23/05/2011

Blog permanently moved

I've decided to take a step up in the world of blogging and installed a WordPress blog on my personal website.

So please go to www.detderedb.dk to follow my future endeavours

22/05/2011

Staging the end of the world in pursuit of happiness

The day of the Rapture came and went yesterday. We should be hiding from the fire raining from the sky in the remains of Los Angeles, pondering over whether to resort to cannibalism now that resources are slim or to eat the burned rats floating in the rivers of lava, but instead my wife is knitting on the balcony in the evening sun and I'm writing my thought on the end of world and what that does to my well being before going to the cinema later tonight.

The thing is, I feel pretty good. And a big reason for that is that the world didn't end yesterday, and that made me really happy. We didn't make a big thing of it my wife and I, but we did go outside on the balcony a minute before 6pm to see the skies crack open (or whatever was supposed to happen), and when that didn't happen we toasted in a glass of excellent red wine and went on in our fabulous Saturday night. I know intellectually that of course the world wasn't going to end, but the whole Rapture thing has stirred quite a bit of excitement around me the last couple of weeks. Harold Camping and his posse of Christian cultists definitely did a fine PR job, since everybody and their mother knew the Rapture was supposed to happen yesterday. I shared in the excitement - not the hysteria - and yesterday when the world didn't end, I felt quite good about it. And I'm not even a believer, but what I did was allow myself to feel happy about it. It other words I staged a situation where the fact that the world didn't end at 6pm led to me feeling happy and it worked. I had a great night last night.

There is this American principle of the right to pursue happiness. That's pretty abstract to me, but I believe I've found an interpretation that works for me: It's all about staging situations in your life that will eventually lead to a feeling of happiness. I can't actually take credit for this idea, I got it from Danish stage director Peter Langdal in 1998. He was giving a guest lecture at the University of Copenhagen where I was studying to be bachelor of Theatre Science at the time. I honestly don't remember what the lecture was about, but I remember his description of how he staged situations in his everyday life that would lead to intense feelings of happiness. As an example he explained how he would tell his children - I'm guessing they were 5-6 years old at the time - to wait behind for a while as he would walk up the driveway of his allotment house. He would then turn around to look at his children and tell them to run towards him. The sight of his two beloved children running towards him up the driveway would lead to an intense feeling of happiness, and that was all staged. I loved the idea back then and I've tried my best to set things up in a way so that I can do myself that favour as often as possible.

My wedding is a great example of such a staged event on a very large scale and the end of the world is an example on a very small scale. I know the real end of the world is a big thing, but since this was an imaginary end of the world, it was simply a matter of setting it up in my mind so that I would be relieved by the world not ending.

Another example is the diet my wife and I have started following this last month. I will not bore you with the details about the actual diet, suffice to say that it is a low carb / high protein diet. The important element in the context of this post is the Cheat Day. Every Saturday my wife and I are allowed to eat and drink whatever we want to. It works wonders for us. I don't think I've ever enjoyed food and drink as much as I do on my cheat day. And we don't even eat anything terribly out of the ordinary, it's just a matter of eating the things we can't (and don't) eat on the normal days. Behold our breakfast from yesterday:

It's really simple and it's completely staged by yours truly, but it makes me feel really good.

So maybe Harold Camping was really out to do us all a gigantic favour announcing the end of the world. In realising the world didn't end yesterday hopefully we all learned to appreciate it more. I'm thinking he's got plenty of money from contributions, and I guess he can always blame it on a mis-interpretation of the Book of Job (again) and pull out his holy calculator to predict the next end of the world. But next time he should try to place it on a bank holiday weekend so that all of his followers have an extra day to make it back to the mid west to square things out with the job they quit to go to California to be in the front rows of the Apocalypse.

Happy afterlife, everybody ...

19/05/2011

Oh no! The Rapture cometh

I'm extremely fascinated by the Rapture, which is coming this Saturday. Mainly because there is an almost endless range of possibilities of FUN in that thing.



One of my favourites is the Post Rapture Looting event on Facebook that already has over 350k attending.

There are tons of street preachers near our home in Hollywood, and I also figured I should try to buy a car from one of them at an very favourable post-Rapture price with handover after Saturday. Surely they would agree to that, right?

In reality this is all about how some clever people can take advantage of less clever people. Family Radio obviously have a TON of money, since they've been able to purchase billboards all over Los Angeles, so I figured I'd join the game and try to make some money. So I've created a website where users can repent and be saved from the Rapture. However, there is a twist ... Check it out at http://detderedb.dk

Personally I'm going to the cinema Saturday night with my wife at 7.10pm, which is 70 minutes after the rapture starts. But I didn't buy the tickets, we're just getting them at the door. Would be a shame to waste the money if Los Angeles is destroyed by that gigantic earthquake that's supposed to kick it all off ...

30/04/2011

Audiences in nightclubs

heard me a radio commercial for a club in London. Girls get in for free until 1AM, 1£ after that, guys 10£ all night. Age limit for girls 18 years, 21 for guys. Now that really got me thinking: What kind of an audience does an offer like that attract? And aren't we getting awfully close to prostitution? So the message to the girls is: Come to this lovely place where we let you in for free, all the guys are older than you AND they've probably got money, since they forked out 10£ to get in. And for the boys: Come to this lovely place where the girls are all younger than you and come here because YOU've got money.

I guess that business model works, since they have it - or maybe they're just trying it out? I've always avoided night clubs that charge you differently based on your sex, same as I avoid restaurants where they have waiters in the street trying to get you inside, but these places always seem to have a crowd, so maybe I'm missing out on all the fun ...

I have felt very discriminated occasionally when going out in London. If you're with 3 other guys you'll often have a VERY hard time getting into a lot of places, where I don't have any problems at all when I'm out with my wife. Maybe the guy/girl ratio in London is just tipped too far towards the men? I guess it's because men in London never really reach an age where they stop going out, which is quite unique - and I kinda like that. But I guess it works against us. But isn't it the men who spend the most money in the bar anyway? Well, I guess it's a delicate balance where you want just the right ratio of men inside to buy cocktails for all the (underage) girls, but no so many that they're just buying for themselves because there are no ladies to charm.

Then again it also be because men - especially between 18 and 21 - tend to start fights, drive while drunk, do drugs, rape, loot and pillage.

Anyway, I think that club from the radio commercial should go all in, pay the girls 20£ to get in, charge the guys 100£ and up the age limit for guys to 35. At least that way it's honest. Can't wait until I turn 35 so I can get into these places ...

21/04/2011

What's the deal with sports in America?

We're in April. I've learned that April is a VERY important month for sports in the US. The baseball season starts, there are the playoffs in basketball and there is draft in the NFL.

Today is April 21st and it just happens to be the day when FC Copenhagen became the earliest ever champions of the Danish football league in history. Yesterday featured the second of four El Clasicos between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona with Real Madrid being the victorious side in this won and there are two wonderful Champions League semi finals waiting just around the corner. So I guess I also like April for sports reasons this year.

So thus far I can agree with the Americans. But I find it really, really difficult to appreciate the 3 great sports over here - in part because you have to be a mutant and/or ruin your body to be really good at any of them, in part because they're all completely ruined by commercial interests.

Let me start with the last element - I learned by listening to the radio the other day that the basketball team Sacramento Kings will leave Sacramento and go to Orange County and be the ... Orange County Orangutangs or whatever. Now the fact that a team can just pick up their stuff and leave for another city is just a big mystery to me - and how can you ever be a fan of your local team if you know that at any given time they can just decide to leave because another city gives them a better offer? I know that the odds of this happening to some of the bigger iconic teams in all three sports are 1 : astronomical, but still? In Europe we have lots of traditions of football teams merging to become a bigger team, but they're still tied to a specific region, so they never lose that regional tie that justifies fan culture in the first place - after all, aren't sports supposed to be the modern substitute for going to war? We get to fight another city/region/country and hopefully win bragging rights, but when it's all over, nobody dies and we can all be friends again - except in Italy and Serbia of course. But that whole thing about being a fan to support your region rests on a commercial foundation in the US, and at any given time this foundation can be torn away from underneath "your" team, and you just have to settle with it or perhaps find a new team to support?

I'm not saying there isn't commercial factors in football. In fact, they're insane, like when Real Madrid spends hundreds of millions of Euros on buying the best players in the world, but the commercial interests aren't changing the core game. They're not allowing TV networks to introduce more and more breaks in the game and they're not changing the rules to allow for more goals.

And then there is the mutant / ruining your body-factor. To be a good basketball player, you HAVE to be at least 2 meters in height. Now with football there is room for all heights - of course you have to be fit, but there is room for people of any height on a football field. It's not like basketball where children hit puberty and some of them grow up to be tall enough to at least still have a dream of going pro and others just have to give it up, even though they have the skills, because they're simply not tall enough.

To be a good American football player you HAVE to weigh 125 kilos and smash your head against somebody else's head countless times with insane injuries to follow. Of course football has injuries too, and some of them are pretty bad, but that doesn't come from playing the game right, that comes from when things go wrong on the field. In American Football smashing your head into your opponents head and physically taking them down in very rough ways is the right way to play the game, and that just encourages injuries.

And the pitch element in baseball is soooo bad for shoulder and elbow you wouldn't believe it. Again, by playing the game right you enforce injuries to your body. And what's with the pajamas in baseball?

I guess I could learn to like hockey if I had to. It still seems to be the purest of the American sports. And of the big 3 basketball seems to be the one the least bad, as at least you're not wrecking your body by playing it right.

But I certainly miss football in Europe these days - especially watching the big games at the right time of the day instead of getting up at 8 in the morning on a Saturday to watch my team play. I've tried, but it's REALLY hard to drink beer at 8 in the morning, and I do miss going to the games live something fierce. Maybe I should try to check out LA Galaxy ...

21/03/2011

The Streets have closed

This winter saw the end of The Streets with the release of his fifth and final album "Computers and Blues". Mike Skinner announced that he would only make five albums and he announced it before releasing his fourth album, and if you go to website now, it's officially closed.

So that's it then - in many ways I feel The Streets was the soundtrack of my twenties and that a lot of my stories have been lived and told through The Streets, so I thought I'd share something through writing.

Maybe soundtrack of my twenties is just a little off. I'm 32 now, and the last album only just came out, and the first time I came across The Streets was in 2003 when I was 24 years old. So let's flashback to Friday June 27th around 10 pm.

"I produce this using only my bare wit"
First time at Roskilde Festival for me - arrived Wednesday night and passed out maybe 5 hours later from having chugged way too many beers. I was supposed to meet some guy and get a sleeping bag from him, but that never happened, so I'm extremely cold all night. Next day the music starts and my mind is just blown away by seeing and hearing music I've never heard or even heard of before. This thing about going to concerts with a bands I don't know at all is completely new to me, but it really does wonders. And the weather is beautiful, the girls look gorgeous and you're slightly intoxicated from beer all the time because you start drinking from when you wake up. Fast forward to Friday night - getting your mobile phone charged is extremly difficult, the infrastructure isn't really in place for that yet in 2003. I've gotten lost from my friends and is pretty much just walking around the festival area very drunk. I remember being very close to just walking back to my tent and then maybe picking up a party there. But then the beats appeared out of nowhere and they're pulling me towards the Metropol tent. It was the sound of "Don't Mug Yourself" from the debut album of The Streets - "Original Pirate Material". Completely intoxicating and yet so simple a sound, and the way he delivers his rap is just out of this world - I'm standing there mesmerized for the rest of the concert. There is a rave going on in the tent, it's extremely hot inside and I only see the last 20 or 25 minutes of the concert. But I come out of the tent after the concert with a completely changed perspective on music.

"I do the science on my laptop, get my boys mashed up"
I was playing music before that incident, mainly as a singer, and I even had a bunch of CDs. Also this was right after the time of Napster, so I did my share of illegal downloads. But I wasn't really a consumer of modern music until after I walked out of the tent that Friday night in late June. Listening to those strange beats that were so intoxicating to me made me realise that there was an entire world of music that I didn't know, and I wanted to make sure that I was never going to miss out on anything like that ever again. Actually when coming home from the festival and telling the whole world about this amazing band, my flatmate at the time Janne told me that she had already played The Streets to me months before, and I didn't seem to notice it back then. Sorry about that, Janne ...

So The Streets matured me into being genuinely interested in music, and my CD-collection just exploded after that. Ever since then I've consumed music by reading about it on various music sites, visiting artist websites, using the illegal file sharing software of the time to download tons of music and then eventually buying the CDs. And whenever I went to a festival after that, especially Roskilde Festival, I would spend hours and hours online researching the artists as they were released for the lineup to make absolutely sure I wouldn't miss the first two thirds of a concert like The Streets ever again.

"See I reckon you're about an 8 or a 9, maybe even 9 and a half in four beers time."
So listening to the beats from The Streets got me interested in music in general, but with the release of "A Grand Don't Come for Free" in 2004 I also realised the lyrical universe of The Streets is truly unique and magnificent. I was actually quite disappointed when the album first came out - I was looking for awesome beats like the first album, but didn't really find that. But slowly I began really discovering it one single at a time. And when I realised the whole album was one conceptual story, I was once again blown away. The emotional peeks of that album are so intense and you really feel like invited inside of this person telling this story that could be your own story. It took me a couple of years to fully understand this album, but now that I do I have to say that this the best album of all times for me. "Dry Your Eyes" still has quite the opposite effect of drying my eyes when I listen to it today, and the overwhelming feeling of how it all comes together in "Empty Cans" still gives me major chills. And "Blinded By the Lights" is the most powerful electronic symphony ever with probably the best "Don't do drugs, kids"-message I've ever seen in both the lyrics and the music video.

So with "A Grand Don't Come for Free" we got the best album of all times. And on Friday July 4th 2008, Mike Skinner was back at Roskilde Festival, this time in front of an audience of more than 60000 people. This time he gave me the best concert he has ever played and the best concert I have ever seen.

"All stare, eyes glazed"























It's already been a spectacular festival this summer of 2008, and a beautiful summer it is. I'm getting married in August, the weather is once again marvelous, my wife looks gorgeous and I'm fully enjoying this time of holiday with friends and my love. Friday July 4th is about to become the best concert day I've ever had, having already seen extremely powerful and emotional performances from Mogwai and Robyn. Mike Skinner enters the stage late - it's a 1 AM concert, but everybody is soooo ready for it. And what happens that night is pure magic. He delivers that same intimate rave feeling from 2003, but this time the crowd is more than 60000 people, and every single one of us worships his every move. It can't be good for you to have to walk down from the stage after a performance like that. He must have felt like he was having sex with every single one of us that night.

"Knock out the lights, lock the locks and leave"
The third and fourth albums both had memorable moments, great lyrics and great beats, but they never really reached the height of the first two albums. Maybe it's impossible to achieve the best possible beats and the best possible lyrics again? They were both great albums and I do pick them up and listen to them, but the magic isn't really there. But with "Computers and Blues" I think we're back up there once again. And listening to his story this time I can hear how my own life has changed and I also think I understand why The Streets had to close at this point.

So thanks a lot for giving me so many powerful experiences, including the 5 times I've seen The Streets live. And I'm pretty sure I will be able to pick up and listen to at least 3 of the albums for many years to come and listen to them as a diary of how my life was in my twenties.

28/02/2011

Building huge games in Adobe AIR

Most of the fall in our office was spent working on the Yahoo! Bus Stop Derby, a fantastic project involving multi player games on huge touch screens. The campaign ended January 28th, but I thought I'd share my experience from being the Tech Lead at ACNE on this project.

Here is the background: ClearChannel is putting up a new line of interactive bus shelters in the streets of San Francisco. These bus shelters feature a 72" touch screen in portrait mode and are connected to the internet over a 3G modem built into the units. The screens are supposed to be used for interactive advertising and games, and we were given the opportunity to be the first to build an interactive experience for these screens through a partnership with Goodby, Silverstein & Partners who are the advertising agency for Yahoo!

There was a lot of buzz surrounding the campaign and I encourage you to go elsewhere if you want to read what the game is all about. Instead I will write a little bit about the challenges we faced from a technical and user experience perspective.

The user experience challenge:
The form factor in this project presented a whole new set of HCI challenges for us. We have to step away from the conventions we normally rely on when creating digital experiences for the desktop and web as there is no mouse or keyboard, and people have a very short attention span with this thing. It's more relevant to look to smartphones and tablet computers, but obviously there are major differences between the form factor on a 4" screen with multi touch capability that you can hold in your hand and standing in front of a screen that's taller than most people and interacting with much larger gestures.

Take a look at the image below and you will understand some of the challenges we had:


So the person on the left is an average size male adult. The person on the right is a 10 year old boy. How do we make sure both can play these games? There is a limit to how high the child can reach, and while the adult can reach down and reach the lower parts of the screen by kneeling or bending over, this isn't a comfortable position to be in when playing a game. Another thing is the sheer size of the visual display. If you were watching a movie on a 72" screen, you would probably want to be standing at least 8 feet away from the screen, but in our case our users literally can't stand longer than an arms length away from the screen.

We also had to be very careful with relying to much on some of the newer touch screen conventions coming from smartphones and tablet computers. Part of this is because not all bus passengers are necessarily that touch screen savvy, but also because you don't necessarily think "touch screen" when you walk up to a giant display like this. From previous observations I've made with large touch screen installations I've found that not a lot of people aren't that comfortable with walking up to one of these screens and start interacting with it.

So we had to make the user experience very simple compared to what we usually do and we can't leverage more than roughly 50% of the screen area. The goal is that everybody should be encouraged to and able to play with these things without being hardcore gamers or super tech savvy.

The technical and practical challenges:
We started development of this project before the hardware was ready, so we started by building the project based on assumptions on how it would work and on early prototypes of the actual 72" units. We decided to build the project in Adobe AIR 2.0, since that technology gave us the opportunity to develop the project very rapidly and to share the work between a large team of developers with experience on the Flash platform. I was technical director on the project and had no less than 6 Flash developers working with me. 1 developer responsible for each game, 1 responsible for the overall UI and 1 developer to help out where ever help was needed.

All the developers had experience with building games and most had experience with touch screen devices, but I was the only one who had created AIR for touchscreen devices previously, so we had to setup a working environment where the individual developers could work and test on their own computers without having to learn too much new technologies. So I was basically responsible for setting up an architecture for them to work in where they wouldn't have to worry about connecting to the Flash Media Server for multi player communication, how to run and launch the application and how to switch between the games and the UI. Half of the team were working in Flash Builder 4, and the other half were working in FDT 3 or 4. And 2 were on Windows and the rest on Mac. So the solution was to create an environment where we used ANT to build and test each individual element in the application to allow for rapid test and deployment without dependencies on the development platform. Most of the team didn't have experience with such a cross platform approach, but everybody caught up just fine with the flow without having to spend too much time learning it.

One of the big challenges with this project has been dealing with 3G connection on the units. We don't want to bother casual bus passengers with error messages about latency issues or loss of connection, so the focus in the error handling has been to make sure the impact on the user is as small as possible. So while the Internet might be crashing in the background, the goal was to make sure the user could go on playing his or her game without noticing something is wrong. Adobe AIR offers some really good solutions for dealing with this situation, as you can do offline storage using this technology. So basically every time we get an XML response back from the backend keeping track of the score, we would store the response locally. That way, next time the unit needs to check the high score, if it fails in connecting to the backend server, it will simply fall back to the local version of the high score XML stored on the local computer. Pretty neat, and the user will never notice anything is wrong.

The high score might not be completely up to date, but there is no way the user will know, and when the internet connection comes back up, the scores will be updated with the latest data, and since it was never down for very long I doubt any users would have the time to travel to one of the other bus stops to spot the inconsistency.

There were a lot of solutions like that built into the application, and all of them were built on assumptions on how we expected the units to behave in the field, so naturally we were a little anxious once the units actually hit the field, but after a little bit of going back and forth and a very solid team effort between all the stakeholders everything worked out just fine.

On the practical side we were developing for a resolution of 1080x1920, and that meant having to get monitors that could rotate to portrait mode and connecting these to our laptops. A couple of weeks into the project we were shipped a 70" screen from Korea. One of the more unusual challenges we had to deal with was how to get this 250kg beast through our office door and how to mount it against the wall, but fortunately a couple of the developers were pretty big, so we eventually managed.

This was definitely the best looking image I've ever seen on a monitor. This unit could light up the room by itself, and seeing our layout on it for the first time was really cool. To my regret we couldn't connect our PS3 to it, so we didn't really get to test the performance of the monitor. Also it made a lot of noise when it was turned on.

Unfortunately the 70" device wasn't touch screen enabled, and we had to wait another couple of weeks until we got a unit that was touch screen enabled.

Unfortunately this unit was only 47" and while this is a pretty big screen, there is still a long way up to 72", so building the games put a lot of demand on us, as we basically had to take the game back and forth between our 24" development monitors, where we did the development to the 47" touch screen to test the game play and the 70" to check out the layout. At times the developers were standing in line to get time on the big screens, but most of the time we were able to share the screens between us. For a while I even wrote code with the 70" display as my primary monitor just to try it out, but I had to stop when my eyes felt like they were about to start bleeding. That display is very bright indeed.

All in all I'm very proud of this project, and I absolutely love getting away from the usual challenges with developing for the web and mobile and really going big. The project ended Jan 28 and the screens are now part of the ClearChannel portfolio of outdoor displays for interactive advertising.