Nov 15

Money for everyone, if you can get through the tape

I spent a couple hours last Tues at a 3CR event as part of the Creative Technology Network learning about new and recent funding announcements.

Nigel Derrett k (CEO, 3CR) kicked things off with an overview of the latest Technology Strategy Board’s Autumn 2007 funding competition.
There are 8 subject areas, first 3 open now; Phase 2 opens on 19 Dec and closes 27 March, it includes Low carbon Energies.
Phase 3 opens on 30 Jan, closes 8 May, with two areas of potential interest;
– Gathering data in complex environments
– Creative industries

More information (though not much) is available from BERR: the information on the Phase 2 and 3 calls is very scant. BERR are asking for input on what the funding should go towards so now is the time to contact them and make the case for where to spend our money!

Mustafa Rampuri (Project Manager, 3CR) gave an overview of European Framework Programme 7 (FP7) call for Intelligent Content and Semantics in about 10 min. Well actually he ran through a mass of links and information but you can’t sensibly cover the whole 32 billion Euro, multi-modal, thematic, cross-cutting, etc thing that is FP7 in less than a couple days, but he did a pretty good job.

Geraint Jones (Project Manager, 3CR) introduced the new Digital Communications Knowledge Transfer Network
Launched last Thursday with joint directors in Dr Richard Nicol & Prof Mike Short. The network has funding of £3m over 3yrs but doesn’t appear to have much resource for additional prototyping or research? It seems to come down to a networking and soft-lobbying on TSB funding – lots of events but no projects. I guess if it can influence the Tech Strategy Board into allocating funding then that’s a good thing.

This could be a possible model for future networks (we’re expecting announcements for Creative KTN in Jan).

Sep 26

Reasons to hate the iPhone

Just seeing how strong the Jobs Reality Distortion Field really is. :) And we did talk about the iPhone…

Last night’s Bristol SkillSwap relaunch at Goldbrick House had a new (for us) format with something Laura called ‘Talking Points’. 5 chairs, 4 people, discuss a topic, if you want to contribute you fill the empty chair and someone else has to leave. A bit slow starting but with an opening topic of (roughly speaking) ‘…is anyone (still) looking forward to CSS3‘ and a free bar courtesy of Siftware, things got up to speed pretty quick. Andy Budd from Clearleft in Brighton was the protagonist pointing out that CSS3 has been +10yrs in coming and still isn’t here.

There was a bit of a diversion about rounded corners and visual degradation and we never really got into the meat about what was better with CSS3.

There wasn’t a firm conclusion, except that if there are features that developers want to see, they should lobby the browser owners. It seems the W3C is set up to allow the incumbents to hold things up while they figure out the political and financial impact of any change. Despite falling market share, IE is still dominant and they’re not introducing any new features in a hurry for fear of breaking their existing bloatware.

Laura mentioned Safari coming to a future SkillSwap, so that’ll be a cool opportunity to hear their side of the story.

Elliot Jay Stocks from Carson Systems was up with should we support IE6? I think the beer was beginning to kick in as the discussion really picked up. Ultimately it came down to, if your clients’ target market are predominately using IE6 then you’re probably stuck with it. There were subversive ideas about intentionally degrading the web page for IE6 users but that was mainly left for personal pages and blog sites. According to Google Analytics, just over 52% of visitors here are on Firefox, 38% on IE and nearly 8% on Safari.

Matt Jones from Dopplr took the last slot on the eponymous iPhone. The displeasure was largely aimed at the demand for your attention that the iPhone makes of its believers. I’ve not used one (obviously) so this is all second hand but I can fully appreciate that you probably can’t just make a phone call, or listen to music, or surf the web without actively and completely focusing on the device and not the service. Leaving aside the potential iBrick upgrade – I’ll admit that I never ‘got’ the iPhone or the Mac fandom.

<disclosure>I am probably a HTC Fanboy, owning the XDA, XDA II and now XDA Exec, but they were all on O2 so I guess that cancels any geek cred I might have had.</disclosure>

My current HTC Universal is fine and only lacks built in GPS. WM6 isn’t the prettiest UI going but it does a good job of being a phone/MP3/MP4/Web/Office/etc service and the device doesn’t get in the way. The camera is a bit crap but then so are my artistic abilities.

All in all a fantastic evening, the iPhone thing was a great end to the proceeding.  I met Dan Hilton for the first time (his blog is not loading but there’s always Facebook), the conversation was lively and informed. Looking forward to the next SkillSwap!

Jul 20

Launch of Creative Technology Network

Last night was the launch of the CTN here in Bristol at the Watershed. The keynote (which was fully packed out) came from Michael B Johnson from Pixar.

I’m not sure if Michael’s talk will be up on the CTN or Watershed sites as he had been told by Pixar not to allow recording (so this is from memory rather than live notes). The main points that really resonated was the instruction to ‘fail fast’ and iterate quickly towards a great movie. Josh has a great post on the ‘Fail cheap, fail fast, learn & move on‘ approach from a VC perspective. Ewan has a great cross-over post on the approach (or lack thereof) in education. Michael went in to some detail about how they used technology to allow them to creatively generate new plot nuances and stories that could then be refined, whittled, mashed, etc into the final story. Each film gets made twice, once in story and once for ‘real’. The software that Michael and his small team address pain points in the creative process and redistributed the power in intelligent ways. One example allowed the story artists to very quickly sketch directly into a time line to generate roughly edited scenes with their drawings. This got over a pain point (scanning in hand drawn sketch frames so they could be digitally edited) and sensibly redistributed power so that the artists could create a story (which they wanted to do) and the editors got much richer and complete material to refine (which they wanted), and Pixar got to a compelling story much quicker and with less tension between these key people in the process. Win-win-win; everyone’s a winner!

He also talked about the artists in developing story that had four talents;

  1. draws really well
  2. draws really fast
  3. works well with others
  4. always has another idea

There was a load more other great stuff (including footage from Ratatouille, early rushes from the Incredibles, and some interesting voice casting for Buzz Lightyear).
In Q&A someone asked about the divide between creatives and technologists and Michael pointed out that there wasn’t a divide. Great software developers (in his opinion and the general consensus during drinks afterwards) was that great coders can code/develop really well, really fast, are good in a team and always have another idea/option/suggestion. The audience was (from what I could tell) a typically Bristol mix of technology researchers from BBC, HP, Bristol & UWE, independent film & screen, digital media, entrepreneurs and social enterprises. I had a really great chat with Tom Alcott (Social Network Company) about the use of social network mapping to improve internal business operations and also about his partner Katie’s social enterprise Frank Waters.