Saturday, October 20, 2012


Three months ago today, we said goodbye to our boy Eli.

People ask me nearly every day - "Are you okay?"

No. I'm not okay.

I'm pretty far from okay.

Some days, enjoyable things happen. I keep trying to learn new things, as is my way. I keep trying to experience new things. I try and practice my skills and stay fit. I try and get a decent night's sleep. I try and turn up to work, and I try to make it all matter.

If my heart wasn't so broken, I think I'd probably be having a great time of things.

I wish I was someone who could find enough joy in my otherwise charmed life to make a bridge over this chasm, somehow walk to the other side.

Don't ask me if I'm okay. This isn't the answer you're looking for.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


This year should have been the best year of our lives. I have spent the year working at my new company, Boss Alien, creating a number one game for iPhone and iPad. I’ve had an incredible amount of fun, and we did a fantastic job - CSR Racing is currently the top grossing app on the UK App store, a month after we released. My wife became pregnant in October, and we have spent the year both preparing for a new addition to our family.

Elijah was born on Thursday, 19th of July. He died the next day.

This year is the worst year of my life. Nothing can capture in words just how devastating the last few weeks have been for myself and my wife.

We are lucky to have our boy, Gabriel, who has been a true shining light in our lives - without him I have no idea how we would cope. He is a distraction and a joy, and every day he fills our hearts with love and laughter.

He also reminds us, every day - every minute - of what we are missing, and what Elijah could and should have been to us.

Coming to terms with his loss is hard - the hardest thing I have ever had to do. At times it feels impossible. I will never be able to forget the events of the day he was born, and right now I can’t say that I will ever forgive some of the people involved in his birth and death for their complacency and lack of care and attention. He should be with us right now. There were many opportunities to change the course of the last couple of weeks of my wife’s pregnancy, and her labour, and ultimately his delivery. In due course, I will no doubt detail all the events, but I believe we had our boy stolen from us.

I’m furious. I’m burning inside. I have never been as angry as I am right now.

Could we have done anything differently? Of course we could. We could have done more research ourselves. We could have demanded an earlier caesarian section as soon as my wife began to show signs of high blood pressure (an indicator of pre-eclampsia). We could have done more research on the potential health effects of how she was feeling during the last two weeks of pregnancy. Knowing this, and knowing that we could have changed the outcome ourselves, makes me angry with myself. If I had just paid more attention to my wife instead of being so focused on making a stupid goddamned video game, maybe our boy would be alive. No - there’s no maybe here. He would be with us.

Truly though, I’m furious with the various doctors and midwives in whom we placed our trust and the life of our boy, and who have failed him and us. People who have a job to ensure that they support, care and advise mothers during their pregnancy, who failed to act on the signs of my wife’s blood pressure changes. Who failed to pay attention on the day, when we arrived at the hospital after her waters broke three weeks early. Who failed to pay attention to the bleeding during my wife’s labour. Who failed to properly monitor Eli for foetal distress.
When we arrived at the hospital, Elijah was alive - we will never know if he was truly well and healthy, but the only indicator we had, a heart trace about 30 minutes after we got there, showed that he was definitely alive.

The sequence of events leading to his death - leading to us withdrawing his life support - are something that I would not wish to happen to anyone. I can’t even contemplate writing them down again here. I have them detailed elsewhere, and when the time comes for investigations and questions, I’ve captured as much as I can before the memory becomes too hazy, but the crystal sharp moments - watching my wife bleed on the floor. When it became obvious that they couldn’t find a heartbeat. When he was born, breech, naturally, after us waiting three hours for a theatre to be available for surgery. When I watched the Trevor Mann staff desperately work on him for 15 minutes, throwing everything they could possibly do for him. Watching my poor boy on the ventilator with wires and tubes covering him. These moments will never leave me.

We spent a day hoping beyond hope that Eli would come through this trial. As the day progressed, it became clear that hope had gone. Despite everything they were doing, Eli wasn’t stabilising on life support, he had severe brain damage, bleeding on his lungs, heart failure. When he began going into multiple organ failure, we had to decide whether to keep trying or accept the unacceptable.

I can never forgive myself for deciding to turn off his life support.

I know it was the right thing to do, for all the right reasons, but this is a decision that no-one should ever have to make.

I know that we should not have had to make that decision. He should be alive, keeping us awake, demanding and crying and living.

I should be awake at 3am giving him a feed and changing nappies. Instead, I am awake at 3am trying to explain to myself why this void, this chasm in my heart, will never be filled with his life and his laughter and his presence.

Today is Elijah’s funeral. We had eight months to get to know him and to plan our lives with him. We had a day to see him and hold him. We have today to say goodbye. We have the rest of our lives to try and accept that he’s not here.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

CSR Racing is live!

After what has been one of the most crazy years of my life (and probably all the Alien's lives!) we have managed to get CSR Racing "shipped". No, not shipped ... "in a box". No, not that either ... hrm. Mastered? Gold disk?

None of these things apply, but we're still at (mumble) million players and rising after a week. The experience of making a mobile game has been bloody awesome fun. If you want more details, head over to the official Boss Alien website and get involved - we're hoping to put up some background stories and technical articles over the next couple of months, if we ever get a free moment.

In some ways, this is a huge anticlimax - we've been in "two weeks" mode for about six months now, so we mostly feel well past the point where this should have been out of our hands and into the hands of players. It's also a bit frustrating - there's hundreds of features and fixes big and small that we want to see in our game. Mental eh?

But the overriding feeling right now is - a mixture of incredible glee and relief.

We've just made our first game as a new studio, and we're number one in the US as we speak - we are beating Google Chrome in the free app charts for iPhone and iPad, and we're top of the grossing chart. I think that we've officially done as well as we could ever hope to do, in just over a year.

I keep saying we, because this has been a fantastic team effort - from everyone inside Boss Alien, to all the friends who helped us on the project (Sprung, Steve S, Anthony J, Rockett and Taz, ShortRound, Trailer Farm and everyone else who pitched in - see our Facebook page for links to their respective sites). Lastly, all the friends and families who have managed to keep us sane and fill us with love. We've not been working crazy hours too much (we don't do that shizzle, it's not the Boss Alien way) but it has been tricky to keep all the kids happy. Nicky, Sal and Emma - you girls are saints.

I'll be putting up more stuff in the near future, as we can a) talk about the game now and b) might have some actual, honest to god free time. That'll be nice ;)

It's a Gas

I'm hosting this guest post by Toby at the request of someone who shall remain nameless. This post IS NOT ENDORSED BY ANY COMPANY, IS A PERSONAL OPINION AND IS HUMOUR. now that we've got that out the way ...

We at Boss Alien have been excitedly watching CSR Racing's progress in the charts; and we're all pretty chuffed. From the small beginnings of the first line of code, to a veritable behemoth; we've released to a furore of acclaim.

Reading the App reviews, and various forum posts from around the world has been de rigueur for a few weeks, and believe me we are paying attention.

One of the more contentious issues has been the idea that you require Gas (Fuel) to race.

Believe it or not, the Gas (Fuel) mechanic arose not to enhance monetisation; but to protect users from unhealthily long play sessions. One of our testers, Jim, was brought to the brink of ruin after having played the game non-stop for 4 days. He was a mess.

At this point we realised we had a hit! Also, that we had a problem.

After much deliberation, we realised that we couldn't unleash something so dangerous into the wild. This isn't China. So, we developed a variety of ideas on how to solve the problem. One involved having a "Play Session" timer always on screen. Another, would go through your Facebook and Twitter feeds, keeping you up to date with the real world and showing pictures of your loved ones.

Neither truly dealt with the problem. Thus the solution was to limit the amount of time you could actually play in one session, hence: Gas.

We are all aware of how difficult it is to be released from the vice grips of compulsive, addictive and satisfying gameplay. So, we've come up with a list of things that you could do, whilst you wait for your next Pip of Gas to arrive.

Eat: The list of things you can prepare within 8 minutes isn't a lot, but Beans and Toast should contain enough sustenance to keep you going.
Sleep: Just a quick nap, you'll wake up when your fuel is back. You'll be fine. Your body needs it.
Go outside: It's at least mildly sunny here in Brighton right now. Go catch a few rays.
Talk to your family: Remember, they love you very much. Maybe they can play the game whilst you go and have a shower.
Write an article about Gas, and post it to a blog.

Anyway. My 8 minutes is up, I've got to… you know….

Sunday, May 6, 2012

I'll remember this weekend

I have something of a fetish for stats and metrics, and this weekend has been wonderful for watching graphs of numbers. Hopefully I'll be able to extrapolate some useful information from our current set of numbers that will apply to our first title. I might sound coy here, and hopefully all will be clear in a few more weeks. Interesting times!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Thanks EA!

A year late, but as they say, better late than never!

Saturday, March 3, 2012


Are all toddlers crazy, or is it just mine?

Friday, March 2, 2012


Is a poem
Meant to be read
Meant to be read swiftly
To the world
Meant to be read
In whispers
To friends and self
Meant to be written
Over and over
Until it works
And occasionally
It appears

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


In Science Fiction, there's really only two types of engineers that matter - embodied by Montgomery Scott and Geordie La Forge, respectively. (Sure, there's Kaylee from Firefly, R2D2 is good in a fix ... but you'll see where I'm going in a second).

You either get stuff done, or you don't. Anyone who doesn't get stuff done simply should not be calling themselves an engineer. And of those who do, you have the ones who say "It'll take a week" and then do it in an hour (the Scotty approach) and those who say "It'll take a week" and it takes a week (The La Forges).

While I have great respect for the Scot, that's simply not how I roll - padding my estimates leads to a scenario where all estimates are simply ignored, because everyone knows they are padded.

Which leaves me in the current situation, where nearly every estimate I give appears to be met with incredulity and ridicule - even when they are repeatedly borne out, as any later analysis can demonstrate.

So - how do you, as an engineer, handle your estimates? And when you give an estimate, and someone argues with the numbers - how do you approach that conversation?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Those who can, teach

I'm probably coming pretty late to the party, but I've been working through the Udacity online "Introduction to AI and Robotics" course ( ) the last few days, and it is, in a word, fantastic. This is truly the best way I've seen or found to learn something technical. The tools and website are absolutely fantastic. The first course unit takes a couple of hours to work through, and it is split up into bitesize (1-2 minute) youtube clips, interspersed with "enter your answer" pages and programming tests, in the browser IDE. Everything is done in the browser window. If you don't understand a section of the presentation - simply rewind or restart that youtube clip! If you need to refer back to a previous section - click on the link! If you don't get what's required for a test - look ahead, see the answer, then go back and re-take the test!

As a platform for education, it's a fundamentally revolutionary step - yes, I know, Khan academy is moving us in this direction, and MIT do online courses, etc - but try it, you'll see what I mean. However, this isn't the most important part of the course - the most important part of the course is the content and the teachers.

These courses are being taught (and introduced) by the people who are at the top of their field - literally the best people in the world right now to teach the material. For example, the CS373 course on artificial intelligence and robotics is being taught by Sebastian Thrun, who has been a driving force behind the Google AI car team and the Darpa challenge winners for automated vehicles. This potentially shifts the adage from "those who can't ..." to "those who can ...". It's a hugely efficient use of their time (given anyone in this situation will certainly be passing on some of their knowledge to their team and upcoming replacements at some point) to be able to, instead, pass it on to anyone in the world who wishes to learn from the masters of the art. This replaces books, written by people at the top of their game, hopefully disseminated to some degree (but invariably at cost in time, space and money) with a "record once, play back infinitely" course for all.

It's bleeding great.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Weapon of choice

After 7 months of fairly hardcore OSX usage (on a relatively underpowered Mac Mini) I'm finding using Windows both less relevant and, given my latest project focus, harder to use as a default development platform. More and more of the tools and packages I want to use are freeware, and the more I dig into open source hardware, the more I realise that using Windows to develop in is not the best choice. And the correct choice is, obviously - Unix.

Not OSX? I hear you whisper ... Oh yes, you wanted me to say that. Except the really obvious thing I've found over the last 7 months is that I spend a lot of my time in a terminal window, ssh'd into a remote box somewhere doing stuff the old fashioned way. In fact, my machine is becoming increasingly less relevant - the relevant machine is in the cloud, or in that cupboard over there, or under the stairs ... The glitzy GUI is really a thin veneer over a command line which takes me to where I want to actually be. Increasingly, I'm finding my windows-centric CLI skills give more cumbersome results than the equivalent linux results. I've got used to using Bash and Python for the small stuff, I can just about steer Vim between file creation and edits and I'm getting comfortable with greps, finds and some of the other linux CLI utils. OSX makes this effectively seemless, helping me transition between my Mac and a remote Ubuntu/BusyBox/whatever distro. Windows just puts spanners in the way - the file system is different, the tools for security are different, all of the commandline tools I'm getting used to work slightly differently.

So I'm biting the bullet, and from this month, I'll be using raw Ubuntu for my local development. Sure, I could set up a VM or a box in the cloud, but this means I can stop scratching my head and fighting the urge to work inside the prison I've built for myself. No More spending an hour hunting for the Windows install of something before giving up and switching to a different language or my Ubuntu VM.

Once that's set up, I'll be delving into CMUSphinx4, PocketSphinx and Arduino. After that, world domination.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


I've recently bought an Arduino Uno and a small selection of components. I have high hopes that my dream of a voice-controlled house can take a step closer to reality - the only remaining missing piece of the puzzle is the time and inclination to glue everything together from software stack down to the box the end result goes in for my first prototype. There's something quite primal about making motors and sensors work - tapping in some numbers on a keyboard and watching a servo spin is darned cool.