All posts by Bomadeno

I'm Matt Bond, computer scientist and game designer. I enjoy messing with computers. I like to experience new things. I don't like irrationality, I do like conversation. I hate tapioca in drinks and I love summer rain.

Chocolate coated hazelnut toffee

I’ve been experimenting in candymaking, and this is the first “worth sharing”. It’s a fairly hard candy wrapped around hazelnuts and covered in delicious chocolate.

Ingredients

  1. 100g light/golden syrup
  2. A generous handful of hazelnuts (or other nuts)
  3. Chocolate. How much? How much do you like chocolate! I used a lot. I like chocolate.

Instructions

  1. Chop up hazelnuts (or whatever nuts you fancy). I got bored chopping and used a blender.
  2. Layer the hazelnuts on greaseproof/baking paper in a heatproof dish with cork pads or spare tea towels under it (to protect your surfaces). Spread the hazelnuts fairly evenly. The area of the dish will affect the thickness of the candy (big dish = thing candy)
  3. Put 100g of light/golden syrup and 200g of sugar in a pan (ideally a small radius pan with a thick base, and I don’t use non stick pans because sugar washes off easily if you don’t burn it)
  4. Use a sugar thermometer! Unless you’re already a candy master, getting consistent results is near impossible otherwise. Set it up in the pan (don’t let it touch the bottom, but make sure the bulb is immersed)
  5. Turn the heat on! KEEP IT LOW. I cannot overstate this. Do not rush. Burned sugar is not your friend. On a hob with 6 heat settings, 3 tends to work ok, but if you want to be safe, start with 2.
  6. Wait patiently for the temperature to reach 149C, meanwhile microwave the chocolate in a heatproof dish with a spout (use a low power setting, 10-20 second bursts with stirring in between). You want it to be -just- melted, not totally molten
  7. As soon as the sugar mix reaches 149C, pour it across the nuts. Wait for a little bit for it to get a bit cooler (I waited about 40 seconds) then slowly drizzle the molten chocolate all over it.
  8. Wait. And wait. And wait. This is torture, seriously. Oh, and while you wait, wash the pan.

Once it’s cool you might want to put it in the fridge to set the chocolate. Once it’s full set, you can do what you want with it! I strongly suggest eating it. As a side note, it’s actually better the following day – when the brittle candy has had a little time to soften and not shatter your teeth.

If you have any questions ask in the comments!

How to make enjoyable educational games?

For my masters thesis, I tackled the problem of educational games. Why are educational games a problem? Because the mass image of them is simply “quiz+rewards” – what has been referred to as “chocolate coated broccoli”. This analogy is particularly touching to me, because even though I like broccoli normally, the idea of coating it with chocolate repulses me. Similarly, the idea of smothering learning with patronizing encouragement and “rewards” makes the joy of learning less palatable.

In my thesis, I try to put into words some principles for producing games for learning, games that are enjoyable yet impart knowledge that is valued in the real world. Roughly, this ends up with me suggesting that games should be built by simulating a subject area, tightly coupled with structures to support both game driven and free playing experiences. In detail, I provide a list of stuff you can do to up your educational game, with a wide range of examples from mainstream games that you’ve no doubt heard of, and likely have played – summarized in the graphic below.

A summary of my pragmatic thesis findings
Simulations, a system for goals and hints, coaching and enjoyable difficulty all contribute to enjoyable, educational games

Whether you’re curious or horrified, I encourage you to read the full thesis! I hope that it sparks topics for discussion, and leads to more awesome games with a serious experience at heart.

Quiet YouTube when steam “donks”?

I’ve been noticing steam messages seem to seriously reduce the audio of my music player and youtube videos and what not. It was a bit frustrating, so I searched for it and found a typical tech thread here. This didn’t help at all, so I carried on hunting and found the answer burief in steam’s forums, it’s a Windows setting which makes other things quiet when you’re “in a voice call” (which.. well, steam messages don’t really fall into that category). Anyway, file a bug report with steam if this irritates you, and find a workaround/fix here:

http://makingwindowseasy.com/2011/04/30/change-windows-volume-during-phone-calls/

It fixes the issue, and I’m pretty happy to mute my music when I skype or whatnot…

How can we evaluate the quality of learning experiences?

Among other things, Bloom’s taxonomy allows us to categorize learning experiences. Bloom’s work was revised somewhat by Anderson a bit later, and it’s that revised edition I’ll describe here.

A taxonomy is a way of arranging things, and the revised Bloom’s taxonomy has two dimensions for categorization, the knowledge dimension and the cognitive dimension. Here they are in tables with examples.

Knowledge Dimension

Level Example
Factual knowledge Crude oil can be made into gasoline
Conceptual knowledge Crude oil is a mixture of many different hydrocarbons including gasoline.
Procedural knowledge Mixtures of chemicals in general can be separated through distillation, including gasoline from crude oil.
Metacognitive knowledge Determining if a chemical mixture can be separated with distillation is possible through internet searches or experimentation with different temperatures.

Cognitive Dimension

Level Example
Remember Crude oil can be made into gasoline
Understand Draw diagram showing how gasoline is extracted from gasoline
Apply Set up alcohol distillation in test tubes
Analyze Given a set of 20 liquids, determine which are mixtures separable by distillation
Evaluate Compare your methods to those of your classmates
Create Try to make brandy by distilling wine (not quite kid friendly.. :D)

 

International government spending on education

I was playing around with statistics from UNESCO to see if there were any trends in education spending over the past few years. Here’s a box plot showing the average international % of GDP spent on education in the last 14 or so years. The 2013 data seemed a bit sparse, so it might be wise to ignore it. Seems like there is a trend of decreasing spending in the past 4 years, but not a huge change over the past 10 years. Enjoy!

graph
% of GDP spent on education

A map of Design Science Research

The images presented here are the focus of this article. I will summarize what I got from the images, and why I think they’re useful.

The ‘finished’ image roughly positions various Design Science Research techniques on two dimensions of continuous space.  The X-dimension approximates the levels of participation in the design process between experts (to the left) and users (to the right). The Y-dimension approximates whether the approach is led by research (to the bottom) or by solving problems (to the top).

A research question can be approached with techniques from anywhere on the map – indeed if we had infinite budgets, every research question could be approached with all of the techniques. With finite resources, how effectively a technique gets answers to a research question is important. I’d like to know if there is any research done on the heuristic effectiveness of techniques for solving various problems – for example, is it better to tackle a new problem with expert or participatory mindset. I imagine working closely with users will give an excellent feel for a new problem space, but that only experts will be capable of innovating in well-established problem spaces.

It’s interesting that the commentary on the article picks fault with the accuracy of the map. Researchers are a community, and at the moment the design research community seems pretty fragmented. There are clearly terms in circulation that are different, yet mean the same thing [design based research, design science research seem to be equivalent]. This map lays out one clear description of the field. It gives a concrete perception to discuss – rather than speculating, experts can ‘point’ say, “this looks wrong”. Perhaps it will eventually lead to a better standardization of terms, and a map that community experts all agree is correct.

The original article raises some interesting uses for the map, for me the most interesting one being to position your own research on the map, and then see if you can move your future research to a different area. Another use I see would be to repeat prior research with a technique from elsewhere on the map as a form of triangulation.

Based on article published in interactions – Designing games: why and how, Volume 15 Issue 6, November + December 2008 Pages 13-17