Monthly Archives: February 2011

The science of the Sun – Solar Flares

There was some slight confusion on Saturday for TV viewers when The Cool Stuff Collective moved from 9am Sat ITV1 to 8:10am so a few people think I have changed into Hannah Montana. Hopefully the various repeats the rest of the week will rectify the problem.
The show this week was space themed and so it was worth trying something a little more scientific in future tech. So I got to discuss Solar Flares and Coronal Mass Ejections.
Given the current activity of the Sun and the fact that the main news is covering such solar events it was a real honour to do big science. NASA provided some great footage too.
As usual there were several points I wanted to get across. The rationale for covering CME’s was the potential harm to all our gadgets. Large waves of energy bombarding the Earth could seem scary, in fact they are. I think we avoided any scaremongering in talking about how there were ways to shield devices. In order to demonstrate the power of this invisible wavescollection of particles I used a picture frame of iron filings lined up nicely in a row, then passed a magnet over the row and caused breakages in the visual of an electronic connection.
Explaining Solar CME's
To show that all is not lost I then had a piece of wood covered in Aluminum foil to act as a shield. (I made it perfectly clear it was Monkey’s attempt and that wood and foil is not the ideal thing to blog a CME but it does block a small magnet. (The foil was of course for that home made science effect 🙂 )
Shielding a CME
The other part of the piece that I thought was important was that scientists need help investigating solar flares. The is effectively a crowdsourcing science website. It has made an achievement driven game out of us all being able to look at solar observation footage and spot unsual activity. It is the gamification of science and very educational too. It is well worth a look.
It is always good when we are able to mention something that has some follow on activity, I love the fact that the viewers can go and try something, just as with the Wikipedia show.
There is much more of that to come the next few weeks mixed with some of the big gadget adventures we have filmed on the road.

Feeding Edge is 2 Years old

Another significant milestone today. Feeding Edge Ltd is now two years old. It is something I am extremely proud about and when I reflect back on this year it has been so varied, there have been some challenges but the worst of those have been resolved. For the most part it has been such an entertaining and stimulating year its hard to think of it all packed into 12 months.
feeding edge 2nd birthday
(When I added the second flame from last years I used Photoshop CS5 puppet warp on the flames, its amazing, it puts a mesh over the part of the image and you edit it like a 3d mesh would)
A year ago I could not have imagined where I am at today. The diversity of which would not have really fitted into any other company. The ability to go with the flow, trust in serendipty and gut feeling has been incredibly useful. If companies let the creativity of their employees flow, rather than focus on control and crackdown then I am sure we would be be generating some fantastic innovations and growth in business. Though, selfishly, if everyone does that then it makes it much harder for me.

So this year I have a few sparklers (though some customer names and projects are not public)

  • Consulted on virtual worlds and games for the government
  • Built a complex system of second life and open sim interactions with drupal and a java model for medical training
  • Toured washing away cave paintings at conferences and gathering all over the UK and elsewhere including Finland and Ireland
  • Appeared on shows in Second Life and given many talks too
  • Started to get the ball rolling as Chairman of the BCS animation and Games SG
  • Been a port of call for references and direction as a virtual world advisor to startups
  • Built a drupal based social and political hub as a proof of concept
  • Review games on Game People like Kinectimals and 3d GT5

  • The ultimate highlights though have to be.

  • Forming the as yet in stealth social games and transmedia company and getting seed funding and filing the patent for the idea.
  • Being given the chance to work on kids TV inspiring the next generation with future technolgy with The Cool Stuff Collective

  • The games company is a mix of having to architect design and direct some development and is very much hands on with the technology. The concept for our first product still amazes me and I am very proud of it. With a bit of luck we will get bigger very soon and we can deliver an even more amazing rendition of the concept, but to my partners in all this I say a huge thank you. I want to write more about what we are doing, but now is not the time or place. I still have a stack of code to write, but my coding partner out there is doing some awesome work making sense of the ideas we come up with for implementation.
    The Cool Stuff Collective has been an amazing journey too from the first conversation about being a technical advisor to being thrown into the studio to present, and now mid way through series 2 yesterday I was out with the crew filming at the Pure Tech racing simulators then dashing down to Intech hands on science centre. Being able to inspire or interest the next generation of techies, and maybe reach some of their parents with tech that is already here but seems like science fiction has been an incredible honour.
    Look at the list of things we have covered

    3d Printing, Haptics, Ardrone, 3d scanning, MMO Lego, AR, Kinect, Mind control, SMARt tables, eReaders, 3D cameras and glasses, Unity3d/evolver games dev, Cloud Computing, Wikipedia, Photoshop, Laser Holographic projection….
    To come is Solar Flares, Opensim and the outside video we have now done indoor skydiving, indoor snowboarding, Racing simulators, science gadgets and planetarium.
    So I have ended up on wikipedia and have over 20 TV records under my belt now. I have a showreel of sorts with its own page here and my new business cards say amongst the blurb TV Presenter. (I think that’s valid now isn’t it?)
    When people ask what it is I do and what Feeding Edge does, I think this does all some up in “Taking a bite out of technology so you don’t have to”.
    I think that because pushing things forward, thinking of the whole not just design not just tech but the social implications of it, but mashing in the fact that things should entertain and engage us as humans is my mission.
    So what does next year bring? Well for me more of the same is the answer.
    I am asked how I have time to do all the things I do. The answer is I don’t. Sometimes things have to slide a bit. Whilst many things seem diverse they are linked. I play games, looking at them for review, to spot trends, to see how things might be used in other gamification contexts and for enjoyment. Then I write about them, present about them and even build them. It’s all part of the flow. The same goes for the other emerging tech. If you are interesting in 3d virtual worlds, then naturally how to create 3d content, how to experience 3d content and how to use 3d environment to reach an audience becomes part of everyday life.
    Then there is the social media side of things. I tweet, blog, share photos on flicker, put game achievements up on facebook and raptr. It is both a personal sharing of whats goidn on to those who need to know or are curious, but it is also a social experiment in how it feels to do these things and the impact it has on my life. Having that personal experience lets me share it with others and with companies and get them to the good part of this communication revolution rather than stagnating.
    People I know often say to me they only understand 1/3 of my tweets. That is great as probably the 1/3 was for their benefit the other 2/3 for others. Mixing busines, social, tech and existence on one channel in 140 characters is still fascinating. It is a microcosm of the whole of what I do with Feeding Edge.
    So to all my customers, partners, competitors, friends, mentors and fellow virtual world evangelists I say a huge thank you for all your support.
    Right, back to it, now what was I do again?

    Holographic Laser Projection

    We are up to S2Ep4 of The Cool Stuff Collective already ! Time certainly flies. This week I got to be @StephenFry, well not exactly but we had the wonderful Holographic Laser Projector from Cambridge based Light Blue Optics. In this explanation of how it all works the dulcet tones Stephen Fry explain how it all works so I wont have to type it all in here again. However this is pretty much what I explained to Sy in the studio. Diffraction patterns are created and the lasers are shone through those meaning the form of projection used is really radically different to a regular projector.
    The device basically creates a very bright touch controlled screen on an surface from a free standing self contained box. It also uses less power than your average laptop screen to achieve that.

    We had to have a couple of goes at the piece. This was in part because the very bright display works great in any normal situation but obviously with the bright lights and cameras of the TV studio we had to dim the lights to get the right effect. The first time the lights were dimmed a tad to much and whilst it was a great take I am sure it featured only our silhouettes and looked like some crimewatch confessions or similar. I think I am getting used to having multiple takes, though its difficult to ad lib exactly the same thing each time.
    The format changed a little too as Sy ended up having to sit next to me as it made it easier to show the device working to camera. It’s nice to mix it up a bit.
    The rest of the show was about monkey’s birthday, some mad and funny moments like monkey riding a scooter with sparks flying out across the BBC car park. Rich had spent ages making a very large horse shaped present and wrapped it in gold foil. This was part of the gag about all monkeys presents were banana shaped and turned out through the magic og TV to be something else when unwrapped. I ended up carrying the horse onto the end of show party though as Rich was in his full Lady Blah Blah with turntable, but I think we did it justice 🙂
    More next week 9am Sat ITV 1 and now on twitter @cstuffc

    He has done it again! Telepresence this time

    This guy Johnny Chung Lee, now “rapid evaluator” at Google, is amazing and I love how he approaches things. Way back he did the wiimote hacks that made 3d motion control out of wearing the sensor bar and keeping the wiimotes steady. As Feeding Edge’s tag line is “Taking a bite out of technology so you don’t have to” you can see why I have an affinity for his work!
    This time he has hacked together a $500 telepresence robot. These things seem to keep popping up so he is definitely “bang on trend”. They are a weird combination of a physical avatar used to navigate physical space and “be” somewhere. Like all new ideas they may seem daft, and I did have a “that’s stupid” fleeting momentary thought. However, as I have mentioned before, when I see something and think that I know I have to look further into the idea, especially when serendipity subconsciously shouts out about the subject
    I bumped into this because I was looking at these more commercial telepresence robots from vgocom. This version though uses the IRobot Create (Roomba)

    They had featured a telepresence ER/A&E robot on BBC Horizon and combined with a piece we filmed on wednesday for The Cool Stuff Collective where I was trapped in a video box it all started to link up. Further re-enforced by a conversation about driving robots from a virtual world that started the very same afternoon!
    This has a nice circular element to it in that you will notice from the great Johnny Chung Lee’s blog featuring this quick build is called Procrastineering and the tag line, which is something I live by is “giving in to productive distractions”. It brilliantly sums up the flow of serendipity and the combination of tech and art and ideas mixed with human conversation that seems to lead in a positive direction. I know it is not for everyone and it is a seat of the pants existence but for me it feels right.

    I never thought I would do a post about N-Dubz

    The flexibility of Little Big Planet 2 and the creative potential has gone mainstream.
    N-Dubz ( A popular beat combo m’lud) have created their latest video using LBP2. I have to say it is brilliant!

    I was recently writing a post elsewhere (link to follow) about the creative freedom of Little Big Planet 2. This is a prim example done really well too.
    This video too from shows a whole range of game styles built using the LBP2 live tools on a Ps3

    Take note Second Life….

    Diminished Reality – S2Ep3

    The current Cool Stuff Collective running this week I got to show a few things. The main theme of the future tech was based on having seen this video about diminished reality (which we did not get to show on the show)

    It struck me that the best way to show this in action, and to explain the complexity of it was to use Photoshop CS5. The full version of photoshop has an amazing content aware fill. This is used to automatically replace something in a picture by calculating what is likely to be behind that object. There have been ways to do this in photoshop manually but it is the simplicity of the process that I found interesting.
    I took a photo of monkey by a patterned wall.
    monkey banana
    In photoshop (live in realtime) I magic wand selected the bright yellow banana and then did a content aware fill and this happened.
    Now this was 3 clicks and almost instant. It is not perfect, there is still a little outline of the banana and the wall is a little wonky, but it is amazing!
    For a joke I then highlighted monkey (I already had selected most of him but not precisely as this was a quick take 🙂 )
    This again is not perfect but as a proof of what it does it is ideal. I also like the predator like image we generated.
    Part of the piece I also got Sy to look at Wordlens on the iphone. This replaces words that it sees via the camera with other words. Translations, reversals, removals etc. It is a mix of augmented and diminished reality.
    Yes I did do some other things in the show, yes I did put some sports kit on and play Mario Sports against monkey and yes he did beat me at basketball. (My gaming cred is now reset to zero but I will have my revenge Monkey!).
    That will be going into the series 2 showreel I am sure 🙂 checkout showreel one though 🙂

    My series 1 TV showreel

    I got to hang out in the edit suites at MTV Camden today where the magic of TV gets crafted together from all our bits of film. John was making a showreel for the entire show to take to New York and the Kidscreen summit a version of that will get posted soon.
    Afterwards though I got to suggest some pieces for my own personal showreel. This is all very exciting as much of the official website doesn’t work outside the UK. We stuck to pieces of series 1 (apart from the end as a taster of the current series). It keeps the comedy spirit and shows a range of things. My acting is getting better I promise over time 😉

    See what you think.
    Dont forget The Cool Stuff Collective ITV1 9:00am Saturdays

    G33k on tour part 1 – Falling down, levelling up

    I think I will remember Tuesday 8th Feb 2010 for quite a while. A series of experiences all came together at once and it made me feel incredibly fortunate. It is still work though!
    The day was spent in Milton Keynes as part of a road trip feature for The Cool Stuff Collective. There was a very early 7am start, which given I live 120 miles away meant it was sensible to stay over the night before. It also meant I could catch up with my mate Mike Edwards, who normally ends up visiting us. It is amazing to hear his stories of keeping his racing motor bike team going, Mist Suzuki. As a team they do amazingly well with their results, but sponsorship and funding is always tricky. The passion, drive and results are stunning!. (Just in case anyone out there wants to get involved in making the team even more successful just give Mike a ping )
    On Tour
    So what was I there to do? I was there to talk about a couple of giant gadgets, to camera for the show. This in itself was a new experience. It is very different talking to Sy in the studio about something I have brought in, compared to addressing a camera directly about someone else’s stuff. The individual pieces to camera are also broken up into all sorts of orders, multiple takes, cut aways and given its a kids show some gags too. So take away the rest of what the day was about and I feel I personally levelled up in TV presenting, but there is always more to learn! It is different to the flow of standing on stage at a conference and presenting too. I tend to present, when on stage at a conference to an audience, a stream of consciousness. I have points to hit with a beginning middle and end, but very often I don’t recall exactly what I said. These mini bits to camera have to be much more punchy, whilst you get a few takes and goes that in a way puts more pressure on concentrating on the piece. The sort of filming we were doing also was being timed with some external events too. It sounds a doddle, turn up and talk, it is fun, but not what you expect it to be.
    It is also a brilliant study in teamwork. The presenter is really just another paint on the canvas. The location, the look, the movement, the sounds, the paperwork/permissions and the vision of the combined piece all have to be combined by these guys.
    They make the magic happen
    Then of course afterwards all the footage goes off for editing, so lots of what is shot will not be used, but together everyone gathers enough extra material that can make a piece work.
    So what were we filming? The aim was to create to on the road pieces about large gadgets and also do some action style filming.
    The morning was spent indoor skydiving at Airkix. Yes that right I was thrown into an indoor skydiving chamber and had to learn quickly how to do it to some degree of competence, or fail horribly and make it funny for the camera. The production team at Archie had arranged for some demonstration flying too which included the World Champion, who held indoor and outdoor titles.
    They went first, and to say we were all gobsmacked at the speed, precision and seeming madness of them would be an understatement. We did a filming tour of the building too, it is a massively impressive gadget generating huge wind forces.
    I then got kitted up and my instructor got me going straight away. It is a surprising experience to suddenly be suspended in mid air. You body position becomes critical, you are a wing. The instructor stands, and sometimes flys in there with you. It is like Tai Chi at 150mph. You have to hold a position, both with and against the wind. The instructor uses hand signals to suggest moving arms, straightening legs. once a bit stable you can turn with the slightest twist of your shoulders. Straightening your body a little and you climb.
    The chamber has a net you start on covering the lower section where the air is accelerated. There is a 30ft roof space and yes I did end up there in quite a surprising way, which I hope makes it to the film! Luckily it was so noisy I was not supposed to commentate or talk to camera whilst doing this too! It was incredible and a huge thanks to the Airkix staff and coaches for making the visit (and my first filming) go so well.
    I did OK too I think 🙂

    That would have probably been enough for the day, but…. we had some lunch and then went next door to the indoor snow slope, the SnoZone
    So fresh from the rush of indoor skydiving and pieces to camera I jumped into my snowboarding gear and we spent a while on the slope doing more an more elaborate pieces to camera. John Marley (the director) was giving me some great advice on how to approach some of these. It was a brilliant lesson and I tried to absorb as much as possible. You can just talk to a camera and be natural, but there is a lot stagecraft to that. So I know there is lots more to learn.
    After all the links, facts, figures, getting covered in snow I then had to see if I could still snowboard. It has been a good few years since I was up a mountain on a board.
    Boarding View
    When I was kitted out one of the guys there saw my g33k shirt and asked if I had a l33t too. Maybe I upgrade the shirt to l33t g33k?
    However I thought I would still have the muscle memory and be able to give it a go. I have also been using the Kinect to exercise a lot, so i was confident that I had the strength (even after the sky diving) to get on with it. Still though it was a very nervous moment click the bindings and going down a moderately empty slope, but being filmed! Back heel turns were the easiest as usual but as I ride goofy and the filming was from the right hand side of the slope I was happy I could carve in. Though it all came back and I felt a toeside turn and it worked. I was pretty ecstatic 🙂 It may not be the smoothest riding but to drag that back after all the years and do it in a confined space with people definitely watch was a massive #win. We did not stop at snowboarding we did some headfirst sledging and bin lid sledging and a bit more boarding, then some more larking around shots. I probably should have stayed a while longer and boarded some more, but once we had wrapped the shoot I was pretty much done for. More mentally than physically. The day had been a blur of experiences, and I had to switch mental focus a lot. Another huge thanks to the guys at SnoZone
    So yes that could be considered a jolly, and rather like all the other things that look like jolly on the outside, on the inside they are exciting, entertaining and hard work in completely different ways to how you might expect.

    That TV effect – Wikipedia hacks

    I know from my previous work at Wimbledon that when you put a URL on the TV you get a massive influx of activity to a website. It shows how intertwined computer use and TV watching actually is and something that has grown with the use of commentating channels like Twitter. It is not internet connected TVs just zooming you off to the URL but people bothering to type into their device that they have with them whilst they watch TV.
    Yesterday we started airing a piece on The Cool Stuff Collective’s wikipedia page and mine and Wikipedia in general.
    Cool Stuff Wikipedia
    Almost instantly we had updates getting made on the page. we did not even publish the URL on screen. I should have mentioned in the TV piece that whilst anyone can edit, not saying you are when you do edit records your IP address on the log. Clean up bots put back any hacking or vandalism. We got lots of IP addresses logged!
    It is an interesting feeling of letting things get on with it. Just as my page went through a noteworthy/not noteworthy discussion and passed. Watching the Cool stuff page get blanked and some offensive remarks added, having some nice, but not factual, comments added to it and even a bit of blatant self promotion from one of the schools featured. All in the matter of a few hours.
    This morning though it looked like the bots had got a bit lost, or maybe just given up and the page was half there so I reverted it, under my ID, to one of the more regular ones. I restrained myself from removing any of the odd extra additions such as the school reference because I wanted to stay true to the Wikipedia ideal.
    **Update – One of the more experienced editors spotted the “attacks” and took some action “(Protected The Cool Stuff Collective: Persistent vandalism ([edit=autoconfirmed] (expires 17:23, 7 February 2011 (UTC)) [move=autoconfirmed] (expires 17:23, 7 February 2011 (UTC))))” which was interesting. Due to the number of edits, the page also ended up at number 6 for the day on Wikirage which counts and tracks wikipedia activity
    This is definitely one of those experiences you have to feel and watch unfold. You have to relinquish control and ego and let it self organise. It is a very different feeling to the one you get publishing to a blog, posting to twitter, making a tv show, delivering software to a customer. They all have a something about them, and they all create a different emotional response in the creator and in the receivers of that content.
    Wikipedia is an amazing social and technical experiment that over the past 10 years has flourished through the diligence of all its contributors and editors.

    Wikipedia S2Ep2 – Banana, Beret and Toilet

    The Cool Stuff Collective show 2 just started airing this week (also now on twitter as @cstuffc). The plot features lots of comic special effects as Monkey has a magic genie in a phone and keeps wishing for bananas.
    Sy asks the Genie, “how many wishes does Monkey have?” the reply “9 wishes”, “a bit of an odd number?”, the genie then replies “that’s the right number of wishes for all the jokes in the script” 🙂
    In keeping with the madness of the show in general I had a few extra pieces to do over and above future tech. Monkey had too many bananas so we had to find good uses, mine was a screw driver for fixing a PS3.
    Banana Screwdriver
    We also had a piece on the Wii tablet and pictionary so Monkey and I were busy drawing bananas on note pads.
    Drawing with monkey
    Sy then sparked up a game of pictionary and drew the clue he was given (which was not fixed just serendipity at work). Monkey keeps guessing bananas and I finally get to guess and have the dubious honour of having shouted out “Toilet” on national television sat next to a beret wearing monkey with a beret of my own. Not something I ever thought I would type.
    Shouting Toilet

    The main Future Tech piece this week was on wikipedia. Yes it has been around for 10 years but I thought it was important to talk about the principles of the wiki. With all the wikileaks news stories too it was good to get across the difference and the positive benefits of wikis. One of the gags was that every time I said Wikipedia, Sy would stop me and it pans out to Lady Blah Blah scratching a record whilst Sy said Wiki Wiki Wah Wah. As we try and do these a a flowed single take it was both funny and annoying to do but worked 🙂

    As part of the explanation we put the Cool Stuff Collective wikipedia page up, and it was interesting to see an instant flurry of sensible edits, hacks, bizarre paragraphs and some self promotion appear on it shortly afterwards. The important edit was the currency of the new series. We shall see how it survives the rest of the week. This though shows the power of the process. Anti spam bots were protecting us as were some individuals.
    My page also made it up on screen so no idea what is going to go on there now.
    Part of this was to point out Sy Thomas did not have his page and to show the empty edit page so I hope someone takes up the challenge on the biographies needed page and writes him one.
    It would be an interesting school project for some enterprising teachers to get their kids involved in the contributory web to have a go at this.