Make Your Own Ringtone

For my first ds106 assignment, I’ve chosen Make Your Own Ringtone. My first step was to find something around the house that makes a loud noise.

Right on cue, my cat began meowing — it was time for dinner. So, I sampled her using GarageBand on my iphone and made an incredibly annoying ringtone.


Front Bed Update

2.5 years ago, our front bed looked barren and sparse (credit: Google Street View):



Today, it’s overflowing with plants:



This bed is roughly the same age as my daughter, and they’re growing at roughly the same speed. Fun to watch.

Backyard Update

Although the drought has not been kind to our turf grass, our backyard is shaping up nicely. Here are some historical photos of our progress over the past couple of years:

January 2010
Backyard - Before

May 2010
Backyard - After

June 2012
Backyard update

Mad Men Meets Enspire Learning

Cross-posted from

Enspire determines corporate clients’ business needs for training very early in the development process. Occasionally that business need sounds much like advertising. That is, the client asks us to create a course that promotes a product, program, or organization. However, Enspire is a learning company, not an advertising firm. We have a different focus than Sterling Cooper. The line between advertising and adult education can be blurry, however. Here is my attempt at defining both:

  • Advertising is the process of persuading others to take some action.
  • Educating is the process of teaching others new knowledge or skills.

I’m sure that many people may find issues with those definitions. If so, please correct me in the comments. But, for the sake of this post, let’s break those two definitions down.

  • Advertising = process + persuading + others
  • Education = process + teaching + others

As you can see, the main difference between the two is the verbs. Does that mean that our projects’ goals should be to teach, not to persuade? Not always. In some cases, a good course can persuade and teach. Let’s look at an example. Recently, AMD asked Enspire to create a short course about their new Accelerated Processing Unit, a concept that salespeople, customers, and partners knew little about. We decided on three learning objectives:

  1. Describe the AMD APU platform to others.
  2. List the key features and benefits of the AMD APU.
  3. Compare AMD APU solutions to the competition

Objectives 1 and 2 are teaching objectives. They ensure that learners understand exactly what an APU is and why it matters. Objective 3 is a persuading objective. That is, we want to persuade the learner that the APU has advantages over the competition. The result is a short course/advertisement for the new AMD Accelerated Processing Unit that achieved all three objectives. Since AMD needed to teachand persuade their learners, an instructional designer was needed. Had they only needed to persuade, Don Draper would be their man. At the risk of seeming like a one-trick pony when it comes to diagrams (see my last post), here’s what I mean:


GSD&M shouldn’t worry about Enspire Learning just yet. We’re not going to move into the business of creating pure advertisements. Learning is still our thing. However, instructional design expertise is occasionally just what the marketing department needs.

Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from Madden NFL

Cross-posted from

An entire generation of young football fanatics have logged countless hours playing Madden NFL video games. Over the years, Madden enabled these players to learn the in’s and out’s of football in a safe virtual environment (i.e. they learned to play the quarterback position without the threat of concussions). This made complicated and high-paced offensive playbooks more common at the high school and college levels, which is now bubbling up to the NFL.

As a result, the Madden series has influenced how football is played in real life. Gone are the days of “three yards and a cloud of dust“.

recent Wired article explores the topic:

These games nowadays are just so technically sound that they’re a learning tool,” says Tim Grunhard, an All-Pro center for the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1990s who now coaches high school football in the Kansas City area, where he encourages his players to use Madden to improve their knowledge of football strategy and tactics. “Back when I was playing football, we didn’t realize what a near or a far formation was, we didn’t really understand what trips meant, we didn’t understand what cover 2, cover 3, and cover zero meant,” Grunhard says, charging through jargon that’s comprehensible only to Madden players and football obsessives.

According to Wired, one youth football coach programmed his playbook into the Madden NFL game, allowing his team of 11-year olds to learn 30 offensive plays. An NPR story describes how Amobi Okoye, a 2007 first round draft pick, learned the rules of football by playing Madden after immigrating from Nigeria. As Patrick Dunn writes, games like Madden NFL are powerful learning tools because they:

  • Provide motivation
  • Offer varying degrees of simulation
  • Tie experience together through narration

Different types of games place more emphasis on different characteristics. Using Patrick Dunn’s model, Madden NFL might look like this:


While a casual game (e.g. Enspire Learning’s Celebrity Calamity) might look more like this:


Back to the Wired article:

If you’re, say, an All-American quarterback at a top college program, odds are that you’ve been training on a very sophisticated, off-the-shelf simulator — a cross between a football tutorial and a real-time documentary, drizzled with addictive Skinnerian action-reward mechanics — for as long as you can remember. The many hundreds — even thousands — of hours that athletes put into videogame football give them more game experience… than Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, or Joe Montana were able to log in previous eras. And there’s the possibility, too, that all this electronic play is changing the structure of their brains, at least in some ways, for the better.

For more than 30 years, sports videogames have been focused on simulating real-life athletics more and more perfectly. But over the past decade, games have moved beyond just imitating the action on the field. Now they’re changing it.

If a video game could change the way football is played, imagine the possibilities of games in other arenas. Jane McGonigal believes that games can change the world.

As McGonigal says, we become the “best versions of ourselves” while playing games. We are more likely to stick with a problem as long as it takes. Whether we’re learning to play quarterback, demolish rickety structures with birds, or live without oil, we are motivated to get up and try again after failure. If that’s so, why would anyone prefer to deploy a training program in the form of a narrated PowerPoint presentation rather than a game?

My First Foray Into Filmmaking

In 2004, I worked with three fellow grad students to create a documentary about a folk artist in Crawford, GA named Bennie Morrison. Bennie paints on a variety of objects including magnolia leaves, bricks, satellite dishes, fans, and more. His art depicts cotton fields, aliens, school buses, farms, outhouses, and any other scene he imagines.

The project was a blast to work on. We were able to spend time with Bennie and watch his process for making art. We learned how to operate cameras, capture audio with a boom mic, and edit video. My old band even provided the music.

It initially began as a class project,  but we continued working on the film after the class ended and were accepted into the 2004 Athens Film Festival. That meant that we got to see our movie on the big screen at the Morton Theater.

So, I finally got around to posting part of the documentary on YouTube. Hopefully more people will learn about Bennie’s work now that he’s Internet-famous.