3 July 2013

Go to school. Behave. Do what the teacher says.

Pass exams. Get a job.

Go to work. Behave. Do what the boss says. Get paid. Spend money. Buy nice things. You’ve earned it.

Annual review. Promotion. Increased responsibility.

Mortgage. Wedding. Kids. Car. Gym membership. Health insurance. Pension. Gotta catch ‘em all. Tick those boxes. Fill in those forms.

Happiness. Security.

Busy. Important. Work all day. Hectic lifestyle. Meetings. Short evenings. Sometimes a few drinks. Go to bed. Get up. Work all day. Work late. Another short evening. Go to bed. Get up. Work. Nearly the weekend. Sandwich at desk. Work. Go to bed.

Saturday. Tidy up a bit. Maybe see friends. Alcohol. Sunday. Television. Hangover. Garden centre. Bed. That was quick. Roll on next weekend.

Obey. Finish document. Dress code. Sit through presentation. Fill in timesheet. Send holiday request form to HR.

Follow the path established by others. Maybe you’ll be manager, some day.

Do not attract attention. Blend in.

Do not take risks.

Do not think.


You won't bother to read this

2 July 2013

You’re lazy.

Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude. But you are. You are lazy.

So am I. We all are.

We will put in the least amount of effort we can get away with. Why bother doing anything more? Why do extra work just for the sake of it? That would be inefficient.

We’re even lazy when doing things we find pleasurable, like browsing the internet. I love looking at Hacker News over lunchtime. But reading is hard work. It takes time and it can be boring. Some articles aren’t worth the effort. You don’t really know which ones are going to be worthwhile until you start reading, which is why we skim.

That’s why we often don’t properly understand what we’re reading. It’s easier to work out which mental “box” to file it in, and stick it there. Pigeonhole, then move on.

Analytics from companies like Chartbeat show that most people don’t scroll all the way to the bottom of an article - see Slate’s article from last month for some great graphs, including a fascinating lack of correlation between the number of tweets about an article, and the number of people who actually read the whole thing.

Articles that get a lot of tweets don’t necessarily get read very deeply. Articles that get read deeply aren’t necessarily generating a lot of tweets.

I had an interesting experience last week which also taught me something similar: People don’t read before commenting.

I wrote a blog post called How I live and how I work, which so far has received about 10,000 views - far more than any other post I’ve ever written. There were a lot of comments on the post itself, and also on Hacker News and Twitter.

What amazed me were the number of assumptions that people had made. Various people assumed:

  • I'm single
  • I'm in my twenties
  • I live on ramen
  • I live somewhere shit
  • I don't have a car
  • I am lonely
  • I don't do anything for entertainment
  • I haven't thought about what to do when I become too old or ill to work

All of these are untrue. I never said any of these things in the article. Yet that is what some people understood from it.

It’s almost as if there was a different article that they constructed in their heads - one which conformed to their existing thoughts, prejudices and opinions. Instead of reading and understanding what I wrote, it was quicker for them to file my post into a pre-existing category, and respond to that instead.

Why tweet about, or comment on, an article you haven’t read and understood?

What do you gain by shouting without understanding?

Today is Day One. What now?

1 July 2013

My history is irrelevant.

I like to imagine I’ve just started playing a text adventure of my own life. It begins right now. I start the game in my current location, I can see various things, and I have many options for places I can go and things I can do.

I also have an inventory. Things that I own. Money. Other “assets” such as knowledge, skills, and relationships with other people.

The objective is… well, one of the objectives is figuring out what the objective is. What does it mean to win this game, and how can I go about it? What interesting parts of this game world might I be able to open up by working out how to use my resources effectively?

Everything that has happened before now is unimportant. That’s just back story. There might be some interesting information in there - things that I can learn from, tips to help me progress through the game - but I am free to play this game as I please. I don’t have to be consistent with my own back story.

Doing this exercise can be a wake-up call. I did it once and quit my job the next day. It was entirely unexpected. But it was absolutely the right thing to do. Continuing a job with no future, purely for the sake of consistency, would not have been the way I’d have played a game that began that day.

Try it yourself.

It’s day one. Begin.

Building educational apps and games - don't assume technology is the answer

28 June 2013

I was at this month’s London Educational Games Meetup Group (#LEGup) event earlier this week, where they were launching their new site edugameshub.

Some of the talks got me thinking about the approach people take when they’re building things.

Everybody at #LEGup has an interest in educational games in one form or another. There are many app developers who go month after month, either with established products or because they are currently building something.

It is interesting to ponder people’s motivations for being involved in this area. Do they have a desire to teach something, and have decided that building a game is the best method for transmitting this knowledge or skill?

Or do they just like games, and think there is a market gap here, because other people must also think that games and apps are cool?

Too often, it seems to be the latter. It’s worrying how many people start working on educational products without a proper understanding of the market. As Tom Cole says in one of the inaugural articles on edugameshub:

many people have this strange assumption that schools are a hotbed of new technology, with bleeding edge devices available for all students to use. This, quite frankly, is not true.

This is the kind of assumption that gets made if you start at the technology and try to work backwards, instead of starting with what you want to teach and working forwards from there.

I wonder if 40 years ago there would have been such a thing as the “London Educational Videos Meetup Group”. We could have sat around and talked about all the educational videos we were making. About how kids got really excited when the teacher wheeled the TV into the classroom, because they felt like they were getting the lesson off. We could have debated the kinds of TV sets that were suitable for classrooms, and complimented each other on how lovely the videos looked. We could have wondered if we could ever really make money by making videos.

But wouldn’t we all have been missing something? Let’s not get things backwards. Let’s not ask “how can we use computer games in the classroom”, or “is there a place for iPads in schools”. These questions don’t have any meaning. They pre-suppose that technology, games, tablets etc. are the answer to some problem. Yet the problem rarely seems to be stated. Discussion is often along the lines of “how can we do better in the app store”, and only rarely “what do people learn from this app, and why is this better than some other way of teaching the same thing?”.

Instead, let’s focus on genuine educational needs, and see how we can build products and businesses around that. The answer may not be games. Or, if it is a game, that doesn’t mean it has to be based around technology.

Ask the right questions first, and work from there.

How I live and how I work

27 June 2013

I live differently to everybody else I know.

Other people go out to work. They earn money. They spend it. On houses, cars, children, gadgets, holidays. All kinds of things.

Sometimes they complain about work. Sometimes they complain about how expensive things are.

I don’t complain about either of those things.

I sit at home all day, creating software. I haven’t worked out how to make much money from it yet. But I’m getting there.

And yet, I seem to have plenty of money. Enough for me to live on for a few more months anyway, without having to worry just yet.

I haven’t won the lottery. I spent about six months last year doing some contract work, to earn of bit of money before coming back to doing my own thing again. But that contract wasn’t especially highly paid - pretty average, maybe a little on the low side when I compare it to other contracts that I’ve seen advertised, and the rates that other developers  I’ve spoken to have charged.

I suppose I lead quite a frugal lifestyle. If I look back 10 years, the lifestyle I had a student isn’t actually very much different to the kind of life I lead now. When I started working, I didn’t start spending.

Maybe it’s because when I started working, I had some student debts to pay off. Not the UK Student Loan - that’s paid off very gradually out of your pay packet - but some nice big credit card bills. I paid those off with a graduate loan from the bank, which then took me about three years to pay off.

So I was working but I couldn’t really afford to change my lifestyle, so I didn’t. Then when the debts were paid off, why change anything? I simply started saving.

Over time, those savings built up. I could have done quite a lot of things with the money. I could have put down a deposit to buy a house, sooner or later anyway. I could have bought a big shiny car. I could have saved a bit less, and developed a taste for expensive shirts or exotic foreign holidays. Or I could have started a family.

But I’m not interested in any of those things. Instead, the money allows me to buy the most valuable things in the world. Time and Freedom.

Some people save up for their retirement to start enjoying life. They put up with years of hardship, waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel.

I don’t believe in retirement. Not just because the economic situation at the moment means it’s likely that for many of us, even if we save up, retirement will be continually postponed until we are too old to really enjoy it. But more importantly, if you can set up your life so that you enjoy work, so that your work is your life, and your life is your work, then you never need to stop.

You can enjoy your life right now. You just need to spend less money on shit that you don’t need.

There are some great comments on this article at HackerNews

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