RIP Doug Engelbart


Doug Engelbart

Doug Engelbart

In 1968, Doug Engelbart invented the Mouse, the Hyperlink, Cut – Copy & Paste, Object Linking and Embedding, and he was a pioneer of Arpanet on which the Internet was built.  It was on his work that Tim Berners-Lee built the Web.  Doug has passed away today at age 88.

He has been absolutely one of my heroes since as AV Technician, I showed the whole 100 minute video (linked to in parts below) to the computing department of University College London back in 1969.

I remember the audience seemed interested but the consensus was “It’ll never catch on”.  I believed him!

I’ve had links to these videos on my website ever since I’ve had a website. Anyone who thinks Microsoft, Apple or even Xerox invented the Graphical User Interface, the Mouse, the Internet, the Hyperlink etc should click here: The real birth of computing as we know it.  Watch Clip 12.


By Stephen Bell Posted in Media

M-Audio Microtrack II “Unrepairable” at 32 months old!

I’m extremely annoyed.

M-Audio Microtrack II - Faulty . . . and unrepairable!

M-Audio Microtrack II – Faulty . . . and unrepairable!

We have an M-Audio Microtrack II audio recorder we bought from Maplin here in the UK about two and a half years ago. It has been a delightful little unit to use and we’ve used it regularly.

Recently, it has has developed a great deal of hiss (white noise) and recording sensitivity has diminished. We have tried two microphones (both known good and working) with no improvement. Even winding the level controls right up results in lower than usual level recordings and unacceptable white noise.

So, I emailed the UK agent, InMusicBrands asking them to advise us where we should return this unit to for service.

The reply was less than useful!  I quote:

“The Microtrack is a product that was unfortunately discontinued before we took over the M-Audio brand and the only spare parts that we have for this product are the battery, battery cover and USB cable.”  Whilst you could certainly send it in to us for a repair estimate, it’s quite likely that we wouldn’t have the parts to repair this and even if we did it may be uneconomical to repair the unit.”

They then went on to say even an estimate would be charged at £15 for 30mins work plus £10 shipping back cost – Plus VAT.

I repeat, this device is less than 3 years old and, to all intents and purposes is now rubbish to be thrown away.  If this is planned obsolescence, it’s taking things to extremes. Fancy taking over a brand and only being given spare batteries and battery covers!

I am NOT impressed M-Audio and I will not be buying your products again – unless you have any suggestions?

By Stephen Bell Posted in Media

2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

By Stephen Bell Posted in Media

Ingress – Google’s new global game

Google’s new global game, Ingress, is a stunning piece of work.  Not only is there all the programming that makes it work, there’s a great deal of back story content that has been painstakingly created to give the game some depth.

Have a look through the two websites dedicated to the game to see what it’s all about. There’s also a catch-up and a Wiki for the game here: and straight-forward Google support page for the game here: . (It describes what you’re able to do with the App on your phone, when playing the game).

For players, there is also a web page where you can keep a ‘helicopter view’ eye on the game as it progresses globally.  It’s at but you have to have a login to see what’s happening.  Rumour has it  November 30th is the planned date for the game to become fully public, but there are still a few glitches in the system.

Google say it should take from 12 to 18 months to play out across the world.  I think it’s possible that in the final days of the game, it may end with thousands of people physically converging on major landmarks in major cities, literally “battling it out” with the game app on their mobile phones trying to win supremacy for their group.  (For ‘group’ read ‘Tribe’ in psychological terms).  Personally, I wonder if they might come to actual physical blows? Now there’s a thought.

This is MMORPG on a grand scale but taken out into the ‘real’ world – well sort of real, in that you play it out in the sun or snow or whatever the weather hands you out there – but unreal in that the view of the world is shaped by your phone camera and screen so you can see and hear things others can’t – unless they’re playing the game as well of course!

A phone like mine has more processing power than the entire American Government had before 1980.  Only today’s phones could play this game; it needs, Internet, GPS, Compass and a lot of processing power.  It’s that quad-core power in the pocket that makes this sort of thing possible – and we’ve only just started on this online, connected, socially networked, virtual/augmented reality world we’re now only just tip-toeing into – and it fascinates me.

So the only remaining question is, will you be one of the Enlightened or are you joining the Resistance?

Update 1:

I have now received my beta test access code which has brought the mobile app to life and also given me access to the online system.  It’s an amazing piece of work.

The graphics and sounds in the app are nothing short of amazing and the programming extremely clever.  For example: there is a built-in messaging system, that allows participants to text-chat with each other.  In the online version you can restrict the chats you see to the area covered by the map onscreen (which comes from Google Earth).  This is using global positioning in a sophisticated way, as obviously every individual piece of ‘chat text’ has a location attached.

This allows groups to communicate across local areas to work together to “attack” the opposition and try to win territory for their side.  Basically, it encourages people to get out and about, meet each other and cooperate to play the game.  Not  a bad idea!  See Update 3 below for an example.

Update 2:

I just spotted this article – interesting!

Update 3:

An interesting article from the ‘Chicago Resistance’.  They say:  “To any random person walking down the street it must have been an odd sight. A random group of people who included different genders, races and professions taking an erratic path across The Loop in a huddled mass. Occasionally stopping, seemly at random, to tap on our phones furiously, almost in unison. But to us, we weren’t just wandering around the city. We were strategizing, hacking Portals, and meticulously planning our route in order to reinforce weaknesses in our defenses and to conquer enemy strongholds. That is what Ingress does.”  –> Read more.

Fairway Taxi makes the Olympic opening ceremony complete

A PROPER London Black Cab!

A PROPER London Black Cab!

It was delightful to spot that when the BBC made the 5 minute film of James Bond escorting the Queen to the Olympic Opening Ceremony, they chose to use an iconic FX4/Fairway Driver London black cab rather than one of those nasty, plasticky new TX models.

It’s the Fairway FX4 that people know and associate with London, because in  various forms that’s the shape that has been on the streets of London for around 50 years!

Well done the BBC for getting it right! Click the picture to watch the video.

By Stephen Bell Posted in Media

Unreal Engine 4

This is absolutely stunning.

Back in the “old days” (of early ray-tracing software on the Amiga) I’d have been happy to render one frame that looked one tenth as good as this – a process which itself would have probably taken overnight to complete.

What is true, is that this sort of creation technology has now far outstripped my ability to understand it. I simply can’t imagine being able to learn all about a software/game generation system such as that.  You need to have a young mind and to have grown up with it I fear.

With a background such as mine, I can however, at least understand just how unbelievably clever it actually is – and the people who create software like that – and indeed, the people who use it.  Not to mention the people who design “Worlds” like that in the first place!  Who dreams up ‘places’ like those?  :-)  I can watch and be amazed – and right now, that’s my job!

These days, when we go to the cinema, or put a disk in our home entertainment system, we are now used to seeing the impossible.  To my daughters, it’s commonplace – they take it for granted that film and game makers can show anything they want to on film – or on the PC screen.

To those of my era, such things still have a magic, and we’re unique, in that it’s probably only people with a history of incredibly limited processing power and limited software (like Real3D on the Amiga) who get the biggest kick out of seeing things like this.  I always knew that ray-traced rendering would become real-time, but it doesn’t lessen the amazement to see it happening!

By Stephen Bell Posted in Media