Imitation & Flattery

I’ve been lucky enough to own this domain name for a number of years, and populate it with loads of content along the way. For a while, I ran a dedicated Tumblr sideblog of the same name which I have since merged into this site. More recently, I founded Digital Cortex Ltd., a formal means of handling a clutch of consultation projects. And now, this site is the front-end to my hosting business, offering virtual private server space to a few happy clients, as well as a playground for a few of the other little projects I’m working on.

Meanwhile, plenty of other people / groups / products have laid their claim to the Digital Cortex name, and I wanted to provide a quick review of them here, just for fun, but also to signpost should anyone have got lost in the ether.

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Chris Chan on Twitter

https://twitter.com/digitalcortex

A dude who’s only tweeted four times, not much else to say…
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Question Authority on YouTube

http://www.youtube.com/digitalcortex

A highly politicised channel featuring clips from documentaries and news broadcasts. It’s seemingly anti-corporate  / anti-government / anti-war. Whoever runs the channel quotes:

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter, and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. (Abraham Lincoln)

Makes it all the more charming that one of his playlists is called Why I Love the 80’s, doesn’t it?
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Doc on Instagram

http://instagram.com/digitalcortex

I guess this is a tattooed guy who I assume wears glasses, eats pasta, and likes beer. He describes himself as “PhD -Piled Higher Deeper enuff said 😉
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Digital Cortex – The Movie

http://www.digital-cortex.com

A chap called Serhan Meewisse, a storyteller from the Netherlands, is making a film. He posted the below trailer to his YouTube channel:

About the film (autotranslated from Dutch):

Digital Cortex is a fiction story about Matt, who has just graduated from the film academy. Matt, the speed of the eternal accelerating system not keep after his studies. He gets his unattainable vision into depression and have thoughts about suicide. In desperation get Matt to his friend Andrew. Andrew may be the only solution for him.

A device that he can continue. system

Digital cortex makes the flow of information along the human visual cortex digital. Thoughts and fantasies are visual and are immediately visible on screen. Matt’s life is gaining momentum. Success is his second name. Because Matt is continuously working to become reality and fantasy begin to merge. Together his fantasy reality Matt is getting delusions and hallucinations. He stands for choice, back to his unhappy existence or lose himself in his imagination.

Sounds kind of cool – wonder if I’ll get an invite to the screening!
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Digital Cortex on LinkedIn

http://www.linkedin.com/company/digital-cortex

The leading social media marketing and customer experience agency. We help Business understand the power of having a marketing and communication presence through the Social medium.

Hmm… Not sure if they realise, but their web address redirects back here. Further googling suggests they might not be doing too well.
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Digital Cortex on SlideShare

http://www.slideshare.net/theopriestley/digital-cortex

A bit more info on what the above company does:


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Digital Cortex on SoundCloud

https://soundcloud.com/digital-cortex

Three guys named KyRow, Nebtune & Aaronson, who make Drum & Bass that sounds like this:

I recommend you also check out ‘Skull Fucker’, ‘nothing like a bowl of frosties’ and their remix of ‘Lana Del Rey – Born To Die’. They are also on Facebook and YouTube. Good shit, lads.
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DIGITALCORTEX.COM

Not active, but the WHOIS record indicates Brian Winn, a Professor of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media and Director of the Games for Entertainment and Learning (GEL) Lab at Michigan State University. We emailed a couple of years ago, and he provided some interesting backstory about the domain:

In terms of releasing digitalcortex.com, I am not interested at this point. I actually had a consulting company called Digital Cortex back in the late 90s and digitalcortex.com was the domain name for the company. Interestingly enough another company wanted the domain name and bought it for a substantial amount of money. Enough that we changed our company name and got a new domain name. Well, the story goes that a year or two later, that company went belly up in the .com crash and I bought the domain name back. I am not holding out for a big sale in the future (though I would not oppose it). I just have a sentimental connection with the domain … and I am thinking of using the name again for a new company.

Best of luck with it all, Brian.
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Digital Cortex in the US Trademark Records

COMPUTER SOFTWARE, WHETHER EMBEDDED IN ANOTHER PRODUCT OR ON A STAND-ALONE BASIS, WHICH ALLOWS THE USER OR ANOTHER COMPUTER SOFTWARE PROGRAM TO CAPTURE ANY DIGITAL CONTENT, AND TO USE, MANIPULATE, PROCESS, AND ROUTE THAT CONTENT, INCLUDING ORIGINAL ATTRIBUTES, TO AND FROM ANY COMPUTER SOFTWARE APPLICATION

The registrant was AnySoft, a tech company based in Newton, MA. From what I can dig up, their software ‘Digital Cortex 2.0′ was an approach to solving system and application interopability’ acting as a sort of software layer between various networked machines. More info here. Possibly the same guys who bought the domain from Brian Winn? Anyway, the trademark was cancelled a couple of years ago. A shame, too, because they also had this super snazzy logo:

Digital Cortex Anysoft Logo
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A few more:

Digital Cortex on Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/alamocityit

Providing IT Solutions for local non-profits and healthcare businesses.

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Digital Cortex Media

http://www.linkedin.com/pub/mark-fenger/11/43a/485

Digital Cortex is a small animation studio specializing in educational videos. We just completed work on ‘Echo’ a computer animated accent reduction tutor, prior to that we created a series of videos to accompany medical textbooks.

Sounds pretty cool, but couldn’t uncover any of their work.
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Digital Cortex by Dactilar

http://www.beatport.com/track/digital-cortex-original-mix/4307073

A deep house track, with a couple of good remixes. I really like this one.
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Digital Cortex on ‘Wandering Stan’ Blog

http://wanderingstan.com/2006-11-16/we_need_a_digital_cortex

A mini series of interesting blog posts by Stan James, starting with this.
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Digital Cortex dot IT

http://digitalcortex.it

Hi, I’m Matt Hileman, chief do-it-all at Digital Cortex […] Contact us any time with issues regarding any aspect of IT, networking, wireless, software installs and/or upgrades, PC’s, servers, storage, disaster recovery, backups and more…

Seems like there’s lots more going on behind the scenes.
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Digital Cortex dot CA

http://blog.digitalcortex.ca

This blog has up to date information on Network Security.

Last updated, Wednesday, November 3, 2010…
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Digital Cortex dot DE

http://digitalcortex.de

Another dead IT site.
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Cortex Professional Digital 4-in-1 Titanium Curling Iron

http://amzn.to/10V87la

You’d be surprised how much of my traffic comes from searches for this product!
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Cortex Digital

http://cortexdigital.com

A complete mystery…
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And that’s all I could find! Hopefully, I can remain the top site for the keyword, but if not the crown is bound to go to one of the above contenders. My money is on the trio of drum+bass producers – those search bots seem to love ’em!

Aurasma vs. Blippar

I’ve written about Augmented Reality extensively in the past, but since the days of immersing myself in the purely theoretical potential for the medium, a few key players have rooted themselves in a very commercial reality that is now powering the fledgling industry.

And while B2B-focused vendors such as ViewAR remain behind the scenes, the likes of Aurasma and Blippar have soared in notoriety thanks to some quite excellent packaging and an impressive sales proposition. They are the standard bearers, at least in the eyes of the public.

I like Aurasma. But I also like Blippar. So which is better? Well, let’s find out… Here are some provocations I’ve been toying around with. See if it helps you decide, and let me know which side you fall on in the comments.

[twocol_one][dropcap]A[/dropcap]urasma has more technological power behind it. They have (supposedly) incorporated academic research into their proprietary tech and have a heritage in pattern recognition systems – remember their core business though: integrating with business critical processes and then slowly ramping up prices. They do this across all other Autonomy products! Also consider they are an HP property, whose business is hardware, not software. I believe Aurasma are only using this period of their lifespan to learn what does and doesn’t work, get better at it, gain status, equip users to enjoy AR, and then develop a mobile chipset (literally, hardware optimised for AR) that can be embedded in mobile devices, making HP buckets of royalties. They are chasing install base, but not because they want advertising bucks: they want to whitelabel their tech (i.e. Tesco, Heat & GQ) and then disappear into the background.[/twocol_one]

[twocol_one_last][dropcap]B[/dropcap]lippar have a proprietary AR engine, but are listed as using Qualcomm’s Vuforia engine – which is free to use. They seem focused on innovations in the augmented layer. Reading their interviews, they speak of AR not as a tech, platform or medium, but as a kind of magic campaign juice: stuff that reveals they are extremely focused on delivering a good consumer experience paid for by advertisers, with them as connective tissue. To this end, they too are chasing install base, but ultimately they have a different goal in mind. Being Qualcomm-backed, their future is in flexing their creative muscles and helping make AR a mass market medium through normalising behaviour. Big rivals: Aurasma in the short term, but I imagine that one day, Aurasma will revert back to being a tech platform, and companies like Blippar will provide the surface experience: where good content, not tech, will be what sells.[/twocol_one_last]

So what do you reckon – A or B?

Lee Broom’s Neon Furniture

I stumbled into /r/cyberpunk the other day, where I came across the work of a chap called Lee Broom, a British interior and product designer who has won recent acclaim for his work at Westfield Stratford and The Nightjar.

His stuff is traditional with a very modern twist: think 19th century meets TRON. Yeah, pretty awesome. My favorite piece is an antique chair found in a flea market somewhere in Paris, “left unrestored and then adorned in turquoise neon, giving it new life but without forgetting its journey.”

Some of the other designs that I liked (click thumbnails to expand):

For the discerning cyberpunk, Broom’s full range of products are listed here.

Sun, Sand & Selective Laser Sintering

It’s the Summer. It’s an extremely hot day here in London, the hottest day of 2011, in fact. So it’s with just the tiniest stretch of the imagination that I could be right there in the desert watching Markus Kayser at work on his next great experiment.

He’s built his own solar-powered 3D printer out of a large panel of magnifying glass and a computer-guided motorised panel, the raw material being the desert’s primary natural resource: sand.

With his design, he is able to create a focused laser beam that melts sand, so that it cools and hardens in a design of his choosing. In effect, he is ‘growing’ his designs right out of the sand. It’s really, really impressive:

Markus describes the process on the project’s website:

Silicia sand when heated to melting point and allowed to cool solidifies as glass. This process of converting a powdery substance via a heating process into a solid form is known as sintering and has in recent years become a central process in design prototyping known as 3D printing or SLS (selective laser sintering).

These 3D printers use laser technology to create very precise 3D objects from a variety of powdered plastics, resins and metals – the objects being the exact physical counterparts of the computer-drawn 3D designs inputted by the designer.

By using the sun’s rays instead of a laser and sand instead of resins, I had the basis of an entirely new solar-powered machine and production process for making glass objects that taps into the abundant supplies of sun and sand to be found in the deserts of the world.

Markus with his Solar Sinter
Markus with his Solar Sinter

Sintering is a natural process, commonly occuring products being Fulgurites, which are glass tubes that form deep in the sand when lightning strikes in the desert. Each have a unique quality: colour; shape; consistency and location, which together with their ‘atmospheric origins’ they’ve become quite collectible artefacts.

My take is that Markus’s device will allow command over the sun to grow one’s own kind of ‘artisanal fulgurites’, quite a powerful idea, and undoubtedly a great use of technology that harnesses our most abundant natural resources in a really cool way. Nice one!

13 Tools to Promote Divergent Thinking

New ideas can come from anywhere, but are often hardest to find when you’re actually looking for them. However, I believe it’s possible to jumpstart your brain, even under pressure, by applying yourself to a bit of divergent thinking:

Divergent thinking typically occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing manner, such that many ideas are generated in an emergent cognitive fashion. Many possible solutions are explored in a short amount of time, and unexpected connections are drawn. After the process of divergent thinking has been completed, ideas and information are organized and structured using convergent thinking.

Wikipedia

So to help anyone out there who may be stuck for ideas, here’s my list of divergent thought helpers:

  1. Stumbleupon – highly recommended: tell it your interests and hit ‘stumble’ to be sent to a random site
  2. Buzzfeed – hit the randomize button in the top right corner (occasionally NSFW) to see something usually quite cool
  3. Mystery Seeker – type something in the search box and receive a set of google results for a totally different subject
  4. The Wiki Game – start in one place on wikipedia, and try to end up in another, while seeing loads of content on the way
  5. We Heart It – inspiring and high-quality imagery, often captioned, and with decent search functionality
  6. We Feel Fine – an emotional search tool, potentially good for scanning & visualising need states
  7. Popurls – see the freshest stories from a range of great online sources, with customisation options
  8. Newsmap – a visualisation of the latest news, powered by google (quite old but potentially interesting)
  9. Thesaurus.net – high quality thesaurus dictionary: search synonyms, antonyms, rhymes, quotes and idioms
  10. Visual Thesaurus – see the associated meanings between concepts – worth paying for
  11. Bing Visual Search – search the web visually in an intuitive, exploratory way
  12. oSkope – discover images, videos and products related to a search query
  13. TouchGraph SEO – see the links between topics and websites

Finally, and it may take more time for ideas to emerge this way, but TED really is an amazing resource for this kind of thing. I recently attended TEDxObserver, after which my head was swimming with ideas.

Can you suggest any of your own?

Gameware: A Case-Study in AR Development

I have been aided in this series by a connection with Gameware Development Limited, a Cambridge-based commercial enterprise working in the entertainment industry. Gameware was formed in May 2003 from Creature Labs Ltd, developing for the PC games market which produced the market leading game in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Creatures. When Gameware was formed, a strategic decision was made to move away from retail products and into the provision of technical services. They now work within the Broadcasting and Mobile Telephony space in addition to the traditional PC market. I use this business as a platform to launch into a discussion of the developments current and past that could see AR become a part of contemporary life, and just why AR is such a promising technology.

Gameware’s first explorations into AR came when they were commissioned by the BBC to develop an AR engine and software toolkit for a television show to be aired on the CBBC channel. The toolkit lets children build virtual creatures or zooks at home on their PCs which are uploaded back to the BBC and assessed:

 

A typical Zook, screenshot taken from Gameware's Zook Kit which lets children build virtual creatures
A typical Zook, screenshot taken from Gameware's Zook Kit which lets children build virtual creatures

 

The children with the best designs are then invited to the BAMZOOKi studio to have their virtual creatures compete against each other in a purpose-built arena comprised of real and digital elements. The zooks themselves are not real, of course, but the children can see silhouettes of digital action projected onto the arena in front of them. Each camera has an auxiliary camera pointed at AR markers on the studio ceiling, meaning each camera’s exact location in relation to the simulated events can be processed in real time. The digital creatures are stitched into the footage, and are then navigable and zoomable as if they were real studio elements. No post-production is necessary. BAMZOOKi is currently in its fourth series, with repeats aired daily:

 

BAMZOOKi, BBC's AR game show where children’s zooks compete in a studio environment
BAMZOOKi, BBC's AR game show where children’s zooks compete in a studio environment

 

BAMZOOKi has earned Childrens BBC some of its highest viewing figures (up to 1.2 million for the Monday shows on BBC1 and around 100,000 for each of the 20 episodes shown on digital Children’s BBC), which represents a massive milestone for AR and its emergence as a mainstream media technology. The evidence shows that there is a willing audience already receptive to contemporary AR applications. Further to the viewing figures the commercial arm of the BBC, BBC Worldwide, is in talks to distribute the BAMZOOKi format across the world, with its AR engine as its biggest USP. Gameware hold the rights required to further develop their BAMZOOKi intellectual property (IP), and are currently working on a stripped down version of their complex AR engine for the mobile telephony market.

I argue, however, that Broadcast AR is not the central application of AR technologies, merely an enabler for its wider applicability in other, more potent forms of media. Mobile AR offers a new channel of distribution for a variety of media forms, and it is its flexibility as a platform that could see it become a mainstream medium. Its successful deployment and reception is reliant on a number of cooperating factors; the innovation of its developers and the quality of the actual product being just part of the overall success the imminent release.

As well as their AR research, Gameware creates innovative digital games based on their Creatures AI engine. They recently produced Creebies; a digital game for Nokia Corp. Creebies is one of the first 3D games which incorporates AI for mobile phones. Gameware’s relationship with Nokia was strengthened when Nokia named them Pro-Developers. This is a title that grants Gameware a certain advantage: access to prototype mobile devices, hardware specifications, programming tools and their own Symbian operating system (Symbian OS) for mobile platforms. It was this development in combination with their experiences with BAMZOOKi and a long-standing collaboration with Cambridge University which has led to the idea for their HARVEE project. HARVEE stands for Handheld Augmented Reality Virtual Entertainment Engine.

Their product allows full 3D virtual objects to co-exist with real objects in physical space, viewed through the AR Device, which are animated, interactive and navigable, meaning the software can make changes to the objects as required, providing much space for interesting digital content. The applications of such a tool range from simple toy products; advertising outlets; tourist information or multiplayer game applications; to complex visualisations of weather movements; collaborating on engineering or architectural problems; or even implementing massive city-wide databases of knowledge where users might ‘tag’ buildings with their own graphical labels that might be useful to other AR users. There is rich potential here.

In HARVEE, Gameware attempt to surmount the limitations of current AR hardware in order to deliver the latest in interactive reality imaging to a new and potentially huge user base. Indeed, Nokia’s own market research suggests that AR-capable Smartphones will be owned by 25% of all consumers by 2009 (Nokia Research Centre Cambridge, non-public document). Mobile AR of the type HARVEE hopes to achieve represents not only a significant technical challenge, but also a potentially revolutionary step in mobile telephony technologies and the entertainment industry.

Gameware’s HARVEE project is essentially the creation of an SDK (Software Development Kit) which will allow developers to create content deliverable via their own Mobile AR applications. The SDK is written with the developer in mind, and does the difficult work of augmenting images and information related to the content. This simple yet flexible approach opens up a space for various types of AR content created at low cost for developers and end-users. I see Mobile AR’s visibility on the open market the only impediment to its success, and I believe that its simplicity of concept could see it become a participatory mass-medium of user-generated and mainstream commercial content.