Sunday, December 30, 2007

Seat of the Pants

As many of you know, I'm an avid racing enthusiast and I've got a pretty good setup at home for playing PC based racing simulations. One of my particular favourites is Live for Speed (www.lfs.net).

Most of these games are now realistic enough calculate the forces acting on the car/driver and many people have developed home-brew "motion seats" allowing the player to "feel" the car in the simulation.

One company in Japan (www.frex.com/gp) offers a commercial kit for building a home motion seat. I was particularly interested in this but concluded it is over expensive with prohibitive shipping costs and production delays.

I've decided to start out on a project to build a simpler kit providing a motion seat for home racing enthusiasts here in the UK and Europe. During my research I discovered a great piece of software called X-Sim (http://www.x-sim.de/) which already contains links to Live for Speed and connects to a variety of hardware interfaces. So with X-sim and a basic design in my head I set out to build a small model prototype of a motion seat...




The video above shows my first attempt at getting motion from a crude cardboard platform (complete with Teddy that my girlfriend Lucy got me during a holiday in Gozo ;-) ). The PC interface is a Velleman K8055 USB i/o card connected to a dual h-bridge motor driver IC. The 2 servo motors are basic RC servos with the electronics removed.

Although the X-Sim software is great (I would recommend it to any diy motion builder) it has a couple of constraints that are causing the motion not to be completely accurate. Also the servos used here are relatively slow and only driven at a single speed currently.

Anyway, it works pretty well for a quick design test. Obviously being made from cardboard and paper clips it is not perfectly calibrated but as a first foray into PC controlled motion... quite exciting!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Whats the RISC? Go Minimal...

The new Intel Penryn Core 2 Duos are out now incoporating SSE4 that adds another 50 or so instructions heavily targeted at video codecs.

Whatever happened to RISC? Often touted as the next big thing it seems to have disappeared with the advent of ever more complicated systems.

The nice thing about the approach of risc was the finesse... rather than the sledge hammer approach we seem to take to problems these days (just throw some more code, ram, transistors, power, cooling at it).

Anyway, it's nice to see a couple of technologies around that show all is not lost. You may have read recently of Microsofts internal re-factoring of the Windows kernel into a minimal core:
http://blogs.zdnet.com/microsoft/?p=842

We've also seen Sun working on ways to reduce the foot print of the JRE to that which is actually relevant to the user in the Java Kernel project. http://weblogs.java.net/blog/enicholas/archive/2007/05/java_kernel_unm.html
Maybe I'm old fashioned; but I still like to think that efficient clever solutions can triumph over brute force.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Formula Ford Looses a Great Asset

I've always had a passion for motorsport; the trouble is it's a rich mans sport!

Having said that after I left university, for several years I competed in Formula Ford Zetec races here in the UK scraping and blagging what cash I could here and there. I was lucky enough to hook up with Steve Mole Motorsport and eventually cobble together enough bank loans to buy my own car.. a 1999 Ray GRS99 Formula Ford Zetec.

Over the years I upgraded the car to full works spec (GRS2004) at the same time watching a truly great battle for the UK National Championship as the Rays became the class of the field with drivers such as Alx Danielson and now Nick Tandy.


I'd never have had a chance to go motor racing at that kind of level without the help of several key people especially Burt and Gavin from Ray race cars. Always eager to chat, give advice and generally accommodate my dodgy finances Burt was a true gent and hugely knowledgeable. You would struggle to get such a relationship with any other race car manufacturer unless you were on your way to F1.

So I was saddened to open this weeks Autosport magazine and read that Bert Ray passed away last week shortly after finally winning the UK Formula Ford Festival. I'd like to wish his family and friends well and hopefully the marque will continue to exist at the pinnacle of FFord for years to come.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Pushing Forward with User Interface Design

A friend of mine from my days creating mobile games at IOMO has a knack for finding interesting snippets on the web. In his blog (www.glennbroadway.com) he recently posted a link to the website of Bret Victor.

Last year, Bret produced a truly thought inspiring thesis on user interface design. Check out the Magic Ink paper here.

It's a clever take on RAD and far departed from the CASE tools so popular in the 80's (from what I remember ;-) ). Definitely worth a look for anyone interested in contemporary user interface design.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Imitation: the sincerest form of flattery

In an industry dominated by giant corporations, driving the prices of ever more encompassing software to rock bottom the little guy has found it hard to compete... show me more than 2 or 3 popular office suites?

Even the awesome powers of Open Source, IBM and Sun combined don't seem to be a match for the might of Microsofts dominance of the Office sector.

So the thing about Web 2.0 that excites me is the ability for small software companies to produce products that are truly useful... the model of an all encompassing suite of apps seems to be diminishing in front of our eyes. The web and online applications can be combined in all sorts of interesting ways with consumers able to pick the functionality they actually need!

Not only do the consumers get what they want, but a monopolized market where small vendors have been forced out many years ago get's revitalised. It's now viable for a small startup to come up with a good idea and maybe make some money. In the past you couldn't have got anyone interested in the business case for a new Word Processor.

With google looming on the horizon it's my hope that developers will start to use this time to innovate in application design; rather than just "ajax-ising" existing concepts.

The first step was imitating ease-of-use from desktop apps giving quick, hassle free access, anywhere.

We've done that.

Surely the next step is to try and evolve the whole user experience, free from the shackles of traditional corporate desktop thinking. Let's take some inspiration from the great past innovations at Xerox Park, Apple and Next and create some truly exciting stuff... What is the web if not the greatest melting pot of ideas?

Welcome

Welcome reader!

In this blog I hope to present my take on the "future" of application based computing relating to the takeup of Web 2.0 and other various technologies.

This is an exciting time of change and this blog is partially just a sounding board for me to get all my ideas out rather than have them clutter up my head! So bear with me, you never know I might have a point once in a while.

Cheers,

Matt