The next web peers around BBC R&D…

Perceptive Radio v2
The second-generation experimental Perceptive Radio hardware. Credit: Martin Bryant / TNW

Its always great to have some of the work in the press, and see which bits they pick up on. But even better is when it gets framed along with other work, such as the ones happening around the same lab or similar fields.

In recent times, Ian Forrester has turned his attention to ‘Visual Perceptive Media.’ As we first reported late last year, this applies the same principles to video-based content.

For the first experiment in Visual Perceptive Media, the BBC worked with a screenwriter who created a short drama with multiple starts and endings. In addition to the variable plot, a number of different soundtracks were prepared, and the video was treated with a range of color gradings to give it different moods, from cold and blue to warm and bright.

Good to see the next web picking up on the effort we put into making all this very open. This comes from before my time at BBC Backstage but it certainly makes things easier to justify with us being a public organisation haven done things like Backstage.

One thing that struck me when talking to the people working on all of these projects was that they were using the Web browser as their canvas and working with free-to-use, open technologies like OpenGL, Web Audio, Twitter Bootstrap and Facebook React.

And what better end than…

Some of the most interesting ideas for how that might happen are coming out of BBC R&D.

Tangible playlists

#1 Mixtape

There’s been a research project I have been thinking about quite a bit. It involves something of a passion of mine and maybe many others. It combines a couple of thoughts, I have actually blogged a few times.

pacemaker_sonar_june_2007_09

Make DJing physical again

I have been calling for the more democracy in the world of Djing for a while. Luckily I’m not the only one thinking this, the pacemaker guys are all over this. But before their latest app, I was inspired by my experience of switching from vinyl to laptop to the pacemakerdevice. But frustrated by the lack of forward thinking by the rest of the Dj world. I called for a hackday for djs, oppose to the already popular music hackday.

Part of the thinking was around making the DJ experience physical again, as pressing buttons behind a laptop screen makes you look like your doing your email, not banging out a epic set. Physical without needing tons of controllers and moving away from 2 decks and a mixer.

There are parallels with Djing/Mixing and making a playlist. A lot of thinking goes into the tune selection. But like mixes, the platform allows you to be more creative than simply play one tune after another. You may choose to play part of a tune, start a tune after the introduction. You may choose to speed up or slow down a tune. The mixtape is a narrative, a narrative your giving to another person. To think about a pls, m3u or xspif is almost an insult.

Untitled

Physically sharing things

I have spoken at length about the way we are physical beings and tend to prefer physical things. Whats interesting about physical things is the emotional attachment which comes with them. I even said it myself before…

Physical artifacts are much easier to lend to people and much more likely to be taken seriously by friends currently.

My examples include my book collection and the best example is the creativity which went into mixtapes.

Like it or not, there is something about sharing which is instantly more engaging. I think it might have something to do with the way our brains are wired. Something some people take advantage of (wish I could find the exact effect/scam, where someone gives you a small token gift and you in exchange tend to open your pocket to bigger amounts)…

There have been many attempts to give digital things a physical footprint but its always felt forced. What if you could take the best parts of digital and give them a physical footprint?

What would that look like, what would it be able to do which you can’t do right now in both mediums?

Atlas Hands

Tangible Playlists

This project I nicked named Tangible Playlists… Although its actually called physical playlists. Its a join project between BBC R&D and Lancaster University.

‘Mix tapes’ were a thing of love, a physical object which people would share with significant others and friends around them. They were naturally a social object and highly representative of a person’s identity. The knowledge of effort involved by the giver in selecting the songs and having to sit through each one was also part of the symbolism for the receiver.  Objects can be generated and shaped from and by the media you “teach” them or existing objects you play (embed) media into. Thus the modern mix tape could become a linked series of small objects like lucky charms which are physically shareable in a form representing the tracks they contain.
This is based on the idea that physical items often mean more to us as physical beings and adds a level of exclusivity and personalisation to the sharing process. Considering transplatform engagement and the ability to engage users and viewers in co-creating media it is suggested that this may present as a new modality for user co-creation and curation.

You can read more about the project including a real nice piece about slow digital by Lancaster Uni. It will be great once the project is finished.

Other playlists

Interestingly Nathan Langley is working with others on a startup idea called Desert.fm.

Our industry is full of stories and there is many outlets for them. Blogs, publications, podcasts all giving interviews giving designers and developers a platform to share their sources of inspiration and to tell their story. We found music was usually an afterthought or a sideline, for our idea Desert fm we want to bring music to the fore, in view to create the ultimate inspiring playlist that everyone can access to discover new music and be enthralled by.

Ultimately Nathan would like a playlist from me with a few lines on why each track means something to me in an autobiographical sense.

This could be anything. For example, one track was around when you were you at school, sketching and doodling ideas for a new transformer! Or when you first learning code in the dead of night you had a special artist you would go to to get in the zone. Or just a song you are digging at the moment. This can be as long or as short as you want it.

This reminds me of Top10.com and ultimately Listgeeks.

So here is my clubbing days gone by list

  1. Seven Days And One Week – BBE – Clubbing in Ibiza in 1998, it was heavily played everywhere and although I got bored of it at the time, it still reminds me of the early days of Trance.
  2. Please Save Me (Push Remix) – Push vs Sunscreem – This was known as the Monster track by friends and the girlfriend I was dating at the time. It was killer track and made for some great nights out at the Bristol, Ritzy
  3. Oblivion (Head In The Clouds) – Manix – One of the tunes I danced to in the early days of clubbing in a underground rave.
  4. It’s My Turn (Extended Mix) – Angelic – Driving home from Bristol on the A4 road with my old Aprilla SR125 scooter listening to Judge Jules on the Essential mix. It was perfectly timed for hitting west London.
  5. Time to get ill – 4 Hero – I spent some time in Cheltenham once during school at a special event to do with the rotary club. There was a small funfair and I spent a lot of time on a ride which played Time to get ill again and again. Great time!
  6. Music Reach (1,2,3,4) – Prodigy – This song blew my mind when I first heard it on the Prodigy Experience album, which I borrowed from friend/best man Ross. I wanted more music like it.
  7. Passion (Do You Want it Right Now) – Get Decor – This song sums up clubbing in the old Bristol Mecca discotheque. Its the song which comes to mind when thinking about that period of time.
  8. Rhythm is a Dancer – Snap! – Remember listening to my next door neighbor playing this on 12inch vinyl and being blown away by the introduction. It sounded so alive, then hearing it in a club the week afterwards
  9. The Legacy (Club Mix) – Push – When I heard this tune at the Bristol Ritzy, it blew my mind. I seeked out this tune for a good few months, as I had to own it.
  10. Let me show you – Camisra – When I first heard this in a club, it brought me out chills all over. Love it and its a classic.

There is something quite special about Playlists and its amazing the stories which come out of the wood work when picking music. Imagine what would happen if you could pick any media. This is what we’ll be exploring/researching in Tangible playlists.

Can’t wait to share more details on the project soon…

Shining a light on your data

COFFEE

Theres a few projects which come along and get me excited… One which got me recently was Mozilla lightbeam.

Lightbeam is a Firefox add-on that uses interactive visualizations to show you the first and third party sites you interact with on the Web. As you browse, Lightbeam reveals the full depth of the Web today, including parts that are not transparent to the average user.

Fascinating stuff… Sounds very familiar to something were doing in BBC R&D (soon to be blogged and I talked about at Oggcamp13). Wonder if Mozilla would be interested in working together? Maybe I missed the chance, when I didn’t go to Mozilla Fest 2013?

Or if not maybe the Ford Foundation would be a good partner?

Ford Foundation focuses on building outreach campaigns to help people understand online data tracking — both the benefits and the issues

Don’t worry I won’t spoil it for you, but you can imagine what were thinking…

Surround Video on the Steam box?

Surround Video

Following my last post …

Theres a another interesting thing Gabe said in his interview about the steam box,

Do you envision a Steam Box connecting to other screens outside the living room?

The Steam Box will also be a server. Any PC can serve multiple monitors, so over time, the next-generation (post-Kepler) you can have one GPU that’s serving up eight simultaeneous game calls. So you could have one PC and eight televisions and eight controllers and everybody getting great performance out of it. We’re used to having one monitor, or two monitors — now we’re saying let’s expand that a little bit.

Well that certainly helps solve the surround video setups in the future.

This is something I was sniffing around Sony as a R&D project many years ago. I wonder if MHL could make almost any device surround video possible now? Still needs setting up, a projector and a massive parabolic mirror however…

Surround Video on the next Xbox?

Lots of rumours about the next Xbox currently… but the most interesting thing I’ve heard is… around the more powerful Kinect and multidisplay output.

I instantly started wondering if finally BBC R&D Surround video could work in real time on consoles? Something I was wondering if the Playstation3 could do a while ago.

I know they maybe thinking about multiscreen type applications but actually surround video is a perfect fit… imho

How I work…

Ian @ BarcampLondon5 - Day 1

A survey went around R&D today and after answering all the questions there was a blank area for other comments…

I’m sure I haven’t thought of all the weird software/network combinations that are in use. Please use this box to add any info you think I need to know.

To which I wrote

I have machines on multiple networks…

One on the R&D network,
One on the BBC internal network
One on the plain Internet.

I tend to keep the BBC internal one (running Windows 7 – which I have Admin rights) at work because its useless outside the BBC due to the constraints placed on it.
The R&D one has two profiles on it. One profile is setup for the R&D network and the other is setup to use the plain internet wifi. This means I don’t need to carry around multiple machines just one and user switch profile on Ubuntu 11.04.

The software I use is Thunderbird for email mainly on the R&D network because Evolution (my usual mail client) doesn’t support Socks5 proxies. I tried to get Evolution working because I really wanted to get the BBC network/Exchange calendar working in Evolution but it wouldn’t work without root access!

Its important to have a plain internet connection because I tend to work at home and from different places. The Webmail without the SecureID pass has made life a lot easier but I really would like to have some kind of 2 step authentication. I’ve enabled it for my Google Mail account for example.

I tend to send emails for calendar requests to my gmail, just so I can sync my Google Calendar with my BBC calendar. Google Calendar Sync seems to fail maybe because I have too many items or it might be the two step authentication? End of the day its not as reliable as send it to my gmail.

Its interesting because things are really starting to change and it starts with the change of outlook on the systems people use and work with everyday. Gone are the days of strict control of the employees machines… This surely has to be a good thing?

Grassroots Innovation & Creativity

Composition: King x Knight

People have been wondering what am I up to since Backstage closed down.

Well its kind of hard to describe but generally I’ve become the resident troublemaker, breaking all types of rules and really etching a new kind of path for myself. If I was going to explain it in a buzz word compliant way, it would be something like… Senior Emerging and Disruptive Grassroots Specialist for BBC R&D.

Yeah feel free to be sick all over your screens.

But one aspect I certainly want to focus on is new types disruption and innovation from the edges or grassroots.

So part of my new job will be seeking the seeds of disruption and innovation before they get to the point of broad adoption.

I come with examples…

Most of the people reading this have been on Twitter at least 4 years, and we could see something interesting was going on with Microblogging but no one really knew what? About 4.5 years ago I met the guys from Twitter (Ev and Biz) and I did talk about what we (BBC) could do with Twitter. Unfortunately I working on Backstage, meant my focus was on data. Although we did talk about what the opportunities Twitter might give the BBC. Of course most of that went up in smoke and Twitter marched on to establish a business model (ok not a very good one but its still something) and a certain amount of dominance in the microblogging and social fields.

Just imagine what would have happened if things turned out different. The point is there was something there and with a good trial someone else could have identified it as something interesting that the BBC should look deeper into.

How I find interesting stuff?

I mostly rely on the people around me for pointers. Thats why I tend to only follow a small number of people on twitter. But I also look at what certain people are up to. In actual fact, its this aspect which bough me to the BBC. Seeing what Tom Coates, Paul Hammond, Matt Patterson, Ben Metcalfe etc were up to really got me going. I had no idea who they were originally but most of them were pretty accessible in person, which really helped.

But as I’ve noticed and you would expect the list of innovators changes all the time. Not that I’m not saying these guys are not doing anything interesting. Actually they may be but new people come along all the time.

I’ve ping’ed a few people about the idea of what I’ll be doing into the future and had various comments back. Some positive, some quite negative but all a great help with lots of ideas and thoughts. One of the most provoking has to be the idea of it being an inbreed network. It really got me thinking… How do you have a network of trusted people but not make it your friends and keep the signal strong?

The obvious example seems to be keep it open… But with openness comes the trouble of keeping the noise out. Its a challenge but I’m hoping to tackle it in a social sciency kind of way.

I really like what Mozilla has done with there Drumbeat projects. But there is a theme which means people are rally around an idea or concept at least. But its wide open, which means you can get right to the edge, no messing. The best way to get stuff from very left-field. Actually I’ve been thinking instead of copying Mozilla, maybe there’s a way to leverage or even work with Mozilla for the benefit of both organisations?

Documenting stuff no matter what

Theres lot of things BBC R&D does which it classes as a throw away experiment and then years later I see something which resembles the original concept or idea. Its critically important to document and I would say share the successes as well as the failures. In R&D right now, we tend to bury this in obscure papers which don’t get to see the light of day. I always wanted to get away from writing papers but have fallen into the trap of writing papers too.

There are better ways, be it prototypes, a series of detailed blog entries, whatever works to document experiments and projects. I don’t doubt a properly authored paper with many citations are a better that a blog post. But if the paper becomes the reason why documentation isn’t done, then maybe its a problem? Right?

I’ve noticed a whole bunch of new ways to document stuff, most of them are simply prototypes filmed and put on youtube. It won’t stand up to much scrutiny but at the point it needs to, then thats when the paper can be written. Its like that all too familiar innovation funnel. Things are cheaper at the start than the end. Maybe you don’t want to commit to writing a lengthy paper when a series of blog post will aid writing the paper at a later date. The blog post can also function as prior art too.

What I have to recognize is that I work in the Emergence stage of innovation.

Emergence – (also known as embryonic stage) shows little improvement in key performance characteristic. Technology operates far below its potential. Neither the characteristics of technology nor its applicability to market needs may be well understood. A long gestation period exists before attempts are made to produce a technology. This new invention period is characterized by a period of slow initial growth. This is the time when experimentation and initial bugs are worked out of the system.

Its ok to be wrong

its ok to be haphazard

Its ok to not have all the answers

its ok to bounce from one thing to another.

Just as long as the experiments are cheap, documented and understanding is formed and shared internally and sometimes externally.

So with all that, spilled out across the this blog entry… I’m coming around to something which is I think very impressive and fundamentally what the BBC really needs now and for the future.

I guess its exactly what the guys behind Backstage were thinking before backstage was formed in 2004.

Wish me luck…

Beyond HD: 8K Super Hi-Vision

People have a hard time understanding what I do… But to be honest I have a harder time explaining what I do but usually I explain I work for BBC Research & Developement, that usually gets either a oh ok I didn’t know the BBC had a R&D department, oh so your like a TV researcher? or finally whats R&D?

Usually by the time we get to the 1st one, (I didn’t know the BBC had a R&D department) I spin off a load of examples of what kind of things R&D has been instrumentally involved in the past. One of the many examples is Freeview HD and Freesat HD. So usually we get around to the question, so whats next?

I usually have to caveat this prediction with this is just looking at Screen technology and not much else. Super Hi-Vision which is a area of work BBC R&D and Japan’s NHK have been working together on…

Well finally Sharp just built a 85inch LCD TV to display Super Hi-Vision signals.

While Japan’s NHK has been working on the successor to HDTV, Super Hi-Vision, for years, there haven’t been any direct-view HDTVs capable of showing its full 7,680 x 4,320 pixel resolution until this prototype unveiled today by Sharp. Its 103 pixels per inch may be just a fraction of those found in some of the pocket displays we’ve seen at SID this week, but that’s still far more than the 36ppi of a 60-inch 1080p HDTV. If estimates are correct, we’ll still be waiting until around 2020 for that 33MP video and 22.2 channel sound to actually be broadcast, although there’s a possibility of some demonstrations happening during the 2012 Olympics.

Manchester’s first Northern Quarter street party (a R&D viewpoint)

The Official Northern Quarter Street party

Manchester’s Northern Quarter was transformed into a massive street party for the northern quarter hipster crowd yesterday. Billed as an alternative to the royal wedding It was all over the press which was great [men][guardian][cubicgarden].

With the help and support of Madlab, the BBC North ran a gaming wonderland during the street party.

The gaming wonderland included 2 wii’s running wii sports and a early glimpse of BBC R&D project called Virtual Maestro or Kinect Orchestra.

Wii Bowling

On the wii’s we had bowling running and the scores of everyone who played was put on the board just like they do on top gear with lap times. We had a total of 40 players put up there scores over the hours of play. Ages ranging from 8 to 55, but the winner of the day was Rachel Norris with a high score of 188 over 10 rounds. We will be contacting Rachel with her prize. There was some controversy with some of the players as they claimed a score of 210 but as it wasn’t seen by any of the team, we had no choice but to question it. So maybe Helena Rice will also receive a slightly lesser prize too.

Conduct

Virtual Maestro, an installation we’re developing with the BBC Philharmonic. Using a Microsoft Kinect and some custom code, a person is able to ‘conduct’ the BBC Philharmonic in glorious HD video and 3D surround sound using nothing but their arms to control the tempo and dynamics of the piece…

Conduct

The Virtual Maestro or Kinect Orchestra will be back soon for the Manchester International Festival in July. But at the street party it went down very well with lots of people trying it out. Lots of photos can be found on Flickr. On the version we removed the HD video and 3D surround sound but it didn’t stop the public interest in the system.Conduct

As Max said in the r&d blog post,

As well as being brilliant fun for the public to play with, demos like these are a great way to illustrate some the technical work that happens here at the beeb.

Not only did we have lost of interest in the bowling tournament and the virtual maestro, but we also had people asking about BBC R&D, Madlab and BBC jobs.

Although it was a bit of a solo effort (no disrespect to Andy, Nicole, Hwayoung and Dave as there help was great and very much needed) it was worth it. We had maybe about 150 people come through our ground floor madlab space, which isn’t bad for a bank holiday.

Look out for me in the Guardian next week

Me and the BBC

Yes I just about survived the embarrassment of being the face of BBC North’s recruitment event earlier this week. BBC North have stepped it up and are about to launch a series of adverts in the Guardian next week. So I’m preparing myself for people twittering and pinging me saying, hey I saw Ian in the Guardian today…

Oh and Happy Birthday to me… This weekend is my 30th Birthday Redux.

Me in the guardian today (11/4/2011)
Me in the Guardian today (11/4/2011), look for the Media Guardian pull out section.

p_1302533714.jpg

Goodbye Kingswood warren

Kingswood Warren

I do work for the most excellent BBC R&D and for the longest time, this was the home of BBC R&D, kingswood warren. When the BBC decided to shut it down and move all the researchers, engineers, etc elsewhere there was a massive backlash. I do understand why, I mean this was not just a location for R&D but also the spiritual home of R&D. Freeview, FreeviewHD, Freesat, Canvas (now youview), Dirac, BBC Redux, DAB, etc, etc came from here.

However things had to change… The notion of a R&D lab stuck over a hour away from the rest of the BBC in the middle of a super prime plot of land was never going to fly in 2010. I can’t tell you the amount of times I lost the way to Kingswood Warren!

Sort of emblematic Kingswood was of the shift in R&D as a whole towards much more public engagement I feel.