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I'm currently working on a DPhil in HCT at the University of Sussex. This section of the website is for an on-going 'learning diary', for me to write my thoughts and notes on various courses and my thesis.

Entries in sharing (5)

Tuesday
Feb262013

They played it!

The lab group. They played our game! For real!

Well, kind of. Actually, we only got through two seasons (well, and the intro). In about an hour and a bit. Clearly there are some issues there, as I seriously expected it would take a maximum of about 15 minutes per season. But we had 8 people logged on simultaneously, and it did not fall down in a big heap. 

I'm not claiming there weren't errors. Mostly they were fixed by either trying to do the thing again (I really need to check my hibernate stuff, there were unclosed transactions all over the shop and I really thought I'd caught all of them) or restarting the flash player. That's clearly not acceptable, but for the first time we've ever run it as a group I'll take that. 

There was a lot of feedback around the (lack of) feedback - which I was aware of, but not quite aware how pervasive it was. I know this game intimately, it's so hard for me to work out what a new player won't know. There was also a lot of clicking on things that aren't buttons, and mis-reading things that are (exit and home didn't actually mean what people thought they meant). I still don't have drop-downs working 100% well.

So much useful stuff to see and take on board, so much coding to do! But that is a really big step. I think we've been at this for 2.5 years now, from the very first paper sketches of the screens, to our PowerPoint prototype with the Flintstones as our family members, to a static flash prototype and now finally to people logging in and playing. Quite a long journey, and a lot of code. 

What I'm most pleased about was the buzz in the group. They wanted to get past the issues, they wanted to keep playing. I have had this nagging doubt in the back of my mind that even if we made this work we would actually be creating a game that noone wants to play. So if nothing else, I am hugely reassured that this is not the case. 

I guess the next big step will be throwing that in front of people we don't know, who don't know how much effort has gone in or have to talk to us next day. I think it would be nice to iterate and show the group again, and see if we can get that playing time down. I still think that 15 mintues per season is do-able. Just need to improve that interface! 

Monday
Sep102012

Fun and Games meta-game

While I'm listening to talks or wandering around at a conference I like to play a "meta-game" of evaluating the slides, presenters, and my experiences, to try and glean pointers for how I can play the conference game better. I do tell people I'm doing this. They've never asked to see what I say, but some do look a little uncomfortable.

In fact, this time I'm going to start out by critiquing my efforts instead.

This conference I went with a really minimalist packing style, at least partially driven by EasyJet's price for hold luggage. I took my normal, lightweight Eddie Bauer backpack as my only piece of luggage. I think it's 18l. I packed an outfit for each day, my wash stuff, and so on. I can say I used everything I brought apart from the notepad, which I only brought as backup for my iPad. I didn't need to, we were given a notepad and pen when we got to the conference, and my iPad was fine. Was there anything I missed? Well, ideally I would had an extra top for the conference dinner. It's nice to dress up (although a little jewellery would have done that), and to be honest it's been really warm and I've got pretty sweaty each day. I know, TMI. There wasn't really anything else I was missing. It worked really well for getting to and through the airport, dealing with the buses, keeping it with me on the last day and so on. I think it was a really good plan actually.

The poster was ok, but I'm going to give myself a "could do better". You can see it below, but sadly it isn't the one that jumps out at you!
5 Sep 2012 12:36
I ended up folding my poster down the middle (due to the hand luggage restrictions), which looked sort of ok, but I think a better idea would be to design a poster that could be split into two separate sheets. Something that deliberately comes apart. They would roll better than the folded poster, and look more deliberate. I also need to make something more visually striking, with less text and more bullet points and pictures. Something that stands out better from a dull background. It's a good challenge. I did have lots of interesting discussions with people who had read my poster - I kind of need to think about what I had to keep explaining. To be fair, I think a lot of people spoke to me rather than read it (too much text I think!).

So, that's my efforts dissected.

In general the presentations suffered from poor lighting - all the rooms were too light, leading to poor contrast on the slides. As this doesn't seem to be that uncommon, I think it's worth trying to find a way to mimic these conditions, just to check the slides are legible. Whether that's reducing the brightness of my monitor or taking my iPad out into the light, I'll try experimenting and checking. I think the biggest problems were pictures that the presenter wanted to talk to that were just too dark, so that's important.

Other than that there was my usual bugbear - too much on the slide. An enormous great table does not become legible when you highlight a cell! Just put the contents on a new slide if you really need to show them, or better yet, put them in the paper and talk around the important bits. There was some nice designs that would have worked well on a one-to-one scale, but as giant slides in front of lots of people the just distracted.

I was interested to see people all presenting on their own machines - if I am to do that and stay minimal I need to do presentations on my iPad. Something to practice on the lab I think! Prezi was an interesting switch - I could actually really see how some of the previous presentations could have used the zooming and moving thing to great effect, but mostly I try to keep my stuff more basic than that. The use of a laser pointer was good if you particularly needed to point something out on the slide (the projection was way above everyone's heads), but I might just fidget with it. Still might be worth investigating. The thing I picked up at my last conference still holds too - dark background with light text works well in too much light.

I'm still pulling together my thoughts overall, but I have a good post-conference buzz going (combined with post-conference knackeredness - I'm thinking lots, but not terribly coherently!). Maybe next time I'll try for a paper...

Thursday
Nov242011

Practicing on the lab

Last Friday I lead the lab group meeting for the first time since I started. I've seen other PhD students do it, and lab group members often 'use' the lab group as a testing ground for ideas and presentations, or if they have something they want to talk through. I am in the process of trying to write the questionnaire to use as my main data-gathering tool, the tool that will hopefully provide me with the vast majority of my data, so I'm a little anxious about it. Perfect for lab group feedback!

I thought pretty carefully about the structure I wanted to use. It would have been quite easy to present the games, the theory I'm looking at, and then asked them to look at the survey and lead into a discussion. I didn't do that because I felt knowing what I was looking for would affect the way they read the questionnaire. Instead I presented a little bit on three games I'm going to be looking at, then I asked them to read the questions. When the discussion around that got to the point where I felt answering the questions needed it, I went back to my slides and introduced more specifically the differences in the games (and introduced the fourth - a variant on the online game we're writing), and how I expect those differences to influence the team cohesion amongst the players.

Picking the point to go back to the theory was a little tricky, but I think it was worth doing it that way. I got some very useful feedback, some around the use of specific words, but also about thinking about who will be potentially filling out the survey. It may be that a reasonably high percentage may not have English as a first language, so some of the subtleties of the statements I've put together may be lost. That's a point that I (in my privileged English-speaking way) hadn't considered! There were a couple of contentious statements, but actually only the ones that I was already not particularly happy with, so that's not so bad. 

The other thing I've taken from the experience is that I'm reasonably confident of my background theory. I feel I can talk about it coherently, and pull the reading I've done into a shape that makes sense of what I'm looking for and at. While the lab group is a reasonably safe environment to practice in, the flip side of that is that these are my closest colleagues. If I look foolish in front of them, I still have to see them regularly for the next two years. Plenty of people have said it's actually the audience they get most nervous about - not just my lab group (who are all perfectly nice, polite, interesting and interested people) but close colleagues in general. So coming away feeling more confident was a definite plus. 

I actually feel like that was quite an important step. Now, back to that questionnaire!

Monday
Oct032011

Presenting style

There's a kind of meta game to going to conferences, and that's looking at presentation styles and slide design. Looking back over my notes from multi.player, I have left myself all sorts of comments about the speed of the presentation, the slide design, the slide contents etc. 

More recently I went to dConstruct, which is not an academic conference. It aims to be an inspirational one, with a theme to talk around rather than a specific technology to discuss and learn about. The speakers are professionals who also do a lot of presenting at conferences. I found it fascinating to see the differences in approach.

By and large, the slides were much better at dConstruct (granted at a design-oriented conference you'd hope for good slide design). There was less reliance on them, and less data displayed. In Don Norman's case, he didn't use slides at all and I don't think the presentation suffered for that. In Matthew Sheret's talk, the slides and more particularly how he moved between them (he'd hacked a toy sonic screwdriver) were a key part of the talk, but didn't distract from what he was saying. 

On the other hand, the academics had a much more rigid structure to their talks that in at least a few cases made them much clearer than those at dConstruct: 

 

  1. Background of topic
  2. Research questions coming from that background
  3. Methodology used to explore research questions
  4. Results and discussion.

 

Just like a paper, or a poster, or... well, most academic presentation I guess! 

So what have I learnt? From my time with American Express as well as what I've seen at conferences, I try to put as little as possible on my slides. They should not make sense without me there to talk around them. Putting tables of data on the slides doesn't work because a) it's almost impossible to make them legible and b) they distract people from what I'm saying. Use slides to show people things you can't say, so a picture (SINGLE picture, easy to see), not necessarily quotes. Have a structure so you know what your overall story is, although perhaps make it slightly less obvious in the talk than standing there and reading through it. 

Stylistically, dark backgrounds with light text is more robust if your room is too light. Talk at a reasonable pace, not everyone speaks English as a native and there's no need to pound people. Stay on topic - random 'surprise' slides are only really funny once. Test any tech on a machine other than the one you created the presentation on, just to make sure.

I think you have two goals as a conference presenter. You are trying to be interesting and informative (and I mean you, not your slides). If I can crack that, I'll be doing well!

Friday
Apr012011

Ownership

I've been playing Glitch as part of the alpha test, so there are quite long periods between games. Gives me a chance to peruse the forums etc. There are a couple of bits and pieces I've found that are relevant to my looking at rules, ownership, social norms etc. 

A big one is houses. We've been thinking about our African farmers and how they will need a shared home, but also that we need to make it possible for other people to pick up and use some of their stuff. This is really to allow the possibility of things that can happen in a board game, like someone sneaking some of your money off the table, or maybe 'donating' you some extra things. Also it would facilitate things like helping a neighbour with their planting, etc. Houses in Glitch are owned by a single person, and can be used to store extra bits and pieces. If someone else knocks on the door while the owner is online (anywhere in the world), the owner can give the other person permission to enter. Once they have entered, the player is free to pick up and abscond with any of the items that the owner has carefully stashed in their house. Nice mechanism!

(Also, interesting bit here about moving house and needing help from neighbours to carry everything...)

A new bit of functionality that is being tested today is 'community gardens'. These are basically streets in each area that have a whole load of ready-to-plant beds. You put seeds in them (available from the gardening vendor, or piggies poo them out too), water them, and they slowly grow. There's a forum discussion about them here, and there's a really interesting question at the bottom. "Can we walk off and leave the stuff we planted in Community Gardens without it being harvested by someone else?" (PittyPat) The response was no, they are communal gardens. 

The plants grow so slowly it just isn't really practical to stand next to your plant and wait. I was wondering around today, and a couple of times was running rather low on energy and harvested some of the community garden plants. I actually felt really guilty. Like I'd taken someone else's hard-earned stuff. I think this is a really interesting idea - communal gardens for anyone to plant in, but equally, anyone can harvest. I'll have to keep an eye on them and see if they are well used or become bones of contention!