruition. It was sad to stop delivering projects under the Feeding Edge logo but equally it has a long term product out there in the market place. Both novels are still selling in modest amounts and people are starting to discover what’s in them, always room for more and more reviews though. It’s a long game and as it took me nearly 50 years to get around write them I should not expect them to be found by everyone in a couple of months.
Being deep into IoT taking briefings, giving presentations and writing lots and lots of reports has meant book 3 has had to simmer away in the back of my mind, though being an IoT novel series Roisin’s adventures are never far away. The first 2 books were written as a full time job, as I was lucky enough to have ended up with the time as projects ended, and delays in new projects starting. It was tempting to just sit and goof around, but it was something I had to try and now I am so glad I did as Feeding Edge gets to live on as a publisher of those books. It also provides an interesting intro to people in the tech industry as part of my quick bio chat that we all have.
Reading books is for some people a veracious hobby and for others they just don’t read at all, which is why I would like to explore some of the other mediums in which to tell the story. I would like to go to a more visual platform, but that requires some skills I have yet to master, or need to buy in. A graphic novel or an animation would be an ideal way to share the story. I can see the scenes and pictures still, they are what I wrote from along with the emotions and feelings underlying them.
I wonder what this was about last year in Cont3xt?

“Her personal favourite, that had the most style and comedy points, was one politician who chose to project his power and importance, by appearing with his countries national bird. It was a very large and impressive bald eagle. The entire image was ridiculous in the first place. The politico sat staring at the autocue, that Martin had an override on. The eagle loomed large, to the ebullient politicianโ€™s right side, on screen. Before any words could be uttered, Rosin gave the giant bird of prey a small remote poke. She saw the textured wireframe of the bird in her view extend its wings and aim for the nearest living thing that possibly could have hit it in the backside with a pencil. The would-be leader of his party had to wheel his large dominating office chair out of range, holding his hands to his face for protection. As an added bonus Roisin gave his pretend full head of hair a little tweak too. She had dived in before Martinโ€™s carefully written, deliberately non-sensical speech had even started. Martin was not actually annoyed, he saw the funny side. It became an internet sensation, the looping video fitted nicely, in the few seconds of attention span of most people. It made for great animated GIFโ€™s and a multitude of spin-offs. It was even bigger than the #joyhere that Roisin had accidentally created with her first forays into Reconfiguring the World.”

That’s a Feeding Edge legacy ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

More than just a CV – Reputation matters

The last few months have been a little bit unusual, or maybe just part of the general flow of business and life depending how you look at it. Having an independent limited company, with just one employee (me) leads to the inevitable feast and famine of projects. Without a product, as such, there is no sustainable revenue stream. Just expertise. That might be advice and consulting, helping people along a path, or it may be diving in and join the fight developing something.
Whilst clearly I am not Yoda, there are some traits to make an analogy too. Standing back and observing, but still very hands on when needed ๐Ÿ™‚
My two main paying long term projects appear to have tapered off. One due to some international malarkey with a 3rd party and the other due to an organisations reorganisation of who doe what where. As an ad hoc provider you are the end of the chain and so just have to take it as a risk of the business.
The thing with long term projects is that you have to offer a degree of loyalty. Some things just take time and that may not mean getting paid. Its a gamble. In this case both gambles have not paid off it would seem. Don’t get me wrong both bits of work have been fantastic opportunities to build interesting virtual world spaces and do the full stack and lots of overall design and direction. Things just happen.
My other startup investment work, despite being an amazingly cool idea has not managed to get the sort of investment it needs (yet). The “yet” is important as its not worth throwing the towel in when you know it’s revolutionary. I am used to doing things before their time that people don’t quite understand yet. We got quite a long way with a very promising investor a year or so ago but that didn’t work out. So we are back pitching, hustling, trying to showcase and inspire people to get it. As a professional evangelist I know that it is hard work getting adoption of the new. Yet we still plough on.
So that leaves the day to day stuff. Getting new projects, new leads, new contracts or even a new full time/part time traditional job role.
Everything I have ever done has been based on people either knowing me, knowing my work, knowing someone who knows someone. It is why the virtual world space has been so influential in my life, it was being able to expand on who knew who and working directly with people at a more direct creative level that makes it engaging.
Now, though, despite having an extensive web presence, this blog and my previous ones go back years, having a TV show reel, having writing and speaking portfolios I find that I am having to fall back on the traditional CV or resume to send out and hope it conveys enough of the breadth and depth of this particular strange profile I and my company has.
Reputation is everything, so it seems strange to have recruitment firms look at my CV and just pattern match on particular keywords. I have experience of that not being so great when I was helping us ramp up with software contractors back in the 1999. We did indeed get a CV through from our filtering recruitment consultant needing a Lotus Domino programmer, but had someone who had worked at Domino pizza. Being a generalist/full stack developer/architect/evangelist and with a long experience in all elements of the tech industry and across other industries my CV often has the keywords in it. It does have the explanation and the more interesting wording around the job of an evangelist and of a technology innovator, but that gets lost in the filtering.
However if someone were to Google a subject and cross reference with my name or handle (hence always mentioning epredator) they would find a long and extensive track record. To me the web is ultimately my reference. I am not sure though that applying for jobs or contracts would work with a CV that just said “google epredator” followed by “don’t you know who I am” ๐Ÿ™‚
I was asked by one recruiter if I knew Agile. I pointed out that back before the agile manifesto we were doing interactive development with flat structures in the early days of the web as there was in fact no other sensible way to do it. We battled the waterfall traditional approach. Stuff like that you can’t put in a CV it is for a conversation, otherwise, as it did just then, it sounds arrogant.
I had another look at upwork recently too, just for a little quick contract, and to see how it works. However it is full of “can you just rebuild world of warcraft for me for $200, must show reference examples”. That got be worrying that all my reference work has actually been rather closed off.
The startup work is trying to gain funding, so its not like we open source everything or put the code on github. It covers everything, unity3d, c#, opensim, php, mysql, linux, Facebook, twitter, drupal etc. It is a pat pending concept too. Yet I can’t just show that to anyone.
My research work has been behind closed doors, some of it completely secret, again the end product can sort of be demonstrated in one case, but the other with it’s complexity is not a look at this project though I do try and allude to its content.
So have I painted myself into a dead end? I don’t think so. I have gained a lot of experience in many things over the years. I have applied myself to technical and non technical roles. I even learned to custard pie people in the face on TV. That is what a generalist does. It is a skill to be able to adjust and go with the flow, to excel in new things. I admire specialists, I envy them sometimes. They have a defined focus, that have a specific role in life. Mine is to do lots of things and share them with lots of people.
So if you are reading this and sharing the ups and downs helps, or if you are a kindred spirit or even if you are an intelligent head hunter, or potential partner/customer who wants to have an interesting conversation and explore the world then please get in contact.
I am on twitter as epredator or here epredator [at] feedingedge.co.uk
Of course my CV is available on request ๐Ÿ™‚ Meanwhile I will be applying some martial arts unbreakable spirit and getting on with the future.

Hanging on or Leaping – Trust the technology

It has been quite a busy week with it being half term and Predlet 1.0 12th birthday. It started with an experience that I was not totally looking forward too. This experience was a haptic fear generating simulation using a real world physics engine, or climbing trees as you may want to call it.
Predlet 1.0 has wanted, for some time, to go to Go Ape. This is a treetop adventure that involves being 30+ feet up in the trees walking across precarious platforms, making leaps of faith and taking zip lines. As this is quite a potentially dangerous endeavour any of the “Baboons” (under 16’s) need to be accompanied by a responsible Gorilla. I was volunteered to be that Gorilla.
GoApe(Photo by @elemming)
I am not really a climber, speed and zooming around, or ground based activities are more my thing.
The whole thing is really very safe, as long as you do it correctly. You are provided with a harness containing 2 carabiner’s on one short and one slightly longer rope. You also have a hook over pulley that is used almost all the time. You are trained on the ground to always hook on, to ensure you do things in the right order. Then you get to practice on a set of equipment that is only 3 feet from the ground.
There are only really a few points to consider. Before you know it you are ascending the first wobbly rope ladder (attached to you harness and your safety ropes and counterweighted). Like all good experiences it leads you along. I had the extra concerns of making sure both Predlet 1.0 and her friend were taking care and doing things right, they had to go first and I had to follow.
Clambering up was a bit awkward, and the focus of clicking on and off with the carabiners was fairly intense. After all being 30 feet up and not attached, which it is quite possible to do as you transition does focus the mind.
I was not feeling that great shuffling along. You have to attach the rollers to the overhead parallel cable, one carabiner to it and the other just over the wire. To start with everything feels loose. Yes you have a harness, yes 3 ropes in total are attached. However you have to hang on. If you fall you go no more than a few inches in reality as the ropes are only just slack. The feeling though, and the height is very real. So you cling on and shuffle across these various obstacles.
However there are other types of obstacle, you encounter one very early on. The Tarzan swing. There us a cargo net suspended across from a completely open gap. So you have to clip on to rope and just jump off to swing across. This is where it got a little counter intuitive and why I am writing this.
Once attached I looked at the drop, I had the rope attached and I sat a little and felt the harness working. So I just jumped. It was a lot easier to just trust the technology and actually need it than the other obstacles that the technology was a backup.
So this got me thinking, albeit afterwards I was a bit more focussed at the time, that often we spend time and effort clinging to things and in particular one type of technology to get us through. We sort of know there is a backup but the old way works so lets keep shuffling. In this example there were things like the ends of logs forming a bridge. The pulley and cable acted as the support, but the aim was with tip toe across the gap on the older technology of the log. I know some people would have been fine with it but trying to relax, knowing from martial arts that that is the best thing to have good body control, is countered by the tension of hanging on, gripping what you can. At the end of these there was a sense of relief at having made it to the next stand. So it was goal to goal, hanging on, not wanting to use or need the harness and ropes.
At the end of each section there was another leap of faith involving a zip line. Unlike the tarzan swing this few seconds of hurtling towards the ground gave you a chance to feel what was happening. There was enough time to consider your elegant landing, or in my case crash landing. I felt quite happy to brace myself and plough into the pile of chipped bark at high speed. Again just trusting in the technology to carry me, there is no backup.
So I am guessing I am a leaper not a shuffler. I think the tech evangelist personality type has to be. I think we also spend a lot of time crashing at the end of zip lines too. Also though it is important to do the shuffling, to do the hanging on in there with the old tech in order to feel what others feel and be able to help them find that innovative leap of faith that will bring so much benefit.
Anyway, it was quite fun without all this extra layering of though process. More importantly the girls enjoyed it a lot and found it funny that I had to be up there with them.

Amiga kickstarter book, breaking mirror worlds & VR

A few days ago my copy of the book “Commodore Amiga: a visual Commpendium book” that I backed in Kickstarter arrived. The book is by Sam Dyer through BitmapBooks. It came with a load of extra goodies from my backing and my name along with my fellow backers vanity printed in the appendix. The only slight problem was that unlike all the other Kickstarter campaigns I wasn’t “allowed” to have a credit as epredator as it made the list look untidy unless we had normal names. That is the authors choice of course ๐Ÿ™‚
Fond Amiga memories all in 1 book
My computer owning history went ZX81, Commodore 64 then Amiga 500 (and later 1200). The Amiga was 1987 and became my main machine for most of my polytechnic/university time. It caused me to get an overdraft for the first time to buy an external hard drive for a piece of work I was doing (that and to play the later cinemaware games that needed two floppy disk drives to work).
It was the machine I coded my final year project, which was a mix of hardware and software but also had to work on the much larger and more expensive Apollo computers we had.
It is the machine I spent ours with sellotaped together graph paper planning my SimCity builds and mapping Bards Tale Dungeons.
It is also the machine I first experience proper network gaming on with a null modem cable and F/A-18 flight simulator. Not only was that the first proper LAN party gaming but it forged the idea that machines do not have to have a consistent shared view of the world just because they are connected. The F/A-18 simulator let my good friend Wal and I fly around shooting at one another in a shared digital space. It was the early days of having a printer and being able to do “desktop publishing” aka DTP. I even produced a poster for our little event.
When we played we had different terrain packs running on each Amiga as we had different versions of the game. There was no server this was really peer to peer. The terrain was local to each Amiga, but the relative location of one another in that space was shared. Each machine was doing its own collision detection. It meant if I saw mountains I needed to avoid them, yet on the other machine that same local space might be flat desert. We all perceive reality differently anyway, but here we were forced to perceive and act according to whatever the digital model threw at us. In reality we kept to the sky and forcing your opponent into their own scenery was considered unsporting (though occasionally funny and much needed).
This set the precedent for me that whilst mirror worlds, virtual worlds that attempt to be 100% like a real place, have a reason to exist we do not have to play by the same physical rules of time and space in virtual environments.
Other things of note about the Amiga. Well I coded as predator on the Commodore 64 and that moved across to the Amiga too. The e was a later addition on the front by the principles are the same.
My wife also discovered gaming on my Amiga. Getting completely wrapped up and in the zone on Sim City and realising it was 4am. Later it would be Lemmings that caught her attention. Hence she is now elemming on twitter.
The book is full of classic images nearly all of which I have some sort of memory of that is more than yes I recognise that picture.
Games like Alien Breed (a gauntlet like top down shooter) and The Secret Of Monkey Island (a classic point and click humorous adventure) on their own rack up considerable hours of entertainment for very different reasons
Fond Amiga memories all in 1 book
Whilst fondly reminiscing and remembering things that impact how I think and work today I was also at the same time in current and future mode. Right next door on the table was my copy of Games(TM)
My life history in 1 picture #nearly #amiga #vr #metaverse
As I tweeted at the time My life history in 1 picture #nearly #amiga #vr #metaverse.
When we put on a headset, a total immersion one, we get a view of a world that is instantly believable. Something fed directly to our eyes and linked to the direct we are looking becomes a convincing reality. In a shared virtual world we will assume that we are all seeing the same thing. That does not have to be the case, as with the F/A-18 example. We can have different experiences yet share the same world. To help think about that consider the game Battleships. Each player has the same map, the same relative grid references on a piece of paper or on plastic peg board. yet on that map you can only see your own boats and any pieces of information you have gained through playing. When considering a mirror world or a virtual world build it can be harder to consider this. Yet many games and environments already have a little dollop of this behaviour with personal displays of health, ammo, speed etc in a Heads up Display. Those HUDs are an augmented reality display in a virtual world.
When we now consider the blended view headsets like the HoloLens and the MergeVR we are taking the real world as the server in effect. It is a fixed environment. We are then placing and enhancing what we see in that world with 3D overlays. Convincing the viewer the digital stuff is real.
Unlike the F/A-18 terrain the real world is there for each person. If there is a table in the middle of the room, even if you make it look like it is not for a headset wearer with object removal and clever visuals they will still trip over it. However the other way around can make for an interesting dynamic. headset wearers made to think there are obstacles and things in their way that they have to move around, but its different for each headset wearer. Just a little though experiment in perception. I didn’t even throw in anything about 3D printers actually making the new obstacles in the real world. That’s a bit much for a monday morning.
Anyway, the Amiga book is great. It was a fantastic period in games and in home technology, but we have many more exciting times coming.

VR – Everything old is new again – good!

It is important when getting interested and excited about new things to look at its lineage. Something I often did in my series of articles over the years in Flush Magazine
So with the current rush of Virtual Reality gaming and experiences and the slew of new kit we have some very interesting near off the shelf kit such as this.
*warning it contains violence (see where I am on that here)

However, back in the 90’s we had VR kit like Virtuality (they must be kicking themselves for be too early for the masses. Though thats a curse us early adopters and evangelists have to live with ๐Ÿ™‚

The headsets were quite heavy and the container you stood or sat in was not a treadmill but part of the sensing rig.
The graphics may look old fashioned and clunky but they were good experiences. When I was at poly/uni in Leicester getting ready to do a year out this was the company I wanted to go and work for if I had a chance too. They sent to me IBM instead. Though as you can see from the Virtuality company details they had very close ties with IBM. So it was close ๐Ÿ™‚ It i also funny how things work out.
Still, it is very cool having all these headset sat around me and some that just work on my portable communication device too ๐Ÿ™‚