Computers getting smarter?

It’s time to share another edition of the Flush the Fashion magazine and this time I have written an article inspired by the apparent passing of the Turing test a few weeks ago. As with all my articles it is just a starting point and a look at some of achievements and current state of the art created by the company I worked at for 20 years IBM. Deep Blue and Watson. The article is titled “R U Intelligent like what I am?”, it finished with a bit about Timeless Decision Theory and Newcombe’s Paradox so it is probably the freakiest article yet πŸ™‚
Huge thanks once again to @tweetthefashion for another very full and exciting edition of the magazine and the really great layout and pictures to go with my words.
A direct link to the article is here
It’s on page 125 πŸ™‚


There is also the iOS version and a google version linked here
I hope you enjoy it, and the magazine. It’s great fun to write like this, and there always seems a subject to get into and explore making itself appear through serendipity.

In the night garden

Our garden at home was experiencing some odd activity. The predlets had planted some spinach and some corn and carrots. One morning the spinach was looking a little flattened. The predlets then started an investigation. It was a bit like CSI Basingstoke. They found (and photographed) what they thought was evidence of an animal. So the hunt is now on.
Having watched lots of wildlife shows I wondered how easy it was to get an outdoors camera with an infra-red trip. I had never bothered looking before as I assumed these were quite uncommon. It turns out trail cameras are very prevalent πŸ™‚
So I bought one.

This LtL-6210M has all sorts of interesting features.
It has a zero visible light LED flash to enable the night camera to work, it has side sensors to get the camera ready and waking up before something moved in front of the lens. It can take stills up to 12Mp! and HD video too.
It has lots of timer settings and also is able to just do time lapse shots.
Apparently it can last 12 weeks on its 8 AA batteries which is pretty amazing too.
In the base is a small screen and control set so it can be operated and used without needing to take the SD card out of the machine.
So we set it up overlooking the veg patch last night. I had run it during the day to see if it worked at all, and it spotted us in the garden.
At around 9pm when it was dark I popped down to see if it was still working.
It did catch me approaching it

However, I am thinking my checking may have meant that turned it off or reset it as this was the last picture it took πŸ™‚
So I think I need to do a few more experiments before I become wildlife photographer of the year!
Still, these things all take time, but it is a cool bit of kit to try out. What we really need it a weather proof Kinect 2.0 ?

Elite Dangerous Beta – #like

Back in the mid 80’s a game arrived, initially only on the BBC micro computers, that anyone I knew who was a gamer was very much into. That was Elite. It marked a departure from the arcade style side scrolling platform games and gave us the freedom to fly a spaceship in a massive galaxy. Everything was a line drawing, vector graphic style. That did not matter as the feel of the game and the spirit of it captured our collective imagination. It was 10 years on from having seen the epic space dogfighting in Star Wars. Now we had the chance to engage in space battles and roam the galaxy from our own bedrooms.
A key element was trading, that got you cash to kit up your ship. You had to play the supply and demand correctly. Buying goods cheap and selling them for a better price to make a profit (after taking expenses like fuel into consideration).
Before you could trade though you had to dock with the various space stations across the galaxy. These spinning objects with the look of a D&D dice were key. They rotated slowly around the axis that led to their entry port. You had to match you speed and rotation to try and get through the airlock. Many a ship was lost smashing into the station, over compensating or rotating the wrong way. If you made it though and made enough money you could buy a docking computer. This did the job and on my C64 version is played the Blue Danube as we were slowly lined up to dock.
Elite
Key to all this though was the fighting, the cat and mouse of 3d space battles. Leading the target as you pull a tight turn and let loos with the lasers. The more of this that you did the higher your ranking from mostly harmless up to Elite. The iconic scanner telling you the height and position of the other ships relative to you has been much copied since.
We are now in a era where the best copy of all is being made. Elite Dangerous is the full 21st century remake of the game. It was also funded in the new 21st century way of crowd funding. The Kickstarter campaign raised an awful lot of money and enabled David Braben and his company to get building this new epic free roamer. As a backer as a sufficient level you get access to play the alphas and the betas of the game. This early access is of course helping the company out aswell as making the backers feel special and part of something. A brand and fan base for a game like Elite is made up of people my age. It is obviously a game that we all played 30 years ago.
I have of course been playing it, and also giving it a go on Oculus Rift, though I am waiting on my DK2 to play it properly with the headset.
It is most certainly Elite. It feels like it did back then. Though it looks very different. Of course we no longer have simple vector graphics, we have fully rendered ships and stations with intricate detail. Planets and a stars, moons, and space phenomena that add to the atmosphere.

Docking has a whole extra experience. You still have to navigate through the rotating airlocks, but you actually end up in the station and have to find your allocated docking back and perform a gently landing manoeuvre to engage with the star port services.

I had been playing using a 360 style joypad as I generally use those on console games so figured it would be better than the keyboard. It turned out that things got a little tricky. So I bought F.L.Y5 fancy stick and throttle. When I did that the game got way better, felt even more immersive. I had not used a stick like that for many years. I used to play Combat Flight Sim 2 over dialup modems in the late 90’s with a force feedback sidewinder. I should have remembered how awesome that felt sooner!

I am playing on a mid to high range windows laptop (the Mac version will not be for a while yet) but it’s flying pretty well.
With the stick I managed to get docked more accurately and quickly, even won a few more of the training scenarios (which had proved tricky).
What has been great though is just entering the online universe. There are obviously other people there, but you can also just go about your business and travel around the systems that are open for the beta doing you thing.
I did get involved in an NPC space dogfight, it was going on for a 15 mins or so. I felt I was just about to win when I was joined by what I think was another human player. They spotted my cargo and my lack of health after the long battle and set upon me. I had to try and flee. The tension as the hyperdrive powers up and the 5 second countdown, whilst under intense fire trying to shake the attacker was really exciting. I made it out of the system and got repaired. The free form exploring and trading had made the galaxy already feel like a place. I tweeted I felt like I had been somewhere. This is a key element of a virtual world, of a metaverse.
It is great to be speeding along and take a look out of your cockpit window

Of course Elite has competition, Star Citizen a massively funder space drama from the creator of Wing Commander (which was inspired by Elite), and the immensely impressive looking No Man’s Sky.
The latter is, like Elite, procedurally generated, though it has the richness of visit the planets, seeing other life forms evolving. It’s a different game but is going to be a free roaming space epic too.
I think there is room for all of them. This is a genre seeing a real next generation push.
Back to the beta, being a beta it will crash and have the odd problem but it has been very stable for me. The only problem I had was when there was a ship parked in my docking bay. I double checked the numbers and it was my bay and it was not shifting. I couldn’t tell if it was a bug or a simulation of a lack of admin efficient at the base.

I can tell you that in my frustration suggesting a ship move with a small burst of laser fire at the badly parked ship does indeed lead to a rapid response from the authorities, thats another ship lost then!
I flew a few trade missions and made a little bit of cash and noticed I could buys docking computer. I was not overly surprised, but very happy when I engaged that whilst heading to a star port and in kicked the Blue Danube again. Not an 8-bit rendition of course, but a fully realised orchestral recoding.
Elite Dangerous is Elite, fully coloured in and with other people in there with you. It is looking very promising and I am enjoying learning the ropes again.
I should also add that the predlets were fascinated too. Just as when I started playing minecraft they were looking over my shoulder. Predlet 2.0 took to the stars and go into his first dogfight. It is not obvious how to bank, turn and yaw in space, it may be easier to learn planes first. However he did get a few good shots in before getting got. They have also seen it sat in the cockpit wearing the original Oculus Rift and were amazed at that too. So this is not just us old gamers yearning for the past. This is exciting stuff for all of us.
See you in space, look for Commander Epredator πŸ™‚

Destiny Beta

We are in interesting times for developers. A beta is no longer just a working prototype. Instead it has to be a workable, playable, usable experience. The aim of a beta now is to stress test network code, to examine mass user player statistics and to get the people who want to play your game to help build it.
Bungie made a big splash the last few weeks with their Destiny beta. Initially you had to buy into the beta by preordering. That gave you access to test. So… based on the reputation of the developer (of Halo) you could get an access code to download and join in a mass test if you promised, or actually bought it.
I was interested, but I was not so interested in having to pre-order a physical copy in order to access it. Xbox One does not have digital pre-orders yet. I was happy to see the beta just turn up anyway though. In this case it was for Xbox Live Subscribers. So obviously they needed more people.
It was, I have to say, very good. It had a slick next gen feel to it, but it was also very “metaversey”.
The initial mission of this RPG FPS had you run around and shoot a few things, but before long you were in the lobby/hub/base. I gounf it very amusing as the little unity3d project we have been doing has a room and a table and window out into space, and I was also surprised a relatively serious RPG had dancing mapped to the dpad. There were a few comms gestures.
It was possible to shout Xbox Record That and then edit it up in Upload studio and sent it to onedrive, of which this link should work.
====Update
Here is the youtube embed which is much more friendly to use

I did not record any of the shooting or coop play as that often looks similar across games. I was interested in the virtual world aspects. Could I have green hair ? why yes I could πŸ™‚
It was great ti drop into 3 player team coop and spending 20 minutes reviving one another as we tried to take out a monster spider machine. It was just a shame it crashed just as we did.
That of course is the price of beta testing, you can’t moan, you can only think that your presence and activity has helped make it just a little bit better.
It certainly left me wanting more so roll on 9/9/14 πŸ™‚

It does what? Vessyl – Knows what is in your drink?

It is getting really difficult, even as an future tech specialist, to separate science fact and science fiction sometimes. Some of the devices that have appeared the past few years seemed unlikely only a decade ago. Not impossible, I try to avoid thinking anything is, but unlikely to be in everyones hands at a reasonable price. Today I saw an link to this Vessyl. It has a name that has its clever internet spelling as we have seen since Flickr and alike. Vessyl is a container to drink out of. It is selling as a pre-order of just $99. Thats a lot for a stylish designed mug for your coffee.
However, it is claiming, and this is where I feel a little skeptical, that you can pour any drink into it. It will detect everything about that drink from the amount of caffeine, to the calories, the type of drink and even some brand names?
The idea being it will track your hydration, talk to your smartphone and generally be a good admin assistant to your personal wellbeing.
If this is actually true, then it is brilliant. $99 for general purpose deep sensing and network capability, plus something to hold your coffee?
If it is not true then it is also brilliant. The production values of the video, the cool chic nature of the product visualisations and the website, and the product name are great.
If its a scam to get $99 out of people, well then the internet is obviously an evil place and we should all not use it πŸ˜‰
I feel I want to order one to just support such a clever fabrication of a product and company, if that what it is. Like supporting a clever artist. I fell I want to order one because it might work and hence be fascinating to explore. I don’t see what they are focussing on selling us drinks containers when that have apparently got sensors that could probably with the “tricorder” x-prize though.

I look forward to watching the reveal either way.

Lost archive returns – Opensim

A few years back (April 2011 !) amongst the many other things I got to bring to kids TV I did a piece on virtual worlds and in particular Opensim. None of the shows clips are on the web any more, which is a pity as they are still useful resources in explaining things. I found a rare lost archive of my Opensim piece with Sy Thomas . So I thought I would pop it onto youtube (I hope I am not in breach of any copyright!) as a flavour of the sort of thing we put on 39 shows on Saturday morning kids tv on ITV.
Opensim is still very much alive and well and available, virtual worlds like Minecraft do very similar things. I would have done a follow up on Minecraft anyway. Equally now we have the rise of the Virtual Reality headset and immersive 3d environments are having their 3rd or 4th renaissance. Of course in this I point out that 3d creative environments are also distribution platforms for 3d printing and manufacturing.

Archie Productions (who made Cool Stuff Collective) latest fantastic film about the Lancaster Bomber airs this weekend on 21:30 on BBC2 Britain’s Flying Past So check that out too πŸ™‚

Kinect 2.0 and Choi Kwang Do

My kinect 2.0 arrived this afternoon so I got straight to trying it out. The previous Kinect was less able to cope with shoulders and some of the subtle extra s of joints.
The new Kinect 2.0 seems to be able to cope much better. Though maybe not with the speed of a martial art like Choi Kwang Do.
However, with the basics of form it is doing a very good job just in the Kinect Studio. This enables developers to turn on and off features. As I was using this out of the box it may well be doing more than it needed to do. e.g. just focusing on the skeleton might be smoother than dealing with all the point cloud data and and the ghost image.
The studio has the same thing I tried in my previous example of being able to change the view form front to side to top. The video shows this in this order. The side view is about 40 seconds in and I think is the most useful in terms of technique. We often train with mirrors or looking at another person but seldom see side on unless it is recorded and played back. This is a live mirror from the side view πŸ™‚
I seem to confuse it with a twisting kick too πŸ™‚

Now to look at specific code and trying to match movements to a reference move. Spotting the weight transfer etc.
Still it looks like this might be another step forward to another helpful tool for training.
Lets see how this goes. I have not seen if there is a unity3d plugin yet but thats next on the list.

A new wave of tech

The next few months is going to see an interest second wave of technology that I am very interested in.
The first is the Windows version of Kinect 2.0. This is the consumer packaged full body sensor that uses the same base as with the Xbox One. The original Kinect from the Xbox 360 was just a USB device so had the maker and hacker community exploring how it use it on regular machines before the official Windows development version arrived. When the Xbox One launched it’s Kinect 2.0 cmd with a completely different plug, making it impractical to explore. The Xbox One was slated to be a development machine for all (consoles at the moment have specific machine models for developers and a different one for consumers). This development kit has not been forthcoming (it may or may not turn up later). All this means I could not continue the work I wanted to do with the kinect for Choi Kwang Do.
v2-sensor-front
The new Kinect sensor stye body better and in particular shoulders, and also weight transfer. So I have had to pre-order a Kinect 2.0 for Windows. It is due in September. I am hoping it will all work with Unity3d again!
I have applied to id@xbox the developer scheme but a one person company working on a non game related piece of work on the fringes of the games industry probably didn’t flag up as a priority πŸ™‚
Talking of Unity3d, it’s 4.6 patch is rapidly approaching. This upgrade will feature the much needed GUI changes. I love Unity3d development but anything with buttons or sliders and GUI layouts is so incredibly awkward it is hard to see how we get anything working. The new GUI system is going to treat GUI objects just like any other object. They will appear on the scene during development. At the moment GUI objects only show up when you run, making getting things lined up and working a bit of a black art. This also sets us up for Unity3d 5.0 a major new release. Lets just hope all my code still works !

The third big piece of kit is the Oculus Rift DK2 (Development Kit 2).
camera_dk2
Now owned by Facebook but still approaching construction in the same way the original Kickstarter did. This is really exciting as the first Oculus Rift was and is still a liberating experience. With DK2 the resolution of the screens is much higher now a 960×1080 per eye. It also comes with an additional relative position sensor. One that can, like Kinect, see where the headset is in the space in front of it. It is fully supported by a Unity3d library too (as with the previous version) It is not the only VR headset heading to the market but it is the one you can get your hands and eyes on.

The pen is mightier than the sword…

…. particularly when you you can make a sword with the pen!
This week I had a small broadband outage when the cables got cut during some engineering work down the road. I took the opportunity to escape the current project and popped to Maplin to stock up on some bits and pieces.
Whilst there I saw they had the 3dDoodler pen in stock. I had very nearly Kickstarter backed this one but missed the deadline. So I thought it was high time to get get one and try.

It is the same principle as a 3d printer, but instead of stepper motors it is controlled by hand.
The pen has a very hot tip, through that is pushed a thing plastic rod that melts . As the plastic melts it is soft and can be piped around and then hardens very quickly.
My first attempts with it we note great.

However I checked out the gallery and saw that many of the builds were in fact done by making the various component faces then using the doodler to stuck them together.
Rather than make a giant structure I thought I would try the company logo. Feeding Edge as a logo has existing in many forms form its early draft on a in game skateboard tshirt to virtual world instantiations and decals on cars. So a 3d doodle of the logo was worth try.
It works really well to print out a stencil and draw around it, which is what I did, the paper does not burn, it cools the plastic and the model does not stick.
I know it’s July and this looks like a christmas tree ornament but it was fun to do.


I also tried a Dodecahedron but I think I lost the a piece, however it is a 3d structure.

So I would say it does what it says. It lets you doodle in space. The 2 speed settings of ejecting the plastic and the freedom of movement give this a very craft maker feel. Working out how and where to solder joins of elements or how to break something down into flatter faces is an interesting thought process.
The predlets asked if I could do the Choi Kwang Do logo. That may take a bit of work but may give it a go. Though I thing it then needs to be sealed in a casing afterwards.
The smell of burning plastic was probably not the ideal odour for out new kitchen but us early adopters have to suffer for our art πŸ™‚
In a twist of serendipity I was invited to the twitter UK offices by @andypiper when I was in London yesterday. Amongst their cool installations there was this neon sign.

The sentiment is one I agree with and many more firms should aim for this. However it did get me thinking I wonder if there is glow in the dark meltable ABC plastic I can out in the 3d doodler. Rather than the stained glass leading window effect of my logo I could have a neon style glow in the dark one πŸ™‚

It’s #CreateUK week

This week sees an interesting government initiated week to celebrate creativity in the UK and today (monday) is focussed on the Games industry (and presumably the slightly off centre elements of the games industry that I inhabit πŸ™‚
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DMCS) are promoting this and it it has a suitably live hashtag social media aspect to it.
The official link is here
“The UK’s Creative Industries generate a staggering Β£8 million per hour for the UK economy and continues to go from strength-to-strength.”
That is pretty impressive isn’t it.
Our little project for a far away land goes live today with some 8 year school kids. It has been an interesting process, being research we have to adjust to requirements changing and to the creative process.
I wrote about it a few weeks ago, to show the sort of scope. Still can’t do screen shots as its secret. Here though it s bait of the development environment, a state machine for animation and some of the exposed parameters for the main game control object
Dev env
Mixing a virtual environment for multiple users, with a teacher in charge and also adding a completely different style of interaction with additional 2.5d side scrolling jetpack games has been a challenge.
As usual a small 3 person project needs lots of cross role work. Being tech support for the build etc and being tech design and tech code each required a time consuming mental context switch. You know at any moment you may have to swap roles, stop what you are doing to fix something. I have learned a lot on this project though. Learning is the fun part after all.
Anyway, join in with #createuk, and check out what @DCMS are doing. Making games and games related tech is hard work but worth it. Of course most of what I do is hidden as its code (wishing I was a graphic designer) but then equally most of what I do is hidden (glad I am not a graphic designer) πŸ™‚ It is all still very creative and requires leaps of faith to get things to work sometimes.
Right back to go live day then !