A big change, I am heading to something very exciting.

After seven years of employing myself here at Feeding Edge, I am making an exciting and very positive move and I have accepted a new role. This part of the adventure has been incredible and I have learned an awful lot, worked with some fantastic people and projects and ended up with something to remember these times by in the shape of the two sci-fi novels.
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Feeding Edge as a company will be staying, as that’s the publisher of the books, I just won’t be working for it any more as an employee, issuing myself a p45. It may get to publish the third in the trilogy too, just not for a while yet 😉
What am I off to do? Well, I will be able to say in detail, and for who, in a few weeks when I officially start. I am still very much in the emerging technology industry, I will also be out and about a lot at conferences and various other events. I will also still be doing what I set out to do here, in ‘taking a bite out of technology so you don’t have to.’ I will also be doing lots of writing.
In all the variety of things I have experienced I have found a great deal of fulfilment in writing, both fictional and factual, historic, now and future. The sharing of the patterns and ideas that I get to experience feels like something I should carry on doing. Which is why this was just too good to pass up.
Each day here, I have found a little spark of something interesting to pursue. Some of those became small and intense flames of interest in a full project. With what is on the horizon, I feel a massive burst of energy ready and raring to power forward with. It is so interesting that whilst I don’t actually start for a few weeks I am already just getting on and doing some of the prep. It all builds on what has come before that is more about now having a sense of direction and purpose, and a team to belong to and not want to let down.
Team work and a something to rally around is important. I think it is Choi Kwang Do training that has helped me want to belong in a group again. We all help one another, and can identify still as very individual in our pursuits but part of a whole. I will of course carry on with that part of my life, as it is very important and a family bond too. With my new role I will be able to be both part of an organisation, a focussed team and with an individual focus too.
Did I mention Internet of Things? I will be very focussed on that, which is of course pretty much everything! As it’s an infrastructure and a concept that underpins the current wave of emerging technology. I have of course been in and around this since before the name got attached to it, so it’s all familiar, though ever changing. Just the way I like it.
I have one last semi-official gig with Feeding Edge this weekend, as I am honoured to have been asked to go to Jersey and judge a gaming hackathon Though this is more BCS Animation and Games dev and also a book tour.
Anyway, Thank you to everyone I have worked with over the years here, to all those opportunities that have been presented to me, for the support and believe in my abilities, and that I have learned so much from, and found this new direction to head in because of that.
Now I need to go and work out where all my little bio pieces are around the social web to get ready to update them. A nice problem to have, I think?

High end realtime CGI from Unity – compared to 1984 tech

Unity have released a short film created with the Unity3D Game engine. It shows some serious design talent at work, but is also remarkable because it is rendered in real time. Anyone who remembers the early 80’s when we use to try and ray trace on a home computer and had to wait 24 hours for one frame of shaded imagery to create a line at a time. Then in 1984 the Amiga had this realtime demo flying around of the animated Juggler.

Here is the new Unity trailer for a short film they have created to show off the lighting, textures, animation, camera effects etc. It is also quite a powerful piece that cuts through all that into feeling for the character.

Very impressive stuff I am sure you agree? That’s “just a game development tool” for you 🙂

Wearable Tech show London with added serendipity

Yesterday I popped along on just an expo pass to London’s Excel centre for the Wearable Technology show. Despite its name it is not all about wrist watches that check your heart rate. The organisers have recognised the wider implications of things getting more instrumented, more data flowing and more business opportunities in the Internet of Things industry pattern. I had several reasons to pop along, the main one there will be a little more on later. I alluded to some big changes in a tweet. I don’t mean to tease but I am going to anyway.
One of the reasons I went to the show was to see some of the sports tracking wearables though. This was more in keeping with the title of the show. I was interested in both the physical monitoring, taking it past heart rate, and how the coaching software was shaping up to make sense of the data. I was also interested in anything that helped track the type of movement. Both these are from my training and teaching in Choi Kwang Do. A lot of the newer body monitoring kit was being built into skin tight performance clothing. That seems a good idea in general, and for a martial art, not having things on our wrists, yet getting some great training and tuning feedback during cardio and PACE training is going to be useful. There was only really one body movement tracker, related to boxing. It was based on the accelerometer principle, combined with an app that told you how many punches you were doing and at what rate and also showed the speed of the punch. It is not out for a while but it will be interesting to try this version with our more unusual martial arts moves. It is called Corner
Another reason to go, just in general because it’s what I have worked with for years is the VR and AR aspects of the show. There were a lot of headsets, both full immersive Rifts, Gear VR and also lots of peppers ghost, not really a hologram, heads up displays. There were some interesting uses to track warehouse goods in a HUD and also using projection onto a surface to avoid the need for glasses at all.
One company I spent a bit of time talking to and taking the demo was vTime
Wearable tech show
The preamble was good, and the demo was great and I wish them all the best of luck. It is a 3d chat room, avatar based where the users choose lovely rendered scene to sit in and converse, soon to share pictures etc. It is claiming to be a sociable not social network application. It is targeted at mobile first. I kept hearing the zuckerburg quote about one day people will just sit around a virtual campfire. Of course I was taken back to 2006, but tried not to get all grumpy and remind them everything old is new again. The campfire was a key part of the imagery and the experience we had online back then. Though then we could get up and walk about in the free form environment. In fact we still can, and SL had VR support. i.e. two cameras one for each eye. I still liked this new application, and if people connect and enjoy it, then so be it 🙂 I would dive in but it was focussed onto Gear VR and I only have my iPhone (and a load of things to drop that into to get stereo vision)
virtual campfire
The full post this was in to date it is here
Also Rita J. King was our embedded story teller/journalist and wrote tales from the fire pit to explain the rise of the virtual community powered by people, avatars and Second Life. The PDF of the story is here, and should be useful reading for the next wave of virtual environments. Headset or otherwise. I would say it is essential reading in fact 🙂
The economist had a stand showing a great use of virtual worlds. They have a reconstruction, from photos and other data, of the Mosul artefacts that have been destroyed due to the conflicts in the middle east. The VR was a little old fashioned, but the principle and content was good.
It was fun talking to the marker based AR developers, as they showed me things like book covers coming alive. Once again, I had to let them know I new a little about it and of course I tried to sell the idea in my books to people. If I had though about it I would have had a stand to show sci-fi novels about VR and AR and IoT with Reconfigure and Contxt 🙂
I mentioned serendipity in the title. I had tweeted my location as I got to excel, but then not checked twitter as I was going around the exhibits. As I tweeted I was leaving I saw that my colleague from way back Martin Gale was at the show, speaking and presenting. It was fantastic to catch up and see how well he is doing, quote the Fast Show, ‘Ah Ted” multiple times. Thank you for the coffee :). It made a great end to a fantastic day out. A day in which I got to practice a little of what I will be doing in the very near future, around the subjects that I will be immersed in. I guess in startup terms someone would call it is pivot. There I go teasing again. Watch this space, if you are interested 🙂

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.

A successful freebie promotion? Some numbers.

How did the freebie week do then? A week of just putting both Reconfigure and Cont3xt out there for download for nothing. Firstly thank you to everyone who downloaded the book(s) around the World, I had figures from lots of countries not just the .com and .co.uk Amazon sites.
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In total there were 373 downloads in those 5 days. It put the book up in the free charts and made for a very exciting few days watching the graph rise. I felt I was surfing a wave of interest in the story.
The cost of that free promo, if i had charged the normal Amazon price where I get 35% of the 0.99p it equates to £130.55. You can see you have to shift a lot of books, or charge a lot more and still shift them to make any sort of money for a novel. The 0.99 price point was.is an attempt at volume.
The free download though is way more effective, in my experience, than regular advertising. With that you pay if someone clicks on your advert, not if they buy you product. It is easy to spend hundreds trying to target the right audience. I even paid Facebook to boost my Reconfigure is free post for the week. That was £11 just to do that one post. It reached 1,018 people and there were 171 actions on it. It is hard to tell if those 171 actions were downloads of the book or not though. The systems are not so joined up as to be able to tell you that sort of intelligence.
Another interesting statistic is that 278 of the downloads were of Reconfigure, but only 95 for the follow up Cont3xt. Both were equally free, though I can understand in a series only grabbing the first. It may be that some of those 278 downloads might get read, and enjoyed and then come back for the sequel.
The World, characters and experiences I created didn’t exist before September 2015, and only started to be available for anyone else to experience in October 2015. Books take a long time to read, it is not a quick 1/2 hour TV series or a 5 minute YouTube. I now know there are lots of copies out there, ready to be taken to the next stage of discovery and enjoyment. That I count as a success. There are books that will ship 800+ a day, but that is a different league. My books can ship that many if need be, it is ultimately an on demand product and does not require me to do anything else to it. They are written, and I love what I have done.
With the excitement and the highs there is always a follow on low. As Amazon switches you from paid to free and back again the book ranking takes a bit of a hit. Obviously when you are free you are racking up free sales, when you go back again you are dropped back in having missed out on any sales, so it starts to tank. Unless lots of people rally and hear about the book and start buying it.As you can see below, the free book was getting right up onto the top line of the rankings in the top 1,000 of all books online, and top 50 of science fiction. Now the rank plummets, ready to start climbing again slowly.
Author rank
I was asked if this was a good way to make a living? Having a good quality product, as the books seem to be really enjoyed by people who get to read them, is only part of it. It is an essential part of course. The rest though requires a lot of luck. I am already very active of social media, and have been for years, and I am I willing to try a share things in an unusual way. I feel for those indie authors that have worked hard on their books and are now faced with trying to establish a social media presence in order to get the books noticed by people. It is why there is a huge industry of people charging money to do the advertising for you. I have explored some of those, the auto tweeting to hundreds of thousands of people. It’s effectiveness is debatable. However, you want to buy the lottery ticket, just in case.
Which convinces someone to download a book more, an advert or something mad like the Marmite jars.
#scifi Marmite
The answer may be neither, but I am having way more creative an intellectual fun trying these things out than the apparent mugging that occurs on regular online advertising. Well it was ONLY 373 and it was FREE so of course people would download it. That may be a though going through someone’s head. However, it is 373 downloads and everyone of them counts. Every potential reader, with it sat on their device, might get an fantastic kick out of reading it. Even one person loving it is a great result. If the book was not there, that would not happen. It is, they are, and it can.
I am still seriously considering how to tell the story in a way that fits the 21st century though. Game, machinima, Augmented Reality experience etc. That is because Roisin and her adventures are just freaking awesome 😉 Enjoy!

Bloxels – Physical game creation tool

Before the advent of the high end PC and Mac with all the wonderful graphics tools anyone doing any game like programming would be more than accustomed to used some pencil and paper tools to build their graphics. Small square lined paper was the main tool there. Shading in individual little pieces for 16×16 sprite. Usually then converting the rows into the binary, then hexadecimal values that would drop into the data structure to the make the on screen character. Pixel art is still a big thing though and a genre in its own right.
It was interesting to see the emergence of this game making/editing toolkit that abstracts that graph paper a little, not dealing so much with pixels but with larger block and constructs in a game environment. Family Gamer TV posted this video showing it in action.

It is the physical nature of the building and configuration that makes this different to the regular point and click builds, though it can be used for that too. Having a large number of plastic blocks in different colours means kids, or adults for that matter, can gather around the “graph paper” and chop and change their design on the table top. It is not totally clear how you go back to your source code though. Generally building something you have the base components always there. Here you will clear the rack and start again on the next one. Now if it could 3d print you the “source” if you wanted to start editing from a point in someone else’s rig that would be truly awesome.
It seems that Bloxels are doing something right as they can now only ship in the US due to a lack of inventory. I think it might make an interesting change and tool in primary schools though it suggests ages 8+ I know kids younger than that would get the concept pretty quickly.
One thing with graph paper, back in the day, if you knocked it on the floor you still had your design!

A free offering for World Choi Kwang Do week

This week is, for our martial art, Choi Kwang Do, starting to be known as World CKD week. Primarily that is because March 2nd is the anniversary of Grandmaster Choi founding the art, originally in 1987. The week is being themed with the tag line Science meets Martial Arts. This is one of the main reasons Choi Kwang Do works for me. In class we learn, practice and teach things based on the reason they work.
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I have written about our family’s martial art of choice many times and my exploration of technology in the art and how I arrived at the art via technology and serendipity too. There is also the more formal article in my writing portfolio about Virtual athletes
All this has led to Choi Kwang Do being a huge part of our family life and we have made so many good friends through it. There is a bond we all feel in the positive spirit of the art. It was shown this weekend as we celebrated with Master Scrimshaw the 5th Anniversary of BasingstokeCKD Our dohjang was full on Saturday with fellow students from Basingstoke, but also some good friends, old and new from other schools. We had black belt tag grading, colour belt grading, an incredible set of routines to go through in class and then a great social event with food and cakes. It was incredibly uplifting, and an ideal lead into World CKD week too!
To celebrate this World CKD week I have made Cont3xt free to download. It has an awful lot in it, pivotal to the story inspired by Choi Kwang Do as an art and a state of mind. It fits with the Science (Fiction) meets Martial Arts tagline for the week. Whilst I am doing this to encourage my fellow practitioners to see ways we can introduce Choi Kwang Do in many different ways, and as a way of saying thank you to them all there will of course be other people able to download and experience the books for free. All my author bio’s mention Choi Kwang Do.
We pledge Humility and Integrity, amongst other things, in the art. So promotion of one’s own work like this could feel a little uncomfortable. However I really want to share how CKD inspired elements fit into a science fiction techno thriller in a very positive way. It was the just getting on with it unbreakable spirit that we learn, that even got me to write these two books.
As Cont3xt is the follow up book I have also made Reconfigure free for the week too. The martial arts arrives in Cont3xt but not in the way you might think to start off with, in Reconfigure (book 1) Roisin has no such skills, but the book is there for free too for completeness.
I hope a few people get a chance to take a look, maybe even pop a few stars of reviews on Amazon. I would also love for someone to have read the Cont3xt, who doesn’t do CKD yet, and to look up the art , find their nearest school and start to train. It’s a long shot, but every person in the World is a potential student to join us, have some fun and learn something really useful about themselves.
Choi Kwang Do is practical self defence, but we aim to never need to use it, and we also don’t fight and hurt our fellow students via competition and sparring. I believe the quote is “It is better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war.”
So there we have it, the books are available free on Amazon, to be used in whatever way works for whom so ever needs it. Cont3xt and Reconfigure here.
Pil Seung! (Certain victory)

Real Steel – In toy form – Big Robots

Controlling robots directly with your own physical motions is something we see a lot in sci-fi. Films like Real Steal have battling bots tearing one another apart in the ring. As a kid I had a version of the battling robot boxing game. Rock ’em Sock Em was the main contender. It had mechanical bots on the end of some push rods. The robots were locked into the boxing ring. Thumb presses aimed to hit the other bot square on the chin lifting his head up for the win. My boxers were free moving versions, but looked like real people. The trolley wheels on the base of the 12 inch figures meant lots of positioning and jostling as you tried to free move and get those punches in. Of course all that went out of the window when the digital fighting games arrived and Street Fighter et. all blew away the physical fighting toys.
Now the bots are fighting back and @FamilyGamerTV has some coverage here of motion controlled free moving fighting bots that are soon to hit the shelves. The video explains it all, but it seems the motion is directional, hooks and upper cuts, not just the thumb pressing single motion of the old fashioned fighting bots.

Big Robots, as they are not so imaginatively called, add a little spice to the radio control market. Now if we could just make them a little bigger we would be ready to fight Godzilla when he walks out of the ocean Pacific Rim style.

Self driving cars – The concept of electric opens the way

I attended a lovely wedding on Friday. It was one that I did not really know anyone at, except @elemming of course. We drove to Chorley Wood, but took the petrol car as it was about 100 mile round trip. The Leaf could make it with a splash and dash charge, but it was not worth the extra hassle. We sat in a very long M25 traffic jam getting there, 50 mile in 2 hours. Coming home late that night the M3 was closed for roadworks so we had a bit of detour to Reading in order to get back to Basingstoke. That experience is a very common one on our road system here in the UK. Petrol guzzling engine blocks sat almost motionless in a long queue. As I sat in the jam I thought how the electric Leaf would not be using any power at all sat still, but also that if all these cars were computer controlled there would be no jam, as efficient network algorithms would get us all where we needed to go, as long as everything was able to talk to everything else.
Oddly, we gave some people a lift form the church to the reception. In the few minutes drive our electric car came up in conversation. People are still intrigued, it is still early adopter territory, but in a well understood space. How does it work, how much does it cost, are they really that fast? etc. I am a tech evangelist so I love sharing this sort of information.
Nissan #leaf under the bonnet
The subject of Tesla came up too. Elon Musk and his wide ranging and World changing innovations became the topic of the continuing chat. In particular we talked about self driving cars. It was talked about, not in a laughing at the concept way, but in a how long before they do. I mentioned the fact that Tesla’s were already patched over the air, like an iPhone app would be, and had some basic extensions applied to them to enable self driving features. Once again this did not seem odd to anyone in the car.
It seems that the reality of an electric car, real people owning real ones and using them, makes a dent in the automobile paradigm. It’s electric, therefore it is probably all ‘computery’ and of course it will be on the Internet as a composite Internet of Things device. That may be a terminology step to far for someone not in the industry, but the principle is there in people’s minds.
A petrol car is stuck, tethered to a petrol pump, constantly pouring pounds into it. It is heavy and lumbering, resistant to change. It is like a telephone box on the street. The electric car is more like a wifi enabled, 4G smartphone. It can do way more than just make calls. After all if you are going to completely change how a vehicle works, and see that it does, why not change everything else around it, including who drives it.
This morning on the BBC news Ford were at the Mobile World Congress. They were explaining they were not longer just a car maker, but a platform maker. When asked when they would have full self driving cars the answer was that they already have some assistance features (which are like the Tesla) and that they had not set a date for a Level 4 fully autonomous vehicle yet, but when they did it would be mass market.
It was the first time I had heard the term Level 4. Wikipedia came to my aid on this one.
From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autonomous_car

In the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed a formal classification system:[14]

Level 0: The driver completely controls the vehicle at all times.
Level 1: Individual vehicle controls are automated, such as electronic stability control or automatic braking.
Level 2: At least two controls can be automated in unison, such as adaptive cruise control in combination with lane keeping.
Level 3: The driver can fully cede control of all safety-critical functions in certain conditions. The car senses when conditions require the driver to retake control and provides a “sufficiently comfortable transition time” for the driver to do so. Example: Tesla Model S
Level 4: The vehicle performs all safety-critical functions for the entire trip, with the driver not expected to control the vehicle at any time. As this vehicle would control all functions from start to stop, including all parking functions, it could include unoccupied cars.
An alternative classification system based on five different levels (ranging from driver assistance to fully automated systems) has been published by SAE, an automotive standardisation body.

It is interesting that we have such a leap in levels. The move from 3 to 4 is huge if you think about it. If we were starting the road system from scratch now, we might just dive into Level 4. Dedicated lanes, less complexity and adversity for the computers to have to cope with. Now though we have a mixed system. Any level 4 car will have to cope with all the existing Level 0 drivers and a world built for them. e.g. a full Level 4 system would not need traffic lights. Cars could interleave at junctions with an automated flow system.

As you can see just form a wikipedia article, even the standardisation of the level numbers has not occurred. How and where the massive automotive corporations are going to collaborate on communications standards across the vehicles is going to be interesting. The pressure on the software industry to create realtime systems that do not fail at all is also going to be high. All our computers, phones etc crash. They need a reboot here and there. That doesn’t matter so much sat at your desk, but in a car hurtling at 70mph+ in an environment where lots of the other cars are still Level 0 and have human driver quirks to deal, and not having any software problems and actually crashing with is no mean feat.

As a long time software engineer, we used to have a long lead time in testing. Once deployed changes tweaks did not happen. Fixes were bundled and applied to big central systems but you tended to have to get it correct first time. Now we are in a permanent patch environment. This is great as things can improve over time, but also it can cause an attitude in engineering and the pressures to hit deadlines, that it is OK we can patch it later over the Internet.

I wonder what is going to happen to the automotive industry, and the things around it. The diversity of car design, engine performance and general handling all feature heavily in shows like Top Gear and whatever Amazon’s reboot of it will be called. If our vehicles just become self driving taxis will we still try and show off our design choices and apparent status with them. Will a custom car be nothing more than a large iPhone case? There are some huge social implications in how we feel about cars and what we do in them. A car will be an office, full attention can be given to phone calls or emails, maybe even just donning you VR headset for a virtual meeting on a nice simulated desert island rather than watch the motorway sidings zoom past.

It is definitely an area that will impact all our lives and is another exciting, and slightly scary one to consider.

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