Saturday, December 27, 2008

Book Publishing.

Interesting read over at Book Oven.

"Imagine: what would happen if every publisher in the world went out of business tomorrow? If every book store closed it’s doors?

"Here’s what I think: I think we would see a flourishing of innovation and the kind of excitement the book business has not seen since the paperback was invented. These companies (sellers and publishers) aren’t all going to close their doors, but a good number might.

"Lamentable? Maybe. Or maybe this is a fabulous opportunity for something new.

"I’m optimistic. New technologies are coming along that change the economics of books: ebooks, ipods, print-on-demand, the web, and more to come yet. The readers are there: just about everyone I know loves books. The writers are there. And let’s face it, if the doom and gloom in the business is right, whatever model these companies were using hasn’t worked all that well.

"So it’s up to us — all of us who care about books — to figure out what the book business is going to look in the next decade or so."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Quote of the day...

Dad: "I saw your Christmas list."

#1: "Oh yeah?"

Dad: "Yeah. I saw the first thing on your list was a 'fake eye'.

#1: "Yep."

Dad: "Uh...why do you want a fake eye?"

#1: "So I can scrunch it into my eye, and when somebody pats me on the back, I'll drop it on the floor."

Dad" "Oh. Of course."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

An open letter to President Obama

Dear Mr. Obama,

My kids love to tattle. We're trying to get it under control, but alas, it still happens. The other night #2 comes up and says, "Dad, #3 called President Obama a poop head!"

This came as quite a surprise to me. I don't talk politics with my kids, but even if I did, I would never call any sitting president, or president elect, a poop head. My criticism is much more eloquent than that. When I talk about politicians, I use words like knucklehead, or fanny muggin.

Anyway, my son came up and I asked him why he was calling you a poop head. I wondered if it was your foreign policy, your recent selection for cabinet positions, or perhaps your social policies. Sure enough, it is your social policy.

"I can't go to school unless I get my shots," he wailed, "and it's all president Obama's fault! He won't let me go unless I get poked!"

And thus we see the downside to being president. It is a two edged sword. When things go right, they assume you are the one to thank. And when things go wrong, you'll be to blame, even if it's not your fault.

So, good luck, and don't worry about reconsidering the immunization laws. My son is only 7, and won't be voting until you're well out of office.

Monday, December 22, 2008

If you can't beat them...

A few weeks ago I heard about a game called World of Goo. I went to their site, played the demo, and fell in love with it. That night I shelled out $15 to buy the game for my Wii.

I happened to come across the game developer's blog, and added it to my RSS feed. I noticed one of their posts reported on the piracy of their game. You see, unlike many other games, they shipped their game with no DRM. In other words, if you wanted to install it, and then give it to your friend, you could. You could install the game on 50 computers, and only 1 of you would need to pay.

So what happened? Well, just what you would expect. According to their estimates, about 90 percent of the people who were playing had pirated the game. Only 1 in 10 had purchased a legitimate copy. Despressing, right? Sort of, but there is more to this story that meets the eye.

The developer's compared their game to another similar game, Ricochet Infinity. Ricochet shipped with DMR. It was much harder to copy that game. And guess how many people pirated it? That's right. About 90 percent.

In other words, in many cases, DRM does nothing. Pirates will be pirates, whether there is DRM or not.

Now, all of that being said, on a happier note, even with 90 percent of the folks playing with a pirated copy, check this out.

That's right. Ship a game, leave off DRM, and they are the second highest selling game on Amazon right now.

I think it's time we rethink DRM, digital copyright, and patents. Because nothing makes sense anymore.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Holiday Spirit

I think a lot of people who read my blog don't take me seriously. "Why should we take you seriously?" they ask, "Your blog refers to poultry and armpits in the title".

Maybe so, but that doesn't mean I'm not serious. Deep down I'm a very serious guy. Which is why I'm here to put you in the holiday spirit. In a very serious manner. And since nothing puts you in the holiday mood quite like a holiday classic, I've got you covered.

So get yourself some hot cocoa, kick back in your bathrobe and slippers, stare at the beautiful Christmas decorations, and enjoy...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Zombie Home Evening

Tonight was family night. We stayed home, played games, and had a treat. My son John got to pick the game. The other boys wanted to watch part of a movie, but he wanted to play freeze tag.

"It's too cold to play freeze tag," I said, chuckling at my own joke (I was the only one who found it humorous).

"No, we'll play it downstairs," John said, "In the basement. We can move the chairs."

"The whole north wall is brick," I said, "If we play freeze tag, somebody will crack open their skull."

"Then we'll play it in slow motion," John replied. And he could not be swayed.

And so it went, that the entire family shuffled slowly around the basement, talking, screaming, and laughing in slow motion (slow and deep). I'm sure if anybody had peeked in our window, they would have been convinced that of a zombie outbreak. But it wasn't. It was just the family, having a bit of fun, in a safe and orderly manner.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


I wrote an article a while ago that talked about groupthink on Digg, and how it was a very bad thing. Of course it was inevitable that my article made it to the front page of Digg, only to be buried by people who didn't agree with me.

Google recently rolled out a service called 'search wiki'. It allows you to manipulate your search results. You can push sites up to the top, or remove them altogether. Why they call it a wiki is beyond me, because for now, this manipulation only affects the results you see. If I push my blog to the top of the list when I search for blogs, Google will not push that link up to the top of your list. What does manipulating your own search results have to do with a wiki?

But that is not the point of this post. It worries me a little that they call it a wiki. Does this mean they will eventually use this data to give some pages a higher page ranking than others? I'm as big of a fan of 'crowds' as the next person, but the unfortunate truth is sometimes crowds get it wrong. If we turn search results into a democratic process, we're only going to get what other people are seeing. I hate this enough on Digg, please don't bring this to my search engine!

When you're looking for information you need information from all sides, not just the popular side, or even the 'agreed upon' side. One only needs to look at the entire history of science to realize that sometimes we should listen to the quack who is preaching against the norm (from Copernicus to Harry Hess), because that person just might have something of value to add to our understanding. If these people are 'voted down' or silences by the uninformed masses, it will be very bad day indeed.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Behold, the power of games...

David Wiley has done it again. He's designed a course that is modeled after the very popular MMORPGs (massively multi-player online role-playing games). You can choose your character, go on quests, and 'level up'. In the end, if you've reached a high enough level, you will get an A in the course. While the idea is intriguing, there is, I believe, a crucial missing element to the course – PVP.

Educators have been trying to harness the power of games for almost as long as games have been around. They do this because people are far more interested in games than they are in the instruction the educators come up with. "If only people will study humanities as hard as they study space invaders," the instructor thinks.

But there is an aspect to instructional games that educators always seem to leave out. They seem unwilling to embrace the simple fact that one of the most important parts to a game is the competition. Think about it, when player A politely asks player B if he wants to play chess, what he is really asking is, "Do you want to witness my l33t cognitive skills as I crush you with nothing more than a rook and two pawns?"

Last night, a priest in my guild logged on to World of Warcraft (WoW). He was on for approximately three minutes before he said in the chat, "Bah, I can't quest tonight." And he logged off. I felt exactly the same way. I'm level 78, and it's been painful. I've gone on hundreds of quests, killed thousands of creatures, delivered dozens of items for NPCs who are too lazy to do it themselves. It's not that fun. So why do I do it?

Because I want to be level 80. I want to go on raids with our guild, and be the top healer in the group. I want to be better than everybody else, and I want them to see it.

This sounds shallow, but this is why most people play games. Sure, they're fun, and I have fun playing board games whether I win or lose. But deep down, we want to win. It’s a public arena where our skills are demonstrated. We want to be better than other folks. Not to rub it in their face, but it makes us feel smart, special, or whatever. Need more proof? Look at the recently introduced achievements into WoW (something X-box has been doing for years).

Achievements give you points, but those points can't be spent on anything. It's simply a way to quantify things. You get points for anything from going on quests, to telling critters you love them, to exploring every nook and cranny of the game. Sound like fun? It isn’t. You have to work for three hours tracking down every critter on the list so you can say love you. It’s not fun, but people do it. And they do it because they want to have a higher 'score' than somebody else. I'll say it again; being better than other people is driving force of most games, particularly MMORPGs.

And this is where educators fall short in their instructional game design. As educators, we want everybody to succeed. No child left behind. We have a very hard time introducing competition into education. But this is exactly the compelling nature of games. After a while, Space Invaders is the same thing, what we’re really after is leaving out high score for everyone to see it. Player-vs-player, or PVP, is a core piece to popular MMORPG games. Whether it's literally fighting or dueling other players, or struggling so your guild earns a ‘server first’ achievement, most of the players in the game are in direct or indirect competition against the players around them. It's all part of the fun.

Going back to David's class, there is the briefest of hints at competition. There are two challenges in the course. These challenges don’t reflect on your grade, but are "a matter of individual and Guild pride", but as far as I can see, that is the only thing closely related to PVP in the course/game. By the end of the course, it's very likely that everybody is going to be a level seven. Everybody is going to be the same. And where is the fun in that?

So, how can you make a course like this better? I'm not sure you can, without raising some eyebrows. But if you really wanted to make it more like an MMORPG, then you would allow students to move past level seven. Let students do extra work and get up to level 21. Level seven still give you an A, but I would be willing to bet, several students go for higher levels, just for the bragging rights. Maybe a blog post mentioned in the Chronicle of Higher education is worth 300 XP (after you’ve reached level 7). Or maybe a podcast with 500 subscribers by the end of the semester gives you 500 XP. Have activities where students can debate, and 'pwn' other class members with their l33t instructional design skills.

Human nature makes it so that we want to succeed. We want to be special, and stand apart. It is certainly a double-edged sword. It can drive us to be better, or it can make us discouraged, and give up. But it's a powerful force, and one that could lead to better instructional design, if we are willing to use it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Apparently...I'm lactating.

Corporate America thinks I'm a female. And lactating. For some reason, I was suddenly bombarded with formula coupons, free samples, and pamphlets about the benefits of breast feeding.

I love living in the information age, because if I want to see the Lord of the Rings acted out in Peeps, by golly I'm get to see it. And I actually like seeing ads that I'm interested in. When friends send me messages about board games, I see ads for board games. It beats seeing ads for Depends. But when wires get crossed, crazy stuff like this starts to happen. Maybe I'll start ordering beer, CTR rings, denture cream, baby diapers, bras, and sports cups online, just to throw off the system.