Books and Tools To Get Started in Video Game Programming

In honor of the Global Game Jam 2014, I collected a few tools and resources to help you or your students get started in learning game programming using various technologies.    The Global Game Jam is a world wide hackathon and online festival for game developers and designers.   Check out the hashtag #ggj14 on Twitter and Google+ for updates and check out game inspiration in action.   It’s amazing to see what you can build in one weekend.  🙂
  • Invent with Python by Al Sweigart: The book provides a gentle introduction to programming and using Python for simple 2D games.   The book uses PyGame for the game framework.
  • Designing Games with Kodu Game LabKodu is an amazing visual programming environment for games by Microsoft research.   This guide helps prepare teachers and mentors to teach the game development environment.
  • The Complete Guide to Building HTML5 Games with Canvas and SVGThis blog post provides a nice collection tutorials introducing SVG and Canvas.   Both technologies enable you to create browser based games.
  • Dive into HTML5 : This book provides an introduction to advanced features of the browser like HTML5 and Canvas tag .   Drawing in the browser is very fun.  This book helps those interesting in making HTML5 games.
  • Easy GML by Drew Bach: Game Maker is a great tool to introduce 2D game programming.   This free guide helps introduce the core concepts and the script language. (GML)
  • : Unity is a big player in the professional game developer market.  It enables you to create cross platform video games.  This site provides free teaching introducing the tools and concepts.
  • : This site provides a collection of open game art, music, and sound that can support your game development.

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Easy Data Visualization with Google Charts and JavaScript

Looking for an easy and free way to visualize data to gain insight? Google has provided a JavaScript programming interface so that you can integrate Google Charts in your applications. To my surprise, I found it is very easy to build interactive Google Charts that use data from Google Sheets too.

Using our sense of sight, we can naturally find patterns and outliers in data quickly. Interactive data visualization tools are designed to turn your data into insightful pictures. If you’re not familiar with creating charts in Google Sheets, check out this brief video introduction by John Calvert.

To introduce the Google Charts programming interface, I wanted to share a Google Motion Chart showing trends of population and vehicle count over time in various countries. We will briefly introduce how we built this chart.

Your Data in JavaScript code

The following HTML/Javascript code implements a Google Motion Chart by describing the information in JavaScript code.

The following code imports Google JavaScript code library. The “google.load” function loads the Google Motion Chart into memory.

Data from a Spreadsheet

In the "drawChart" function, we use the Query object to reference the URL of our Google Sheet. When the query is sent, we specify a call back function called "handleQueryResponse." Once the data arrives, the "handleQueryResponse" function will complete the drawing.

function handleQueryResponse(response) {
if (response.isError()) {
alert('Error in query: ' + response.getMessage() + ' ' + response.getDetailedMessage());

var data = response.getDataTable();
var chart2 = new google.visualization.MotionChart(document.getElementById('chart_div'));
chart2.draw(data, {width: 600, height:300});

If you're interested in learning more about programming Google Charts, check out the following links:

Google Charts Playground:
Google Charts Quick start:

Data visualization is a pretty fun area. We love to hear from our readers. What are some of your favorite tools visualizing data? Leave us a comment below!

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10 Helpful and Geeky Question and Answer Communities

I have started reading a fun book on innovation management called “Beyond the Obvious” by Phil McKinney.  Mr. McKinney has directed a diverse technical career including serving as CTO of HP.   A core theme of his book is that innovative thinking occurs when you start asking better questions.   His work stresses the importance of disciplined and thoughtful questions.   To learn more about Mr. McKinney’s teaching, check out “Killer Innovations”  podcast: .
Questions are powerful.  I started to think about the value of one of my favorite sites:   This is a website that I use daily during my work as a programmer.    For any technical programming roadblock I face, I can start solving the challenge using insights from this question and answer site.    Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood carefully crafted StackOverflow to foster great questions and great responses.     The site uses gamification elements to reward users when they ask good questions or provide awesome answers.   The software, community and moderators are coordinated to encourage users to ask meaningful questions that are clear and provide meaningful answers.    Since Jeff and Joel are very successful bloggers in the programming world, they blended design concepts of using wiki’s, social media and blog software.
Since the launch of StackOverflow,  Joel and Jeff expanded to cover other topics.   You can find these question and answer sites at .
I have listed 10 StackExchange sites that may serve our readers.
What more?  Check out . 
In the Google tech talk below, Joel Spolsky shares insights into the anthropology and principles that directed the design of the StackExchange sites.   It’s a great case study on user experience design and community building.

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The trap of perfectionism

90% Perfection

Early this morning, I woke from a nightmare. In the dream, I had landed a job at the university where I had done my PhD research. In this job, I was supposed to be teaching a large (300 students) lecture course in microbiology. This was the course that I had been a teaching assistant in during grad school. It was the first day of class and I had just handed out the syllabus. Just as I was about to speak, one of the co-teachers (I didn’t know there were co-teachers until that point) expressed dismay at the number of exams I had scheduled. Apparently they usually only gave two exams a semester.  I had totally messed up the normal routine. Then I realized that I had scheduled the entire course using the wrong textbook. Clearly, I was wholly unprepared for the class. It was at this point where I was backpedaling and trying to make sense of the situation that I woke up.

I frequently have dreams like this at the beginning of each semester. I spend a lot of time fretting over the courses that lie ahead and all of the work necessary to plan them out. I’ve dreamed about not having the syllabus ready in time or even showing up to class inappropriately dressed. All of this is an expression of my anxiety over wanting to deliver the best course possible, but not feeling ready. I have learned that I am a bit of a perfectionist. I didn’t realize this until a friend of mine was telling me about the perfectionist cycle, also known as the three P’s: perfectionism, procrastination, and paralysis. It describes my personality too well. I can get so wrapped up in wanting a lesson plan or lab activity to be perfect that I put off planning because I’m not sure how to make it just right. This eventually leads to decision paralysis and then at the last minute I throw it all together.

I’m currently in that position. This semester I am teaching a course in cell and molecular biology for majors. It is one of the core courses for the degree in biology at our institution. This is the first time that I have been asked to teach a course like this and I want to do it right. I’ve got a pretty good plan in place for the lecture portion of the class, but I am struggling with the lab. I have looked at what other professors have done and I’ve explored the curriculum resources offered from various sources, but I just can’t seem to make a decision. It’s crunch time. I’ve got to make decisions this weekend so that supplies can be ordered in time.  Hence the anxiety ridden dreams.

What can we do about the perfectionist trap? There are some great articles addressing this very topic. Here is one from Inside Higher Ed that specifically addresses the problem within the context of academia. For me, I have to remind myself that sometimes its best just to write the first sentence or move forward on a project accepting that I will need to make adjustments and changes along the way. For me it can be a matter of just getting that forward inertia to get things rolling. Will my classes be perfect? Nope. But it is ok, and accepting that is an important aspect of avoiding the trap of perfectionism.


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3 Steps to Energize Your 2014

How was your day? Did you feel energized by your activities or work? For me, this is such a powerful question. We have no clue how long we will be blessed to live our lives. I consider each day a gift and treasure. I know that I feel energized when my life activities are aligned with my “why.” My “why” refers to my mission, my purpose, and values. As human beings, we thrive and get energized when we can connect to our purpose.

How was your day? Did we make a difference?

Was there a time in your life that you felt energized by your work? For me, I greatly enjoyed my life working in graduate school in computer science. I have admit it was an odd mix of activities. I worked for my first startup. It was a small Catholic church where I served as a minister of music. I also served our church in all aspects of technology. Since we held worship services in a school cafeteria, our teams needed to setup and manage sound and video equipment. Our pastor and my friend, Father Stephen was a great teacher with an eye for marketing and strategic planning. It was a pleasure getting to collaborate with him and other team members on website design and other marketing efforts. More importantly.. We built a shared vision for our family and community. We also had a great zeal for college ministry too. It was awesome to support students in their faith through music, education, and building community.

On the computer science side, I was learning how to contribute knowledge in a research area known as machine learning. This technology can be used to help keep spam out of your inbox, helps websites recommend products to you, or empowers cars to drive themselves. I love learning about artificial intelligence since it is ultimately a practical study in ourselves. How do we think? What does it mean to be self aware? How are we creative and combine ideas? How do we learn?

Today.. I know that I am actively working to steer my family activities and professional direction so that I keep myself faithful, service oriented, and curious about the world. I hope to encourage others to do the same.

I greatly recommend the following talk by Simon Sinek. He shares some awesome reasons why you should focus your energy and passions around a mission and purpose. Check out the video the here.

What are three things can you do to connect with your Why?

1. Give yourself quiet and space… In order to connect to your sense of significance, it is critical to give yourself silence. There is a great gift in creating space for quiet reflection. If you are a person of faith, consider taking your question of purpose to prayer.

2. Journal… In addition to quiet reflection, consider keeping a journal. Write about your dreams, fears, your wins, and reflections. There is a power in getting your dream and purpose on paper.

3. Seek out community… I love Jon Acuff and his teachings on fear. He would claim that a big enemy of living your life with purpose is fear. I believe it is easier to clarify your purpose in life my seeking out others who share your values and vision for life. If you talk about your mission and purpose, you are more likely to learn and take action. Positive friendships and community are a great way to defeat fear.

Life is too short to do work that lacks meaning and purpose. How was your day? I hope your tomorrow is bright!

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Want more? Check out the following resource:

We always enjoy learning from our readers.   What blogs inspire you and your work? 

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