Category Archives: Games

Walking Around, a new urban walking game

I'm inventing a new urban game called Walking Around. I'm sure that someone else has invented it already, but reinvention is part of the process of creativity. Here's how it's played.

First, you play with a pedometer, which tells you how far you've walked during the day. There are a number of systems already for tracking your pedometer usage, including Walker Tracker, Steps, and a bunch of others. Use whatever system that gives you, or just a spreadsheet, to take care of the basic structure of making certain that you count steps daily.

Second – and here is what is novel, at least to me – is that there's a bonus structure in the game designed to award bonuses for when you have accomplished tasks. The first bonus award that I'm awarding myself looks at constructing a walk so that you make an orbit around the biggest possible chunk of territory; that is to say, repeated walks along the same path will get you zero bonus, but going out of your way on a detour will add to your score, and trekking through unfamiliar territory in a big loop is the best.

So far this is a pen and paper game and I haven't fully worked out the point structure. I have a notion that you capture territory every time you orbit it, so that you might win a park by going all the way around it, and you might win a political ward or precinct by capturing a loop around it. To simplify greatly, since I am trying to keep record of this in a small book, I'm just drawing a graph with destinations rather than tracking every street.

Some idea sources:

Riverwalks Ann Arbor is a book of walking loops along the Huron River, written by Brenda E. Bentley.

Lake Trek is the weblog for   who wrote A 1000-Mile Walk on the Beach about her circumnavigation on foot of Lake Michigan. I don't think I'm going to beat that top score.

Tom Graham wrote about Walking The World, and his quest to walk every street in San Francisco, in 2005 for SF Gate; his web site is SF Walking Man.

The AADL Summer Reading Game has points for reading books and badges for doing various other tasks, and the gamers there know how to make a game that will make you read. There should therefore be points in my Walking Around game every time you complete part of a circuit that connects to a library.

All City New York is the work of Moses Gates, whose game board includes the challenge of visiting all of the census tracts of New York City. Thanks to Ruth Kraut for the link. 

In Tacoma, Brian Kerr is getting bonus points in his version of the game for elevation.

Now pardon me while I connect some dots in my game map.


Supermemo, spaced repetition and time-structured randomness

Picture 4

I've written about Supermemo before, a system for focusing your attention on things that you have previously learned in such a way that you reinforce long term memory. Given a set of items which you were confident in at a stage in the past, identify a way to re-test yourself on that confidence. Space out those retest intervals so that you keep the learning from decaying into nothingness. Repetition is the very soul of the net, and if you are careful you can repeat at intervals that don't overwhelm.

New to me this week is a similar spaced repetition training tool focused on short term memory. Referred to as "N-back" (Wikipedia), it looks at turning the process of matching repetitive items in a sequence into a game, with higher scores if you can recall that e.g. 3 letters ago there was also an 'x' in the string. The application Brain Workshop was created by Paul Hoskinson and lets you play with your current skills; I haven't seen anyone render this into hardware a la the old game of Simon.

To turn the random noise of the world into patterns that you understand and can manipulate and recognize, you need to find the useful connections and build upon them somehow. You can't just learn by remembering things out of context – it always helps to learn by doing. People love to make things into patterns, and an organized exploration of an otherwise random world can help you make connections which are key to understanding the world.

The space I keep trying to explore is remembering the names of people, some of whom I know rather well by face, others who I know only by their work. The index into this space that lends itself to randomness is the birthday, which you can be pretty sure to capture less than 1% of the set of people every day. Alas, Facebook has cheapened the opportunity for remembering someone's birthday as a distinguishing mark, so the challenge is to use this somehow else; if I happen to remember your half birthday, it's because I'm trying to remember and plan both forward and back 6 months. Even better if I send you a half-birthday postcard (to combine two unusual abilities). Wish me luck.

Run by the numbers – Wendy Espeland on quantification and discipline

Rankings impose discipline on markets: Wendy Espeland's A Different Kind of Quantitative Sociology talk at ICOS in 2008:

Third is discipline (here comes the Foucault!). Most readers will probably know where this line of argument goes – rankings and other metrics are internalized and begin to alter our behavior without any direct action on the part of the rankings-makers. Espeland draws here on her recent work on US News and World Report law school rankings. For example, because the rankings counted median LSAT scores of only regular full-time students, law schools began to push weaker applicants into doing part-time and night programs. In response to a proposal by US News to start including those programs in the median LSAT calculations, law schools formed committees to ponder reforming or closing their night and part-time programs. Organizational discipline in action.

The whole of the argument has 5 bullet points

  • Quantification takes work
  • Quantification changes what it measures
  • Quantification imposes discipline on those who are measured
  • Numbers are seen as authoritative
  • Numbers are powerful for their aesthetic qualities

The National Law Journal takes on the impact of this in May 2010:

U.S. News does maintain a law school "diversity index," but those data are not a factor in the overall rankings. 

"A lot of people we interviewed expressed concern over the impact of rankings on diversity," said Wendy Espeland, an assistant professor of sociology at Northwestern University. "The overarching tension between catering to the rankings and doing what you think is best for your school is intense." 

Every once in a while I invoke the phrase "quality without a number"; most recently, I guess, in a post on Reification is an Ontological Imperative, also from 2008.  Ed Yourdon's The Politics of Metrics has the same theme.

designing “the inbox game”

I looked, but didn't find, instructions for "the inbox game".  I did find this

CMS-based simulations in the writing classroom

which led me to this chapter by Russell and Fisher on genre.  Here's Fisher's dissertation.  I don't understand it completely, but if I get it, the simulation environment used for teaching has a user interface remarkably similar to the applications inside a corporate network (calendar, some dashboards, an inbox, some documents) and there's some goal-seeking behavior that deals with this.

The game that comes to mind is Tapper.


Tapper puts the player in the shoes of a bartender. The player must serve eager, thirsty patrons before their patience expires.  

Replace "serve eager, thirsty patrons" with "answer email" and perhaps there's some similarity.

The smallest piece of lego

is still worth fighting over, if you and your brother both want it.

What’s the smallest piece of lego?

A eurobricks forum suggests it is a flower petal.

Lugnut says a gold coin, weighing in at just over 0.056 g; the flower petal is a hefty 0.064 g.

For reference, a 1×1 plate is 0.176 g and a 1×8 brick is 3.06 g.

You’ll need a lot of legos to build a lego mosaic. I don’t even want to thing about the cost of lego bricks per kilogram, or maybe I will; this package of 25 1×8 bricks has an MSRP of $6, or about $80/kg, or $36/lb. This discussion on classic-space suggests mixed lego goes for $9-12/lb in 2009 dollars.

LEGO is a registered trademark owned by the LEGO Group. And don’t you forget it.

scrabulous: online scrabble game needs Facebook developers w/experience in load balancing

from the error page at the scrabulous facebook site:

Need another day.

What we did last night did not work, we need another day to get this running.

There’s no point in letting everyone try to play and face errors, so we’re closing it for some more time. Please check back in tomorrow.

Any programmers with experience in load balancing please email . We can do with some support in that area.

Sorry folks … trying our best to give you the best.

always interesting when facebook apps go down because of heavy loads (and I do miss my scrabble games).

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