Friday, April 29, 2005

angry cats

Cats Vs ??? Part 4
Originally uploaded by steeev.
flickr is a great resource for finding photos on particular themes.

tonight I spent some time helping my daughter find some photos displaying an "angry" theme for a project she is doing

you can search for photos by tags so it's easily done

flickr users can specify whether photos they upload are available for download or not

If you click on the angry cats photo you will be taken to steeev's photostream, he's the guy who did the photo and transformation and has generously shared it with others

if you go to you will see a bunch of thumbnail photos on the angry theme and if you click on those you'll go to full size images

what a great social sharing resource

tiny url

beyond print literacy

reading and writing is still very, very important but no longer enough

my students are better than me at playing games, especially MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role playing games), but I'm still better at them at looking up a Help Manual or storing my bookmarks on

we need a new way of looking at literacy without throwing out the baby (reading, wrting) with the bathwater

I bought 'What Video Games have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy' by James Paul Gee a while back but stopped reading it because of some academic language he was using which turned me off

I had another look at it this morning and now think I understand what he is getting at and that it's important

he's saying that print literacy is not enough and tries to define literacy in the broader sense - something like symbolic and representational multimedia genres or subcultures

examples - rap music, modernist painting, first person shooters, basketball

the above bit is hard to communicate - Gee uses the phrase 'semiotic domains' which turned me off his book - but the list of examples makes it clearer, each of them has their own special language (sometimes including but not just words) that you master along with learning the discipline

rather than read / write we now have recognise / produce

the latter is much broader and we need it to describe all the various multimedia genres that have become our new learning environment

I think where he is headed is that games encapsulate the enormous variety of new literacies (whereas a generation ago the book might have been sufficient), so games are now much closer to defining what literacy is for the new generation

it's also powerful because it helps explain why the older generation (the average age of teachers) are slow to pick up on it, it's a very big shift and it involves older people opening themselves up to domains that younger people are better at because they have grown up with them

literacy is a central concept to all educational thinking so if we can get this point across then we have a very strong foundation for promoting educational reform - MMORPG school anyone?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

creative commons

The Creative Commons License which I've added to this blog and my website does still allow you to rip, mix and learn from anything I write here but it does legally stop anyone from stealing my work and making a profit from it.

I've been reading Lawrence Lessig's book Free Culture. Lessig is one of the people who started Creative Commons.

From reading Lessig's book I've become much more aware that there is a tremendous struggle going on about the future of freedom in the age of the internet.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Attribution. You must give the original author credit

Noncommercial. You may not use this work for commercial purposes.

Share Alike. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.

my blog stats

By using the feedburner service I now know how many hits my blog gets each day, 19 hits in the past 24 hours.

It does make a big difference, for me, if I know that a few people are visiting, otherwise you can get a feeling of just writing into a vacuum.

It would be the same for students at school, they feel a lot if better when they are getting some attention. That's behaviourism in action.

I've also noticed a change in myself, now that I am a blogger, that I feel more inclined to leave a message at someone elses blog than I used to be. Or to let another blogger know in some way that I've been to their site and read something interesting there.

As Jay Rosen said
In the weblog world every reader is actually a writer, and you write not so much for "the reader" but for other writers. So every reader is a writer, yes, but every writer is also a reader of other weblog writers - €”or better be

btw if you want to subscribe to my blog through an aggregator then use the new feedburner URL:

Monday, April 25, 2005

flowboards and Cmap

A flowboard is a flowchart combined with a storyboard.

I'm using flowboards for game design because they encourage a non linear approach. Good games branch.

I found out about flowboards and game play modes through an article by Ernest Adams at Gamasutra, Designer's Notebook: Designing with Gameplay Modes and Flowboards. To follow that link you need to sign up at Gamasutra, but it's free.

The graphic is not quite a flowboard. It's a flow chart that also shows game play modes, in red. Click on the graphic to see my larger version at my flickr account.

To turn it into a flowboard you would also need to show annotated pictures of at least the main game rooms: welcome, configure, gameplay and celebration.

I've made this in Cmap, which is free concept mapping software available from The Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC).


I've just republished a long article I wrote about behaviourism in 1998, The Place of Behaviourism in Schools (for instance in the teaching of Quadratics)

For a long time before I wrote this article I really disliked the whole idea of Skinner's Behaviourism. This was a strong emotional feeling.

I saw behaviourism as drill and practice imposed by an authority figure, a teacher. I saw myself as a rebellious and creative type who didn't need any external authority to impose their drill and practice on me! I also saw Skinner's absolute refusal to speculate on what happened inside the brain as a huge copout, as some sort of proof of the sterility of his whole approach.

As a methodology behaviourism seemed to symbolise the main thing that was wrong with School and Education. That it was BORING.

I have a vague memory of really liking something I read about Chomsky's "refutation" of Skinner, even though today I can't remember any of the details of what Chomsky said.

At any rate, I much preferred any approach that employed the rhetoric of creativity. Early on I was drawn to 'The Act of Creation' by Arthur Koestler and later to the writings and Constructionist philosophy of Seymour Papert. These thinkers seemed to take creativity seriously not like boring old Skinner.

This history forms an emotional backdrop to this article. When I realised that I had drifted into combining logo programming and behaviourist methods successfully in my classroom then it was a real shock, for a while I was in a state of disbelief.

So I had to write about it and theorise it. I'm still theorising it. For me this article was a difficult self reflection, an accomodation, where my view of the world suddenly crashed in the face of reality.

I now believe that Skinner was misrepresented, that the baby was thrown out with the bathwater, that I didn't understand behaviourism and for a variety of reasons I'm now critical of my former hero Chomsky. I don't go into all of this below but would like to see a broad discussion on these issues.

This article covers a lot of ground - behaviourism, constructionism, learning maths, how to use computers in school, School with a capital 'S' (the institution of school and it's ingrained ways) and what works for the disadvantaged.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

teaching game maker

Last Monday I was invited by Tony Forster and Roland Gesthuizen to help teach Game Maker to some Victorian teachers who are just starting out on that road.

As always it's a learning experience for me to prepare for and teach teachers.

First up, I had to rewrite my clickball tutorial in Game Maker 6.0, so I started to learn some of the new features in the latest version. You can now put special effects into sounds, like chorus, echo, reverb etc. Mark Overmars has reduced the number of Action tabs in Object Properties, making it easier to find your way around. Also fonts are now a resource that you have to import from outside the program, that confused me at first.

I went on the looong drive to Tony's place before the meet since we were team teaching and needed to check our notes. Tony explained that his initial approach was different to mine. He starts his beginners off by teaching them how to move objects with the arrow keys and shoot whereas, with my clickball tutorial, I am initially teaching how to move automatically without stopping and to click with the mouse. Tony argued that his approach leads into games that students, boys anyway, would want to make.

I think he's right and so now feel obliged to write a new beginner's tutorial.

The inservice session itself went well, there were about a dozen teachers all very keen to learn the basics of Game Maker. Tony and Roland had organised everything smoothly so it went off without a hitch. During the break, Roland showed the group a short video his students had made for the 3in6 (3 minutes in 6 hours) competition that has become popular in Victorian schools. It was on the theme of domestic violence and dramatised some hard hitting issues.

Towards the end of the session someone asked me a question that I found hard to answer, how do you lose a life if someone misses a click! Subsequently, I posted that query to the national game maker forum and both Tony and Jacob Habgood provided solutions.

There were follow up issues raised by Charmaine Taylor about the best approach for girls and games and once again there was useful discussion about that at the national forum.

I've subsequently posted some new demonstrations using Game Maker 6.0 to my web site, one about programming basic maths facts and the other is Jacob's solution to the click and miss problem.

So, all in all the opportunity to once again teach teachers some game maker has pushed me along a bit more in my thinking and development of resources for that excellent piece of software.

Thanks again to Tony and Roland for making it all possible. Check out Roland's blog, he keeps it very active with a wide variety of issues. At his blog, I read that he's helped author an entry to wikipedia about a game called snipes.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

web 2.0

I came across the expression web 2.0 today and then investigated what it meant.

Richard MacManus, who blogs the Read/Write Web from Wellington, New Zealand, has a definition, The Web as Platform

He elaborates as follows:
For corporate people, the Web is a platform for business. For marketers, the Web is a platform for communications. For journalists, the Web is a platform for new media. For geeks, the Web is a platform for software development. And so on.

But I didn't really get it until I followed Richard's very comprehensive links to the source. They were amazing, particularly the information about google, I'll save that for a separate post.

What they are really getting at is that the Web as platform for users and developers is now in the process of replacing the still dominant platform of the desktop PC. I touched briefly on this in an earlier quote from Paul Graham in a blog about programming languages.

I think a phrase like, from desktop to webtop, says it better because it gives the feel of the new replacing the old.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

ian mcewan

I'm half way through reading Ian McEwan's novel Saturday which is set on 15 February 2003 the day of the first massive anti war demonstrations in Britain. Also I saw him interviewed about this novel tonight on SBS as part of the 5pm NewsHour program.

McEwan is a great writer and I'd really recommend this book, his characterisations, vivid descriptions of everyday events and exploration of the inner self are amazingly good.

McEwan's views on the Iraq war as expressed in the novel and in the interview are ambivalent. He explores both side of the argument - that Saddam has to go and the the Americans will make a botch of it all.

The dialogue about the war is extensive throughout the book but it forms the backdrop of a much bigger novel about the human condition, modern anxieties, pleasures and the genetic lottery.

McEwan describes himself as a materialist, here is something he said about that recently:
What I believe but cannot prove is that no part of my consciousness will survive my death. I exclude the fact that I will linger, fadingly, in the thoughts of others, or that aspects of my consciousness will survive in writing, or in the positioning of a planted tree or a dent in my old car. I suspect that many contributors to Edge will take this premise as a given, true but not significant. However, it divides the world crucially, and much damage has been done to thought as well as to persons, by those who are certain that there is a life, a better, more important life, elsewhere. That this span is brief, that consciousness is an accidental gift of blind processes, makes our existence all the more precious and our responsibilities for it all the more profound.

media trends

Chris Anderson, editor of Wired, has published some media trends at his long tail site. The fact that something is down does not mean it's dead or that it will become dead but it's still useful to know about the trends.

Flat to Down to Way Down:

* Music: sales last year were down 21% from their peak in 1999
* Television: network TV's audience share has fallen by a third since 1985
* Radio: listenership is at a 27-year low
* Newspapers: circulation peaked in 1987, and the decline is accelerating
* Magazines: total circulation peaked in 2000 and is now back to 1994 levels (but a few premier titles are bucking the trend!)
* Books: sales growth is lagging the economy as whole


* Movies: 2004 was another record year, both for theaters and DVDs
* Videogames: even in the last year of this generation of consoles, sales hit a new record
* Web: online ads will grow 30% this year, breaking $10 billion (5.4% of all advertising)

Friday, April 08, 2005

my new RSS feed

I've republished my blog feed RSS/ XML through the feedburner service.

This converts the atom format provided by Blogger into other formats so anyone can now subscribe to my feed.

Also feedburner will provide me with stats on visits to my blog, which of course, I'm curious about.

My new feed is

Scroll down the sidebar on the right and you'll see the little XML icon.

I'd recommend you subscribe to my feed through a service such as Bloglines

Confused? An article I wrote about RSS services will provide you with the big picture. It's well worth while spending some time on this information.

very funny

Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About

Want a good laugh, read the above :-)

Monday, April 04, 2005


Earlier this year The Edge group published the responses of 120 thoughtful people (biologists, physicists, psychologists, futurists, philosophers etc.) to this question:


Some of the names were already known to me (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Esther Dyson, Stephen Pinker, Daniel Hillis, some others) but many were not.

I spent a few hours just extracting some of the beliefs expressed by the contributors. I’m reproducing some of the beliefs below but note that there is often an interesting argument, sometimes several paragraphs, sometimes just one paragraph written in support of the belief. I haven’t read them all, there are 10 printable web pages and I’ve only managed to complete two so far. Many of the responses are quite thought provoking IMO and it wouldn’t work to rush through them. I’ve marked the essays that I think are worth reading in full with a ** after the authors name and provided direct links.

Many of the contributors express opinions that are either atheistic, optimistic, dynamist (everything is in flux) or just plain interesting. There are some pessimists in there too (global warming is there of course) but I’ve left them out! Taken overall the contributions give me the feeling that modern science, technology and psychology is a dynamic and exciting enterprise. More often than not the contributors are speculating about the future but sometimes they delve into the past.

True love.
David Buss **

Life is ubiquitous throughout the universe.
Craig Venter **

… life is common throughout the universe and that we will find another Earth-like planet within a decade
Stephen Petranek

… the radiation emitted by mobile phones is harmless
Tom Standage

..that reality exists and science is the best method for understanding it, there is no God, the universe is determined but we are free, morality evolved as an adaptive trait of humans and human communities, and that ultimately all of existence is explicable through science.
Michael Shermer **

… that quantum mechanics is not a final theory

… the fundamental properties of physical entities are a set of relationships, which evolve dynamically. There are no intrinsic, non-relational properties, and there is no fixed background, such as Newtonian space and time, which exists just to give things properties.
Lee Smolin ** (some contributors expressed more than one belief)

… no part of my consciousness will survive my death
Ian McEwan

(it will become possible to) … cause cells from one tissue to form another different tissue
Ian Wilmut **

… reality and information are the two sides of the same coin.

… some day all computers will be quantum computers
Anton Zeilinger ** (two beliefs)

Advances in computational linguistics and user interface design will eventually enable people to find answers to any question they have, so long as the answer is encoded in textual form and stored in a publicly accessible location. Advances in reasoning systems will to a limited degree be able to draw inferences in order to find answers that are not explicitly present in the existing documents
Marti Hearst **

… both cannibalism and slavery were prevalent in human prehistory
Timothy Taylor

… people gain a selective advantage from believing in things they can't prove
Randolph Neese **

… the substrate of really old memories is located not inside cells, but outside cells, in the extracellular space
Terrence Sejnowski **

it's generational

I blogged earlier about addiction to video games

as I talk to my students more, read what they are now writing and think about the contentious game issues more (addiction, violence, sexism) my thought are shifting

addiction is not the issue

many of my students play games, like games and yet are much tougher on addiction issues than I am

the real issue is generational

my students have a good understanding of this issue

their teachers and parents haven't grown up with video games, haven't learnt to play them as children and so are likely to be distrustful of them or not very good at playing them

a lot of adults don't like being beaten at something by young upstarts

and so many adults have created a dubious web of propaganda about addiciton, violence and sexism to mask the fact that their children are better at playing games

I also posted my thoughts on addiction at the national gamemaker forum and Ken Price has responded there

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Press Think

I love this 2003 blog posting by Jay Rosen, What's Radical About the Weblog Form in Journalism?

1.) The weblog comes out of the gift economy, whereas most (not all) of today’s journalism comes out of the market economy.

2.) Journalism had become the domain of professionals, and amateurs were sometimes welcomed into it-- as with the op ed page. Whereas the weblog is the domain of amateurs and professionals are the ones being welcomed to it, as with this page.

3.) In journalism since the mid-ninetheenth century, barriers to entry have been high. With the weblog, barriers to entry are low: a computer, a Net connection, and a software program like Blogger or Movable Type gets you there. Most of the capital costs required for the weblog to “work” have been sunk into the Internet itself, the largest machine in the world (with the possible exception of the international phone system.)

4.) In the weblog world every reader is actually a writer, and you write not so much for "the reader" but for other writers. So every reader is a writer, yes, but every writer is also a reader of other weblog writers—or better be.

5.) Whereas an item of news in a newspaper or broadcast seeks to add itself to the public record, an entry posted in a weblog engages the public record, because it pulls bits and pieces from it through the device of linking. In journalism the regular way, we imagine the public record accumulating with each day's news-- becoming longer. In journalism the weblog way, we imagine the public record "tightening," its web becoming stronger, as links promotes linking, which produces more links.

6.) A weblog can “work” journalistically—it can be sustainable, enjoyable, meaningful, valuable, worth doing, and worth it to other people —if it reaches 50 or 100 or 160 souls who like it, use it, and communicate through it. Whereas in journalism the traditional way, such a small response would be seen as a failure, in journalism the weblog way the intensity of a small response can spell success.

7.) A weblog is like a column in a newspaper or magazine, sort of, but whereas a column written by twelve people makes little sense and wouldn’t work, a weblog written by twelve people makes perfect sense and does work.

8.) In journalism prior to the weblog, the journalist had an editor and the editor represented the reader. In journalism after the weblog, the journalists has (writerly) readers, and the readers represent an editor.

9.) In journalism classically understood, information flows from the press to the public. In the weblog world as it is coming to be understood, information flows from the public to the press.

10.) Journalism traditionally assumes that democracy is what we have, information is what we seek. Whereas in the weblog world, information is what we have—it’s all around us—and democracy is what we seek.

These 10 points contain so many fruitful ideas in one spot that I won't try to summarise the implications here but instead will pursue some of the themes in future posts. I spent some time today following some links and reading the comments to this post at Rosen's blog and that was very rewarding too.


But in the end, they're still nothing more than video games
By: Jewels

I've been discussing the above article with my year 12 and 11 students. It's written by a woman who became "responsibly addicted" to Anarchy Online, a massive multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG), something that became a "dangerous experiment".

One question I raised was, "Is there a real difference between the 'real world' and the virtual world'?"

One student agreed that to exchange email was "real world" but that to be an avatar in a MMORPG was quite different, this was escapism, separate from "real world". I asked would the same apply to preparing and acting in a physical world play and he was stumped for an answer to that.

I also said that I had read somewhere that flight simulators were not only cheaper but also the *best* way to train pilots and so there was an example of a "virtual world" activity being used to prepare for a valuable "real world" activity.

One student raised the question of computer games encouraging behaviour that would be life endangering in the real world but I responded to that by pointing out that that might be an advantage, that risk taking activity could be tested out safely in the virtual world environment.

I asked what they felt was the difference between these three words - addiction, absorption and immersion? Would it be a good comeback to a parent who played the addiction card to respond, "I'm not addicted, I'm just absorbed (or immersed)". The students were amused but handled the distinction easily, they saw that addiction meant to have cravings, to be drawn back in away from other important things that needed to be done.

I asked whether there could be "good addiction" and "bad addiction", why was it that being addicted to playing sport or chess was not seen in the same way as playing computer games? Discussion on this point wasn't resolved, but some students saw addiction to sport as bad, for example, it might lead to muscle damage.

Some students felt that good MMORPG could be dangerous because they had the capability of dragging the players in and making them addicted. They understood that state of becoming totally engaged in an activity to a point where it became also impossible to stop doing it. My response to that was that the same state was entered into by a serious computer programmer and that was seen as a socially valuable activity.

I also shared some half baked knowledge I had about endorphins, that the same chemicals were released in the brain through very different sorts of activities - taking drugs, running a marathon and becoming totally immersed in a problem solving activity.

This is part of the preparation I'm doing for an essay task, for my students to critically discuss the following:

"Computer games are addictive and violent. They should be banned."

As part of the preparation I did an anonymous survey on how many hours a week the spent playing computer games on average. The responses were: 20, 12, 5, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 1, 1.