Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Copyright Wars - Epilogue

Well, in one last swing at me, the National Portrait Gallery fired off an invoice to the University for the four images I am using on my historical doll website. Of course, I would not authorize payment so I had to forward the invoice to the General Counsel's office. Unfortunately, the General Counsel would not commit time to refute their claim because of the relatively (to them) small amount of money involved. They told me to remove the pictures in question and instructed the Computing Center to disable my website if I did not cooperate. Talk about strong armed tactics!

I find the whole episode very disturbing because essentially, it means that as long as there are institutions out there willing to ignore court rulings and make extortinate demands for copyright they do not hold and other institutions who are unwilling to challenge them, the extortion involving use of public domain works will continue!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Pen Gets a Whole Lot Mightier

New York Times: I found this article particularly interesting because several years ago I purchased a "smart" pen scanner to evaluate and found that it was much more difficult to produce accurate results with it than the demonstrator at Comdex displayed. Supposedly it was designed to allow you to easily scan article snippets and business cards into your PDA or laptop but I found negotiating the tiny menu with button clicks far too slow and frustrating to be efficient enough to recommend to my colleagues.

Apparently, the reviewer of this "pentop" also expressed a little irritation about navigating its menu as well although it is at least audio-enabled. There was no mention of speech recognition. It would be really nice if, when listening to the audio menu, you could reply "yes" when it gets to the option you want. Perhaps that will come with future enhancements. I was intrigued by the interactive testing and math studies applications though.

"The Fly Pentop Computer, made for children ages 8 to 14, is essentially a computer in a pen, with a computer chip, a speaker and a tiny camera. But Fly's maker, LeapFrog (maker of LeapPad, the popular interactive book reader), has much greater ambitions.

Fly Through Math, for example, is dedicated to multiplication and division. You write the digits of a math problem into the squares of the included graph paper. Like a watchful parent or teacher, the Fly's little voice-over elf comments immediately when, for example, you forget to carry the 1 or misplace a decimal point. This in-problem feedback is far more helpful than a computer program that just tells you that your final answer is wrong.

Then there's Fly Through Tests. From a Web site (, your sixth- through eighth-grader can download multiple-choice quizzes in PDF format that correspond to the chapters of specific popular published textbooks (math, science or social studies). You print them onto the blank paper that comes with this cartridge, and voilĂ : instant interactive tests, specific to the textbook you're using in class."

Friday, November 04, 2005

Wild Earth game looks to combine natural studies with photography skill development

I was checking for game updates to post to my web log about games with historical themes and I came across a new offering from European developer Digital Jester called "Wild Earth" that is scheduled for a Q1 2006 release.

"Featuring breathtaking landscapes from the African Serengeti National Park, Wild Earth is a stunning adventure which allows players to experience the African wildlife in its natural environment.

Players embark on various assignments, each of which feature different photographic objectives, challenging the player to explore the lush 3D world and take the best photographs of animals and environmental features.

At the end of each assignment, an html article is created using the player’s own photographs which provides additional in-depth information and insight. These articles can be printed, saved or shared.


* Accurate and beautifully recreated wildlife including elephants, cheetahs, lions, crocodiles and more.

* Simulated weather conditions – (racing clouds, rainfall, dust devils, thunder storms).

* Immersive 3D environments (open plains, rocky outcrops, lakes, streams etc).

* Diverse missions including specific night-time challenges, wild animal tracking and exploration of the Serengeti terrain.

* Stirring soundtrack created by world music label Talking Drum Records.

* Creative game design; players are encouraged to practice and develop photography skills.

* Differing skill levels for more advanced photography challenges.

* Personalised gameplay utilising players photographs in html articles.

* Non-violent family oriented gameplay mechanic."

This game reminds me very much of one of my first and favorite simulation games that got me hooked on the genre, Eco: East Africa. This new take on the wildlife theme incorporates learning photography as well as learning about the natural world (two of my favorite things) and stands a very good chance of demonstrating how video games can be effective learning tools and cross-discipline to boot.