Monthly Archives: October 2012

Catalytic Clothing – Clothes that clean the air around us

Catalytic Clothing has to be one of the most exciting and innovative ideas I have ever heard. It may be the best thing to happen to trousers since mine exploded (well ripped) at gadget show live in 2011.
My trousers exploded at gadget show live #gsl2011
An artist and a scientist have got together to create something that is truly amazing it is I first saw this on BBC news this morning in a piece about the Manchester Science Fair.
The aim is to coat clothes with an additive in a washing machine that means that the clothes then are able to suck pollution out of the air. If all out clothes are doing this the effect is going to be very noticeable.
They have also made it an .org not a .com they have not locked it away in commercial patents either as they want to challenge the though process and business models to do good for the planet.
This is one of those ideas that occurs when art and science combine. Leave it to one discipline or the other and things like this rarely happen. When they do they are revolutionary.

Under pressure – games and simulations XCOM

This week I have been looking into how we get one of the virtual worlds projects to put some pressure on the people taking part in a simulation, but not make things so over the top that they give up. There are lots of gaming examples for entertainment that place layers of pressure on people, so there is lots of inspiration to draw upon. In particular though, the latest incarnation of XCOM, Enemy Unknown provides a lot of pointers.
XCOM is a turn based strategy game. For non gamers who may thing it is all fast moving running around and trigger reactions they my be surprised to find out that sometimes games offer a bit of time and thought. XCOM gets you onto a battlefield with a small squad of soldiers against an enemy alien force of invaders. Different units have different abilities on both sides and how you use these and how you take your turns is the key. In many ways this is like a game of chess. You can take as long as you like to asses the situation and make each of your turn based allocations of movement.
(Image from
Just these battles alone provide a degree of stress induction. When you are stressed you make worse decisions, so you start to work out when to act carefully or rashly to deal with an ever changing situation. Probability and chance throw curve balls as you decide to take a percentage shot at an alien only to be let down by the hidden dice rolling against you. You also have to consider when is a time for a tactical withdrawal. Soldiers that survive missions get promoted and gain extra abilities. Lose a high ranking squad and you are on the back foot with a group of rookies.
This on the ground tactical part of the game is the major part of the experience but there is a higher level strategy as you have to finance this ongoing war and research new weapons and engineering facilities. There are so many facets to this and resources are very tight that you do have to make some big decisions that impact the flow of the game. Do you focus on putting up satellites and fighters to deal with incoming ships, direct scientist to research defensive capabilities or powered up weapons for the soldiers. How much do you expand your base, considering the power consumption of new facilities.
(Image from
The multi faceted nature of what has to be considered is what makes this game work particularly well. You may be in the thick of it in a combat situation, considering the intricate detail of which move or weapon to use but you have in the back of your mind what needs to be done before the next mission and what to focus on there.
As with many games though the odds are against you, interestingly the game does have an impossible setting. Indicating that the alien invasion will be successful, but how long can you survive the inevitable loss. Interestingly this harks back to the original arcade game space invaders, where you are pretty much never going to win, you run out of money or time, but you always lose.
So the key here is that you need to feel that you can make a difference, but you have to know that there are other forces at work, other decisions that need to be made in and around the specific detail of any event. Any simulation needs to layer the pressures on the participants. That may be actual decisions or levels of detail of information that inform the narrative but aim to overload and confuse just to the point of stress. Too much and there is almost no point proceeding.
Balance in games and simulations is the key. Atmosphere and a story let humans fill in some of their own levels of details as that engage with it. Whilst there may be an algorithm as work obscuring it, or making it less obvious and throwing in random elements help a greta deal.
XCOM is a great game (as was its 1995 original). Turn based strategy games still work too which is great to see.

A real educational game that rocks

I am typing this with some very sore finger tips on my left hand as yesterday Rocksmith arrived in the post from Amazon. I known this has been out stateside for a year but it has finally hit these shores. If you have not seen Rocksmith or been dubious about it, it is a music game where you play along with tunes with a guitar. Hey that sounds like Rockband/Guitar Hero! Well this time you get to use your real guitar and play the full notes (hence the sore fingers).

I have dabbled with guitar since I bought a Fender Squire and an amp with my first pay check. I never played anything much though I know a few chords and the blues scale is always nice to wibble around.
Loving music and not being quite able to match my guitar playing to the music I sort of lapsed. Music games were a great way to get back into playing something in some way. I wrote about the early, pre Rockband, experiences back in 2007 on eightbar whcih then got picked up by
the Boston Globe in 2008 !
I had noticed that my ability to play rhythm had improved using the basic Rockband instruments. It is why I upgraded to the 102 button guitar to get closer to real guitar with a game and even got to play a bit on the TV on the Cool Stuff Collective
I recently finished the tour mode of Rockband 3 (I had been playing for ages but not bothered with the tour too much it was always a party game)
Feeding Edge is also embedded in Rockband both as tattoos and our bands name and Logo as a bit of fun
Feeding edge rockband 3 style
Having finished Rockband 3 it seemed time to upgrade to the all new Rocksmith. My Fender was still sitting in the corner and Predlet 1.0 has also started guitar lessons at school.
I plugged the guitar in with the lead that is jack to usb into the xbox, loaded it up and I was instantly amazed and how well it worked. You are straight into a tuning section and the guitar was spot on in seconds. Clearly it was picking up the right signals!
Like Rockband/Guitar here the notes drive down towards you. They are coloured based on the string, a picture of the guitar fret board shows whats about to be played. When the notes arrive you pluck them.
The really clever part is the auto adjusting skill level. If you start to get the basic single notes and rythm it will start to add more. In the career mode it gently eases you through songs, but you start instantly with the Rolling Stones Satisfaction with the iconic sounds of that tune. Predlet 1.0 dived straight in and was really happy to play the song. She already had the guitar basics from her lessons so knowing strings and frets made it easier as it did with me.
I carried on the career line for a while then just dived into playing house of the rising sun. This is where I saw it adjust to my level very quickly. It gave a few notes and before I knew it it was showing the proper chord progression. Chords that were stored away in the back of my brain, C, A, E etc. So there I was playing rhythm guitar on my old electric with a responsive backing track that if things went slightly wrong it would turn down the level let me get my act together and back into it again. That makes this the best of all music games.
Now is it orange peel I rub on my finger tips to harden them? ouch!

Virtual Athletes – A journey with some tech

It was really cool today to see the brilliant next edition of Flush Magazine hitting the virtual shelves (with my 3rd article). This time on some of the virtual sports technology and a little bit of historical evolution from my personal experience. There are lots of other things to read in the mag, also available on the ipad, but my contribution is pages 92 to 97.

There are lots of ways to check this out including a great PDF download
So thats virtual sports, merged with real activity and my newly found and exciting Choi Kwang Do martial art and the Coaches Center in this issue. The previous issues have been 3d printing and virtual worlds 🙂
Huge thanks go out to @tweetthefashion for publishing these articles and the monumental effort it is for them to get the whole edition done, making them look so good and with everyones great stories and features 🙂