The final Reading Geek Night of 2010 saw a slightly smaller, yet just as rowdy, crowd of geeks gather at the Copa bar due to the festive season, but all were treated to a couple of excellent presentations to round off the first full year of geek nights in Reading.
We were also joined by members of the Berkshire branch of the BCS who timed their Christmas drinks party to coincide with #rdggeek14, and kindly provided party hats and cake for attendees to enjoy.
Simon Bostock: A self-help manual for cyborgs
When mentioning the word "cyborg," most people think of the typical fantasy-based genetically engineered form that's part human, part robot, with lasers for eyes. Or maybe it's the other kind of cyborg that pops in to your mind. Whatever takes you fancy...
The basic definition a cyborg is "an organism that has both artificial and natural systems." Simon Bostock likes to take the idea of an "artificial system" to a different conclusion to the mainstream: it can be anything that helps us to be better people. He's careful to distinguish what he means by better: we're not talking better as in the philanthropic stance, but instead better at what we do, and that's different for every person.
Simon encouraged people to consider the fact that, given his audience, everyone was a cyborg. Think of the artificial systems that you use every single day to enhance your own body's performance: glasses or contact lenses to help you see better; orthotics in your shoes to correct your posture; a notebook to help you remember what you need to buy at the shop; the camera you store digital images on; the paracetamol to ease your headache; and, the current King of Cyborgia: the mobile phone.
Simon's philosophical and thought-provoking talk was summed up with the question that: in the past there was quite often a direct correlation between the amount of knowledge you had and the amount of power you wielded. Who's to say that in the future, the power may be given to those people who manage to offload much of that knowledge to the systems they've built, and so allow them to focus on being better. So "build systems, models, frameworks, toolkits; dump the rest."
Chris Alexander: Hacking the Kinect
Just days after the Kinect was released, the first open-source code for controlling it was released under the OpenKinect banner: a project that has continued growing rapidly in size and coverage. The Kinect sensor can be plugged via USB bus directly into and controlled by any *nix box. The current OpenKinect library provides the ability to control the RGB camera, depth sensor, and motion-sensing technology that tracks 48 points of movement, running full-motion tracking of the human body at 30 frames per second.
One of Chris' university robotics projects is using the Kinect's motion detection systems to control a robotic arm: an idea which neatly linked back to Simon's earlier talk on cyborgs and external systems. Chris' talk was interesting and well-presented as usual, and he made hacking what is an incredibly advanced piece of hardware and software look remarkably simple!
The future of reading geek night
Jim Anning has now confirmed that the next year's worth of #rdggeek events have been booked at Copa. In a follow-up post to his presentation, Chris re-emphasised the point that these events wouldn't happen if it wasn't for the hard work of both Jim and every person who has presented over the last 14 months. But there's the rub: we need more people to present!
So, the important point is: Reading Geek Night needs you! If you've got something – anything – that you think would be of interest to a like-minded group of geeks, please get in contact with Jim. It's a fantastic platform to get yourself (or your work) noticed, with little pressure (everyone there wants you to do well), and is a great jumping-off point for public speaking.