Hands on with robot tech

I am a techie, always have been, but often my work is primarily writing and speaking about emerging tech, more than making it work. As you will know if you have read Reconfigure or Cont3xt I view everything as a fractal, so the level of complexity required to deal with code and hardware is often mirrored looking at the interaction between systems, companies, markets. Though as a programmer first and foremost, the patterns and the detail making things work (or not) is where the true art and beauty is. As they say those who can’t do teach, those who can’t teach write about it, I like to make that a full loop instead. Those who can teach and can write have to be able to “do” in the first place. Trust me I’m a doctor πŸ™‚

This weekend I dived into a build of the Sparkfun Advanced Autonomous kit added to the Sphero RVR (already a well instrumented and interesting bit of kit that I was very happy to have backed on Kickstarter and mentioned in this post on Basingstoke Techjuice). I didn’t do any step by step images of the build as I spent a lot of the time trying to get my aging eyes to be able to deal with the tiny tiny screws, bolts and wire connectors. I was primarily following the guidance from SparkFun build tutorial

The additional kit comprises of a Raspberry Pi Zero W and a preconfigured SD card for its OS. A camera with 2 servos, 2 x time of flight sensors and a GPS board provide extra inputs and some connector boards to combine the inputs on a mux board and a custom serial shield for the Pi. The shield has a RVR/Serial switch to make it easier to plug directly into the USB port from another host computer.

Autonomous additions

The kit mounts on a plate that can be added too or taken off the RVR. The key advice was to ensure the UART power lead from the board to the RVR was connected the right way around, the red wire suggested as the 5V side to ensure no blue smoke.

Sphero RVR and SparkFun advances autonomous kit

The worst problem I had with the hardware, other then being so small and fiddly, was the ribbon cable to the Pi from the camera. I had managed to pull the small retainers out to put the new cable into the camera and push the clamp back down, but on the Pi I managed to pull the black retainer out completely and it was very difficult to get back in, and may even be a little broken, but seems to be holding. The camera already had a ribbon cable attached, which was initially confusing, but it was clear the one in the tutorial matched the one in the box as it needed to be narrower to fit on the smaller connector on the Pi than a standard one.

It was suggested to set up the Pi first, but also said it could be done afterwards, I went for the latter. Doing s/w config was not as exciting and interesting as building the thing. Once built it all seemed connected and I was getting a nice green light on the Pi. The SD card needed files edited on it to put in the network details, and one other config edit was required. I managed to find a SD card adapter and was able to edit the files on the MacBook Pro. I had thought I could do the setup via the iPad Pro as that’s where the RVR app is, but this is of course outside the normal RVR educational environment so the Mac was easier.

After several attempts and rechecks of everything it seemed the machine was not going to connect to the mesh network. The proxy file that it was supposed to copy over the details with was failing (or just not happening). So I fell back to option 2. Connect the Mac to the serial port board and SSH in. That did not work straight away, I did not see the device when plugged in via the shield, so I tried the usb ports on the pi itself. The one I could reach, as a sensor was in the way, didn’t see to work either. Then I read that is the middle port that needs to be used, and found this article (and the additional steps) very helpful to get it working and then to be able to switch back to the serial shield too. SSH into the device and ran sudo raspi-config and entered the network details remotely, I got a pleasing bing on my watch as a new device joined my mesh network. I was expecting to have 2.4/5ghz wifi trauma, but it all worked out.

It was not all quite as straight forward as when I started to put the thing together, but as I have lots of kit, cables, adapters etc, and residual knowledge of what remote connecting in to linux via ssh actually is it was like being back home. Though, again, as in my novels, my dislike of overly convoluted “all you have to do is type xxxxxyyy.xxx..xx..ss.www” remains. I can do it, always have to look things up, understand why I am doing what I do, but its still based on adjusting to the needs of the tech not the other way around.

Connected and seemingly stable I then ran through some of the Python based tests indicated on the article from Sparkfun. It was here I was brought back to our old favourites, permissions. I tested the servos, camera, gps, and time of flight and all had various permission errors. It may be I have not got something quite connected or ran something out of step, possibly missed some sudo prefixes and created some dodgy files. However, I am not overly worried, it is pretty much put together and now I am back in the s/w config arena, checking a few logs and hacking a few things I should get back on track next time I spend some time on it.

Then it will be into proper code again, with the Sphero Python SDK for the device. It looks as if there is enough stuff on the iPad Pro to be able to engage and code with that, which will be preferable. Stuck with a works windows machine now so the Mac won’t be travelling with me, my iPad Pro on the other hand will.

Wish me luck πŸ™‚ I will try and not make it take over the world. Yes, doing this will inform something interesting in book 3, I am sure of it, as well as helping my analyst day job and any educational stuff I do for STEMnet and BCS πŸ™‚ It also felt really good to be mixing with hands one hardware and software, especially that didn’t work first time.

Teenager bestowed with great honour from EA games

Way back in the mists of time I wrote how utterly ridiculous the EA lock down of accounts was that effectively removed any parental control in favour of a lazy and restrictive approach. This post “A mess with Origin, EA and Xbox” has been the most commented and read post of all of mine here on Feeding Edge, it was in 2014, its now 2020 and still it gets comments from annoyed parents wondering what the heck is going on.

Yesterday Predlet 2.0 turned 13. He was both looking forward too, and then greeted by, a coming of age with the EA online system of bureaucracy. On sparking up Need for Speed he was informed he qualified for a magical teen account. After a bit of email address admin my side we managed to accept it.

It means I will no be able to validate easily if EA ever get off this blanket removal of any parental choice, which I should imagine forces many parent to help their kids lie about their age on online accounts. Simply to make life easier for EA.

Predlet 2.0 will remember EA doing this for a long while, whilst he is overjoyed at coming of age in the eyes of a games company, he, and his friends are not as big a fan of EA as a brand as they might have been.

All for controls on what can and can’t be used online by minors, but equally it is ultimately parental controls that should be the key, so that from an early age we can help kids come to terms with the online world through guidance and openness.

Good luck parents.

Hello 2020

Another decade has passed into the annals of history. I know that applies to every unit of time from the smallest of microseconds (and below) but people do like a good pattern and boundary to think about don’t they. I am no different and a nice patterned number like 2020 seems pretty cool. Bearing in mind that growing up I used to read the wonderfully named 2000AD comic every week.

Here we were told tales of Judge Dredd in Mega city one, Strontium dog et al. Of course the comic was not about the year 2000, but the far off turn of the century back in 1977, seemed a glowing future. So to be in 2020 despite some its Brazil like qualities is pretty awesome.

Whilst I am slipping back into the 70’s and 80’s here this should really be what happened the past 10 years, so here goes.

I started 2010 as the first full year out of corporate life, having quite in Feb 2019 to start Feeding Edge. There were a few months of things I am probably still not able to write about but it was quite stressful, but I started 2010 with a bang. Diving into a stack of projects writing lots of code, startup land. I even wrote 7 predictions for the decade just passed. Well you have to if you have a blog and its rolling into 2010.

I suggested “Keep Walking. Obviously the big one to consider is what used to be called mobile. Everything is mobile now. We already have relatively easy access to 3g and wi-fi to allowed our technology to be untethered. Of course this needs to be wrestled away from the anti-competitive telecoms companies. The thing stifling growth is the wayward charging mechanisms” I think that stood up ok, the real game changer is now going to be 5G and what software defined networking does. Sim cars? e-sims are already a thing and there is plenty of non sim based networking.

Also Brands crossing digital borders. Engagement with people where they happen to want to be online and offline will have to increase. It will not be enough, as back in the early web to just leave you website lying around to be found. Business has to become a travelling exhibit, a movable market stall that can be adjusted and placed wherever people are or want to be. Digitally distance knows no bounds, but you need more than a sign post or banner ad. Active guides, persuaders, dare I say salespeople? Maybe I am referring to my evangelist brethren though? People who know the territory” I think this probably is a tick too, especially with the social media influencers now.

Also “3d Printing. 10 years should be enough for this to become β€œmainstream” as by then the transmission of 3d content and design with the associated rules and regulations, kite marks, certifications etc will start to be in place. Why move goods all over the planet when you can make them locally? It really is a no brainer.” Whilst not sat in out home style mainstream the number of companies engaged in this is pretty impressive.

Check the rest out on the link, not least I quote the current POTUS “ot interested in money but it helps to use it to keep score”

The end of 2010 and into 2011 saw the weird switch I had into Kids TV. The Cool Stuff Collective and the entire crew at Archie Productions made for the most entertaining work based thing I have done with a team. I fully documented the fun and tech from this first post on. Yes 3D printing on kids TV in 2010. So 39 episodes over 3 series. I think that’s a pretty good run and lots of people still get a little surprised in the few minutes intros I often do now.

Cool stuff collective

2011 was a dark year though when my dad died in april.

2012 after I had slumped a bit and then went mad getting fit, partly as a reaction to losing dad, and realising what my kids would go through if I didn’t we found Choi Kwang Do. Which has been a major part of all our family lives this decade. We now have 3 2nd Dan black belts and 1 1st dan in the house. 1 Chief instructor, 2 assistant instructors and a leadership. 3rd Dan approaches rapidly this coming year for Predlet 2.0 and I. I can’t say enough about the Choi family that we are part of.

Worn out after Choi Kwang Do black belt tag grading, but feeling great. Now we have a 1st Dan orange, 2nd Dan blue and two 2nd dan brown tags (next grading for Predlet 2.0 and I is 3rd degree black belt !

VR has been a big part of my world for a long while and in 2013 my first Oculus Rift arrived One of many I might add.

Oculus rift arrived

I was in 2013 also carrying on the build of the Unity based training hospital for Imperial College, this had started in Second Life, a create place to prototype and build live, but then got way more serious and complicated. I still look at the code and wonder how it wasn’t a team fo 20 people building it!

Also in 2013 the new (and still going version) of Rocksmith arrived. It is still the best use of software and gaming I have ever come across. Utterly fantastic (if you want to play electric guitar that is).

Jan 2014 saw my most popular post ever on anything. I complained at the mess that is EA and its management, or just plain locking out, of kids accounts. It still gets comments and reads. The stunning lack of ability for a company like EA to be able to solve letting parents make choices for their kids, based on only applying US law to us all was, and is, ridiculous. Predlet 2.0 turns 13 in a few weeks and the problem will (I hope) magically go away). The post though… well long may it help.

April 2015 I blogged, partly in frustration about my longevity on the tech space and partly to get me going again after a bit of a downturn in jobs and contracts. As I said then “So I am left in a slightly bemused state as to what to do with this knowledge. With this all going so much more mainstream again I am no longer working in a niche. Do I ply my trade of independent consulting chipping away in odd places and helping and mentoring some of the new entrants in the market or do I try and find a bigger place to spread the word?”

In August 2015 whilst on holiday I got a call about a potential new role. The one I started in April 2016. I was not sure it was going to take that long to start but September 3rd 2015 I started to write what I consider to be my best professional achievement Reconfigure and its follow up Cont3xt. I had not originally planned to write fiction. A war story of the life of a metaverse evangelist 2006-2009 was more likely. However I dived in and found the most rewarding daily unrolling of the plot hit pie with both books. The links are on the sidebar or just head to Reconfigure and Cont3xt

Book Cover choices #cont3xt

April 2016 I started as an IoT Analyst at 451 Research, where I still am, though as of today working for a much bigger corporate owner/partner. Writing is like code, with less compiling or interpreting to do. File formats for things like 3d models or animations also do not figure. I do miss programming properly, though I still have plenty of tech projects on the go for fun and for education.

Other very notable things for the past decade. We moved house from Warsash too Basingstoke, plus a lot of renovations and building. I served as a school governor for a few years. Jan went from strength to strength in her career once shot of IBM. We celebrated out 20th wedding anniversary, its the 25th this year! I also became a Doctor of Technology in 2018!

That just happened doctor of technology from southampton Solent

As a family we travelled the world, Japan was stunning (my 50th), The norther lights and ice hotel (Jan’s birthday treat). We took an RV around Canada. We toured LA, San Fran, Yosemite, death valley, Vegas and the gran canyon in a car. I have ended up in Vegas, San Jose, Boston, Raleigh, Chicago, Barcelona, Madrid, China and a few other places with work.

There is a stack of tech in the house, some 50+ things connected to the wifi including the awesome Meater thermometer and a dancing transforming robot.

We are on our 3rd electric car with the latest Nissan Leaf. We also have a robot japanese toilet and deep japanese bath to help relax with inspired by the trip)

Despite all the Choi I realised I had put on way too much weight in 2018 ending up at over 120Kg so last year started with an intense 800 cal diet and stack more Choi and Walking which dropped me to around 95Kg before I decided to take a rest in April. Then I slipped over in the kitchen at easter, gave myself a server concussion and sort of lost ability to push that particular agenda for a while, so back at 105Kg now, which is still OK but 2020 is another burst of fitness/weight loss that I know I can do as I have done it before. Having dropped over 25kg I figure I can do another 15 or so.

So what does the roaring 20’s have on offer?. Who knows maybe early retirement due the rip roaring success of a Netflix series of Reconfigure, a fantastic lottery win or who knows what. The tech is going to be brilliant, the games are going to be awesome and life is going to rock.

Come on then 2020, let’s do this.

The perils for early adopters – Stadia

There has, in the gaming world, been a lot written, tweeted and said about Google’s new online cloud based gaming service Stadia. It has turned out to be pretty much what I expected it to be but that doesn’t stop it also delivering some fresh let downs.

The principle of just using a controller and a “dumb’ screen with a fast internet connection to a service has clearly worked for things like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, we are able to watch UHD content flawlessly (most of the time)

However a game service such as Stadia is a bit more complicated, as unlike a film, a game is rendering content as needed based on input from the users controller, it is not simply a stream of known content that can be cached or buffered. After all in watching a film when you press play, if the film starts 0.5 seconds later to give the buffering a chance to provide smooth images based on network conditions, you just would not notice. In a game you do, so latency and any delays are utterly obvious.

In IoT, especially industrial internet of things we discuss Edge vs Cloud and latency and processing data as close to the source as possible is an obvious solution, rather than round tripping to cloud.

A game is pretty much an ideal case for edge computing, and has been for many years. That does not mean that the edge needs to be isolated, you cache and render locally but may get elements of data remotely, like the postion of other players. Those few streaming coordinates are very different to a full frame 4K image that is rendered remotely, followed by another and another at 60fps.

Hence my experience of Stadia is this…

Glitches in sound, dropped frames intermittent pauses. I have not captured the worst of it as if you capture in game via stadia it captures it at source, and the videos are perfect. So the indicates it is not the end infrastructure for the game but the network between me and it. Google suggests that using the Chromecast box that plugs into the TV you use also use an ethernet cable and plug straight into the router. I do do this with the Xbox One (Due to its wireless interface being so bad) but the PS4, Switch and various iPads, PCs and Macs are all wireless and have no trouble with “networked” games or downloads. That of course is all because the content is local, the rendering is local. My network is a very robust mesh network, ironed out many kinks working from home and being big consumers of digital content over the years. We also have 70Mb broadband.

I wanted the cloud approach to work, in fact we had OnLive on the Cool Stuff Collective back in 2011. It was part of a piece where I descried what cloud computing, 9 years ago. OnLive was trying to get cloud gaming going. In emerging tech we are well used to the ebb and flow of trying and it being too early, waiting then it returns (look at VR and virtual worlds), and eventually it takes but at the moment Stadia doesn’t seem to have it sorted.

It is not just the intermittent breaks in smooth content that are a problem at the moment though. I have a Stadia Pro subscription, one where you apparently get games under an all you can eat subscription. The only trouble is there are 2 games, samurai showdown, a retro beat em up (fast moving so lag matters) and Destiny 2, of which the redeeming feature is that it has cross platform character saves. The rest you buy (and not really very many of those either that I don’t have on other platforms already). None the less I re-bought red dead redemption 2 just to try and support the platform and see what it could do. I have several times been greeted with this experience.

Rdr 2 stadia

The game thinks it lost the controller, the controller is still able to summon up Stadia content, stope the game etc, but none of the buttons worked.

I also stepped away from RDR 2 having paused it for a relatively short period, just a few minutes whilst I sorted something out and returned to this.

Rdr 2 stadia

A Stadia message saying I was dumped out of the game, where the mission had not completed, so was not saved. Some RDR 2 missions take a while and with the choppiness and this the level of frustration destroys the experience.

I was also expecting to be able to play on my IoS devices, but I can’t yet. On the PC the system down scales so will not do 4K images (not that it is in real 4K anyway.

Friending people doesn’t work. Purchases of content (should you want to) have to be on a mobile app not in the system, replays and captures are only viewable on mobile. the list goes on.

Microsoft and Amazon are waiting in the wings with their streaming services. For me the Microsoft and my Xbox Game Pass library and purchased library will be a bigger draw, though the network issues will be the same for any provider. Yes OK, 5G might help, but that’s a way off yet in reality running at full pelt. Latency and physics will alway remain an issue (unless we deal with quantum physics that is!)

Electric Vehicle Upgrade – Big changes – Tech wins.

A few weeks ago we upgraded our EV Nissan Leaf to the newest version of the Leaf Tekna. It is now our 3rd Leaf having been a very early adopter over 5 years ago. The last to we had were pretty similar but the new Leaf has undergone some significant changes, and they are all good I have to say.

The shape and outside styling is a little more angular with cuts and flashes of bodywork and lights, which is pretty much the styling of most of the Nissan range now. In particular the rear lights wrap around to the side of the car.

Leaf old
2017 Leaf
Leaf new
Late 2019 Leaf

The changes on the interior are a little more obvious with a new centre console and a few of the buttons have shifted around, like the eco button and strangely the start button. A new steering wheel has a squared off base, again like many other Nissans in the range.

Our previous two cars had a type 1 charger, and we have an installed cable unit, this new care has the type 2. I thought we would be easily able to upgrade the cable/charge unit but it seems the various government grants to install a charger do not apply to upgrades. So it is around Β£900 to get a new charging unit even though the installation would just be switching the head unit not the 6 hour job it is normally scheduled to be. However a range of adapters exist, so for Β£100 we have a solution in place. Not ideal but it made the scheduling of handover of the cars from one to the other less complex.

The big changes are really quire impressive though. We have ProPilot on the car which is a modern driver assistance set of tools. It is not quite a Tesla in the self driving sense but it certainly helps get closer to not having to do the driving. Now purist drivers and petrol heads (I think I am/was one) might baulk at the thought of not being in complete control but we have had a lot of computer controlled safety aids on vehicles for many years, traction control, ESP, ABS braking and even Sat Nav. ProPilot when on a motorway allows the car to maintain its lane, speed and distance from any car in front, handling the acceleration, braking and steering. You do have to maintain hands on the wheel though. If you want to over take you indicate, and start to steer the car then accelerates to get past the car you are overtaking. It is particularly good when the cars in front start to brake. I was hovering over the brake pedal on my first longish journey and it started to brake at a stoppage just before I was about to hit the pedal. It needs white lines to follow and lets you know if it can see them, also lets you know if it thinks it is following a car in front. You can set you comfort distance between you and the car in front as well via a 1, 2 or 3 bar system. It can feel a little odd as it makes small corrections in steering that maybe as a driver I would not bother.

Knowing whether to trust code and systems like this is a tricky one. However on the way back from out recent holiday I got to drive the hire car back to the airport, it was Diesel stick shift Nissan but did have some of the smart features and sensors. It reminded me what an archaic system stick shift is, yes it gives you plenty to do, but it is made for us as a driver to have to adjust to the design of the engine and gearbox. It seemed a right pain. Then when we got back Gatwick I got to drive our 2007 Petrol Automatic Honda people carrier back to Basingstoke. This has almost no driver aids or sensors, except a reversing sensor. It does have cruise control, but I never have used it as it has no idea what is going on in front of it. It is a blind lump of metal. A lot has changed in the past 12 years. When I got back I popped into the new Leaf and headed to the supermarket. With all the sensors running just on local roads it felt brilliant, but it also faster, more fun and much more agile and light to drive than both the ICE cars that day.

One of the other tricks the Leaf has is one pedal driving. EV’s don’t need gears due to the torque of the electric motor. Hence no clutch, but they do have a stop and a go pedal. With a switch on the console you can switch to 1 pedal driving only using the accelerator. If you lift off the accelerator the car slows down using the brakes itself as needed. This feels even weirder that the self driving motorway pro pilot, but it is actually works really well. It is still using all its senses to understand what it in front, even being able to emergency stop, or at least start the process quicker than the driver can. You can still apply brakes, its not they are turned off BTW. As you approach a roundabout or junction and you ease off you quickly start to feel how much to reduce the pedal by, it almost feels the car learns from that, not that it is really. It is also using the regenerative braking to recharge the battery. This is something that they have got better and better at over the years. In stop and go traffic jams it removes almost all the hassle, aside from the delay. Gently creeping forward and stopping dead as you lift off the pedal works really well. I certainly don’t miss the clutch, brake, try not to stall, apply handbrake, repeat malarky.

We did not opt for the self parking option on the car as another 5k was a bit steep for something that is so easy to park anyway with its all round camera and sensors. It even looks out the back of the car both ways for you as you reverse to detect a sudden on coming car or pedestrian.

Other nice things about the vehicle is it now has Apple CarPlay. Plug the phone in and I get music apps like spotify though the awesome Bose sound system. It also reads out incoming text messages which can be responded to via voice commands too. It is a little confusing having the in car voice control and then it side loaded with Siri but I like it.

EV’s always have the range question thrown at them. Not a major problem for us as most journey in this are the shorter town ones, which is why we switched in the first place but both range and power have been upped. I used to press the eco button not the steering wheel in the last one to turn eco off and have a turbo boost to leave a roundabout if needed. So far even in full eco and full energy recovery the car launches pretty much the same it seems. There is a different with eco on or off as to the amount of pedal travel on the accelerator and how much power it delivers but it is still very nippy. Having been a long time Subaru Impreza WRX owner, that thing launched with a very impressive 0-60 but the Leaf off the line feels faster and lighter. EV power deliver is pretty constant so yes it would fall away after the 0-30 but I think many people don’t realise just how quick these things can be. It is how heavy footed or how fast you drive that impacts the range. The last Leaf on full charge indicated a guessed range of 110 miles. This could easily be halved on a motorway at 70. This Leaf indicates around 150miles on charge but it doesn’t seem to tail off on the motorways quite as much. I am sure it can easily do 100-120 miles. Probably the full 150 on country roads.

In short. I like it. EV’s FTW!

Robots everywhere – T9

I was very happy that the Robosens T9 transforming robot that I backed on Kickstarter arrived this weekend. I have backed a lot of interesting things on the crowdfunding site and most have proven to be pretty good.

T9 though made me smile and laugh the most, combined with a slight tingle on the back of the neck. It is not net connected AI, but it is a clever piece of mechanical engineering as it does actually transform from a driving car to a walking and dancing robot.

The instructions and details were a little on the lite side, as I have not yet figured out the angles and coordinates for the 22 joints in the programming environment. I asked a leg to move, got the wrong angle and it fell over πŸ™‚

None the less. Just asking to it transform is pretty cool I think πŸ™‚ It has lots of preset manoeuvres, it even does push ups πŸ™‚

What got me interested in tech

I recently was asked to write a piece for the BCS (this is the professional organisation that many UK techies belong too formerly known as the British Computer Society, but now more global). I have been the chair of the Animation and Game Specialist Group for a few years and obviously I have worked with elements of game tech for a good few years. That includes now at 451 Research with the elements of Augmented and Virtual Reality having an impact on the world of IoT. AR is the User interface for IoT, and is built with game engine workflows and tools as much as any leading edge game.

The piece has a stack of things that seemed to come together and influence my to be interested in tech, much of it Sci-Fi based. In a world where we didn’t have this sort of access to technology we have today, but just enough to hint at where we were heading.

Feel free to go and have a read and reminisce here with The Memoirs of a Bedroom Coder. I had pondered writing a factual book about what influenced me and this weird career path I have taken but I bundled some of those attitudes and thought up into Reconfigure and Cont3xt in science fiction instead. (Which will be free from Saturday 24th August – 29th August) if you can’t bear to part with 99p/99c to read them.

Meanwhile, this weekend whilst checking out the awesome cars at Carfest South on Sunday, the family will also be enjoyed some live music by 80’s icons, Boy George & Culture Club and The Human League. So I am sure my (nearly) 52 year old brain will be flashing back and pondering the future at the same time.

If you need me the rest of the Bank Holiday weekend I will be mostly with my head in an Oculus Rift or PSVR enjoying the fantastic No Man’s Sky update bringing it to VR after 3 years.

Or, out in the garden playing the US CornHole game, chuck bean bags 30 feet into to hole in competition. Its a real sport you know! Its as low tech as I am going to go :).

Pro Cornhole
Cornhole World Championship

Florida line up

We just got back from a family holiday in Florida with 2 weeks of almost constant theme park. That also means 2 weeks of constantly standing in a queue it would seem. However, it’s all part of the experience.

We also experienced some pretty amazing weather. The hot and humid climate would occasionally burst into wet and wild thunder and lighting storms. I was often looking at the weather radar and it was incredibly quick to arrive and depart and very localised a lot of the time.

Overall Disney won over Universal in terms of the best ride/experience (Avatar:Flight of Passage) and the longest queue, for that at over 3 hours. It also had some really nice park food, again at the Avatar Pandora restaurant, a cleverly themed family style meal got a big thumbs up.

Dinner Pandoran style

Universal seemed to have the slowest food preparation and also was having all sorts of problems with its flagship Hagrid ride almost permanently shut and the Hogwarts one we went on after a horrible queue that someone fainted from the heat and had no support from Universal staff, then the ride went on to break half way through and as we left there was no indication of getting to go around again to make up for it.

Having said that, universal Hulk and Spiderman are still very good and the Harry Potter train between parks is really well done too.


NASA (A non park day) is always amazing, the scale of the rockets and the achievement to go to the moon 50 years ago is amazing.


Since we last went of course SpaceX now have their own platforms there and had recently performed a launch. We saw a shuttle launch back in 2000, but they are long gone unfortunately.

For all the fancy tech I still really enjoyed a game of Pool in the villa, occasionally just solo practicing potting all the balls in a no rules kind of way. I managed to clear the table on 19 strokes after being stuck on 22 for a couple of hours πŸ™‚


Another cool experience was he free roaming real world integrated Star Wars experience by The Void company. Something I can heartily recommend!


I managed to get picked on at the Monsters Inc laugh show and got a sticker for my troubles.


It was seemingly having an orange tshirt, but I was happily going off brand and sporting my Speedball Brutal Delux retro game shirt πŸ™‚

Magic kingdom

This was part of a theme as I tended to be completely off brand with the shirts. My favourite was taking Judge Dredd to Disney.


Though I was on message going to Dave and Busters with a Pitstop retro shirt on πŸ™‚


Predlet 2.0 was somewhat freaked out after the excellent Rock n Roller Coaster but somehow enjoyed the spine crushing mission to mars at Epcot


We had some cracking food outside the parks too. I hardly cooked all week, except steel cut oats or eggs in the morning for breakfast. This Sushi was amazingly good.


Day 1

We all really enjoyed it and whilst I don’t ever want to stand in a queue again I know I will. Its a lot easier with Wifi and an Iphone and older kids that amuse themselves πŸ™‚


Celebrating Apollo Moon Landing 50th

I am old enough to remember the moon landings, just… I was just coming up to 2 years old and I remember wearing a cardboard box on my head bouncing around the lounge in front of the TV. Every time I see images of the event or hear the radio transmissions I still get a shiver down my spine. It seems a general thing that we don’t remember much before 7 years old unless they are very impactful. For some reason this stuck with me and even if it is just because I have been told it happened I can still see it and feel it and it still triggers a wave of emotions. It’s pretty much what started me on the “how does this work then?” that led to whatever it is I am now as a Doctor of Technology πŸ™‚ It is why I write lunar lander programs as a first thing on any platform or language to see what they can do. From the ZX81 and C64 onwards. It was impossible to resist getting the Lego creations lunar lander model when it popped up.

To celebrate 50 years since the moon landing
Apollo 50 Lego

I spent this Sunday building this. Lego is very therapeutic and of course whilst I was building it was having this waves of memories and feelings and thought about how important space travel is to science in general.

There are a lot of pieces to this build and I thought it might take me a couple of days, but I started for a few hours in the morning, then we popped off to a very energy sapping Choi Kwang Do black belt tag martial arts grading (as you do) and I carried on after that. So I think the total build time was about 5-6 hours. Back in 2011 the Millennium Falcon I got after it had been on our TV show (Cool Stuff Collective) took me over a week several hours a night, but that was because it had already been built and then broken down so the pieces were not in the usual number bags to divide them up.

Millennium falcon pieces

This went on to be played with by very young predlets and did not survive the process with the Lego being mixed into the general pile I believe πŸ™‚ The Lunar Lander will not suffer that fate.

Apollo 11 Lander Lego build

It is a wonderful thing to build and it is amazing how much of its detail gets hidden away, but you see it as a builder. As much a journey as a destination.

It eases you in building the lunar surface with the crater.

Apollo 11 Lander Lego build

Then the main lander base with its legs that was eventually left on the moon. Some nice fuel tank detail that eventually almost disappears.

Apollo 11 lander Lego
Apollo 11 lander Lego

In the side pods are opening doors to show the camera that captured the descent down the ladder and the retroreflector that was left on the surface of the moon to allow scientists to determine the range of the moon by firing a laser at the device.

The core habitable command unit is the last piece, which includes a hatch for the crew to get in and out of the piece that would eventually take them back up to the orbiting platform before being jettisoned to orbit the moon and finally crash land again.

The end result with its sticker and the gold bricks representing the gold foil works really well.

Apollo 11 lander Lego
Apollo 11 lander Lego

The full build step by step (well chunks of it) are in this album on flickr.

That wasn’t the only reminiscing this weekend either as my Kickstarted GoCube arrived too, taking me back to the 80’s this time instead of the last 60’s.


This wonderful version of the puzzle is instrument and knows where all its pieces are and what way up it is, an app can guide you to solve the puzzle, set you specific challenges, time you or even play tunes with it. The teaching though is really good. Much less frustrating and more rewarding than the original πŸ™‚ Yay for tech and IoT πŸ™‚

VR is now finally normal in our house with Oculus Quest

Clearly VR has been sort of normal in our house for many years but it has generally needed me to have left something setup or be asked to get it ready to experience. A while back I got rid of the spare bed in my office and put up a bunch of shelves to clear space specifically to let me have the Oculus Rift and it sensors permanently and easily available (I have a new desk for the windows laptop now BTW. However the Rift is still on a PC that needs to be logged into and the chair I sit and work on all day need to be wheeled out of the way and, well I am pretty much always in the room working or not there to help because of work travel. So we have high end great quality VR, but it’s not used very much by anyone else. It would get used if I set it up in the kitchen (pretty much the only other space clear enough room scale VR, but that setup had to be transient, making it a bit of a pain.

3 days work. Much better room now. Still not finished
Full sweep of room setup

The Oculus Go got a bit of interest a while back but because its only 3DoF it is not as engaging as full VR once you have tried that. It is still great for watching movies though.

Oculus Go

The Predlets have seen VR and got to use it since the original Oculus DK1 over 5 years ago they are 12 and 16 now !

We have the PSVR, but the PS4 tends not to get used very much in favour of the Switch and the Xbox. We do have some more recent accessible VR on the Switch with the Labo kit. Which has proved a fun thing, but not getting everyday use as there are other things to do on the Switch.

Nintendo Labo VR for Switch
Nintendo Switch Labo VR camera.

So I was very pleased when the Oculus Quest arrived on release day back in May that it got a bit of family interest.

Oculus Quest

It is a very impressive piece of stand alone VR kit. It may not have quite the grunt of the Β£1500 gaming laptop and Oculus Rift but it has the same feel and smoothness with full wire free standalone 6DoF VR along with full hand controllers.

It has an almost permanent place sitting charged and ready to go in the Kitchen. Here it is next to the toaster.

Oculus Quest in situ

It has become popular with elemming and the Predlets all just occasionally picking it up and having a go. A firm favourite is of course Beat Sabre but Predlet 2.0 likes Job Simulator, he even asked me to get that one specifically. Also Box VR get used a fair bit as we are all being meeting our movement rings on our apple watches. Predlet 1.0 favourite not the Rift was The Climb and I am happy to see it is due to make an appearance not the device. I am still very enamoured with SuperHot VR. It along with Beat Sabre are some of the best VR experiences I have had.

Is it worth the Β£400? I would have to say very much a yes. It adds nicely to the collection of 10 or so headsets I have gathered over the years and is very much a state of the art expression. The pick up and play nature of it (it even remembers the guardian set up after you take it off and put it down somewhere else (the guardian is the boundary you draw around your play area to let it warn you if you are near a wall). This all adds to it just working and being a family friendly device.

The only downside at the moment is that it uses only 1 facebook logon, i.e. mine. Some fo the games then assume there is only one user and don’t have multiple slots for save games. So yes all those high beat sabre scores are obviously mine πŸ˜‰ I am sure they can fix that and I hope they do.

Anyway well done Oculus. Love it!