FunCast: Interview with Kris Bordessa, author, Team Challenges

Today's FunCast is an all too brief telephone (hence the poor sound quality) interview with Kris Bordessa, author of Team Challenges.

Kris impressed me a great deal during our short telephone encounter, and even more as I read her book. People who acknowledge the importance of helping kids develop social skills are all too rare. Even more rare, are people who, like Kris, are able to acknowledge the value of making team building fun.

Team Challenges is a rare gift - for children, youth groups, homeschoolers, families, and even for the few people in public schools who are able to rationalize the relevance of social skills to the development of academic skills. On behalf of the whole, Ms. Bordessa, I thank you.


Mozart the Playful

Mozart was 250 on the 27th. To those of us who know him as "Wolfie," it is not so surprising to stumble across this abstract of a paper by Peter Presic. Here's a taste:
"Plato considered play as fundamental to art, and the leap as the primoridal form of play. Among Mozart's near contemporaries, the philosophers Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Schiller, Christian Gottfried Körner, and Hans-Georg Nögeli reflected on the importance of play in art. Though he does not mention Mozart explicitly, Schiller's description of the play-impulse is particularly important and has not before been fully mined for the insights it can give into musical practice. The concept of 'deep play' discussed by the anthropologist Clifford Geertz in the context of Balinese gambling is also helpful in this musical context. Play is dynamic and must "deepen" itself or cease. These insights are the starting point of a close discussion of the finale of Mozart's Piano Sonata in B-, K. 570."
Thanks to Janine Fron for the find.


FunCast: Computers and Toy Horses

Today's FunCast called "Computers and Toy Horses," is a kind of meditation on what I played with and how I played 55 years ago, and what I am playing with now, and how.

You can read it here.

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Googling for Joy

I thought it'd be fun to Google my way through "joy" and see where it took me.

I found myself clicking through The Joy of Visual Perception, where I found this collection of "Fun Things in Vision," and behold, there are in deed fun things, in vision.

I dipped, momentarily, into the "Programming Language JOY" and quickly decided that, rather than unraveling the mysteries of this new code, I'd rather spend my quiet time imagining what I would like JOY, the programming language, to really be about.

Then I found myself looking at the sweet young internationally competitive jumprope team, "Jumping for Joy," who just happened to have an equally sweet collection of jumprope games.

Oddly enough, I even found a Fun Stuff collection at "Yasmina's Joy of Belly Dancing." Not to overlook the "Joy of Handspinning."

Clearly, I have only begun Googling for Joy, and ye, already, I am too overjoyed to continue.

Trompe d'Oeil Triumphant

This image is a painting. It's on a building in downtown Marion, Ohio. And it fools the veritable eye with its wonderfully intricate, three-dimension-seeming, Trompe d'Oeily illusions. Here, take a look for yourself.

Take a closer look, at, say, this part of the mural, with the young lady sitting on the globe hanging, gravity free, in an archway. It's just on the serious side of totally Oaqui! It's not just an artistic triumph. The artist's name is Eric Grohe. It's something you should know, if only to add one more person to your list of Defenders of the Playful.

It is a victory of no small significance. There are a lot of people who don't like to have their eyes played with, even for a second. Especially those who have strayed too long and too far from the Playful Path, if you know what I mean. They just can't seem to find delight in it all, in their eyes getting played with like that, their very vision, their understanding of what they are actually looking at, redefined. It says alot aboout the artist, but also something about Marion and whatever mysterious civic forces were engaged to pay for the whole thing.


Ricochet, Reflex and Deflexions

Here is a version of a my Ricochet game, programmed by Bryan Monosmith for the HP calculator. Ricochet was my first computer game, and I was determined to create a computer-unique, two-person strategy game, just like checkers, except not at all. Jim Connely was the program designer, and we wound up making versions of the game for the TRS-80, and the Apple II, and Atari VCS, and even PC Junior. Oh, so many years ago.

I don't know if you can tell from the image - there are "canons" on all 4 corners of the grid. The ones on the right or the ones on the left are yours. On your turn, you can either move one of your pieces or shoot one of your canons. If a canon ball hits a piece, it ricochets off that piece, and turns that piece 90 degrees. If it hits another player's canon, you're one canon away from winning, unless it hits your own canon, in which case you're not.

Reflex doesn't have the two-player strategic canon blowing-up aspects of Ricochet. But it does play with the same basic fascination that led me to Ricochet - the whole bouncing predictably around thing.

There's even a board game called Ricochet Robot that plays with this very fascination. I mean, it's not even a computer game, and it's fun enough. And, just to complete the circle, there's a board game with lasers. Remember? Called "Deflexion."

Ricochet. Just one of those ideas that keeps on coming back.


Unplugging the kids?

Hugh McNally, from Street Play sent me a link to this article by Ana Veviana-Saurez of the Miami Herald. The article begins:
"The street is empty. Even on a balmy winter weekend, exquisite in the way only South Florida days can be at this time of year, the children are nowhere to be seen. There are no bikes, no scooters, no skates, no balls and gloves and pads, none of the toys I've long associated with the first weeks of a beginning year."

"But don't blame the kiddies...."
This article isn't just one of those "where are the games of yesteryear" laments. It is an astute observation of a fundamental change that has gone deep into childhood and the very roots of society. She continues:
"Post-Christmas playtime isn't what it used to be. The change, of course, didn't happen overnight. Playtime's move indoors was gradual and maybe, at least initially, imperceptible. But it was also as steady as the spread of kudzu, and now our children are about to become, if they're not already, the generation of muscular thumbs.

"Tree climbing? Who does that anymore? Hide-and-seek? I can't remember the last time I saw children play what was an all-time favorite game for me when all the cousins got together. Hopscotch, jump rope and stickball -- I suppose these have gone the way of eight-tracks and black-and-white TV shows.

"U.S. factory sales of consumer electronics rose to $125.9 billion, an 11 percent increase over 2004, and while this figure includes much more than stuff for children, it remains a good indication of where we're headed. More and more kids want scaled-down versions of adult cell phones, video cameras and digital cameras.

"No doubt this has the potential to send parents into paroxysms of worry, and for good reason. Hours in front of the screen mean less time in social interaction. Pushing buttons on a control translates into fewer push-ups and exercises. And constant visual stimulation -- well, that can only exacerbate our already short attention spans...."
I especially liked her conclusion:
"Toys reflect the culture, and we are a juiced-up society that can't unplug itself. We've forgotten how to be quiet. We don't know what it's like to be bored. We hate to be away from the constant stimulus that promises to keep us connected 24-7.

"And in the end it's that loss, that inability to be alone with ourselves, that should concern us most."


FunCast: Becoming Gifted

Today's semi-poetic moment of appreciation called "Becoming Gifted" is my personal gift to you, just for clicking this.

And/or, if you actually want to read it, given the poetic density of it all, click here.


"Hacking is a Playful Act"

As found on the site for the 2006 O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference on a page describing a presentation called "playsh, the Playful Shell"

"Hacking is a playful act. In a primal sense, play is the investigation and experimentation with borders and combinations. It is how children establish a model of their surroundings and how animals explore relationships and social dynamics...Despite early, highly structured approaches to the sociability of computing in mainframe laboratories, computing has evolved a culture of iterative experimental hacking that is essentially playful."

And this, regarding playsh: "It is a narrative-driven 'object navigation' client, operating primarily on the semantic level, casting your hacking environment as a high-level, shell-based, social prototyping laboratory, a playground for recombinant network toys."

And this: "You have been eaten by a Grue."

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"The Playful World"

From the introduction to Mark Pesce's The Playful World, where we are awakened to the 21st century world of children's toys
"Although the Furby seems to have come from nowhere to capture the hearts of children worldwide, in reality, it incorporates everything we already know about how the future will behave. The world reacts to us - interacts with us - at a growing level of intelligence and flexibility. A century ago people marveled at the power and control of the electric light, which turned the night into day and ushered in a twenty-four hour world. Today we and our children are amazed by a synthetic creature possessing a dim image of our own consciousness and announcing the advent of a playful world, where the gulf between wish and reality collapses to produce a new kind of creativity.

"Toys can serve as points of departure for another voyage of exploration, a search for the world of our children's expectations. As much as a spear or wheel or astronaut figurine ever shaped a child's view of the world, these toys - because they now react to us - tell us that our children will have a different view of the 'interior' nature of the world, seeing it as potentially vital, intelligent, and infinitely transformable. The 'dead' world of objects before intelligence and interactivity will not exist for them, and, as they grow to adulthood, they will likely demand that the world remain as pliable as they remember from their youngest days. Fortunately, we are ready for that challenge. Just as the creative world of children has become manipulable, programmable and mutable, the entire fabric of the material world seems poised on the edge of a similar transformation. That, at essence, is the theme of this book, because where our children are already going, we look to follow."
I don't know really what this says for the children of the less affluent, or the more informed, or of non-participating cultures. I believe they will make their own toys - out of broken Furbys and bits of cell phones and last year's handheld computer games. I don't know if they will find a more responsive or more forboding world. But I do agree with one thing. As Mr. Pesce says so clearly: "where our children are already going, we look to follow."


Rushkoff on play, the workplace, fun and organizational transformation

Here, courtesy of Douglas Rushkoff, are two more pieces of playful pith. In the first, he talks about how following the Playful Path at work leads to revolutionary change in the nature of the workplace.
Establishing a playful career or company isn't as easy as it looks. It doesn't require expensive consultants, trips to the woods, or the reinvention of a company's culture based on some abstract ideal. But it does mean going against much of what we’ve been taught about competition and survival - not just in business school, but for the past five centuries! Still, just as people have stopped relating as individuals to their brands and opted instead to become members of brand cultures, producers in a renaissance era must come to think of their companies as collaborative minisocieties, whose underlying work ethic will ultimately be expressed in the culture they create for the world at large.
In the next, Rushkoff talks about the fun of work. The inherent fun. And why, for example, a "...foosball table is not the sign of a fun place to work."
In their crude efforts to make work more fun, however, most companies are missing the point. Employers are busy installing foosball tables, hiring chefs, and building gyms for their increasingly disgruntled employees, but these are just ways of trying to make a bad situation more tolerable. (or to coax employees into spending long hours away from home) A foosball table is not the sign of a fun place to work; it's a glaring symbol that work is not fun and employees need a break. Why would they rather be playing foosball than doing whatever it is they've been hired to do?

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This is purportedly the world's largest yo-yo. "Weighing in at 256 pounds, Big-Yo is the world's largest working wooden yo-yo. Designed by Tom Kuhn, the yo-yo now resides in Chico, CA." It makes you have to say "yo!"

I learned about the world's largest working wooden yo-yo on the website of the National Yo-Yo Museum wherein one can also find a brief, but dense history of the yo-yo where I also learned, for example, that the first recorded yo-yo comes to us from Greece, in 500 B.C. Man, this is one old toy!

The most exhaustive and graphically inviting yo-related site has to be that of the Museum of Yo-Yo History, where you can find not just one, but three different histories, and even A Brief History of the YoYo-Top in the USA. YoYo-Top? A combination of a yo-yo and a spin-top? Prexactly!

All in all, these sites (a very small sampling of all the yo-related sites to be found on the Internet) remind us how the humble, and sometimes extremely expensive, often startlingly high-tech Yo-Yo testifies to the power and persistence of play.

Thanks for the inspiration go to Hugh McNally of Streetplay.

FunCast: Watching TV as a Flow-Producing Experience

Today's FunCast is about the kinds of Flow experiences that Csikszentmihalyi doesn't consider, the Lesser Flow kinds of experiences as found in the oft-dissed delights of TV-watching.


Learning and Fun

In today's post, friend and colleague Kevin Eikenberry writes: "We are learning beings. I believe that learning is one of the things that truly makes us most fulfilled in life. And fulfillment brings some amazing fun...We should do all we can to make the learning process more enjoyable and fun. And we need to remember that learning - both the process and the result - is fun itself." It's a key insight, one that I've spent many an hour sharing with everyone I can find - that learning is fun in itself. And that though we should be doing everything we can to make learning more fun, we must affirm and be guided by the knowledge that learning is inherently fun, and perhaps the best thing we can do is make sure we are not standing in the way of that fun.

This is in addition to a wonderful little article he wrote called "Why Fun Aids Learning and What You Can Do About It." Where he takes a more traditional perspective, focusing on what: "you can do to incorporate more fun into the learning you lead and your personal learning." Here are his five suggestions:
Learn with others. Students know that studying together in a group can be a good strategy. This can be true of us as adults too. Read a book and talk about it with others (it works for Oprah!). Get three or four people together to work on your next presentation. Do a project as a team. The results, enjoyment and learning will likely all go up.

Plan for fun. If you are doing a presentation or training, use an exercise to lighten up the session. Warning – don’t do this just for the fun – make sure you connect it to the lessons or message of the session.

Laugh and learn. The next time you make a mistake, laugh about your foible! While you are reflecting on and laughing about, your mistake, think about what you can learn from the mistake. Use the learning and the laughter to ensure the mistake isn’t repeated.

Ask about it. When you’ve experienced something fun take a few minutes to see what you can learn from the fun. What made it fun? How can you repeat those elements in another situation or with other people?

Allow fun in. Things at work may be serious. The lesson you are trying to learn may be serious. But things can be serious and still enjoyable. When we allow fun in we can help the learning process and cement the learning. The efforts you make to lighten the spirit during a serious and important situation can be richly rewarded.
In addition to all this, Kevin is also announcing his "Special Limited Time Offer" in celebration of the publication of his wonderful book Vantagepoints on Learning and Life. A while ago, Kevin had sent me a copy of the book and asked for an endorsement. Here's what I wrote: "Reading Vantagepoints on Learning and Life is like sitting down next to somebody who is genuinely, thoroughly kind. Someone patient enough to listen deeply to you and to himself. Someone honest. Someone fun. Someone you can be quiet with. Someone very much like a friend." It amazes and somewhat saddens me that a book of such gentle wisdom needs to be promoted at all. But Kevin is wiser than I in the ways of marketing, and has gone to great lengths, not only to promote the book, but also to offer an almost overwhelming collection of "free gifts." All in the name of the fun that is learning.


Sideways Bike

Sideways Bike. Sideways? The inventor explains:
"Introducing a new bicycle invention by myself, Michael Killian. This bicycle is ridden forward and is balanced by using human Left to Right balance. This bicycle uses independent (non linked) Front and Rear steering. The ride is very wavy sort of like skiing with a capacity to drift to the right or left. The front and rear steering makes the bike much more maneuverable than a single steer bike. Your hands are by your side and you don't exert a lot of pull on the steering. Its sort of like riding a horse where you cannot lean on the reins but all body movements come out of your seat and saddle. The saddle is necessarily a unicycle saddle (You would slip forward off a regular bike saddle)."
Given my advanced age and clearly retarded sense of balance, I don't know if I personally would want to even try to ride such a bike. But I do know that it is precisely the Sideways Bike is a gift - precisely the kind of innovation that we need to once again invite play, playfulness, and the desire to go on.

Thanks for the find, Presurfer.

Is fun the key to business success?

The inevitable convergence of happy minds recently led me to Howard Rheingold's comments on Douglas Rushkoff's new book Get Back in the Box. I've known Rheingold for many years. Rushkoff is a new discovery for me. Both have consistently demonstrated a profound, and extremely pragmatic sense of playfulness. I quote:
"Is fun the key to business success? Why compete for scarce resources when you can cooperate to make them abundant instead of scarce? What lies beyond 'us' versus 'them,' and how do you get there? Rushkoff asks the questions consultants and their clients never dare ask -- and provides hundreds of real-world examples of how people and businesses have answered them creatively, passionately, collaboratively, playfully, and successfully."
What do you think? Is it possible that fun really is the key to business success? And don't you ever so deeply and thoroughly hope so?

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How do you doodle?

The Falling Sand Game, originally from this weblog, is a much-blogged example of art play - a kind of virtual cousin of Spin Art, Etch-a-Sketch, and Lite Brite.

It's more like computer-enhanced doodling than anything recognizable as art, though, as with all doodling, it leads inexorably to playful creativity and, inevitably, to some genuinely art-like creations.

For most of us, doodling is the last remnant of our lives as artists. Being too young to know better, or care, we painted and drew and sculpted until our parents ran out of refrigerator-door-room. Today, thanks to the playfulness of people who bring us new tools like The Falling Sand Game, we find yet another invitation to be the artists we always were.

Thanks Presurfer, et. al., for the find.

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Zubbles are the "world's first colored bubbles." According to this article from Popular Science, it took inventor Tim Kehoe eleven years to figure out how to make bubbles that were: a) colored, and b) wouldn't stain everything around them when they burst.

"The secret to nonstaining colored bubbles," explains author Mike Haney, "is a dye that could unlock a revolution in color chemistry. All you need to do is make color disappear... It turns out that coloring a bubble is an exceptionally difficult bit of chemistry. A bubble wall is mostly water held in place by two layers of surfactant molecules, spaced just millionths of an inch apart. If you add, say, food coloring to the bubble solution, the heavy dye molecules float freely in the water, bonding to neither the water nor the surfactants, and cascade almost immediately down the sides. You'll have a clear bubble with a dot of color at the bottom. What you need is a dye that attaches to the surfactant molecules and disperses evenly in that water layer. Pack in more dye molecules, get a deeper, richer hue."

Soon, (probably by Spring of this new year), you will actually be able to buy your own Zubbles. In the meantime, you can meditate a bit longer on the multi-hued marvels awaiting the playful mind.

The Laugh Metric

In this Computerworld article by Matt Hamblen, we learn about Dale Sanders, CIO of the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation Inc., who apparently actually says that: "Of all the metrics we fret over in business these days, the most important is the laugh metric...You can predict the outcome of a business by observing the number of times people laugh in the workplace. You can predict a successful business if you can hear heartfelt laughter 10 to 12 times a day...If people are laughing here at work, they will take it home to their husbands and wives."

Sanders adds a cautionary note of hard-won wisdom: "You can't suddenly say your group is starting today to have fun. It has to be ingrained in the organization, or it won't work."

Such is the nature of the workplace that fun actually has to be mandated, and not just by your boss, but by your boss's boss's head boss. We learned this the hard way when I was working at Mattel. We were able to make it fun, deeply, significantly fun, for the entire Mattel Media staff, for almost two years. But ultimately, even our boss couldn't protect us from his. After a while, I had to take off my Dr. Fun lab coat. And a short while after that, I had to take off, entirely. And that's in a company whose most important product is fun.

And so it goes. And so did I.

Hardware Chess

If you are interested in learning the nuts and bolts of chess set-making, here is where you should most definitely start - Claude Rieth's complete chess set, completely made out of nuts and bolts.

Thanks to Mr. Rieth, the beginning of your personal path to chess-like glory is as close as your local hardware store.

And from there, whence? Well, now that you know how you can harness your boundless ingenuity to produce your own, custom-made chess sets, how about creating your own, custom-made chess variants? Perhaps, given the relative ease of creating chess pieces, you might even consider venturing into the fabled lands of Fairy Chess where chess boards are inhabited by pieces of entirely different ilks, like, for example, your Leapers, your Riders, and perhaps even your Hoppers.

via Makezine



Here's today's "Perl" of funnish wisdom from O'Reilly columnist Geoff Broadwell:
"When Autrijus Tang started the Pugs project to create a Perl 6 compiler, he had an explicit goal: optimize for fun. Fondly referred to as -Ofun -- a typical compiler writer's joke, referring to the standard -O flag used to tell a compiler what its primary optimization goal should be -- optimizing for fun is probably the most important decision Autrijus made...

"As any cognitive science expert will tell you, fun is a great way to focus the mind. Developers that aren't enjoying themselves will slow down, write buggy code, make poor decisions, and eventually leave the project (even one that pays). Conversely, rampant fun will bring coders in droves, and give them a passion for their work that shows in quality, quantity, and goodwill. It's a pretty good bet that optimizing for fun will produce a better product than almost any other method.

"So what's Autrijus's secret for -Ofun? As he puts it, 'the essence of fun boils down to instant gratification and a sense of wonder and discovery.'"
Instant gratification? Well, yes, in the sense that fun brings you more completely and more deeply into the world (and what can be more gratifying than that?). Wonder? Yes, in deed. That's what makes me get religious about the whole thing, that wonder-fun. And discovery? Always new.

FunCast: Loving Fun and CoLiberation

Since this is the first posting of the year, I thought I'd make it a FunCast, and devote it to the two things I'd most wish for all of us: Loving Fun and Coliberation.

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