Kinect Sensors at the Rather Useful Seminar

We has our second Rather Useful Seminar of the semester today. This time it was all about the Kinect sensor. Rob Miles showed how the sensor, plus a little bit of C# code, could be made to do quite amazing things, not least of which was producting the cabonite models of Welcome Party fame. 

Lots of people turned up, fun was had and programs were written. You can find more details of our seminars and the slide decks for them here.

Arduino Programming at the Rather Useful Seminar

An Arduino and a stepper motor. You can get the pair for well under ten pounds if you shop around!

An Arduino and a stepper motor. You can get the pair for well under ten pounds if you shop around!

For the last couple of years the department has run "Rather Useful Seminars" every Wednesday afternoon. These are on topics that we know students would find useful, but we can't manage to fit them into our crammed courses. We've covered things like 3D printing, personal presentation, starting a business, web site security, Unity game development and all kinds of useful topics. You can find the latest schedule for this semester here.

Today we had our first seminar of the season. Rob Miles of the department was waxing lyrical about the Arduino platform. This is a startlingly cheap way to get into using tiny embedded computers to do really interesting things. For around the price of a video game you can end up with a computer and a whole range of motors, displays and sensors.

Rob used an powered Arduino device to create his "Tags of Fun" which were used to dish out drinks at the Welcome Party and he will be using the tags in the first year programming course to award spot prizes to students duirng lectures. 

Judging by the response of the audience this is something that folks are keen to have a to at, and so we will probably set up a "Hardware Fiddling" club for students who are interested in getting to grips with embedded development. 

Festival of Daring and Excitement Fun and Games

XBOX 360 fun and games (we had Titanfall on 8 Xbox Ones as well)

XBOX 360 fun and games (we had Titanfall on 8 Xbox Ones as well)

Some time back we were discussing the first week of the new semester. One of the things that we talked about was the very first weekend that new students spend away from home. We thought it might a good time to do something social. So we decided to set up a Frag Fest.

We gave the event a name "Festival of Daring and Excitement" and got entry forms and tickets printed. The basic structure was a bit like an all day Christmas Bash (a party we have at, er, Christmas) with PC games, console games and board games spread around the department and a massive pizza drop around half way through.

We weren't sure if anyone would be turn up, but then we sold around 110 tickets and so I thought we might be on to something. We ran the event for 12 hours, from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm.

The Steam Room in full swing

The Steam Room in full swing

At 10:00 am a few folks turned up and by mid-day the top floor of our building was buzzing nicely. Some folks turned up, signed into their favourite game and settled down for the long haul. Others formed a posse and went from room to room, trying PC gaming, Xbox 360, Xbox One and a totally crackers game called "Gang Beasts" in one of our Lecture Theatres. And some sat down played board games, including a four hour marathon session of Risk.

Taking over the world one square at a time....

Taking over the world one square at a time....

By the end of day we were down to the hard core of games playing in what we will now be calling "The Steam Room". A good time was had by all. We ran a little survey afterwards and two thirds of the respondents want a festival every month, which is nice. We're not sure about that, but there is a strong chance we will do one every semester and open it up to all students, not just the new arrivals. And the Hull Computer Society (Hull Comp. Sci.) will be running multiplayer gaming on Wednesday afternoons for those that want their fix of mayhem every week. 

Royalty at Hull

This is HRH Prince Andrew, Duke of York, with Prof. Ken Hawick, our head of department

This is HRH Prince Andrew, Duke of York, with Prof. Ken Hawick, our head of department

Today His Royal Highness the Duke of York came to see us at Hull. Prince Andrew stopped off in the department, where we showed him some of our new toys and what we were doing with them. Then he moved on to a meeting at C4DI which had been organised by the Yorkshire Post Business Club to bring industrialists, educators and local government together for a roundtable debate on apprenticeships, education and vocational learning.

He left apparently very impressed with the technology we are working with and the useful skills that we give our students, which was nice.

Wonderful Welcome Party

We had our First Year welcome party today. In the olden days we used to have cheese and wine. We don't do that any more. Nowadays we have Occulus Rift powered racing, 10 player Xbox mayhem, Wii U, Digital Scalectrix, Xbox One and Rocksmith Guitars. Plus we will also embed you in carbonite, just like Han Solo at the end of Star Wars, courtesy of our Kinect 2 sensor and Ultimaker printers. 

Setting up a 3D scan for printing

Setting up a 3D scan for printing

There was quite a queue of folks waiting to be "Carbonised", we'll be printing for a while after the event.

Carbonised students

Carbonised students

We had two seats set up for racing, with force feedback steering wheel, and Occulus Rift for the view. Great fun.

Driving in an immerse environment

Driving in an immerse environment

We also has a whole bunch of Xbox consoles.

Lots of wires...

Lots of wires...

Thanks to Platform Expos for the use of their console setup.

Taking some video

Taking some video

We had so many people that we had to get out extra tables when the quiz started. Great fun.

Carbonite Selfies at the Freshers Welcome Party

We are planning a special welcome for Freshers who come along to our welcome party on Tuesday 30th September. We're going to encase them in "Carbonite". This is what the Empire did to Han Solo at the end of Star Wars 2/5 "The Empire Strikes back"......

Well, not really. But we are going to give each one the opportunity to stand in front of a Kinect 2 sensor which will take a 3D picture of them. The image will then be transformed into a 3D mesh and we'll have 3D printers at the event which will be printing out solid versions. 

Above you can see one of the test prints. You can find out more here.

Computing Tips for New Students

This is the time of year when folks are preparing for their studies. Here are a few tips that you might find useful :

  1. You probably don't need a new PC. There is a very good chance that the one you have already got is going to be adequate, even if you are taking one of our game development courses it turns out that a standard PC (or even a laptop) should be up to the task. And anyway, there's no need to buy it before you arrive. At Hull we are having a "Welcome to Hull Frag Fest" on the first Saturday of the semester. You can come along to that and see what kind of machines other folks bring before you decide to buy anything yourself.
  2. Make sure that you have all your updates installed on your system. It doesn’t matter whether it is a Windows PC, a Mac or a Linux netbook. Find out how to check for updates and get everything up to date. At some point you will want to connect your machine up to a campus network of some kind, and if you don’t have all the latest security patches you may be vulnerable to infection.
  3. Do something about viruses. At the very least make sure that your Windows PC has Microsoft Security Essentials installed and running, that the databases are up to date and that you run scans at regular intervals. If you really want to install an anti-virus program don’t feel obliged to spend a lot of money, the AVG free anti-virus program is good and will cost you nothing. Get it from http://free.avg.com/. Please don’t spend huge amounts on some of the more expensive ones. The benefits are dubious and they also have annual renewal charges too.
  4. Take a complete backup of your machine and leave it somewhere safe (perhaps even at home). Find out how to use the backup software on your machine and take a copy of everything. Use one of these cheap external hard disks that you can pick up for around 35 pounds or so from places like http://www.ebuyer.com/ or Staples, or even Tesco. That way if it all goes horribly wrong when you get to university you can recover your precious music, videos and other stuff. Once you have the backup habit, take a full one one every month or so.
  5. Don’t spend huge amounts on software just yet. Most universities (including ours at Hull) have deals that get you some programs that you need cheaply. Take a look at https://www.dreamspark.com/ for free Microsoft stuff and http://students.autodesk.com/ for free Autodesk stuff (great for 3D design). Adobe have some great subscription deals for students too. 
  6. The same goes for spending money on books. In the computing field they are rather expensive, and you don’t want to pay a lot for a book and then find out that it is only used for a small part of the course. You can check the books out in the library, and you might also find that there is a second hand book sale on your campus where you can pick up the required volumes from other students quite quickly. You might also want to form a little cartel with fellow students to share books between each other and spread the expense (this is also neat because it can also give you a ready made study group). Hull students will get a printed copy of the C# Yellow Book (custard edition). Anyone else can get it free from http://www.csharpcourse.com/
  7. Get a usb memory stick (actually, if you are a Hull Computer Science student we’ll be giving you one of these later this week) . Keep backups of all your work on it. You can also use it to take files into the university to work on. You will get some filespace on the university network, but it will not be an enormous amount, and having your files always with you is useful. Put a file on the drive with your contact details (just your name and phone number) so that if you lose the drive people can find out who to return it to.
  8. Get some free on line storage. Look at Windows Live Onedrive: https://onedrive.live.com/about/en/. This gives you 7 GBytes of space which is sycnrhonised over all your machines. You’ll need a Windows Live account to use this. Take a look at DropBox too at http://www.getdropbox.com/. Unfortunately you only get 2G of Dropbox space for free. You can also use Google Drive: https://drive.google.com
  9. Make sure you have insurance for all your nice toys. It would be terrible if they got stolen or damaged before they were insured. Take a look at cover from student specialists like Endsleigh: http://www.endsleigh.co.uk/Student/Pages/student-insurance.aspx (if anyone knows any cheaper deals feel free to let me know and I’ll update this post)
  10. Start blogging. Good writing skillz, like wot you can sea hear, are very valuable and make you a much more employable person. Sign up at Hull Computer Science Blogs: http://hullcompsciblogs.com/ and start putting your word out and building your brand.
  11. There are some fantastic devices that you can use to keep track of lectures and tutorials. Take a look at the LiveScribe pen. This lets you record the audio of a lecture synchronised with your hand written notes. It is a little bit pricey, and you have to get special notebooks to use it properly, but is a great way to make sure that your notes never get lost. You could also check out EverNote and even Microsoft OneNote as ways of organising your notes. 
  12. Don’t worry. Really. You’ll be fine.

Hull Mugs

If you have been accepted on one of our courses you should be receiving a little welcome gift around now. We thought it might be nice to send you a "year mug".

We send these out each year to the new cohort, they are numbered and in the future they will serve as a nice reminder of your time in Hull.

Just be careful not to drop it. We've had just enough made and when they are gone, they are gone.

Summer Interns

Flying the Quadcopter

Flying the Quadcopter

The Department of Computer Science offers a number of paid 8-week research internships, usually running over July and August of each year. These positions are open to University of Hull Computer Science students who have attained good grades and can demonstrate good programming abilities, and who are interested in finding out what research in computer science is like. 

This year we had a group of 18 interns, including students from first, second and final years, working on projects including: Apps and Augmented Reality; 3D Printing; Robotics Control; Using Electro Encephalograph interfaces; Raspberry Pi and other “Internet of Things” devices; Online MOOC development; Domain-Specific Language exploration; Shipping data tracking; 3D Immersive reality and graphics software experiments.

Student interns were able to use: the Department’s HIVE Immersive Reality CAVE system; Oculus Rift 3D Goggles; Google Glasses; tablets and watch devices; driving simulator systems; 3D printers; and various robots including quad-copter flying drones. Interns work with an academic supervisor and are located at computer workstations alongside postgraduate students in the research laboratories within the Department. 

Available internship project topics vary from year to year depending upon the Department’s strategic research priorities. Typically a number of specific internship projects will be advertised in Mid/late May each year and students will be able to apply to take part. 

 

Python Games and Evil Teddies

For the last year we’ve been teaching teachers to write Python programs as part of our “Wrestling with Python” programme. In July we invited the teachers, along with their kids, to show us what they could make in a one day hackathon in the department.

This is team “Headlands Blue” with their quadcopter prize. Each team was given three “things” to base their game on. Team Blue chose “Teddy”, “Monkey” and “Saxophone”.

First Prize - Teddy Invasion.png

This is a screenshot of what they made. Their "Bleeding Gums Teddy Invasion" game has the player as a monkey frantically grabbing bananas to fling at the approaching evil teddy who is bent on stealing the saxophone. 
The event was a great success and we will be running it again next year. We will also be running further courses for teachers too. You can find out more at www.threethinggame.com and www.wrestlingwithpython.com

 

Departmental Quadcopter

This is the view from the quadcopter, looking over the campus.

This is the view from the quadcopter, looking over the campus.

The department is has now acquired a rather nice quadcopter. We intend to use this in teaching and research, and as part of our internship program which is starting soon. In the meantime we took it up for a flight around the campus and it came up with some stunning results.

This is the 'copter, with its image stabilised camera.

This is the 'copter, with its image stabilised camera.

Three Thing Game Summer 2014

Teams and Things

Teams and Things

Three Thing Game is an established game development competition that we have been running in the department for several years. Teams have to create a game based on three “things”.

When we first ran the competition the things were randomly allocated but in recent years we have run a “Thing Auction” where teams can bid what they’d like to work with. We give each team some “Bank of Thingland” money to bid with and turn them loose. Then we have a 24 hour hackathon where the games and all the assets are created.

It is always great fun, and this year the Summer competition was won with an awesome game based on “flying fish”, “underwater” and “Eiffel Tower”. You can see videos of some of the games that were produced at www.threethinggame.com.

We are already planning the next Three Thing Game for the end of October 2014. Microsoft will be coming along and bringing the MonoGame team along with them. 

Arduinos and Nerf Guns

The 3D Printed holder for the circuitry and “Evil Cow” targets

The 3D Printed holder for the circuitry and “Evil Cow” targets

Peter Robinson and Rob Miles from the department are running hardware meet-ups at the Centre for Digital Innovation (C4DI) in Hull. The C4DI is a place where local software developers meet up and share expertise and ideas and it also serves as an incubator for start-ups in the area. It runs a number of activities for local developers and it is now branching out into hardware.

Lots of Industry

Lots of Industry

Peter had even provided a bunch of 3D printed parts that support the flex sensor target, and some cows (taken from milk cartons) to use as targets. 

Computer Science at the Science Fair

Printer and a few bits and bobs, including a wind turbine that we printed with it.

Printer and a few bits and bobs, including a wind turbine that we printed with it.

Today  the department took part in the first ever Hull University “Big Bang Science Fair.

We had 3d Virtual Reality displays that let you discover what it is like on top of a wind turbine tower out in the North Sea. We also had interactive computer generated art. 

We also set up our 3D printer. We are going to use the printer to support student projects and staff research, we have already been using it to print components for our “robot swam”.

Here you can see the Wind Turbine simulation system and the Occulus Rift that we are using with it. In the background you can see our generative art system.

Here you can see the Wind Turbine simulation system and the Occulus Rift that we are using with it. In the background you can see our generative art system.

A 3D Printer in the Department

Mr Burns seems to approve

Mr Burns seems to approve

The department has just acquired its first 3D printer. Some of the staff have obtained 3D printers already, and Peter Robinson has even built his own. But up until now we have not had one in the department. 

That's changed, with the arrival of a brand new Ultimaker. We are going to use it to produce parts for our robot swarm and also to investigate uses of this fascinating technology.

Alien Banjos in Space. Or a Banjo Hire Shop. Your Choice.

One of our students got quite artistic with the theme...

One of our students got quite artistic with the theme...

For the second piece of programming coursework each year we let the students choose between a line of business application or a game. This year the theme was banjos for some reason.

You could either build a stock management system for the "Only Banjo Hire Shop in the Country" or you could create a space invaders type game where you use your trusty accordion to fire notes at deadly attacking banjos coming in from above. 

The exercises have been designed so that the learning outcomes for the module can be attained by creating either program and there is a detailed specification for each application. And there is a lot of fun being had with attacking banjos just at the moment. 

Global GameJam Hull

First Place - 121 Gigabits.jpg

These guys are the winners, Team "121 Gigabits". Their retro-style shoot-em-up had the players trying to find and eliminate their opponents in a world of coloured clones. It was great to play and looked ready for market as far as I could see. 

Global Gamejam is great. It stops your world for 48 hours while you create a game from nothing. It's astonishing what people end up with. Last year was the first time that we got Hull students involved in the competition. We said at the time it would not be the last. And so, in 2014 we settled down for another weekend packed with game development daring do. 

As before we had students from Hull College, Grimsby College and Hull Studio School as well as from our courses. As before everyone had an amazing time. The theme this year was:

"We see things as we are, not as they are."

Profound stuff. But not profound enough to stop the production of 22 games on a huge variety of platforms, with some amazing gameplay. From a Leap Motion controlled cat simulator to a procedurally generated slaughterhouse, with pretty much everything else in-between. Great fun. 

 

Micro-Talks and Mega Bash. And Werewolves

Some of the prizes for the microtalks

Some of the prizes for the microtalks

We tried a few new things this year for the Christmas Bash. Firstly we had some micro-talks (thanks to Microsoft for the prizes – above)  from students and staff about things they are working on. Danny Brown started with a talk about contributing to Open Source software, then we had talks about app development for Vulcan Bombers, augmented reality that puts meaning into the countryside and why you should all sign up for Hull Global Gamejam next year.

Then we played a game called Werewolf. It was hilarious. If you think that Computer Science Students are all reserved and shy then you should have seen the debate and the way accusations were flying around the room by the end.

Then we had some pizza and mince pies and went off to play Team Fortress, PS4, Xbox One and Wii U games. 

Pizza Party Crew

Pizza Party Crew