Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Drinking Age Controversy

It's been quite a while since my last post here; I've been using Facebook more and more for casual updates, and so haven't had the motivation for a big update here. And this is no different, this won't be a big update.

Just wanted to share an article link on the topic of the drinking age in the United States. The basic idea in the article is that raising the drinking age to 21 hasn't stopped kids from drinking, it's just pushed it behind closed doors and encouraged reckless drinking behavior. There are some interesting ideas in the article on what could be done differently to encourage responsible drinking behavior.

It's well worth a read. Here's the article link.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

GamesByTeens Contest

The GamesByTeens contest is over, and concluded today with an awards ceremony for the participants. You can see the list of winners over at the GamesByTeens contest site.

The contest was a trial run, to see if that sort of thing would do well in this area. My budget was pretty low, so I could only support 15 contestants this time around. I ended up with 14, and 10 of those submitted games. That's a pretty good percentage for game writing competitions.

The contest was a success, so we'll be doing it again next year, hopefully with a higher budget.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New Blog

Okay, so I've created a new blog.

"What, another one!?" Yes, another one. Here's why:

In the spring of 2010, I'll be teaching a course on developing web applications. I wanted to go beyond the simple HTML/Javascript/PHP model that many such courses use, and give my students experience with something more advanced.

So I decided to go with the Google Web Toolkit and Google App Engine. Both are tools that can be used to develop enterprise level web applications, and they're both free. Even better, they both work with Java, which is a programming language my students already know.

I'm not opposed to forcing my students to learn new programming languages, but if I'm also asking them to develop a complex web application, I figured I'd better leave them some level of familiarity.

When I'm going to be teaching a new course, the first thing I do is to start getting review copies of text books. GWT has been out long enough that there are texts on it, so I had a few sent. The most recent version of GWT covered in the texts is 1.5, while the current version available is 1.6.

That was my first clue that I might have trouble finding a text. The second was that the texts that covered exactly what I wanted covered (the development of a complex web application) all had to make choices about the tool stack used. And their choices were great choices for an enterprise application, but not so great for students who haven't done a project this complex before.

The more general books didn't cover enough detail. And probably by the time spring of 2010 hits, GWT will have had another release or two.

So I decided to use a blog as a text for the course. The new blog will follow my development this summer of an example web application. The web application will be complex enough to be suitable for the course, and gives a good baseline for the students.

The blog won't be a complete text book; I'll point to existing tutorials for some of the material that's well covered elsewhere (I'll cover some of the tutorials in class). In the blog I'll stick to the topics that are specific to web applications.

If that's the sort of thing you're interested in, here's my GWT & App Engine Development blog.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The World Without Us

It's been a while since my last post, but I just ran across something pretty interesting, and frightening.

There's a book out called The World Without Us that looks at the impact of humans on the environment. It takes as its premise the immediate removal of humans from the world, and extrapolates forward what might happen.

I haven't read the book, but if you follow the link above you'll get to a page where there's another link to an excerpt about plastics. Now, I'd known that plastics don't biodegrade. Anyone who is environmentally conscious knows that. So we recycle, in the hopes that we can at least change the form of the plastics into something new and useful.

But the sheer scope of the problem, as put forth in the excerpt, astounded me. Plastic does not biodegrade, but it does break into smaller pieces. Plastic bags get washed down storm drains, and carried out to sea. Tiny pellets of plastic in many areas of the ocean outnumber the plankton that forms the basis of marine ecosystems.

We're in a situation where we have a very real chance of totally destroying many marine species, and there really isn't anything we can do about it. Plastics don't biodegrade in any reasonable time frame...the first plastic that washed into the ocean decades ago is still there. Even if we stopped using and producing plastic immediately, the effects of what we've already done will be severe.

I'm not sure if I can bear to read the full book or not.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Gaming In Libraries

I ran across lately a series of web pages talking about gaming in libraries.

Apparently the national library organization released some goals for libraries, in terms of how they help children develop. A big part of those goals involved improving their critical thinking skills, and gaming advocates jumped on that to support libraries offering board games and role playing games (both being activities that improve critical thinking through imaginative play).

I'm a big fan of gaming, so I'm happy to see this trend. My daughter is three and a half years old, and is already heavy into gaming. She may not understand the rules to my board games, but she loves to get them out and play with them, and her attempts to understand them is building her critical thinking skills.

iLibrarian has a nice page with links about gaming in libraries. The Escapist, a gaming advocacy site, also has a great page with resources for gaming in libraries.

So the next time you want to play a game, think about your local library!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Origami In Space

I was doing a bit of web research for a map folding problem (yeah, that's the sort of thing I do in my spare time), and ran across the science of Computational Origami.

It's all about using computers to simulate paper folding. That might seem like a huge waste of time, but they've applied origami techniques to a wide number of engineering problems. For example, here's a link to a page that talks about using origami techniques to fold the material for a telescope dish into a precise form to allow it to fit into a rocket. The idea being that you can put a telescope in space that way. And this link is about the applications of computational origami to airbag design and simulation.

That's one of the things I love about computer science. No matter how much you know about it, there's always some specialized field that you've never heard about, but is very cool.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Climbing Trees

We needed to have some limbs pruned in one of our trees in the back, so I managed to find an excuse to pull out my harness and ropes and go climbing.

It wasn't totally just an excuse, since our neighbor was helping me, and his tallest ladder didn't reach as far as we needed to go. It did get me to the point where I could grab onto the lowest branch and start climbing, though.

So there I was, perched in the crook of a branch about fifty feet up (tied off, of course, to a rope I'd tossed around a higher branch), working away with a handsaw on one of the branches we needed to prune. I'm not much for power saws, but let me tell you that when you're crouched awkwardly on a branch that high, you really do want something faster than a hand saw. I had to lay back on my branch and rest a few times before I made it all the way through the branch.

One of the other branches was pretty big, so I tossed a rope higher and tied it off, anchoring it in a couple of different directions to keep it from swinging. Then our neighbor went up the ladder (this branch was lower) and used a chainsaw to take it off. It dropped a couple of feet as the ropes took up the slack, and then hung in the air.

It's very cool when something like that works out the way you'd planned it!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Evolution of Language

It's interesting to me how languages evolve.

We teach language in school as if there's only one correct version of a language. We study the parts of speech, nouns, verbs, adjectives, conjunctions, we diagram sentences, and generally put it all in front of young people so often some of it sinks in.

And yet languages are fluid, and change constantly. Slang terms are coined by every generation, sometimes every year. Since I teach at a college, I hear a lot of the slang, and sometimes have to pick up what it means through context. A few years ago, "amped" was being used to describe being excited about something (what other generations would have called "pumped"). These days I don't hear that being used.

Other slang terms stick around and become part of the language. Some words change their meaning entirely. For example, normally placing an "in" in front of a word makes it mean the opposite. Tractable and Intractable have opposite meanings. But Flammable and Inflammable mean the same thing. Did they once have opposite meanings too?

Lately there's been a new word popping up on the Internet as a new term meaning "blog posts". It's Bloggeries, as in "I write a lot of bloggeries about my life". It's a fun new word that isn't in wide use yet, so I'm doing my part to make it official.

And in case you're wondering how words become "official", here's an article by someone who helps do research for dictionaries.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Gaming Convention

This weekend is my fall trek to the Akron area for Con on the Cob, a great local gaming convention. I go for the role playing, but there are board games and all sorts of other games going on. The con is famous for its kids activities, which usually include costume contests, art activities, movies, etc.

The Wild West LARP I ran last year went well, so this year I'll be running a LARP called Death on the Gambia. There's a lot more intrigue in this one than in the Wild West game. Very few people are actually who they seem, and there's a great lost book mechanic where every single character starts with a copy of Agatha Christie's Death On The Nile. Some are normal copies of the books, others have secret information written in them.

I've printed out old images of the cover for Death On The Nile, and will make covers for some hardbacks to take with me. So every person will be carrying around an actual book, and if someone wants to steal a book they'll have to be pretty tricky about it.

I'll also be running a normal tabletop role playing game. Rather than bring out more of my Call of Cthulhu scenarios, I decided to go for minimum preparation and turn it into a virtue. The players themsevels will decide what genre and theme the game will have, and I'll improvise a fun adventure for them.

Hopefully I'll also get a chance to play some games during the weekend!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Enabling comments on web sites

One of the things about web sites is that you're not really sure if people like the info you're providing or not. Blogs are great for that, because blogs allow comments. People can leave a comment to say if they like what you said, hate it, or whatever.

When my wife and I started our recipe web site, Healthy Recipes For Your Family, one of the things that we wanted was to allow comments. But standard web sites don't allow comments. We could have used Wordpress to build the site and use Wordrpess' built in commenting feature, but I wanted to give Site Built It a try with the web site.

I'm glad I did, because SBI provides a great infrastructure for getting people to your page. Without doing much extra at all, our recipe site ranks well in search engines so that we're getting people visiting the site.

But SBI doesn't provide for comments on web pages. Enter Disqus, a free service that allows visitors to put comments on your web pages. It's a pretty full featured service, and works well. You can see a sample of a comment on our vegetable lasagna recipe. And it's comments like that that make the whole chore of putting up a web site worth the while.

So if you have a straight web site that doesn't allow comments, take a look at Disqus.