One woman's path through doula training, childrearing, and a computer science Ph. D. program

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cow Clicker: Heuristic Evaluation

I took the liberty of running a heuristic evaluation on Cow Clicker.  The set of heuristics I am using is from Spyridon Papaloukas' paper, Usability Assessment Heuristics in New Genre Videogames.  Descriptions of heuristics are taken verbatim from the text of the article.

The rating is Nielsen style, 0 to 4, where
 * 0: no problems,
 * 1: minor or cosmetic violation,
 * 2: moderate violation.
 * 3: severe violation, and
 * 4: show-stopping terrible stuff.

1. Customize game, network and environment settings: The videogame should allow players to customize the settings so that the game accommodates their individual needs.

My score: 0
My comment: You can customize cows!

2. Information about game, players and online friends status: Users should be provided with enough information about game (status character, level, health, etc) but also about other players and online friends in order to play in a cooperative manner as in real life.

My score: 0
My comment: I can click my friends' clicks! If only I had friends!

3. Training, help and suggestions: The videogame should provide interactive training and recommended choices, i.e. regarding new genre videogames should advice players the most  appropriate clothing or the most suitable space arrangement for a more efficient or enjoyable game.

My score: 1
My comment: I'm not quite sure where to place my friends' cows in my pasture.  Is there an optimal placement?  Does the cow facing the tail of my cow fare poorly due to out-gassing?  Does my cow enjoy facing colorful cows?

4. Control of actions: The game should respond to input devices in a way that mirrors the real world. Computer controlled units should respond in an ordinary manner.

My score: 2
My comment: Clicks are clicks. However, why does the page reload post-click?

5. Challenge, fun, pleasure, fantasy: The game should provide fun and challenge. The players should be able to live their desired “reality” in the fantasy world of a videogame. Pleasure should be one of the most important elements of game.

My score: 0
My comment: The challenge is in convincing my friends not to hate me.  And in finding all the back-issues of my friends' click feeds.

6. Minimize memory requirements: Abbreviations should not be used. The players should not be asked to count resources like bullets and life and they should not have to memorize the level’s design. Area maps should be easy to learn and should be intuitive to use.

My score: 1
My comment: It was difficult to ascertain the significance of mooney at first.

7. Clear goal, conditions: New genre games need special equipment and in some cases suggestions are required on how to use it more efficiently. The goal of the game must be clear, so the player do not feel confused.

My score: 0
My comment: The goal is overwhelmingly clear.  Its simplicity is what makes the game efficient.

8. Visual representations: Visual representations, such as maps, icons, and  avatars, are frequently used to convey information about the status of the game. Visual representations should be designed in an easy to interpret way, and so that users can   differentiate important elements from irrelevant elements.

My score: 0
My comment: The cow looks like a cow (except for Cobra Cow; what's up with that?); the pasture looks like a pasture.

9. Social networking, socializing and gaming: A game in a social network should support all the tasks, which facilitate the communication and socializing of players. The game should have “shared” versions or “shared” applications in order to direct “social networking friends” to tasks that enhance socializing.

My score: 0
My comment: Hard to say if I'll have friends after playing this game, but that's another issue...

10. Health, day-to-day life and gaming: New genre games should help on player’s mental and physical health, using specific equipment and applications.

My score: 4
My comment: Playing Cow Clicker reminds me of how large and bovine I am becoming, sitting at the computer --- yet the game compels me to keep at it!  It sends the wrong message, Ian, the wrong message!


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Toddlers and Judaism: an apology

L'Shana Tovah --- happy new year!  Today is Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, literally meaning "the head of the year."  The year is 5771, which counts the number of years since G-d created the earth.  On this day in history?  G-d created Adam.

Rosh Hashanah has special meaning for us in our family.  Twenty seven years ago, my grandfather died on the Jewish new year, which coincided with September 9.  Every year since becoming an adult, I go to Rosh Hashanah services, waiting for the mourner's kaddish.  This is a time for the community to come together and support each other.  Mourners seek solace in the community; the individual mourner is joined by his peers as the whole mourns together with this beautiful prayer.

The night before Rosh Hashanah, I was discussing with my husband the logistics of attending services at a local synagogue.

"You could watch the kid while I ---"

I was going to say, while I go to services, but I interrupted myself.

"No, that's stupid," I continued.  "Kids should come to services.  Of course kids are welcome there."  Judaism is about family.

"Of course, you should bring him," my husband replied.

So this morning, my son and I went to services at a synagogue that I had never attended before.  On their web page, they call themselves a "renewal" community, preaching tolerance and acceptance of all races, orientations, and genders.  As is common with Jewish groups in my town, there is no synagogue owned by the people.  Instead, the community rents a space from a Christian church, and holds services there.

When we walked into the space, my kid on my hip, I did what I had always done in services.  I walked in, took a prayer booklet, and sat down in the back row.  Prayers had begun about 45 minutes ago.  The cantor, a woman with long uncovered hair, sang slowly, with great feeling, into a microphone.  Next to her stood a man with a prayer shawl, leading the services.  Around the room hung laminated signs, calling participants to "respect the sanctity of this space."  Men and women sat mixed on padded seats.

I glanced around as my son pulled down my shirt and started to nurse: no other kids were in the congregation.  This was unexpected.  My past several Jewish events were in the home of the Chabad rabbi and his family.  The rabbi's children were an integral part of services.  Not only are children welcome, they are mandatory: how else do you expect the Jewish people to pass down thousands of years worth of knowledge?  How else do you hand down the oral Torah, unless you engage the children from a young age?  Do you think the "mixed multitude" wandering the desert had no children?  The Passover ritual meal even scripts in what to say to children, and which questions they should ask --- because children sit at the same table as adults, learning from the adults' actions and their rituals.

Suddenly, as if on cue, a small group of about six school-aged kids were ushered in.  They sat on the floor in front of the cantor and her male counterpart.  Everyone sang the shma.  My son hummed along.  The entire song is one line long; it is sung once.  It takes about ten seconds.  The song ended, and the kids were ushered out.

When he finished nursing, my son started looking around and telling me in a very sweet voice about the trolley and the bus and the train.

Five thousand heads turned and looked at me, scowling.  Scowling!  I had never seen so many hairy eyeballs before.  My son and I were violating the sanctity of their space.  I picked up my son and ran out the back door.

Outside, I saw a sign advertising child care for the services, and decided to go check it out.

The room was too large and too barren for those same six school-aged children that we had just seen in the congregation room.  Everyone sat in a tiny circle with their mothers, except one kid, clearly too old to be in child care.  Maybe he was helping out.

"Were you there for the shma?" the leading lady asked me, after the standard introductions.  The circle expanded about three inches to let us sit down.

"Yes," I replied.  "That was just before I got all the dirty looks."  For some reason, I felt like bursting into tears with those words.

"Oh," moaned another woman without even looking at me, "we don't take responsibility for those."

My son and I sat in the circle for a full five minutes before he got up and ran outside.  Bored and growing tired, he pointed to the street.

"Bus," he said.  "Home."  So, without a word or a look back, we went home.  I missed the kaddish, but asked myself if this is the congregation for me.  Do I want this community grieving with me, with my family?  Would we feel supported by them?

For a congregation that preaches equality, acceptance, and community, this one was lacking.  The way a congregation treats children speaks volumes about how it sustains itself spiritually.  This congregation cares so much about its members and their spiritual health, it lacks the foresight to ask: who will continue on this tradition of spirituality when the current members are gone?  "Arrogant, childless hippies," I cursed.

Rosh Hashanah is not about meditation and calm solitude.  It is about jubilation, sharing, noise, and ushering in the sweet new year in the community of family and friends.  It is about forgiveness and hope for a brighter, better, stronger, more pious future.  There is no room for selfish rumination.  As Wendy Mogel points out in The Blessings of a Skinned Knee, the synagogue is a place of worship, but the simple kitchen table is an altar.  There is nothing more holy than family.

I wanted my son to see the people gathered, humming blessings and songs, bowing and rocking.  I wanted him to hear the sounds of prayer; to hear the shofar.  I wanted him to feel what I feel every year around this time; I want this experience to be an integral part of who he is, as it is an integral part of who I am.  But our experience fell short.

With this explanation I humbly ask forgiveness from my parents, who were counting on me to say my grandfather's name on the anniversary of his death.  I missed the mourner's kaddish, and for this I am sorry.  Yom Kippur is in a week; we will return to Chabad and remember him then.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Mineral deficiency and vasospasms

When I was a few months postpartum, I started experiencing vasospasms.  A vasospasm is a painful pinching of the blood vessels.  Mine were in my nipples, probably caused by prior trauma (in the first few months).  I could watch the tips of the nipples turn white, then blue, then pink, then repeat the cycle over the course of about half a minute.

I went to a lactation consultant.  She said there were two options.  The first was to take a magnesium supplement with calcium, about 1000 units a day.  The magnesium would help with the spasms, and the calcium would balance the magnesium, which could cause bowel issues.  The second option, if the first did not work, was to get a prescription for nitroglycerin cream.  Nitroglycerin is a highly explosive substance, and is usually used to treat heart patients.  

When I saw my doctor later that week for my son's well-baby visit, I mentioned the vasospasms and the lactation consultant's recommendation.  My doctor rolled her eyes, as if to say, "Nursing is uncomfortable. Deal with it."  Without even looking at the problem area, she said, "You don't need a prescription."

I picked up some cheap calcium-magnesium-zinc tablets at Trader Joe's, and took them for a few weeks.  The symptoms improved, but did not vanish; eventually, I stopped taking these giant pills that made me gag because I stopped getting improved benefits from them.  And I hate gagging.

Fast forward about a year.

I went to my chiropractor last week.  Each week, I complain for several minutes about my weekly ailments.  I have inherited quite a few from sleeping on the Japanese futon on the floor, on my side, with a pillow that had probably deteriorated several years ago; from carrying around my 27-pound toddler and associated accessories; from sitting, hunched over a laptop, in cafes around town while typing furiously my thesis and papers; from watching back-episodes of Project Runway and Covert Affairs while sitting in awkward positions, trying to simultaneously hug my husband, cat, and a slice of cheese toast.

On this visit, I complained about a neck spasm which, as Murphy would have it, started the day she went out of town, and cleared up before she returned the following week.

"Are you taking your prenatals?" she asked.

"Yup," I replied, proud.  I did not always take my prenatal vitamins while I was pregnant, because they made me sick, as did everything I tried to put in my mouth.  Now, as a nursing mom, I took these vitamins religiously, and even noticed a marked change when I accidentally skipped a day.  I would feel sluggish, tired, unhappy, and like I was on the verge of getting sick.  It is like telling your dentist that you do, actually, floss daily.  I was very proud.

She looked straight at me, stopped writing in her notebook, and said, "Are you taking a calcium supplement?"

"Uh, no... my prenatal ---"

"You have to take a calcium supplement.  You are going home with a bottle of calcium today," she scolded.  She explained that muscle cramps are symptoms that my calcium supply is depleted and my body is stealing the calcium from itself to generate the milk that my son still drinks.  The calcium that is generally sold in US stores is of poor quality, hard for the body to digest and incorporate.  You have to be very choosy about your supplements, and preferably get them from Canada, where the vetting process for these consumables is much more strict.

So, I picked up a large bottle of chewable calcium ("Calcium candy," my chiropractor said. "They're like Sweet Tarts."), infused with magnesium and vitamin D.  I have been taking them for about four days and I feel better.  Maybe it is psychosomatic.  But I have been having almost no vasospasms --- which I did not even notice I was having, because vasospasms are a drop in the bucket of my daily body aches at this point --- thanks to the magnesium that came in the pill.  I feel limber; my back is not as uncomfortable.  Plus, these supplements tend to, erm, cleanse the body frequently.

Since having my son, I no longer have the luxury to listen to my body.  Where before, my body needed to whisper a problem to me, or just hint at it, and I would hear and obey, now, it needs to scream.  Before, my body could suggest, "Perhaps you should not lift that," showing me with a gentle twinge in a toe.  Now: "You sleep wrong! Raraararr!" it yells, when my muscles are tense for three days and I cannot turn my head because of the alignment of my lower neck.

The moral of the story is to stay on top of the body's needs.  The nutrients my son gets from my milk come from somewhere; until very recently, they had been coming from my own body.  And if I cannot hear my body's needs, I should listen to my chiropractor.  She seems more on top of it than I am!
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