10 August 2014

Wow - people really love games

Recently I gave a talk to a group people in our business (PageUp) on game mechanics, and how games are being used to engage people in enterprise software. Some of my research came from Jane McGonigal's excellent book Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make us Better and How they Can Change the World - which I highly recommend as one of the most fascinating non-fiction books I've read in the last 10 years.


As a precursor to the talk I asked people via our internal network (Yammer) about their favourite games, and boy did it create a buzz:

"At 1pm AUS time today I'm having a chat with a few people about #gamification (games, game mechanics etc.). I'm wondering - what are some people's favourite games (offline/online/physical no boundaries here but that you play yourself rather than watch)?

One of my favourites is the Myst series originally on PC"

49 replies later, here's a compilation of some of the games mentioned.

Let's start with my own favourite Myst:

Myst was one of the first "adult" games that I played at primary school in our Mac lab. I don't think I ever finished it at that point, but the magic of navigating around a completely fabricated world holds a soft spot in my childhood memories.

A few classics started the thread:

Pac-Man, Pong, Minesweeper - all had a few mentions from a number of generations of colleagues.

One of our ex-employees from Facebook chimed in at this point with one of their gamified workflow tools - one in which they can "catch" Pokemon!


2048 came in next - one I'd not heard of (given it was created this year - that made sense!). Basically a 4X4 grid where players slide the tiles around to ultimately create a tile with the number 2048.


Things took a quirky turn with the out of this world Robot Unicorn Attack...


Quite a few Nintendo fans with Super Mario, Donkey Kong, and Legend of Zelda to name a few of the titles that came up.

Definitely one I know I spent a few hours on, the source of many 80's and 90's catchphrases - get over here - Mortal Kombat.


Portal (both 1 and 2) - not a game I've played but definitely on the list.


A guy after my own heart chimed in next with my favourite genre - adventure games, particular the ones where you have to solve a bunch of puzzles or use detective work to move on in the game (remember my favourite game is Myst right). A few of the favourites were Day of the Tentacle and Monkey Island:

One of those games that rekindled the Scrabble craze - Words with Friends popped up next:


Given the topic for the talk was about gamification in enterprise platforms (and we're a Microsoft shop) the Visual Studio Achievements program got a call out.


Bubble Bobble!


"Let's go to a place where everything is made of blocks". Yep - it's Minecraft - https://minecraft.net/

I figured this one would pop up at some point - the grisly 3D shooter Wolfenstein


All the way from 1986 - Alex Kidd in Miracle World - oh how we loved that this was the built in game on the Sega Master System.

Some more Sega goodness with Sonic 2:


Of course Frogger got a mention along with some other retro favourites - Bounce Zone, Duck Hunt, and another of my favourites - Commander Keen.

Spice Girls game on Playstation - I seriously did not realise this even existed. There is a game for everyone it would seem.

From our CIO - his favourite game was Bastow Manor on C64 - Youtube clip below:

And to cap it off, one of my favourites played on my first computer, an 8086 Olivetti - a very simple artillery game which involved aiming your tanks and determining angle/power in order to shoot your way over/through a mountain to hit your opponents tank: Scorched Earth.


9 June 2014

Robocop Technology: fiction versus reality

I watched Robocop over the weekend - not as bad as it could have been. The most interesting thing was how scarily close we are to some of the technology that's deemed Sci-Fi.  A few articles below.

Robocop trailer http://www.robocop.com/

World cup

The opening ceremony for the world cup will include a paraplegic wearing a mechanical exoskeleton controlled by the brain.

The Iron Man-like suit a paraplegic will wear to kick first ball of the World Cup, created by Brazilian scientist Miguel Nicolel

Google buying up robotics companies like there's no tomorrow

Google has seen the future and it seems it is full of robots. Expect some pretty out there innovations in the robotics space in years to come.
Meet Google's Robot Army. It's Growing.

Neural control of limbs

There are also some amazing advances in prosthetic limbs - allowing the wearer to do more and more via brain control, and connection into existing nerve endings.

SH 148_#1 BIG

28 April 2014

Advances in cognitive computing hardware

As Moore's law is about to hit its limits, a new way to support the next phase of innovation in pattern recognition for vision systems, large datasets, machine learning, and a wealth of other use cases is dawning.  This field is termed Neuromorphic engineering and there are number of interesting players in the market doing some pretty extraordinary things.

A few government projects leading this drive:



The Human Brain Project

For a longer read on this topic see this excellent article from the Economist here (some of which is summarised below).

Hardware players


IBM alongside their Watson platform (the double jeopardy playing, pseudo doctor, and recipe wizard AI) is developing a hardware framework to supplement the growing need for a low power computer architecture that can 'think'.

IBM Neurosynaptic chips:

A great overview can be found over at the blog of IBM's Dahmendra Modha (Chief Scientist Brain-Inspired Computing).

University of Heidelberg

Work being undertaken at the University of Heidelberg has yielded a number of noteworthy hardware advances.  Here are a few:

Public--UHEI NeuromorphicWaferscaleSystem Jan2013 7D 0106010 thumb.jpg

The neuromorphic waferscale system in Heidelberg, Jan 2013 (larger image)

These projects are part of the research effort funded predominantly by the Human Brain Project.


Qualcomm is leading the charge in a space that is very much their own - bringing neural proccessing chips to the mobile, and ultimately wearable, market.  They've even coined NPU (Neural Processing Unit) as the new module that will work alongside existing architecture.  A video of a robotic device in action below:

Also - some more recent coverage here.


Cognimem (derives from Cognitive Memory) is a chip manufacturer specialising in high speed parallel pattern recognition.  They are seemingly the only company with a commercial offering in the cognitive computing space, albeit their chips and solutions are not at the grand scale of IBM/University of Heidelberg.  Cogniblox (shown below) is an example of one of their boards which contains 4096 neurons and is stackable to increase the size of the processing network.


Back in 2012 Intel proposed a low energy neuromorphic chip design based on valves that switch orientation based on the spin of electrons passing through them.  It will be interesting to see if anything comes out of their design as the competition for commercially viable NPUs heats up.


Stanford University

Fresh out of Stanford is a circuit board they're calling "Neurogrid" containing 1 million neurons and billions of synapses (28th April 2014).  Gigaom raises interesting points about needing to have a neuroscientist to program it though - an area only IBM seems to be tackling head on with their concept of 'corelets'.

"The Neurogrid circuit board can simulate orders of magnitude more neurons and synapses than other brain mimics on the power it takes to run a tablet computer."

University of Manchester

The university of Manchester, also working as part of the Human Brain Project is working on a massively parallel computing platform inspired by the brain.

Other Innovation

A few more initiatives to take a look at from Institute of NeuroinformaticsHRL Laboratories, University of Southern California, and MIT that will likely see new developments over coming years.

All images, video, and brand names owned by the respective organisations as per links provided.

Updated: 29th April moved Stanford University out of "Other Innovation" as they went to press with their "NeuroGrid" circuit board.

30 March 2014

Why work in Southeast Asia?

An expat technology professional's perspective

The best decision I've made in my career so far was taking an overseas post with my company 12 months ago.  No - this isn't just Singapore specific, we travel to and work with companies in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, and Hong Kong (obviously East Asia). Following are some reasons why - with a technology lens, but hopefully interesting to people in other professions as well.
  • The tech challenges are endless
  • The Asian century is booming and tech entrepreneurs are kicking goals
  • Solving business problems with a plethora of cultures and backgrounds is truly rewarding

Tech challenges

When it comes to technology it has to be simple, mobile, engaging.  Here more than elsewhere we work the focus on simplicity and the transition to consumer style applications from a corporate perspective is rife.  There's an interesting debate on the consumerisation of enterprise applications by Deloitte here, and a few points on Forbes here - "Publicly-traded enterprise software companies aren’t investing in design enough and startups are improving their interfaces at an alarming rate.".

Many companies here haven't had to deal with the last 20 years of enterprise technologies as they just haven't had the systems in place.  Their benchmark for applications is often consumer based and they won't settle for the sub par experiences available in many enterprise software stacks (luckily we're ahead of the curve here on many fronts - e.g. the only enterprise recruitment system that provides mobile careers & job applications out-of-the-box).  It's no wonder with stats from Nielsen such as 47% of Malaysians in urban areas having multiple mobile handsets (see an objective look at mobile stats in Southeast Asia by Tigermine here) .

Configuring and building simple, mobile, and engaging systems is where it's at here - at the forefront of enterprise technology.

The Asian Century

A quick glance at the green areas in the chart above make it abundantly clear that Southeast Asia is a sea of opportunity.  With sites like Singapore founded streaming video site being snapped up for $200M it's no wonder that Singapore is pushing itself on a trajectory to be the Silicon Valley of Southeast Asia. There are also some phenomenal companies such as Bagosphere and One Cent Movement making software with social impact - attempting to tip the scales on the rampant inequality throughout the region.

It's not only software where companies are making a splash - a kickstarter campaign started by the Pirate3D team here in Singapore has over $1M in backing to revolutionise consumer 3D printing.

I'm truly excited about the slew of technology innovations that will originate in Asia.

Cultural experience

Sitting in a meeting where the nationalities are Singaporean, Australian, Japanese, Indian, and Malay really changes your perspective of a business meeting. The dynamics at play working in a cultural melting pot, and the wide range of nationalities we meet on a daily basis really allow you to hone communication, influencing, and negotiation skills.  It's no wonder it's a challenge when you look at tools like Hoefsted's that highlight the differences between cultures, and this neat perspective on communication patterns around the world.

Having lived 1000's of km away from my family for nearly 15 years now it's not surprising that home has quickly become Singapore, and this is a burgeoning trend with a increasing global workforce. A slight aside, but there are some fascinating charts from the last ~20 years of global migration here.

I love learning about other cultures, and getting to travel through this region - every time I get on a plane it's another adventure.  Somehow though it all comes back to the food, and if I can recommend one thing to anyone embarking on an overseas assignment whether it be long or brief - don't shy away from the food - try it all, and share it with whoever you can as this is where some of the best bonds and relationships are formed.