May 2010 Archives

Book Review: Txtng, The Gr8 Db8 (link)

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FYI - Just posted a review to Txtng: The Gr8 Db8 by David Crystal, the author of several linguistics books written for the non-specialist audience, fills in this gap for the texting (aka SMS) quite nicely on my Linguist in the Wild blog.

Although it's technically a "linguistics" book, most of the content focused on the sociology of texting both here and outside the U.S. And yes, there are some cool non-English texting abbreviations mentioned.

Your Connectivity is Freaking Me Out

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The recent criticism of Facebook's lack of transparency in its new privacy settings has restirred the pot on the Web vs privacy debate. While some like danah boyd are concerned, others like Jeff Jarvis seem to think the issue is overblown.

Fair enough. I admit that as an informed consumer I have rechecked my privacy settings (kind of like checking my credit report)...but I still worry about overconnectivity. For instance:

Solitude Can be Sweet

I admit that one of my favorite functions on my iTouch are the little casual games that I can get. Some people like to post scores online, but others just like the game. I can see either working...except when you are FORCED into a social model. In one of my games, I am asked to connect to wireless EVERY time, presumably so I can post scores on the public leader board.

This can't happen because my iTouch is not usually on wireless, but I still have to dismiss the message. My question is...why can't I permanently disable this function? Posting to a leaderboard won't really destroy my privacy, but the fact is I don't WANT to post the information. Why should I be forced to share it? Who cares? The thousands of anonymous players of the game? I doubt it.

I find this expectation disturbing because the vendor is presuming my buy-in for a service I don't want. It's one thing to offer the option of a public leaderboard for those who want it, but to demand it? Eew.

I Have Multiple Identities for YOUR Sake

There's one school of thought that says that we should accept the merger of our different identities. The founder of Facebook Randi Zuckerberg went so far as to proclaim:

You have one identity... The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly... Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity"

Well, I doth protest. I admit that part of having a multiple identity is ensuring that your boss can't easily find you over the week-end, but it's not the only one. Like many people, I have many interests and functions. I could expose all you blog readers to them, but would you really want to know? Consider that I am interested in the following:

  • Educational Technology
  • Faculty use of educational technology
  • Accessibility
  • Cognitive architecture
  • Unicode!
  • Design and Color Theory
  • Greek Mythology
  • World news
  • Genre Fiction
  • Reality TV
  • Knitting, Embroidery, Beading, Weaving
  • Corgis
  • Techno and Disco on iTunes (with some country & folk)
  • Dialectal variations, particularly phonological
  • Archaeology, especially Mediterrranean
  • Whatever physics special is on the Discovery Channel
  • The effect of Afrocentrism on the Classics field
  • Grammatical gender assignment
  • Post Roman Britain
  • Historiography of the early medieval period
  • The outcomes of laryngeals in Indo-European

Is there any of you interested in ALL of these topics? Should you be? I suspect that all of us have a similar topic list. You'll noticed that I haven't touched on friends and family although of course they are very interesting to me...but you probably don't know all of them.

So if I'm not discussing Indo-European history on this blog, it's not lack of transparency, but a respect for your lack of interest.

Which brings me back to Facebook. I genuinely appreciate the chance to keep in touch, especially with my State College community, but I get the oddest sensation when I check the profiles of my more distant friends and family. I get to "meet" friends of theirs I have never been introduced to and see photos I wouldn't see otherwise. I really feel like I'm seeing something they don't realize I know about.

In most cases, it's harmless, but it still feels like I'm peeking into their living room window sometimes. I'm sure it will sort itself out, but probably in very unexpected and probably untransparent ways.

Video: Svetlana and the Inaccessible Textbook

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Here's a great video which describes the process for creating an accessible textbook "quickly" via scanning. The best tag line is - "The problem is not that Svetlana is blind. The problem is that this textbook is only published for students who see."

Did I mention that it is captioned and includes audio description for the visually impaired?

Games on iTouch > iPad?

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I'm still figuring out how to acquire an iPad, but I am reviewing my favorite games on iTouch (see below) and figuring out how iPad could improve or dis-improve games.

My Critical Needs for an iTouch/iPad Game

  1. Easy Tapping - I have wrist & mouse issues, so I really don't extra strain from dragging too hard. If two games are similar, the one with the less arduous tap/drag routine will win. So if the game lets me tap to move my cards/glowing balls/letters in I will be happier than if it forces me to drag. And if dragging is necessary, it's important that it have a light touch. My wrist complains otherwise.
  2. Fun Tapping - Needless to say, a game has to be fun to be worthwhile, but one of the great things about iTouch is that you can virtually move objects around (hence my appreciation of solitaire). Thus my absolute favorites are games which take full advantage of the touch screen. Fortunately, there are many ways to have fun tapping, and I suspect this will be just as important on iPad.
  3. Simple Graphics - I bought some great games for iTouch, but if the graphics are too complex, it's hard to process. One game in particular involves a lot a squinting, so that's not so good. The good thing about iPad is that the screen is bigger - some of these games may be really awesome on iPad.

And now on to the games...

Chromixa

The best of the batch in terms of taking advantage of the interface and having an educational application may be Chromixa (http://www.chromixa.com/ or read Macworld Review). Like Tangrams, the idea is to fit a set of shapes (triangles, squares, etc) into a larger shape.

The twist is that each shape has a different color (or colors). The goal is to overlap the shapes so that the colors blend to become the same solid color. For instance if you are asked to create a white square and all your pieces are red, blue and green, then you have to arrange pieces so that all three colors are on top of each other.

I find it addictive but also great for rehashing both geometry and RGB color theory. If you didn't realize that red and green make yellow on computer monitors, you will after this game. The cost is only $0.99, and I would recommend purchasing it if you need something for the airport or a long keynote.

And if it came to iPad? I really could see an art class leveraging something like this. You could play alone, play in pairs or have a teacher demonstrate to a student. I think it would be similar for other geometric/design tools.

Twisty Lite

Another new favorite is Twisty Lite from Branium Studios. This is a take on the classic puzzle where you get a set of letters and then make as many words as possible.

There are several games like this on iPhone, but this one beat a competitor because of the easy dragging rule. In another version of the game, I remember having a very hard time "capturing" and shuffling letters. You also had to make words in a separate pile, which meant that if you had SAND, you had to remove the S to get AND.

In Twisty Lite, the letters are in the same line and all you do is rearrange them. If you do get the SAND string somewhere in the line, you then drag a line under it to have it register as a word...but you can then drag under AND without having to move anything. Nice. The other advantage of having the letters in a line is that you can often see new possibilities is a reshuffle you didn't see in the old game.

In terms of education, this is obviously great for the younger set, but I will say that it's very addictive even for an adult. This could have applications for linguistics (some letter combinations are more plausible than others) and foreign language, but in those situations, I might want to disable the timer so you could explain things like "phonotactic constraints".

Could the sequencing idea have applications beyond this game? Probably.

Doodle Dots

Doodle Dots from Three Jacks Software is an iTunes version of the classic game in which you draw lines on a grid to compete for full squares (into which you place your initial). This was extremely popular in my high school.

The reason it's in the list isn't education so much as design. If you look at the interface, you will notice it's school pastime origin as it replicates sloppy handwriting and lined school paper. Even the arrows look like they were drawn by someone with really bad handwriting. Fun.

It turns out that there is now an entire genre of Doodle Games which replicate bad drawings and awful handwriting including several action games such as bowling and bounce (think leaping critter). I find this exciting because one thing that slows us down is adding graphic elements to a game.

If we attempt to compete with World of Warcraft, we are doomed. But these game interfaces remind us that at the end of the day, it's the game that matters.

Blog Tip: The Permanent Top Entry

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If you are using the Blogs platform for news you may want to sometimes add an entry which stays on top for a while. One way to do that is to change the Publish Date field to a particular late date (e.g. sometime in 2020 or the time when the information in the announcement "expires"). It will stay on the top because it's the most "recent" entry.

And no the system will not choke because the date hasn't actually happened yet. Best of all, you can adjust dates to reorder items. Just use this power only for good.