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The BBC are having a Dark Side of the Moon day on Monday. Nice trailer video for the Tom Stoppard play - although more than a shade of Elysium about it.

Edinburgh Fringe 2013

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Just back from this year's long weekend at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Not a classic, but some good shows in there - 16 in 3 days (and a couple of bits), not including the cafe. We got a a lot more different venues, some we hadn't been to before and hardly spent any time at the Pleasance (when previously we've spent almost whole days there). We also found it harder to work out what the "must-sees" were - perhaps because we normally go at the end of the festival when all the reviews and awards are out. None of our Festival faves (NIE, SpyMonkey etc) were there either to structure our schedule around. Also we saw hardly any posters for the shows we did see, adding to the feeling of being just a bit more in the dark.

Here's the shows in order:


Death By Murder* - We took a chance at using the half-price hut for our first night, just off the train seeing it was nearby. We go what we paid for. Sort of improvised comedy but not very well done and some pretty amateur acting. One of the cast played the inspector and had to work out who the murder was, but it just didn't really work and wasn't that well done.


Pussyfooting**** - Nice drama piece by a young theatre group we know via contacts in Birmingham. The neatest thing was the use of blackboards of all sizes to represent the set and props with drawings being hastily drawn as the play went on. Well acted and not a bad script around a fun plot about people's feet taking them over.

Seven Ages**** - flyered whilst buying tickets at the Fringe Ticket Office (saving us 90p a ticket vs iPad app purchases). 7 linked scenes about the 7 ages of pan, told and acted with wit and charm by Kevin Tomlinson, some with audience suggestions. Funniest was the "one word at a time" Clue style section with his assistant who couldn't remember that R came after E for the Queens initials, or that it was Great Britain and Northern Ireland (not ... and Scotland!).

Ballad of the Burning Star*** - history of modern Israel told Cabaret style complete with Drag Queen and gold spandex shorted Starlets. The Guardian had given in 5 stars but it just didn't really hold together. The play we say a few years ago consisting of monologues of cafe patrons each of whom gets blown up in turn as the end of their piece was far better.

Solfatara**** - Another that we'd been alerted to from friends in Birmingham, this time a Barecelonan production, in Spanish but with English subtitles. But it soon became apparent that the subtitle were part of the act as Annie-Hall style they started giving voice to the inner thoughts of the main characters (and even of the subtitler). The set-up was that a character in a mask (so very/only expressive eyes and mouth became the (evil) inner voice of the main character as the relationship between him and his wife went through volcanic (hence Sulfatara) outbursts. Really well done, really accessible, very nice piece.

Boredom***1/2 - Earlier in the day in search of a coffee we'd gone into Hunt & Darton's pop-up cafe just up from the Pleasance - without realising that it was actually an "event" - with Hunt & Darton curating a different ambience each day - today being "community" so we found ourselves at a large table doing a puzzle with a group of Australians. Really nice ambience and as good as many a show. SO in the evening we took in their Boredom show, which was prefaced by the two of them sat po-face saying "This is Hunt & Darton's show about boredom - good luck" and then proceeded with a variety of dead pan monologues, sketches, slideshows of food, a collection of model pigs and so. Well done and very amusing in a very dry way. Giving it **** would probably be wrong in principle, it wasn't meant to be that exciting. But **** for the cafe.


Voluntary Departure **** - Woefully poorly attended black comedy in a very small venue, it was nice to see a piece by more mature performers just acting their hear out - the woman in particular in this two hander was superb, the script really tight, sharp - just delivering that with a solid hour on stage at a brisk pace and some really wonderful wordplay was stunning. The plot was about a voluntary euthenasia clinic in a future state, the clinician advising the client how to die, and finding out why he wants to die. There was a 1984 watching security eye, and constant references to "our leader" - which for some reason kept making me think of Alex Salmond and a future Scotland. The the ending could perhaps have had a bit of a better build up, but overall really good.

High Plains **** - Really good simple (ghost) story of the modern American west told by a battered friendly drunk. Very simple, very effective.

Inspector Norse **** - Subtitled "The Girl with Two Screws Left Over" this was a wonderful mix of The Killing, Abba and the Ikea catalogue. A two hander from two mature women (Lip Service Theatre) and a set (and props) made almost entirely of wool. Just very silly but very good, highlights being the crisp-bread foleying of walking through snow and the woollen animal roadkills piling up on the front of the car. From the web site it looks like they make a serial habit of such popular culture send ups - must try and catch them again.

Humans Inc. A Sci-Fi Epic on Stage from anthony springall on Vimeo.

Humans Inc - ***1/2 - Every year I try and see something SF related, but am usually disappointed. Is it that people try too hard with Star Trek style sets, or that the plots are too cliched, or that the subject matter just doesnt attract good or inventive actors. Humans Inc almost broke the mould, but not quite - and a cavernous venue populated by a handful of SF geeks didn't help. The staging was really good, handheld LED frameworks for flying spaceships (or bits off), (real) lasers cutting through the smoke, white handheld screens being used almost balletically (?) to creating moving corridors, lifts and housings. It's just the plot was far too cliched and the acting (particularly from the lead) far too variable.

The Colour Ham - ***1/2 - Sketch and magic show delivered by three guys who were in perpetual giggles about what they were doing - some deserved some not. Well done but just a bit too much audience volunteer humiliation for my liking but they did appear to get their come-uppence when one volunteer turned out to be the neighbour of one of the performers and she had no idea what he did for a living!


Domestic Science **** - We made a conscious decision to see a bit more on the Free Fringe this year (having seen and enjoyed Austentatious last year), and along with the half-price hut on the first night, and generally lower ticket prices (earlier in the festival, not all weekend/bank holiday) we probably averaged a lot less per ticket than previously (despite still donating about £7 a head for the free shows we saw). This was a really good science show, lots of simple demos/experiments with household objects, smart and funny delivery, and a highlight of my wife being dressed up as the Hubble Space Telescope (image available on request!)

School of Night's Spontaneous Shakespeare **** - Jo saw this last year and really liked it. Four real "thesps" improvising around Shakespeare (and Chaucer), with some wonderful "study notes" style interjections to take the play in challenging directions. Great fun and well worth seeing again next year.

Ulysses Dies at Dawn ***** - You know that you've finally reached the real Fringe when you walk into a venue and wonder if a) you're in the right place and b) if you are whether you ought to turn right round and head back out. The WhyNot venue was a dark basement bar, the clientele sat on a motley collection of chairs and bar stools, and was dressed in a variety of fashions from punk to goth - Deb and I were initially the oldest people there - and certainly the straightest. But the guys with aviators googles on their hats, and the girl with a set of golden wings gave it away - this was steampunk and where we should be. From the description it had sounded the most like the wonderful grunge Beowulf we saw 2 years ago - and I wasn't disappointed. The Mechanisms do what can only be described as steam punk folk/blues music story telling, and do it incredibly well. The band members had their own be-costumed steampunk personas, a highly charismatic leader (first mate!) to propel the whole drama, and an audience (with no small number of devoted followers) which was rapt. This is what I come to the Fringe for. And of course interestingly despite the classical references of the plot it was SF, and well done steam punk SF.

Baby Wants Candy **** - Whereas as Ulysses was gritty this was slick and a bit manufactured - but great fun. Improvised musical, by a US group, in this case Oh Brothel Where Are Thou. The best bit was the rest of the cast trying to keep it together when the plot went off in a completely unexpected direction involving a Narwal horn and a toenail!


Aaand Now for Something Completely Improvised **** - We'd wanted to see this earlier but it had sold out, but decided we could just about fit it in before the train. Well worth it. Probably felt the most "improvised" of all the improv we saw (more than previous years), cant say it was "pythonesque" in the way described in the brochure (apart from one interjection), but again the fun was in watching in how other cast members dealt with the evolving plot and trying to keep straight faces. The two most glorious moments were one actor (supposedly with bird tendencies) regurgitating an opal fruit into the mouth of another, and one actors own mobile phone going off repeatedly - as the other actor said to him - "we'd have shamed an audience member mercilously for that", the miscreant got off lightly!

Finally got hold of the High Frontier supplement for the GURPS Transhuman Space RPG. This is still one of the best "realistic" imaginings of a near-future solar system - probably circa 2150 or even 2200 given current rates. It's certainly on a par with Paul McAuley's Quiet War series.

One thing that also struck me about recent SF I've read:

- Cyberabad Days by Ian McDonland is all about future India
- Quiet War is about a dominant Brazil in space
- Transhuman Space is all about a dominant China in space.

In other words it looks like the BRICs countries will inherit and dominate our SF future.

Plans for 2011

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With the iPad to hand there really is no excuse for not updating this blog more often! (scratch that - using the Movable Type screens on an iPad are a real pain)

Back in September I put together a list of 5 big projects to occupy my spare time (such as it is) alongside growing Daden. They were:

  • Creating environment spaces on OpenSim - with no more limits on number of sims then nice spacious builds in an SL like space are possible
  • Working more on Halo's AI - I'm disappointed that 2 years after the Machine Intelligence competition I've spent hardly any time pushing Halo forward. Particular areas of interest are increasing her situatedness in SL, making more use of semantic triples, and working on the next generation chat engine
  • Widening the scope of my wargaming, and in particular finishing off my MechWar and Napoleonic rules
  • Doing something with my Future History ideas - wiki, novel, book?
  • Growing a second "pocket money" income stream - possibly around selling PDF copies of rules or my old Traveller writings

So 3 months later where am I?

  • OpenSim - go off to a good start with porting the Tranquility Base sim we did in SL to OpenSim, and started work on a Mars base. Then an afternoon out to Packwood House had me start on a model of that C17 building and its grounds. That then got overtaken by events but I did work out how to get island/continent outlines into OpenSim, and am currently looking at terrain data import. Hopefully progress Packwood House, Mars and the terrain import over the next few months.
  • Halo's AI - Read a load about adjacency pairs and spruced up some of Halo's open smalltalk stubs. Working slowly through some semantic triples databases and just started a triples editor to make the whole triples thing easier. Still not as much time on this as I'd like.
  • Wargaming - into the closing stretch of the ECW army, photo's coming, and then can concentrate on rules set. Also found the Napoleon200 project - and will hopefully get my first game in March, and the Wargame Developments Group and their annual Conference of Wargamers which I'll hopefully get to.
  • Future History ideas - bottom of the pile, no progress
  • Second Stream - real progress. Had been playing around with some ideas to solve an on-going problem I have related to one of the above when I not only found a workable solution, but also a real business opportunity. Teamed up with my mate Nick (the last joint venture we had was a short-wave fanzine in school!) and we're now working to develop the project - codenamed C60 for now (and nothing to do with home-taping).

I'll try and post on developments on each of these as they happen.


Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch has an interesting blog post comparing Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, based primarily on a Google Trends plot of both search terms in Google.

His conclusions:

  • Augmented Reality has now over taken Virtual Reality, and
  • "You can take your virtual reality and get lost on Second Life. I'll take augmented reality any day. It's just more real."

As Mark Kingdon's New Year post says though virtual worlds such as Second Life are likely to become even more real (Second Life HD - SLHD Mark calls it), and anyway:

  • The current killer apps for virtual worlds and augmented reality are different - the VW strength is in training and learning, collaboration and whole building and data visualisation, AR is currently in navigation and interpretation
  • Increasingly the two will blur - we will have more AR with VW, and be able to our VW on as a AR overlay on real-life (see Halting State by Charles Stross)

So in most respects while the "tension" between AR and VW is interesting to me it is ultimately pointless as the future involves both.

But then I looked at Erick's graph again. He plotted virtual reality against AR - which apart from being a poetic balance is actually the wrong thing. All my (and most other people's talk) is about virtual worlds. VR is very much the 70s/80s term - no wonder its declining on his graph - and the VW "bubble" was in 2006 well after his graph shows VR declining.

So I did my own Google Trends - plotting AR against not only VR but also "virtual worlds" - having checked of course that my AR/VR graph was the same as his. The result:


That looks a truer picture. VW steading growing with something of a step change around 2006 and then growing steady til it was overhualed bythe AR hype of mid 2009, but then actually taking AR back over (just) at the end of 2009!.

As ever lies, damn lies and statistics!

As I said earlier this isn't to say that VW is better than AR or more important - they are both going to be important and vital to the future - all we need to know is which to use for which application, and how to get them to work together.

Here's my reflections on The Big Debate event. Speaker-wise Charles Leadbetter and Toby Barnes were great, but David Harris must have thought he was speaking at an advertising event circa 2000. Far too long was spent on them talking though, and not enough on the rest of us having some structured discussion. The final "ideas" list could have been done in the first 10 minutes and had no hard actions.

But I don't want to spend this post griping, I want to contribute. So here is my "Top 4" actions (sorry couldn't get to 5!) that I'd like to see taken as part of an "invite the pirates" initiative, and which would certainly help the pirates like myself who are already here. The first three should be do'able quickly and cheaply, the other might take a bit longer but can at least be projectised..

1.Open up the local HEI student cafe areas to SMEs, making them co-working spaces where collaboration can naturally happen.

I'm lucky that I spend a lot of time visit regional and other HEIs. Most have nice cafes full of students working in ad-hoc groups, and wi-fi and power. The Saltire Centre at Glasgow Caledonian University even has lightweight igloos and tents that students can drop over the tables to make ad-hoc project spaces. Whilst my meetings usually involve staff rather than students there is a) a nice buzz about being around students and b) from screens and books and posters you pick up a bit about what is going on.

So why don't we "formalise" this. Why not let SMEs make use of these same spaces - so that we can build informal links with the students - growing their awareness of us and of real business, and our awareness of their individual and collective capability. And we might even agree to give the odd guest lecture for the privilege!

2.Ensure that every HEI has an RSS feed or web service giving a) key details of each member of their research/development staff and b) details of each paper/report produced by the HEI

One area that we really struggle with is finding out who in our local HEIs are expert in the areas we are interested in. Over 5 years we're getting there, but it takes a lot of effort and I'm sure is not 100% complete. The Index Voucher scheme has been useful quite apart from the cash in finding out who's who, but we need something better.

So why doesn't every HEI clearly advertise an RSS feed or web service where I can track by keyword any paper, project, report, activity or people in the areas that interest me. We're not talking about a portal, something they have to maintain separately or I have to go to separately, but a feed straight out of what one would hope would be existing systems, and straight into my existing RSS reader.

3. Every company should post an RSS feed of student project ideas

The flipside of 2. When I visit HEIs I'm often asked if I have ideas for student projects - but chances are that I have my ideas at a different time from when they want the projects. And the lecturers appear to be crying out for real commercial projects. So every SME should post ideas on their web site as they occur to them, make them available on an RSS feed, and let the HEIs aggregate and search then as needed. Again no portal, but a great mash-up of project ideas. The benefits should be obvious - students and lecturers get real ideas and commercial input, companies get interesting work done for free.

We could even extend the model to embrace freelancers and bounty projects (Pirates again), and maybe even peer-to-peer B2B collaboration.

This is one we can do for ourselves, and the Daden project feed will go live by the end of the week.

4.Create urban (and rural) based hubs

The recent debate out about the Digital District had a lot of people calling for the emphasis to be city-wide, not just Digbeth. And talking to people in the Birmingham Library Service there's a lot of talk about how neighbourhood libraries are integrated with the new Central Library. And with others there's been talk about how we can make better use of school premises - particularly as they get revamped for the the 21st Century under Building Schools for the Future. And Moseley now has Moseley Exchange, and I've always been a great fan of the old Telecottage concept - no longer as a tech hub but as a co-working hub. So whilst I see the merit for a focussed physical centre for our Digital efforts (and Digbeth is nicely on the #50 bus route), I can also see the benefit in finding a way to federate that District out through a series of hubs based on existing infrastructures into the urban villages and neighbourhoods of Birmingham, and into the market towns and rural villages of the West Midlands.

Wordle from Guardian

Underwhelmed by the Digital Britain report, but still a pity I won't be able to make the regional launch at the ICC today. The Wordle above nicely summarises the issues:

- dominance of Government
- Radio far stronger than TV or Internet (talk about aiming low)
- Ditto spectrum
- No mention of web 2.0 brands, technologies or principles

Overall it looks more like an "old media" report than a "new media" report, failing to grasp the possibly seismic change in communications that high speed broadband and mobile broadband could bring, and the changes in consumption (and production) patterns already happening.

Perhaps a better approach would have been a 3 part one:
- tidying up the old guard (radio, spectrum, BBC, Channel 4)
- rapid build-out of a next-gen infrastructure
- exploiting that infrastructure

Neat site and looks like good content. Yet another challenge/opportunity for University 2.0?

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