Archive for February, 2014

Creating websites are a headache. Especially when you’re not quite sure what you want to do with them. It’s a bit harder when you’re not sure what you want to say, even though you kind of do – but not sure how to get it across. That is a strange concept for someone who is generally a writer – I don’t usually have trouble finding the right words for things. But I have no idea how I should be designing a possible website for a Copy Editing hobby-come-part-time business.

My father raises money for Ty Gobaith – Hope House, in North Wales, through Eirianlys VRFM. He’s asked me to help raise more money through writing and singing music with him, and also to see if offering my copy editing services via his store might help raise more money too. The idea would be that the editing services are offered at a reduced rate, for simple editing tasks – essays, blogs, articles, eBooks… any kind of writing really. It’s a service that is often overlooked and can be ridiculously expensive. I already work for Sea to Sky online magazine and do a lot of work for them, on screen and directly on the website. It wouldn’t be much bother to do a few extra ones, with a percentage of money going to Hope House.

It would be particularly good to help young people, or students – especially those who have some difficulty with writing essays.

I started out with my younger sister. She had dyslexia and had trouble at school, but despite that she went on to study in uni in London. She passed her BA – but not without help. Her lecturers wouldn’t look past her difficulties with writing, and marked her down constantly. In the end she turned to me for help, and I edited her essays – especially the important ones – so they all made sense, were grammatically correct, and read well. With that little bit of help, she graduated with a 2:1. I was disappointed the lecturers simply took the material offered at face-value and gave credit heavily influenced by writing style rather than content. The same happened with my friend, studying Philosophy. She had great ideas, but couldn’t write them down coherently enough to be followed, and kept getting low grades for her papers. The first one I edited, it came back with an A-minus grade on it, instead of the usual C-minus. Nothing had changed except the way the papers were presented. I didn’t write or re-write them – I have no idea about the first thing of Philosophy (I studied Performing Arts, English & Psychology). I simply ensured there was grammatical coherence, structure, and that what was there read well. The content was there… The structure was not. Therefore, when the content was presented with the structure in place, both of them received the grades they deserved.

knowing your shit - mousemat

Not everyone has the same ability to write what is in their minds down eloquently – or even especially coherently. Even when we think we have made excellent points in eloquent ways, to another person reading it, what we think makes perfect sense does not. Misplaced commas, extra-long paragraphs without commas, using the wrong words with the wrong meanings, misspelling certain words with more than one spelling option… There are a lot of reasons that what we think makes perfect sense to us, does not to others. Our brains fill in gaps, make leaps of assumptions, and see things that aren’t there when it comes to reading back what we have written. We intended to write one thing, and despite the fact it is incorrect, we see it there and see it as correct anyhow, because we now assume it to be there. To someone else, who has no preconceptions of what you are writing about, the mistakes are glaringly obvious.

This is why even the best writers require editors to check their work – it’s too easy to overlook things we assume are correct, because we expect to see certain words, phrases, spellings, etc in our own writing. Another person editing that work will not, and they will be able to plug the holes, fill the gaps, and weed out the garden of words you have created, to allow what is there to bloom beautifully and speak for itself.

This is what I enjoy giving to others. It also helps that it’s loads of fun to do too!

grammar police

Judge The Grammar...

More proof technology saves lives, and it’s not just in hospitals:

 

Phone Signal Saves Stuck In Bog Pair

 

You might take the GPS on your phone for granted, to make sure you get Google or Apple maps, or find your local pub – or ATM when you’re in the pub, – but on this dark and cold night in February, these two were saved because of it. Because rescuers were able to locate them through the GPS.

There’s more than the obvious ways for tech to save lives. And these guys were saved because of the tech scientists of the world – those nerds, geeks and lab rats people always make fun of – the ones who developed GPS technology then put it in phones. This tech alone has already saved countless other lives.

 

Revenge of the Nerds…
Oh, and to everyone who thinks being a nerd, geek or brain box is a bad thing, I say Pah-hah! … These are the guys who just might one day inadvertently save your life. Which is nicer than the bullying you did to them, all you ignorant people who though they were cannon-fodder for your cruel jokes to make your mates laugh (yes, I was not of those victims).

… Because of this, I find it amazing, that – just like me – other nerds, geeks, brain boxes, and science lab rats are always treated badly by supposedly “regular” people – first in school, then outside in the world. Mixing with others is quite hard for us as it is, and then they make it worse by generally being ignorant or mean.

Then they go and do things like play with their iPhones, watch their TVs, use the Internet… Get saved by a blood test diagnosing something they have in time for successful treatment, or being found by GPS in the middle of nowhere at night. And who made those things happen? Those very same em>nerds, geeks, brain boxes, and science lab rats they bullied at school.

I’ve not done anything that useful (but then I am still fairly young…!), but loads of other people have. Men and women who were the girls and boys who also got bullied at school for using their brains and being passionate about science, maths, and technology. My hope is that as the geeks start taking over the world more and more, others start to respect their place in it, and actually give them the respect they deserve – for these will be the people who create new cures and vaccines, new life saving tech, new play tech, gadgets to make your life easier, or cooler, and awesome games to play.

Game developers helped save my life: Those games helped get me through hard times and learn different skills, helped beat off a disease eating my mind and my emotions… Depression is a killer, and the games I played helped me through really bad episodes. So you see, there are lots of ways to be saved. But save they do, and it’s all down to those people who think, tech, maths, and science is awesome.

I’m not as good as them, but I’m glad I’m kinda one of them and share the same passion for these things. I’m glad it helped save me.

Cancer Research released an amazing app from an ingenious idea – a basic mobile app game that could also analyse complex cancer DNA data at the same time: Genes In Space (covered in Gaming More Than Games). When my friend read about it, she was amazed and incredulous  – she couldn’t work out how this could possibly be done. She is a cynic and expected it to be untrue – I expect many without some idea of how tech applications can work, and who have never heard of such things before, would not believe that a simple space-travelling game could help geneticists unravel DNA codes of cancers.

So I have the very simple answer right here, for those of you who care to know.

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The Background

The story behind this particular model for data analysis is based on one simple fact – the human brain is better than any computer. Scientists can run lots of certain data analyses on computers, but some things can only be seen by people:

… this research produces colossal amounts of data that need to be analysed.  Advances in technology mean our scientists can process data faster than ever to identify new patterns and faults in tumours. But much of it still needs to be analysed by people rather than machines. The human eye can detect subtle changes that machines are not programmed to look for – leading to serendipitous discoveries providing clues to the causes and drivers of the disease.

This work is currently done by our trained scientists and can take years.  But with the collective power of hundreds of thousands of people across the globe helping our scientists to analyse this data we could drastically speed up research – hopefully saving lives faster.

Citizen science is a new way of including the public in our scientific research outside the laboratory.

The upshot of this is that they need to develop a way to get as many people as possible in on this – and this is the best way to get a hell of a lot of people – with absolutely no knowledge of science, but a wealth of commuter time to kill – to help them do as much data analysis as possible.

But then you may be left with the same question my friend had – just how did they do it? How is this complex data mapped and analysed by a simple game? Amazingly enough, she worked it out herself after a brief interlude of logical thinking, having played the game and slept on it (she wanted to work it out on her own). This part is for everyone else who doesn’t share her enthusiasm for solving logical problems for the hell of it.

This idea first started back in March 2013 with a GameJam (for those who do not live in tech-land, this is a group brainstorming session for game developers, programmers, designers, and the like – where they all get together and brainstorm ideas on how to develop something new). This GameJam was arranged because they already thought turning the analysis program into a game was a good idea:

The first step [was] for forty ‘hackers’ – computer programmers, gamers, graphic designers and other specialists – to take part in a weekend ‘GameJam’, or hackathon, to turn Cancer Research UK’s raw gene data into a game format, with a working title of GeneRun, for citizen scientists to play.

To make something like this – a game that is more than just a game – is not even a new idea. Others have already come before to use this model: Fold It is already an established organisation that has been evolve with this in mind, with the subtitle of:  Solving Puzzles for Science, and available on Windows, OSX, and Linux platforms. There are others.

It is therefore no wonder that Cancer Research UK decided this was a really good way to go. But just how did they manage to turn a massive data analysis project into a little spaceship game?

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Here Comes The Science…

It took some time to go through this idea (the full story can be read by clicking on the quote above). The result of this lengthy collaboration process resulted in the game we now finally have: Genes In Space. The collaboration for this game involved behemoths of the online industry, including Amazon Web Services, Facebook and Google developers, who joined academics, scientists, gamers and designers. The final product, a year later, was Play To Cure: Genes In Space.

The process of its data collection focused on two key aspects:

      • firstly when you map your route through the Element Alpha
      • secondly when you fly your spaceship through the intergalactic space course to collect this substance

 

What happens behind the scenes of the game is that these functions correlate to analysing data the scientists require:

In the game, you take the helm of a spaceship to collect valuable and powerful ‘Element Alpha’. The stroke of genius is that in doing so you are actually helping our scientists to analyse piles of real life data.

… the game is actually a fun interface to allow the public to assist our scientists in the serious business of spotting patterns in gigabytes of genetic information from thousands of tumours.

… in a nutshell, by finding the best route to pick up the most Element Alpha, you’re actually plotting a course through genuine ‘DNA microarray’ data.

In other words, the real data the scientists are working on is entered into the game, then these data sets are “translated” into the flightpath of the in-game spaceship, to fly through in space.

By plotting the key points for your flightpath to maximise the collection of “Element Alpha”, you are in fact actually plotting your way through the real cancer DNA code, to maximise analysis of the DNA data they have – as you can see below in the comparison between the two versions:

Real Data

Real Data

Element Alpha FlightPath

Element Alpha FlightPath

By playing Genes in Space you’ll be analysing significant amounts of genetic data which would have taken scientists hours to do. This data can then be used to develop new life saving treatments.

Once you know how it’s done, it’s not so mystical, is it? Like a magic trick, knowing how it’s done makes it far more realistic. So now you know how it’s done, you might realise that now you – yes, you! –  can actually help in the battle for the cure for cancer. You might realise it’s completely realistic that you can actually do something proactive to help. You can actually help fuel treatment methods to fight against cancer. You can help your friends, family, colleagues, other fellow human beings – Heaven forbid, one day help yourself – in this long battle to keep our lives from this silent enemy.

Innovations like this give us some of the power back – we can each of us do something useful to help. Hopefully, you may already do something useful – donate money (even sporadically into one of those little plastic pots for a pretty sticker), take old stuff to Cancer Research charity shops, volunteer in helping people… But this is even better. This is helping do something we really otherwise couldn’t do. The battle for cancer is in the lab, and we all can’t fit in there (and nor are we all scientists to do the work required…) – but we can all take a few minutes to launch a game and drive a cute little spaceship through an asteroid field to suck up as much Element Alpha as possible. If we all (with compatible devices) did just one of two of them every other day, imagine how many of those data sets would be getting analysed for the scientists who need them done?

I really like the idea of these things. I imagine a world in the future where Triple-A game devs and publishers collaborate with scientists and charities to run some kind of data analysis into the big-name games that millions of people play hundreds of hours of, so games can do more behind the scenes than just be played. Imagine if the 100+ hours you sunk into Skyrim, or all that apparently pointless scouring for minerals in ME2 actually went into things like treating and curing illnesses like HIV and cancer? Or managed mass analysis for scientific breakthroughs we can’t even dream or. Or even helped raise money for starving children, or victims or war? What if analysis of playing COD play on real-world maps analysed safer ways for solders to fight in combat in the background?… Computers can never replace how a real human thinks – we have our own logic, and computers can’t replicate that.

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The Incredibly Loose Analogy: 

Yes, it is fickle to say you can help cure cancer in your lunch break, or on your commute – but it’s not that wide off the mark. With each data set analysed, these scientists who work tirelessly to unlock the secrets of cancer to find its weak spot, so it can be conquered, come one step ever closer to defeating it.

If you think about it, the journey to curing cancer is not that much different than playing a Bioware videogame (just humour me here… this is just how my brain generally works… skip it altogether if you prefer!) – there’s something of ME3 in here I would say… There’s an evil, a “big boss” fight out there, one that threatens humankind, one that the protagonists must defeat to save us – enough lives have been lost already. To do this, they will require as much help as possible to do so – using science, data, friends, allies, and anything else they can think of that will help overcome their adversary. With each addition to their cause, their “Readiness” grows ever stronger. They learn secrets, weaknesses, ways of conquering the strong monster that infiltrates silently and can kill so quickly. Innovations such as the Genes In Space game will inevitable boost their readiness to take down the enemy once and for all.

If the scientists are Shepard and his crew, we can be the allied support desperately required. If this is so, Cancers are the Reapers – a deadly enemy who only wants to destroy and annihilate all organic life and leave us extinct. If we can actually help to defeat and conquer this evil that takes the lives of our loved ones, then we should take the opportunity to do so. We should stand by those who are smart enough and strong enough to take this enemy on, and one day destroy it. One day we might see cancer as unobtrusive as other once-lethal diseases that we now walk away from unscathed, and with our lives. Unlike ME3, though, we will have a happier ending where we all survive, and no sacrifice of more lives will be made. This will only happen though, if we stand together, work together, and help those who are fighting it in the small ways that we can.

This is one of them.

Games can be more than just “games”. Games have been used for different things – and for reasons other than teenagers and young men wanting to shoot each other’s army into oblivion on a multiplayer map. I use them to help me stave away depression and deal with chronic pain. Others have used them as a basis for scientific research of team play, reflex action, etc. Many introverted people use them as a way of coming out into a form of social interactivity they cannot otherwise manage.

Cancer Research has decided to use gaming to help them analyse a mass amount of data, using everyone and anyone with an iOS or Android device.

With this Cancer Research have done something innovative and amazing: They created a game that proves to all of us who already know this – playing games can mean more than mindlessly shooing people in COD multiplayer maps, or knocking down fat green piggies with fat little birds.

They have shown that playing a game can be meaningful – and a fun, lighthearted way to do something important. By using a cute and simple mobile game in the front end, while in the backend, something innovative and amazing is happening.

They created a lovely little spaceship shooter game – but the difference is that behind the pretty and simply graphics is an amazingly ingenious data analysis program. You’re actually not just shooting asteroids and harvesting Element Alpha – you’re helping geneticists analyse the DNA of cancer.

 

They say:

Last week saw the launch of our new mobile game Genes in Space, which hit headlines across the globe from the BBC to The New York Times.

This revolutionary new app helps our scientists in their life-saving work by speeding up data analysis. As you steer your spaceship through the cosmos, you’re really analysing the genetic faults in cancer samples. So you can now help beat cancer on your train journey home or while waiting in a queue at the supermarket. And it’s fun too!

The more players we have, the more data we can analyse. This means more DNA faults can be identified, helping us beat cancer sooner. So if you haven’t downloaded the game for free yet, it’s time to join the mission! All you need is an Apple iOS or Android device.

 

It is definitely fun. Played on the iPad Retina, the graphics are lovely in HD, and rendered in cute 3D for spacecraft upgrading, with the spaceship slowly rotating. The upgrade screen and spaceships are pretty, with bright colours and nice graphics, and being thrown into the game itself is basic silly fun that can get addictive, because it is so simple.

Gameplay
The basic premise of the game is something of a space-invaders style of gameplay – the mission: to harvest Element Alpha and shoot and avoid asteroids and debris.

First the game asks you to create a flightpath to collect as much Element Alpha as possible. To do this, they present a data cluster that looks almost like DNA PCR results, which you need to plot a path through to maximise Element Alpha harvesting. Once the path is plotted, you’re thrown into Space to weave your way through the path to harvest as much of EA as possible, all the while shooting asteroids and having to avoid the fragments (or they’ll hurt your spacecraft shields).

Gyroscopic (tilting) or touchscreen controls to drive your spacecraft and you shoot the laser guns from the spacecraft to destroy asteroids.

At the end of the harvest, having put all that effort into it, they then throw you into a huge asteroid field, resulting in a rather intense asteroid-dodging game – the punishment for dying being that you lose all that Element Alpha you just collected. So far I have exploded each time I have tried it and have not managed to retrain the fruits of my labour. That ride at the end is stupidly exhilarating for a simple little game – with no Element Alpha, there’s no XP or credits for upgrades either!

You can upgrade your spacecrafts (you get a second ship at level 20) when you have enough credits, gained from XP which can be stored, or spent to gain credits.

It comes with fun 90s space trance-style music which adds to the space atmosphere – but of course, it can be turned off if that’s not your thing.

It’s basic, fun and simple – you get the hang of it easily, even if the mad-dash through the asteroid field isn’t so easy! It has all the things we love about games – upgrades, levelling, customisation (you can change the colour of your ship(s) as well as customise through upgrades), and the fact that it’s so easy you can while away the time on it without having to shoot guns or birds.

It’s cute, it’s quick, and it’s innovative. It’s also an imaginative and incredible way to implement games for something much more special that just a gamer score, achievements, and getting XP for upgrades. What it actually does is actually help Cancer Research. What is does is help scientists understand genetic models better. For once, you won’t just be pointlessly tapping away just to get through your commute – every time you launch yourself into space for Element Alpha, you’ll be doing something useful – vital – for people in the Cancer Research labs.

I have cancer victims, and I have cancer survivors, in my family. The survivors are still here because of scientists like these that each and every game enthusiast can help.

 

Do something amazing today – download the game, play it a lot, and maybe – just maybe – you might have helped save a life.