Monthly Archives: March 2007

The new gamer generation: Not who you think

The New York Times today writes about the new gamer generation in Retirees Discover Video Games. Yep, retirees. They are making up a larger and larger part of the market for “casual” games, and game developers and distributors are taking notice. The Nintendo Wii, with its simple controls for many games, is making a splash of its own.

My favorite part of the article is that told by semi-retired businessman Dick Norwood:

Dick Norwood, 61, a semi-retired businessman who lives in a community for residents 55 and older in Crest Hill, Ill., spotted the Wii in a mall in December. After playing Wii bowling with two other couples at home, he persuaded Giovan’s, a local Italian restaurant, to begin a “seniors only” Wii bowling league, where nine couples now show up every Thursday.

“When I started calling people about it, they had no idea what I was talking about, and they were laughing at me saying, ‘You want to start a bowling league on a video game in a bar?’ ” he said. “Well, we got there the first time, and we were there for six solid hours. In the past, I probably would have agreed that video games are just for kids. But I’ll tell you, at our age when you bowl for real, you wake up with aches and pains. Those balls aren’t light. But with this you’re getting good exercise, but you’re not aching the next day.”

Regular readers here know my fondness for the Wii, and I’m not the only one. My wife, my brothers, even my mom love to play games on the Wii, especially Wii Sports. The appeal of the Wii, especially in a sports game, is captured by Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad is Good For You, in 5 Thoughts on the Nintendo Wii:

What strikes you immediately playing Wii Sports — and particularly Tennis — is this feeling of fluidity, the feeling that subtle, organic shifts in your body’s motion will lead to different results onscreen. My wife has a crosscourt slam she hits at the net that for the life of me I haven’t been able to figure out; I have a topspin return of soft serves that I’ve half-perfected that’s unhittable. We both got to those techniques through our own athletic experimentation with various gestures, and I’m not sure I could even fully explain what I’m doing with my killer topspin shot.

In a traditional game, I’d know exactly what I was doing: hitting the B button, say, while holding down the right trigger. Instead, my expertise with the shot has evolved through the physical trial-and-error of swinging the controller, experimenting with different gestures and timings. And that’s ultimately what’s so amazing about the device.

Games for years have borrowed the structures and rules — as well as the imagery — of athletic competition, but the Wii adds something genuinely new to the mix, something we’d ignored so long we stopped noticing that it was missing: athleticism itself.

– – — — —–

Update:  For every silver lining, there is apparently a cloud, including for the Nintendo Wii.  The physical exertion that makes the Wii so fun seems to be leading to an increased risk of physical injuries, as described in Virtual video games cause real injuries.  Just like all games, people need to learn to play in moderation.

– – — — —–

I wonder why…

…the DVR box I got from my cable company isn’t ‘smart’ enough to adjust program recording times to accommodate earlier programs that go long? This is especially a problem on the weekends when sporting events go long, and shows start quite a bit after their regularly scheduled start time. Or is it that I’m not smart enough to figure out how to make it do this?

Thought for the day – Living your own life

A consistent, recurring theme for parents of autistic children has long been, “You know your child best.” While this is not always easy for parents with a new diagnosis to accept, or understand, those of us who have been doing this for a while recognize what it means.

Listen to the doctors, the teachers, the experts. Read whatever you can find. Try different approaches to helping you and your child. But in the end, do what YOU as the parent believe is best, based on your knowledge of your child. Specific programs – whether it be ABA, chelation, mainstreaming in school, etc – will never be successful if they are blindly implemented without your or your child’s individual needs being used as part of the decision.

A while back I picked up Deng Ming-Dao’s 365 Tao – Daily Meditations. As its name suggests, it has one Taoist meditation per day. I’m not a Taoist (I don’t think), and came upon the book after reading another by Deng, Chronicles of Tao, itself a very interesting story. (To be honest, I’m not really sure if it is fiction or not – it is presented as a true story – but in the end it didn’t really matter; it’s a good book.) I have found that many of the meditations in the book are very useful and, indeed, practical. I’ve marked each of the pages with the appropriate date (there is a chart in the back of the book that does this, but I like having the dates on the page), and have referred to it off and on for many years now.

Yesterday’s entry, Retrospective, resonated with me as I was thinking of those common themes of parenting, especially parenting an autistic child:

You could labor ten years under a master
Trying to discern whether the teachings are true.
But all you might learn is this:
One must live one’s own life.

Too often today we try to live life like others expect us to, this is a nice reminder that our lives are our own, and that they are ours to live. Which brings to mind something I saw on a young man’s t-shirt last weekend at a local Yugi-Oh tournament:

The only way to know who you are is to go somewhere you don’t have to be anyone else.

Apple may credit iTunes album purchases

In my last post, I recommended buying just a couple of Liquid Tension Experiment songs from the iTunes store if you didn’t think you were up for the whole album. I must admit, I’ve never really considered how iTunes handles buying a whole album if you’ve already bought an individual song or two, but thanks to MacNN | Apple may credit iTunes album purchases, I know now. Interesting, since I guess I always thought this is how it should work anyway.

A good, though small, example of a company re-inventing how it does things.  Worth a quick read if you buy from iTunes.

– – — — —–

The serendipity of knowledge

Album Cover - Liquid Tension ExperimentA month or so ago in a discussion about the value of blogs and wikis as collaboration tools, Dave Snowden stated, “Knowledge discovery is serendipitous, not planned.” Last weekend, I had a ‘no-tech’ version of this experience at Mozingo Music in Ellisville, where I had taken my son to pick up some new sticks and mallets (he is a percussionist).

While Ian was looking through the different options, my eyes were drawn to the shelf of instructional DVDs. One in particular caught my eye, Mike Portnoy‘s Liquid Drum Theater. Though I didn’t buy the DVD, the info on the jacket made me want to learn more about Portnoy’s music with various groups. The group that stuck in my mind was Liquid Tension Experiment (with such a cool name, how could it not).

I’m always on the prowl for good new music, preferably good instrumental rock, and what I found with Liquid Tension Experiment on their two, aptly titled, CDs – Liquid Tension Experiment and Liquid Tension Experiment 2 – didn’t disappoint me. After listening to a couple of 30 second excerpts on the iTunes store, these two albums very quickly made their way into my collection of songs. (I’d have provided links to the albums in the iTunes store, but I’m not sure you can actually do that in a browser.)

To say that these guys are good would be a gross understatement, so I was anxious to see what else they had put out. Turns out that Liquid Tension Experiment was kind of a ‘side-gig’ for Portnoy and others, so they only released the two CDs mentioned above. As an ‘experiment,’ I would say that they definitely succeeded.

If you don’t want to buy both full albums but want to get a good sample of what they’ve got to offer, I’d recommend Paradigm Shift or Freedom of Speech from the first album, and Acid Rain or Biaxident from the second. You’ll be glad you did.

– – — — —–

I wonder why…

…in this day and age the number 13 is still so deliberately avoided (at least in the U.S.) in hotels and airplanes? Hotels typically don’t have a 13th Floor, yet they do have room numbers with 13 in it (such as 213, 1213, 1413: just no 1313). I have never seen an airplane with a 13th row, but airport terminals do have a Gate 13.

What would happen if all of a sudden hotels and planes had 13th floors and 13th rows? Would they go unsold? If those were the only rooms or seats available, would people choose another hotel / flight?

Hmmmm.

– – — — —–

Words to live by

Sell out crowds. Overflow rooms. Young fans looking for autographs after a ‘performance.’ Not things usually associated with a lecturer talking about prime numbers. But such was the case recently for 2006 Field’s Medal winner Terence Tao. The article Scientist at Work – Terence Tao – Journeys to the Distant Fields of Prime in the New York Times gives a profile of this young, talented mathematician, described as a ‘rock star’ and the ‘Mozart of math.’

Though Tao is obviously quite gifted (an understatement), the description of his childhood, and how his parents handled his talent, is very telling as well. [emphasis is mine]

[Terry’s father] Billy Tao knew the trajectories of child prodigies like Jay Luo, who graduated with a mathematics degree from Boise State University in 1982 at the age of 12, but who has since vanished from the world of mathematics.

“I initially thought Terry would be just like one of them, to graduate as early as possible,” he said. But after talking to experts on education for gifted children, he changed his mind.

His parents decided not to push him into college full time, so he split his time between high school and Flinders University, the local university in Adelaide. He finally enrolled as a full-time college student at Flinders when he was 14, two years after he would have graduated had his parents pushed him only according to his academic abilities.

The Taos had different challenges in raising their other two sons, although all three excelled in math. Trevor, two years younger than Terry, is autistic with top-level chess skills and the musical savant gift to play back on the piano a musical piece — even one played by an entire orchestra — after hearing it just once. He completed a Ph.D. in mathematics and now works for the Defense Science and Technology Organization in Australia.

The youngest, Nigel, told his father that he was “not another Terry,” and his parents let him learn at a less accelerated pace. Nigel, with degrees in economics, math and computer science, now works as a computer engineer for Google Australia.

But what really caught my eye was Billy Tao’s summary of how they approached their kids’ learning:

All along, we tend to emphasize the joy of learning. The fun is doing something, not winning something.

Words to live by, indeed.

– – — — —–

Technology makes it easy to ‘remember,’ the trick is learning how to forget

A blog post I wrote a year ago. Playing around with David Allen‘s Getting Things Done. A recent article in Fast Company. Reading Steven Johnson‘s book Mind Wide Open over Thanksgiving. Autism.

All of these things came together in my mind over the past few days. (If the internet is a global cocktail party, and blogs are its conversations, I’m the guy who takes it all in and thinks of something to say as he’s driving home from the party. At least that’s how it feels sometimes, especially with topics such as this one.)

Just over a year ago, I wrote the following:

My early days in Knowledge Management included a lot of time developing, deploying, and getting people to use “knowledge repositories.” (At least trying to get people to use them.) A worthwhile endeavor in some regards, I’ve always had misgivings about the whole idea, at least how it has been implemented in most cases. The cheapness of mass storage these days, and the way we just keep everything, has nagged at this misgiving over the past couple of years.

I finally realized one day that the problem has become not, “How do we remember all this knowledge that we’ve learned?” but rather, “How do forget all this knowledge we’ve accumulated that we no longer need so we can focus on what we do need?”

This same question has come up, albeit in a different context, in that other domain in which I blog: autism autism.

MOM – Not Otherwise Specified recently posted a very interesting piece about the role of memory, and the inability to purge it, in autistic behaviors. In her post, she quotes Paul Collins’ book The trouble with Tom:

Memory is a toxin, and its overretention – the constant replaying of the past – is the hallmark of stress disorders and clinical depression. The elimination of memory is a bodily function, like the elimination of urine. Stop urinating and you have renal failure: stop forgetting and you go mad.

This also plays on my long-held dislike of best practices, at least how most people implement them. If you are so caught up in what has happened before, it is hard to get caught up in what is to come.

In the context of mastery, especially of something new, it is sometimes hard to know when to forget what you’ve learned. You have to build up a solid foundation of basic knowledge, the things that have to be done. And at some point you start to build up tacit knowledge of what you are trying to master. And this, the tacit knowledge that goes into learning and mastery, is probably the hardest thing to learn how to forget.

Sometimes, though, it is critical to forget what you know so you can continue to improve. Witness Tiger Wood’s reinvention of his swing, twice, and Neil Peart’s reinvention of his drumming.

– – — — —–

Six attributes of an affinity group (or community of practice)

Although James Paul Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy is primarily about how individuals, especially kids, learn, there is a lot in the book that can be applied to how organizations learn. This list describes what Gee sees as common features of what he calls affinity groups and their implications. Those familiar with knowledge management concepts will recognize these as traits of a good community of practice.

    1. Members of an affinity group bond to each other primarily through a common endeavor and only secondarily through affective ties, which are, in turn, leveraged to further the common endeavor. Implication: Affective ties and sociocultural diversity can be dangerous, because they divide people if they transcend the endeavor, good otherwise.
    2. The common endeavor is organized around a whole process (involving multiple but integrated functions), not single, discrete, or decontexualized tasks. Implication: No rigid departments, borders, or boundaries.
    3. Members of the affinity group have extensive knowledge, not just intensive knowledge. By “extensive” I mean that members must be involved with many or all stages of the endeavor; able to carry out multiple, partly overlapping, functions; and able to reflect on the endeavor as a whole system, not just their part in it. Implication: No narrow specialists, no rigid roles.
    4. In addition to extensive knowledge, members each have intensive knowledge – deep and specialist knowledge in one or more areas. Members may well also bring special intensive knowledge gained from their outside experiences and various sociocultural affiliations (e.g. their ethnic affiliations) to the affinity group’s endeavors. Implication: Non-narrow specialists are good.
    5. Much of the knowledge in an affinity group is tacit (embodied in members’ mental, social, and physical coordinations with other members and with various tools, and technologies), and distributed (spread across various members, their shared sociotechnical practices, and their tools and technologies), and dispersed (not all on site, but networked across different sites and institutions). Implication: Knowledge is not first and foremost in heads, discrete individuals, or books but in networks of relationships.
    6. The role of leaders in affinity groups is to design the groups, to continually resource them, and to help members turn their tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge, while realizing that much knowledge will always remain tacit and situated in practice. Implications: Leaders are not “bosses,” and only knowledge that is made explicit can be spread and used outside the original affinity group.

As most of us know all too well, most organizations today operate in ways very different from how these, often self-forming, groups operate. Some thoughts, item by item:

    1. The common endeavor in most organizations is dictated from the top down. Members of the organization don’t usually join the organization because of the ‘endeavor,’ rather they accept the endeavor because they have joined the organization.
    2. In most organizations (in my experience), specific functions are highly structured into departments and sub-departments. Successful cross-functional activity is the exception rather than the rule.
    3. Because of the highly structured nature of organizations, most people know only their area. Because the ‘endeavor’ is not their own, there is very little incentive to understand the ‘big picture.’ Those who do try to understand the big picture are often seen as ‘stepping out of their lane’ and put back in their place. After all, how can they be doing their job if they are worrying about what someone else is doing.
    4. This is what most organizations expect of their members – a high skill level in their specific area.
    5. More and more organizations are recognizing the tacit nature of knowledge and the value of network relationships is sharing information. More than any of the other items in this list, it is this area that is receiving much of the attention in the field of knowledge management. It is hard, though, for individuals and organizations to get over the cultural expectation of knowing everything yourself, the ‘not-invented-here’ syndrome, and the sharing – freely – of what you know with others so they can be successful.
    6. Most ‘leaders’ are still just bosses.

Looking back over my list, I think I may be a bit pessimistic, but I’ve been involved with knowledge management, social networking, etc. for almost 10 years now and am still amazed, and frustrated, at how many organizations still don’t get it. Those who know me know that I’m really a glass-half-full kind of guy, and I must admit that I do hold out hope that things will change.

Maybe it will just take the current generation of young gamers, Marc Prensky’s digital natives, to finally get us there.

– – — — —–