future


Pepper’s IGhost

A few days ago on Facebook I saw a post about build of a visual trick that makes a smartphone look like it has a hologram floating above it (props to Ann Cudworth for sharing it). It is of course not really a hologram but a version of Pepper’s Ghost using a trick of light passing through an angled piece of transparent material. This allows the eye to see an object floating or looking transparent and ethereal.
The video shows how this all work and how to build one.

I did have a go with an old CD case but I found the plastic shattered way too much so instead I used a slight more cut-able acetate sheet. I made a quick prototype that was a little bit wonky, but it worked still.
"Holographic" acetate
There are lots of these types of video out on youtube
There are some commercially available version of the such as the Dreamoc which works in a similar way but the pyramid is the other way up.

There are lots of other examples where a visual trick fools our brains into thinking something is truly 3D and floating in space. It’s all done with mirrors 🙂
Some of you may remember the time traveller game

This used a projection onto a bowl shaped mirror. This effect is also used in the visual trick you sometimes see in gadget and joke shops. Such as this one from optigone

There are some fascinating tricks and of course Microsoft Hololens, and Magic Leap will be using “near eye light fields”, which are slightly more complex arrangements than a bit of acetate on an iPhone, but we can appreciate some of the magical impact may have by looking at these simpler optical illusions.
Our ability to do more more light, and not just deal with the flat 2d plane of a TV screen or of a single photo is definitely advancing. The recent camera’s such as the Lytro which is a light-field camera treat multiple layers of light as important. Just as the Near Eye light fields bounce the light through multiple screens of colour and different angles to create their effect.
Whilst sometimes the use of the Hologram word is over used I think that what matters is how it makes us feel as a human when we look at something. The mental leap, or the trick of our brain that causes us to think something is really there is fascinating. If we think it is, well… it is.
At the moment we are still focussed (no pun intended) on altering the images that travel into our eyes and the way the eye works with its lenses and optic nerve to the brain. It is only a matter of time before we go deeper. Straight to the brain. Already there are significant advances being made in helping those with no eyesight or restricted eyesight to have a digital view of the world directed and detected in different ways. So it may be that our true blended and augmented reality is to further augment ourselves. Quite a few ethical issues and trust issues to consider there.
Anyway, back to amazing the predlets with Pepper’s IGhost, time to build a bigger one for the ipad!
**Update Just after posting I made a larger one for the ipad. The predlets enjoyed watching the videos in a darkened corner.
Predlets enjoying holographic effect on ipad
Then maybe an interactive unity3d live version.

Emotiv Insight – Be the borg

Many years ago a few of us had early access, or nearly early access, to some interesting brain wave reading equipment from Emotiv. This was back in 2005. I had a unity arrive at the office but then it got locked up in a cupboard until the company lawyers said it was OK to use. It was still there when I left but did make its way out of the cupboard by 2010. It even helped some old colleagues get a bit of TV action
It was not such a problem with my US colleagues who at least got to try using it.
I got to experience and show similar brain controlling toys on the TV with the NeuroSky mindflex gym. This allows the player to try to relax or concentrate to control air fans that blow a small foam ball around a course.
So in 2013 when Emotiv announced a kickstarter for the new headsets, in this case the insight I signed right up.
We (in one of our many virtual world jam sessions) had talked about interesting uses of the device to detect user emotions in virtual worlds. One such use was if your avatar and how you chose to dress or decorate yourself caused discomfort or shock to another person (wearing a headset), their own display of you could be tailored to make them happy. It’s a modern take on the emperors new clothes, but one that can work. People see what they need to see. It could have worked at Wimbledon this year when Lewis Hamilton turned up to the royal box without a jacket and tie. In a virtual environment that “shock” would mean any viewers of his avatar would indeed see a jacket and tie.
It has taken 2 years but the Emotiv Insight headset has finally arrived. As with all early adopter kit though there are some hiccups. Michael Rowe, one of my fellow conspirators from back in the virtual world hey day, has blogged about his unit arriving
Well here is my shiny boxed up version complete with t-shirt and badge 🙂
Emotiv insight has arrived
The unit itself feels very slick and modern. Several contact sensors spread out over your scalp and an important reference on the bone behind the ear (avoid your glasses) needs to be in place.
Though you do look a bit odd wearing it 🙂 But we have to suffer for the tech art.
Emotiv headset
I charged the unity up via the USB cable waited for the light to go green. Unplugged the device and hit the on switch (near the green light). Here I then thought it was broken. It is something very simple but I assumed, never assume, that the same light near the switch would be the power light. That was not the case. The “on” light is a small blue/white LED above the logo on the side. It was right under where I was holding the unit. Silly me.
Emotiv insight power light
I then set about figuring out what could be done, if it worked (once I saw the power light).
This got much trickier. With a lot of Kickstarters they all have their own way of communicating. When you have not seen something appear for 2 years you tend not to be reading it everyday, following every link and nuance.
So the unit connected with Bluetooth, but not any bluetooth, it is the new Bluetooth (BTLE). This is some low power upgrade to bluetooth that many older devices do not support. I checked my Macbook Pro and it seemed to have the right stack. (How on earth did NASA manage to get the probe to Pluto over 9 years without the comms tech all breaking !)
I logged into the Emotiv store and saw a control panel application. I tried to download it, but having selected Mac it bounced me to my user profile saying I needed to be logged on. It is worrying that the simplest of web applications is not working when you have this brain reading device strapped to your head which is extremely complex! It seems the windows one would download, but that was no good.
I found some SDK code via another link but a lot of that seemed to be emulation. It also turns out that the iPhone 8 updates mashed up the Bluetooth LTE versions of any apps they had so it doesn’t work on those now. Still some android apps seem to be operational.
I left it a few days, slightly disappointed but figured it would get sorted.
Then today I found a comment on joining the google plus group (another flashback to the past) and a helpdesk post saying go to https://cpanel.emotivinsight.com/BTLE/
As soon as I did that, it downloaded a plugin, and then I saw the bluetooth pair with the device with no fuss. A setup screen flickerd into life and it showed sensors were firing on the unit.
The webpage looked like it should then link somewhere but it turns out there is a menu option hidden in the top left hand corner, with a submenu “detections”. That let me get to a few web based applications that atlas responded. I did not have much luck training and using it yet as often the apps would lockup, throw a warning message and the bluetooth would drop. I did however get a trace, my brain is in there and working. I was starting to think it was not!
Emotiv Insight Brain trace
So I now have a working brain interface, I am Borg, it’s 2015. Time to dig up those ideas from 10 years ago!
I am very interested in what happens when I mix this with the headsets like Oculus Rift. Though it is a pity that Emotiv seem to want to charge loyal backers $70 for an Emotiv unity plugin, that apparently doesn’t work in Unity 5.0 yet ? I think they may need some software engineering and architecture help. Call me, I am available at the moment!
I am alos interested, give how light the unit is, to trace what happens in Choi Kwang Do training and if getting and aiming for a particular mind set trace, i.e. we always try and relax to generate more speed and power from things that instinct tells you to tense up for. Of course that will have to wait a few weeks for my hip to recover. The physical world is a dangerous place and I sprained my left hip tripping over the fence around the predpets. So it’s been a good time to ponder interesting things to do whilst not sitting too long at this keyboard.
As ever, I am open for business. If you need an understand what is going on out here in the world of new technology and where it fits, that what feeding edge ltd does, takes a bit out of technology so you don’t have to.

Alone in a crowd – RPGs and MMORPGs

Free roaming role playing games are one of the most intriguing style of games and experiences to engage with IMHO. I use the word experience, not just games, in order to encapsulate the social environments and metaverse’s such as Second Life, Hi Fidelity et al. However I also did not just restrict that first sentence to include online massively multiplayer/multiuser online. There have been two significant release the past few weeks that are both huge expansive free roaming role playing games The Witcher III and Elder Scrolls online – Tamriel Unlimited. . I have been struck by a few experiences that I have had in these environments. Ones that reach past just playing a game or getting some points/gold/kudos/screenshots.

If you are not a gamer, or don’t engage with these sorts of things they may seem almost identical. They are certainly in a genre and have lots in common.
Witcher III - Sunset
Witcher III – Xbox one
Elder Scrolls Sunset
Elder Scrolls – Xbox One

As you can see in both you are able to take a break from any action and just appreciate the environment. This is not intended to be a graphic comparison though the slightly different styles, yet still aiming for the “real” is noticeable in these two examples.
Witcher III is a single player game. It is a story driven plot. A very long story it would seem too. Like all role playing games it rewards your play with new skills, levels and abilities as you level up. You gradually unlock the very expansive world with all its challenges and new types of monsters and bad guys as you progress through the main storyline. This generally involves traversing the world searching and fighting in various ways. It has a 3rd person style of free form combat. You choose the type of weapon and various potions and armour to give you a fighting chance against increasingly higher level creatures. You can just wander off the plot and the beaten track and see what you bump into. However this particular RPG reminds you constantly that whilst you might feel you have learned a lot there is still more levelling up to do as you arrive at a place in a world full of things that can cut you down with a single strike. Level systems in RPG’s generally appear as numbers on the display. When you have spent 20 hours playing and just reached level 7 and you wander into a clearing with a large beast that says level 35, where level progression is non linear and requires exponentially more effort and time per level you know you are in trouble. Witcher reminds you that no matter how heroic and skilled you thing you are, there is always something bigger and better. It has a grittiness to the entire game that brings a sense of foreboding, yet it is still entertaining. However you are very much alone and left to your own devices.

Elder Scrolls Online – Tamriel Unlimited is a very different feel and a very different experience. It is Skyrim (the one player RPG from a few years ago), reborn into a persistent Massive Multiple Player Online experience. Skyrim had been noted for it’s random generation of dungeons combined with its epic land size and the variation of things that you ended up doing in the virtual environment. Elder Scrolls has both a 3rd person and a 1st person view. The latter lets you see the world, and just your hands/ weapons. It lets you use each and on its own, weapon and shield combinations. The weapon can be ranged magic in one hand and a sword in the other. You travel the world finding missions from non player characters. Most of these involve collecting, running to and fro and just like the Witcher III putting things together and crafting items you need, potions, armour, magic, food etc.
Elder Scrolls Online

So unlike Witcher III your character is in the environment with lots of other people. Just like the other giants of the MMORPG genre, World Of Warcraft and Eve Online. It is quite unusual for this sort of genre to make it to a console. Usually these platforms get multiplayer shooters where 16-32 people battle for a few minutes in an arena that is then destroyed and reformed for the next battle.
Here we have a world that we all share, all the time. Of course the technical detail of which server, or how anyone is actually in the “same” place is obscured and not entirely relevant to the experience. Also the world itself is generally a locally loaded place. The servers are there to broker player position, communication and hold certain shared features in the experience, but it is not really a full persistent world.

I have found it works really well as a game to be wandering around, getting engrossed in each task, gradually levelling up, choosing skill tree paths, working out what to carry, sell, deconstruct and to craft. Lots of the missions from the non player characters are actually there to help you learn the very complex system of crafting as much as forwarding any plot line points. Choosing missions chooses various guilds and organisations to which you belong.
Looking suitably masked in elder scrolls online
I called this post “alone in the crowd” because it is a particular feature of this style of environment that you do see lots and lots of other people, milling around playing their own missions, but you do not have to interact with them if you don’t want to. Though sometimes it is unavoidable, or required to work in a team.
Elder Scrolls Online
This is by no means a crowd shot! but the character not the right is just running off somewhere. They ran past me, I paid no attention to them, nor them to me other than we just both know we are part of the human noise of this virtual city.

Most things are not restricted based on numbers in the free roam areas. For example the blacksmith station is a object you have to walk up to, select and then take part in an inventory management/crafting dialogue. The things you are doing are entirely related to you and your experience, but we all have to gather around the anvil in order to do this. This is good when there are only a few people, but when it’s busy the room is full of lots of gormless characters standing around.
Elder Scrolls Online
Passing one another in the world feels like something we normally do, it adds to the sense of a shared experience, but all standing around staring into space, or watching people traverse the land mostly by jumping and bounding around in order to get for a to b quickly starts to look like a complete mess of uncoordinated activity. Which of course, it is 🙂
This is a feature of most virtual world online experiences. The only time it is not is when people are more seriously role playing and rules are set to preserve the experience. This happens in some areas in Second Life where you are encouraged to be wearing the right clothes, speaking the right way to join in with the entertainment of acting. Rather like not turning at a real life roman re-enactment on a segway wearing a stetson.
That is not to detract from the game, or games like it. This is a genre where stuff like this has to happen due to the way the tech works, but also the way people work. It is funny, but it can be a jolt in the immersion.

Where this sharing of space does work though is in battles with things in the environment and things in it. You can be wandering around exploring and then be set upon by a pack of wolves. When you start fighting it becomes “your” battle. However other people passing by can also see and join in with that battle, or choose it ignore it. Those wolves become a shared experience. There are a lot more bad guys than wolves but it’s an easy example to use. For a short period of time, you and the others who just happen to be there at the time are no longer alone. You are working with the same problem. Now this could just be thought of as a few experience points of resources to add, share split, ignore but it has all sorts of extra dynamics.

If you see someone in trouble, do you help ? Does your helping actually hinder and annoy them? as they were challenging themselves and their character.
Sometimes you just have to join in in order to be able to get the things you need to proceed. In one particular example the bits of a monster were needed in order to escape an area. If someone else kills the monster before you get any sort of hit in then you are not credited with any part of the kill so do get the bits you need. This meant waiting, or searching for another one of the same type, waiting for a re-spawn and getting in there before the rest of the crowd. Game design and rules may have altered how many people might be competing for this single resource, and I did escape, but it was an interesting co-opetition dynamic.

This led also to another thought on timelines, on the immersive experience and how we are often reminded of our place in these virtual worlds. Having worked towards a small piece of the plot and defeated a particular boss, whereby a slight levelling occurred, new kit and a small buzz of excitement at having completed something, whilst standing near the same spot taking stock a new crowd arrived. Of in the distance I heard the bad guy arrive again, go through the same “No mr bond I expect you to die” style of dialogue. I watched from the distance as my fellow travellers and gamers fought the same battle, but in a different way. In my timeline, this battle was over. I was stood in what was attempting to be a coherent virtual experience being reminded I was not. It is not a problem, as such, but it is a thing.

It is reminder and a breaking of the story. Yet I think there may be something in this kind of feeling of immersion and then shocking back into reminders it is not real. It is an accident of the technology restrictions that cause this to happen. It is a technique used in other media when the action breaks the plane to the fourth wall. When a stage actor talks to the audience when previously the audience were passive. Some of the most chilling of these have been Kevin Spacey in House of Cards. The very occasional, to the point you think they have forgotten to write any in, turning to the audience and engaging in dialogue is very special. One of the most memorable being “Oh did you think I had forgotten about you?” still gives me goosebumps thinking about it.

It should not matter if we choose to form clans and take on multiplayer missions, or just act on our own in these worlds. The very mechanism we are using has the ability to reach back out to us and surprise us. I have felt this in games just a few times. It may be a party trick in some cases but reaching out to the human, through the role play, through the immersion may just be the most memorable and entertaining thing a virtual world can do.

Untethering Humans, goodbye screens

We are on the cusp of a huge change in how we as humans interact with one another, with the world and with the things we create for one another. A bold statement, but one that stands up, I believe, by following some historical developments in technology and social and work related change.
The change involves all the great terms, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Blended Reality and the metaverse. It is a change that has a major feature, one of untethering, or unshackling us as human beings from a fixed place or a fixed view of the world.

Hovering
Here I am being untethered from the world in a freefall parachute experience, whilst also being on TV 🙂

All the great revolutions in human endeavour have involved either transporting us via our imagination to another place or concept, books, film, plays etc. or transporting us physically to another place, the wheel, steam trains, flight. Even modern telecommunications fit into that bracket. The telephone or the video link transport us to a shared virtual place with other people.

Virtual worlds are, as I may have mentioned a few times before, ways to enhance the experience of humans interacting with other humans and with interesting concepts and ideas. That experience, up to know has been a tethered one. We have evolved the last few decades becoming reliant on rectangular screens. Windows on the world, showing us text, images, video and virtual environments. Those screens have in evolved. We had large bulky cathode ray tubes, LED, Plasma, OLED and various flat wall projectors. The screens have always remained a frame, a fixed size tethering us to a more tunnel vision version. The screen is a funnel through which elements are directed at us. We started to the untethering process with wi-fi and mobile communications. Laptops, tablets and smartphones gave us the ability to take that funnel, a focused view of a world with us.

More recent developments have led to the VR headsets. An attempt to provide an experience that completely immerses us by providing a single screen for each eye. It is a specific medium for many yet to be invented experiences. It does though tether us further. It removes the world. That is not to say the Oculus Rift, Morpheus and HTC Vive are not important steps but they are half the story of untethering the human race. Forget the bulk and the weight, we are good at making things smaller and lighter as we have seen with the mobile telephone. The pure injection of something into our eyes and eyes via a blinkering system feels, and is, more tethering. It is good at the second affordance of transporting is to places with others, and it is where virtual world and the VR headsets naturally and obviously co-exist.

The real revolution comes from full blended reality and realities. That plural is important. We have had magic lens and magic mirror Augmented Reality for a while. Marker based and markerless ways to use one of these screens that we carry around or have fixed in out living rooms to show us digital representations of things places in out environment. They are always fun. However they are almost always just another screen in our screens. Being able to see feel and hear things in our physical environment wherever we are in the world and have them form part of that environment truly untethers us.
Augmented Reality is not new of course. We, as in the tech community, has been tinkering with it for years. Even this mini example on my old Nokia N95 back in 2008 starts to hint at the direction of travel.

Hackday5 Augmented Reality step 2

The devices used to do this are obviously starting at a basic level. Though we have the AR headsets of Microsoft Hololens, Google’s Magic Leap to start pushing the boundaries. They will not be the final result of this massive change. With an internet of things world, with the physical world instrumented and producing data, with large cloud servers offering compute power at the end of an wireless connection to analyse that data and to be able to visualize and interact with things in our physical environment we have a lot to discover and to explore.

I mentioned realities, not just reality. There is no reason to only have augmentation into a physical world. After all if you are immersed in a game environment or a virtual world you may actually choose, because you can, to shut out the world, to draw the digital curtains and explore. However, just as when you are engaged in any activity anywhere, things come to you in context. You need to be able to interact with other environments from which ever one you happen to be in.

Take an example, using Microsoft Hololens, Minecraft and Skype. In todays world you would have minecraft on you laptop/console/phone be digging around, building sharing the space with others. Skype call comes in from someone you want to talk to. You window away from Minecraft and focus on Skype. It is all very tethered. In a blended reality, as Hololens has shown you can have Minecraft on the rug in front of you and skype hanging on the wall next to the real clock. Things and data placed in the physical environment in a way that works for you and for them. However you may want to be more totally immersed in Minecraft and go full VR. If something can make a small hole in the real world for the experience, then it can surely make an all encompassing hole, thus providing you with only Minecraft. Yet, if it can place Skype on your real wall, then it can now place it on your virtual walls and bring that along with you.
This is very much a combination that is going to happen. It is not binary to be either in VR or not, in AR or not. It is either, both or neither.

It is noticeable that Facebook, who bought heavily into Oculus Rift have purchased Surreal Vision last month who specialize in using instrumentation and scanning kit to make sense of the physical world and place digital data in that world. Up until now Oculus Rift, which has really led the VR charge since its kickstarter (yes I backed that one!) has been focussed on the blinkered version of VR. This purchase shows the intent to go for a blended approach. Obviously this is needed as otherwise Magic Leap and Hololens will quickly eat into the Rifts place in the world.
So three of the worlds largest companies, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have significant plays in blended reality and the “face race” as it is sometimes called to get headsets on us. Sony have Project Morpheus which is generally just VR, yet Sony have had AR applications for many years with PS Move.
Here is Predlet 2.0 enjoying the AR Eyepet experience back in 2010 (yes five years ago !)

So here it is. We are getting increasingly more accurate ways to map the world into data, we have world producing IOT data streams, we have ever increasing ubiquitous networks and we have devices that know where they are, what direction they are facing. We have high power backend servers that can make sense of our speech and of context. On top of that we have free roaming devices to feed and overlay information to us, yes a little bit bulky and clunky but that will change. We are almost completely untethered. Wherever we are we can experience whatever we need or want, we can, in the future blend that with more than one experience. We can introduce others to our point of view or keep our point of view private. We can fully immerse or just augment, or augment our full immersion. WE can also make the virtual real with 3d printing!
That is truly exciting and amazing isn’t it?
It makes this sort of thing in Second Life seem an age away, but it is the underpinning for me and many others. Even in this old picture of the initial Wimbledon build in 2006 there is a cube hovering at the back. It is one of Jessica Qin’s virtual world virtual reality cubes.
Wimbledon 06 magic carpet
That cube and other things like it provided an inspiration for this sort of multiple level augmentation of reality. It was constrained by the tethered screen but was, and still is, remarkable influential.
Jessica Qin Holocube
Here my Second Life avatar, so my view of a virtual world is inside 3d effect that provides a view, a curved 3d view not just a picture, or something else. It is like the avatar is wearing a virtual Oculus rift it that helps get the idea across.
This is from 2008 by way of a quick example of the fact even then it could work.

So lets get blending then 🙂

More than just a CV – Reputation matters

The last few months have been a little bit unusual, or maybe just part of the general flow of business and life depending how you look at it. Having an independent limited company, with just one employee (me) leads to the inevitable feast and famine of projects. Without a product, as such, there is no sustainable revenue stream. Just expertise. That might be advice and consulting, helping people along a path, or it may be diving in and join the fight developing something.
Yoda
Whilst clearly I am not Yoda, there are some traits to make an analogy too. Standing back and observing, but still very hands on when needed 🙂
My two main paying long term projects appear to have tapered off. One due to some international malarkey with a 3rd party and the other due to an organisations reorganisation of who doe what where. As an ad hoc provider you are the end of the chain and so just have to take it as a risk of the business.
The thing with long term projects is that you have to offer a degree of loyalty. Some things just take time and that may not mean getting paid. Its a gamble. In this case both gambles have not paid off it would seem. Don’t get me wrong both bits of work have been fantastic opportunities to build interesting virtual world spaces and do the full stack and lots of overall design and direction. Things just happen.
My other startup investment work, despite being an amazingly cool idea has not managed to get the sort of investment it needs (yet). The “yet” is important as its not worth throwing the towel in when you know it’s revolutionary. I am used to doing things before their time that people don’t quite understand yet. We got quite a long way with a very promising investor a year or so ago but that didn’t work out. So we are back pitching, hustling, trying to showcase and inspire people to get it. As a professional evangelist I know that it is hard work getting adoption of the new. Yet we still plough on.
So that leaves the day to day stuff. Getting new projects, new leads, new contracts or even a new full time/part time traditional job role.
Everything I have ever done has been based on people either knowing me, knowing my work, knowing someone who knows someone. It is why the virtual world space has been so influential in my life, it was being able to expand on who knew who and working directly with people at a more direct creative level that makes it engaging.
Now, though, despite having an extensive web presence, this blog and my previous ones go back years, having a TV show reel, having writing and speaking portfolios I find that I am having to fall back on the traditional CV or resume to send out and hope it conveys enough of the breadth and depth of this particular strange profile I and my company has.
Reputation is everything, so it seems strange to have recruitment firms look at my CV and just pattern match on particular keywords. I have experience of that not being so great when I was helping us ramp up with software contractors back in the 1999. We did indeed get a CV through from our filtering recruitment consultant needing a Lotus Domino programmer, but had someone who had worked at Domino pizza. Being a generalist/full stack developer/architect/evangelist and with a long experience in all elements of the tech industry and across other industries my CV often has the keywords in it. It does have the explanation and the more interesting wording around the job of an evangelist and of a technology innovator, but that gets lost in the filtering.
However if someone were to Google a subject and cross reference with my name or handle (hence always mentioning epredator) they would find a long and extensive track record. To me the web is ultimately my reference. I am not sure though that applying for jobs or contracts would work with a CV that just said “google epredator” followed by “don’t you know who I am” 🙂
I was asked by one recruiter if I knew Agile. I pointed out that back before the agile manifesto we were doing interactive development with flat structures in the early days of the web as there was in fact no other sensible way to do it. We battled the waterfall traditional approach. Stuff like that you can’t put in a CV it is for a conversation, otherwise, as it did just then, it sounds arrogant.
I had another look at upwork recently too, just for a little quick contract, and to see how it works. However it is full of “can you just rebuild world of warcraft for me for $200, must show reference examples”. That got be worrying that all my reference work has actually been rather closed off.
The startup work is trying to gain funding, so its not like we open source everything or put the code on github. It covers everything, unity3d, c#, opensim, php, mysql, linux, Facebook, twitter, drupal etc. It is a pat pending concept too. Yet I can’t just show that to anyone.
My research work has been behind closed doors, some of it completely secret, again the end product can sort of be demonstrated in one case, but the other with it’s complexity is not a look at this project though I do try and allude to its content.
So have I painted myself into a dead end? I don’t think so. I have gained a lot of experience in many things over the years. I have applied myself to technical and non technical roles. I even learned to custard pie people in the face on TV. That is what a generalist does. It is a skill to be able to adjust and go with the flow, to excel in new things. I admire specialists, I envy them sometimes. They have a defined focus, that have a specific role in life. Mine is to do lots of things and share them with lots of people.
So if you are reading this and sharing the ups and downs helps, or if you are a kindred spirit or even if you are an intelligent head hunter, or potential partner/customer who wants to have an interesting conversation and explore the world then please get in contact.
I am on twitter as epredator or here epredator [at] feedingedge.co.uk
Of course my CV is available on request 🙂 Meanwhile I will be applying some martial arts unbreakable spirit and getting on with the future.

Hanging on or Leaping – Trust the technology

It has been quite a busy week with it being half term and Predlet 1.0 12th birthday. It started with an experience that I was not totally looking forward too. This experience was a haptic fear generating simulation using a real world physics engine, or climbing trees as you may want to call it.
Predlet 1.0 has wanted, for some time, to go to Go Ape. This is a treetop adventure that involves being 30+ feet up in the trees walking across precarious platforms, making leaps of faith and taking zip lines. As this is quite a potentially dangerous endeavour any of the “Baboons” (under 16’s) need to be accompanied by a responsible Gorilla. I was volunteered to be that Gorilla.
GoApe(Photo by @elemming)
I am not really a climber, speed and zooming around, or ground based activities are more my thing.
The whole thing is really very safe, as long as you do it correctly. You are provided with a harness containing 2 carabiner’s on one short and one slightly longer rope. You also have a hook over pulley that is used almost all the time. You are trained on the ground to always hook on, to ensure you do things in the right order. Then you get to practice on a set of equipment that is only 3 feet from the ground.
There are only really a few points to consider. Before you know it you are ascending the first wobbly rope ladder (attached to you harness and your safety ropes and counterweighted). Like all good experiences it leads you along. I had the extra concerns of making sure both Predlet 1.0 and her friend were taking care and doing things right, they had to go first and I had to follow.
Clambering up was a bit awkward, and the focus of clicking on and off with the carabiners was fairly intense. After all being 30 feet up and not attached, which it is quite possible to do as you transition does focus the mind.
I was not feeling that great shuffling along. You have to attach the rollers to the overhead parallel cable, one carabiner to it and the other just over the wire. To start with everything feels loose. Yes you have a harness, yes 3 ropes in total are attached. However you have to hang on. If you fall you go no more than a few inches in reality as the ropes are only just slack. The feeling though, and the height is very real. So you cling on and shuffle across these various obstacles.
However there are other types of obstacle, you encounter one very early on. The Tarzan swing. There us a cargo net suspended across from a completely open gap. So you have to clip on to rope and just jump off to swing across. This is where it got a little counter intuitive and why I am writing this.
Once attached I looked at the drop, I had the rope attached and I sat a little and felt the harness working. So I just jumped. It was a lot easier to just trust the technology and actually need it than the other obstacles that the technology was a backup.
So this got me thinking, albeit afterwards I was a bit more focussed at the time, that often we spend time and effort clinging to things and in particular one type of technology to get us through. We sort of know there is a backup but the old way works so lets keep shuffling. In this example there were things like the ends of logs forming a bridge. The pulley and cable acted as the support, but the aim was with tip toe across the gap on the older technology of the log. I know some people would have been fine with it but trying to relax, knowing from martial arts that that is the best thing to have good body control, is countered by the tension of hanging on, gripping what you can. At the end of these there was a sense of relief at having made it to the next stand. So it was goal to goal, hanging on, not wanting to use or need the harness and ropes.
At the end of each section there was another leap of faith involving a zip line. Unlike the tarzan swing this few seconds of hurtling towards the ground gave you a chance to feel what was happening. There was enough time to consider your elegant landing, or in my case crash landing. I felt quite happy to brace myself and plough into the pile of chipped bark at high speed. Again just trusting in the technology to carry me, there is no backup.
So I am guessing I am a leaper not a shuffler. I think the tech evangelist personality type has to be. I think we also spend a lot of time crashing at the end of zip lines too. Also though it is important to do the shuffling, to do the hanging on in there with the old tech in order to feel what others feel and be able to help them find that innovative leap of faith that will bring so much benefit.
Anyway, it was quite fun without all this extra layering of though process. More importantly the girls enjoyed it a lot and found it funny that I had to be up there with them.
Goape

Just Cause 3 – Its been 5 years since ….

It’s been five years since I wrote this post about Just Cause2 in which I mentioned “Sandbox games are the closest to what we see in virtual worlds in crossover terms. Just Cause 2 is a single player game, in part because the destruction you create is really personalising your island. However the balance between “give me something to do” and “I am just going to find something to do” may be something the VW providers and content creators need to consider in helping people find a narrative, either social or business related.”
Well I stand by that. The mix of ready made tasks, ongoing narrative plot live and freedom to find your own things to do as you wander around is a core theme in some of the most enjoyable experiences. Minecraft, Goat Simulator, GTA V Watch Dogs etc.
Now we have the reveal of gameplay for Just Cause 3. Which if nothing else looks fantastically exciting 🙂

Fingers crossed it is as good as the last one, it certainly looks it.

Amiga kickstarter book, breaking mirror worlds & VR

A few days ago my copy of the book “Commodore Amiga: a visual Commpendium book” that I backed in Kickstarter arrived. The book is by Sam Dyer through BitmapBooks. It came with a load of extra goodies from my backing and my name along with my fellow backers vanity printed in the appendix. The only slight problem was that unlike all the other Kickstarter campaigns I wasn’t “allowed” to have a credit as epredator as it made the list look untidy unless we had normal names. That is the authors choice of course 🙂
Fond Amiga memories all in 1 book
My computer owning history went ZX81, Commodore 64 then Amiga 500 (and later 1200). The Amiga was 1987 and became my main machine for most of my polytechnic/university time. It caused me to get an overdraft for the first time to buy an external hard drive for a piece of work I was doing (that and to play the later cinemaware games that needed two floppy disk drives to work).
It was the machine I coded my final year project, which was a mix of hardware and software but also had to work on the much larger and more expensive Apollo computers we had.
It is the machine I spent ours with sellotaped together graph paper planning my SimCity builds and mapping Bards Tale Dungeons.
It is also the machine I first experience proper network gaming on with a null modem cable and F/A-18 flight simulator. Not only was that the first proper LAN party gaming but it forged the idea that machines do not have to have a consistent shared view of the world just because they are connected. The F/A-18 simulator let my good friend Wal and I fly around shooting at one another in a shared digital space. It was the early days of having a printer and being able to do “desktop publishing” aka DTP. I even produced a poster for our little event.
When we played we had different terrain packs running on each Amiga as we had different versions of the game. There was no server this was really peer to peer. The terrain was local to each Amiga, but the relative location of one another in that space was shared. Each machine was doing its own collision detection. It meant if I saw mountains I needed to avoid them, yet on the other machine that same local space might be flat desert. We all perceive reality differently anyway, but here we were forced to perceive and act according to whatever the digital model threw at us. In reality we kept to the sky and forcing your opponent into their own scenery was considered unsporting (though occasionally funny and much needed).
This set the precedent for me that whilst mirror worlds, virtual worlds that attempt to be 100% like a real place, have a reason to exist we do not have to play by the same physical rules of time and space in virtual environments.
Other things of note about the Amiga. Well I coded as predator on the Commodore 64 and that moved across to the Amiga too. The e was a later addition on the front by the principles are the same.
My wife also discovered gaming on my Amiga. Getting completely wrapped up and in the zone on Sim City and realising it was 4am. Later it would be Lemmings that caught her attention. Hence she is now elemming on twitter.
The book is full of classic images nearly all of which I have some sort of memory of that is more than yes I recognise that picture.
Games like Alien Breed (a gauntlet like top down shooter) and The Secret Of Monkey Island (a classic point and click humorous adventure) on their own rack up considerable hours of entertainment for very different reasons
Fond Amiga memories all in 1 book
Whilst fondly reminiscing and remembering things that impact how I think and work today I was also at the same time in current and future mode. Right next door on the table was my copy of Games(TM)
My life history in 1 picture #nearly #amiga #vr #metaverse
As I tweeted at the time My life history in 1 picture #nearly #amiga #vr #metaverse.
When we put on a headset, a total immersion one, we get a view of a world that is instantly believable. Something fed directly to our eyes and linked to the direct we are looking becomes a convincing reality. In a shared virtual world we will assume that we are all seeing the same thing. That does not have to be the case, as with the F/A-18 example. We can have different experiences yet share the same world. To help think about that consider the game Battleships. Each player has the same map, the same relative grid references on a piece of paper or on plastic peg board. yet on that map you can only see your own boats and any pieces of information you have gained through playing. When considering a mirror world or a virtual world build it can be harder to consider this. Yet many games and environments already have a little dollop of this behaviour with personal displays of health, ammo, speed etc in a Heads up Display. Those HUDs are an augmented reality display in a virtual world.
When we now consider the blended view headsets like the HoloLens and the MergeVR we are taking the real world as the server in effect. It is a fixed environment. We are then placing and enhancing what we see in that world with 3D overlays. Convincing the viewer the digital stuff is real.
Unlike the F/A-18 terrain the real world is there for each person. If there is a table in the middle of the room, even if you make it look like it is not for a headset wearer with object removal and clever visuals they will still trip over it. However the other way around can make for an interesting dynamic. headset wearers made to think there are obstacles and things in their way that they have to move around, but its different for each headset wearer. Just a little though experiment in perception. I didn’t even throw in anything about 3D printers actually making the new obstacles in the real world. That’s a bit much for a monday morning.
Anyway, the Amiga book is great. It was a fantastic period in games and in home technology, but we have many more exciting times coming.

VR – Everything old is new again – good!

It is important when getting interested and excited about new things to look at its lineage. Something I often did in my series of articles over the years in Flush Magazine
So with the current rush of Virtual Reality gaming and experiences and the slew of new kit we have some very interesting near off the shelf kit such as this.
*warning it contains violence (see where I am on that here)

However, back in the 90’s we had VR kit like Virtuality (they must be kicking themselves for be too early for the masses. Though thats a curse us early adopters and evangelists have to live with 🙂

The headsets were quite heavy and the container you stood or sat in was not a treadmill but part of the sensing rig.
The graphics may look old fashioned and clunky but they were good experiences. When I was at poly/uni in Leicester getting ready to do a year out this was the company I wanted to go and work for if I had a chance too. They sent to me IBM instead. Though as you can see from the Virtuality company details they had very close ties with IBM. So it was close 🙂 It i also funny how things work out.
Still, it is very cool having all these headset sat around me and some that just work on my portable communication device too 🙂

Over 15 years experience in Virtual Worlds, 30+ in tech – What now?

A few days ago I realised it has been over 9 years since I first publicly blogged about how important I thought the principles of the metaverse and virtual worlds were going to be for both social and business uses. This post, pictured below for completeness was a tipping point for some radical changes in many of our lives as part of Eightbar.
Second Life first post
I had been working to that sort of point of understanding though since some very early work with virtual environments and how people get to interact with one another in them around 1999/2000 with SmartVR trying to keep the social bond in our internal web and multi media design group together when we were cast asunder to different locations by business pressures (or bad decisions who knows!). I knew we had to have a sense of one another existence aside from text in emails and instant messages. So we tried to build a merged version of both offices as if they were in one place. The aim to then instrument those with presence and the ability to walk over to someone’s desk and talk. Mirror world, blended reality and even internet of things, Yes I know, a bit before its time! Cue music, “Story of my life” by 1D 🙂

We definitely had a technology and expectation bubble later 2006-2009. However, that, as with all emerging technology is all part of the evolution. The garnet curve et al. What surprises me the most still is that people think when a bubble like that bursts that its all over. That somehow everything that was learned in that time was pointless. “Are virtual worlds still a thing?” etc. I feel for the even earlier pioneers like Bruce Damer, who patiently put up with our ramblings as we all rushed to discover and feel for ourselves those things he already knew.
Increasingly I am talking to new startup ands seeing new activity in the virtual space. The same use cases, the same sparks of creativity that we had in the previous wave(s), the same infectious passion to do something interesting and worthwhile. Sometimes this is somehow differentiated from the last wave of virtual worlds under the heading of virtual reality. The current wave is focussed on the devices, the removal of keyboard and of a fixed screen. The Oculus Rift, HoloLens etc. However, thats a layer of new things to learn and experience on what we have already been through. After all its a virtual world you end up looking at or blending with in a VR headset!

I spend so much time looking forward and extrapolating concepts and ideas it is now very scary to look back and consider the experience I have gathered. The war stories and success stories, the concepts and ideas that I have tried. The emotional impact of virtual worlds. The evolution of the technology and of people’s expectation of that technology. The sheer number of people that have moved around in a 3d environment from an early age with things like Minecraft, who are now about to enter higher education and the workforce.

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?

At the same time though, knowing lots of things makes you realise how much you don’t know. The imposter’s syndrome kicks in. Surely everyone must know all this stuff by now? It’s obvious and stands up to logical reasoning to try and connect with other people in as rich a way as possible. The network is there, the tech is there, the lineage is there. Though clearly not everyone gets it yet. I often wonder if the biggest naysayers I had to deal with on my journey so far have figured it out yet? It will probably turn out they will be getting rich quick right now whilst I sit and ponder such things.

On the other side of the virtual coin, I know from my martial arts that constant practice and investigation leads to a black belt. In the case of Choi Kwang Do that’s just over 3 years worth. So how many Dan worth of tech equivalent experience does that put me at. 25 years in the industry professionally but 30+ as techie.

I still want to do the right thing, to help others level themselves up. I don’t think I am craving fame and fortune but the ability to share and build is what drives me. If fame and fortune as a spokesperson, evangelist for some amazing idea or TV show reaches that end, then thats fine by me.

I am at a crossroads, my VR headset letting me look in all directions. I see half built roads in many directions. What now? A well funded company that I can help build a great road with, or forge off down one for the other paths seeing what happens on the way.
Of course that makes it seem like there is a clear choice on the plate. I suspect most of the the well funded companies and corporations don’t think they need any help, which is rather where I came in on this!

Needless to say I am always open to conversations, offers, partnerships, patronage, retainers and technology evangelist roles. There must be a slew of investors out there wondering what to put their money into, who need some sagely advice ;). Or that book… there is always that book… (600 images x 1000 words each 600,000 words just on these Second Life experiences. That’s just the ones with online. The offline ones double that!. Not to mention the other places, games, and self built experiences!

I took this photo in April 2006 as part of sharing of our journey
The wilderness

I have always liked a nice greenfield to start building on. Equally that did not build itself, it was a massive shared team experience. No one has all the answers. Some of us are good at helping people find them though.

Right! Can we get on with this now?