My top 50 movies list

Posted: September 6, 2016 in Uncategorized

Just because we’ve been discussing this at work, I thought I’d post what I put as my top 50 list:

1 Back to the future 1/2/3
2 Wargames
3 The last Starfighter
4 Weird science
5 The Fly
6 Terminator
7 Aliens
8 Kick Ass
9 District 9
10 Good will Hunting
11 True Lies
12 Forrest Gump
13 Groundhog Day
14 Falling Down
15 Enter the Dragon
16 Bloodsport
17 Total Recall
18 IronMan
19 The Bourne Identity
20 the Matrix
21 Jurassic Park
22 American Psycho
23 Shaolin soccer
24 Ong Bak
25 The Aviator
26 The Eternal Sunshine of the spotless mind
27 A Beautiful Mind
28 Zoolander
29 Empire Strikes Back
30 The Green Mile
31 Being John Malovich
32 Blade
33 Demolition Man
34 KingPin
35 Cast Away
36 High Fidelity
37 Galaxy Quest
38 Dark City
39 12 Monkeys
40 Batman
41 Apollo 13
42 Hackers
43 Running Man
44 Ghostbusters
45 Moon
46 The Martian
47 Guardians of the Galaxy
48 Edge of Tomorrow
49 ZombieLand
50 Kung Fu hustle

Kicking my Reddit habit

Posted: January 11, 2016 in Uncategorized

I’ve been finding for the last few weeks that’s I’ve been unable to go more than 30 minutes without checking Reddit.

Why is this you ask? Well, two words, Oculus Rift.

Over the last few weeks Oculus have been releasing new information concerning what will be included with the Rift and what the price will be.

The announcements of Eve Valkyrie and Luckys Tale being bundled with the Rift were good news, having two full VR games included to get you started will be great. Obviously there’ll be a load of free demos and videos to watch through Oculus home as soon as you get your Rift, which is brilliant and makes me really wish I could get one straight away.

After the pre-sales went live, Reddit exploded. Let’s just say people weren’t all happy with the $599 price tag. Personally I’m not angry with Oculus, but they should have just come out and said “this thing will cost more than $500”, which they didn’t. They made comments saying they’d like it as cheap as possible but then later on started saying things like “Good VR will be available before most can afford it”, which was subtle hint to people not to expect a cheap price as they’d already said the Rift was targeting high quality VR.

So yes, I was addicted to checking Reddit, reading every new bit of information, as well as constantly replying to new users who were making stupid claims about Oculus and the rift which were just untrue, such as tech specs, amount of games, PC cost requirements, etc…. I understand, it’s a complex product, requiring a high end PC, so it’s understood there’d be a lot of anger from people that can’t afford it, but really want it.

My aim, is to keep off Reddit until March. I’ll focus on my Android game development and messing around with Google cardboard, maybe I’ll get the money together by then to buy a new PC and a Rift, then I can at least read r/oculus more seriously.

I love the idea of using cardboard to do virtual field trips, there are a couple of startups trying to do this already and I think it will be really, really popular with schools and children (I know it would have blown me away when I was at school).

For the practical side, yes cardboard is cheap, and I’m sure the schools could get them for around $5 each, but what about the devices inside them? I say devices, as they could be phones or players, like ipod touches. But what about the minimum spec for these devices. From playing around with some devices and cardboard, I’d say that 720p is the bare minimum resolution for cardboard. Ideally we’d give all schools 1440p devices but they have budgets to stick to. So let’s say we use 2nd Gen Moto G phones, they have 720p displays, gyros, and can be bought for as low as £125 on Amazon UK, or $180 on Amazon US. I’d run them all on wifi only mode, so no SIMs required. Based on this, you could outfit a classroom of 30 children with cardboard and devices for $5550 (£3900), which is actually pretty good. You could obviously improve the experience by throwing in earphones and simple bluetooth controllers, but as a base level, a moto G and cardboard would be a good start.

I’ll put it out there right now. I think we’re going to see the Oculus Rift work with the xbox one.

It makes sense, they’re working on Windows software which could easily be adapted to work with the Xbox One, especially when microsoft launch windows 10 on Xbox later this year.

Sony have the Morpheus, but Microsoft haven’t announced anything yet, Hololens isn’t close to what the Morpheus is offering, so it makes sense to partner with Oculus to use the Rift.

the Xbox One has 3 usb 3.0 ports, an HDMI connecter and wireless controllers, it also has enough processing power to do VR if comparisons to the PS4 are anything to go by, Directx 12 will also help a lot with performance.

I’ve just been turned down for a new internal role at work I applied for. The manager decided to go with the other internal applicant instead. He said it was a close call but that the other person applied sooner and had slightly more exprience in the areas he felt were important for the role. I’m very disappointed of course, I’ve been in my position now for eight years and find it very mundane and need something new to keep me going. I work for a software company as a projects consultant, configuring our software for new customers and providing training. But it’s the same grind each day, set something up, find it doesn’t work right, set it up again, find out the software buggy and will take months to fix. Try to explain this to the user who doesn’t care. It’s just getting too much to bother with each day.

The new role was to be a cloud services manager, workign on our new Cloud platform offering, most of which right now would be hosting our current legacy applications on windows servers, but also pushing forward with our brand new web based software solutions built on a web framework we’ve been developing. It would have been great, I could have talked about VPNs,sFTP servers, VM load balancing, automated overngiht processes, global network latency, all that crap, but now I can’t and have to carry on doing the same old job.

Still, today is a new day, I’ve submitted my CV to another online jobs site, so lets see what happens.

It’s the end of July 2014, if you watch any programs like Computer Chronicles or Tomorrows world from the early 90’s, you’d have believed that by now, we’d all have VR headsets and gloves, and we’d use them in our every day lives. Most of us would go to work in VR, in our virtual offices, holding virtual meetings and then attending virtual parties in the evenings, we’d also regularly visit other places using virtual reality. this was the promise of the early 1990’s, when the company Virtuality were selling $20,000 VR rigs powered by juiced up Amiga 3000 computers to arcades, and showing them off at trade shows. I actually got to try one out, playing the game Dactyl nightmare at the 7th International Computer Show in London, I think I was 12 so it would have been 1992. The game was really jerky by todays standards and the lag on the headset was awful, I had a massive headset on with a thick cable running into the big plastic ring around me, I held a plastic controller which made it look like I had a crossbow in my hand. I had no body, just a hand. The world was a low polygon area, around 50 meters by 50 meters, no texture mapping, just flat polygons without even any lighting. There were several other players visible and some pterodactyls  flying around my head. The aim of the game was to shoot at the birds and hope they don’t grab you and carry you away. I don’t remember how good the 3D effect was, we are talking 22 years ago here, and it was only a five minute experience. After that day, I expected home VR to arrive pretty quickly. But as we all know, that never happened.

there have been glimpses of the VR industry touching people’s home lives over the years, a few years after my VR experience, Atari announced a VR headset for their Jaguar games console, the console hadn’t sold well, partly due to the bad selection of games, but probably more because of the weird looking controller that had what looked like a telephone number pad for some unknown reason. Then around six years ago, I bought an Emagin Z800 VR headset on Ebay for £300, I’d heard it was very good so I wanted to try it out. I got it working with Half Life, it was okay. The tracking was pretty good, but had massive drift and the viewing angle felt tiny, probably around 25 to 30 degrees. It did give a sense of being somewhere else, but the software let it down as no games officially supported it that I knew of. I resold it on Ebay and decided to wait for the technology to catch up with my expectations.

It looks like that time may have finally arrived. Two years ago, rumours began of a company looking for funding to produce a consumer level VR headset, and the biggest news of the rumour, was that it was actually good. Before anyone knew it, John Carmack (of Doom fame) was shown demoing the headset, held together with black packing tape at a games show. We’re no two years later, thousands of developers and enthusiasts own the first Oculus Development kit, giving them a 90 degree field of view with a 720p display. This is already much better than the Z800 headset I had some years ago, but it gets better, the second dev kit (named DK2) is beginning to ship out to developers this week, it has a 1080p display, split down the middle so each eye gets half the screen, no motion blue due to low latency display, 1000hz head tracking and an optic positional tracking system to track you heads movements sideways, forwards, backwards and up and down. The headset tracks the angle of your head to let you look around. Demos at recent trade shows have impressed users and there’s hundreds of videos on YouTube of people being blown away by the experience.

there are also a number of other companies getting in on the action, the biggest one’s being Sony with their Playstation 4 powered Morpheus headset, a 1080p headset using the Playstation move camera and controllers for positional tracking and hand movements. Samsung are also known to be producing a VR headset for use with their high end Galaxy Android phones, by placing the phone into a holder that you strap to your head, the phone provides the display and the phone’s sensors are used to detect where you’re looking. It’s not known whether positional tracking will be possible with the Samsung solution, but it’s possible the accelerometers in the phone could be used for this, buttons on the outside of the headset allow the user to control the phone, as obviously the phone’s touch screen will be out of reach. Other smaller companies are also getting in on the action, a German company are producing a phone adaptor called the Durovis Dive, another phone holder that you put your phone into and strap it to your head. the last company to mention that’s producing some kind of VR “hardware” is Google.

Google has what’s called “Google Time”, this is where Google employees are allowed to spend 20% of their working time on personal projects, many well know Google services have been born from this, including Google news and GMail. The Google time born VR solution is called Cardboard. Cardboard is literally and phone holder made out of folded cardboard to allow the user to view Virtual reality using any supported Android phone. A magnet on the side of the holder allows the user to interact with the phone software, by flicking the magnet up and down, the phone’s magnetometer detects this change in the magnetic field as a button push (this sensor is normally used for the compass for navigation). Google gave out the cardboard kits at their IO conference in 2014. They then made the template available online for free as a PDF for anyone to print out and make their own headset, the lenses and magnet only cost a few dollars to buy and Google provide the details to buy these. I’ve ordered two premade kits from a Chinese seller on Ebay, as Google are open sourcing it you can expect to see sellers popping up all over. Demo software is  available on the Android play store and the SDK developer files are available to download with samples for anyone to program their own Google cardboard programs, so expect an explosion of Cardboard VR programs soon.

Back to the main player, Oculus, the most promising and well developed of the solutions so far. Many big name games are taking it seriously, Elite Dangerous, Race, Alien Isolation to name a few. The Game of Thrones production comnpany used the Oculus Rift DK1 headset to make an interactive exhibit, and the people who make X-Men have just done the same for Comic-con 2014.

Will Arcades return?

Posted: November 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

Over the last ten years or so, you may have noticed arcades becoming more and more rare. Gone are the days when your local bowling alley or Cinema has a good sized arcade with the latest Sega games set up and full of teenagers.

The glory days were the days of Daytona, Virtua Fighter 2, Ridge Racer and Time Crisis. After that, the consoles took over, and it’s all downhill from there. Now if you find an arcade it’s likely to just be a selection of fruit machines and maybe the odd dancing game.

The consoles took over by providing the same games, but at home, with improved graphics and the ability to play as many times as you like without needing pockets full of cash. The arcades were also getting really expensive too, I remember the last time I went into the Trocadero in London, some of the newer games were asking for £2 a go!

The current thoughts are that maybe a new technology will arrive to revive the arcade, maybe something like Virtual Reality?

What made arcades work was that the games were more advanced than anything you had at home and in most cases, took up more space physically. It’s pretty hard to set up 8 Daytona games next to each other in your living room, all with steering wheels, racing seats and gear shifters! The same goes for the famous R360 machine.

The reason virtual reality may work better for arcades is it could offer a more immersive experience than the home. Currently VR at home can give you a great experience if you’ve got a top end PC with an Oculus Rift DK2 developer kit, but it’s tricky to set up and expensive to get all that gear.

What may work better, is if Sega were to remake Daytona, but with rugged VR headsets and moving platform driving seats, keep the side by side nature of the game, but add the full VR experience. An arcade machine used to cost over £10,000 each for something like Daytona, these days you could build something much more powerful with top end PC graphics cards and processors to deliver a hugely improved visual experience through something like a VR headset. The reason keep picking on Daytona is that it’s been shown seated VR experiences work best right now, standing experiences are very difficult, partly due to needing cables to attach the headset to the computer without lag and the obvious problem of people running into walls.

But for that, the Virtuax Omni treadmill may work well for t he arcades. IT’s very similar to the Virtuality Rigs from the early nineties, but is much cheaper to produce and offers a frictionless running surface for players to physically walk on while playing. I can see arcades of the future offering paintball like experience using a room full of Omni treadmills. No need for paint, or a forest, and you can offer games in any environment imaginable! The same setup could also be used for VR sports games like baseballl, basketball, running races.

 

The main obstacle right now is the ruggedness of the hardware, the Oculus Rift DK2 is a dev kit, which has several shortcomings for use as a general consumer product for the arcade, it needs automatic focus adjustment added, IPD adjustment, be able to withstand being dropped, and ideally be wireless to stop people strangling themselves playing standing games. It also needs a bigger “sweet spot” in the lenses to allow for players to see clearly when using it.

It’s all about being able to drop it on your head and play straight away, without needing to calibrate anything, no having to reset head position, just plug and play. I’m sure that’s what they’re going for with the CV1 release to consumers, but I also hope they’re building a rugged version for the arcades.

How else could arcades resurface? What about sharing gaming profiles with your home setup? So when you play a racing game in the arcade, your home car selection should be available, along with all your stats. You should also be able to play against people on their home machines when in the arcade.

I just had a son!

Posted: June 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

Something that I never before dreamt would ever happen to me, has happened. I’ve had a son! My wife Joy gave birth to our son Joshua on the 7th of May, after a very long labour, which saw us both completely exhausted by the end.

He’s gorgeous and I think of him every second I’m awake, and then even in my sleep.

Obviously, sticking to the nature of this blog, I have to put a few geek related thoughts to all this.

The first thought really is looking at how far computing has advanced since I was born to when Joshua has been born is remarkable. When I was born, it was 1980. The home computer at the time was the Spectrum ZX 80, it was a 3 mhz machine with 1 kb of RAM and no storage. Now, the average home computer you buy has 8gb of RAM, an 8 million times increase! A quad core 3 ghz processor, 12 thousand times increase! Not including additional support processors like GPUs, sound cards and math co-processors! In 1980, the way to store programs at home was on tape cassette, which allowed for maybe 200kb on each side of the tape, today we have home computers with 2tb hard disks, this is a “10 million” times increase in storage! And obviously the access speed is much faster too.

Graphics wise, in 1980 we had games like battlezone, asteroids, and I think maybe tempest and pacman. Now we have games like Forza, Elite Dangerous, World of Warcraft, and Grand Theft Auto 5.

Other than those figures, network speed has gone from simple 2400 baud modems to 100mbit cable connections and even 1gig connections in some towns in South Korea and the US. 2400  baud is about 2.4k/sec 100mbit is approx 50,000 time faster.

So let’s project forward, let’s even assume that the number won’t increase as much and bring it back a little, so lets assume 1/4 of the increase in numbers by the time Joshua is 20 years old.

Speed: 12,000×1/4 = 3000x increase = quad 9terrahertz processors

Memory: 8 millionx1/4 = 2 million times increase = 8gb x 2million = 16 petabytes (petabyte = 1 million gigabytes)

Network speed = 100mbit x 12,000 = 1.2 terrabit connections at the lowest latency possible

Graphics = Real life quality

 

The only thing that’s not really changed much is the input and output methods. Most people today, still enter information into a computer using a keyboard and view information on a flat 2D monitor. Even the mouse hasn’t really changed over the last 30 years. It’s disappointing, but with the surge in interest in Virtual reality systems this last few years, this will hopefully change.

The book, “Ready player one” talks about a future where school children use virtual reality to go to school and learn subjects in virtual environments. this is the future I hope Josh will experience, his science lessons will be amazing, photo realistic graphics exploring the universe down to the depths of the Earth. He experience history by virtually visiting historical events and watching them like he was there. He’ll be able to visit friends where ever they are in the world, feel like they are in the same room and even shake hands with each other! Whether this will be by using a headset or a neural interface I don’t know, but it’s coming.

I’ve got to say, I’m sort of jealous of the world Joshua’s been born into, tech wise. I can’t imagine the way things will develop beyond what we currently have in science fiction, but my dreams of virtual reality helmets and video conferencing will seem stone age to him.

My wife always tells me that using computers is very anti-social, even when I tell here I’m talking to people and playing games against them she comes back with that old chestnut “but they’re not real people!”, which is obviously BS, but she doesn’t want to hear that.

She asked me the other day what toys I think our children will be playing with in ten years time and whether these toys would make our kids more social or anti-social.

I decribes to her the scenario of our child sitting on the living room floor and putting on a pair of AR glasses. One of his friends does the same thing in their house and now our child can see his friend as if in the same room and visa versa. They then both put on haptic gloves and bring up a virtual model of a train set on the floor in front of them. This model is then projected into both real environments created a fully virtual shared space where the other child is reality projected into this space, but the toys are all virtual. The train set will be put together just like a normal train set with the children being able to feel the pieces as they pick them up and contruct the set. The bonus is of course that the toys can then come alive and the train can have it’s own personality like Thomas the tank engine and once the children complete the train set, all the passengers then move on their own and get on and off the train, virtual smoke even pours out the train engine. And the best bit? The set can be saved and brought back when ever they want to carry on playing, it doesn’t need washing, the parents won’t trip over it and the kid doesn’t have to be driven to his friends house to play, this is especially cool if his friend moves thousands of miles way. My wife said I was talking fantasy and that will never happen, she also said it wasn’t very social and she didn’t see it being anywhere near as good as playing in person. I’m just not sure sure she gets the whole idea at all. And this is my concern with public opinion on VR and AR in general, that they cannot get away from the idea that computers are things for spotty teenagers with no friends to play with in darkened rooms, when in reality, VR and AR will lead to huge social improvements for society on the whole and connect people in very natural ways that they can’t even dream of right now.

Okay, so initially I had to check the calendar to see if it was April 1st. Then I was angry about it. I checked the oculus subreddit and saw all the posts from people cancelling their orders. But then I stopped and thought about it. Honestly, I think it’s actually a good idea.
This deal will give oculus the cash they need to negotiate much better deals with hardware manufacturers for the high resolution displays they need, and give them the public exposure from the size of the deal to get noticed by more than just the hardcore PC gamer or VR nerd.
Also, when you read something like Ready player one, which has a huge online universe, it makes sense that this type of social vr network would be started by a social networking company.
It doesn’t mean we’ll sew Facebook adverts in all the rift enabled games, but it does mean they can release it much cheaper sue to the high volume sales they’ll get from announcing the product on everyone’s Facebook feed. It’s likely Facebook will want to develop a VR storefront, so that might annoy valve. But then I’m thinking valve are assuming oculus won’t be the only VR headset manufacturer. As soon as oculus release the consumer headset you can be you’ll see Microsoft, Samsung, Apple and maybe Nvidia announcing headsets too. This is why the new vr menu in stream doesn’t state oculus, it just says VR, which means they could be counting on a vr standard being developed which the consumer oculus rift will just be the front runner of.
You’ll probably see Sony announce PC support for their headset too.
Getting upset over oculus getting bought by Facebook would be like getting upset over AOL or CompuServe doing something in the mid 90s just before home internet exploded. This is where vr is right now and I’m sure five years from now you’ll have a massive range of high quality immersive headsets to choose from. Facebook is merely trying to get on at the ground floor.

Feel free to comment.