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Digital media students want to raise your carbon consciousness

“Carbon Chaos” may sound like the name of an alternative rock band, but it’s actually a new iPhone game created by students in the Masters of Digital Media at Vancouver’s Great Northern Way Campus (GNWC). The game was developed jointly by GNWC and TransLink in a bid to raise awareness of the impact of transportation choices on the environment.

The game, which is free on the iTunes store, is an action-puzzle game. Your goal is to put passengers onto buses, cars, or bikes and send them to their destinations to earn points. Bikes carry a single person, cars carry three people and buses take 10 people. Buses and cars give off carbon dioxide gases which block other vehicles from moving until the gases dissipate, so you have to plan your routes carefully and quickly.

The game was inspired by a challenge from adjunct professor David Eaves (who also advises Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson on open data and open government), says the game’s project manager, Luke Johnson. Eaves challenged students to come up with a game with an environmental theme, Johnson says. “We came up with the idea and pitched it to David and then narrowed down the vision from there.” When the game was finished, they donated it to TransLink to assist with distribution (there’s a link to the game from the TransLink website).

Johnson says the team didn’t have the resources to determine if the game actually increased environmental awareness, but otherwise, he’s happy with the results. “As far as the project team was concerned the game met all goals. An inexperienced team of students published an iPhone game in three months to acceptable reviews, and it's extremely satisfying to see the fans keep coming back to the game as they vie for position on the leaderboards. It was a great challenge and we all learned a great deal in the process, and of course we'd love to do it again.”

It’s an enjoyable and moderately challenging game, although the environmental message is somewhat simplistic and the game sometimes seems hastily put together (the plural of bus is sometimes spelled as "busses" and sometimes as "buses" in the game, and one of the “Did You Know” messages reads: “Did you know you can bring you bike on to the Skytrain, bus, Seabus and Westcoast express?”). It also includes links to various TransLink services. Definitely worth checking out if you have an iPhone. Kudos to the students, to TransLink, and to GNWC for developing and releasing a local, relevant videogame.

I’ll be writing more about Great Northern Way Campus and the Digital Media program in a later column. It’s a collaborative effort between the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design and the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Its mandate is to “intersect arts, technology and the environment in a manner that bridges academia with industry, artists with technology, and innovation with development. It is an integrative environment that builds community and celebrates innovation,” according to the GNWC website.

Also in tech news this week:

The media furor about technical issues with the new iPhone 4’s antenna almost obscured the announcement that the phone will be arriving in Canada on July 31. Bell and Rogers will be offering the iPhone 4, so check with them if you’re interested in switching or upgrading.

Facebook now boasts a mind-boggling 500 million users. That’s half a billion people who have Facebook accounts. Now, a certain portion of those are of course people who have signed up and either never used their accounts or people who have drifted away from the all-pervasive social media site. And there’s also a surprisingly large number of Facebook users who have died. And with the fastest growing Facebook demographic people over the age of 65, what to do with the accounts of deceased members is of growing concern to Facebook. The New York Times discusses how Facebook is grappling with deceased Facebookers.

Also in the Times, the Digital Domain column says children from lower income families who start using computers end up doing less well academically, especially if they also get a broadband connection. “Students posted significantly lower math test scores after the first broadband service provider showed up in their neighborhood,” the Times reports. Researchers speculated that parents in lower income families were less able to supervise their kids’ use of computers so the kids spent more time playing games than studying. Columnist Randall Stross suggests: “students are champion time-wasters. And the personal computer may be the ultimate time-wasting appliance. Put the two together at home, without hovering supervision, and logic suggests that you won’t witness a miraculous educational transformation.”

And in other bad news for teens, the Globe and Mail reports that kids stare at screens -- computer or television -- for seven hours a day. But public health officials such as the Canadian Paediatric Society recommend no screen time for children under two years of age and a maximum of two hours for children older than two, the article says.

The West Vancouver library is now loaning out Kindle e-readers, according to the Georgia Straight. The library has six Kindles, which patrons can borrow for three weeks at a time. Each comes with 50 books installed.

If you’re curious about what information advertisers are collecting about you on line, and what sort of profile they’re assembling, check out a free Firefox and Chrome plugin offered by Bynamite (www.bynamite.com). Not only can you view your profile, you can let the data aggregators know when they’re wrong.

Finally, for a refreshingly funny and sceptical look at how technology pervades our lives, check out Jen Sorensen's weekly Slowpoke comic strip. This week she wonders what would happen if Facebook's "like" feature caught on in the real world...

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