7 Ways Games Reward the Brain

Most web and software designers think about designing to people’s expectations — make the software easy to use: put a menu where it will be easy to find, make a button’s function clear and obvious. But really good software, the software that just seems fun to use, is designed to reward the user.

Video game developers have become so good at rewarding their users they have made their games literally addictive. For many people, this bodes ill for our species — video games are just another drug enslaving the human mind, lowering economic productivity, and diminishing the human spirit.

I disagree. Sort of. I think the first step in overcoming the addiction is admitting we are addicted and most gamers will readily fess up to their obsession. After that, we might use the understanding about what makes video games addictive to create reward systems for projects that actually benefit humanity and the planet.

Tom Chatfield does a great job explaining how video games reward our brains and how we can apply reward systems to business, environmental conservation and more.

200,000 Pageviews and Growing

It’s 10pm on October 30 and Warren Fischer is probably hosting one of the best Halloween parties of the year. Sonja has put on a dress and brewed some chai and I’ve found my favourite sweater. We’re staying home to celebrate a new milestone: 200,000 page views and counting.

I want to thank all the bloggers and commenters for bringing this community to life and for every member and visitor who decided to join in. I also want to thank all of you for being patient while we upgrade our servers to handle the flood of new traffic. Happy Halloween everybody!

Fallen: An animation about Life, death, existence

The quote that drew me to check out this video:

When people ask me how I can be at peace without belief in god or an afterlife, now I can just show them Fallen and save myself a lot of time and effort.

I don’t think we can really know what’s beyond, or even what existence means, but I appreciate the sentiment: if this is all we have, it’s more than enough.

Beware of the Lulz

A troll posts nasty or random comments in a discussion thread with the intent on creating a reaction. Apparently they believe they’re doing something useful — puncturing your self-regard or educating you on how stupid you are.

“Lulz” is how trolls keep score. A corruption of “LOL” or “laugh out loud,” “lulz” means the joy of disrupting another’s emotional equilibrium. “Lulz is watching someone lose their mind at their computer 2,000 miles away while you chat with friends and laugh,” said one ex-troll..

I came across this remarkable story about trolling that raises some wild questions about the health and future of our culture and the Internet.

Some more choice quotes from the New York Times story:

Fortuny spent most of the weekend in his bedroom juggling several windows on his monitor. One displayed a chat room run by Encyclopedia Dramatica, an online compendium of troll humor and troll lore. It was buzzing with news of an attack against the Epilepsy Foundation’s Web site. Trolls had flooded the site’s forums with flashing images and links to animated color fields, leading at least one photosensitive user to claim that she had a seizure.

Fortuny disagreed. In his mind, subjecting epileptic users to flashing lights was justified. “Hacks like this tell you to watch out by hitting you with a baseball bat,” he told me. “Demonstrating these kinds of exploits is usually the only way to get them fixed.”

“So the message is ‘buy a helmet,’ and the medium is a bat to the head?” I asked.

“No, it’s like a pitcher telling a batter to put on his helmet by beaning him from the mound. If you have this disease and you’re on the Internet, you need to take precautions.” A few days later, he wrote and posted a guide to safe Web surfing for epileptics.

Confirmation Bias

From wikipedia:

Confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias or myside bias) is a tendency for people to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true. As a result, people gather evidence and recall information from memory selectively, and interpret it in a biased way. The biases appear in particular for emotionally significant issues and for established beliefs.

David Brooks believes it’s the underlying problem in the US.

The ensuing mental flabbiness is most evident in politics. Many conservatives declare that Barack Obama is a Muslim because it feels so good to say so. Many liberals would never ask themselves why they were so wrong about the surge in Iraq while George Bush was so right. The question is too uncomfortable.

The Wedding

It’s Monday morning and I’m in the basement sitting at a small desk staring at my computer and pink insulation. Sonja and I have been living with lots of family at my brother Tyler’s house in a small suburb of London Ontario. I’ve spent the last 6 days traveling from Nelson, standing at Tyler’s wedding, meeting long-missed relatives, and swimming in the hotel pool.

The wedding was beautiful in all the traditional ways — the elegant bride, the dramatic church, the loving parents and precocious children — and it had it’s share of drama, but really only in potential, as everything was held together by a fundamental decency and sense of love. There were a awkward moments, and I was responsible for more than my share, but I think in the end, it was just, fun.

1 week later: I don’t have any photos to share right now other then this one of Sonja and I riding a stretch limo from the airport in Toronto to her parent’s place in North York (we had actually ridden it all the way from London with Tyler and Tammy).

Press Credentials

I haven’t been to Shambhala in 5 years. The memories are fading but I can still see moments from those 72 hours of relentless beats, wondering heat-stricken among cross-eyed ravers, clouds of dust and dirt choking me with each gulp of warm water. I think I had fun.

This year, once again, I’m not going. I have to work, or should I say: I have chosen to work. But thankfully (since I’m nosy), I can still follow out what’s going on. has two media passes and Sonja and Natalka have volunteered to brave the dancing hordes and file live reports throughout the day.

You can follow what’s going on at News in the Kootenays, Arts in the Kootenays, and Sonja’s personal blog.

Dave, what are you doing?

We ask so much of our servers — hundreds of thousands of requests per day, no breaks, slave wages… It’s a hard life. Well, this morning our server decided it had enough and went on strike.

You’ll probably notice that everything is running slow or not at all. There is simply too much traffic for the amount of available memory.

So what are we doing about it?

This morning and afternoon we started a complete backup of the whole system so that this evening we can resize the server – double the memory, double the hard-drive space, etc. This means the server will be slow for the rest of the afternoon and then be down for about a half hour this evening. After that, you should notice a significant increase in speed.

Thanks for being patient while we grow!

The one radical tactical shift

When I encounter a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, I have 3 choices: try harder, give up, or make a radical shift in how I think about it so it no longer appears insurmountable, or even an obstacle. In rock climbing, I face this choice all the time. The third choice almost always seems to be the right one.

Here’s an inspiring video by Lewis Pugh about how he made this choice while attempting to swim across a lake on Mount Everest.

50,000 pageviews and counting

Wow! What an amazing month. We launched the Kootenay Network on July 1 in public beta with the goal of providing you, our beloved region, a place to connect with friends, swap stories, and find the news and information that’s important to you.

The launch was meant to be a “soft” launch — a semi-secret beta release that would introduce the site to a few people for the purpose of testing our system in a live environment. July and August were meant to be a time for fixing bugs and making improvements to our design, in anticipation of our September 10 public launch.

But the word leaked out and you responded more positively than we could have imagined! In the last month, we had 6,632 visitors to and almost 50,000 page views (we should reach that number by the end of today0. And we have seen at least those numbers on our various Facebook pages, Youtube channel, and Twitter feeds.

Network traffic for July 2010
Network traffic for July 2010

No matter how big our online community grows, I want to sincerely thank you, individually, for choosing to be a part of our community (even if that just means checking out an occasional story on News in the Kootenays or clicking on the occasional Facebook Like button). Every single person is a treasure.

I also want to thank you in advance for being patient with us as we continue to test our systems, fix bugs and make improvements to our design. Please send us your feedback or bug reports to [email protected] Thanks again!

The Bus Becomes Cool Again?

I’m not one to dwell on the minutiae of life, which is a shame. The best writers seem to be able to see, and help us appreciate, the magic in our day-to-day world.

I also try to avoid generalizing.

So with both of those things in mind, my bit of amazing news is this: the transit bus into to Nelson from the north shore is actually full! Normally I’m one of only three or four people. If this happens one more time, I’m going to call it a trend and start interviewing people about what’s going on. I got the headlines ready: “Transit ridership up 2000%” or “The bus is really cool again, say local kids”.

Into Pine Creek Canyon and meeting Peter Croft

Road to Pine Creek Canyon
Road to Pine Creek Canyon

The wind was blowing hard and cool but the sky was blue and although the clouds raced over the mountains from the west they were still small. We knew bad weather was coming and if we were going to make it into the Pine Creek Canyon to climb it would have to be today. Continue reading Into Pine Creek Canyon and meeting Peter Croft

Into the Gorge

Owen’s River snakes through the Owen’s Valley north of Bishop, CA. Over the centuries it has cut a deep gorge and exposed a long string of beautiful volcanic rock walls. In doing so, the river has created California’s best sport climbing crag. The approach into the Gorge is down a steep sandy talus trail, which at first seems dreary and lifeless, until you get to the bottom and find a sparkling river surrounded by verdent trees and green grass.

Sonja and I started late today — we worked at home until 4pm and then made a break for it. We climbed here yesterday and we were anxious to get back.  On the way down, we passed a number of climbers heading out.  It was late but we had time. We ended up climbing 4 routes each, including Sonja’s project (which she sent), a tricky over-hanging 10c crack called Hardly Wallbanger.

You can see more photos here.

In Swall Meadows

You can see Mount Tom (13,652′) in the background. The ridge coming down from the right is Wheeler Crest (12,000′). Our house is in the middle of the photo (6,500′). This little suburb high above the valley is called Swall Meadows.

It’s 8:30am and I just got back from walking Zira and Jake. The temperatures have dropped to almost zero and the wind is blowing cold over the mountains to the West. We’ll have a few more days of cold, maybe even snow. Right now the sun is shining bright but has no warmth. I love this feeling. The cold carries the potential of the new season but I know it’s only an early preview. Summer will come charging back soon enough.

We Arrive in Bishop

After 2 days of driving (23 hours) from Nelson through Washington State, Oregon, Nevada and California, we arrived in Bishop, CA.
Once again we got here in the dark, making our way up the winding roads from the highway to the high country of Swall Meadows, 4,000 or so feet above the Owen’s Valley floor. The night was dark and the air was still warm, surprising for the high desert.

As we pulled into the driveway Karleen and Dave came out to say hi. We’re taking over their house for the month while they head off to Switzerland for a base-jumping holiday (Dave’s a pro base jumper and Karleen a pro snowboarder). We’re here to dog-sit Zira and Jake, work, and rock climb.

I’m excited to be here and have the time to focus on development of In the Koots and finish up a number of key projects for our clients. And in the time we’re not working, Sonja and I are going to climb as much as we can — from the big walls of Yosemite and the Eastern Sierra to the crags of the Owen’s River Gorge to the boulders of the Buttermilks. I’ll keep you posted with photos and videos and updates as much as I can. In the meanmtime, here’s a photo of Jake: