Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

What is a White House Game Jam?

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

Recently, September 5-8, 2014, I participated in the first White House Game Jam. A game jam is a gathering of game developers with the purpose of developing a game within a short time, like 24 – 48 hours. The White House Game Jam was sponsored by the White House.

White House

The White House

Yes. That White House.

So this adventure started about two weeks before I flew out to Washington, DC. On August 20, 2014 I got an email from a manager within Pearson asking if I was interested in participating in the White House Game Jam. Kristen DiCerbo, who works at Pearson researching how data generated while students play games can be used to assess their learning, Chris Crowell, from Crowell Interactive game development, and Cole Cecil, a fellow software developer at Pearson with me, composed our team.

Team Pearbat

Team Pearbat

On September 1, 2014, Mark DeLoura, Senior Advisor for Digital Media, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and game jam facilitator, sent us the rules for the jam. It included suggested topics for our game: science, civics, math, English, or history. Our team, consisting of members in Iowa City, IA, Phoenix, AX, and Toronto, Canada, met via a Google Hangout to discuss strategy. After our brainstorming session we decided that we would create a game related to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The idea of the game is that you are an investigator moments after the assassination and your job is to investigate and interview potential suspects who may have been involved in the assassination. Through the evidence gathered during the investigation the player would determine if the evidence is important, truthful, and points to guilt or innocence for the particular suspect. As the user plays the game they may change their assessment of the evidence and this can be used to analyse the critical thinking of the player.

Chris’s role in the team was as the game designer and graphic artist. Kristen acted as producer and researcher. Cole and myself were the developers. We looked at a couple of different adventure game engines to use for our game and decided on using Visionaire Studio. One of the requirements for the game engine was that it work on both Mac and Windows. We wanted our game to be able to record data as the user analysed the collected interview evidence so we used MySQL for the a database. And to add logic to the game for recording data we leveraged the Lua scripting language integrated into Visionaire Studio.

I made sure to order a Washington Metro SmarTrip card right away. It arrived a couple of days before my flight.

SmarTrip card

SmarTrip card

My flight on Friday, September 5, 2014, was early in the morning at 6AM. It connected through Atlanta, GA. I arrived at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in the early afternoon. I was able to use my SmarTrip card to board the metro rail station at the airport.

The Ronal Reagan Washington National Airport from the Metro station platform

The Ronal Reagan Washington National Airport from the Metro station platform

The trip on the Metro to the hotel, Hotel Palomar, was pretty easy. I took one train to Metro Center and switched to another train to Dupont Circle.

Riding escalator up from Dupont Circle station

Riding escalator up from Dupont Circle station

Once at street level it was a short walk to the hotel.

HotelPalomarRoom

Hotel Palomar room

View from Hotel Palomar room

View from Hotel Palomar room

Difference Engine was providing the space that we would be jamming in on Saturday and Sunday. So on Friday evening they were having a happy hour at their offices to let everyone find the location just off of Dupont Circle the night before and get a chance to meet the other teams participating in the game jam. I had a little bit of time before the meet up at Difference Engine so I went for a walk down Connecticut Avenue to 17th Street.

Found a Krispy Kreme on the way. Don't have any at home.

Found a Krispy Kreme on the way. Don’t have any at home.

I took a few pictures of the White House and then went back to the hotel.

Selfie with The White House

Selfie with The White House

Once arriving back at the hotel I met up with Cole and met Kristen for the first time in person. We decided to get some dinner before heading to the happy hour. We stopped at Pizzeria Paradiso. After dinner we went to the Difference Engine office. It is a remodeled bank building. We were escorted up the elevator to the second floor. There was a foosball table, arcade cabinet, and Band Hero set up in the front room. In the kitchen/gathering space (also where the ping pong table was) drinks and hors d’oeuvres were set up.

Difference Engine happy hour

Difference Engine happy hour

One of the Difference Engine employee’s showed us around the space that we would be using in the morning. There were three rooms that are normally used by developers. They had removed all of the computers but kept the monitors on the desks for us to use.  Chris, who drove from Toronto, Canada, where he now lives, arrived at the Difference Engine office late in the evening. This was the first time that we had met face to face. We soon called it a night. Before leaving though, I did ask if anyone on Team Pearbat wanted to go for a run in the morning.

However, at 6:30AM on Saturday morning, September 6, 2014, there were no takers. I was able to run down to the Lincoln Memorial before we needed to be at the Difference Engine offices at 9AM for the start of the jam. Here is the link to my GPS tracked run: http://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/584011061. There wasn’t a lot of traffic in the morning. I assume that was because it was a Saturday. Down at the Lincoln Memorial there were just a handful of people hanging out or taking pictures from the steps. While visiting the memorial most of the time I was the only one actually in the memorial.

When our team arrived at the Difference Engine offices we were one of the first teams there. We were assigned a “bay” and were able to pick which of three tables we wanted for our team. We set about connecting the laptops to the monitors and getting settled in.

Team Pearbat set up and ready to jam

Team Pearbat set up and ready to jam

Breakfast was provided for us. There were drinks and bagels. We were gathered into the front room for a kickoff.

Difference Engine meeting room in the morning empty

Difference Engine meeting room in the morning empty

DifferenceEngineMeetingRoomFull

Participants gathered in meeting room for kickoff

Mark DeLoura started the game jam by explaining how the White House decided to host this event. There were remarks from other officials. The teachers/educators that would be on hand for the two days to help provide us with any educational resources were introduced. And then we were released to start developing.

Mark DeLoura kicking off White House Game Jam

Mark DeLoura kicking off White House Game Jam

We went back to our team area and began developing our game. Lunch was also provided to us and there were drinks and snacks available throughout the two days. Cole and I spent much of the morning and afternoon setting up the initial game elements and sketching out the data to be collected. Kristen was working on dialog to use within the game. And Chris worked to create content like the outside of Ford’s Theatre and the game avatars. We went out to eat at The Burger Joint for dinner. We wanted to get out of the office for a little bit. Once done with dinner we returned to the office and stayed until about 10:30PM.

We arrived back at the office at 8AM on Sunday, September 7, 2014. Again, we were provided with breakfast. We had to have a playable prototype of our game ready for a checkpoint at 11:30AM that day.

"Who Killed Lincoln?" playable prototype

“Who Killed Lincoln?” playable prototype

Once we had the playable prototype complete we were provided lunch. At 1:00PM we had students arrive to playtest our games. They gave us feedback on the game that we could integrate back into the game.

"Who Killed Lincoln?" playtesting

“Who Killed Lincoln?” playtesting

We had to have a 2 minute game demo created and uploaded to the event Dropbox by 7PM that evening. Submitting the video was our ticket to be able to present on Monday morning. Everyone got the video done. 🙂

After getting the video done we stopped to eat the provided pizza. Once done eating, we continued to polish the game a bit, adding support for storing data about how the player categorizes information discovered in the game. We wrapped up around 8:30PM and cleaned up our team space.

Cleaned up work space

Cleaned up work space

On Monday morning the teams were going to be presenting our videos from 9-11AM. Each team was allocated 3 minutes to present: 2 minutes for their video and 1 minute to talk. We would be presenting in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB) on the White House grounds.

Dressed and ready to present

Dressed and ready to present

We walked from the hotel to the EEOB and arrived at 8:15AM on Monday, September 8, 2014.

Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building sign

Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building sign

Eisenhower Executive Office Building

Eisenhower Executive Office Building

We had to go through security. Back before we even traveled to DC we had to provide our names, birth dates, social security numbers, and nationality to the game jam organizers to get us approved to enter the building. On this morning, we had to provide our ID to the guards who verified that we were on the list. There was a bit of small talk with the first set of guards because one of them was from the Waterloo, IA area and found it interesting that Cole and I were from the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, IA area. We then followed a path to a small building. There was a window on the outside of the building. We again gave the guard our ID and he then gave us a visitors badge.

EEOB visitor badge

EEOB visitor badge

We waited by the building door and we were individually let into the building. Once in the building we were sent into a small room to stand on a mat. There was a short fence and on the other side was dog and it’s handler. After a few moments we were let out into a larger room with an x-ray machine and metal detector. We scanned our badge, walked through the metal detector, collected our x-rayed items and were let out of the room and told that we were free to walk around the building. This was because we were US citizens. Some of the participants weren’t citizens and they had to be escorted through the building. We were directed through the building to the auditorium. Here is the White House Game Jam presentation agenda. The presentation started with some speeches. Then each team had their three minutes. We presented in the second batch of team presentations.

Team Pearbat presenting

Team Pearbat presenting

We used our one minute to talk about:

  1. Our game about “Who Killed Lincoln?” was designed to teach in more detail a piece of history that most everyone knows the basics about. The game provides multiple perspectives about a historical event allowing the student to apply critical thinking to understand what happened at the event.
  2. Our game collects data about how the student is understanding the information as it is presented. This data can be used by teachers to determine how well the students are learning.
  3. Our team was a partnership between a large corporation and a small independent developer. And it worked!

After the presentation was over, which actually ended exactly at 11AM, we went up to the Indian Treaty Room for refreshments and to let people play our games.

Indian Treaty Room - originally the Navy's library

Indian Treaty Room – originally the Navy’s library

The “presidential” cupcakes were a standout hit of the event.

Presidential cupcakes

Presidential cupcakes

Me and my cupcake

Me and my cupcake

Tables were set up around the room where we set up our laptops to present our games.

Jesse demoing in Indian Treaty Room (from Karina  Linch's Instagram feed)

Jesse demoing in Indian Treaty Room (from Karina Linch’s Instagram feed)

Rovio Angry Birds developers and the Chief Technology Officer of the United State Megan Smith playing games

Rovio Angry Birds developers and the Chief Technology Officer of the United State Megan Smith playing games

 

West Wing from Indian Treaty Room

West Wing from Indian Treaty Room

Once the demos were over the event was over. Team Pearbat got a team photo in the Indian Treaty Room.

Team Pearbat in Indian Treaty Room

Team Pearbat in Indian Treaty Room

We left the EEOB, which is much easier than entering. We could go out any of the exits. There was a pad to scan our visitor badge and a slot to deposit it into. We then went through the guarded turnstile and were out on 17th Street. Cole and I had the same flight, so we went back to the hotel and picked up our stored luggage and changed clothes. We took the metro back to the airport and headed home. It was long weekend but a very memorable one.

Pentagon from the air

Pentagon from the air

The Office of Educational Technology has posted videos from the weekend on the #WHGameJam 2014 YouTube playlist.

The White House Education Game Jam sticker

The White House Education Game Jam sticker

Ironic Icealert

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

At my place of employment, The Icealert System™ (trademark of Icealert, Inc.) was installed this fall at all of the doorways and the entrance driveway. The Icealert System™ display turns from white to blue when the potential for ice occurs. Now, I live and work in Iowa. We expect it to get cold. (It was a high of 13 degrees Fahrenheit today–which is below freezing, and a bit below the average of  31 [which is still below freezing]). So I was interested to see how The Icealert System™ would be helpful in such a climate where there are extended days, perhaps weeks, where it doesn’t get above freezing. I have been waiting for a day like today and was prepared with my camera phone to take this picture.

Snow covered Icealert indicator

The Icealert System™ indicator is showing “blue” because there is a potential for ice. Well, I guess there is more than potential, as half of the indicator is obscured by snow! This “obscured by snow” indication is not listed as a feature of the indicator on the The Icealert System™ web page. (In fact, in the pictures of the indicator on the companies web site, none of the picture show the indicator in snow.) This snow indication may be a hidden feature of the indicator–sweet.

This kind of reminds me of The Weather Rope. It is typically a board with one end of a small length of rope tied to the board and the other end of the rope is left dangling. There is some variation of this legend included on the board:

Rope Weather
Still Calm
Moving Windy
Wet Rain
Shaking Earthquake
Gone Tornado

Adelaide is 3!

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Yesterday was Adelaide’s third birthday. We had a party for her and this morning I was looking through the pictures. Kids are pretty amazing and grow up so fast. Here she is, three years ago, one day old, on March 1, 2006.

Adelaide in NICU

She is in the Mercy NICU in Cedar Rapids, IA. (Side note: This is the hospital where Nancy works.) (Side, side note: yesterday, 2/28/09, Mercy imploded one of their building that was damaged in the flood of 2008. It was a big deal for Cedar Rapids: the first known demolishion by implosion.) She was born at 32 weeks, 8 weeks early. She stayed just 2 weeks in the NICU and then was strong enough to come home.

Here she is, three years later, at her third birthday party yesterday.

Addy is a pirate and three

She wanted a pirate themed party. (She can see just fine with both eyes. But pirates need an eye patch, of course. And they have a scowl and say, “Argh!”) You wouldn’t be able to tell that she was a preemie.

Addy’s Pirate Cupcakes

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Addy’s Pirate CupcakesYesterday was Adelaide’s third birthday. The theme of her party was “Pirates”. We had the party at Happy Joe’s on the NE side of Cedar Rapids. Nancy purchased some pirate party supplies from Oriental Trading Company. Included were 12 pirate themed candles. You can see them in the upper left of the picture. There were pirate flags, treasure chests, and skull and cross bone candles. I made 48 cupcakes, so on the other 36, I piped black tinted frosting to make the flag and white frosting to make the skull and cross bones. (Lower right of picture) The cake mix was from a box, but I made the frosting from the Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition – 2006: “Quick White Icing”. We only had about 8 cupcakes left over from yesterday. They were still good today. 🙂

Just read: Watchmen

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

I just finished reading Watchmen. This has been a story that I have wanted to read for some time, but with the impending release of the movie on March 6, 2009, I decided that I should read the book before seeing the movie. I am glad that I did. This was such a good graphic novel. It is very ‘dense’. I don’t know how better to describe it. There is some much story packed into the book. If you think that it is just a “comic book”, with the standard panel layout, you would be wrong. In addition to very detailed panels, there are graphical ‘excerpts’ of newspapers and books. These are included at the end of each chapter. They are not just novelty, but they add to the story. There is even a comic within the comic that ties in to the story. This all adds to the story by providing a depth of layers. I now understand why this book is so celebrated: it is so good.

I highly recommend it.

Sydney started kindergarten today

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

Today was Sydney’s first day of kindergarten. We saw her off this morning on the school bus. The bus was a bit late. I bet that we were towards the end of the route. And I bet that it was late because every other parent did like us; take a picture of our child as she got on the bus.

She “ate” her lunch today…well, just the peanut butter sandwich. She didn’t eat the carrots or cheese. Though that was pretty good for her, considering that she had never eaten a peanut butter sandwich until a little over a month ago. (She likes peanut butter, but in a bowl and eating it with a spoon.)

Today was an early dismissal. Tomorrow is the first full day. We will see how that goes.

Surprised at Starbucks, morning coffee was free

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

Starbucks linking logoI was very surprised this morning at my local Starbucks. I stopped by the drive through window after church for my standard grande cappuccino. There was a car in front of me. When I got up to the window, I could see that there were a larger than normal number of customers inside the store. When the barista handed me my drink, I had my Starbucks card ready. But she said not to worry, it was on the house for having to wait so long. I said thank you very much.

I wonder if this is related to Starbucks refocusing on customer service and providing good coffee. I was impressed by the local store’s ability to allow a front-line employee who interacts with a customer the latitude to provide a free drink. This is the type of discretion can also be found at my favorite vacation spot, Walt Disney World. I didn’t complain about the wait, but the server provided a pleasant customer service experience for me. She was proactive. And it made me write this post. (Though that won’t get them a lot of free publicity. It is mostly my family who reads this, and they aren’t coffee drinkers.)

Primal Quest – Montana 2008

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

My brother John is on his way today to Montana to participate in Primal Quest – Montana 2008. He is on team eCountryLifestyle.com, #65. He has done adventure races before, but never a 10 day, 800KM course.

Unexpected but refreshingly frank information from the web: Don’t see “Sweet November”

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

Bean Builder logoSo I was looking at a Java tool called Bean Builder. (Geeky stuff.) It is a tool for working with visual JavaBean graphical elements. So, I was reading the content on the main site. In a normal western language style, I was reading from top to bottom, left to right. Towards the bottom, after the scroll, I started to read the “Documentation” section. First I see the “README” link. I click it and read through the README. I hit the browser back button. Okay, next is the “Tutorial for the Bean Builder”. Noted, I will check that out later. “Bean Builder Architecture” link; maybe read sometime after I get a sample working. Ah, last link, “A Manifesto for Component Assembly”. What’s this? It says:

“A bit of a ramble about the future of programming that I wrote on a plane because the movie sucked. Don’t see “Sweet November” starring Keanu Reeves. It really does suck.”

Wow. I didn’t see that coming. I just found it a bit humorous to see this amongst the other, dryer, geekier information on the technical software page.

🙂

non-eBay item: Nintendo Game Boy Advance Home Brew Kit

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

Game Boy Advance Home Brew KitNotice that this is a non-eBay item. I tried to list it on eBay, but eBay won’t accept it because it could be used to circumvent copyright. But last time I checked, a general purpose computer could be used to circumvent copyright. I wasn’t using it to circumvent copyright. I wrote a program that would display pictures on the Game Boy. For instance, right now, the cartridge has a program that I wrote that displays two baby pictures of Sydney. I was also looking at the Game Boy hardware as a potential for some sort of visual display, like a gauge or something. It could be hooked up to the computer and display additional information on its screen, like the current number of unread emails, the current temperature, or something. I never went much further with this though because the screen was relatively hard to read in low light conditions like my normal programming environment. Hmf. DMCA and the ilk strike a blow against using hardware that you bought how you want to. Anyway, this is what the eBay listing would have been…

Includes

  • 1 Game Boy Advance – used, but in very good condition. Only used by adult in home brew software development.
  • 1 Game Boy Advance SP – used, but in very good condition. Only used by adult in home brew software development. Includes cord for recharging Game Boy and original box.
  • 1 Flash Advance Pro Linker – Includes the actual Flash Advance Pro Linker used to transfer programs to 256M (bit) card (included). The 256M card is used to store home brew software on. The card can then be inserted into the Game Boy Advance or Game Boy Advance SP. The game system will then run the software stored on the cartridge. The Flash Advance Pro Linker is designed to attach to a parallel port. An original floppy disk includes Windows software for transferring files to the cartridge. A power cord for the Flash Advance Pro Linker is also included.
  • 1 MultiBoot Version 2 – Includes the MutltiBoot device for downloading software to Game Boy internal memory. Designed to connect to a Windows parallel port for programming and serial port for debugging. Includes the original floppy disk.

I haven’t actually used this hardware for a couple years. But when I was using it, I wanted to create my own programs for the Game Boy Advance. For instance, I created a little program that would display digital pictures on the Game Boy Advance. This system, along with software and information available at sites like http://www.gbadev.org can provide information on how to get started programming for a portable game system.