vr


Vancouver then a Van

We just got back from an amazing holiday in North West Canada. Whilst jet lag is still kicking me and tomorrow I may forget everything as I turn 50, I though it best to record some thoughts now.

Apple Watch knows we have arrived

Firstly 4 days in Vancouver felt so relaxing that it was like we had lived there for ages. We did a fair bit of course, cycled around Stanley Park
Vancouver - Stanley park and Gastown
We also got on a sea plane to Victoria, where we then boarded a Zodiac rib in dry suits to blast out into the sea and get sighting of Orcas – Killer Whales.
Planes
Zodiac rib
The dry suits were not very dry though !
Wet after 3 hours or a watching in awesome choppy seas on a rib
We found some great places to eat in Vancouver and got some great recommendations from friends too. I marched us off to have korean shaved ice – Bingsoo
Bingsoo
As a home form home the predlets experienced yet more VR
Vancouver
The science museum was great too
Vancouver
Vancouver
We all enjoyed that.
Then we went for another holiday, completely different we hired an RV for 12 nights
RV in BC
Just a 7 birth, 9m long, 3m high and wide V10 mega beast, or so we though until we got to see the other campers.
We headed off on what ended up being a 2500km drive to multiple sites.
We managed to go and get supplies at a local Walmart but this was not where we were supposed to park!
RV in BC
The first was by a lake and had no hookup for the van, but it did have Canada geese and play park for the kids

RV in BC

RV in BC

RV in BC

The second site had a swimming pool and full van hook up. It is odd to be flushing sewage at the side of the van down a big pipe next to where the other people are having their breakfast, but that’s camping !

RV in BC

The inside of the van was bigger than the hotel room, or so it felt sometimes

Travelling

We stopped on the long 3-4 hour journeys to admire the trees and sights

Canada

Canada

We then headed to Lake Louise, a campsite by the river. With Bears.

Canada

Canada

Canada

We walked into town by the river

Canada

We took the bus to the actual lake, where it was a bit misty

Canada

Where we then walked 3 km up a big hill to mirror lake, not many people with us there.

Canada

This fella was though

Canada

When we got back down the mist had cleared

Canada

Elemming had booked afternoon tea at the Fairmont as a complete contrast to the hiking and camping

Canada

We then headed to the pst famous road in Canada that runs Lake Louse to Jasper. A long 400km run to Hinton but fantastic road and fantastic scenery such as the glacier

Lake Louise to jasper

more waterfalls

Lake Louise to jasper

and water

Lake Louise to jasper

Driving the view was great but not easy to take photos, but stops I got them.

Lake Louise to jasper

We arrived near Jasper, in the rain. It all seemed a bit UK camping like.

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Still, they had Wifi

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And weird beer cans

Beer can

When the rain cleared it was quite spectacular.

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We had a day of nothing, doing nothing at all. It was great.

Then it was Elemming’s birthday.

Happy birthday

So we went up a cable car and walked up the top of Jasper’s Whistler mountain. The cloud kept rolling and and rolling away it was very spooky. As was the big fat Marmot that laughed at us on the way up.

Jan's birthday - Mountains and hot springs

This is where we walked from, the cable car stop in the distance

Jan's birthday - Mountains and hot springs

Then once again for contrast we drove off to the hot springs and sat in boiling hot water with hundred of others

Jan's birthday - Mountains and hot springs

The next day we were travelling but I made a pinhole camera out of the beer box in case we got a clear sky for the Solar Eclipse (we didn’t)

Pinhole beer box

As we drove along it went dusk like, very steadily, car headlights got very much brighter. Once it was done we stopped for a cuppa

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We made the next KOA campsite at clearwater it had another swimming pool too.

Clearwater

We drove up a smallish mountain road, it got a bit bumpy towards the end and got to watch Salmon jumping the falls. Predlet 1.0 managed to catch a phot but I was just watching. Saw 5 all in all. Very cool

Elemming saw a bear n the way up too.

Clearwater

There were an amazing set of Waterfalls to view all very varied

Clearwater

Clearwater

Clearwater

Clearwater

There were some great places to eat here too

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Our next stop was on the way to whistler it was a bit more desert like, and apparently was closed due to the wildfires two weeks previous.

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Whistler

We then headed to Whistler the final stop arrived to a watch out there are bears warning again

Whistler

After a stroll into town we were in civilisation again, with olympic park.

Whistler

We rode two chair lifts (yuk) up the first mountain

Whistler

Then the peak 2 peak in gondola across to Whistler. The worlds longest of its type. only two posts holding it up. we avoided the glass bottom gondola.

Whistler

A long way up/down

Whistler

More olympic rings

Whistler

Stunning views

Whistler

Then a gondola back down (phew) I really don’t like chair lifts especially with a snowboard on.

Whistler

The final day was a 4×4 trip up Whislter to look for bears

Whistler

We saw Slumber, a 21 year old male for about 40 mins, it was amazing how he could melt away into almost no grass or trees then pop up a head to look at us whilst he ate berries. iPhones are not great for that sort of photo but here he is.

Whistler

We saw some awesome cycle parks too

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After a slap up meal and beer in El Furniture Warehouse (a happening place it seems) we drove back to Vancouver. Suddenly hitting traffic was a shock but the van was undaunted and undented

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2500 km sat here.

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Timing was a bit odd then as we had to drop the van at 11am but flight was 9pm. So we sat at the airport and watched our screens

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Once we were able to drop the bags the predlets got to play chess.

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And that was that. Luckily after the drive, the wait and the flight and no sleep we had a bank holiday monday to recover.

The whole trip was amazing, I still don’t like camping, too much faffing around but I am glad we did it and saw the things we saw.
The big van fitted the big scenario too.

The whole album of photos is here. Probably missed a few so may do a search for the lost ones 🙂

Canada 2017

Oculus Rift and Touch controllers – rapid evolution of VR

Having primarily engaged in console gaming the past few years I thought it was about time we had a decent spec PC in the house again. I decided on a high end MSI laptop with a glowing keyboard and UHD screen to level up the house tech. The predlets have been enjoying it too, getting to use a mouse (A high end logitech gaming mouse) to engage with some different types of games has been good for them. The Mac’s and Minecraft are one thing but it seems the high end Windows 10 stuff seems to be more reliable than my previous windows experiences. The Upgraded 10 from 8 on my older laptop (which was a good spec a few years ago) was appalling and crashy. It did work a bit though for the early access Kickstarter for Elite Dangerous and my original Oculus headsets the 1 and the DK2 did work (with a bit of faffing). Watching these original headsets evolve into todays product has been fascinating
Dk1 and dk2
SO with a new PC in the house I took the plunge and got the Oculus Rift and also the Touch controllers. It was the latter that really elevates the Rift from its previous incarnations. Now, with two sensors, it can triangulate the position of the headset and the controllers in a much bigger space. In fact it is more space than we have free even in the relatively open kitchen area. You don’t have to have a big space, some things are designer to be seated to standing in one place, but being able to draw the boundaries of the space and be notified of them in the headset (with a virtual mesh wall that appears) takes this much further than my previous home experiences, even with the PSVR.
The screen display resolution and refresh rate as you turn and move is much more comfortable than the PSVR, reducing some of the the nausea inducing effects of VR.
But what about the content? Well… As an old hand at VR and virtual it is still great to be able to put a headset on and just laugh or gasp at the impact these things can have.

Robo Recall – Comes with the setup, bright city environments and sneaker robots running at you. Using the Touch controllers you grab pistols from your side or shotguns from your back and blast away. You can catch and deflect incoming bullets, and if the bad guys get to close, drop the guns nd grab the machines and pull their arms off. You play in a single place, but turn a lot (risky with the cable) and teleport, which takes some getting use to as you have to orientate. It sees you ducking an dodging firing two directions at a time or putting 2 guns together and blam! Its very good!

SuperHot VR – This is even better! The original console SuperHot with its stylised orange characters and minimalist whist building structures sees you only have time progress when you move. The same applied in VR but you have head and body movement combined with both hands to deal with the incoming attacks. If you want to feel like John Wick, play this. Dodging, punching, catching guns dropped by bad guys and turning and dispatching those behind you is just superb. You have to be very careful of the swinging punches and and the gaming area border. It’s great defence training for my martial art, just a pity I can’t kick too.

Facebook Spaces – I created my avatar, I have a table in a room, at a fixed location, I can take pictures with a selfie stick and video called the family from there. It was very exciting, in many ways a backwards step from Second Life experiences but with a honed physical experience due to the headset. Roll on getting the two principles fully working, free moving, construction in virtual space with social interaction. (Yes I know there are few trying it 🙂 ) I also have bot tried the Oculus Rooms.

Google Tilt Brush – This is a beautiful experience. Painting and splashing colours and effects around in a full 3d Space. My attempt is not going to win any prizes but it felt very good. The Dobok should be white but I had picked a blue like white but in a white lit environment I did not notice

The Climb – This was a favourite for Predlet 1.0, 2.0 had a go too but VR is not good under 13’s according to the blurb. Reaching up and across with the touch controllers is very physical.

Predlet 1.0 rock climbing #vr

Elite Dangerous – It is a lot better with the higher resolution, it was hard to read the screens on DK2 and with the early betas from kickstarts of the game. Now, Wow! Also the Xbox controller schema on a headset is a lot easier to deal with than when I had my fancy stick but couldn’t see all the buttons. Elite still stick in my memory from the early release in VR when my screen cracked and I was on reserve oxygen, and found myself regulating my breathing in real life. That is a gaming moment I will remember for ever and is an example of the impact this level of immersion can have.

Star Trek Bridge Crew – Well I have that on the PSVR, but I am tempted to get it for the Rift too as there is cross play and I can friend myself of PSVR and see if we can get a 2 player team going 🙂

There are more experiences and games to explore of course but this cross section is pretty cool. I need to clear some more space for SuperHot VR and I did destroy the kitchen notice board with a side fist, but I caught the bad guys wagon and turned and used it on those attacking from the other side, with destroying the fridge too. Another memorable gaming moment too 🙂

I had a few issues getting the Rift to play movies, I used the virtual desktop but Amazon and Netflix didn’t want to stream out to another HDMI device. All very old school copy protection, or a setting I missed.

What’s missing is fully body, lets just hook a Kinect up so we can see legs too ? The dynamics of physical gaming come back into play, but in a tethered and potentially dangerous way, despite the boundary protection. The solution is far from ideal, but if it was about practicality…

My biggest problem is having to pack away and set up again each time with both sensors, it’s a barrier to entry even in a house that has quite a lot of room. It would also be handy if my phone and sms alerts that appear on my apple watch popped up in the view too 🙂

The proper games though are fantastic. The “Experiences” are usually way too short though Spiderman (free) is way way better than the utterly appalling Martian one (Paid) from a few years ago. Onwards!

Sci-fi coming true with AR and Quantum communication – Wake up World

Recently the fledgling AR industry got a bit of a boost with the announcement of Apple’s AR kit. This bit of software layering is supported by Unity3d and Unreal, to name a few, and puts some AR elements directly into the OS of the Iphone and iPad. That of course is a bit of a problem for the many other AR toolkits that have been around for some time, but these things happen. Developers are already diving in an making interesting things, such as this Minecraft style tech demo

The ability to position and accurately keep track of objects in the the camera view of the World is a core part of what happens in my novels, including the “how to build stuff in unity3d” parts of Roisin’s inner dialogue. Of course the bits of how she gets to instrument the world if is a bit further off, but as Quantum communication is getting closer and, well that leaves just a little sliver of fiction left that powers the stories 🙂

These things add to the amazing amount of tech out there to keep track off and understand, something my IoT analyst day job keeps me very busy doing. Luckily (well by design really) my research agenda incorporates AR and VR and whatever XR comes along so I am still able to build on all these many years of being in the business of virtual. It is surprising how many companies are deep into it, but still keep it a little quiet, probably out of the same embarrassment or resistance we back in 2006 showing Second Life as an integration platform with both people and real World data, but oh…. it had colourful graphics and game like features, how could that be “serious”. It still makes me laugh to think of the resistance to it, as with the web, e-commerce and social media. The same is happening with blockchain, AI, IoT, autonomous vehicles. Lots of stuck in the mud attitudes, it will never catch on…(a few years pass) oh look my entire business has been disrupted…. why didn’t I listen…
Anyway, keep an open mind on tech and its interaction with society, it’s not all version numbers and installations, people are in the mix and very much part of whatever ecosystem is forming. Why not read the sci fi adventures whilst they are still fiction, look back in a few years and it will like a documentary. (That’s by design not accident BTW)
Reconfigure is the place to start there are some links on the right 🙂 Enjoy the future.

PSVR, is it any good?

Last week the pre-order of the Sony PSVR arrived and the question many people may have is it in any good? The short answer is yes. There are a few things caveats but in general I like it.
#psvr launch day
Despite being a bit more negative towards VR, compared to AR, it is hard not to feel a rush of amazement as a VR scene fills your field of view. The unit is easy to set up, some numbered cables get you installing an HDMI pass through box from the PS4 to the headset. This serves a dual purpose, one it lets others see what you are seeing on the main TV screen (if you want them too, albeit at the lower resolution the lenses use) or it lets you not turn the headset on and use the PS4 without any faffing around. The headset has a sliding front mechanism to allow you to easily install your face plus prescription glasses it, and then a sprung and adjustable back to keep it in place. The on switch is on the cable right next door to the volume controls, which is a little awkward if you press the wrong one. A set of in ear headphones plugs into the the same block, though we swapped that for some noise cancelling over ears.
@elemming and the predlets all had a go, and it is unfortunate that the unit says you have be 12 and over to use it. I am not quite sure what that is, though there are a lot of weird things that happen to your eyes and brain once inside a VR rig.
The headset has distinct blue lights on the from, sides and back that enable the camera to track it in space, which means you can stand and move a little, more on that in a moment. I dug up the PS3 Move controllers and after a lot of trying to charge, hitting the reset pin etc they seem to now be back to capacity and working. They are not essential, but they do enhance a few of the experiences (note I didn’t use the word game)
Predlets getting their #psvr fix
I used the supplied demo disc first, it created a wide and bright area to present the game selection menus. I picked Battlezone, for old times sake. Cockpits always work well in VR. If you are sat down with a controller indoor hand the cockpit feels right as you are already sort of in one. The demo gradually lit up the cockpit and you definitely feel a buzz. The lower resolution that a normal HD screen is noticeable in some moire patterns on textures but only if you look hard. I was soon whooshing the tank around reliving the early battle zone which was vector graphics and a two handle tank level control in amusement arcades, where you looked through a scope to see what was happening. So it fits with the upgrade to PSVR. Interestingly the demos all had an in view buy button, though no clever VR payment system here, it just goes back to the flat shop only delivered in VR.
Next I tried the paid for set of demos that is PSVR Worlds. The intro to this starts very dark, but you are aware you are in a hall of heroes, a flaming ball gradually illuminates whilst the sound crescendos. As menus go its pretty impressive. An important thing this does is let you see your controller in the VR view. It even lights up the right buttons as you press it. The tracking and view of the controller adds a lot to the experience even just as a menu. If you have put the controller down you can look around to find it, rather than pat around with your hands as if your eyes are shut with ones that don’t track the controller. This experience got richer playing gate London Heist experience. I enabled the two move controllers and holdings the game started they morphed into a pair of hands, pressing the trigger clenched them to a fist. The tutorial has you opening a draw, throwing a can into a bin and the most interesting is picking up a handgun. Because you are holding a controller already the grasping with the trigger does feel oddly like picking something up, which them moves around as you hand does. With the other hand you reach for a clip of bullets and push them into the gun in the other hand. The trigger then acts as, well, a trigger. It is very cool. The vignette of story gets you into a few shoot outs, though it is very short, yet the experience is impactful. Another option is to hit the shooting ranges. Sometimes with two uzi’s. You can reload these buy slamming the gun on the magazines stored vertically on the table, then go all John Wick on the targets point forwards with each gun in turn or taking multiple targets.
I stuck with the move to become Batman in Arkham VR. This is pretty stunning too, though once again very short. Some of the AR style features in VR assembling things are very convincing, again because of the Move controller. The freaky psychological elements of batman game recently where you turn around and a room has changed work very well in VR too. Reaching to you utility belt to grab the batarang or the grappler and hooking things back on there again is great. You play better stood up, though you can’t walk anywhere, you have to blip teleport to defined locations. It is a pity that all the batmobile and batwing interaction is not there you do no driving just grapple to the batwing, a quick loading pause and you are at a new venue. None the less I will remember this for a long while. It is one of those experiences, like the t-rex in tomb raider.
Back on PS VR Worlds the undersea adventure is an interesting one. It puts you in a dive cage and then you descend, it mention sharks in the title, so yes, there is a shark. You have no controls, you are in a cage and you feel utterly powerless. The rest of the family all experience the fear in different ways, but again it wont be forgotten in a hurry.
Then it was Driveclub VR. This one suffers the most from the resolution drop but when you are hurtling around and glancing across as you overtake you soon forget that. It is fast and can be quite nausea inducing. On my first race I pushed replay and watched again sat in my car, I chose to stand up and see what happened. I was standing up and turning around in a car doing 120mph around a corner. I nearly fell over, and certainly had to sit down and take a bit of a VR rest. It was pretty intense 🙂
Other things we have tried is the VR playroom, Predlet 1.0 was inside the headset playing the main character, I was able to join in on the TV with a normal view, seeing her avatar and the thing she controlled move around and working with her was cool.
The other collaborative experience is Keep Talking and no-one explodes. The headset view is of a bomb, with lots of different components, the external view for the other player(s) is of an instruction manual of text and pictures. Through descriptions and finding a common language like “the squiggle button with a dash on the top” you work together to stop the bomb. It is a fantastic party game and if you are disarming the bomb you feel a sense of powerlessness not seeing the manual, and vice versa for the manual readers.
Finally Eve:Valkyrie. Well this is pretty intense but my favourite full game. The cockpit and the combat are stunning. It has a feel of the BSG reboot, a quietness to the space and the ship turn very quickly unlike maybe in Elite Dangerous, where there is more momentum. As a fan of flight games and dogfights, probably are than the fps shooters on the ground I feel in my element. Targeting with missiles uses the headset and the extra glass in you canopy to be able to get a visual lock which certainly makes you look around. The frantic firing and explosions and space debris has you ducking and weaving. It is wonderful once you get over space sickness.
So yes the PSVR is great. I like it a lot. We just need more full content done well, like any new tech.

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 🙂

Augmented Reality about Augmented Reality

I thought it would be interesting to revisit some of the Augmented Reality tools that have Unity3d packages for them. The first I headed for was Vuforia, now owned by PTC. I am using the free version. It all worked straight from the install, though there are a lot of features to tinker with.
I wanted to use an image marker of my own, so naturally I used the book cover. There is a lot of AR and VR in the story so it all makes sense.
For the 3d models I used the current trial of Fuse/Mixamo now part of the Adobe. It lets you build a model and export it in a nice friendly Unity3d fix format. You would be suprised how these various formats for models and animations hide so much complexity and weird tech problems though. Eventually I found a couple of animations that fitted the mood. This is not a full action sequence from the book, but it could be. I have some more vignettes in mind to experiment with. I am just upgrading my windows machine so I can use the Kinect 2.0 for some of my own motion capture again. Finding the right animation, and then trying to edit it is really hard work. The addition of motion, especially in humans, hits a different part of the brain I think. It makes lots of things look not quite right.
Augmented Reality on Augmented Reality
So here is the video of augmented reality on a cover of a physical copy of an ebook novel telling the story with lots of augmented reality in it, if thats not too meta. Roisin rather sassily taps her for while the Commander lays down the law to her.

Reconfigure and Cont3xt are available right now to enjoy, and if at all possible, PLEASE write a review on Amazon, it makes a massive difference to the take up of the books.

Excited tech celebs and a countdown – Meta #AR

There is a countdown running and people are showing their excitement. This time, not to an enclosed virtual reality headset but for a full computing platform Augmented Reality headset. It is Meta @metaglasses. I have talked about and written a lot (including the two novels!) about augmented reality and what it means when it is done properly. This teaser video features many luminaries of tech, pop culture and business evangelising the product based on the demo they have seen. Scoble seems particularly gushing about it. He posted an hours worth of that on Facebook after his intro demo, but as its all embargoed he could only talk generally.
With Hololens, Magic Leap and now Meta (assuming it is in the same category which at $600 – $3000 it will be) and of course my own fictional EyeBlend there is a lot going on that may leap frog the VR wave this time around.

This has been around and developing for a while. It was initially seeming to have to answer itself to Google Glass which was really just a heads up display not full AR. The early video show bug eye aviator inspired glasses but the latest pictures are more visor with a noticeable sensor bar.
will.i.am seems pretty interested in it to. As he says it opens up the possibilities for the arts. So maybe he will help me make the blended reality movie or series for Reconfigure?
This sort of kit goes past what we would call gaming and entertainment as it provides realtime feedback of the World and the Internet of Things. Helping us see the stuff we can’t see normally, but in situ. Again with Meta it will depend on how they build the physical model, or if they do, of the World in order to implement the digital in place views. Some earlier videos show the use of real world objects, a flat surface such as a box, being used as canvas tracking and a reference point for the digital content.
The countdown clock is ticking though, and the final hype is being ramped up. So it is exciting, however it turns out. Their countdown says 19 days left (best check the site as that is of course an out of date piece of text 🙂 )

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 🙂

It’s alive – Cont3xt – The follow up to Reconfigure

On Friday I pressed the publish button on Cont3xt. It whisked its way onto Amazon and the KDP select processes. The text box suggested it might be 72 hours before it was life, in reality it was only about 2 hours, followed by a few hours of links getting sorted across the stores. I was really planning to release it today, but, well, it’s there and live.
I did of course have to mention it in a few tweets, but I am not intending to go overboard. I recorded a new promo video, and played around with some of the card features on YouTube now to provide links. I am just pushing a directors cut version. The version here is a 3 minute promo. The other version is 10 minutes explaining the current state of VR and AR activity in the real industry.


As you can see I am continuing the 0.99 price point. I hope that encourages a few more readers to take a punt and then get immersed in Roisin’s world.
Cont3xt is full of VR, AR and her new Blended Reality kit. It has some new locations and even some martial arts fight scenes. Peril, excitement and adventure, with a load of real World and future technology. Whats not to like?
I hope you give it a download and get to enjoy it as much as everyone else who has read it seems to.
This next stage in the journey has been incredibly interesting and I will share some of that later. For now I just cast the book out there to see whether people will be interested now there is the start of a series 🙂

Making Movies – Flying around in Unity3d

Yes, ok, my latest obsession of writing #Reconfigure might make a greta TV series or Movie but that’s not what this is about. Instead it is about another set of skills I seem to be putting into practice.
Before the I spent a day editing up the school end of year video. I didn’t shoot it, but I did use al the various messing around and comedy moments from the teachers and staff to put a montage together. It had a story, some pace, a step change or two. It was great fun. I have now been asked to edit a few more things together. I like editing moving images, it is fun. Though I am not charging for this is just to help people out.
At the same time I am in the middle of a little project to try and jazz up a regular presentation in the corporate space. I demoed a little virtual fly through a building, past a couple of characters and onto an image using Unity3d. It turned into a slightly more complex epic but non the less I am using lots of varied skills to make it work. The pitch will be pre canned but I have built the Unity environment so that it runs on rails, but live. I have c# code in there to help do certain things like play video textures, animation controllers and even NavMesh agents to allow a character to walk around to a particular room and lots of flying cameras. I had used the first few things a lot. It is stock Unity. However I had not really had a chance to use Unity animations. All my animations had been either remade FBX files or ones that I created in Cheetah3D. Once you imported an animation like that it was then sort of locked in place.
However, Unity3d has its own animation dope and curve sheets, and its really handy.
The animation Tab brings a different timeline. It is different to the Animation Controller screen that lets you string animation together and create transitions. e.g. jump or run from a walk.
The animation tab lets you select an object in the scene and create a .anim for you. It then by default adds that anim to an animation controller and adds that to the object.
Unity3d Animation Timeline
The record mode then allows you to expand any or all of the properties of the object, usually transform position and rotation, but it can be colour, visibility, basically anything with a parameter. If you move the timeline and then move the object, like a camera for instance, it creates the key frames for the changed parameters. It removes any of the awkward importing of paths and animation ideas from another tool. It is not great for figures and people. They are still best imported as skinned meshes with skeletons and let the import deal with all the complexity so you can add any stock animations to them. Whoever for a cut scene, or zoom past to see a screen on a wall it works really well.
I have written a lot of complicated things in Unity3d, but never bothered using this part. It is great to find it working, and doing exactly what I needed it to do for my cinematic cut scenes.
You can have things zooming and spinning around a known path in no time. You have to break it down a little otherwise it resolves the easiest path through a wall or something, but it seems very robust to edit it afterwards.
The only pity is that its not possible to lock a camera preview window open in stock Unity3d when selecting another object. Having got a camera pan just right its trick if you was to move an object in the camera view. With camera selected you see it’s preview, with the object selected you see it. Never got around that yet, just end up with trial and error.
No matter, it works, and its awesomely useful.