Invisible Buildings: now playing at English Heritage sites

We were invited to create a new version of Invisible Buildings at 3 English Heritage sites:
Wrest Park
, Framlingham Castle and Audley End. This is part of their Awesome Archaeology events for children over the summer. We went to the launch at Wrest Park yesterday and watched around 200 happy children metal detecting and geofizzing their way round the bowling green.

If you have been one of the players and want a quick link to the Invisible Buildings site, click here, if not, hurry on down between now and the 22nd of August and have a play. You can collect vouchers for £5 or £50 worth of free games if you do.

Find out more about Invisible Buildings on our microsite here.

Some thoughts on Citycamp

As a veteran of Brighton Citycamps 1, 2, 3  (plus some halves), here are some observations on the latest incarnation (predictably called Citycamp 4), and introduce, for discussion, my vision for taking Citycamp into the future. This year’s Citycamp consisted of a Friday conference (which I didn’t attend) and a “camp” on Saturday . I use “camp” loosely  (I was thinking “thing” but that just seemed rude!) but with the event being condensed (from a weekend) into one day, there was no camping.  And although billed as an unConference, it isn’t.  I like to think of Citycamp as an unProtest: there are those that protest about things they don’t like, and the others who try to change things.

I didn’t pitch any ideas (along with other veterans) but instead chose to help out on other projects. I worked mainly with Bike Hub (refurbishing and selling unwanted bikes) who were pitching an idea, BikeBank, to make it easier for people to donate their bikes (rather than leave them locked up and rusting on the street).  The reason imho that this is a great Citycamp project is that it solves a well-defined problem, results are measurable and achievable within  a reasonable time for a small budget. And it obviously struck a chord with the judges in that it won a prize. With all the great things that come out of CityCamp it is therefore slightly disappointing to see fewer people each year and fewer of the faces that have been the movers and shakers in the past. This has led me to think how we can maximise the energy we see at Citycamp and how we cultivate ideas . My vision is to see Citycamp as a continual process working in the following way.

Germination. Rather than wait until  March every year, let’s  “post” problems online – rather like FIx My Street (street light not working – inform council – replace lamp) for the less tangible. In the case of Bike Hub, it would be “how can we get more bikes donated to us?” (There might be a separate problem – I can never find anywhere to lock up my bike, because too many people are dumping them). Some problems will have ready answers e.g. if they have been solved before, but others will be genuinely new and original. Ideas would be posted to a Quora-like site (possibly use Pubble), where the problem can be aired in public, and then “qualified” – by qualification I mean that the problem needs to be solvable within a budget of £1000, be specific for Brighton and Hove (although successful projects could be taken up by other areas – indeed should be encouraged) and be measurable in outcomes.  As such solving world hunger would not be applicable here. A set of  tools such as special versions of the business canvas/hypothesis generation would be developed to assist this process, and regular workshops would be run (see below) for those interested in being a part of the scheme. Learning techniques such as these, plus project management, are valuable for anyone thinking of running their own startup. It would also be interesting to get schools and colleges involved in this. too.

Cultivation. Once our idea is qualified (and not sure exactly who or how this is done)  we move to the cultivation stage. During this phase, the idea is given flesh. People can vote support for the idea, make comments, and a team to solve the problem can be formed.There could also be a Kickstarter element where money is pledged (I, personally, would put money into a fund (e.g. £5 per month that could be directed towards projects I liked). There is an existing mechanism for nurturing projects called Ideascale which is used by Ordnance Survey in their Geovation Challenges (slight difference here, which could be adopted here: they specify certain challenges such as “how can we encourage more people to exercise”). At this end of this stage, the problem posed should have generated traction to go forward to stage 3 …

… the Citycamp day challenge (Fertilisation)- which is rather like our existing yearly event. But as the idea is fully formed, the process might be more like what we saw with Good for Nothing where people come together to code, design or generally put the project together. Any money still needed would be awarded from the CItycamp fund. At this stage the project is ready to go and conquer the problem. Citycamp days would be held whenever a project (or may a small group) had reached this stage. At these days, newcomers can get involved and be shown how the process works.

But that’s not the end (Harvest?) - for a project to be deemed to be successful it needs to meet the goals that have been set – this could either be to do a certain number of things, or to become sustainable in the way it is implemented. And the final part of the process will be to make sure that the goals are met. This can be in the form of mentorship, or going back to the hivemind for extra help, or a number of other ways of making sure that the project is a success. And can also be tied in with the Citycamp monthly meetup.

And that’s not the end of it either. Two years ago I pitched the House of Games, partly as a way of encouraging community projects (and partly as a new political movement!). I had thought that the way to get started was to create mini-Citycamps in distinct areas of Brighton and Hove (maybe by postcode). At the time I didn’t put 2 and 2 together, but I think within what I am proposing, I can resurrect the House of Games. Players are awarded points and badges for taking part, getting projects funded, being funders, completing projects. And once you have reached a certain stage, you move up a rung – to the £5000 project (and so on – 10k, 20k).

LocoMatrix – new sites and layout

I recently moved our server from Rackspace to Hostgator (won’t go into why here) and have been giving some thought to new layout and designs for the exciting era in which we now find ourselves. The main areas that we are now working in, whilst at first appearing a little disparate (and sometimes desperate),  all have a navigation theme. These areas are:

  • location based games and you will find a separate microsite for our Invisible Buildings game here (these in turn have curated sites for the different themes e.g. Romans here). We are also looking at games to encourage children and families to explore footpaths, and I will be blogging about this soon.
  • tablets and applications for the elderly can be found here – and we are currently working on a “social networking system” using the metaphor of postcards (as we used to send from our holidays), monitoring movement using
  • internal navigation using iBeacon technology. Again I will be writing about this in more detail soon.

Our branding will soon be going back to its original format (as designed by Clear Left) when I get a moment to find an easy way to do it (and move from Joomla to WordPress); for the time being you can find the original site here.

Adventures with my Rapiro

rapiro-white-houseRapiro is a humanoid robot that I helped fund on Kickstarter. It arrived with a hefty £70 customs bill (don’t worry, I will get my own back when I make the 12 foot high version of this device in the near future and point it at HMRC [btw in case anyone sees this as a threat, this is a joke]) 10 days ago, and I put the kit together in an evening. The instructions for putting it together consist mainly of photo closeups, and the whole thing was relatively straightforward. Two tips though – 1) make sure you have some decent precision screwdrivers, 2) ensure that you either have decent batteries or a suitable mains power supply. At an early stage of assembly, you are required to initialise the motors – my underfunctioning batteries caused the motors to make a noise but not move tricking me into thinking that I had done this. Later on when it became apparent that this was not the case, I had to dismantle various bits to adjust the limbs.

Like other early adopters, having completed the construction I was unsure of what to do next. There is the possibility of connecting up the Raspberry Pi but I was keen to see it in action before adding this complication (well for me anyway – and probably for most) so how to proceed? A search of Google proved inconclusive but this blog was quite useful. But you might find the following details a little bit more enlightening particularly if, like me, you haven’t played around with Arduinos before.

There are 3 steps – getting a program (Arduino IDE)  that allows the Rapiro board  to chat with your computer, adding the test program (called a sketch) and  uploading it to the board, then trying out some commands. If all goes well, you should start to see Rapiro dancing around.

1) Getting the Arduino program – everything you need is at arduino.cc and for me, on the download page, I downloaded a suitable IDE. In my case it was Arduino v1.5.5 Beta (I like to live dangerously). Installed and got running without incident.

2) Adding the sketch – you will get it from here and download as RAPIRO_ver0_0.ino after which you can upload it to the IDE using File->Open – you will then see the code open in a window. To upload the sketch to the board, click on the second icon (a right arrow in a circle). Mention was made in various documents that if you are running on Windows you might have trouble with the comms connection. I was lucky and it worked first time but it seems that a problem may occur when trying to get a USB port to act as a traditional serial comms port. Mine seemed to like being Com 3. When the program has uploaded you will hear some motor movement as Rapiro initialises. If he (she?) is not aligned properly, you can experiment by making changes to the array trim[MAXSN].

3) While loading the problem worked ok, sending commands was minorly tricky.  Clicking Tools->Serial Monitor opens up a new window. You can send from the top text box and see replies in the bigger box below. I had to manually set the baud rate (lower right hand drop down box manually to 57600 baud). The commands #M0 through to #M9 (literally type in the 3 characters # M plus a number) to see different preprogrammed movements – but a word of warning #M1 is to walk forward so you might want make sure Rapiro is not about to plunge off your desk otherwise all your hard efforts may be in vain.

Checking through the program, I realised that you can colour the eyes and  control each motor individually (I’ve not seen this elsewhere) which will allow play around with individual movements and check that your build is ok. #PR000G100T010 will turn on the Green component of the LEDs to a mid brightness (values between 0 and 255) (T is the time component to get to desired colour) and you won’t be surprised that replacing G with B or R do the other colours (by  using all 3 parts you can get any colour you want. #PR000G100B000T010 would adjust all 3 colours in one go.

Now for moving the limbs. Here is a sequence for moving the right shoulder:


where the #P specifies an individual motor command, S02 refers to one of the 12 motors (from S00 to S11), A000 up to A180 is where the motor moves to, and Txxx is the time to perform the movement. I can’t be more specific here, because in the process of playing around with these, there was a smell of burning and Rapiro died. So my final advice to you is be careful when playing with this.

#PS00A000T010#PS00A180T010  - full head movement from side to side
#PS01A000T010#PS01A180T010  - Waist

#PS02A000T010#PS01A180T010  - r Shoulder
#PS03A000T010#PS03A180T010  - r Arm
#PS04A000T010#PS04A180T010  - r HAND

#PS05A000T010#PS05A180T010  - l Shoulder
#PS06A000T010#PS06A180T010 – l Arm
#PS07A000T010#PS07A180T010 – l hand

#PS08A000T010#PS08A180T010  - r Foot yaw
#PS09A000T010#PS09A180T010  - r Foot pitch

#PS10A000T010#PS10A180T010  - l Foot yaw
#PS11A000T010#PS11A180T010  - l Foot pitch

The Myth of Gamification

I’ve been talking/writing about it quite a bit recently and I’ve come to a rather startling conclusion – gamification is a myth (at least, as charged by the hype brigade). Take any list of game mechanics (e.g. Jeff Nolan’s 18 points [and I'm not suggesting for a moment that Jeff is part of that brigade - he just provides a rather well-defined list]). The thing is that there is nothing on that list that you can’t trace back to something that came from real life and was put into games in the first place. The shame is that we didn’t call it “lification” when we put these mechanics into games, because we would now be trying to lifify, er… life.

I’ve taken Nolan’s 18 points and I’ve illustrated them in a little slideshow – it’s also, hopefully, mildly amusing.

And what’s more I challenge anyone to come up with a list that really did come from games, and not the other way round.

The interesting thing, and the thing that really matters is that people that are now starting to ask the more important questions (actually some people have been doing this for years). What is it really about games that make them compelling? And conversley, why do people find aspects of their lives so dull? Here’s an interesting view for starters from Scott Nicholson.

It’s got me thinking about education, government and kitchens in a completely different way – more about this another time.

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Gamification by Design – or by Desire?

I’ve been reading Gamification by Design by Zuckermann and Cunningham, and have just submitted a review to Amazon. I reproduce it here because I wanted to say a bit more about some ideas that sprang to mind after finishing this rather disappointing volume.

People enjoy computer games – therefore if you turn non-game things into games, everyone will be happy. That’s the idea, and that’s what this book is trying to tell you. But (and I guess you saw that BUT coming) the argument is not convincing. The authors describe in depth (and then in more depth) the techniques that games use (e.g points, levels, badges, power-ups) and then gives examples of non-game games that use these techniques. But (!) imho they are not very good examples. Take for, instance, Four Square: does it make me want to use (play?) it because it gives me quirky badges? Ok, to be fair I am not your typical gamer – I liked Lemmings and SimCity – but my thoughts on gamification are that it can be a powerful tool to engage people who are not your typical gamers, and I think this is where the book fails. The last 2 chapters, a tutorial on programming a points/badge website, are out of place here and would have been happier on the associated website.

Curiously, I expect books about games and gaming to be enjoyable reading; the reality is that they are all too often rather dull (A Theory of Fun being a notable exception). I’ve given the book 3 stars because it really made me start to think about what systems and processes could really benefit from gamification (Schools and the House of Lords! – not appropriate to expand here, but will do so in my LocoMatrix blog), though I think that would have happened if I had read a good article on the subject.

So two gamification ideas. The first is to do with schools and education. A Google search reveals (expectedly) that I am not the first by any means to write about it. What comes up in the search reveals that many writers have missed some or all of the points (and, of course, as with any buzzword there is a lot of bandwagon jumping going on). Missed point 1: turning a lesson into a game is likely to fail (not true of Invisible Buildings, I hope). Missed point 2; giving achievement badges etc probably going to fail, although come to think of it, house points worked well in my day.

No, my point is that the whole mechanics of learning could be made game-like. Take for example, the A level (or whatever exam you like). Two years learning and then you take the test. Your future depends on whether you pass or fail (or even that you pass with a star – hey, that’s gamification – or perhaps not). Far better – you learn something, may be over a day or a week, you do something to show you understand it – you go “up a level”. Going up a level may just take you to the next stage in a subject or it may allow you to move sideways within the subject. Or you may choose to stop there and do something else.

Your argument may be that how will that work within the class and with the teacher – my argument would be: how do teachers and classes fit within the game plan? I will have more to say on this at a later date.

My second gamification idea revolves around bicameral government. Reasonable people realise the need to reform/abolish the House of Lords but what do you replace it with. A second elected chamber which will either reflect the views of the Commons, or completely obstruct it if majority is held by another party. So what really is the point?

So is there some merit in having a second house based, not on election, but on merit? In a way, like life peers, except not for life and not chosen by the government – maybe more like those chosen for OBEs etc (hey, badges!), except not chosen by the government. Yes, maybe, the new house would be made up of those who play the “game” and then, er… “win”.

This could be expanded to have a second “house” at local government level – made up from  local “players”. And then maybe it’s the local players who go on to elect the national players.

Just a thought (and maybe something we can refine – perhaps by creating the “game”)

How high is the Peace Statue?

a statue of an angel in Brighton known as the Peace StatueComing up with an idea for a new game that would involve calculating the distance away, or the height of various objects e.g. the Peace Statue. Will use the GPS to measure distance, and accelerometer for angle (see below for basic maths!). More of this later, but came across this gem of a story (probably anecdotal – see Snopes) involving height measurement. Enjoy.

The following concerns a question in a physics degree exam at the University of Copenhagen: “Describe how to determine the height of a skyscraper with a barometer.”

One student replied: “You tie a long piece of string to the neck of the barometer, then lower the barometer from the roof of the skyscraper to the ground. The length of the string plus the length of the barometer will equal the height of the building.”

This highly original answer so incensed the examiner that the student was failed. The student appealed on the grounds that his answer was indisputably correct, and the university appointed an independent arbiter to decide the case. The arbiter judged that the answer was indeed correct, but did not display any noticeable knowledge of physics.

To resolve the problem it was decided to call the student in and allow him six minutes in which to provide a verbal answer, which showed at least a minimal familiarity the basic principles of physics.

For five minutes the student sat in silence, forehead creased in thought. The arbiter reminded him that time was running out, to which the student replied that he had several extremely relevant answers, but couldn’t make up his mind which to use. On being advised to hurry up the student replied as follows:

“Firstly, you could take the barometer up to the roof of the skyscraper, drop it over the edge, and measure the time it takes to reach the ground. The height of the building can then be worked out from the formula H = 0.5g x t2. But bad luck on the barometer.”

“Or if the sun is shining you could measure the height of the barometer, then set it on end and measure the length of its shadow. Then you measure the length of the skyscraper’s shadow, and thereafter it is a simple matter of proportional arithmetic to work out the height of the skyscraper.”

“But if you wanted to be highly scientific about it, you could tie a short piece of string to the barometer and swing it like a pendulum, first at ground level and then on the roof of the skyscraper. The height is worked out by the difference in the gravitational restoring force T = 2 ∏√ (l / g).”

“Or if the skyscraper has an outside emergency staircase, it would be easier to walk up it and mark off the height of the skyscraper in barometer lengths, then add them up.” 

“If you merely wanted to be boring and orthodox about it, of course, you could use the barometer to measure the air pressure on the roof of the skyscraper and on the ground, and convert the difference in millibars into feet to give the height of the building.”

“But since we are constantly being exhorted to exercise independence of mind and apply scientific methods, undoubtedly the best way would be to knock on the janitor’s door and say to him ‘If you would like a nice new barometer, I will give you this one if you tell me the height of this skyscraper’.” 

The student was Niels Bohr, the only person from Denmark to win the Nobel Prize for Physics.

Height = tan(angle) x distance away from the object. You can make it easy for yourself by walking back to a point where the angle = 45 degrees. Tan 45 = 1 so
distance away = height
BUT the GPS error (maybe around 5 meters) will be more of a problem the nearer you are
AND how easy is it to use the phone to estimate angle.

Watch this space.

From 8 to 80

Remember the popular phrase “from 8 to 80″ on the box of a board game, back in the days when people still played board games. What? You still play Scrabble on a board? Anyway, best advice to us when we were starting to create games for schools was to be careful to tailor games to a narrow age range. 7-9 year olds would be different to 9-11 and so on.

Interestingly with both our Invisible Buildings and Detect-o-saurus games, they seem to be of interest across a much greater age group than one would imaging. Yes, we could perhaps adapt the graphics to different ages, but the underlying games seem to appeal to all.

Furthermore, in talking with an archaeologist, there was a suggestion that with very little adaptation, Invisible Buildings would be suitable for undergraduates. Will it – watch this space and we will let you know.


Model of stegosaurus in Bałtów Jurassic Park, ...

Image via Wikipedia

Friday marked the end of Dinosaur Camp – our week-long activities designing and building a location-based game that would allow school children to locate and then dig up a dinosaur skeleton (virtually). Featuring the Colossal Fossilator and the Skelly Telly, we were able to demonstrate some of the principles of the game at “The Big Idea – Creating Creativity” at Varndean School on Friday.

Detecto-o-saurus has a number of similarities with our existing Invisible Buildings game but instead of digging up a Roman Villa, you dig up, er … a dinosaur. The method of detection is rather different requiring the user to drill samples at various locations (using the Colossal Fossilator) and look at the age of the fossils discovered.

From correlating the ages and depths at which these are found, they can then set the depth at which the Skelly Telly should look for the dinosaur bones. Then having found a skeleton they must work out how to extract it. They can use a variety of methods from gentle brushing and clearing away the soil to dynamiting. But beware if you get it wrong!

Tale the bones back to the lab to reconstruct how your dinosaur may have looked – is it a Stegosaurus or is it a chicken?

Thanks to Claire Hall who was helping all last week. Claire is an MA student at Brunel University and won a prize to work at LocoMatrix for a week following a talk by Richard Vahrman and her submission of a poster describing how the game might work.

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Video Frame Game (part 2)

Last time, I gave some brief details of a simple use of our Video Frame Game – a no-choices, point-to-point treasure hunt, where at each point you reached, a video is generated and gives a clue to the next location.

Map for second gameHave a look at this example for a game where you have 2 choices at each point. I’ve created it as a pup crawl, but that does’t mean that LocoMatrix encourages drinking! Quite the opposite – get outdoors and run around.

So once again as you get to each point (and at the station start), you see a video but you are given 2 choices as to where to go next. 2 paths are relatively short, but if you make the (wrong) decision you will be zigzagging all over town.

Here are some ways you might use this idea in a game:

  • just give people a choice of routes
  • have a race – you’ll lose if you pick the zigzag
  • real world gamebook
  • solve a mystery

Here’s another map I’ve created. Don’t have any thoughts as to what you might do with it (in a way, that’s why we’ve created the framework – you probably have all the best ideas). In this map there are several choices at each location. I was intrigued by the idea of the Inner and Outer Circles that can be found in Regent’s Park.

A map for a game at Regent's Park

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