Posts by bthompson:
- Angry Birds Space
- Draw Something by OMGPOP
- Osmos for iPad
- MONOPOLY for iPad
- Draw Something Free
- Hunger Games: Girl on Fire
- Magic Piano
- Skype for iPad
- Draw Something by OMGPOP
- Cut the Rope
- Beautiful Widgets
- Where’s my Water?
- Camera ZOOM FX
- Draw Something Free
- Facebook for Android
- Pandora Internet Radio
- Angry Birds
True or false: blogs are the new sweatpants.
I would say false. If anything will replace sweatpants, it’s something like these. If anything, blogs are the new newspapers!
What’s the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?
Well, that depends. African or European swallow?
Which is scarier, a zombie clown or a world without internet?
Zombie clowns, of course! I’ve lived in a world without internet, and life wasn’t any scarier than it is now.
Okay, technically the Internet has been around for my entire life, with the key technologies for the Internet being created in 1975. However, I didn’t personally connect to the Internet until the mid-90s. See Ian Peter’s History of the Internet for more details.
What’s one of your favorite programming moments ever?
These moments come just about every day, when I’ve been struggling to make something work and suddenly figure out the solution. The feeling you get when that program feature starts working is a thing of beauty. It’s to programmers what a “click” is to clicker-trained dogs
Worst moments ever?
Spending half a day confused about why my code isn’t working, troubleshooting frantically, only to discover it’s all because of a friggin’ TYPO L
Is it true that the internet is really just a series of interconnected tubes filled with cats?
It’s a very popular saying, but it’s not technically true (as a programmer, I focus on the technicalities!). The Internet is really just a bunch of wires hooked up to other wires. Think of a conference call, except it’s computers talking to each other instead of people. And instead of half a dozen people talking, it’s millions of computers.
The part about cats is true, though.
I know you do karate. How is programming like or unlike karate?
In karate, you practice many of the same moves over and over, trying to improve your technique and body dynamics a little more each time. In programming, you use many of the same concepts in each new piece of code, but you have a new goal with each one.
I suppose you might say karate is a little like debugging — in each case, you have something that partially functions, but it’s still not quite right, so you have to tweak it.
Which shoe do you tie first?
I always tie the right shoe.
If your job were a cookie, what flavor would it be?
Every day would be a new flavor since every day brings a new challenge.
What underappreciated superpowers do programmers possess?
We can teach old computers new tricks!
If that’s your superpower, what’s your superweakness?
My superweakness is trying to teach old humans new tricks.
Is there any truth to the rumor I’m starting that programmers are solely responsible for the state of the U.S. economy?
I can’t even win an argument with my wife, much less control the economy!
How many computers do you personally own (this includes computers in your car, phone, coffee maker, etc)?
Oh, goodness. I have no idea. How do I count the assorted computer parts in my basement? I could probably put together two or three technically-working computers out of those. Then I have a laptop, cell phone, couple of game consoles, house alarm system, and a car. I don’t actually know how many computers the car has, but I’m pretty sure it’s at least three.
Is this number greater or less than the average number of computers owned by a programmer?
Probably less. I don’t have a tablet or home server (I spend too much time playing Civilization, so I’ve never gotten around to setting one up).
Is civilization as we know it doomed to be destroyed by computers?
I doubt it. A computer is just a tool — a very powerful one, mind you, but still just a tool. Hostile AI makes for a good story in the Matrix, but we’ve got a long way to go for self-aware computers.
In the impending robot apocalypse, what will the average person need to know to survive?
How to replace batteries and repair robot parts — the robot overlords will value those skills.
More seriously, see my reply to the previous question. The robot apocalypse will come around the time civilization is destroyed by computers!
Several companies are making tremendous efforts to compete with Apple for the tablet market. There are a lot of similarities between Android Tablets and iPads, including the apps used on each one. What are these apps?
The current top ten apps (five paid, five free) in the App Store are:
The current top ten apps (five paid, five free) in the Android Marketplace are:
The first thing you’ll notice is that most of these are games: Angry Birds, Angry Birds Space, Draw Something (appearing in both lists for the free and paid versions!), Osmos, Monopoly, Hunger Games, Cut the Rope, and Where’s My Water? That’s over half the list! Clearly, tablets are for gaming.
Next come communications apps. Seeing Facebook on the list for Android apps, it’s a little surprising that it doesn’t make the list for the App Store. Either way, Facebook isn’t a surprising use of time on any mobile device, be it a phone, iPad, or Android tablet. Likewise, Skype is a natural use for any tablet with a front-facing camera.
Photo management is another important task to most tablet users. iPhoto covers the task on the iPad, and Camera ZOOM FX provides that functionality on Android tablets. Given the way tablets in general are positioned as media consumption devices, this comes as no surprise.
Music comes next. On the iPad, Magic Piano provides a fun way to jam out some tunes on a (short) keyboard. Android users seem to be more aligned with listening to music with Pandora than playing. It might also just be that iPad users don’t seek out music-player apps, having iTunes as an inherent part of the device.
Finally, we get to the point where you see different types of apps in the two realms. iPad users obviously enjoy reading e-books with the Kindle app. While Android tablets may also work well for reading e-books, it’s not as ubiquitous for Android Marketplace users. Instead, many spend time using Beautiful Widgets to customize the home screens on their devices - something that no one is doing with their iPads (either a blessing or a limitation, depending on whom you ask).
All told, most of the uses for tablets remain the same regardless of whether they come from Apple or an Android supplier. There are a lot of games available for tablets!
Here’s a roundup of twelve articles about technology, teaching, and eLearning to kick off the New Year!
- Learning Solutions Magazine has some interesting thoughts on learning contexts, disruptive technologies to use in eLearning, and other new ideas on the future of eLearning.
- Learning Solutions Magazine has another article with some very interesting book suggestions that deal with learning, the human brain, and interpersonal relationships.
- ReadWriteWeb has an article on the Boston Globe’s new premium site. The article is a little more on the technical side, but it showcases a very important trend for the future: creating flexible sites (including eLearning) that cope well with a wide variety of devices.
- ConnectYard is a very thought-provoking technology. It just cries out to be translated into other contexts like email between employees, online newsletters, even blog reading feeds could from this kind of medium-agnostic approach.
- Voice-control features got a big boost last year when Apple’s Siri made a media splash; there are a few alternatives.
- Articulate has some thoughts on writing meaningful and engaging objectives screens for eLearning.
- Personalization in eLearning is something of which I’m sure we’d all like to see more.
- Simple Help lives up to its name; almost every post on the page is a simple “how to” of some task that isn’t immediately obvious on mobile devices, popular websites, or desktop software.
- Forecasts of eLearning trends that we might see this year. They sound pretty reasonable although I can’t really speak to Forecast #2 - Talent Management isn’t something I deal with very often.
- Effective Online Teaching talks about the “F-shaped pattern” where people tend to read the first line or two and then briefly scan down the left side of the page to get the gist of a page.
- dashe.com talks about inverting the traditional classroom lecture model by having students watch a video lecture as homework, then using classroom time to address questions. It’s an interesting idea, but it’s a little dangerous - I would have been very unhappy in high school if I’d had seven hours of lectures (one hour per class) as homework in the evenings.
- American RadioWorks has another story on turning around the common lecture-oriented course format. The bits about cooperative learning are especially thought-provoking.
I’ve written before about the Humble Indie Bundle. Since then, I’ve noticed several more Humble Bundles come and go, with similar results each time. There’s even one up now. Far from being a one-off experiment, Humble Bundles are starting to become a regular fixture of the video gaming marketplace. It’s even spawned copycats; Indie Royale is also running a similar pay-what-you-want deal right now, and some Google searches reveal a few other bundles that ran earlier this year.
It’s an interesting trend. Consumers win because they can buy that many more games with their scarce entertainment dollars. The indie developers in the bundles win because these sales bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue and raise their profile among their customer base - both crucial issues for independent game developers.
Could this model work for the large established game studios (or other entertainment industries)? Probably not. Part of what makes the bundle work is a sense of goodwill between the developers and the gamers - something sorely lacking in online conversations about studios. Another consideration is the amount of extra exposure gained through these sales. The buzz about these bundles reaches an extremely large audience on the scale of the indie developer, but there’s no guarantee that large studios would see a similar increase in reach. Finally, bundles like these are very risky. An indie developer can often afford to gamble on getting that buzz, having little to lose if the offering flops. Major publishers are much more risk-averse in nature, so they’re more likely to simply run a conventional sale.
The obvious place to start is number of users. At the beginning of August, Google+ boasted 25 million users. By contrast, it took both Twitter and Facebook about three years to reach the same level; there’s a nice chart showing the comparison. If it keeps up such rapid growth, Google+ could be matching Facebook for number of users in three years.
Of course, raw numbers don’t mean much if the users aren’t active on the site. According to Google Trends, there was an initial spike of traffic followed by a slight decline in late July and August. Interestingly, the lion’s share of traffic is coming from India, probably as the service catches on with the technical crowd there.
Probably the biggest new development on Google+ is the games. Google added sixteen games earlier this month, including versions of Angry Birds, Bejeweled, and a Farmville-style city builder called City of Wonder. Seeing as the game scene is such a large part of the Facebook culture, it’s understandable that Google will try to compete in this area. So far, though, I haven’t seen anything truly compelling amongst the game offerings. On the other hand, I haven’t had time to try all sixteen games yet.
What’s your take on Google+’s momentum? Want to recommend one of the new games? Sound off in the comments!
Google Plus is all the rage this month. Will it flourish and threaten Facebook’s position in social media, or will it wither in obscurity? It’s too soon to tell, but there’s certainly a lot of buzz about it!
After getting an invite to the service recently, I set up an account and started poking around. At first, it’s a little underwhelming - you fill in profile information, add people to “circles”, and read or post to the “stream”. So far, I haven’t seen much in my Google+ Stream, but perhaps that’s because I don’t have many people in my circles yet. With items in your Stream, you can comment on them, “+1″ them (similar to “liking” things on Facebook, as far as I can tell), or share them (kind of like retweeting, I think). It’s pretty simple, which is probably good for a social networking site. Being social shouldn’t be complicated.
A few other interesting tidbits:
Google Plus has over 10 million users as of last weekend. That’s pretty impressive growth for such a young service.
Business Insider has a nice list of tips for getting started using Google Plus.
Excited about Google Plus? Think it’s going to be a colossal flop? Want an invite? Sound off in the comments!
P.S. From the strange bedfellows department, the Google+ iPhone app was just announced today.
In my last post, one of the questions dealt with whether Microsoft, Apple, or Google had the greatest impact on the world. Today, I’ll explore that question a little further, looking into some of the things that these three companies are doing.
Microsoft still holds its dominant stance on the desktop with Windows, of course, and they have a significant presence in the gaming world with the XBox 360 (and more recently, the Kinect add-on). However, most of the recent buzz on Microsoft has focused on Windows Phone 7. It’s a huge market opportunity, but it’s also a tough nut to crack; Microsoft has less than 8% market share despite major investments in the area. Taking all that together, I think that Microsoft will continue to do well overall, but it won’t take over gaming or mobile markets the way it did with Windows.
Apple continues to make headlines (and record profits!) with the iPad. Despite a storm of competitors in the tablet space, Apple seems to have an unshakeable lead, especially with the recent release of the iPad 2. For the short term, their future is clear — the iPhones and iPads will sell well, and tablets as a market will continue to grow.
Google’s future is more abstract. They will continue to do well in online advertising, and their Android business gives them a strong presence for mobile advertising. Less clear is where their social strategy will take them. It’s obvious they’re focusing very heavily on social media — to the point of tying employee bonuses to it! — but pulling people away from Facebook may be rather difficult.
Taking all that together, I’d still peg Google as the most influential company for the future, but it has definitely lost some momentum. Social strategy could be a huge win for them, or it could just be a colossal money sink.
Agree? Disagree? Think I’m full of crazy talk? Leave a comment!
For today’s post, I decided to take some questions from co-workers, write up responses to them, and share my thoughts:
Do you dream in code?
Laughs. No, I’m afraid not. The closest I come is dreaming about work when I’ve been putting in too many hours — something to which I’m sure we can all relate!
What’s your favorite programming language and why?
Tough question! In college, I would have said Python. There isn’t really any call for Python with our projects, though, so I haven’t actually used it in years. Today, I switch between Actionscript, Coldfusion, C#, Java, and PHP, depending on the project. Out of those, I’d have to say…
PHP is my current favorite. While it’s a really messy language, it’s well-documented, it’s easy to use, and I very seldom run into strange, time-consuming quirks in it.
What exactly does a computer programmer do? - What are some typical and maybe not so typical careers one might pursue?
In short, a computer programmer takes an idea and turns it into a running program. Starting with the idea, you think a bit and figure out, okay, we need to do these 10 things to make the idea work. Then, with that list of requirements, you think about how the nuts and bolts of the program need to work together - that gives you a rough design. From there, you write the raw code for your program, and then you spend more time than you thought possible debugging.
On that note, debugging is truly a humbling process. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been baffled by something not working, then taken another look after lunch or the next day, and realized that it was something simple all along. You feel incredibly stupid for not catching it earlier, but you feel smart for fixing it - all wrapped up in a sense of elation that it’s working now!
Finally, once you deliver software, you have to support it. For a programmer, sometimes this means speaking with end-users and talking them through a process that doesn’t make sense. Sometimes this means going back into the code to fix a bug that a user found.
In terms of careers, the most typical path for someone with programming skills would be working as a programmer of some sort. However, it really does vary. At its essence, programming skill is really just skill in figuring out solutions to problems - a skill that can be used in almost any position in any field. Management, sales, consulting, IT … you can find programmers - or ex-programmers - in all of these.
The title Programmer can be attributed to a variety of jobs (e.g. computer programmers, software programmers, web and database programmers). Will you explain the difference — are programmers job-specific, or is a programmer able to work in all areas of programming?
It varies. Given enough time, anyone with the basic skills necessary for programming can figure out how to change to a new type of programming. That said, life is short, so most programmers specialize to one.
To address the examples above: I would say that ‘computer programmer’ is an umbrella term for anyone who does programming. If you can program it, it’s a computer!
- Software programmers work on the shrink-wrapped boxes you’d see on the shelf at a nearby retailer.
- Web programmers write websites, of course. Post on Twitter, search on Google, log in to your bank account - web programmers make these sites work.
- Database programmers work very closely with databases. To use the Twitter example above, when you click a Top Trending Topic on twitter.com, behind the scenes it goes to a database to look up tweets that mention that topic. A database programmer worked on the part where the website checks with the database to send you the right page of tweets.
What degrees/background do programmers have?
It runs the gamut from PHDs in computer science to high-school dropouts who started out by playing around on their family computer. It’s a bit of a controversy within the industry, really - some people champion the college degrees while others go on about how university is a waste of time. Personally, I considered my time in college to be well-spent, and I do recommend it to aspiring programmers.
Given technology is constantly changing and evolving; is it difficult to stay up-to-date?
Yes and no. It takes a lot of attention and effort to keep current on tech trends, but then it’s easy to spend a lot of attention on something that interests you. For a lot of programmers, keeping up on technology is bit of a hobby in addition to being work-relevant.
Of these three companies, which one do you think has had or will have the greatest impact on the world?
In the past, definitely Microsoft. There was a tremendous growth in personal computers in the 1990s, and Microsoft was in the middle of that with Windows. For the future, though, the Internet will have a far greater significance for the world than personal computers, and Google is much more Internet-aligned than either Microsoft or Apple.
It’s tempting to point to Apple’s domination of the music-player market and influence in portable devices - both the iPhone and the iPad brought touchscreen interfaces to the forefront for their respective markets - but their reach is limited to only a tiny luxury market in worldwide terms. I’d estimate that around 350 million people have Apple devices worldwide; by contrast, there are well over a billion personal computers and Internet users worldwide.
Overall, given its strong presence on the Internet, along with things like Android, I’d say Google is likely to have the biggest impact on the world moving forward.
Have any thoughts? Leave a comment!
Black Friday! Cyber Monday! Coupons, sales, holiday deals!
We’re all familiar with the trappings of the retailer’s (and e-tailer’s) environment during the holiday season. That’s why it’s interesting to see how far the folks behind the Humble Indie Bundle have taken it. It’s quite simple: they offer a bundle of five independent games, plus donations to two charities, and the price is … whatever you’re willing to pay.
It’s a shockingly bold digital marketing strategy. It completely discards traditional business concerns about minimum price levels and replaces it by casting a really wide net. By all appearance, it’s working the buzz and “wow factor” have led to nearly 200,000 sales totaling nearly $1.5 million.
Not bad for a week-long sale with no minimum price!
As time passes, it seems like more and more eLearning projects are using games to teach, whether the game portion is the entire project or just a small part. Why is this?
Well, there are several reasons. Firstly (and obviously), games have a “fun factor” that helps draw in the students. Engaging students this way helps to hold their attention. It often sparks more interest in exploring the subject at hand. It also forestalls the classic “Why do we have to learn this? We’re never going to use it!” complaints of schoolchildren.
Secondly, it brings in the principles of behaviorism to the eLearning project. Operant conditioning techniques have a very powerful impact on learning by reinforcing lessons or skills being taught. Key concepts include:
- Rewards or reinforcers. Desired behaviors earn rewards, making those behaviors more likely in the future. In the context of eLearning, this means that learners will be reinforced for correctly applying a skill being taught.
- Timing. As the learners progress through the material, timely feedback makes it clear exactly WHAT decisions are being reinforced. The online game Bejeweled 2 offers a great example of this: Matching gems into groups of three makes them instantly disappear, adding points. Try to arrange gems without lining them up in groups of three, and they just pop back into place.
- Bridging stimulus. There are times when a reward can’t be delivered quickly enough to be timely feedback. To get around this, a neutral intermediate signal can communicate “That was right. A reward is forthcoming.” A common example of this is the click of a camera shutter; it tells the photographer that the picture is taken, and the actual picture will be available soon (hours to days in the case of old-style film; seconds in the case of current digital cameras).
- Reinforcement schedules. Early on in learning, constant feedback helps the lesson sink in. Later on, once the learner understands the concept, intermittent reinforcement strengthens it. Almost any computer role-playing game demonstrates this; characters gain new levels within minutes at the beginning of the game, but by the end of the game, each new level comes after hours of effort.
Thirdly, games inherently build problem-solving skills. It’s essentially the core of all games. A game environment is a framework of rules with a problem to be solved, and winning the game requires mastering that framework. Many games also require paying attention to subtle environment cues to avoid setbacks. Any first-person shooter drives this home with enemies approaching the character from all directions!
All in all, games offer an engaging way to teach lessons and build related skills, and they mesh easily with behaviorism principles that serve to strengthen mastery of the material.
What have you learned from playing a game recently? Sound off in the comments.