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Wednesday, September 4th, 2013 10:12 pm
I've been sharing links to this all over social media since I heard about it earlier today. "Robot Turtles" is a board game project on Kickstarter by Dan Shapiro (a fellow Mudder). From the looks of it, it's a fun game that's designed to teach kids (3-8 years old, he says) some basic programming concepts along the way (and that gives the kids the chance to be in charge of the adult playing with them: always fun). It sounds like there are multiple layers of complexity, depending on what a given kid is ready to handle.

Have a look! It's rocketed past its funding goal in the day or two that it's been out, and it sounds like the game design and logistics for production are pretty much set.

(While I'm at it, what are some other good board games for the preschool set? Bonus points if they're sneakily educational like this one.)
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Saturday, February 11th, 2012 04:04 pm
My "Physics of Video Games" talk at AlmaCon went beautifully. (The con as a whole seems to be going really well, too. Thank goodness!) Many thanks to those of you who suggested ideas: some of those confirmed the value of thoughts I'd already had and others filled exactly the gaps that I had been worried about finding good examples for. My turnout was surprisingly good. I got nods of familiarity and/or understanding for lots of my "good physics" examples, loads of laughter for some of my "bad physics" examples, and some great questions and discussion when talking about using games to teach the scientific method.

In case you're curious, here's a list of videos that I used (though I often showed only a relevant clip from each). I kinda wish that I'd videotaped it!

Good physics examples:
Angry Birds (as well as some graphs of bird motion).
World of Goo (another physics puzzle game)
Dwarf Fortress (fluid flow & melting points)
Myth: The Fallen Lords (an early example of a really complete physics environment)
Skyrim (lots of cheese) (this got a laugh, but illustrated the quality of modern physics engines)

Bad (or rather, unrealistic) physics examples, that might be either good or bad for game play:
Skyrim bug with a sabertooth tiger (this had them laughing louder and louder for about a minute straight)
Resonance (flash game where jumps have no momentum)
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (decent laugh here; I just had a short little clip on loop)
Grand Theft Auto IV (big laugh, but as I pointed out, in many cases this behavior probably makes the game more fun)
Portal (a fictional element in an otherwise realistic game)
Portal infinite fall (what happened to conservation of energy?)
Mario 3D Land (steering during a jump)
Mario 64 (kicks in midair push you higher)

Video games teaching the scientific method (with excerpts from the full paper)
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Thursday, February 9th, 2012 06:14 pm
I'm looking for ideas!

I'm giving a talk on "The Physics of Gaming" at a small convention this weekend (run by our college anime/gaming club). My plan is to first talk about "good physics" (games where some aspect(s) of physics are done well and important), then about "bad physics" (games where some aspect of physics is horribly inaccurate), and finally about how gamers wind up thinking like scientists (based largely on "Scientific Habits of Mind in Virtual Worlds" by Steinkuehler and Duncan).

What I'd really like would be some neat, current examples of "good" and "bad", and ideally YouTube videos to illustrate them. I've got some ideas already, but any suggestions would be welcome. Thoughts, all you gamers out there?
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Monday, January 17th, 2011 10:26 pm
[Sorry this one's a bit long, but there was a lot of great stuff on that final day.]

Friday, January 7:
Our final day at sea began with Peter Sagal leading a quiz show featuring the various entertainers. It was listed on the schedule as "Hey Hey... I'm Clever!", but after one of his comments about a pet peeve at Monday's Q&A session it was renamed "Hey Hey... I'm An Asshole!" Much like the Q&A session, this was a great chance to see a bunch of the performers a bit less formally and just cracking jokes with each other: those were some of my favorite parts of the cruise. This also may have been the only time all week that we saw David Rees's deadpan nonchalance break down into laughter. (If folks eventually get video of this online, I'll try to post the appropriate clip.)

After lunch, I ventured to the game room once again and entered the Pirate Fluxx tournament, competing for the chance to win a copy of the not-yet-released game. Sadly, Fluxx is always very random and we didn't have nearly enough time (or speed) to do lots of rounds to even that out... or at least, that's my excuse. :) While waiting for one particularly long round to finish at another table, my table played a game of "Once Upon a Time": it's a fascinating game about collaborative storytelling, but I got the sense that it could easily be prone to rules arguments and misunderstandings between players. I'd like to try it again now that I've got the gist of it. Once I was eventually bumped out of the Fluxx tournament, I played "Apples to Apples" for a while before it was time for the show.

The final evening of the cruise featured an all-request show by JoCo (we'd been turning in request cards all week), though it opened with the cruise director telling us how much he and the staff loved us. My ex-students Liana and Phil wound up sitting next to us, and as we discussed the week during intermission Liana commented that the last thing she'd expected from the trip was to find herself sitting next to her physics professor with both of us singing all the words to "I Feel Fantastic". JoCo sang lots of great songs, many of them more obscure (and many of those with more than a few stumbles along the way), and it was wonderful. There was a Fancy Pants Parade (and competition). We got a fun explanation of the underlying story for "Under the Pines", and generally lots of other great songs (including a cover of "Birdhouse In Your Soul"). Our one disappointment was that JoCo started to lead into my request ("You Ruined Everything", a favorite that Kim and I have been thinking of a lot lately), but held off because he hoped his daughter would come back from getting pizza first, and then he never got back to it. But to counterbalance that, JoCo's own request for the night was a song by John Roderick (with JoCo, Paul, and Storm as backup) called "The Commander Thinks Aloud" that was just amazing. I'll embed it below; Peter Sagal called it "[his] fav[orit]e cruise moment (among many)" (many indeed... but this is the one he tweeted about three times). All in all, this was a great final show for the week.

After that was dinner (a fancy dinner show by the staff); toward the end, one table and then more and more spontaneously got up, faced JoCo's table, and started singing "This was a triumph. I'm making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS." I helped Kim pack and fill out our comment cards, and then I went up to spend a bit of time at the farewell party on the back deck of the ship. I said goodbye to a number of people I'd met during the week, and I chatted with some famous people. I told Wil Wheaton that a friend of mine remembered meeting him when Will appeared at his dorm room to visit his roommate Dean, and Wil filled in a detail: Wil knew Dean because Dean was trying to steal away Wil's girlfriend at the time, a project in which he eventually succeeded. (Who knew?) I also expressed my admiration for Peter Sagal, and found that he did indeed remember [livejournal.com profile] ukulele from his show ("How could I forget a name like that?" he asked). After some final goodbyes and a brief attempt at stargazing, I headed off to bed.

The next morning was simple: just a final breakfast and then a wait until our turn to disembark. It was a little sad seeing all of our cruise partners scatter away, but hey, we may all get to do this again someday. (Another cruise is almost certainly in the works.)

Video evidence: I haven't seen any significant footage of the quiz show up yet: people seem to be uploading mostly in order. However, it looks like at least one person has uploaded the full request show: here's the first part (which is actually entirely Paul and Storm doing administrative stuff), but it should lead directly into later bits with actual music.

Finally, John Roderick singing "The Commander Thinks Aloud", a tribute to the astronauts who died when the space shuttle Columbia broke up on reentry. I'm tempted to embed the relevant segment of the full concert recording, since it's a bit higher quality and includes John Roderick's introduction to the song, but for now I'll stick with the music:
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Wednesday, January 12th, 2011 09:55 pm
When I first mentioned that Kim and I were going on Jonathan Coulton's Caribbean cruise, [livejournal.com profile] ukelele said "Blog or die, of course." We didn't have internet on the cruise (we were members of the Wifi Temperance Brigade), and work's been insane since we got back. But I think I've caught my breath enough to start posting brief summaries on a 10-day delay. Alas, I'd planned to take lots of pictures, but our digital camera failed the first morning and only worked sporadically later on. (I'm pretty sure these ~3000 Flickr photos are publicly viewable, though.) Despite that, it was a fantastic trip in almost every way. So on to Day 1!

Sunday, Jan. 2:
Kim and I got to Fort Lauderdale, Florida Saturday night. Sunday morning, we recognized some fellow "Sea Monkeys" while checking out of the hotel (easy enough: he had an Aperture Science T-shirt and she was wearing a USB necklace). We took the shuttle to the Holland America port together. We boarded the ms Eurodam and settled into our cabin (with its ocean view... through a lifeboat). At lunch, we played "spot the nerds": our ~380 nerds were hidden among thousands of senior citizens and vacationing families, but some of them surprised us. We registered and got our name badges and bags of goodies while admiring the geeky shirts of the people around us.

There was a Sail Away party on the back deck of the ship, where we saw JoCo and Wil Wheaton and other famous people mingling with the crowd. Once we were underway, we headed up to the opening reception for our group. After a few minutes came the first (and most surprising) Moment of Awesome: from across the room, I heard someone exclaim, "It's our Physics professor!" and suddenly two of my advanced E&M students from Claremont were running up to give me a hug (Liana and Phil, both from Pitzer). We chatted and caught up for a while, and then Kim went to change for dinner. I socialized with various people for a few more minutes and then did the same.

Our 8:00 dinner was perfectly pleasant (we shared a table with a couple more or less our age), and after it ended (around 9:30!) Kim went to bed and I went down to the tabletop gaming room for a bit. I jumped into a game of Telestrations: I'd never heard of it before, but it was a delightful cross between Pictionary and telephone. (This example captures the dynamic as the sketchbooks are passed from player to player quite well.) After that, it was time for a late night movie, which wound up being the RiffTrax version of The Happening (these are the guys who did MST3K, and two of them were on the ship). A terrible, terrible movie... so naturally they made it pretty funny. And at last, somewhere past 1am, I finally went to bed.

(Edited to add:) Video evidence: There are a few videos from the opening reception now online, including the opening comments by Paul (not Storm) and by JoCo. (Some funny bits, but mostly just setting the stage.) A video taken a few minutes later is just a crowd shot, but Kim and I can be seen standing at the bar about 5 seconds in (I'm in a grey shirt and she's wearing green that's dark and shadowed in back). More interesting(?) is a video of David Rees sharpening a pencil (no, really, and he takes it seriously: it's 8 minutes long). I'm actually right behind him in a grey T-shirt for a good bit of the video: I first show up at 2:42, and there's a glimpse of my face around 5:20. (Kim had already left by then.) Finally, here is some video of the game room, and those are my legs (in khaki slacks) and torso (in a green shirt) visible at the 15 second mark at the back left corner of the table playing Telestrations (right behind a girl named Adrienne drawing a fantastic voodoo doll).
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Sunday, November 1st, 2009 08:21 pm

A month or two ago, Kim and I started playing Rock Band; it's a lot of fun. I've mostly been playing drums, in part because I've always been a little interested and in part on the theory that the skills there could transfer reasonably well to the real instrument. Better than the guitar, anyway!

I began to wonder if someone would eventually create "Orchestra Hero" so I could indulge my love of classical music, too. Kim and I spotted some significant difficulties, like:

  • Shorter songs are good for game play, so rock works well but classical less so. Playing through a single piece (or even a single movement) could take up a whole game session. And how obnoxious would it be when the clarinetist "fails out" ten bars before the end of Beethoven's 9th?
  • Rock band requires just three or four controllers for a standard rock setup, while to field an orchestra you'd need at least a dozen. Sure, not everyone would need to buy every controller, but it still fragments the market for those items. (And if you did get a dozen friends together to play, how would you show all the parts on the TV screen?)
  • While a lot of people might end up enjoying Orchestra Hero, many fewer would think they'd enjoy it: the market just isn't there. (Related is the point that one fun thing about Rock Band/Guitar Hero is getting to play songs you already know. Fewer people know a wide range of orchestral music.)

By the end of that conversation, I felt disappointed to realize that Orchestra Hero probably wouldn't ever happen, but I moved on.

So it was a bit of a surprise to see an article on the NY Times website today entitled "Orchestra Hero". The article isn't actually all that great (the author spends half his time talking about his composing, which has pretty much zilch to do with the topic), and it doesn't really touch on any of those difficulties or suggest ways to overcome them, but it's still neat to see other people considering the idea.

It's made me start wondering if something like this could actually work. There are lots of classical CDs with titles like "20 Romantic Classics" or "Bach's Greatest Hits" that pick out short, well-known pieces, so maybe length isn't such a big concern if you're willing to give up playing full symphonies. You could reduce the number of controllers by combining similar instruments (e.g. one controller design might work as a clarinet, oboe, and even flute). Maybe someone will eventually create Orchestra Hero after all.

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Saturday, May 24th, 2008 06:43 pm
I made it to the first Saturday meetup of my local xkcd "Geohashing" event today. My "graticule" is San Bernardino, which includes my home in Upland, my colleges in Claremont, and a whole lot of desert. So it was tremendously fortunate that this first meetup wasn't in some distant, isolated location but rather smack dab in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. In fact, it was precisely at the intersection of some walking paths:
More details and pictures... )