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Weekly Click September 5th, 2012

We like a good pregnant pause (and not just because everyone in the studio is having babies!) so please forgive us if we go a few weeks between Weekly Click articles. But time flies if we're not careful. Before we get too used to protracted absences, let's dive into another week of links. Featured Article

Intriguing Habitats, and Careful Discussions of Climate Change

We were very excited to see this great press for the New England Aquarium in the New York Times the other day.  The article highlighted the challenge of zoos and aquariums to convey important information about climate change to their audiences without overwhelming them with fear and daunting doomsday statistics (of which, sadly, there are many).  We're working on an exciting project with the New England Aquarium right now that does just that--empowers the visitors with information about innovations in the field of climate change.  We use some fun illustrations and animations of sea life to draw in the user and then wow them with ways that they can take action and learn more about climate change.  We hope to do many more projects with our friends and neighbors on the Seaport!

What Do Swedes Think of The Swedish Chef?

As the legend goes, when the Muppet Show was translated for broadcast in Sweden, the name of the Swedish Chef was changed to "The Polish Chef" to avoid controversy and presumably to avoid offending the local population. Meanwhile, the name of the chef was left unchanged when it was exported to Poland and the rest of Europe. Poles, on vacation in Sweden, would find themselves mocked by native Swedes with the Chef's "hur-dee-dur-bee-dur" only to misinterpret it as a Swedish lexical tic and comment to each other haughtily, "See? They actually DO talk like that!" (This story has since been rendered apocryphal).

So what is the truth, then? How do Swedes actually feel about their unofficial spokesman? As it turns out, their evaluation ranges from jovial acceptance to cool disapproval. But the worst of it? To most Swedes the "Swedish" Chef doesn't even sound Swedish! The Slate article linked above goes into good detail (with audio cues) and makes the case that the Swedish Chef actually sounds, well, Norwegian. Of course, it was never his "Swedishness" that was ever under scrutiny, it was his cooking. His incoherent pseudo-Swedish babble raised a gentle parody of our late-century obsession with cooking shows to ludicrous absurdity in a way that only Jim Henson could engineer.

Kids Go Gaga Over Tablets

We love tablets, and over the last few posts have discussed the effects of tablets on children and the possible impact these technologies will have on child development. For those interested, Mashable has put together a GIANT infographic that details the rise of Apple's mobile computer presence both in and outside of the classroom. The key take-away here is that devices like iPads and iTouches are becoming pervasive and in the near future will account for how most of us consume media from books to movies to music. has a great supplementary infographic that details how schools are being shaped by an influx of cheap, easy-to-use tech.

What's the Difference Between Games and Gamification?

You know about games. They're things you play to bring you enjoyment. Sometimes you use cards, a board with pre-set spaces and rules, sometimes a game machine. However you do it, you know what a game is. So what then is "Gamification"? What exactly are its ends and what does it achieve? If you've ever wondered here's your simple answer. Gamification is the act of inserting game-like rewards, achievements and badges into your product to encourage players to continue playing it (often inserted into otherwise non-game products to hold a user's interest longer). Gamification can be incredibly fun and rewarding (see "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?") or horribly executed and uninspired. The article is also quick to note that games don't really even need to be created with an educational goal in mind to be used in ways that enrich a student's understanding of a topic. This is a really great article that emphasizes the core role of games: create a compelling world that a user can get lost inside of and will play to the end.



Weekly Click August 21, 2012

Well, here we are folks: Mid-August. Summer's wrapping up so let's dive headlong into some cool articles that our team has been reading in this season of extended daylight and broken-down subway cars.

App Store Failure and Personal Responsibility

Our featured article comes from a blog titled "Programming in the Twenty-First Century" written by James Hague. Hauge looks at what he jokingly refers to as the "growing literary genre" of "Wrote an [app] and it didn't make any money." Which is true or true enough for most programmers, especially independent ones or those working for small, local businesses trying to get their foot in the door of digital distribution. Hague, however, has no comforting words for those developers, nor is he quick to blame app-hungry consumers spoiled on a cheap apps from big, profit-heavy development houses that can afford to eat their initial losses.

Instead, Hague lays the blame of an app's failure strictly on its creator. More succinctly, Hague's argument is "You've created an app--so what?". But Hague's argument can be blown out and applied to any creative endeavor: writing, music, art, dancing, whatever. Point is, most creators fail in one of two very basic ways: conception or execution. Obviously those projects that are hastily conceived usually fail to make it off of the cocktail napkin. For those projects that make it to design and define or beyond, execution is literally everything.

Well, maybe it's not everything, but it's a large part of everything. Consumer tastes will change and people's whims will come and go. Not everything will remain in the designer/developer's control. Hague wants developers to approach app creation as craft, much like other artists would their art. Apps should look good and be fun to play or easy to use. Developers need to engage with their prospective audience and really have a firm understanding of what works and what people expect. Only after they've put in that work, and only then, can they complain that the system is stacked against them. Until then, there's no one to blame but yourself when you only sell a hundred copies of your "Angry Birds" knock-off.

Little Techie

Kids. When they want something, they really want something. And there's really only two ways that scenario can end: they beg you for it until you're ready to scream (or acquiesce) OR they go on ahead and use the tools at their disposal to make low-tech versions of the gadgets and toys their little, still-developing hearts desire. "Little Techie" is a Tumblr run by Summer Allen who documents all of the paper and LEGO creations of his son London. And here's the thing about London: he LOVES Mac gadgets. So much so that he's constantly building, creating and reinventing his dad's devices. Check out the pictures behind the link.

Thirty Classic Sesame Street Visits

Time to toot our own horn! Entertainment Weekly has named its thirty favorite celebrity appearances. And while Tina Fey and Will Arnett (who appeared as a magician, ha ha. We love Arrested Development humor) stole the top two spots, Oprah Winfrey's The O Network skit made it to spot #4! The animation was developed by FableVision Studios and features the letter O -- voiced by Oprah herself --hosting her own O-themed talk show. In typical Sesame Street fashion, the skit is equal parts silly and educational, with just a hint of pop culture satire. It's a project that we couldn't have been happier to be a part of and are still very proud of. Watch the full animation below.

Students Train to Become Video Game Designers

So you want to become a video game designer? Well it's going to take more than just playing a lot of video games. In fact, even if you know how to program and can do so competently, it's still going to take more. Knowing how is important, but having some evidence that you can and have is just as important. Which is why the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute set up a program at Becker College in Worcester, MA to facilitate just that kind of experience. The program invites students from across Massachusetts to design and develop their own game on a tight schedule. At the end of the program the students get to present their projects and network with The Tap Lab, a local Cambridge game company. It's a great way to help students cement their growing skill sets while giving them real-world experience they can use for resume building.

Tearaway Teaser

Tearaway is a new game coming out for the PlayStation Vita (successor to Sony's PlayStation Portable game system). Tearaway looks like it will take advantage of all of the ways a user can interact with the game via the game system. Users can tap, turn, shake, scream and blow at or on the system to effect in-game changes. It's a cool way to modify how people play games. Game systems just sit on a shelf while we hold a controller on the other side of the room. Even handheld systems require a limited amount of interaction. However, it looks like the developers are using every feature of the handheld to their advantage. While we're not ready to shell out the money for a handheld gaming system, we love the idea and would be totally cool with you lending us your PS Vita to play it.



Weekly Click July 26, 2012

Welcome everyone to the latest edition of FableVision's Weekly Click. We hope you're all enjoying your summer. Pretty soon it'll be August and all the comes with it: the last long days of summer, students getting ready to go back to school while the rest of us wonder where all of those balmy, sunny days disappeared to. It's been a little while since we posted a Weekly Click, so let's dig right in. There's a lot of stuff to work with this week. Featured Article

No Child Left Behind

‘No Child’ Law Whittled Down by White House

One of the most contested education reforms in the last twelve years has to be "No Child Left Behind". The law has had mixed results and some criticize its obsessive focus on testing. In an attempt to ease some of the harsher restrictions, the Obama administration has begun to issue waivers to specific states on the condition that those states set their own standards for student achievement. The fact that these waivers still put an overwhelming emphasis on testing has left some educators cold.

Perhaps the key takeaway here is from Joseph Star, who commented to the Times that, "education reform should focus on incentives to help teachers collaborate and help students learn skills that could not simply be measured by tests." This is a big, important claim. Education has become narrow-minded in its focus to the detriment of its students. While the goals of No Child Left Behind are admirable, the clumsy execution has made very little room for educators to encourage play, discovery or creativity in the classroom lest it cause their students to deviate from their rigid lesson plan.

While there are no easy answers, what is sure is that neither Bush's "No Child Left Behind" nor Obama's "Waiver" process is going to adequately resolve the education crisis. Active engagement with school systems, their faculty and the students themselves is the right way forward.

The Crayola-fication of the World

There's an old thought experiment -- maybe you've heard it before -- that goes something like this: There is a possibility that the colors we subjectively experience are not the objective colors in the '"real" world. For example, we are taught that a certain shade and hue equals "red", so when we see a Rose or a Firetruck we immediately associate their dominant colors as "red". But what if that subjective "red" we see is really someone else's "blue"? We both associate two different colors with the same word because culturally and linguistically we've been trained to "see" that color as "red" instead of "blue" and vice-versa and so forth.

Admittedly, the hypothesis doesn't hold up under too much scrutiny but the main point (the one about language and subjective color experience) actually has some truth behind it. It turns out that language actively shapes what kinds of colors we can actively perceive in the external world.  The paper linked to above goes into greater detail but the basic gist is that words pertaining to color influence color perception. There is no 1:1 ratio pertaining to color perception (that is, knowing more words won't make you better at seeing colors or differentiating between shades of color) but that color perception is built into individual cultures via their dominant languages. More research has yet to be done, but this is a fascination read and worth careful consideration.

Dance, Dance, Dance

We have been accosted by Klondike for the last ninety years about what lengths we'd go to, in no imprecise terms, for one of their frozen treats. While those lengths have been exaggerated, it turns out that in reality, we'd do just about anything to get free food. Pavlov would probably drool if he saw these videos. People slap buttons, dance, bow and perform just about any ridiculous task required of them to get their hands on a box of . . . uh . . . chips. I mean at some point someone should have pointed out that adage about time being money, right? Granted there's a depression on but we're hoping this isn't the future of snack distribution. Watch the video behind the link.

The Evolution of the Web

The technology that we use to host, create and distribute content on the web has changed drastically in the last twenty years. More accurately, the web that we know and enjoy now didn't truly exist until a decade ago. And if we bring mobile web into the equation, well, we don't have a lengthy history at all. Web standards have improved and the internet is more than just an information superhighway; it's a place where ideas are cultivated and exchanged. Hard as it is to believe, the Internet is still in its "wild west" days, although that time is rapidly coming to a close. The Evolution of the Web is a great info graphic that details the rise and expansion of the web. Look back as this info graphic traces the rise and fall of standards, web browsers and tracks the rapid expansion of internet traffic.

The Productivity Handbook

Here's a good one. We're all pretty tied to social networks at this point. So how can we use those social networks to our advantage when it comes to being productive at work? John Jantsch from Duct Tape Marketing has laid out in precise fashion what exactly productivity looks like in the media-hungry, app-savvy 21st century. He walks you through some pretty obvious options like Evernote and Gmail as well as some less-obvious ones like Stumbleupon and Instagram. This guide (in PDF format) is worth a look if you use any of these apps on a regular basis.



Weekly Click June 21st, 2012

Boy it's hot out there (we guess, we've been inside all day), we hope you're all staying cool. A balmy June Thursday can mean only one thing -- another FableVision Weekly Click! We're talking about all of our favorite topics again this week: books, movies and animation. Featured Article

Reading Rainbow is Back!

We hate the be the latest in a cacophony of voices shouting, "Remember the 90s?" (the answer a resounding "YES--it was only twenty years ago") but if you were a child of 90s television you probably have some memory of watching LeVar Burton's Reading Rainbow. Burton, most commonly known for his roles in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Roots, produced and hosted the show from 1983 until it was cancelled in 2005.

Burton has spent the last few years revamping the series for the digital age and officially unveiled what he dubbed "Reading Rainbow 2.0". On June 19th, 2012, Burton announced the launch of the Reading Rainbow app. The app will contain the same content as the television show including 150 interactive books.

We love to see technology adapting to new and current trends. Burton makes a great point in the article that Reading Rainbow was a product of the era it was made in. Children were still hooked on television, so to put a show about books on air made sense. However, how we distribute, consume and process information is radically different in 2012. We stream music and movies and our children use our mobile devices to entertain themselves. At home they play video games or watch pre-recorded TV. If we're going to instill in our children a love of reading, the best place to get their attention is going to be as an app.

It's $9.99 (USD) a month for a subscription service. Content will update regularly, but there is no timetable listed. If you have a child that hasn't taken an interest in reading, or if you have a child who's already a bookworm looking for something to play on your iPad, this might be a great bet.

The Changing Hue of Movie Posters

Do you like movies? If so then you might like Vijay Pandurangan's visualization of movie poster colors from 1914 to 2012. The results might surprise you, they might not. As it turns out, movie posters have been getting darker over the years. This might have something to do with blues and dark colors naturally catching our eyes, or it might have something to do with how poster printing and preservation has changed through the years. Pandurangan's blog spreads some more light on his process, which he admits needs tweaking. He states that he will be revising his visualization in the coming months. While you're there, take a look at the comments section. His readers are smart and have some great thoughts, hypothesis and criticisms of the work that Pandurangan will hopefully take into account for version two.

How to Read a Racist Book to your Kids

Perhaps the most difficult part about raising a modern child is that the morality and ethics of past generations is often at odds with our own. How then do we reconcile old, outdated art rife with racist or bigoted subject matter? Stephen Marche at the New York Times takes a look at just that subject. The answers aren't easy, especially when dismissal or elision can be misconstrued as tacit approval. Marche's over all point is a good one:  it's important to think carefully about ways to have these discussions with our children. "When" sometimes isn't as important as "How" or "Why" (As you can see the "When" in his case presented itself). How we deal with sometimes difficult topics of race, religion and gender will in turn effect how our children view those topics. And often, it's not as simple as "we just won't read that book". These topics permeate all cultures, and even if a story or piece of children's art is not totally politically correct, we can find ways to make them teachable moments while still enjoying the overall story.


On a lighter note, we have a great (and appropriate) video from Jacob Streilein called "Swelter". It's a two-minute video about a boy and his father looking for  a cool drink to relieve them of the heat. So pretty much what we're all doing here in Boston. It's a superbly animated piece. Take a look and maybe grab yourself a glass of cold water.

Swelter from Jacob Streilein on Vimeo.



Weekly Click: June 14, 2012

Welcome back to FableVision's Weekly Click. This week we're going to be looking at what the rise of digital publishing means for young readers, changing marketing demographics in the technology sector, the four kinds of fun in good games, and we catch up with our friend Noah Z. Jones. Featured Article

Ebooks and iPad

No More Reading Wars!

If you were with us last week, you saw that we talked about the effect interactive apps have on a child's vocabulary. The results, while not outstanding, were encouraging. Children receive a boost in vocabulary when using apps tailored to education and learning. This week, The Huffington Post has a great (and lengthy) article that details a study done to see how children and their guardians engaged with print versus electronic books.

Much like last week, the results are encouraging. Children and adults engage about an equal amount when reading print books, basic e-books and their "enhanced" counterparts. The study does find, however, that children tend to recall fewer narrative details from enhanced e-books than with their print and basic counterparts. While enhanced e-books are a fun diversion, if parents hope to squeeze any educational benefit from their reading sessions, they should choose e-books without interactive content. The post goes into great detail, so we'd encourage everyone to click through and read it when you get the chance.

For creators the take away here should not be "Do Not Make E-Books", but rather to understand how children (and adults) interact with a story to reduce impediments to their understanding. Although, it makes us wonder how interactive e-books on STEM subjects compare to their dead-tree counterparts? Interactive activities, lessons and experiments seem like they would go a long way helping kids understand difficult subjects like physics and calculous.

While we're on the topic, here's a great list of FREE e-books for children. Not all of them are classics and some are kind of unsuitable for 'modern' children (ironic), but the list is well worth a look! There are lots of formats to choose from that will work on just about any e-reader.

Sorry Young Man, You're Not the Most Important Demographic in Tech

If you don't happen to fall into the "18-35 year old Male" demographic, you may feel a little left out when it comes to tech companies catering to your interests. You wouldn't be wrong. For a long time that demographic has been the most coveted target audience. Men have been seen as the money-makers and trend-setters, especially in the world of technology. But that looks like that's about to change. According to a new poll, women now lead in almost every category of tech adoption. Hopefully, this will signal a sea-change not only in how we advertise tech (which the article notes has been woefully sexist for some time) but in how the industry regards women in general. We're starting to think that the "Rise of the Brogrammer" has been overstated.

XeoDesign and the Four Fun Keys

Speaking of women in technology, XeoDesign's Nicole Lazzaro has outlined the four keys to creating games that captivate and hold gamers' attentions. Those four keys are: Hard Fun, Easy Fun, Serious Fun and People Fun.  XeoDesign has designed an app around these four key elements called Tilt, and it's available in the app store now. It's interesting to think that great games actually cycle through all four of these key elements and how each of them corresponds to a different element of play. We love the way these ideas make us think about games, gaming and play and look forward to integrating these concepts into our own design process.

Almost Naked Animals gets into gaming

We come at last to our old friend Noah Z. Jones. Not long ago Cartoon Network picked up a SECOND show from him: Almost Naked Animals (the first being Disney's Fish Hooks), based on the blog of the same name. Now it looks like ANA is going to have a series of games adapted from it. One will be an interactive online game where players run a hotel as characters from the series. Two unnamed mobile games are planned for release later this year.  While details are a little scarce, we're excited to get our hands on these games! Lots of us over here are addicted to Tiny Towers, so it's only a matter of time before we're clicking around our own hotels as tiny, pixelized, almost naked animals.

If you can't wait, here are some fun games already up on their site!