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!