Archive for January, 2008

Hunting for a DOS game: Europe map quiz

Sunday, January 20th, 2008

I remember playing a DOS game on my 386 computer, probably when I was about 10 years old. The game presented an unlabeled map of Europe on-screen, then proceeded to ask me to click on Portugal, Germany, Switzerland and all the other countries in a different order each time you played the game.

The game kept track of my high scores in terms of both the number of countries I got right/wrong, and also the time it took me to identify them all. I played this repeatedly, trying to beat my own records. I learned a lot about European geography this way, and it was fun. It’s similar to this online game except the game I’m thinking of had metrics to keep track of your performance and highlighted the right answer whenever you clicked on the wrong country.

This is a great example of hard fun, one of the principles of educational constructionism behind the OLPC project. As such, I’m considering writing a clone of the game for the XO laptop.

I’d love to dig out the old DOS game again, but I can’t remember what it was called! Does anyone else know of its name, or have any recollection of this game?

Gentoo kernel project contributors

Friday, January 18th, 2008

On the Gentoo kernel maintenance front, I’ve been slacking lately. After launching the project, my fingerprint scanning efforts soon started to eat almost all of the time I’m willing to spend in front of a computer. Then comes a busy xmas/new year, quick week in the US, exam revision and now exams; it’s been a few months since I put proper time into the Gentoo kernel front. I’m feeling a little guilty as this inactivity all started at pretty much the same time as when I became the kernel project lead.

Yet, the Gentoo kernel bug list shows only 23 bugs open, plus no critical/widespread unsolved issues at a cursory glance (when I was doing this singlehandedly, I usually had problems keeping this count below 40). This is all thanks to Maarten Bressers, Duane Griffin and Mike Pagano. Unfortunately Maarten is tied up with other issues at the moment, but Duane pops up from time to time and singlehandedly solves some tricky-looking issues and Mike is very active and is doing a fine job keeping things shipshape.

Before getting involved with Gentoo kernel bugs and genpatches maintenance, all 3 of the aforementioned people had no prior involvement with the kernel. One of the things that prompted me to write this post was to get up today and see an IRC conversation, where Mike uses some diagnostic knowledge he’s gained from a Gentoo kernel bug to make a suggestion to another user who is having trouble booting their system (which I am quite confident will solve the issue). Definitive proof that Mike has become a skilled and efficient bug-attacking machine.

If other developers are wondering how I managed to recruit these “newbies” into enthusiastic and productive contributors, my process was as follows:

  1. Write a maintenance guide giving people enough information to get started
  2. Encourage the interested respondents to ask lots of questions (I think this is the most important part — be clear that you’re available to be consulted).
  3. Advertise it in the Gentoo Weekly Newsletter.
  4. Wait for some questions to come in (and answer them).

All in all, it was quite time consuming to write the initial document and then answering questions, but the fact that I can then be largely inactive for a few months and still have things running smoothly tells me that it was worth the investment.

OLPC this week

Friday, January 11th, 2008

I’ve been back in Boston this week, and I spent some time visiting the OLPC offices in Cambridge. People aren’t joking when they talk about laptops hanging from the ceiling.

Formal testing is a big thing at the moment, so I spent some time helping out testing the upcoming release branches. I also sneaked in a few bug fixes here and there, and managed to solve some irritating interface quirks.

This was my first interaction with the laptops, and I must say, those little XO machines are incredible. I’m overly impressed on all accounts, especially with the vast level of improvement of the currently-being-finished Update.1 software release over the current stable Ship2 release. There are a number of great people there, from an interesting variety of origins – mirroring the multicultural aims of the organisation, I suppose. Many thanks to those who helped me fit in and get started.