Landing on a Comet ! Wow!

Yesterday I sat glued to the internet video stream from ESA HQ in Germany tensely waiting to hear, via the orbiter Rosetta that the lander Philae had made it to the surface. When it did and the cheers started to ripple around the feed I had a definite lump in my throat and tear in my eye. I was watching it with predlet 2.0. He had asked if he could play Minecraft and for once I said No, watch this!. Of course without the history behind it all it was just a few people sitting looking at a screen, no commentary. So tried to explain the enormity of what we were waiting for. The fact the probe launched (10 years ago) before he was born is pretty amazing and the fact that the project started 20 years equally so. Though that makes less impact. I think my enthusiastic cheer when it landed probably got it across to him though.
It is truly awe inspiring that people have gathered together across countries to put together a massive project to land a tiny machine on a comet 300 million miles away in order to then perform some experiments and determine what the makeup of the comet is.
It transcends all the ridiculous austerity measures and the greed of those with the worlds wealth. This helps the human race and give some sense of purpose. We need more of this!
This image came from the surface of the comet!
Image on a coment
So we watched this on a 70mbps fibre optic internet stream, live via a web browser on a PS4 games console, whilst also second screening BBC news in iplayer on a small touchscreen wifi enabled device (iPhone), whilst also follow the tweets from the landers account too. I was sharing it with my son in person but also with my friends around the world who were also tuned in. 10 years ago when the probe launched none of the ways we engaged with the landing existed in any mainstream form.
I am sure there are some naysayers who will argue we need to sort this planet out first, but I think we need to sort this planet out as well! This sort of project provides hope and unity. It inspires generations (just as the moon landings did to me when I was just a toddler). That makes it a great investment. We learn lots about our past, help figure out our future but also the will and the passion can be turned back to earth, as log as we don’t let commercial greed take over.
What an awesome experience, and I hope, despite the 3 bounces that the lander continues to fulfil it’s mission. Though as the scientists have been saying when asked what happens now, the answer is, we don’t know, that why we do this sort of science to find out.

Some fun with space science and physics

Last week on the excellent Prof Brian Cox show Human Universe TV show a wonderful real life experiment was shown. It is common at school to learn about gravity, about mass and weight. Often the original concepts from Galileo around dropping objects are covered and considered. We now see footage from space and weightlessness.
However in this experiment a giant vacuum hall is used to show the difference air resistance makes. Being told a heavy thing like a bowling ball or a light thing like a bunch of feathers we are taught from our own observations that the ball will drop faster. In this clip though the air is removed from the environment and we get to see the ball and feathers drop at the same rate. It is spooky, despite knowing the science. You can see from the scientists reaction how special it is to see this. It is real life magic at work.

I have shown the predlets and they are bemused and intrigued too.
I have always wanted to the predlets to feel the wonder of science. We spend a lot of time on screens looking at the virtual. This is all great, but the real thing can be even more amazing.
We just took delivery of a proper telescope this week to be able to check out the night sky. This was in part from being at a friends and all the kids wanting to see the moon close up with their scope, in part because of the wonder at the size of the universe playing space games on Oculus Rift like Elite Dangerous and the influence of TV shows like Human Universe.
I remember looking up in awe at all the constellations and planets, and of course the moon when I was about 7 and armed with a pair of binoculars.
This box arrived from Amazon

After a little bit of assembly it looked like this.

The Equatorial mount on it is, if you are used to 3d applications, really interesting. 3 axis of movement but up is not always up :). You get this in 3d when your rotations are relative not absolute.
There are lots of things to consider setting it up, but just with the basics I pointed it at the moon for us last night. We used the 20mm lens that came with it. We got a pretty full frame moon.
Taking a photo was tricky as I did no have a camera mount, and only the iPhone. However jiggling it around a bit I ended up with this

The predlets we somewhat agast seeing the craters in this close. Obviously they have seen photos before but seeing it yourself certainly does something different. It did when I was a kid so fingers crossed.
Later I spent some time exploring how to line the thing up, adjust the right bits and pieces and there is lots more to explore 🙂
Also as a side effect, as kids always like to play with the boxes of things, we ended up with a lot of cardboard just on the day school asked for some to be brought in for a makefest that they are doing in years 3/4 🙂
TV/internet/games etc might be considered sedentary and lazy, but they can be used to inspire and explore and raise awareness.

Digital Snow – Flush Magazine – 15

It’s starting to get towards winter, the clocks has fallen back so this months Flush Magazine, amongst other things, is all about snow, mountains, skiing and boarding. I just had something snow related to consider for my 14th article for the magazine. (That now sounds like a lot!)
I thought I should cover a bit go history, as usual. Some tech reminiscing. This time it was Hungry Horace goes skiing. Anyone else remember that ? 🙂
These sort of flashbacks to things that felt special or unusual then act a seed to zoom forward. This time I covered how snow has felt on screen in games and films through the years. From the simplistic to the “material point method for snow simulation” CGI research papers created by Disney in making films like Frozen.
I didn’t want to stick to pure virtual snow though but some other advances and where it could go in the near future to enhance our skiing experience. I did give a mention to SNOW the game as that looks mighty impressive and has some real potential IMHO.
Thanks to everyone writing for Flush Magazine, it’s great to have so many good articles to nestle in between on a cold winters night. Huge thanks to @tweetthefashion for such awesome production and editing and for still wanting me to write these journeys in history based futurism.
The full issue can be found below


I am zooming around on page 116 and the iOS version is here
All the past articles and links to them are here on the writing portfolio page
Right, where are my snow boots!

Oculus Rift – DK2 – Elite Dangerous – Breaking the Flow

Feeding Edge’s Oculus Rift DK2 (Development Kit version 2) arrived last week. I had an original Oculus Rift (Pre-Facebook buyout) form the Kickstarter campaign. It is amazing looking back and seen that I wrote about that in August 2013! How time flies!
The new DK2 is a big leap in technology, though it comes in a much less impressive cardboard box, rather than the foam filled attache case of the original one.

The new unit is smaller and lighter but boasts a huge increase in picture quality. There have been quite a few ergonomic tweaks too.

The placing of the wires to the unit are now in the centre top and the cable is fed over the top head strap so it doesn’t get in the way as much as the side dangling cable of the DK1.

The old control box form the DK1 is gone, this used to take all the connections and a power switch etc. It was often the first thing to fall on the floor as the cables got tangled up.
The eye pieces are noticeably bigger too, presumably to get all that extra resolution and field of view in.

Aside from the resolution of the screens the biggest change is the external tracking of the Rift’s position. DK1 knew you were turning and tipping but if you stepped or moved side to side it had no idea. DK2 comes with a sensor that need to be mounted and pointing at the rift. It can, with software that bothers to use it, tell if you are near of far right or left, up or down relative the the sensor. It is not a kinect, but it does give 3d space positioning.
My neighbours may glance up and see this tripod and thing it is facing out of the window, when in fact it is pointing at me!

Getting the rift running on the Mac was a doddle as usual. With no control box the connections are simply and HDMI for the display and two USB connections one for the camera device and one for the headset. The power lead runs into a tiny splitter block and a synch lead runs from that to the camera sensor.
It was more tricky getting it to run on windows 8.1. though. My HP laptop has 2 gfx cards and trying to persuade it to extend the display and put primary rendered graphics on the rift is a bit of a pain. I ended up with the primary display 90 turning itself 90 degrees and the secondary rift flipped 180 degrees in landscape. The demo/tuning application runs in direct mode so you don’t need any of this but lots of the other things rely on extended desktop. You can of course make rift your primary display but it is not then delivered a one image but a bit in the left eye and a bit in the right so it makes launching things difficult.
However after a bit of “well thats just windows isn’t it!” I sparked up the Elite Dangerous Beta. This had upgraded since the last time. Elite has a display on secondary option though this was not DK2 direct mode it was possible to make it work.
I was instantly blown away by the improvements to the visual resolution of DK2. My laptop managed to cope too with the environment and it may not be the best gaming rig in the world but it certainly worked. I launched out into space and got chills running down my spine with the sense of being there as the shadow of the cockpit struts moved across my field of view as I turned away from the star I was docked near. It is really really good. I mapped a button on the stick to re centre the rift view though as there was a slight drift. However 2 beta things and on windows 8.1 it was not a huge problem.
I flew around for a while taking in the scenery then got into a slight dogfight in space. Being able to pull tight turns but look up and backwards to spot the bad guy was really effective. However I did suffer a little from not being able to see my controls. Using a joystick with loads of buttons is great, but I did not realise how much I had relied on seeing button 7 ! So it did not take my adversary very long to break my ship down. In the previous beta of Elite the canopy would crack than the ship would blow and you ejected. The new version before the cracking I got sparks and smoke filling the cockpit. This was an incredible effect in the Rift. The combination of the sense of being there in the vastness of space, with the confinement of sitting in a smoking capsule is something I will remember as a key moment in my gaming and VR experiences. The rift makes sense in games like this as you probably would have a helmet on anyway. That is something a lot of games designers could consider. Rather than trying to pretend its not something you have on, embracing it and making it part of the game narrative.
I experienced a crash, in a typical windows style, whilst trying to dock as a space station. I can’t tell if it was the rift, the game or the machine that did it but at a key moment of concentration and full immersion the shock of being unplugged from the environment, to loose the cockpit and the space around me to be replaced by half of the windows desktop in each eye was horrendous. It seems the Rift and Elite where generating a different type of gaming Flow. I was not experiencing flow because the task had become automatic. I was concentrating on landing the ship in the right place. It required a lot of though. However, mentally I was experiencing sensory flow. I had stopped considering the medium as a barrier, or as anything other than real. For reality to be turned off with no warning created a mental jolt. Its a very strange feeling and one that took a few moments to analyse and think about. It shows the power of these imagination enhancers and our blended reality. I should be used to this stuff but it still hits me 🙂

Kano – Coding for Kids (of all ages!)

Recently my Kano arrived that I had backed a while ago on Kickstarter. Kano is a computer that you make yourself. When I backed this originally it looked like a good way to package up a Raspberry Pi computer to make it more human friendly. (The Pi is great but the original vanilla version were a lot of linux messing around to get working, that was of course early days).
Kano has packaged up a Raspberry Pi and provided a lovely collection of kit that allows you (or your kids) to get this small computer up and running.

The kit comes in a cardboard box, but it is a box with a flipped magnetic lid so it is more of a case really. The most striking piece is the orange wireless keyboard with built in track pad. This on its own is a great piece of kit. Small and very handy. It has a USB cable folded into the back of it, but this is just for charging it. It’s very nice indeed. My previous PI’s I used a full size wireless keyboard I had. It always seems wrong when the input device is soo much bigger than the device itself.
The instructions are written in two books one for assembly and one for getting coding. For this I tried to let predlet 2.0 just follow those himself to see how they worked.
I did help with a bit of clipping the case in but that was really just me itching to see all the elements.

After the build you are left with a Pi in a clear case (with some customisation panels) an attached speaker and several cables. HDMI for the TV and a a power lead. It comes with a ready prepared operating system on an SD card and with a wifi wireless dongle too.
We plugged into one of the gaming TV’s and away predlet 2.0 went. There was of course the obligatory patch, this took a little while but there were a set of screens to read about computing and how it all works.

As you can see, whilst you have the BIOS style boot screen initially after that it is all very slick looking and more like a computer they will have been used too. It is not all command line hacking.
The user creates a name and then an online account with Kano. This gives access to all sorts of things and a sort of scratch like repository of shared programming experiments. It is also very much like an xbox or playstation account. There is an avatar, customisable of course. There are also lots of points and badges for achievements using the system. This seems to work well to get past those initial possibly confusing stages.
Predlet 2.0 say the minecraft logo and wanted to dive straight into that. For once though I insisted he worked through the book as I wanted to see how it gelled with him.
The first task is a little unusual in that it asks the user to get an ASCII version of snake up and running via the command line. It then explains this basic game has lots of sets of parameters and being able to type –help etc on the CLI. This is a skill that is needed but this almost would lose a lot of kids right away. The achievements system does a lot to mitigate that. I grew up on CLI’s I still have to use them. Hitting them with this first of all to get the potentially boring bit out of the way makes sense too. I still was little disappointed by that bit but Predlet 2.0 battled on.

The remaining tasks involve diving into the visual programming Kano blocks. The example uses a version of pong and then gets the user to use the programming blocks to drag onto the workspace and change how things operate. The lessons are good and cover a range of techniques. This was certainly more fun. Kano blocks looks and acts like Scratch which is handy as Predlet 2.0 had some experience tinkering with that. It does also point out that you can see the Python code that blocks generates, this is a good thing as whilst CLI’s may not be great IMHO getting to real code is essential at some point. Visual composition has come a long way but having both views of the code is much more useful.
After pong we dived into the minecraft version. The Pi being a smaller machine means its not going to have the draw distance and world size of a PC or Xbox but it is instantly familiar to most kids.
The screen is split horizontally, almost like a two player game would be.
The top half is Minecraft, moving around building with individual blocks. The bottom of the screen is a Kano Block version of a console. Here the lessons show how code can be run to alter the world. Normally in Minecraft you build a block at a time. Predlet 2.0 was instantly amazed when he did a draw command and loop in Kano blocks that created a 20x20x20 block. One of the other examples creates a long think wall of stone and then a thinner wall of air inside generating an instant tunnel. That was powerful. Because of the scratch he had done and the hours of Minecraft on every platform predlet 2.0 had a bit of a eureka moment I think. This was the real level of understanding of the power of programming. I only got that at 14 when it suddenly dawned on me, but home machines were somewhat rarer.
Now we have a £99 kids friendly machine, something that was the aim of Raspberry PI but they could only go so far sorting out the hardware. Kano is a package and an experience. It does protect from some of the hacking needed, but that is its point. Get them in, let them play then they will learn to hack and code.
We spent about 3 hours straight on this, and I am looking forward to the next session we have. There are some instructions on using VNC and remote access into the device so that an ipad screen can be used.
This kit should be in every primary (and secondary school) right now!

Gastronomy Geekin’ – Heston style

Last night I was very fortunate to be able to go to Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant in Bray to partake of the tasting menu. I was there as a guest with @elemming‘s work colleagues who had agreed to celebrate a particular milestone. I have been a fan of Heston’s work on TV and have watched everything he has done. It is because it is not simply cookery but science and art combined. He talks about food experiences in terms of memories that they evoke not just the taste. He pursues ideas on the transformation of food in the same way many makers and tech geeks combine things just to see what will happen. There is a lot of snobbery and pretentiousness in food and drink, yet somehow for me he cuts through that with that youthful enthusiasm and passion, making the complex simple.
I am not going to attempt to be a “food critic”, I was there and in the zone enjoying and absorbing it all, like all wonderful experiences there will be bits and pieces of meal that will surface in memories over time. There were at least 14 courses over the space of the 5 hours we were there which is a little above the brains 7 +-2 things to retain in short term memory!
The evening started with a wine list experience that was such a weighty tomb it looked like a spell book from Harry Potter. I was driving and have decided not to drink at least until after my Choi Kwang Do black belt grading, but I still enjoyed watching the choosing experiences. I also was very impressed with the depth of knowledge and detail the sommelier had. Thousands of bottles of wine and he almost knew the GPS coordinates of the individual grapes by heart. It is not a cheap night of food but the wine prices put anyone thinking they are a bit flash back in their place. The most expensive was £8000. That was not one for our table!
I had a fruit juice to drink but the process to create it and the addition of Chamomile to the blood peach extract that was not squeezed but teased from the fruit over several hours was an instant eye and taste bud opener. Yet it was rather nice!
The menu does a explain a little of what follows but does not indicate the depth of attention detail and distilling down of flavours and textures that just keep coming throughout the experience. It isn’t supposed to be a meal, it is an art gallery or a concert. The day after I am left with ringing taste buds the same way I am left with ringing ears after a really good music gig.

Having an aperitif that is foamed, flavoured egg white that is poached in a vat of steaming liquid nitrogen at your table is not only fun but amazing science in action. The resultant spoonful had already got me interested and fascinated. It was the start of a theme of textures and transformations. The poached meringue had a solid structure, yet melted and almost evaporated as you put it in your mouth.
There were a number of things that on stopping and admiring the work it was amazing how things had not just crumbled, melted or shifted on the plate. Or jelly like layers that were incredibly rich reductions that a tiny taste of filled your mouth with flavour.
The Mad Hatter’s tea party presents you with a gold watch style tea bad. The watch and its gold leaf dissolves in the the clear tea put releasing a rich stock. It is fancy Bisto, but the mechanics are fascinating.
The Hot & iced tea just before the main dessert was a trick that uses unusual ingredients to create a very strange effect. The glass of tea is presented and you are asked to drink it in the orientation that it is deliver in. As you sip the tea, the left side of your mouth is warm , the right side is cold. It uses a non starch Gel to make an almost runny liquid but one that retains its form so it does not flow into the opposing temperature side. It is rather like floating cream on an irish coffee but not in horizontal layers but vertical ones. Wonderful stuff!
The main dessert was called Botrytis Cinerea and it is where I finally buckled and took a photo. I was trying to not get obsessed with taking snaps of the food. There were people in the restaurant with SLR cameras pointed at each plate that arrives, but you can’t consider that rude or weird in a place that is there be a multi sensory experience. (There is also not specific dress code, just a come as comfortable attitude).
So this dessert

looks like a still life sculpture of a bunch of grapes. It is the name of a fungus that eats into grapes a grey mould. So this dessert looks like grapes that have gone mouldy? Yet this mould in nature has two sides to it. One side destroys but the other called “noble rot” enhances the sweetness of dessert wines. Obviously we were not eating the rot, well I don’t thing we were, but it led to a really amazing dish..
Each of the ‘grapes” was a complex combination or preparation. The large green one had a crisp shell, had runny caramel inside but was also peppered with space dust so crackled as you ate it. Some of the others that looked solid were in fact delicate sorbets and ice creams. The meringue one again was solid to the touch but instantly disappeared in a puff of flavour on the tongue.
Every dish had had elements like that. The tapioca transformed into sand (with microscopic sardines/krill added to it) and the crab/fish flavoured froth of the “sound of the sea”. (This dish comes with a large conch shell with an iPod hidden in it and earphones so you can listen to the sound of the sea whilst you eat your way through a beach scene of flotsam and jetsam)
It wasn’t all “tricks” though. The main course was an Anjou Pigeon, delicately cooked so that it had a rich flavour linked to a soft texture.
So yes it was good. we all enjoyed it immensely.
In someways I wish I had not seen the dishes on the TV before so the shock and surprise would have been greater, however in other ways this was like when we went to see BB King in concert. A legend of the blues. I had heard the songs before, even tried playing them but nothing beats the live experience and the event itself after you are already immersed in that world. Rehearsal, practice and simulation are are brilliant but they also need to lead up to the real thing too.

Minecraft mirror worlds

Way back in 2006 when many of us started to use the persistent multi user networked virtual world with self created content (Second Life) in all sort so of place like business and education we thought we were on the cusp of a virtual world revolution. As a metaverse evangelist in a large corporation it was often an uphill struggle to persuade people that communicating in what looked like a game environment was valuable and worthwhile. It is of course valuable and worthwhile but not everyone see that straight away. In fact some people went out of their way to stop virtual environments and the people that supported and pioneered their use. Being a tech evangelist means patiently putting up with the same non arguments and helping people get to the right decision. Some people of course just can’t get past their pride, but you can’t win them all.
For me and my fellow renegades it started small in Second Life

I also captured many of the events over the course that first year in a larger set along with loads of blog posts on eightbar including this my first public post that always brings back a lot of memories of the time and place. It was a risky thing to post (if you are worried about career prospects and job security) to publicly post about something that you know is interesting and important but that is not totally supported.

One of the many ways people came to terms with virtual worlds was in the creation of mirror worlds. We all do it. In a world of infinite digital possibilities we ground ourselves by remaking out home, our office our locale. We have meeting rooms with seats and screens for powerpoint. This is not wrong. As I wrote in 2008 when we had a massive virtual worlds conference in London

It seems we are seeing many more mirror world applications appear once more and generally the builds are in Minecraft. It is interesting Minecraft has all the attributes of more detailed virtual worlds like Second Life and Opensim. It is a persistent virtual environment. It has the 8 bit block look and much less detailed and animated avatars, but it does have a very easy approach to building. You stack blocks. You still have to navigate the 3d space get you first person view in the right place and drop a block. (Many of the objects in 2006 were from people who felt they could not navigate 3d space easily something I think that has started to melt away as an objection). The relative resolution of a build in minecraft is low, you are not building with pixels but with large textured blocks. This does have a great levelling effect though. The richer environments require some other 3d and texturing skills to make things that look good. Minecraft is often compared to Lego. In Lego you can make very clever constructions but they still look like Lego. This becomes much less of an visual design challenge for those people less skilled in that art. A reduced pallet and single block type means not having to understand how to twist graphic primitives, upload textures and consider lighting maps etc. It is a very direct and instant medium. Minecraft has blocks that act as switches and wires that allows the creation of devices that react, but it does not have the feature that I used the most in Second Life and Opensim of being able to write code in the objects. There are ways to write code for Minecraft mods but it is not as instant as the sort of code scripts in objects in more advance virtual environments.Those scripts alter the world, respond to it push data to the outside and pull it back to the inside. It allows for a more blended interaction with the rest of the physical and digital world. Preserving state, creating user interfaces etc. It is all stuff that can be done with toolsets like Unity3d and Unreal Engine etc, but those are full dev environments. Scripting is an important element unless you are just creating a static exhibit for people to interact in. Minecraft also lack many of the human to human communication channels. It does not have voice chat by default though it is side loaded in some platforms. It has text chat but it is very console based and not accessible to many people. The social virtual worlds thrive on not just positional communication (as in Minecraft you can stand near something or someone) but on other verbal and non verbal communication.
The popularity of Minecraft has led to some institutions using it to create or wish to create mirror worlds. Already there was the the Ordanance Survey UK creation which “is believed to be the biggest Minecraft map made using real-world geographic data.” (Claiming firsts for things was a big thing back in 2006/7 for virtual worlds). It has just been updated to include houses not just terrain. By houses though this is not a full recreation of your house to walk into but a block showing its position and boundary. This map uses 83 billion blocks each at showing 25m of the UK, according to a story by the BBC
The BBC also reported this week on the British Museum looking at recreating all its exhibits and its buildings in Minecraft. This is an unusual approach to their exhibits. It will be an interesting build and they are asking the public to help. So once again Minecraft’s simplicity and accessibility will allow anyone to create the artefacts. It will, however, create a very low rez low texture experience. So it is a mirror world, in that it will be like the museum but it is more of a model village approach. You admire the talent to make it in the medium. It seems more of an art project than a virtual world project. It is all good though 🙂
The BBC seem to be on a Minecraft vibe just as they were on a Second Life Vibe back in the last wave. Paul Mason and BBC Newsnight came and did a piece with me and the team of fellow Virtual World pioneers in 2007 We were starting to establish a major sub culture in the corporate world of innovators and explorers looking into who we could use virtual worlds and how it felt. Counter culture of this nature in a corporate is not always popular. I have written this before but the day we filmed this for the BBC in the morning I had my yearly appraisal. My management line we not keen on virtual worlds not the success so gave me the lowest rating they could. I went straight for that (which is very annoying and disheartening) into an interview with Paul on camera. Sometimes you just have to put up with misguided people trying to derail you, other times you just get out of the situation and go do it elsewhere.
Anyway, Minecraft offers a great deal, it does allow mirror worlds, though it does allow for an other worldy approach. Most blocks do not obey gravity. You can build up and then a platform out with no supporting structure, you can dig tunnels and underground (the point of the mine in Minecraft and not worry about collapsing. You still have real world up and down left and right though. Most virtual worlds do this. Disney Infinity, Project Spark, Second Life, Opensim and the new Hi-Fidelity etc are all still avatars and islands at their core. People might mess with the scale of things and the size, size as the OS map or the Hard Drive machines and Guitars mentioned in this BBC piece on spectacular builds.
I feel we have another step to take in how we interact at distance or over time with others. Persistent virtual worlds allow us to either be in them, or even better to actually be them. My analogy here is that I could invite you to my mind and my thoughts, represented in a virtual environment. It may not be that those things are actual mirrors of the real world, they might be concepts and ideas represented in all sorts of ways. It may not mean gravity and ground need to exists. We are not going to get to this until we have all been through mirror work and virtual world experiences. That is the foundation of understanding.

Not all avatars and islands? from Ian Hughes

Whilst many people got the virtual worlds of Second Life et al back in 2006 we were only continuing the ground preparation of all the other virtual world pioneers before. Minecraft is the first experience to really lay the foundations (all very serious it is fun to play with too!). These simple 8 bit style virtual bricks are the training ground for the next wave of virtual worlds, user generated content and our experiences of one another ideas. They may be mirror worlds, they have great value. There is no point me building an esoteric hospital experience when we need to have real examples to train on. However there is a point to having a stylised galleon floating in space as a theme for our group counselling experience we created.
The test for the naysayers of “it looks like a game” is really dying off now it seems. It will instead be it does’t look like the right sort of game. This is progress and I still get a rush when I see people understand the potential we have to connect and communicate in business, art, education or just good old entertainment. We could all sit and scoff as say yeah we’ve done that already, yes we know that etc. I am less worried about that, there might be a little voice in me saying I told you so, or wow how wrong were you to try and put a stop to this you muppets, but it is a very quiet voice. I want every one to feel the rush of potential that I felt when it clicked for me, whatever their attitude was before. So bring it on 🙂

Forza Horizon 2 – Demo looking great

The predlets and I are fans of car driving games. Both of them much preferred the original Forza Horizon to regular Forza track driving. Horizon was free roaming, choosing where to go and what to do and giving you the ability to just go for a drive and listen to some tunes. Forza Horizon 2 (the Xbox One version) has just released as a demo and a digital download preorder. It was probably the first game where the predlets and I had sat an watched the inter together and all gone ooooh and ahhhh at the wonderful imagery.
Forza 5 was and is a great car game though felt a little cut down compared to the tracks available on the 360 in Forza 4 but I still really enjoy it. Forza Horizon 2 build not that engine and brings all sorts of changes including weather, a lot of weather. The demo does show a little of that. It also shows true free roam. There are not rock solid wooden fences. If you can break it with a car, you can drive through it. It leaves tracks across the fields and bushes as you hurtle around.
The demo provides a small (thats a relative term as it is a pretty big area) part of Italy to drive around and experience some races and challenges.
I made this little video of some of the fun I had in the demo

The major event is one where you race the italian version of the red arrows in a point to point race. A very impressive, yet subtle element, is as the jets zoom at you or around you you feel it in the rumble pack feedback. With the music and the speed and the awesome visuals it is a brilliant set piece.
You can of course just noon the car around and the Lancer I picked seemed happy to burn doughnuts into the tarmac.
Finally in the video is the hurtling across country. The physics and the rush feel great. The shadow of the airborne car pre barrel roll is again subtle and fantastically done.
It looks as if we will have drivatars in one player free roam, but also we have multiplayer free roam where the entire environment becomes the lobby where you choose to joint races and events or just go for a drive. I found myself and a couple of other people choosing to have an impromptu race and chase. Not an organised event, no automation of the outcome, just going for a blast around the town on the coast.
It’s only two weeks away, its already downloaded and pre-purchased on my Xbox One and I know we are all going to get a blast out of playing it, albeit taking turns not in split screen.

It’s ok to revisit ideas with new technology – VR, 3D, VW

I think that along with the “that’s always the way we have done things” line that gets thrown about whenever anything new challenges the status quo, the live “but we tried that before and it did not work” is equally dangerous.
I do partially agree that if you keep doing the same thing and get the same outcome you should try something else. The adjustment to something else may be to revisit and gently tweak the approach. If you are through dice and trying to get a double six and failing, you just have to throw them in a different way until you get to the right result to win the game. (Of course chaos theory and dependence on initial start conditions in a feedback loop means you always are with every throw but that’s another story).
At the weekend we visited the Milestones Museum in Basingstoke. It is just around the corner but we had not been. It is a giant hangar with a huge recreation of 1900’s and 1930’s streets and then some 50’s,60’s,60’s and 80’s artefacts too.
One thing that stuck me in the camera shop exhibit was this.

It is two lenses looking at two similar photos that gives a great stereoscopic effect. Now 3d photography and the concept of a picture for each eye has been around for a very very long time. This is a plastic construction probably from the 60’s. As kids I know lots of us had the iconic View-master to view 3d content. I distinctly remember the Superman 12 page comic that I had. I can still picture the images in my head.

View-Master Model G.jpg
View-Master Model G” by ThePassengerOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

These devices let us see worlds, to engage with ideas albeit with an extra dollop of imagination.
These toys and tricks went out of favour and we headed into the digital age. We had a bit of a revisit of 3D with Tv’s and movies but they miss one crucial element. The old still 3d like View-master was like hint of reality, a story, a reading of a book. Films instead were a large amount of information, story and engagement. They were locked into the screen you were focussed on. It is an art form based on a framed window.
Video games started, and continue to occupy that framed space but in amongst the platformers and the puzzle games we have found 3d virtual worlds. Spaces that we decide how to navigate through, from gun toting first person shooters to free roaming driving simulators. Each of theses tends to have the activity, shooting, driving etc as one aspect to control and the camera or view as another. Some of these worlds thrive on users coming together in these worlds and building or working together. They connect us as humans, proxies by a digital environment over great distances. It is why Microsoft are looking to buy Mojang, the creators of Minecraft for $2 billion, the virtual world is of value, the interaction is of value.
Now, we did have a virtual reality revolution back in the 80’s and one before that, headsets feeding our eyes two distinct images of environments, once that we could control by turning out head and looking. What we did not have then is the lightweight high end screens (as we see in smartphones), heavily commercialised location and orientation based technology (again as we see in smart phones) and a population who understands and wants to navigate in 3d space and metaverses (most kids will have played Minecraft or seen Minecraft and wanted to play or similar). So it makes a great deal of sense for us to now have the rise of the headset and of Virtual Reality to blend into these other advances of technology. The Oculus Rift, Morpheus et al.
Yes they get in the way of interacting with the physical world, but they give huge advantages in the virtual world adding to the sense of presence.
So if people say look we did 3d or look we did VR and it didn’t work last time then they are missing the fact that we are not just rolling the dice differently. We have a new set of dice, this with a design, conceived and created in a virtual world and printed to perfection. We may not roll a double six straight away but when we do we win a much bigger game.
We may look on this period in time as a clunky use of tech, but we may also loo on this with a curious fondness and a charm that leads us on to better things.
This example being the laughing sailor, you put your money in and it laughs, puppetry and animatronics at a very basic level but something endearing about it?

Fantastic use of 3d printing – we need more of this!

Thankyou to @marleyman007 for pinging me this link on twitter it. It made me feel really happy to two reasons.
The first is very obvious. 3D printing making a positive impact, but in a fun and unusual way on peoples lives.
3d Printed Wolverine Hand
(Photo By Aaron Brown creator of the print)
Based on idea from an organisation called e-NABLE where a network of people interested in 3d printing and in making a difference are designing and 3d printing prosthetic hands for kids, he created this super hero hand based on Wolverine. Now that has to make you get a little buzz of excitement and joy and will surely help people see the 3d printing revolution and suddenly realise its potential.
The other reason this made me smile and somewhat energised is the loop that has now come full circle. As you know I like to share ideas. A few years back in 2010 my friend Scotty aka @starbase37 set up a meeting with John Marley (@marleyman007) and I to talk about tech. John was starting with a pitch for the TV show The Cool Stuff Collective. Scotty had pinter him to my blog as a way of finding out new stuff. That meeting led to John asking me to not just help research but to present on The Cool Stuff Collective as Super g33k 🙂 The one the first two shows we recorded featured 3d printing.
It was September 4th 2010 that I wrote about that. (Is it really 4 years ago!). Now this blog post features something that John has sent to me over Twitter :).
We revisited 3d printing in series 3 too with the reprap. I am very proud we were able to show 7-12 year olds 3d printing on the TV 4 years ago. Image that! some of them are now approaching A-Levels.
The last thing I said on the last show in a round up was that I really hoped that we would get technology properly taught in schools, to allow kids to be able to make and create with tech not just use. That is certainly heading the right direction despite all the arguments about whether coding is coding for codings sake etc. The BBC have new assets and a plan to involved computing more in various programmes including Nina and the Nuerons which is a great place for it to be represented on Cbeebies.
Meanwhile in the past 4 years there has been a massive change in how kids engage with tv and media content. Many of them are self broadcasting things such as gameplay on Twitch.tv or spending a lot of time watching minecraft videos from Stampylonghead

He and his fellow casters have created a style of commentary on games that is about fun and exploration. It has certainly led to the predlets spending a lot of time talking and explaining what they are doing whilst they play, usually with a silly voice and lots of screams and whoops.
I do get asked why there are no more Cool Stuff Collective shows. It is something that would be great to do again. There is more new tech than ever that is accessible to young and old alike. There is room to find things that can be shared, but that can also be used in school and at home. Whether the regular TV format for kids tv is suffering a demise, or if it is just morphing into a more shared online experience is hard to tell. I have an image in my head of a show that truly crosses the borders. I recently added this comment to a thread on Facebook about the coding or not argument and the relevance of TV
” Imagine the show being a catchup on a massive open source application gathering. Live hackathons with audience participation. Bringing everyone into the “project” designers, writers, coders , testers, art and science mixed. Live touch points across the web, assets to share and update. Voting features and project aims up and down.
Take all that stuff tv does for no reason like xfactor votes and direct it to mass creation. It does not just have to focus on code. It could be awesome.”
There is certainly content to be shared, in a different way to the excellent Gadget Show or other Gadget/science programmes. A merging of live and online interaction, even thread of storyline created through synchronous and asynchronous audience participation.
So whilst I get teary eyed (in a good way) looking back at Cool Stuff Collective, where I had some of the best times ever and most fun “working”, I am still very proud of what we covered but I know we (or someone) could cover the new things in a new way. The thing with kids TV is that you have an impact on a cohort and then they move on. If we can reach this current batch of 7-11 year olds and support and inspire them to understand and build with technology then we have a great future ahead of us. For now I will try and catch things here and also longer explanations of the world of tech and evolutions in Flush Magazine and occasionally look at the old footage in the showreel and smile 🙂