Monday, June 30, 2008

Microblogging: Quick Stories and Updates

The idea of trying to get anything written down that has value was the main question I reflected on when introduced to the idea of microblogging. The constraints just seemed too high, and even close friends and family scoffed the restrictive nature of the approach and its use. The predominant micro blogging platform that I was originally introduced to was Twitter.

I use Twitter on occasion and I do follow a few people on it as well. Tacomachickadee, Erik Hanberg and the News Tribune are some of those I am following. My own updates appear on the sidebar of this page. That being said, for the most part it is used when I am curious about the technology rather than it being a useful part of my communication toolset.

I’m not alone in wondering why one would use a service limited to only 140 character entries at a time, and the question that comes up with some degree of frequency. Whether in the social context of the Twitter outburst at SXSW or an academic white paper on why we twitter, we are still talking about why we are talking in this fashion.

But the more I use it, especially within the structure of another application, the more I like it.

The two recent examples of web site service applications that leverage microblogging that have been profiled here are Jott and Quillpill.

The value of Jott is the easiest for me to imagine and provide examples for. I just haven’t used it that much at this juncture. When I get a new cell phone, one that doesn’t fail me half the time, I can see making it part of my strategy for personal reminders and organization. Napster on the other hand, has already made good use of the tool and gives it a positive recommendation.

Quillpill, which I wrote about two weeks ago, would seem like the least likely to get my long term attention, but surprisingly this is not the case. First, it is in beta, so there are not a great number of features that can be used to leverage what it being produced from the short length entries. Second, it is very focused on a certain use, which is to create written works such as books, stories, poems.

As it stands though, that is the tool that I have had to most fun with. As with any technology application, it all depends on what you are applying it for. In this case, I chose to test it out recording thoughts about a local grassroots art event. After successfully using it once, I felt it would lend itself to creating simple verse, so I recorded the next week’s event as well, this time as a poem.

It was interesting to me in that the length of the poem would be dictated by how many entries I was moved to provide, and the storyline would be dictated by real events, either happening online or at the chalk art challenge itself.

It easily stands as the most fun I have had with a microblogging tool. Perhaps it is not the most useful, which will likely remain Jott, but certainly one that resulted in my most valued by product, which is the recap of Chalk Challenge XII (in verse).

Hopefully more features are forthcoming. For about two days, I was able to see how many readers I had, but then it disappeared. I hope it returns soon along with exporting tools and searching capabilities.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Blogging From Dubai

I had the pleasure of being invited on board The Royal Argosy cruise ship this last Tuesday by the Economic Development Board of Tacoma. The Port of Tacoma, the City of Tacoma and Pierce County joined them in arranging for a international networking event with a delegation from Dubai.

The three hours myself and other members of the South Sound spent puttering around the South Puget Sound was done in the company of 30 young men and women, who were visiting as part of the "Dubai Future Leaders" program. Among those I met, all of whom were engaging and seemed to enjoy the first beautiful day in some time around here, were a human resource manager for Shell International, a gentleman working on alternative energy solutions and a woman who was heading up the IT infrastructure solutions for the intergovernmental departments of Dubai. In fact her title on her card read: Head - Information Technology.

The conversation included films we liked or disliked, traveling with an eleven hour time difference, and blogging.

In particular, Aisha Butti Bin Bishr talked about blogging in the United Arab Emirates. She told me about her blog and of course I was interested and got the URL address.

However, it is in Arabic. The solution for me was to go to Google and use it's translation services in order to read the blog posts. It is pretty darn simple to use. I went to and used the URL input box for an Arabic to English translation of the post I was looking at.

So instead of this:

الـــحـــروف يــكـتـبـها الـجـمـيـع .. والــــفـكر الـحـر .. هــو مـن يــحـسـن قـــراءة هــذه الـــــحـــروف “بـعـد اللـيـل”

I was able to read this.
Letters written by everyone .. And free thought .. Is to improve the reading of these characters "after night"

and instead of this:

وجهاً لوجه مع الجمهور

السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته

كانت الخطة أن تكون هذه التدوينة تتحدث عن واقع المدون الإماراتي….

لكن حصل تغير في مسار الخطه .. وسأكتب عن حدث يحصل لي ويضعني في بؤرة الحدث

I was able to read this:

Face to face with the public

May peace and God's mercy and blessings

The plan was to be a codification of this talk about the reality of codified Emirati….

But the change had taken place in the course of the plan .. The event is happening write about me and puts me in the centre of the event

Which ended up being about a call to other bloggers to be part of a radio program that was encouraging young Arabic writers.

Thanks to the EDB and company for a great afternoon, thanks to Aisha and company for the great conversation, and thanks to online translation tools for being able to keep the lines of communication open.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Independent Gaming a Hiring Market

I have had to rethink my standard response to students who come asking about internships and jobs in game development. I use to say that it was less like looking for a job in the software industry and more like looking for a job in the film industry.

Having worked in television in my youth, I remember it to be exciting, fun and low paying. It allowed me to travel, meet celebrities, do creative work and compete daily against others who wanted my job. My experiences working around, though not in, film weren’t much different, though you could always count on a story of some independent filmmaker making good.

Lately I have experienced a change, due to a high demand market for CS and CE graduates. Several years ago a team of three students did an amazing job for a Seattle game company and gained some great experience. What they didn’t get was paid, or a job offer at the end of the project for the lead.

However, over the last year there have been three instances of students getting internships and hires into Washington gaming companies.

First, a student got a paid internship at a virtual world company that paid. Though they worked primarily on health related treatments, the experience could be ported to gaming.

Then, two instances a go a student approached me about interning at a game company. I explained to him the procedure for registering the internship opportunity as a course with credit pending a faculty sponsor. I was about to explain the wage thing when he stopped me. He knew about all that. He wanted advice on how to put together a license for the game engine he was providing to the company, which was hiring him under contract.

Then a few weeks ago, while prepping for a Summer internship a student stopped by to complete the prerequisite paperwork. It was for a Seattle based casual gaming company and he had a question about pay. As I opened my mouth to warn him not to be disappointed with the level of pay, he continued that rather than take internship pay they wanted to hire him on full time now.

I have to reset my preconceptions. So I did some cursory searches online and found some interesting articles on gaming. If anything, with the introduction of better technology, it looked like there was an emerging market for the independent game developer, just like the independent film maker.

CNN had a good piece yesterday on Indie video game designers breaking through. In some ways they repeated my former position, but explained that with new distribution deals for gaming consoles being developed, opportunities have increased. Creating a successful game was still a huge undertaking, but could be done.

If you are looking for information and support in creating an independent title, IndieCade 2008 might be a good starting point.

Even though it is a young industry, gaming is a 25 billion dollar industry worldwide with 10.5 of that being the United States slice of the pie chart.

I will not be so dismissive of the opportunities in the future, and hope to see some game development growth here in the South Puget Sound as well.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Robot Fish and Carpet Cleaning

A couple of weeks back ABCnews featured a story that caught my eye. It was in regards to a new robotic fish under development. There have been robotic fish in the past, but this one can communicate underwater, which is a new development. Therefore it can coordinate with other robotic fish, perhaps even in schools (my suggestion). They mention it does not look fish like, but moves fish like. As the article reports,

"Kristi Morgansen, assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the University of Washington, calls it "bio-inspired."

"Instead of a propeller, which is noisy, inefficient and easily snarled in weeds and ropes, her fish are pushed along by a fin that flaps back and forth."

This allows for propulsion on one end and electronic gadgetry and systems in the rigid front area.

However, if they would like to make it look like a Koi or other fish, then they can swap technology with watchimpressions or Essex University. There work can be seen on YouTube here and here respectively.

Of course I am not certain if I would be able to dispose of them like deceased pet goldfish if they broke down.

That is a question I can ask yet another University of Washington faculty member at the 2008 WTIA board retreat, which is coming up next week. In a presentation call "Neurobotics: Interfacing Robot and Nervous System to Understand and Enhance Human Movement", our guest speaker, Yoky Matsuoka will be discussing this new field that lies at the intersection of Robotics and Neuroscience.

From her bio at the UW web site.

"In the Neurobotics Laboratory in Computer Science and Engineering, robotic models and environments are used to understand the biomechanics and neuromuscular control of human limbs. In parallel, robotic systems are developed to augment, replace and rehabilitate damaged sensorimotor functions."

Yoky Matsuoka is an Associate Professor in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington. She directs the Neurobotics Laboratory where robotic models and environments are used to understand the biomechanics and neuromuscular control of human limbs".

This will be extremely interesting.

Maybe I can also ask what she thinks of the Roomba.

Our vacuum is acting up, and this may be my chance to try one of these out. It comes from iRobot, and is now one of many consumer available robots they sell. Now, along with the Roomba, which has been around for awhile, they also sell, the Scooba (not to visit the fish robots but to clean hardwood floors). the Looj (for gutters), the Veera (for pool cleaning) and the ConnectR (for virtual visiting). They also sell the Dirt Dog, which is not a robotic pet.

That will probably disappoint this kid.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Chalk it Up to Taking a Quillpill

When I write fiction, I do so in great bursts of writing. If I want to write a screenplay or a novel..., well..., it is hard for me to do so. I have only been moderately successful in completed longer works by breaking down the pieces, using index cards to coordinate scenes and characters and even outlining the major bits of important dialog. It is only then that I am I able to put it together in five or six massive writing jags of 10 to 30 pages each.

Now I am going to be put to the test. I am going to attempt to write some fiction, 140 characters or less at a time.

This will be done using the Beta version of a new online writing and posting service called Quillpill. Thank you to Jamie Paulson from for bringing it to my attention.

What is Quillpill?

From the site:

Quillpill helps you find the time to write at your own pace and wherever you are.

Quillpill supplies you the writer, diary keeper, poet, or reader with access to a unique writing tool for mobile and web. The mobile web offers you a much more book-like experience than even a laptop can, as the mobile phone is the first web-able device that is as portable, accessible, and personal as a paperback novel or your favorite journal. The best part is: You already own it and carry it with you!

But who is going to read a book or story written 140 characters at a time?

According to the site, it is already very popular in Japan, where they say that books written on cell phones have become best sellers in print. It doesn’t have to be via cell phone either. You can submit via laptop, gaming platforms like PSP and the Wii, as well as with desktops. It’s just it can only be 140 characters at a time.

What can you write at 140 characters at a time? It seems to me poetry and micro-diaries would be most form fitting, though they suggest note taking (Jott seems to have that covered) and story telling as well.

So I will attempt to write something at 140 characters per entry, with only 1 to 4 entries a day. But it must be epic, it must be important and it must be relevant. Therefore, I will attempt to write the story of Chalkoff Challenge XI.

I am willing to supplement the postings with 140 character or less lines suggested from any of you. (at my discretion) ((and in keeping with editorial flow of course))

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Make a Note to Self

Do you ever call yourself to leave a message? I do all the time. I also wish myself a good day and ask how I am doing as well, but that's not the point.

Voicemail is fine, but what about sending a note to yourself via email when you are away from a computer? Or leaving a post through your Blogger account? Or Zillow? Or Twitter or any other number of message and communication facilitators?

One way you can do it is through Jott, a Seattle based company that (paraphrasing their site) operates a voice to text service so that you can stay organized, (or in my case get organized) and in touch easily. Jott allows you to send emails and text messages, set reminders, organize lists, and post to web services with your voice.

They leverage their expertise in voice transcription to make it possible.

Cool. So I check them out.

It only took a few minutes to sign up for the service. I went through and checked out there privacy policy and the information and data they gather is provided to other Jott services and third parties in order to improve service and to target ads. Of course, so is the data from just about any online service you use anymore. I did note that Ackerley Partners was one of their backers. They invest in media and entertainment companies and have lineage to The Ackerley Group which was sold to Clear Channel Communications.

It was an easy process to complete and I dialed the toll free Jott number to try it out. I was concerned because my cell phone has been giving me trouble and I was unsure that the clarity of the call would make using the service feasible.

As it turned out, it was clear, simple and within minutes I had confirmed through my email and validated the account. The first Jott was jotted into my email in box soon afterward. It also appears in my own account list on the Jott site. There is a to-do list function in my calendar, but if I am not at the computer I don’t always make a note of the small items I need to take care of. I always seem to think about them on the road or away from the office.

Next up was what I will call “The Twitter Test” solely because I like the way that sounds. In order to use Jott with Twitter you need to supply the account information. The note you leave is done in the same fashion as an email note.

1) Call the Number

2) When they ask who you are leaving a message for say Twitter

3) They recognize you by your phone and they have your account information so you just need to leave your message.

4) You can say Hang Up or just remain silent

5) They transcribe the voice message and it shows up on Twitter.

Very nice.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Origami Lesson Plan for Kids: With Model Suggestions

I spent another afternoon teaching origami to grade schoolers yesterday at Crescent Heights Elementary. This was a first for me in one way, as I didn't have any of my own kids in the class. I knew the teacher because she had taught both of my older children, during which time I visited their classes.

Mine or not, it is always fun, and it seems every one of them takes some interest and pride in making the models. Given I have now done this so many times, I though I would share a very broad lesson plan. This is for a class of 25 students with one additional adult helper.


:05 minutes - introductions and getting to know each other a little

:10 minutes - Explain the history of origami. "Complete Origami, An A to Z of Facts and Folds" by Erik Kenneway can help prepare you, as well as a little web research. Make sure you explain your interest as well. My dad taught my class when I was in grade school and he became interested after spending three years stationed at Yakota Air Force Base in Japan.

:10 minutes - Show the different types of paper you can use included foil, patterned, makeshift and specialty paper. Talk about size of paper and how it creates different difficulty levels and effects the look of the completed models. You would be surprised at how fascinated they are be this. Most of them think of one type of paper and one approximate size.

:5 minutes - Show the different books and instruction resources they can find to learn how to fold, and how the instructions themselves are labeled. I also show them my two favorite books, A John Montroll one and one which my dad gave me from 1961. I also show "Origami by Design" by Lang pointing out specifically the math algoriths in Chapter 14.

:10 minutes Show and tell time. I present models I have folded and some that I have made art out of. I have them guess what the simple ones are supposed to be. Simple models sometimes only suggest what the model is and it can be fun to listen to the various interpretations. They also like the realism of the more complex models.

Notice that we are 40 to 45 minutes in and they haven't touched a piece of paper. It doesn't matter. If anything they are geared up to start folding and they have a little background to work from.

As my general rule, I come with four models in mind, broken down as follows.

:15 minutes A simple one that does not require accompanying folding instruction hand outs. It still needs to be cool enough that it is worth folding.

Recommended 1: A simple box or candy dish. Bring bite sized, wrapped candy to "test" the success of the models completion by throwing a few pieces in each. Make sure it is VERY simple to fold. I do a variation on the fortune teller (cootie catcher) that just about 3/4 of the kids already know how to make.

:20 Minutes Two progressively harder ones, that while still simple, introduce more difficult folding techniques and a simple base.

Recommended 2: A paper balloon or a tumbling toy. My favorite to do is the tumbling toy and I sometimes will do the third model as the paper balloon depending on the age.

Here is a link to the video instructions on how to do a tumbling toy.

:25 minutes
Recommended 3: The paper balloon or the crane.

:10 minutes I then make enough of a classic model such as a crane or an inflatable frog to hand out to everyone as a gift. All told about 2 hours of fun and while the kids still have plenty of energy you are likely to be just about spent.

I also like to leave enough paper behind that they have some to practice other models with.


On another note, here are a couple of recent models I have made.

The Starfish and the Seahorse from "Undersea Origami" by Lang and Montroll are now part of my window aquarium.

I made a baby with diaper for an artist friend whose wife is expecting. Very cool that he used the model in a promotional graphic for a grassroots civic art happening.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Sunniest Funniest Puppet You Ever Could Hope To Know

Ah Mr. Cat.
Yes Mr. Fox.
Did you see that?
I did Mr. Fox.

A puppet who walks.
A puppet who talks.
With gold pieces under his hat.

Mr. Fox.
Mr. Cat.
Could we both have seen that?

WE DID!!! La,la,la,la,la.... and so on.


This Saturday "Pinocchio" opens at the Narrow Theater for a two week run.

This will be the third production I've been in from the Tacoma Children's Theater, and though I do love the Main Stage, I think children's shows are a kick in the pants.

They are right up my alley, as it is hard to overact in a kids show.

When I received the script for the show, (I am a villager and Signore Volpone the Fox) it seemed familiar. Then I heard the music and smiled. I remembered seeing this particular production when I was a kid. The music is fun, the story is familiar and the show runs about 75 minutes (plus a short intermission) so it is great for a matinée.

The cast is made up of some great actors with a lot of singing and stage experience, both adults and kids. I won't start naming them all off, but I will give mention to someone I'm working with for the first time, Henry Nettleton, who is a great Pinocchio. I am also happy to be in a show with my daughter Delaney who is a villager and one of the evil toys from the Land of the Toys (as opposed to Disney's Pleasure Island).

Maria Valenzuela has done an excellent job of assembling a cast, directing and scheduling rehearsals around some tough schedules (it seems like half the cast were in other shows leading up to this one including "Man of La Mancha" down in Olympia, "Alice in Wonderland" which just finished as a TCT entry and in rehearsals for "Grease" the next Tacoma Musical Playhouse main stage show).

And, if you are wondering, there is a Monstro, and he does swallow the wooden puppet.

Here are three pictures I took during last nights rehearsal:

The Blue Fairly and Pinocchio sing "You Can Talk".

Geppetto (Lucas Blum) knocks on wood.

The toys and the Coachman (note: I wanted to show something but so many of my pictures just didn't turn out that I saturated one with effects to give an idea)

For more information check out the TMP website.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Upwardly Mobile for Second Life

My cell phone is low end and for good reason, which I will get to. However, a new reason to upgrade has been announced. No, not another iteration of the iPhone, but the introduction of beta software for a mobile phone based Second Life.

Unfortunately, I have destroyed many mobile phones in my time. As soon as cell phones were small enough to carry in my pocket (barely), I did. Then I crushed them. Sitting down, against a table top and just about anywhere there was a hard surface I managed to crack the screen. Then I started attaching them to my belt loop and carried them on my hip in a protective leather case.

A good friend of mine works with operating systems for cell phones and he would constantly berate me for my cheap gear. Because he had access to a wide range of phones that were high end but no longer necessary for testing, he graciously taunted me into taking one, just to check out the great system and features. I broke it within a week. It was almost surreal. The first phone literally jumped out of the case on my side while I was walk/jogging. I saw it in mid air as it leapt ahead of me and landed, just as I was landing. Somehow I stepped right on it. I watched the whole thing as it happened and was not fast enough to change my step.

The second one was crushed in a less than spectacular fashion, but the third one, ouch. I swear I wasn’t going to answer it and talk, as I was busy at the time. But I did want to see who was calling so I took it in hand, or at least tried to. It fell into a small indoor body of water that will remain unidentified and was immediately toast.

Tom and I agreed that I should stop receiving them after that, and, having to once more fend for myself went to a phone store to purchase one. I took the cheapest I could find. Everyone in my family has a nicer one than me.

Oh, the iPhone is tempting, but can I afford to pay that much for something I will lose or break within months if not weeks?

But now, Second Life is going mobile. Don’t get the impression that I spend THAT much time on virtual soil. Actually, I don't. But I do study it and other Internet, Web and social network related offerings. And the idea is cool.

But is it feasible?

Jessica Dolcourt posts on the announcing and even starts with that question:

Demanding a better-than-average processor, a 1024x768 screen resolution, a boatload of RAM, and a strong video card just to take part, it's hard to believe that Second Life, the virtual world developed by Linden Lab (download for Windows and Mac), could ever survive on a mobile phone.

Vollee, a company which provides video gaming to 3G mobile phones and the provider of the solution says it
“enables content which has never been possible on mobile devices before. We take into account the screen size, the key layout and we adapt the application to make it fun on the phone while preserving the high quality of the original.”

If you are interested in trying out the Beta, you can download it here.

As for me, I come up for renewed service this month, which means I get a substantial discount on a phone upgrade. Maybe if I’m REALLY careful…..

Hopefully you have seen the press release from the EDB about Infoblox renewing its lease in Tacoma for another six years. Growing from sixty...