These "Additional Comments" are killing me!

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Admittedly, I have only conducted 2 usability tests thus far, but they have both gone fairly smoothly. Both testers rated my Pong program easy to use and understand. However, I put an "Additional Comments" section at the end of my questionaire and both people say they want something that keeps track of the score in the game... they also weren't too thrilled about my design asthetic... with the ball being the earth and the stars the background :( Sooo... I guess it's back to the drawing board on those two areas for me... but I also wanted for feedback on the gameplay itself, because honestly, the program doesn't run perfectly yet...

I'll edit this entry once more tests have been conducted...

Back to EL405 site!

First Impression: Programming from Scratch

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MIT's Scratch program, available for free at, was designed to introduce young children to the world of computer programming. The software, which features familiar coding commands like if/else statements in oddly shaped characters which must be fitted together to function, makes programming feel like a puzzle. If the user has any previous coding experience, the learning curve for Scratch is minimal, but experienced coders could easily spend hours with the software coming up with some impressive programs. Users who are completely new to the programming world can just as easily spend time "playing" with the different puzzle pieces the software offers and eventually learn how to create a successful program. There is also an entire community, based out of the Scratch website, in which users can upload their programs, download others' programs and their source codes and comment on one another's projects. This community can nurture a great learning environment.

For my project using Scratch, I decided to create a Pong-style game in which the user plays against the "computer". I first looked at a number of Pong games that had been uploaded to the Scratch website and found that most of the programs were buggy. Sometimes the ball would slip through a paddle or the controls were just not responsive enough so I decided that I was going to create the quintessential Pong experience... at least, as quintessential a Pong experience that one could create using Scratch. I wanted a user-friendly interface, simple controls that work well and, most importantly, very little or no bugs in the program.

I have spent roughly 2 weeks working on the project off and on and I now feel ready to run some usability tests to see how well people respond to the game. What did I spend 2 weeks doing, you ask? Well, perfection is a lofty goal for which to strive. I was able to get a basic skeleton of a program going based on my limited knowledge of programming from the C++ (now a VERY outdated programming language) class I took in high school. The ball "bounced" off of both paddles. However, it was extremely glitchy. After tweaking the program for days and days (often only to have to go back to something I had originally done because what I had been "fixing" wasn't really a problem) I finally got the bright idea to decrease the size of the ball and what a WORLD of difference that made! The game now functions great and these usability tests should let me know what I still need to improve and/or change in the program.

Want to know what others are creating using Scratch? Check it out here.

Williams Chapter 10: Writing Justly

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In my faith, religion and society class today, we were discussing 'charity' and 'justice.' The students along with the professor decided that charity is doing good for an individual while justice is doing what is right for society as a whole.

Upon reading Williams Chapter 10, I was reminded of this discussion. We as writers, affect peoples' lives with our works; even the work we produce simply for class! The professor has to eventually read through all of our papers and more often than not, so do our peers as part of the draft process.

According to Williams, we as writers have a duty to ensure that our writing does not become "carelessly complex" (124). While it may seem like charity-work towards our professors and classmates, keeping our work as simple as possible (without dumbing it down) is actually doing society a justice. (*cue the national anthem in the background...)

Think of what a better place the world would be (or at least high school would have been) if Nathaniel Hawthorne had been kind enough to pare down his monumental paragraphs in The Scarlet Letter. We are the future folks! One day, our work could make its way into the literary canon! We need to face that responsibility head on and make sure that everything we write is written consicely, eloquently and most of all, with Style.

Read what my classmates have to say about Chapter 10.




Williams Chapter 9: THE POWER OF... "OF"

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Before I get to my point, I must say that Williams' Style is giving me literary whiplash. I understand that he broke down each chapter into different areas that writers should focus on to be better... well... writers. But when reading it in sequential order, as a book should be read, each chapter seems to negate or at least somewhat contradict what was said in the previous chapter. First, wordy sentences suck, thusly, short sentences are superb, then longer sentences make a triumphant return... and you know what? It's exhausting.

My favorite part of Chapter 9 though, is the emphasis and power that Williams places on the word "of":

"2. Of + Weighty Word

This seems unlikely, but it's true. Look at how Churchill ends his sentence: The light of (followed by a lighter a or the) quickens the rhythm of a sentence just before the stress of the climactic monosyllable, old:

. . . the rescue and the liberation of the old" (121).

I have been trying this little quickening of phrases using the word "of" and I gotta say: it works!

See what my coursemates had to say about this chapter!


"Sentence, paragraph, section, or whole-- how quickly, concisely, and helpfully you begin determines how easily your readers understand what follows" (99).

To me, this sentence is about HOW writers can make what they write more accessible to the readers. In that sample sentence from Williams' book, Style, it begins with different kinds of passages writer could pen (which goes against what the sentence is saying about getting to the point early). In the sentence below, you know from the BEGINNING of the sentence, what the sentence will be about!

Ex: When you begin a sentence, paragraph, section, or whole quickly, concisely, and helpfully your writing is easier for readers to understand.

See what my coursemates had to say about Williams Chapter 8.

William Chapter 7: You annoy me!

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"5 Principles of Concision"
1. Delete words that mean little or nothing.
2. Delete words that repeat the meaning of other words.
3. Delete words implied by other words.
4. Replace a phrase with a word.
5. Change negatives to affirmatives.
1. I LOVE words like "although" and "therefore" that according to Williams "mean little or nothing"... They help with the flow of the essay!
2. What's wrong with synonyms?! When it is necessary to repeat concepts that are brought up in an essay, I try to use different words to avoid sounding repetitive...
3. Okay... I like this one :)
4. Hmmm... I could probably do this, but I like my phrases...
5. Sometimes negatives can help your paper sound more argumentative and assertive (good for persuasive papers).
Okay, so I wasn't as annoyed with Chapter 7 as the title of this blog implied. I feel like there are certain kinds of essays and texts for which these tips are more applicable. I think that in academic essays in which we all try to sound extremely intelligent and add wordy phrases to expand our word count and page length these tips are utterly useless!  
See how my coursemates felt about this chapter!

Finishing what you start...

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"But if the first few words of a sentence are worth special attention, so are the last few. . ." (Williams, 66).

I cannot express how much of a revelation this single passage was for me... Rarely do I think about the ends of my sentences. I try to make my point right out-- unless I throw in a wordy clause at the beginning (which I am prone to do after all)-- and then just try to wrap up my thought as quickly as possible (once again, unless I throw in a clause at the end!).

This got me thinking that I really don't think about the end of my essays in general either. I feel that I write good introductions, fill the body of my essay with plenty of meaty information and then by the time I reach the conclusion, I just don't care and end up writing a hasty cop-out of a conclusion. In reality, what Williams said about sentences in Style can apply to essays as well; if what you discuss in the intro and body is of any importance, then the conclusion should reflect that as well.

I think that applying the advice that Megan gave in class one day about writing for a while, taking a break and then coming back to it could really help me apply this idea to my writing. I generally sit down in front of my computer with all my sources and don't stop writing until I am finished with the essay-- which could explain why I become fatigued by the end... we'll see how this goes for me... I'll update later!

See what my classmates thought about this chapter!  

Writing Activity

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For the writing activity in Media Lab on 3-16-2010, the sentence I wrote was:

"The class takes time to write a sentence on the screen."

The resulting sentences I recieved from my peers were:

"They begin learning how to write cohesivley.
I don't know which sentence started this conversation.
But I know that this sentence will finish this conversation!
Professor Jerz teaches the class how to write clear and solid sentences using Williams."

I'm not sure what happened, but maybe someone wrote their sentence above my sentence or something? I'm not sure why there was confusion. My edited, slightly coherent paragraph looks like this:

The Media Lab class takes time to write a sentence on the screen in order to learn to write cohesively. Professor Jerz uses Williams to teach the class how to write clear and solid sentences. After Professor Jerz's lesson, the students can clearly tell that the first sentence of this paragraph begins this conversation and this sentence finishes the conversation.

Yes, mine is awkward, but so were my sentences... don't judge me. 

Though mine didn't work out due to some confusion about where to write the next sentence, I could tell by reading the first sentence before I added my own on some of the others' screens that they will be able to make very clear paragraphs from their sentences.


Williams Ch. 5- Cohesion and Coherence

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I'm all for clarity and organization in writing... okay, in theory. I don't always execute these ideal principles because they often don't please my senses. When I write (or mostly type), I read aloud the words that I am typing. If a passage I write flows well, I don't much care if I violate the grand rules of (comlete) parallel structure and honestly, if something sounds better in twenty words than it does in ten, I am going to present it that way. However, I do think that Williams raises some valuable points in Chapter 5 of Style.

In the example on pg. 56-7, Williams tries to demonstrate how to make one's passages flow or read easier and more naturally. He gives two sentences:

"2a. The collapse of a dead star into a point perhaps no larger than a marble createsactive a black hole.

 2b. A black hole is createdpassive by the collapse of a dead star into a point perhaps no larger than a marble (56)."

As writers, we are expected to pick the first sentence as the correct one because it is in the active voice and-- I'll admit it-- that's exactly what I did. Williams is quick to point out though that if it helps the flow of your passage, use of the passive voice is perfectly permissable. Here is the sample passage he provided in which sentenct 2b fits:

"Some astonishing questions about the nature of the universe have been raised by scientists studying black holes in space. A black hole is created by the collapse of a dead star into a point perhaps no larger than a marble. So much matter compressed into so little volume changes the fabric of space around it in puzzling ways (57)."

I'm sorry, but that passage does not flow very well at all for me. I understand the lesson he is giving, but I feel that if that paragraph were ever in something that I wrote, I would not be attending this university. My version would probably go something like this:

Scientists have raised some astonishing questions about the nature of the universe by studying black holes, which are created by the collapse of a dead star into a point perhaps no larger than a marble. Etc. ...

I realizing that I'm being nit-picky, but bear with me because I am a bitter, wordy writer still trying to change. I do not think that ending a sentence with mentioning black holes and then starting the very next sentence with the term "A black hole" (57) [a tip that Williams actually gives in the "Diagnosis and Revision" section on pg. 59] flows very well at all, in fact I don't even think it sounds intelligent.

While I may differ some in opinion on his Cohesion lesson, I think that Williams hits the nail on the head with the lesson in Coherence. I can't count the number of papers that I have failed to see as a big "picture on the [puzzle] box" (60). I think that this tip is truly invaluable. All the parts of an essay or any piece of writing should work together. I know that that is basically the idea of the thesis, but thinking of it that way really helps me... I think.

 But of course, this is just my opinion. If you don't like it, or want to know what others think, check out what they had to say about this chapter.

Take THAT, Grammarians!

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"For 250 years, grammarians have accused the best writers of violating these invented rules, and for 250 years those writers have ignored them. Which is lucky for the grammarians, because if we did obey all their rules, the grammarians would have to keep inventing new ones or find another line of work" (Williams 10).

I don't think I can express how hard I laughed out loud when I read this passage. I do sometimes feel that there are those certain grammatical rules that are only in exisistence just to piss people off... such as "Don't use which for that, as in a car which I sold" (10). I still do not know the proper rules for when to use which and that, even after we went over it in class and you know what, I'm not sure that I care enough to know! I am a good writer, despite my agreeing to try to edit my wordy style of writing, and I know that. And you know what else, I HATE THE WORD 'WHICH' ANYWAY!! It just sounds awkward and stupid. 'That' flows much better in any sentence no matter what rule you break to insert it.