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General Entertainment

SimCity turns 25

One of the most influential things I did as a child was spending time on my aunt’s Mac when I’d visit in the summers.  That little LC series machine in the early 90s was my window to a lot of things that would later become a huge part of my adult life (including my current career).  But one thing that stands out as particularly memorable was a packet of 3.5″ disks that contained a game that would shape my entire worldview.  Yes, I’m talking about SimCity, the little black & white game that infected my brain starting around the age of seven – and hasn’t stopped.

SimCity 5

one of my most recent cities – because, yes, I’m still playing

Doug Bierend sat down with SimCity’s creator, the venerable Will Wright, over at the re:form collection on Medium to discuss his games and their enduring legacy on the 25th anniversary of the Sim game that started everything.  I’ve pulled a few quotes that do a really good job summing up my love for the Sim games, but the entire piece “SimCity That I Used to Know” is well worth the read.

Wright’s games—if you can call them that—were uniquely influential for a generation of kids with access to computers in the 90s. [...] An imaginative player could weave their own stories [...]

These toys were especially effective for kids who were at an age when the real and the imaginary seem less distinct. Watching as the little cities exhibited behavior in reaction to the player’s actions created a link between us [and] the game.

“I think that play, in a more general sense, is fundamentally one of the ways that we understand the world, the real world,” says Wright, “as is storytelling. I think the two are both kind of educational technologies, and that’s the part that interests me [...]”

“Players right off the bat were forced to sit down and in fact pick their goals,” Wright says. [...] “At that point, they’re also having to clarify their internal model of the way a city operates…all of a sudden your assumptions become clear to you.”

I certainly emerged from my hunched sessions with my pet cities carrying a new appreciation for the world around me.

Ordered: 2015 Audi Q3

2015 Q3

Well, folks, it’s that time again: ordering my next leased vehicle.  I went round and round on what I wanted to do this time and thought I’d settled on the newest instance of the A3 to make it to the States.  But the more I thought about getting a little sedan, the less excited I found myself.  I’ve enjoyed my S60 and all of it’s sedan-ish-ness, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something so practical and quirky about a European car with a hatch.

As the next A3 Sportback is not destined to make an appearance here for another model year without all wheel drive I figured the Q3 would be my absolute best bet.  I’ve liked it since its debut to the world in 2011 and have been struck by it every time I see one on an out-of-country excursion. And it reminds me of the A3 I had in 2009, especially with those weird toggle style temperature controls. Plus, the familiar zippy handling definitely didn’t hurt its case. So a Florett Silver/Chestnut Brown example is being assembled in Wolfsburg for me over these next couple of weeks.  Expect much fretting and nerdy levels of tracking in the days ahead.

4th country of 2014: Mexico

think my most recent trip outside of the continental United States is my last of the year…and it was a particularly splendid one, made just a bit better by getting to catch up with a good friend from home. Though it was just a four day visit to Mexico City, I still found a way to fall in love with the place, the people, the food and the overall vibe there. Vibrant doesn’t do it justice. Novel barely covers the sights around every corner. And warm is an understatement when talking about the welcoming atmosphere. Yes, D.F., I’ll be back.

You can view an entire album full of travel photos over on my Flickr (and probably a few on ye olde Instagram, for good measure).

Touring the Energy Innovation Center

View from the Penn State Center

view from the soon-to-be Penn State Center offices

I had the pleasure and good fortune to be invited along today on a tour of the Energy Innovation Center led by the incredibly informative Thomas Bartnik. My invite was proffered by Deno De Ciantis, director of the Penn State Center, a partner in the project that has been transforming the former Connelly School into a new hub for all things sustainable, forward thinking and transformative in the region. The Penn State Center will be moving offices to a wholly renovated, 11,000 square foot space in what had been teaching work shops for trade students – giving them ample room for their growing menu of programming and community outreach. As you can see above, the views are pretty great, too.

Penn State Center offices

long view of the Penn State Center offices

I was joined on my tour by two instructors from Greater Allegheny’s campus and a dozen STEM program summer students as well as representatives from another local organization interested in sustainable practices. Hard hats were required, as were reflective vests and protective eyewear, so we definitely looked the part as we made our way through a very active construction site. The entire project got started just 18 months ago and, considering the Connelly School covers 180,000 square feet, is moving at a staggering clip. So fast, in fact, that the Penn State Center expects to take control of its space in just a few more weeks.

My own interest in the Penn State Center is two-fold. Many Media Commons projects across the Commonwealth see students taking on service learning-type projects with local community groups. Having a strong ally in the Center would allow for Media Commons to connect faculty assigning these projects with non-profits and other organizations in and around Pittsburgh to create great educational opportunities. Additionally, the Center itself would be a spectacular spot to bring together the campus and wider communities for training, research and traditional teaching – while, at the same time, putting our media production resources in front of a much larger audience.

And this is just from my sphere. Other spaces and amenities coming online will include a 750+ seat auditorium, shared 100+ person conference center, workshare spaces in the PGH Green Innovators offices, sustainable systems teaching opportunities (with exposed, color coded infrastructure) and flexible events spaces throughout. The potential impact of the Penn State Center in Pittsburgh on all areas of Penn State’s mission of bringing education to the Commonwealth is absolutely thrilling.

Check out the rest of the tour photos here and stay tuned for more developments:

Funded: a frame from the future

With just under a month still to go in its campaign, I’m happy to say that I’ve become one of the backers that have pushed the EO1 from Electric Objects well (read: 811% as of this morning) past its funding target.  It’s going to be a long wait until May 2015 when I can get my very own infinite-art-collection-in-a-frame.

Suomi and back

Well, it cost me an entire suitcase full of my belongings*, but I’ve now experienced the absolutely beautiful country of Finland over an eight day stay around the 2014 edition of the EdMedia conference.

To business first:  the conference itself was pretty informative, despite having a K-12 focus that, I’ve been told, was much more prominent than in other years. “Chalk that up to the enviable Finnish education system” seemed to be the consensus:  everyone wants to learn what they’re doing so right. Sessions covered everything from collaborative flow research in educational games (probably my favorite, to be honest) to the viability of traditional assessment models in increasingly un-traditional classrooms and beyond. Other notable discussions centered on self-publishing tools and resources, 3D printing in Canadian schools and a MOOC platform that protects user data and makes all content openly retrievable and accessible. Another perk of the conference setting: seeing learning space design at the University of Tampere (the spaceport building in my travelogue is Pinni B on campus, where we had our proceedings).

 
There are, of course, a bunch more photos on Flickr, if that’s your thing.

And to pleasure: it was one being in Tampere. The city itself is smaller than Pittsburgh and infinitely walkable, a fact I exploited extensively to quickly make a mental map which served for much exploration. An interesting – and only-in-Europe – mix of old factory town architecture and modern/futuristic construction made turning each corner an unexpected but aesthetically stimulating experience. And the proximity to water gave the entire thing a coastal vibe that, when coupled with the 30ºF lower temperatures than home, added to the sense of retreat. My PSU colleagues and I even braved driving in “big animal” (as they refer to moose, elk and reindeer) country to head up to Rauma, a living, breathing medieval village full of adorably painted wooden houses.

Having visited during Midsummer – the longest days of the year – made sleeping a challenge an exercise in futility but was ideal for being a tourist with conference obligations during the days. Really, day and night are pretty artificial concepts when the sun’s just getting around to setting at about 1:00. Going in with the idea that I’d likely never see Finland again, I can definitely say I was wholly wrong: I want to go back as soon as I can and travel around even more of Scandinavia, too.

* About that suitcase: the only downside to the entire trip was having my bag “removed” from the Tampere – Helsinki train the day before flying out.  Could have done without that turn of events and the hours of phone calls, forms and fretting that followed.  I take solace in the dumbfounded looks on Finnish faces as I told my tale – a very uncommon one in a country so safe that their largest city’s police station closes up shop at 18:00 on a Friday night. 

Pre-Finland playlist

The Greatest Form of Flattery

As I’ll be spending a lot of time in airports, railway stations and between countries starting this afternoon, I thought a new playlist might just be in order. I give to you, then, a collection of some great covers (and one remix) of 80s new wave songs. What’s not to love?

  1. “Strangelove” – Bat for Lashes
  2. “The Killing Moon” – Pavement
  3. “The Chauffer” – Warpaint
  4. “Never Tear Us Apart” – Record Club
  5. “Age of Consent” – Geographer
  6. “Six Different Ways” – Rainbow Arabia
  7. “Don’t You Want Me” – Neon Trees
  8. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” – Just a Gent
  9. “Stop Me” – Mark Ronson
  10. “Let’s Go to Bed” – Cassettes Won’t Listen
  11. “Blue Dress” – Hungry Lucy
  12. “Slowdive” – LCD Soundsystem
  13. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” – Nouvelle Vague
  14. “Smalltown Boy” – José González
  15. “True” – Joanna Wang

Download all 15 tracks for a limited time here.

I want to be a multi-hyphenate

In his prime, ZanFagna was a dizzyingly prolific multi-hyphenate. He exhibited in museums like the Whitney and LACMA. He hung out with Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono and John Lennon. He designed the Rutgers School of Art and was a beloved professor at the school. By all measures he was was a successful artist, and yet, he’s barely Google-able.

From WIred‘s piece “The Brilliant, Forgotten Futurist Who Predicted the Kindle“.  I’d never heard of Don ZanFagna (proving the “barely Google-able” qualifier above) but I’m now entirely intrigued.  I also want to spend an entire afternoon rifling through his notebooks to see the weird clippings and drawings in context.  It’s sort of like he predicted the best of Tumblr, too…

Watch: Warhol’s lost experiments

I had the very good fortune of attending the debut of this latest episode of the Hillman Photography Initiative’s video series, The Invisible Photograph, over the weekend at the Carnegie Library/Museum of Art. The film is just 20 minutes or so long and covers the nerdtastic work of artists and retro computer boffins who extracted Andy Warhol’s mid-80s Amiga experimentations.

The event itself was both a screening of the above video and a panel discussion with Cory Arcangel, Golan Levin, Keith Bare, Michael Dille and John Ippolito – the latter being my favorite part as it was both deeply philosophical and extreme humorous. What’s more, some of the original Commodore engineers who were tasked with working alongside Warhol in preparation for the Lincoln Center Amiga reveal turned up in the crowd and shared amazing anecdotes.

Definitely check out the Hillman Photography Initiative via NowSeeThis.org.