Sunday, August 2, 2009

Help, I'm roleplaying with kids

Today I was viciously abducted by two 10 year old boys and a mum and forced to explain role playing and lead a game, or as I like to call it: uhh, this is kind of complex, quick! make something up before they sense your fear.

What's 'role playing'? Acting, playing 'Let's pretend', an active way to watch movies and read books, Saving the world with your friends. It's like a computer game without the computer. or cops n' robbers with dice and paper.

What do you do? Make up a 'character' to pretend to be, and take turns doing stuff. Usually there's one person who plays all the other people in the game world and keeps the story rolling, but if they're experienced they can do both at once. This lets them demonstrate the gameplay too.

name: original, copyrighted, David Hasslehoff, ninja playboy, whatever
picture: draw or pick one
stats: Strength, Speed, Intelligence, Charisma.. I set a maximum at 20
good at: Sneaking, Pickpocketing, Climbing, Jumping, Shootin, Swearin, Making people's heads explode with the power of your mind. My favourite on the night was 'Michael Jackson Dance Move to Impress Girls'.

Map: draw one! very fun for adults and kids alike. Be careful not to make any mazes too hard. We wound up with "2 Volcano Island", which is in a group of islands with undersea tunnels between them, pirate ships, trampolines that fire you across the map, and a Girlfriend to rescue in an underground maze with lava, traps, doors, plenty of deadends and a river with boats on it. Thankfully, some of the way is marked with road signs.

I let the kids have a free rein making up skills for their characters and features on the map. It started off as a Medieval setting, but guns and other modern things crept in. I felt it was better for them to exercise their imaginations than adhere to canon.. and besides, I should have enough imagination to make it challenging enough to be fun. I reminded them that usually each character is good at some things and bad at others, making for more fun working as a team.

We had a lazy play test and had a fun time. Bad guys were shot at and whacked in the nuts, we pioneered 'Embarrassment Damage' for when you screw up in front of witnesses, the river was frozen and I 'won' the game with some kind of teleporting flying car. Wheeee O_o

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Urban farms as Swine Flu factories?

A comment on the 'Dragonfly' urban skyscraper farm:

Like the urban farms that grew Avian and Swine Flu, this would be a concentrated petri dish for virii to mutate in. Thankfully, it would be a lot easier to isolate and destroy a rogue virus inside one of these buildings than on a bunch of scattered farms with no testing regimen - _if_ they have competent testing. It would be very embarrassing to grow the next lethal virus right inside the New York city limits.

What I wouldn't give to see one of these lit up from within by flamethrowers though.. one for our cyberwar future perhaps.

Monday, March 30, 2009

UI for AR?

Google Alerts are like the best little gnomes, they bring you shiny things, hoping that you like them. Things like "Multiuser interaction with handheld projectors". And the Youtube videos they spawned from.

I commented, I like my gnomes that much:

Interesting. That’s perhaps the very first example I’ve seen of real world tasks being performed in an Augmented Reality environment. I share your hesitance over the actual usefulness of projector technology, but I can easily imagine this kind of research being very useful when applied to a Heads Up Display environment - no issues of privacy there. In fact it could be worse - if two people are wearing HUDs and ‘think’ they’re seeing the same view, one of them could have been hacked, etc and could be manipulated into authorising something they wouldn’t otherwise.

I don't think anyone is thinking much about AR and security yet, unless it's the Defcon folks hacking Bluetooth.

moar on the Vuzix 920AVs

Some happily specific details shamelessly scrobbled from some guy who had dinner with the Vuzix and MetaIO folks at GDC09. He said some other things, something about fMRI-driven missile launch systems, I dunno.

* They don’t know exactly what the price will be, but they are expecting it to be less than $500.
* Paul is very confident that the Wrap glasses will ship this year
* The displays are 800×600 in these glasses. That’s a step up from the 640×480 resolution that their other glasses use.
* The two displays are independantly controllable through a variety of methods, but if your software can handle it, you can provide 60Hz to each eye.
* The IMU for the wrap will include accelerometers, gyros, and magnetic sensors, and will provide yaw, pitch, and roll to the software at a very high rate.
* When they are in visual pass-through mode the Wraps will blend a translucent scene over the world. In this mode the brighter a pixel is the more visible it will be to the user. That makes black the transparent color and white the “visible as it gets” color.
* Paul was coy about exactly what the specs on the camera will be. I think they aren’t 100% settled yet. He was very aware of the issues with frame rate on USB cameras, though, so hopefully they will figure out a way to provide a reasonable frame rate (or at least crisp frames.)

So.. it sounds like they're getting better and more expensive all the time, which is ok with me. I guess they want to dominate the market for a while - my advice is to hurry and get that first-mover coolness established. Perhaps they can be the Apple of AR

Today I scared librarians by talking about RFID tags and security; waxed lyrical about AR goggles and made people jealous of my EeePC. It has been a good day.
Now it is a good day with beer in it. \m/
And I was lying about the missiles.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sign language gestural interface

I just posted this in a comment on an article about sending sign language video to handheld devices.

How about a sign language to text interface? It could use the familiar skills of the hearing impaired person to read the gestures (with fingertip markers like MIT’s Sixth Sense, or gloves with accelerometers) and output the text to a display on a T-shirt perhaps. This would allow easy communication with non-sign language proficient ‘normal’ people.

They could just use a keyboard I suppose, but this would use their existing skills and potentially offer a totally hands free interface.

Addendum: I worked at a service station once - 6 hearing impaired people rocked up wanting to buy some food and this one moderately good at speaking guy interpreted for the rest of them. It was hard (especially through the intercom/window). This idea could have been quite handy..

Thursday, March 26, 2009

moar Augmented Reality goggles

There's been some more movement of late in the Augmented Reality/Heads Up Display space.

Vuzix have partnered with AR company MetaIO to market an addon for their VR920 video glasses (the older, Star Trek style, non-transparent ones). The package features a USB camera that clips onto the front middle of the gogs, and a 3-axis accelerometer pointer/wand thingy for poking stuff in AR space. The camera assembly also packs some capacity to sense the users position and orientation - no mention of precisely how it does this, though given that they're prepping another addon for the as-yet unreleased (transparent) Wrap 920AV model that features accelerometers for head-tracking, I assume they're using the same hardware on the VR920 AR upgrade.

Carl-Zeiss have come to the party with a shiny looking pair of video glasses - the 'Cinemizer'. Technology wise, these basically look to be on-par with the un-upgraded Vuzix VR920's. They're non-transparent with extendable earphone arms and feature a screen similar to a 45" tv at 78" distance. Whatever that means in terms of resolution, they're not saying, though apparently it's really really good. They're going to be available in May for US$499. Though for that price you're probably better off waiting for a few months for Vuzix's Wrap 920AV's - they look better, they're transparent so you won't walk into walls and they can actually do Augmented Reality.$File/index.html

In other news, I found a grinder/hacker/whatever. b.zerk is making his own sensor gloves to go with his Vuzix VR920 + Webcam that he hacked up to run with his OS X laptop. Some cool photos on flickr:

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Project Eyeborg is almost complete!

Rob Spence, the Canadian documentary filmmaker who lost his eye in a shooting accident when he was 13 is getting a tiny wireless camera fitted into his prosthetic. It's almost done, they have it working under battery power. The picture of Rob on the site is either incredibly creepy, or incredibly awesome, depending on how much scifi you read as a child. You can guess which way I lean. :)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Face the mirror and say "Skittles" five times and he will come for you...

It seems there's something new and weird happening on Twitter every day now. On Saturday @mpesce bet @stilgherrian $10 he couldn't get 'fisting' into the top trending topics on, and later onto the topics on (2 different algorithms! challenging!). Well, yeah, he could - maybe it had something to do with 3 of @stilgherrian's followers having several thousand followers of their own. Anyway, it was fun to follow the #fisting hashtag and see all the people going "wtf? why are so many ppl talking about fisting?!"
And thus was born the term 'trendfisting', to denote gaming twitter for lulz. It may even last.

On Sunday, Rove mentioned Twitter on his TV show as part of some blather over an article claiming that social networks will rot your brainmeats. So a thousand Australians signed up to Twitter and spoke the immortal words "watching rove".. one after another. It was like 'Invasion of the SassyBodysnatcher_69's'. The fisters were not amused - common folk in our geekish clubhouse, ew.

Today is showing nothing but the page, searching for 'skittles'. This may be a super-ironic and genius ploy to get the internets to maintain their website and marketing campaign for them, but I'm leaning more towards weird and slightly creepy, as in "We can see you.. every time you say 'Skittles' we will know...", like Candyman.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sunday hax0ring with Twitter

I was getting a little tired of just changing my userpic on Twitter automagically every couple of hours, so decided to make one of my pics a composite image of all my 'friends' there - staring back at them as it were. It turns out it's pretty easy to do with a shell script and their open api.

echo "getting friends list:"
curl > cnawans-friendlist.xml

echo "trimming friends list:"
grep "/profile_image_url" cnawans-friendlist.xml >
echo "more trimming"
sed -i 's/<profile_image_url>//g' cnawans-friends-pictures.txt
echo "yet more trimming:"
sed -i 's/<\/profile_image_url>//g' cnawans-friends-pictures.txt

echo "getting friends pictures:"
wget --input-file=cnawans-friends-pictures.txt

echo "averaging pictures:"
convert -average *.jpg cnawans-friends-pictures-averaged.jpg

..and set it as my userpic with a cron job like the others:

curl --header "Expect:" -F
'image=@/home/../cnawans-friends-pictures-averaged.jpg' -u

As it stands, it only uses the jpgs, not the few pngs that are on the list. I might adapt the script to do them all, but the jpgs tend to be photos more often and make the averaged image look more like a spooky face. :)

Saturday, February 28, 2009

How long to make "fisting" the top trending topic on twitter?

About 9 minutes apparently. thx @stilgherrian, no rly.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Dear 'Netvibes', you wanted some feedback as to why I wanted you to delete my account:

You spammed me without asking - I presume I didn't authorise this, seeing as the email account concerned is my fast response/low spam account that I use to have notifications piped to Twitter - not one I like to see great screeds in, telling me how awesome you are.

No option to delete my account on your site, just a generic feedback form with the 'cancel my account' option hidden in a dropdown. It's not 'feedback' or an 'inquiry' - I think I'd call it an 'action'.

After I declined the invitation on the form to specify just why I wanted you to delete my account, you emailed me to tell me you'd delete my account after I had.. wait for it.. told you why I wanted you to delete my account. Do you see a problem here? How about this - I'll email you telling you I've hidden my feedback 'somewhere' on the internet.

Also, I disliked the banner at the top of your site suggesting I make it my homepage and requiring a mouse click to make it go away, or paradoxically for an automatic banner, to remind me later. It's 2009 - I know how to set my homepage and my time is more precious than you seem to think. This bit may seem too minor to complain about and I can see how it could be nice for someone with less technical acumen, but it's not a good fit for me. I'm one of those people who like to take in a lot of information in a short amount of time, someone who likes to use information aggregation services - you know, like yours.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Online crowdsourced translation

I was jumping between videos on Youtube (Jatropha yields 6 times as much usable biofuel precursor oil as soy or corn, AirNZ did a testflight :) when I found a video from a Korean Mushroom grower. It had a voiceover competing with machine noise, but this was spoken by a young woman with.. pretty fluent English, not perfect, but quite good. I found myself thinking 'What if these people and others like them had a good, free(?) translation service online?' Would they be more likely to do business with English speaking customers or business partners? Could the reverse be true?

So here's the idea: Online crowdsourced translation.

Like Wikipedia, it utilises the 'wisdom of the crowds' - not to record all human knowledge, but to enhance language skills and improve communication between different cultures and countries.

It could be free and wiki-based to keep the individual effort needed minimal.
It could have a reputation system, so that prolific, competent translators could be lauded.
It could charge a fee for fast translations, or for privacy (keeping the translation effort within a group of high reputation contributors). If it was to be as charitable as Wikipedia, this money should be channeling towards upkeep and enhancement of the service.

The value proposition for people needing translations is clear - like Wikipedia, they go there for better information. The value proposition for contributors is less clear. Maybe they could go there and perform some minimal effort for charity. I edit Wikipedia for charitable purposes, but I go there initially because I want some information - I want to profit from some of that charity myself.
Perhaps they could do it for monetary reward. Though I think the service would work best if it were at least primarily free. Perhaps if paid, fast, private translations were offered first to those with a high reputation on the site (a reputation gained by first performing free translations)?
They could do it in the expectation that one day they themselves would need a free translation.
They could do it to learn another language better.
They could do it to make friends with people from other cultures (remember, weak social links are powerful).
They could do it to learn what other cultures are interesting in right now.

Throughout this thought experiment I've been thinking not of translating straight from one language to another, but just of improving the spelling and grammar of work already translated by people with less than fluent language skills. The former is more useful (and is already done pretty well by software) - the latter is more amenable to the 'wisdom of the crowds' approach. After all, more people speak a language fluently and can understand less than perfect use of that language than can speak more than one language fluently.

One last thought: This will be a useless service eventually, as software translation gets better. But it could make a nice improvement to international relations and trade in the short term, and could perhaps be adapted in the future to more specific knowledge, such as locally correct spelling and dialectic words (what is the most accurate transation of the New Zealand 'Sweet as, bro' to an audience in California? in Ontario? in St. Petersburg?).

There's certainly a large audience of people who would like a better shop sign for tourists or an international press release, or just to learn another language that little bit better. Markets are global and China and India are growing fast.

A crossposting testpost

Oh why must I have ads on livejournal in order to post by email? ugh.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

point the projector at the mill

Most sustainable living methods, and the communities built using them ('EarthShips' in Taos, New Mexico; World Help Training Center in Macon, GA; ) that I've read of fundamentally depend on the rapid, just-in-time delivery of information to where it is needed - such as: educating people to build a house, grow vegetables, etc.

One of the interesting uses of Augmented Reality in use today is in assisting workers to perform their job well, ie. when they're learning, because if you've absorbed the perfect way to machine that part or test that jet engine, you don't need a learning aid, unless your job is quite varied and complex. This usually involves a Heads Up Display of some kind, or a screen on your arm that displays something helpful (Tab A in Slot B, before inserting worm screw C).

It occurred to me just now that a possible cheaper way to get this same functionality would be to display this relevant information on a screen near the workspace, or perhaps more effectively, by projecting an image of the desired state of the work or procedure to be followed onto the workspace itself. Lathe the piece of steel like this, until it looks like this. I was thinking of this in terms of workspaces that don't move around much and are located indoors.

It probably isn't feasible to do anything less than have the display right up against your eyeball if you're learning how to plant that new crop out in the garden, but it could be cheap and flexible if it were applied to the workspace around one of those interesting bootstrap mills in Africa. Most other hippy, sustainability oriented training could be done with a laptop/smartphone in the room with you. Outside? Maybe an OLPC, or just a podcast.

The Wiki with the sustainability tech-tree needs to be built alongside it.. where are they anyway? The closest I've seen would be Instructables.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Spimey, hackerish thoughts-I blame Bruce Sterling

IR cameras in houses:
Fire detection
Intruder detection
Temperature management (wise house + ventilation, shade)
Presence detection (turn off the light when I leave plz Hal)

That's a lot of theoretical functionality just from some dumb, cheap cameras + some smarts (whether it's a centralised puter, or embedded in each camera module in the classic Spime model)
Webcams alone could do all that bar the temperature sensing..

"The US, much of Western Europe,
Japan, maybe Korea, are already more than capable of producing a house,
car, furniture, appliances, clothing, and food for all of their inhabitants
using capital (though perhaps not resources) that already exists within
their countries."

NZ can do most of those, but not Appliances
RepRap/Arduino appliances?
Is it possible to make most basic appliances from a few basic, open source hardware elements?

Kettles, Food cooker things: Are little more than a heating element + thermometer
Washing machines and electric drills are both based around that olde timey electric motor
Stereos and computers are more specialised, but the Arduino got very cheap and versatile pretty much just by crowdsourcing/open sourcing it's design

If we could make the basic functionality from simple, modular components - and wrap the thing in a 3D printed plastic shell locally - we could remove a dependency on overseas economies, and save money and carbon by minimising the distances they'd need to be transported.

"Jon was asking what kind of nifty designer gizmos I'm into this
season... I'm still interested in the networked commons. A social
invention that enables social inventions.

If markets don't work, and central allocation doesn't work either,
then a commons makes a lot more sense to a lot more people. It gets
easier to fight off the vampire hordes of commercial IP creeps who want
to monetize everything, lock it down with legal barbed-wire, and make
sure the fix stays in. Because they're broke. So why not try
something that's not nailed to collapsing cash-flows?

"Commons-based peer production." That seems to be opening up new
spaces for contemporary thought and action. It might enable new modes
of getting by in tough times.

I find myself impressed that young people, my students, the Internet
natives, they don't seem aware how different the digital commons is
from previous ways of organization. Google, Wikipedia, Craigslist,
Facebook even, they simply think that's how the real world works. It's
like a HERE COMES EVERYBODY where they're already here.

The commons offers ways out of the glum solipsist autarchy of hippie
homesteads and survivalist city-states. If you're gonna "do it
yourself" with a wireless Linux netbook, you're not doing it Robinson
Crusoe style. You've got the collective labor of a couple million guys
there under your arm. This is not a "virtual community" WELL-style.
It's more like a huge, anonymous public infrastructure of aqueducts.
But if you're getting clean free water, why buy that bottled stuff they
marketeers flew in Fiji?

This peer-production stuff used to look very hobbyist and geekish and
rickety. It was hotglue and strapping-tape. It's still not
"mainstreaming," it will likely never have commercial gloss. Still,
it's acquiring some kind of commons-gloss. It looks better, it works
better, it performs with more functionality in wider areas of life.
It has escaped its geek ghetto. Normal people no longer apologize to
their bosses for using open-source components, or for finding things
out on the "unreliable" Internet.

Hardware commons and instructables interest me quite a lot.

The trend toward make-and-do labs and hacker spaces is also of keen
interest to me -- not just what gizmos people are designing and making,
but how the infrastructure of designing and making is itself breaking
up and reassembling in new component-sets. "User Experience Design."
Good God, what *isn't* "user experience design"? It sounds like the
most vaporous thing on earth, but the way those guys talk is completely

I'm wondering what happens if somebody makes a small town
commons-based. The street lights, the parking meters, they've all got
APIs... you get to hack the sewers, repaint the streets... all the
building regulations go up for grabs... Would it be a grimy hippie dive
like Christiania, or might it get suave and geeky-upscale, like the
Google campus?

Suppose you found some dead James Howard Kunstler strip-mall burg,
bought it for a dollar, and turned it into "OpenSource-opolis" where
every possible object and service was creatively commonized. Would
that be heaven, hell -- or what we've got now only different?"

Bruce Sterling in a very interesting conversation on the Well