Monthly Archives: July 2008

Have I Got Games News For You, Brighton, 28/07/08

I was visiting Brighton for a meeting and managed to persuade my trusty friend Anders to come along to the Guardian gamesblog pub quiz at the Caroline of Brunswick in Ditchling Road.

Anders had cooked me a fab vegan stir fry and so rolled down the road to the pub, just off The Steine. It was a hot ‘n’ humid night and the pub was rammed with steaming gamers, many who were down for Develop, the gaming conference that was kicking off the next day.

I looked around the friendly bunch for gamer friends, but sadly (& a bit surprisingly) there wasn’t anyone I knew about. As my dear friend Andy wasn’t such an enthusiast of a gaming as me I decided that perhaps a team of one girly wasn’t on the cards, especially as most teams had about 6 members and were looking seriously confident ;-)

Anyways, battle commenced and there were some squeals and guffaws from the teams as the Guardian team announced questions. There was even a drawing and um, a plasticine round! My favourite was of course the games choon round – I especially love 8-bit tunes, so was in heaven when some golden oldies came up :-)

Even though I didn’t have a team, I watched on with glee and even when I got too excited and glowing hot, a friendly barman came to my aid with a mini fan!

Unfortunately, due to the silly early hour that trains stop running up to London from Brighton I had to leave early, but I hear that the winners were very happy with their £75 prize and copy of the Guinness Book of Worlds Records. Next time there’s a gaming quiz I think I’ll just enter even if I’m on my todd – it’s just too much fun to be shy :-D

Guardiangamesblog Flickr pool

Harnessing user-led innovation, NESTA, Plough Place, 16/07/08

It’s really great that user-led innovation is being taken more seriously these days and I was really pleased when I got an invite to NESTA to hear some presentations and discussion on the subject. This is an area that I’ll be following closely as it’ll be interesting to see how policy develops around this stuff.

There are some companies who have been on the ball for a couple of years, who embrace and engage with their user communities and of course there are still a few stalwarts who feel this kind of innovation (from their customers who pay their fat cat wages) is their enemy and must be stamped out at all costs *coughmusicindustrycough* but they’ll just have to adapt or die. If you’ve taken the time to find this post you’ll know all this already, so I’ll just get on with the details of the talks…


Soooo…. NESTA commissioned a piece of research from CENTRIM (Centre for Research in Innovation Management) University of Brighton investigating the power of user-led innovation.  They held a morning of talks and discussion about their findings at Plough Place and also invited some representatives of companies and online communities to talk about their experiences.

Here are my notes, they’re quite basic, but I was balancing my pink Eee PC precariously on my lap and it did get a bit warm so I was fidgeting all the way through…

First up was Steve Flowers of CENTRIM, University of Brighton, he talked about the CENTRIM research into user-led innovation.

Project overview:
to look into policy and community, they examined areas such as:
· video/film/mashups
· games
· social networks
· music

What do we know about user lead innovation (example relationships)?
· user + manufacturer
· user = manufacturer
· users vs manufacturer – conflict – music industry
· online communities are very important – they’ve changed the rules of innovation in a fundamental way

User-led innovation ecosystem includes:
· feedback & support
· content creation
· new uses
· unexpected developments in technology
· minor mods
· major mods –subculture of modding, fundamental changes to architecture of systems
· new products

How are companies embracing user lead innovation?
· commercialising user ideas
· building products around user content
· toolkits, components & architecture
· recruiting innovative users
· engaging with user communities

Who is doing it? (Listing companies from the image of slide below for peeps with screenreaders or don’t want to screw their eyes up to read logos)
· Sony
· Lego
· Bebo
· Ecademy
· EMI
· Facebook
· Microsoft
· Sibelius
· fxpansion
· Swappits
· backstage
· Lindenlab


What are the policy issues?
· the rules of innovation have changed
· but we have a linear model hangover
- user-led innovation remains hidden
- policy indifference or hostility
- regulation can act against user led innovation

For example companies like Lego had to change their policy as modding was illegal to begin with

How should government support user led innovation?
· re-frame regulation to promote user led innovation – copyright rethink
· establish a user innovation forum
· ‘extend’ R&D tax credits

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Justin Baron – Sibelius

This company make musical notation software and was started by Ben & Jonathan Finn in 1993. They now have over 100 employees. Users range from composers to schools, the software is used all over the world and there are several different language versions.

Sibelius uses manuscript plug-in technology. There over 300 plug-ins  and over 90% are created by people external to the company, they range from the cute to quite complex. They have a very active online community and users who create software retain the IP.

‘our community come up with exciting and unexpected ideas’ – Justin Baron

It was cool to hear some more about Sibelius, having met and heard Jeremy Silver (Avid Vice President and Managing Directo) talk at Thinking Digital in May.


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Jonathan Attwood – Swapitshop

‘We reward kids for doing stuff!’

Swapitshop is basically a kids & teens community –  45% girls 55% boys. If you’re a kid it’s difficult to get a bank account, so Swapitshop gives you a bank account and some credits online. You gain credits in return for certain tasks such as buying and selling or doing things. You can trade them, for example you can trade a CD for credits. Brands also sponsor tasks, they pay kids for ideas and product placement.

There are some smart kids who are already Swapitshop credit millionaires. Some of them have done it by importing, bartering & reselling.

Kids are also starting up fan sites & youtube ads to promote what they’re doing on Swapitshop.

Swapitshop are now paying kids for their advice. For example they took some kids to a supermarket for some marketing insight and the kids made the manager get on the florr and go round on his knees to get the kids perspective.

Apparently they’re working with the BBC (sorry, I don’t know what on) and also various companies doing R&D.

An example of something they’re presently doing is ‘Ad builder’ – getting communities to create their own banner ads.

Also, Virtual business partner – allows kids to set up their own shops & also to sell their expertise to businesses

In schools they’re using gold stars to exchange for Swapitshop credits for participating in tasks like healthy eating and going to finance advice lessons.

Swapitshop makes money as a business by charging the companies who use the data/information that kids generate.

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Pete Lemon- GBA gaming community

GBA is a community led site – for Gameboy, DS and other handhelds
It has over 10,000 forum members and over 500 active developers, musicians and designers in the community who create all sorts of things such as games, graphics, sound tools and emulators for handheld devices. It started off with mostly a mostly male audience, but more females are joining.

The site/community allows much creativity & collaboration between designers, coders and musicians and a lack of commerciality breeds lots of very interesting products which would not have come out of commercial sector.
They have competitions – one ended up with a cartridge of 10 games being created for Gameboy 1500 copies were made and they sold out within 2 days.

GBA has helped users get jobs, use data on the site for their degrees, the major companies use site for ideas and to spread information
There are no IP issues – Nintendo are happy for them to be there because they promote their products and help people into the industry.
Their sponsors range from gaming sites to hardware sellers.

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Discussion between panel and audience – in the main the audience made comments:

* Difficult to put a price / monetary value on some user-led companies –will be interesting in the future to see how these develop and the legal that comes out of this.

* Is there still a gender bias with user-led innovation? Does the ‘glass ceiling’ for women still exist? I did note that the panel and the chair were all men – would have been good to have a women on the panel ;-)

* One member of the audience said that it would be interesting to see how government legislation and attitudes would develop if we stopped calling it ‘user innovation’ and started calling it ‘people innovation’.

* NESTA are going to try to create spaces for users/services/front line services in the public sector.

* A product designer commented that she was worried that people were doing a lot of the stuff that she gets paid for, for free – should she retrain?!

* Central St Martins product design lecturer worked on a AHRC project with a cycling community to work on and look at why bikes were being stolen and how they could re design products to help the community.

* The internet has changed how people meet like minded people – this has changed the dynamic and acceleraation of how people meet.

* Pervasiveness around ICT has impacted on our lives.

* People create stuff for free because its fun, people enjoy it and lots of people look at it.

* How do you create sustainable business models –

free sharing communities / with areas who wants to make money clash? How do we turn hobbiests into companies?

* Fail to take notice of online communities at your peril! – story told about Kryptonite allegedly not listening to the biking community who reported that their locks could be opened with bic pen lids. I say allegedly because I looked this up and there seems to be few disagreements online about how events unfolded – I wasn’t there so can’t report one way or t’other!

dorkbotlondon56, Slimehouse, London.

Hurrah, it’s dorkbotlondon56, gosh I feel like a bit of an old timer having been coming along since gathering no 2 ;-)

For those who are unfamiliar, dorkbot is all about ‘people doing strange things with electricity. It was started by Douglas Repetto, in New York, back in 2000 at Columbia University. London was the second chapter, started by Saul Albert & Alex McLean and has now spread all around the world.

Anyways, info blurb over, this month’s dorkbot was at Limehouse Town Hall and first up was Joel Gethin Lewis, who talked about a couple of his recent installations. He’s an interaction designer and belongs to a collective called United Visual Artists.

Volume, which is presently installed outside the Southbank Centre, London, till 27th July, is a georgeous sound and light installation. People move around a collection of columns to trigger sound and graphical light effects. It’s a most engaging work and has the public captivated with its beauty.

It uses closed source, off the shelf tracking software which tracks peoples positions as they move around the space.

Joel then went on to talk about Contact, a site-specific installation in a Tokyo shopping centre, commissioned to celebrate 150 years of Japan/UK creative collaboration.

It’s an amazing responsive floor, which allows people to use their kinetic energy to interact with the visuals. It uses Box2D physics simulation system with a motion vector system and open framework C ++ to show optical flow in real time.

Anyways, it looks fantastic, I recommend having a look at some of the wonderful images of people enjoying it on the United Visual Artists site. I just
wish I could go to Japan to have a play!

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Next up is Harold Cohen, a painter born in 1928 and taught at the Slade School of Art. He moved to San Diego and became interested in computers. He went on to develop Aaron a programme that makes rule based art and one of the longest running software development projects as he started working on it in the 70s at Stanford Artificial Intelligence Labs.

He’s interested in programme autonomy and compares his Aaron programme to an artist’s assistant.

Aaron simulates the cognitive process used in making art – in this case choosing colours, hues and brightness. He built a homemade drawing machine; he called a turtle, that he later developed to paint. In the 80s he made it able to incorporate coloured paints and also the software to work with hue, light and saturation, based on RGB.

Eventually, Harold’s rules programme got so complex and his painting machines such a nightmare to maintain that he decided he wanted a much more direct way into his artworks. He felt that his painting machines were giving out the wrong message, especially as people started becoming interested in the actual machines as much as his artwork, for example people liked that they could wash out its cups and brushes – so he gave them away to a museum and brought a wide format printer.

One morning Harold woke up with an idea for an extraordinary algorithm that made images just as good as his previous work, but in a much simpler way – incorporating fibonacci numbers with brightness, hue and saturation.

He is still working on his programme and often sets it to work overnight which creates thousands of images, which he finds it very difficult to pick out the best ones for print as it produces such good images. He keeps them all and when he goes through them often wonders why he didn’t chose many of them to print.

He has no plans to use representational colours in the futures as he says that humans respond to tone & brightness before colour, and feels that the shades of colour are of relative unimportance.

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Sarah Angliss, a regular at dorkbot, told us about her ‘Swinging London’ installation – the brief was to create something that celebrates London to be shown in a shed on the Southbank, London. She put together an installation in one of seven sheds that starred puppets on strings inspired by a rundown 60s puppet show in Teignmouth, Devon. The puppets were old Pelham Puppets gleaned from eBay and modified with Velcro attached faces of people or icons that in the past had some historical/cultural relevance to London, such as Ken Livingstone, Twiggy and Lady Penelope from Thunderbirds – they were very amusing and I wish I’d actually seen this in real life, but hey the next best thing is this video on youtube

The second installation she showed us was called ‘Machines not angels’ which incorporated hand bells distributed in a space, that played in a wireless distributed carillon. They played an algorithmic musical composition.

She used XP to link up objects and got the bells talking to each other in a ‘call and response’ way – she used the sound of the real bells mixed with recorded bell sounds. She was interested in showing the physical presence of the bells against the recorded bell sounds.

Sadly she’d brought the wrong piece of software to play these to us, but luckily had her saw with her, so played us a few notes on that – wonderful!

Another great dorkbot and lovely to see friends old and new :-D

GP2X F200 – FTW!

Woohoo, I’m a very lucky bunny – came home from OpenTech with a very nice GP2X F200 open source handheld device!

No, I haven’t been maxing out my moo account again, I was just fortunate to enter a competition that Osmosoft, the sponsors of Opentech were running and be lucky enough to win the second place prize :-D

What’s cool about the GP2X is that it’s powered by Linux and you can write your own games or import games and emulators that other developers have built. It’s lots of fun and there are a couple of sites devoted to free games that you can pick and choose from – such as www.gp32x.com.

But wait… The GP2X isn’t just cool for playing games, you can run DivX movies on it, look at photos, read ebooks and play your OGGS on it – how cool is that!

I’ve been playing with it today and my favourite game so far is VEKTAR, which is like a cross between Asteroids and Geometry Wars.

Vektar game for GP2X

Anyways, I’m very grateful to Jeremy Ruston, creator of tiddlywiki and the Osmosoft gang for my lovely GP2X, and I’m also hoping to develop a proper working version of the ‘Travelcat-log’ soon with the help of the tiddlywiki development group :-D

OpenTech, ULU, London

Today I’m at OpenTech at ULU, these are my rough notes, apologies for mishtakes – will edit later!

The first set of presentations I saw was from a panel beginning with Jeremy Ruston – creator of tiddlywiki, ‘a reusable non linear personal web notebook’. He told us that tiddlywiki started it’s life as an experiment in UXD and that it has the semantics of a word document with the usability of a web application. The format of tiddlywiki is malleable and simple – for example to create a to-do list is very easy and he showed us via slide how you can tag your tasks by priority. One of the pluses of tiddlywiki is that it can run without a server, so you can keep it as a local file and use it for example for conference notes where there’s no wifi.

Jeremy also showed us ripplerap , which is a free note sharing tool which is useful for conferences, making and sharing agendas, etc.

Next on the stage was Micheal Jennings – presenting Android open source mobile project

After some problems with his laptop/projector connection which he could of done with someone jumping onstage to help him out, he gave us an update on Android. It’s a mobile phone operating system based on Linux. It’s built by Google & the Open Handset Alliance and of course is open source. He told us that Android is: modern, has gps, compass, an accelerometer is easy to write apps for and cheap to produce. It will run multiple process and task switching, and an open architechture.

I heard that presently a huge chunk of phone cost is the operating system, but Android will be free and it uses the Java programming language framework on a Linux kernel.

There is also an Android developer challenge! They are gving away 10 million dollars in funding for developers to write cool stuff, presently there’s about 2000 developers across the world making stuff. Developers can keep their code and do what they want with it.

Tom Morris followed, but luckily didn’t suffer the same laptop problems. He told us about the Linked Data WC3 project to implement the semantic web.

This follows on from Tim Berners Lee’s work on the semantic web.
Tom mentioned something that sounded like dpedia(?) anyway it’s an unofficial scrapped version of the wikpedia API – I’ve failed so far to find it, so I presume I’ve got my spelling or my ears are wrong ;-)

Anyway, later Tom showed as a rather interesting slide of a ‘linked data treasure map’ – which is growing every month.

Linked Data Tresure Map

Some stuff for me to look up:
* sparkl
* sindice.com

If you want to get involved, you can read the docs, subscribe to the mailing lists and join the
linkeddata.org
tommorris.org
getsemantic.com
IRC channel: irc.freenode.net #swig