Persistence of vision test with LEDs

March 5th, 2015


back in the 1980’s, there was a catalogue called “Innovations“. It was full of all sorts of gif gadgets and nic-nacs. I was always fascinated by a clock that looked like a metronome. As the arm moved backwards and forwards, it seemed to spear the time in light in thin are. This was my first introduction to persistence of vision (aka POV). Essentially you eyes not keeping up with reality and leaving slug trails of light on your retinas.

I had a thought… would it also work if the clock arm stayed still and your head moved from side to side? Could I install a single column of flashing LED lights and create POV images in your vision?

The image above is my first experiment. 9 LEDs in a strip, merrily flashing away and me moving a camera with a relatively slow shutter speed from left to right. It does actually replicate what I saw with my actual, organic eyes but saves on the pounding headache I induced will testing it. Turns out heads aren’t supposed to change direction that quickly.

Here are two other images that show it goofing up slightly as you can get a better idea of what’s going on.

800_IMG_8886 800_IMG_9005

The slight flaw in my plan was that those clocks (and the funky LED wheels) take advantage of a sync point. I.e. each tick of a clock resets the flashing so that the lights smear in a repeated, exact position each time. With a shaking head, there is no syncing up between the lights and the head. Each time the head moves, the lights may be flashing a different part of the message, so it’s hit and miss as to whether you see the full pattern or some crossover bewteen the start and the end.

Either way, it works. Just go to build one 200 feet tall…


The making of The Jenson Button ATM

December 15th, 2014

Santander is one of our biggest clients at WCRS and they call on us for everything from TV ads to posters… and at Christmas time, their Secret Santa(nder) event. Here’s how it works, each year Santander reward their customers by giving something back. This year, WCRS’s Howard de Smet came up with a cracker of an idea… the Jenson Button. Quite literally, Jenson Button, in an ATM. An unsuspecting Santander customer uses the ATM but is asked to “Press the Jenson Button” to receive their cash. Ah, just watch the video…

Here’s a keep behind the scenes of how we make it happen.

Step 1: The very first sketch of the build in my notepad. Note also the list of things to buy. As it happens, it was pretty accurate from the get-go. I was desperate to build it all in my garage but thought better of it!


Step2: The ATM build. Hand constructed from MDF at a prop making workshop.


And from the back. Note the beginnings of a hinged screen holder and release mechanism.


Step 3: The late night installation. The build started at about 5pm.


Step 4: The final construction with decals and posters. You wouldn’t suspect a thing.


Step 5: With touchscreen installed. Note the hole above the screen where the GoPro is housed.


Step 6: Rigging camera and sound. There were about 8 cameras in total. Some mobile, some in the ceiling and some hidden in places you’d never suspect… like this speaker. The GoPro lens is in the middle of the top speaker cone! We even had one camera in a pram disguised as a baby. No, really.


Step 7: Setting up the system and the cash. Note the utility panel on the laptop and the small webcam feed. The webcam feed looked down on the fake ‘contactless pad’ so that we knew when someone wanted to start the process. The utility panel allowed me to control what the ATM screen displayed as well as feed back the cash amount the customer typed in so Jenson could use it in his dialogue.

If you’re interested, the control between screens was done in Flash using LocalConnection to send messages between the screens.


Step 8: Installing the Jenson. I’m a massive F1 fan so this was pretty special for me. I was sat on the other side of that black curtain to the right and handed Jenson the bundles of cash. Yes, I get paid to do this.


Step 9: The final, most important step… the slightly dorky selfie with the effortlessly cool Jenson just so that I could prove to my kids that I wasn’t making this up.


Mac Firefox only connects to HTTPS sites? Got Little Snitch? Try this..

December 6th, 2014

I hadn’t used Firefox in a while and needed to do a bit of cross-browser testing. I fired it up and got a strange and seemingly random error where it wouldn’t connect to some web sites. Just got an “Unable to connect” error page.


I quickly worked out that it ONLY allowed secure sites to load, anything with https:// at the beginning. Did the usual Google search but got a mixture of Windows solution saying turn off anti-virus or Mac solutions where people cold only connect to non https sites. Hence me writing this post, just in case you’e going through the same process.

I have Little Snitch installed, which allow you to selectively allow or deny network access as and when they happen. You’ll be surprised at how much applications constantly send to and from their servers! Anyway, it was Little Snitch blocking traffic on port 80.



Not sure why there was rule in place in the first place as it shouldn’t need one for top-level access, so they could be deleted.

And now it works. Hope it helps you out!



What makes an image popular?

April 30th, 2014


I got very excited about this. An experimental service that aims to predict how popular an image would be if released onto the unsuspecting internet. Without getting too in to the details (as I haven’t got them) it seems the service compares your image to 2.3million Flickr images and makes an educated guess from there. If your image seems similar to a bunch of images that are super-popular, your ranking goes up and vice versa.

I can imagine lots of social media agencies around the world looking rather shifty at this point. Has it revealed the magic of memes? Will Simon Cowell use it to find new pop stars?

As a test, I uploaded two of arguably the most viral images to have hit the internet in recent years, Grumpy Cat and Doge… and a photo of some sausage creatures I made once. What did the ranking scores tell us? Grumpy Cat beats Doge. Oh, and my sausage creatures beat them both and are destined to be the next internet meme. Or not.

To conclude, my highly unscientific test of a mildly unscientific service concludes it’s still not clear how the internet works. Marvellous.

Want to play with the service yourself? Check it out here or read the full research paper: What makes an image popular? by A. Khosla, A. Das Sarma and R. Hamid / International World Wide Web Conference (WWW), 2014

Engine light on? Try better fuel…

April 21st, 2014


The ‘engine light’ comes on on occasionally on our car (a 2001 BMW 318SE). Sometimes I fix something but curiously, sometimes it goes out on its own. Looking at the manual, you soon realise the light is a catch-all for “there’s something wrong with your engine” and it’s not actually that specific. Luckily, I have some diagnostic kit and can read the error codes. But in this case, the only fault registering was in German (as it’s a BMW) “prüfung kraftstoff-versorgungssystem” and translated into an equally vague “Fuel supply system”. Great.

Recently I needed to fill up with petrol. I decided to fill up with the ‘good fuel’ – the better of the two at the pump at least. 3 days later, the light went out. Interesting. I did a little research and discovered that many cars older than maybe 8-10 years have their engine management set in a time when fuel had slightly different additives and  mixtures. In this case, less ethanol. So your engine’s on-board emissions check is expecting one thing but reading another, even though the engine runs as expected. That’s often enough to cause the engine light to come on.

A little more research dug up a bunch of articles on cheap supermarket fuel being a big culprit. I had a palm/face moment when I remembered I already tried this cheap fuel/expensive fuel test a few years back but the results weren’t clear. Turns out cars are one step ahead and have an in-built sanity check to avoid knee-jerk reactions. They require the car to be run through a certain ‘basic drive cycle‘ before resetting any error codes. In short, you may need to wait a few days or weeks to see that pesky light react.

So, before you spend a bunch of cash on a garage, try filling up with the expensive fuel, give it a few drives and see what happens. And as a rule, definitely avoid supermarket fuel. When you dig a little deeper, you realise forums are awash with that nugget of advice. Good luck!



App of the week: Monument Valley

April 16th, 2014

Been playing Monument Valley by UsTwo for a day or so and had to make sure everyone knows about it. It’s stunning. Beautifully put together and super clever gameplay. Think adventure puzzler crossed with MC Escher. So many apps try and do that ‘waffly airy music and arty atmosphere’ thing, but Monument Valley does it with ease.

Very few apps make me smaile as I use them. I found myself smiling a lot and gently nodding in appreciation, partly for the attention to detail, partly for the art style and partly for the sheer madness. There are 10 levels, each will many sub-levels and puzzles to solve. Only issue is that it’s over all to soon. But I don’t hold that against it. It’s worth the money and then some.

Download it for iPhone, iPad now. Android coming soon (apparently)

Bonus: If you’re into that kind of app and you haven’t played Little Inferno, you won’t be disappointed either. It’s a bit old now but still in my top 10 list. No spoilers but if you manage to get to the end, it’s amazing.

360º video awesomeness with 6 GoPros

April 12th, 2014


This is on of my favourite GoPro rig setups. The results are stunning, baffling and funky in equal measures.

Having worked on a Tim Burton project with the guys at Yellow Bird with bespoke 360º degree cameras and looked at the new wave of consumer 360º rigs like Panono or the Dot camera phone attachment from Kogeto, making your own rig is pretty hardcore.

It does however allow you to do something different, like spherical panoramas. Check out the video below to see what I mean. And don’t forget to check out Jonas Ginter’s page that gives a bit of background to the rig (yes, there is some 3D printing action) and the stitching. Jonas… we salute you, you crazy man…

Bears on Stairs – 3D printed animation

April 12th, 2014


Just had to share this. Was mulling over something similar at Christmas but the 3D printers at work were pretty much just used for recording servo sound effects these days. Shame.

Anyways, this video is very cool.Take a looping 3D animation file, print each frame as a 3D model, shoot it in stop motion and the results are mesmerising. The guys at DBLG did a good art. I approve. Enjoy.


Box2D Javascript test

March 13th, 2014


I’ve just indulged myself in some physics therapy. I *FINALLY* managed to get a few hours to play with the JavaScript port of the infamous Box2D.js physics library. Not fantastically exciting, but at least it’s a start!

Why is this even remotely interesting? Well, I’ve had a bit of a history with physics engines. Way back in the early days of Flash 5 and AS2, I was pulling together a team to make a pinball game to promote a new Disney movie. A contractor took on the job of writing the physics engine but half way through, he decided his work was too ‘valuable’ and wanted to license it to us instead. Honour and morals are pretty high on my list so that approach didn’t go down too well. So I did what any Creative Director (with barely a C-grade in O-level maths) would do… I decided to make one myself. How hard could it be? Turns out it was quite hard, took lots of “vector maths for dummies” research and annoying my ‘real coder’ colleague Jop with random circles and lines scribbled on napkins. But we got there. I think I OD’d on vector maths a little, hence haven’t been near a physics engine since.

The engine I made was quite ‘creative’ in its approach. It had all sorts of optimisations to make it run on slower computers, especially given how bad browsers where back then. I’ve managed to dig out a debug version (excuse the dead fonts). This version has the visualisation of my “hit zone optimisation” turned on. As the game starts up, it registers every element of the table and every section of curve. It only bothers to work out which areas to properly calculate based on the ball’s immediate surroundings. It sped the calculations up something like 400% when I switched it on for the first time. Click on the image below to launch it in good old-fashioned Flash and you’ll see how it highlights first the quarter of the table to concentrate on, then the individual areas within. Just click yo get started and use the cursors (down arrow to pull the spring back). Have fun!



Google map of 1890’s London

March 10th, 2014


There are a bunch of really interesting Google Map mashups but this one really caught my attention. Google have teamed up with the Ordnance Survey to allow you to explore old London maps directly within Google Maps. While the infrastructure is pretty much unchanged in central London, the suburbs a really interesting. My house doesn’t even exist (as it was built in the 1930’s) and the local park was a watercress filter bed back then to clean the poo out of Muswell Hills sewage. Its name changed from Dirthouse Woods (nice) to a far more middle-class Cherry Tree Woods.


Similarly, the area around Old Street, now a hive of digital startups, was clearly a very seedy place back then (and arguably still can be if you know where to look). It’s hard to spot a corner without a pub (P.H) or a block without a brewery. Similarly, public urinals are encouragingly numerous too. We could learn a thing or two from that. It’s interesting to think that Old Street was once dominated by a large Vinegar Works. Must have gone well with the cockles on a Friday night.


Can’t help thinking this rather undermines the Ordinance Survey’s side-line in supplying printed maps to adorn people’s toilet walls at home. I’ve bought a few over the years as I’m mildly curious in my local area’s history. Would have expected a ‘Buy this’ button on the Google interface at least. Who isn’t going to take a few screenshots and save a few quid. I guess the ‘partnership’ deal takes this into account to some extent.

Anyway, check out the 1890’s OS Google Maps for yourself.