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Comment Re:What is cool? (Score 1) 511

Programming languages CAN be VERY cool. Maybe not by the benchmark of getting laid, but by the feeling of elegance and power that can arise from languages and frameworks that hand you new paradigms to play with. Languages should not merely be evaluated by their utilitarian function; there is an aesthetic component to it as well (though beauty/simplicity in a language can often yield great utilitarian benefits).

Comment Flow and Engagement (Score 1) 95

I just finished reading Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonagall. It had very similar ideas. She tied together some really interesting concepts about personal engagement and flow experiences (when we're at our most productive and self-forgetful). Flow happens when certain conditions are met: we're getting realtime feedback, we're right at the threshold of our own skill levels (being neither bored nor overwhelmed), we believe we can win, etc. This is covered in the research and writing of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (primarily his classic work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience).

It's not entirely new territory. The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack (1994) made a great case for structuring business endeavors as mini-games. People love to outdo themselves. It invites a phenomenal amount of brilliance as people's goals go from vague to ultra-measurable. Case studies are presented where entire plants are transformed and everyone's ingenuity is invited, not just high-level planners. I think this ties into McGonagall's ideas about using theories of flow and personal engagement, informed by the wild success of gaming at rewarding players for overcoming essentially voluntary obstacles, to restructure reality in new and creative ways.

When I started reading the book, I was suspicious of its core premise. But I really do now believe that principles from game design can be, and is already being, used to restructure academic experience (look at Khan Academy and it's built-in reward systems for mastering material). Similar creative leaps await us in business and society as well.

Submission + - Khan Academy for Software Engineering?

blaster151 writes: Khan Academy has received a great deal of attention recently for its innovative, low-tech approach to knowledge acquisition. It features a vast library of single-topic tutorial videos and (more importantly) presents them as very bite-sized chunks in a hierarchically organized structure. Interactive exercises allow a motivated learner to progress through hundreds of math and science exercise sets, attaining proficiencies in a game-like, flow-inducing manner. Significant chunks of scientific learning have become accessible, free, and less intimidating to the uninitiated.

I'd like to ask Slashdot readers if they see the possibility of creating the same type of interactive, incremental learning system for computer science and software engineering. Could concepts and knowledge be organized into a roughly hierarchical structure to allow learners to start with the absolute basics but progress through concepts like advanced algorithms, database systems, object-oriented programming, multiple languages and platforms, high-level software architecture, etc? What barriers would exist to the creation of such a system and could bite-sized interactive exercises be implemented as effectively as Khan Academy does it for more traditional branches of science?

Comment Geocaching (Score 4, Interesting) 96

I proposed to my wife on a geocaching expedition. I'd set up a fictitious geocache location (with a box full of mementos and photos and special stuff pertaining to us) in a secluded forest clearing. I modified the latitude and longitude in the HTML on the geocaching site screen scrape in order to fool her into thinking it was a legitimate geocaching site like any other. We "found" the cache together; she opened it up and saw all of our stuff in there, including the ring box, and was floored. I got down on one knee and proposed.

I thought it was somewhat geeky! But she liked it and it went well from there.

Comment A Couple of Things (Score 2, Informative) 366

Look at the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology by David Allen. It's good at helping you keep track of all the stuff that's going on. Also, when I feel like my head is getting too cluttered, I do a brain dump into MindJet's MindManager software. It can help capture many disparate pieces of information visually and the process can yield some mental clarity . . .

Comment Henrietta Lacks (Score 2, Informative) 263

It was so surreal to see this as the most recent headline on Slashdot - two minutes before, I'd finished listening to the audio version of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," which touches on issues surrounding genetic research and the unfortunate incursion of capitalism into tissue storage and research. The book itself is a fascinating mix of science and history, but the Afterword is all about the commercialism of genetic research and the obstacles it's introducing to scientific progress. Who owns human tissues and the research advances that come from them: the patients, the researchers, or the scientific community and the world? More information about the book can be found here: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I was dismayed to learn that it would cost millions to test one individual for all known genetic diseases, not because of inherent costs of the technology but because of all the patents and licensing fees. I hope that today's positive ruling cascades in positive ways to other realms of gene patenting and unthrottles scientific progress.

Comment Amazing (Score 5, Interesting) 155

I had just read about this possibility today in this book, a fascinating compendium of mini-essays by leading thinkers about scientific or social developments that may be around the corner. Existing tests for biological organisms are geared towards a working asssumption that life forms will be part of the basic, familiar biological tree that we are based on. A "shadow biosphere" was discussed as something that could potentially be an alternative hierarchy of life, so unfamiliar that we haven't understood how to look for it even though it could be relatively populous in certain niche areas of the earth.

Finding an alternative pathway to the evolution of complex life forms could affect our perception of how common life is in the universe and could be a stunning treasure trove of discovery and insight for biologists.

Submission + - The Return of the Holiday Boardgame Guide (

hapycamper writes: Perhaps the oldest running online holiday guide to boardgames, found over at Gaming With Children, returns to pitch a couple dozen titles for the new holiday season. Old favorites like Heroscape and Age of Steam are mixed in with the relatively new like the Tetris-like FITS, card game Dominon, or cooperative game Pandemic. A fair number of kids recommendations are included such as Animal Upon Animal and Go Away Monster!.

Submission + - Criagslist as Service (

An anonymous reader writes: CraigzCruzer is an experiment in building a domain specific semantic web crawler. Find an ad you like on Craigslist. Or, create an ISF one. Next, do a search that returns postings you think might contain what you are looking for. Enter these urls on the main page along with your email, and CraigsCruzer will search these search results once an hour and email you when it finds something it thinks is ``similar" to your sample ad. To see your results in table form and to remove searches, just enter your email on the main page.

Dev Discusses Upcoming Spy-MMO, The Agency 75

Kheldon writes "The MMO Gamer recently sat down with Lorien Gremore, lead producer on SOE's upcoming spy-shooter MMO, The Agency. They discussed various aspects of its development, such as the 'stickiness' of session-based games, striking a balance between FPS and MMO players, and whether or not The Agency even falls under the definition of a traditional MMO at all. 'You might be in Prague, and experiencing play with a lot of different other players; you might have come in at your field office and gone out into the city, encountering many other players doing missions that you are also doing,' Gremore said. She added that the game's areas are large enough to have 'lots of different people in them, collecting intel, engaging in public combat, all of those types of things. These areas are big enough that there’s shops, there’s secret spaces, photos to be taken of suspicious objects, things like that. They’re all out there in the world. We’re really trying to create a balance, where you’re encountering a lot of social situations, chances to get into groups with other people, just by merit of the fact that you guys are doing the same sorts of things in the same sorts of places.'"

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