Game Of Monies

I bet you’d like to understand the way banking works. I would also make a fair guess that you will love to learn the way central interest rates impact large-scale economies of the world. Given the financial roller coaster we have been through in the last few years, the general interest in learning about the inter-workings of our financial sectors has peaked among the public. To gain this knowledge you can read books and online materials or listen to financial podcasts or, if you are like me, play an online game. That’s right, a computer game that teaches you how the financial system works.

Found this little gem of a game online today. Although the game has been in existence for a while now I stumbled on to it through StumbleUpon (weak word play, I know!!) today. The EU (European Union) is in a bit of a mess now, and the central bank, in collaboration with top European universities, has developed a straight forward game with a simple goal – How good is the public when it comes to understanding and managing a country’s economy? . Before you dismiss the game as a cheap eye candy for slackers, know that economists around the world are playing it as we speak.

It’s a very simple game with few options for the user. You assume control of Europe’s central bank and as its head, you control the euro zone’s interest rate. You can increase it or decrease it and the outcome is shown through key indicators like inflation, growth and unemployment rate. As you keep changing the interest rate, these indicators reflect the impact of the change. As the central bank your objective is to maintain a relatively constant inflation rate at 2%. This is actually harder than it seems. Here is the free online game.

You get nice graphs that show how adjusting interest rates can have serious impacts on things like long-term growth and unemployment for a country. They also give definitions and brief explanations for key financial terms and principles so that we know what we are really doing. Once you get a hang of the game, some curve balls are thrown into the equation, like natural disasters sweeping through the continent or a market crash in Asia. Throughout these uncontrollable scenarios, you, as the central bank, must maintain the desired inflation rate.

Give it a try. I found it to be very informative. Also, it’s not often you get a chance to play with Europe’s future !

[Post: 164 of 365] [Days Missed: 58]
I am on a blog-a-day-for-a-year crusade. Keep me motivated with your comments. Or tell me how to call other people’s bullshit.


Portal 2

Long long time ago I wrote a blog post about video games and learning. It was an article about how the techniques used in computer game design can be used applied in real life to produce learning at a deep level. The underlying principle in video game design is called Inductive Chaining – a method in which the participant is given a series of problems and tools to solve those problems. As they solve each problem, the subsequent problems become harder, but at the same time the tools provided also improve in sophistication there by introducing novel application of those tools. This process requires the participant to actively engage with problem and apply the tools creatively to reach te solution. No problem is entirely similar to another problem, but each problem is a linear progression from its predecessors. This way of learning has been proven effective in many studies and has been implemented in Project Euler.

Ok, the long recap is basically my intro for one the best games I have ever played. I have eyed Portal 2 for a while now – the game was released in April, 2011 – and this weekend I finally got it at a great deal. Of course, the worth of a game is not the price you paid for it, but the amount of tim you spend on it. And by that standard this game has exceeded my best estimation by miles.

Portal 2 is completely different most of the games out there because the game play is not about shooting, or open world role-playing or racing or any of the other standard genres. In Portal 2, you go through a barrage of puzzles, and that’s it. There are no wild chases, sweeping cinematography scenes, or points for accomplishing tasks. Here you – or your character to be correct – has to solve spatial puzzles – moving objects and pressing button – to advance from one section to another all in hopes of getting out of a computer manipulated factory. Oh, and you have this little thing called a Portal Gun that creates, um, Portals, in certain surfaces using which can move from one place to another to solve the puzzles. Once you start playing the game, if you are not overwhelmed by its awesomeness, then you don’t have pulse.

A typical section of Portal 2, goes like this emotionally.
‘Oh this one seems easy’
‘ok, it’s a little tricky.’
‘hmm, may be I should try this’
‘how come that did not work?’
‘there is no way this can be solved’
‘obviously there has to be some hack for this, coz this is impossible’
‘oh wait, may be if i do this’
‘YES… Who’s the boss here!!’

and this goes on and on for hours.

If you are into games, makes sure you get your hands on Portal 2. I am only half way through the game, and I am already thinking about playing it for the second time.

Warning: There will be a lot of head scratching, nail-biting and hair pulling while playing in the game. I take no responsibility if you ended up without hair or nails or your head after playing this game.

[Post: 159 of 365] [Days Missed: 57]
I am on a blog-a-day-for-a-year crusade. Keep me motivated with your comments. Or tell me how to prepare for New York winter.

Gamers Rejoice

Did you know that gamers may have solved one of the toughest riddles in finding the cure for AIDS?

Yeah, it is true. A bunch of computer gamers with nothing but leisure time on their hands have solved something that had top researchers in the scientific field stumped for many years.

At the beginning of the story, there is a tiny little molecule of protein. These protein molecules are the building blocks of an organism’s DNA and therefore understanding how the DNA gets structured in the real world, that is in 3D, would go a long way in understanding this process in more detail and, in the case of viruses and such, find better cures and vaccines.

Here is where the game called Foldit came into picture. Under the project called ‘Solve Puzzles For Science’, Foldit’s objective is straight forward. The players must arrange or ‘fold’ protein molecules into a functioning 3D model. The players manipulate simple protein-like structures and get scores based on that. The application displays a graphical representation of the protein’s structure which the user is able to manipulate using a set of tools.

In ten days, the online gamers were able to solve a problem that, according to Wikipedia, “had thwarted scientists for 15 years”. This protein, that got solved and confirmed by x-ray crystallography, produced AIDS in rhesus monkeys. Scientists say this puts them that much closer to finding an effective cure for this disease.

More games with scientific and medical purposes are being conducted within Solve Puzzles For Science Project, which can only mean more awesomeness from the world of gamers.

Here is the Techland article about this moment of game geek victory.

For years video games have been vilified, wrongfully, as rotting our brains. Parents have been chiding their children away from computer screens and consoles saying that they are wasting their precious time. Many adults give derisive looks when someone lists video games as part of their leisure activity. I hope you all learned a lesson today.

Hopefully this stops the wide spread discrimination of gamers everywhere and, one hopes, that may be Microsoft will reduce Xbox Gold subscription prices.

[Post: 94 of 365] [Days Missed: 35]
I am on a blog-a-day-for-a-year crusade. Keep me motivated with your comments. Or make the days go slower.


Less Classes, More Video Games

Do you like to learn? Do you crave for the tiny little bits of dopamine release in your brain every time you solve an intricate problem? Well, most people do.

But a majority of us find it extremely laboring to learn new things, especially if it is not something we are used to. Kids always pick up new things much quickly compared to adults because they are void of muscle memory. They are also extremely curious and have lots of free time. For adults we get used to certain ways of thinking and doing our activities so much that it gets ingrained into our subconscious mind. But when we need to learn something new, our brain refuses to break out of its mold. This becomes even harder when it involves complex mental analysis and critical thinking since such activities require extended periods of concentration and perseverance and if you are not used to that, well, we all know how good our brain is in convincing us that we should stop things it doesn’t like.

I was reading some game design articles today and found some interesting principles involved in creating any video game. A game must be intriguing, entertaining and constantly challenging. The game should not be too complex that it frustrates the user but it should also make it challenging enough to the user that finishing a level or task should provide a sense of accomplishment. The one thing that all successful games manage to achieve is that they make the user come back, often. They make the user come back for the next level, come back for a retry if they failed in the pervious attempt and come back for the second, third and many more play-throughs even after finishing the game for the first time. That is the essence of any game. Make the user constantly learn new strategies and they will keep coming back.

They have a term for such type of learning – Inductive Chaining. The principle is this – Present a well laid out problem (or a ‘level’ in a game) and the tools to solve it, and let the user figure out the answer. Once they solve it, you give them the next problem which is based on the previous problem, but a bit harder. Oh, by the way, you can’t get to the next problem unless you solve the current problem but you can try as many times as you want. The problems become complex but never enough to make the user lose interest and the tools get more sophisticated but never too easy. For decades this flawless principle has turned little boys and grown men into superheroes, gritty soldiers, zombie killers and even righteous gangsters. I have not met a girl who likes video games, yet. We learned more from these games than we did from most of our college classes.

Now, if only we can apply this inductive chaining method to learning real-world stuff, like languages and programming, math and physics. Well, the famous language learning software Rosetta Stone uses exactly this principle and so does the website Project Euler and many other softwares focused on education. Project Euler is brilliant website that uses a set of clearly-defined and seemingly complex problems designed using the inductive chaining principle with followers pouring in solution from all around the world.

I know what you are thinking. If this so great, then why is this approach not used in schools and colleges? Well, there is a reason why schools and colleges suck. They have a hard time retaining students and it is near impossible for them to find a quality teacher. If only we had teachers who don’t mindlessly follow the curriculum and then give tests and grades that have no meaningful purpose, we would all be geniuses now solving cosmic problems and inventing things that would make Einstein proud. We would all live in a world where Facebook statuses make sense and where tweets have less pictures of congressmen junk.

Check out Project Euler’s website and I promise you, you wont regret it.Although the problems seem complex and at times frustrating, if you have curious mind and some determination, you will learn more stuff than you thought you could.

What is your take on this principle? Do you think this can be applied to learning more abstract skills like, art and philosophy? what about history? Do you have your own learning tool that has made you the genius that you are now? As always, share and make this world a better place.

Post: 29 of 365

I am on a blog-a-day-for-a-year crusade. Keep me motivated with your comments. Or home-made fish curry.


Friday, Friday, Everybody Loves Friday

It’s about time the weekend arrived. This week has been unusually long even with the fact that it was just a four day work week. At office we are approaching the release date of a major product update and the pace of work has gone up a notch. And as a result, I am more exhausted than usual when I get home. There have been some setbacks because of this.

One, video games. Its been more than 3 weeks since I touched my Xbox controller for some quality game time. In recent months its a huge break from the norm since, before the hiatus, I was punching in a solid 20 hours or more every week shooting mutants, drop kicking bosses, maiming aliens and even romanticizing galactic hotties . Back at my home in India, before packing my bags for the US, I used to play a whole lot of games. Since arriving here I had lost contact with my inner gamer when I was a student studying (sometimes) and working part-time (often enough). Good times rolled in again when my Xbox arrived last January and since then we have found our place in each other’s hearts ( processor for the Xbox, but I don’t say it since that hurts my XBox’s feelings). After multiple playthroughs of Halo, Bioshock, Batman Arkham Asylum and Mass Effect 2 I felt I was ready for the big dog and bought the game that put the word “violent” in “violent video games” – Grand Theft Auto IV. It must have been a jinxed disc; Ever since I received it I have not played a single game. The streak continues to today.

Another front that has suffered due to increased workload is my other, non-blog based,literary endeavor, reading books from the public library. Last time the subject came up I told you guys that I am planning to read at least one story a day in the Mark Twain’s Short Story book and at least one chapter per week in the Non Designer’s Design book. The short stories are going down pretty quickly, thanks to the excellent narrative of the author and the stories being short,of course. But I am sorry to say that progress in the Designer’s book is  painfully slow. Its slower than a snail with crawling disabilities. Its slower than a grandma walking in steep incline. Its even slower than a sleeping giant tortoise. Progress has completely stopped is what I am trying to say here. The streak continues today as well.

All this will change tomorrow, for I have an action plan. Here is how.

Action Plan:

1. Wake up

2. drink coffee and breakfast

3. Start up Xbox, insert GTA IV disc and play until fingers hurt.

4. Take break

5. Start reading Designer’s Book until head hurts

6. Take break

7. Blog about step 3 and 5.


Wish me luck.

24 down. 341 more to go. See you tomorrow.

(I am on a blog-a-day-for-a-year crusade. Keep me motivated with your comments. Or cash