Monday, 15 August 2011

Mr Pfister is now using WordPress

Well its been a good many years coming! I have finally got hosting and a domain name so I am shifting away from using Blogger.

Though don't worry! All my existing posts and all new ones can be found on my WordPress blog available at:

Kona 2012 ...ooh suits you sir!

Kona have recently realised their 2012 range of bikes. Which can be summed up as the 2011 bikes plus about £200 extra. Got to really love inflation!

Though there has been a few stand outs from the crowd, and my eyes are drawn to the Hei Hei 100 being my next Cross Country Full Suspension bike replacing my long time Kona Kahuna and my Downhill Kona Stinky.

Kona Hei Hei 100 looks incredible and weighs nothing

Apart from this beauty, there is always my want of a touring bike and yet again the Kona Sutra looks amazing, though has a price tag ...£200 more than last year, shame really as I can't purchase it as part of the companies cycle to work scheme :(

First things first ...I need to answer the question, do I really need 6 bicycles?

Sunday, 14 August 2011

What would I take if I could go back to Uni

Its always at the back of my mind, the thought of returning to University to complete a masters degree or go on to do a PHD. Then I realise that my job enables me to write code that can help change the world, and what I work on gives me more understanding and knowledge than any university course.

But alas the thought is always there, nowadays having worked I have a bit more money than being the original impoverished student so I thought about the question, what would I take to university if I could start now, especially with the knowledge I have gained by actually going to university.

Everyone needs a bicycle! I found it to be my most valuable procession at university, and having a nice bike gets you noticed. While I was at university I had a variety of Kona's, finally having the completely over the top Kona Stinky. If I were to go back I would definitely have a bit more style and go down the vintage route, investing in the absolutely beautiful handbuilt Pashley Guv'nor. All I can say this bike is one of the most striking and beautiful creations on two wheels that I have seen.
It doesn't take much to guess a sprinkling of Apple products would make it onto the list, first off the new 2011 Macbook Airs actually have the performance that makes them usable. I always found weight is my main issue with laptops so getting one that is light weight but also powerful enough to do video/photo editing and compile large amounts of code is a must. To finish things off I would have an iMac for the room, great for watching videos instead of studying.

My kingdom for a decent cup of coffee. I think if I could of asked for one thing during writing up my final year project it would have been decent coffee on tap.
A lot of great events happen at uni and for some I wish I had a slightly better camera than what was on my phone at the time, usually resulting in a lovely blurred over pixelated image. I recently bought myself a DSLR and took my first steps into the world of taking decent photos, alas I bought the Nikon D3100 which itself is a great camera but is only their 'entry level' DSLR. With what I have learnt now I would definitely upgrade to a more powerful camera such as the Nikon D7000.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Crowdsourcing the London Riots Facial Recognition

Now first of all the Riots that have been happening across the UK have been awful, destorying communities and peoples lives, however as a community there are ways we can help. The police have begun releasing pictures of the muggers however they are usually low quality CCTV captures. In the day and age of DSLRs and hi-def videos on phones there are plenty of source footage on places such as YouTube.

So firstly we need to get at the footage, that's easy enough using the YouTube API and a select few search terms such as 'london riots' and then returning only new results. A great thing about this is the results can already be highly parrallised per video.

Next we need to use the videos, I would imagine querying a central database with video links that are still needing processing. Once a video has been processed and the faces confirmed, it can be removed from the list.

Actually using the video is a bit tricky, though there are lots of tools available to strip the video from a variety of media sites such as YouTube and save them as a usable file format such as mp4.
Now we have the video the fun begins, using such frameworks such as OpenCV we can scan through the video and recognise faces. For each face generate XML metadata for the position on screen, timestamp and video source and save thumbnail of the face to an image file.

Once processed all the data gets sent back to the server where it can be displayed on a webpage where people can submit information or vote on whether a picture has correctly identified looter.

I hope to make a proof of concept website soon but as you can see the concept behind it is simple, but powerful in helping bring community based justice.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

iOS development and PhoneGap

I have spent some time recently working on iOS projects, mainly revolving around displaying web content and doing some fancy stuff with HTML5 such as drawing and annotating on a video. I faced several problems, partly from trying to develop an app using HTML & Javascript and also from the limitations of iOS.

HTML5 ...a work in progress
Now take the HTML5 video element for example. Now I don't want to enter the already heated debate around video formats, I want to talk about the underlying video element. Firstly you would think it would be easy to detect if a video is playing though an attribute such as VideoElement.isPlaying however you would be mistaken, instead you have to:

Check if the Video has loaded
Check if the Video isn't paused
Check if the Video  isn't buffering
Check if the Video hasn't ended
Check if there hasn't been an error

Easy I know... and then there are subtitles, or lack of them, their support is rather hit an miss. I tried to use SAMI subtitles (although I know this is an obscure format, this is what I had to work with) regrettably the video element doesn't support them so I had to develop a way of rendering them myself. That didn't sound so bad to begin with, SAMI is just sugar coated XML, which the XmlDOM parser won't correctly load, horray!

In the end I had to create my own SAMI parser and use transparent DIVs infront of the video element to render the correct subtitles during the videos on time change event. All in a days work!

To make things easier I have started to use PhoneGap, which includes a growing API accessible via Javascript and best of all, allows the programmer to write plugin modules in Objective-C which can communicate with the DOM. This is where I really started noticing the iOS Objective-C libraries are no where near as mature as .Net, I even began to miss importing System.

Monday, 1 August 2011

One man against the world ...again

It feels rather strange writing this post as it was only a year ago since I was writing roughly the same thing, about my experiences from the Imagine Cup 2010 in Warsaw and summarising some of the amazing things I saw and learnt.

In life and computing I have a pretty simple mantra which is the reason why I do the things that I do:
It may be easy to have an idea, but its what you do with it that counts!

While I was in New York for the Imagine Cup I realised change comes about when you think big, think outside the box and have the tenacity to not give up when others may.
Those that built the incredible skyscrapers that dwarfed New York's skyline didn't think "I don't think we need another floor", instead they built up to what was technically feasible and beyond, I try and do the same with software.

Being the only one man team got me noticed, Adam Daniels has done some great press pieces around my progress last year in Warsaw, and this year in New York; humorously entitled 'Return of the One Man Army'

On the technical front, being able to juggle .Net, .Net CF, .Net MF, WEC7, WPF, WP7 and all the other technologies involved to create a solution had challenges, but where is the fun if there wasn't any. Now I enjoy messing around with gadgets; one of the best ways to think up new things so I was surprised how few teams used .NetMF, Colin Miller picked up on this and did a great blog post around my entry on the MSDN .NetMF portal.

On a personal front, I met a lot of amazing people in New York, and had a chance to compete with some amazingly clever chaps from the UK including Damo.

So to anyone thinking of taking part in the Imagine Cup 2012, which for its 10th anniversary is being held in Australia, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity!

Monday, 18 July 2011

Imagine Cup 2011 in New York

Imagine Cup 2011 - Team UKImagine Cup 2011 - Team UKImagine Cup 2011 - Team UKImagine Cup 2011 - Team UKImagine Cup 2011 - Team UKImagine Cup 2011 - Team UK
Imagine Cup 2011 - Team UKImagine Cup 2011 - Team UKImagine Cup 2011 - Team UKImagine Cup 2011 - Team UKImagine Cup 2011 - Team UKImagine Cup 2011 - Team UK
Imagine Cup 2011 - Team UKImagine Cup 2011 - Team UKImagine Cup 2011 - Team UKImagine Cup 2011 - Team UKImagine Cup 2011 - Team UKImagine Cup 2011 - Team UK
Imagine Cup 2011 - Team UKImagine Cup 2011 - Team UKImagine Cup 2011 - Team UKImagine Cup 2011 - Team UKImagine Cup 2011 - Team UKImagine Cup 2011 - Team UK

Finally getting round to going through all my photos I took in New York (All 1,500+ of them), here are a few from my Flickr album (with plenty more on the way)

Saturday, 16 July 2011

A fond farewell from the UK Microsoft team

Seeing as this is the last year I can compete in the Imagine Cup -unless I register for another academic course. The UK Microsoft academic team put together a short video for me.

It was so much easier when it was just 'Save the Cheerleader the world'

So I am back from New York (regrettably) and have returned to the horrors of sitting at cafe's having coffee and cake while watching the world go by.

The Imagine Cup 2011 was an amazing experience and I congratulate every single person that took part, there was some amazing ideas that were shown and although most of the teams that I thought should have won didn't, it will be amazing to see how they move forward. Although this is my second year competing, I didn't manage to win (again) but I got a lot of great experiences.

For some (in a rather funny way) I shall be remembered as the UK's 'Army of one' - being the only 1 man team and for the iconic moment where I was warming up a childs cot with a hair drier "Now remember, don't try this at home"

I look forward to possibly competing for a third time next year or if that isn't possible, mentoring the next UK embedded entry.

Shame it's never as easy as it says on TV 'Save the Cheerleader, Save the World'

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Save the children, save the world

Well I have been rather busy lately, which is quite an understatement.

As I type this I am in New York sitting in an internet cafe. Today is round two of the Imagine Cup 2011 finals.

After presenting twice yesterday, consisting of a powerpoint presentation and an in booth demonstration. I was selected to progress to round 2 which involves a 20 Q&A session with the judges.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Just over 1 week to go!

It is now just over 1 week till I make a dash out of the country to New York for the Imagine Cup worldwide finals. Things are progressing well on the software front with the initial MSMQ networking between the embedded device and PC now working.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

The Child Sleep Safe Cot

Presenting one of the worlds most technically advanced (yet uncomfortable) baby cots...

The Interface kit and ambient temperature sensor

Two temperature sensors and a vibration sensor

A sound and light sensor

Tomorrow I will build the other demo boards which contain the relay circuits and the X10 thermostat control

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Finally a use for my .Net Micro Framework Widgets Library

So still busy working away on my Child Sleep Safe Imagine Cup entry, this time I have been working on a .Net Micro Framework demonstrator application to show off Serial X10 communication messages.

I am using my Widgets library that I wrote years ago for my OPO runtime on the Micro Framework, that near worked correctly but this does. I am using the widgets for the X10 Configuration screens, a menu system and the about dialog box (as shown)

In other news the PC software is moving along, now with the charting tools being operational

Monday, 9 May 2011

Imagine Cup 2011 UK Finals & The world

So there media has already started churning away, horray says my CV.

Here are a few of the things that have sprouted up on the internet so far:

Microsoft Imagine Cup 2011: UK Finals from Tim Rogers on Vimeo.

A great video showing off the UK Finals (And you can see me at the conference table right at the end of the video)

Microsoft has released a Blog post on the main Imagine Cup website about the UK finals where you can see a lovely picture of me and also a comment that I don't believe I ever said (in those particular words) ...creative journalism :)

York University kindly mentioning me winning the UK finals ...twice. Was also nice them mentioning the Degree I never did (I did a Bsc not an Msc, but hope to get the Msc certificate in the post soon)

Shiny new DSLR & working on the Imagine Cup.

Well to mark my trip to New York for the Imagine Cup in July, I went out and got myself a shiny new Nikon d3100 DSLR so I have chance to take some great pictures while there. Beats the 3mp old wreak of a camera I took with me to Warsaw.

So a little more about my project. I've been working on the networking code lately. The implementation I am using is based on Microsoft Message Queuing (MSMQ) This handles the underlying message formatting, synchronisation and transmission so I need only worry about the messages themselves.

The messages that MSMQ pass between the Embedded device and the PC are a serialization of a class containing a variety of fields useful to Child Sleep Safe. As MSMQ has a limit of 4mb per message which should be more than enough really but just to be safe I implemented compression on the message body using System.IO.Compression and to add additional security there is also Encryption using System.Security. These two properties can be user configured so once a message has been received, and is de-serialized to a class these properties are checked and the required actions are performed.

The code I am basing my networking stack on is the MSMQ example as part of the Windows Mobile SDK (Library Book Example App) which is also available for download on MSDN, though my implementation is heavily modified to allow much easier two way communications.

Sorry to all those looking for code samples but I don't want to release anything till after the Imagine Cup finals.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Imagine Cup Embedded Software

For my embedded part of my Imagine Cup entry I had to create a UI to display all the sensor data along with trend data and warnings. Below is an early version of it which I showed off during the UK Imagine Cup finals.

Its all built using C# and Winforms. More of the software design to come.

And attached to the back end of it is lots of Sensors. There are 3 Temperature sensors, 1 light sensors, 1 vibration sensor and 1 sound sensor. These are all supplied by Phidgets and come complete with an Interface Kit.
Also there is an embedded controller unit from Embedded Solutions which I will use to demonstrate the X10 home automation system.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Imagine Cup PC Software

Spent the day working on the PC side of my Imagine Cup entry.

The PC software is design to download sensor information from the embedded device and show trend information and health tips based on the statistics.

The Picture above shows the Sensor Log selection screen.

One of the interesting concepts I am throwing around is the idea of connecting the data to charity based web services, as the sensor data collected would prove great in the hands of researchers.

Tomorrow I hope to work on the graphing system, more images to come as I progress.

Imagine Cup 2011, I will be seeing you in New York

Another year, another Imagine Cup entry. Last year I managed to win the UK finals in the embedded category and rank in the top 6 world wide during the finals hosted in Warsaw.

Last years entry was based around an augmented reality system for the blind and partially sighted individuals to help give them back their independence.

After a great day at Microsoft UK, I won the UK finals for the 2011 Imagine Cup (Its me in the middle):

For this years entry I wanted to do something different, for starters I choose a funny team name: Cycling into trees, as I originally was going to created an advanced computer system for my bicycle in affect creating the worlds safest bicycle. So onto my entry, I am creating a baby monitoring scheme that connects to a home automation system so that the babies environmental conditions are maintained at the correct levels to ensure a good nights sleep and reduce the chance of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

More information on the software design coming soon.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Windows Phone 7 - Great start, but with room for improvement

Well it's been nearly a month since I recieved and started using my shiny new Windows Phone 7 that I won because I cycled into a tree - Thankyou Microsoft!

I've been using it non-stop for gaming, socialising, taking photos and listening to music. From using it day to day I would have to say it's a great OS and a real breath of fresh air in the Phone OS market where there are so many iOS imitaters.

Though like all software, there are still bugs and changes to be made (I know, I used to work for Microsoft and am a software engineer by trade) so here is my list of things that bugged me that I hope are changed, or added to in the coming updates to WP7. Now remember everyone, Rome wasn't built in a day and the iPhone didn't even have an App Store for over a year and has already gone through 4 major system revisions.

Lack of tile colours - It seems strange that the number of colours to choose from were so few and some key colours were missing eg. White

Update Image album thumbnail - As a user you can't select which picture in a photo album appears as a the albums thumbnail (such as what you can in iPhoto)

Better Quality Image & Video tile thumbnails - When you select a video to pin to the home screen, the image quality is terrible compared to the original, the algorithms or method to extract the thumbnail needs to be improved.

Selecting position in Video - Although you can press the right or left arrows to scroll through a video file, if it is a large file this can often be cumbersome and slow. It would be nice if you could actually use the slider to select the offset within the video.

Homebrew Dev - I guess a lot of devs will be with me on the fact you can't even make your own games / apps without paying the developer charge, even if you have no wish to upload to the Marketplace.

Selectable default search engine - I understand it is a Microsoft OS and they wish to promote Bing, however it would be nice to see the ability to use other search engines when the search button is pressed (eg. Wikipedia, Google)

Split Marketplace results - When I search for an app, or sony on Marketplace, it would be nice to be able to sort the results by type so I don't get a list of albums when I search for an app.

Simple Image tools - The camera and image viewer is missing some rather simple tools such as crop and rotate. Currently though this is getting filled in with free apps

Move Images around - It seems obvious with the use of albums for images that a user may wish to move images around or create new image albums rather than having a huge Camera Roll album.

Select which Facebook / Live Images to show - Its nice being able to sync with online services but if you are like me and have lots of albums this can get annoying, it would be nice to selectively hide image albums.

Choose which Image folder to display in the Panorama - Bit obvious really.

Memory Leak in Marketplace - When viewing the entire marketplace list, if you scroll right to the end the phone *seriously* lags, once the application exists the phone can become near useless until a restart. (May just be due to excessive memory usage by the Marketplace app)

Improve Mac Sync tool - Being able to select individual songs / images would be a huge boost!

It will be great to see what other people think, and forgive me if you can do some of these things already, I keep finding out new things on my WP7 everyday