Explain/Teach Nearly Anything with this Hands-on Game

November 20, 2013


cloudBoard is a new project on Kickstarter that intrigues me as it uses a physical board with puzzle-like pieces and a digital computer game component to teach various concepts, primarily to kids. I think this learning approach is ingenious, as it blends kids’ natural desire to play with (and relate to) something physical (like a classic board/puzzle game) and yet leverages the ability to drive video games, providing a rich visual element kids love. And not just kids. The guys at Digital Dream Labs have play-tested their invention with kids and adults alike, often finding that it bridges the generation gap, engaging young and old alike. Early play-testing also revealed some encouraging results with autistic individuals.

How’s it work? Players place various tiles in the cloudBoard in specific positions or sequences, and that becomes a direct link to functionality and features enabled in the video game. Repetitive play — the key to learning — is easy, accomplished by simply swapping or rearranging the pieces in the board, allowing learners to tinker with various configurations.


3 things I love most about the cloudBoard project:

It bridges the physical and virtual. I’ve long been a believer in leveraging aspects of the physical world in explanation and teaching because people connect with physical things in a unique and memorable way. cloudBoard takes this to a whole new level, grabbing the best aspects of board and puzzle-piece games from our childhood while marrying them to what’s possible with modern digital computer technologies. And unlike the Skylanders concept, where the physical figure’s position or relationship to other figures is irrelevant, the physical cloudBoard pieces mean different things when they’re in different positions on the board.


It’s not just a single game. Multiple games can be supported. While the Cork The Volcano game — designed to teach trial-and-error concepts, key to understanding computer programming — is the first game to be released, the Digital Dream Labs dudes have multiple other concepts in the works, including a chemisty game, a music game, and a farming game. Virtually any game can be created with the right software and new tops to the puzzle pieces. And here’s where the real extensibility of the cloudBoard concept shines…

Developers can extend it themselves.  I spoke with Justin Sabo from Digital Dream Labs, and I think this is a point worth emphasizing about their project. The game APIs will be open to those who wish program their own video game to interface with the cloudBoard hardware. And unlike some other game systems, cloudBoard is designed to run the same across many platforms (tablet, PC, etc.), extending its usefulness.


The tops of the puzzle pieces can also be swapped with other tops, allowing the physical aspect to be ever-changable but using the original pieces. (You don’t necessarily need brand new pieces for every game; just change the toppers.) Change the pictures? Fine. Add fuzzy three-dimensional toppers? Go for it. 3D-print your own? Why not? This is part of the future vision that Justin shared with me — that what they’ve created is a platform others can easily expand upon. Who knows how many educational games could be created.

Here’s what I don’t like about the cloudBoard project:

It’s not fully funded yet.  So spread the word and head on over to the cloudBoard kickstarter page to help make it a reality.

Screen Resolution Explained

March 21, 2012

What is screen resolution? Low resolution? High resolution? What’s the difference?

If you or someone you know is baffled by the concept of screen resolution, including why the new iPad (iPad 3?) screen resolution of 2048×1536 is noteworthy, here’s a video from the Explain Technology YouTube channel that explains it.

A while back I wrote a post on how to use pinscreens to explain screen resolution, but I decided to take my own advice and use my suggested props to explain the concept of resolution via video.

A Tale of Two Tablets (and a lesson learned)

September 27, 2011

an iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab

Having recently had the opportunity to work with both an iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab, I have the following impressions (which are predicated upon the fact that I am a long time PC user.)


  • very easy to learn to use
  • easier screen turn on (thanks to physical home button)
  • slightly faster “on” from power off state
  • pretty simple and intuitive operation — launch app from home menu, use app, push single home button to return to app menu
  • pretty good for simple, input only text entry; painful for editing existing text
  • Overall, a very elegant casual consumption device.


  • harder to learn to use
  • slightly slower and slight less convenient screen turn on
  • longer initial startup from power off state
  • once acclimating, felt more sophisticated, akin to my desktop PC experience, especially with web browsing and office-like tasks
  • great for simple, input only text entry; painful for editing existing text
  • Overall, seems more powerful in the traditional computing sense.

Which did I like better? Honestly, I liked both, but for different reasons. It would be difficult to pick between the two. But here’s the ironic twist to this tale… Read the rest of this entry »

Prepare to disown your PC: a prediction on the future of personal computing

August 24, 2011

The introduction of the iPhone changed the destiny of your desktop PC. You probably just didn’t know it at the time.

Clearly, the iPhone was more than just another digital cell phone. It was primarily a computer that happened to include voice calling capabilities. It was a mini-PC in your pocket, like one of my close friends predicted over 15 years ago. But that’s not all. The “computer’s” operating system was different. The app store model for acquiring and installing “software” was drastically different as well. But in hindsight, though those were what got a lot of press at the time, there’s something else that the iPhone did to set the stage for the iPad and the next generation of personal computers: Read the rest of this entry »

How will you be served? A map of modern computing devices

August 17, 2011

My friend who got me into computing made a prediction almost 20 years ago. He was holding a calculator in his hand and said something to the effect of, “Our kids will walk around with something smaller than this that will be far more powerful than what’s on our desks today.” Now back then, powerful was a 486 or early Pentium class machine. But it wasn’t until the advent of the smartphone with the cell data network did his prediction come true. Smartphones are more computer than phone.

And yet, we still have desktop PCs. They’re tremendously more powerful and capable than smartphones (for now) — perhaps even more powerful than we should have imagined 20 years ago. So we find ourselves in a world with a variety of computing devices where no one “uber computing device” rules. I thought I’d perform a somewhat academic exercise and map these devices on a type of “infographic,” to help pinpoint where the gaps are as well as where each type of device excels. It’s a first draft, so feel free to comment. (Click below to get the full size version.)

A Comparison Map/Infographic of Modern Personal Computing Devices

A Comparison Map/Infographic of Modern Personal Computing Devices (Click to view full size image.)

(Note: I realize there certainly could be more spectra added to the map. For instance, I didn’t attempt to include Cost (both purchase price and on-going maintenance costs), User Skill Required for operation, options for Peripherals, etc. It’s not intended to be exhaustive.)

After completing the map, one thing stands out: there is no perfect device yet — no one personal computer option that is at the “best end” of all spectra nor one which falls solidly in the middle of all of them as a perfect balance. What do you think will fill the gap? How will you be served in the future?

Mouse on the screen!

April 21, 2011

Unfortunately, this isn’t a post about some fantastic new touchscreen technology. Nor is it about a rodent on my monitor, though that would be an amusing prank. (Remind me to try that one next April 1st.)

No, it’s a story a colleague in the training industry relayed to me about an enterprise effort to train food service employees. Apparently, new computer-based training was deployed to the field, and an executive reviewed the best and worst experiences those line-level employees had while using the new training. The worst thing reported? One learner tried putting the computer mouse on the screen to use it. In other words, being forced to use PC-based training revealed that the employee had no familiarity with what a mouse is for or how it works. None at all.

Now before you fall down laughing and start retelling stories about “cup holders” being broken by users, I want you to know this is certainly not the first time I’ve heard this sort of thing. During the 6.5 years I’ve spent writing my book, I have been told a number of similar stories. One friend mentioned how he just couldn’t get his mother to understand how to use a mouse. Another colleague who teaches basic computer skills at a community college said she’s seen an adult learner try to use a mouse as a foot pedal. A friend who used to be a teacher told me of an adult student who picked the mouse up off the desk to try to make the pointer on the screen move up. The list goes on and on.  These stories are part of what drove me to write a basic PC skills book. Many tend to assume lack of PC understanding is a “problem” that pertains to senior citizens only. (And oftentimes, the “problem” is assumed to be their problem… like some sort of ineptitude or deficiency.) But this is not an issue with age. “Old folks” are not the “problem.” In this fellow’s case, I’m guessing he simply never worked in a field where he had to rely on PC skills. Or perhaps he had to come out of retirement early due to the collapse of the investment market, finding himself in a strange new technology-centric workplace… even in food service. It’s really not funny. But it really is common.

I’m sure you know someone like this. Maybe it’s your mom or dad. Maybe they readily admit they can’t understand their computer. Or maybe they’re “using” one, but faking it…just getting by. Or maybe they’ve already given up, thinking they’re too stupid to really understand computing. Feel free to share your experience here.

And for those who can identify — who have tried to support a new or struggling user — let me leave you with some encouragement. Within 4 weeks, The Ultimate PC Primer will be available. (I’m hoping for more like 3 weeks, in time for Mother’s Day.) If you know someone who doesn’t quite have the grasp of core computing concepts he or she needs to succeed, I encourage you to give it a try. I spent 6.5 years thinking of them, making their “problem” my problem to solve. It’s my hope that by helping them, I help you, too.

Too Scared to Right-Click

September 1, 2010

I recently overheard a student talking about his internship. Specifically, he mentioned having to show a much older colleague how to use the right-mouse button to activate (and use the options on) the contextual menu. He was astonished that someone who had used a computer at work for that long had never used the right mouse button before, ever.

(For just a moment, I’d like to indulge in imagining why that individual never clicked the right mouse button. Fear? A mandate from the IT department? A variation on a Monty Python skit is coming to mind…”Thou shalt not click the right mouse button but only the left mouse button.” I digress…)

Read the rest of this entry »