Hassle your teachers to ask to learn to… program – programme

Happy new year everyone. n.b. I updated the title to use program and programme to avoid confusion as my not so subtle play on words 🙂 This new years eve over on CITV was the last in this series of Cool Stuff Collective. It is running for the next month on ITV player here
It was notable for a double custard pie on the wall of fame but aside from that we did a different future tech. I was intrigued what was going to make the edit as we could have done an entire show I think with all the things Vicky and I went through.
I talked about Robotics in 2012 and covered Asimo, Nao and also exo-skeletons. This was a general robotics discussion and its spin offs, plus a small piece about artificial intelligence. We did this as a talking piece with footage played in between of the various things as they were going to be impossible to squeeze into the school. In transport I also talked about the Toyota car with a giant OLED customisable surface. All very big things.
I finally got to talk about Maker Culture too, and spin off from the open source ideas to things like Sugru that let you hack things better. i.e. physical hacking.

I have my headphone mute button that I enhanced a while ago and I demonstrated altering a PS3 controller button using it. It is wonderful stuff and fits nicely into maker culture.
However the closing statements were my wish for the year. To paraphrase….
Education and teaching of computer programming needs to be done properly. We have got stuck with ICT, which is important, but it is about using computers not building with them. All the gadgets we show and all the block buster games we talk about need to be built. So I want everyone to hassle their teachers to ask to be taught computer programming as it is one of the most important skills that will be needed in the future. Without it we will not be making the next generation of gadgets or fantastic games. (That of course also relates to other business areas, banks, medical establishments etc….) Knowing how to build is important, knowing how things work not just being a user is important.
A much used quote that was a bit too heavy for the show “if you are not programming you are being programmed”
I think 2012 will be a year many more things drive this point forward to build on all the work people have been doing up to know to get this message across. So if we can keep pushing we may have a chance to save the economy and everyones future, and have a rewarding career for people too. It’s all good !
Anyway thats this series done. I may do a new year retrospective on all the pieces of the puzzle that I have talked about this series, but its all on this blog 🙂
It’s also a major part of my speaking engagements for the next few months at least.
More TV for me? Well I hope so, it is a great honour to be able to share all this stuff on all sorts of media. Lets see what 2012 brings (BTW I am my own agent at the moment 😉 )


I hope you all had a good christmas holiday. It’s friday already and I am only just blogging about the penultimate Cool Stuff Collective that started airing on christmas eve! We ventured into yet more unusual tech using a telepresence robot as both the prop and the subject of the piece.
So for this one I got to talk to vicky via Skype, but I was delivering out via a controllable camera and screen using a Mantarobot.

This piece of kit contains a netbook, but it is encased in a motorised column that allows control signals to be directed to it via Skype plugin, so you can drive around (with parking sensors sending info back to the driver). You appear on the screen and you can also pan and tilt the camera on the device which gives much more freedom than a regular webcam.

Being used to expressing what I need to say through a digital medium it was an interesting feeling to know there was an actual physical presence, a real avatar at the other end. The school floor was a bit slippery for the device so when I was driving around in rehearsals I kept facing not quite the way I wanted too. I am sure with practice that could be rectified.
I am still not a fan of the video conference though. It was made harder by the fact that I was also being filmed from over my shoulder.

It creates a weird sensation even when you know the person you are talking too. It was interesting to contrast this with the experience of talking to Vicky as a Panda avatar, rather than me as a laptop on wheels. The former was more relaxed and normal. It almost felt as if there was a “oh no what has happened to you?” feel from the telepresence bot. One of the questions from the audience was “could you make it look more real?” I suggested some tinsel.
That said though it has its place, it works and it was using easily available technology. It is not just Mars Rovers that telepresence and ultra remote control can work with.
The show is on the ITV player for a few weeks and the last show goes out tomorrow new years eve. Though for some reason we are just only CITV and have lost the ITV slot. It is a roundup and a bit of a prediction show so I will see what made the edit and talk about that tomorrow 🙂

Pandamonium at Cool HQ – Live Mocap

We have another technically adventurous Cool Stuff Collective this week. Of all the ones we have done it is the one that made me laugh the most. Plus it is highly related to virtual worlds and avatars.
We got Vicky into a sensor laden motion capture suit. The suit using gyroscopic sensors to get positional information and limb rotation.
Motion capture suit
Vicky Letch gets suited up.
That is then used live to allow an avatar to be controlled (though it can be used to record BVH files for things like Second Life and other games)
In this case we turned Vicky into a very cute Panda.
All the kit and support came from the Brighton based Animazoo. Mark from Animazoo was thrown into the spotlight as the visiting expert too and did a great job.
We changed the flow as this was about Vicky performing in the suit so I took the reigns as interviewer with Mark and also got to talk to Vicky’s virtual panda persona.
Animazoo Mocap controlled panda
Many people faced with a mocap suit and an on screen digital figure just wave their arms around a bit, Vicky threw herself into character and became one with the Panda, which is what made this item even cooler.
As well as body movements a separate hand controller is used for facial expressions and the Vicky the panda became even more real.
The bit that really made me chuckle was the reversal of the silly question at the end. Usually I have to strop off in indignation saying I am a tech geek not a … whatever. As we had a digital panda there it was its turn to rant and turn and leave in a huff. Brilliant puppetry and voice combination meant this worked really well.
Those of us that live and work in virtual worlds have started to get used to expression through a digital avatar. As we know though, it is that proxy for our human actions that seems to scare many people, fearing being misunderstood or lacking in trust of the other avatars as people might be “hiding” something. It is the core of all the fuss about #nymwars too as we express ourselves digitally. (I had a go here using Kinect a while back) whilst trying to explain digital persona is not a binary thing.
In this show it was Vicky, we knew that, but equally she was acting and merging some comedy panda with her own persona. It is something everyone should try, some puppetry or digital interaction with a facade that is not just their face. It tells you a lot about that persona and about yourself.
Anyway the show is on the ITV Player for a few weeks. Two more shows to go and the next one is next Saturday but at the slightly earlier time of 7:50 (so the CITV tweets said anyway)

Augmented reality – The Cool Stuff Way

Last Friday we filmed the last in the series of Cool Stuff Collective (booooo), but there are still 3 more to air and the one currently in play (Yay!!!!).
Last Saturday’s was the one with Augmented Reality. We did some AR back in the previous series but it is such a huge subject it deserves more coverage.
I had a few things lined up to do on this but not all of them made it. I wanted to show Disney AppMates, which we had but it seemed to not work very well so I dropped it at the last moment. It turns out you have to hold the cars in just the right place which if you have small hands it works, for bigger hands it did not, until I read the manual(looked at the box). It was a pity as it is a twist on AR using a physical device on an Ipad. Never mind 🙂 what we did have was some brilliant examples from Apache that @AdamApache brought along. This were also some AR xmas cards from 3dgreetingscards
The Apache guys brought a marker based large scale driving game for the Ipad (based on the Driver poster) and a Kinect powered magic mirror that let Vicky try on some clothes.
We had a few logistical problems as this was another item where we strayed away from the table.

This quick screen has further been augmented to show the
I think it worked ok though 🙂
It’s on the ITV player for few weeks more

KASPAR the robot – Something different on Cool Stuff Collective

The something different in the title refers both to the content of the future tech slot and also the format of it again this week. Saturday saw the first showing of this weeks Cool Stuff Collective (available now on the ITV player) and features the rather unusual KASPAR robot and one of his creators Dr Ben Robins.
This future tech I got to be a full on TV presenter. I.e I did the intro and link into and out of the item and interviewed Dr Robins. It was great fun to do, and as I had a raging sore throat at the time it was good that someone else could do the talking.
However (my TV presenting CV enhancement aside), how we did the item is less important than what the item was about.
KASPAR is part of an EU project looking at the minimal expressions needed in a robot rather than aiming for 100% realism. In a way this lives in and around the uncanny valley rather than trying to cross it.
Dr Robins’ specialism though is in using various techniques to aid children with varying levels of autism to engage with other people initially mediated through KASPAR.
The robot is not an autonomous one (though it could be), instead it is a mix of responsive sensors and touch sensitive skin and the skill of the mediator to puppet him in an interaction with someone.
We had a good chat in the “green room” (a.k.a. Staff room) before the piece as often robots are considered as replacing people.
Dr Robins was keen to point out that in the delicate human relationships that need to form in helping those with autism the robot becomes a conduit for the teacher to engage with the student. This is because this is about therapy, not technology.
The look of KASPAR seemed to divide both the crew and the audience from fascination to being a little freaked out by him. It is precisely the open nature and blend of tech and features that appears to endear him to those students that Dr Robins works with though.
It was a real honour to have something that is part of some very different research in robotics that is aimed at making a real difference to peoples lives.
Dr Robins was also a great sport in the “oooh touchy” storming off that he did, as he is a massive Asimov fan but the script asked him to play otherwise just for the long running joke. He did this with great charm and a smile on his face too.
You can read more about KASPAR and the wider project here.

Getting to 1000mph – Cool Rockets

We had an interesting departure from the sat at a table format on The Cool Stuff Collective future tech section this week. Vicky (now on twitter 🙂 ) and I ended up outside in the playground and we had a guest expert along.
In this show we got to talk to the Bloodhound SSC (Supersonic car team). A project aiming to build a 1,000mph car but also to spark interest in schools and colleges across the country in the fun and future in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics. (I.e. we share a common goal in that respect).
The car is still being built, and obviously it would be tricky to fire a huge 1,000 mile an hour rocket in a school playground.
I got to be a bit more presenter and a bit less guest and intro and talk to Gerry from Bloodhound SSC. We had a scale model of the actual rocket/jet car to talk about but then we got onto the big experiment.
Bloodhound SSC scale model
A wire was put up along the playground and Gerry had electronic ignition rockets that he places in two identical looking models of the SSC. The aim to show the audience that how heavy something is really changes the performance of a rocket even in tiny models.
As you can see from my behind the scenes video of the initial practice (which made Vicky jump and splutter a bit 🙂 ) and then one of the many firings we did for the record the kids thought it was really exciting. That is the start to an interest in science.

When I was growing up I remember lots of things about world speed records, seeing the old cars at Beaulieu, having Top Trumps sets of crazy fast boats, bikes, planes and cars etc.
We all had fun doing this which is an important factor in making it interesting and fun for the audience too.
More than ever though this one put us amongst the kids and I got to have some great chats with them about science and tech. Being at the school is not just a case of using it as a scene, its about getting a chance to inspire some kids to. We could almost be a cool stuff collective roadshow doing that in various places live, with the TV show as the secondary product.
The show is up and live for a few weeks on the ITV Player
As the next few shows air we have got even bigger with future tech pieces. Only 2 more to record (though lots more to air yet ) 🙂

Music, Lights and exceptional pies

This weeks Cool Stuff Collective was fully of twists and turns. Whilst we don’t have a lot of scripted gags we do have a few things that are repeated throughout the series. As we are technically half way through the guys at Archie Productions now throw in alterations to what has become an established pattern. Hence making it more funny. (That’s enough analysis of comedy writing).
In Future Tech I had the interesting musical light show the Tenori-On to talk to Vicky about. Using a live instrument with 64 buttons, and 16 modes of operating was a bit of a continuity knightmare but I tried to learn it enough that I could repeat various things as needed.
I had a few days to experiment with it and become one with it, but as i am a tech geek not a musician ….
It is a bit like the monome used to be, an intriguing shape and feel to it. In many ways its like playing with Midi equipped bubble wrap. I found it fascinating though. It generates all its own tunes and is a multi layer sequencer. Some of the drawing modes that let you swipe across and twirl around yet create some soothing electronic music feels very theraputic.
We discussed in the piece how new ways to generate and record music were being powered by tech, but that it is not a replacement for traditional instruments. Remembering back to the original days of the synth when some were heralding the end of all instruments. There is a lot to be said for the performance element of a traditional instrument, the skill needed to interact and the subtley. Still tech instruments are cool too 🙂
I also got to mention, though not show (as it was still in customs!) the Ninjen Gaki a quirky little device that uses human body electrical resistance to modify the sounds it makes. You hold onto it and grab someone else’s arm who is holding the device too and it plays notes.
However it was at the end of the piece that the twists started. Traditionally Vicky asks me a question and I stomp off in a huff saying I am not a whatever the gag is, I am a tech geek. In this one I get to turn the tables and ask Vicky a question. She strops off and I get to do the “oooooh touchy” to camera. All in good fun.
However it was in the Wall of Fame that the biggest twist hit. Not only did I get to pie the unfortunate holder of the toy that got the “pants” vote but Blowfish was in the line of fire.
Now before you look at these pictures you should know that Blowfish is actually a serious marine biologist not just a pie target, but then I am a “serious” tech geek too 🙂 You can see some of his passion to ecology and the see here at School Of Fish
When you have done that check out this Saturday morning kids TV classic moment 🙂
Traditional Pie
What a mess
Thankyou for being such a good sport, and yes I know what goes around comes around!
You can (in the UK) see this all, and the back catalogue on the ITV player.

Nobel Prize winning physics on kids TV – Graphene

In this weeks Cool Stuff Collective we ventured into some very high end and future thinking technology to talk about the centuries apparent wonder material Graphene. Initially I had this on a list of things to do but was not sure if it would work. Independently from my list the shows creator @marleyman007 said why are we not doing anything about Graphene. That was a very clear green light to give it a go.
Graphene has some amazing properties, it is an atom thin layer of carbon that is bonded into a hexagonal structure. It, like most things in science is a whole load of other variants but for the purposes of explaining it on the show we stuck to this structure.
Ros worked her producer magic again and managed to source this from Manchester. A real sample of graphene. The flecks in the postage stamp sized piece glass are single atomic layers of Graphene.
Graphene Yes you can see atoms.
We also tried to explain the potential strength of this formation of carbon by explaining if you had a clingfilm thin sheet of graphene it could support the weight of an elephant. Placing a cuddly toy elephant on a bowl covered with actual cling film.
It appears that graphene is super strong, light, thin, has interesting electrical properties, thermal conductive properties many of which that are continuing to be explored. Even the UK government is putting a little bit of research money into it!
I was very keen to add that this was not some random piece of science but that it was experiments on Graphene that won the 2010 Nobel prize for physics
There is lots to look at about graphene, and whilst it is looked down upon the Wikipedia article is a good place to get a starter feel for the depth of potential of this material.
I know some people get nervous of dismissive of “wonder materials” and world changing claims. We will of course have to wait and see, but it does seem to be a very positive step and one that our scientists of the future will be exploring further.
(I also found out that predlet 1.0 has actually talked about graphene in science at junior school which is brilliant news)
Lots of back catalogue versions of the show are still on the ITV player too.

This week on Cool Stuff – Hydrogen Fuel Cells – Green tech

We took a bit of a departure from some of the usual technology in Future Tech this week to talk about how we power technology in the future. The current Cool Stuff Collective show with this is on ITV player this week (as are some fo the previous shows like 3d printing 🙂 ). The core of this was discussing Hydrogen Fuel Cells. In particularly PEM (Proton Exchange Membranes).
We had this “toy” hydrogen powered car. It is not really a toy but a science experiment.
Generating hydrogen power a car
It has two little bell jars on the back. The fuel cell is actually a reversible one.
This means it can be used to break water passed into it down (by passing electricity across it) into oxygen and hydrogen. This then acts as the fuel source when you rever the process and power the electric motor of the car by passing Oxygen and Hydrogen into the fuel cell where it recombines into water and generates electricity.
As I pointed out in the show if you use renewable clean electricity to generate the hydrogen this seems to be a very efficient and clean fuel system.
The car worked well, the discussion of the future and also the problems with the volumes of hydrogen needed etc all worked I think.
I know that green energy is an emotive subject, but it is the next generation that will ultimately decide (or be forced too). It comes down to whether it is easier to store hydrogen to make electricity, or easier to just store electricity in a battery. That electricity may of course have been generated from hydrogen/oxygen combination, or solar, or waves etc.
We had some great questions, one was what will Hydrogen cars look like. The answer is of course they can look like any car today, as with the Honda FCX Clarity or they could be re-engineered to fit the dynamics of the power source.
What I liked about the fuel cell was we just had one there, I generated the fuel with it and then powered the little car with it. It worked. Nothing theoretical about that.

Cool Stuff Collective RepRap 3D printing

Today The 3d printing (part ii) aired on The Cool Stuff Collective. A huge shout out of thanks goes to Malcolm Napier and his daughter Hannah (who has built most of the machinery) for bringing along their collection of RepRap 3d printers and getting it all working so well so quickly. Including the dicussions on which colour plastic we should use for the best impact. (Blue in this case 🙂 )
Also thankyou to @AndyPiper for the intro’s via Reading Geek Night. A particular unsung hero award to producer Ros who manages to make all the arrangements and get things to make these items work.
Reprap in action
The kids at the school we filmed at were enthralled as were the Archie productions crew, with the printer actually working. That is always a good sign when you are going to be showing some future tech.
RepRap head
In the piece we talked about how the printer worked, how the reprap is designed as an open source project that aims to replicate one printer from another. I also threw in the massive change to manufacturing and the planet of replicating what you need locally. No packaging, shipping, wasted manufacture. It’s a huge concept, but the kids watching the show will be living in a world where that is even more important.
We also talked a bit about bio printing, though I did point out thats not with a reprap (yet!). Vicky brought in the kids questions, which were all their own too. One in particular about why is this different from a lathe was great 🙂
Now a set of reprap bits costs about £300, so I think that every school should be making one in science lessons and then learning about how to craft 3d objects.
The kids loved the g33k tokens. it was almost the start of a new craze 🙂
Malcolm and Hannah created the g33k text 3d model, whilst we had lots of taller bigger samples we could print it was better to have a relatively thin but constantly repeating model to not cause massive continuity errors or problems for when they get edited up by series producer Jenny. If you can imagine printing a tall tower some takes, and doing 2 takes of the piece and trying to weave the best parts of each together. With my ad hoc non scripted presentation it would mean the tower would keep changing height. We also did not want to keep stopping and starting the reprap. Though it would cope it was better to just film whilst it was running.
RepRap g33k print
If you are in the UK and you want to see the show it is on the ITV player for the rest of the week.
I would love the show to be out there for a wider audience as I am really happy with what we have been doing the past few series and it feels it is getting better all the time.
If it can help and inspire just a few people back into science, or open up some creative maker talent out there then I think we are doing a good job.
It seems an age away from that first show, and my “debut” as a boffin in the luvvie world (to quote google’s boss Schmidt). Yet it was only a year ago, but over 30 shows of future tech already in the can(or memory stick)!
Roll on monday/tuesdays recordings!