Where the magic happens – Behinds the scenes

Last week I shot a quick behind the scenes view of The Cool Stuff Collective studio before the madness of filming started. I think it gives a good impression of the size of the studio and they are fascinating places.

It’s an early return to the studio this week, as we now are filming on a Wednesday not a Friday as we did with the first two.
I am not sure whether we will end up having a massive Nerf fight in here given our sponsors, but that would be a laugh to see!

Cool Stuff Collective returns – S2Ep1 Cloud

The second series of The Cool Stuff Collective hit the screens today, sponsored by Nerf (from Hasbro) which in itself is cool. It’s this Nerf N-Strike Barricade RV-10

The Cool Stuff Collective is now filmed at BBC television centre in Studio 2 which is a much bigger studio than we had for series 1 at MTV Camden.
Where the magic happens
There are Blue Peter signs everywhere which is quite awe inspiring.
The production gallery is up above us as opposed to the side where @marleyman007 directs us from.
Monkey has been reborn too, and has some wonderful googly eyes too.
Monkey reborn
Another new character on set is Lady Blah Blah complete with beard
Sy, Lady Blah Blah and the popcrash grannies
Here is Lady Blah Blah with Sy Thomas and the Popcrach grannies, though I realize this looks odd as Janice has lent back to talk to Victoria.
This is the view we have sat on set (though there are usually more people staring at us 🙂
View form the set
This week the gag was that we had all forgotten Sy and call him Sid as its been a few weeks since the last series. Predlet 2.0 was a bit confused watching the “acting” he asked me if I really had forgotten Sy’s Name 🙂
So the show opened Sy introducing it all and then I come on measuring the TV and feign ignorance.
Calling Sy Sid
My tech part of the show is more back to normal though in a attempt to define cloud computing and cloud gaming in 3 minutes.
I used the basic principle that cloud is really about the break up of the PC and of computer components and moving them away to other places.
I took an old computer and pulled a card out and handed it to Sy by way of a prop to try and explain the distribution of compute resource, storage etc. It was a simplistic explanation but when you boil it down that is what is happening.
I then explained how Onlive works and is coming to the UK with BT very soon and that it is actually good for gaming in that we can play any game on any console, and will not really have to replace any of our old kit as all we need is a screen, network and input controller.
The final extrapolation is a planet wide grid of compute resouurce. I was going to throw in IPv6 but that got too tongue twisty. Any resource anywhere local or remote and combined into massive computing power and storage.
This first show (and next weeks) was great fun to record and the coming shows look awesome too. The team at Archie Productions and Sy Thomas have done a great job and I love being part of that.
I guess that wikipedia article needs updating now for the show? to reflect series 2 and the new record location.
See you all next week same time same place 🙂 (Or any of the many repeats all week)

Having a go with Kinect Hacks

For reasons that will become apparent in a few weeks time I needed to see if I could get my Mac to talk to the Kinect using the brilliant open source I don’t do too much in the command shell on my Mac so the realms of Homebrew and MacPorts mentioned in the instructions, whilst I knew what the point of them is, meant that my machine was in a bit of a state.
I had used something call Fink a while back, but could not remember why so I tried the Homebrew instructions but failed and had too many paths and bits not very happy to take what is a ready made package. So instead I went to the MacPorts compile it yourself path.
The glview application then ran nicely and told me I had 0 kinects attached to my Mac 🙂
A prerequisite for this is to have the kinect with a power supply as opposed to bundled newer xbox and kinects where the power is built in. I simply took the Mac to the xbox, unplugged the USB from there and popped it into the Mac, ran glview again as a test. Bingo!
At its very basic mode you can see the colouring for depth being rendered as the predlets are nearer or further from the device.
Next step is to hook into the libraries and make sense of the data 🙂

London Toy Fair 2011

Yesterday i got to go along to the Toyfair 2011 at Olympia with a press badge with Archie Productions and with my Cool Stuff Collective g33k t-shirt on.
Like superman :)
I was not there to film but to do a bit more research, meet some people and see how roving reporters and crews get things done.
I have been to a fair few trade shows, including lots of standing around on a stand talking about virtual worlds but I was not sure what to expect from a trade toy show. It was good to be able to head onto a stand and do a bit of promoting back on the TV show. It was also interesting the sheer number of PR people manning the stands. The ones I have been to tend to be the actual people from the actual company, close to the product. That was in evidence at the show but the huge corporate machines were in full PR mode. There were secret rooms, closed invite only stands and classification of how much of a prospect you might be worth talking too.
Some stands had character guards

many others had actual suited and booted bouncers. If your names not down you are not coming in. However a TV crew tends to alter that a little. A few places it was a hindrance as some pre-release toys and film footage was not ready for the press yet, only for the corporate buyers. An old trick about feeling exclusive, being let in (as we do with web betas). One particular secret door kept opening and closing so much that each time the motion caught my eye, I glanced across only to be scowled at by the bouncer. Very different the the playfulness of the toys around, but it is big business.
It was great to see such a big Moshi Monster presence though
More Moshi Monsters
I was thinking back to 2007 when Roo and I went to see the very early stages of Moshi, and the various virtual world trade shows we had stands near one another. It is of course now huge, Roo wrote about it back then
One thing about the toy industry, like the game or virtual world industry is that no matter how straight laced the pitch is nearly everyone had that outlet to press a button and play with something. You can sit a look at a massive zhuzhu pet stand, analyse your profit margins etc but if you pick one up and press a button a scurrying hamster will raise a smile.

On the Bandai stand I saw a corporate tour but whilst they were quite serious they got involved testing the car that you shout at make it go.
There were some great character costumes wandering around as you can see

On a very small stand there was a suitably wavering Captain Jack Sparrow, with a big sign saying no photos. However he obviously needed a break at some point, stayed in character and wandered around the show, where he placed himself on the edge of the Gelli Baff (Bath goo toy) as it was filmed. This was one of the most bizarre and amusing sights.
Captain Jack Sparrow watches a bath of Goo
It would have been really amusing if it actually was Johnny Depp of course 🙂
I was also amazed to see Grape Escape reborn as Smashed Potatoes.
Grape Escape Reborn with Potatoes
Was it really back in 2007 I blogged about that ! and posted this video of Grape Escape in action.

My favourite things of the whole show though. Firstly was from Revell, it was the Leonardo da Vinci plans made into wooden kits. They have a great look about them and are very cool models. They are wooden but with the edges coloured it makes the 3d model look like the sepia toned sketches from the original gadget guru and inventor.
da Vinci models
Secondly lots of great toys and games, but very little in the way of video games/consoles or handhelds which was a surprise. The toyfair is a very physical product event in London at least. There were inklings of crossover products, obviously Moshi is an online environment but I saw a very interesting approach on the Meccano stand.
Mechatars is a range of robot radio controlled battling bots, that level up as you play with the physical toy. They can then be connected into a unity3d based environment where the levelled up stats are transferred. Playing online levels up too and transfers back to the bot. I loved the fact the world is called the Mechaverse too 🙂 As a cross world principle this has so many ways to build up on the actual implementation and I look forward to seeing how this pans out.
Toyfair is on the next few days, worth a trip across

BTW if you end up on the Lego stand let me know what its like, we would have been allowed in but could not film anything.
Don’t forget to watch The Cool Stuff Collective as of this Saturday 9am ITV

Saturday morning – Look whats on ;)

If you check your TV schedules you may notice The Cool Stuff Collective appearing. This Saturday morning 29th January 9am ITV1. There are numerous repeats during the week to catch up with too.
TV Schedule 29th Jan
I don’t want to spoil any surprises or break any TV style embargoes, but tune in or record it and see a second series arrive on your screens.
***Update the schedule is as follows Saturday ITV1 9:00am , CITV 4:30pm Sunday ITV1 7:55am , CITV 11:30am, Mon CITV 5pm, Fri CITV 5:30pm !

Merging Cool Stuff Collective and Second Life for the BCS

Last night I was invited by the BCS Berkshire branch to give a follow up presentation to my Washing Away Cave Paintings but this time do the pitch in Second Life. It seemed a great time to join some dots. I offered to talk both about the experience and content in Series 1 of The Cool Stuff Collective, and at the same time show some other ways to deliver information in a virtual environment to a mixed audience of new SLers and some very experienced ones.
Also it was a goto time to use Robert Gittin’s Bangor university sim where an auditorium and BCS office is located. Robert is treasurer of the committee that we have with the BCS Animation and Games Development specialist group and a long time fellow metaverse evangelist. He very kindly came along too to chaperone and help what turned out to be quite a large group. Gatherings in SL of 5-6 people are manageable, but once you get to up to 20+ as we did it is good to have more than one person helping everyone.
I was busy talking and presenting so I did not take very many pictures, though in the post event mingle I snapped this one.
For me this was almost a flashback, having been in virtual worlds so long it is refreshing to see new people come and try it. Whilst there is sometimes some embarrassment from new people to an environment it is nice to be able to settle those nerves and show that we are all new to this and there things for anyone to discover, ways to work, things to see that are just as easily spotted by someone new as an old hand.
I opened up with some traditional powerpoint, just a few slides on a single screen. Mostly about the BCSAGD, but primarily it was about the simplest way to present, replicate real life.
I then rezzed a giant Cool Stuff Collective poster, the aim to start filling the virtual space and start the line of conversation about the technology and some anecdotes about the show.
In order to start to be a little more extreme in presentation terms I rezzed a shot of the cool stuff website hovering horizontally across the floor. This page is a grid of thumbnails and labels for each of the pieces of tech I presented on the show. Rather than a static image behind me I made it a phantom object which allowed my to walk around in and on the image. Using the avatar as a pointer and having the image cut through me is a very basic way to break the real world illusion. A reminder that things don’t have to mimic real life.
Here I started talking about Lego universe, and its similarities in building and programming to Second Life.
As I went on I started to use more in world rezzed props. This started when I explained how I rehearsed the very first show items using my own virtual world. I have written about this before but this was the first time I had talked about it in world and live. In order to get the points I needed to make in the piece when talking to Sy I built some small plinths in my local Opensim to represent the key points. I then walked past them in turn making a mental note. It meant when I was talking about it in the concise 3 minutes I had a visual cue of where I should be and what was next in my minds eye. In the pitch last night I started to build some of those plinths live to demonstrate how easy these visual sketches can be. You can see the remnants of that quick live build in the top photo in this post on the left.
I had two other main props, my Parrot AR drone, which was another quick build but a physical item in SL. I rezzed to of these and was then able to lift them up, hover them over the audience (just with edit tools), and then describe how the emergency cut out works on the device and how it drops to the ground. Which I did by dropping into the audience. Again its quick and easy and much more effective when you are telling a story or getting a point across. The other prop was my Kinect in SL, which I built when this was called project natal.
Project Natal SL Style
A nice piece of reuse as I built this back in June 2009 ! Part of the conversation about Kinect was about the rise of the Kinect Hacks and how important it was that people shared what they did and that the web and social media is a powerful force that, when used to share, makes things happen really quickly. This was an excuse to rez the old favourite, the giant hands attached to my avatar and explain and show how that can have a different impact on a pitch.
My final quick prop was about audience participation. I rezzed a physical sphere and kicked it into the audience. As a presenter it is hard to know if people are listening, the visual cues and feedback from an audience is hard to judge, but when you throw a ball into the audience and people start kicking it around it is a very obvious reaction. That is not to say I did not think my audience was engaged, they were, we had some questions both voice and text, but it seems better to get people using their avatars, either doing things that make them look around and cam around, click on things, or in the case of the ball have a kick around.
I finished up on using web pages, with the Cool Stuff Collective website as an example. Of course at this point the older residents of SL pointed out they were using different clients, so I kept that a bit more brief but tried to explain to those new to SL how web on a prim works, and how it can be confusing.
After the official end of the hour lots of people stayed to talk and ask questions, we also formed a BCSAGD group in SL, open to anyone as we are very keen to have more presentations and gatherings and build on the BCS work that Robert has been doing.
I really enjoyed doing this pitch, for me being able to talk both about the technology and gadgets, about the future, whilst referring to the experience of the TV show and at the same time demonstrate some ideas of how to engage people in SL was such a multi dimensional conversation that it really got the adrenalin flowing. I have obviously be enthusing about virtual worlds for years now, but still the spark of human connectedness, the ability to be open and natural whilst still in a quirky virtual environment is fascinating. If you have not tried to demonstrate something in ways other than powerpoint, do on give it a go 🙂

Cool 3d Christmas

The final episode (13) of The Cool Stuff Collective series 1 is airing this week and its the christmas special. I was lucky enough to be able to give a variety of 3d pieces of tech an outing. A fuji 3d camera, the vuzix eyewear and a Toshiba/Nvidia 3d laptop.
Cover 3d on 2d TV is like doing colour on a black and white screen but I think we did it justice. A screen for each eye with vuzix, showing 2 lenses and a lenticular lens viewer on the camera and side by side images for the laptop.
3d camera
The lenticular lens rippled nicely on screen and the side by side picture illustrated the principle whilst Sy got to see the actual real effects. We did not fake any of it either as it seems important to do these things for real.
3d Specs
The madness of christmas meant we did a 12 presents of christmas line up passing the presents along the line whilst Father Cool did his vicar style duties followed by a christmas rap. Hence the various stances we took.
It was a manic take and we just got told to go for it, the more disorganised the better. Which is what we did. We had to be really careful with some of the toys to not press any of the noisy buttons as we passed them along the line. This was a great finale I thought and probably the most I have laughed at work ever, and thats saying something.
Cool Stuff Collective xmas
In the recording I talked about the aspirations of the 2022 Japan World Cup bid, which of course now we know has gone to Qatar, however the technology future still stands up.

Fingers crossed still for series two. I think I like doing TV you know!

Monkey hands and e-ink

Episode 12 of the Cool Stuff Collective and poor old Sy Thomas has got a monkey app obsession is turning into monkey. I get to turn up and show off e-readers and to talk about the future of e-ink, what it is and how it works.
As with all the subjects there is a lot to cover, ad in this case there are a few products to show.
First though I get cheered in to Muse Uprising whilst those hands are waved around 🙂
Monkey hands
As I say in the intro the written word is still one of the best gadgets we have, its here on this blog for a start and works great for me 🙂
Cool Stuff Kindle
I have always found e-ink a fascinating concept. Being brought up on screens, CRT then LCD and on to OLED, they have a shiny quality to them. However e-ink just looks like its not been turned on yet, like the protective example cover is still on them, then you turn a page and it changes.
When we get the principles of e-ink applied to any surface it will be amazing.
If you think about the e-ink too as an adjustable but camera based trackable marker you end up in an interesting but scary loop I think.
Whilst on the written word, we have the Cool Stuff Wikipedia page and I am incredibly honoured to have my page but it would be great if Sy’s page got written. I have put a request on the biographies request page if anyone fancies doing it 🙂 You don’t have to mention the monkey transformation.
I had refrained from photos that did not have me in them, for no other reason than copyright, but the real monkey (right) and the “needs a good iron” Sy monkey on the left was just too funny to not post. The tail gag and the end of the show is just so surreal and brilliant monkey acting from Matt.
Sy and Monkey

Web chop shop serendipity

Serendipity and patterns in what I bump into out there on the web always attracts my attention. It becomes a way for a train of thought or voyage of discovery to be documented and shared. Just a few days ago I was thinking back to my early days on the web, precipitated by reconnecting with someone on Facebook because of an amusing experience with the word banana which came to mind because of Monkey and The Cool Stuff Collective.
This led me to think back to the way we used to use sounds in an open plan office as a bonding experience. It was somewhat playful but part of the vibrant nature of early web development. WAV file battles and soundboard battles would bubble up across the office, certain sounds becoming catchphrases in their own right.
One development, which I can’t remember when we originally bumped into it, was Let Them Sing it For You which I was amazed to find still there, or at least resurrected. This has a set of samples from hundreds of songs where just an individual word is used. You type in text and it matches the word to the sample and you end up with a bizzare mashup of the words you type sung by lots of artists in lots of styles.
Just a few days later I noticed this Twist Our Words from Channel 4, a video mashup version of the same sort of idea. It would have normally caught my eye anyway but in this particular flow of thoughts it was more meaningful. Not only that but to complete the loop I decided to use the fact that they had Monkey and Donkey as words to use for one of my contributions.

These sort of things really help anyone get a little laugh, but also show them that creativity with digital tools comes in very many sizes and shapes and also user generated content can be very simple to do (for the end user, making the tools is a bit more tricky!)

Cool Stuff 11, Stars, jokes and multi-touch

This weeks Cool Stuff Collective is Joke Book Bingo, where Mr Sy Thomas is not having much luck in telling jokes whilst Monkey is the king of the standup. I tweeted when we filmed it how we had to laugh on cue, but this really wasn’t acting, I mean look at us, what a motley crew, hard not to laugh anyway 🙂
We also had to not laugh at any of Sy’s jokes
The show had some other very notable moments though. Not least was the arrival of “TV Legend” Eamonn Holmes to hijack “coooool neeewws”. A bit that has me in stitches every time I see it. Not only that but it means we appear named in the credits together. There is something I never expected to see, say, write or consider.
Another very good piece the team did was Monkey’s day out filmed on portable video camera’s. Its made the predlets laugh a lot I should add. That’s good enough for me.
My main part of the show was with the SMART table, a wonderful multitouch table which can cope with 80 individual touch points which is very cool.
SMART table
I think it came across very well on screen as a piece of kit, I was not sure how it would look at an angle, but the matt finish to the touch screen and its design seems to sort this out.
So thats 11 out of 13 aired. The repeat of this one is on Saturday morning 9:25 ITV1.
The show just keeps getting better IMHO. I have been getting lots of positive feedback from all sorts of places.