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Topic: STEM and Simulations
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kirby urner

Posts: 3,690
Registered: 11/29/05
STEM and Simulations
Posted: Dec 28, 2010 5:27 PM
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We have a long history of computer games being
multi-disciplinary by this time, at least in subject
matter. For marketing purposes, if writing for the
education market, it pays to define your niche:
is this science (chemistry? physics?), math
(linear equations, differential equations?) or what?

With the advent of STEM as an acronym, it gets
easier to not have to subcategorize. True, we
don't have states coming up with "integrated
standards", but that just leaves more room for
the simulations providers to use their imaginations.

To this end, I've been haunting some local Portland
circuits in search of "weapons inspector" game
programmers, as here we're finding the somewhat
ideal mix of GIS/GPS, real world relevance (not
just fantasy notions, per Spores), and a lot of
excuses for side trips into the various disciplines,
such as particle physics (half-life, beta decay,
gamma decay, neutron damping, heavy water...)
and forensics (document forgery, authentication
of sources, cross-checking accounts).

The idea is to storyboard several versions, with
a low key board of advisers drawn from all walks
of life. The graphic novel and underground comic
versions might be included in preview form in such
e-rags as GeekOut!, which has come out twice so
far. You have Scott Ritter to draw on, as an
action figure, and Valarie Plame Wilson, who
shows up more recently in 'Countdown to Zero'
( ). The
"control room" behind any given "away team"
(multi-user version) is a rich source of relevant
data. You'll want to study your maps.

The other simulation I've been talking about a
lot on this list has had to do with energy grids.
You need a zoomed-in and zoomed-out view,
corresponding to "microeconomics" and
"macroeconomics" respectively. On the one
hand, your goal is to be energy efficient in your
household or place of business. Using electricity
on an industrial scale, versus simply running
home appliances, will be modeled in some
packages. On the other hand, you'll want to
see the grid more as your energy supply sources
see it, as an interconnecting infrastructure that
takes power from several sources while responding
to peaks and troughs in demand. When a heat
wave goes through, you're looking at lots of
air conditioning. If you over-tax your circuits,
rolling brown-outs may be the result (we had
those in the Philippines a lot, back when ENRON
was taking over).

Obviously it'd make sense to simulate other
energy grids besides the electrical one. When
a cold snap hits, that takes you more to your
heating oil and natural gas grid simulations,
although many use base-board. Think about
coal, think about nuclear. Yes, it's a lot like
SimCity, but with more attention to detail and
to actual grid-scapes. It's not so fictional, when
you get to MIT, and start looking at the actual
infrastructure. Is it wise to allow hydrofracturing
in the "cosmopolis" watershed? I'm talking about
the largest unfiltered water supply to some of the
world's largest urban areas: New York; Philadelphia
- -- all drawing their drinking water from where the
Hudson begins.

So where will these games come from and will
students be allowed to play them? The largest
public educator in the land, the military, already
has its games going, with large and loyal followings.
The civilians have been slow to keep pace, admittedly.
You'd think we already be there. Why so retarded?
Well, keep in mind that "smart meters" are new and
the private sector is squeamish about sharing data
in the clear. Not only do you need to protect
customer confidentiality, but you need to not
divulge too much to the competition about market
share. Business is all about keeping secrets. So
the realism we're seeking, in wanting to model the
actual grids, is not easy to come by. The military
gets away with its recruiting games by admitting up
front that their purely fictional. The actual data is
all bottled up, only gets out through leaking and/or
official declassification (a bottleneck, worse than
Von Neumann's).

However, at the high school level we're maybe not
that particular. Go ahead and conceal the actual
water flow numbers, twixt Bull Run, the sacred
watershed (consecrated by Teddy Roosevelt) and
Mt. Tabor reservoirs, via aqueduct. Add realism
as the grad students get closer to working for
the city. Or, if you're in a high school that allows
early college enrollment, maybe find a course at
PSU that taps you into the relevant data sets, and
help us get this game going. Consider tapping
Ecotrust for some funding? The day should be not
far away when every city is allowed to be introspective
about its own water supply, without fear.

I'll continue getting the word out there, about our
curriculum requirements. Universities finding a
demand for "weapons inspector" as a career path
need to come up with something. Perhaps MIT
will wanna help out. I should mine my OLPC
connections and see what I come up with. As a
state, we've been big fans of Stella, running
tournaments through OMSI, with support from
Software Associate on Oregon. Stella is
simulation software, though an earlier generation
by now. Patrick Barton of Portland Energy
Strategies has been one of those backing the
simulations approach. Keith Devlin gets more
press though, maybe because he's more purely
mathematical than STEM (the idea of STEM as
an integrated subject is still somewhat new).

I have a meeting with First Person Physics
guru, Dr. Bob Fuller emeritus (University of
Nebraska @ Lincoln), 4:30 PM. We'll talk about
a lot of this I'm sure. There's a Python angle
(for the programming side).


Message was edited by: kirby urner

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