Category Archives: Teaching

My latest video game, “Pack A Truck”

Those of you who are familiar with my classic game “Truckin'”, know that I have an interest in logistics — management and coordination of a complex operation, such as the transport of goods.  My new video game “Pack a Truck” takes a closer look at the specific activity of preparing to move.

It’s more of an arcade game than a simulation, but it does give players food for thought in geometric terms.  Think of each game as a puzzle of sorts, with many combinations of the packing items possible.

So far, I’ve published “Pack a Truck” as an app on the Google Play Store.  If you have an Android phone or tablet, you should be able to install it from there.  I will be working on Windows and WebGL releases soon and possibly other device support.

Career Simulators

Mark Lautenschlager for “Into Tomorrow” wrote a piece entitled “Pondering the Existence of Career Simulators.”

While I enjoyed the article’s light tone in regards to the value of “Farming Simulator 2017” to most video game players, I was a bit disappointed in his overall findings.  I have written in the past, and still believe, that I think a sort of “career counselor” series of games for a huge variety of jobs would be invaluable to junior and senior high school students — not to mention college students and older adults.

I do agree with Lautenschlager that there is certainly room for more “fun” in these kinds of games, and that is where simulator game makers sometimes miss the mark.  But I believe the ultimate goal in these kinds of games should be to give the player a taste of what the actual job is like.  If the game is also enjoyable enough to entice a great number of video game players, then that’s a large plus.

Beyond that, at some point it would be nice to see a kind of serious game standard — or wrapper — produced for snippets (demos) of these kinds of games, such as one that would include an interview, day on the job play, perhaps an associated questionnaire to determine if it’s the kind of job for the player, and other things common to jobs.

Not that full career simulator games need to fit a standard, but samples from these games that included the wrapper could be compiled and joined into an indexed — or encyclopedic, if you will — career counselor website — a kind of CareersGameWiki with sample gameplay and meaningful associated data and information.  It would also serve as a nice advertisement for the game maker, for anyone wanting to further explore the whole video game.

I’ve always felt that it would be great for both children and adults to have a place to go to find out about any career possibility — even ones that might not exist yet but will in the future.  When I was a child, encyclopedias and career counselor offices or libraries at schools were my choices — or, when really lucky, the opportunity to spend a day and learn with someone on the job.  But with today’s technology, there should be so much more!

Below is a video showing some of the career simulator type games of 2013, including “Farming Simulator.”

My trip to UC Irvine

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UC Irvine in California is a great school (take a look at the terrific ratings).

That’s why I’m both honored and humbled to receive the Hall of Fame award for my work in software engineering and video games.  I recently visited the Donald Bren School of Computer Sciences & Information for a couple of days to meet the Dean and Assistant Dean and Department Chair, see how things have changed since I attended, meet with informatics researchers, and present to students and alumni at Game Developer’s Week.

When I graduated in 1981 (Computer Science) the campus had only a few buildings, now there are many.  The campus is still growing, yet it is quite attractive and still has a very personal feel — not to mention the beautiful beaches nearby.  Environmental practices at the college are hard to beat.

There are far more students attending today, and among the great variety of majors to choose from, there are excellent Computer Sciences & Informatics programs — including a Computer Game Science (video game developer and software engineering) degree that didn’t exist when I attended.

Informatics researchers are working on a variety of interesting projects related to health and education, as well as other diverse fields.

I very much enjoyed meeting with and giving a presentation to the UC Irvine Video Game Developer’s Club called “Staying Creative”, the main premise being that in order to have a long career in video games or other creative fields you should consider — know — your interests and stay flexible.    See the video below, or click on the link above to see it on YouTube.

I can’t conclude without mentioning Peter the Anteater, UC Irvine’s mascot.  I think he’s pretty terrific too.

Popular scientists

Seems like every generation has its “cool” scientist.  Einstein was a popular scientist.  Before we had television personalities, when people thought of a genius, they thought of Einstein.

Carl Sagan came along, and the “Cosmos” television series made him a scientist star.  Following Einstein, Stephen Hawking brought genius back to popular science.  Bill Nye the Science Guy became so well known that he eventually took over “The Planetary Society” from Sagan.  Neil deGrasse Tyson is perhaps less well known, but he’s an excellent speaker and has continued the popularization of astronomy and scientific research.  Michio Kaku has become a popular physicist on television for outside-the-box thinking.  He isn’t afraid to tackle any wild idea in physics and explain it to the public.

So perhaps The Dancing Scientist will be next on the list.  Go to  and click on “Television shows” to see a sample of his work on television. He’s got a Masters in Biochemistry from UCLA, yet he dances to popularize science.  I don’t know if he deserves to rank among the elite in my list above, but I am happy to see another scientist who is popularizing science (this time chemistry) for the public.

Accidentally dismissed Outlook reminder

I modified a reminder in Outlook, and as I was preparing to delete another reminder, the modified one popped up.  This caused me to accidentally delete the wrong reminder, and I had no idea which one it was.  So I wondered if there was a way to figure this out.  Please note that I have not tried this for Outlook Calendars that are stored on the internet.

If you are running Outlook 2013 or later, I think there is a solution — of sorts — to finding a dismissed reminder.  If you run into this situation, here’s something you can try.  Go to your Outlook calendar and click on the menu “Search Tools” and then “Advanced Find”.  Then select the “Advanced” tab in the find dialog.  Now under “Define More Criteria” select “Date/Time Fields” from the “Fields” drop-down and then “Modified”.   For “Condition” select “Today”, or “Yesterday”, or whenever you accidentally dismissed the reminder.

Click “Add To List” and then “Find Now”.  Outlook will search and find Calendar items that you modified today, including those reminders that were dismissed.  At least it did work for me when I tried it.  I hope it works for you.

Speed reading at The Reading Game

As I said in a previous blog, I worked for a time in the 1970’s at The Reading Game, learning centers owned by American Learning Corp. that eventually was purchased by Encyclopedia Britannica.  I started in Fullerton, CA as an associate, but then opened and started the Oceanside, CA branch.  I also taught speed reading through the Oceanside and Mission Viejo offices.

So I found it interesting recently when I discovered a Los Angeles Times article about the life of the famous speed reading educator and business woman Evelyn Wood.  Her company was purchased in the 1980’s by American Learning Corp and became the standard speed reading method at The Reading Game centers — after I had become a video game developer.

Me

The Reading Game

Richard Levine, director at "The Reading Game" Oceanside
Richard Levine, director at “The Reading Game” Oceanside

Out of college, I started my career as a school teacher.  With many long-time teachers staying in the profession back then, it was difficult to find a job in the California school system.  After a stint as a math teacher at a junior high school, I landed a position as assistant director of the Fullerton branch of “The Reading Game”, a franchise of learning centers owned by “American Learning Corp” — which later was purchased by Britannica.  I even started and directed the Oceanside office of “The Reading Game”.

It was during this time that I saw how students learn with varying styles and at different rates.  But all the students I worked with seemed to learn better when they were motivated and having a good time.

Later, as a software engineer and game designer, I applied these lessons when developing “Microsurgeon” and “Truckin'” for Mattel Intellivision.  I wanted game players to have varying levels of difficulty and a variety of choices.  Like putting a little fun into education in my “The Reading Game” days, I put a little education into fun.

The slide rule

I, and my classmates, used a slide rule in my physics and math courses at UCLA.  I could have purchased a HP pocket calculator for around $400 in 1972, but my slide rule was far cheaper and still adequate for my needs.  Back in the early 70’s, I was probably in the top 10% of my class in how fast and accurately I could compute with a slide rule.

By the late 1970’s, everyone was using a calculator — including me — but I still had my trusty slide rule.  I don’t remember, but I might have even taken my slide rule out a few times to do some calculations when I was prototyping the algorithm for the path of the bowling ball in Mattel’s Handheld Bowling and later Mattel Intellivision’s “PBA Bowling”.

For nostalgia, I still keep a slide rule around in my office.  I enjoyed reading an article on npr.org recently regarding “The Slide Rule: A Computing Device That Put A Man On The Moon“.  I’ve tutored mathematics for many years, and I can usually tell pretty quickly whether a student uses a calculator as a tool or as a crutch.  The calculator is not a wand, and it won’t form equations for you out of thin air.  I wonder how many math teachers today even realize that a slide rule is an excellent example of the use of logarithms?

Infographics can be wrong

When infographics show data in an interesting way, they can help one quickly comprehend the results.  That’s assuming that the visualization correctly portrays accurate data — or at least indicates where the data came from.  When infographics are made to convey an agenda, they are often as misleading as many of the political commercials we see on television.

That’s why I was uncomfortable recently when I saw an infographic on Pinterest — it was posted in several places related to teaching — that asked whether we wanted our kids to “make an app” or “make a difference”.  The agenda seemed pretty clear, and many who commented seemed to indicate that they’d prefer kids who make a difference.

What’s disturbing to me about this — especially when you see the graphic has already tried to decide the answer for you by placing the wrong wants on the left and the right wants on the right — is that it presumes there is one right answer.  This is especially odd because the high technology industry in the U.S. keeps telling Congress that we don’t have enough software engineers — who know how to make an app.

Comparing making an app and making a difference is just a restatement of the age old chicken and the egg dilemma: Which came first?  Is the person who sets out to make an app like Twitter or Facebook somehow less of a useful kid because they had the ability and the interest to make a cool app?  Nowadays the kid who decides to make a difference often needs a cool app like Kickstarter or even their bank’s mobile app to do so.

Infographics at their best are beautiful, creative, and informative.  At their worst, they can be incomplete, misleading, or just plain wrong.  You may find that an infographic conveys information in seconds or minutes that would have taken you hours to read about in a book or magazine journal article.  But like a political television commercial, often you need to read into the details to fully understand the graphic.

How informative is the infographic of infographics below?  Perhaps to be complete it should also show how much additional research is necessary to really understand the information shown in most infographics.

Infographic of Infographics

Game with the human body as a map?

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A few times a year I enjoy perusing the internet to see what new comments I find about my classic video game, “Microsurgeon” (1982 Imagic) — no, that’s not “Microsurgeon” graphics above (see my note below).  Today I was amused to find the answer to a November 2013 question on Quora.com: “Is it possible to create a RTS/FPS game with the human body (and its blood vessels) as a map? And then to use it to help with anatomy training in med school?

I love that a responder posted a note about “Microsurgeon” to indicate that — along with other games — there have already been games that have done this.  While generally speaking this is true, and I do think “Microsurgeon” does a good job with 1982 graphics, I don’t think anyone has yet done a surgery or health-related game where the player can navigate a robot or whatever through a completely — or at least very detailed — accurate map of the human body.  I’ve seen several games with interesting attempts at providing first-person or side shooter type views of travel through veins and arteries, but I’m still waiting to see a really detailed and more accurate than “Microsurgeon” top-down view and gameplay in a modern video game.  I managed a few rough drawings and prototype gameplay some time ago but well after 1982 — (see above) I’m no artist — but something much more detailed and realistic could no doubt be done nowadays

Finally, in order to accentuate what was said on the Quora website in response to the question, here is the text of a letter Imagic Corp. and I received from the University of NC at Chapel Hill back in 1983 related to the use of “Microsurgeon” in teaching various aspects of anatomy and health to seventh graders.

“Ladies and Gentlemen:

A health education group was established this year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Medical School. The program entitled S.T.E.P. consists of medical students going into the public schools to teach seventh graders about a heart disease called atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis is the number one killer in the Western World and only through early prevention by education can we combat it.  One of the educational aids used to teach about heart disease was a Mattel Intellivision video game and an Imagic video cartridge. A group of students played the game to learn how atherosclerosis actually effects the body.

This letter is to thank and give credit to all those responsible for supplying the game. The original idea was spurred by a Wall Street Journal reporter, Laura Landro, who wrote about the game in an article entitled “The Latest in Video-Game Villains: Plaque, Intestinal Worms and Nerds.”

 

Financial Literacy

I can remember teaching high school math students in 1977 how to do some of the calculations on their basic income tax form.  Many of my students were interested and excited.  I realized back then that financial literacy was missing from the school curriculum.  Of course, adults need to understand much more than that about their finances.  MSN Money asked recently, why aren’t schools today doing more to teach financial literacy?  It isn’t just an American issue. For example, see the video below involving a Canadian company.

Learning 2.0 (or is it 3.0 by now?)

It seems that learning is the latest hot term of the decade.  Universities are offering massive open online courses (MOOCs) online for free, video game companies are creating serious (learning) games, and technology companies are making tools for developing these kinds of applications on tablets, computers, consoles, phones, and in the cloud.

It’s a given that schools are interested in any technology that will provide great learning experiences for students, not to mention explore new opportunities for tuition.  You know that video game companies are serious about this — and interested in finding new sources of income — when you see a business like Rovio branching out from Angry Birds into the learning games arena, or a successful entrepreneur like Nolan Bushnell as CEO of Brainrush.

With all of these efforts, one might think that learning is about to go through a significant change, perhaps for the better.  That’s fine, if there are more opportunities and better methods in the future for all students to learn.  But I hope that it doesn’t mean we will see the kinds of immense pressures on students that we’ve seen in required testing or on employees in the workplace: productivity gains with increases in stress.

Students still need to find ways to love what they are learning, to enjoy the company of other students with interests like theirs (as well as different from theirs), to savor the moment of learning, to contemplate what they’ve learned, to ask questions, and to learn not only what they need to learn but also what they want to learn.

 

Teaching the art of juggling

I am a long time amateur juggler, able to perform a few basics with 3 or 4 balls, 3 or 4 rings, or 3 clubs.  5 ball juggling has always escaped me, as well as many of the more complicated 3 and 4 ball patterns.  That’s why it’s great to see more capable jugglers creating videos that teach others how to perform some of these difficult tricks.

The International Juggler’s Association (IJA) has an annual contest for submissions of video tutorials, and they have chosen their top 10 for 2013.  Below is just one of the videos I enjoyed watching, especially since the 5 ball juggling skill is so elusive to many amateurs.  If you are interested in the science of juggling, Discover Magazine (2004) featured an article on the “Mathematics of … Juggling.”

 

STEM subjects

Adafruit Industries posted their first episode of an educational show aimed at kids.  It’s cute, and at the least it is an attempt to introduce children to electronics knowledge.  Hopefully, though, kids will also have many opportunities to learn by doing (hands-on) in their classrooms.

I was #1 this week in Ole Miss Math Contest

I was quite pleased this week to discover that I made the top of the list in the Ole Miss Math Contest for Algebra this week.  As a science fiction author, I like to practice my math skills.  You never know when you might get an idea for a math-related short story, as I did with “Oddly Perfect” (about an encounter with a 4 dimensional being), published in The Fifth Di in 2012.  At times, I also tutor students for the Math portion of the SAT exam.