In a time before the Wii

Long ago, before the Wii came amount or was ever even mentioned, in 2007 I came up with a very dirty hack that could in theory act just like the Wii controller. I almost used it in an Insectoid performance but that never came about.

The way that it would work is that the user would have a device that would act just like an mouse. When the user left-clicks the computer starts recording the users movements and when they let go of the left mouse button an action takes place dependent on the gesture they made. The overall system uses a combination of OpenSebJ and StrokeIt software (Windows only), together with a mouse-like input device.

StrokeIt is gesture recognition software for Windows that does exactly what it says on the tin. The good thing about it is that gestures are programmable. So, even if I drew an S, I could have it execute any command I wanted to. The program worked in the background, so it would send commands to the active window, which is quite important.

The second program involved in making this work was OpenSebJ. Even as early as 2006 I was involved and inspired by Open Source software, so there’s no guessing why I chose this program. Essentially it is a multitrack audio editor but with one feature that I really needed: A sampler. I couldn’t find a free program anywhere that enabled me to map keyboard keys to a sound. Actually, there was one that was purpose built, though I can’t remember the name of it. Why I didn’t use this program was because I could only play one sound at a time. Hitting any other key would kill the previous sound. Not with OpenSebJ.

So, now that I had a way of tracking gestures and playing sounds according to gestures I needed to introduce the free movement. This is the part where my experiment becomes suddenly expensive!

You would’ve thought that after the invention of the mouse the air mouse would’ve been released straight afterwards. Not so. Presenter buttons only have to listen for a mouse click whereas air mice have to track movement, which is an especially trickier task. The technology behind some of the air mice I found was a gyroscope. I know very little about its construction but what I do know is that it let you track your movement… at a cost. Air mice were/are being sold at about £100.

The way I planned to use this was just to map the users’ gesture on left clicking and then execute an action based on this. Whether the software would accurately be able to detect movement at any angle is debatable, as I never got to try it out, but in principal it works.

The application for this could’ve been wide reaching. Performers could use it as a visual aid in their work, toy makers could use it for new exciting way to interact and even in education it has potential to teach people handwriting by giving them aural or visual feedback.

Then the Wii came out… Now this kind of thing is pretty easy to do:

I think I still will continue to explore this avenue. If I can get a modded Wii I may try this prototype again but with its controllers and then explore where I can take it next. Any thoughts are welcome.

Anything you can do I can also do

Recently at my job at any one time there’d be up to four different operating systems in just one room. There’d be Windows XP, which was on most of the computers, Windows Vista, which I used to dual boot, Ubuntu, my OS of choice and Mac OS X. I’d often have chats with one of my collegues about the differences between each operating system, and they’d always proclaim that Mac’s are superior to everything else. When asked why they’re so much better he could never give me an answer.

He’d show me his shiny interface, dock full of cracked Adobe software and impressively pointless window transitions. Then, I’d load up Compiz and do exactly the same. “That’s just copying Mac”, he’d say. So what? Mac weren’t the inventors of modern interface design y’know. I’d then show him the rotating desktop cube and one of the many other Compiz settings available. He was quite impressed and asked me how he could get those effects for his Mac. Wait, your precious Mac doesn’t have these features? What a shame. I paid only £500 for my laptop and can have more ponies amazingly kewl effects.

A few days later we had some visitors and he kept saying that Mac’s are better because they don’t get viruses. What a load of bull. As the popularity of Mac grows so too will the desire for crackers to write malicious code. Also, are Mac’s in a worse position than Windows when it comes to viruses? Mac users have rarely had to worry about viruses, so maybe its users are more inclined to just click on anything. At least Windows users are constantly being reminded of virus threats. This, of course, doesn’t equate to a more secure system but at least it educates users that the moment you put any personal or precious data onto a computer you are at its mercy and should take caution.

Linux will soon be in a similar position. As it yet isn’t big or attractive enough to crackers we’ve yet to see if the collective efforts of 1000s of coders is more effective than Norton, AVG et al.

This post isn’t a jab at Apple either. In fact, if I could afford to I’d probably buy a Mac laptop and just load Ubuntu on to it, not because it’s a better operating system but because, after using all three for awhile I’ve found Linux systems to do what I need it to and offer me a level of customisation to satisfy my needs. Oh, and it’s free. The Mac laptop is just a well designed piece of hardware and I could see why anyone would want that.

I’ve discussed my disliking for Operating System superiority complex on Twitter before. My argument was that all three major operating systems can do what the other can. After some great feedback regarding this I’d like to change that and say that all operating systems can do what the other can, the difference is just how you do it and how much effort is involved.

fizzPOP socials

I mentioned in a previous post how I wanted to get more people doing social things that related to hacking, like going to the Micromouse event last Saturday. I thought it’d be a great opportunity for people to see what else is available to the community and to link different micro communities that would eventually encourage more discussion and collaboration between the groups. Well, it looks like I’m not the only one with that idea. Several members of the group have been rather vocal on making the meetings more than fortnightly. My only concern with a move like that is that there’s a risk of exhaustion and people may feel under too much pressure to come. This is why I liked the suggestion of one member to have social meets in between the hacking sessions. In this way discussion can still continue and it may be a great way for new members to get better acquainted to other members.

Now the next task is to seek out of technical events in the West Midlands that we could go to and also to just chill over brew! If people interested in attending a social next week have a preference over day vote here