Understanding Video Games – Week 6 – How To Interpret Games


Week 6 of “Understanding Video Games”, a University of Alberta Course offered by Leah Hackman and Sean Gouglas through Coursera, focuses on how to interpret / analyse a game with 5 videos this week.

Overall, the premise is that massive multi-player online games are ripe for study given the richness of information and diversity of players. The videos walk through the beginnings of MMOs with multi-user dungeon games (MUDs), and how MMOs added to it with advanced GUI and recognizable visual settings. In particular, Hackman and Gouglas work their way through Ultima (which added both positive social interactions and negative ones such as griefing), Everquest (innovation through adding 3D interfaces, but also led to selling characters in the real world and early references to online addictions), Second Life (showing that it wasn’t all about weird fantasy worlds), and the true powerhouse, World of Warcraft.

Back in Week 1, we learned about a variety of elements in games and Week 2 focused on how “games” differ from simple “play”. Week 3 introduced the contrast between linear, progressive gameplay and more emergent gameplay brought to it by the various players. Week 4 introduced us to a mechanical structure of how to break down games into component pieces, and Week 5 tried a narrative approach to explaining games.

This week stepped back a bit and pulled from literary theory to talk about a structural way of analysing games and the interrelationships between the parts starting with:

  1. Hardware, program code
  2. Functionality
  3. Gameplay
  4. Meaning of a game (relying on semiotics, signs and symbols)
  5. Referentiality (and how it represents a genre or crosslinks to other games and gametypes)
  6. Socio-culture (how it fits within the outside world or what is brought to the game by players).

Again relying on literary theory, they add in “post-structuralism” tropes and how language defines reality, and thus a question about what can the language of a game tell you about the designer’s beliefs, arguments, views of reality, etc.? In particular, they talk about procedural rhetoric (rules, interactivity, language, mechanics to make an argument) and how the rules reflect the world view of the game designer.

However, for me, I am not convinced it is about a world view, so much as it is a slice of a world view, particularly as meaning is more than just the rules (i.e. as they note, it also includes play and agency). More importantly, when they talk about WWII fight simulators, and about what is missing due to focusing entirely on technology, I’m not convinced it represents a denial of the other pieces, just that the other pieces don’t make for interesting or fun gameplay. Often it is easier to set warfare on strange alien planets just to avoid controversy around “supposed meaning” rather than the intent of the designer which is to have warfare, but without the political arguments that might creep into the discourse, and distract from what is meant to be simpler gameplay, not a debate.


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Understanding Video Games – Week 5 – Story and Games


Week 5 of “Understanding Video Games”, a University of Alberta Course offered by Leah Hackman and Sean Gouglas through Coursera, focuses on “stories and games” with 7 videos.

  1. Role-playing Games (14:16) — This is an overview of RPGs in general, including D&D, Ultima, Quest for Glory, Final Fantasy, etc. to illustrate sweeping storylines with common structural building blocks (character, plot, genre). For me, I’m more interested in the story elements of the game (narratology) over the game mechanics (ludology).
  2. Character (7:16) — This video explain the analytical framework from standard literary concepts (protagonist hero, antagonist villain, tritagonist third person narrator/expositor or sidekick). Pretty basic.
  3. Plot (19:21) — This video elaborates the framework to go from chronicle (facts) to plot where events are linked and show causation, but not necessarily linearly (more so on average than other forms of entertainment). It also argues that you can use the classic 3-part (beginning, middle, end) or 5-part dramatic arc (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement). However, there is a really cool interview with a Mass Effect writer and how they handled multiple branching storylines (it’s an illusion using two people who are always the drivers of a conversation, and the third wheel can be any other character who may or may not join the conversation, but allows the illusion of total differentiation based on which characters survive to that scene vs. the reality that it is still tightly controlled narrative/dialogue).
  4. Genre (4:15) — It’s a very short video, mostly to introduce the idea of viewers/players bringing certain expectations to certain genres, and the ability to suspend disbelief. Pretty basic.
  5. The Hero’s Journey (29:22) — The big video is an overview of Joseph Campbell’s male-dominated monomyth, which serves as a for growth. The monomyth has three main components…the departure (call to adventure, refusal of the call and punishment like woman-in-the-refrigerator, supernatural aid, crossing the threshold / overcome guardian, and belly of the whale), the initiation (road of trials with everything familiar gone to allow capacity development, meeting with the powerful goddess and getting a gift and/or experiencing love, the temptress to give it up, atonement with the father, apotheosis / acceptance of terrible truth with sacrifice, ultimate boon to achieve inner peace), and the return (refusal of the return, magic flight, rescue from without, crossing the return threshold to show independence, master of two worlds, and accept reward / freedom to live). While I see the truth of the criticisms of the model (default male-orientation, the open-endedness as it includes everything, and its misuse as prescriptive storytelling), it’s a pretty powerful story arc for the true “hero’s journey”.
  6. Games Aren’t Books (17:37) — The video raises the question of how interactivity can violate literary theory, such as Campbell’s monomyth, while noting that all media is interactive in some form.
  7. Branching Narrative (8:39) — This video gives an overview of hypertext fiction / interaction fiction / text-based adventures linked to the development of branching narratives.

Overall, the two big pieces I liked this week was Campbell’s breakdown, partly as a huge majority of games follow the hero’s journey arc, and the interview with the software designer and how they faked some aspects of differentiation and customization/interactivity.


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Understanding Video Games – Week 4 – Game Mechanics


Today is my foray into week 4 of “Understanding Video Games“, a University of Alberta Course offered by Leah Hackman and Sean Gouglas through Coursera, and focuses on what they and others call “game mechanics”. It includes 7 videos (totaling 79.5 minutes) and one reading resource.

Their breakdown separates out game rules (obvious) from agents (i.e. the players) and game mechanics (i.e. the methods the agents use to interact with the game world, often in the form of verbs/actions — running, jumping, etc.). The golden age of video games — mid-70s to mid-80s — is fantastic for understanding basic concepts since a game like Space Invaders is almost entirely about game play, more so than the games that came later that included emergent gameplay. In Space Invaders, you could move left or right or fire, and that’s it, with harder versions based on changes in speed and mild complexity of gameplay.

In the first video (Game Mechanics), the most interesting part comes from Roger Ebert, and the flame wars that started when he suggested that film and literature were subject to authorial control and thus could be “art”, whereas video games had player choices i.e. interactivity, which as a structural issue meant video games could never be art. Oddly enough, I think his point that it was too interactive rather than narrative could perhaps be valid for the games of the 1980s, but I don’t think it lines up with the games you “embed” yourself in that came out in the 2000s where the interactivity is even greater but with very strong narrative elements. The second video (Interactivity) notes that some games like Tetris have no narrative whereas others have strong narrative (Tomb Raider), so they argue that narrative can’t be the sole defining characteristic compared with ways of interacting. They list 10 elements from the 60s that are interesting:

  1. Purpose of the game
  2. Procedure for action
  3. Rules governing action
  4. Number of required participants
  5. Role of participants
  6. Results or pay-off
  7. Abilities and skills required for action
  8. Interaction patterns
  9. Physical setting
  10. Required equipment.

That list leads them to a focus on actions/procedures that the player can do (mechanics) vs. the things they cannot do (rules). I find the third video interesting as it focuses on agency…I assumed initially that this would be just about the “player”, but it is interesting to think of the computer opponents as agents too, rather than simply part of the game itself. So it gives you the option to think of Inky, Binky, Pinky and Clyde as semi-autonomous agents within the game rather than part of the game itself.

Video 4 starts to talk about Koster’s view of the game as a “black box”, and more about game grammar — the black box spits out a scenario, the player responds, and the goal is to figure out the rules and solve the game. With “rules” as the basic building blocks, they argue that multiple blocks form the mechanics of the game, with all the mechanics together (scoring mechanics, firing mechanics, movement mechanics), forming a framework i.e. a game. And as with a “language”, you learn the language (i.e. the game) by actually using the language (i.e. playing the game).

Their largest video of the week though is dedicated to the MDA approach to understanding games — mechanics (actions, behaviours and control mechanisms in a game), dynamics, and aesthetics (emotional level). I think it’s a good paradigm from a “design” perspective…such as thinking about the impact from changing from repetitive to challenge puzzles, more exciting aesthetics, or changes in dynamics (like Mario power ups or Pacman power pellets — which change the goal, at least temporarily). As an analytical framework, it also allows theorists to look at the relationship between the three elements, and how changes in one affects the other two, or the resulting impact on gameplay…kind of a systems approach more so than the structural elements of “game grammar”. The second element of the video is an interview with a game designer for Mass Effect, which is a nice “applied” example. A third element shown is Schell’s separate framework for mechanics (after removing technology, story and aesthetics) that has abstract space (full screen), functional space (where you can move), objects (things that move, more or less), player’s actions, rules, and skill — that are all hard-coded in the game.

The next video talks about the role of narrative and how it is balanced in various games — ranging from Tetris (no narrative) to Metal Gear Solid (full narrative, but often through exposition). By contrast, there are the RPGs — where the narrative “emerges” through game-play, “rogue-like” without a clear path that you have to follow, and often with very little dialogue.

The final video looks at the interactions between the various mechanics, where some mechanics try to PREVENT emergent play that might be frustrating or inappropriate.

It’s a pretty interesting framework to think about games, whether they be video games or role playing games or strategy games, and what about them makes them interesting to play more than once. I know people who LOVE Monopoly for example, and while I’m willing to play it once a year (or once a decade), anything beyond that is like gouging my eyeballs out. Maybe partly as I tend to play in too small of a group to make it really interesting perhaps, or too much within the rules. I find PayDay far more interesting but like Life, there is no strategy at all really, it is just totally die-based random progress, which many people abhor. I’m the same for video games though, I’m willing to accept randomness to a high degree if there is a narrative element, something that is completely lacking from games like Monopoly.


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TV series bloodbath



Most show decisions are now made for renewals vs. cancellation, and ABC is done. Here’s my take:

  1. Shows cancelled that I won’t miss: The Family, Galavant, Agent Carter, The Muppets, Nashville, Wicked City, Of Kings and Prophets, Blood & Oil;
  2. Shows cancelled that I watched but won’t miss: Castle;
  3. Shows renewed that I don’t care about: American Crime, Dr. Ken, Last Man Standing, Once Upon a Time, Fresh Off the Boat, How to Get Away With Murder, Scandal, black-ish, The Middle, The Goldbergs, Grey’s Anatomy, Modern Family;
  4. Shows renewed that I might consider: The Catch, The Real O’Neals;
  5. Shows renewed that I am sort of happy are renewed: SHIELD, Quantico;

End result: 1 show out of 25 that I sort of care about (Quantico) and 1 more that I’ll watch as binge…not a network aimed at my viewing tastes 🙂


Here’s my take:

  1. Shows cancelled that I won’t miss: CSI: Cyber, Rush Hour, The Good Wife, Mike & Molly, Angel from Hell;
  2. Shows cancelled that I watched but won’t miss: Person of Interest;
  3. Shows renewed that I don’t care about: Code Black, The Odd Couple, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, Life in Pieces; Madam Secretary, Hawaii Five-O, 2 Broke Girls, Mom, Criminal Minds;
  4. Shows renewed that I might consider: none;
  5. Shows renewed that I am happy or sort of happy are renewed: Supergirl, Elementary; Blue Bloods, NCIS: LA, NCIS: NO, NCIS, Scorpion, The Big Bang Theory;

End result: 8/23 that I watch. That could go to 9/24 or 8/24, depending on what happens with Limitless. Rumour is it was being shopped around to other networks and thus cancelled, but I never saw a final “call”. Either way, thank you CBS!


The CW was a basket case this year as they renewed EVERYTHING. Sounds like CBS and Warner Bros couldn’t be bothered to argue. Here’s my take:

  1. Shows cancelled that I won’t miss: Containment;
  2. Shows cancelled that I watched but won’t miss: none;
  3. Shows renewed that I don’t care about: Reign, the Originals, Jane the Virgin, Supernatural, Vampire Diaries, the 100, Crazy Ex-GF, iZombie;
  4. Shows renewed that I might consider: ;
  5. Shows renewed that I am happy are renewed: DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Arrow, The Flash;

End result: 3/12 that I like, two of which are almost “must watch”…thanks CW for the superhero fix!


Here’s my take:

  1. Shows cancelled that I won’t miss: Bordertown, The Grinder, Grandfathered, Cooper Barrett, ;
  2. Shows cancelled that I watched but won’t miss: Second Chance, Minority Report;
  3. Shows renewed that I don’t care about: Family Guy, Simpsons, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, New Girl, Scream Queens, Empire, Bob’s Burgers, Last Man on Earth, Bones;
  4. Shows renewed that I might consider: Sleepy Hollow;
  5. Shows renewed that I am happy are renewed: Rosewood, Gotham, Lucifer ;

End result: Three out of 19 are being renewed that I like, but I like two of them a lot (Gotham, Lucifer), so thank you Fox. I think X-Files is basically “done”, but they were left out of formal announcements.


Here’s my take:

  1. Shows cancelled that I won’t miss: Game of Silence, Heartbeat, Mysteries of Laura, Telenovela, Crowded, Truth Be Told, You Me and the Apocalypse;
  2. Shows cancelled that I watched but won’t miss: Undateable, The Player, Heroes Reborn, ;
  3. Shows renewed that I don’t care about: Carmichael Show, Superstore, Chicago Med / P.D. / Fire, Law & Order: SVU;
  4. Shows renewed that I might consider: Shades of Blue;
  5. Shows renewed that I am happy are renewed: Grimm, Blacklist, Blindspot;

End result: Three out of 20 renewed that I like, one that I was watching but not surprised it was cancelled (Player).

Overall, nothing cancelled that I am particularly going to miss, and almost all the shows I really like were renewed.


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My show watching the past year…


Let’s see how I did back at the start of the season in terms of new shows I would/might like:

  1. Full season subscriptions that panned out for me — Blindspot, DC Legends of Tomorrow, Limitless, Quantico and Supergirl;
  2. Full season subscriptions that the networks didn’t agree with — Minority Report, The Player;
  3. Full season subscriptions I switched to binge watch and the network dumped — Heroes Reborn, The X-Files;

So 5/9 survived, 4/9 had short seasons and are not coming back.

For the try one episode batch:

  1. Ones I grabbed on to: Rosewood;
  2. Ones I binge-watch: Into the Badlands;
  3. Ones that one EP was enough: Benders, Crazy Ex-GF, Grinder, Hand of God, The Muppets, Public Morals, and Wicked City, all of which I think the networks have cancelled for the future.

Score: 2/9 worth watching and both are renewed for season 2

For the shows that I took a pass on, namely the 18 below, two or three made it to renewal, but not for me. Still passing.

For returning shows, there was a culling! I watched 12 Monkeys and it is finally “back” for season 2; American Ninja Warrior and the new Team Ninja Warrior; Arrow; The Blacklist; Blue Bloods; Dark Matter; Elementary; Gotham; Grimm; Killjoys; and The Flash. Eleven shows, all renewed for next season.

Castle was one I watched, but almost out of habit than desire. It should have ended last season, and this season had a few good EPs that would have fit nicely in season 2 or 3, but for the current arc, they just didn’t work. Glad to see they have killed it for next year.

I also gave up on Big Bang Theory, SHIELD, NCIS x 3, Person of Interest, Scorpion and Sleepy Hollow in the sense that I moved them to binge watch status only. I just don’t care enough to stay “current” on them. PoI is in its last season but I’m fine with all of them ending.

Continuum and Lost Girl are short season and I let both of their final seasons go to binge-watch status. I like them, I’d rather watch them in a batch though. I’ve let Orphan Black go there too, as well as Suits, but I might pick those back up over the summer.

However, I gave up completely on Undateable, and to be honest, I can’t believe it wasn’t yanked early in the year. Maybe they were going for syndication numbers or something, don’t know, but it was deadly to watch.

Overall, nothing major is leaving that I mind, and looking forward to a few new shows next year.


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PolyWogg’s HR Guide

I have been working on my “HR Guide” forever, or at least it seems like it. I have always had a Powerpoint version of it that I use for guest presentations, informal mentoring, etc., but it is only recently that I actually set it up to be on this website. Call that version say version 0.1 to 0.4, with 0.4 available now for download in PDF format.

Awhile ago, I started working on a full prose version. I did a bunch of sections, ran into some IT problems on my website, got away from the writing of it, and really to be honest, it wasn’t entirely gelling for me. Partly because I found myself writing something and then thinking, “Well, what about THAT issue, how can they know what to do HERE if they don’t understand THAT”. So I would start to explain it, and then the digression would overwhelm that section. I produced about a third of what I had hoped to write and then stopped. Call that version 0.5.

Finally, I started writing with a proper long intro section. I expect a lot of people will skip it, but it addresses a bunch of stuff you need to know before you even GET to being in a competition. Things like why you want to work in government, where to find out about available jobs, understanding what the different types of jobs even DO, and to be honest, even what various departments actually do. I’m a lifer in government, and a public administration geek, but I often forget that not everyone knows the basic differences between a line Ministry, a central agency, or a special operating agency, or what the difference is between policy analysis and program delivery, or all the variations of each of those. Not in great detail, just the broad strokes.

And if you don’t know which jobs and departments would be of interest, isn’t it a bit premature to tell you how to apply?

That’s included in the set of posts that show up on the site now, and I’m calling it version 0.6. My intent of course is to eventually edit it and put it a full downloadable book form, but for now, it’s just on the blog. And, yes, it’s a work in progress with an ever-changing self-imposed (or self-ignored) deadline.

Which means if you want the near-full version, you want to download version 0.4 (the powerpoint version). If you want the latest and greatest but incomplete version, parts of it is available now as posts as version 0.6. The earlier versions of that, in different order, are available as archived version 0.5 posts.

The links are all available below…


Chapter Version 0.6 Version 0.5 Version 0.4
01. Introduction Post Archive In PDF – Pg 2
02. Understanding yourself Post

Archive Pt 1

Archive Pt 2

03. Understanding different types of jobs in government Post

Archive Pt 1

Archive Pt 2

04. Understanding the HR process in government Post Archive  
05. Understanding how to succeed in competitions: Overview Post    
06. Finding jobs


07. Applications   Archive In PDF – Pg 5-11
08. Written exams     In PDF – Pg 13-17
09. Interviews     In PDF – Pg 19-33
10. References     In PDF – Pg 35
11. Language tests      
12. Special tests      
13. Pools and best fit      
14. Informal consultations and appeals      
15. Managing your career once you’re hired      
16. Conclusion     In PDF – Pg 37

Annex: Special topics


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Learning photography – Equipment

Camera Guy

As I mentioned earlier, I started watching videos on Fundamentals of Photography from The Great Courses company. Chapter 2 of the course deals with camera equipment and related accessories. While the host is a National Geographic photographer, and has been for much of his career, he basically suggests getting equipment that fits in a backpack. No more, no less.

For the bag, he recommends soft shoulder straps so that you can lug it around for the day, and room for:

  • camera body;
  • a lens or two;
  • memory cards;
  • batteries;
  • battery charger;
  • lens cloth;
  • external flash + batteries for it; and,
  • a sync cord for flash.

I confess I don’t really like my camera bag setup. I had one that came with the combo I bought, and it is a hard bulky near cube-like format. It would hold everything above, but it only has a shoulder strap, and it’s kind of blocky. The interior design isn’t the best either, and I often felt like I was trying too hard to shift things around. I had another camera bag that I had bought for astronomy stuff, and I’ve repurposed it back to its original purpose, but it’s not great either. It is very hard to get things in and out of without taking it off, setting it on its side, etc. At some point, I need something better, just not sure what that it is yet as I haven’t quite figured out where/when I will use my camera the most yet. It’s a different setup if I’m doing astrophotography vs. hanging out at the cottage vs. going on a hike. Or, as the host puts it succinctly, “What do you want to do?”.

He prefers a photography vest, as do some astronomers. Lots of little pockets to hold everything, distribute weight equally, and freeing your hands for adjustments, etc. It is also harder to steal your equipment if you’re basically wearing it.

The Chapter doesn’t spend much time on the actual camera equipment, mostly as he wants to hold that back until he gets into the various features and what he uses them for…his only real advice is that his favorite lens is a 24-70 mm lens, mostly as it is comfortable, not too heavy, allows him to mostly support the entire camera and lens in his left hand, freeing his right hand to snap and adjust easily.

He does, however, heavily recommend three things:

  1. A decent view screen, although he has a cute story that professional photographers call it a “chimping” screen (i.e. so people can look at it, and sound like a chimp, saying ooh, ooh, ahh, ahh);
  2. A solid tripod for longer exposures and to reduce any shake; and,
  3. A cable release to also eliminate shake.

The Canon T5i has a good screen, I like it. Sure, some of the new ones that come with Android built-in along with WiFi are great, but this is a little more traditional and meets my needs. Only challenge I have is in bright light with my transition sunglasses on, it’s hard to see the screen.

I picked up a used tripod from a camera store on Bank Street, and it is pretty rock solid. Not the best options for heads, etc., and quick change setups, but I haven’t used it much either to get used to it. I also have a lighter one that I had for my previous cameras, including the video camera, which would work with short lenses (i.e. not too heavy), and a monopod for hiking, although I’m not convinced it works as well as some people seem to claim. Could just be a lack of practice too.

I have two cable releases — one that works remotely, that I could never get to work, and one that is wired. I’ve toyed with the idea of adding the bluetooth attachment that would also connect to my phone or tablet, but outside of astronomy, I don’t know when I would use it that much.

What I found really interesting this week though is that he blew past the intro to equipment and covered the basics of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Those three pieces work together on your photos, and I confess that while I have read multiple explanations of them over the years, I have never really “gotten it”. I could regurgitate what the shutter speed was, mostly aperture although sometimes a little off in technical details, and on ISO, I often described it more as the speed of the “film” from our old pre-DSLR days. And how the three worked together, I really had no idea. I was constantly confused. I would get pieces, I could duplicate other shots, but the real relationship between the three and how the three worked together? I really didn’t get it.

For the first time, watching this host, a light came on. The example he used, which isn’t the biggest part for me, was the idea of a faucet filling a sink with water. The aperture is the size of your faucet — small faucet, small amount of water; large faucet, large amount of water. The shutter speed is how long you have the faucet running — longer duration, more water; shorter duration, less water. And the ISO, although the metaphor is a bit weaker here, is how strong the water is pushing through the pipe.

Translating that to the camera, the biggest piece for me is that he ignored ISO. He focused almost entirely on aperture and shutter speed. So, with light coming in, a big aperture lets in a lot of light, while a small aperture lets in less light. Pretty straightforward. It’s the same concept for astronomy, and I think that was the hook for me. Large light buckets bring in lots of light, small light buckets bring in smaller amounts of light. If I think of it as Aperture, instead of focal length, it becomes much clearer to me. Maybe part of what was confusing to me previously is that astro stuff works heavily with focal length, and you even have some basic math to figure out magnifications, etc.

So, I learned that if you decrease the number, you’re increasing the amount of light and increasing the amount of light. Because it is a ratio, the number works in reverse with the focal length. The focal length is on the bottom of the ratio, so as that number goes higher, and the focal length gets higher, the aperture gets smaller. So f/1.0 is the biggest aperture with the most light coming in; f/8-11 is a moderate setting; and f/22 is a small amount of light. It’s also why you frequently see wide-angle lens having the f/2.8 settings — because they are designed to give you wide shots with lots of light. Also making them good in low light too, because they are pulling as much light as possible at those settings. Most of my lens stop in the f/4.0 range and that’s pushing them to their limits.

For shutter speed, I’ve never really had any trouble understanding that…it always made sense to me in terms of longer exposure. But I didn’t think of it like I do astronomy i.e. I only thought of it as related to night photography. Longer shots to get the stars, to gather lots of light. I didn’t think of it as gathering more light for the day time too. Hence the trade-off with the aperture — if you go to a small, small, small aperture, you need to adjust to longer exposure times. If you have a large aperture, you need faster shutter speeds or you’ll get nothing but white — you’re controlling how much water/light is coming out of the faucet into the sink.

The trade-off has never been clear to me on that. Particularly when you start with shutter speed — if I’m going with a faster shutter speed, for example to capture somebody doing sports, I also need to adjust my aperture in order to open up the “light hole” (aperture) to make sure I’m still getting lots of light in. Hence why small f # lenses, like 2.8, are called fast lenses — because they allow for the fastest shutter speeds.

I couldn’t see those two as the trade-offs as I always threw the ISO in there just enough to confuse me. I remembered that ISO 100 was considered “normal” speed film, and that ISO800 was considered “fast” film. So I figured if you were jacking your shutter speed to be super fast, you must have upgraded your ISO at the same time. Almost like they *always* went hand-in-hand, and hence could be considered almost the same.

I knew that ISO stood for the International Standards Organization, so the acronym never helped. However, once he started talking about it as the light sensitivity of the camera, kind of the reverse of how much water is being pumped into the sink, more like how hard or how much is hitting the bottom of the sink, it clicked for me. I understand sensitivity of sensors, and how important it is for ability to register photons, just like the old plates (not that I ever used them, but I understand the physics of it). Particularly in terms of astronomy, so it suddenly became clear why jacking my ISO during the day was like flooding the camera with super sensitive light. Just like taking a photo of a bright moon with high ISO, and seeing it just completely wash out the details.

I know I’m supposed to see them as a triangle — aperture, shutter speed, and ISO — but it works better for me to see aperture and shutter speed as trade offs, and ISO more as just the sensitivity to the amount of light controlled by the other two.

After that, it was more simple note-taking:

  • shutter speed normally in the 1/60 or 1/125 range;
  • f/16 has everything in it tack sharp, f/2.8 is mainly the centre;
  • low light needs more sensitivity;
  • “aperture priority” is great for setting aperture, and the camera does the rest on “auto”; and,
  • “shutter speed priority” is great for setting fast or slow and letting the camera handle the rest on “auto”.

He concluded the intro by noting that he frequently sets up beginners in AP mode, shooting as close to 2.8 as they can get, and letting them rock out on composition after that. The assignment was basically to just to play with settings, which I’ve already done, so wasn’t part of my main focus afterwards.

I’m just ecstatic that I finally understood aperture and shutter speed trade offs, with ISO in behind. I finally “get it”. That alone is worth the price of the course (maybe not full price, but certainly with the discount that is always available).


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A guy who should be on Kick Starter


I see lots of posts around the ‘net about the power of the Raspberry Pi. People who have turned it into a TV turner, remote control for a 100 different things, powered robots, tons of things out there. If you don’t know what a Raspberry Pi is, it’s basically a little tiny computer. It has the power of a high-end IBM AT, maybe a little further than that, but you can add just about anything to it. And it’s tiny, runs on batteries, so it’s the perfect toy for someone who wants to design a DIY device at home. Robotics and/or hardware courses in tech colleges often use them for early coursework by students to go crazy on their own inventions.

One thing that pops up frequently is someone who has used it to run an emulator program for old game console games — Nintendo, in particular, is the popular one with games from the original NES, Nintendo Cube, N64, and the whole series of Game Boy versions. The emulator software basically runs what used to be loaded on hardware in the console systems, and thus you can “load” game modules (called ROMs) into the emulator and it’s as if you popped the hardware cartridge into the original console. A software emulator of the console + the software of the game cartridge = brand new form of retro-style gaming.

Emulators have been around for years, and over time they started to “merge” into some key versions. Some died out just with the original designer losing interest, other times it’s because someone came along with a better version. However, one of the big developments in retro gaming was the ability to create a “governance” emulator that loads sub-emulators — which meant you could have ONE software program (like Emulation Station, shown in the video, or RetroArch, another popular one) and once you load it, you can add a bunch of sub-emulators for all the different systems. It’s still a bit tech heavy, i.e. the novice user might have a challenge, but there are walk-through videos and tip guides to tell you how to configure it all. Most people run the emulators on PC desktops, but there are versions that run on other gaming systems, some that run on Raspberry Pi, Android, iOS; you name it, there’s an emulator version.

This guy? He put it all together into a retro-style Game Boy, upgrading and tweaking as he went:

  • Raspberry Pi;
  • Original Game Boy box;
  • 3.5″ composite display;
  • Added two extra NES buttons (for X&Y functions — later games needed more buttons to differentiate commands);
  • Original headphone jack which still disables external speaker when plugged in;
  • USB port for keyboad, mouse, whatever, because why not, really?;
  • Micro-USB for charging;
  • Mini-HDMI to go out to the TV;
  • Added two small buttons on the back to handle Left-Right sub-toggles (again for the later games);
  • Kept battery compartment;
  • 2000 mAH lithium polymer battery;
  • USB hub inside had two ports, and he was only using one, so he added Bluetooth; and,
  • Screen buttons for contrast.

Now that’s pretty impressive, all on its own, and then he went to the genius level. He took an old Nintendo Game Boy cartridge that used to slide into the back for the games, broke it apart, adapted and modified it, and now it works with an SD to MicroSD card adapter! Which of course meant he had to then modify the cartridge reader in the Game Boy itself to read the SD card too.

Now he has a cartridge that goes in the Game Boy with the ability to load anything he wants off an micro SD card. In this case, Retro Pi, Emulation Station, and a bunch of emulators under the Emulation Station system. Voila, instant portable gaming system loaded with hundreds of retro games across multiple platforms.

If it wasn’t for the fact that ROMs exist in a semi-grey zone for legality, this guy could be rocking Kickstarter. He’s freakin’ brilliant. Lots of people are doing pieces of this, but he pulled it all together and rocked the house with awesome quality and design.


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Hot Wheels by William Arden and Robert Arthur (BR00085)



The Three Investigators series that I loved as a kid was transformed some years ago into this new Crimebusters series that I could never find in stores. The stories are aimed at young adults, but I was expecting the stories to have relatively the same type stories that I fell in love with as a kid. Wrong. Instead, they have updated their ages from 14 to 17, updated their lifestyles from chores and bicycles to part-time jobs and cars. And thrown in lots of women to entice their hormonally-charged bodies. In short, the characters have grown up but not necessarily in keeping with the personalities they had originally. In this story, the 3Is are helping their cousin who has been charged with grand theft auto.


Jupe, Bob and Pete juggle the case, their jobs, and their social life to stay on top of things. In the old series, most of the time the characters were all together, or were working on different parts at the same time. In the new update, lots of other things interfere in their lives (a little more realistic, but less enjoyable). Yet Jupiter Jones is still the leader who relies on his brains more than his brawn.


The biggest fault is that the authors have added an action element to the series. Kind of like some of the false notes that appear in other series, the characters in this series have increased their physical fitness with karate and judo. So, eventually, there is a fight scene complete with big thugs and guns.


Same series, somewhat similar concept, different characters

Year of Release Publisher ISBN/ASIN Series
1989 Random House 978-0394999593 Three Investigators (#44) / Crime Busters (#01)
My Rating (Original: October 10, 1999)

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Legend: ♥ Finished ♥♥ Not bad ♥♥♥ Good ♥♥♥♥ Enjoyable ♥♥♥♥♥ Excellent


I received no compensation, not even a free copy, in exchange for this review. I am not personal friends with the authors, nor do I follow them on social media.


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Intro Approach Review # Title Author Year Series Rating

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Pathways by Jeri Taylor (BR00084)


The Voyager crew are separated from the ship and captured by an alien race. The crew are placed in a prison camp full of various races. While awaiting rescue by Captain Janeway, the members tell stories from their pasts to each other at night to help pass the time.


Chakotay’s tale is of his rejection of his tribe’s ways and embracing the Starfleet ideals, and then joining the Maquis to chase the Cardassians. Harry Kim’s focuses on his privileged upbringing, discovering Starfleet hikers, meeting Boothbie, and his rough adjustment at the Academy. Kes’ tale is a bit odd, seems off from her character on the show, but covers her short life before meeting Neelix (told through some sort of psychic link with her essence that has already left Voyager) including pushing the Elders to reveal the history of the Caretaker and her decision to explore the surface. Tuvok’s backstory includes his double career with Starfleet, namely first joining Starfleet as a young man, and then leaving Starfleet, returning home to raise a family, having a spiritual quest in the desert, and deciding to rejoin Starfleet, reviewing Janeway’s first mission as part of his duties, and then being posted to her ship only to butt heads repeatedly with her over her impulsive nature.


I wasn’t totally comfortable with B’Elanna’s story about never being part of the life of either Klingons or humans, her decision to leave Starfleet Academy and work on a freighter, and meeting Chakotay and Paris in the Maquis. It seems at odds with her very Klingon personality at the start of Voyager, as if she didn’t have much experience with humans. Yet the backstory talks about even her first serious boyfriend having been human. Paris’ story doesn’t reveal much, it’s mostly rehash of excerpts from other episodes — his relationship with his Admiral father, joining Starfleet and starting a ski team, an chance to be the pilot for the Enterprise, an accident with his flight team (similar to the character he played on TNG episode with Wesley Crusher), his joining the Maquis, his imprisonment for firing on a Starfleet ship to protect the Maquis, and finally joining Voyager. Neelix’s story probably had the most potential as being different and unique, i.e. growing up on a quiet planet on the edge of war and the loss of his family and trading partners, and then meeting Voyager’s crew, but the story went nowhere.


Decent views of the various backstories

Year of Release Publisher ISBN/ASIN Series
1998 Topeka Bindery 978-0613290012 Star Trek, ST:VOY (#2)
My Rating (Original: October 10, 1999)

bookreview_wholebookreview_wholebookreview_wholebookreview_whole bookreview_blank

Legend: ♥ Finished ♥♥ Not bad ♥♥♥ Good ♥♥♥♥ Enjoyable ♥♥♥♥♥ Excellent


I received no compensation, not even a free copy, in exchange for this review. I am not personal friends with the author, nor do I follow her on social media.


Internet Links
Amazon.ca Amazon.com Chapters Kobo Barnes & Noble
Nook Google Play Books Good Reads Library Thing  
Book Review Index
Intro Approach Review # Title Author Year Series Rating

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