Google Stadia for Interactive digital narratives?

Yesterday Google announced Stadia, their cloud gaming project. The interesting parts of the announcement are…

  1. Play now on youtube
    I love the transition from watching to playing, 5 seconds and I’m sure with time it will drop down to even less.
  2. Play on any device and completely cross platform
    Really taking complete advantage of streaming and google’s massive cloud infrastructure.
  3. Record play state to the youtube
    Completing the circle, by sharing your state (not video) back to youtube, maybe even allowing others to play again with… This makes total sense because youtube is where they can start to show adverts too; although because its all generated it would be easy to advertise in the game its self.
  4. Share play state
    As mentioned above, you are not playing a video, but the game again complete with its world state, player position and player inventory.

Google Stadia on every platform

I think its quite a compelling idea and like everyone else, are interested in how much, how easy its to build for and will google get bored and kill it? I’m less interested in the exclusive games, game pad, etc but acknowledge  it will live or die by the games.

I do think theres some incredible possibilities for other types of media especially interactive digital narratives. It certainly could blow netflix’s interactive platform out the water. Said quite a few times, I find netflix’s interactive platform is horrible when you think, theres better more engaging experiences on the console attached to the same TV or even on the mobile you are using to drive it. With Stadia, its all the same thing.

Welcome to my home cinema

Inception on the big screen
If there’s a film to try out the new projector its got to be Inception

I finally put down some money and got the Optoma HD143x, after lots of research and deciding that I will make it work somehow or send it back.

Optoma hd143x

After about a hour and half fiddling with controls, moving the unit (I tried different heights and even the coffee table) and adjusting it a lot. At one point I tried putting the telephoto lens in front of the projector lens but the lens on the projector is so large I ended up with a quarter of the picture missing.

But finally I got a widescreen 16:9 picture at 1080p/60 resolution positioned on my screen/blind. Its clear that ideally the screen isn’t wide enough

Stretched inception picture

Originally I had to set it to 4:3 stretching the picture vertically. I thought it was acceptable but then started thinking theres got to be way to fit a 16:9 picture on the screen.

Inception on the large screen
Note the [2] at the top left is slightly cut off

Then finally I found a image shift and crop feature which allowed me to position the picture at its natural ratio of 16:9. Its not perfect but it works and means I’ll keep the projector.

So next thing to do is get a long HDMI cable and replace the VGA cable for the old projector with it in the room trunking. I also need a better more solid backstop to rest the projector on. Currently its resting on my headphone case and thats not ideal. The projector only really has one support at the front and gets unbalanced when the back is up off the ground.

Inception on the large screen

The research paid off and and now I’m looking forward to hosting some nice film nights complete with 7.1 surround sound and fresh popcorn. What a great Christmas present!

This is the TV, which fits my flat

In my last post about buying a projector, I thought long and hard about getting a bigger TV as mine is 40inches and quite old as the first generation Smart TV. I use it mainly as a monitor really with Kodi and a Chromecast driving most of my media viewing. I already unplugged it from my network and don’t use any of the smart apps.

But I love my view across Manchester, and can’t really think about putting a big TV in front of it. The projector screen is a nice compromise.

Then today from CES, came the perfect TV for me, however I have no plans to buy it, what ever price tag it has on it. Also I don’t fancy being the early adopter on this one, I’ll wait for the 3rd generation and massive price drop.

Which projector fits in my flat?

My home cinema setup

I love home cinema and the idea of a projector is one of those things I always wanted but couldn’t afford. A while ago I (well my friends wife did and I helped) put up a white Tupplur blind from IKEA. Then I bought a really cheap XGA projector.

It kind of works but I have to put the projector on the coffee table and quite high. As its XGA (1024×768) and not even WXGA (1280×768), the picture is cut off when playing a film and of course its analog inputs only which is a real pain. So finally its time to get a new projector.

This should be easy but I realise I might be asking for the impossible?

  • Full HD 1080p projector
  • HDMI inputs
  • Less than £500
  • The ability to beam 4 meters and fill but not over shoot a screen of about 2.55m diagonal (2.1m width x 1.45m height)

The last part is the biggest issue, the current projector over shoots the screen massively and the only way I can make it fit is with a telephoto lens I bought recently.

The macrolen attached to my old projector
Telephoto lens attached to my current projector

So I’ve been looking up throw distances, and it seems to be roughly the meters I want the projector away (4 meters) divided by the second number in the projectors ratio (usually something like 1:62). The number resulting is the width of the image.
For example the perfect number is 4 meters divided by a nice projector throw ratio like 1:1.9 gets you 2.1 meters at 4 meters distance.

Theres lots of projector calculators online, I’ve been using this one. They are great but when looking up projector prices in the UK, its always difficult to get the throw ratio. This is important because even if projector central can filter by throw and other things, the prices are all over the place.

The telephoto lens in effect

After much looking, comparing and searching (I’m surprised theres no way to compare this type of data easily actually, the best site I found for this is Projector Central which allows you to search based on key features). I decided to order the Optoma HD143X HDMI 3000.  I’ve decided to give it a try and be prepared to use a telephoto lens again to get the picture down to a reasonable throw size. Searching and comparing was eating up my time, when I should have been doing other things. So I’m glad that all done now and just happened to nab one as the price went up again. One of the online retailers had not changed their price quick enough, luckily for me.

Worst comes to worst, I could always get a bigger blind, setup a white sheet or just send it back and go looking again.

Fingers crossed it will fit perfectly, otherwise another trip to IKEA is on the cards.

New Ghost in the Shell anime

Ghost in the shell fan art

Noticed in the Verge

As spotted by io9, Netflix announced that a new Ghost in the Shell anime is coming — Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 which will be directed by Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed), and Kenji Kamiyama (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex). Netflix doesn’t reveal any additional details, other than to say that it will be released sometime in 2020.

Travels with Pacemaker… live from Skopje

Travels with Pacemaker Skopje
Taken by Adriangradinar

Its rare when I get the opportunity to Dj on a big stage in front of a crowd live but I certainly do enjoy it. This time it was live from British Council’s PlayUK 2018 in Skopje Macedonia. Someone couldn’t make it and I said well if you need a DJ I’m totally up for it.

Very enjoyable, shame I didn’t have longer and I started mixing during the sound test meaning I didn’t hit record. I did consider hitting stop and then hitting record but people were dancing and well the mix was pretty simple.

Podcasts in Plex? But which Plex?

Verge podcast on PlexPodcasts on Plex, at long last?

I was excited by the news of podcasts on plex

So excited I decided to switch to the beta version to give it a try.

Now I know its beta but after closer inspection of the blog post, I noticed everything was focused on the player application. As most of my Plex use is as a server, I was expecting to see podcasts as a plex scanner/agent option or even better a library type.

Currently it seems like you can create a podcast library on the Plex player/app but that doesn’t sync back to anywhere. I expected that under my user account I would see the new podcast library on my Plex media server too. Trying to create a new podcast library also goes no where when using the web interface to the media server.

My hope is this is just a beta issue and it will be rolled out to the media server too. Because right now the point of Plex is the sync capability around one app. This does make me wonder about Plex’s previous move which upset a lot of people.

Till this is clear, I’ll be sticking with my elaborate podcast sync system.

We present the Living room of the future…

living room of the future flyer

I’ve been working on the living room of the future and write about it quite a few other places including the BBC R&D blog.

Its part of the reason for the radio silence recently, but honestly the team of 3 universities and 2 arts organisations have been hard at work to create the live demonstrator of the living room of the future.

living room of the future

I won’t lie, its bloody exciting not only for the experience but what it enables and stands for. I highly recommend taking part in the research if you are able to come to Liverpool from Thursday 3rd – 8th May.

Of course I don’t want to reveal too much and although its hard to do much of a spoiler as its about a shared experience. Our twitter bot is doing a good job showing the inners of what going on if you are wondering.

There has been a question for a while which people always ask. Why the living room? To which I answer sensitive place, common private area for discussions, there are existing social hierarchies at play in the space and its place for small audiences. Its also a complex space which I’ve seen talked about a lot recently.

BD3-34 - Pilsen St bedsit with armchair

I found Millennials don’t need living rooms, piece from the Independent fascinating.

A prominent architect has argued millennials do not need living rooms and their housing prospects would be greatly improved if size regulations were overhauled.

Patrik Schumacher, who took over as head of Zaha Hadid Architects after the legendary founder died in early 2016, said “hotel room-sized” studio flats were ideal for young people who led busy lives.

In a paper published by the Adam Smith Institute, he suggested size rules should be reviewed to increase the number of studio flats available to those on lower incomes.

While a 25-square-metre flat is the minimum in Japan, in the UK the minimum is 37 square metres for a one-bed.

Although reading through the piece, it sounds like a land grab to change the regulation and fit even more property in smaller spaces. There is a slight point that the price of property is super high and this could help (IF) prices don’t increase they are currently.

Polly Neate, CEO of housing charity Shelter, hit back at the architect’s remarks. “Tiny homes don’t necessarily mean cheaper homes, and at Shelter we know that having a decent place to live is vital for people’s well-being. So compromising on space and quality isn’t going to do anyone any favours,” she told The Independent.

“Homes in the UK are not expensive because they are too large, they are too expensive because our housing market is broken. When big developers realise they can squeeze, for example, 20 tiny homes on the same patch of land that once fit just ten then the price of land will rise to reflect this.

“The solution to the housing crisis is not to build ever smaller homes but to bring down the price of land and build the type of genuinely affordable homes that people actually want to live in.”

My thoughts went back and forth while reading but I wondered if the living space is squeezed what will disappear? Maybe the living room or kitchen will be first to go, looking at Japanese flats for example.

There was a choice in building the living room of the future, that it should be big or small? What was it it and what wasn’t. We decided on small to reflect the trend on smaller shared spaces and the need for the 3rd space.

Looking at the other side of the living room project, it was also fascinating to read about the UK’s first smarthome with Apple home kit baked in. The obviously scares the life out of me but every buyer of smart homes should read the house which spied on me and also the follow up which explains how it worked.

The house which spied on me

In December, I converted my one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco into a “smart home.” I connected as many of my appliances and belongings as I could to the internet: an Amazon Echo, my lights, my coffee maker, my baby monitor, my kid’s toys, my vacuum, my TV, my toothbrush, a photo frame, a sex toy, and even my bed.

Its super revealing and a very good long read. It speaks volumes about the different data which flows around our homes and spaces like the living room.

So what you waiting for, get yourself a ticket now!

How I listen to podcasts in 2018

Me listening to podcasts in madrid

I had quite a bit of time to read and listen to podcasts during my holiday in Portugal and Spain. One of the posts I read was Adrian talking about current his tech stack.

But I thought it might be good to talk about how I finally sorted out my podcast setup as it includes many parts of my current tech stack.

I listen to podcasts and audiobooks quite a lot. If I was still using last.fm I could likely quantify exactly how much but through my setup I’ll reveal a rough number at the end.

Listening devices

I listen to podcasts in the morning via Xbian running on Raspberry Pi 2 (considering switching to rasplex but Yaste remote supports Plex and Xbian as a audio endpoint/upnp renderer) which I bought a long while ago. This is setup in my room via ethernet and connected to a small amp and stereo speakers, one in my bedroom and one wired into the bathroom. I decided to do this after trying Bluetooth and FM speakers but they were just too quiet or unclear. Nothing beats a dedicated non-battery device. The wiring could do with a clean up. The Raspberry Pi is also connected to a audio splitter with one going to a FM transmitter.

This broadcasts to my little micro-hifi in the kitchen which I got from ebay over 10 years ago; its handy for multi-room synced audio without messing around (although I considered using a Chromecast audio and other things). The small amp in my room is connected to a TpLink HS100 smart switch meaning I can turn it off when leaving easily and quickly. I have only set it up for local wifi access not remote access, because frankly why would I need to this?

When not at home I use Google Pixel 2, I decided to get the 128gig version because I had enough of dealing with space issues. I have plex client installed and I have a plex pass (life time subscription), so can sync podcasts and audiobooks with ease. I do have it on my Nexus 7 and 5x too, but don’t carry them around much. I find Plex client is pretty good and doesn’t eat too much battery. Syncing seems seamless but with offline support sync support and 12gig of mobile 4G data. Because its using Plex at the backend, plex will save position no matter what device, as I’m logged in using the same account.

I also have Chrome Plex client on my laptop, meaning I can keep on listening when at work. Yes I listen to podcasts and audiobooks while working. I know many find this unthinkable but it works for me.

Plex Media Server

I’ve had Plex mediaserver running for quite a long time now and the advantages of having a gigabit internet connection and decent vpn (zerotier) means I can stream, sync or download podcasts and audiobooks without any fuss to my own devices. Plex media server keeps the position and checks for updates to the server filesystem.
Plex indexes the podcasts and audiobooks as audio and with some tweaking works quite well, although it can get confused when podcasts numbering and dates. It would be great if it had a audiobook and podcast indexer to pull much more metadata.

Podcatching

Unfortunately Plex media server doesn’t actually support podcasts which would be great if it did but its a pain to get working and not worth it for me. Especially because I have a complete Ubuntu stack its running on.
Because of this I use to download the podcasts from the web using a native ubuntu app. I tried Gpodder and Rhythmbox but they were resource hungry when downloading 30+ podcasts. Then tried VLC but it seemed over kill just to download podcasts. So tried some command line programs including Podfox and podcatcher. In the end I used Podget then setup a cron to trigger it every 2-4 hours. I also have Podget clean up the podcasts every 3 months.

One of the biggest things which drove me nuts was adding and updating rss feeds. Someone says you listen to the guilty feminist podcast, and would have to update server configs, etc. But using my Tiny tiny RSS install, I now have all the podcasts added to the master subscription list and generate a custom RSS feed aggregated for podcasts. I add the generated feed to Podget and the next time its updated, it will automatically add new items.

Because its done via TTRSS, it means I can add & remove the feed via any TTRSS client including the one my phone or using the web interface via my VPN (I only expose the web interface that way).

Small pieces loosely joined

It sounds like a lot of work but honestly it works well and means I can remove a part of it and it will still work. Remove Podget, could be replaced with anything including VLC, etc. Plex could be replaced with Emby or another mediaserver. TTRSS could be anything self-hosted. Using Plexpy to log is under my own terms and the data is only shared and useable by me.

I do wish I could get to this type of space with so much more of the services I use. Right now, I’m quite impressed with how smooth everything works.

Looking forward

I’m looking at a way to tag and generate a feed out of the tags in TTRSS, instead of adding it to a hierarchy. Sometimes a feed could fit between two or more places. I’d also like to improve plex’s indexing around podcasts and audiobooks. Podget generates a m3u playlist file but not found much use for these yet. I also wish the plex input for kodi was less heavy.

I just added the Recode podcast while writing this post and I looking at my plex client on my Pixel 2. Podget downloaded all the episodes over my gigabit connection in about 6mins flat, the podget won’t remove them till a few months old but I can easily remove them via plex or directly from the file system over the VPN.

As promised, looking at Tautulli (what use to be PlexPy). Over the last 3 weeks I had 83 plays or 22 hrs 14 mins of playback.  The last podcast I listened to while on the Madrid Metro to the airport at 7:30am was Rob Reid’s Always on podcast – Episode 23: Rodney Brooks | Robotics & AI – Their Present & Future

Not enough detail?

If you are interested in any detail, just comment or tweet me for more info.

 

Could the Mycroft 2, be the perfect replacement for a Google home

I saw the Mycroft v2 recently and had a look through the kickstarter page to learn a little more.

MyCroft v1

It looks promising but after some research and some tweets, I remembered the mycroft.ai is something I looked at previously and was interested in installing on a RaspberryPi to see if I could create what I really need. Its one of my many projects I wanted to do with my holidays sometime. Its clear voice and hue lights could be very good, especially for guests but I don’t want google and philips to be involved in that process.

I also suggested mycroft and betty to Databox team, when we talked about voice in the living room of the future. It seems like a perfect match right?

Anyway, I think I might back the second one only because I don’t really want to do the hard work making it work on a Raspberry Pi.

Halt & Catch Fire Season 4 looks super good

Halt & Catch Fire
Halt & Catch fire has been one of those shows I’ve raved about over and over again.

This seems to be the final season and I have to give AMC credit for the great cinematography. Season 4 episode 1&2 was something you would see on breaking bad. Episode 3 was also good too, there are too many good things to say about the show really…

Oh Plex, why oh why?

XBMC media centre

I know the picture above isn’t Plex but rather XBMC/KODI but this shot sums up how I feel about Plex right now.

I have been using Plex server quite a bit and decided that I would snap up a lifetime PlexPlus pass a while ago. So I was pretty peed when they updated their policy around data collection. From Plex’s Highlights of what is changing:

Upcoming features and services involving third-party and ad-supported content will require Plex to collect and, in some cases, share information about the third-party content you are streaming. For clarity, third-party content is content that we deliver or stream to you that is not contained in your personal media library.

Ok thats annoying for me but not too much of pain as I don’t really use the Plex addons/plugins. I know others are more upset about this.

In order to understand the usage across the Plex ecosystem and how we need to improve, Plex will continue to collect usage statistics, such as device type, duration, bit rate, media format, resolution, and media type (music, photos, videos, etc.). We will no longer allow the option to opt out of this statistics collection. Again, we will not collect any information that identifies libraries, files, file names, and/or the specific content stored on your privately hosted Plex Media Servers. The only exception to this is when, and only to the extent, you use Plex with third-party services such as Sonos, Alexa, webhooks, and Last.fm.

We will no longer allow (including paid lifetime!) users to opt-out! Also usually when you get something like this, its anonymous data collection. I know later its makes it sound like anonymous but it never actually says this. I still need to read through the privacy policy in full again. But this feels like it might break a EU data law and for sure the ones coming soon. (Plex is based in Delware & Switzerland)

To be fair I’ve had a task to try out Emby for a long while, but this begs the question of what happens to my Plex pass and why don’t Plex share collected data with us? Luckily plex data portability isn’t such a pain. Also its another reason why most of my media consumption is through Kodi not Plex.

Exposition, versions and the story of sad API lookups?

Donnie Darko

I recently watched Donnie Darko again. Always loved that film so picked Donnie Darko out of my movies, only to find something wasn’t right. Killing Moon was gone in favor of Never tear us apart. I was watching the directors cut of Donnie Darko not the original cinematic cut. Without spoiling it, the directors cut is full of scene explainers which makes a great film suddenly a bore, this is called narrative exposition.

As someone else said

For me this movie was a masterpiece that the director ruined by changing the music and adding too many scenes/extensions.

The movie worked as is so everything he extended seemed to drag it. It’s 20 minutes longer as a result.

And I thought the opening upbeat song “the killing moon” was perfect instead of “never tear us apart”.
In story-telling, you start with “world in balance” (happy 80s) in order to create the contrast when things go array. So “Killing moon” was the a much better choice than “Never tear us apart.”

But whats painful about the whole thing is, looking at my movies. I find 2 donnie darkos. Both named the same, same cover art, fan art, etc. Its not till you look at the folder names you can see the difference. As you can imagine this is very frustrating as it leads to trial and error to get the one you want.

Of course its not just Donnie Darko, I also have the directors cut of Lock Stock, Human Traffic and a few others. Each are identical till watched.

I asked on Twitter about this issue and actually got a message back from themoviedb, which is wonderful to read and hear.

Certainly can’t wait for this to come, as there seems to be no real alternative to this trial and error method at the moment? I don’t envy creating the API point for this as, some films have so many versions and variations. What even counts as a version or variation?