Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Game Dynamics in the Classroom

Just saw this talk about game dynamics on the internet and other places.

Reminded me of the best class we ever had in school. It was a math class and was taught by one of the most wonderful teachers I've ever seen. He used game dynamics in almost every aspect of his class work.

At the beginning of the year he gave us a target to solve a certain number of math problems over the course of the year. We were expected to maintain a notebook of these solutions. Periodically he would ask us how close we were to that goal. We also had to make sure we maintained a daily average in accordance with the yearly goal.

After each lesson in class he gave us problems to do. The first person to solve the problem got and 'Excellent', the next three got a 'Very Good' and the next five got 'Good'. Occasionally he'd pose more challenging problems and we could get 'Super Excellent' or 'Super Duper Excellent' in these. Each of these amounted to point and every month, the person getting the highest number of point got a chocolate as reward.

He set 'Top 20' problems as assignments. The problems were of increasing difficulty. The last one was always a fun problem. More of a joke than a problem. The last assignment of the year was of very high difficulty level. And we could score points on the assignment too.

Needless to say, it was the most exciting class we ever did for most of us. I wish more teachers would use game dynamics like that in their classrooms.

There's a pitfall though. I think the people who could never score felt really left out. Very much like those of us who don't play farmville on facebook and can't, for the life of us, figure out what the brouhaha is all about. :) But I do think with careful and compassionate design, even the so called weak students in the class can be made to enjoy school work.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

browsers vs java

aka: Are browsers solving the same problem that Java was invented to solve?

One of the problems Java intended to solve was this. Websites very super limited in what they could show the user via HTML (or php or asp.net) within the browser. One solution to all those limitations was to make an executable binary and require the user to install it on their system. This was okay until you realize that applications served over the web tended to change very rapidly. It was unrealistic to expect the user to reinstall new versions all the time. What if the user could navigate to a web page and an application could dynamically be loaded onto their browsers.

Enter, Java applets. They were designed to solve just this problem. But Java applets died out and it is unusual too see anything written in Java on the web anymore.

Why? Because the browser has solved the problem that Java intended to solve all along. For the longest time, a browser was a viewer, which could render static HTML pages. Today, a browser is more of a virtual machine which runs JavaScript (and soon HTML5) at an incredible speed.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

anne rice and christianity

Just read this interview of Anne Rice, most famous for her vampire novels. Rice was an atheist for a long time and then had a conversion experience and became a Christian. She now finds herself withdrawing from the church and organized religion.

It surprises me how thinkers like Rice are unable to see fundamental dissonance in their beliefs. It is okay if someone says that they do not value rationality and are ready to believe in the irrationalities of religion. However, it's when people try to reconcile rational thought with religion that I begin to have problems.

Why haven't the following questions ever occurred to Ms. Rice?
  • She rejects the church saying that it does not agree with her morality. If the church is not the source of her morality, where does she get her morality from? If she believes in the existence of God, how can she reject the implications that has on morality and ethics?
  • Given that there are multiple religions in this world and several different denominations within each religion does it not occur to her that they might be several different narratives created by man? She has no problems with people seeking out a church which is better aligned to their sense of morality. How does she reconcile the fact that if there is a God then there cannot possibly be several different religions and denominations. Why did she decide to stick with Christianity and not give other religions a go? Which one does she think is the 'real' one? How does one choose among them?
  • Does is not occur to her that there's a deep dissonance in saying that you do believe in God and then rejecting organized religions. So only she's got it right and all those devoutly religious people out there are morons?! On what basis is she saying that she knows more about god than the Pope and the Church?

I do not understand why so many intellectuals have trouble saying that there is no God. Or at least that there is no compelling evidence of God's existence. It's moral cowardice in my opinion.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

google doesn't know everything

While this is stating the obvious, google doesn't know everything.

I'm sitting at the Thompson Library at OSU. The Thompson Library is huge. As in really huge. It contains twelve giant floors, most of which are stacked with books on a myriad of topics. It really made me wonder if all of this information is available in electronic form. I picked out a few titles around me at random and googled for them.

Many of them didn't turn up in the google search. Others that did turn up weren't available in electronic format yet.

No doubt that these missing titles will eventually be digitized. But for now, it would do us good to remember that google doesn't know everything.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

gulabi gang

Just heard about Gulabi Gang, a grassroots women's rights organization.

Sampat Devi Pal founded the Gulabi Gang, the women in pink saris who help women in Uttar Pradesh - North of India.

Sampat Pal recruits those she helps. There are several thousand women in pink saris, each of them poor and illiterate. By joining the Gang, they come to discover in themselves strength and courage. They fight for dignity and for the rights of the humble ones.

The Gulabi Gang protects the powerless from those who abuse their power. They retaliate against violence of brutal husbands, they crack down on those who abandon their families. They fight corruption and they force reluctant police officers to register cases for underprivileged people.

english or tamil?!

Just saw this poster for the new Tamil movie Enthiran. Note how A R Rahman's name has A and R in the roman script and Rahman in Tamil.

aisha overcome

Interview with Rhea Kapoor, the newest star-kid on the Bollywood block, about her debut film Aisha.

“I was 21 when I started,” Rhea points out her beginnings in the industry, “I was obviously retarded and foolish (laughs)…but when this project came up, dad thought I would be able to make it better. You tend to take more risks when you're younger, so that's good. All I told myself was ‘I'm going to make a kickass film',” And how! “Aisha” has drummed up a whole lot of curiosity with its almost all-woman casting coup on screen and behind it. Rhea volubly repeats that she's not made for a presence in front of the camera. “I become a caterpillar in front of the camera. My limbs don't know what to do. I mean, I can't even sit properly in this dress now as your photographer clicks away,” she says, shuffling her legs and smoothing out her little beige dress. For good measure, she adds: “I've got Anil Kapoor's face, you know, the chubby face. I don't look good in photographs… I'm not comfortable marketing myself.”

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

How Apple's App Store Censoring Process Works

An article about how schizophrenic Apple's App Store censoring process is.

There was not much to review. Funny Shoppers is a pretty simple iPhone app. On one side, you could browse through the infinite gallery of humans, worm-like creatures, and other invertebrates found in Walmart. On the other, it was like a depressing version of Ghostbusters: You could upload the souls of any strange characters you may capture, using the iPhone's camera.

A tale of two espresso machines

John talks about owning things versus not owning things.
Sessions makes as strong a case for not owning an espresso machine as Frauenfelder makes for owning one. Frauenfelder speaks of the confidence and joy that comes from having detailed knowledge and control of the things around you. Sessions speaks of the hassle and expense of being responsible for the things around you. Both have valid points. I’m sure there are areas in which Frauenfelder is happy for someone else to take responsibility, and areas in which Sessions enjoys fine-grained control. But they disagree which approach is preferable when it comes to making espresso.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Tupper's self-referential formula - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Tupper's self-referential formula is a self-referential formula defined by Jeff Tupper that, when graphed in two dimensions, can visually reproduce the formula itself. It is used in various math and computer science courses as an exercise in graphing formulae.