Gamelog: Hexaflip

I’ve been playing some casual games as part of the Apple Arcade trial subscription, and have really been enjoying Hexaflip by Rogue Games. One part Q-Bert, one part Marble Madness, one part platform runner.

It’s a deceptively simple game – there are only two “controls” – tap left and tap right. No forward or backward. No jump. Just left and right, always moving forward. Some of the tiles can change your direction, so you have to plan accordingly. It gets complicated quickly.

It does have some in-game currency, which I usually find intolerable. It’s only used to optional restart a level from a save point, but it’s still annoying. Collecting coins and skins is just tacky.

Reclaiming Educational Technology Part 2: Fostering a culture of innovation

This one’s a gem. Well, they all are, but this interview is especially relevant for me because at the time of the interview UMW’s DTLT had just moved into their shiny new digs – and the Taylor Institute at UCalgary was still under construction. There were a LOT of parallels between DTLT and what was becoming the TI at UCalgary. The tension between “Innovation” and “Enterprise” colours all of our work, and it was great to hear from these amazing people about their work and experiences in the field.

Reclaiming Edtech Part 2:  Fostering a culture of innovation, featuring commentary from:

Reclaiming Educational Technology Part 1: The Business and Politics of Edtech

It’s time to re-reboot the podcast, starting by resurrecting the audio from the Reclaiming Educational Technology interviews that were recorded during a hackathon event hosted at the University of Mary Washington after Open Education 2014.

I keep coming back to these episodes, even 5 years later, as they are full of amazing insights by incredibly passionate and interesting people. I’ll be posting the audio from all 4 episodes shortly…

This episode features:

Interviews were conducted by D’Arcy Norman and David Kernohan.

Video and audio were recorded by Andy Rush.

Amateur editing by D’Arcy Norman.

progress on the digital-whiteboard-text-markup thing

After quickly (and I mean QUICKLY – it took less than half an hour’s worth of fiddling around with code while sitting on the couch watching garbage TV) building a way for people to markup chunks of text using the TIDraw.net -powered digital whiteboards, I wanted to test it in action. It’s one thing to try it on my laptop or iPad, but digital ink is a different experience on a 50″ display. The classrooms have been so busy this semester, I didn’t get a chance to try it until this morning.

The good news: It works really, really well.

Marking up some of Bill’s stuff, on love and loss and beginnings and ends…

The drawing tools work perfectly. But as I was testing this, I realized – using the pen tool to write (as one does with a whiteboard) kind of sucks. It’s laggy, which makes it hard to write legibly. You have to write really slowly and carefully, and even then the smoothing kind of messes things up.

I had a theory that the lag was part of the system design of the collaboration carts – the display is hooked up via USB to a USB-ethernet converter, then pushed over the network to the server room where it’s converted from ethernet back to USB and then into the appliance PC to do stuff, then out via HDMI and converted to ethernet to be pushed back downstairs where it’s converted from ethernet back to HDMI to be displayed. Whew. Lots of points where things could be slowing down.

Rough sketch of the hardware that runs the Collaboration Carts™

I timed it, using the super-high-tech method of “point my fancy phone’s slow motion video camera at the screen to record 240fps of me drawing, and count the number of frames between a touch and when the ink shows up.” On the 50″ displays, it’s 33 frames. Which converts to 138ms lag between input and draw. Research suggests ~40ms would be optimal, so we’re looking at over a 3x factor. Not ideal.

So I wanted to test a “best case” scenario – running TIDraw on my iPad Pro, using the Pencil for input. This is supposed to be essentially “best in class” input, so I wanted to time how long it takes to respond to input there as well. It was 28-31 frames. 112-129ms. So, close enough to the larger 50″ display lag that it suggests the lag may not be in the hardware design after all. TIDraw could just be laggy enough that it becomes uncomfortable on larger displays (the lag wasn’t really noticeable on the iPad – it felt instantaneous – but on the larger display, you write larger, with broader strokes, moving the pen more quickly. So a 138ms lag means the ink could be several cm behind the pen, which causes all kinds of dissonance.

Next up – I’ll be tearing TIDraw apart a bit, to see if I can remove the smoothing. I think that’s what’s causing some delay there – it buffers points until it has enough to smooth, then starts drawing. Works great on smaller screens, but on larger screens… yikes. We saw a similar lag with Limnu, and I’d just chalked that up to the hardware design. Looks like there may be a flaw with the way these tools do smoothing?

Text annotation via digital whiteboards

We hosted a “TI Instructors Gathering” this morning, where we invite folks who are teaching in the Taylor Institute to come together to share their experiences and we can learn from them about how they use the spaces and technologies. This gathering was predominantly Languages profs – french/spanish/russian/french – and we got to talking about how they’d like to be able to have their students break into groups and use the “Collaboration Carts” to mark up passages of text. That’s not a thing that’s readily done – there are web-based text annotation tools, but not ones that are based on ink. Having students sketch on text is a useful activity, pedagogically, and so I got to thinking…

And a couple of hours of work later, I’ve gotten that feature working in TIDraw.net (which is what powers the digital whiteboards in the Taylor Institute).

Digital whiteboard markup of a bit of Shakespeare…

TIDraw works with images, so text needs to be converted before loading it for markup. There’s a utility for that (in the “Texts” button in the top menubar), and converted texts are available in a Gallery – using the same code as the Save and Template features.

This could be useful for visually marking up short passages – it won’t handle pagination, so longer passages won’t work. But – it’d be handy for marking up stanzas or short passages.

I’ll also work on a feature that will let people upload images – imagine being able to use the whiteboard tools to markup a painting, or an electron microscope image, or an x-ray image, etc…

Design thinking, with giant lobsters

Robert Kelly has been hosting his Design Thinking course in the TI for the past several years.

I was away over the summer, so missed the latest instance of the course. Giant lobsters! Thankfully, they documented the course and published a video of the shenanigans.

Giant lobsters invade the TI. And other interesting things.

It’s a bit of a challenge when the course is going on, because it’s so profoundly unconventional. Classroom? Classrooms? Nah. Buildings! But – it’s been amazing to see what the participants do, how they work together, and what they build.

Must-play examples of great video game design?

The plan for my PhD is taking a bit of a different tack, to take advantage of an incredible opportunity that will remain cryptically-alluded-to for now. I need to go deep on video game design, and I’ll be approaching things from a teachy-learny perspective so ideally I need to spend some quality time with key video games that are exemplars of experiential learning. I’m thinking it doesn’t need to be full-on Oregon Trail you-have-died-of-dysentery, but should include games that pioneered approaches to teach in some way. Things like the deceleration curve path in Forza Motorsport 5 et al. that guides you through difficult turns on a track, or the time-rewind-retry thing in Braid that lets you iterate on a plan until you solve it, or the try-stuff-until-you-figure-it-out exploration of Portal.

So. What are the must-play video games in various genres/platforms/eras?

Snapshots from the poison room

I took photos throughout my chemo/immunotherapy treatment, to document my reactions and the view from the poison room. Photos generates a decent slideshow (complete with Generic Copyright-takedown-avoiding Sountrack #1)1

18 infusions. 6 rounds. 5 months. 2 many selfies. 1 emergency hospital stay. It worked.
  1. I spent a few weeks back in 1997 building a similar video with photos from our wedding, in Macromedia Director and then output to VHS to play at the reception in town. I tapped a button on my phone and this chemo slideshow video spit out in seconds. Crazy. []