CubeStormer II is the fastest Rubik cube solving robot in the world. It set a Guinness World Record of 5.270s for the fastest robot solving of a Rubik’s Cube in November 2011. I saw it in action on Saturday at the Swindon Lego show. Click the image below to watch a video I took.
The project was commissioned by ARM Holdings and designed and built by Mike Dobson (who built the Lego robot) and David Gilday (who wrote the software). A custom Android app on a Samsung mobile phone images the cube and instructs the Lego robot what turns to make. The robot is made from 4 Lego Mindstorm NXT kits.
I got to speak briefly with David Gilday and he told me that the software is optimized for the robot’s capabilities, so it computes the quickest sequence for the robot, rather than the minimum number of moves. The software uses pre-computed look up tables of moves for speed. Apparently the limiting factor on the speed is the power of the motors. CubeStormer II can manage about 5 moves per second, whereas the best humans can manage 9 moves per second.
It didn’t work every time. But it is an impressive achievement. Especially considering the software was written by a hardware engineer! ;0)
This is a video of a “Promoting your software” talk I did at ESWC 2011. In it I discuss my experiences attempting to try every form of promotion known to man including: SEO, Google Adwords, magazine ads, affiliates, Facebook ads and hanging out in wedding forums using a female pseudonym. With real data! You can’t read the slide text in the video, but I have included the slides below.
A couple of people asked me afterwards whether anything I tried had worked. Yes! I wouldn’t have survived long as a microISV otherwise. But I didn’t really want to dwell on what had worked for me because it might not be relevant for different products with different price points in different markets. Also that isn’t the sort of information I want to give to my competitors.
Things were running a bit late due to problems with the projector, so I didn’t have time for the audience participation at the end. Projector problems are really not what you need when you are just about to do a talk to a room full of people! Many thanks to Alwin and Sytske of Collectorz for doing the video and to Dave and Aaron of Software Promotions for helping to sort out the unruly projector.
Russell Thackston is running a survey to try and find out which tasks cause microISVs the most pain. He is then going to use the results of this survey to guide further research at the microISV Research Alliance at Auburn University. I have completed the survey and will be interested to see what the results are. You can take the survey here. You could win an iPod touch or an iPod shuffle. The survey will run until 21st August.
I recently watched an interesting BBC documentary called “The secret life of chaos”. It did a good job of explaining how interesting patterns could arise from very simple rules and how these could be further shaped by evolution to create the sort of complexity we see in the living world. It is well worth watching in full.
I have been interested in genetic algorithms for some time and use a genetic algorithm to optimise seating plans in my own PerfectTablePlan software. So I was particularly interested in a segment towards the end, where they showed how naturalmotion.com have used bio-mechanical modelling and genetic algorithms to create virtual humans that can respond realistically to various (unpleasant) physical stimuli, e.g. being shot, being hit or falling off things. The details are sketchy in the TV program, but it appears that they have evolved genetic algorithms that mimic aspects of the human nervous system. For example a human will instinctively put their hands out to cushion a fall or put a hand to an area that has been hit. They then combine this nervous system modelling with physics and a realistic a bio-mechanical modelling of the human anatomy. The results are impressive. You can see them about 2 minutes into the video below.
They claim they can use these models to generate realistic movements for synthetic characters in real time. Their Euphoria software is already being used in computer games, such as Grand Theft Auto IV.
Below are the video and slides of the “Marketing for microISVS – embracing the ‘dark side’?” talk I gave at ESWC 2009 in Berlin. This is a high-speed ramble through a vast subject. In the 45 minutes available I do my best to dispel some of the myths software developers have about marketing and discuss some marketing concepts, including: branding; positioning; pricing; and segmentation. Taking in Harley Davidsons, tinned tomatoes, Coca Cola and food blenders on the way. The first couple of minutes, where I dispel the myth that good software sells itself without marketing, are missing from the video due to a dead camera battery. But you knew that anyway, so I don’t think this detracts much overall.
Slides (which might not make much sense without the video):
NB/ When I said 47Signals, I meant 37Signals (brand inflation?). Thanks to Tarek for the correction.
Links to some of the things mentioned in the talk:
A big thank you to Alwin and Sytske of collectorz.com for hot-footing it from Alwin’s talk to do the video (you can see Alwin’s excellent talk on web app pros and cons here). And also to David and Panagiota for all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes organizing ESWC.
I find myself sometimes drifting back towards improving my software, answering email (email! can you believe it?) from customers, or other arcane activities, but I know these are just procrastination techniques, dragging me away from the truly important work of Twittering.
To me the real question isn’t whether Twitter has any value, but whether it is the most useful thing you can be doing with your time. What business value does Twitter have?:
Updating your customers: What is wrong with a newsletter? I would like to think a lot of my customers love my software, but surely even its most ardent fans don’t need updates several times per day? Only a stalker needs to know what you are doing in real time.
Following others: I tried using Twitter to follow a few people who write excellent blogs. This experiment only proved that even intelligent and articulate people can’t write anything useful in 140 characters. Following the links posted can be entertaining, but is a black hole for productivity.
Monitoring conversations: I can set up a search and appear, genie like, every time someone types the relevant phrase. But this sort of 1:1 marketing doesn’t scale very well and it can come across as creepy/spammy.
Increasing your online presence: Twitter is touted as another way to increase your online ‘foot print’. I can see some value to ‘tweeting’ a link to each post you write for Twitter searches to find, but I doubt it would lead to much additional traffic.
Isn’t Twitter just ICQ for “web 2.0″? How long before Twitter is overrun with spam from bots? Will they ever fix their scaling issues (I saw the ‘fail whale’ a fair number of times in my limited dabblings)? Can Twitter save us from swine flu?
Perhaps the real business value of Twitter is that it distracts your competitors while you get on with improving your product, improving your marketing and giving great support.