Monthly Archives: February 2009

Augmented Reality.

Most people know about the ideas of Virtual Reality, such as the concepts expressed in the Matrix trilogy of movies and other Science Fiction productions. However many people are unaware of the bridge between these worlds that already exists using today’s technology. This is known as Augmented Reality and it attempts to enhance our current perception of the world using technology. The simplest form of this I can think of is Heads Up Displays (HUDs) that you can even get in your car these days (if you happen to own one of those spiffy European cars ;)). However I don’t want to get bogged down in the idea of visual augmented reality, as that’s really just a small part of it.

With today’s technology putting more and more information at our fingertips our reality is becoming more augmented then we might think. For instance, my phone has a web browser built into it and an Internet connection that would’ve cost most companies thousands of dollars a decade ago. Right now if someone asks me a question that I have no idea about a quick trip to Wikipedia has the general information about the topic at hand almost instantly. Additionally back when I had a Windows Mobile phone (Which I managed to lose, but that’s another story!) I used to subscribe to RSS feeds that would be updated every hour. This meant that I had up to date information on various topics that interested me in my pocket at all times. If I was out at lunch I’d merely scroll through the newest items and I’d always be up to date on the latest.

But even this “pull” side of augmented reality is only one part of it. When I was down in Melbourne visiting one of my friends he happened to tell me about these new shoes that he got. It seems that Nike had gotten together with Apple to produce what basically amounted to a pedometer that was embedded in the shoes and was capable of recording statistics whilst you were jogging. He was partly doing this because his work had a sponsored health campaign, and they were all uploading their stats to a website to see how they were all going. As much as I hate the term “Web 2.0″ it’s very much that, putting the users in charge of generating content that is of interest to everyone.

So where is all this technology going? Back in 2004 a university project in Singapore spawned a real world Pacman, using GPS and a complex overlay of the real world. Whilst this is more of a gimmick it did show the potential of using many disparate forms of technology to augment and enhance our view of the world. One of the coolest apps, which also demonstrates the power of Open Development Platforms, is Wikitude AR Travel Guide for the HTC G1 Android mobile phone:

YouTube Preview Image

What I like about this app is that it is a consumer level application. It’s designed for your everyday user to be able to download and use without having to think about it. As the Android platform matures I’m sure we’ll start to see many more implementations of applications like this and I for one, can’t wait.

It’s almost enough for me to break out Visual Studio and start coding again……

Almost ;)

Science and Religion.

I was brought up in your typical “Protestant” Christian family. Although we weren’t strictly religious we still went to church on Christmas and Easter and I did scripture studies all the way through primary school. I even ended going to Radford College here in Canberra, which is Anglican but I don’t think my parents really cared as long as the basis was Christian. I didn’t last long there and I’ll tell you why.

It’s around that time in a boy’s life when he starts to question the world around him. I became increasingly disdainful towards my parents and of course started the usual teenage rebellion. Although this started with just plain disobedience there was one significant turning point that I still remember very clearly to this day.

Sitting in Science class my teacher proclaimed that science and religion didn’t disagree with each other. Whilst at the time I found this to be confusing (and did outright disagree with it) the notion did send me down a path of self discovery. I found the more I read into the teachings of the bible the more I didn’t believe in it as faith. When it came time to do this like my confirmation I couldn’t go through with it, because there was always a nagging voice in the back of my head telling me that I didn’t agree with this practice.

However, now being many years wiser I can see where my science teacher back then was going. Science is the how and when of what happened. Religion is the why. Now science can’t explain why we came into existence, that’s not the point of scientific study. On the other side, religion has a tough time describing how we came into existence without falling back on scripture. It is this distinction that I fail to see from many hard core Atheists like Richard Dawkins, who seems more content to show the baseless nature of faith instead of seeing its application as an explanation of that which can not (currently) be explained by science.

The reason behaviour irks me is that science and religion are constantly fooling around with each other and they’re not doing each other any good. It’s like a classic destructive relationship were both partners blame each other for their misery yet neither one of them is willing to break it off. The problem is that both of them have a tendency to bring out the holy crusader hiding in everyone, ensuring that both sides of the debate have defenders who go to any lengths to disprove their opponent.

So what can be done about this? I personally believe that religion has no place in real world matters, and as such should be separated. This is the classic separation of Church and the State, which appears to have a blurred distinction of late. It seems more and more that religion plays a big part in international affairs and this is what concerns me. Areas of great scientific research, such as cloning and stem cell research, have hit major roadblocks due to people’s beliefs. Now this is where religion should keep out. Sure, I believe that religion can and should weigh in on the ethics side of things but after that, they should step back. Any block on science that comes directly from religious teachings is in my view unacceptable.

My solution to this problem? I don’t think I could say it any better than the Simpsons did in the episode “Lisa the Skeptic”:

   Judge Snider: Lisa Simpson, you are charged with destruction
                 of an historic curiosity. A mis-demener. By the
                 larger sum, this trial will settle the age old
                 question of Science vs. Religion. Let the opening
                 statements commence.
Religion Lawyer: Your honour over the coming weeks and months we will
                 prove that Lisa Simpson willingly destroyed...
                 [Lisa notices the angel on a nearby grassy hill through
                 a window]
          Lenny: There's the angle!
                 [they all run out to see the angel]
   Judge Snider: I find the defendant not guilty. As for science vs.
                 religion I'm issuing a refraining order. Science should
                 stay 500 yards from religion at all times.

That’s right you two, stay away from each other.

Internet Filter Trial One Step Closer.

So I’ve gotten reports that Senator Conroy has actually managed to get his rediculous proposal off the ground and has a total of 6 ISPs on board with him. Here’s some more info:

The Federal Government’s controversial internet filtering trial has moved a step closer with the announcement of six internet service providers ready to take part.

Primus Telecommunications, Tech 2U, Webshield, OMNIconnect, Netforce and Highway 1 will take part in the first trial, to run for six weeks and start once filtering equipment has been installed.

Clients of participating service providers will be able to opt out of the trial.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has been the subject of heavy criticism for the trials, with civil liberties groups labelling the plan ”draconian” and warning a mandatory ”clean feed” internet filter could severely reduce internet speeds in Australia.

Service provider iiNet has previously said it planned to take part in the filter trial to prove to the Government it would not work, while Optus has delayed participation until March. Telstra is not taking part.

But Senator Conroy has rejected the warnings, saying the Government was committed to an ”evidence-based” approach which was why it would trial the filter first. ”The live pilot will provide evidence on the real-world impacts of ISP content filtering, including for providers and internet users. It will provide evidence to assist the Government in the implementation of its policy,” he said.

Now call me cynical but apart from Primus Telecommunications I haven’t actually heard of any of these ISPs before the announcement. This is exactly the kind of behaviour that was expected if big players like iiNet and Internode hadn’t taken part. The Government would cherry pick small providers which would then give a very skewed view of the impact. Just a quick glance at these companies reveals:

  • Tech2U: Their website looks like it was done in a raw HTML editor. Their prices are mind boggling insane and I’ve got an inkling that’s because they service more remote clients. The highest speed they offer is only 1.5mb for home users, these guys are far from the big time and a terrible testbed to see how a filter would affect millions of people.
  • Webshield: An ISP priding itself on filtered content and is apparently not for profit. Now, don’t get me wrong, they’re providing a service that a certain section of people want and that’s great. However, being a not for profit company has issues when it comes to technology like internet filtering. Firstly, since they have no responsibility to share holders or indeed any directive to grow the company the impact of implementing this technology is minimized. Additionally they’ve marketed themselves around this idea already and so their customers aren’t going to care about any slowdown, since that’s what they asked for! Again, a terrible testbed for the general public.
  • Omniconnect: One of the larger (looking) players, specializing in remote broadband solutions. I’m starting to notice a pattern in these ISPs. They’re mostly small time players who deal primarily with remote connections. The problem with this is that they are a terrible representation of the Australian Internet community, since they already suffer from reduced speeds. This company doesn’t even list prices for their services on their website.
  • Netforce: Correct me if I’m wrong, but these guys aren’t even an ISP! They are a managed solutions provider and you can’t actually get an Internet connection through them at all. So, really are they even capable of proving insight into what Internet filtering will do to the communtiy at large. Simple answer, NO!
  • Highway 1: Ok, these guys look like they run a professional shop. However, the first thing you’ll notice on their website is that they primarily deal with small businesses, and there are no consumer level plans on their website. Granted they’re offering services that could be easily used that way (and they’re priced reasonably) but I’ll bet that most of their customers don’t use their internet as their home connection.

Needless to say this doesn’t inspire confidence in the filter trial. If I saw iiNet, Optus and Internode on that list I might be able to say that it would be getting a fair go but come on, this is a sideshow. There is a deliberate selection bias with these ISPs and I must say that I’m not suprised.

I’d love to hear from anyone who’s actually on these services so I can get an idea about how you heard about them. I’d be really interested to hear from anyone on Netforce, since I’m sure they’re not really an ISP. Email me at therefinedgeek@gmail.com

What’s your rock?

Every day we’re hit with bad news from all around the globe. It becomes especially hard when the news comes from somewhere close to you and your loved ones. Right now Australia is in the midst of two separate and devastating disasters, both of which concerned me deeply and my thoughts are with all of those affected.

So when you lose almost everything to unfathomably brutal fires or unrelenting floods what do you turn to? I consider myself as somewhat of an oddity. Religion doesn’t work for me (that’s not to say I’m not religous, it’s just….complicated ;)) and I tend to overthink things, following all my thoughts down a dark logical path. So what do I do? Pretty much what everyone else does: escape.

If you haven’t already guessed I’m an obessive gamer, and my games of choice are ones that focus deeply on immersion. When times are tough I usually find myself in front of a computer or console hammering away, whilst my problems play out in my subconcious. You know how somtimes you can’t think of an answer straight away and then you bolt upright at night shouting the answer? That’s how games work for me, my problems battle themselves out whilst I battle demons in a far off land.

So the question remains, what’s your rock?

Cinematic Gaming (or My Secret Love of Playable Movies).

I’m an avid gamer and have been ever since my Dad sat me down at a computer at the tender age of 4 and showed me an old classic, Captain Comic. I spent many hours playing through that game and never getting too far into it, only to have my Dad’s friend show up and beat the game for me. I remember being awe struck as a child watching someone play through it so perfectly, when I had struggled for hours and only got half as far.

Fast forward 20 years and gaming has become a huge multi-billion dollar industry. So many games are released every year that no matter what kind of genre or play-style you fit into you’re bound to find something that you enjoy. Hollywood blockbuster budgets are thrown at impressive game titles and production values have skyrocketed, which has allowed game designers to become analogous to movie producers. Thus Cinematic Gaming was born, bringing the choices of a choose your own adventure book together with the immersion of modern interactive games.

My first real introduction into this blend of movie and game was Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. Whilst this is no where near the first foray into this genre it is a great example of what it is capable of. The emphasis is strictly on the characters and their interaction with each other. Every time I sat down to play it I felt drawn into the game and empathised with all of the characters, something which was made even stronger by the fact I could make their decisions for them. The ending left my heart aching, something which I had never experienced with a game before.

After finishing Dreamfall and sharing my experiences with some of my friends I was put onto Fahrenheit by Quantic Dream. This was a much earlier attempt at Cinematic Gaming and whilst the graphics were a tad rough, even for the time of its release, the emphasis again was on the plot and immersion. I quickly got drawn into the interaction between characters, and the use of game mechanics really makes you feel like the character is supposed to. Throw in a dash of naughty sex scenes and you’re onto a winner.

Probably one of the biggest jumps forward in this genre would have to be Mass Effect by Bioware, who are renowned for their games with intricate dialogues and over-arching plot lines. The conversation system implemented in Mass Effect is really second to none. Your responses are displayed just before the other person finishes their part of the conversation, allowing you to choose what you want to say before there’s an awkward pause. Once you’ve figured out which options are where (a “Paragon” response is typically at the top, “Renegade” is at the bottom) you can usually judge how you want to respond to someone before the options even come up. This makes the dialogue very fluid, and doesn’t have the same immersion break like many similar games do when you’re interacting with non-player characters.

So how does the future look for this type of game? Well Quantic Dream is busy working on Heavy Rain which is looking to take the next step in immersion with realistic facial expressions. They put an emphasis on the fact that their characters will show real tears, which is something that is sure to tug on heart strings. Here’s a great trailer:

YouTube Preview Image

I’m definitely looking forward to this, and I’ll be sure to give a review of it once I’ve played it through. Don’t expect it to be out quickly though, I like to take my time with things like this ;)