Archive for June, 2011

Meeting Minutes

We worked on the Algebra Speak Game – I brought in all the neighborhood kids and did storyboarding. David came up with the brilliant synopsis below! Meanwhile I’ve been working on the code framework for a Mate branching framework to go with it!


Algebra Speak Plot Synopsis

David Crickmer

                Young Tryss, an eighteen year old blonde haired, blue skinned Bray’lin is studying for her mathematics final when she is distracted by a storm outside the castle.  She gets up to see that it is not a storm, but a raid on the castle.  Her trusted aide Caré rushes in to escort her to safety, but she is too late.  Caré is shot down and Tryss is taken captive by the invading Bray’lins.

Meanwhile, Tryss’ father, Lord  Gauss, has barricaded himself along with his most trusted aides in his throne room, however time is short.  Lord Gauss asks his top advisor, Dagon, how the castle’s security measures have been compromised. Dagon answers that the invaders must have had help from the inside.  “Who would do such a thing, Dagon?” Lord Gauss asks.  At this moment, the barricade is broken and the Lord and his aides are now captive.  Dagon steps aside from Gauss.  “That’s Lord Dagon to you,” he replies, revealing that he is behind the invasion.

Guards bring Tryss into the throne room.  Seeing this, Lord Dagon shoots down Gauss in front of his daughter to her dismay.  He orders his men to leave no survivors.  When one of them asks about Tryss, Lord Dagon, infatuated by her beauty orders her to be spared as she will be “of some use to him” as his enslaved mistress.  Tryss screams as she is escorted to the castle dungeon while Lord Dagon assumes the throne, taking delight in munching on the former Lord’s royal strawberries.

The story advances ten years to when humans Newton and Hardy are flying aboard their ship Eudoxus in an attempt to return to Earth following the completion of their last mission.  Along the way, the ship’s computer JCN, referred to by Newton and Hardy as Jacen (pronounced Jason) informs them the ship’s warp drive has malfunctioned and is in need of repair.  They are a far way from home, but they discover that nearby is the planet Bray’ma.  While the planet is listed as a member of the United Federation of Planets, not much has been heard from it for many years.  This has been largely ignored due to the planet’s location on the far reaches of the galaxy.  With no other options, Newton and Hardy have no choice but to seek out the Bray’lins for help returning home.

Upon entering Bra’ma’s atmosphere, Eudoxus comes under heavy fire.  Hardy manages to make an emergency landing while Newton frantically backs up Jacen’s memory on a mobile device.  Newton and Hardy frantically flee the ship when it explodes sending both men flying.  Newton blacks out.

Newton awakens in a home where he is greeted by a young Bray’lin named La’gran.  Newton has been badly injured, but his life was saved by La’gran.  Unfortunately, Hardy did not survive his wounds.  It is revealed that Bray’ma is a shell of its former self, now under the rule of Lord Dagon.  Lord Dagon has prohibited all learning (in particular mathematics) in an attempt to put a stop to any new technologies that could be used in a revolt against him.  Those Bray’lins who were educated that opposed Lord Dagon were killed, leaving the uneducated to work as mere farmers, growing Lord Dagon’s blueberries, raspberries, and most importantly, strawberries.  The Eudoxus was shot down in an attempt to prohibit help from the outside.

With Lord Dagon’s tight grip on the planet, it is impossible to attain a ship for Newton to leave.  Newton says he can teach the Bray’lins how to build a ship, but La’gran feels Newton is destined to help free his people from Dagon’s rule.  Newton is reluctant to help, but realizes it is his best chance to escape.

La’gran takes Newton to a safe haven known is the Pythagorous.  It is a triangular plot of land protected by a magical spell conjured by the Bray’lin elder Eu’ler as his final act before he was killed.  Newton recovers from his injuries in Pythagorous as he instructs Bray’lins in a make shift school which is named “Algebra Speak”.  Using these skills, the Bray’lins slowly develop the ability to manufacture the weapons their army will need to overthrow Lord Dagon.

One major obstacle to overcome is the armor developed by Lord Dagon ten years ago prior to the raid against Lord Gauss.  The armor has the ability to deflect a laser blast harmlessly away.  With the help of Jacen, Newton and the Bray’lins are able to develop a seeking laser that is calculated to move in a vector opposite to the vector of the deflecting armor.  With this new technology and Newton recovered from his original injuries, a task force is developed to run Operation Newton’s Apple (the one fruit loathed by Lord Dagon).  It involves a small group infiltrating Lord Dagon’s castle in an attempt to take Lord Dagon captive, hoping his abduction will lead to the fall of his empire.

Operation Newton’s Apple initially starts off well, but not knowing the layout of the castle proves costly and the task force is overwhelmed and are taken captive.  Lord Dagon, intrigued by Newton’s outsider status and his ability to neutralize his armor imprisons him to interrogate him on how he accomplished the feat.  Newton is sent to the castle dungeon where he is locked away with Tryss.

Newton explains to Tryss his failed attempt to overthrow Lord Dagon and how he sees any future attempt to do so as futile.  Tryss explains that there may be hope yet.  Deep below the castle catacombs lies the Ar’hatta, a magical device which can turn back time.  Lord Dagon has tortured Tryss in an attempt to find it, having learned of it after overtaking the throne.  The Ar’hatta is known to be hidden deep within the castle’s catacombs maze, but any wrong turn leads to certain death.  Only Lord Gauss knew of the proper path for its location.  Tryss has been tortured to help find it as she was the heir to the throne.

Tryss does not know the path, but she knows how to find it.  Her father had carried a locket with a formula inscribed that led to the maze solution.  Tryss had been secretly digging a path through the dungeon walls over the years, waiting for the right opportunity to escape.  With that time upon us, Newton and Tryss escape from the castle later that night.

Meanwhile, Lord Dagon, furious from the attempted raid against him has ordered the slaying of the Bray’lin farmers, knowing full well that will slow the making of his strawberries.  His army seeks out the Bray’lins that night.

Hoping to avoid angering the Bray’lin gods, Lord Dagon had given Gauss a proper Bray’lin burial, albeit not in the royal garden as would be traditionally expected, and instead placed in a common (and therefore unguarded) cemetery.  Newton and Tryss exhume Gauss’ grave and recovered his locket.  Inscribed is a function which when applied to the maze grid gives the path to the Ar’hatta.  They then head to the catacombs which are unguarded as no one would dare enter on their own accord.

As Newton and Tryss head to the catacombs, a large battle has broken out in the mainland.  With the shelter of the Pythagorous not large enough to shelter all of the Bray’lins, they are forced into a spectacular battle, led by La’gran.  Newton and Tryss rush through the catacombs, correctly navigating the path and solving various puzzles along the way.  They finally reach the Ar’hatta.  Meanwhile, despite holding their own for quite some time, the numbers of Lord Dagon’s army has proved too much. Many Bray’lin’s are killed and La’gran is just about to perish when Tryss activates the Ar’hatta, setting the timeline back ten years, just prior to Dagon’s raid against Gauss’ castle.

Newton and Tryss rush to the castle, knowing time is short having spotted Dagon’s army approaching in the distance. They arrive in the throne room as Dagon is telling Gauss of an impending attack.  Tryss reveals the plot to her father, who is reluctant to believe her at first, but upon showing him the Ar’hatta (along with the fact that she has aged a decade), Gauss orders Dagon to be taken into custody.  Dagon does not go quietly and is fired upon by the Lord’s guards.  Dagon, wearing his new armor, deflects any shots and rushes to strangle Gauss.  Newton quickly grabs one of the guards’ weapons and adjusts the frequencies to counteract the armor.  He fires and hits Dagon, killing him, as he stumbles back and falls over a plate of his beloved strawberries.  Lord Gauss then alerts the castle’s perimeter to the approaching army and the appropriate security measures are taken to stop them and take them captive.

With order Dagon defeated, the Ar’hatta needs to be reactivated to restore the timeline.  It is revealed that only the person who activates the Ar’hatta will remember all of the current events as when the timeline advances ten years again, everything will have changed.  Having already been used, the Ar’hatta will also be destroyed.  That means that Tryss will be the only one who will remember what had happened.  Before activating the device, Newton vows to never forget her even though they both know he won’t.  They share a kiss before the timeline is restored.

We are ten years into the future when Newton and Hardy’s ship’s warp drive malfunctions.  They land on Bray’ma in order to seek help in repairing their ship.  They land on what they find to be a technologically advanced planet.  They seek out help when, to their amazement, the planet’s princess has agreed to meet with them to help.  They meet Princess Tryss who Newton feels like he has seen somewhere before.   Tryss says she knows just the facility to help repair the Eudoxus.  She takes them to a place whose large sign reads “Newton’s Algebra Speak”.  Newton looks on in wonder at the coincidence of his name on the marquee.  He turns to Tryss who simply tells him, “Welcome home,” as La’gran comes out to meet them.


Comparing Delivery Platforms

The software delivery framework created for my Dissertation “front end” has far reaching implications for educational technology. It offers a loosely coupled modularized framework which can be adapted for rapid e-learning development. It provides a mechanism for porting web applications to such devices as Android, Xoom, and Ipad. It offers a lightweight yet robust data-basing capability that any instructor can install and use with minimal effort, removing the need for a database administrator. In addition, it can be synched to other legacy database systems already in deployment. My Dissertation offers the next generation of software solutions that are cross-platform, mobile ready, geared for rapid deployment, and engineered for a low maintenance life-cycle.

One of the biggest technical challenges faced by education and industry alike is in transitioning homegrown software applications intended for small audiences to enterprise solutions that address a much larger audience. As an application grows in size and usage, its complexity, data transfer issues, and maintenance requirements grow as well. Depending on how an application is initially set up and grown can make a big difference in the number of people and cost required to keep that application running smoothly. More and more industry software developers are turning to solutions that entail a modularized framework. Most popular of these frameworks is the MVC architecture which stands for Model, View, and Controller.

Key to success in the education market place is using a modularized framework such as MVC (Model View Controller). The MVC framework is a natural transition when applications grow from small to big. Small applications typically mix graphics, control logic, and data programming together. As programs grow in size so do the number of diverse people working on them and it’s natural to separate software into distinct components (or buckets). MVC separates an application’s elements by job tasks, fully exposing them to those who would normally work on them. For example, a database programmer would work on the Model, a graphic designer would work on the View, and an interface programmer would work on the Controller.

The Model is the boundary layer of your system and deals with the part of the program that talks to the outside world. Typically, it is the part that stores data and is worked on by database programmers. Segregating data control into one place ensures that data services are always accessed from a single place. Otherwise data transfer can become tangled and inconsistent. The View contains only the graphical elements of the program so as graphic designers makes changes they don’t have to worry about changing or rearranging code to accommodate their graphical changes. Finally, the Controller holds the business logic of the program and acts as the interface between the View and the Model. It bridges the gap between interface development and data flow.

Separating a program into the various MVC buckets ensures that working on one piece of the program doesn’t break another piece. It also enhances maintainability by de-tangling spaghetti code and organizing it into understandable compartments which enables new developers to come up to speed more rapidly without the cost of reverse engineering poorly organized code. Such MVC architectures are referred to as loosely coupled since one distinct component does not need to know about the internal working of another component to do its job. This allows developers to work on any part of the program without breaking another part of the program.

In addition to the challenges of code modularization, software managers struggle with making the correct decision on which development platform to use. Software giants such as Google, Adobe, Microsoft, and Apple are in strong competition, releasing ever-changing and expanding software options. Overall, the trend in software is surprising; solutions such as PHP, Java, and C# once engineered with the intention of handling user interface creation are rapidly moving to the middle-ware position while software like Adobe Flex, Silverlight, and HTML 5 are predominantly being used to build fluid user interfaces. With virtualization and cloud technology software solutions are rapidly becoming agnostic (platform independent), requiring a transparent data flow mechanism.

In today’s educational market, software applications must be deployed on multiple platforms such as desktop, web, and mobile. Choosing the correct software development platform, can make or break software deployment. Software solutions should be engineered such that transition from one platform to another (like transitioning from desktop to mobile) should not require a new development activity. My Dissertation took a “write code once and deploy” approach in choosing its software deployment platform. In addition, five essential design parameters drove the software design decision: (1) ability to transition to mobile, (2) 3D support, (3) ease of data-basing, (4) life-cycle cost of the solution, and (5) fluidity of the design process.

Of the number of solutions considered, Adobe Flex, Silverlight, and HTML 5 offered the most plausible front-end development platforms. Any of these solutions would have been a good choice but ultimately Adobe Flex was chosen for this project. HTML 5 offers an incredible solution for both web, mobile, and 3D but still lacks the browser support (and a fluid design environment) required for a fluid cross-browser deployment. Silverlight has a superior design studio using Expression Blend, and is gaining momentum in the developer community.

Note: If there was any credibility to the statement that Adobe and Microsoft  are going to merge, it’s in Expression Blend. I’m definitely following this software as it evolves.

Of the three, Adobe Flex is the most mature solution. It has a fluid design interface which uses a data wizard to access multiple data sources using drag-and-drop techniques. It interfaces with multiple-ware languages such as ASP, PHP, or Java, has built-in 3D support, creates desktop and mobile applications (for Android, Xoom, Blackberry, and Ipad), builds module components, and offers internal support for the SQLite database. In addition, Adobe Flex has a large user community. It has gained tremendous support in the corporate world and is being used on many enterprise applications for banking, insurance, and medical deployments.

Adode Flex alone doesn’t give you an MVC framework, but a number of MVC architectures are available for Flex such as Parsley, Cairngorm, PureMVC, and MATE. MATE was chosen because of its light finger print (natural use of Flex), and its ability to use Flex modules as stand-alone loosely-coupled components. Finally, SQLite, a lightweight data-basing system, was incorporated since it didn’t require the use of a server administrator. SQLite gave my Dissertation the advantage of widely distributing an application which could simply be dropped on any server with no configuration. Also, SQLite is 3 times faster than other database solutions, and can be 128 bit encrypted for secure data processing.

For educational institutions to survive in the new world of online educational experiences they must create applications that are engaging, rapidly engineered, mobile ready, and offer a low maintenance life-cycle. Using the technologies discussed above, my Dissertation is a prototype for a new generation of educational experiences.