A Visit to #HackTheMidlands Hackathon 2019

HackTheMidlands 4.0 took place Sat 26th Oct – Sun 27th Oct 2019 with around 250 participants taking part from across the UK. The event has grown year on year, the 2017 event for example had around 150 participants – A Visit to #HackTheMidlands Hackathon 2017 (online). The following Tweets should give you some idea of what the 2019 Hackathon was like. Who knows, perhaps the 2020 event v5.0 may have 300+ participants given the popularity of same.

HackTheMidlands.com (online)
HackTheMidlands Twitter (online)
HackTheMidlands Discord (online)
HackTheMidlands Facebook (online)

Fundamentals of Success, Life and Academic Performance

The following videos outline some general rules of success and how one can ultimately change the world, through focus, dedication and commitment coupled with giving back to the world / community that has contributed along the way.

Arnold Schwarzenegger – In this video he outlines 5 key Rules of Success. A far more detailed and in-depth interview exploring Vision, Goals, Confidence and Time Management may be seen (online)

One of the key elements mentioned in the video above is to have a clear vision, a destination. Perhaps the following video from Star Trek VI – The Undiscovered Country, 1991 (IMDB) is a good example, as the Enterprise is asked by a Klingon outpost for its Destination – “What is your Destination, Over”. Even with a warp capable Starship like the Enterprise, without a Heading / Destination one will just drift through space without ever getting anywhere. Many star athletes “begin with the end in mind” to quote Stephen R. Covey and “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, they visualise and see the ultimate goal the wish to achieve.

As with all journeys one must first have a direction of travel, in the case of Samwise and Frodo departing the Shire in The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001 (IMDB), their initial destination was the village of Bree. As with all journeys one must set off by putting one foot in front of the other and embrace the adventure that lies ahead.

Admiral William H. McRaven – highlights 10 key life lessons that are very much centered around how one can change the world by adhering to some basic principles. A more detailed account, along with a 20 minute video may be seen (online).

Many of the above Rules & Life Lessons can be readily applied to Academic study. As Schwarzenegger mentions one has to “work your butt off”. Putting in hard work and focus is essential, however perhaps even more importantly is to focus on working hard at doing the right things. The following video below highlights several key things that the top 10% of students do in stark contrast to the other 90%. Two of the key things that make all the difference is to develop a Schedule / Plan and also to put in the work doing Practice Exams / Homework.

An interesting article in which the speaker in the video above contributes, can be found (online) and is aptly named the “Science of Student Success”.

Just turning up to class for example, isn’t going to guarantee success in coursework / exams. One must put in the work. Its just like having a Gym membership, paying the membership fee, and going to the gym for just a few weeks or on the odd occasion will not produce any results. One must put in the work over and over again, moreover it is important to do the right thing, hence how one works out at the gym with the correct form is also crucial. The real key to building muscle mass is not stopping once you have done 10 reps just like everybody else, the real value comes at the very end by putting in that extra couple of reps. This extra bit of effort is what makes all the difference to making the most of the training session. This is something that Schwarzenegger mentions time and time again in many of his interviews.

Perhaps it is apt quote Colonel John Hannibal Smith from the A-Team – “I love it when a plan comes together”. The videos below depicts Hannibal (George Peppard) from both the TV Show and the more recent move (Liam Neeson) saying the well know line.

Commitment is also a key ingredient, as is well voiced by wise Jedi Master Yoda “Try not, Do or Do not, there is no try” – Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980 (IMDB). Trying to do something half-heartily will not lead to success, if you are going to do something the commit to it 100%. Another very good example of this is from The Karate Kid, 1984 (IMDB), at the point where Mr. Miyagi ask Daniel if he is ready to begin his Karate training. Daniel responds by saying “Yeah, I guess so”. Mr Miyagi in turn outlines a short story about walking on a road, both the left and right sides are safe, but if one walks in the middle, then sooner or later you will get run over. Again it all comes down to Commitment, either you are going to do something and give it 100% or not.

Perhaps one of the most important thing at University, especially in Computing is to treat it like a Gym. Only by working out and learning to tackle new problems can one problem solving skills improve along with their programming ability.

Any other tips for success?
Do you know of any other good strategies useful on the road toward Academic Success?
Have you seen any interesting videos recently about how to focus, do the right thing and ultimately achieve the best results?
What interesting things have you learned from watching the videos above?
What are the most profound / useful things you can take away and action from the above videos?

Kainos AI Camp and Hackathon – Week 1 Summary

Over the first two weeks of September 2018 Kainos has been running a AI Camp and Hackathon event (online) hosted at BCU Computing. The AI Camp schedule runs from 09:00 to 17:00 Monday to Friday over the two week period, with a final Hackathon taking place on Saturday 15th Sept at Kainos’ office located in Alpha Tower, Birmingham. Around twenty of those who signed up were selected to participate in the AI Camp and Hackathon. The group consisting mainly of Computer Science / Computer Science and AI undergrad students along with some from Physics as well, spans a number of university institutions across central England.

Just prior to this event another had been held in Belfast during the last two weeks of August with the final Hackathon taking place on Saturday 1st September. That left the tutors running the AI camp with just the Sunday to get packed and fly to Birmingham to get going again first thing on Monday morning with the second instance of the camp.

Social Media Feeds
Kainos (online)
Kainos Academy (online)
AI Camp Tutor – Chloe Thompson (online)
AI Camp Tutor – Jake Young (online)
AI Camp Co-ordination – Don Le (online)
Guest Speaker (Convolution Neural Networks) – Alan Dolhasz (online)
Guest Speaker (AI & the Media) – Kari Lawler (online), Youth4AI (online)
BCU Computing (online)
AI Camp Hashtag (online)

AI Camp Week 01 in Tweets
The following embedded tweets below should give you some sense of what the first week of the AI Camp was like.

Life Lessons and Leadership Principles

The video below is of Lt. General Hal Moore discussing Leadership, recorded at the 2007 American Veterans Conference in Washington D.C. He highlights a number of principles that has guided his life and also guided him on the battlefield.

1 In baseball, three strikes and you’re out. In the game of life three strikes and you are not out, there is always one more thing you can do, to influence any situation in your favour. All you have to do is think, what else can I do, and after that there’s one more thing you can do. The more things you do the more opportunities that open up.

2 On the battlefield always try to be where the action is going on. A battlefield leader has to lead on the battlefield.

3 In any situation you’ve got to think what am I doing that I should not be doing and what am I not doing that I should be doing, to influence the situation in my favour. There’s always one more thing.

4 Trust your instincts. Your instincts are the product of your experience, your reading, your personality. Your instincts are your best resource. Your gut tells you one thing and your heart tells you another. Go with your gut.

5 Life is not a bed of roses. You are going to be hit with adversity, now and again. When hit by adversity, you’ve got to believe that you will prevail in the end.

The trailer below is of the 2002 film We Were Solders depicting the Vietnam War  battle of la Drang in 1965. The film stars Mel Gibson as the then Lt Colonel (imdb).

Another interesting example of a speech revolving around life lessons was by Navy Admiral William H. McRaven during the University of Texas 2014 commencement. It can be summed in the following principles below.

1 If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

2 If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.

3 If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.

4 If you want to change the world get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.

5 If you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.

6 If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first.

7 If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.

8 If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.

9 If you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.

10 If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.

Many of these principles can be summed up as “Start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone. Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often. But if you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up”.

Another key idea discussed is that by changing the lives of just a few people within a few generations this can impact the lives of everybody on the planet.

One can read the entire transcript of the speech (online) at the University of Texas website.

The video below is again of Admiral McRaven highlighting eight key leadership lessons.
1 Know your troops.
2 Communicate constantly.
3 Set the example.
4 Accountability matters.
5 Allow room to maneuver.
6 Own the problems.
7 Learn from failure and move on.
8 Be a servant leader.

Some other blog posts that may be worth reading:
Prof Randy Pausch Time Management & The Last Lecture (online)
Schwarzenegger Interview: Vision, Goals, Confidence and Time Management (online)

Do you know of any other interesting videos / articles discussing interesting life lessons or leadership principles?


University incoming Class Photos – (Examples in Video), an engaging Start?

It seems that quite a number of Universities start off the academic year by organising a class photo for all the new incoming students. A number of such examples can be seen in the videos below.

As can be seen in the video directly below, such group photographs aren’t just limited to the University arena but also spans across the Universe, in particular with this example of the 10 year anniversary group photo of the Marvel Universe.

Marvel Universe 10 year Class Photo

1. Is this a good method of building a sense of community, pride and belonging right from the very start of the University experience?

2. Do many other Universities create incoming class photos?

3. Is it nice to receive a hardcopy print of the photo, or is it better & more environmentally friendly for it to be available online through the likes of Facebook so participants can be tagged, given we are nearing the end of the second decade of the 21st century?

4. Have you seen any institutions outside of the US taking on this form of welcome activity?

5. Have you seen any other interesting forms of welcome activity that generates a sense of community and excitement?

6. What is the smallest & largest gathering you have seen for a University class group photo, 3000, 5000, more?

7. Are such incoming class photos generally taken at the University level for all incoming students, or have you seen any that are at College/Faculty or School/Department level?

8. What was the most fun / interesting incoming class group photo you’ve seen?

Butler University – Class of 2021

Butler University – Class of 2020

Butler University – Class of 2019

Butler University – Class of 2018

Butler University – Class of 2017

University of Chicago – Class of 2019

University of Chicago – Class of 2018

University of Chicago – Class of 2016

University of Connecticut– Class of 2016

Cornell – Class of 2016

Duke University – Class of 2020

Duke University – Class of 2019

Duke University – Class of 2018

Duke University – Class of 2016 (Over 40 minutes duration)

Duke University – Class of 2013

Emory University – Class of 2021

Emory University – Class of 2016

Emory University – Class of 2014 (First ever class photo)

University of Iowa – Class of 2019

University of Iowa – Class of 2015

University of Massachusetts – Class of 2020

Michigan Technological University – Class of 2013

Michigan Technological University – Class of 2012

University of Minnesota – Class of 2020

MSOE – Class of 2018

University of North Texas – Class of 2019

Northwestern University – Class of 2021

Northwestern University – Class of 2020

Northwestern University – Class of 2018

University of Pennsylvania – Class of 2016

University of Pittsburgh – Class of 2021

University of Pittsburgh – Class of 2020

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) – Class of 2018

University of Southern Indiana – Class of 2018

SMU – Class of 2021

SMU – Class of 2020

SMU – Class of 2016

SMU – Class of 2015

University of Texas at Austin – Class of 2021

University of Texas at Austin – Class of 2020

University of Texas at Austin – Class of 2019

University of Texas at Austin – Class of 2018

University of Texas at Austin – Class of 2017

Wesleyan University – Class of 2018

West Point – Class of 2012

BCU Global Game Jam 2018 – Tweet Summary

The 2018 Global Game Jam event took place over the weekend of Friday 26th Jan to Sun 28th Jan. In the case of BCU registrations commenced around 17:00 on the 25th, with the opening ceremony starting at 18:00. The theme for the 2018 event was “Transmission” the previous year was “Waves”.

The event started to finish up around 13:00 on Sunday 28th Jan with the teams uploading their games (online). At 14:00 presentations kicked off, with a number of companies and organisers present to judge and give prizes. The Vice Chancellor also attended for most of this final presentation session along with half a dozen academics from the School of Computing and Digital Technology. After the handing out of a number of prizes, one being to visit Fish in a Bottle (online), the two day event wrapped up around 15:30.

In all over 70 people took part, from universities across the country along with a number of graduates out in industry as well.

The following tweets below, may give you some idea of what the event was like. One can also see a collection of tweets from last years event (online).

I also made a further post during the weekend of the Game Jam – highlighting a good few tweets that depict the use of Tents at these events and Hackathons in general (online). Some large hackathon events have been in tents that would have taken days to construct. Some teams bring tents with them and have in-tent coding going on during the event, while others take more a campfire approach. In the case of one hackathon held in a sports hall, a large portion of same was taken over with tents.

Bring your Tent: Global Game Jam & Hackathon Examples

Over the past couple of years one can see that Tents have been deployed during Game Jam and Hackathon events. You can see in the tweet directly below that a whole section of a sports hall was taken over with tents during the 2017 Global Game Jam.

Another tweet from Global Game Jam 2017 shows a tent and “campfire” in operation. The theme for the 2017 event was “Waves”.

Looks like one group are undertaking “Tent Projection Mapping” for the 2018 Global Game Jam, therein incorporating the camping experience into their game idea. The theme for the 2018 event was “Transmission”.

Looks like a “Fort” was constructed for the events below.

Here we have an entire team doing some in-tent game development.

This event from Sydney suggests brining your own tent to the Hackathon

These Hackathon events from 2017 takes the idea of a Tent to a whole other scale.

Here’s one from 2016 with a major Hackathon Tent under construction.

Here is the “Peach Pod” Tent from a 2016 Hackathon event.

In Tent coding from 2016.

Looks like this 2015 Hackathon is at quite some scale, with quite a significant entrance way in place.

A Microsoft Hackathon from 2015.

A tent in place for a 2014 Hackathon Event

A slightly different style of “Tent” than many of the examples above.

Here’s just a few other examples of Hackathon Tents.

The following tweets below, highlight some nice examples of Post-it note art on the walls adding a good splash of colour and fun to the environment. Post-its can be useful for many things and not just for planning out your Game / Hackathon idea. Here’s a previous post (online) highlighting some post-it note art on campus.

Having some mascots at Game Jams and Hackathons are always fun too.

Data Structures – Working with Queues and Games

Queues are really quite a fundamental data structure that all in computing should know. Probably one of the most popular real world examples of a queue in operation is that of a checkout counter in a shop. This is a classical example of First In First Out in operation. The first person to join the queue will be the first to be served at the checkout. All further customers join the back of the queue. Hence is a nice example of enqueue() and dequeue() in operation.

The “Hot Potato” Queue Simulation
Another example that is often used is the “Hot Potato” (online), whereby a person has a “Hot Potato” that gets passed around by “people” in the queue. At each iteration a “person” from will become removed from the queue and placed at the back – therein enqueue(dequeue()). This will occur a certain number of times before the “person” with the “Hot Potato” will be finally removed from the queue. This process continues until just one person remains.

Print Queue
An example more tangibly related to computing is perhaps the “Print Queue”. When a new document is sent for printing it is placed at the end of the queue enqueue(). The process of actually printing off a document will remove it from the queue dequeue(). Under many circumstances this will removed the first print job. However many multi-function printers/photocopiers of today, will present a list of print jobs one screen once you log on, allowing you to select which job or jobs you wish to print. So the example of the “Print Queue” isn’t perhaps the best any more, although even with these multi-function one can often “Select All, Print & Delete” which will print off each job in the “Print Queue” following the standard FIFO ordering.

So what might be a good example of a queue system in operation that would be applicable to students studying Game Development? One nice example is perhaps that of Waypoints, the following (online) link is to an animation that moves an onscreen object towards a location the user has clicked (Waypoint), as the user clicks other locations, these are added to the “Waypoint” queue. When the onscreen object reaches a Waypoint location it is dequeued.

Message Queue
Another nice example is of how to implement a “Message Queue” in a game (online). In this case game avatars can pass messages to one another following a distinct packet/envelope structure, that of: sender, destination, type, data. Therefore instead of having Objects communicating in what could be almost considered as a fully interconnected mesh of messages (just consider what a system sequence diagram for this would be like). All Object / Avatar instances instead communicate with each other through a single queue based messaging system.

Production / Build Queues in Games
One example I considered quite applicable to Game Development students was that of the Production Queue. Many stratagy based games make use of “Production Queues” or “Build Queues” to creating anything from Tanks, and Ships to Aircraft and Experimental Weapons such as the AC1000 from Supreme Commander 2 (online) developed by Gas Powered Games.

The Noah Unit Cannon Experimental (online), is a fixed emplacement that can queue up the production of several types of land units, such as the Rock Head Tank, Titan Assault Bot and the Sharp Shooter Mobile Anti Missile Defense to name but a few.

Simcity Buildit
Simcity Buildit makes very extensive use of Production / Build Queues through the form of Factories that produce basic materials such as Metal, Wood, Plastic, Glass and Electrical Components. These items can take anything from 1 minute for Metal up to 7 hours for Electrical Components to be produced. When fully upgraded these factories have a production queue of 5 units. Materials produced in the Factories can then go on to be used in one or more of the nine Commercial Buildings. The Commercial Buildings take the form of Farmer’s Market, Furniture Store, Hardware Store and Donut Shop to give just a few examples. Details of all the items these factories and buildings can produce can be seen (online) (online). The following videos give some sense of what these building are like.

Given that one can wait almost an entire day to process a full production queue of Beef (11 units) it is very useful to have the opportunity of speeding up the process with “Speedup Tokens” in the form of: Turtle x2, Llama x4 and Cheetah x12. To create “Speedup Tokens” one must either earn them through the “Contest of Mayors” or create them from small pieces by creating “Epic Projects”. These are building that can create a fragment of a “Speedup Token” every 24 hours. The more “Epic Buildings” one has the more fragments are needed to create a “Speedup Token”, however as a starting point one needs 3 fragments for Turtle, 6 for Llama and 9 for Cheetah.

Perhaps tasking Games Development students with creating Production Queues that simulate the creation of Beef, Televisions, Popcorn or Pizza as is the case with Simcity, or Land, Air and Naval units in the case of Supreme Commander is a good way of demonstrating the use and need for queues – particularly in strategy games. Another interesting reason for focusing on Production / Build queues is that especially in the case of Simcity Buildit, many of the items produced are dependent on other items. Therefore quite long chains of production can be formed just to produce the necessary resources to create one “Expensive / Complex” final item.

Parallel Processing / Super-computing
Simcity Buildit provides a really good example of the costs associated with production / processing and relate very well to issues around Parallel Processing / High Performance Computing (HPC) / Super-computing and how jobs can impact one another in the determination of the overall execution time. The classical example of this is the process of making breakfast – many tasks can be done in parallel, though one will be constrained by the cost of the operation that takes the longest. Taking a parallel approach to making “breakfast” can however yield a good deal of cost / time savings over a step by step approach (online).

What other Games use Production Queues?
Do you know of any other games that make heavy use of “Production Queues” / “Build Queues”?

BCU Global Game Jam 20-22 Jan 2017 – Event Summary

Over the weekend of Friday 20th Jan to Sunday 22nd Jan 2017 the Global Game Jam 2017 (online) took place. Tens of thousands took part at locations all around the globe, with Hawaii being the last to kick off. An embargo was in place on the theme until Hawaii had begun, the idea being not to talk about the theme online until Hawaii had joined in the fun. The theme for this year was “waves” which provided quite a deal of scope and direction for idea generation.

One of the locations for the Global Game Jam in the UK was BCU in Birmingham which was organised by Liam Sorta @LiamSorta and Andrew Wilson – Programme Leader for the BSc in Computer Games Technology @BCUGAMESTECH. The event had a great turnout of over 100 people, many from Birmingham, but others from Warwick, Southampton, Newcastle & as far afield as Australia (though had been in the UK since the first semester). It wasn’t just University students either, but also a good few graduates whom work in the games industry. Once the theme for this years jam was announced everybody broke up into teams (a little over 20 in total) and headed to the labs to do a quick brainstorm of ideas and routes to take, before getting down to making those ideas a reality. A large number of the teams made use of the Unity Games Engine, though one or two teams developed their games in Python.

One can see all the games that were uploaded to the Global Game Jam site from Birmingham (online). One of the great things about this is that you can download both the source code and executable, hence can play the game yourself and also learn how it was developed.

The Game that won the BCU “Innovation” prize was produced by a group called “Signal” (online) which was based on one having to navigate around a 3D environment that was pitch dark. One could emit sound waves to help see the outline of the environment & thereby navigate around the environment. This was very much akin to how Daredevil (2003) (IMDB) perceives the world and also similar to how Batman used “sonar” to see his way around a building in the dead of night – The Dark Knight (2008) (IMDB). The winning team for this prize had been selected by myself (online) and Mak Shama (online) having viewed all the presentations on the Sunday afternoon.

Representatives from two companies were also present at the Sunday presentations @VERYGOODFRIEND and @fishinabottle whom also selected teams to win prizes. Zen(x) (online) was particularly creative in developing a unique idea in the form of using a combination of a dozen sine wave calculations to control an onscreen icon, requiring the user to interact when it reached the centre line & therein changing the trajectory of the sine wave. The graphics had very clean lines and very much mirrored the “Zen” concept whereby the user could just relax and enjoy the game. Ooodle Showdown (online) was also another unique game for two players. It featured some very nice graphics and required players to navigate through a sea of characters something akin to a cross between the Marshmallow man from Ghostbusters and the Michelin Man. Each player (blue or red) could send out a sort of sonar wave and would turn the character that colour for a short while. The best thing to probably do is to download and play the game yourself to see how it works.

I had spent a good few hours each day at the game jam. It was really great to see the initial ideas dreamed up on the Friday evening evolve into quite functional games by Saturday and then on to more refined games by the time they needed to be uploaded on the Sunday prior to the afternoons presentations. All in all it was really great to see such a variety of fantastic games grow from an initial idea into a working game in just a matter of 48 hours. The well know phrase “two heads are better than one” certainly holds true whereby the key strengths and talents of teach team member could be harnessed towards one definitive goal and deadline.

Key Web Links
Global Game Jam Site (online)
BCU 2017 Game Uploads (online)
Twitter Hashtag #BCUGGJ17 (online)

Social Media Selection
The following selection of embedded tweets and instagram images from a number of those present during the event should help to give a good sense of what occurred over the 48 hour period.

View this post on Instagram

#bcuggj17 #afishysituation #gamedev

A post shared by Jonny Graney (@jonathancharlesgraney) on

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#bcuggj17 #seewaves

A post shared by Jonny Graney (@jonathancharlesgraney) on

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#bcuggj17 presentations

A post shared by Jonny Graney (@jonathancharlesgraney) on

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#bcuggj17 #allhandsondeck

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#kingbooty #bcuggj17 #gamedev

A post shared by Jonny Graney (@jonathancharlesgraney) on

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#bcuggj17 #oodleshowdown #gamedev

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#bcuggj17 #teammiodsnowstorm #omni amazing game idea!

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#necrodeulists #indiegamedev #gamedev #bcuggj17 #globalgamejam

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#wanishingwaves #bcuggj17 #gamedev

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#globalgamejam #bcuggj17 #indiegamedev #gamedev

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Examples of Graphics, Animation and Fractals in Film

Vol Libre (1980) created by Loren Carpenter is an extremely well know example of early computer animation. It used fractal terrain generation of create a flythrough of a three dimensional landscape. This would in turn lead on to the development of the Genesis Sequence in Star Trek II the Wrath of Khan (1982) (IMDB).

The following video provides a nice bit of background about fractal terrain generation as described by Loren Carpenter himself. In 1978 he came across the book Fractals Form, Chance and Dimensions by Benoit Mandlebrot and having read the entire book twice started use fractal techniques to develop computer generated terrain.

Another good example of computer generated imagery is the Light Cycle battle from Tron (1982) (IMDB).

Tron Legacy (2010) (IMDB) features an updated Light Cycle battle.

Flight of the Navigator (1986) (IMDB) demonstrates the first use of image mapping the surrounding environment on to a surface. In this case it is mapped on to a Trimaxion Drone ship from Phaelon. It also features some nice scenes whereby the Drone ship morphs from “Class 3” mode to “Class 1” – thereby allowing it to efficiently cut through the Earths atmosphere.

Going back to Fractals – its interesting to see how Fractal Graphics seem to crop up in film’s from time to time such as the Mandelbrot Fractal paint job of a car featured in a desert scene from Transformers Revenge of the Fallen. This can be clearly scene at time index (0:36) in the following video clip.

Fractal techniques were again used to generate the lava spewing forth and landing upon a platform, on which Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker were engaged in a lightsaber battle, located on the volcanic planet Mustafar in Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith (2005) (IMDB).

Another nice example of fractals being mentioned in a film comes from Star Trek First Contact (1996) (IMDB), whereby the Sovereign Class USS Enterprise NCC1701-E is being taken over by the Borg. The Borg are trying to reroute main control to Engineering where they are based. Upon hearing this Captain Picard asks commander Data to “Lockout the main computer”, after some interaction with a console, Data responds by saying that “I have isolated the main computer with a fractal encryption code, it is highly unlikely the Borg will be able to break it”. Hence as you can see even in the 24th century, fractal techniques still prove to be very useful.

The term “Fractal Zoom” is used to describe the opening screen effect of Limitless (2011) (IMDB). The camera carries out a number of moves in the X, Y, Z planes commencing with a downward looking view onto a city street. One can read some further detail about how the effect was achieved (online).

Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) developed a new Fractal Rendering technique for Lucy (2014) (IMDB). An overview of this may be seen (online) with detail of the work being published at SIGGRAPH. The technique was used to render many of the space travel scenes in the film.

Fractal techniques were also used more recently in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2017) (IMDB). The following articles (online) (online) provides a good deal of detail on the use of fractal techniques, particularly in the creation of Ego’s planet. Such techniques may also be seen in other segments of the film.

Wikipedia has a nice list of computer animation in film and television available (online). Do you know of any other interesting examples of computer graphics / animation featured in films.

Visit to Bletchley Park

On Tuesday 20th Sept, five bus loads of students and academics from @BCUComputing went on a 75 mile trip to visit Bletchley Park. A selection of photographs from the trip can be seen below, most being from the mansion, huts, cottages and museum (Block B). Some further images are available on flickr (online).

Visit to Bletchley Park

Around the same last year I attended two lectures organised by the BCS about Enigma (online) which gave some very interesting insight into the work of Bletchley Park. The post contains an embedded video from one of the lectures that is very much worthwhile to take a look at, as it gives a good deal of background to the Enigma, the Battle of the North Atlantic and the work undertaken at Bletchley Park.

Visit to Bletchley Park

We spent around four hours at Bletchley and really only managed a quick glimpse of the facility, which makes a lot of sense considering the many many thousands of people who were working their throughout the war. There is just so much to see, one could easily spend two full days having a quick look around. Will most certainly have to visit again as I didn’t visit all the huts and blocks or The National Museum of Computing.

Upon arrival at Bletchley Park around 11:00 the students had the opportunity to have a look around the estate before heading to the Teleprinter Hall at 12:00 for an hour long series of talks by Academics from BCU Computing. These talks included a general welcome, a talk on placement opportunities (as seen in the tweets below) and some discussion around keys / security.

After this series of talks it was now around lunchtime so many ventured to the Canteen situated in Hut 4 located right next to the Mansion. With lunch sorted it was then time for some further exploration of Bletchley Park, taking in all the various Huts, Cottages, Garages and the Museum located in Block B. All attendees were provided with a very useful Multimedia Guide comprising of map, imagery and audio / video segments to help guide one around the parks and augment ones tour with some very useful information about the various locations and their function. Some staff and students also had the opportunity of getting in a few rounds of table tennis in the scenic grounds before climbing aboard the busses for the journey back to Birmingham.

In summary it was a really great day out, meeting up at 08:30, setting off a bit after 09:00, arriving a bit after 11:00 and eventually returning by 17:30. A huge word of thanks to all involved in organising this fantastic adventure.

One can visit the following websites for further information

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Essential Viewing – Schwarzenegger Interview: Vision, Goals, Confidence and Time Management

In a previous post (Online) I highlighted many of the key points from Randy Pausch’s lectures on “Time Management” and “Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”. The video below is of an interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger that is very much focused on achieving ones vision, time management and the ineffable fear that most people have of public speaking. Many of his comments can not only be applied to bodybuilding but to all facets of life. The video was published in March 2015 and at the time of writing had 1.86 million views. The interview is divided into two segments, commencing with a focus on bodybuilding, then around the half way mark moving on towards having a Vision.

00:25:54 Have a Deadline, the day of the competition he had to be in the best shape possible. Should focus on the diet, training and to not slack off. If he lost because he didn’t schedule the training in the proper way, didn’t have the right frame of mind, or didn’t give everything he would be so angry, so he never wanted to be in that situation.  It  is therefore essential to set a deadline and work towards it (go to).

00:27:29 Have a Specific Plan, if you don’t have a specific plan then you just wonder around. You could have the best ship or plane in the world, but if you haven’t a specific goal of where you want to go and when you want to get there, you will just drift around and never get anywhere. Creating a sense of urgency is therefore very important (go to).

00:28:04 Have a Vision, The most important thing is to have a Vision, have a Goal, because without such one is just drifting around and never end up getting anywhere. People don’t become successful by accident. One has to have a Goal, it can be anything, having a goal motivates. Put pictures of your goal all over your bedroom wall so every day when you go to sleep or wake up one can see the end goal , which acts as a form of motivation. You therefore know exactly what you are after. He looked forward to working-out as every Set and every Rep that he did, because it brought him one step closer to transforming his  Vision/Goal into reality. Have a clear Vision /Goal of what you wish to accomplish (go to).

00:33:50 Have a Training Partner, Have somebody to train with, if you are feeling down then it’s the responsibility of the training partner encourage you (go to).

00:35:01 Lack of Confidence, Confidence builds by making small achievements that build on one another. When you have one little Victory it leads to the next, little Victories add up, which ultimately leads to confidence (go to).

00:37:50 Public Speaking, little Victories again help to build confidence. Speaking in public is the biggest fear factor for people than anything else (go to).

00:40:20 Time Management, Everybody has a problem with time. The day has 24 hours, and one can sleep 6 hours, therefore you have 18 hours remaining to do your work, family, hobbies and to do/learn something new. Therefore out of the 24 hours in the day, don’t waste one single hour, it’s too precious. Don’t say that you don’t have the time to do something, you make the time (go to).

To Conclude
These are all very good points, especially if you are working on something like an Honours / MSc or PhD Research Project. Having a mentor / supervisor that will push you is key towards achieving success. Certainly in academia – time in the most precious commodity, therefore one must carve out the time to do what’s important. Setting clear goals / plans / deadlines and building on little victories is one very good way to build confidence and to ultimately see ones vision transform into reality.

What Qualities Make a Game Popular?

I recently made a post about Dare to be Digital 2016 (online) highlighting a number of video pitches. What qualities make a game addictive & popular? To what degree does the gameplay, sound effects, music, graphics, playability, level of difficulty have a bearing on the overall popularity and addictiveness of a game. The following are just a few popular games.

Cooking Fever
Cooking Fever is all about cooking – anything from burgers and hot-dogs, to pizza, suchi and baking. One can upgrade kitchen appliances to make cooking faster, upgrade the restaurant to increase customer wait times and how generous they are with tips. The main interaction style consists of simple drag and drop. When a customer arrives at your kitchen, the ask via a graphic bubble representation of the items they are looking for, e.g. an icon representing a burger. You then need to get some burger buns set out on your work surface and start dragging the ingredients on to complete the burger. One of course needs the cooked burger meat, along with various combinations of extras such as lettuce, tomato, ketchup – dragging each component on to the burger bun. Once the burger is fully assembled one then drags the burger to the waiting customer. If you manage to do this quickly enough they will drop coins representative of the price of the burger along with a tip for good service on the counter and leave as happy customers. As the levels progress the number of customers and combinations of food items increase. At the time of writing the number of installs was between 10 & 50 Million, the game is available from the google play store (online).

Angry Birds
Angry Birds has become an extremely popular game with 100 to 500 Million installs of the app via the Google Play Store (online). What are the qualities of launching a bird at various targets to get them to topple over that makes the game so popular.

Candy Crush Jelly Saga
Having 10 to 50 Million downloads Candy Crush Jelly Saga is certainly another popular game (online).

Clash of Clans
Available from the Google Play store (online) has between 100 & 500 Million installs.

SimCity Buildit
With 10 to 50 Million Google Play installs SimCity Buildit is certainly another popular game (online). This game is all about creating a city and populating it with residences, so you can earn Simoleons through the construction of residences and earn tax from same as well. One can also earn cash through the Trade Depot whereby you can sell goods that you create. One can sell all manner of goods from the basic raw materials created by factories, to more complex items created by taking the raw materials and forming them into a new product such as: Doughnuts, Shoes, Watches, Nails, Vegetables, Tables & Chairs to name but a few.

As you level up through the game further opportunities for Trading become enabled such as the Port for shipping your goods overseas, or the Airport (available once you have a population of 120,000). The Airport allows you to gain special items allowing you to build new types of residences with higher population capacity, namely, Paris, London and Toyko zones. To keep the population happy one must supply them with basic services, provide them with places to relax (parks), and a whole host of other facilities from Schools and Universities, to Entertainment and Gambling.

Over time one can create a city of some 4 million inhabitants and stretch out the area of the city to encompass both the beach and mountains. These areas allow one to build special buildings that can greatly boost the population within a certain catchment area.

At the Vu Tower (available at a population of 90,000) one can unleash a number of different disasters, that allows you to gain valuable Golden Keys. The most basic disaster one can unleash is the Meteor Strike, followed by Earthquake, Alien Invasion and several more.

What makes a good game?
How important is the embedding of Social Media in a game?
Do you make use of in-app purchases, to buy credits, upgrade systems etc?
Is it easy to lose track of the amount you spend on in-app purchases?
How important is the time it takes to complete a level – especially for Mobile Games?
What are your favorite games and Why?
How often do you play games on your Mobile?

List of Computer Science Departments in the UK

The following is a list of Computer Science Departments in the UK, its possible that one or two may be missing, links may also change from time to time, but hopefully the list below is fairly comprehensive. If you know of any other departmental website in the UK relating to computing that isn’t listed then please leave a comment.

I organise a series of research seminars on a regular basis, hence its useful to have a list of CS departments\schools readily at had when looking for prospective speakers. Hopefully you will find the list useful as well.

You may wish to note that a list of computer science departments also exists on (wikipedia) most of them being from America.

University of Aberdeen (online)
Abertay University (online)
Aberystwyth University (online)
Anglia Ruskin University (online)
Aston University (online)
Bangor University (online)
University of Bath (online)
University of Bedfordshire (online)
University of Birmingham (online)
Birmingham City University (online)
University of Bolton (online)
Bournemouth University (online)
University of Bradford (online)
University of Brighton (online)
University of Bristol (online)
Brunel University (online)
University of Buckingham (online)
Buckinghamshire New University (online)
University of Cambridge (online)
Canterbury Christ Church University (online)
Cardiff University (online)
University of Central Lancashire (online)
University of Chester (online)
City University London (online)
Coventry University (online)
De Montfort University (online)
University of Derby (online)
University of Dundee (online)
Durham University (online)
University of East Anglia (online)
University of East London (online)
Edge Hill University (online)
University of Edinburgh (online)
Edinburgh Napier University (online)
University of Essex (online)
University of Exeter (online)
University of Glasgow (online)
Glasgow Caledonian University (online)
University of Gloucestershire (online)
University of Greenwich (online)
Heriot-Watt University (online)
University of Hertfordshire (online)
University of Huddersfield (online)
University of Hull (online)
Imperial College London (online)
Keele University (online)
University of Kent (online)
Kingston University (online)
Lancaster University (online)
University of Leeds (online)
Leeds Beckett University (online)
University of Leicester (online)
University of Lincoln (online)
University of Liverpool (online)
Liverpool Hope University (online)
Liverpool John Moores University (online)
Birkbeck, University of London (online)
Goldsmiths, University of London (online)
King’s College London (online)
Queen Mary, University of London (online)
Royal Holloway, University of London (online)
University College London (online)
London Metropolitan University (online)
London South Bank University (online)
Loughborough University (online)
University of Manchester (online)
Manchester Metropolitan University (online)
Middlesex University (online)
Newcastle University (online)
University of Northampton (online)
Northumbria University (online)
University of Nottingham (online)
Nottingham Trent University (online)
The Open University (online)
University of Oxford (online)
Oxford Brookes University (online)
University of Plymouth (online)
University of Portsmouth (online)
Queen’s University Belfast (online)
University of Reading (online)
Robert Gordon University (online)
University of St Andrews (online)
University of Salford (online)
University of Sheffield (online)
Sheffield Hallam University (online)
University of Southampton (online)
Southampton Solent University (online)
University of South Wales (online)
Staffordshire University (online)
University of Stirling (online)
University of Strathclyde (online)
University of Sunderland (online)
University of Surrey (online)
University of Sussex (online)
Swansea University (online)
Teesside University (online)
University of Ulster (online)
University of Wales, Trinity Saint David (online)
University of Warwick (online)
University of West London (online)
University of Westminster (online)
University of the West of England (online)
University of the West of Scotland (online)
University of Wolverhampton (online)
University of York (online)

UK Computer Science Funding REF 2014 Analysis

In REF 2014 eighty nine institutions were submitted to the Computer Science and Informatics subject area. The analysis below examines the data made available at the (REF Results Webpage – UoA 11) and takes note of the total funding pot for each year 2008/9 to 2012/3. This is broken down by institution type, and country.

Total Research Income

2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13
England £113,747,632 £114,851,075 £117,463,599 £120,655,467 £124,889,051
Scotland £24,967,458 £24,284,379 £23,235,215 £21,158,815 £24,196,970
Wales £5,521,097 £5,771,539 £6,138,836 £5,813,848 £5,324,725
Ulster £4,880,387 £5,224,918 £6,397,775 £4,363,975 £4,416,940
Total £149,116,574 £150,131,911 £153,235,425 £151,992,105 £158,827,686

The table below outlines the number of universities submitted in each location and the type of institution. As can be seen England had the majority of university submissions at 69, followed by Scotland at 12, Wales at 6 and Ulster with 2, giving a total of 89 submissions. The largest group of institution type submissions was from Post-92 universities at 37, then followed with 30 from a selection of redbrick / glass plate type institutions, and the remaining 22 submissions from Russell Group institutions. One may also see the number of submitted staff based on institution type. As can be seen a total of 2158 staff were submitted to REF (Category A & C).

Location Submissions Institution Type Institutions Staff Submissions
England 69 Russell Group 22 912
Scotland 12 Post-92 37 546
Wales 6 Other 30 700
Ulster 2
Sector Total 89 89  2158

Calculating the average across each location and the computer science sector as a whole yields the table below. Looking at the figures for the 2012/13 academic year one can see that Ulster had the greatest average research income (A little over £2200K) – although it does have just two submitted institutions. Wales has the lowest average at a little under £900K. The total income at £158.8M averages out across the 89 universities to £1785K per School\Department.

2008-09 2009-10  2010-11 2011-12  2012-13
England £1,648,516 £1,664,508 £1,702,371 £1,748,630 £1,809,986
Scotland £2,080,622 £2,023,698 £1,936,268 £1,763,235 £2,016,414
Wales £920,183 £961,923 £1,023,139 £968,975 £887,454
Ulster £2,440,194 £2,612,459 £3,198,888 £2,181,988 £2,208,470
Sector Average £1,675,467 £1,686,875 £1,721,746 £1,707,776 £1,784,581

The 22 Russell Group universities brought in  over £101M for the 2012/13 academic year, this accounts for 64% of the total income across all 89 institutions, thereby leaving £57M to be distributed across the remaining 67 schools\departments. As seen in the table below.

2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13
Russell Group Totals £93,103,342 £91,483,897 £89,962,574 £93,528,618 £101,664,055
Remaining Income £56,013,232 £58,648,014 £63,272,851 £58,463,487 £57,163,631

This £57M can be further broken down by the distribution of same between the Post-92 institutions and the rest, as detailed below. The other 30 institutions for the 2012/13 year were awarded 39.7% the income of the Russell Group institutions, with the 37 Post-92 institutions receiving just 16.5% in comparison to the Russell Group.

2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13
Others £41,748,295 £43,056,467 £46,610,949 £41,427,815 £40,409,460
Post 92 £14,264,937 £15,591,547 £16,661,902 £17,035,672 £16,754,171

Looking at the average income per submitted staff member may help to give a better understanding of the funding distribution across the three different groupings. Again looking at the 2012/13 year the £111,474 average income of a Russell Group staff member is 1.93 times that of the other universities and 3.63 times that of a Post-92 staff member. Taking all 67 of the non Russell Group institutions the average staff member research income of £45,878 is 2.43 times less than a Russell Group member.

2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 Staff
RG £102,087 £100,311 £98,643 £102,553 £111,474 912
Non RG £44,954 £47,069 £50,781 £46,921 £45,878 1246
Other £59,640 £61,509 £66,587 £59,183 £57,728 700
Post-92 £26,126 £28,556 £30,516 £31,201 £30,685 546

The average income per school\department may be seen below as is clearly evident the research income of a Russell Group institution is on average 10.2 times greater than a Post-92 school\department and 3.43 times more an the other 30 university schools\departments.

2008-09  2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 Institutions
RG Average £4,231,970 £4,158,359 £4,089,208 £4,251,301 £4,621,093 22
Non RG  Avg £836,018 £875,343 £944,371 £872,589 £853,189 67
Other Avg £1,391,610 £1,435,216 £1,553,698 £1,380,927 £1,346,982 30
Avg for Post 92 £385,539 £421,393 £450,322 £460,424 £452,815 37

Looking closer at Scotland which had 12 submitted institutions two of these Russell Group universities – Edinburgh and Glasgow account for most of the funding income. As can be seen below the research funding gap between 2008 and 2012 has been narrowing between Edinburgh\Glasgow and the other 10 institutions. In 2008 the difference was 1.69 this has now reduced in 2012 to 1.05 times that of Edinburgh\Glasgow for the remaining funds. The bottom row in the table below shows the average income received across the 10 non Russell Group institutions.

2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 Institutions
RG Scotland £15,711,247 £14,353,304 £12,432,224 £10,609,597 £12,416,813 2
Non RG Scotland £9,256,211 £9,931,075 £10,802,991 £10,549,218 £11,780,157 10
Non RG Avg £925,621 £993,108 £1,080,299 £1,054,922 £1,178,016

Looking further into the breakdown the table below highlights the research income awarded to each type of university, Post-92 (4), Other (6) and Russell Group (2) within Scotland. As can be seen the Russell Group brought in roughly 5.1 times the income of the Post-92 sector, whilst the “Other” group brought in about 3.83 times that of the Post-92 institutions.

2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 Institutions
Scotland Post-92 £1,932,190 £2,115,600 £2,138,764 £2,341,638 £2,436,902 4
Scotland Other £7,324,021 £7,815,475 £8,664,227 £8,207,580 £9,343,255 6
Scotland RG £15,711,247 £14,353,304 £12,432,224 £10,609,597 £12,416,813 2
Scotland Total £24,967,458 £24,284,379 £23,235,215 £21,158,815 £24,196,970 12

Calculating the average research income for each category of university yields the following table below.

2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 Institutions
Scotland Post-92 £483,048 £528,900 £534,691 £585,410 £609,226 4
Scotland Other £1,220,670 £1,302,579 £1,444,038 £1,367,930 £1,557,209 6
Scotland RG £7,855,624 £7,176,652 £6,216,112 £5,304,799 £6,208,407 2

The table below outlines the research income for the 12 institutions in Scotland submitted to REF. They have been ordered according to total research income over the five year period with Edinburgh on top with an income of just over £50M accounting for 43.02% of the Scottish total research income. This is followed by Glasgow again with a eight figure total income of £14M for the 5 years of REF accounting for 12.59% of the Scottish total.

2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13
Edinburgh £11,782,758 £10,646,353 £9,715,972 £8,406,203 £10,140,922
Glasgow £3,928,489 £3,706,951 £2,716,252 £2,203,394 £2,275,891
Heriot-Watt £1,193,172 £1,487,196 £2,041,984 £2,253,042 £2,386,225
Dundee £1,893,382 £2,162,972 £1,932,633 £1,582,233 £1,790,045
Aberdeen £1,310,316 £1,393,901 £1,741,994 £1,772,829 £2,678,515
St Andrews £1,496,331 £1,389,019 £1,540,910 £1,602,031 £1,501,825
Edinburgh Napier £858,647 £669,439 £683,900 £1,219,476 £1,304,373
Strathclyde £822,758 £937,109 £968,227 £615,779 £303,535
Stirling £608,062 £445,278 £438,479 £381,666 £671,110
UWS £393,000 £744,000 £548,000 £299,000 £425,000
RGU £418,237 £395,480 £401,576 £518,756 £504,205
Glasgow Caledonian £262,306 £306,681 £505,288 £304,406 £215,324
Scotland Year Total £24,967,458 £24,284,379 £23,235,215 £21,158,815 £24,196,970

The 5 year total research income percentage of the Scottish total research income, REF Score and number of submitted staff may be seen in the table below. Many articles may be seen online discussing a strong relation between research income and REF score, yet as can be seen below several institutions with a lower research income have performed better than others in terms of REF score.

5 Year Total % of 5 Yr Total REF Score Staff Submitted
Edinburgh £50,692,208 43.02% 3.20 104
Glasgow £14,830,977 12.59% 3.10 43
Heriot-Watt £9,361,619 7.94% 2.65 29
Dundee £9,361,265 7.94% 2.75 13
Aberdeen £8,897,555 7.55% 2.90 20
St Andrews £7,530,116 6.39% 2.70 24
Edinburgh Napier £4,735,835 4.02% 2.00 12
Strathclyde £3,647,408 3.10% 2.55 21
Stirling £2,544,595 2.16% 2.40 16
UWS £2,409,000 2.04% 2.00 14
RGU £2,238,254 1.90% 2.35 19
Glasgow Caledonian £1,594,005 1.35% 1.80 13
Scotland Total £117,842,837