Mark Shuttleworth, software engineer, entrepreneur, and philanthropist from South Africa, is funding work on developing software tools to help education, especially analytical thinking and problem solving. Here’s what he has to say:
This is exactly what I’m interested in, so I couldn’t help adding my two cents.
February 2006 - One of my good friends here in New York is Duncan, who I’ve known since our days in the mid-90′s writing Star Wars games at LucasArts. His friend started the company GameLab which writes great smallish games. They do lots of short games — games for when you have an extra 15 minutes to waste, rather than the epic immersive games like Halo or Red Alert.
GameLab hosted a non-electronic games night, i.e. board games and card games. I got to see their office space and It was a gamer’s fantasy come true. In a grim looking building near Canal Street, we walked up two flights of stairs to a door with a huge pixellated Space Invaders image on the door. “This must be the place.” I walked in and every visible surface was covered with something related to games, comics, or computers. Bookshelves were filled with Japanese Manga, Marvel and D.C. comics, and also a huge collection of old hand-held electronic games like the Mattel Football. There were dozens of programmers and artists putting the last touches on their work before relaxing to an evenings entertainment of pizza, card games, and idle banter.
We played one hand of The Family, a card game where you play Mob bosses trying to eliminate your competition before they eliminate your. Pretty good, but not as fun as Kill Dr. Lucky. Kill Dr. Lucky is similar to Clue, but instead of trying to find the killer, you are trying to do the evil deed. Corner Dr. Lucky in a room without witnesses and attack him with weapons on hand. Or if no weapons are around, at least try to poke his eye out. But your opponents have their own vendettas against the poor doctor, and will try to foil your plans in order to take the honor. A humorous game to top off a pleasant evening.
It’s been a year since I moved to New York and I have to say I’m really enjoying it here. Not owning a car and being able to walk everywhere is the best aspect. I walk to my favorite pizza spot, I walk to Chelsea Market for fresh fruit and vegetables, to Doma Cafe in the village, to Murray’s Cheese Shop for my weekly cheese fix, and a relaxing stroll along Hudson gazing out at the water and back at the city is a genuine pleasure. Growing up in Los Angeles where any interesting restaurant is at least 45 minutes drive is a long way from Manhattan! New York is a great city to explore with such rich treasures of my favorite things: food, art, architecture, people, and computers. Okay, maybe Berkeley had more computers, but four out of five is not bad at all.
Now it’s time to prepare for the coming school year. No longer worrying about summer camps, it’s time to start orchestrating after-school courses instead. But looking back on the past year I can say things have worked out well. Moving to a new city is never easy but I’m slowly meeting new people and building up customers who seem to enjoy the services I provide. Indeed I had the pleasure this week of a phone call from a former pupil in Berkeley, still in middle school, who called to update me on his new website building endeavors and the HTML course he will be taking. It is so satisfying to hear from old students and to hear that they are keeping the spirit.
The Maryland Lunar Repair Yard course was a big success. My six students were 10 years old and I was a little concerned that they would not take well to the intensive schedule I planned – six hours a day for two weeks. In fact they were so enthusiastic that they pleaded to skip breaks and cut lunch short to work on their projects. All in all, we had two big projects where each person or pair of people wrote a little game or animation. At the end of the course I was honored to receive a t-shirt that they had made for me and signed by everyone. One of them even asked if I could continue sending him assignments so he could continue working on games. Now that’s motivation: asking for homework.
I’m doing a special course in Maryland for my friend Effie. Her son Evan loves computers so I’m preparing some fun things that I hope he will enjoy. I’ve developed a “Lunar Repair” course which is actually about video game programming. I remember when I was his age and just learning about computers. My older brother Doug wrote this wonderful kaleidoscope program which would fill the screen with dazzling colors. I would try to figure out how it worked, changing a number here and there to see what it did. I would see if I could change the colors, the patterns it made, and how fast the waves of color would pass by. I have always liked that that kind of learning – through exploration and experimentation.