Combining my favorite topics, family and art, with spicy technology

TED Blog

Flower-video-game

By Andy Robertson

New art forms are polarizing. We love or hate Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde animals or Tracey Emin’s unmade bed but roundly understand that avant garde art has value, the artist trying to challenge us and make us think something.

Video games draw similar fire. Detractors hem and haw that they’re all about shooting guns and wasting time, and worry about the harm they may be doing that we haven’t identified yet. Supporters congregate into defensive groups, highlighting not only their entertainment and relaxation value, but touting that they have educational and self-improvement benefits too.

Having spoken about the meaning of video games at TEDxExeter, I read the recent TED Blog posts “10 online games with a social purpose” and “7 talks on the benefits of gaming” with great interest. However, even with all the talks available, the posts still focused on justifying games…

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Snake Eyes

Image

Python is killing me.

My enthusiasm of two months ago is drying up and all the things I thought I was going to love about Python, I now hate.  I miss JavaScript. The comforting closure of the semi-colons. Those curly brackets were always more fun than I gave them credit for. They told you where things went. They provided structure, style and whimsy.

Python is all empty space. And while the basic logic is still there, why do all computer languages have to do things differently?

Mostly, I guess I just resent that it’s hard. Which is probably a life problem, not a Python problem. Why do we always think that life is going to get easier?  I’ve been baby stepping my way through, but I’m falling behind.  I was on track to finish Code Year on time, and every week my percentage of completion is getting a tiny bit lower. I feel like a marathon runner who’s fading in the last mile.

Must. Get. The. Passion. Back.

Yesterday I was thinking about the programming satori experience that got this blog rolling. I remember how I felt after I got through the Snake Eyes  challenge. The world took on this complex, computational beauty that I never  would  have seen If I’d given up . For the week after that challenge I was thinking in code. I felt enlightened, stronger.

I’m sure Python has something to teach me too. I just have to be willing to re-commit and set a challenge to make up the ground I’ve lost.

One of the advantages of being the mother of a twelve year old is that I have many inspirational Hollywood movies to choose from in this mission. A scene from  the Karate Kid remake comes to mind. The one where they visit the Taoist monastery and Jaden Smith learns that the snake is not controlling the nun. By copying its movements the nun is controlling the snake!

There is some profound metaphor in there that I don’t quite understand yet. But I will find some way to make that allegory work.

Because if I’ve learned one thing from a year of learning to program, it’s that it’s usually right at the point when nothing makes any sense that the magic is about to happen.

Chris Anderson on how “parenting gone wrong” turned into a multi million dollar company.

TED Blog

Melissa Marshall has a message for scientists and engineers: Contrary to popular belief, the general public is interested in your work and does want to hear the details of your research. The trick is that you must communicate your ideas clearly, because they will start snoring in their seats if you assault them with a slew of jargon and details they’re not prepared to understand.

See, Marshall is a communications teacher. And as she explains in this talk from TEDGlobal 2012 University, she was asked several years ago to teach a communications class for engineering students. The experience highlighted for her that the ability to speak clearly does not come part and parcel with the ability to do great technical work.

“Our scientists and engineers are the ones tackling our grandest challenges from energy, to environment, to healthcare, among others. But if we don’t know about it and understand…

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The TED talk linked to above is an enlightening and empowering testimonial on how parents can inspire self-study.

TED Blog

As computers have gotten more complex, even tech literate users have become detached from the basics of how they function. This is what Shimon Schocken and Noam Nisan noticed with their computer science students in Israel. As Schocken explains in this talk from TEDGlobal 2012, the pair decided to have their students build a working computer, from the ground up, so that they would “understand how computers work in the marrow of their bones.” They broke down the process into a series of bite-sized, stand-alone units. While students start with building “Nand,” a simple logic gate, and they end by writing games like Pong, Snake and Tetris.

“You can imagine the joy of playing with a Tetris game that you wrote in Jack, and then compiled into machine language in a compiler that you wrote also, and seeing the result running on a machine that you built,” says Schocken

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Further reading in GitHub

TED Blog

The open-source programming world has a lot to teach democracy, says Clay Shirky.

In this fascinating talk from TEDGlobal 2012, Shirky harkens back to the early days of the printing press. At the time, a group of “natural philosophers” (who would later adopt the term “scientists”) called the Invisible College realized that the press could offer a new way to share and debate their work. However, because printing books would be far too slow for this purpose, they came up with a new invention — the scientific journal.

So what does this mean for us today?

Shirky explains, “If I had to pick a group that I think is our Invisible College — our generation’s collection of people trying to take new tools and press them into the service of, not more arguments, but better arguments — I’d pick the open-source programmers.”

Shirky explains a fact that any programmer…

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The Intention Economy

“Doc Searls On Becoming Part of The Intention Economy,” Fast Company, May 3, 2012.

When my mom was starting her busy protoyuppy family, back in the 60s, one thing was easier. She had relationships with saleswomen at a few downtown department stores. “I could call one up and say, I need some back to school clothes, and she’d just put together a couple of outfits for you guys. And that was it, we’d just go down, take a look at them, buy the best option and I was finished.”

Think of all the time we spend now, comparison shopping, and all the energy and money that goes into convincing consumers that they have some kind of special relationship with a brand.

Imagine if the web could bring about a mass return to the kind of economy where customers had real sustained relationships with sellers. That’s a possibility put forth by Doc Searls in a book I started reading last week. The Intention Economy grew out of an article he wrote for Linux Journal back in 2006. Much has changed since then, but the kernel of his argument seems to be even more possible. What if the current trend of vendors, using technology to track and prompt buyers, shifted instead towards encouraging buyers to simply state their buying intentions up front. What if this brought about a more direct, open and respectful relationship between buyers and sellers. Wouldn’t almost everyone profit?

For instance, imagine you have an app that enables you to list the things you intend to buy in the near future. On this app you put the things you want to buy: a new car, a reconditioned Ipad for the kids, a coffee table that would match the living room you posted on pinterest, a grocery list that you don’t have the time to check with the latest flyers. Let’s say this app has enabled you to form a network of trusted vendors. Over the next days you receive bids, offers, helpful information from various vendors, a calculation of what your groceries would cost at three different stores. Some of these vendors have sold to you before, so they’re willing to cut you a better deal as a trusted, known customer. Let’s add some bonus features, like a terms of service contract  overseen by a good consumer protection group. A contract that the VENDOR clicks the agreement button on. And a seriously well insured way for the buyer to pay that doesn’t make her vulnerable to identity theft, or credit card hacking.

Imagine the money saved on advertising and marketing for the smart vendors who adopt this early. In a couple of years small to medium sized businesses could build a steady web of reliable clients in a stable, sustainable economy.

Everything is moving towards mobile technology, but I have yet to come across a market evaluation that doesn’t predict mobile technology is going to be even tougher to monetize than the web.

Unless it’s not. Unless vendors use it as a way to bypass the high cost of adverstising, marketting and branding altogether. Unless buyers (and yes I’m talking to you women, whose brains are fried from the responsibility of making most of the small purchasing decision in your household) start using mobile technology to find new ways to recover the authentic power they once had.

Imagine that.  Or better, why don’t we start forming a collective intention to make that happen.