October 2006

I read a short article online today about educational video games.  The Federation of American Scientists released a paper suggesting video games can have real education value.  From the article:

Capping a year of study, the group called for federal research into how the addictive pizazz of video games can be converted into serious learning tools for schools.

The theory is that games teach skills that employers want: analytical thinking, team building, multitasking and problem-solving under duress. Unlike humans, the games never lose patience. And they are second nature to many kids.

The only reason I noted the article, since I’m not a huge gamer, is that I have a friend who works along these same lines and I thought I’d give his efforts a small (since my blog is small) shout-out.  Benjamin Stokes works for the non-profit group Serious Games Initiative in their Games for Change branch. 

Games for Change (a.k.a. G4C) exists to, “provide support, visibility and shared resources to individuals and organizations using digital games for social change….Today, G4C acts as a national hub to help organizations network and develop videogame projects beyond their traditional expertise.”  If you’re interested in that kind of thing then head on over and join their discussions.  It’s interesting stuff that covers a lot of ground within a social-change framework; from decision-making techniques and resource optimization to outreach strategies and negotiating.

While I haven’t had time to read the FAS paper, I suspect the biggest hurdles to mainstream educational video games will be making them fun and being able to meausure how much good (or not) they contributing toward the game’s educational goal.

Perhaps they can take tips from the US Army’s new strategy game: Future Force Company Commander.  What’s interesting, to me, about this game is that it’s potentially training the next generation of strategists using tools they will likely have in 2015.  How’s that for forward thinking?

F2C2 is a real-time tactical strategy game that allows you to learn about the Army’s FCS program by giving you command of a Mounted Company Team in the year 2015. Through gameplay, F2C2 shows how FCS is designed to give the 21st Century Soldier unprecedented situational awareness and the ability to see first, understand first, act first, and finish decisively.

Apparently there are a lot of INTJ personalities out there in the blogging world (see also: Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator).  I am one and one of my daily reads /member of my insignificant blogroll is one as well – The Smallest Minority.  A recent post talks about what that can mean with regards to how INTJs see the world.  It’s an engineer-centric post, but applies in a general sense to all INTJs.    It’s interesting to see how many comments that post generated and how many there are out there, or at least out reading gun-blogs like The Smallest Minority. 

Some links describing INTJ personalities:

And if you’re interested in finding out your MBTI type: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes2.asp

Congrats to Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank on winning the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.  The award was given,

…for their efforts to create economic and social development from below. Lasting peace can not be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty. Micro-credit is one such means. Development from below also serves to advance democracy and human rights.

… Micro-credit has proved to be an important liberating force in societies where women in particular have to struggle against repressive social and economic conditions.

It’s always nice to see recognition given to people who deserve it – who have made a tremendous difference in the lives of over 4 million people.  It’ll be a tough act to follow.

So I’m taking advantage of LOTS of reading time and have started Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. It’s an interesting read so far. I wish it had been required in high school, or at least parts of it. The introduction explains that his writings have been used to support positions all along the political spectrum. While that made me immediately think that he was so vague that he could mean anything, I’ve realized that it’s more because he takes an outsider’s view of the great experiment that was – and is – the United States. His analysis of our system of government points out the strengths and weaknesses, compares it to other existing republics/monarchies, and does not automatically assume much of anything. The flexibility of Democracy in America is similar to how flexible The Art of War or The Prince are – the conclusions are general but they have applications in real life.

I’ve almost tabbed this book more than the regulations / references I’m using for the class I’m in. Many things to ponder later and post about. If you haven’t read this book and have an appreciation of the founding fathers, I suggest you find a copy and get ready to enjoy a timeless piece of literature.

On another note, Fermat’s Enigma was very interesting. I don’t think I could muster the resolve to work on one problem (possibly impossible to prove) for over 7 years in total secrecy without going insane – regardless of whether or not I have the grey matter to combine seemingly dissimilar mathematical processes and create new ones to make up the difference (I’m guessing not). For those who think math is boring, I just want you to know there is drama, tragic deaths, heroic effort, and other good stuff in this book.

Via Yahoo news:

Here’s some soothing medicine for stressed-out parents and overscheduled kids: The American Academy of Pediatrics says what children really need for healthy development is more good, old-fashioned playtime.

Being an old-fashioned type of guy, and seeing as how it looks like I’ll be a father soon, I take some comfort in seeing the hyper-super-activity-schedule-parents being given a dose of reality.  Sometimes the old ways are the best ways…or at least not bad ways…and I look forward to hours of mucking about looking for bugs, playing with blocks, and climbing trees with the peanut.  But that’s just me.

I’m down south for a while (the lower-48 for those not familiar with the Alaskan terminology) and find I have more time than usual for reading.  Right now I’m in the middle of Fermat’s Enigma by Simon Singh.  It’s the story of a several hundred year-old theorem that resisted proof by the greatest mathematical minds during that time and has only recently been solved.

I was amused by Pascal’s view of religion,

 Pascal was even convinced that he could use his theories to justify a belief in God.  He stated that “the excitement that a gambler feels when making a bet is equal to the amount he might win multiplied by the probability of winning it.”  He then argued that the possible prize of eternal happiness has an infinite valaue and that the probability of entering heaven be leading a virtuous life, no matter how small, is certainly finite.  Therefore, according to Pascal’s definition, religion was a game of infinite excitement and one worth playing, because multiplying an infinite prize by a finite probability results in infinity.

There are many paths to faith.

That said, I recommend the book.  I’ve been a fan of Singh since discovering The Code Book several years ago.

Talk about applied math!  Here’s a little trick that can open all 5-key keyless vehicles in 3129 key strokes (usually less).  Neat stuff…if you don’t own a vehicle with keyless entry.  One more reason to love my mid-90’s Jeep, if only I could stop the driver’s side door from rusting off…

The easy way for car-makers to make this a non-issue is to require an action (another key press like ‘Enter’ or attempting to open the door) in order for the combination to be accepted and simultaneously reset the keys.  That would significantly increase the time it takes to run through all the combinations and defeat the economies the system gains with each sequence building one number at a time from the previous sequence.

(H/T Bruce Schneier)