Monthly Archives: May 2012

Virtual worlds getting a fashionable boost

I was honoured to be asked to write a piece on Virtual Worlds for this great online magazine Flush the Fashion. There is lots to see in the magazine but if you notice pages 98-101 I have explored the adoption path form Moshi Monsters and Binweevils to Opensim and alike via Minecraft. It looks great and they have done an awesome job πŸ™‚ See what you think πŸ™‚

Here is a direct link to the article

Also thank you for the opensim photos – The others images are all from my accounts.

Per Erikson from Lost Castle

Pathfinders Hypergrid tours

and last but not least tidalblog

Making from anything – MaKey MaKey

It looks like this kickstarter project has raised loads of money.

It aims to make it easy to create interfaces from everyday objects and help anyone instrument the world, just by clipping with alligator clips.
It is called MaKey MaKey which is a great play on words and deserves funding just for that.
The video shows the potential of it really well

Of course this is not strictly speaking some little back room project these are MIT media lab students who live and breathe this stuff. When I was at university we never had anything as forward thinking as MIT courses. I can imagine the horror of our lecturers, “you are going to connect people up to bananas and make noises!”. Back then we were radical because we chose to program in C not Modula-2 for one of our team projects πŸ™‚

Two fingers up to computers

No this is not referring to our fine “archers salute” though it will be interesting if that gesture now becomes a universal dismissal of an application with yet more gesture based interfaces on the horizon. One of the more interesting ones is the USB plugin device that will turn any machine into a very responsive gesture controlled device with more precision (it claims) than the Kinect. The Kinect of course is doing full body tracking and face recognition and multiple bodies but this device the Leap Motion looks like a small box that sits by you machine and costs a whole $70. its not out until December but it is a good sign I think.(sorry no pun intended)

Advertising vs Chasing – Finding Customers and Investors

In all the Facebook IPO to and fro there has been a lot of discussion about advertising and whether it is viable as a way of keeping an advertising provider afloat and if it is worthwhile for those advertising in the first place.
That got me thinking about what I do to advertise myself and Feeding Edge and where that is going to go in the future.
Up until now most pieces of work have come via reputation and contacts, or responding to other shouts for help on social media. i.e. monitoring and going with the flow of serendipity. I much prefer this for the sort of work I do, as that after all is what this is all about. However not every person in every industry knows what I do do they?
So along with all the various startup pieces of work (of which there is a lot) I also try and keep my CV out there in case there is an interesting opportunity that fits well. That includes full time roles with companies too. I try and keep an open mind.

In the TV space I have, as I may have mentioned, attempted to get an Agent. That however seems even harder than just going to get a job. In a world full of celebrity, and willing first timers it seems that a moderate amount of experience with 3 series of TV doesn’t float that much interest from TV agent types. That pretty much is the same for headhunting agencies when they see my CV and the weird diversity of things I do to so I do understand πŸ™‚
So, whilst my general business of consulting and developing I leave to a more ad hoc presence advertising, being here and there on line, helping as many people as possible and doing lots of conference speaking I decided to pay a little to list myself on a site for TV presenters. The “basic” account only lets you use text and mention you website and or agent, you have to pay more for links and video. However as I am a tech company I have my own site and links to the video so it seems odd to pay extra for hosting what is actually normal web. Also I am not sure how much traffic the listing gets as that is not easily verifiable. Still if you need me I am on I am not sure if that is going to work out, and it seemed odd to be paying to list as everything else, linkedin, twitter, Facebook , speakerfile (though not paying means no public profile!) and even the cv sites like Reed are all free as a basic account ( though in Reed I can’t just add a sharable link to my profile/CV it seems) . I figure that my activity on them and my willingness to share and engage is payment enough, after all that is the main business model. Being places online, lots of them, engaging in activity and experimenting with how that works all adds to my base of knowledge to share with people, and lets people also know who I am and what I do as a whole. This seems much more relevant than a single page CV, though I have that too!

So we shall see if that yields anything. It is actually easier to advertise as a TV presenter in Tech and games, or any other subject as it is an easily identifiable role. It is less easy to point out that much of what I do is production and research too to create the items. General TV presenting can be turn up and read the scripts and provide some pazazz and personality. I can do that too, as I like talking and enthusing.

As for the other stuff…. building, sharing, writing, exploring and helping are a very flexible “product” but a little harder to pin down, but as that is who I am am and what this business is “Taking a bite out of technology so you don’t have to” that’s how it has to be πŸ™‚ I don’t think I will be taking out a Facebook advert to prop up the sure price just yet πŸ™‚

I was described way back as a gun for hire, that makes it sound very simple doesn’t it!

Update – In a weird quirk of serendipity it seems I was writing this post as a lot of people I follow on Twitter are at The world employment conference 2012 check out the hashtag #ceitt2012, I guess that’s another conference I should have gone to speak at!

Makie Alpha – 3d printed custom dolls

Today Makies went live as an alpha. In case you had not been following this exciting new startup it is one that blends 3d printing with design. It lets you wizard up your own customised figure (lets say doll). The bulk of that figure is then custom 3d printed, but then some of the elements like clothes and accessories are added using more traditional methods. The site is in very early adopter mode as whilst you can design lots of Makies there are a subset of clothes available on checkout. Also this is the first limited edition run of 100 (I think I got in at number 50)
my makie
If you want to know who is behind all this then check out the team at MakieLab. I first got to hear about this because Alice Taylor (who as then at Channel 4) was going to come to one of our BCS animation and games development SG events to talk about how they used games at Channel 4. She was unable to come and do the talk at the last minute and had to be a little bit vague as she was in the process of resigning to go start Makielab up, but I didn’t know that πŸ™‚ So when I saw her next we chatted a bit and got an tiny insight into what might be going on.
So, as an early adopter, 3d printing fan and as a sometime children’s TV presenter this really intersects a lot of things. So Feeding Edge is going to be the proud owner soon of a cute Makie.

Old meets new – Learning Korean with Flashcards

You may have noticed I have been tweeting a little about my new found activity of the martial art Choi Kwang Do. I also wrote a bit on my personal blog here and here about the ongoing journey that both I and predlet 2.0 have started on with SouthCoast CKD
One of the interesting and enjoyable things about CKD is that whilst the moves and exercises are combat related it is not a competitive sport but about self improvement and dedication. It is as much about the mind and awareness as it is about the ability to punch and kick. As the founder Grandmaster Choi is Korean all the moves and instructions are in that language. I have never been great at learning languages for conversation, but I can apply myself to learn individual words and phrases. It is particularly good that these words and phrases then map to physical space so they work well with my visual and physical memory more than my verbal linguistic parts of my brain. It is this visual memory and use of space that fits with my interest and work in Virtual Worlds. It was also why I started training before CKD using my Xbox Kinect and the #UFC trainer. Shadow punching and kicking with an avatar but sensed and counted by the Kinect sensor got me onto this path.
This years #ufc #kinect (not including #ckd sessions)
Every couple of months in CKD we get to attend a grading to level up on the belt we are wearing (we have one this weekend). Once levelled up then the techniques you learn increase. Each of these techniques have a Korean phrase with them and in attending the classes you start to pick up what they are. As part of the grading you get tested on your Korean phrases too. It is not essential to learn them all but I have found it very helpful and an interesting exercise to try and learn something completely new not tech related for a change.
However I was sitting looking at the lists of words, I have about 100 (even though my belt is a subset of those) and thinking whats the best way to get these in my head. That evening I was watching a recorded BBC Click and along came Quizlet in the web roundup from @katerussell (thank you Kate!).
This simple little web site lets you make word pairs that it then forms into good old fashioned flash cards. These you can then read to yes yourself on, in this case choosing either korean to english or vice versa. It also create all sorts of other tests with the words, pairs games, multiple choose etc. It has been very useful for me so far and as it arrived in front of me serdipitously just as I was wondering what to do it made sense to follow it up.
Here is my attempt at the Choi Kwang Do terms sheet, or a cut down version. Its a start πŸ™‚

Playing with sand and water

I was really impressed when i saw this augmented/blended reality project doing the rounds. It mixes a physical substance, sand, as the input for the simulation. Being able to hold and use real things with real physics makes what then happens with the augmentation more immersive and real.

A Kinect is used to determine what is going on in the physical world and mapped with simulation software and calibrated projection to deliver it back into the world. i.e. no looking through a magic lens. It is project and there.
The project homepage has a lot more details about the simulation and also a soon to be released download page.
This isn’t a fake special effect its real and the data input, Sand and a kinect show the power of merging physical and digital and that we don’t just have to rely on keyboards and mice any more πŸ™‚

Let me in – Bitnami, Keychain and SSH on Mac

I have ended up looking at a couple of bitnami created servers both running on Amazon EC2 (Part of amazons cloud service). Bitnami create open source bundles, preconfigured and ready to run in various operating system flavours and with common applications like Drupal and wordpress. With services like Amazon EC2 the cloud service is able to bring up a virtual server for you based on a pre bundled configuration and you are ready to run on seconds. Both these servers required a little bit of extra to and fro to get access to the file system and use the various tools I have for things like Databases. They rely not on user name and passwords but on ownership of a key file called a pem. In a time when most people are getting used to rich user interfaces, touch displays, gesture control etc there is still a time when you have to drop to a much more archaic, but much loved by techies, command line. Yes you type commands in, whatever next? πŸ˜‰ These can be hard to remember and also tricky if you miss out implicit little pieces of knowledge that you only retain by constantly performing the tasks.
This level of security is important for servers of course, but it does make life awkward when you are have not been tapping away long incantations of linux commands for a while.
Photo on 03-05-2012 at 10.07


To connect to one of these servers I had to first of all get the pem file (the key) on my Mac. However then in order to use it you need to startup the terminal. In order to connect to a server you have to first of all use the terminal and type something along the lines of

ssh -i whateverthekeyis.pem

That opens up another terminal command line but this time a secure encrypted one to the actual machine where the -i indicates which key file you are using. Oh, but it is of course not that simple, no the file permissions have to be tightened up, again with a command line. Chmod changes the read/write access to the file so that only certain users on your machine, i.e. you can use the key at all.

chmod 600 file.pem

This is great if you are just doing command line but if you want another useful Mac application to be able to connect, something like Expandrive (which just makes the file system look like it is part of the mac) then you have to do some other incantations.

My initial thought was that sure the keychain application on the Mac is the place that it will keep all these keys for all the higher end applications to use. When you have something like expandrive and it is expecting to type a user name and password into it to connect you can’t easily tell it to use this PEM file instead. The same goes for Sequel Pro. So I tried to import the PEM file into the keychain, something it does automatically if you double click the PEM. it failed though.

A quick bit of googling later and it turns out that these ones have to be done manually with an

ssh-add -K whatever.pem

That pops the key in a mini cache that anything that is doing SSH under the covers will look at for a userid. Dead simple, once you know or expect to do it. As with all these things it is the not knowing what to ask, or why you would even bother asking that gets in the way.

Once added it meant that I could simply access the file system in a normal finder tree. Whilst I could tap away linux commands in the command line it is very much quicker and easier to have a visual clue as to where things are as you bounce form server to server. As much as a like typing file transfer commands and lots of paths and dots and dashes (It reminds me of the techie I am) I also just want to get on with things.

The same goes for the database. On bitnami the mysql database was accessible with the web tool PHPadmin, but… in order to access the web front end, again for secure reasons you had to create a tunnel on the command line. Again on the command line you had to try something along the lines of

sh -N -L 8888: -i bitnami_hosting.pem

This is telling the Mac to map and route certain network requests through a secure connection. It will last as long as the terminal window is active. So the command will just hang there. The net result is you can then use a web browser to talk to you own machine, but the tunnel passes you onto the remote machine

So using mean this machine, and port 8888 means a different communication channel really, so the web browser thinks what it is using is on a web server running locally when in fact it is off in the cloud.

This seemed a bit of a pain when I had a great tool like Sequel Pro. This lets me access multiple tables and pieces of data and structure in a similar but less clunky way to phpadmin. Luckily with the key added (as above) you the pem key will automatically be used. However it did not work first time. I had to go into the file system and edit the MYSQL config file my.cnf that was in MYSQL directory to comment out the local binding to that machine.

bind-address = becomes
#bind-address =

I found/was reminded of that in the bitnami documents (which are great when you know what you are looking for) but I initially comment it out with a // not a # as thats what lots of code is. Yes I know it’s obvious as its a Mysql config file, except its not when a little detail like the comment character to use is missed out. This then let the Mysql client on my Mac connect to the database using the secure key doing all the tunnelling etc itself. So once set up things are quite straight forward and identical to the way I access the same things on my local development server.

All techies have different preferences and ways to get to things. If you are a constant sys admin the command line, and all the variants of clever piping of commands work. I used to tend to do that too. When you are an occasional user across multiple different flavours of system (I have slicehosts/rackspace servers too) then it gets difficult to remember it all.

In addition when you are also building and maintaining the applications on top of that, remembering how to configure and administer Drupal for instance, what your application is doing, how the git repository is accessed etc, or providing extra code and modules that drive those applications. Mixing that up with richer front ends like unity3d and running open source virtual worlds like Opensim the number of “all you have to do is this simple x,y or z” balloons.

It is one reason that in large companies there is a separation of systems admin, database admin, architecture, software development, testing, runtime production, design, research and development and project management. However as a small company it is important to be able to do a little bit of all of that in order to major on any one of those for a project.
So whilst I really don’t like sysadmin, mainly because things are never quite the same in each place, especially in opensource land, I do find I have to do this to remind me of the complexity of the tech we have to deal with and how great it is that so many things can hide this away from us when we really don’t need to know.

I wrote this all down here a I know I will bump into this again and will have forgotten, so in making notes for future confused self I thought it may help anyone else who is stuck and googling for similar things. Of course the hardcore techies will probably laugh at my apparent lack of knowledge (which was less lacking and more filed away and need to be recalled from HSM.Β Something we had in the olden days when I started on green screen terminals. You would ask for a file and you would have to wait for a mechanical arm somewhere to find the right disk/tape and spin it up, a sort of mechanical cloud)Β Anyone else who feels worried about doing any deeper techie stuff may also be put off. However those who wander the technical plains finding adventure may just benefit.


Pondering the world of work

The last few years I have had a chance to explore what it is to run your own company and act as a freelancer after many years in a “real” job in a corporate world. Every now and then my old brain clicks in and thinks how much easier it is to just do as you are told, or have the structure of someone else’s job to do.

At the same time I am left thinking about the freedom to act that doing your own thing allows. Such as suddenly finding myself doing TV work.
Then it flicks back around as I realise that the scramble for investors in startup endeavours and the amount of pro-bono or just plain free work that needs to be done is almost as much of a bind as a 9 to 5 job, without any of the certainty of a pay cheque. Each piece of work usually starts as a favour, which is again the same as in corporate life (“can you just take a look at this” tended to lead to most of the projects with the exception of virtual worlds which was actually me saying to myself “take a look at this” and it going ballistic as I kept sharing my ideas)

Then again I change tack as I realise the sheer diversity of things that I am able to do, setting up systems, coding in multiple languages, generating new ideas, presenting and sharing, TV presenting, enthusing and getting people on board, spotting trends and combining them, not fearing the new not forgetting the old, conferences, game technology and all the virtual world and 3d printing things really don’t fit well in any role anywhere. Being able to do a lot of things reasonably well, and pick up new things just makes more sense to go with the flow and see where things take me.

My wife very recently left one corporate environment for another, but a much better one. It involves a lot of commuting to and from London, but she is the Finance Director for a major part of that company, quite a step up from the corporate ladder rungs she was trying to climb in the old place.
That means that my odd time sliced life fits well now with the times the predlets need to be dropped off and picked up from school and the after school activities. So working as and whenever, mostly online on start-up activity fits really well.

I find that now I never really stop working, there is not definite start or end to the day or night, at the same time there is space to think and consider directions and ponder these odd combinations and extrapolations of technology and people.

I must admit I did admire the Reverse Job Application site and concept, having looked at a few sites and talked to a few recruiters the idea of switching it around, if you need me I am here, whilst getting on with whatever it is you do seems to make more sense.

The web, for me, is my CV, though I do have a perfectly normal document if anyone ever needs to see it. If anyone does feel they need my services, or wants to invest in some of the things I have not been able to share publicly yet (but more than willing to talk about if you are interested) then I am here. That includes any TV agents (who seem incredibly difficult to get on the books with even if you have done 3 series of TV, when you are an “expert” in a varied subject. You get more response applying for jobs than for getting representation it seems)

As a clue to the startup activity I have a gaming startup that has a rather forward thinking underlying basis of a form of genetic matching based on continuous social media and gaming activity that really uses everything else as an operating system, and is very much about people. We have an alpha, plus some extended designs ideas and it could change quite a few things when we get it in the right shape to go live. We have a good team just need more money and more developers to make it blossom.

Anyway, this rambling was brought on by having to do some very specific sys admin tasks that involved lots of magic incantations on various command lines on various cloud services that were so focussed and specific that I needed to fractally zoom back up into some sort of big picture again to remember who I am and what I do πŸ™‚

Ok… time to cook tea, help the predlets do homework then sort out bedtime, then back to sorting out servers. See it is a very varied day isn’t it ?

Games and what it means to be human at TEDx

I was really pleased to see that Andy Robertson aka GeekDadGamer and of Wired UK and GamePeople and fellow guest on the Media Pulp Skylanders podcast got to do a TEDx talk about games and what it means to be human.
Andy has been doing a lot of looking at games from a family perspective and here expands on his other way to approach an investigation of the depth of games by engaging with local artists to use games as the starting material.
Take a look as he explains what he means πŸ™‚ thats is of course the point of the talk.

It particularly resonates with me that Andy asks for a new priesthood of game critics that get the point of the game and the mechanics but connect it to being human. That is because it is a view I share with not only games but all this technology and linking how things feel, how they change us socially and in the context of work is important to me.
(Hence my Taking a bite out of technology so you don’t have to tagline)
Anyway, well done Andy, a great talk.
I wonder if the world is ready for me to do a TEDx πŸ˜‰