Monday, May 30, 2016

but what does it actually do?

Now that the social features are finalized, I finally got around to adding a new "what is Strobee?" video. So we go - a super-brief overview of the whole system:

And, (because I forgot all the marketing points), here's the higher level overview with more buzzwords ("say action cam more", "don't forget facebook"!):

Thursday, April 14, 2016

in-browser video splicing

This is a short post about one of the coolest technologies in Strobee - in-browser video splicing & editing. Editing and streaming video requires a lot of processing power, and introduces lots of latency, but here at Strobee we're able to build custom video streams quickly and cheaply - inside every user's browser. The secret is to do this in Javascript without the user even knowing that their web-browser is doing the video splicing (editing short clips together).

In the old days, video editing happened entirely offline in a desktop app. I originally learnt to edit using Media100, but today most people use Adobe Premier, Apple iMovie, Microsoft Movie Maker or Sony Vegas. This is how people who need total control create video - people who want to fill the screen with thousands of options.

So many controls in Lightworks

But these apps take a lot of time to learn, and most people don't have time to do that just to make a holiday video - my Gran is never going to be able to use Movie Maker, however motivated she is. So we needed simpler video editing.

In answer to this, video editing platforms have become automated, and massively simplified, such as Magisto or WeVideo. These are online applications that enable easy video upload, and sharing from your phone, tablet or desktop.

The problem with these online video editors is that they aren't as interactive as the old desktop apps -  you upload your footage to your provider in the cloud, and then wait to preview every action that you see. The waiting is caused by the expensive video splicing happening in the cloud, and causes a really ragged user experience - not what we want for Strobee at all:

Clips being made into a steam in the cloud, before being delivered to your phone

With the advent of HTML 5 video, it's possible to splice video in the browser. At Strobee we hijacked browser's tools that were originally designed for variable quality streaming, to instead perform browser-side video splicing.

The way this works is that each bee (our short video clips) is stored as a static file on the server, and is requested by the browser. The browser uses our api to request file-names, based on the users's preferences. The required static files are then requested from the server, and patches so they can be inserted into the video stream. This means that we can use all the usual static file caching techniques to reduce cost (Memcache, Cloudflare etc...), but give the user custom video streams:

Clips delivered straight to your phone, with much less expensive work done in cloud
It's these custom streams that allows Strobee to give users a different video every-time they come to the site, even every-time they perform an action (fast-forward, repeat a bee, change the length of a bee, preview a user's stories). Even better it means that the video never has to end - we can keep adding bees as fast as the user watches them, even recycling already downloaded clips to save bandwidth.

Strangely, the most complicated part has been creating a simple UI that people understand - letting people edit video while they think they are just navigating a friend-list.

One final feature that we're proud of, is that the user can even download their video. This uses just the same process - the composition happens in the user's browser, splicing the video in memory. We look forward to finding out how this scales - both on the server side (when a user requests all their bees as a single video file), and client side (when browser tries to build the user's video in memory).

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Strobee, the story so far

For the past few months I've been working on a re-imagining of video-sharing. But I'll set someone smarter than me summarize it:
Since Jon's announced that (even with slightly dodgy spelling), I might as well write a post a little about the project...
This has been a long road, starting with a GCSE (a high school qualification) in Media Studies many years ago. I spent a very happy few days with a bunch of friends creating a trailer for "Starship Troopers". We discovered that by far the most exciting approach (for 15 year olds without any video editing experience), was to find all the short clips of people shooting guns (it was quite a violent film), and put them together. We could get away with this in-class as we'd just been taught about a technique called "montage". We got a good grade for the project, but moved onto other things. (Apologies for video/sound quality, it was recovered from VHS tapes).

More recently, and due to a lot of travelling and cycling, I bought an early action-camera. Compared to a SLR camera or smartphone, these are great because they're robust and easy to use. After a trip to Thailand I was left with loads (32Gb) of footage that was mostly wobbly, with noisy audio, and generally a bit shit, so I tried editing it down into something people would want to watch (here's an old blog post). I tried a few attempts at "professional" editing by carefully constructing a narrative, but I came to the conclusion that there wasn't enough footage to build one. Plus, there was no chance to go back and shoot more. In the end I found that taking many short clips was a very robust and fast way of manually editing a movie from bad footage.

The greatest observation that came out of this process was that selecting the short clip to use wasn't very hard. As long as there was sufficient variety, and the clips kept moving, people wanted to watch more. Much more than if I tried to show them a wobbly 40 minute clip of me trying to feed peanuts to an elephant. What I thought was interesting video, wasn't interesting at all to other people - they just wanted to see all the different things I did on my holiday.

When I found myself with some free time, I decided to automate the process - so Strobee was started as a bit of a startup. This started off as a desktop software project, but it became clear that the project belonged on the web. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Interactive Dimensioning of Parametric Models

Eurographics 2015
Tom Kelly, Peter Wonka & Pascal Müller 

Here's my paper that'll be presented Eurographics this year. It's a screen space technique for positioning control handles on parametric models. [pdf | ppt | egdoi]

Fastforward (brief introduction) video:

Academic video:

Presentation (not quite rehearsed enough) at the conference:

Here are some useful links: Download CityEngine 2015 (requires registration and DRM stuff after installation), explore the handles tutorial, and try some examples with handles.


We propose a solution for the dimensioning of parametric and procedural models. Dimensioning has long been a staple of technical drawings, and we present the first solution for interactive dimensioning: a dimension line positioning system that adapts to the view direction, given behavioral properties. After proposing a set of design principles for interactive dimensioning, we describe our solution consisting of the following major components. First, we describe how an author can specify the desired interactive behavior of a dimension line. Second, we propose a novel algorithm to place dimension lines at interactive speeds. Third, we introduce multiple extensions, including chained dimension lines, controls for different parameter types (e.g. discrete choices, angles), and the use of dimension lines for interactive editing. Our results show the use of dimension lines in an interactive parametric modeling environment for architectural, botanical, and mechanical models.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Eurographics is a European graphics conference! The review emails never make it clear what the scoring scheme is (it seems to be only published to reviewers). Therefore the ranges (for 2015) follow...

Overall Recommendation Score:

0 - 1 - very poor
1 - 2 - poor
2 - 3 - clearly below EG standard
3 - 4 - dubious - not quite acceptable
4 - 5 - marginal - only just acceptable
5 - 6 - acceptable
6 - 7 - good
7 - 8 - very good
8 - 9 - excellent

"An average of at least six is required for acceptance, but might not quite be enough."


0 - 1 - Very unconfident, really just a guess
1 - 2 - Rather unconfident, but I know a bit
2 - 3 - Moderately confident, I know as much as most
3 - 4 - Pretty confident, I know this area well
4 - 5 - Extremely confident, I consider myself an expert

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Unwritten Procedural Modeling with the Straight Skeleton

...and a year later we have the every-so-slightly improved final thesis: (doipdf). Still more typos than I'd like, but finished! I apologise for the length - it would have been much more readable at half the pages - but Glasgow has a minimum-word count on its thesis submissions.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

art from the code trenches

 One of the up-sides of programming graphics is that our bugs are art...