Monthly Archives: March 2011

3ds StreetPass and pedometers – new social gaming twist

A feature of the new 3ds handheld that does get mentioned but is generally overshadowed by the lenticular lens 3d screen is its network capabilities. StreetPass may seem an odd concept but in terms of ensuring you have the console on your person at all times and powered up it is fascinating.
What StreetPass does is keep the 3ds wireless running whilst in standby but in a low power mode. It looks for other 3ds consoles within about 30 metres of it at any time. Why? Well it does this so that if a fellow 3ds owner passes you in the street the two machines will exchange data with one another whilst sat in you bag or pocket. It is a form of digital business card exchange.
Nintendo have, with this, gone and invented a whole new dynamic to social gaming in a networked world. You often bump into gamers online in games that you play at the times that you play them. i.e. fully distributed networks. With StreetPass you are bumping into gamers at a time and physical place which gives you something in common, and hence makes that person of interest.
What interested me, aside from the tech, was how this felt. Whilst I was in London heading back from the BBC I had my 3ds on standby in my pocket on the tube. I actually got off at a stop I did not need to, in this case picadilly circus, and walked down to leicester square in order to see if my StreetPass would connect with anyone.
This physical activity did in fact yield a few StreetPass exchanges. So when i got back on the tube train I was able to see a few Mii’s (the little avatars you create as a calling card/game character) now residing on my handheld. One was even from someone form Spain. My epredator Mii had also been delivered to them of course. I had, as an experiment also put Feeding Edge Ltd as my greeting so it was a kind of advert !
Mii visitors
These Mii’s also come with things that relate to games, such as a specific piece of a puzzle, or they can be used to drive a mini game. We are only scratching the surface of how this will pan out.
I had been playing a bit of Street Fighter IV which is tremendous game on the DS and has been crafted superbly. Part of that is the ability to win in game figures. These figures form part of a collection that can be traded wirelessly, but more excitingly you are able to assemble a fantasy fighting team from the figures.You are given a certain number of skill and attribute points that you are allowed to spend and then the different figures and characters can be user to create the team. Once created this can be StreetPass enabled. I obviously wandered past a fellow SF IV player as we basically exchanged team data. Once you spark up the game again it asks if you want to run the simulated battle using this data. I did, I won 🙂 in winning I gained some more currency to spend on more in game figures to build the team. It’s almost like play by mail rock/paper/scissors with a huge techie twist.
3ds SF IV team
Just to complete the behaviour altering loop though the 3ds also acts as a pedometer. It counts your steps, the more steps you do the more game coins you are credited with. These game coins can be used to purchase in game items. In the case of SF IV it is, yes you guessed it, more game figures to build the team with.
So, I was carrying a 3ds in my pocket, deliberately walked through the centre of London to see how it worked, gathered some other gamers data, played an offline game with that data which earned me more game points to be able to do that again and the act of walking wash also gaining those game points too.
I think this is going to be a fascinating twist, and may surpass the 3d elements of the nintendo handheld. It has shades of the Wiimote for being genre changing. In a world of online social games they have reintroduced the physical environment to the mix and I am sure some very cool ideas will spring out of that.
(I have not even begun to riff on the AR capabilities which are awesome too, more on that later)

Formula 1 here I come and some magic too

Well the title may not be strictly true, but it is the start of the F1 season so it was rather good timing that this weeks Cool Stuff Collective was my Big Gadget Adventure to PureTech racing near Gatwick.
If you get to see the footage I think it is very obvious just how violent (and exhilarating) the whole experience is.
The show features a celebrity take over by Lucy Versamy, so when we have the usual chants of “Ian” Lucy walks in instead and introduces my VT, just in case anyone was as confused as when we moved TV time slots and we all turned into Hannah Montana.
The place is amazing in having 10 high spec simulators that throw you around with incredible force and precision at up to 1.5g. The steering wheels are force feedback and the track is a composite of some great corners from around the world.
In doing my TV style intro I had to say “most advanced formula racing simulators in the world” and it was so hard not to turn into Jeremy Clarkson at that point.
PureTech big gadget adventure
I really enjoyed hurtling around this track and I was getting some decent times and seeing where to improve. It was tiring but I could have done that all day, tuning and adjusting to get it just right. The middle part of the track (as I shouted in the VT is “Top Gear!!!!” and flat out (if you line up right) through some amazing corner combinations.
Puretech big gadget adventure
The other cool anecdote about todays show was that the Gadget of the Week in Monkey’s gold box was a magic wand controller from the Wand Company. (You may have caught this on Dragon’s Den). The reason it was on the show was because @bowlsey tweeted me as a representative of the wand and asked what I thought of them. The tweet started a cascade of communication and next thing you know it was on the roster as the Gadget of the Week as Matt thought they were cool too 🙂
It is amazing to think that on wednesday we shoot the last 3 of series 2 of The Cool Stuff Collective and how far it has all come and how it just keeps getting better IMHO. There are still 5 shows to air out of the 14 but its a body of work everyone is really proud of, and has enjoyed for the most part 🙂

3DS Ignition launch party

Thursday night I headed to London to meet up with some of the Cool Stuff Collective team as we had VIP media tickets to the Nintendo 3DS launch event. This was of course a very exciting invite. We were not filming anything, but the chance to mingle, to play some pre-release games and to be at a great music gig too was impossible to say no to!
I am sure many media people go to these things all the time, but for me it was a bit of a novelty.
We had to stand in a short queue the other side from the actual red carpet. Jodie Kidd was just arriving as we got there so it took a little while for the photographers to finish before we snuck in past them.
The venue was the Old Billingsgate hall on the bank of the Thames. After a little bit of confusion about names on the list (there were five of us, a small amout of “don’t you know who we are” we were ushered, given a gold write band and headed up stairs.
It was a very impressive set up. There were on the mezzanine level (where you needed the wrist band) stand after stand of 3DS with every game there is for it, so it seemed. We were suspended above the main floor where there other party guests and competition winners were able to play on even more machines.
The public 3ds play stands
We had to do the usual set of party pictures.
Celebs :)
I was also wearing my g33k t-shirt, though I probably should have gone incognito 🙂
Matt got to meet some fellow costume based performance artists too.
Not mushroom in here
The 3DS is really great and I can’t wait until my one arrives (cough… Amazon !!!! you missed the release data).
It really is 3d
The highlight of the evening though was the music gig we were able to wander down to the floor and also escape the crush back upstairs again 🙂
Russel Kane intro's acts
Hadukon got the energy level up with a great set but I really was looking forward to seeing Plan B. They were absolutely brilliant live! DJ Yoda did a fantastic set after that too and took us off into the night.
The only slight problem was that I had to get up (having stayed over in London) and head up to Scunthorpe to give a talk to 200 sixth form students. I was a little croaky for the talk but I think it went well 🙂
Now where is my 3DS! I have two games and no console
Something missing from this picture
We couldn’t get them off the display stands to take home 🙂
Sy and 3ds

Selling your friends down the digital river

There seems to be a little bubble of interest growing in the social media trading site Empire Avenue. I only really started to take notice of it last night and created a profile and ticker for epredator

It even encourages you to increase you wealth by asking people to share links like this to sign up
I was intrigued as it reminded me of a site I was introduced to way back in 1998 by some American colleagues who said look at this. I was wracking my brains trying to remember it and luckily its still there My id has long since expired on that though it would appear. The aim was to get info about films and stars and to buy into them with pretend shares. As the time it was a very spreadsheet like site but told you about films that were in pre-production and you could place buy orders on them. I do remember I made a fortune though on a relatively unknown Helena Bonham-Carter as her career broke.
Empire avenue alters this formula and makes us all the stars and our activity on social media, as we link our accounts to it, becomes part of our “worth”.
I am always intrigued about the meta stories that can be applied to our web contributions and this is certainly one of them. Buying shares in someone, is that like friending or more “stalking”. Selling shares (not done that yet) is that a snub or just a virtual commercial decision.
It also reminds me of the political web based RPG erepublik where people live within a political system of work and taxes, but gather to be countries and provinces of interest. Rather like minecraft people manufacture virtual goods and produce that are bought and sold on the market. (I had not visited for a while so my citizen had died, but is now back in good health).
All these applications now wire nicely into facebook and twitter as the main substrate, yet do not exist in those environments. It is almost as if twitter and facebook are social media operating systems.
There is certainly more to be done in this area (thats what I am working on now in relative secrecy BTW ) 🙂

Introducing open source to kids TV – yes really!

I really enjoyed the chance to explain something really important on this weeks Cool Stuff Collective. The core of the piece this week was the principle of Open Source collaboration. I had started to lead up to this concept with the wikipedia piece a few weeks ago, showing the views that anyone can get involved can contribute and not just consume on the web.
The way to approach open source though had to be something other than the “traditional” software applications such as the Linux operating system. Whilst it is one of the most advanced and technically rich exemplars of the this self organisation and support eco system its really not compelling enough for kids.
The open source libraries for the Xbox Kinect however are spot on. It is a triumphant story of the explorers out there seeing what they could do with what is already an amazing piece of consumer technology. It being the big xmas hit only a few weeks ago most people can relate to it and what it does in the context of the Xbox. Many of the viewers will have played with one too.
The speed with which the open source community gathered and hacked the kinect, released the code and then people started gathering and building more and more things was so fast it highlights the speed disruptive innovation can side swipe large corporate entities. In the first few days of the hacking Microsoft took a “not with my box of bunnies” approach. Legal proceedings were threatened etc. Somewhere, somehow there was someone with enough sense to stand back and say… “wait a minute, at the very least this is selling even more kinects, people are buying kinects who don’t have xbox’s”. After all no harm was being done really, the kinect was not being stolen, it was not a DRM issue. The thing has a USB plug on it! Now it may have been all calculated to frown and them embrace the hacks but however it has worked out Microsoft come out pretty well having decided to join the party rather than stop it. Whilst not specifically part of the open source movement(s) they are releasing a home hacking kit.
The choice of how to work with your kinect on a computer is a varied one but just for the record (as we did not give any names/URLs out on the show)
I used (and hence was helping to support) the Libfreenect piece of software on my Mac. All the info you budding hackers need is at
This let me show Sy the depth of field display running on a Mac. The left hand colour picture reflects distance, one of the key points of the Kinect in sensing movement over an above a regular webcam. I was not altering any code just showing what was available at its very basic level.
I also demoed the audio hack of a Theremin the Therenect by Martin Kaltenbrunner of the Interface Culture Lab. I bumped into this demo via a serendipitous conversation about what a theremin actually is and how it works just before putting this piece together. Martin is also one of the inventors of the ARTag and TUIO integrations that I used in the AR show in Unity3d and the brilliant Reactable that I hope will be in the final Big gadget adventure film towards the end of series 2. (So a friend of the show as his stuff just works whenever I try it!)
There are of course lots more things going on and so many good examples of people working on the kinext and hooking up other free and accessible pieces of code, and more importantly sharing them. @ceejay sent me this link on twitter after the show aired.

Hopefully next (and final record for the series) I will get to do the Opensim piece, more open source wonderfulness to build upon this and the previous conversations.
Many people are not aware just how complicated Open Source is as a concept and the implications it has as part of any eco system. It is a threat and an opportunity, a training ground for new skills, a hobby and a political minefield of ego’s, sub cultures, competing interests. What come out of the early days of Open Source is usually very rough, but it works. If it does not work quite right you change it and contribute back. We have yet to see the ultimate long term effects of open source in a networked world. We have though seen it make massive changes to the software industry, but the principles of gathering and sharing and building applies to way more that our geeky business. It is about governments, banks, manufacturing and even the legal system. It is, not to put too much pathos on this, the will of the people. (just not always the same people who consider themselves in charge or market leaders.)
Open source projects also tend to spring up in response to a popular commercial event, challenging windows with linux as an example. Without something big and unwieldy, or not done quite how people really want it done, an open source movement will not form with enough passion and gravitas. That is not to say that people do not realise lots of things as open source. You write code and share it, build and show etc, but that is open sourcing and not the complexity of an open source movement I think.
So, a heavy subject once you drill down but it is the future and its already here.
Open source is messy, it about people, it tends to not fit all the preconceptions of a product. However people tend to expect a product to work and be supported the same as if they paid for it. Which is why there actually is a financial and business opportunity in wrapping open source up, and providing labelled versions and services with appropriate licensing. The people that build still need to eat and be recognised for their work too. So it is by no means just a load of free stuff on the internet, but you are free to join in and I hope some kids will be inspired to at least take a look or ask their parents and teachers about the social implications of all this too.

G33k Chic at Cool HQ

This weeks Cool Stuff Collective is themed around a musical. Lookout Glee!. I did wonder how that was going to end up but I really liked the show. In particular I loved Sy (who now has a proper wikipedia page) doing his wiki wiki wah wah rapping with Monkey shouting chiiiimp. I missed seeing that getting recorded as I was out backstage trying to help an inventor get his kit for my emerging tech piece working. It worked fine in the green room, but when it got wheeled out it failed to work at all. We will try again though.
So this musical show manages to not feature me in my g33k tshirt talking tech, but a lot of other great bits. The tshirt was still on me but covered up by my Dinner Jacket and bow tie.
Shocking I know but I was “dancing” and “singing” with the rest of the cast in what turned out to be something that took us the most takes of anything ever to do.
Cool Stuff Collective - The Musical
We are singing our lines to the William Tell Overture, which is a speedy piece of music to bumble your lines out to at the best of times.
I would say this is another string to my bow too (to keep the William Tell theme going) and I don’t think michael buble has much to worry about. A tux does make you move in that old jazz/swing style though. Maybe I should wear it more often.
Anyway normal service is resumed next week Sat 8:10am ITV1 (whatever normal service is!)

Cool kids presenting 3d printing and Cool Stuff Collective

Thanks andypiper for pointing me at this video of a cool kid talking about 3d printers on a big stage. It is the future by a participant of the future.

Whilst on the subject of kids doing cool things I also just bumped into this, which I assume is an homage to our Cool Stuff Collective. Brilliant 🙂

Once again the power of the web, the willingess to create and share and the ability for people of any age to create and engage. It really is a massive social and artistic change. Still ignoring social media ? (If you are you probably are not reading this though are you 🙂 )

Browser to unity3d communication and back again

I have been doing a fair bit of unity3d recently again. In particular I have been looking at the ways it can take data and parameters. It’s all in the unity documentation but there were a few subtle things I missed first time around that I thought it worth sharing, as much for my memory as anything.
The first useful thing is the unity plugin is able to simply talk back to the browser and call javascript functions in the page. So in C# for example I am able to do this.

void Awake ()
Application.ExternalCall( "callbackunity", "The game says hello!" );

Where the page that the unity3d is served from has

<script type=”text/javascript”>
function callbackunity(arg)

Obviously you can do more than just an alert so I looked at what I can send back into unity3d from the page and started to do this in the calling page.

<script type=”text/javascript”>
function callbackunity(arg)
var unity = unityObject.getObjectById(“unityPlayer”);
unity.SendMessage(“Rezzer”, “inboundfunction”, “item1~item2~item3”);

This gets the unity plugin module and calls a function called inboundfunction that is attached to a unity game object called Rezzer. It is only able to pass a single value so I send a string with a known seperator ~ to be able to send more than one piece of data.
So the flow is that unity loads, awakes and then makes a callback to the page which then injects the data into unity.
On the unity side I have this sort of function

void inboundfunction(string indata)

string[] words = indata.Split('~');

data1 = words[0];
moredata2 = words[1];
anotherpiece3 = words[2];


At first this all did not work (of course). I thought I had not put the right script on the right object as I was getting a callback to the page but not injecting the data into the unity object.
This turned out to be something quite simple in the end. The unity docs example shows var unity = unityObject.getObjectById(“UnityContent”); However the page I got generated out of unity3d that I used to then add my code to used a different label for the Unity plugin in the setup. It called it “unityPlayer”. So my failing code was because the js in the webpage was not picking up the right object. As we know computers need to have everything exact.
This was almost code blindness. I was thinking it was getting the unity object, of course it was how could it do anything other, but its an obvious school boy error “UnityContent” <> “unityPlayer” 🙂
Once that little bug was sorted out it was all plain sailing. The parameters I pass as item 1,2 3 etc are generated by PHP from Drupal that embeds the unity3d. So I can send anything to the unity based on which page is being served and by whom.
One of the other things I do though is use direct WWW communication to a server from inside the unity3d. This initial set up code is to establish some start parameters, once running communication is not via the browser, but a hotline to server instead.
That all just works as documented, though you have to make sure you are serving from and talking to the same server or dealing with the cross domain policy documents that help protect web apps from rogue applications in browsers.
This is all very basic code really, but if you are not from a web world it can seem a little unusual.
e.g. in .cs in unity3d

IEnumerator sendIt ()
// Create a form object
WWWForm form = new WWWForm ();
// set up fields
form.AddField ("data1", "some data");
form.AddField ("userscore", score );

// Create a download object
WWW download = new WWW ("http://someurltohandlethings", form);

// Wait until the download is done
yield return download;

if (download.error != null) {
Debug.Log (download.error);
print ("Error downloading: " + download.error);

} else {
print ("Sent");



Due to .cs needing to multi thread this is an enumerated function which means you have to call it like this when you want to send anything

StartCoroutine (sendIt ());

As most of my quick unity3d pieces had been in .js this StartCoroutine was not as obvious, though it is in the Unity docs.
The URL I call has some PHP that gets at the form elements, but we are in normal web territory then.

$somedata = $_POST["data1"];
$somescore = $_POST["userscore"];

Of course all the error handling and data handling can (and is) much more elegant but this all seems to work very nicely and the core of the communication I am able to drop into anywhere.

Flying action presenter g33k

This weeks Cool Stuff Collective future tech was a bit of a departure from the usual studio explanations to Sy. A few weeks ago I went off with the crew to Milton Keynes to Airkix to film a piece about indoor skydiving.
Arriving at 7:00 am ready to do my first ever solo pieces to camera of this type was a little nerve wracking but having watched the guys at the Toy Fair it was a little easier to understand and feel how this would pan out.
I was expecting to do a few little intros, hover a bit and then say goodbye. It got a little more complicated than that of course 🙂
The pro sky divers and coaches at Airkix had come in specially to perform for us and were brilliantly helpful for the whole shoot. They have amongst their ranks world sky diving champions indoors and out. It was quite a shock to see just how high up they went (about 30 feet almost instantly).
World Sky Diving Champ
and then the precision with which they came hurtling down towards the camera again.
World Sky Diving Champ
I got to do some links to the chamber full of the guys performing as my first piece, but before I knew it we were up some very tall ladders at the top of the very large building and through a few hatches into where the fans where.
So if I look a little scared on this I was. They have 250 bhp turbines at the top of the structure that push air down and then round and up into the chamber where it gets up to about 150mph.
How it works
We shot a piece in the control room too as it is a precision operation to keep the wind stable.
Control Panel
Of course eventually I was thrown into a flight suit and doing what I expected to be doing, just hanging around close to the floor.
It was not hard to look like I was enjoying it because I was it was amazingly exhilarating.
Flapping face
It is a strange experience that requires you to be relaxed and not fight the wind, but at the same time control it. The closest thing is Tai Chi, force and grace together. (Though not so much grace nor force in my case).
I am not sure if it was the look of surprise I saw vanishing into the distance, on the shows Creative Director’s face (John Marley) or the feeling of an utter adrenalin rush that hit me that I will remember the most, when the instructor decided to grab me by the arm and run in circles up the wall Matrix style until with were 30ft up in the air. Of course we ended up having to then do that a few times just so they could shoot the right angle. I think presenter torturing is all part of the gig 🙂
That's me though
The stills of course do not do it justice. The edited up piece looks really good, along with Frankie’s Two Tribes as the soundtrack 🙂
It should be on the official site next week (UK only though still).
*update The full piece is now on the site here (UK only)
I think I got to feel another way of delivering information. It is strange the various mental models you have to engage when sharing things with people.
Talking to customers and giving small presentations about facts tend to be one flow of self expression. The bigger the conference the bigger the movements and stage pacing etc. Talking to Sy on the TV has tended to be like that but with the confusion of occasionally stopping and starting, hence maintaining and ad lib train of thought. This presenting required a different approach. Mainly that involved doing as I was told, as the director has the vision of the shots he needs and takes multiples of everything. Trying to focus the passion for the subject down the camera feels very different to a human reaction. Holding the for a period of time after you have finished talking to allow space for edits too is a more un-natural approach. I found I had to clear my brain more, not to think of the flow of the next few sentences but just to keep focussed on the one I had to deliver.
Before the studio record I also had to do a piece to camera pretending to be stuck in the screen of the SMART table, and the link back out of the VT was me sneaking up behind Sy and him asking me to help me get me out of where I was locked in 🙂
It was really enjoyable though, the experience and the filming slot we did straight after lunch too (more on that later) was great. The pulses of adrenalin needed to enthuse about the subject in tiny bite size pieces between lots of planning and walking/climbing/flying was probably more tiring than doing a single hours presentation on stage on a subject.
Not only did I get a levelling up in presenter skills, but I also got a certificate for flying 🙂
So thank you to the crew for being so patient and helpful whilst I get to grips with this sort of thing. There is still much to learn but now I have recorded four of them I feel I have some idea of what to do and how to do it 🙂
They make the magic happen
You can follow The Cool Stuff Collective on twitter @cstuffc and get an insight into whats going on at the office and what monkey is doing with all those gadgets.

Everybody is freelance? Saves the economy?

When I started my career in corporate life back in 1990 there seemed to be quite an obvious path to take. You got a job, with an employer, where there was a implied long term agreement. Not always suggesting a job for life, but it in general that seemed to be what people did.
During the following few years I watched as we increasingly hired in contractors, but generally on a relatively long term. Tech companies tended to need to do that with programmers to build a particularly large piece of software with a known end date. Those that “went contracting” seemed to have a very lucrative time, but traded off the apparent security of a permanent staff job. Very often the staff job was considered a role, not a mini contract.
I am not sure when it happened, but very soon it seemed that everyone became a freelancer insider the company structure, vying for work competing to be on the right customer contract. CV’s and bio’s and personal recommendations flying around all over the place.
In a corporate environment this labour market economy always seemed slightly at odds with what the purpose of belonging to a such an entity. Competing for work with colleagues but only in the bounds of the contracts that the company is trying to win or work seems counter productive.
Now that I am effectively freelance, though employed by my own company Feeding Edge I am getting to see and feel the proper potential of the individual vying for work, and the even more incredible power of self organising groups of people in similar positions. These affiliations can be transient, but they can also be incredible bonding experiences with mutual trust and support.
I have been observing and appreciating this from both my more regular tech company relationships and from being thrown into the media and TV industry.
Despite it all still eating blue m&ms
People are not all M&M’s from the same packet, but in different colour clothes. There i smuch more variety in the example of a TV production.
When you arrive on set or at a VT shoot you are working under the banner of a show for a production company, but pretty much everyone involved is really a freelancer that has agreed to a short period of time of working together for a common goal. There are definite roles across the process, there is an agreed way of working and there is a spirit of teamwork yet it is all achieved through a combination of mutual trust and a willingess to lead or be led depending on the situation.
As with the tech projects you end up with a trusted body of people, your generally first port of call when you start a venture. People you know, who have proven themselves to you and vice versa. I wrote a little about that here with the Linkedin social graph
That clearly happens in a corporate structure to some degree, people gather their forces for a project, but could it be that the corporate internal freelancing is actually stifling trust and creativity, leading some people to slip into jobsworth, or protectionist modes?
Yesterday I was presenting about Kinect OpenSource hacking and as a follow on to some of the crowdsourcing of wikipedia. Interested parties with a loos affiliation, but a common goal self organizing and producing things for others seems like something recent. In communication and software terms open source is new, but in term of human activity it is not. It is only the more regimented structures of large businesses that have created the structures that open source seems an counter too.
In many ways the cultural changes of communication and sharing are being re-initiated with social media, which in turn leads to open source thinking and naturally then leads to more nimble, inventive, innovative and recovery generating organisations.