Hello Top Gear – An open application

Top Gear is looking for a new presenter to work with the already announced Chris Evans. They want someone interested in cars, obviously, and someone who can work on screen and deliver interesting things. I suspect they also need someone up for some more unusual stunts and gags.
At this point I raise my hand and say pick me! pick me!
I have always loved cars, watching them, driving them and as the technology has evolved, racing in simulations of them.
Being a tech evangelist and geek I think I am in a very good place to understand and share all the new advancements in how we propel ourselves around the planet too. The world is changing and the internal combustion engine, whilst amazing and fun, is on its way out.
On the TV show I presented on (oh yes I have some TV experience 😉 ) I shared the hydrogen fuel cell approach to moving things around. It is fascinating. I also got to do a piece on the Bloodhound world land speed record car.
Innovations in evaporation to power movement and even osmosis to generate electricity are appearing. Not to mention my other favourite subject 3d printing. The ability to make parts or entire vehicles from rapid fabrication is a game changer.
Farewell #scooby
With all the things I share and evangelise I feel I have to be doing them, and living them to make sense. I recently said goodbye to my much loved Subuaru Impreza WRX in favour of the ultra hi tech all electric Nissan Leaf as I wrote about here.
Exploring the limits of range #leaf
Super-Eco trip back in #leaf 4 whole Eco trees on a 40 mile journey
There is also, as I mentioned at the start the entire gaming and simulation world of cars. On Cool Stuff Collective we visited a full on simulator. I jumped in and got pretty decent times despite being thrown around a lot.
Then there are the home platforms to race and custom cars. Forza, Project Cars et al.
I have been making custom paint jobs for these stunning models and driving them around at speed. Most recently in Project Cars but roll on Forza 6 and the new Trackmania.
I almost forgot. Being martial art instructor and black belt in Choi Kwang Do, a defensive martial art, we pledge to never misuse what we learn in class. Just in case that is relevant 😉
Anyway, my showreel(s) are here and more articles I have written are gathered here
It’s not all simulations and ideas, sometimes you just have to drive as here on a track day experience in a “Lamborghini LP640 Murcielago, all smiles.
Lamborghini LP640 Murcielago
I am available here, and on twitter @epredator
I will of course be looking forward to where and when formal audition process starts.
UPDATE 18/5/15 17:00
Here is the quick less than 30 second video as per the suggested rules. The official site will be up tomorrow for the world to apply, but it seems a pity to wait.

UPDATE 19/5/15
The rules were published this morning and they needed a landscape video, which made sense of course. I had gone for portrait to save any distractions in the background, but I reshot this morning and here is the new one 🙂

Good luck to whoever gets the gig I am sure it will be awesome.

DRM our eyeballs?

I had already posted about how I was a little surprised at the lack of streaming media integration and the inability to get the devices I have to do what I need with the Roku streaming box. I tweeted that is seemed media companies would not be happy until they DRM our eyeballs. A screen is a screen, if you can see it you can pirate it, either passively (pointing a camera at it) or actively by bypassing the DRM/electronics/cable blocks etc. It is all a bit of a waste of everyone’s time and money. Though the hardware providers are raking in the cash as I found with my apparently non standard Apple cable charger in my car that the Iphone after a recent update now delights in telling me that this is a non standard accessory that won’t work properly. Its a cable! a bit of wire 🙁
Anyway, this is a journey to try and get to legal content, using consumer facing devices. Not hacking, pirating etc. Though it seems it is much easier to pirate and hack than it is to get to stuff that your are entitled to view or actually own in the first place.
I thought I would try an Apple TV. We have lots of Apple devices, phones, pads and Macbook Pro’s after all. This was now not just for the early morning attempts to watch BBC breakfast which started this, but now to push live and on demand TV into my newly refurbished home office. Working at home all the time I need the background noise of radio or TV. Peace and quiet are not always conducive to getting things done (for me anyway).

We have Sky and a full subscription in the house and a recent order for multi room means we now have the online Sky Go extra with a whole 4 devices able to be registered to view the sky channels we pay for.
So Apple TV is definitely a lot slicker and less jacky than Roku seems to be. To be fair though I already have an Apple account so I didn’t have to do the extra account creation steps. However Roku won’t let you use it unless you register, Apple TV was happy to just startup.
I thought I would try and push iplayer from my older Macbook Pro that I use mainly for testing. After all you can, according to the blurb, just mirror the screen to Apple TV. Well you can… but not on an older Macbook Pro for no real reason I can see. I then tried on my newer MacBook Pro and sure enough it worked. The trouble is my main MBP is often doing other things like compiling code and running Unity3d development so thats a non starter.
I tried using iplayer on the iPhone and just hitting Airplay on the application. Sure enough it worked 🙂 So I wondered if I could do the same mirroring with my Android Samsung Galaxy Tablet. A bit of hunting around and it seems there are applications to beam existing content but nothing to just show the screen as is, and hence bypass any of the apparently inconsistent checks for what you can watch where. This was not overly successful. Certainly not something I bothered chasing up.
I looked around and found that there is a Mirror application that sends screen to Roku and Apple TV from PC or Mac. This is called AirParrot. I downloaded the trial and used it on the 2009 MBP and sure enough it found the AppleTV and sent the screen to the Apple TV connected to the normal HDMI TV. I had to install an extra driver to get it to send sound as well though. The application is only $9.99 so I also bought a license for my Windows 8 laptop.
The Windows laptop is a gaming spec one and only a few months old so I decided to move to use that rather than the older MBP. This was mainly when I tried to use Sky Go on the MBP. I logged in as a subscriber to Sky and then attempted to AirParrot to the Apple TV. However machine seemed to be suffering from having to download over the wifi/internet and then wifi send to the TV so it all got a bit choppy. On windows and a more powerful machine is seemed to be not too bad. This was despite the MBP being on the 5ghz network and the windows machine on 2.5ghz.
I changed the windows to extend to the extra TV and AirParrot does a perfectly acceptable job of pushing content. It is not perfect HD and I am still doing the sound directly on the PC but it works. I now have TVCatchup playing Channel 5 The Wright stuff as I write this.

I went back to Sky Go and downloaded Iron Man 3 onto the Sky Go application on Windows. The aim being to reduce the double network effect of streaming in and pushing back out again. This worked fine on an Airparrot mirror, again it had a lot of compression going on, AirParrot has a few quality settings to tinker with later though. it is good enough to have the films on in the background.
Then it dawned on me that I really should move the Xbox 360 to the office. The 360 has the Sky application on it and so I would not need to use the Apple TV and this extra hope. Unfortunately I can’t even try this until next month. Why? Well Sky Go claims “Watch TV from Sky however you like on your compatible mobile, tablet or laptop wherever you are in the UK & Ireland with an internet connection”. Which is does but… With our multi room subscription we are allowed 4 devices to be registered. As soon as you log into Sky on a laptop or phone and hit play that device is then takes up one of the four slots. Apparently you can only have 2 of those 4 logged on at any one time too. In all my experiments I had gone in to manage the list and I removed 1 device we don’t use. Leaving the original iPad and another windows laptop I experimented with over xmas. Using the windows box and the mac to test Sky Go and mirroring means I had refilled 2 slots. However, the ridiculous terms stop you editing your device list any more than 1 device a month. I can see they are worried we might all just keep chopping and changing but they should look at Apple’s device limits!
I am asking Sky nicely if they will reset my devices now I know the configuration, so I will see what happens there.

So what works after all that?

Live BBC 1 iplayer
Iphone/Ipad airPlay mirror screen to Apple TV
Web new macbook pro live BBC 1 mirror screen to Apple TV
Web old MBP + AirParrot Application to Apple TV
Web windows + AirParrot Application to Apple TV

What doesn’t work
Roku Iplayer application no live stream
Roku and Twonky beam won’t mirror BBC1 Live from Iphone/Android
Apple TV has no native iplayer app

With Roku and Apple Tv there are native applications to get at various services. The one I really cannot understand is why the Sky Now TV is not unified with the SkyGo service? Mind you with the ludicrous device limit and management setup this probably is not a surprise. I should be able to just log on to the Roku and register that device as one of my 4 Sky Go devices with a normal Sky Id?
***Update 16/1/14 Credit where credit is due to good customer service. Having emailed Sky and explained I had maxed out my 4 slots but would prefer to remove the machines I tested with they cleared the required slots and I now have the Xbox 360 connected back to Sky so I no longer need to beam sky go from one device to the Apple TV. Next up I am now trying XMBC and Play To on windows freeing up the Apple TV to replace the Roku and we will just use the iphones/ipads for iplayer. Not totally ideal but certainly getting close to the solution.

Each streaming device should really have Tvcatchup or equivalent for all the terrestrial channels. Excuses about rights management just do not hold water as the combination exist to see these things on a screen, and in particular on “mobile” devices like laptops and phones. However static devices attached to a large non mobile screen are very limited, unless you spend lots of money on doubling up subscriptions or download illegal DRM free copies of movies. It seems, as per usual DRM is just costing us all. Until they get to instal a restrictor chip in our brains to stop us receiving content that they own it is all pretty much a waste of time.

Hello 2014 – The future is nearly here – but with TV not quite

Welcome to 2014, it does not seem that long ago I was a lad reading 2000ad comic books thinking how far in the future the next century seemed. I wanted to start the year of a positive technical note and that is at last we are back on BT Infinity. That means business wise it is possible to be back delivering interesting projects without a 9 hour overnight upload 🙂
Being back on high speed broadband has highlighted a few things to me though. I had thought, with a little whoop of glee that I might be able to finally have streaming media from the outside world across the house.
It turns out though that it’s not that simple!
Just before christmas we seemed to lose our digital TV signal. Both the installed antenna on the main TV and the portable one on the bedroom TV stopped working, well they worked but a lot of break up.
To solve the problem of the bedroom TV, which pretty much is only used for BBC breakfast in the mornings I popped out and bought a Roku2 streaming media box. It said “with iPlayer”. I plugged it in, did the requisite account set up in case I suddenly felt the urge to buy something from them. I installed BBC iplayer and up it popped. However what I saw was far from the iplayer I was expecting. it was a very limited subset of catchup programmes, not at all like the iplayer on the laptops. The main thing it didn’t do, which I really wanted it to, is stream live BBC 1. The BBC News Roku app did not stream the live news channel either, merely a few snippets of things to lookup. I looked at the iplayer app on my “mobile” device the iPhone and iPad and sure enough they stream BBC1. It did not seem to make much sense.

I saw some posts that people were able to use their Apple TV (a similar streaming box) to watch BBC1 by mirroring their ipad screen via the Apple TV box. I thought I would give that a go on the Roku. There is a long standing open source streaming media sharer called Twonky. It has a twonky beam app on the Roku and on the tablets and phones. I sparked it up and it worked to beam photos etc. However BBC1 was not happy to be streamed and it hit a digital wall. It was the same on the Samsung android tablet. Some things would beam, some would not.
Now if this did not work on the iPhone/apple TV combination you could say it was down to not letting streaming live TV for licence fee reasons on mobile devices was the reason. However, my laptop, phone and tables are all mobile, my Roku and TV are not really. So that is no excuse.
As a Sky subscriber (with a dish and account etc) sky multiscreen / Sky Go lets you watch anything anywhere on 2-4 devices depending on the account. So I figured I must be able to forget the BBC a they clearly don’t want me to be able to watch them, and instead Roku stream Sky.
Sky has NOWtv and their own Roku rebranded boxes that lets you pay them £9.99 a month to watch things. So the app it there and it is clearly technically capable of streaming Sky. Sky news is in fact the only live channel I seemed to be able to stream using the native Sky news Roku app. I was expecting my Sky Id to work with NowTV, hoping it would say, welcome fully paying long term customer feel free to use this Roku as one of your devices….. but no…. I needed to enter payment information. So I can’t stream Sky to Roku either. I can of course cart the Xbox 360 upstairs and log in with that and watch sky on this extra TV but that seems a bit odd doesn’t it?
I checked out some of the more private, almost hacky channels like NowwhereTV that re-streams but that was just a not very reliable BBC news channel, and hundreds of US local TV channels.
All in all this seems quite a mess? With the right device or just a full laptop I can get to the channels I pay for both on the BBC and on Sky. However non of it is very user friendly. Waking up in the morning and turning the news on should not really be an exercise in network management, patching, scrolling, clicking. There is room for a pure streaming service surely? Freeview and FreeSat do exactly what you need with a digital antenna or a satellite dish. There does not seem to be a FreeStream? The closest is probably the Youview boxes but they only really do catchup over broadband the rest is just a digital TV tuner antenna combination.
I tweeted about this and @andypiper said he was able to watch BBC and ITV using his Ouya games console using TVCatchup. This would not twonky beam either to the Roku So it seems the right combination of kit that basically supports a web browser and it will all work.
This along with the almost impossible to use ultraviolet and alike to let you see digital copies of the discs you have purchased is making a right mess of enjoying the excellent content. Even my shiny new Xbox one refused to play one of the kids DVD films at xmas. A bought one from the shop, citing some weird error code and saying I needed to be plugged into a different HDMI socket? Other worked fine just this one, but I have not tested very many to see why.
Publishers need to take a look at the industry as it is no wonder people pirate? All I want is to stream the basic TV channels that are on live. Catchup is sorted pretty much.
I did write to Roku and the BBC about this small glitch in the future of TV but I am afraid the help desk responses were nicely canned ones, and generally incorrect and inconsistent.
I wonder if I should be apply to be some sort of media Tsar for the government and sort this all out 🙂

Dear BBC I am a programmer and a presenter let me help

I was very pleased to see that the Tony Hall the new DG of the BBC wants to get the nation coding. He plans to “bring coding into every home, business and school in the UK”.
So I thought, as I am lacking a full time agent in the TV world, I should throw my virtual hat in the ring to offer to work on the new programme that the BBC has planned for 2015.
It is not the first time I have offered assistance to such an endeavour, but this is the most public affirmation of it happening.
So why me? Well I am a programmer and have been since the early days of the shows on TV back in zx81/c64/bbc model a/b/spectrum days. I was initially self taught through listings in magazine and general tinkering before studying to a degree level, and then pursuing what has been a very varied career generally involving new tech each step of the way.
I was lucky enough to get a TV break with Archie Productions and the ITV/CITV show The Cool Stuff Collective, well documented on this blog 😉 In that I had an emerging technology strand of my own. The producers and I worked together to craft the slot, but most of it was driven by things that I spend my time sharing with C-level executives and at conferences about the changing world and maker culture.
It was interesting getting the open source arduino, along with some code on screen in just a few short minutes. It became obvious there was a lot more that could be done to help people learn to code. Of course these days we have many more ways to interact too. We do not have to just stick to watching what is on screen, that acts as a hub for the experience. Code, graphics, art work, running programs etc can all be shared across the web and social media. User participation, live and in synch with on-demand can be very influential. Collections of ever improving assets can be made available then examples of how to combine them put on TV.
We can do so much with open source virtual worlds, powerful accessible tools like Unity 3d and of course platforms like the Raspberry Pi. We can also have a chance to explore the creativity and technical challenges of user generated content in games. Next gen equipment like the Oculus rift. Extensions to the physical world with 3d printers, augmented reality and increasingly blended reality offer scope for innovation and invention by the next generation of technical experts and artists. Coding and programming is just the start.
I would love to help, it is such an important a worthy cause for public engagement.
Here is a showreel of some of the work.

There is more here and some writing and conference lists here
So if you happen to read this and need some help on the show get in touch. If you are an agent and want to help get this sort of thing going then get in touch. If you know someone who knows someone then pass this on.
This blog is my CV, though I do have a traditional few pages if anyone needs it.
Feeding Edge, taking a bite out of technology so you don’t have to.
Yours Ian Hughes/epredator

Here comes #geekweek on Youtube

You may have seen a number of posts and tweets on the interwebs about next week on Youtube (thanks @moehlert who I noticed saying it first). If not then you are in for a treat. Next week is #geekweek 🙂

It says “Come hang out at YouTube Geek Week and celebrate geek culture with a whole week of new vids, series premieres, epic collabs, and top tens from more than 100 channels across YouTube.”
That includes an experimental resurrection of the game/cgi/green screen show called Knightmare
If only we had all the clips of the Cool Stuff Collective super g33k sections online we could have joined in. (I can’t put them up as I don’t own them so just have to make do with the showreels)

TV Showreel – 2011

Now that the 3rd series of Cool Stuff Collective has rotated from the ITV player there is not an easy resource available to see some of the future tech pieces that we did. It is a custom in TV land to have a showreel. So here is my second TV show reel featuring the lovely Vicky Letch and a cameo by Blowfish at the end 🙂

This is all down to all the guys and girls at Archie Productions and John Marley in particular getting this show going and trusting me to do my thing for the 38 shows we did over the past year or so.
I had to edit this up from the videos I had of the show, so it is a bit rough and ready but I am a tech g33k not a production suite guru (to continue the theme you will see if you watch all the 7 mins above 🙂
The video features arduino and open source, 3d printing with rep rap, skylanders, augmented reality, bloodhound ssc, tenori on, Kaspar and hydrogen fuel cells plus a bit of slapstick literally thrown in 🙂
Anyone who sees the conference and workshops I do will know that this all these things actually thread together to a bigger story of what the future will hold.

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