Wouldn't it be great if learning was fun and engaging? We have a better chance of learning subjects we are interested in, but even then, learning a foreign language we've always dreamed of speaking can become boring and arduous if presented poorly.

Gamification

One way to make the learning process fun is to add game mechanics around the subject matter. This is known as gamification. Some examples would be adding a point system to learning vocabulary words, giving badges for being the first to mix a set of chemicals and get a specific reaction, and having levels for the amount physical activity you do in a day. In gamification the activities themselves aren't any more inherently engaging, it is the process layer around them that keeps people interested.

Game-Based Learning (Educational Games)

Another way to make learning fun is to make learning an integral part of the game play. This is called an educational game or more fashionably game-based learning. Examples of game-based learning would be flashcards which drill a skill, the game Civilization used to teach about history and technological progress, and flight simulators to teach about aerodynamics and control systems.

Good and Bad

Both gamification and game-based learning can point to successes, failures, and cases of being oversold. In a previous dive into this field, Civilization was always held out as a model for game-based learning. There was talk of students taking deep dives into history and cultures because of exposure to the game. I've played at least 3 versions of the game and have yet to learn much more than some of the famous rulers in various civilizations. Maybe in the context of a good curriculum Civilization and other games can be used to spark curiosity. Other "kill and drill" games were routinely criticized and rightly to some extent, but I could see how you might actually learn some of the subject matter before you were bored to death or turned off by the subject.

Fun and Engaging Self-Directed Learning

What I'm attempting to do is create a game-based learning app where learning is part of the game play. I'm sure my early attempts will be little better than "kill and drill" or "chocolate-covered broccoli" games, but I hope to keep at it and find a formula for self-directed learning that is fun and engaging.

There are certain ideas that make the rounds with me and I don't really know how to shake them. Things like blogging, podcasting, video production, video game development, educational game development, teaching, and starting my own company continue to bubble up to the front of my mind after I've gone off on some tangent. I'm not really sure if the fact that they keep coming back is supposed to be meaningful. It could be that there's just some deeply embedded adolescent fantasy related to all these things and that I need to move past them. There's also the theory that the themes that keep coming up in your life are those you should pursue.

What to Do?

I think it's come time to put up or shut-up. It's time to really make an effort at each one of these things and find out if they are areas I want to pursue or if they are just ideas that sound good in theory. It's time to put together a plan, a schedule, a commitment to each one of these things, and then a reflection on how they fit into who I want to be and where I want to go.

Two Commitments

Since I have other commitments next week, I will start posting once a week on Thursday for 6 months. At that point I'll evaluate the results of that commitment and see if I will continue. That evaluation will be either a commitment to continue or a commitment that I have thoroughly evaluated blogging and it is not the right channel for me to express myself.

My other commitment will be to creating an iOS game that includes elements of teaching. I have some projects that I'm still cleaning up, but this project will be my primary side-project. When I complete the project, I will commit to make a decision as to whether game development is a viable path for me to pursue or if it simply a fantasy that I need to put away.

Getting an Apple Watch

This month I'm getting an anniversary bonus for being at my job for 10 years and I'm planning to splurge a little and get my self an Apple Watch. I have no idea how useful it will be, but I want to be able to get some sense of how it is making my life better or worse. Also, since it is a non-trivial expense, I want to give it as many opportunities to succeed as possible.

The Hypothesis

The Apple Watch will reduce the number of iPhone interactions and the tendency to use it to kill time.

The Baseline

To see if the Apple Watch is increasing or decreasing the complexity of my life, I need to determine where I am at currently.

My first assumption is that it will largely insert itself where I'm currently using my iPhone. Things like checking the time, controlling podcasts, and checking notifications are the areas likely to be affected by having and Apple Watch.

My second assumption is that there I times when I interact with the iPhone and then linger and get sucked into something unrelated.

From now until the time I get the Apple Watch I'm going to keep a log of how, when, and where I use my iPhone. For example, on the way to the gym this morning I used my iPhone to check the time and skip audio on my iPhone. I imagine I'll do the same thing on the Apple Watch which will be convenient. What I'm really interested in is tracking when I do something like get a text and then start checking Twitter since the iPhone is already in hand and how that behavior changes if I start checking notifications from the Apple Watch.

Mari for the Win

What do you see? Most people see a Lego set that is was put together with one piece missing. If you are on the autism spectrum you might see a completely imperfect set that was missing a major part that totally prevented you from following the instructions. Did you lose the piece? Where could it be? I didn't hear it fall. I know I didn't. When did I last have it? Did I ever have it? Was it in the box? Did they not put it in the box? How could they not put it in the box? Why would they not put it in the box? It's not right if they didn't put it in the box? What do I do? I'm going to cry and run away.

This is what I witnessed a couple days after Christmas. Mari has found something she really enjoys and that's Lego Friends. When she first started putting them together she had a really hard time asking for help (another aspect of her ASD). We got past that after we talked through some strategies like me showing her how to put some pieces together and then taking them apart so she could do it herself. This incident was on a totally different level. I had no idea how to help her and so my suggestion was that I would figure out how to get the piece and that she should do something else in the meantime.

The next couple days I asked her if she wanted to go back to building and that she could finish the whole thing and just put the last piece together when we got it. She still couldn't get past the idea of not completing the instructions fully before moving on.

A day or so later, I checked up on her and she was working on the set again and was almost done (except for the missing piece of course)! After she finished we had this conversation: Me: How did you get past having a piece missing? Mari: I just restated the problem. Me: Is that one of your strategies for getting past problems? Mari: No, it's actually one of the steps for getting feedback. If someone says something not nice, you restate the feedback to something nicer. Me: So you "restated" putting the Lego set together? Mari: Yes, that is what I just said.

I was blown away. I don't know exactly how she restated the problem in her mind, but the conceptual leap she made to take a step from receiving feedback and applying it as a strategy to get past a Lego piece missing is the most vivid sign that all her hard work in therapy is helping.

I use TextExpander for keyboard shortcuts and some autocorrecting (I sent an IM to a manager and signed it Brina which he never let me live down). I also use Alfred App for keyboard triggers that open apps and activate scripts. Lastly, I have Keyboard Maestro which always seemed like a combination of the two, but I could never find a case where it was better than either TextExpander or Alfred.

I finally found the perfect case Keyboard Maestro - processing highlighted text. I've been editing some documents and need to manipulate and format some text in the same way (e.g. Example -> Example). TextExpander wouldn't work because it is activated with keystrokes and I'd lose the highlighted text. Alfred can be triggered with a keyboard combination, but processing the text would have to be done by scripting. Keyboard Maestro has some sophisticated clipboard manipulation built-in and I was able to do exactly what I needed.

I've had Keyboard Maestro for a number of years, and at times I felt like I was wasting my money by upgrading because of how little I used it. But it always felt like I'd need it someday and now I'm very glad I kept it in my toolbox.

eDA

What Was I Thinking?

Less than 4 months ago I wrote that I was done with goals. After re-reading that post a few minutes ago, I'm not sure why I was so down on goal setting. I said there were a lot of big goals I didn't achieve and yet I was still happy. That is still true, but I'm not sure why I felt that not setting goals was the way forward.

Even though the big goals weren't accomplished, a lot of the things that made me happy were goals as well. Going to church every Sunday, teaching the girls the Small Catechism, going to the gym everyday, building a robot with Emiko. Those were all goals that I set and achieved and are some of the things that make my life so good.

Maybe it was the big goals I was talking about. May be it was THE goal. The goal of making a living as an independent software developer. It's been the goal in the background of my whole career. I was looking through some old list of goals and I found in a file of 2008 goals and I bet I hand wrote it as a goal at least 5 years before that. Even as I think about my 2015 goals, this is still the goal that influence a large part of my thinking.

Time to Step Out of the Shadows

I'm going to stop kidding myself that this is going to go away. Even if it gets pushed to the back burner, I'm going to acknowledge that is what is going on. Even if I'm making no progress, I'm going to say it's a goal I'm making no progress on. It has to be a goal I can fail at for it to be something I can succeed at.

2015 is a year where a lot of things I work on go towards the long-term goal of making a living as an independent software developer. I have some ideas for videos. I have some ideas for apps to build with my daughters. I have ideas for this blog. Connecting short-term actions with this particular long-term goal is challenging. I need to be more explicit when I determine the short-term goals and plan the specific actions.

I think a key for me will be to make small, steady progress and to document it. Even if it's 20 years from now, if I make consciously directed small steps toward the big goal, I'm going to get there. Or if not, I'll be a lot closer than if I never took any steps.

I've been listening to podcasts since about 2005. Looking back there are a lot of similarities to what I listened to back then and what I do now. Technology, small business, productivity, and theology were and still are the general areas of focus. But the specifics are quite different. In technology I used to listen to a lot of web design and web programming shows and now it's iOS development and Apple related technologies. In small business I used to follow people doing startups and now it's more solo and lifestyle entrepreneurs. The productivity space is a lot different. And finally the theological podcasts which had an American Evangelical bent is now overwhelmingly Lutheran.

Besides the diversity of content that podcasts provide, I appreciate the diversity of formats. There are news shows, topical shows, interviews, roundtables, single hosts, multiple hosts, rotating hosts, and shows that rotate their format from episode to episode.

Everything I understand about marketing is quid pro quo. I have never heard it described in any terms that didn't come down to manipulation. Content marketing is giving people useful content so that they will trust you and buy your product or service. Email list building is giving away something of value so people will sign up to your list and you can then monetize them. Gary Vaynerchuk has something close to being palatable when he talks about giving away things with value (jabs) and not expecting anything for any one individual in return, but ultimately gives those things of value away expecting that at least some individuals will respond to his offers (right hook).

So how do I propose to do manipulation free marketing? For one, I'm not sure what I plan on doing can be called marketing. And second, I'm not sure if it will "work" - meaning aid me in reaching my $2000 / year definition of success. The plan is to give a lot of useful stuff away and sell a few useful things. Like I said, I don't know if you can call that marketing or if it will work, but that's all I feel comfortable doing.

This is really all I've ever done and it's never worked at a large scale before, but I have an idea to give things away more consistently and I think that consistency will be the key. So what are these things I plan to give away? First is a podcast and second are small iOS apps.

I don't have a timetable yet for either of these things but this really is the only kind of marketing I can live with.

In my last post I mentioned that I was focusing on a niche that is not known for being profitable. The niche I've chosen to serve is the devotional and educational needs of orthodox, liturgical Christians.

I have no illusion that this area is going to make me rich, but since I'm a member of this niche I know how much we could benefit from a wide range of resources and the satisfaction in serving this group is worth more to me than the profits. Plus, I do believe this niche can support the $2000 in revenue a year that I defined as success.

What are the next steps? Product creation and marketing. I have very specific ideas I want to test for both. The product has an actual business model and the marketing effort is something I could actually get behind (doesn't just feel like sales).

Do you have an idea for a technology product that could serve the devotional and/or educational needs of Christians? Shoot me an email at (brian@yamabe.net)[mailto:brian@yamabe.net] or tweet me @byamabe.

How does a husband and father of two with a full-time job, elder at his church, and various other responsibilities start and grow a business in a niche which is not perceived to have a highly profitable user base? I don't know, but that's the journey I want to go on and document.

I've been walking on and around this path for a long time. I've created apps with no business model. I've done consulting with no long term plan for where to go. I've brainstormed and daydreamed. I've come to realize that this direction is where I've always headed, it's just my definition of success that has needed clarity. At this stage in my life, with the commitments I have, success would be being able to pay for the development tools and software I use and honing my skills so that my technical chops are up-to-date if I were to lose my current job. On the revenue side that would entail generating about $2000 a year. On the skill side that would mean being skilled in a development environment other than Java.

That's the introduction. Let's see where this goes.