Friday, March 25, 2005

A Very Bad Day.

So I'm talking to a friend at work today when suddenly my computer starts clicking. The hard drive is broken. All my stuff is gone. Early editions of my book, photos of my kids, work stuff, all of my music.

All gone.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Learning and Games

I've long thought that the reason games are so fun for kids (and adults), is that because they are educational. No, I don't mean reader rabbit, or Carman San Diego, I mean Doom, Warcraft, and GTA.

A friend gave me a bit of a book by John Brockman called The Third Culture by John Brockman. I read a bit by Roger Schank who says the following:

"Information is surprises. We all expect the world to work out in certain ways, but when it does, we're bored. What makes something worth knowing is organized around the conecept of expectation failure... When the waiter doesn't come over with food, you have to figure out why... You learn something when things don't turn out the way you expected.

"The most important thing to understnad about the mind is that it's a learning device. We're constantly trying to learn things. When people say they're bored, what they mean is that there's nothing to learn... The important thing about learning is that you can learn only at a level slightly above where you are. You have to be prepared."

I once played a game called Dungeon Siege. It was a fun game, for a while. I learned when to attack with the sword, and when to attack with a range weapons. I learned which characters to develop into mages, and which to develop into fighters. I got probably 80 percent of the way through the game and quit. To me, I had learned everything the game had to teach. Sure I was getting more money, stronger weapons, and more skills, but I had mastered the basic game play. The game had become boring.

Compare that to Civilization III. On the surface the game should be much duller. There is no sword play, no blood, no fireballs. In fact, you spend a lot of time irrigating fields, building roads, and building barracks. But the game play is much more intense. When I finish playing Civ III (usually it involves my wife unplugging the power cord from the wall), I have questions. What if I spent more resources on scientific development? Should I be more aggressive when it comes to expansion? I hate to go to war with neighboring countries, but maybe that’s the only way to win. Should war early? Late? Only when I have a clear advantage?

I don’t know the answers. So I keep playing; over and over and over.

Anyway, there is some more good stuff from Roger Schank, but I’ll save that for another day.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Game Theory Defined... At least for now.

I’ve been thinking about game theory recently, and my thoughts keep going in circles. I thought if I tried to put down some of the thoughts, then maybe I can get it all straight in my head.

So in order to discuss game theory in a logical and rational way, Spock would tell us we first need to define it. That would be the Star Trek Spock, not the Dr. Spock. I’m not quite sure what the Dr. Spock would say.

Definitions are always hard. The more they exclude, the more useful, but narrow, they are. But then they don’t fit everything you think needs to be there. But as you broaden the definition, it becomes less useful. My favorite example of this is from Dr. David Wiley who, after reading a definition of learning objects, stated that it was incredibly “broad, and on examination fails to exclude any person, place, thing, or idea that has existed at anytime in the history of the universe.” Reading that piece is one of the few times I can ever remember laughing out loud whilst reading academic literature.

But I’m stalling. So what do I mean when I talk about game theory? I think game theory can be employed when two or more people are engaged in an interactive situation where both can affect the outcomes of the other. Once employed, game theory helps us to describe a past outcome, predict a future outcome, or prescribe action so the outcome is more likely to be the one we want.

I admit it, that is very broad definition, but I think game theory has useful applications well beyond ‘games’ or military strategies. It can help us understand love, war, pollution, rush hour, and everything in between.

More on this later; my three year old can’t quite go to bed on his own. The Velcro on his pajamas has worn off so I need to go find duct tape.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Audio Version

Covenant is doing an audio version of my book, and I've spent a few days paring it down. I had to go from about 64,000 words to about 57,000. I cut a few chapters that helped develop characters, but weren't vital to the story. It was harder than I thought.

I've also got the typesetters copy coming to me. Quite frankly I have no idea what that is, but it's on its way.

The book is still scheduled for June.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Clueless Factor

You can hold a conversation with two phrases, consisting of four words. "I don't know", and "Indeed."

With this, you can hold a conversation without having to think. Imagine a conversation on a plane. Some guy wants to talk to you the whole flight.

"Hey there, how’s it going?"

"I don't know."

"Ha ha! That's a good one!"


"My name is Ralph, I'm in sales."



"So what is your name?"

"I don't know"

"You don't know? Isn't that a little strange?"


And depending how long they keep talking to you, gives you an idea how clueless they are to the fact that you don't want to talk to them. Somebody who had a CF under a minute is very on the ball. Somebody who is still talking after 20 minutes is just going to be pretty oblivious to the entire world.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Bike Trek...

I bought a bike over spring break. I guess I've had enough of winter and want to get out in the great outdoors. My brother and I decided to go and check out the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.

I've never considered myself in shape, but never really considered myself out of shape either. Today I suspect I may indeed be the latter. We rode 12 miles and there was a pretty brisk head wind for about a third of the trail. My legs felt like rubber by the time we were done.

Anyway, there are no geocaches out in that neck of the woods, which surprises me. I plan on setting up a couple. It really is a nice place to visit. Right now there are less birds, but no mosquitoes. During the summer you have boat loads of both.

The Outsourcing Myth

There is a great snippet in Wired Magazine about outsourcing. It is true, the US outsourced 43.5 billion dollars worth of jobs, and we've all heard that the sky is falling because of it. The part you don't hear is that the US 'insources' (or in other words, does work for companies outside the US) more than 61 billion dollar worth. Our balance has steadily grown from 1980.

So when you hear people complain about outsourcing, tell them you encourage it. As the article states, "if every country in the world decides to cut down on service outsourcing, the US will lose the most."

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Ping Pong

So usually my posts are about something related to instructional technology, or something about my book, but today’s post is just rambling.

I saw my good friend of mine over the weekend at a wedding. I went up and greeted him.

“I’m going to whop you at Ping Pong, Eric.”

He responded to my heart felt salutation with a similar reply.

“You wish, Jensen. You couldn’t whop my house plant.”

I first met Eric when he was a little smaller. I was single at the time, and interested in meeting his older sister. When he found out I knew the basic rules to ping pong, he challenged me to a game on their new ping pong table. When I agreed, he began to issue bold statements.

“I’m going to kick your tail. I’m the best there is at Ping Pong. Prepare to be humiliated.”

Now I wasn’t that good at ping pong, and wondered how bad I was going to get beat. He was probably only about 14 or so, but based on what he was saying, he seemed incredibly confident.

We set up the table, started playing, and it quickly became clear that his claims were a bit far-fetched. I ended up beating him about 21 to 3. This didn’t surprise me because I was a good 7 years older. What did surprise me was his reply after I beat him.

“I’m just getting warmed up. You are going down the next round.”

We played probably 10 games that first day. I consistently beat him, over and over and over again. 21-4, 21-7, 21-1, 21-2. And no matter what the outcome, the next game was always going to be his. The next game, he was going to drive me into the ground and humiliate me. Even during the game, while being trounced upon, he would say things like, “You’re the worst player I’ve ever seen! You swing like my grandma!” It wasn’t until about the 5th game or so that I realized this trash talk was the most enjoyable part of the game. I began to return as good as I got.

“It’s ok Eric, maybe you will play better when your voice changes.”

Eric never lost his confidence. It was inspiring. He never once dropped his shoulders and said, “I guess I’m not as good as I thought.” The worse I beat him, the more bold his claims became.

“It’s a good thing I hurt my shoulder last night or you would be crying like my baby sister.”

Over time, Eric became a good ping pong player. The games that were so fun because of the trash talking suddenly became fun because of the trash talking, and the fact that he won half the time (though I would never admit to that, of course).

The trash talking carried past the games. We bragged at church, we bragged when he would come over to my house to play with my little brothers. I would go over and play 15 games with him, and people would come down to ask how it was going.

“Eric figured out which way to hold the paddle about 3 games ago, and scored his first point.”

“He’s lying, I’ve shut him out 4 times, and then we had to take a break while he went into the bathroom and cried.”

There was as much spin on the ball as there were about the games.

So last weekend, after the wedding, Eric shows up on my doorstep, paddle in hand, and challenges me to a game.

We played five games. It was an epic rematch. It was a very enjoyable 45 minutes. Eric hasn’t lost his touch. His trash talk was almost as good as his volley.

And for the record, he did score once.

In the second game.

But only because I was sneezing at the time.