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?

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Kainos AI Camp and Hackathon – Week 2 Summary

This post gives some idea of what the final week of the Kainos AI Camp and Hackathon was like. The start of the second week commenced on Monday morning by reviewing what was explored the following week. A number of people from Kainos also attended in order to capture some interviews and video of the AI Camp in action. Around the middle of the week Kainos’ CTO Tom Gray (online) visited to give a talk about the company followed up by a Q&A session. During the final two days of the week two further tutors took part to explore the world of computer vision.

A day long Hackathon took place on Saturday 15th with teams consisting of two to three people developing some really excellent and interesting ideas. The hackathon concluded with all teams presenting their work to a panel of Judges, with some really great and fun prizes available to the winning teams along with a number of individual prizes as well. The previous day – Friday 14th Sept, the participants spent much of the day thinking of the ideas for the hackathon, getting into teams, and exploring the possible data sets they could use. It was really great to see the amount of in-depth detailed discussion and enthusiasm that electrified the room with creativity. A huge shout out to all the tutors must be given particularly to Chloe (online) and Jake (online) who ran most of the two week event.

The tweets below should help to give you a good sense of what Week 02 was like along with the capstone Hackathon event.

Summary of Week 01 (online).

Social Media Feeds
Kainos (online)
Kainos Academy (online)
Kainos CTO – Tom Gray (online)
AI Camp Tutor – Chloe Thompson (online)
AI Camp Tutor – Jake Young (online)
AI Camp Tutor – Mary-Jane (online)
AI Camp Tutor – Liam Ferris (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 02 in Tweets
The following embedded tweets below should give you some sense of what the second week of the AI Camp was like along with the final Hackathon event that took places at Kainos’ Offices located at Alpha Tower (online), Birmingham.

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.

A Visit to #HackTheMidlands Hackathon 2017

On Saturday 23rd September 2017 a 24 hour Hackathon called “Hack The Midlands” kicked off at Millennium Point in Birmingham. Around 150 attendees turned up to share in the adventure of writing some code in teams. Quite a variety of participants took part including students from Birmingham City University, Aston University and the University of Birmingham. Other participants included a number pre-university and several whom had graduated several years before. It wasn’t just students of computing taking part either, but also had participants from disciplines such as Maths, Physics and Psychology. Some of the participants travelled quite a distance to take part in the Hackathon, with several coming from St Andrews up in Scotland and one all the way from Italy. Nine Workshops were also taking place during the event, covering things from web development and Node.js to VR (online).

It wasn’t all just about writing code either with many teams working of electronic based projects such as a 3D Printer, Arduino, Breadboards and the like. A good bit of soldering and de-soldering was also taking place. Was really great to see a diverse range of ideas and projects being brought to light. For some this was their first Hackathon, for others they had been to many before as some of the images below of laptops covered with Hackathon stickers can attest to. A few mascots were also to be found dotted around the desks such as “Otto the Octopus”.

Useful Links
Hack The Midlands Website (online)
HaCS Hackathon and Computing Society, Birmingham City University (online)
HaCS Twitter Feed (online)
Aston Computer Science Society, Aston University (online)
ACCS Twitter Feed (online)
Computer Science Society, University of Birmingham (online)
CSS Twitter Feed (online)

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Keeping Cool
The 3D Printer Project was really quite interesting on two fronts. Firstly for the seemingly random parts deposited in the base and secondly for the innovative use of soft drink cans to elevate the printer to help facilitate systems cooling.

Hack The Midlands 2017

Hack The Midlands 2017

Hack The Midlands 2017

Day 1 Tweets
Below can be seen a selection of twitter posts from the first half of the Hackathon event.

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.

Waypoints
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.

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#bcuggj17 #afishysituation #gamedev

A post shared by Jonny Graney (@jonathancharlesgraney) on

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#bcuggj17 #seewaves

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#bcuggj17 presentations

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#bcuggj17 #allhandsondeck

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#kingbooty #bcuggj17 #gamedev

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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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Dawn.

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RGUHack 2016 Hackathon – Tweet Summary

Following on from my previous two posts, this one captures most of the Hackathon’s essence played out on Twitter. A few of the tweets may not be in chronological order as the tweets below are a collective from searches, hastags and @RGUHack tweets.

  • RGU Hackathon 2016 in Video (online)
  • RGU Hackathon 16-17th April 2016 – Event Photos (online)