Makers: A Creative Commons Licensed Sitcom About a Nerdy Family

Posted on 23rd April 2018 by Ryan Somma in Creative Commons Works,Geeking Out

In 2016, I was notified by a friend of a new partnership between Google and The Black List to give grants to screenplays promoting diversity and challenging nerd stereotypes in film. There were articles about it referencing the Computer Science Education in Media program run by Julie Ann Crommett at Google.

So I spent a month writing up something I was excited about. Makers is a family-friendly sitcom that follows the Glasper’s, a family comprised of two geeky, parents who work as software developers. Nef, a mother of African American descent, telecommutes on various IT contracts from her highly-unprofitable makerspace/gaming shop that has been in the red for so long the IRS has made her downgrade it from a business to a hobby. Zack, the father, works in Laboratory Information Management systems, and is a heavy gamer off-hours. They have two young children, Sagan and Ada, named for Carl Sagan and Ada Lovelace. The episodes were to center around modern first-world nerd problems: torrenting, gamer trolls, H1B1 ethics, generational conflicts over technology, code-switching, and gaming addiction.

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The Long Con: Board Games for Young Children

Posted on 19th February 2018 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out
Tower of Board Games

Tower of Board Games

An online friend started a board gaming club at his elementary school. Occassionally, he posts pictures of the free games companies send him. Other times he posts photos of his students engaged in play. I asked him about the games and what it was like teaching children so young board games.

“We have good and bad days, but we stick to it and try different things,” he told me. “It’s all about the long-con.”

In a world of easy entertainment like movies and dazzling entertainment like video games, I’m overjoyed to see boardgames surging in popularity in America. I’m glad to see adults embracing “child’s play” as a means of cultivating mental plasticity. Games keep our minds young by challenging us and prompting us to think in unusual ways.

Plato recognized the importance of gaming in childhood when he said, “[I]f a boy is to be a good farmer or a good builder, he should play at building toy houses or at farming and be provided by his tutor with miniature tools modelled on real ones… One should see games as a means of directing children’s tastes and inclinations to the role they will fulfill as adults.” I also see immense potential for gaming in education. I’m not talking about gamified education, which involves skinner-box methods of hooking children into learning for rewards, but rather game-based learning, which means using actual game play to teach and explore concepts.

Here’s what I’ve learned from a few years of playing board games with my young boys.

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Arduino Time Zone Portal LED Project

Posted on 27th February 2016 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out
Bally Time Zone / Space Time Pinball Backglass

Bally Time Zone / Space Time Pinball Backglass

Photograph by Matthew Allison

Introduction

I recently became interested in arcade history. Pinball history is particularly fascinating for the way inventors have come up with so many mechanical innovations over the years. From the first springer launch to the first speaking pinball to incorporating a wide variety of illusions, pinball remains something that simply can’t be replaced with virtual versions.

While investgating a 1972 Bally Time Zone pinball machine (also known as Space Time), I found an innovation that screamed 1970s. Check out the “portal” in the bottom center of this video:

Unable to fit an entire pinball machine in my home, I went for attempting to replicate this one part. With the popularity of the Maker Movement and easy-electronics development with the arduino, I decided to see how quickly I could replicate this piece with LED lights.

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Number Spiral Mandalas with HTML Canvas

Posted on 21st July 2014 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out
HTML Canvas 12-times Spiral
12-Spiral in HTML Canvas
(Primes highlighted in red)

Mathematics is about exploration, not the rote memorization of algortithms. It’s about finding patterns, appreciating how numbers relate to one another. That’s why I love programming. Much of writing code involves experimentation with mathematics, tweeking a variable to see what comes out of a complex function. It’s wonderful when a program doesn’t give you the answer you designed it to; that means you are about to learn something.

I was really inspired by this post on Moebius Noodles about Joey Grether, who creates spiraling artwork with the number 12 that seeks patterns in the lines of numbers radiating out from the center. Reminiscent of Ulam’s Spiral, building a spiral around a clock, with 12-segments in the rotation, puts multiples of 3 at {3,6,9,12} o’clock, multiples of 4 at {4,8,12} o’clock, multiples of 2 at {2,4,6,8,10,12} o’clock, and primes at {1,5,7,11}.

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20 Years of Magic the Gathering

Posted on 16th September 2013 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out
Friday Night Magic at Earth 383
Friday Night Magic at Earth 383

20 years ago this month, I introduced my college friends to a new concept, the collectible card game (CCG). Magic the Gathering was instantly addictive for all of us, a game one part role-playing, one part exploration and discovery, and ten parts ingenuity. I’ll never forget when my friends confronted me after a few weeks of play, demanding, “Why did you keep this from us for so long?”

Truth is, I had just discovered Magic a few months earlier when I found a couple of friends playing in their apartment. A game where you play a Wizard (excuse me, “Plainswalker”) collecting spells and creatures into your spellbook to use against other opponents? Sold.

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Is Web Design All About Hacking or Kludging?

Posted on 5th May 2013 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out

So I decided to spend the weekend redesigning/modernizing my lifetime project, a citation-management tool mxplx, because the site is old and ugly looking and I wanted to play with some of the shiny new toys in CSS:

The 00s Called, They Want Their Website Design Back
The 00s Called, They Want Their Website Design Back

So hundreds googlings and SOings and two sugar-driven all-nighter’s later, I’ve got the new “placeholder” tags in my inputs, nifty-gradient backgrounds in my divs, my inputs are modern-ish looking, and my checkboxes, buttons, and selects are all replaced with images. Yay!

Shiny New Website
Shiny New Website

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In Defense of “The Big Bang Theory”

Posted on 4th February 2013 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out
Sheldon Fashion
Sheldon Fashion

I love love love The Big Bang Theory (BBT). I love the intelligent science references, the highly-debatable geek-culture references, and the cameos only a nerd would enjoy. Most of all, the portrayal of idiosyncratic individuals who bare an incredible resemblance to people I’ve had to deal with for decades working in IT and hanging out at Cons and Comic shops.

So it comes as a shock to me that there is a lot of hate for BBT in geek culture. Many geeks seem to loathe the way the show portrays geek mannerisms, habits, and argue that the show invites normal people to laugh at geeks and encourages belittling them. The show is simply a televised extension of the bullying we had to endure in high school. Geeks see it as validating that abuse through the reactions of the “hot girl” Penny, who lives across the hall from the geeks and whose reactions to the geeks are a source of amusement for the audience.

I don’t see it, and I’m honestly offended at some of the opinions and parochialism being exhibited by some of my fellow geeks. Defending an opinion isn’t like defending a scientific position, I can’t cite journal papers and research to back it up, but I can use logic and anecdotal evidence. So here it goes…

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Adventures in Personal Genomics

Posted on 16th April 2012 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out

Jump To:
Introduction
Closed-Source Genetics
Open-Source Genetics
Going Public With My Genome
Better Living Through Personal Genomics
DIY Genomic Sequencing for Programmers
My Personal Genomic Results
Further Reading

Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP)

Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP)


Introduction

It’s been over a year since I signed up with 23andMe and several months now since I downloaded my raw genomic data from them and started seeing what I could learn from it on my own. Although very few services out there will fully sequence your personal genome, by focusing on sequencing an individual’s Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs), pronounced “Snips” for short, which are the variables between human genomes, we can focus on what’s of interest in our personal genomic data and get this data relatively cheaply. By comparing the differences in our genes, our genotypes, my wife and I could learn about how they differently express themselves in our lives, our phenotypes, to gain insights about our health risks as well as interesting traits about ourselves that may explain our behaviors and experiences throughout life.

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Star Trek Online and Avoiding the Grind

Posted on 27th February 2012 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out

Time you enjoyed wasting was not wasted.” ~ John Lennon

Time is the fire in which we burn.” ~ Tolian Soran, Star Trek Generations

The Dilemma

We have a finite amount of time in this life, and we should be mindful of how we spend it. I’ve recently become highly cognizant of the fact that the majority of games are simply Skinner Boxes, tricking players into pushing buttons in return for meaningless rewards. Truly challenging games like Portal and SpaceChem keep you playing because the gameplay is its own reward, while Skinner Box games keep you performing repetitive tasks with virtual rewards. Other games, like Skyrim or Final Fantasy VII, keep you playing because the story and graphics are simply that engaging.

The Original Earth Starbase Was Just Okay
The Original Earth Starbase Was Just Okay
The Redesigned Earth Starbase Looks More Familiar
The Redesigned Earth Starbase Looks More Familiar

For the past two years I have played Star Trek Online (STO) casually, probably investing maybe a hundred hours in the game, two weeks of my life out of 104. So the question arises: Is STO time wasted? The game was never challenging, but was it at least entertaining? I think this is a question we should be mindful of with any game in which we choose to invest our time to make sure we aren’t burning it.

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Science Fiction Versus Fantasy – Uncensored

Posted on 26th September 2011 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior,Geeking Out

This is the uncensored version of my Science Fiction VS Fantasy piece I wrote for the Science Creative Quarterly several years ago. I’ve also written much more extensively on this topic in the past. This is the abbreviated version with 10% more snark:

I

Fanboy: Hey gang! Did you read The Sword of Shanara? The characters traveled hundreds of miles described in excruciating detail for hundreds of pages, until they reached the ultimate battle between good and evil! Cool huh?

Scientist: Whatever. The characters in Red Planet traveled 48 million miles to Mars, while those in 2001 traveled 369 million miles to Jupiter. Characters in Asimov’s Foundation books travel millions of light-years all over the Milky Way galaxy in routine manner. Isn’t it amazing what people can accomplish when they don’t have to walk everywhere? Thank a scientist for your planes, trains, automobiles, and spaceflight whydontcha.

Fanboy: Yeah, but did you see in The Lord of the Rings when Gandalf fought the Balrog all the way down a really deep hole and then all the way back up to the top of a mountain peak!?!?

Scientist: Big whoop. The adventurers in The Core traveled to the very center of the Earth, fighting technological, natural, and human hazards all the way down and all the way back up to the Earth’s crust again. Characters in Fantastic Voyage and Innerspace fought their way all through the human body in microscopic form.

Fanboy: Ooookay… But did you see all those maps having to do with the Wheel of Time books? It’s a huge continent! Pretty epic, huh?

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