Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! I hope tomorrow is a day filled with joy and peace. My mom and brother are in Oregon visiting us this year. I can already tell I'm not going to get a lot of sleep due to late night conversation with my brother, but it's totally worth it.

Our house also smells delicious thanks to wonderful holiday cooking by Jessi. Speaking of Jessi, I thought I'd share a clip from her favorite Christmas movie, Elf.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Man, Play and Games [Book Review]

I came across this book while listening to a podcast called TWiT (This Week in Tech), which was talking about an article on Farmville, which referenced Man, Play and Games by Roger Caillois in talking about what makes a game. It sounded like an interesting book, and I was pleased to find it pretty good.

Caillois starts out defining what play is and then takes on the task of classifying each type of play. One of the funny parts about the book is that Caillois keeps talking about how difficult it is to do given the nature of play and games. Check out the quote below to see what I mean.

Another interesting thing about this book is the language used. Caillois was a French professor, and therefore wrote the book in French; then it was translated by Meyer Barash who was also a university professor. As a result, the language used is very formal. I found myself having to take my time to reading and had to take a break after a few pages to digest what I just read. I'd like to share a small excerpt to demonstrate the type of language used. This is the first paragraph of the second chapter.

"The multitude and infinite variety of games at first causes one to despair of discovering a principle of classification capable of subsuming them under a small number of well-defined categories. Games also possess so many different characteristics that many approaches are possible. Current usage sufficiently demonstrates the degree of hesitance and uncertainty: indeed, several classification are employed concurrently. To oppose card games to games of skill, to oppose parlor games to those played in a stadium is meaningless. In effect, the implement used in the game is chosen as a classificatory instrument in the one case; in the other, the qualification required; in a third the number of players and the atmosphere of the game, and lastly the place in which the contest is waged. An additional over-all complication is that the same game can be played alone or with others. A particular game may require several skills simultaneously, or none." (page 11)

See what I mean?

Caillois defines play as having 6 features:

  1. Free: you don't have to play if you don't want to.
  2. Separate: has limits of space and time which are defined and fixed in advanced.
  3. Uncertain: the outcome is unknown, nor can it be known. Plus the player has some room to make decisions which affect the outcome.
  4. Unproductive: Does not create goods, or wealth. At most an exchange of property, but the net impact is zero.
  5. Governed by rules: worldly rules are suspended and a new set of rules are followed.
  6. Make-believe: an awareness that you're in a type of second reality; not "real life".

I found those to be pretty interesting and he does a good job of giving his reasoning. Caillois then goes on to give his 4 classifications of games:

  1. Competition: Games that require skill. You are dependent on your own ability to compete. An example might be a push-up contest, or a 100m dash.
  2. Chance: The opposite of competition. Instead, you depend fully on the fates. Examples, include anything that uses a coin flip or dice roll.
  3. Simulation: Games where you are pretending to be something other than yourself. The theater is all about simulation.
  4. Vertigo: These are games, or activities, that give you some sort of rush, or in some way change your mental state. Riding roller-coasters, spinning in circles, and even drinking alcohol are this type of game.

As you've probably already figured out, these types of games can all be combined with some sort of shared activity. Think of a football game:

It starts off with chance, the coin flip, to see who gets the ball first. Then the competition for the players begins: It depends on who calls the better plays and executes the strategy better. For the crowd, it's a simulation as they're watching people dressed up perform on the field. There might be side bets, chance, going on too. They themselves might even be dressed up. The players and the crowd might also experience vertigo: The crowd by shouting and drinking. The players by taking and giving big hits.

Callois finishes up the book talking about different cultures and how the type of play in that culture influences it. I honestly didn't find this section as interesting. I was more interested in the games themselves and how they were thought of.

Overall, I found this a fun book to read. The language was a challenge, but the ideas were solid. I really enjoyed thinking about the different aspects of games and play. At the very least, it has given me a new framework to talk about and evaluate games. I've also learned more about my preferences, and can better articulate them now: For example, I prefer games of competition over chance. I also like games where the odds, the uncertainty, is fairly even. If the chances of me winning are low, I don't enjoy it as much.

Should you read this book? Probably not. It's really for the person who is into gaming, and more importantly, into understanding how games work. Game developers must read this book; casual gamers don't need to bother.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Visiting Singapore

Last week I got to visit Singapore for work. This was my first time in Asia. As is usually the case, this was planned only a few weeks before it happened, the majority of the time I spent in an office (though, as you'll read in a bit, I did get to do fun things), and Jessi had to go to her work. Therefore, like my trip to Germany, Jessi didn't come along.

The team I'm on interacts with another group of analysis in Singapore. They are responsible for laserjet toner sales in Asia-Pacific (AP) and our job is to help them evaluate how well they did historically and plan for the future. The team in AP is a great bunch of people and AP itself is seeing some explosive growth. This particular trip was to resolve a data issue - mainly, how many HP printers we think are in AP. My boss brought me along to be the data junky during our discussions. By the end of the trip we were able to resolve all of the issues. We were also able to build better relationships and have a little tourist fun.

Speaking of fun, the first day we were there we decided to see the city while we acclimated to the new time zone. We checked out a couple of the main attractions:

The Singapore Flyer: A huge enclosed ferris wheel which lets you see the whole city.

The Marina Bay Sands Skypark: An area that connects three towers together. There's a great view, a pool and a restaurant.

The Merlion: One of the main symbols of Singapore.

The last night we were there, we went on the Singapore Zoo Night Safari: This tour was awesome! We got to see bats, flying squirrels, lions and tigers.

Overall, it was a great trip. Our work was really productive and I learned a lot about Asia in general.

My lunch one afternoon

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Elite. Best of the Best

My brother recently installed Microsoft Access on his computer and was asking me what my skill level was at using it (presumably so he could ask me for help if he needed it). I found myself struggling to describe my level of proficiency. I can use Access better than most... so better than average, but I wouldn't call myself an expert.

This lead to a discussion trying to categorize different skill levels. We eventually had to ditch the idea of "categories" because it didn't quite capture the relative, continuous, nature of skills. Instead, we thought of different levels.

So I present to you the 6 different skill levels we thought of. I give a brief description helping to clarify what each level means. Then I provide a few examples that are commonly used when referring to this level.

Why 6? I actually started with 3 (Beginning, Intermediate, Advanced), but found it didn't capture those transitory levels - like for my MS Access skills. Being that skill levels are on a continuum, there are probably an infinite number of levels, but here I'm trying to capture the most common ones. So this starts out at beginner and goes beyond advanced.

You have no clue about what you're doing. As a matter of fact, you're probably hurting the situation.
  • N00b (Newbie) - oh the irony of putting it's definition in parentheses...
  • Beginner
  • Novice
  • Rookie
  • Horrible

You're learning, but not quite there yet. Or, for whatever reason, you haven't taken the time to learn the basics. Lots of people give up here. You're probably not actually adding any positive value yet.
  • Grasshopper
  • Padawan
  • Apprentice
  • Unskilled
  • Bad

Most people are here. They can get regular stuff done, but struggle when an issue arises.
  • Normal
  • Intermediate
  • Average
  • OK
  • Amateur

Comfortable enough to mess around, solve problems and learn new tricks. Often good enough to impress lower levels with your ingenuity.
  • Hacker
  • Pretty Good
  • Skillful

You are great, and you know it. People regularly come to you for help because it's rare that you don't know the answer, or can't find it in under 5 minutes. You could probably get paid at this level. Given the prestige of this and the next level, many of these terms are over, and inappropriately, used.
  • Expert
  • Advanced
  • Master
  • Jedi
  • Great
  • Professional

People are inspired by you. You never have problems, instead you find problems. Chuck Norris is here.
  • Legend
  • L33T (Elite)
  • Best of the Best
  • Guru
  • All-Star

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010: Tree Hunting and Jessi's Birthday

This Thanksgiving Jessi and I decided not to travel anywhere. Come to think of it... I don't think we travelled last year either... interesting...

Anyways, Jessi's brother and sister came to visit us and we had a blast. On Thanksgiving day we eat way too much food with friends. Then we spent the rest of the day playing board games. I got destroyed in Risk, but found the magic carrot in Killer Bunnies.

Friday was a pretty relaxing day. Since we decided to have Thanksgiving with friends after we bought all our food, we decided to have another Thanksgiving meal on Friday. This was the first time Jessi cooked a turkey all by herself. She was a little freaked out about it, but did a great job. Here's a quick video of her preparing the turkey:

The turkey turned out delicious.

Saturday was Jessi's birthday and we decided to start off the day hunting for our Christmas tree.The weather was perfect and within a short while we found the perfect tree and chopped it down. I made sure to take lots of video because I wanted to try out iMovie's new create-your-own trailer feature. So, here's a teaser trailer of all the fun we had:

The rest of Saturday and Sunday we spent hanging out. One highlight was bowling. This last video is a slideshow I made using iPhoto which shows everything we were up to:

It was great having Jessi's brother and sister visit. Now we're turning our attention towards Christmas where my brother and mom will be visiting.