A bridge to somewhere

August 27, 2012

On Saturday night I felt like reading, but I wanted to do it in a beautiful place. So I hopped in my car and drove down to India Point Park. I’d never spent any time there, so before I sat down to devour a few chapters of Game of Thrones I walked the waterfront park. Despite the perfect weather, the park wasn’t packed full of people, but there were enough so that it felt alive. College kids playing frisbee on the green, anglers fishing, joggers with and without dogs, couples with strollers, and an art student drawing the lovely scene. I found a comfy spot under a tree and enjoyed the book. Finally the light started to fade, and sunset made the picture even prettier. I walked the pedestrian bridge over I-195 and then moved left down to the water. It seems that area is quite “happening” these days. Clubs and restaurants were busy and people were dressed up for a night on the town. The crowd was quite young, judging by the young women teetering on ridiculously high heels. Of course, I had no such intentions and walked against the foot traffic towards and under the bridge, where I took this shot with my phone.

The park renovation and the bridge were both part of the iway project, which appears to have been a success. Truth be told, I didn’t love this bridge the first time I saw it, but now that I’ve spent more time with it and seen different angles I think it’s perfect for Providence. Recalling the glory years but with a modern feel indicating a bright future seems just about right to me.


Friends of India Point Park

DOT iway project (could use some updating)



Musketeer Musings

August 24, 2012

Thanks to an Audible download snafu, I listened to an episode of Stuff You Should Know yesterday and learned about the Three Musketeers. They were the titular characters of a series of books written by Alexandre Dumas from 1840-1860. The books take place in the early 17th century and feature real-life characters and events, making it much like the popular historical fiction you find today (though if you want to read it look in the Literature section instead).

The name Musketeer comes from the fact that they carried (and were skilled with) muskets. The musket spelled the end of armored knights since this projectile weapon could pierce plate mail, rendering it obsolete. Ironically, the fictional Musketeers rarely used their guns and swordplay is the primary mode of combat in the books. Anyone who carried a musket was technically a musketeer, and when we think of this “special forces” of great warriors we’re referring to the Musketeer of the Guard. And there were more than three of them – at some points there were as many as 150.

The main character of the books is actually d’Artagnan, a country lad who want to join the Musketeers. He does so (spoiler alert) so their elite-within-elite group is actually comprised of four Musketeers.

The numbers game gets even messier when we start talking about the candy bar. Originally, a 3 Musketeers bar consisted of three mini-candy bars of three different flavors (chocolate, strawberry, vanilla) but was changed in 1945 to what is essentially a Milky Way without the caramel.

Trivia challenge: Without looking it up, can you name the Three Musketeers?

Sneak Peak

August 16, 2012

I’ve finished my latest game! It’s the only one I completed this summer (I had hoped to get at least two done). My rough start to the summer meant a lack of focus so instead of fighting that I let myself work on whatever I felt like working on each day. That resulted in a bunch of proof of concept type apps (will this idea work?) and now I have five or six apps in development that have a decent foundation. With the school year starting soon it probably won’t be until fall until I have another one done though.

Anyway, this app is called SumDice and it’s coming out for the iPhone very soon. It takes Apple a week to ten days to approve an app (which feels like an eternity) and I sent it in a few days ago. I’ll post an update here once it’s available. The app is free, which is only way for an indie developer to get it out to enough people without an ad budget. But don’t worry, I’ll still make some money. The game has ads in it, which is handled though Apple and can be lucrative if enough people are playing. Unfortunately, Apple recently changed their policy and won’t display ads in apps made for children, so Battle Times went from making a relatively small but ever-increasing amount of money to making nothing overnight. Because of this, you probably won’t see any cartoon characters in my games again for a while (they assume that means kiddie game). In addition I’m trying to “upsell” the game once players play it and (hopefully) like it. A “Bonus Pack” will be available within the game for 99¢ that adds features including a SuperDice mode with three dice instead of two and 12 buttons instead of 9. I tried that method with Battle Times HD (iPad) and it hasn’t worked out too well, but I blame that more on the interface (not linear enough) and audience (too young). If the in-app purchase in this one works I’ll modify the menus in that one to see if it helps.

To promote SumDice I’ve created the web version (click here to play) that required a bit of juggling and graphic modification since the iPhone version is “portrait” and web apps are “landscape.” Other than that it plays a lot like the iPhone game, except without some of the iOS-specific features like Game Center leader boards and achievements. I did manage to include the in-game mini-math-lesson. Look for it under “Options” as “Odds and Ends.” Enjoy!

P.S. I tried to embed the game on this page, but WordPress wouldn’t let me do that for some reason.

Seat Time Genius

August 13, 2012

I’m re-reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers (truth be told it’s part of a professional development assignment – we could pick from three choices and I chose the one I’ve already read to save myself time for other projects). If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s basically an analysis of why certain people are extraordinarily successful (The Beatles, Bill Gates) as well as the concept of accumulated advantage, which is when early success or advantage is compounded by increased opportunity for development and success. His example of Canadian hockey players is compelling – the majority of professional players are born in the first few months of the year and benefitted from their age advantage in youth hockey (based on the calendar year) over those born later in the year (players start very young so a 10 month age advantage is quite significant). He also repeatedly mentions the 10,000 hour rule, which is supposedly the amount of time it takes to become an “expert” at something.

The book got me thinking about some of my favorites  – notably the music of Prince and the movie Amadeus. Lately I’ve been listening to what in my opinion is Prince’s greatest work, Sign o’ The Times. Released in 1987, this double album is celebrating its 25th year and sounds amazingly fresh to this day (though it’s in dire need of re-mastering for digital), and it’s kind of hard to pinpoint why. The songs are certainly well-crafted (he had definitely reached his 10,000 hours by then since he was 29 at the time of his release) but there’s something more to it than that. I can listen to songs like “Adore” or “Play in the Sunshine” on headphones and certain parts of the songs will give me goosebumps. I’ve heard those songs over 1,000 times and yet the effect is not diminished. It’s remarkable, really. I don’t know if it’s the combination of apparent simplicity with incredible levels of detail or what, but it resonates with me. I can remember playing it on the boom box in the graphic arts room my senior year in high school. My friends there listened but being eastern-Connecticut born and bred they cared for little beyond classic rock. An album which melds R&B, soul, rock, jazz and even a little country was far too different from what their brains had been accustomed to for them to make any sense of it (note that Purple Rain, his most commercially successful album, is very much a rock record with easier to digest hints of R&B). My brain was used to this fusion, having been introduced to his music in 1982 when my brother Adam bought the album 1999.

Around the same time (and in the same school) I saw my favorite movie for the first time. I remember my one and only trip to the music room in high school was to watch this film (apparently I lacked access to music education). It’s a long movie (in a time when motion pictures very rarely crossed the two-hour mark) but I was totally captivated. It’s not so much the music of Mozart that was the draw (I do enjoy it but wouldn’t really consider myself a classical music fan). No, the appeal to me was always the nature of genius. The fictional version of Salieri was a dedicated and talented composer whose world was shaken to the core by the arrival of Mozart and a level of talent beyond anything he knew. While he experimented with different iterations of a musical phrase over and over to get it right, Mozart would instantly come up with something fresh and far better at his first attempt. What’s particularly interesting in the movie was that Salieri was one of the few who could see the genius. Others thought the music to be very good but not particularly special. This makes sense for music (or an idea) that is ahead of its time. The world needs to catch up in order to understand.

All of which brings us back to Gladwell. Every artist I’ve mentioned has put in the 10,000 hours (including the highly successful Salieri), as have countless local musicians of varying quality. Perhaps Gladwell’s accumulated advantage is at play in that quality discrepancy. In any event, the 10,000 hours idea has been used in education circles as a reason to expand the school day and year. After all, reaching 10,000 hours of learning will be easier that way, right? But that superficial application fails to take into account what I believe is the single most important factor in learning… motivation. The musicians mentioned in this post surely were passionate and excited about music as children. The parents of those young hockey players probably had to drag them off the ice. In an age of nearly unlimited information resources (thank you, interweb) it is merely the desire to learn that is necessary. So how do we inspire that desire to learn in our students? Where does that thirst for more knowledge that some of us possess come from? And when it is there, what happens in the brains of the outlier that allows a masterpiece song to be conceived of in mere moments that you or I could take 10,000 hours and still not approach?

Balls to the Wall

August 7, 2012

This past weekend I visited relatives in Brooklyn, NY and we took a short trip to walk the Brooklyn Bridge and to see the new Freedom Tower that is nearing completion. As a little aside we went down to the financial district and saw a big crowd of people around something. I couldn’t really tell what it was because of the crowd, but when I got close enough I could see it was the famous “Charging Bull” statue. While not technically on Wall Street, it has become an accessible symbol for the area. I was thinking there should also be a bear statue, but since people dislike a down market it’s not surprising there isn’t one (even though bears are way cooler than bulls).

Wall Street itself has an interesting history. As we all know from watching the Ric Burns documentary, Manhattan was settled by the Dutch, who were famous as traders. So much so, in fact, that when the British sailed in to take over they simply refused to fight for the Dutch leaders to keep it. All that mattered was that commerce would continue as usual (and it did after a peaceful transfer of power). As for the wall in Wall Street, it gets its name from the wall that marked the northern end of what was then New Amsterdam (only the southern tip of Manhattan was settled). Originally an earthen mound, it was built up in the 1640s into a 12-foot structure. In the 1680s the street was laid out alongside this rampart. At this time auctioneers and dealers gathered there (and other places) to trade. In 1699 the wall that gave the street its name was removed as the settlement grew.

In the late 18th century (Independence period) there was a large buttonwood tree at the foot of Wall Street under which investors would trade securities. This game them shady place to work (literally) and kept everyone in close proximity. Finally, in 1789 the Buttonwood Agreement formalized rules and trading commissions, creating the New York Stock Exchange.

Back to the Bedroom

August 3, 2012

Yay, another post about sleeping! It’s probably just because I tend to write these in the morning these days, combined with another not-so-great night of sleep. No bad dreams last night (I remember a dream where I was at Fenway Park trying to watch a game but kept getting text messages) but I couldn’t quite get comfortable. This time my restlessness was caused by a lack of finding a comfortable position, which was probably because I was a bit sore from yesterday’s workout (I pushed a bit harder than usual).

So this morning I looked up sleeping positions and couldn’t find much (a Google search brings up a lot of pages relating to SIDS and sleep positions). But I did find this breakdown of sleep position preference compiled by Professor Chris Idzikowski:

Fetus (41%) – curling up in a fetal position.

Log (15%) – lying on one’s side with the arms down the side.

Yearner (13%) – sleeping on one’s side with the arms in front.

Soldier (8%) – on one’s back with the arms pinned to the sides.

Freefall (7%) – on one’s front with the arms around the pillow and the head tilted to one side.

Starfish (5%) – on one’s back with the arms around the pillow.

No preference (11%) – doesn’t need to be explained

I really like the clever names of these. I’m with the 11% of people who don’t have a preference. I will fall asleep in almost any of those positions. I do tend to always sleep (or begin sleeping) on the left side of the bed for some reason though. According to a survey conducted by Premier Inn in the UK, I am sleeping on the “right” side. They found that left side sleepers are cheerier, calmer and more confident.

As for couples, Travelodge conducted a survey that found that 50% of couples sleep back-to-back, with a bit more than half of those touching while doing so. Spooning was second with 28% and the “lover’s knot” (face-to-face with legs intertwined) next up at 10%.

(I searched for a pic from Ghostbusters with Sigourney Weaver levitating above the bed but couldn’t find one. Whoya gonna call?)