Farmville And Diabetes

Quite recently, André was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. This has had a major impact on our lives. André spends his time reading food labels in search of information on total carbohydrates and he is much more careful about what he eats and drinks (I’ve never seen him eat so much salad). Meanwhile, I spend my time quizzing him on what he’s eating, what he’s allowed to eat, what his glucose level is, as well as reminding him to take his pills.

I was thinking about my role as supporter and cheerleader and started comparing it to the Facebook game Farmville. If you’ve never played Farmville, this little video might help you understand what it is. Or maybe not. Basically, you have a farm where you can plant crops which come to maturity after a variable number of hours, or raise animals and collect various items from said animals. As well, and of interest here, you can have neighbours (your FB friends) and go help them on their farms by chasing away animals, picking up leaves, or even fertilize their crops.

I am still not sure that I want to build games for the sick, but I would like to build apps to help people manage their illnesses. And when we do build these kinds of apps, we should take into account the rest of the family, who also have their roles to play.…


don’t know about you, but I love animated gifs. But since this blog is supposed to be my professional blog, I’ve started a parallel Tumblr one which is just for fun: Being a stranger in Italy.

Also, it gives me an excuse to try out Tumblr.

The plan is just to put up silly images, so don’t expect anything profound.…

A Visit From A Friend

When I first learned that Liz Lawley, who was spending a semester teaching at Dubrovnik, was going to end her stay in Europe with a quick trip through Italy, I got very excited and begged her to come visit us in Trento. It’s not often that you get to see old friends when you’re living far from home. When she said yes, I began plotting like a machiavellian prince.

You see, I know that Liz is a great speaker. And I know that the project that she has been working on for the past few years, Just Press Play, has been a successful attempt at engaging university students. Now it just so happens that, not only is Smart Campus also about engaging university students, but the Smart Campus team has been organizing a weekly set of seminars. While our approach is somewhat different from the playful design approach that Liz and her team have been using, it seemed to me that there were enough similarities that we could learn something of interest. In addition, several computer science students here are interested in games and game mechanics, and this would be a great opportunity for them to see an application of game mechanics to the real world as described by one of the big names in the American scene of games research.

By the way, I love the new term that the Rochester folks are using: playful design. So much nicer than gamification, don’t you think?

Anyway, once I had come to the conclusion that having Liz speak here would be a great idea, I started the wheels rolling on making it happen. Wouldn’t it be great if this well-known American professor would come tell us about her experiences with games and gamification? Liz, would you mind giving a talk about Just Press Play to the folks here?

I felt a bit guilty about asking Liz to do some work while she was on her Italian vacation. Bad enough that I was making her and her son come to Trento, which is on the travel list of pretty much nobody in North America. (Which is a pity, because it’s nice here, although on the other hand, we don’t have much to offer unless you’re interested in ecclesiastical history.) But Liz was nice enough to say yes to both coming here and giving a speech at the University of Trento. And so that is what she did yesterday.

It was, I think, a resounding success. Liz was up to her usual standards with regards to communicating her obvious enthusiasm about her research. I had seen part of her presentation before, but this one went deeper into both what had worked and what hadn’t worked. It was quite fascinating. From a few conversations I had afterwards, people had taken to heart what she had to say and were reconsidering how to integrate game play into their projects. And there might be some longer term ramifications which would be really interesting.

All in …

Home Is Part Of Our Invaluable Childhood Memories

Adulthood is something we all will go through and eventually pass through and leave behind.  As adults, it is not only our duty to look out for ourselves while getting to enjoy life without doing bad things, there will come a certain point in time when we will decide to settle down with the person we love, have kids and family.  When we raise a family, it is not only our responsibility to provide for the children we rear, but it is also our obligation to give them a safe dwelling place such as a home where they can grow and play.

A home is not just a dwelling place as it is in fact a place where you can sleep, relax, raise kids, grow old, and retire.  The abundance of memories that some have for their home, the place where they grew up, are cherished by them as the sentiments you have there are priceless.  Some of the moments that occur within your many years of stay there will never happen again.  Since a home to grow up on is something that leads to very valuable childhood memories, it is therefore your responsibility to provide such a home to your kids if you are planning to raise a family.

The truth is that not many couples or family will ever have the opportunity to have their very own home.  But for those who are fortunate, it is important that you seek out and have a home built by custom home builders so you can allow your children to build their own childhood memories of your home as they grow up and eventually enter into adulthood where they too will follow your footsteps and become responsible parents who value the precious memories you build as a child growing up.

If the home you’ve had custom home builders construct is structurally good and kept well-maintained, there is a distinct possibility that your home may last decades and be even good enough for the next generation.  Aside from just being the place where you will come to retire, your home will hold more valued memories than you can think of.  As long as love, care, and understanding is part of your ways in rearing your kids and not fear, your children will hold your home very dear to their heart…


I have been told that we are having unseasonably warm weather here in Trento. It got up to 17 degrees Celsius today. However, as soon as the sun sets, the weather turns chilly. Makes me miss my electric blanket.

The weekend was a quiet one. With Odin showing signs of separation anxiety during his first days, we just wanted to stay home and chill. Plus, I hurt my left thigh muscle a couple of weeks ago and I’m slowly getting back to normal; but in the meantime, I start hurting if I’ve been walking for too long, so I’m trying to take it easy for now.

I just noticed that I forgot to update my website before leaving the government. As soon as I’ve got a computer at work and managed to upload my external hard drive, I’ll be able to change that information.

I must say, it’s beautiful here. We’re in the locality of Vela, which is a neighbourhood in Trento. It’s east of the city centre. I work in Povo, which is west of the city centre: two different buses to get there.

Next week, André is going to start looking at apartments for us and we should also be going to the police station to hand in our documents.…

The Social Affordance Of Everyday Things

I’ve had the same joke conversation with people twice now: “How did we ever get around before Google/iPhones?” I know that they’re kidding, and yet I can’t help myself but answer “Maps! We had maps, guys. Remember those? They were great.”

OK, so I admit to having a soft spot for maps. I drive André crazy because, even though we own a GPS to guide us, whenever we take a road trip, I like to have a map with me to follow where we are. The GPS is great to tell you exactly where you are and what route you should be taking to get to your destination. The map, on the other hand, is a wonderful tool to give you an overview, a general sense of where you are, and ideas on where you might want to go. This is especially useful when you’re on vacation and you are open to improvisations in your schedule.

After that conversation, I was thinking about ye olden days, when we only had maps to guide us, and how that had an impact on our social behaviours. An open map is easy to recognize and a clear indicator that the person is lost or unsure of where they should be going. It has a social affordance that the person is in need of help, and I have been on both the receiving side and the giving side of that help. This is a great way to start a conversation with a tourist, to help them find their way and give them extra ideas on where they should go.

But somebody who is thumbing through their iPhone, well, they might be reading their email or checking the stock market for all you know. You have no idea if they need help. On the other hand, maybe if you have access to a Google map on your smartphone that pinpoints exactly where you are and where you are going, maybe if you can do a search on “what’s hot in the city”, maybe you don’t need other people’s help. It’s a pity, though. After all, we are social animals and we thrive on social contact.

I had similar thoughts while coming back home on the train. I brought André’s Kindle with me to read L’ile mystérieuse (*). André has covered his Kindle in a Hitchhiker Guide’s themed gelskin, so whenever we use the Kindle, we look like huge dorks (okay, we are both huge dorks, so I guess that’s truth in advertising). I walked down the wagon at one point and saw several people reading physical books. It was an interesting contrast. I could see immediately what they were reading and how far along they were in the book. There was one guy who was reading a book on advertising that looked like it was either an art book or a critique of advertising. If I had been seated next to him, I think I would have asked him what the book was about …

At Home And Kind Of Bored

Yesterday, I had a toenail removed at the local hospital (persistent fungus problem, nothing serious but annoying). I thought that it would be a minor operation and that I’d be back at work today, but alas, that was not the case. Turns out I can’t put any pressure on my toe for the next few days and I have to keep my leg elevated, so I’m stuck at home for the rest of the week.

The pain is tolerable – except when I accidentally whack my toe which, considering what a klutz I am, happens more often than I’d want it to. I’m kind of surprised because the nurse said that it would hurt a lot (”it will feel like your heart is in your toe” was what she said).
I’m sitting in front of the TV (hurrah for the Daily Show and Colbert Report), surrounded by gadgets to keep me amused and doing Graphics Interface 2010 stuff. I’ll be reading my email regularly so you can still contact me.…

Today Is A Bad Day

A bit over 15 years ago, I decided that it was time to get a dog. I was living in my parents’ home as my dad had gone to live with his lady friend and while they were trying to sell it, they wanted someone staying there. But the house was very empty with just me rattling around in it and so one day, we went to a no-kill shelter on the South Shore of Montreal. The second dog I met was this big ball of white fur that trotted up to me, put its front paws on my stomach, and said, hey there, stranger, I would really like to be your best friend. And I said, yes, let’s be best friends forever. And as we drove back home, he curled up right next to me and put his head on my lap and slept like that, very contented.

I renamed this already-by-then three-year old dog Odin, after the Nordic god. At first, I was a bit disappointed because he never barked and I had wanted a dog to feel more secure, among other reasons. But it was just a question of time before Odin decided that this really was his home and when he began barking, well, he would bark at anything he saw crossing the street in front of the house. And coming towards the house. And leaving the region of the house. After all, he was part terrier.

A few weeks after I bought Odin into my life, I met André. The two of them bonded almost immediately and thus we became a family.

Odin was never the brightest of dogs (I was never able to teach him to sit on command, no matter how often I tried), but he compensated through his affectionate personality. He loved people. He loved getting pettings, he loved snuggling up against you, he loved to go up to strangers and say “hi!”. But mostly, he loved car rides.

We called him the “chien de char” (car-crazy dog). Any car door that was open was an invitation for getting in, even if it wasn’t our car. It was for him that I suggested we go camping for our vacations, as we could then bring him everywhere with us without worrying about whether a hotel would accept him or not.

André and Odin had a game that they loved to play: hide and go seek, or rather run after each other, then hide and go seek. André would run after Odin, Odin would run after André, and they would change sides like this. Usually, when the man was chasing the dog, Odin would come up to me and “stand his ground” there, barking, ready for another round of chase. In the middle of the game, André would use the moments when Odin was running up to me to go hide somewhere (e.g., behind the door in the bathroom). Then I would call to Odin to find André and off the dog would go, …

So You Want To Work In Italy? Bring Lots Of Money

I am constantly amused (or perhaps I mean dismayed) by how costly it is to start the whole process of working in Italy.

There are, of course, the costs associated with getting both yourself and your stuff to Italy. Note: the dog was the most expensive thing to ship.

And then there are the costs of getting the necessary permits and visas all lined up. Not only did we have to pay for a work visa before I left from Canada, but now that I am in Italy, I had to pay for a completely different work visa. Then we had to pay to get our marriage certificate translated so that André could come with me. Since I am still in the middle of the process of getting everything completed in order to be a legal alien in Trento, I expect that there will be other costs that will come up.

And then there are the apartments. Did you know that, in Italy, they typically ask for three months security deposit? At about 500-700 a month for typical apartments here, that’s a lot of Euros. We haven’t found a good apartment yet and are still looking.

But the main problem is that they only pay once a month here. So whenever my contract finally begins (hopefully next week), it will be a month before I actually see any money from the university. In the meantime, we have to take care of daily needs. So it will have been about a month and a half since our arrival before we see a single Euro.…

Via Preference: It’s Not Usable If You Can’t Access It

I was looking at how expensive it would be to go to Toronto by train for the upcoming GI PC meeting and discovered that Via Rail has a reward program called Via Preference. Since I love train travel, I thought I might as well sign up.

The sign-up process itself was simple enough: fill out the form, bla bla bla, nothing new there. With these kinds of online sign-up systems, there is usually a step in which the information that will let you sign up is sent to the email address you provide. To my surprise, though, Via Preference presented me with a page giving me my membership number and eschewing the whole “wait until we send you an email so that you can officially sign up” rigmarole. Which would be great, except that the membership number I copied/pasted doesn’t work.

Now usually this wouldn’t be a major problem. Click on “forget password?” and expect them to send the information to the email address you gave them, right? Nope. Via wants me to enter my membership number. Except that the number is wrong. And since they didn’t send me an email with the correct membership number, I have no way of recuperating the correct number. Which leaves me up the proverbial creek paddle-less.

Yes, I tried using the back button on my browser. No, I couldn’t reach the page where the number was displayed.

I am going to try emailing them. Maybe I’ll be able to get the information back.…