Sunday, October 31, 2010

Interview with a Game Designer

A graduate of a major Virginian college, he packed his stuff to begin his new job at a major video game developer out on the West Coast. A few years later, he is recently married and has begun a new job at a software developing firm for social media.

How do you use new technology for your job?
We use Google to sync all of our emails, calendars, documents, and spreadsheets. It makes collaboration very easy at a fast moving company.

We use technology in many other ways as well to make our games, but I can't talk about it. :-)

Is there any technology/website made in the last 5-7 years that you can't live without?
Facebook. Cotton may have trademarked "the fabric of our lives," but that honor actually goes to facebook. Not just for time wasting antics; it has fundamentally changed how the entire modern world population interacts with the people closest to them on a regular basis. If you magically removed facebook from the world now you would remove a great deal of friendship and family interactions that carry enormous value and wouldn't happen otherwise. That's only going to become even more true in the next few years.

Is there any technology/website made in the last 5-7 years that seems useless to you?
This is a hard question, because technologies that disappear are quickly forgotten. Yahoo Answers and Hunch are equally useless; how often do they come up in search result answers to questions, only to act as a depository for hundreds of people who don't know what they're talking about?

What's one thing you wish you could do with technology but can't yet?
I wish that every application I interacted with was aware of all the data that I use in my entire life and then decide ahead of time what information I'd probably like to access. This is coming in the next 5-10 years through cloud computing and the social web but it's not here yet.
Some examples:
- When I look for dinner recommendations my phone, it should automatically tell me if any of my friends are eating nearby, or which ones nearby my friends recommend, and also know that I like variety and so I probably won't want Mexican tonight, since I had that last night
- When I'm shopping at the mall for something, I should be able to browse the shelf by what things my friends have bought and what products are recommended to me based on my past purchases in every store I go to. This should also happen on the mall directory, suggested stores for me to visit
- My mom should get notifications of websites that me and my brother have visited recently and tagged as interesting that are cross-referenced with her own interests and demographic, presented in "These are sites your sons were looking at that you might like" form
- When I wake up in the morning to get breakfast, my mobile device/computer/fridge from the future should be aware that I have recently become interested in longevity and nutrition because of books I've looked at online or at the store, and also aware of the fact that I normally eat breakfast at 10:30am, and print out a suggested grocery list for me to pick up. Better yet, my favorite grocer already has the list and all I need to do is go to the store and get it.

You can read more about this game designer at his very own blog, seen here:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Prophet Speaks End Times for Microsoft, and I Don't Mind

Earlier this morning InformationWeek published an article spelling out the clues for the end of Microsoft, citing poor fiscal performance, failed fringe products including a blogger platform, and a lack of innovation in the new tech spheres that have become the main arena for thumb masters of late: “cloud, social media, mobile, and tablet.”

For the last several years, Microsoft has consistently seemed a day late and a dollar short in the tech world. Years ago Google skybombed members of Search Engine City (if you don't remember AltaVista, Ask Jeeves, Yahoo, then sneak a peek at some of the former citizens of Search Engine City here) and set itself up so strongly that its name was literally verbalized (“Verbalized? Let me Google that.”). In my mind, it was the search engine of choice because it gave not only fast and thorough results, but because its simple white page was easy to look at, its advertisements were not flashy color banners, and my search results for “how to get rid of poison ivy” weren't sidelined on the results page by news headlines for celebrities, sports, politics, and album releases. Google felt like a functional tool and not like a commercial machine. Not that there's no money to be made in being "anti" commercial. One search result suggests that the worth of Google is $153 billion.

People Named Bing (from left): Fan Bing Bing, Carmella Bing, Bing Crosby, favorite apartment neighbor Chandler Bing (played by Matthew Perry)

Microsoft's answer? Bing. I guess they wanted a name that would be quickly verbalized as well. Although originally loaded with news headlines for celebrities, sports, politics, and album releases (arg! I don't need another portal page!), the new search engine streamlined these features down to unassuming links available on the margins of the search page. Search results come up easily, showing results from wiki pages, eHow, and some suggested search terms. I can even easily switch my web search to an image search and be shown a grid of pictures gleaned from web pages according to my original search query, “how to get rid of poison ivy.” Hey, you know who had all of these features already? Google. Am I switching? No.

How about in the realm of computing? The article cited at the top of this entry has Microsoft claiming 90% of the operating system market when computers are sold, and this is supposed to be evidence for Microsoft's continued long-term strength. Too bad when it was time to upgrade from my Windows XP desktop to a shiny new laptop in 2008, Microsoft was just then getting on board (see: day late dollar short) with producing a system that looks good and offers some finger functionality as well, similar to the cool tricks that a Mac can do. Its name was Vista, and it had appeared on every single computer in Best Buy without me knowing about it until my poor self showed up at the store. I was not prepared to see a label that promised to double my PC memory and speed, only to find out that Vista runs like an old woman and needs all the rocket boosters you can strap to her.

Then of course, two days later and two dollars shorter, Windows 7 came out, promising to fix all that and add even more. The commercials for Windows 7, where Windows users each claimed to have created a cool feature in the software based on what they wanted before, really said this to my ears: “I've seen Macs do this ___________[cool feature], and I've wanted it for a long time. Microsoft, after years of deafness, finally listened to its customer base.”

If this is Microsoft's status pro quo, I don't mind seeing it die. Google has risen from the depths to provide a meaningful competition with Apple, and since I love both companies, I'm excited to see where it's going. What I don't need is Microsoft shouting from the corners in Round 3 that it's ready to start fighting.

Then again, as Paul McDougall says in his InformationWeek article, Microsoft might recognize that the future of computing lies in cloud, social media, mobile, and tablet. If Microsoft can stop producing knock-offs of great innovations and counting on its loyal customers to flock to it, and instead if Microsoft can become a true innovator in these new and fast-moving media, I won't mind seeing Microsoft stick around.

That's one teacher's opinion.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ready for that Video Project? Easy Instructions for Windows Movie Maker

A fun screenshot from an article
I wrote that you should check out.
Some years ago I wrote an article on the super basics of Windows Movie Maker (pictured on left) for use in the English classroom. The article is filled with easy instructions and fun screen shots. 

I've always loved Windows Movie Maker:
1. It's easy to use and easy to teach.
2. It's free.
3. At most schools, it's already available.

Thanks to Donors Choose I will be doing a project this year wherein my students will write, produce, and share original movie trailers based on given texts. The students will use Flip Video cameras (pictured on right) to film their projects and Windows Movie Maker (pictured above) to turn their work into award winning short videos. 

By doing this, students are engaged in an awesome act of creativity while at the same time invisibly practicing differing levels of reading comprehension and synthesis that they may never have accessed before. Exciting, right?

To see the "Hamlet" movie trailer that inspires projects like this, take a peek:

To see the "Apt. J Sing-A-Long" featured in the screenshot above, take a look at the video below:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dead On Arrival: Don't need tablet's limited size and software for $600

This toy is neat, but for $600
I wouldn't called it a "must have."

“Dead on arrival.” Steve Jobs' dramatic exclamation may be true for a neat product for which there is high cost and little need.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab, although super neat, has two major disadvantages:

1. Seven Inch Screen Size
How are they going to compel the American wildlife of tech users to shell out another $600? Because now I have an even smaller, less capable stopgap between what my phone and laptop already do? Seven inches of screen real estate means that any typing is still going to be thumb based, as on a cell phone. Any finger pushing or pulling as on a web browser will be like a cell phone.

2. Non-Ideal Software
It uses Google's Android system developed for mobile phones, but even Google says this system wasn't designed for tablets. It will be like a big phone that can't call anyone. What makes the iPad/iPhone/iPod products so effective is that they managed to convince the vast array of app designers to make a vast array of well illustrated, finger-friendly apps. Will the Galaxy Tab go this way, or will it be like my Windows Mobile phone: promising to balloon in an exclusive app marketplace but instead flopping on the ground? Two of Samsung's partners in this endeavor, Blockbuster and VCast, have for me always been poorly made expensive substitutes to other products out there. Please change my mind.

And why is it more expensive than an iPad? I cannot be convinced to pay more money to take a risk on what could be less. That's one teacher's opinion.