Tablets as productivity devices

Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard for iPad Air
Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard for iPad Air
Professionally, I have a sort of on-off relationship with tablets (iPads, Android tablets, mainly, but I count also touch-screen small-size factor Windows 2-in-1’s in this category). As small and light, tablets are a natural solution when you have piles of papers and books in your bag, and want to travel light. There are so many things that every now and then I try to make and do with a tablet – only to clash again against some of the limitations of them: the inability to edit some particular file quickly in the native format, inability to simply copy and paste data between documents that are open in different applications, limitations of multitasking. Inability to quickly start that PC game that you are writing about, or re-run that SPSS analysis we urgently need for that paper we are working on.

But when you know what those limitations are, tablets are just great for those remaining 80 % or so of the stuff that we do in mobile office slash research sort of work. And there are actually features of tablets that may make them even stronger as productivity oriented devices than personal computers or fully powered laptops can be. There is the small, elite class of thin, light and very powerful laptop computers with touch screens (running Windows 10) which probably can be configured to be “best of both worlds”, but otherwise – a tablet with high dpi screen, fast enough processor (for those mobile-optimized apps) and excellent battery life simply flies above using a crappy, under-powered and heavy laptop or office PC from the last decade. The user experience is just so much better: everything reacts immediately, looks beautiful, runs for hours, and behaves gracefully. Particularly in iOS / Apple ecosystem this is true (Android can be a bit more bumpy ride), as the careful quality control and fierce competition in the iOS app space takes care that only those applications that are designed with the near-perfect balance of functionality and aesthetics get into the prime limelight. Compare that to the typical messy interfaces and menu jungles of traditional computer productivity software, and you’ll see what I mean.

The primary challenge of tablets for me is the text entry. I can happily surf, read, game, and watch video content of various kinds in a tablet, but when it comes to making those fast notes in a meeting where you need to have two or three background documents open at the same time, copy text or images from them, plus some links or other materials from the Internet, the limitations of tablets do tend to surface. (Accidentally, Surface 4 Pro or Surface Book by Microsoft would be solutions that I’d love to test some of these days – just in case someone from MS sales department happens to read this blog…) But there are ways to go around some of these limitations, using a combination of cloud services running in browser windows and dedicated apps and quickly rotating between them, so that the mobile operating system does not kill them and lose the important data view in the background. Also, having a full keyboard connected with the tablet device is a good solution for that day of work with a tablet. iPad Air with a premium wireless keyboard like Logitech K811 is shoulders above the situation where one is forced to slowly tap in individual letters with the standard virtual keyboard of a mobile device. (I am a touch-typist, which may explain my perspective here.)

In the future, it is increasingly likely that the differences between personal computers and mobile devices continues to erode and vanish. The high standards of ease of use, and user experience more generally, set by mobile device already influence the ways in which also computer software is being (re-)designed. The challenges waiting there are not trivial, though: when a powerful, professional tool is suddenly reduced into a “toy version” of itself, in the name of usability, the power users will cry foul. There are probably few lessons in the area of game (interface) design that can inform also the design of utility software, as the different “difficulty levels” or novice/standard/expert modes are being fine-tuned, or the lessons from tutorials of various kinds, and adaptive challenge levels or information density is being balanced.

CFP: Finncon 2016 Academic Track

Call for Papers for the Academic Track at FINNCON 2016

Fantastic Visions from Faerie to Dystopia

July 1–3, 2016, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland

Finncon 2016 is one of the largest events in Europe for anyone interested in science fiction and fantasy. By tradition, it is free of membership fee, and offers you several programme tracks with presentations, panels and lectures on all aspects of science fiction and fantasy. The main language will be Finnish, but there are programme tracks also in English and Swedish. For more information, see http://2016.finncon.org/en/what-is-finncon/.

Finncon 2016 includes an academic track, organised in cooperation with the University of Tampere research project Darkening visions: dystopian fiction in contemporary Finnish literature and the Finnish Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy Research (FINFAR, http://finfar.org/en).

The Finncon 2016 Academic Track aims to bring together a wide range of scholarly perspectives on the speculative and the fantastic. We hope for a broad, interdisciplinary discussion on the many ways in which genres such as fantasy, science fiction and horror take their readers, users, and consumers to strange speculative worlds, from modern dystopias to classic fairylands.

The Academic Track now invites presentations on fairy tales and dystopia. The general theme of Finncon 2016 is fairy tales, and accordingly the Author Guests of Honour are Catherynne M. Valente (USA), Jasper Fforde (UK) and Anne Leinonen (Finland). Fairy tales are a part of the shared human cultural heritage, and each culture has fairy tales of its own. Although fairy tales are often seen as children’s culture, fairy tale tropes and motifs may also belong to a galaxy far, far away, as they have become material for popular culture in many forms.

We also wish to emphasise the fiction of dystopia. One of the most noticeable trends in speculative fiction has been the rise of dystopian themes and visions that expand from undesirable, oppressive societies to apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic scenarios of the future of the mankind and life on earth more generally. What is the attraction of these dark imaginations that also penetrate young adult fiction?

The Guest Scholar will be Raffaella Baccolini (University of Bologna), who will give a plenary lecture and comment on papers.

Proposals for scholarly papers from any academic discipline that seek to examine, interrogate, and expand research related to any aspect of fairy tales or dystopia, for any age group, in any medium are welcome. Papers will be allowed a maximum presentation time of 20 minutes.

Please submit a 500-word proposal describing the content of your proposed paper, and a few words about yourself and your research to either Saija Isomaa (saija.isomaa@uta.fi) or Jyrki Korpua (jyrki.korpua@gmail.com).

The deadline for the proposals is February 29, 2016.

Tampere is easy to get to either directly by air or by train (or car) from Helsinki. The convention location is the University of Tampere which is downtown, near the train station and a short way from several hotels, shops and markets.

If you have any questions about the Finncon 2016 or the Academic Track, please contact Liisa Rantalaiho (liisa.rantalaiho@uta.fi).

The Bard of the Postmodern has Gone

There are people who defy definitions. David Bowie created beauty, then something ugly, next, something just plain weird. He was the crystallization of curiosity of spirit – never resting for long, never completely satisfied with the peaks already reached. Always reaching out, towards something new, unseen, something never experienced before.

The range of Bowie’s experimentation respected no boundaries, and inspired not only other creators, but opened up new worlds for identity expression for entire generations. Like Goethe’s Faust two centuries before, Bowie embraced changes, sought ever new challenges – in the words of Faust to Mephistopheles: “If I be quieted with a bed of ease / Then let that moment be the end of me”…

David Bowie never stopped. Even in his dying days, he worked and sought new avenues to expressing what human condition is, how it can be seen – transforming his own death into a work of art in the process.

Fly with the angels, Spaceboy.

Sanna Malinen’s PhD defence

2016-01-08 14.31.49Today researcher Sanna Malinen defended her PhD thesis in the University of Tampere. The opponent in the public defence was professor Pekka Räsänen from the University of Turku, professor Frans Mäyrä acted as the custos. The abstract and download link to the full, PDF version of the dissertation, titled Sociability and Sense of Community among Users of Online Services, are below:

The dissertation explores a current and popular phenomenon referred to as ‘online communities’ from both theoretical and empirical viewpoints. Online communities are discussed in the context of a wider development in social life from small geography-based units to large and dispersed social networks, which can be mediated by technology. In this study, online communities are understood as fluid objects that are created and maintained through users’ social interactions and actual social practices. Therefore, they are not stable and fixed groups but, instead, a social process that transforms over time.
The empirical portion of this work illustrates the multifaceted nature of the research subject and consists of five case studies exploring the usage of software intended for various purposes: an online photo-sharing service, an online exercise diary, online auctions, and social-media applications for smartphones. In addition, there is a research article consisting of a literature review that synthesise research into online community participation conducted over the past 12 years. The findings from the empirical sub-studies show that community-evocative feelings and behaviors can emerge within various online settings, including dispersed networks and content-oriented sites focusing on artefacts that users produce, such as photographs. However, users can have very different orientations with respect to their interest in social networking and community-building within the context of the same site. The literature review shows that the majority of previous research on user participation has focused on the quantity of their activity. Instead of dividing users into active and passive on the basis of the amount of content they produce, research should acknowledge that there is greater variety in the ways of participating and belonging to an online community.
The dissertation vividly illustrates that online communities are a constantly changing and developing phenomenon. In recent years, the most notable technological changes have been the surge in popularity of large-scale social network sites and increased usage of the Internet via mobile devices. In order for the concept of community to be applied in description of online sociability within current technological settings, the meaning of this term and the criteria for community needs to be rethought.

The full dissertation: http://tampub.uta.fi/handle/10024/98292.

Dl. 27.1.: haku Internet- ja pelitutkimuksen maisteriopintoihin

Vielä suomenkielinen muistutus tästä internet- ja pelitutkimuksen maisteriopintomahdollisuudesta – ohjelmaan ovat siis tervetulleita hakemaan myös suomalaiset opiskelijat (opintosuorituksia voi tehdä myös suomeksi, vaikka opintokieli onkin kursseilla yleensä englanti). Kotimaisessa maisteriopintojen erillishaussa tälle IGS-linjalle ei voi enää muuten hakea, deadline on tosiaan nyt 27.1. Kiitos jos levitätte tietoa eteenpäin mahdollisesti kiinnostuneille tahoille.

Perustiedot englanniksi:

The application period is now open (until 27 January) for doing the Master’s Degree in Internet and Game Studies in the University of Tampere – if you want to work in your studies with the team of researchers and teachers at UTAgamelab, check out the information below:

Master’s Degree Programme in Internet and Game Studies aims to provide an in-depth view to the fundamental character and development of games and Internet. Games have grown into an important form of culture and human interaction, expanding from entertainment to other areas of life. Internet and social media form an increasingly vital part of communication, social life and distribution of media and services. Degree Programme in Internet and Game Studies is particularly targeted at the questions of analysis, design and application of online services and digital games from user- and culturally focused perspectives. The programme directs students to develop academic skills like critical thinking, scientific writing and carrying out research projects while encouraging active and comprehensive involvement with the practical processes and phenomena related to games and Internet.

The programme is offered by the School of Information Sciences. The school has high profile research groups that are focused on Internet and game studies. There has also been a long history of education in hypermedia and in Information Studies and Interactive Media that forms the basis of this degree programme.

Graduates typically combine the skills and knowledge derived from Degree Programme in Internet and Game Studies with studies and proficiencies that enable them to work as experts of games and Internet in various professional roles, in research, public sector as well as in industry. The need for knowledgeable workforce is growing in the fields related to games and interactive media, but the students should adopt an active attitude in fashioning their own specific area of expertise and professional profile. The possible jobs of graduates include researchers, developers, critics and specialists working with the interpretation, evaluation or implementation of games and social media.

More about admission: http://www.uta.fi/admissions/degreeprog/programmes/igs.html

More about IGS programme: http://www.uta.fi/admissions/degreeprog/programmes/igs.html

Short history of game studies in UTA: http://gameresearchlab.uta.fi/history/

Some featured alumni from IGS and UTAgamelab: http://gameresearchlab.uta.fi/igs-alumni/

Also, feel free to send us mail, if you want further information;

– Frans Mäyrä (frans.mayra at uta.fi / 050 336 7650)

Year in review – my 2015 in game studies

The year 2015 was a busy year, and hard to summarise as it feels like there never really was any time to stop and reflect; thus I welcome this short review note as such opportunity. Much of my time this year was spent on administrative things, related processes, projects, work contracts and plans of restructuring at the multiple levels of the Finnish university system, Tampere 3 university fusion, internal University of Tampere structures, the School of Information Sciences, our degree programmes and the IGS master’s degree programme, TRIM as the research centre and our Game Research Lab, and its individual research projects and other work.

In terms of published research, it was delightful to follow how many interesting book projects were finished and came out during 2015 (many of these are already out and available, even if their official publication year is 2016). Particularly the Routledge Advances in Game Studies series was in high gear, as several important research volumes were published there; my research articles were included in The Dark Side of Game Play, The Video Game Debate and Video Game Policy books. (There were other important books in the series, too, including Rachel Kowert’s Video Games and Social Competence, and Ashley ML Brown’s Sexuality in Role-Playing Games.) For more, see: https://www.routledge.com/series/RAIGS My own work included analysing the subversive uses of chidren’s games, exploring the gaming communities, and (together with Gareth Schott) re-conceptualizing game violence.

In other published work, I was proud to be part of the editorial board of Finnish Yearbook of Game Studies (Pelitutkimuksen vuosikirja; with the new editor-in-chief Raine Koskimaa), have in-depth analyses of our game researcher survey study come out in esteemed Journal of Communication (Thorsten Quandt, Jan Van Looy as the main authors in this article). I also published a historically oriented overview of Finnish games and game culture in the Video Games Around the World volume, edited by the amazingly productive Mark Wolf for the MIT Press. I also wrote an article exploring the character and development of mobile games that was published in the International Encyclopedia of Digital Communication & Society (Wiley-Blackwell). Last but not least, the long-waited book, Playful Identities: The Ludification of Digital Media Cultures came out from Amsterdam University Press. My piece there deals with the culture and identity of casual online play.

Our research team’s work in 2015 again covered a large part of the games, player experiences, design research and game cultures landscapes. Our particular emphasis is on the emerging and transforming aspects of these, multiple and interconnected phenomena and research topics. In 2015 we wrapped up the research projects Hybridex – The User Experience in the Future Playful Hybrid Services and Free2Play – Best Practices for Free-to-Play Game Services. Some of the research publications, including the full final reports from these projects are still coming out, but you can find some of this work at: https://free2playproject.wordpress.com/publications/ and https://hybridex.wordpress.com/ . Our work in the emerging, and newly re-configured borderlines of physical and digital dimensions in play also included also practical design experiments in the TSR funded OASIS research that studied intermixing of work and play, as well as with the playful MurMur chairs (originating from the Hybridex project). Featured in local as well as in international media, such practical implementations of fundamental research particularly appear to attract the attention of wider audiences. The high-quality research on gamification was also getting wider notice this year, including many publications that were coming out from Koukku, Neuroeconomics of Gaming and Free2Play research projects on this theme. Many thanks to all members of our research team, from these, as well as other research projects.

Much of such research that includes direct applications and links with games industry and other end user or interest groups were funded by Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation, as well as by various industry partners. Many thanks to all our collaborating partners, and Tekes in particular for their interest and belief in the significance of games and games related research. The Skene games programme ended in 2015, but everyone very much hopes that the huge funding cuts to Tekes, Academy of Finland and directly to the basic funding of Finnish universities does not stop work in themes that are important for the advancement of fundamental knowledge, cultural richness, and capacity for innovation – be those related to arts, technology, humanities, social sciences or e.g. human well-being (studies of games, play, gamification and playfulness relate and touch upon all those research areas).

Our work continues in active mode also in 2016, thanks to two new Tekes research projects (Hybrid Social Play; STREAM/eSports), the Academy of Finland funded Ludification of Culture and Society project, and other ongoing work that is based on individual research grants that members of our research teams have won, as well as other continuing research projects. There are many important themes that are logical continuation of the earlier work we have done (and I have probably forgot to mention many important achievements above), but there are also new innovations and expansions into new areas that are going on. Directing my time and energy into new research on e.g. hybrid play applications while simultaneously participating in other ongoing work will probably mean that in 2016 there will not be as many publications coming out from myself, but that is part of the natural rhythm, ebb and flow of academic life. It is also important that the new tenure-track associate professor in game culture studies position, announded in summer 2015, will be filled hopefully in early 2016. We are also joining forces among the Finnish game scholars to have more supportive structures and collaborative initiatives to start in 2016.

Again: many thanks for everyone in our team, project collaborators and international friends who have made 2015 such a successful and productive year – wishing you all the best, and hoping to make 2016 also a great year together!

Edit: Oh yes – Jaakko Stenros defending his PhD thesis should of course be mentioned here; every doctoral dissertation from our research team is a major milestone!

Gaming station, next generation

As I wrote around Christmas 2011, I made my latest big PC upgrade then, going for Asus P8Z68-V, GEN3 motherboard and ASUS GTX 560 Ti DirectCU II TOP based system. This served me four, rather than planned five years though. Apparently the motherboard peripherals failed, and then BIOS upgrade went astray, plus botched CMOS reset attempt finally killed the motherboard completely – some nice components were left to my hands, but this system lives no more: http://fransmayra.fi/2011/12/28/the-five-year-upgrade-plan/.

I must say that while setting up your own PC is interesting in itself, the compatibility and driver issues are also bit stressful and tiresome (particularly now, having spent most of last night fighting to revive the old PC system). Thus, this time I decided to submit an order to a store that sells pre-configured, pre-installed and tested PCs that also have the operating system set up. After comparing prices and configurations a bit, I ended up with SystemaStore shop from Oulu. These are some of the highlights of this new gaming station:

Processor: INTEL Core i5-6500 3.2GHz LGA1151 6MB BOXED
Cooler Master HYPER 212 EVO
Motherboad: ASUS Z170-P LGA1151 ATX DDR4 (max. 64GB ram)
Memory: Kingston HyperX Fury 8GB(2x4GB) DDR4 2133Mhz
SSD: Samsung 850 EVO 250GB SSD SATA3
HDD: 1TB 7200RPM SATA3 (Seagate barracuda st1000dm003)
Graphics card: ASUS Strix GeForce GTX 970 OC 4GB (0dB IDLE)
DVD drive: 24X DVD+-RW SATA
Case: Corsair Carbide 200R USB3.0 ATX kotelo
Power source: Corsair 650W 80Plus® Certified ATX (VS650)
Connections: USB2.0/USB3.0/USB type C
OS: Windows 10 64-bit home FI

Let’s see how long it takes before this arrives and I will be able to do the tests (and start working and playing with it – hopefully before my Christmas vacation is over!)

Some product photos:

ASUS-P170-sideways
ASUS Z170-P LGA1151 ATX DDR4

Asus-STRIX-970
ASUS Strix GeForce GTX 970 OC 4GB

Asus-STRIX-970-box
ASUS Strix GeForce GTX 970, box

Cooler-Master-EVO
Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO

Corsair-200r
Corsair Carbide 200R case

intel_core_i5-6500_32ghz_lga1151_6mb_cache_up_to_360ghz_fc-lga14c_skylake_box-34173680-2
Intel Core i5 processor box

Kingston-Fury
Kingston HyperX Fury DDR memory

Samsung-EVO-SSD
Samsung EVO 250 GB SSD
 

 

Corsair VS650 power source
 
More about the motherboard here: https://www.asus.com/fi/Motherboards/Z170-P/

More about the graphics card here: https://www.asus.com/fi/Graphics-Cards/STRIXGTX970DC2OC4GD5/