Finding of the week #67

Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I just like to present you an inspiring speech I discovered just because I was listening to a music track: „The Last Lecture“ from Randy Pausch.

One day I was again looking for some nice music I can listen to while I am working. So I run some searches in YouTube for some chillstep mixes and was quite happy with the results I found. One of these mixes featured the track „To dream“ from Systremo. The really special thing about this track was a quotation from a speech I have never heard of until I was listening to this particular track.

Being inspired by these quotations, I was curious to find out who was the author of these words. After a short google search, I found out that the quotation being used was from the speech „Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams“ of Randy Pausch[1][2].

Randy Pausch was a professor of computer science, human-computer interaction and design. In this case, he was working in the same field of research as I am and a lot of his topics he addressed in „The Last Lecture“ offered some analogies to my very own research and/or ideas. Moreover, the speech was also about the required commitment to achieve certain goals in life.

Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted“ is a good way see failures in a more positive way. Apart from the direct experiences after a failure, often a lot of time was spent on reaching this point. Even if the final result was a failure, the whole process itself has mostly caused a high experience gain which can be useful in other scenarios or for the next attempt.

The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.“ Sometimes it seems to be impossible to reach a certain goal. However, if enough effort is put into a thing, most obstacles can be cleared and the goal can be finally achieved. The secret is just to never give up and to stick to the very own goals.

Moreover, one of the other important messages of his speech was to never stop dreaming. On the one hand, it is all about having certain dreams in life for which it is worth working hard.
On the other hand, never stop dreaming in the field of human-computer interaction is also a great way to achieve impressive results. Virtual (game) environments allow us to expand our dreams and to realize things which would not be possible in the real world.

I do not want to write too much about the speech in this article. „Finding of the week“ can also be just about announcing and presenting a special idea I found. In this case, I like to conclude this week’s article with a video of the speech.

Finding of the week #66


During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, it’s midsummer! But what is so special about this day?

Due to a fortunate coincident, this week’s „Finding of the Week“ is published on the longest day in the northern hemisphere of our Pale Blue Dot[1]. In this case, I like to step a little bit away from the usual computer game topics and celebrate this special day in a more analytical way.

June 21st is also known as „midsummer“ or „St. John’s Day“ and this day is especially celebrated in Northern Europe or to be more specific in Scandinavia and the Baltics[2]. But also other nations are celebrating this day with some special events like bonfires. However, June 21st is not only a special day to celebrate for most cultures, it is also the longest day for the northern hemisphere of our Earth, because it is the day of the summer solstice. On summer solstice the northern half of our Earth has the longest exposure to the sunlight during the whole year.

The reason behind this yearly event lies in the combination of two rotation axes. On the one hand, our Earth is completing an orbit around the Sun every 365,25 days. The 0,25 day is the reason why every 4th year is leap year: we need to synchronize our calendars with the orbital period of our home planet.
On the other hand, the Earth is also rotating around a rotation axis going through its poles. This rotation has a period of 24 hours relative to the Sun and is resulting in a „day“ on our Earth.

Unfortunately, these two rotation axes are not completely explaining the occurrence of the summer solstice. The missing information lies in the tilt of the rotation axis of the Earth relative to the orbital plane around the Sun. The rotation axis is not perpendicular to the orbital plane and is instead tilted by about 23,5°. This axial tilt is the reason behind the summer solstice. It is also the reason for the seasons, the winter solstice, the midnight sun and the polar night. During one orbit around the Sun, the axial tilt is changing the sunlight exposure of certain parts of the planet. At the very special day of the summer solstice, the northern part of the planet is directly pointing towards the Sun. At the same time, the southern part of the planet is directly pointing away from the sun. During the days around the solstices, some parts of the planet experience sunlight exposure throughout the whole day (midnight sun) and other parts of the planets are not seeing the Sun for several days (polar night).[3]

The amount of sunlight per day is also affecting our climate and is creating the seasons. During summer time, the Sun has more time to shine on the „summer“ side of the globe thus heating it up. During winter time, the Sun has not enough time to heat up the environment of this part of the globe and the temperatures are decreasing again.

Interestingly, the great heat is mostly experienced after the summer solstice-when this part of the Earth is slowly drifting away from pointing directly to the Sun-and not around this event. The reason behind this comes from the fact, that it takes some time to heat up the environment. This is also why the coldest months of the year are mostly after the winter solstice: the environment needs some time to cool down.

With this special knowledge in mind, it is now even more impressive to watch the very late Sun set at this special day. It has become more than just a beautiful view, it is the result of something big.

Setting sun

Setting sun

Happy midsummer!

Finding of the week #65

Play a game and get convinced

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about the dangerous situation of doing a phone-call while driving a car. Many car drivers still believe that a conversation does not result in a strong impact on the own driving performance. A short test described in this article could convince these drivers that even small conversations can have a huge impact on their performance.

Doing other things while driving a car is always risky because it can distract the driver from the situation on the streets. One of the most common distractions is doing a phone-call while driving. During such an additional task, the driver needs to focus on the conversation and on the traffic at the same time. Moreover, the conversation has additional two main tasks: understanding and responding. In this case, the driver is trying to think about the conversation and the own contribution to it while he needs to pay attention to the traffic.

Although a lot of surveys have proven and demonstrated the negative influence of doing a phone-call while driving, a lot of drivers are still using their cell-phones[1]. The risk of doing a phone-call while driving is a bit reduced, if the driver uses a hands free device. Using this technology is in many countries the only legal way to do a phone-call while driving. However, a phone-call in this scenario still needs the attention of the driver to follow the conversation. Unfortunately, many drivers believe that they can handle these two tasks at the same time without reducing their ability to monitor the traffic. Additionally, they might be in the opinion that they are more skilled than the other drivers who have caused an accident due to the use of their cell-phones.

At this point, I like to suggest the gamer’s way to experience the influence of focussing on a different task while driving. The simulation computer game genre also features a lot of car racing simulations. Depending on the accuracy of the simulation, these games can simulate an realistic behavior of a car. If the driver is driving too fast or does not completely focus on the own car, it is very easy to lose control over the own car resulting in a spinning car or even a crash with an obstacle. One of these games is Assetto Corsa[2] (AC), a very realistic car and racing simulation due to an advanced physics engine. Even without doing another task while playing this game, it is really challenging to keep the own car under control. Furthermore, due to the realistic graphics engine and the demanding gameplay, AC creates a very immersive environment. This in return enhances the realistic and authentic feeling of driving a real car on a racetrack.

Such a realistic and immersive car driving simulation is the ideal test-bed for the own capabilities and limits while focussing on the driving task. The players can start driving around an empty racetrack and try to improve their lap times. After a first practice session in order to get used to the game controls and the behavior of the car, they can start testing their very own potential.
The first part of the self-test should be done without any distraction. The players should only focus on their cars and the goal of driving around the racetrack as fast as possible without losing control over the car. After completing several laps on the racetrack, the players can take advantage of the replay feature of AC and analyse their laps and lap times.
The second part of the self-test should begin after a short break to allow the players to regain focus after the demanding first part. During the second part of the test, players should just try to talk about a specific topic while trying to beat the lap times of the previous session. This can be done by explaining a certain fact or talking about an important day of their life. This step can be even combined with a voice recorder to allow a more thorough analysis of the own performance.
After completing the same amount of laps on the racetrack, the players can start to compare their lap times between the two sessions. Additionally, they can listen to their recorded explanations or stories.

After this test, most of the players will probably discover that their lap times were slower compared to the lap times without a distraction. They might even discover, that they did more often a mistake or even lost control over their cars. Additionally, they might discover that due to the demanding gameplay of the racing simulation, their explanations or stories are negatively influenced and not as clear as they would be without driving a virtual car.
Finally, the players then should start to think about two important facts: they were alone on the racetrack and they just needed to talk about a topic without being required to follow a conversation. In contrast to their normal driving environment, they had not to pay attention to the traffic on the streets and unpredictable actions from other car drivers. The players were completely alone on the racetrack and they were not faced with any random situation. On the other hand, they just needed to contribute to a conversation without the requirement of understanding what the dialog partner was talking about.
At this point, the players should recognize that this short test had less variables than a phone-call during a drive on a street with other cars. This particular insight should make the experience of the negatively influenced driving performance due to a simple task much more impressive.

As a conclusion, computer games can help us to test our very own limits and also to put them into perspective. It can be really surprising to discover, that other small tasks have already a huge impact on the own driving performance. Gaming can help us to prevent dangerous situations, because it helps us to recognize our very own limits. Once we have experienced that our performance in playing a game is negatively influenced by doing other tasks at the same time, it becomes even more obvious how dangerous it is to do things like a phone-call while driving in the unpredictable real world.

Finding of the week #64

The research game – Part 2

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This is the second part of the „The research game“ article. This time, I start to offer first thoughts on how the game could look like and how the gameplay challenges could be realized.

„Research as a creative work“ and „progress through successful experiments“ were the two main research game parts mentioned in the first part of „The research game“. These two elements might sound a bit complex and thus not very entertaining. However, the Mars exploration simulation Take On Mars[1] (TOM) has already demonstrated that explorative research can be quite entertaining. Players of TOM take control over Mars landers and Mars rovers. The first part of each mission is to bring the own vessel to the right area. Once arrived at the right spot, the players can use different scientific tools to analyse the environment. Furthermore, players can even assemble their own spacecrafts and equip them with the tools needed to perform all the experiments of a mission. Unfortunately, this does not really challenge the creativity of the players, because every objective has only one appropriate tool. In this case, the players are not required to think about the way how they can achieve a certain data set. Moreover, the gathered data does not play a significant role. It is more about bringing the vessel to the right spot and using the right tool to complete a mission.

Another interesting example for combining creativity and research is Kerbal Space Program[2]. KSP is all about spaceflight and designing own spacecrafts in order to explore distant worlds. In this process, the players are challenged in a creative way to think about every phase of the upcoming mission. Unfortunately, the available experiments in KSP are also only generic ones. The players just need to bring the right science tool to the right area in order to perform an experiment. Moreover, the gathered data is directly converted into science points without any additional analysis being required.

In the end, the resulting game could be some kind of an advanced KSP or an advanced TOM. Aside from assembling the launch vessel, it should be also important to construct the right scientific tools.
The challenge for this process should be given by the environment and the type of data needed to be collected. From this point on, the players should be challenged to think about a good combination of different tools to be able to collect the right data. Depending on the quality of the construction, the players would receive a certain amount of useful data in the specific branch of their measurement tools.

Aside from the tools and the potential issues caused by the environment, the virtual world itself needs to host a ton of different data that can be accessed during the virtual experiments. Additionally, the world needs to be separated into different biomes to increase the variety of the possible research that can be done. Moreover, If each biome would require different tools in order to gain access to the data, it would also increase the challenge in constructing good measurement tools.

A small lake could result in 4 different biomes: The soil around the lake, the air above the lake, the water and the surface of the lake. Each biome can host different life forms and also allow different analysis. Taking a sample of the air would require different tools than taking a sample of the lake’s surface. Catching a living sample of a life form would be even more challenging, because the players would be required to build a habitable cage in order to observe the behavior of the creature, too.

Finally, the experiment was performed and the data was gathered. At this point, the game should offer an engaging way to explore the data sets. It should be rewarding to look through the data and/or to discover an important correlation with other data sets collected in a previous mission. A good option would be to reward the discovery of noticeable correlations or eye-catching peaks in the data. However, the analysis should also reflect possible influences caused by the environment or problems during the experiment. The vessel could freeze if it is operating without a heat source in a very cold environment. In this case, the stream of data should suddenly stop and give some feedback about the problem. Aside from these negative influences, the collected data should also reflect a good outcome and allow the player to understand what was found during the experiment.

The resulting game can be on the one hand very useful to increase the creativity in solving problems. The players will train to analyze a certain situation and to think about how they can combine different parts to assemble a functional experiment. On the other hand, this game can also inspire the players to learn more about real-world science and even inspire them to perform own experiments. When the players get interested in finding new things and thinking about how to approach an experiment, it might be even more fascinating to discover how complex but also colorful real science can be.