Which Magazine Art

When I was younger I used to enjoy reading my grandmother's collection of Which magazines. This was way back in the sixties, when consumerism was just getting going.  I still get the magazine today. It has turned into a bit more of a lifestyle publication than it used to be; when it is recommending tumble driers that cost more than five hundred pounds as "best buys" you just know that something has come adrift. It still has teeth though, as its latest investigation into the way that products are getting smaller but not cheaper illustrates. 

However I think it had its heyday in the fifties and sixties, when there were many such issues to address. They also had a way with graphical design which was quite ahead of its time. Take a look at these covers for a glimpse of history. 

Ricoh Theta S 360 Degree Camera

click through to see the 360 degree scan on Flickr

click through to see the 360 degree scan on Flickr

I've seen the future. And it mostly works. On Saturday number one wife was injudicious enough to let me roam unsupervised down Tottenham Court Road, one of the more gadgety parts of London. Of course I came back with something. It's actually something I saw at the Gadget Show Live, but at the time I didn't think I knew enough about the device to be sure it was worth bothering with.

Anyhoo, with a bit of background research and a slight price drop I was able to nip into a shop and emerge with a Ricoh Theta S. It's a camera, but it does something that no other camera I've seen can do. It takes a full 360 panoramic picture in one shot. It is fitted with two wide angle lenses which are back to back. Each of them gives a 190 degree field of view, which means that there is enough overlap for two images to be stitched together to form the panorama. 

This is what a raw image looks like. The horrible pink bit along the bottom is my thumb and hand. It seems that things automatically know what to do with these images; when I uploaded one to Flickr it automatically uses a panoramic viewer when the image is opened. There's also a viewer you can use for your PC (which seems to produce higher quality images than the browser based ones) and an app for your phone (iPhone or Android) that you can use via WiFi to configure the camera, take pictures and download and view the shots. You can even display them as two images that you can pan around, which is perfect for Google Cardboard or the Samsung VR headset.

As far as image quality is concerned it is not great shakes. I think a good phone camera could probably out-perform it. However, you can set the ISO value (lower is better) and it has some HDR settings that improve things a bit. The images are fairly sharp, particularly close up, but I don't think the lenses have any form of aperture control and the shutters are electronic. 

However, for me the thing is not the absolute quality, but the fact that it can do this wonderful thing at all. I've had great fun playing with it. The pictures you get really give you a feeling of being there like no single image can. You can take video (although the quality is not that great) and you can also attach the camera to your PC and live stream 360 degree video.  You can send your images up to Google Streetview to add detail to places on the map. There's even an api that you can use to control the camera from your own software, and Ricoh seem pretty active with firmware upgrades and new software features. There are even some "professional" (i.e. expensive) things for sale in the App Store which take bracketed exposures and use them to create game environments.

There one hardware issue with the device itself that you need to be aware of though. The two lenses at the top stick out in a way that invites trouble. It's pretty much impossible to put the device down on a table without it being open to expensive damage. I've 3D printed a cover for the top which helps a bit, and I'll try to create a proper case of some kind.  The device itself is pleasingly chunky and very well made apart from that though. It has 8Gb of storage built in, enough for more than a thousand pictures or 25 minutes or so of video. Using it makes you feel a bit of an idiot though (or at least it did me). I ended up holding it on my head, which made me look very strange.

But I think when people see what this can do they'll want one. I also think that it would be a perfect feature to add on to a phone, if you could find a way of getting the field of view without the protruding lenses. It makes every picture into a selfie; but not in a particularly bad way. I know that whenever I go anywhere from now on I'll take this with me and get shots that I could not get any other way. Well worth a look if you want to see what everyone will be using in a couple of years.

Go See Zootropolis

Who wouldn't want to go and see a picture about a cute bunny who wants to be a cop?

Actually, Zootropolis (or Zootopia in some parts of the world) is the best film I've seen in ages. Better than Inside Out. Close to The Incredibles. Just awesome.  It gives you a strong story, inventive characters and environments and a proper message. If you've got kids, take them along and then talk about it afterwards.

We live in pretty torrid times at the moment, with general nastiness being stirred up on all sides. This film is the perfect antidote to that. 

Dangerous Questions

Last week I had to ring up PayPal to liberate some funds that they were clinging on to rather more than they should. The call went smoothly and we sorted everything out. And I've since had two emails from PayPal giving me the "Opportunity to share my feedback." Or, as I put it, do their quality control for them.

I'm a helpful soul, but I'm not sure about all this. It seems that everything I do now results in a friendly request to engage in a dialogue to discuss how well it went. Even my un-solicited calls from EE about upgrading my phone were followed by a text asking what I thought. Fortunately for them I demurred on that occasion. 

I've got two worries about this kind of thing. One is there really should be more driving good customer service than the fear that someone might get a bad review. And the other is more scary. It is all to do with what my feedback tells the company about me.

As a generally easy-going soul who has no great love of upsetting folks I tend to rate my experiences in a positive way. Since my ratings can be data-mined in the context of what other people will have said about the same operatives I could therefore be placed in an "easy going" category that might change the experiences and offers that I might get if I ring up with a genuine problem some time in the future. I've been looking fairly carefully at the disclaimers and I've not found anything that rules out this possibility. 

Perhaps I should leave a really stinking review. Just in case. 

War of the Worlds

The eve of the war.....

The eve of the war.....

Some time ago I went to see "Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds" performed live at the Sheffield Arena. It was awesome. This year I found out that they were doing it again. In London. With a stage show. And David Essex. So I booked tickets, completely forgetting about Three Thing Game on the same weekend. 

Idiot me. 

Anyhoo, this morning we set off bright and early, arrived in good time, and discovered that in celebration of our trip the good people of London had closed the underground (or at least the Circle line that we needed), moved the bus-stops and hidden all the taxis. And the weather was a bit chilly too. Fortunately we are made of stern stuff and managed to find our way to the venue with only a bit of extra walking. 

The show was excellent. It was perhaps a bit more "stagey" than I would prefer with more expressive dancing than I think it really needed. And I've never been a fan of singing children in "full-urchin" mode. But the loud pieces were properly loud, although not as loud as the performance in Sheffield. When that one kicked off I watched the first three rows actually move backwards six feet.....

David Essex was the star, and made sure that we knew it. The rest of the cast filled their roles with gusto. Even the tripod that lurched around the stage was suitably menacing.  Great fun and well worth the price of admission.

Spring Three Thing Game Springs into Action

Of course we had pizza - lots of pizza

Of course we had pizza - lots of pizza

Three Thing Game Spring 2016 got under way tonight. Unfortunately I'm not going to be around for the entire competition because I've rather stupidly double booked myself, but I've left things in the capable hands of David, Simon and Warren and so I know we'll have a happy ending tomorrow.

I did manage to make it for the pizza though. 

I wandered around the lab and took some pictures of some of the teams. You can find all the pictures here

Mike Taulty talks Universal Apps at C4DI

I've met up with Mike Taulty a few times over the years, at the odd Hackathon or conference. I've also spent a fair while reading his blog. But I've not seen him to a talk before. Until now. 

He came along to a developer event at C4DI (which was packed by the way). He spent almost exactly an hour exploring how to build up a Windows 10 Universal Application to control a Sphero ball. At the start he made the point that Universal Applications are exactly what they say. They run on a Windows 10 platform that is now unified across lots of devices, from Raspberry Pi, through phone, Xbox One, tablet, PC, Surface Hub and even HoloLens. 

The talk served as a great demonstration of this, with the same code running on PC, Pi and phone. Mike also explained how different families of device can expose specific functions, for example a phone platform can provide an inclinometer, but a single application can be written to make use of these abilities in a context that is useful to the user.  He also touched on adaptive layout, where the designer can create display layouts appropriate to the format and size of the screen in use and then have the application automatically select the best one.

Mike also looked at the range of input options available to Windows 10 developers and by the end we had a Sphero that was controlled by speech, handwriting and even switches wired to a Raspberry Pi.

This was a great talk that packed lots into a very short time. I'm very tempted to ask Mike to come along and deliver it as a Rather Useful Seminar. 

Three Thing Game Springs into Action

Spring Three Thing Game got going today with the "Handing Out of the Things". I did something rather tricsky, which was to give teams exactly the things that they asked for. One team, feeling rather smug about having added the word "moist" to the things, was then rather surprised to find it included in their things. Such fun. I took some pictures of the lucky teams and their things.

Development starts on Friday. Should be fun

Shame on you Uncle Joe

While we were in Whitby a while back we bought a can of Uncle Joe's Mintballs. They are really really nice. Great to have around when you are writing code. I opened the can today and discovered something a bit naughty. In the "Good Old Days" (tm) you would find a bag of mintballs. Nowadays you have a much smaller number of flashily wrapped, individual mints. The weight of minty goodness you get has gone down from 200 gms to 120 gms. And the price has gone up slightly too. 

Shame on you Uncle Joe. Shame on you. 

Good Food at Harogate

Last week it was gadgets, this week it is food. Who says I don't lead a cultured existence?

Anyhoo, today we headed off to Harrogate in search of cheese and other comestibles at the Spring BBC Good Food Show. There was lots of great stuff, and much fun was had trying samples. I wondered about taking a selection of disguises next year so that I can go round multiple times, tippling gin and eating cheese off toothpicks. But it is probably easier just to buy the stuff that you like, and so we did. We also went to a cooking demonstration that was very entertaining and very slick. 

Michel Roux Jr. gave the demo that we saw. The trick, apparently, is not to care whether or not your soufflĂ© rises. Then it takes care of itself. Great day, great fun. And some great food.