Monthly Archives: April 2006

Sodium: A real blast at pool parties

Sodium Party

This site is great! Science with a kick. I love it.

Sodium metal reacts rather badly with water. That makes for some great videos!

The site has the same kind of crazy fascination with chemistry that my friend had as we were growing up. He even made nitroglycerin once (and he’s now a pharmacist… scary).

From the main Sodium page:

As with any reactive element, sodium’s character is changed completely when it’s incorporated into a chemical compound. Let sodium, a reactive metal, and chlorine, a poisonous, choking gas, react with each other (which they do with a violent explosion) and the result is common table salt, NaCl, blowing out all over the place. Isn’t the world a wonderful place to live?

Suddenly I’m getting the urge to play with those home chemistry sets again…

Eye-movement tracking & Web Content

F-Shaped Pattern For Reading Web Content (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox)
This is the same eye tracking idea I talked about in a previous post. The focus this time, though, is reading patterns.

Scan patterns seem to have a tendency to follow an “F” pattern, which is pretty interesting to me. I figured it would look more like a bunch of skinny rows as people read the headlines. Seems that after the first two, they don’t even read more than the first word or two of any headline. That really makes writing for the web an even bigger challenge than I already thought it was.

Still cool technology, btw… :)

Fight trolls with math!

Timez Attack

I am really impressed with this game. It’s engaging, the graphics are great, it has a cool adventure environment, and it teaches math. Seriously cool.

As you (a small monster) run through the world, you meet up with puzzles that teach you multiplication. For example, you have to get the question right in order to open a door. It’s not timed, it’s not threatening, and you have a sense of achievement when you get it right.

Once you get through the door, you are met by a troll blocking your way. This is the test. You have to answer the same question you just practiced to get past the troll, but this time it’s timed. If you answer wrong or time runs out, the troll pushes you back, but you get another shot. Each time you get it right, the troll is pushed back. Answer it right enough times and he runs away and gives you a key.

With each successive troll, you have to answer all previous questions in addition to the one you just learned. The last troll on the level makes you go through the cumulative multiplication table for that level.

It’s fun, you have instruction, practice, testing, and feedback, and it’s exciting!

I really wish we could get this level of engagement in our corporate training. There’s really nothing saying we can’t, it would just look different.

Imagine a game where you are looking for a job. Your character goes to a career counselor for instruction and practice on interviewing skills. At the end of that level, they have a phone interview, and if they pass that, different levels of interviews with different levels of management until they are ultimately hired or rebuffed.

Or take the same scenario from the other side. Your character is the hiring manager who needs to learn how to interview someone, plus all the HR policies and procedures that go along with that. They would have to get instruction, then start the hiring process by reviewing resumes and choosing who to interview. It could be a very engaging course.

Stop everything

There is a lot going on in the world these days. The pace of life is increasing at an amazing rate. The progress we are making is incredible, and there is great stuff happening every day.

But progress at this rate is a double-edged sword. Yes, we have unprecedented access to information, conveniences, and services, but it’s also very easy to be overstimulated and distracted.

This is more evident now than ever before, but it’s nothing new. As that link above shows, the pace has been increasing for … well … forever.

But while that link above is interesting and related, it’s not really precisely what I want to say, which is this: we are letting ourselves get too distracted to pay attention to the things that are really important.

Here’s a simple example: I was driving home from church last sunday and realized as I was driving down the highway that there were whole sections of the surrounding area that I’d never paid attention to. Why? Because I, along with most of society, am always trying to get to the next “thing” quicker and don’t take the time to look around me on the way. To use a cliché, I don’t stop to smell the roses.

When I stopped to think about it, I realized how very sad that really is. I used to just sit and watch water (and other things) flowing in streams or listen to the sounds of the forests. I used to truly appreciate the things around me, and notice the complexity in the seeming simplicity of nature.

Now I’m “too busy” for all that. And it’s not just that I physically have things to do or places to be. Sometimes it’s the mental work of taking in information from the overload of sources available to us these days. Podcasts, webcasts, RSS feeds, cell phones, blogs, email, PDAs, billboards (now including changing messages!), and even television and radio all compete for our attention virtually every minute of every day. And those are just the things that get in our faces and ask for attention.

I’m a geek, so I love having all this technology and information available. There is a large part of me that just wants to swim in the constant connectivity available to us. But there is also a large (albeit shrinking, sadly) part of me that wants to shut it all down and lay in a field on a mountain where no one can find me.

What I’m really scared of is that we are creating a society where we can’t sit and be silent, or even just amuse ourselves. We’re all ADHD-patients-in-training — searching for our next connection, waiting for someone else to provide some excitement in our lives.

I was talking to a friend last week and brought this up. She told me a story about a recent family get-together. The kids in the house were told to go outside and play. Fifteen minutes later, they were back in the house complaining they were bored and wanted to watch TV or get on the computer. They could not find anything to do in a roomy suburban neighborhood. Nothing stimulated their imaginations. That story, while not surprising, really disturbed me.

I’ve done one thing to “fight back”. Yes, I rarely cut the power to my computer, and you can probably guess my weight from the dent in my chair. Sure my television is almost always on (though that’s next on my list) and the radio or a CD is always playing in the car. But I refuse to carry my cell phone everywhere I go. That’s my little line in the sand. I use that phone for emergency only. I know it drives people nuts (especially my brother), but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s simply not necessary to get ahold of me that quickly if I step out to pick up a snack or go buy some new underwear. I’m not that important. It’s a small thing, but it reminds me to stop everything and step away from the rest of the world every once in a while.

I hope I can teach my kids to find a balance.