Hi guise, my name is James, and this is my website.
With men jumping from space and human organs being lab grown isn't it time to evolve the jagged metal sticks we use to open doors? Gokee locks give you the power and control to open doors and locks with your smart-phone. Smarter locks with many levels of functionality alow keyless entry, auto-locking, remote-control, temporary access and many more features. Lock down your entire house with a single press, or have it lock it's self as you walk out the front door.
The man component of the brief for this project was to make something that utilises the MQTT Pub/Sub technology and that fits in with the IBM Smarter Planet ethos.
Right from the start we decided we didn't want to dive straight into the life and death sensors of the NHS or the mainframes powering entire cities. Looking at a more local scale and solving little problems we encountered on a daily basis is more the direction we wanted to take. Solving the huge problems is great but in our lives everyday there are smaller situations that could be fixed or just made better. Taking our concentration away from these little problems can improve quality of life and allow us to focus on the bigger things.
Flo related a story of being confused when he arrived home to find the front door double locked. Saul had been the last to leave the house and as an extra precaution had secured both locks. An idea was born for an app that displayed if anyone else was in the house so the if you were leaving and no-one else was in you could double lock and if you were returning you would know if it was indeed going to be double locked.
The concept quickly escalated from here, after all if you are making a location aware system for the house why not just give it control of the locks too. Home automation has clearly been done before and there are many technologies already available. However we decided things like remote control curtains, while useful, aren't actually much smarter.
MQTT is a technology for sending data between points. Sensors or other sources can send messages along specific channels toward a centralised Broker. The messages are then sorted and sent back out to any point that has requested to 'Subscribe' to that specific channel. The system is designed to be very power and network efficient. It was even chosen by Facebook to be the back-end of their messaging system.
When we started thinking about all the sensors we could spread though our Smarter House we produced ideas for many distinct systems that could be combined to make life easier in many little ways. This fit very well with the IBM concept of a "System of Systems".
Living in shared housing gave us a different angle on home automation and the problems it could fix. But making dumb systems that simply turned things on and off via basic inputs wasn't enough. The system had to learn and improve itself to fit the lifestyles of the users.
The grand plan
With the slant of shared housing and automation we designed "Inhabit" a system for a smarter house. The name plays on the concept of each user in the house having their own habits that effect and are effected by the system as a whole. The aim is to increase quality of life, energy efficiency and human empathy between housemates or family members.
The house would have a central server that receives continuos streams of data from all of the house sensors and connected technologies. This server would record all this data and learn from it, building usage models and subsequently controlling the house. This technology is assessable via a customisable web app. The app is designed for screens of all sizes. The two most useful examples we thought were the hallway cork-board replacement screen and the mobile version. The cork-board would be a general access control point and way of seeing a data overview and the mobile version is portable and customised to the specific user.
The system is given power by knowing the location of it's users; whether they are out of the house or what room they are in otherwise. Combining this presence data with the learned historical behaviour and also 'green' best practices, the system attempts to find the perfect balance.
By displaying the location and status of your housemates it increases awareness, empathy and utility. By displaying statuses such as "oh his way home", "just gone to sleep" or "about to leave" the system isn't over compensating with GPS coordinates and millisecond time values. Inhabit knows what everyone is doing so can warn you for example if you should be quiet as people are asleep or if you should have a shower now as other people will require it later.
Inhabit controls the heating and lighting in the house on a room by room basis. Setting the house to the perfect temperature it removes the need to fiddle, the potential for argument and even saves energy. The system bases the temperature on user preference, user presence and projected presence, current inside and outside temperatures,
The lighting is connected to the grand database of knowledge learned over time and alters itself to the sleeping pattern of the user, preparing you for sleep by dimming and changing hue and waking you in the morning with a gentle sunrise effect. The wake-up is timed to your schedule but also will only active when you are in a light sleep cycle.
Have a shared shopping list across the household and save money by shopping in bulk, automatically arrange the delivery for a time when people are in. Inhabit will automatically charge your accounts based on what you added to the list for yourself and divide the cost of the essentials between everyone.
Simple things like asking everyone if they want a cup of tea when you are making a round can be automated too. Choose the option in the messages menu and it will send out a Yes/No prompt to everyone who is in and awake (and likes tea) and even enable the kettle and fill it the desired amount.
Inhabit can even schedule and divide the few household chores it can't automate, displaying any uncompleted tasks to remind and motivate.
Security can be increased because all of the locks can be enabled all the time unless users are near them and are likely to want access.
Inhabit also keeps track of bills, and money lending so everyone always knows how much they owe to the house and to each other. Payments can even me made to other housemates thorough the system.
Sadly we don't have time to create this vastly complex system we have envisioned but hopefully our prototype demonstrates some part of the grand plan.
The mini Inhabit system uses Keychain RFID tags with a reader (standing in as an example door lock) to set the users presence. The tag is read and the data sent to the main server (A node.js version of the MQTT broker) which checks in the specified user. The main server also communicates with the web apps using socket.io to send any changes live as they happen.
When a user arrives home, the prototype will update the current temperature with data of the user's preference loaded from the database powered by MongoDB.
The mobile app currently only represents Ben's version of the app, showing him the status of the other housemates and the history of events without his updates being immediately viewable. The screen can be swiped sideways to filter the events to a specific housemate. Also if Ben arrives home the server will send a message, displayed on in the phone app, if anyone's status is set to asleep.
The version of the cork-board view currently shows the presence of all 4 users and the projected heating graph alongside the current and updating graph.
There is also a "make tea" button that tell the server to message the other users and also turns on a LED to represent the Kettle Being enabled.
This was an interesting project to work on, I liked the closeness of solving very immediate but small problems we face everyday. Evidently IBM thought our plan was grand enough to award us with first place in a contest we didn't know we had entered. We received some IBM branded prizes including a Rubix Cube. I wasn't sure whether I should tell them the stickers were on wrong…
in October, 2012 and categorised as Everyware.
From Jpegs to Giants
For the last 14 years Jerry holkins and Mike Krahulik have written and drawn Penny Arcade, a webcomic which they upload to their website for free thrice weekly. Despite giving their main product away for free they have grown immensely over the life of their business. Fantasticaly they still make the comics they are known for; they now have over 3.5 millon readers and 3 top-selling videogames based on their comics. On top of the comic they have foundeded a global charity that raises millions of dollars to buy toys for childrens hospitals and also run one of the worlds largest gaming conventions.
They are an inspiring example of people doing exactly what they love as a job. At the same time though they are using thier fame to help sick children and create huge social events enjoyed by thousands of people every year.
Situated betwixt planes of Cornish farmland is the small town of St. Blazey. We along with the architects were given the brief of producing a building containing ubiquitous technologies that would specifically focus on one of the cultural-industrial, social or environmental cultural heritage areas.
We decided to focus on the social aspect of the brief and attempt to re-kindle lost connections or forge new bonds. The town used to be an important part of the greater Cornwall area, the importance of the industry gave people purpose, jobs and community.
As the utility of the local industry waned so did this spirit of the town itself. We wanted to alter St. Blazey to simultaneously create a reason for people to visit and also create a link that would remind the surrounding areas about it's existence.
St. Blazey is neighboured by the towns of Fowey and St Austell. St. Austell is a lively and attractive town with a world famous brewery and Fowey is a picturesque fishing village. Residents of St. Blazey find they are having to visit these towns to work or go to school rather than staying local. This dislocation and lack of community leaves the town feeling hollow.
We obviously don't have the power to rejuvenate the economy, community and industry of a fading town. But the proposed Archive building and subsequently the installation within could at least create some kind of connection.
Very early on we hit on the idea of a distributed installation that could spark interest and possibly cause people to visit St. Blazey. The concept is to have multiple installations distributed at at various sites, yet they somehow interact with each other in real-time. This can allow a tangible form of connection without using more transparent methods like direct sound or video links.
A main interactive object would be set up inside or around the building designed by the architects. This primary object would connect to similar objects found in St. Austell and Fowey. Each object would display the interactions happening to itself and to its siblings simultaneously.
We wanted the interaction to be something everyone could participate in, something simple but enjoyable. The one thing that kept appearing in discussion was music. Music is something nearly everyone can appreciate with almost no explanation required. Music can also cause strong emotional responses so seemed perfect for our purposes.
Quickly we realised that playing music with people across Cornwall could be a really cool experience, however we needed an instrument that was easy to pick up but deep enough to be interesting and engaging. Simply having a pile of instruments would present such a barrier of skill as to destroy the original intent.
After many ideas involving holding hands, touching poles and even brushing against dangling tree roots to make music we settled on a 'tone matrix'. This fantastically simple form of 'instrument' consist of a grid of cells that are either enabled or disabled. The cells that are enabled will produce a tone when a repeating play head sweeps over them. In most examples the time component is on the x-axis with the pitch altering on the y-axis. Because of the consistent rhythm and limited tonal range they make simple rhythms very easy to create.
Monome, a company from Pennsylvania produces beautifully hand-crafted computer-interface devices with programmable LED backlit buttons. These can be used for anything you wish, but are perfect for hooking up to the logic of a tone matrix. To turn one of these into an installation we decided to super-size it and integrate it into the building itself.
Our final design was to produce a huge multi-person monome.
On top of having this giant floor sequencer it would be synchronised with two more of its kind in the town centres of St. Austell and Fowey. Placing it in the floor was chosen to increase the fun of interaction and also improve the potential for accidental discovery in the auxiliary locations. To emphasise the different locations, each will be given a unique tonal range.
The hope is that pedestrians walking through the busy town centres of St. Austell and Fowey might walk across the monome producing light and sound. They can have fun using it to make music and, assuming the other locations were also busy, would notice that not all of the notes are their own. Everything being perfect people using all three monomes simultaneously could create more complex music using the differing tones available.
Back in St. Blazey the monome would be a central feature of the proposed building. To emphasise this location there would also be an archive room that alters according to the use of the monome. The floor would be formed from a layer of pliable material stretched over pistons arrayed in a grid to match the buttons of the monome. The pistons would expand and contract in relation to the historical data of the monome use. the most used and disused keys would raise or lower the most. This would create a physically interactive representation of the history of the music itself.
Talking about interesting technologies that would be possible to include in this system we came across fiberoptic laced concrete that would be perfect for the illuminating floor panels. Also the speakers used to produce the sounds would be fitted with reflecting domes to minimise the sound heard from outside of the area itself.
The architects also produced a physical model of the archive room floor.
in October, 2012 and categorised as Everyware.
In a small district of Plymouth, known as Devonport there can be found a wall. A dreary edifice of soulless brick bisecting the community and hindering passage. The merciful council has sounded a decree of destruction for the blighted barrier.
The task bestowed upon us is to utilise the remaining crumbs of scree to generate an outdoor learning habitat situated in the locally found 'Devonport High-school for Boys'. This vestibule of academia must include 'an augmented interface for people to interact and participate'.
We were to work alongside the architects and design a interactive learning experience inside of the experimental learning space they were assigned to create. There was a lot of discussion.
Our initial idea would involve the residents of Devonport storing their memories of the wall along with historical context in the form of text, pictures, video or audio. The memories and information would be sub-categorised into: before the wall existed, during it's reign and after it's fall.
These could be submitted to a web interface and would be dynamically combined into a persistent visualisation viewable in the outdoor teaching area. The visualisation would be projected around the inside of the the teaching area along with coloured lighting that would match and alter the mood.
We decided the visualisation was too passive, the children would probably find it uninteresting after multiple visits and the content would be too static. Very few new memories would be added after the wall was gone.
Potentially the children could add their own thoughts or memories to the wall, forming something like a time capsule for the different years in the school that would evolve and change over time.
In search of interactivity we came upon the idea of fashioning parts of the existing wall into miniature bricks for use in the installation. These bricks could be said to contain specific memories that would be displayed, or rather greater concepts that were less definable but would still clearly effect the visualisation.
A version of the design involved a small scale model of the wall built out of the miniature bricks. There would be sections of the wall missing and extra blocks that were able to slot into the gaps. Fitting in the various bricks in the different slots would alter the visualisation.
Another potential idea was to have many bricks that could be used to build small structures as a kind of game. There would be an floor pad or pedestal surface that would detect the bricks currently on the area and those would be the ones to effect the display.
After being thrown into a classroom full of children without warning we discovered that they barely knew anything about Devonport let alone the wall itself. We decided that the wall, while important to the history of Devonport, should not be the sole focus of the classroom. Instead we turned to the reuse aspect of the project; turning something most despised into something fresh, new and useful.
The architects had decided that an interesting way to reuse the rubble of the wall would be as filling for gabion baskets. These baskets are generally filled with debris and used as foundations. Usually hidden or obscured, these huge cubes could be an important outward feature of the classroom. They would showcase and symbolise the reuse of materials for positive gain.
Continuing on the theme of reuse we chose to use the learning area as a combined whole to educate about the direct and long term effects of recycling and energy conservation.
Our final idea was to integrate the entire school with a system of sensors that would measure many values including heat, light, water use and human presence. These values would all feed back to a central server that would collate and analyse.
The live and historic data would be accessible as dry statistics via a web interface. This would include graphs and tables showing the improvement or otherwise in the different areas the system was monitoring.
The data would also be fed into a larger interactive visualisation found in the outdoor teaching area. This display would act as a sort of living representation of the school, similar to a virtual pet or pets.
The objective would be to improve the 'green' level of the school by turing off lights, keeping doors shut, not wasting water etc. The live data would help be specific and scientific but the visualisation would be much more engaging and hopefully draw the kids into caring about the school.
Based on the current levels of various sensors the pets could for example shiver if a door was left open. Other possible states would also be based on the emotions of the school and how it feels about its pupils failing or succeeding to be more green.
To demonstrate this concept we created a prototype version that consisted of wireless heat and light sensors reporting to a server that in turn distributed this data to both a dry data graph and a visualisation.
Each sensor had its own Arduino board with a stacked XBee wireless module. The XBee's communicated to a master Arduino that then connects via WiFly to the Server. The server distributes the data via web sockets to the any open clients running the graph or the visualisation.
The graph is made in paper.js, a framework for animation in HTML5 canvas. This allows the graph to be viewed on almost any modern platform such as the school computers or the pupil's smart phones.
The visualisation is made in processing and will react dynamically to the data. It features little cubes that will dance in the dark, explode in excessive heat or shiver in the cold. Also the overall colour will change based on the relative heat.
in October, 2012 and categorised as Everyware.
Where and ware
Humans love things; things are everywhere. Objects surround, define and enhance us. Forming tools from the material we discovered strewn about was the tuning point that proved humans had greater potential. The Internet of Things is the concept of imbuing objects with an interconnectedness that can improve and even redefine.
Ideas and information are important, but things matter much more. - Kevin Ashton
As media is becoming increasingly digital many of us are struggling with the leaps of logic or even fighting against them. The sense of ownership over an object is difficult to transfer to the intangible nature of digital media. It's easy to love an album and that association is easily transferred to a cd or vinyl but is much harder to apply to immaterial data.
in October, 2012 and categorised as Everyware.
Oil And Water
I realise this is not exactly current news, but I just found this image in my ‘sort’ folder and decided it was interesting enough to post nearly a year later.
The Deepwater Horizon Event (aside from having an name pulled straight from Sci-fi) was …not …good. The inability to comprehend the gargantuan figures is a layer of bubble-wrap smothering the gut punch that was near infinite barrels of viscous death spewing into the Gulf of Mexico. There are many detailed details and statistical statistics out there but suffice to say it was bad.
Much protesting was heard, deservedly, as the crisis occurred. The protest above I found beautiful in its simplicity yet incredibly meaningful. Screen-printed with the very oil in question, gathered from a Louisiana beach, these posters by Happiness Brussels truly create a message from the medium.
in February, 2012 and categorised as Design.
If you happen to be a demon; Garcia “fucking” Hotspur is not your friend. If you go so far as to abduct his girl… well, you might soon me smiling on the other side of your face, if you have any face left.
Clad in a purple leather jacket Hotspur assaults the underworld, joined by Johnson a British floating skull. Johnson morphs into various “guns” and together they murderize anything with a pulse (do demons have a pulse? …they certainly bleed buckets worth). Voiced by the decidedly un-Latino Steve Blum, Hotspur slings innuendo and stereotypical vulgarities with frightening regularity.
It should come as no surprise that this madness is a Suda 51 joint, (the masturbation-esc quick time sequences should give that away alone). What is more unexpected is the collaboration with king of Resident Evil Shinji Mikami. It is a shame then that the only passable shooting doesn’t represent the quality one might expect. The music by Akira Yamaoka is hit and miss but features some of the most unique game music in recent times. The suitably bizarre developerdiaries show the developers were clearly deep into the madness.
I have a special kind of respect for media of any kind that goes unremittingly balls-out with it’s chosen vocation. Every inch of Hotspur’s world is either blood or sex, often both. Similar to Bulletstorm’s foul language or Bayonetta’s nonsensical sexualisation SotD rises above it’s immature components and forms something almost pure. Ridiculous but pure.
Post Script: Games should NEVER have non-skippable cut scenes.
Infinite lives, 2d perspective and a requisite for incredible precision are the hallmarks of the relatively new niche genre portmanteauically dubbed Masocore. Games like N+ and Super Meat Boy ask much of the player. Unlike the ‘failure equals loss of progression’ punishment of say a Demon’s Souls, Masocore respawns you moments from when you died. Infinite death and instant rebirth until you perfect that complex jump or otherwise destroy the controller.
Flywrench is a perfect slice of masocore precision infuriation. A rather novel approach to 2d platforming you pilot a ship that must flap to stay afloat. Flapping and rolling; the ships two abilities will alter it’s colour allowing it to pass through similarly hued barriers. Touching anything of a different colour means instant dismemberment. Countering the necessity to stay aloft with barriers only traversable while not flapping creates a masterful balancing of progression and continued existence.
The minimal graphic style and radio-static music create a strange overall atmosphere, an unsettling feeling of intrusion. The graphics themselves make a screenshot almost unintelligible, the trailer does a somewhat better job. Or you know, the full game.
Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland is one of those influential and often overused modern legend that seemingly everyone knows. Sitting among the pantheon of comic book heroes and famous literary characters that constitute our modern mythologies. Alice has been adapted and reused almost as many times as Spiderman or Dracula. The American McGee games have the interesting spin that the fractured heroine only believes she is the eponymous Alice after her family perish in a house fire.
Wonderland may be a dark place inhabited by slime draped doll-limb aberrations, but the London of this cannon is all the more sinister. Without the knowledge of the recommended age rating I was quite surprised by the use of language; having never been called a cum-bucket by a game before. This unexpected ferociousness, especially for something spawned from a children’s book, helped to enhance the unease conveyed by the “real” world.
Also I love the fact that Spicy Horse's iPhone development child studio has the logically perfect name Spicy Pony.
Secreted away in a house in San Jose is a 7 strong team conversely ordained Supergiant. The latest in a prestigious lineage of miniature studios to demonstrate that incredible things are not just the realm of immense multitudes of flesh.
Bastion oozes a special kind of magic and charm only the focused nature of small teams can afford. Beautiful art and masterful prose forge Caelondia; a world so familiar yet always just behind the veil of the Calamity.
As everything falls (literally) into place the constant narration anchors the world around you. Location as character has fascinated me ever since I first met Ankh-Morpork. As a testament to the world built by Kasavin and Supergiant; by the end of Bastion Caelondia felt like a long lost friend and I ached to restore it’s original splendour.
To me noire is black and white. Even when reading fiction or listening to audio drama the angry heros stalk about hue-less worlds amid a high-contrast downpour. It’s part of the appeal for me; a world much like our own but foreign and removed even down to the particles of light.
Tucked away in the felicitous pause menu of LA Noire is the option to experience the game solely in monochrome. In the quest for ever more beautiful and realistic graphics this may seem like a step in a strange direction. Clearly this is the reason it is not default. Personally I immediately enabled this removal of colour and didn’t look back.
The lack of nonsensical amounts of rain was however, somewhat disappointing.
After interrogating child molesters in LA Noire and dissecting subterranean abominations in Gears of War having to escape a magic sock seems about as disparate as physics could allow.
Epic Yarn has a beautiful and incredibly well realised 2d universe of twine villains, fluff princes and cloth adventure. So beautiful in fact that I often found myself forgetting the Wii’s lack of 1080pness.
There is no death and for the more casual player the game is fun to traverse. However seekers of challenge can optionally collect beads. Damage to Kirby will cause precious collectibles to burst forth making later levels increasingly difficult to master.
in September, 2011 and categorised as Personal.
Fear and Amnesia
Fear, it would seem often arises from vulnerability. Videogames, so often tools of empowerment, tend to struggle with this. Dead Space may be an incredible game but when armed with projecting devices of precision flesh separation can you ever really be afraid?
Amnesia: The Dark Descent masterfully provides you with little but light. A simple oil lamp with diminishing supplies and a scattered collection of tinder-boxes for lighting candles. This light is not the magical video game kind either; it has no demon banishing properties. This one token that keeps you this side of madness conversely attracts the deformed grotesqueries that seek so fervently the removal of your precious organs.
Being chased down a semi-flooded corridor by an invisible horror that wrenches doors agape as it hunts you. The game deftly recaptures the helplessness and fear of the unknown that had me terrified of Forbidden Planet so long ago.
In the running for the longest game title: "Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness - Episodes 1 & 2" (or PAA:OTRSPOD if you will) is an offensive and Lovecraftian semi turn-based RPG point and click adventure game from the “jpeg merchants”
at Penny Arcade and “actually we’d rather do Deathspank” Hothead Games.
Dark gods, murderous mimes and giant mechanised fruit rapists inhabit a world infused with the abusive genius of Penny Arcade.
The combination of point and click exploration, WRPG dialogue trees
and just-JRPG-enough turn-based combat runs a awesome balance that
should be the standard for modern adventure games.
Through missfortune, madness and malady the final two episodes were struck from existance. Nevertheless like a ray of darkness in the otherwise impenetrable obsidian of the nether dark the final 2 chapters are materialising in retro JRPG form.
Created by Zeboyd Games they are certainly a change but still fantastic for those who are fond of ancient graphics and turn based roleplaying.
2 Player Production’s début project Reformat the Planet is an energetic but insightful look into the origin of the now annual Blip Festival and the chiptune scene in general.
Better yet the film in its entirety is available to watch completely free of charge on Penny Arcade Television. If you want more and have the coins then a sexy DVD version is on sale from Fangamer including a directors cut and other extra extras.
Chiptune music has long been a favourite of mine and represents a kind of energy that nothing else can quite match, especially Anamanaguchi and Bitshifter.
in June, 2011 and categorised as Miscellany.
Hating is a waste of time because it requires you to give a crap about things that aren't worth the craps you're giving
in June, 2011 and categorised as Miscellany.