Thursday, February 24, 2011

Learning to code. On doing it and not worrying about doing it wrong

Some weeks ago I let you all know that I was trying to learn how to code by doing a little bit of hacking with the Head First series of books every night after I do the dishes.

The bad news is that's not I have been doing what I said I would be doing. But the good news is that I'm happily hacking with OpenStreetMap and OpenLayers with help from P2PU. (Lookie! I made this! )

Sure, I would be more pragmatic if I spent my nights working on improving my Drupal skills for our ongoing website migration at MPOW or (in support of the same ends) I worked on expanding my understanding of PHP and MySQL, but I'm much happier at the moment making maps.

I'm happier learning and hacking maps because I want to eventually contribute work to CrisisCommons. I'm happier because learning a little bit everyday gets me closer to the day that I am able to launch a map-related website using open government data for my community. And I'm much happier because I know someone who is also interested in maps and my work has inspired her work and her work inspires mine.

I have the tried the formal route of learning computer science. I took first year Algebra while I was on maternity leave so I would have the prerequisites to enroll at the University of Windsor's one year Bachelor of Computer Science (General) for University Graduates program. And I took my first computer science course of that program when I returned from maternity leave, but I found that the coursework and studying were taking too much away from time with my family. It also was not particularly enjoyable.

So I'm blazing my own path. I'm not worried that I'm "doing it wrong" (I'm not inclined to learn Python for the sheer beautiful purity of the language and I'm not going to apologize for that). As long as I put in the time, the work, and the mindfulness I will get to where I need to be.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The alternative to Alternative Reality Games is Alternative Reality Locations

In my last post, I mentioned that there is a new library-based ARG (Alternative Reality Game) that is just getting underway. 

The game began when a noted ARG game-player received these overdue notices in the mail. A web search brought up this suspicious library website but there wasn't much to go on until someone found a phrase encoded in these four index cards:

The solution can be found here with a wee bit more explanation here.

I've been following the game/story rather than actually play the game and solve the puzzles involved because 1) I'm not very good at puzzles and 2) by the time I get to puzzle, it is already solved by someone better than I am.

And these reasons just happen to be two of the largest inherent limitations of "traditional" ARGs : they can only be played once and a relatively small percentage of those who play, end up actively contributing to the game. Now this doesn't mean that ARGs like Snowtown Library lack merit. I for one, am completely hooked on its mysteries so I'm following the game like its a story - through a discussion board called Unfiction, no less. 

The genre is developing and there seems to be a couple solutions to the design limitations of ARGs. The first, is to the make the game about making and documenting things. Two examples of these games would include and Urgent Evoke (if you missed its first run, you can apply to play a three month trial of the season one dark site).

There's another development that I'm particularly interested in. ARGs are now being developed to be played in a particular place. The most notable example of this new type of game is the Jejune Institute which I haven't played because you have to be in San Francisco to experience it. That's what's lost. But much has been gained. From an interview with Jeff Hull, one of the founders of the Jejune Institute:

One thing I really like about the Jejune Insitute is the fact that it’s a cross-platform interactive narrative that works a little bit like a gallery installation: it’s just *there*, online, on the air, and in physical space. This represents a very different approach to storytelling than that found in more “traditional” ARGs, which are typically structured around the gradual unveiling of story information leading up to a climax event of some sort. What made you pick this different path? What did you gain (and/or lose) by abandoning the unity of time?

You’re correct about the induction center as “gallery installation”. We wanted to create an immersive automated well-curated environment, and to have it exist semi-permanantly. We were outsiders to the ARG universe, and totally ignorant of it’s culture and customs. So when we finally appeared at the ARG Fest-o-Con in Portland, we learned that we had inadvertently solved one of the major stumbling blocks of earlier ARG’s; “replayability”. What we had produced could be experienced over and over again, and shared with friends, and so on. The big trade off was that it was local. People in other parts of the world are not able to experience it directly. But ideally we’ll be able to produce unique experiences in other cities in the future. Every city should have their own game!

I like the idea that every city should have its own game.

Maybe each library, museum, or school should have one too.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Some starred items from my Google Reader Account

Normally, I like to wait until there about three related items on my radar before I write about them on my blog, but I've stumbled upon some reading recently that seems too good not to share immediately:

  • In libraryland, there's are tentative efforts underway to help our users with their data. Outside of libraryland, there are tools on the way that might help with the cause:  The Locker Project: data for the people.

  • Also from O'Reilly is a new website of theirs called Future of Search. I just find that O'Reilly focus of  looking forward so refreshing. One of my misgivings associated with librarians continuing to teach "Boolean searching" is that I believe the professionalization of the technique originated from early librarian work with pay per use search tools such as DIALOG and is no longer relevant or even suited for sets of hundreds of thousands of  items.

That last link probably could have been developed into a post unto itself, but I've got a game to play...