everydaysparks

Stuff I see, which you might not.

Beware the addictive app

A confession – I think I am addicted to an app. It all started out innocently enough – I was talking to my 7 year old niece about my new favourite game, Jewel Mania. (You have to match coloured jewels to remove them from the screen and win points – I assure you that it’s way more fun and challenging than I just made it sound.) Anyways, as I showed her, Ells said that they had found an even better game – similar to Jewel Mania, but with lollies. Sounded pretty perfect to me, so I searched the App Store and found what she had been talking about. And that was the beginning of the end.

Candy Crush is a brightly coloured game filled with jelly beans and a heap of other lollies, including – if you’re very lucky – chocolate freckles that can magically destroy all of one colour on the screen. I know, AMAZING, right? At first, it’s easy and you can fly through the levels. Then, the challenges get harder and since I am unwilling to pay money to play the game (I have some limits, see!) it can take a while to get through a level. If you’re willing to pay real $ for your fake candy, you can accept the advice of the patronising prompt that appears from time to time – something like “You seem to be struggling with this level. You can buy a [insert crazy sounding candy weapon here] for only $12.99!” But I’m old school, so I’ll save my money and take my sweet time (see what I did there?!) to get through the game using just my wits and my broadband data allowance, thanks very much.

Don't be fooled by the bright shiny candy - this game is brutal.

Don’t be fooled by the bright shiny candy – this game is brutal.

When I say I’m addicted, I don’t mean that I have my phone out all the time, playing the game. Mostly because I just can’t do that – if you don’t pay any real world $, you can only make five attempts at the level before you are ‘locked out’ and have to wait some hours before you can play again. So, I can still function in the real world – go out to dinner, work, see a movie, drive the car. I could stop playing any time. If I really wanted to stop, I could. Just like that. Truly.

One of my favourite features of the game is actually the soundtrack – there is some kooky background music and occasionally a voice that sounds eerily like Barry White compliments you on your moves, cooing sweet nothings like “Tas-ty“,”Sweet” and “Divine”. He’s very encouraging, if a little creepy, that Candy-Barry-White.

Anyways, I wanted to share the good news that this morning, I finally passed Level 34, on which I had been stuck for at least a week. I had come close before, but after an embarrassing number of attempts (thankfully, they don’t tell you how many), I finally made it. Now, I’ve never run a marathon or won a Nobel Prize, but I imagine that’s pretty much what it feels like. It’s going to be a good day!

(As an aside, my sister S currently runs a very successful virtual farm, my sister Jo used to run a fancy and very busy virtual clothes shop and I have successfully managed some very challenging virtual restaurants, diners, hairdressers and hotels. Still trying to find the best way to detail our extensive business experience on our CVs, though.)

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Imagine Cup 2012: Over and out

Students always love a blackboard. [EverydaySparks]

OK, promise this will be my last post wrapping up Microsoft’s Imagine Cup 2012. I think. There is still so much I want to share from the amazing experience, but I’m a bit worried that it’ll be like one of those times when someone tells you about that dream they had last night. You know, when they’re really into it, so they go into crazy detail about every little aspect and you’re left nodding and smiling and wishing they would just SHUT UP AND LET IT GO. Because it’s never as good in the re-telling. But I’ll do my best with these last few people-highlights of the Imagine Cup worldwide finals.

Maxim (and the drone hovering behind) in full flight. [EverydaySparks]

First, to the Etzoockee team from Kazakhstan. Maxim Kulesh appeared to be their team spokesman and he was quite the salesman – captivating the crowd with his enthusiastic explanation of the team’s software design project, Archangel. According to their Imagine Cup profile, their project is, quite simply, “for changing the world and saving human lives”. Right on, boys in blue from Kazakhstan. How, you ask? With drones. Well, drones that are controlled remotely using a desktop application, to be more precise. Basically, these unmanned flexible and mobile drones can be directed to emergency situations to (a) drop medical or other urgent supplies and (b) record live footage of the crisis with an in-built camera, enabling emergency services personnel to better prepare for the disaster that awaits them. With advance warning of the state of play, the experts will be able to determine how best to access the sites, treat the victims and manage the situation. Very clever. Although, I think Maxim could have sold any idea to the crowd gathered around him – that kid is going places.

Guilherme Savio, a Doer. [EverydaySparks]

And then The Doers from Brazil – in their bright yellow hard hats to show that their project was all about teaching kids to build better cities with their game design Do More. Their message is about people joining together to do more to solve the world’s problems. Their game is a fun way to look at problems facing developing communities – players have to work out how to manage waste, construction and growing populations as they advance through the levels and build bigger cities. Once they have developed their cities, the game looks at issues such as gender equality at work and other problems facing more established communities. Yep, tackling all of these big issues in a game. It really gets you thinking and I can see how kids would be attracted to the graphics and challenge to progress through the levels, while at the same time having to consider real world issues that come with progress and development. The Doers seemed like a lot of fun and when we asked how long they had been working on their project, the answer was many months – but with a break to enjoy their summer holiday. Hats off to the lovely Guilherme Savio and the team for their work/life balance – and they came 2nd in the world in the game design for Windows/Xbox category!

A fruit ninja with his Xight eyes. [EverydaySparks]

Finally, to the Xight team from China – a great idea and a really dedicated team member who sat in the booth playing a bzillion games of Fruit Ninja WITH HIS EYES. Uh huh. You see (pun intended), Xight is an ‘eye tracking system’, which uses the captured images of human eyes to calculate the direction of users’ gazes. This technology can enable people with upper limb paralysis to control computers on their own. So clever and again, such a practical and genuinely useful application of technology.

For more info, you can check out Imagine Cup website here.

Over and out.

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The Imagine Cup (runneth over with amazing ideas)

Last week, EverydaySparks received an invitation to attend the worldwide finals of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup 2012, here in Sydney. I must confess that I’d never heard of the Imagine Cup before this, but the very name appealed to my fondness for both competition and creative geekery. I was hooked. Turns out, the Imagine Cup is A REALLY BIG DEAL. This year saw its 10th anniversary as the world’s premier student technology competition, aimed at finding solutions to real-world problems. Uh huh.

Sydney flies the flag(s) for Imagine Cup 2012. [pic by EverydaySparks]

A truly global competition – since 2003, more than 1.4 million students have participated in the Cup. And it’s HUGE – last year, 358,000 students represented 183 countries in the competition. Just think of all of that brain power focussed on the key theme: Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems. And yesterday, as I spent the whole afternoon wandering around the last day of the Imagine Cup worldwide finals as a guest of Microsoft, I got a glimpse of that world. And let me tell you friends, it is freakin’ amazing.

French team ‘Ecosia’ chillaxing with a game of giant chess. [pic by EverydaySparks]

At the Imagine Cup, they’re University students – with a difference. They have all had to compete in intense knockout competitions in their home countries before making it to the worldwide finals. Not for them the student traditions of waking up after midday, trying to scrape together enough coins for the beer & pizza special at the local pub, and frittering away countless hours staring at the cracks on the share-house wall. Or maybe they do get to do all those things, it’s just that with the rest of their time (in addition to studying to pass the killer exams for their demanding technology courses), these kids do other stuff. You know, like DEVELOP A MOBILE APP THAT TURNS YOUR SMARTPHONE INTO A DANGEROUS EXPLOSIVES DETECTOR (way to go, Poland’s team ‘Armed’). Or, a fun game on your phone that teaches you all about RECYCLING AND ATMOSPHERIC POLLUTION (nice work, France’s team ‘Ecosia’). Then there’s the Australian team ‘StethoCloud’, with the clear goal of REDUCING CHILD MORTALITY FROM PNEUMONIA.

Were they expecting me? [pic by EverydaySparks]

I mean, seriously. Did you ever know of any students who thought about such things, let alone students who dedicated months and years of their lives to developing technology to address these world problems? I am in awe and left feeling a little guilty about spending my early 20s worried about utter nonsense. Instead of Alzheimers Disease, clean water, blindness and dyslexia, to name just a few of the Imagine Cup projects.

I’m going to save the detail of some of my favourite teams for other posts, but wanted to share the overall experience with you today – I’m still buzzing after an incredible day celebrating some amazing geeks of the world. And, not only are they super bright with brilliant, innovative ideas, but they are all required to present their projects to the tough panel of judges, running live demos and answering serious technical questions. IN ENGLISH. Which for the vast majority of the contestants is their second (or third or fourth) language. Unbelievable.

Matthew Doyle opens the Award Ceremony. [pic by EverydaySparks]

We were invited to the Award Ceremony, where the atmosphere was electric. Better than a concert, there were flags and inflatables and crazy chants as the students enjoyed the last hours of their magical Imagine Cup experience. As the backdrop to the stage changed from the Sydney cityscape to an outback sunset, a lone didgeridoo and the fabulous Bangarra Dance company gave the crowd an unforgettable traditional Australian experience. And then there were inspirational speeches (including Jessica Watson, round-the-world sailor and another amazing young person), awards, tears, hugs and lots of laughs. I tell you – if these kids are responsible for the future of our planet, I’ve never felt safer.

You can read all about Microsoft’s Imagine Cup here. And I’ll be posting more about some of the sparks I saw there in the coming days.

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