Unity 3D the clear industry favourite.

The recent growth of Unity 3D in industry locally despite the push in further education for the Unreal Engine (at odds with industry demand) was why we worked with South West College to deliver more training for converting some programmers to Unity Devs. And, of course, to aid collaboration and component re-use for game jams!

Digital Circle spends a lot of time looking at industry trends. We focus on the good of the industry which has a different perspective to support agencies like Invest NI (which has a focus on jobs created) and Northern Ireland Screen (which has a focus on headline-grabbing movie projects).

We couldn’t have delivered some of our interventions without the help of the Arts Council ‘Creative Industries Innovation Fund’ (supported by DCAL) and the Honeycomb Creative Works programme (supported by the SEUPB). The bad news is that both of these programmes will not be active in the coming future.

It is just nice, every now and then, to know that we did the right thing, for the right reasons, with the right outcomes.

If you want to get stuck into Unity, there are heaps of tutorials on their web site and if you’re a small business, you could do well getting support from the InnovateUS programme to get Unity mentoring from South West College. There are also heaps of video training resources in YouTube.

Games are bigger than Hollywood, Apps are bigger than Hollywood. And yet…

Horace Dediu puts together the numbers:

Apple paid $10 billion to developers in calendar 2014

Put another way, in 2014 iOS app developers earned more than Hollywood did from box office in the US.

The curious thing is that even though the medium of apps is swamping other forms of entertainment in all measurable ways, comprehension of the phenomenon is lagging.

It’s again one of the times when I hate being right. I made an impassioned plea to government agencies, visited universities and colleges and even spoke to politicians back when the App Store was still on the horizon and I said “This app thing is going to be massive”. With the App Economy worth 627,000 jobs worldwide, Northern Ireland should have a fair share there and we just dropped the ball. Some people saw the Apple logo and decided not to get involved and some, well, some just stood in the way. They couldn’t see the future or, as in one case, they had a major personal investment in a competing mobile software distribution platform (that ultimately went nowhere).

And remember this is just the Apple side. It doesn’t include ad-based revenue, it doesn’t include Android and Windows phone. It doesn’t include Mac apps and it doesn’t include apps sold outside of the Apple ecosystem.

Back in the early noughties, I attended a meeting where a consultant told Northern Ireland not to even look at the games market. It was too late they said. So we didn’t invest, we gave the responsibility for games development to agencies who didn’t understand, appreciate or even like games. And I don’t expect them to like them; I expect them to follow the best opportunities.

I cannot even begin to count the opportunity cost here; the friction of just being resistant to new ideas and new technology but we pay for it again and again in being conservative in our collective outlook, in mistrusting the novel.


I coulda had class.
I coulda been a contender.
I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.
It was you.


A compound Spanish neologism meaning “child-buyers,” which was coined by Victor Hugo in his novel The Man Who Laughs.

Adopted as a pejorative term used for individuals and entities who manipulate the minds and attitudes of children in a way that will permanently distort their beliefs or worldview.

And we have a new word for those who are opponents of integrated education in Northern Ireland. People who wilfully distort the minds and attitudes of children, installing bitterness and fear where there is innocence and acceptance.

Electric Car Charging Up 50% in a single year!

Proof that journalists can put the negative into anything to get a headline:

Two-thirds of London electric car charging points go unused

Figures for June 2014 show that of the 905 units across the capital, only 324 were used (36%). The remaining 581 were not plugged into at all.

By way of comparison, in June 2013 there were 892 charging units in London and during that month a quarter (24.3%) were used.

However in June 2014 there were a total of 4,678 charging sessions, more than double the 2,243 figure a year earlier. This reflects the quickening take up of electric cars of which there are now about 16,000 in Great Britain.


In essence…There were more charging units available in 2014 and the number of people using them jumped from 24% to 36%. That’s a 50% increase in a single year.

The figures are actually really positive and I am heartened that government is much more optimistic about this than the media.

The encouraging news is that electric car sales in the UK are at last showing signs of improvement, but we still have a charging network that is running far from capacity.

Running a charging network that is not at capacity costs a few feet of space and has a prominent mindspace benefit. Electric cars are a luxury right now but by 2030 they’ll be a necessity. They will be the most cost-effective way to move around – never mind being zero emissions and orders of magnitude more efficient than internal combustion-based cars.

Don’t get used to cheap gasoline

Clearly we’re seeing some of the supply-and-demand statistics play out and we’re seeing low fuel prices, we may see that for a certain amount of time but our medium and long term view is that they will go up.
Ford CEO Mark Fields (link)

Of course they’re going to go up. That’s what they do. They’re only down at the moment to strengthen the Saudi grip on the oil markets because they’re the only oil producers with the reserves to weather out a price war. That major oil producers are playing a game of chicken – oil is currently plentiful (as US oil production has reached a new high not experienced since 1983).

Enjoy the reduced prices for a while because they’re going up again soon.

in our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which we cannot read?

David Cameron just asked:

in our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which we cannot read?

By “we”, he means the security professionals around the world. In effect, he would be demanding keys to banking transactions, online shopping carts, email, WhatsApp, iMessage, movie DRM, WiFi passwords and every other secured transaction on the market. It’s already illegal to refuse to give your password to the security forces but the response from the vendors of these products would not necessarily to be to hand over the keys; it’s more likely to cause them to withdraw their products and services from the islands. Just to use one example, iMessage would simply not be able to operate on these shores and it would therefore be illegal to use it. It would be illegal to use your own VPN, without having some sort of governmental back door in there.

We’ve seen how effective banning guns has been. Yes, we have very few guns deaths but criminals still have them and I think Camerons special advisors are underestimating the ease of criminals in creating their own bespoke networks on the Internet and via wireless.

The fact that criminals are on the public Internet is a boon to law enforcement. It actually gives the government a chance to intercept. The alternatives are worse: criminal networks will run their own messaging networks on the Internet with non-backdoored communication channels or they’ll create their own closed darknets.

The problem with being to see every conversation is that they’ll look at every conversation. Surveillance will become an inexhaustible drain on technology resource; an ever-rising cost as they trawl through data a mile wide but only an inch deep.

While they’re inspecting your To-Do lists for secret words and deciphering your pattern of movements and check-ins on Swarm, they’re going to miss the deliberate attempts.

It’s not whether we want to be able to ready everything, David. It’s whether it’s appropriate, whether it’s necessary and whether it would be effective. It would cripple our digital industries and for all of these reasons, it’s important to see it for what it is. An undeliverable. It’s designed to create fear, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of voters.

Snake Oil

On a related note — a recent report from the Overseas Development Institute found that the UK is currently providing ~£1.2 billion annually in support of exploration work for oil, coal, and gas. Some of this support is via national subsidies (tax breaks, etc), and around “£425 million per year in public finance for overseas exploration including in Siberia in Russia, Brazil, India, and Indonesia.”

The amount of money invested in Sustainable Energy / Renewables is a mere fraction of these numbers. If we did invest at this level, it’s likely we’d lose our utter dependence on fossil fuels within the decade.

And we are currently utterly dependent. It’s this paranoid dependence that forces us to support regimes across the world that are alien to the values we hold dear. It’s this dependence that forces us to intervene in conflicts across the globe in areas where the oil is plentiful (and where regulations on emissions and effluent are much more lax).

Our energy insecurity is such that we cannot look after ourselves. It’s also at the point where fuel poverty is a thing – defined as households which spend more than 10% of income on keeping warm. Even in the “gold coast” of North Down, fuel poverty affects around 40% of households. Between 2006 and 2011, Belfast was the only region of Northern Ireland to see a decrease in fuel poverty levels.

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 20.17.33

The council area formerly known as North Down and Ards (which may be known as East Coast Borough Council or may not) is spending £1 million of ratepayers money on a gun club during the worst recession and public sector cuts regime we’ve ever experienced. The gun club, founded to commemorate the Ulster Special Constabulary (known as the B-Specials to some and as a government-backed murder squad to others) is taking this money with the blessing of all councillors. With that money, we could install over 200 domestic solar photovoltaic systems in the borough. We could install massive PV systems on public buildings and offset huge energy costs. We could also migrate public sector vehicles to electric models and make further savings – not to mention the benefits to the environment.

Pains me to say it…

I’ve always tried my best. When I was setting up QCON, I ignored the advice of naysayers. Similarly when I was writing RPGs for Crucible Design; some said it couldn’t be done. It was the same when I brought the Star Trek Megagame to QCON; it’s not possible. But it was.

I sacrificed a lot to achieve things – lost things along the way. It was the same when I set up MACSys – I remember being advised by a (now) director of InvestNI not to start because his company was going to crush us. They didn’t. Not by a long shot.

There are things that didn’t work. A sustainable accelerator/incubator for instance; mostly because I was unwilling to mortgage the startups of NI for pennies to a peppery developer who didn’t value startups at all. But I guess it was also my fault; maybe I just wasn’t the right guy to run it. Too grumpy, too suspicious, too pessimistic and definitely not naive enough.

But what about tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day.

Disruption in 3 stages

(Copyright Shai Agassi, care of TED)

Unlike oil, electric-based miles will follow Moore’s Law. With oil, we are subject to the uncertainties of the market, to the potential disruptions caused by unrest, the action of cartels and the varying taxation of governments.

The idea that energy is actually abundant is revolutionary. Our entire economy is based on energy-scarcity; we use it to power our gadgets, move around in cars, gather, clean and cook our food, light our nights and hear our homes. The idea of abundant energy is disruptive and we can take control.

Disruption in three stages.

  1. Efficiency – take control of your environment. Stop lighting rooms that are unoccupied. I’ve considered just throwing the master switch on the junction box as the last thing I do before bed. It’s an extreme but it’s not unreasonable. And upgrade your light bulbs and your computers to take advantages of new lower power technology.

  2. Renewables – get on the bandwagon. Start with micro generation and work on growing it. If you’re not in a sunny area, put up a wind turbine. See if your external lights can be powered by the wind alone.

  3. Software – we can do some magnificent things with software. Maybe we can use it to turn off lights or power down plasma screens or even to just boil exactly the amount of water we need for a cuppa.

The Mirage of Economic Prosperity and the Bitter Generation

Malachi O’Doherty isn’t a believer. He’s written a lengthy and repetitive note complaining about the lack of a real economy in Northern Ireland. And if he is reflective of the philosophers in the province then he’s right.


“There’s no such thing as the NI economy and we’ll never be self-sufficient financially, such is our reliance on the Exchequer, but attracting more visitors can at least help us to pay our way”

This patronising opener relegates our region to knitting jumpers and mass-producing cultural knickknacks, or as he puts it “little ceramic orangemen”. We’ll all end up driving minivans around the Belfast murals and stopping at a street corner to comment sadly about what might have been without seats packed full of ghoulish tourists.

But smaller nations have prospered. Estonia endured years under the boot of the Soviet Regime and yet now boasts an economy that is not only an economic marvel but a socially and culturally progressive wonder.

The “Northern Ireland doesn’t have an economy” refrain is something I hear from the Nationalists in our midst. It’s part of the whole “Failed State” rhetoric and they do their damnedest to ensure that it remains true. That we maintain a massive welfare bill, that our people are spending their cognitive surplus in identity feuds and not in being productive members of society. And while they are happy to maintain Northern Ireland as an open sore on the British economy, the leads parties of Unionism are equally keen to maintain the status quo – citing that our dependence on the British economy is exactly the reason to stay in it.

Malachi is right that we will not progress while our leadership is wasting its time on identity disputes. We maintain segregated schools, much to the horror of thinking people everywhere who always point to that as the root of the identity issues in Northern Ireland. It’s so obvious and yet why don’t our leaders do something about it?

The Corporation Tax bill was presented yesterday and I have to believe that it will not pass through Parliament (mostly because Labour hates it and there’s not enough time before the election). So I believe the UK government sold us a sop in return for our compliance. But, in this complex negotiation it has to be said that our politicians were also hiding their true card under the table. As if a hasty deadline and economic hardship could force change in Northern Ireland. I don’t believe the Conservatives will deliver on Corporation Tax but then I also don’t believe that our leaders will delivery on peace, reconciliation, the economy, restoration of education, maintenance of health and everything else they may have committed to. We just have another holding pattern while everyone outside of Northern Ireland waits for the “bitter generation” to just grow old and die. Civilisation, as represented by almost everywhere else, can wait for us to grow up.

I deliberately used Malachi’s desert analogy in the title because of something that people forget about a mirage. A mirage is an image of a far-off place, transported into view via optical refraction of light in the atmosphere. In this case, we can see a mirage of a prosperous economy, we can even see the mirage of a society that is finally happy with their own identity. But we will never reach that mirage by repeating the mistakes of the last seventeen years.