Fond Atari Memories


In celebration of the 37th anniversary of Atari’s Breakout game, Google has created and released a version that you can play on your computer.  Accessing is Easter Egg-ish in nature.  Go to a Google Image Search and search for “Atari Breakout”, wait a couple of seconds and you’ll be presented with a version of the game.  Use your left and right arrows for fine control or your mouse/trackpad to move the paddle left and right and keep the bouncing ball alive.

Pretty primitive by today’s standards but addicting, nonetheless.

But my memories go far beyond the game which was groundbreaking and part of the reason why we have such great gaming options available to use today.

I think back to a ground of computer science students I had once who also loved their gaming.  My students, with previous permission, were allowed to “dine” with me and work on their projects if my classroom was vacant during their lunch period.  Take that, English teachers!  One day, the topic turned to Breakout and they discussed how they would make the game better.

So, I said “Why don’t you write one then?”

This was a group of Grade 11 students and I distinctly remember that we had talked about directly accessing video memory at the time.  They looked around the table at each other and soon they were off.

The teacher in me was so proud that they didn’t start at the computer.  They started with logic flows, screen layout and design, pseudo-code for what they anticipated to be challenges later, dividing and assigning tasks, and documentation.  If you’re a computer science teacher, you know that these things can be like pulling teeth with students who just want to head to the keyboard and start coding.

Within a couple of weeks, they had a working model that was a pretty faithful reproduction of the original game.  To be honest, development stopped for a while as the joy of playing and obtaining high scores took over.

But then, development took over again.  I recall customized music, customized targets, spinning actions for hits.  I was into this like a dirty shirt.  We were all learning on the fly.

It was great to watch the students take on their own project and develop the passion to make it the best they could be.  When they would run into a roadblock because of something they had not been taught/learned yet, they dug deeply into the technical manuals.  Sadly, our course work became almost trivial in nature!

Thanks, Google, for releasing this version of Breakout.  It brought back some great memories to this teacher.

A New Type of Blog


Muzy calls itself “a new kind of blog for your creative side!”

Well, I’m not sure that I have an all that creative side but I decided to take a look at it and my first impressions were very favourable.  In fact, I could see the format and the tools in Muzy appealing to many in education.  Like most things on the Web, it claims to be a Beta but we’re adventurous, right?

If you’re at least 13, create a free account and go to it.

Unlike a traditional blog (like this one) where you start with text and share your thoughts that way, Muzy is all about images and pictures first!  My first trip there took me to the default “app”, the Photobox.  I thought I would give it a shot and uploaded some images from a trip to San Antonio into the layout.  I called it the “San Antonio Sampler”.

From the layout, I had a sense of what to expect but it was only when I uploaded the first image that I realized the power behind the Photobox.  I could take almost an Instagramish approach and apply filters to the images.  So, I applied an “old” filter to the front and used the “enhance” feature to tweak some of the others.  I rather like what I was able to create so easily.

And, of course, you publish your results and you can see it online at my Muzy blog at http://dougpete.muzy.com.

But that wasn’t the only app available.  There are a number ot choose from depending upon your activity.

The selection represents a pretty powerful collection of things you can do with pictures.  Of course, you could do any one of the activities with a selection of other utilities but they’re all here in one spot.

Next, I thought I’d look at Word Play.

By itself, maybe not so impressive until you go to the original and it stores the actual movie created when you do Word Play.

All in all, I really liked what I saw.  It’s unfortunate that there’s a minimum age of 13 to create an account as I could see all kinds of applications for students and digital cameras.  But, if I’m a classroom teacher documenting and sharing our learning, this is a very nice suite of tools to show off your pictures.

There are hooks to your Facebook account and also Google images (make sure you have the rights to use the images) as sources for images.

It’s free and you’re just a link away from sharing it all with parents.  And there’s an iOS Muzy App too!