July « 2015 « Tidepool News

Hi everyone,

If you’re getting this email, then you’re either a software developer I trust or an educator on the courseware team.

Either way, you’re invited to try next week’s Tidepool release candidate, which will have full programmability, so you can code your sketches to make fully interactive stories.

Are you able to set aside a few hours next week to test Tidepool?   I’d much rather have people I know find the inevitable bugs, so I can fix them before strangers arrive.

This is a make-or-break release … the most important of the alphas.  It’s also the first time we’re inviting people from outside our little group of 99 to try Tidepool, specifically the hundreds I spoke to at the ISTE conference last month.

The testing time will be between Monday and Sunday of next week.  Let me know if you can spare a few hours to download and test Tidepool in that time.

Thank you for the gift of your time, even if it’s just to read this email.

Take care,



For the last week, my wife and daughter have been helping me make “Let’s Play Tidepool” videos.  We’re using the latest dev version, which is all but untested.  As an incentive, I’m offering my daughter a popsicle for every bug she finds, and my wife a 15 minute back massage.  Needless to say, my bug count has skyrocketed in the last week.

As my mistakes are more visible, both at home and on YouTube, I’ve been on a bug fixing spree, which is probably a good thing.  While big-ticket new functionality like the scripting IDE is getting pushed back, my new bug focus keeps my efforts low to the ground.  I make smaller, safer changes knowing that later that day I’ll be hearing my daughter chant, “I found a bug!”

Yesterday I fixed the oldest bug in my tracker, one I’ve deemed optional for over a year.  The white dots around images are now gone, as can be seen on the bottom shot.  While it’s a subtle change, the world feels much cleaner as a result.  Little changes mean a lot.

Hi <name>,

I hope your summer is going well.

Watch Isabel, Paula and I stumble through the new Tidepool stuff in our daily Let’s Play series on YouTube. With hundreds of new teachers ready to try the next version, we’re on a bug hunt.

We’re also starting work with eight courseware authors, creating supplemental materials in Tidepool for a fourth grade curriculum.  Details can be found here.

If you’re interested in helping, or just to say hi, stop by our HipChat channel anytime.  You can leave a message even if no one’s there.

Take care,

Usually after pushing myself too hard, as I did before and during the ISTE conference, I lapse into a period of “lateral drift”, where I focus on unnecessary things, things that are not “shoulds”.  Some of my best ideas come during these times, though they’re always at the expense of something else I should be doing.

This week I added functionality to my Storymill web app (the Tidepool hub) to let me send email announcements to various groups that I define, such as courseware authors.  I also integrated Tidepool into a nifty new multiplatform IRC-like app called HipChat.  You can now click “chat” on the website to enter our chatroom, where you’ll see the chat within Tidepool itself and be able to talk with Tidepool players and other Hipchatters.

Now back to real work Smiley

After two days of sleep and Netflix binge-watching, I’ve started this morning on my pre-conference schedule, intent to get back to regular billable/Tidepool hours.

I’ve been brushing up on my computational linguistics, since the natural language interface seemed to interest people the most.  I’d actually bumped the cognitive agent (which has the NLI) to after the beta, but have now put it back.

Here’s a quick GIF showing the scene I made for the handouts.  Note the way I’m mixing 2D and 3D.  Also note how I erased on the walls to make cool windows.  The colors are flattened out here because my GIF isn’t great.

In other news, I’ve added all the podcast entries from the conference and beyond.  Mostly status stuff.

Four full days of wandering the cavernous halls of the Philly Convention Center, I’m mentally numb and exhausted, yet thankful and amazed at the reception Tidepool has gotten from the many I’ve spoken with here at ISTE 2015.  Working alone for so long, I’d all but forgotten the reason for it, but after a few hundred short conversations (and a couple very long ones), I’m entirely convinced of Tidepool’s merits.

Again and again, I’d start a conversation with someone nearby, ask where they were from and what they did, get to talking ed-tech, then do my quick Tidepool pitch:

“I’m making a programmable game world for kids (show the card).  The inaccurate but easy way to describe it is “Minecraft meets Scratch.”  It’s not like Minecraft because it’s a single multiplayer world, an MMO, that’s entirely hand-drawn.  All content is made by players.  They can change anything they see.  It’s not like Scratch because the programming model  is more flexible, more robust.  No top-heavy tiles that box you in.  We’re using a conversational approach where players literally chat with the agents they’re coding, using AI tech to make syntax and vocabulary more forgiving.”

Usually this led to the particulars they were most interested in, which then led to a larger conversation about the conference, ed-tech, or more personal topics such as family.  As the conference wore on, I spent less time talking ed-tech and more time talking about personal things.  Hearing yourself say the same thing over and over is its own kind of hell.  I began to crave connection more than bullet-point delivery.

Aside from my Tidepool talks, the conference itself was incredible.  More than 20,000 people who like what I like, with a huge expo hall filled with robotics, 3D printing, desktop VR, and much more.  The presentations and group talks filled my sails for a good time to come.

Now to drive home and sleep through the long-weekend.  I’m tired many times beyond what I thought possible, but eager to pick up my tools again and finish the next version, so my new friends can try Tidepool and help me build a new world.

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