Virtual Becomes Physical

Have you bought the ebook yet? If not … cough… why not ? 🙂 Even without a kindle you can read it on any device. Go on you know you want too 🙂
I decided once the ebook was published for Reconfigure it would be interesting to explore the print on demand options from CreateSpace. It was some more formatting work to do and also create more than just a cover page. It needed a back page and the blurb associated with it. It also needed a more physical form of typesetting. ebooks are really HTML and reformat themselves. Physical books have to consider the gutter spacing when the pages are bound so you can read all the words.
The first proof arrived today.
Reconfigure goes from virtual to real http://www.reconfigurebook.co.uk #proofing
It was very exciting to see the thing in actual print. I had selected the 6x9inch format as that was the recommended one. However now I look at it it looks a little large, more like a text book than a novel. So I am just working out how to reformat it down to 5×8 a normal paperback size. I also removed all the page numbers, which was something I thought it asked me to do. I realise it was asking that you remove page numbers on the preamble pages. ebooks don’t have any footers for page numbers as the device generates those based on the users font size choice.
Now I have page numbers, I tightened the spacing from the double spaced to 1.5 and I am now resubmitting it all. It means buying another proof copy, but the other book is handy for promo shots being a little bigger 🙂 It is possible to do an awful lot with the support tools that are provided. Each PDF upload is checked that it fits in the correct area and formats correctly. You still have to visually check each page just in case of course. The physical instantiation being the final decision on what goes live. The cover art needs to be in a suitable high resolution (mine already was). It even shows the mouse pointer arrow that is a tiny detail mid cube that is hard to see on the digital covers as they are at the moment.
So onwards and upwards. Of course the print version will be relatively expensive as it is a print on demand. I do not have the economies of scale to produce cheaper versions (yet). I will probably do the Kindle matchbook scheme where physical get a digital version too. It seems very fair to me. I can’t do that until the book is physically live though.

Reconfigure is available right now!

I just hit publish on the Amazon Kindle site, I was expecting it to take a few days but it seems Reconfigure, my first novel is live and available for purchase right now.

The UK link is here, but it will direct you to the relevant territory as it is available globally.
It feels a somewhat odd experience to have let Roisin Kincade out into the wild along with all the wonderful tech and adventures she has had.
I hope, if you choose to buy the book, that you enjoy it. It has been a wonderful experience to create it.

AR glasses – Ray-ban

I just visited Ray-Ban’s virtual glasses modelling site. There have been a lot of ‘stick things on your face on a webcam’ applications but I was impressed with how quick, simple and accurate this one was. My regular glasses are Ray-Bans so I found the model number and tried my actual pair on virtually to see the difference.
The registration of my face even in bad lighting was incredibly quick, and yes I need a haircut!
Ar glasses
What was impressive is that the glasses appear to have lighting and a reflection in the lens, The still does not do that justice, but it really adds something over the the cartoon stickers of other AR web cam applications. The arms of the glasses also go around the side of your head.
Here is the ‘real’ pair for comparison.
glasses (non ar)
This is just a webcam on a webpage. Imagine the degree of world changing views we can create on portable holo style headsets.

More Hololens demos

Whilst I may have been quite focussed on my own Science Fiction vision of the future with my book writing experiment I have not been completely detached from the world. Yesterday some new demos of Microsoft’s impressive looking Hololens came out. I am still not convinced they should really call them holograms, but we can let that slide. This blended reality demo of a game, albeit a blow stuff up one, understanding the environment around it, using the walls as canvases is impressive. I still think I prefer the minecraft examples though.

They are obviously not overly keen on small companies or individuals getting their hands not eh dev kit as its $3k for the kit and only in the US and Canada. Still it’s a start.
We have yet to see the kit from Magic Leap/google.
Of course this got me thinking, my Reconfigure story, the things that happen in the physical world could easily be emulated with a Hololens. It would be great to create a Hololens powered version of my character’s experience. Not a 3d 360 immersive film but a blended reality, this is what it would feel like to be Roisin Kincade. Now that is exciting!

Getting closer to a launch? Reconfigure

The past weeks have been a very interesting one in the book writing process. It has been more like systems admin and system testing. The various printouts of Reconfigure have had a verbal read through, trying to spot the odd errors, changes in tone, pace. I have been looking out for continuity errors too. I made a few changes to the maths in it also. Every time I read it I found I could tweak it a little. Those tweaks and corrections are much lower in frequency and the book is now really in closed invitational beta. The blurb of the story is at reconfigure book.co.uk


I started to set up my Amazon account to be able to sell the book. It required a fair amount of messing around with US tax exemption forms and finding the right international IBAN numbers for bank accounts etc.

Using Apple pages I am able to export to ePub. I tried the Mac version of the Kindle conversions but the apps are a mess of Java problems. Uploading the ePub and the cover image to the book page produced a .Mobi file that can be downloaded, and also previewed on the web. So I am nearly there.
The next thing to do is set the price. At 99p Amazon take a 65% royalty and at £2.99 they take a 30% cut. I am hoping that people are happy to pay £2.99. I am sure friends and family might to help support this endeavour but I am not so sure about the general public. There seems, as in Apps, to be a trend towards 99p as a price point for any volume. The old adage of 35% of something is better than 70% of nothing applies.

There were some formatting challenges too, but I think I have them sorted.

It seems pricing can be altered and there is a sort of club that you can pay to join to do more fancy things with deals and lending etc. I am not sure I can justify that just yet.
So it seems my first public product is going to be this novel, not and app or a game. It does have a lot of dev tech and game concepts in it along with virtual worlds and alike.
Hopefully a few more people reading it will settle the nerves of wondering what I have done with the past month. Of course this could all be complete self-delusion. Let us hope not!

Third time through, Reconfigure

I have just completed a third triage of the manuscript for Reconfigure. I am now at the printing the thing off and reading it out aloud stage. Its a fair old chunk of work. 72,000 words, and with the double line spacing hilton 206 pages of A4. I am still very pleased with it. Whether anyone else will be I shall soon find out I guess.
Reconfigure printed out

Every pass I spot minor tweaks. Usually spelling and grammar of course. Starting sentences with So, a lot and Well, too. So those are getting filtered and adjusted. I also created a page and a url reconfigurebook.co.uk which is just a redirect to the page above on the navigation tab. On there is a description of the book, a first pass at the abstract that may, or may not entice people into reading.
I also had a go at a stylised cover, it is pretty much all built from Unity3d, it describes some of the images and ideas in the story, without giving too much away, I hope.
I am reposting the image here, but it all is subject to any changes I fancy doing of course 🙂
Reconfigure book digital cover
***Update this is the new book cover.
new book cover for Rconfigure

So head on over to reconfigurebook.co.uk to see what this science fiction, set today, is all about (ish).

Reconfigure – time to read and edit

Last Friday I finished writing the story that I had in my head for Reconfigure. I surprised myself at the speed it came out, but when you have to do something, you have to do it! I also learned a lot about how I thread idea together. The story is set now, the tools and tech in it is, for the most part, genuine and real. Constructing it form the initial plan to the first draft has felt just like a software project. Architecture, Internal Design, Code. It now differs in that there is not a “compiler” to help spot any errors. There is of course spell check. This stage is one of reading it, lots it would seem. Checking it makes sense, meets the spec and then adding or taking away from it to create a good user experience. As it has a basis in fact there is real world continuity checking. There is also speculative science fiction continuity that I can double check too.
My biggest surprise was the elements of the story, the little mental pictures and feelings that I discovered on the way. I had the structure, that was fun to conceive but the colouring in has been an interesting mix of conscious thought and of Flow.
When I started to re-read it for the first time I was not totally sure what it was going to sound like in my head. A few times I have written articles and looked at the end result and started again. Same structure just different words. I was hoping that was not the case this time. Of course this is all potentially self deluding, but I like it so far.
Another thing I was not expecting is in building the potential for a follow up, if not a series. The core elements have several threads that seem to be brewing as I re-read the text. I was thinking this would be done and dusted.
I am looking ahead to just getting it out there, probably just on Amazon Kindle store. I don’t think I can justify making actual print copy books though services like LuLu do over print on demand. So I have to think about pricing. There, like the app store, seems to be lots of discussion of people not paying over $0.99 or 99p for a book. Discussions of free, just for the publicity or of making something reassuringly expensive because it has enough words per pence. I don’t know, but I think I will release it and see if I can charge for it. Just enough that maybe my social media friends and colleagues might feel happy to sponsor me by buying a copy.
I have started to consider cover designs, an early one, just an alpha (rather like the text so far) was this last night.
Exploring cover art ideas for #reconfigure
It was using the iPhone app Typorama. I will have to rebuild the image in the right size and shape and may make the cubes in Unity3D instead of the stock image, that being more in keeping with the story.
I started to work on the back cover hook, the abstract. It was interesting trying o find a balance between telling the story and hinting at it. Introducing the central character and allowing her strengths and vulnerabilities to try and surface in a paragraph. I still have work to do on that but may share that in another post.

25 years ago today – The start of an interesting career

A quarter of a century ago I started my first full time job at IBM. August 13th 1990. I had a sandwich year there doing the same job but this had more permanence about it. Indeed it was pretty permanent as I stayed at that same company for 19 years.
The tech world was very different back then. It was much simpler to just be a programmer or just be a systems administrator etc.
We worked on green screen terminals like this.
IBM 3277 Display
They were dub terminals, no storage, just a command line CRT display. Everything was run and compiled remotely on the main machines. That doesn’t seem strange now as we have the cloud as a concept, but when you had cut your teeth as I had on home computers it was a strange experience. Scheduling batch jobs to compile code over night, coming in int he morning to find out if you had typed the thing correctly.
We had intercompany messaging, in a sort of intranet email system, but it was certainly not connected to the outside world and neither were we. We did have access to some usenet style forums internally and they were great sources of information and communal discovery. There were a few grumpy pedants but it was not a massive trollfest
As a programmer you had very little distraction or need to deal with things that were above your pay grade. The database admin and structure for instance, well that someone else’s role. Managing the storage, archiving, backup etc all different specialist roles.
The systems we built were huge, lots of lines of code but in reality we were just building stock control systems. They were mission critical though.
After writing some code, a module to meet a specific requirement we had code inspections. Groups of more experience people sat and read printed out listing of the code, checking it for consistency and formatting even before a compile job was run. It was also a time to dry run the code but, sitting with a pen and paper working out hat a piece of code did and how to make it better or catch more errors.
we wrote in PL/1 a heavily typed non fancy language. It changed over time but there were not many trick to learn, not funny pointers and reflection of variables. No pubs messaging or hierarchy problems. It was a great way to learn the trade.
Very rapidly though this rigidity of operation changed. As we moved over the next few years to building client server applications where the newly arriving PC’s had things they could do themselves, drag and drop interfaces like OS/2 (IBM’s version go windows). I generally ended up in the new stuff as, well, that’s what I do!
We had an explosion of languages to choose from and to work with, lots of OO smalltalk was all the rage but we were busy also doing C and then C++ as well. Then before you knew it, or before I knew it too, we had the web to play with. From 1997 on everything changed. It started with a bit of email access but very soon we had projects with proper access to the full inter web.
Building and creating in this environment was almost the polar opposite of the early years of small units of work and code inspections. We all did everything, everywhere on every platform. Scripting languages, web server configs, multiple types of content management, e-commerce products, app server products, portal products. We had Java on the backend and front end but also lots of other things to write with, rules based languages and lots and lots of standards that were not yet standards. Browsers that worked with some things, corporate clients dictating a random platform over another which we then built to.
It was a very anarchic yet incredibly interesting time.
The DotCom bubble burst happened quite naturally, but that did more to destroy a lot of business models and over eager investment. For the tech industry it actually helped slow down some of the mad expansion so we could all get to grips with what we had, it led ultimately to people started to connect with one another and the power of the web for communication.
Of course now we are gathering momentum again, lots of things are developing really quickly. The exciting buzz of things that are nearly mass market, but not quite, or competing platforms and open source implementations all competing to be the best pre-requisite for your project.
Everyone who does any of this need to be Full Stack now. For those of us who grew with this and survived the roller coaster it is a bit easier I think. Though not having those simpler times to reflect on high actually be a blessing for this generation. Not think they are not supposed to be messing around with the database because that’s not their job might be good for them.
One thing is certain, despite some nice cross platform systems like Unity3d the rest of the tech has not got any easier. Doing any new development involves sparking up a terminal emulator working just like those green screens back in the 90’s. Some interesting but ultimately arcane incantations to change a path variable or attempt to install the correct pre-req packages still flourish under the covers. If thats what you came from then it just feel like home.
Doing these things, as I did today installing some node.js as a server side scripting and a maven web server and then some variants of a java SDK followed by some security key generation it certainly felt like this is still an engineering subject. You can follow the instructions but you do need to know why. The things we do are the same, input process output with a bit of validation and security wrapped around. There are just so many more ways to explore and express the technical solution now.
If I was me now, at 18 entering the workforce I wonder what I would be doing. I hope that I would have tinkered with all this stuff as much as ever, just had more access to more resources, more help on the web and probably known a lot more. I would have been a junior Full Stack developer rather than junior programmer. Oh and I wouldn’t have to wear a suit, shirt and tie to sit at the desk either 🙂

A great customer experience – Michelin Star style

Last week saw our 20th wedding anniversary. A significant milestone, though not Silver like 25 years, apparently it’s China or Platinum. @elemming decided to book us a treat though. We have on very special occasions gone for experiences to remember. My 40th birthday was driving fast cars around Thruxton.
Lamborghini LP640 Murcielago
For @elemming’s 40th we went to Claridges.
Claridges room 547
We did get to go to Heston’s place for a meal recently too, that was a @elemming’s work based special occasion.
For this special event we went to Raymon Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons both to stay a night and to have the dining experience at a 2 star Michelin restaurant (one that has been held for 30 years!)
For once, in order to make the meal extra special, neither of us took photos of the food or tweeted, facebooked etc through the entire meal. It seems odd to say how special it made it. The food is so beautifully presented, delicate balances of taste and texture and served with great respect not pomposity. However it is a few hours of non-tech facing focus that we will remember for a long while.
The visit to the hotel did not go without recording to share with others and for some memories. The location is a wonderful old house with a very extensive garden. Most of the garden is taken up with things that can be eaten. It is way past a small vegetable plot or herb garden.
Not only that but they also have a charging post for electric vehicles, though it has not been used very much for various demographic reasons.
The gardens were liberally dotted with some very nice statues and sculptures. It added to the other world feeling of being transported elsewhere. The lack of textures on them adding a Snowcrash like feel to the avatars.
Le manoir
The scarecrow was great fun too, apparently modelled on Monsieur Blanc
Le manoir
The fruit gathering statue with its large hat reminded me of Fable too !
Le manoir
One of the more unusual areas creating produce for the grand was the mushroom valley. I have not seen one of those before and it was intriguing. A small river of water and lots of logs and sheltered places allowed fresh fungi to be cultivated outside. The wicker pigs fitted in nicely too.
Le manoir
The room we had “Kiki” was a courtyard room. Some very fine marble in the bathroom and the most comfy hotel bed I have slept in yet. Their photos do it much more justice.
Sometimes going to a place with so many people to help and do things can feel a little odd, not joining in feels strange for me. We are all people after all. However the people at Le Manoir are so relaxed and friendly, yet spot on professionals that it removed that discomfort for me.
As the cook in the house and being willing to try more and more difficult and tasty dishes I learned a lot from what I got to see, smell and taste in the restaurant. Things like a sorbet of red pepper and tomato, or a subtle hint of Wasabi with some cucumber. I had never had Wasabi in anything other than a very rich nasal tickling concentrate. In this dish it was a smoky background flavour that was very surprising in its familiarity but yet confusing as my eyes were not watering.
The food writer Jay Rayner wrote he usually reviewed food at horrible places so we didn’t have to but Le Manoir he was pleased to review because none would ever get the chance to go.
I realise how lucky and special it was for us to be able to experience this. I am also lucky that I was also able to learn a lot and also remember it, not just share it at the time. I think live blogging or periscoping it may have destroyed the moment 🙂
Thankyou everyone for making it such a special and enjoyable time.

From ICE to EV – Test driving Nissan Leaf

Just before Christmas my Subaru Impreza had a seemingly catastrophic coolant problem. I arrived at my school governor training (4 miles away) in a cloud of steam from my bonnet. The car needed a low loader to get it home, but all that took a while, so it was lucky I had the course to attend.
We had been considering a new car. We have a Honda FRV with has 6 seats and loads of room, is automatic etc. Then we have my scooby which doesn’t really get the chance to get used as much. as I work from home almost all the time most of my journeys are to take @elemming to the train station and pick her up. Driving to the supermarket or shops and most importantly heading off to Choi. All of which are about 6miles round trip.
I have an interest in tech of course, so electric vehicles (EV’s) always sounded interesting but there is a problem with causing the entire family to be early adopters if it is just for the sake of early adopting and spending significant money.
We had looked at normal Internal Combustion Engine cars (ICE). All very nice, but very few things were going to be as close to my driving experience with the Scooby. Hence all the new cars I figured would disappoint in some way. I have had the scooby since before predlet 1.0 was born so that’s 11 years. So it has seen some major changes in life, predlets born, leaving corporate life, moving house, taking up a martial art etc. It has also been very reliable. However things have to move on.
We took a punt and test drove a Nissan Leaf. This was particularly good test drive wise as they gave it to us for 7 days. Having an EV for a week gives you a chance to see if it really does fit the in with the family and out needs. It let me do some experiments too.

The first objection most people have to an EV is the range. Unless you buy a £100k Tesla you are going to be getting a car that has a 100 mile range, a 50 mile round trip. When you are used to 250-350 miles in an ICE that seems not great. However, remember I only needed this for the short 6 mile round trips. You can get a lot of those on 100 miles of battery, plus they return home, where a recharge can occur is need be. In addition we already still have a petrol Honda FRV for those long journeys. So really the range is only a problem if the other car is in use and one of us need to do a longer range journey. If this situation is going to occur is can be planned for as many EV suppliers offer petrol hire cars as part of the package. Of course this is assuming you couldn’t charge on a journey. Which you can.
So on these short hops locally an EV is ideal. It has plenty of charge and plenty of scope to just jump in and use it.
One of my concerns that any car would just not be as entertaining as my Scooby was kicked right into touch straight away. Even a relatively low end car like the Leaf has a fantastic feel to it. They feel very light, in a responsive lightness not a flimsy lightness. They also accelerate. The 0-60 on the Leaf is abut 7.5 seconds. My Scooby was about 5.9 when it was new. However… the profile of an EV means it has constant torque through the entire range. There is no specific gearing. Even a ICE automatic changes gear, or has kick down to accelerate. The Leaf just accelerates, whatever speed its goes. Without the engine noise it, and very little road or air noise the speedometer is really the only indication of speed. You hit 50, 60 and 70 very quickly on the motorway, but once at them the speed almost feel the same. This is a good thing, it means cruising at any speed is easy and acceptable. You are not between gears or struggling to justify the 5th gear change.
My drive to Hedge End I did firstly just normally in regular drive mode having not topped the car up after the station and school run. So I was on about 85/90% battery. So I very quickly experienced the anxiety that all EV driver get. In ICE you have a petrol needle, its not very accurate but you know you have a few miles left after any warning light or hitting the red. Up until that point you just drive. The you maybe have to eek it out a bit more to make it to home or a petrol station. In the EV you have a lot of information, accurate information, telling you battery levels, power usage and estimated range. If you hit the aircon/heating and floor the accelerator on the motorway you see you project range tumble. The climate control knocks 7 miles off the range. I realised I was burning too much as I reach what would have been a half way point and headed for home, this time with the eco button and full mode B energy recovery. I approached home and the warning lights started flashing. I only had 15 miles left of range. Panic!. The sat nav asked if I needed directions to a charger! PANIC!!!
Of course this is all slightly ridiculous as by now I am 3 miles from home. Even with climate control on full I would make it, but it does play on your brain.
The next day I thought I would try the same journey but top up to 100% at home before I went. Home charging is just plugging into a 13 amp plug (though you can install higher rate quicker chargers for a few hundred pounds). It means if you go to a friends house and need a top up you can (though thats a bit cheeky, I am not sure we have the social etiquette for that sorted out yet)
This time I drove on the motorway back down to the south coast on full Eco (where the max power is dropped and the effects of the throttle are lessened) and mode B where more engine braking is applied when you ease off and the battery is charged with that power.

So we have the simplicity of just putting in drive and pressing the accelerator, but we have the complexity and thought of energy management and recovery. Easing off before coming to halt to get your green lights lit on the left of what would be a rev counter.
I got to the same point with plenty of return charge but still drove back on Eco. Because of the perceived speed it didn’t seem to matter in a cruise on the motorway to have turned the wick down on the car. The energy management and recovery made for fun game. Something Nissan have spotted by rewarding you with a christmas tree/lives indicator that gradually fills up as you do good work. It sounds mad but it works.
I managed to max it out on one journey- Yay !

On the second Hedge End trip I was slightly less freaked out by the battery indicator but as I got to Winchester services, and as the car had an Ecotricity card in the sunglasses holder I thought I would try a rapid top up charge.
There were 2 bays both without cars in them, so it fitted to experiment. I held the RFID card up and chose my rapid charge mode. The nozzle comes with the plug, it was a massive device compared to the home charger as it had lots of sliders and locks. Once engaged charging started.

I was on about 33% and went for a coffee and a comfort break. It was about 15 minutes and I was not waiting around tutting.
I was impressed that Costa reminded me I was driving a leaf and had my little Eco xmas tree game to play in the car by drawing on the top of my coffee with a similar motif.

I returned to the car, went to cancel the charge and it asked me to swipe the card again. This of course makes sense to stop people unplugging you out of spite. I disconnected and saw I now had 66% charge (64% when I took the photo and faffed around before hand). Not bad!

So for the 10 miles home I dropped the eco and the full energy recovery. Pulling onto the motorway it was like having a brand new car as it woke up from its space cruising stasis and went full alien monster.
When I got home I had used 20% of the battery already. So it really hits home how to moderate driving when needed, not accelerate quick so hard. Much more so than a petrol car that you don’t really think about it much until the needle gets low.
One of the other gadgets on the Leaf is is great set of cameras surrounding the car. The dash display that doubles as the GPS, radio and everything else switches to cameras automatically for reversing, but also can be switched to camera when at low speed/ stationery heading forwards.
A reversing camera makes a lot of sense, but also the ability for it to generate an apparent birds eye view is fantastic for parking in bays.
Here I am safely parked and stationary with the forward camera working. It is in black and white as it is in night sight mode. You can see in the dark

The birdseye view can be replaced with a camera on the front left quarter, i.e. the turning blind spot, by pressing a button.
Reversing also provides the angle of trajectory super imposed Augmented Reality style on the reversing camera. Here I a parked but in reverse on out drive way showing the obstacles (in colour this time)

We had a top of the range Leaf so it had everything on it. A spoiler with a solar panel to charge the second battery (a regular car battery used for lights etc). Voice control, bluetooth hook up, it understood my iPhone playlists when plugged into the USB, heated seats etc etc. It had GPS builtin and knew where a particular network of chargers were to navigate too. Full ownership gets you hooked up (along with your charger) to CARWINGS, which is Nissan’s internet of things network for automotive. This lets you control the car setting via an app, asking it to warm up in the interior in the morning. Or you can, as I did, just use the timer. When on charge it will draw house electricity to power the AC and warm the car for a set time and temperature. There is of course no point going out and starting the engine as it doesn’t heat up like and ICE.
I enjoyed looking at the energy information screen quite a lot. It felt like playing Elite Dangerous or Eve Online balancing the power usage.

I also was entertained by the graphic for the “don’t put a baby seat in the front” which was the most extreme one I had seen. The middle picture almost looking like a theme park ride icon.

So it seems that I am quite taken with the Leaf, it has a very particular set of skills 😉
We are going to test drive the BMW I3, though that offers a range extender, a motorbike engine and 9l tank to give another 50 or so miles. However I am not sure if that is worth us getting as it would almost never be used except in extreme circumstances when it might better to hire a car or take the train. Also BMW only seem to offer a 30 min test drive, and after that if they think you are worthy a few hours test drive. Our nearest BMW dealer is in Eastleigh too which is a pain. However BMW, and all car people you need to ramp up the test-drive time!
Lets see what happens next 🙂