Posts Tagged ‘engineering’

Compulsory coding in schools: The new Nerd Tourism

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

 

child_robot

The writer Toby Young tells a story about how the modern 100m race is run in primary schools. At the starting pistol, everyone runs like mad. At the 50m point, the fastest children stop and wait for the fatties to catch up. Then all the youngsters walk across the finishing line together, holding hands.

I have no idea if this is true – it may well be an urban myth. But the media class’s newly acquired enthusiasm for teaching all children computer programming is very similar.

Speaking as a former professional programmer myself, someone who twenty years ago was at the hairy arse end of the business working with C and Unix, I can say this sudden burst of interest is staggeringly ignorant and misplaced. It’s like wearing a charity ribbon to show how much you care. And it could actually end up doing far more harm than good. (more…)

The fabulous Muvizu

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

Digimania Muvizu animation suite

Tech startups that can truly be considered game-changers are rare – especially in Shoreditch. The more hype that the Silicon Roundabout “leisure startup” scene receives, the more painfully apparent it is that the emperor has no clothes – see these comments for example. Which is a pity, for less attention is paid to genuinely creative British tech startups.

I’ve rarely seen something as startling as Muvizu, the PC software from Digimania which allows a seven-year-old to start creating something a lot like Toy Story. The startup emerged from the ashes of the DA Group, which was previously Digital Animations. New investors took over the ashes and had an idea.

Perhaps the 3D power of games engines such as Unreal could be put to make a genuinely easy-to-use, consumer-level animation software. The development team had the chops for this; it was the team behind animated newsreader Anna Nova, for those of you who remember the first dot.com boom. And so Muvizu was unveiled two years ago.

You can get a glimpse of what you can do with it from this video – our sister site Reg Hardware reviewed it recently here.

It’s still a tiny startup in Glasgow, with a core team of half a dozen developers, but since then it has added a clutch of features: you can build your own models and characters, edit timelines, move cameras, create custom textures, and introduce anti-aliasing. Huge libraries of animations and art assets are now available. You can’t import your own characters – but you can customise with textures.

It has notched up 138,000 downloads since August 2010, CEO Vince Ryan tells us. Muvizu took a community approach – and it is a lively place for users to share and swap assets and collaborate. It’s useful for anything from 30 second funnies to in-house training videos.

But with no visible revenue, I was curious to see how Muvizu was paying the rent. Long-term it makes an enviable acquisition target for an Adobe or a Google – but for now it’s looking to collaborate with animation companies, toy-makers or TV companies that want to extend their brand to their fanbase, allowing them to knock together their own stories and content.

A new version is due on 19 December.

Web requires Brunel-scale thinking

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Three years ago I caught a glimpse of a new social network built around music. You could follow people, chat with them, and enjoy the same music stream in real time.

There were many other clever things about it, such as a very slick integration of music news. But the killer feature, one that made it unique, was that you could also drop songs you liked into a little box, and keep permanently. This was genuine P2P file sharing. There were no strings attached – no DRM, no expiry, no locker (your stash was your hard drive) and no additional fees for this feature.

And it was all legal.
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The Cube: Apple’s daftest, strangest romance

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Ten years ago on Sunday, Apple called it quits on one of its oddest products ever, the G4 Cube. The Cube was a strange and wonderful machine that continues to fascinate today – but it was widely perceived to have failed. Some people thoroughly enjoyed the failure, thinking it served Apple right.

Dull people will always cheer a bold experiment that goes wrong. After July 2001, Apple’s design team never again attempted anything as daring or distinctive. It has produced beautiful designs, and unarguably influenced consumer technology design more than any one else.

But essentially, its computer designs are variations on the same theme. The professional laptops have continued in their rectangular, razor-like way. Even the iPad looks very much like how you’d expect a media slate to look like, for example.

But the Cube was different. The Cube looked like Buckminster Fuller talked; the Cube looked like it might have fallen to earth from an advanced civilisation, eager to escape orbit and looking to throw some ballast overboard. Or like a millionaire had given a mad bloke on a bus an unlimited budget.

“Hello. You look like you’ve done a lot of LSD. Well, here’s several million dollars – go and design a computer, any shape you want. Just make sure it hangs upside down.”
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Facebook: Privatising the internet, one Poke at a time

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

The world has been pretty slow to wake up to the power of Facebook and Google, web services with the power to make internet standards disappear faster than a Poke. But maybe people will sit up now. Mark Zuckerberg’s embrace and extend attitude doesn’t just encompass your data – but email protocols too. And there’s very little you’re going to be able to do about it.

At a typically oversold launch event yesterday, Zuckerberg complained about the “friction” generated by having to compose a simple email. You had to type a subject line in, he said, incorrectly, making people wonder if he’d ever used email himself. It’s too formal, he concluded. The poor love – I’m surprised he hasn’t thought about suing the developers of POP3 for emotional distress, as well as repetitive strain injury.

The Facebook plan is to integrate email and SMS into Facebook, into one great big inbox, which will be stored forever. And which will naturally drown people who are not on Facebook under a tide of real-time chaff – Web2.0rhea, as we call it here.
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Shhh… Opera holds the web’s most valuable secret

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Without anybody noticing, Opera has amassed one of the world’s most valuable commercial resources. And the funny thing is, it isn’t going to do anything evil with it. Marketing, new media and technology pundits may have to rethink a few things once they digest the size of Opera’s well-kept secret. It is possible the gurus may have spent years barking up the wrong tree.
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What’s next for nuclear?

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

This year, Imperial College graduated its first nuclear scientists for a very long time. After years in the doldrums, other universities are also increasing their activity. Is this a sign of a Nuclear Renaissance?

Perhaps it is. Even deep Greens are dropping long-standing objections [1] to nuclear power generation. I got in touch with Imperial’s Professor Robin Grimes, who recently co-authored a Science paper with William Nuttall indicating how the nuclear industry could re-emerge. Here’s an interview that encompasses the current state of play, and some ideas about how the next 40 years could take shape.
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Nokia ends cruel and unusual ‘Symbian programming’ practices

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Nokia has bowed to international pressure and agreed to end the cruel and unusual practice of programming natively for the Symbian OS. It still wants developers to target Symbian, but using the more humane Qt APIs instead.

Nokia has also torn up the OS roadmap, and will speed up the delivery of new functionality to users in chunks, as and when it’s ready, instead of in milestone releases. In less prominent statements, Nokia has clarified what had become a very confusing development picture.
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When Dilbert came to Nokia

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

You may have had your fill of Nokia analysis and features, but I’d like to draw your attention to one more – one that’s very special. The Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat has published a report based on 15 interviews with senior staff. It reads like the transcript to an Oscar-winning documentary where the narrative thread is held together entirely by the talking heads.

The report is very long on detail and short on opinionising – and for those of you fascinated by technology and bureaucracy, something quite interesting emerges. What we learn is that the company’s current predicament was fated in 2003, when a re-organisation split Nokia’s all-conquering mobile phones division into three units. The architect was Jorma Ollila, Nokia’s most successful ever CEO, and a popular figure – who steered the company from crisis in 1992 to market leadership in mobile phones – and who as chairman oversaw the ousting of Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo this year.

In Ollila’s reshuffle, Nokia made a transition from an agile, highly reactive product-focused company to one that managed a matrix, or portfolio. The phone division was split into three: Multimedia, Enterprise and Phones, and the divisions were encouraged to compete for staff and resources. The first Nokia made very few products to a very high standard. But after the reshuffle, which took effect on 1 January 2004, the in-fighting became entrenched, and the company being increasingly bureaucratic. The results were pure Dilbert material.
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Why has Thunderbird turned into a turkey?

Sunday, August 8th, 2010
A while ago I wrote an old bugger’s whinge about the state of email clients in general. I realise this is now a minority interest.

Read more at The Register