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Author Archives: John Beck

D&D Gets Nerdy(er)

By John Beck

I usually consider myself to be a bit of a tech head, but now and again something comes along which makes me realise how low I really rate on the universal scale of geekery.

The latest blow to my sense of nerdy self worth is SurfaceScapes, a project dreamt up by students at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Centre, which aims to create a proof-of-concept for playing tabletop role-playing games on Microsoft’s Surface Table.

Basically, this provides players with a digital environment, which they can interact with using real objects (such as painstakingly detailed miniatures), and also provides automated calculations and visual and audio feedback for actions performed by characters in the game. If that takes your fancy, then watch the video and allow the nasal voiceover to explain things far better than I ever could.

So far, only Dungeons and Dragons is up and running on the prototype system, but fortunately for those whose proverbial boat is not floated by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson’s magnum opus, the team say it could be expanded to other games in the future.

[ SurfaceScapes ]

Real Time Race Lets Gamers Take on the Pros

Article courtesy of John Beck, from The Processor.

Good news for sedentary sports fans with frustrated aspirations of grandeur. Thanks to the wonders of technology (and UK-based firm Real Time Race) they should now be able to take part in some of the worlds biggest sporting spectacles. Well, kind of.

The basic concept is designed to allow gamers to take a virtual place in real environments and events – all with naught but an internet and web browser enabled device.

Real Time Race says the technology could be applied to “skiing, mountain biking, equine eventing and water sports etc,” but that sounds a bit pants, and fortunately they’ve been focusing on motor racing so far.

Prior to a big race, the track environment will be captured by a Google Streetcar-alike vehicle, which along with 360 degree cameras sports a gizmo on the back which fires lasers all over the place to work out how far away everything is. The data is then processed and makes its way to a browser where it should play something like a conventional video game map.   

The (real) cars participating in the race will also be captured, as well as fitted with navigation systems which transmit their position on the track, allowing couch-bound speed freaks to test themselves against the best in the world. 

The technology still appears to be in the proof of concept rather than “actually fun” stage, and the car handling and physics are woeful, but it does seem rather promising all the same. 

If you can stand the massive and utterly gratuitous use of exclamation marks and apostrophes, you can read more and download a demo here.

[ Real Time Race ]

Jack-O-Lanterns Get Hi-Tech


Article courtesy of John Beck, from The Processor.

If you didn’t get invited to any good Halloween parties (or are just a complete misanthrope), then you might well be planning to spend Saturday night hunkered down behind the sofa with the lights off, hoping that sugar-crazed trick-or-treaters don’t suss you out and start making outrageous demands for confectionary and money in exchange for not smashing your windows or causing you actual bodily harm.

In case you do get rumbled, you may wish to follow Glenn Derene of Popular Mechanics’ lead and create some hi-tech surveillance pumpkins to capture the little darlings on tape while they ransack your house and/or break your legs.

Derene made himself two different video system sporting jack-o-lanterns – one with a cheapo infrared camera and receiver set and another with an Aavek Vue wireless camera system, which can be monitored remotely via a password protected website. Check out step by step instructions here. Take that you pesky kids!

[ PopularMechanics ]

Nissan Land Glider Set For Takeoff

Article courtesy of John Beck, from The Processor.

The Tokyo Motor Show has rolled around again, and like just about everything else, it seems to have been dealt a rather nasty blow by the recession.  But despite the massively depleted participant list, it still seems to have mustered up a fair showing of whacky and whimsical concept vehicles. My personal favourite is the electric-powered Nissan Land Glider. It may not be fast, but what it lacks in speed, it more than makes up for with big massive slabs of geek-pleasing hi-tech shenanigans. Plus it kind of reminds me of the Light Cycles from Tron.

The list of cool features is pretty extensive. First off, it’s a bike/car hybrid, so the driver/rider coolly leans into the turns while the tires are held flat to the road – the degree of tilt is determined by some cool sounding sensors that detect vehicle speed, steering angle and yaw rate. As if that wasn’t cool enough, Nissan has also done away with the boring old steering wheel and replaced it with an almost unbearably cool aircraft-style joystick. There’s also a seriously cool camera and monitor setup to replace those dull old rear-view mirrors.

When I first saw the Land Glider I assumed it was a concept vehicle conceived by a wild-eyed designer oblivious to commercial considerations, but in a somewhat surprising turn of events it seems that it may be hitting a road near you in the not so distant future, Nissan even plan to import it to the US.

[ Channel 4 ]

Phillips Banishes Winter Blues

Wake-up Light

Article courtesy of John Beck, from The Processor.

It usually only takes a few weeks of starting my daily commute long before the meager winter sun makes an appearance until I start seriously considering tossing myself under a train. Fortunately, the Phillips Wake-up Light could be just the thing to brighten up those dingy December mornings. It’s a combined bedside lamp, alarm clock and digital radio which Phillips rather boldly claims will make waking up a “pleasant experience”.

To achieve this seriously tall order, the multi-talented lamp conspires to disturb your slumbers in a more agreeable manner by gradually illuminating your room and playing a choice of 4 “natural and pleasant wake-up sounds”, which all seems simply lovely.  It’s probably worth noting that said sounds aren’t all so terribly natural however; tweeting birds and jungle noises I can deal with, but wind chimes just remind me of living next to annoying hippies, and a “relaxing beep” sounds highly oxymoronical.

Also, it’ll set you back £130. Maybe I’ll just take my chances with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

[ Phillips ]

Samsung Unveils Phone Made From Plastic Bottles

Blue Earth

Article courtesy of John Beck, from The Processor.

Have you ever wished your phone was a little more environmentally friendly? I haven’t because I’m a thoughtless oaf, but for tech-savvy eco warriors who have, Samsung has launched the Blue Earth handset.

The touch screen eco-phone is made from material extracted from water bottles, and is free from nastiness like bromine-based flame retardants, PVC and phthalate esters. It also sports a built in solar panel to take advantage of what Samsung helpfully points out, is one of the most eco-friendly energy sources.

The Blue Earth ships with a “unique user interface designed to draw attention to preserving our fragile environment.” Less impressive than it sounds, this basically amounts to the option of switching to energy efficient settings for screen brightness, backlight duration and Bluetooth at the touch of a button. For the environmentally conscious app-addict, there’s even a built in pedometer, which allows users to smugly calculate the number of trees they’ve saved from an untimely death by walking instead of driving.

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