April 21, 2004

The September Project

The September Project aims to use the existing physical and electronic networks in the public library system to create a space for national dialogue during 2004's Patriot Day, the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11th.

As their website describes:

The September Project is a collection of citizens and organizations working to create a day of engagement, a day of conversation, a day of democracy. On September 11th libraries big and small will host events where citizens can participate collectively and think creatively about our country, our government, our community, and encourage and support the well-informed voice of the American citizenry.

Encourage your local library to participate - this is a wonderful opportunity to engage in nonpartisan conversation about our nation and to discuss the meaning of patriotism.

And please pass the word about this grassroots, nonpartisan organization. They are relying heavily on word-of-mouth/blog/listserv to reach libraries and communities and to stimulate open, informed dialogue.

Posted by Jason at 5:21 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

IDC 2004 @ UMD

At UMD's very own HCIL:

Interaction Design and Children 2004 (IDC'2004)


1-3 June 2004

University of Maryland, HCIL, College Park, Maryland

Online Conference Registration is now open... Register before the early deadline of 30 April 2004 for discounted fees!

Papers, tutorials, workshops, demos, posters, and more will present...
-emerging new technologies for children
-the impact of these technologies
-the process of innovating with children

**Opening Keynote Panel: Marvin Minsky (MIT), Alan Kay (HP), and Seymour Papert (MIT/U.of Maine)

**Closing Keynote Panel: Alice Cahn (Cartoon Network), Henry Jenkins (MIT), and Alice Wilder (Blue's Clues)

Moderator for both Panels: David Kestenbaum, National Public Radio

Sponsored by: ACM SIGCHI, NSF, IMLS, Fisher-Price, LeapFrog, & Organa

Posted by Jason at 5:12 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 16, 2004


Sometimes working in D.C. - on Pennsylvania Avenue, no less - is cool. Right now, the tap-tap of my keys mixes with the roll of drums as various school bands march their way to Freedom Plaza (a few blocks down the street from my office), in celebration of Emancipation Day (Lincoln freed slaves in DC on April 16, 1862 - several months before the Emancipation Proclamation).

Looking through my office window, I see the dome of the Capitol and below, as Pennsylvania Ave. stretches towards the marble, the pavement is shattered by the glittering brass of syncopation and symphony, alternating styles marching in waving lines. Drumbeats and horns, footsteps and shouts. The noise of memory.

ABC 7 News - D.C. Streets Closed for Emancipation Day Parade

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April 15, 2004

Apprentice Finale

Kwame delegated, but he did not manage. Even if he didn't know he could fire Omarosa, he should have at least taken her to task.

I totally respect a laid back manager who doesn't micromanage. But if your people aren't getting the job done, you need to (if you wish, in a calm, laid back manner) step up and get your ducks in a row. Saying "I expect them to do their job" isn't leading them to getting that job done. I think that's the difference between a manager and co-worker.

I'm bummed, because I really liked Kwame and because I think Bill's a jerk.

And Omarosa is crazy as hell. I thought her head was going to pop off during the live sequence. Did anyone else notice that she shoved Heidi awful hard and laughed a little too loudly? "I'm so confused ... am I hired, or am I fired .. hehehe." Lady, you're the only one who's confused about that...

Enough. I'm tired. (can i trademark that?)

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April 14, 2004

Mysterious Games

Gamespot reports that Agatha Christie is coming to your PC. Speaking of the forthcoming mystery roleplaying games:

"There can be no stronger signal of the enduring popularity of Agatha Christie's works than their continued adaptation to other mediums," says Mathew Prichard, Agatha Christie's grandson and chairman of Agatha Christie Ltd. "Adapting her stories for completely new formats, such as PC gaming, allows us to introduce classic mysteries to whole new audiences and keep them relevant into the decades to come."

Me? I'm waiting for TSATFO (The Sound and the Fury Online, of course!). Joking aside, it will be interesting to see if they will be able to port the stories into a successful gaming platform.

Posted by Jason at 7:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 9, 2004

The Apprentice

I'm enthralled. I despise so-called 'Reality TV' but The Donald has created a winner. We're in the final week. After a series of interviews with some of Trump's top advisors, The Donald dropped Nick and Amy. Dropping Nick was a good move - Nick is a fine salesman and a strong player, but he really did not stand up against the other three in the room.

Dropping Amy was unwise overall, I think, but she interviewed badly (by her own admission, she lacked substance; I missed her actual interview, as I was changing a diaper). But I'm surprised that she was so easily dismissed. The interviewers called Amy "irritating" and a "Stepford wife" - all of which made me wish I saw her interview (and made me wonder yet again about the gender dynamics of the entire show - something that begs further investigation). Even more surprising was Trump's one-two punch, where he first asked Amy who the weakest person in the room was after Bill and Kwame both pointed towards Nick, and then called her "cold ... a cold-hearted person" when she too sided against Nick, even though there's been much made about their "relationship." Amy was honest (and right! [see edit below]), but not harsh, in her assessment of Nick's abilities and I'm willing to bet that she would have been praised for such frankness in other circumstances. I also wondered if The Donald would've made so much of the loyalty issue if she were a man instead of a woman, or if he would have just called her soft and a Stepford wife if she had protected Nick (in fact, Trump almost said as much in episode 11, when Amy brought Katrina into the board room instead of Nick). A lose-lose situation for Amy.

Anyway, that leaves Bill (smart enough, and ambitious, but a jerk) and Kwame. Smart and charismatic, Kwame is good, but hasn't been shining as a leader - the "low energy" discussed during the interview phase. Kwame steps back and expects people to do their job, which is fine, but he has failed to step up and correct the issue when people haven't done their job, which isn't so fine. I think Bill will take the final spot, if for no other reason than Kwame made a DUMB decision by picking Omarosa to be on his team (the six most recently fired contestants were brought back as "employees" for the two finalists). Doing so let Bill pick Nick, leaving only Heidi. Kwame's laid back personality will simply be overwhelmed by the trinity of egos on his team (the third being Troy, of course). With Omarosa already totally screwing up her job (and showing herself to be a liar to boot), Kwame's best shot is if Bill's arrogance gets him into trouble.

Sure, the show can be just as contrived as any of the other 'reality' series, but it successfully blends the aspects of competition and elimination from those other (crappy) shows with the makeover appeal of shows like "Trading Spaces" and "Monster House," where style is coupled with budgeting, and creativity with strict deadlines. The Donald also leaves us with some pretty significant life lessons: Troy's dismissal said nothing if not "go to college," and Carolyn's sugary "It's nice that he made it this far" drove the point home.

Edit: Regarding Amy's catch-22, instead of pointing to Nick, she might have instead singled out Kwame who, despite his education and charisma, really has not stepped up to the plate, whereas Nick has lead a team to wins. Selecting someone else might have highlighting some of her own leadership skills (in the boardroom, she sort of looked like she was just following the others' lead). Although, in such an approach, she probably would've been called out for just protecting her boyfriend. A tough call.

Posted by Jason at 7:23 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Turing Chicken

JBJ points to what turns out to be a Burger King ad called Subservient Chicken. It is a bizarre concept for an ad, some mix between one of those annoying Hamster Dance type memes, a Turing test, a webcam (of the "what are you wearing?" variety), and a videogame avatar who gets bored (Spyro or Sparks looking back to see why he's not been told to move recently).

Commands I tried:
jump up and down
do the chicken dance [did a different dance, but not quite the chicken dance]
drink tequila [he walked to the bar and downed a drink]
stop drop and roll
shake your booty [same as 'shake your tail feathers']
wave your left arm [did a cross between a 'flex' and a 'wave']
touch your toes
play dead

I was impressed by the "drink tequila" answer, so I tried altering the environment, something that would potentially have a lasting impact.

Turn off the lamp.

The chicken looked over towards the lamp and then tilted his head, as though he was asking "do you really want me to do that?" 'Turn on the TV' had the exact response - the pan of the chicken's head allowed him to cover about 1/2 of the room and then he gave that little, noncommittal shrug. But I asked him to clap, and it turns out the lamp is connected to the Clapper (tm), because he claps, the lights go off, and then they come back on. Hmm. Ok.

Move the chair.

The chicken suddenly leaps onto the chair, sitting on the armrest, his back to me. Is he trying to move it? I'm not sure, but it doesn't look like it. The chicken responds to the command "sit in the chair" by walking by the chair, obviously considering it too small for his tail feathers, and deciding to sit on the couch instead.

What intrigues me is the difference between the textual Turing test, where some 'ELIZA' (a generic example) responds via text, and this visual one, where a single response might be taken to mean several different things. Drink tequila, for example, could be just "have a drink" or "drink a coke," and the responding image could be exactly the same. Is it really different from "ELIZA saunters over to the bar, pours a drink, and gulps it down."? You can't ask the Subservient Chicken to describe the taste, but that's not a limitation when you expect a textual response. If ELIZA drinks a shot of tequila and then describes it as "sweet," we have an obvious disconnect - not simple disobedience. Do visual cues require (or offer) less specificity ... or better yet, in what ways can images and text, respectively, be more or less specific and get away with presenting believable behavior?

I'm also intrigued by the use of the imperative - we have a series of reverse commands, both given and received. The submit button itself functions this way; we both submit a command and are commanded to submit. A minor point, but one I'm working through (regarding games, not submissive chickens) in the dissertation ...

I do agree with JBJ - I'm not sure I feel more inclined to eat chicken from BK, even if I can have it my way, but the subservient chicken is fun to boss around, if just for a little while.

Posted by Jason at 7:20 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 8, 2004

Free Elder Scrolls: Arena

Download Bethesda Softwork's The Elder Scrolls: Arena for a limited time, in celebration of The Elder Scrolls 10th Anniversary (note that you'll also likely need the DOS emulator).

More background information on The Elder Scrolls titles is also available.

Posted by Jason at 1:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 2, 2004


During a recent visit home, my dad and I were catching up on all of the many things he finds time for now that he is retired. Finishing his novel, exercising, catching up on odd tasks around the house, geocaching ...

"Geocaching?" I ask. He takes me up to his study, a finished portion of the attic with a chair and a couch both suitable for napping, turns on his computer, and loads geocaching.com.

Geocaching, self described as "the sport where YOU are the search engine," is wish fulfillment for anyone who ever wanted to come across a map to buried pirate treasure, Goonies-style. With a set of GPS coordinates in hand, the geocacher heads out to the general area of the cache and begins hiking and, when necessary, bushwhacking their way towards the cache site. Since most handheld GPS systems can only pinpoint a location within a certain number of meters (the author of the website's FAQ, for example, has a GSP model that brings him only within 20 feet or so of the coordinates), the geocacher has to search for the cache once they reach the general GSP coordinates.

The caches are all left by other geocachers, often hidden in an old log, tucked under some brush, or otherwise disguised. Once you find a cache, each participant can select some token - anything from a September 11th Commemorative Coin to a half-chewed on pencil (batteries to power your GPS are also popular, according to sources named "Dad") - provided that they leave another token in its place for future geocachers. Some geocaches are "virtual," which is to say that the location itself is the reward (an odd perspective reversal on the virtual and the real, where the geographical/physical artifact is the 'virtual' reward, highlighting the emphasis on the cache contents as a primary motivator).

The entire system relies on a social and technical network. Caches are planned and placed by geocachers themselves, who then provide the coordinates by entering them into the geocache.com database. Each cache has a commenting feature that allows for feedback and help, such as when geocachers are unable - sometimes after multiple tries - to find the cache once they reach the coordinates.

I haven't had a chance to "geocache" yet - hopefully an issue that will be rectified next time we visit with my parents - but I'm intrigued by the combination of sport and game, treasure hunt and token exchange, domain mapping and geography hopping. All sorts of correlations spring to mind in the context of gaming, framing and exploring space, systems of reward and failure, and social networking, but I want to reserve commenting too much until I have a chance to do a little experimental caching on my own.

Posted by Jason at 7:45 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 1, 2004


newsmap is cool.

Posted by Jason at 4:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack